Brew in a Bag

IMG_3284As I sit in the driveway, reading a book, listening to the migrating geese in the pond, and occasionally glancing at the brew kettle, I took a deep swig of my coffee. It was a great day for brewing, with the sun shining and only a bit of breeze. Even though most of my equipment is electric, I still enjoy taking a day to brew outside with my old homebrew set up. Even when you have all the brewing gadgets and “toys”, it’s just nice to take a step back and get back to brewing basics. For me, one of the best ways to scale back my brewing procedure is to do a brew in a bag session. Many brewers only do brew in a bag and it’s very easy to see why. Brew in a bag offers many distinct advantages including minimal equipment, less mess at the end of the brew day, and reasonably good brew house efficiency. The only two disadvantages with brew in a bag are temperature stability and mash control.

Below, I’ve outlined my Brew in a Bag Process. This is just one way which you can conduct a brew in a bag session and it far from the most efficient. I take a very low tech approach to brew in a bag which can be adapted to whatever equipment you have. If you don’t have any some of the tools Ive used, feel free to experiment (this can be your time to MacGyver some Homebrew)


IMG_3280Step 1 – Heating the Mash Water: As a general rule of thumb, put 1.5 quarts of water into your brew pot for every pound of grain your have (Example: For 10 pounds of Grain you would use 15 quarts of Water). Bring the water to approximately 160° F and remove the brew pot from the heat. If you want a more precise tool for estimating the amount of water you should use for the mash, go to Brew 365 and plug in your brew day numbers into the calculator.

IMG_3284Step 2 – Adding the Grains & Mashing: This is where you start to have a bit of choice. Personally, I add the bag to the water first (lining the brew kettle with the bag and allowing a pocket in the middle) and then add my grains while stirring. Alternatively, you can add your grains to the bag and then add the bag to the water. I prefer the former method because it allows you to stir the mash and get a homogeneous mixture, where as adding everything at once can give you the dreaded dough balls and decrease your efficiency. In either case add the grain bag and grains to the mash water and stir. Then put the lid on the pot and store it somewhere warm. If you are very concerned about loosing heat during your mash you can wrap your brew kettle in blankets. Let the mash rest for approximately an hour while you heat up your sparge water to approximately 170° F.

IMG_3307Step 3 – Lautering: Once again, you have some choice in how you want to lauter. I take the edges of the brew bag and form a very loose knot in the bag, so no grains can slip out. I then take a colander (or on this day a pizza cooling rack) and place the brew bag on top, over the brew kettle. At this point I use a measuring cup to slowly poor the sparge water over top of the grain bag, making sure to hit all areas of the bag. I continue this until I have reached my desired pre-boil gravity (again calculated through Brew 365). I have heard of other people putting their grain bag directly into the sparge water and simply mixing, but I think that this creates more mess and possibly less efficiency. Additionally, Ive heard of people adding all of their water at once and not doing any sparge. I would not recommend this last method since it could dilute the mash so much that the enzymes could not effectively reach the sugars, but the choice is yours.

Step 4 – Boil: At this point you will be conducting the boil as you would normally for any all grain brew day. Once the wort is collected, you can add heat and begin your boil. Once a boil is achieved, add hops as directed by your recipe.


IMG_3318Step 5 – Chill: Once the wort is finished its boil you begin your cooling process. Your goal it to get the wort down to approximately 70 degrees. Once it is cool, you will rack (transfer) your wort into your fermenter. The only special consideration you may need to make is how carefully you siphon off the wort. Brew in a bag can create more trub than when using a mash tun (partly due to the lack of a vorlauf step) and so more care is needed to avoid this greater amount of debris.

The remaining fermentation is exactly the same as with any other wort production method. Once again, my process of brew in a bag is certainly not the only way, but hopefully I have given you some tips on brewing with this awesome method.

A Brief History of Oktoberfest Beer

OktoberfestGirls_2015_C_normalWhen we think of the beer consumed at the Munich Oktoberfest, many brewers picture the classic Oktoberfest/Marzen style: a hearty, dark, and malty brew with great head retention and a warming alcohol bite. While this may have been the case over fifty years ago, today’s Oktoberfest beer is quite different. The beer that the masses are drinking at today’s festival is more akin to a Munich helles than to a marzen. It tends to be a light body beer that, while still malt focused, is usually much lower in alcohol. The added digestibility and drink-ability of this modern lager makes it more of a “sessionable” beer, but it is far different than the traditional beer of the fest.

While many of us romanticize Oktoberfest as a beer focused holiday, the truth is rather more… sober. The original festival started as a celebration of the marriage between Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen in 1810. The event was celebrated with a fair and horse racing, but beer did not play a central role. Of course, there were venders around the outskirts of the fair selling some brew but it was definitely not the focus of the event. As the years went by, the festival became more beer centered and in 1896 the first beer tents were raised. This growth in beer’s presence at the festivities was no doubt a byproduct of the festival falling around the beginning of the brewing season.

