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Brewer’s Best Dunkelweizen

This batch will be my last kit beer for a while.  After months of thinking about it, I’ve finally taken the next step in to All Grain brewing.  It seemed like such a big step to take, but now I’m wondering what the heck took me so long…

It’s only fitting that I end my kit run with a repeat of the most popular beer I’ve made to this point.   A Dunkelweizen!

Even though this year’s Dunkel was a repeat, it actually differs a bunch from the kit and process I used last year.  Most interestingly is the use of totally different hops this time around.  Last year the kit included Vangaard bittering hops and Argentine Cascade aroma hops, but this year was Willamette bittering hops and German Spalt Select for aroma.  Another major difference is the yeast.  My original yeast last year was dead, and I replaced it with a Windsor yeast.  This year the kit came with Danstar’s Munich yeast.

Even with all the differences, certain elements were common with this year’s recipe.  The LME was still Briess Bavarian Wheat, there is a pound of Maltodextrin, and the specialty grains are the same (crushed Chocolate & crushed Munich).

Extract Kit Recipe

Ingredients

  • 6.6 lb. Briess Bavarian Wheat LME
  • 1 lb. Maltodextrin
  • 8 oz. Crushed Chocolate
  • 8 oz. Crushed Munich Malt
  • Danstar Munich Yeast
  • 1 oz. Willamette Bittering Hops – 4.7% alpha acid
  • 1 oz. German Spalt Select Aroma Hops – 2.2% Alpha Acid
  • 5oz. Priming Sugar

Additional Details

  • SG 1.062
  • FG 1.022
  • 5.3% ABV
  • Brewed 10/24/10, Secondary 11/09/10, Kegged 11/29/10

Brewing the Dunkelweizen

After almost two years of making Brewer’s Best kits, I’ve got the process down pretty well.  That’s not to say I don’t get distracted and lose track of things occasionally… but it still makes beer when it’s all said and done!

The Dunkel starts out by steeping your specialty grains, in this case chocolate and munich.  For this batch I heated the steeping water to about 160°, then added my grain bag.  The heat ended up getting a little warmer than that, so I let the temp cool…then over cool, so I heated the water back up and extended my steeping time by a few minutes.  I get distracted…

After the grain bag is removed, it’s time for the boil.  As soon as you’ve got a gentle, rolling boil, it’s time to add the LME and Maltodextrin.  Stir until everything is dissolved and return to a boil.

Next up are the hop additions.  I added my bittering hops with 40 minutes left on the boil, then added my aroma/flavoring hops at the 20 minute mark.

After the 60 minute boil had completed, I moved the wort to my sink ice bath, letting the temps come down to around 90°.  As the wort is cooling, I fill my sanitized fermenting bucket with a couple of gallons of cold water.  Cold water will help cool the hot wort, so you can combine the liquids a little sooner.  I strain my wort with a sanitized wire mesh strainer to remove the hop pieces.  Once the wort is in the bucket, I fill it up to the 5 gallon mark with more cold water.  This is a good time to take a hydrometer reading.

Once your wort temperature is down to about the 70’s, you’re ready to add your yeast.  Rehydrating the yeast is said to be the best bet, but it’s also a great way to kill the yeast if you’re not careful.  I’m all about sprinkling the yeast directly on to the wort.  I let it hydrate on top of the wort for about 10 minutes before I give it a good stir to help aerate it.  Once you’ve capped the fermenter you should shake or rock the fermenter for a few minutes to further aerate the mixture.  (I didn’t do this for my Dunkel… it’s something I’ve just recently learned about).

Fermentation & Kegging

I let this batch sit in the primary for about 2 weeks, then I racked it over to my secondary, where I let it sit for about 3 weeks.  A person could speed this process up, but I just usually do it when I have the time.

Racking over to the secondary went fine, as did the kegging.  This is the 4th beer I’ve kegged instead of bottled.  It’s GREAT.  So easy to rack from the secondary to the (sanitized) keg instead of a bunch of bottles.

Drinking the Dunkelweizen

The 2009 Dunkel was possibly the best batch I’d made in two years of brewing.  I opted to brew the same kit in 2010 in hopes of repeating that success.   Did I?  Not really.

This year’s Dunkelweizen doesn’t really have many of the qualities that made the ’09 so great.  The brew is a little sweeter, and maybe a little maltier.  The flavor is okay, but not really the same as last year’s beer.  Not to say it’s bad, but it’s not ‘quite’ right.  I was able to do a side by side comparison with my last bottle of the ’09, and my suspicions were validated.  The current Dunkel just isn’t as good.  But why?

I think the hop additions this year made a big difference.  Without realizing it, I’ve been using Willamette hops in EVERYTHING lately, and I think I might be sick of them.  My Witbeir used Willamette for bittering, the Frankenbeer was dry hopped with Willamette, the Pumpkin Okto used it for bittering and aroma, and now this one.  I’ve got a full fridge of beers hopped with the same type of hop…  Not recommended.

Aside from my Willamtte overexposure, I think the yeast is also a factor here.  If you check out my writeup for last year’s batch, I compared the yeast I used with the one that came with the kit.  Though they sound similar, I think the one from last year may have produced a little dryer and cleaner beer.

My third theory is my fermentation temperatures.  What were they?  Great question…  I’ve rarely paid much attention beyond trying to hit about 68°, but looking over some of my recent batches, I think I’ve been fermenting a little too warm.  I’ve worried about my cold house slowing fermentation, but I think I’ve created warmer temp’s that have created lesser beers.  Warmer fermentation temps can create additional esters, and less ‘clean’ beers.  I’ll be updating this theory over my next few batches.

