Monday, June 29, 2015

2015 AHA National Homebrewers Conference Seminars Online!

Hello Homebrewers!

If you missed mine or any of the other fantastic presentations from the 2015 National Homebrewers Conference, the audio and slide decks are now online!

I enjoyed several of the seminars I attended, and here are a few that I highly recommend:

  • Jeff Crane (the sour beer guru for Council Brewing) talked about brewing an acid beer for blending, adding complexity and acidity to fresh beer.
  • James Howat (Former Future / Black Project) discussed 'spontaneous' fermentation techniques for the homebrewer. James was a riot, and his tips for building a homebrew-sized coolship will be helpful for any aspiring wild ale brewer.   
  • Patrick Dawson (author of Vintage Beer) spoke on brewing cellar-worthy beer. He discussed the positive and negative flavors produced as a beer ages, and ways to adjust your recipe and process to maximize the potential for positive aged flavors to emerge. I didn't know the origin of many of these flavors (dried fruits, dark caramel, etc.) and learned a lot from Patrick!
  • The "Headliners", authors and brewing industry veterans, all offered a wealth of information: Randy Mosher, Vinnie Cilurzo, Jamil Zainasheff, Mitch Steele, John Mallet, Chris White, Ray Daniels, etc.
Hopefully you'll also check out my seminar on Blending and Post-Fermentation Adjustments. I was given a lot of positive feedback throughout the conference, and I felt like the content was well received. I added some additional slides to the PDF that we didn't get to discuss during the seminar: adding fruits and spices, a practical blending example, and adjusting for intensity. Please contact me with any questions!

You must be an American Homebrewers Association (AHA) member to access the seminars. If you are a homebrewer but not a member, please consider it! Most of the membership benefits listed below are worth the cost of membership alone ($43/year at the time of this post). AHA membership benefits include:
  • Access to Past NHC Seminars (audio and slides)
  • Zymurgy Magazine (six issues per year)
  • AHA Members Deals: Discounts at pubs, breweries, homebrew stores, and online retailers. My local examples include employee keg pricing at Schlafly, 10% off beer at UCBC, and 20% off beer at Perennial
  • Access to the AHA Forum
  • Events such as the National Homebrewers Conference, the Members-Only Saturday Session of GABF, and AHA Rallies.
  • Discounts and advance sales on all books from Brewers Publications
  • Access to the Research and Education Fund
Most importantly, the AHA is the homebrewing community's advocate in legislative efforts. The AHA has recently helped make homebrewing legal in all 50 states, and they continue to lobby for legislation that reduces restrictions and promotes growth of the hobby.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Splitting Batches for Variety, Experiments, and Volume

For homebrewers, there are never enough brewdays. Our jobs, families, friends, and other hobbies fill our schedules, leaving us less time than we would prefer for making sweet wort.

One way to take full advantage of these fleeting brewdays is by splitting batches, creating more than one finished beer from a day’s work.

Why Split Batches?

Other than variety, splitting batches allows the brewer to experiment with ingredients, yeasts, techniques, and equipment. The possibilities are endless, but I have given a few examples throughout this post to help get the wheels turning.

Another reason to split batches is equipment limitations. Though I split several five-gallon batches beforehand, I honed these techniques after increasing my brew length to ten gallons. Because I only have 5 and 6.5-gallon fermentors, my equipment forces me to split batches after the boil. As so many homebrewers do, I used this limitation as a base for creativity and learning. Split-batch experiments are now commonplace for me, and I rarely make ten gallons of the same beer from the same wort.

I won’t concentrate on equipment limitations in this post, but I think the following methods and recommendations are applicable on any scale. If you understand your brewery, you can navigate any of these techniques within it.

Where to Split

If I said there was a point in the process in which a batch could not be split, there would be a homebrewer that could tinker his/her way to proving me wrong.

Practically, we will focus on splitting wort or beer before the kettle, fermentor, keg, and bottle. Generally, more preparation is required when splitting earlier in the brewing process. As such, we will work our way backwards, starting at packaging. 

Splitting at bottling allows the brewer to execute most of his/her process as normal. It is a great tool for all experience levels.

Use multiple bottling buckets or dose individual bottles with different ingredients.

Experiment ideas:
  • Different priming sugars: dextrose, unrefined sugars, honey, DME, liqueurs, maple syrup, candi syrup
  •  Different priming yeasts
  • Different levels of carbonation
  • Bottle one portion 'clean' and one portion with brettanomyces or bacteria.
  • Wild yeast ‘spikes’
The last idea is my personal favorite. Though I have done structured experiments, normally I just dose a few bottles with brettanomyces or a mixed culture on bottling day. This works best with a very dry beer (like a saison or Tripel) but is (at least) an interesting experiment across all beer styles. If the beer's final gravity is above 1.006 or so, use heavy bottles.