Lager caveBefore the age of refrigeration, brewing was governed by the seasons. The fall and winter were the brewing seasons since the temperatures were ideal for brewers yeast (both ale and lager species). Towards the end of the brewing season, usually March in Germany, a final strong beer was brewed to last until the beginning of the next brewing year. This March beer, or Marzen, was then stored in barrels (often in dark and cold lagering caves) and consumed through spring and summer. Once fall rolled around, the brewers once again fired up their brew kettles and needed the storage barrels for fermenting the new year’s beer. The barrels were then quickly emptied is a semi-debaucherous set of festivities. The Oktoberfest festival provided an excellent avenue for draining the last of these Marzen barrels.

The Oktoberfest beer I brewed this year falls into the Marzen category, making it more of a traditional Oktoberfest rather than a more modern example. I chose to keep the recipe simple, with a grist of 2 high quality German malts and two additions of one classic noble hop. I wanted the beer to have enough bitterness to be assertive but not so much that took away from the high quality malts. In turn, I wanted there to be a whiff of hops, but it should be subtle and almost undetectable.

Recipe: Oktoberfest

This beer is very malt focused with a hint of hops to balance out the residual sweetness. Although this is not a complex beer it is both very rich and very filling. It matches fall weather with its dark color and warming alcohol. As would be expected, it pairs very well with smoked brats.

OG: 1.058 —- FG: 1.0?? —- ABV: ?.?%


  • 6 lb Avangard Pilsner Malt
  • 6 lb Dark Munich Malt
  • 1.5 oz Hallertau – 60 min
  • .5 oz Hallertau – 15 Min

Yeast: Wyeast 2633 (Oktoberfest Lager)

Mashed at 150 for 60 minutes with a single decoction mash to achieve mash out temperatures. Boiled for 90 minutes. Fermented at 55 F for 2 weeks with a diacetyl rest for the last 2 days. Lagered at 45 degrees for 1 month. Kegged and forced carbonated.



Hefeweizen has become a very popular style among craft beer drinkers. Many breweries have at least a seasonal hefeweizen available on draft or in the bottle. However, there is a is a darker, more sinister, cousin of hefeweizen that many people have never even heard of… the dunkelweizen.

Lets break Dunkelweizen down. Dunkel is German for dark and Weizen is German for wheat. Put them together and you get a Dark Wheat Beer. One key component to brewing a dunkelweiss is producing a beer that has a dark color combined with rich malty flavor. We can accomplish this through a number of methods, but I recommend utilizing a bend of various high lovibond malts. This will not only give a darker color, but will also create an interesting malt profile. Next we have to think about the weizen component to this beer. I personally prefer a near 50:50 ratio of wheat malt to barley malt but this is again about personal preference. One thing to remember is that the more wheat you have, the more challenging your sparge will be. Although it may be overkill, I like to use 1 pound of rice hulls in my wheat beers. I can say that when I use high amounts of rice hulls, I never get a stuck sparge.

This brew makes an excellent beer for the fall. It has the excellent banana and clove aromas that hefeweizen is redound for, but it has a more rich malty note that makes it perfect for colder weather. This is an excellent transition between the light beers of summer to the dark beers of winter.

Recipe: Dunkelweizen

This is a highly malty, rich beer with a beautiful hint of chocolate. It balances the banana and spice of a German wheat with the complex malt and dark sugar notes of a dark Belgian ale.This particular version is heavy in the darker malts, giving a plum and raisin flavor.

DunkelweissOG: 1.051 —- FG: 1.0** —- ABV: *.*%

Recipe: 5 Gallons

  • 5 Lb Red Wheat Malt
  • 4 Lb German Pilsner Malt
  • 1 Lb Dark Munich
  • 4 oz Carafa I
  • 4 oz Special B
  • 4 oz Crystal 90
  • 1 Lb Rice Hulls
  • 0.75 oz Hallertau (4.5% aa) at 90 min

Yeast: Mangrove Jack Wheat

Fermented at Room Temperature for 12 days, Kegged and Forced Carbonated

Quick Brews and Fast Ferments

There are many times when you just say…. “F$*K It”, I just don’t feel like brewing today… but I really need a new beer on draft.  At other times you think… “Oh S&*T” I promised a keg of beer for the party next week. We have all been there, but there is no need to let the trifling matters of laziness and lack of time stop the production of delicious beer. There are a number of ways that you can make a great beer without a lot of work or time. The key is being clever, and determining the strategic short cuts you can take in the brewing and fermenting process.

Fifteen Minute Brews

I first came across the idea of a 15 minute homebrew while watching basic brewing radio. The idea is as simple as it is brilliant. Since malt extract has been pre-boiled, it is not necessary to do a full boil. Considering this fact, a 60 minute extract boil more or less superfluous for most beers. The big limiting factor in the fifteen minute boil is the hop utilization. The long and the sort is that your bitterness extraction will decrease with more sugar in your wort. On top of this, with a 15 minute boil, you will get significantly less alpha acid utilization than you would during a 60 minute boil. There are a number of ways to compensate for this, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. The first is to do a full boil at around 5.25 gallon starting volume. With the full boil, you will extract more bitterness from your hops but you will will have to spend more time in your brew day heating up and cooling down the wort. The alternative is simply adding more hops or higher alpha hops to boost your alpha acids. The down side to this method is the increased amount of money you will have to spend on hops. In my opinion the best option is a combination of the two methods. A 4 gallon boil is a very good middle ground between increased utilization and decreased overall cost of hops.