Apparently I’m long winded today, but I’ll wrap it up.  Was this year’s Dunkelweizen a failure?  Not at all.  Would I make this recipe again?  No.  If you’re thinking about trying out a Dunkelweizen, I’d suggest creating a recipe similar to what I made in ’09.  If you’ve got a local homebrew shop, you should be able to buy the ingredients separately.

This is my last kit beer for a while.  Stay tuned for my entry in to All Grain Brewing!

 

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Pumpkin Spiced German Oktoberfest 2010

After being less than impressed with the Oktoberfest I brewed last year, I wanted to mix things up a bit this year.  I’ve really been enjoying pumpkin spiced beers the last couple of years, and thought that last year’s boring Okto would benefit from a little pumpkin spice, thus the idea for the Pumpkin Oktoberfest 2010 was born!

I did quite a bit of research preparing to make this beer.  There are a lot of opinions as to which type of pumpkin to use, or whether it’s even a necessary ingredient.  Many use a baking pumpkin, while others swear by canned pumpkin.  I read other places where a lot of people don’t even bother to use a pumpkin, as it doesn’t really contribute a great amount to the beer, and the spices are what most people recognize as ‘pumpkin’ in the beer, anyway.

As I had no idea where to get a baking pumpkin, I set out to find canned pumpkin.  Oddly enough, the store was out of canned, but was stocking baking pumpkins.  Score!

Recipe & Ingredients

Ingredients

  • 6.6 lb. Munich LME
  • 1 lb. Amber DME
  • 8 oz. Crushed Caramel 60L
  • 4 oz. Crushed 20L
  • Brewferm Lager Yeast
  • 1 oz. Willamette Bittering Hops
  • 1 oz. Willamette Aroma Hops
  • 3-4 lb. Pumpkin

Spices

  • 1 tsp. Pumpkin Spice
  • 1.5 tsp. Cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. Allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. Ginger
  • 1.5 tsp. Nutmeg
  • 1.5 tsp. Vanilla Extract

Additional Details

  • SG 1.050
  • FG 1.022
  • 3.68% ABV

Preparing the Pumpkin

Before anything else, you need to prepare the pumpkin.  I cut the pumpkin in half and de-seeded it, then i cut the halves in to slices and laid them out on a baking pan.  I stuck them in the oven for an hour at 350°.  If a person had extra time, I’d suggest going a little longer to really soften them up.

After an hour the pumpkin was fairly soft and easy enough to remove from the outer skin.  Plenty messy, but not hard to do.

Generally, you would add this pumpkin goo in with your mash, but this is an extract batch, so I needed to steep the pumpkin with my grains. Sooooo… I usually take good notes, but for some reason I neglected to jot down how long I steeped the pumpkin for.  For the sake of good story telling, I’ll assume I put the pumpkin in to my boiling pot as I brought it to steeping temperature.  When the water reached the steeping temperature (150°-165°), I added in my specialty grains.  These remained in the pot for 20 minutes.

Again, my notes are terrible, but looking at pictures, it would appear I strained the wort before the boil to remove the pumpkin sludge.

The Great Pumpkin Boil

Time for the fun part, the boil!  After steeping, I brought the pot to a boil and dissolved all of the LME and DME.  Once the wort returned to a boil I started my spice & hop clock.

Brewing Schedule

  • 60 minutes:  1 tsp. spices
  • 40 min.:  1 tsp. spices / add 1oz Willamette hops
  • 20 min.:  1 tsp. spices / add 1oz Willamette hops
  • 10 min.:  1 tsp. spices
  • 5 min.:  remaining spices  ~1 tsp.

I made this all up as I went along, so my measurements are random, and a little bit inaccurate.  I didn’t add the vanilla until after the first addition, and I have no idea how much I added at the 5 minute mark.  I ended up adding the vanilla after reading that it helps the dry spices from flying away when added to the hot wort.

After the boil, I let the wort cool for about 30 minutes in my sink ice bath, letting hops and spices settle to the bottom.  As usual, I strained the cooled wort with a strainer as I poured it in to the bucket.  The pumpkin filtered out fine, but made the strainer HEAVY.  Be careful it doesn’t fall in to the wort.

This beer used a lager yeast, which was a first for me.  I kept it in my beer fridge, at the temperature suggested on the yeast pack (53° to 59°).  I’ve been terrible at keeping track of fermentation temps, but I’m hoping to fix that moving forward.

I racked this to the secondary on 10/24, 13 days after brewing.  Kegged the beer on 11/9.  The beer was pretty cloudy all the way through.  The pumpkin would take the blame on that one, I think.  The carbonated beer is still cloudy, but not quite as much as it was in the secondary.

Tasting & Tweaking

The basis for this batch was a 2009 Brewer’s Best Oktoberfest kit that was an Ale.  As this year’s beer was a lager, it’s probably already a better beer than last year’s.  That said, I was basing my concept on the boring flavors from last year’s batch, so I might have gone too far.

Pumpkin beers are really a matter of taste.  It’s hard to really qualify this beer as good or bad.  I’m quite happy with the way it turned out.  I wanted quite a bit of spice, and I certainly got that.  I think I will dial the spices back next time, but not a ton.  General reaction to the beer has been mixed.  Most who don’t like the beer are the same people who don’t like any pumpkin beer.  Those who like a pumpkin spiced beer, are generally pretty receptive.

Next time around I’ll go for more of a golden ale as the base.  This beer hits a little hard in both spice and malt.  I’d like something a little lighter.  I’d also like to go with an ale instead of lager.  I’m happy with this beer, and I think it’s a great stepping stone for next year’s beer!

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Brewer’s Best Witbier Kit

I’m always a season behind, so why wouldn’t I brew a Witbier just in time for Winter?

