Sourdough Kvass

I’ve recently been experimenting with making sourdough breads. Now, while I haven’t perfected it to the point of blogging (hopefully that will come soon) I have made some tasty product. However, for every one success, there are probably three failures. Personally, I hate wasting food, especially failed cooking experiments. While I was pondering what to do with the bread besides trying to compost it, I remembered the relatively obscure Russian beer kvass.

FullSizeRender_1Classically, a kvass is a low alcohol beer brewed from old rye bread. The bread is mashed and the resulting slurry is fermented and consumed in a thick, often lumpy, smoothie. In more modern variations, the bread is separated from the sugary liquid and then the resulting wort is fermented. Being low in alcohol and before the time of “modern” brewing, it is likely that kvass developed a level of sourness after only a few days. It makes sense that a sour dough bread, having had lactobacillus already sour the mix, would be a perfect choice for a more modern take on the classic Kavas.

In order to extract as much sugar from the wheat as possible, I mashed with a bit of brewers malt just to make sure that the enzyme level was high enough. I had relatively poor control over the mash temperature so the temp ranged from the mid 150s to the low 140s. After an hour I did a quick sparge and then squeezed the brewing bag to extract a fair amount of liquid. I then boiled for an hour with a single bittering hop addition.

FullSizeRender.jpgI wanted to take this one step further. Since this beer is about as far from Reinheitsgebot as you can get, a bit of experimentation was in order. I chose to make this beer into an herbal beer, adding thyme and basil to complement the bready characteristics. I wanted the beer to remind the drinker of bread sticks and salad (sounds a bit weird, but its a combo that has worked for Olive Garden for years). Going above and beyond I wanted to see what this beer tasted like in both a “clean” and “soured” form. One gallon went to a clean German wheat fermentation, the other went onto some jolly pumpkin dregs I had kicking around the house.

Recipe: San-Fran Kvass

Weird… Yah, Tasty… depends on who you ask. The clan version is very pleasant, with a freshly baked bread flavor and a hint of herbs on the finish. It only has a mild level of sourness, just enough to give a slight twang on the tongue. Overall, it is dry and refreshing, perfect after a day under the sun! The sour beer will be ready in a few months and will hopefully be drinkable. This modern take on a Russian kvass brings together San Francisco sour dough flavors with a nice basil and thyme backbone. At such a low, ABV this is a good session beverage which has a sour tang without the need to mess with sour bugs…. unless you want to.

Recipe: 2 Gallons

OG: 1.036 —- FG: 1.000 —- ABV: 4.73%

  • FullSizeRender2.5 Lb Sour Dough Bread
  • 0.5 Lb Brewer’s Malt
  • 10 g Tradition
  • 10 Basil Leaves
  • 3 Sprigs Thyme

1 Gallon with Wyeast 3056

1 Gallon with Jolly Pumpkin Dregs

Historic IPA

Recipe: Historic IPA

This beer is my attempt to recreate a historic IPA. It is based on an article from Craft Beer & Brewing. The excessive level of hops and long aging should help to define the character of this beer as well as give it an extra level of complexity. Brett should give interesting aromatics and change the perception of the hops slowly over time. It is a bit of a risk bottling this beer considering the highly unpredictable nature of brettanomyces but it will allow the beer to age and go through flavor and aroma changes that should be fun to observe.

OG: 1.066 —- FG: 1.0?? —- ABV: ?.?%

  Recipe (5 gallons):

  • 14 lb Marris Otter
  • 3 oz East Kent Goldings – 60 min
  • 1 oz East Kent Goldings – 10 Min
  • 2 oz East Kent Goldings – Secondary for 14 Days
  • 2 oz East Kent Goldings – Tertiary for 7 Days

Yeast: Wyeast 1203 (Burton IPA Blend) & WLP645 (Brettanomyces Claussenii)

Mashed at 150 for 75 minutes. Boiled for 65 minutes. Fermented at 68 F for 2 weeks. Brewed 1/29/16 with 68% efficiency. Racked to Secondary 2/13/16 and added a vial of WLP645. Dry hopped 3/6/16 with 2 oz EKG. Racked to Tertiary 3/20/16. Dry hopped 4/4/16 with 2 oz EKG and 2 oz American Oak soaked in Vodka. Bottled 4/14/16.

Tasting Note 10/24/2017: it’s almost a year and a half old and in my opinion coming into its own. In the early days it was very hop forward and relatively clean. Now hops and Malt blend in the background (amazing that there are still hop notes after all this time). It has a strong estery-funky nose with clean barnyard and maybe some leather. Tastes great with a initial lactic sourness without any acetic quality. Fruity notes, not too much hop bite, very well balanced. Apearance… speaks for itself.

Book Review: Prost!


Author: Horst D. Dornbusch

Rating 9/10

Prost!This book is a wonderful primer on the rich history of German beer and brewing. Dornbusch takes us on an adventure spanning 3000 years, from the brewers of the fertile crescent all the way to modern German brew masters. It is a great book for anyone who loves both interesting history and well crafted beer. History truly comes alive as you flip through the pages of this outstanding history book.

In the beginning, Dornbusch describes the origins of brewing, starting with the first accidental batch of homebrew. He then explains the progression of brewing in the ancient world, explaining the socioeconomic impact that beer has had throughout time. We learn how inseparably tied the bakery and the brewery were and what a huge impact beer played in the lives of every day people. He then marches forward, discussing the role of the church and the state as they battled for supremacy over what could reasonably be described as the most important beverage of their existence. The book weaves through time, highlighting various landmarks in German brewing history.

Towards the end of the book, Dornbusch tells us about the evolution of modern German beer styles. We learn about the rivalry between the Cologne Kölsch and the Dortmunder Alt beer, along with many other fun and unique facts about the beers we know and love today. It gives the drinker a whole new perspective when they discover the history inside of their beer stein.  Some of the beers covered include: Hefeweisse, Dunkel, Alt, Kölsch, Pilsner, Helles, and many others.

As a huge beer nerd and a general lover of history, I could not put this book down. Not only is the information interesting, but the writing style is very entertaining with a definite element of the author’s pleasant personality coming through in every page. The only flaw to this book is the flow of information, which seems to skip around through various points in time. To the author’s credit, he does an excellent job making a cohesive tale out of a chaotic history. Overall it is an excellent read and I would recommend it to anyone who loves brewing history.

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.

Book Review: Beyond the Pale

Beyond the Pale: The Story of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

Author: Ken Grossman

Rating 8/10

TBeyond the Palehis book takes the reader along the road to the founding of Sierra Nevada Brewery. It follows the tale of Ken Grossman, founder of the Sierra Nevada Brewery. Starting from humble origins as a home brewer, he eventually became a home-brew shop owner, and finally became a professional brewer. Ken’s journey took him on a winding path, showing us that a great brewer can come from any background.

The book also goes into the birth of the craft beer industry. Sierra Nevada was one of the founding breweries that sparked the craft beer movement. We are also given Ken’s memories of other notable breweries including Anchor and the now closed New Albion Brewery. The book does an excellent job showing the struggle these pioneer brewers went through to build up beer in this country.

I enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys Sierra Nevada and appreciates a bit of history. The book really shines in its overview of the founding of craft beer in this country through the eyes of Ken and his brewery. One definite downside to this book is that it starts to lose focus towards the end. It goes from a cohesive story to Ken discussing various aspects of his brewery and business practices in general. Unfortunately this takes away from the overall appeal of this book.