One Week Turn Around

I think we have all experienced times when we want to have a beer on hand but are faced with very limited amounts of time to make it. Its during these occasions that fast fermenting beers are our best bet. Generally speaking, fast fermenting beers are low alcohol beers. The less sugar there is for the yeast to ferment, the faster they will finish their project. Additionally, low sugar and low alcohol environments put significantly less stress on yeast, allowing them to ferment even more efficiently. When your looking for a beer with a quick turn around, look for something with a starting gravity of around 1.040 or less. Many styles can be brewed at either a low or high starting gravity, so there is quite a bit of room for low alcohol beers in several categories. Some examples of fast fermenting beers are: Ordinary Bitter, Mild, Scottish Light, Irish Stout, Cream Ale, Blonde Ale, Gratzer, and Trappist Single. On top of this, you could always make a “session” version of any beer style, your creativity is the only limiting factor.

Not only is it important to pick an appropriate style of beer, its necessary to treat the beer properly. There are a number of ways that you can ensure a healthy and fast fermentation. The first is ensuring that your beer has ample nutrients. You can do this by adding… you guessed it, yeast nutrient. Pick your preferred nutrients and add them as per the instructions. The next step is proper oxygenation. Yeast need oxygen in order to stay healthy, so don’t skimp when adding your O2. With the wort nutrient dense and full of oxygen, its time to pitch the yeast. Going with more yeast will give you a more rapid fermentation, but there is a limit. Don’t go over 4 packets of yeast, as this could take away from the overall flavor of the yeast. Finally, there is the question of temperature. Generally in chemistry it is understood that the higher the temperature, the faster the reaction (I know chemists, this is a gross simplification, get over it). This same idea works in brewing, and higher temperatures lead to faster fermentation. Unfortunately we need to deal with the nasty byproduct of off flavors. As tempting as it is to ratchet up the temperature to 90 degrees and let it rip, this would most likely make a highly undrinkable beer (but… what about a session saison…. think about it). I would recommend looking on your yeast’s web page and find out what the highest temperature your yeast can handle and use that a starting point.

Recipe: Quick Second English Bitter

This beer is a great recipe to brew if your in a rush and need a fast fermenter. The key to this brew is the low alcohol and punch of hop flavor. It makes a very easy drinking bitter, with delicate hop notes and a solid bite of bitterness. This recipe is based on Michael Dawson’s Boat Bitter. It’s best enjoyed with good company and simple food. 

English BitterOG: 1.041 – FG: 1.008 – 4.3% ABV

Recipe: 4.5 Gallons (Originally Designed for 5 gallons)

  • 7 Lb Marris Otter
  • 1 oz East Kent Golding (15 min)
  • 0.5 oz UK Brambling Cross (10 min)
  • 0.5 oz UK Brambling Cross (5 min)
Yeast: Mangrove Jack Burton Union


Pursuing the Perfect Pumpkin Beer

The Great PumpkinWith Halloween and Thanksgiving around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about homebrew for the holidays. For me, the perfect beer for this time of year is a solid pumpkin ale. It encompasses the spirit of the changing seasons and makes a perfect transition from my light summer sippers to my hearty winter ales. But what makes a good pumpkin beer? I think we all know it when we taste it. There is a strong malt backbone, a thick rich body, restrained sweetness, solid pumpkin taste, and a just a hint of spice. So, how do you get those characteristics in your beer?

It’s all about that Base

beer_flightsA great beer always needs a great base recipe, and pumpkin beers are no exception. You can load it up with pumpkin, get the ideal spice mix, and ferment to perfection, but if you have a bad recipe your beer will never be great. You have a bit of choice in the style of beer you want to start with. While a nice amber beer is the classic base for pumpkin beers, there is no need to stay within that guide line. In the past, I have made pumpkin porters, saisons, and barley wines. There are only a few guidelines I would recommend when picking your pumpkin beer’s style. First is to avoid styles which over accentuate hops, such as pale ales and IPAs. These are great styles on their own, but they can clash with the pumpkin flavor. Additionally I would avoid any beer where the style demands a sterilely clean flavor, such as pilsner or helles, where pumpkin might show up as a perceived flaw. Finally, stay away from beers that demand overly estery yeasts (bubble gum and pumpkin… yum!). Other than these three “rules” any beer is fair game for pumpkin beer. I am personally more attached to  the classic amber ale, but it all depends on your taste.

When choosing a grist, you can start to have some fun. Pumpkin beers provide an excellent template to experiment with some of the more unusual malts. For a crusty type flavor to add to your beer, consider using biscuit malt. If you want a sweeter flavor, use some lighter malts such as Crystal 10 and 20. Smoked malts such as cherry wood and mesquite can lend a phenolic edge to your beer. finally, something like special B can imbue the beer with rich dark flavors.