Splitting in kegs offers many of the same benefits and experimentation options but has the added benefits of reducing oxygen exposure, easy transfer, and easy sampling. It is also a fine method for quarantining brettanomyces and bacteria for those who may otherwise fear cross-contamination. 

To split a five-gallon batch, rack the entire volume into one keg first, which simplifies racking and allows for more accurate measurement. I use my grain scale to measure the split by weight during transfer. I plan to give more details on this process in an upcoming post on blending, as well as during my presentation at this year's NHC.

Experiment Ideas:
  • Explore dry hops or cold-side additions
  • Create a small, 'special' portion of beer on the fly (one gallon of "Christmas Stout" from a keg of oatmeal stout)
  • Blending
    • With beer (sour saison, historical porter, gueuze)
    • With other fermented liquids (wine, mead, cider, spirits)
    • With water
Transferring a small portion of finished beer onto fruit or spices can yield a unique offering for a festival or party. I also love using this method for adding fruit or oak to a portion of a sour batch. 

Splitting before fermentation is standard procedure for most homebrew batches greater than 5-6 gallons. However, the same split can be done at any brew length with a few minor considerations.

For instance, a 5 gallon batch can be split into two 5-gallon fermentors for primary fermentation. Because the amount of beer lost to yeast and trub will nearly double, increase the batch size by a gallon or so to compensate (if possible within your system). 

For beers requiring long conditioning times, and especially for sour beers with mixed cultures, transfer the beer to a smaller container to minimize head space during conditioning. Excessive head space significantly increases oxygen pickup over time. Small better bottles or one-gallon growlers  are inexpensive and work well! Small kegs are a fantastic option if you have them.

Experiment Ideas:
  • Different yeasts
  • Different fermentation specs: pitch rate, oxygen, temperature (vary one, keep others constant).
  • Sugar or fermentable comparison: candi syrups, honey varieties, fruit
  • Sour beer base!
If I don't have another experiment in mind, half of my 10-gallon batch is normally spiked with my mixed culture and allowed to conditioned for a year or more. As these 'other halves' come to maturity, each offers a 5-gallon batch of sour beer to blend, fruit, or bottle as-is without a dedicated brewday. Talk about a big return on a small investment!

Splitting before the boil requires some additional planning and (potentially) equipment to be successful, but I think its less daunting than a decoction or turbid mash.

When splitting pre-boiled wort, most homebrewers think parti-gyle: splitting the wort into portions (or 'gyles') of different strength. Most often, this is executed by separating the first and second runnings of a batch sparge mash. Parti-gyle can produce an infinite number of wort combinations, and executing a parti-gyle brew can be as simple or complicated as the brewer wishes. Since I have never used this method, I'll refer you to Ron Pattinson and Randy Mosher for more information and tips:

Ron Pattinson. “Parti-gyle: Debunking the Myths”. Zymurgy, November/December 2014.
Mosher, Randy. "Parti-Gyle Brewing". Brewing Techniques, March/April 1994. Online:

Another option is to collect all of the pre-boil wort in the kettle, then transfer a portion before (or during) the boil. I use this method to remove hops from a portion of the batch for sour beer base or pressure-canned starter wort.

Experiment Ideas:
  • Different kettle additions: hops, spices, finings, yeast nutrients, water salts
  • Steep specialty grains to create different base beers from one mash: pale ale vs. stout, Flanders Red vs. Oud Bruin.

Practical Recommendations (for split boils)

Plan ahead. A successful split will take more time, ingredients, equipment, etc. than a single, straight-forward batch.

Map out the split in your brewing software of choice. For split-boils, I use BeerSmith to create a full size malt bill, then scale the batch and save as separate recipes. This allows me to calculate hop additions, bitterness, steeping grains, yeast pitches, etc. at the proper volume. Check out the recipes from a recent split batch, "Raw Grain Saison", on my BeerSmith Recipes page.

For parti-gyle calculations, several tables are given in the Mosher article listed above. Kai Troester provides a batch sparge calculator on his website ( It is effective but requires some efficiency inputs for your system. I dialed in the sheet with guess-and-check using numbers from previous batches.

Organize your brewday. Because you planned ahead, you know how the brewday should progress, what equipment is needed, and where ingredients will be added.

Measure (and label) salts, hops, spices, finings, and yeast nutrient additions. I like using lidded, 4-oz plastic containers because they are cheap and won't spill if (when) I drop or knock them over.