In broad terms, a Witbier (from “White Beer”) is a Belgian Style ale that’s usually pale and cloudy in appearance due to it being unfiltered and the high level of wheat, and sometimes oats, used in the mash. Witbiers are usually spiced with coriander, orange, and bitter orange peel, sometimes with additional spices.

Extract Kit Information

Ingredients

  • 3.3 lb. – Bavarian Wheat Briess LME
  • 1 lb. – Wheat DME
  • 8 0z. – Flaked Wheat
  • 8 oz. – Flaked Oats
  • 1 lb. – Crushed 2 Row Pale Malt
  • 1oz. – Willamette Bittering Hops
  • 1 oz. – Sterling Flavoring Hops
  • 1oz. – Spice Pack  -Bitter Orange Peel & Coriander Seed
  • Safbrew WB-06 Yeast

Misc. Details

Brew date: June 27th, 2010    –   Original Gravity – 1.028 (should be 1.045)
Secondary: July 20th, 2010
Kegged: August 28th, 2010  –  Forgot to measure Final Gravity….

Steep-to-Convert & the Boil

This Brewer’s Best kit is the first I had used with what they call the “Steep-to-convert” process.  They call the process a simplified version of mashing.  You rely on the DME and LME for most of the sugars, but you steep-to-convert some malt and oats in order to give the beer the proper character, even for extract brewing.

I steeped the flaked wheat & oats and crushed 2 row pale malt in a grain bag for 45 minutes.  I didn’t watch the temperature very well and was a little cool for part of the process (140°-145°).  Better than being too hot, but I think I could have pulled more sugars if I’d been more careful.

The boil length for this Wit was a little shorter than some, clocking in at 55 minutes.  40 minute boil on the bittering hops, then the DME and Spice Pack were added.  5 minutes later, the flavoring hops were added.  These were allowed to boil 10 minutes, then the boil was complete.  The Spice Pack contained Bitter Orange Peel and Coriander Seed, 1/2 oz of each.  I’m not sure why the DME was added with the spice pack.  I’ll have to look in to that.

Yeast and Fermentation

Coriander and Bitter Oraange Peel

I pitched the yeast at 80° after cooling the wort in a sink ice bath, then combining it with cool water in the fermenting bucket.  After having bad luck about a year ago with yeast, I’ve had much better luck this year keeping it super simple.  I wait for the wort to cool, then I pour the yeast on top of the wort in the fermenting bucket.  I let the yeast sit on top for about 5 minutes, then I give it a pretty vigorous stir for a few minutes to air in some air.  Maybe not the ‘best’ way, but it’s been working well for me.

Due to a lack of time, I let this brew sit in the primary for almost a month.  Oh well… didn’t hurt anything.

Kegging the Witbier

I invested in a kegging setup!  Instead of trying to squeeze that in with this write up, I’ve decided to post it separately so I can spend more time talking about my new kegging toys.   Will link to that as soon as it’s posted!

Drinking & Evaluating the Witbier

As I’d mentioned, this was my first beer to go to the keg instead of a bottle.  There may be some flavor changes that come along with the process, but I’ll know more about that over time.

Anyways, I’m slow to writing this, and the Witbier is practically gone, but I can say it was GREAT.  I’m pretty sure I mucked up parts of the process on this one, especially the steep-to-convert, but it still made for great beer.  My Wit is crystal clear, light, and crisp.  It’s got the slightest tinge or orange and coriander to it, but it’s very slight.  I’m pretty sure this beer is supposed to be cloudy, but mine isn’t.  Still tastes great, and it’s easily one of the best beers I’ve made so far.

The Wit is a great crowd pleaser.  It’s mild, light, and crisp with that tinge of orange.  Even people who aren’t very adventurous with their beer drinking are okay with this one.

Random Info

Strained Hops and Spices from Wort

Hops

This kit called for Willamette Bittering hops and Sterling Flavoring Hops.  Here’s some info I grabbed from Wikipedia.

Willamette: Popular American development in 1976 of the English Fuggle. Named for the Willamette Valley, an important hop-growing area. It has a character similar to Fuggle, but is more fruity and has some floral notes. Used in British and American ales. Substitutes: Fuggles. 4 – 6%

Sterling: American floral hop released in 1998. A cross between Saaz and Mount Hood in character but easier to grow. 6 – 9%

Yeast

The kit came with a Safbrew WB-06 yeast.  Described as a specialty yeast for wheat beer fermentation.  Produces subtle ester (fruity) and phenol (clover) flavor notes typical of wheat beers.

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An American Light Beer?!

Why the hell would a person start making their own beer, only to make an American LIGHT Beer?!? The truth is, not everybody likes my the beers I brew. Some people have been drinking Bud Light for so long that you’re just not going to convince them that anything else is worth drinking. Call me a fool, but I seem to be compelled to help them find out otherwise… This was also supposed to be my Summer beer this year – light, crisp, and low alcohol. Of course, I didn’t get it made in time, and it’s now my Fall beer. Someday I’ll get my beer schedule lined out better…. someday.

Last year I made the Russian Imperial Stout, so it’s only natural that I should eventually make the beer all the way on the other end of the spectrum. The two beers are literally at each end of the aisle at my homebrew shop. I really wanted to know how this “American Light” would compare to what I consider to be a normal American beer.

This kit was kind of an unusual one compared to others I’ve done. To imitate an American beer, the ingredients are those that will create a super light beer, with about as little character as possible. Ingredients included – Rice Syrup Solids, Pilsen Light LME, Pilsen Light DME, and Corn Sugar. The hops are Brewers Gold Bittering Hops and Sterling Aroma Hops, and the yeast is Nottingham.