Perfect Portion of Pumpkin

Here comes your next big choice in planning your pumpkin beer, fresh pumpkin vs canned pumpkin. This debate is really about personal preference and, let’s be honest, how lazy you are. Canned pumpkin, while considered by many to be the “cheater” method, but it actually yields very nice results. Not only will this allow you to skip hours of tedious labor, but it also eliminates the risk of a bad product. It’s important to remember that pumpkins are an agricultural product and flavors definitely vary from patch-to-patch and as a result your beer will vary from batch-to-batch. Canned pumpkin, as a processed and homogenized product, eliminates some of this risk. The most important thing to remember is to pick a product with no preservatives as this which can interfere with your yeast. Now, if you want to be hard-core and make your pumpkin puree from scratch, you have to keep a couple of things in mind. The first is your choice in pumpkin. Make sure to choose a pumpkin which is designed for pumpkin pie or savory dishes. This means that your kid’s carving pumpkin is not going to fit the bill. There are many varieties of pumpkin which can be used, but a few of the easiest to find are sugar pumpkins, cheese pumpkins, and cinderella pumpkins. A full list of pumpkin varieties can be found HERE. Now comes time to roasting your gourd, a good simple technique is to split the pumpkin, remove the guts, and bake face down in a 400 degree oven for about 30-45 minutes (till a knife easily pierces the flesh). Next scrape out the flesh and add it to your mash or boil. The key here is the roasting of the pumpkin, allowing for caramelization and maillard reactions. I would recommend staying away from uncooked pumpkin, since raw pumpkin can be sharp and give a very vegetable like flavor.

One of the biggest mistakes a pumpkin beer brewer can make is adding too little pumpkin to their beer. Pumpkin has a very subtle flavor and can be easily lost in beer. Many people take this to mean that there is no point in adding pumpkin and instead focus on the pumpkin spice. Now, a great beer can be made with spices alone, but with a little bit more effort you can have both rich pumpkin flavor and complex spicy notes. The key is adding ample pumpkin to your beer. My personal minimum is 1 lb of pumpkin per gallon of beer, but I would not be opposed to adding much more. The timing of pumpkin additions is also crucial. Pumpkin can be added to the mash, the boil, and during fermentation; each one of these additions gives a different aspect of pumpkin flavor. I personally prefer to made additions during the mash and the boil and skip the fermentation addition. This is more due to a personal hang up on infection risk rather than a disbelief in the efficacy of the addition. At the very least, I would recommend adding pumpkin to both the mash and the boil.

Spice up your Life

One of the factors which can really make or break a pumpkin beer is the choice and ratio of spices. Of course the easiest method is to pick up a pre-made spice mix. One thing you get with a pre-made mix is consistency, so you can easily replicate the results time and time again. McCormick makes a very nice pumpkin pie spice mix with the classic cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice. While this is definitely an acceptable method, part of the fun of home brewing is experimentation with flavor. Creating your own spice mixture allows you to think outside the box and create something unique. The classic pumpkin pie spice mix is Cinnamon, Ginger, Nutmeg, and Allspice usually in a 12:4:4:1 ratio. That being said, there is no need to stick to this mix. If you like more of a hot/spicy then kick ramp up your ginger. If you’re into a deep nutty flavor, then make nutmeg your number one spice. Now, just because these are the classic spices, it doesn’t mean that you can’t go wild raiding the spice drawer. Vanilla complements pumpkin beer very well, giving a great mellow backbone. Fresh “raw” ginger gives a more sharp and vivacious note to your brew. You can even go hog-wild and try fenugreek, which gives a maple syrup like note to your beer. My only word of caution is to use moderation with your spices. Too many spices can give you a muddled flavor that brings your beer from complex to over complicated. My suggestion would be to stick with 4-5 spices at most and experiment with one variable at a time.

Sources definitely vary in the amount of spice which is appropriate to use in your batch. Some people say 1 teaspoon while others use as much as 1 tablespoon. One of the most important things to remember is that you can’t take the spice out once it is in. A safe amount would be 1 teaspoon but up to 1/2 tablespoon would still be reasonable. If you are uncertain about the amount of spice you want, start small and work your way up. Remember, you can always add more spice later!

Personally, I am highly conservative with my spices, since a heavy hand can ruin a beer. Unfortunately, too little spice can also lead to a less than desirable beer. One way to remedy this situation is to make a tincture to add post fermentation. Simply take your preferred spice mix and add it to vodka, then allow it to soak for around 2 weeks. Once the flavor has been extracted, simply add as much of it to your beer as you like. Using the tincture method allows for more precise control over your beer and can decrease the risk of a disappointing brew. You can find an article on making tinctures HERE.

Thinking Outside of the Gourd

Now, here is where things get interesting. Once you have established your base beer, you have a number of different options ahead of you. One very popular technique is fermenting inside of a pumpkin. The theory behind this is that you will be extracting even more “pumpkin” flavor. In my opinion (which is by no means the final word on the subject) is that this presents more problems than benefits. For one, the control over microbes is pitiful in this technique and you have the recipe for a nasty infection. Secondly, raw and uncooked pumpkin has a very sharp and vegetal taste which will do little for your beer. If you are interested in the novelty of using a whole pumpkin, I would suggest serving your homebrew in a pumpkin. This is technique is both fun, safe (for your beer), and can even add some extra complexity if you flame the inside of the pumpkin. A very good article on making a pumpkin cask can be found HERE.