Position all necessary brewing equipment before you start brewing. Make sure you can get liquor, wort, and cooling water everywhere it needs to be along the process. Also make sure that everything is in reach and you won’t be constantly tripping over hoses, propane tanks, pump stand, etc.

Offset your boil by 15 to 30 minutes (or more) if you will need to share critical equipment: chiller, pump, cooling water, etc. This offset can also be helpful for the brewer already juggling multiple transfers, measurements, and kettle additions, along with copious note-taking. Speaking of…

Practical Recommendations (in general)

Plan ahead. Prepare yeast, sanitize enough fermentors, have enough bottles or kegs. For experiments on bottling day, set up all your equipment and have your mise en place in order.

Prepare enough healthy yeast. You may need to make multiple starters, or propagate with multiple steps.

Take detailed notes. Whether the goal is experimenting with new ingredients or comparing a process change, the additional effort required for splitting a batch loses its value if the results cannot be repeated (or adjusted). Don’t rely on your memory to recount the specifics of a brew day, gravity measurements, fermentation profile, blend percentage, etc. after the beer is finished – it is already overloaded with juggling split batch tasks!

Label EVERYTHING: starters, hop additions, fermentors, kegs, and bottles.

Practice Makes Perfect. The more times you split batches, the more comfortable and confident you will become with your process. 

Hopefully you can use some of these ramblings to make multiple beers from a single brewday! Let me know what you brew up!

Get to splittin'!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Let's Talk Blending at the 2015 National Homebrewers Conference

I was recently selected as a speaker for the 2015 National Homebrewers Conference. What a HUGE honor! I thoroughly enjoyed presenting in 2013 and can't wait to geek out again in San Diego! A (still pretty rough) outline of this year's presentation is given at the end of this post.

This year's list of seminars and speakers is outstanding, and I can't wait to take in brewing knowledge from these all-star brewers!

I'm STOKED to meet up with several of the homebrewers who I know mostly or solely via social media, forums and blogs. If you're going to be there, give me a shout on Twitter or Instagram!

Every year I'm blown away by the quality of homebrewed sour and funky beer at NHC. Though I can't serve beer during the presentation, I will be filling my bags with as much homebrew as they will hold! I can't wait to trade pours and talk shop! Of course, this luggage space will be refilled with Cali saisons and sours before we make our way back to Saint Louis.

After the conference, my wife and I are heading up the coast to visit family and breweries (Russian River and The Rare Barrel, among others). I want to visit breweries doing interesting things with mixed fermentation, so if you have recommendations, I'm all ears!

Presentation Outline

In this year's presentation, I will dive into the broad topic of post-fermentation evaluation and adjustment. My intent is to give practical advice on execution of beer evaluation, small adjustments, flavor additions, and blending.

First, we will review critical beer evaluation. It may see elementary, but committing to an evaluation ritual and being able to consistently repeat it will, in turn, make your adjustments repeatable in the future. After all, the whole point of evaluation and adjustment is to produce great beer now while making it easier to replicate later.

For 'tweaking' finished beer, I've stolen a few tricks from chefs, bakers, and wine makers. We will discuss 'seasoning' beer with minerals: salt, gypsum, and calcium chloride. I will also share some ideas and experiments in enhancing a signature flavor by adding very small amounts of supporting flavors, like enhancing chocolate flavor with vanilla or coffee (an old bakers' trick). Finally, we'll spend some time on adding fruits and spices without going overboard OR using an entire batch. Because 5 gallons of pumpkin or Christmas beer is just too damn much (for our house, anyway).

Blending beer fits in well with this topic, but it is also the portion I'm most passionate about. Though my blending experience is based in sour beer, we'll discuss how to apply blending principles across all beer styles. I will also share my setup and procedure for blending by weight in a closed, keg-to-keg transfer.

See you in San Diego!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

2014 Recap

After a year-long drought, this blog is in desperate need of updates and shiny new content!

While I haven’t been posting, I did make some beer in 2014! My plan is to post some highlights throughout the first half of 2015.

Outside the SHPB, I had a big year in 2014. Here is the executive summary:

We bought a home in Saint Louis and are settled. I set up shop quickly; the basement is already littered with containers of sour, funky SCIENCE.

I joined the STL Hops Homebrew Club, a small group making a LOT of great beer! The club served beer at several festivals throughout the year; a new and exciting experience for me. Festival season is coming up again, and I intend to post our serving schedule and (more importantly) recaps with plenty of pictures!