Brewing the American Light Beer

Brew Date:  June 6, 2010.  I started off brewing this beer just like a normal batch. Bring the water to a boil, then dissolve the sugars. It’s worth noting that the sugars in this batch are a PAIN to dissolve. The rise sugar, especially, did a lot of clumping on me, and took a lot of extra time to dissolve.

Once I got the sugars dissolved, I added in the hops and kept to the brew schedule included with the kit. Without the step to steep the grains, this batch moved along very quickly.

Once the boil was complete, I gave the brewpot my standard ice bath in the sink. Once it was cooled to between 90°-100°, I strained the mixture into my fermenting bucket. I generally fill my fermenting bucket about half way with cool water so that the temps will average each other out. Once I topped the fermenting bucket off to 5 gallons, my temp was sitting at about 84°.

I’ve had yeast issues in my time brewing, but lately I’ve been going a simple route – and so far it’s worked every time. Once my cooling wort has reached the 80’s, I sprinkle the yeast on top and wait. I like to give it about 10 minutes to dissolve itself into the liquid. Then I give it a good stir with a sanitized spoon to get it all mixed in. Might seem easy, but it works.

Before putting on the lid, measured the starting gravity to be 1.034.

Bottling the American Light Beer

Bottled: July 20th.  Not sure exact times, but I moved the ALB from the fermenter to the secondary after a couple of weeks. I let it sit in the secondary for a few more weeks. I’d prefer one week in the primary, then 2 in the secondary, but I’ve been busy…

Bottling was simple, I used a wide mix of bottles. 2 Growlers, 4 Mr. Beer 1 Liter bottles, 3 bigger bottles, and 18 regular sized beer bottles.

One odd thing was my final gravity measurement.  I don’t know how, but it actually measured less than 1.  It came out to .096, making the alcohol content a bit less than 5%.  Still a feisty little Light beer.

Drinking the American Light Beer

I was a little less patient with this batch than usual.  I was just curious how it would taste, so I cracked open a few bottles as it aged.  The beer was pretty green for the first few weeks, but eventually smoothed out really nice.  I’m actually pretty happy with this beer.  It’s nothing too exciting, but it’s light and smooth.  It’s in the same ballpark with a non-light American beer, but with a little bit of that homebrew character that seems to be common among most of the kits I make. If I ever make this kit again, I’ll keep my fermentation temps cooler to aim for a cleaner flavor.

As this beer ages, it gets smoother.  I recently busted out the growler for a football tailgate party.  Several of us mixed it with a little OJ for a breakfast beer.  It was great!  I don’t know that I’ll make it a habit to keep this American Light around, but it is nice to have a light beer for certain occasions.

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Brewing the Brewer’s Best Hopnog 2009

March 7: When I saw this limited edition brew on the shelf at my local homebrew store, I knew I had to check it out. I’m a lover of all things hoppy, so a wacky organic American IPA was something I had to try!

Brewing on the Hopnog was pretty straightforward. I started out by steeping the grains. This kit had 8oz. of Crystal 60L crushed organic malt and 4oz. of crushed dextrine malt. I let them steep for about 20 minutes at around 150°.

After the steeping, I raised the temperature and got it to a nice 185° boil. I added in my malts and sugars. This kit had Maltoferm organic light DME, a Golden light LME, and corn sugar. Once these were all dissolved I returned the pot to a boil and started adding in my hops.

The hops are really where this kit gets interesting. The bittering hops are a Brewers Gold bittering hop, then the next two additions are both orgainic. First the Palisade organic flavoring hops, then the Palisade organic aroma hops at the end of the boil for 10 minutes.

I gave my pot my standard sink ice bath and let it cool for about 20 minutes before adding it in to my fermenting bucket with the remaining 2.5 gallons of cold water. I made sure to use my strainer on this batch, as there were a lot of hops to get back out of the wort. Next, I topped the fermenter off with cold water to get the level 5 gallons, then took a sample for my hydrometer. My original gravity measure was about 1.052.

I pitched the yeast at 78° and moved the fermenter to my brewing closet.

Bottling the Hopnog 09

I moved the Hopnog to the secondary on March 25, which was 18 days after brewing. I don’t have a set amount of time I like a beer to sit in the fermenter, it’s mostly when I get the time to do it. Same goes for bottling.

I bottled this batch of beer on April 8th, a month after the original brew date. Nothing very eventful for either the move to the secondary or the bottling process. I used a mixture of growlers and 12oz bottles for this batch.

Drinking the Hopnog 09 Organic IPA

I’m writing this WAY after the fact, so the IPA has now had about 3 months to sit and figure itself out. The flavors on this one stabilized after about a month in the bottle. Not much has changed since then.

As an IPA drinker, I may be getting a little too picky, but I can’t say that I love this beer. I should also mention that I didn’t love the last Brewer’s Best IPA that I brewed about a year ago, either. I will eventually figure out what my complaint is, but basically I don’t love the hop taste of the Brewer’s Best IPA’s. They come across a little bit bitter, and just don’t seem to have the right balance of flavors. All that said, this isn’t a BAD beer, just not something you’d compare to an IPA from your local brewery, or a 6-pack from the store. NOwhere near as good as a storebought IPA. (Ranger IPA from New Belgium being my current favorite).

I should mention that the off flavors I’ve produced brewing IPA’s could be all my fault. Maybe I’m adding them at the wrong points of the boil, maybe my temps are off, etc. Live and learn, perhaps.

One more thing to note about this brew is the exteme carbonation. I can only imagine this part is my fault, but I’ve got CRAZY carbonation from these beers. So bad it slowly rises out the top of an opened bottle, or fills the pint with foam before you even get an inch of liquid in the bottom. This wasn’t the case until just recently, so I’m working out some variables to see if I can’t figure out what the heck my problem is. I may not love this beer, but I’m sure as hell gonna drink it!