Another option you have at this point is the addition of oak to your beer. Oak, with its rich vanilla and roasted flavors blends wonderfully with pumpkin and pumpkin spice. If you are only making a small amount of beer, I would suggest going with simple oak chips. While these cheap little guys are very one-dimensional in taste, their cost outweighs their simplicity, especially on a small scale. For the pumpkin beer connoisseur, I would suggest oak cubes or spirals. With a larger amount of surface area and greater selection of styles to choose from, these oak products are perfect for those who want some serious oak in their pumpkin beer. Finally, If  you are lucky enough to find a bourbon barrel or just freaking love pumpkin beer, an oak barrel is the perfect vessel to hold your brew. I would suggest saving the full barrel for a high gravity or imperial pumpkin beer since a longer time will be required to extract the most out of the barrel. As a rule of thumb on oak, the higher the toast provides more smoke and vanilla while the lighter the oak will provides butterscotch and coconut flavor. American oak is more aggressive in flavor, while French oak has a more subtle tone.

Finally, and possibly most controversially, you can consider using something other than pumpkin in your pumpkin beer. “Gasp, you blasphemer!” says the crowed. Alright, hear me out on this one. Pumpkin is a great gourd, but it is far from the most flavorful species in the squash family. In fact, the pie industry caught on to this and actually makes many of its so called “pumpkin pies” from butternut squash. I know how you feel, but the sense of betrayal will soon wear off. Going outside of the pumpkin can be a bit intimidating, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. Good substitutions for pumpkin include sweet potato and butternut squash. Give it a try some times and when people ask what makes your pumpkin beer so flavorful, just give a wink and say its your secret ingredient.

Recipe: Pumpkin Beer

This is my most recent attempt at a pumpkin beer. I loaded up the pumpkin and used ample amounts of pumpkin spice. I used a classic amber base and mashed at higher temperatures to give some residual sweetness.

OG: 1.052 – FG: 1.0## – #.#% ABV

  • 9 lb Marris OtterBeholdthepumpkin
  • 1 lb Crystal 60
  • .75 lb Crystal 90
  • .5 lb Flaked Wheat
  • 10 lb Pumpkin Puree (1/2 in Mash, 1/2 in Boil in the last 5 minutes)
  • 0.75 oz Willamette (60 min)
  • 1 oz Mount Hood 30 min
  • 0.25 Willamette 15 min
  • 1/2 oz Pumpkin Spice Flame Out
Yeast: Wyeast 1272 American Ale II (With a 1 liter starter)
Notes: I mashed at 155 for 1 hour to provide more body and residual sugars. Mash was a bit sticky so I added some rice hulls in order to aid in lautering.


The Funk and the Fruit: Split Batch Brewing

Minion Fruit HatFor me, one of the most frustrating aspects to brewing sour beers is the wait time before you get to drink the beer. Even the quickest turn around sours will still take around 3 months to finish (with the exception of sour mashing, but that’s a different story). More often than not, I’m willing to take on a long wait for a big payout. However, there are occasions where my brewing schedule wont allow me to use a brew day making something I wont be able to enjoy for a year or more. On these rare but regretful occasions, I take the middle path and do a split batch.

The concept of split batch brewing is incredibly simple. Take one wort, put it in two different fermenters then BOOM you have a split batch. With this grossly simple overview covered, there are a number of options for you to choose from. The first thing to decide is what sour you want to start out with. From there you can determine what your non-sour beer will become. I’ve outlined a few options for transforming a sour base beer into something unique and exciting.

One idea is to match your sour style with a complementary non-sour style. Many beers in the sour category line up very well with the “standard” beers set forth by the BJCP guidelines. If your making a Lambic or Geuze, you can make the other half of your batch a wiezen. Considering that a large portion of a lambic’s grain bill is wheat malt, and the hopping rate is low, transforming the recipe into wheat beer is an easy shift. I would stick with a classic German krystal or hefeweizen, rather than an American wheat, as these styles most closely match the lambic malt and hop bill. Oud bruin’s vital statistics are almost in lock step with those of a Northern English Brown ale. By using a nice hearty English yeast strain you could easily make this beer into a complex malty version of the classic English staple. Unfortunately,  Flemish Red ales do not have a perfect correlate, but they can become the base of a number of excellent beers. You could turn your Flemish Red into a rustic Saison, a Belgian Specialty ale, or even a fruit beer. Other than matching style you can add a number of adjuncts to transform part of your wort into something completely unique.

Apart from matching style, you could also doctor your wort to make something completely new. In an episode of Brewing TV, the guys used Dark Belgian Candy Sugar as one of the sole darkening agents with a very light beer base. Since Belgian candy sugar can be used after the boil, it provides an excellent adjunct in the carboy. Along this line, you can use another sugar to boost up the alcohol of your non sour beer without changing any color. You could use light Belgian candy sugar to transform a lambic into a Belgian golden ale or ample honey to create a braggot. Finally, you can use cold steeping of dark grains to transform a Flanders red or oud bruin into a Belgian stout.

Costco Fruit MixThere are a number of other ways to doctor your non-sour beer in order to make it something unique. One excellent way of doing this is by adding Fruit. The choice of what you add is up to your personal preferences and possibly what is growing at the time. I think that exotic fruits and fruit blends are a lot of fun and can give you something rare. If you want to stick with tradition, cherries (for a kriek like beer) or raspberries (for frambois type style) would be the way to go. Very interesting beers can be created by the addition of oak. It can turn a boring and bland beer into a rich blend of vanilla, smoke, and coconut. Finally, if you find that your base beer lacks a any interesting character, you can try dosing it with some tinctures.