Homebrew club meetings, festivals, bottle shares, and beer releases have given me more opportunities than ever to share my beer. I upgraded my equipment and doubled my batch size (now 10 gallons) to keep up! More importantly, I've been using the additional wort to conduct yeast experiments and make more sour beer!

I attended the 2014 National Homebrewers Conference along with six other STL Hops members. We had a blast! We brought a TON of great beer to pour at the Expo and on Club Night, including a split batch experiment with new hop varietals and some fantastic fruited Berliners. My keg of Gueuze was a big hit on Club Night. It vanished in about 45 minutes, but not before earning some press from Basic Brewing Radio and praise from The Mad Fermentationist, Mike Tonsmire!

Finally, for our second anniversary, my wife and I traveled to London and Brussels. I came back brimming with inspiration, life experiences, and a few liquid souvenirs. I’ll share a recap (and lots of pictures) in an upcoming post.

Thanks for sticking around! Hopefully in 2015 I can offer some insight, inspiration, or at least some new “what not to do’s”!

Let’s get to it!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Brewing Goals 2014 & 2013 Report Card

2013 was an amazing year for me as a homebrewer and beer geek. I started this blog, presented at the 2013 National Homebrewers Conference, made a trip to Belgium, and moved to St. Louis (the future home of my brewery). 2014 has big shoes to fill!

My first post in 2013 (my first post for SHPB) laid out my brewing goals for 2013. Lets see how I did and set the marks for 2014:

2013 Goal #1: Brew more than forty (40) 5-gallon batches within the year.

Grade: F

My most glaring defeat of the year. I brewed 17 5-gallon batches (2 double brewdays) in 2013. No excuses, just more effort. I hope this high mark will encourage several double batches (and more experimentation)!

2014 Goal #1: Brew more than forty (40) 5-gallon batches within the year.

2013 Goal #2: Start and maintain a blog as a brew log.

Grade: B

I improved the detail, consistency, and follow up on my brewing notes, but I dd not post as much as I would like. I also want to spend more time logging the evaluation of my beers and standardizing my verbiage against the Flavor Wheel.

2014 Goal #2: Continue to improve brewing notes and post > 75% of my notes to the blog.

2013 Goal #3: Pitch appropriate cell counts for every batch.

Grade: A

I made huge strides in yeast propagation and fermentation process. Every batch was pitched with the proper amount of healthy yeast cells. I also built a stir-plate and experimented with lager fermentation. Hopefully I can keep it up in 2014 and beyond!

2014 Goal #3: Purchase additional controller / refrigerator to control fermentation temperature of two 5-gallon batches at once.

2013 Goal #4-5: Win 1st place in any category at the Indiana Brewers Cup; Enter the NHC.

Grade: Incomplete

In 2013, I focused on experimentation with both wild yeasts and lager fermentation. I also did some recipe development and tried some new ingredients. Brewing for competition really doesn't interest me at this point. 

2013 Goal #6. Go to the NHC!

Grade: A

Presenting at the 2013 was one of the highlights of my life. I can't wait for 2014!

Currently, I'm planning some wild yeast experiments for this year, and I hope to share the results at the 2015 conference. Stay tuned!

2013 Goal #7. “Clone” my own beer.

Grade: F

My brewer's ADD got the best of me in 2013. Though I learned a lot through experiments and playing with new ingredients, I still need to gauge my consistency.

2014 Goal #4: "Clone" my own beer.

Additional Goals for 2014

2014 Goal #5. Conduct experiments to explore Brett flavor contribution vs. beer pH.

I believe manipulating beer pH (through blending or lactic fermentation) has a huge effect on the flavor profile contributed by brettanomyces. Time to experiment!

2014 Goal #6. Conduct experiments to explore spontaneous fermentation feasibility in various areas of St. Louis.

The products of spontaneous fermentation are wildly different between St. Louis and Belgium, but how variable are the results within the same city? Are there certain areas of St. Louis that provide significantly better/worse species (and conditions) for wild beer?

2014 Goal #7. Join a Homebrew Club!

Its time to branch out!

So now that the bar has been set, let's get to it!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Exploring Brussels

For our first wedding anniversary, my wife and I planned a trip to Europe, each picking a city to visit. Her obvious choice for an anniversary location was Paris, but I argue that Brussels is more romantic.

As a craft beer drinker, there are so many opportunities to explore beer from around the country and the world without leaving your home city. If your local never secures a keg of Cantillon Gueuze, you can still trade tastes at a bottle share, or swap with a fellow beer trader. Access is normally simpler and less expensive than a trip to the source.

But for someone who intends to make a living with wild and mixed fermentation, I knew it was important to visit the humble origin of Gueuze, Brasserie Cantillon. I also hoped it would spark my creativity, both in creating new beers and a future brand.

