Partial Mash Sour Beer

So having not brewed beer about a year, I decided to get back into brewing with a partial mash. Here’s the problem; I’ve never been able to make a brew day simple. So here is the evolution of this project.

Firstly I knew I wanted to brew a sour beer because I wanted something low maintenance that I could leave kicking around untill I really began brewing more seriously again. On top of that, the aging time on sours make them a priority on my brewing schedule.  Now, considering that I haven’t unpacked my brewing equipment since I moved to Florida a year ago, I originally thought about brewing a 3 gallon extract batch. Then all of a sudden, I re-discovered around 20 lb of nice base malts that I totally forgot about. Doing the taste test I found the we’re still fresh (SCORE). So, with new found treasure, it would be a sin not to use it, thus the 3 gallon extract became a 3 gallon partial mash. 

Then, the danger started, I began thinking. If I’m going to the trouble of making a partial mash AND it’s going to get diluted anyway… why not go whole hog and make it a 6 gallon batch (what the hell right). Thank god I didn’t feel like getting my mash tun out or this could have gotten out of hand. So finally we have 6 gallons of wort that I split into two 3 gallon batches.

The first batch is my “control” group and is fermented with one of Wyeast seasonal releases. The second is a lot more weird and hopefully more funky. It has dregs from a couple of bottles and aincent smack packs of old wyeast sour strains. Additionally, for a bit of insurance, I added some Belgian dry yeast which I discovered in the back of the fridge. I cultured them all up in a flask with a mini started. I left behind 200 ml of starter to keep it going, just to see what happens.

Overall it was a fantastic brew day (amazingly) temperatures were all spot on and I got surprisingly great efficiency. The wort tasted nice, a hint of bitterness but not much, with a good malty backbone. I even had an assistant, Jim, through the brew day.

Odin Sour Red (6 Gallons)

  • 3 Lb Pilsner Malt
  • 8 oz Wheat Malt
  • 10 oz Each: Caramunich II, Special B, and Aromatic
  • 4.5 Lb Golden DME
  • 1 oz Aged Hops (approx 7 IBU)

OG: 1.052

Fermentation #1 (Sacrifice): Wyeast 3789 Trappist Blend, I’m hoping it will provide a stable “control” Sour that will be reasonably clean and minimally funky

Fermentation #2 (Resurection): Dregs from Wyeast De Bom, Wyeast Old Ale, Alsop IPA, Cantillon and Prarrie Brewery, Safale T-58. This is the experimental wild. Hopefully it will be plenty Sour and plenty funky.

Sour, Berliner Weisse, and Lambic Festival – Tampa Bay, FL

IMG_4452It’s no wonder with the growing popularity of sour beers, that there should be events dedicated to this mouth puckering beer style. When a brewery cracks a sour, freshly kegged from a barrel, it’s often celebrated by a release party. Many bars will celebrate sours with a special tap night, putting 10 to 15 of these superb brews on draft for a single evening only. Although all of these events do homage to wild beers, it’s my belief that the Sour Beer Fest at the Cajun Cafe on the Bayou is one of the greatest expressions of admiration for the sour and wild beer style. With over twenty-five breweries and one hundred beers represented, it can hardly be argued that this festival ranks as one of the top sour celebrations of the year. Brewery’s from Anderson Valley in California to local heroes like Cigar City, and near by celebrities like NOLA Brewing gathered to put their beers on display for the public and celebrate the renaissance of sour beer.

FullSizeRender_4As I walked into the event, I had no idea what to expect. I had first heard of the festival while visiting NOLA brewery a few weeks ago. As I looked at the web page, it seemed to be a fun event, with sour and wild beers from across the US converging to create a totally unique celebration. Waiting in line with several other eager drinkers to receive my tasting glass and token for free meal, I couldnt help but feel a sense of both anticipation and a little doubt. I was no stranger to beer festivals, but all the previous experiences I had were general gatherings with styles represented across the BJCP spectrum. ‘100 sours’ I thought, ‘Im going to be sick of them by the 20th taste’… Oh how wrong I was!

FullSizeRender_1Upon my entrance to the festival, I found a veritable wonderland of sour beers, with famous brands from across the country united to celebrate the style. My samplings ranged from classic interpretations of sours, such as traditional Flanders Reds, Lambics, and  Berliner Weisse (served with the classic woodruff and raspberry syrups) to the bizarre and unusual like the cucumber gose and the bourbon barrel aged imperial sour. The festival was the usual collection of people, spanning all across the age gap; from the barley old enough to drink to seasoned veterans of the brewing world. In short is was a classic beer festival, with all walks of life represented and united in their love of beer. The line up proved to be as diverse as the drinkers assembled at this festival. Some notable examples have been highlighted below.