One final thing to keep in mind is the how much of an effect temperature has on the fermentation. If you are lucky enough to have multiple areas to ferment, you can pick a specific area for your sour and another for your non-sour beer. If you limited to one area to ferment, you have to decide what temperature to keep your beers at. Most sours ferment best and fastest in a slightly warmer environment. That being said, they will ferment at lower temperatures but it may be sluggish. Now, it is possible to ferment your non-sour beer at higher temperatures and have the best of both worlds. Strains that work very well at higher temperatures include wheat beers, Belgian strains, and saisons.

Recipe: Funk and Fruit Split Batch

Doing a split batch gives you one beer that you can drink in a short amount of time and another that you can savor in a year or two. The fruit beer provides an intense bouquet of tropical fruit and a slightly sour undertone. The flavors of the fruit evolve over time, giving you a new beer every few months. The sour beer is a basic Flanders Red, with a nice solid amount of funkiness and a pleasantly subtle sourness that makes this an incredibly easy drinker.

The FruitOG: 1.054 —- FG: 1.000 —- ABV: 7.0%

Malt and Hops: 8 Gallons

  • 7 lb Pilsner Malt
  • 7 lb Vienna Malt
  • 10.5 oz Aromatic
  • 10.5 oz Cara Munich
  • 10.5 oz Special B
  • 10.5 oz Wheat Malt
  • 1.33 Lb Munich Malt
  • 1 oz Hallertau – 90 min

Yeast: Sour Beer (Wyeast De Bom) and Fruit Beer (Wyeast French Saison)

Notes: The fruit beer component was racked onto 6 lb of Mango/Strawberry/Pineapple/Peach Mix from Costco after the primary fermentation was complete. The Fruit beer was then racked to tertiary to age. The sour beer was fermented in primary for two months then aged in a 6 gallon carboy for another ten months. After a year the beer was kegged and put on the infamous golden sour tap.

Tincture Brewing

IMG_2866First off, what is a tincture? A tincture is simply an infusion of a spice or herb in an alcoholic solution. Traditionally these were used for medical purposes, extracting and preserving the healing properties of herbs and spices for use at a later time. A happy extension of this practice is the infused alcohol which we enjoy in cocktails (think rosemary infused vodka martini or the infamous Jägermeister). For our purposes as brewers, we can use these tinctures to improve our homebrew. Tinctures allow a quick, precise, and relatively easy way of adding a unique and exciting boost of flavor to your beer.

Advantages of Tinctures

Tinctures provide the home brewer with a number of distinct advantages over simply adding the flavoring agents to the beer. Firstly, tinctures allow for a precise amount of control over the amount of flavor added. When added at the end of fermentation or before bottling, the brewer can add small amounts of a tincture and taste the beer with each addition. This prevents the risk of adding too much or too little flavor and can cater the taste exactly to your personal preferences.

The next great advantage is the reduced risk of infection. While many herbs and spices, hops included, have inherent antimicrobial properties, there are still some which may harbor bacteria. By soaking your flavor addition in an alcoholic solution, you are significantly reducing the chances of a rogue microbe getting into your beer. The alcohol not only extracts flavor but sanitizes at the same time.

The final great advantage is the shorter time frame associated with tinctures. This is especially true when working with oak. When aging on oak, the time required for full extraction can be along the lines of months to even years. On the other hand, you can make an oak tincture (with either vodka or bourbon) and have it ready for addition within 2 weeks time. While it is true that this can take away from some of the complexity associated with oak, its time advantage can definitely outweigh this disadvantage.

What Spices/Herbs to Use

Any spice or herb can be used as a tincture. The most important thing to keep in mind is that the flavor of your tincture should compliment the beer you put it in. While sage may be delicious in a saison or Belgian wit, its flavors may clash with a malty porter. I’ve outlined a number of spices/herbs you may want to try, and the beers that they could go very well with.

  • Sage: With a fresh yet potent aroma, sage screams out spring. It makes an excellent addition to saisons and Belgian wits but I would recommend using it with a light hand as it’s flavor can get overpowering very quickly.
  • Rosemary: This is one of my favorite herbs and it lends itself very well to beer. I personally enjoy using rosemary in my saisons, but I could see it being an excellent addition to a Belgian golden ale or possibly even a dry cream ale.
  • Mugwort: Said to ward off evil spirits and promote vivid dreams, this unique herb possess a sage like aroma and intense bittering potential. This is one of the ancient bittering herbs used for gruits. Try it today ind rich porters or northern English brown ales.
  • Heather: This herb is common to the Scottish highlands and was commonly used in old school scotch ales. With the high taxes associated with hops (usually grown in more southern climates) the Scotts often turned to this bitter herb to mellow out the malt in their beers. Heather possesses floral and earthy notes. Try adding a tincture of heather to your next scotch ale.
  • Cinnamon: This favorite spice can be found in almost every pantry across America. Obviously cinnamon imparts a cinnamon type flavor, but what many people don’t realize is that cinnamon lends a unique spicy heat to the beers it is put in. You could experiment by adding just a dash to your next stout or English mild. I’ve had a great deal of success adding cinnamon to Irish Red ales.
  • Vanilla: We all know vanilla from various experiments in baking. Its flavors go very well in stouts, particularly milk stouts. For something a bit beyond the pale, you could try adding this to a blond or cream ale. If you want to try an example of this, Forgotten Boardwalk’s Funnel Cake Ale is a Cream Ale brewed with lactose sugar and vanilla.
  • Cocoa Nibs: Cocoa nibs are just dried and fermented cocoa beans. They lend a rich chocolate flavor to your beer. For a pure chocolate flavor, add these to a neutral spirit such as vodka. For something a bit more extraordinary, you could add them to either rum or bourbon. Stouts would be the classic beer to add this tincture to but Triptych Brewery’s Golden Oatie adds coffee and cocao nibs to their blond ale with very unique results.
  • Pumpkin Spice Mix: The types of beer that you could put this mix into are endless. My personal favorite style is a rich and malty amber, but I have put it in stouts and saisons as well with varying levels of success.
  • Gingerbread Mix: I generally like putting this mix in brown ales but it really could go into anything. Check out the recipe below for my Gingerbread Beer Recipe.
  • Winter Spice Mix: Generally consists of allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, ginger but other permutations are more than possible. I have heard of cardamom being used as well as mint. Generally this mix is associated with very full bodied malty beers. You could try them in an old ale, a stout, or a porter