Addition: I mentioned the carbonation…  About 3 months after this had been in the bottle, I was laying down for bed when I heard a crash in the room above me.  I went up to check it out.  I didn’t see anything, but I could hear dripping.  Sure enough, one of these bottled had exploded.  Luckily I had heard it, and was able to clean up the mess before it got too sticky.  The bottles were boxed up, so the glass shards were contained pretty well.  I wouldn’t have guessed a bottle could explode this long after the fact.  Now I know.  Another weird thing, the crazy carbonation on these has mellowed out a bit.  The last few I’ve had have been okay.  It seems like maybe the sugar didn’t mix in that well, so certain bottles were extreme, while others were not.

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Brewer’s Best Holiday Ale

The Holidays are a fun time of year. The weather turns cold, and it’s a great time for relaxing and over indulgence. Why shouldn’t your beer relfect the spirit and flavors of the Holidays? I figured December was a great time to brew a Holiday Ale!

First thing’s first… December is WAY too late to brew a Holiday Ale. It might be fun and festive to create this Ale during the Holidays, but your desire to drink a heavy, spiced beer in Feb./Mar. might be less than expected. That said, a Holiday Ale is a fun way to try some new brewing methods, and the result is a very unusual beer that shows people you can brew more interesting than a beer they might get at the grocery store.

What is a Holiday Ale?

I’ve done a fair amount of looking, and I really haven’t come up with an answer. From what I can tell, the “Holiday Ale” is more of a concept, than an item that follows any real rules or guidelines. Holiday Ales are often representative of the season that they are brewed for – which is generally Thanksgiving or Christmas. Spices seem to be a trademark of Holiday Ales. Things like orange peel, cinnamon, ginger, etc. I suppose it’s safe to say that an “Ale” would be the base of a Holiday Ale, too, right?

Brewing the Holiday Ale

December 15, 2010. I chose to try out the Brewer’s Best Holiday Ale kit. One of the best parts of this kit is that it comes with a lot of stuff! Not only do you have your usual LME (Muntons Light) and DME, but also a pound of Corn Sugar. The amount of grains is a lot higher than usual, too. You’ve got Crystal 80L, Chocolate, and Black Patent grains. Then, the spice pack is the real kicker. You get a pre-measured spice pack with Sweet Orange Peel, Cinnamon, Cardamom Seed, and Ginger Root. While I’m at it… the kit also came with Palisade Bittering Hops & Willamette Flavoring Hops.

As my pot of water came heated up, I added my bag of grains to steep at about 135°.  Then I let the water heat to about 165°, and I let the grains steep for about 15 minutes more.

Next, I removed the grain bag and turned up the heat, to get the wort boiling.  I’m just on a normal stove, so this can take a while.  As I’m waiting, I’ll usually put on a second pot of warm water for soaking my LME cans.  They pour easier if they’re warm.  You can also fill a sink with warm water and let them soak.  I’ve had pretty good luck both ways.

Finally my pot boils, and I add both cans of LME, the 1lb of DME, and the 1lb of Corn Sugar, stirring as I add them to reduce clumps and sticking to the bottom of the pot.  Once this returns to a boil, I added the bittering hops and let it roll for 40 minutes.

Next up is the fun part, you add the flavoring hops and the spice pack!  Honestly, the spice pack is cool, and smells pretty good, but it makes the wort look pretty nasty.  The floating orange pieces don’t make it look all that tasty…

Cool Wort & Transfer

After the boil time had completed, I placed my brewpot in my ice filled kitchen sink to start the cooling.  I did my usual process of spinning the pot in my sink while spraying the outside with my kitchen sprayer.  This works fairly well.  My ice melted down, but I wasn’t happy with my temp. yet, so I decided to take advantage of the snowy MT weather.  I took my pot outside and let it sit in a snowbank for another 10 or 15 minutes.  Snow is a great way to cool beer, if you have the option!

 

The wort was finally cool enough to add to my fermenting bucket with an additional 3 gallons of cool water.  Straining was a pretty important on this batch of brew, since the spice pack had left quite a bit of debris behind.  I set up my strainer atop the bucket, as usual, and I began to pour.  Well… the debris from the spice pack was heavier than I’d guessed, and the heavy strainer dropped in my wort!  How’s that for sanitary??  As quickly as I could, I fished out the strainer and saved as much of it’s contents as I could.  When it was all said and done, a fair amount of orange peel had gotten by me, but it wasn’t the end of the world.

Fermentation

Wrapped fermenter in a coat to hold in the heat.

Before adding the yeast, I took a quick sample of the wort to test the Starting Gravity – which was 1.070.  I’ve had BAD luck with yeast lately, so I opted not to do a starter this time.  I simply sprinkled the yeast on top of the wort, then gave it a good stir.   After that, put on the lid and air lock, and started the waiting game.  My house isn’t warm enough to ferment beer, so I put the fermenting bucket next to a heat pipe and wrapped it in a coat.  Hey, it worked…

January 5, 2010. Moved the Holiday Ale from the Fermenting Bucket to the Secondary.

Bottling & Tasting

January 21, 2010. It was finally time to bottle this brew!  Before anything else, I took a quick sample to measure the final gravity.  My measurement came to 1.016.  With an O.G of 1.070, this makes the alcohol content on this bad boy to be about 7.1%.