  • Lemon Grass Gose (Rapp Brewing): Beautiful expression of lemon grass. This beer has a nose of lemon and suntan lotion (sounds weird but it was very pleasant) and a beautiful hazy pale straw color. Its flavor reminded me of lemon candy, like sucking on a citrus warhead. Herbal aftertaste with a hint of Lemon Drops. Reminds me of the beach on a summer day.
  • Whiskey Barrel Aged King Calus Imperial Sour (Point Ybel): Weighing in at a lofty 10% abv, this beer deserves its royal status. With distinctive Bourbon notes in the nose, and a chocolate aroma worthy of an Aztec god, it’s hard to believe this is a sour. One sip however, and you are transported into a world subtle sour flavor. Amazing rich notes of cocoa complement a delicate sour flavor of funk and malt. As I drink it I can’t believe the amazing velvety overtones of the bourbon oak. This is a game changer of a sour!
  • Blended Lambic 2016 (Dam Raynes): This beer was brewed by a local home brewer, and it is positively amazing.  The beer has a very classic lambic taste, highlighting sour notes with a restrained oak presence in the background. This is the more sour of the two blends Dam brought, highlighting acid over funk. It is an amazingly clean example of style with only ha hint of funk among a distinctive sour tone. It represents the best of Belgium… in America.
  • Cheeky Otter IPA (Hourglass): This is a very fun interpretation of the sour style, accentuating guava and leeches notes. As their head brewer described, it has a strong sour note which can be very refreshing; acting as a pallet cleanser even among its sour compatriots. Even the nose has an element of tart salad dressing; giving you the impression that you already for your main course.
  • Tropical Thunder (Hidden Springs): In a lineup of powerful sours, this beer may not be as overstated as some but it delivers on quality; which at the end of the day is what you’re looking for. As a kettle brewed sour, it has all the clean flavors you’re looking for, without any garbage or trash can flavors which can come about with this temperamental technique. It has a very subtle fruit overtone coming from strawberry, mango and pineapple, which lends a very refreshing note to the otherwise clean sour profile. While it wasn’t the most sour, nor the most powerful, nor the highest in abv; this beer is a classic example of what sour beer is all about.

FullSizeRenderUnfortunately, there were few beers that fell on the sword of the creativity; such as one blend of barrel beers (from Chardonnay to Bourbon)  which proved to be more muttled than masterful; or the smoked Berliner (cough… sour gratzer… cough). Fortunately though, the majority of beers were beyond any critique or criticism. I happily sipped my way through glass after glass, marveling in how much unique flavor there was even among this seemingly homogenous group of beers. The event was truly eye-opening in that it gave me a new perspective on the depth of sour and wild brewed beer and has given me food (well drink) for thought in my future sour endeavors.

FullSizeRender_3Overall this was a fantastic venue, providing a fun atmosphere, excellent food, and extraordinary beer. I will certainly be back next year if they decide to continue this amazing festival. I encourage anyone who enjoy sour beers to make the Tampa Bay their next vacation destination in order to enjoy this fantastic line up of brews.

Feeling Fruity: A Guide to Fruit Wine

Why Make Fruit Wine?

First and foremost fruit wine is a fun extension to your fermentation profile. A huge advantage of fruit wines is their ability to be produced through the year. While fresh wine grapes only have 2 main harvests (One in Fall for Italy and California, and another in Spring for South America), fruits ripen at different times throughout the year, allowing the vintner to ferment many times during the year. Additionally, with all of the varieties of fruit available, you can produce a plethora of different wines; each with unique flavors and characteristics. One of the most common misconceptions that turns people off from making fruit wines is the belief that  fruit wine has to be sweet. While some fruits improve with the addition of a bit of sweetness, others are best as dry wine. For example, dry blueberry wine can present itself  wonderfully, giving off dark fruit flavors which resemble a hearty Burgundy or powerful Cabernet.

What’s in the Fruit?

Almost every fruit can be converted to a wine, but not all fruits are created equal. Some fruit, such as strawberries, have a very delicate profile and make wines that are best when served fresh. These wines often have a very quick turn around and can be fermented and bottled relatively quickly. Others, like black currant, are like a hearty Brunello and only get better with time. These bolder wines will take more time to ferment and bottle, often benefiting from extended aging on their skins. When your planning your fruit wine, take these factors into consideration. For an excellent article on different capacities of fruit can be found HERE.

Getting the Most Out of Your Fruit

Every fruit requires special considerations in order to present themselves with maximum flavor. One of the best examples of this is strawberry wine. Unlike the making of many other wines, strawberry wine requires a very unique process to break down the fruit for the best extraction of flavor and quality. The strawberries must be macerated in a sugar to create a liquor before the fruit can be fermented. Another fruit which can change depending on its preparation is the blueberry. Extended contact with the fruit’s skin can lead to a much darker wine. If you take it off of the skins almost immediately, you will get a blush wine, but longer time on the skins will create a darker and more tannic wine.