How to Make a Tincture


While this is not the only method of making a tincture, it is a great starting point for the newbie willing to experiment. The following pictures are from an experimental green tea tincture I decided to make.

Clean Equipment Step 1: Start by thoroughly washing your container. While sanitation is not essential for this process, it is important to make sure there is no dirt which could lead to off flavors in your tincture. As far as choice of container, I personally like using canning jars. In regard to size, I would recommend either 4 oz or 8 oz jars. They are large enough to provide almost any size tincture, but small enough to easily fit into any space for storage.

Add Spice/Herb to JarStep 2: Add your spice or herb to the mason jar. For wet herbs, I would recommend shredding them lightly to increase surface aria and release some of the essential oils. The amount that you use is completely your prerogative and is a matter of personal choice. At this point, it would be hard to go overboard with the amount since you will essentially be diluting this mixture later.

Step 3: Add the alcohol to the jar. Make sure that the spirits are completely covering the spice.


Store the TinctureStep 4: Store the tincture in a dark place. The warmer the location, the faster the extraction will occur. Every few days give the jar a shake to mix the herb/spice and disperse the flavor. After 2 weeks, the tincture will be fully extracted. Longer wait time will only increase the potency. A combination of tasting and trial and error will let you know when its finished extracting.

Straining TincturesStep 5: Once you have decided that your tincture is finished extracting its time to take the extract off of the herb/spice. There are a number of ways to do this. One is to purchase a fine mesh bag and squeeze until all of the tincture is separated from the left over gloop. Another way is to use plain old coffee filters. While less efficient than a mesh bag, coffee filter’s convenience and price point makes them a reasonable alternative. Store in a cool dark location. Shelf life should be good for several months before flavors begin to diminish.

Recipe: Gingerbread Brown Ale

This beer is the perfect winter brew, combining the rich malt of an English brown ale with the warm spice of gingerbread. This makes an excellent gift to family or friends for the holidays. Although the spice diminishes slightly as the beer ages, the flavor still gives the beer a unique twist.

Gingerbread BrownOG: 1.060 —- FG: 1.015 —- ABV: 5.9%

  • 6.6 Lb Gold LME
  • 0.5 Lb Carapils
  • 0.5 Lb Crystal 80
  • 0.5 Lb Biscuit
  • 0.5 Lb Chocolate
  • 0.5 Lb Marris Otter
  • 3/4 oz (East Kent Golding) – 60 min
  • 3/4 oz (East Kent Golding) – 20 min
  • 8 g (Gingerbread Spice Mix) – Flameout
  • Gingerbread Spice Tincture to Taste

Yeast: Wyeast 1318 (London Ale III)

Notes: Gingerbread Spice Mixture as Follows (2 Part Cinnamon : 2 Part Ground Ginger : 1 Part All Spice : 1 Part Clove : 1 Part Nutmeg)

Next time I will consider dialing back on the darker malts in order to balance the profile and make the beer a bit lighter in both body and color.


Pittsburgh Brewery Tour

On my way back from an extended stay in Illinois I took the opportunity to stop and explore Pittsburgh. Having done a bit of research before hand, I knew that this city offered some excellent beer and had a rich history of brewing. The first commercial brewery, Point Brewery, was established in 1765, and the city has progressed in brewing prowess ever since. Today Pittsburgh, and the surrounding area, boasts over 15 breweries. Each one of the breweries has a diverse beer selection and a unique story to tell. Unfortunately, with limited time, I was only able to visit three of the breweries in the area. My choices were driven more by location and time constraints than the superior reviews of one location against another. On the whole I was very impressed by the beers I tried and even the worst brewery had at least one quality beer available. One man, One evening, Three breweries…. it made for an excellent time.