Here is a pictorial overview of our time in Brussels. If you're ever in the area, I highly suggest visiting all of these great places!

Start your trip with this book: Around Brussels in 80 Beers by Joe Stange and Yvan De Baets. Most of my travel tips were stolen from this book, which is pictured above.

Our (or at least my) highlight of the trip was visiting Cantillon. The brewery is over 100 years old and steeped in history. A true pilgrimage! Here are a few photos:

My Beautiful Wife in the barrel room.

Cantillon Barrels for DAYS.

In the attic at Cantillon. This area is mostly used for grain storage. The mill is behind me and the coolship is up the stairs and through the door.

Obligatory Coolship Shot.

Recent brewery improvement: a modern, (semi-)automated bottling line. They were bottling Fou Foune at the time.

After our self-guided tour of Cantillon's beautiful facility, we spent the rest of the day in their cafe. We drank Fou Foune (and Lou Pepe Framboise, and 50°N), ate house-made sausage, and chatted with other visitors.

Aside from the brewery, we visited several lovely bars and restaurants during our stay, each with its own personality. If you make the journey, the following are absolutely worth your precious evenings in this great city:

We spent an evening at Moeder Lambic, a fantastic craft beer bar with two locations in Brussels. Highlights included cask versions of Cantillon fruit beers and Gueuze, as well as Band of Brothers, a 3.5% Saison collaboration between the bar and Brasserie De La Senne.

I very much enjoyed A La Becasse, a small lambic bar near Grand Place. They served a slightly-sweetened (not too sweet) version of Timmermans Lambic: delicious and refreshing.

We stumbled upon A la Mort Subite on a morning walk. Though most of the Mort Subite brands are of the overly-sweetened, faux-lambic nature (it is now owned by Heineken), the Mort Subite Oude Gueuze, served from 750 mL bottles at room temperature, was outstanding. 

After getting your Moules Frites and Waterzooi fix, I suggest seeking out Bia Mara near Grand Place for Fish and Chips. Made with salmon, pollock, prawns, or mackeral; perfectly fried with a wide array of sauces. Paired here with a De La Senne Taras Boulba.

If you make your way to any of these spots, or if I've left out any must-visit establishments, please post your recommendations!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Brett-Spiked Saison Experiment

For awhile there, I had a serious problem...

In addition to keeping up a mixed culture for wild beer, I amassed quite a collection of individual Brettanomyces strains. Cultures from homebrewers, limited lab releases, interesting strains from commercial breweries - I hoarded them all. They occupied my entire growler collection. I did my best to keep them all separate, hoping to find The Midas Strain. 

I want to evaluate the flavor profiles contributed by these strains in several applications: 
  1. Secondary Fermentation (inoculation at bottling). Most viable (i.e. least risky) option for commercial brewing; easy to compare Brett contribution vs. control. 
  2. Secondary Fermentation (inoculation after alcoholic and lactic fermentation). Most applicable to mixed fermentation methods (including barrel conditioning). I also believe the most interesting Brettanomyces activity occurs at low pH. 
  3. Mixed Fermentation (inoculation in primary). Contribution within a mixed culture fermentation.
In this experiment, I bottled a simple saison with one of three single Brettanomyces strains. I kept some 'clean' bottles for control samples, and dosed some of the remaining bottles with a mixed culture.

Though I consider it a failed experiment, I thought I'd share the results and (more importantly) lessons learned.

The results of the experiment were unremarkable. Though I have used some of these strains with great success in the past, the resulting flavor profiles in these samples were subtle. I believe the lack of character is due to over-pitching. In his 2011 NHC presentation, Chad Yakobson suggested bottle conditioning with approximately 100,000 cells/mL or inoculating a conditioning ("secondary") vessel with 0.5 - 2 million cells/mL. I dosed each bottle with about 2 mL of fresh slurry, which is about 68 million cells/mL (assumed "thin slurry" per Mr. Malty). The high density of cells drove attenuation past 1.000 but provided little in terms of flavor and aroma.

The additional attenuation also increased bitterness and revealed flaws in the base beer. Looking back at my notes, I allowed fermentation to free-rise from 62F to 70F in the first 24 hours. I also added too much hops. A healthy fermentation and attention to detail: the foundation of all great beer, obviously neglected on this brew day. 

I plan to repeat this experiment with more cultures and a well-brewed base beer. To achieve adequate pitching rates, I intend on diluting each slurry with sterile water prior to dosing. I would also like to lower the pH of some samples to observe flavor profiles at varying levels of acidity. 

Time to brew up some saison!