Siphoning my beer from the carboy to the bottling bucket was a challenge.  As I mentioned before, I let some orange pieces slip through the cracks.  The next challenge was keeping them out of the siphon… a challenge I pretty continually failed.   I had to restart the siphon 3 times to get all of the beer transferred.  Darn orange pieces…

Bottling went well.  Added my dissolved sugar, and got everything bottled fairly quickly.  I bottled this batch in mostly flip-top (Grolsch) style bottles, to give them a little extra character!

Taste, and the Final Verdict

This batch took a while before it was ready to drink.  With all the spices and different flavors, it really needed time in the bottle to mellow out and come together.  It was well over a month after bottling before the beer was something you’d want to drink.  That said, it’s pretty decent.  It almost has flavors of a peach cobbler.  It’s a little fruity and little spicy.  This isn’t the kind of beer you’re going to sit down and drink one after another, but it’s a great special occasion (a.k.a. Holiday ) beer.

One thing to note.  A Holiday Ale tastes better during the HOLIDAYS.  Plan ahead.  This is a beer to brew in August or September.  You might not be in the Holiday mood when you brew it, but at least you will be when you drink it ( also a great xmas present beer ).  It’s now the start of Spring, when you’re looking for lighter, crisper fare, and I’ve got a LOT of Holiday Ale to drink.  ( A guy could have bigger problems, right? )

Overall, this is a decent beer.  I’m not usually a fan of Holiday Ale’s, so it stands to reason this wouldn’t be my favorite.  It’s a little bit like a Holiday Ale you’d buy at the store, but the orange and cinnamon flavors are a little more dominant.  If you’re looking for a unique beer to brew for the Holidays, this one is a good way to go.

Coming Soon – Hopnog IPA 2009 – Mr. Beer Lager – Mr. Beer Cider
Previous batch – Dunkelweizen

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Brewer’s Best Dunkelweizen : Batch 8

Winter is a great time for brewing. It’s a great time to experiment with some darker beers. Even novice beer drinkers will often be a little more daring toward darker beer when the weather is colder. I’d been wanting to brew a Dunkelweizen since I started brewing, but hadn’t found time. Now is that time!

Dunkelweizens aren’t the most commonly found beer in America, but I’m a huge fan. I think they tend to be pretty similar to a Brown Ale in flavor, but they’re technically a dark Wheat Beer. Dunkel means dark in German (as opposed to weiss, which means white) and Weizen means wheat. A Dunkelweizen, generally has the same banana and clove notes of a wheat ale, but also has chocolatey, roasted flavors from the addition of dark malts.

Ingredients, Brewing, and Fermentation

Enough with the details, let’s get to the brewing! I made this batch with a Brewer’s Best Dunkelweizen kit. Ingredients included – 6.6 lb. Wheat LME, 1 lb. Maltodextrin, 8 oz. Chocolate Malt, 8 oz. Munich Malt, 5 oz. Vanguard Bittering Hops, 1 oz. Argentine Cascade Aroma Hops, and Munich Danstar Yeast.

This batch of brew was started on November, 29th.  I started by steeping the grains for about 23 minutes at 150-160 degrees. I continued by adding in the LME and Maltodextrin, then the hops. Let that boil for about 40 minutes, then added the flavoring hops for the last 20 minutes (per the instructions). I ended up with a wort with an OG reading of about 1.057.

I got the yeast started in a glass of water toward the end of my boil, cooled my wort in a sink ice bath, then poured the cooled wort into 3 gallons of cool water in my fermenting bucket. I added in the yeast, gave it a quick stir, put the cap on and set it aside to let it do it’s thing. The only problem… it didn’t. After 48 hours there was still no action. My second batch in a row that didn’t go! I’m wondering if I didn’t let the wort cool enough, or if activating the yeast in water may be working against me. I really don’t know if this was my fault or I somehow managed to find 2 dead packets of yeast in a row. Either way, I got a new packet of yeast from my homebrew shop.

Here’s where things get interesting. I’m not sure if it was intentional or not, but the replacement yeast packet I was given was a Windsor yeast packet from Danstar. I didn’t think much of it, took it home, and dropped it in my fermenter. This time everything started working as expected.  (check out my yeast notes at the end of this write-up)

I ended up letting the fermentation process go 12 days. I needed a couple extra days because of the dead yeast, and I like to let it go at least 7-10 days. I checked my FG as I racked to the secondary. Using my favorite beer calculator, my Final Gravity of 1.026 means my alcohol content is about 4.1%.

After 11 days in the secondary, I bottled my Dunkelweizen. I slacked this time around, using 6 Growlers, 6 big bottles, and 14 normal bottles. I know a lot of people are concerned with growler grenades, but I haven’t had a single one yet. Lucky, maybe.

Drinking the Dunkelweizen

As I always do, I cracked a Dunkel open after only a week. Not a matured beer but already this beer was GREAT. Currently (about 8 weeks later), the Dunkel is honestly my favorite beer I have brewed so far. The coffee and chocolate flavors are dominant, but the wheat base makes it finish great. It’s not a ‘chewy’ beer like a stout or porter might be. I think it’s got flavors similar to the Brewer’s Best Brown Ale, but it’s been almost a year since I brewed that one. This Dunkel is a great stepping stone for people who don’t necessarily go for darker beers. I’d highly suggest this one.

Random Facts and Answers

  • This recipe was my first to call for Maltodextrin. I did some looking, and it turns out that Maltodextrin powder, derived from corn, is usually used to add body to malt extract beers. It’s a non-fermentable sugar, so it does not add alcohol.