East EndEast End Brewing Company: This place is a fun hole in the wall establishment that provides a huge selection of quality beer in a very relaxing environment. The brewery brings to mind an old fashioned speak easy, with the entrance being hidden from the public gaze. When you enter, you are greeted with an eclectic collection of tables and bar tops, providing ample space to sample the brews. The staff is incredibly friendly and enthusiastic about serving their beers to the public. East End offers an amazing and diverse selection of beers. When I visited, there were over 15 beers to choose from. Their year round selection is very nice and designed to fit a number of tastes. Monkey boy, the house hefeweizen, tasted like a fresh banana cream pie; highlighting the esters and providing a creamy mouth feel. At the same time, their stout provided a nice smoky contrast with a solid base of roasted coffee and rich malty goodness. My very generous server also treated me to a special tasting of the house weizenbock. The flavors of the Weizenbock, Monkey’s Uncle, highlighted the aromatics found in monkey boy but brought it to a whole new level. Brewed with ample portions of sugar, this beer has a slightly cidery edge but also provides a super rich and slightly sweet mouth feel. I highly recommend this brewery to anyone driving through the area. With a huge selection of beers to choose from, this brewery may be a multi-stop destination.

Penn BrewingPenn Brewery: This brewery is an excellent example of how classic German brewing built the American beer scene. The brewery’s core line up is a set of traditional German (reinheitsgebot friendly) beers that, while not completely unique, are certainly brewed with heart. Their beers are clean, traditional, and highly drinkable. The brewery’s atmosphere is extremely welcoming with both indoor and outdoor seating available. The building has an incredible history. It was originally built to house the Eberhart and Ober brewery, founded in 1848. The building extends into a series of caves, originally used for lagering in the age before modern refrigeration.  This history comes alive when you sit and look over the brewery courtyard, imagining the old barrels being rolled by. Apart from the quality beer selection, the brewery offers a very beer friendly dining menu. Although I didn’t get a chance to sample their entrees, I was able to try their beer and cheese flight. With 5 beers and 5 cheeses, you are treated to a wonderful pairing combination. Possibly my favorite was the smoked mozzarella, possessing a rich and creamy texture underlying a powerful oaky smoke, that the brewery paired with their dark lager. Considering the care that they take in their cheese and beer pairing, I would highly recommend that you ask for your servers recommendation on what beer will pair well with your meal. If you are in the area, definitely try to check out this seemingly overlooked gem.

Church Brew WorksThe Church Brew Works: I really wanted to like this brewery, and I certainly loved the ambiance, but I was severely underwhelmed by both the beer and the food offered. The beer flight I tasted had a few highlights but, on the whole, the beer failed to meet the bill. My favorite beer in their line up would have to be the Kenya Coffee Blonde, which had a really nice roasted coffee flavor that played very well with the blonde base beer. Unfortunately their core beer selection was highly disappointing. Their dunkel was very thin, their blond was watery, and their stout was mediocre and lacked the full body creaminess I would hope for in an oatmeal stout. I would have tried their pale ale but the tap had run dry during my visit. My meal, pirogues and bacon, was an example of the individual components failing to be better than the sum of their parts. All the ingredients were fresh and tasty, but the dish failed to overwhelm or impress, and I felt cheated out of a great meal in this city. The service was lack luster as well, and I felt that the bar tender couldn’t care less if I was drinking a glass of water or their house selection. I would say come to this brewery if you have a little extra time in your schedule. The sheer bizarre combination of hedonistic pleasure and catholic guilt you experience while drinking in a church make it a unique experience at the very least. Overall, do not expect this brewery to be the highlight of your trip.

House Blond Ale #1

I’ve recently been looking for a solid house blond that I could brew repeatedly and nail down. My goal was to create a recipe with a pleasant malt base, restrained bitterness, and an overall high level of drinkability. I decided to go with a high alpha hop and a later addition in order to get the best of both bittering and flavor. Citra, with its unique and pleasant characteristics in addition to its high alpha content, made a great choice for this beer. I chose honey malt since it would provide a level of sweetness, a hint of color, and a level of “what is that taste” to this brew. I decided against carapils for this round, but I may use them in the future to bulk up the body and add a bit of stability to the head.

Overall, I found this to be a good first try in creating a house blond. It is what I would consider to be an IPA lover’s dream blond ale. It comes at you with a very pleasant floral bouquet, and imparts strong flavors of cooked pineapple. It is most certainly a highly drinkable beer, but I am not thrilled by the hop selection. Next time I would like to go with something a little more subtle, allowing the malt bill to shine. However, I am hugely fond of the base of this beer and think it is a keeper.

Recipe: House Blond Ale #1

This beer has a pleasant malt base, restrained bitterness, and an overall high level of drinkability. The citra hops come across as a melange of tropical fruits with pineapple taking the lead. This recipe could be adapted to any taste with the substitution of another high alpha hop for the citra.

Blonde AleOG: 1.047 —- FG: 1.0** —- ABV: *.*%

  • 9.5 Lb Brewers 2-Row Malt
  • 0.5 Lb Gambrinous Honey Malt
  • 1 oz Citra at 15 min

Yeast: Wyeast 1099 (Whitbread) with 1800 mL starter of 2 days, cold crashed

Mashed at 152° F for 60 min, Whirlpool 10 min, Rest 20 min

Fermented at 67° F for 11 days, Cold crashed at 40° F for 3 days


  • With the starter, this beer took off like crazy and finished fermenting in around a week
  • 1099 flocculated amazingly, it formed a very compact bed at the bottom of the fermenter and left very clean beer behind
  • The flavor has mellowed with time to become more of a subtle hop character