Grains

This recipe used Chocolate and Munich Malts. Chocolate is really common, but I had a hard time finding info on the Munich grains. Here’s what I found:

  • Chocolate Malt – Use in all beer styles for color adjustment. The rich roasted coffee, cocoa flavor is very complementary when used in higher percentages in Porters, Stouts, Brown Ales, and other dark beers. Sharply pungent roasted taste.
  • Munich – Sometimes called Aromatic. A Munich malt contributes some amber color and residual sweetness and yet is still very much a fermentable grain. Ideal for Oktoberfest beers, Dunkels & Helles beers. It will add a deeper color, fuller malty flavor, and aroma to your brew.

Yeast

I ended up using a Windsor yeast instead of the suggested Munich yeast. I did a little looking, and here’s the basic difference:

  • Munich – Aroma is estery to both palate and nose with typical banana notes. Does not display malodours when properly handled. Munich yeast has found widespread use in the production of German Weizen and Hefeweizen. Fermentation temperatures above 72 degrees will enhance banana flavors, below will enhance clove flavors.
  • Windsor – The aroma is estery to both palate and nose, and is usually described as a full-bodied, fruity British ale. Does not display malodours when properly handled. Windsor yeast has found great acceptance in producing strong-tasting bitter beer, stout, weizen and hefe weizen.

Straining the wort before fermentation.

 

Next up – Holiday Ale
Previous batch –
Russian Imperial Stout

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russian-imperial-stout-label

Brewer’s Best Russian Imperial Stout : Batch 7

Looking forward to the cold MT Winter months, I wanted to brew something dark and hearty. I’d also brewed several batches back-to-back, and had the luxury of making a beer that could sit and age for a while. When I went down to my local homebrew shop, I asked about the various dark beer kits they had for sale. The guy working told me about several dark beers before getting to the Russian Imperial Stout. He said “this one is the thickest, darkest, nastiest beer kit we sell.” Sold. If you’re gonna go big, go BIG. I’ve since learned a little bit about the beer at hand… Russian Imperial Stouts are the king of stouts. They boast a high alcohol by volume, plenty of malt character, and low to moderate levels of carbonation with huge roasted, chocolate and burnt malt flavors. There are usually high amounts of hops in the Imperial Russian Stout, but the malt, chocolate, and coffee flavors balance out the flavors.

russian-imperial-stout-froth

Brewing & the Dead Yeast

Learning about this beer made me even more excited to brew it. While I don’t love dark beers, I did want to see how such a drastically excessive beer would turn out! I performed the boil for this beer on August 8th of 2009. I filled up my brew pot and added the grains to be steeped. The grains sat in the water as it warmed to 170 degrees, then a little bit longer, for a total of about 30 minutes. As I steep the grains, I like to have a second pot of boiling water going for the cans of liquid malt extract (as you can see in the picture). This Stout had one of the best smelling boils of any batch I’ve made. The chocolate and coffee smells are amazing. As you can see from one of the other pictures, the pot had a frothy top on it as it bubbled.

russian-imperial-stout-boil

After boiling for about an hour, I cooled the wort, then transferred the mixture to my fermenting bucket. I’d purchased a strainer since my last batch, and used it here to remove most of the hops pieces. Next, I took the original gravity measurement before adding the yeast, that came out to 1.076. Right where it was supposed to be! Next I added in the yeast, capped the bucket and started the wait. Turns out, waiting was I that happened. When I checked the fermenter the next morning, there was NOTHING happening. No bubbles at all. I’ve ready plenty about not worrying, so I stayed calm and waited. The next morning… still nothing. At this point I figured it was time to add new yeast. When I went down to my homebrew shop, the guy told me that several of the Brewer’s Best kits from their most recent shipment had apparently contained dead yeast. He was nice enough to give me a couple of packets of Fermentis yeast free of charge. I went directly home, added the new yeast packet, shook and swirled the bucket to aerate the mixture, and then started the wait again. The next morning… bubbles! Turns out that my replacement yeast was working great.

russian-imperial-stout-yeast

Fermentation and the Secondary Fermenter

I let the replacement yeast work for 7 days. At this point it was time to transfer the fermented beer to my new carboy. Since brewing my last batch, I’d purchased a 5 gal. glass carboy. This was the first time I’d had the chance to use it. Nothing special, just siphoned the beer from my fermenting bucket in to the carboy. I then put in the plug and the airlock and put it back in to my beer fridge to sit at about 68 degrees. The amount of trub in the bucket seemed to be less than usual, but I think straining out the leftover hops pieces made a big difference there.

I let the beer sit in the secondary for 2 weeks. At this point, I added priming sugar and bottled the beer as I normally would. I was curious to see how much additional settling would occur in the carboy. There was a little residue left in the secondary, but really not very much.

russian-imperial-stout-trub

Notes and New Equipment

A few things worth noting.  I was able to add a few new items to my process on this batch.  First, I bought a great wide strainer.  Instead of metal mesh, which I’ve read can hold contaminants, I bought one that has a white coating.  It works great for removing the leftover hops pieces after the boil.  Next, my new 5 gallon carboy to use as a secondary.  This will be used on every batch from here on out.  Finally, this was the second batch that made full use of my beer fridge!  I bought a temperature regulator for an old fridge I obtained from a local auto repair shop.  It’s GREAT, and removes a lot of the worry I’d had over temperature fluctuation.

beer-fridge

Final Results: Russian Imperial Stout (aka – Black Death)

I gave this beer about a month in the bottle before I started drinking it. I’m honestly really pleasantly surprised with this beer. I expected dark, think, strong, and nasty, but it’s really not. Yes, it’s dark, but it’s actually pretty smooth with great flavor. You might not drink more than one of these at a time, but it’s a perfect one at a time, cold weather beer. I unveiled “Black Death” at a wintery tailgate gathering a week ago to very good results. Many people who don’t especially ‘like beer’ admitted to liking the brew. Also worth noting, the beer went great with a maduro cigar!

Next up – Dunkelweizen
Previous batch –
German Oktoberfest

russian-imperial-stout-ingredients

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german-oktoberfest-package

When it came time to pick a beer to brew for my sixth batch I weighed my choices.  My last batch was an IPA, so I wanted something maltier this time.  As it was late August, I decided to go with a German Oktoberfest, just in time for October!  I’m not actually a huge fan of most Oktoberfest beers, but I thought it would be fun to try it out.  I purchased a Brewers Best German Oktoberfest kit from my local homebrew shop.

Upon opening the kit, I was fairly surprised to see that all of the ingredients were pretty common to other batches of brew I’ve already made.  The kit includes 6.6 lb. Muntons Light Malt Extract, 8 oz. Crystal 60L, 4 oz. Crystal 20L, 1 oz. Willamette Bittering Hops, 1. oz. Vanguard Flavoring Hops, and Nottingham Yeast.

german-oktoberfest-wort

Ingredients and the Boil

The process went pretty well this time around.  I added the grains to my brewpot at the same time as I turned the heat on, to give them a little extra time as the water heated up.  The grains steeped from room temp all the way up to about 170 degrees over the course of about 30 minutes.  Then I removed the grain bag, turned up the heat, and brought the liquid to a boil.  As this was happening, I put both cans of LME in a pot with hot water to get them to flow out of the cans a little easier.  Once the water was boiling, I added both cans – stirring as I added.  I brought the liquid to a boil again and added my bittering hops.  I let that go for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, then added the flavoring hops.

Usually I fill my sink with ice and cool the wort in an ice bath.  As luck would have it, I badly clogged my sink earlier that afternoon, and couldn’t use it!  I’d read that the hot wort could be added directly to the fermenting bucket, so I decided to try that out.  I filled the fermenting bucket with 3 gallons of cold water first, then added the hot wort.  It took a little bit, but eventually the mixture cooled off enough for the yeast to be added.  This probably took a little longer than if I’d used the ice bath, but it wasn’t too bad.  While the wort was cooling, I added the yeast to a glass of water to get it started.  I also took this time to take a sample and measure my Original Gravity.  I was sitting right about 1.054, right where the kit suggested I would be.  Once the cooled wort came down below 90 degrees, I added in the started yeast, and put the lid on the fermenter.

I’d purchased a temperature regulator for my beer fridge  just before starting this batch, so I was excited to be fermenting the Oktoberfest at a consistent, proper temperature.  I set the regulator to about 65 degrees, so the beer would be fermenting right about 70.  The guy at the homebrew store told me that fermenting beer will be about 5 degrees warmer than the air temp – which held true.  I had intended to ferment for 14 days, but I got busy, and actually waited 22 days.

german-oktoberfest-pitch

Bottling the Oktoberfest

This is where things got interesting…   I’ve brewed several batches over the last few months, and I got a little cocky.  I decided to start my next batch (a Russian Imperial Stout) the same night as I bottled my Oktoberfest.  The brewpot takes an hour to boil, and that seemed like plenty of time to get my Oktoberfest out of the fermenter and in to bottles.  Everything started out great.  I got my Stout boiling.  Then, I cracked open the fermenting bucket and measured my Final Gravity.  It came to 1.012.  Using a cool online calculator I found, that figures my beer to be about 5.5% alcohol.  Next, I got my sanitized bottling bucket ready and started to siphon the beer from the fermenting bucket in to the bottling bucket.  This is where the juggling began…  I got the siphon started, then went to check my Stout.  The siphon wasn’t deep enough and sucked air and stopped before the beer was all the way transferred.  For the life of me, I could not get it to siphon again.  For the sake of time, I decided to slowly pour the remaining beer in to the bottling bucket.  I’d recently bought a new strainer, so I took this chance to filter out some of the extra hops that were still floating around in the fermenter.  This actually worked out pretty well, as I was able to get that out to keep it from getting in the bottles.

I got all of my beer in to the bottling bucket, and started bottling.  My stout had some time left to boil, and everything was still running semi-smoothly.  I got 2 growlers and 12 bottles done, then realized I had made a huge mistake.  I never added priming sugar!  Ugh.  I don’t know whether I could have just let it go or not, but decided to risk pouring the bottles back out and adding the sugar.  I emptied the bottles back in to the fermenting bucket, even dropping one of my growlers IN TO the beer in the process.  I got the priming sugar added to the bucket and slowly stirred it up a bit.  Of course as this is happening, my stout was ready to be taken off the heat, too.  I let it cool on the stove and started back on my bottling.  I bottled about half of my bottles, and then put the wort in an ice bath in my sink.  This bought me enough time to finish bottling the Oktoberfest.  Of course I still hadn’t cleaned my fermenting bucket yet, so I had to take a few minutes to do that now too!  Multi-tasking was a bad idea…

german-oktoberfest-fermenter

Final Results : Brewers Best German Oktoberfest

I cracked the first bottle open after a week.  Still too sweet, but honestly not too darn bad.  Even after all of my problems, the beer still had carbonation, and there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with it!

Week 2.  The beer is better!  Really, it’d be pretty fine to drink at this point.

Week 3 and on.  As with every beer I’ve made, it just keeps getting better and better as it ages.  The Oktoberfest is a pretty plain beer, but good.  There isn’t as much character as you would find in a store bought Oktoberfest, though.  I think if I made this kit again, I would make a few ingredient changes to liven it up a little.  Maybe use more or a different type of hops, or use a different malt extract.  I’ve read it’s common to use a Pilsner malt.

Next up – Russian Imperial Stout
Previous batch –
India Pale Ale

german-oktoberfest-ingredients

If you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear them!

 

 

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