Boosting Your Booze

While most wine grapes can be fermented without any sugar additions, most fruit wines require an additional boost of sugar in order to get them to an ideal percent alcohol. The general rule of thumb that I use is 1 lb of of corn sugar will raise 1 gallon of wine by 5% abv. I use this basic ratio whenever I’m making a fruit wine since I can scale it to whatever size batch I’m fermenting. While corn sugar is a staple used by wine makers due to its high fermentability and almost undetectable taste, it is not the only sugar that you could use. Its possible to use any sugar to boost your alcohol potential but each one comes with distinctive flavor contributions and different levels of fermentability. Possible sugars include brown sugar, table sugar, honey, and agave nectar.

Picking Your Yeast

Fruit Wine Yeast GuideWhen deciding which yeast to use, you need to decide what you want your wine to become. The first decision you need to make is the hue of wine you are planning on making: white, blush, or red wine. As a general rule of thumb, I prefer to use red wine yeast for darker fruits (blackberries, blueberries, black currants, and cherries) and white wine yeast for lighter fruits (strawberry, peaches, and apples). Additionally, red wine yeast work well with fruits which are fermented on their skins (such as the blueberry wine). Next, decide if you want your wine to be sweet or dry. You can either use a yeast with a low alcohol tolerance and boost your sugar content of the must, or you can ferment to complete dryness and then back-sweeten. Finally determine what yeast will work best for the temperatures you will ferment at. If its the middle of the summer and you have trouble controlling temperature, pick a yeast with a high heat tolerance. Alternatively if its winter and you can’t easily heat up your carboy, pick a yeast with a good threshold for cold. I’ve outlined a few yeasts and my suggestions about which fruits they would work well with. Much of this information is from second hand sources so please use it with a grain of salt and use your own intuition.

Recipe: Blueberry Wine

  • 15 Lb Blueberries
  • 10 Lb Corn Sugar
  • Approximately 4.25 Gallons Water
  • 5 Campden Tablets
  • 2 Tablespoons Acid Blend (Or Amount Determined by Titration)
  • 3/4 Teaspoon Pectic Enzyme
  • Yeast: Montrachet
  • Potassium Metabisulfite
  • Potassium Sorbate


1. Crush your Blueberries: To do this you are going to place your washed blueberries into a large brewing bag. Place the bag in a large bucket (Not your fermenter) and crush. You can crush with either your hands, a mallet, or whatever instrument you concoct. Don’t be tempted to use a blender or food processor since this can break the seeds and pulverize the skins, which can lead to unwanted off flavors.

Crush Blueberries     Total Pulp Collected

2. Extract the Juice: When you have thuroughley pulverized your blueberries, its time to extract the juice. While you could just add the pulverized blueberries to water in the fermentation bucket at this point, we decided to try and extract as much juice as possible before combining. The reason for this is two fold. First, we wanted to get a even better crush on the berries. Doing the squeeze first allow for further destruciton of the berries. Secondly, we wanted to determine the correct amount of water to add in order to get a full 5 gallons. By squeezign the juice before hand we were able to get a good idea of the “dry volume” of our skins and pulp. Once you have extracted a good amount of juice and thoroughly crushed the berries, you will pour your juice into the fermenting bucket, leaving the pulp behind in the crush bucket.

Squeezing The Pulp Bag     Extracted Juice One     Extracted Juice Two

3. Add Water and Sugar: You will add both clean water and sugar into the fermentation bucket, bringing the level up to 5 gallons. We found it helpful to heat up 1.5 gallons of water and add the sugar to this mix, allowing us to be sure our sugar was fully disolved. We then poured the sugar water into the fermenting bucket. Once you must has been thoroughly mixed, you will add your pulp in a bag back to the fermentation bucket and give it a good mix.

Add water to must     Must and Skins

4. Adding Nutrients, Additives, and Metabisulfite: Add 5 crushed campden tablets and mix. Next add acid blend, pectic enzyme and yeast nutrient, stirring everything to mix well.

Additives to Fruit Wine

5. Take a Hydrometer Reading: Obtain a Sample of your fruit wine must and take a hydrometer reading. Your goal is between 1.08 and 1.095, giving you an ABV of between 11% and 13%. If necessary, add sugar to bring you up to your desired level (1 lb corn sugar brings up 5 gallons by 1% ABV)

Blueberry Wine Juice for Testing

6. Off Gassing: Cover and let sit for one to two days. It is important to let the must release the sulfite gas produced by the metabisulfite. Use a very thin towel or cloth to cover the container, don’t be tempted to use a lid with air lock. this could trap the sulfite gas leading to poor yeast health

Allow the Wine to Degas

5. Pitch Yeast: Add ample yeast to make sure your fermentation kicks off to a good start. Your goal is to maintain a temperature of 70–75 °F. Too high of temperatures will lead to off flavors in your wine.

Pitch Yeast

7. Punching the Cap: During fermentation, you will need to punch down your cap (pulp) around twice a day, this ensures that your cap will not dry out (leading to mold) and will thoroughly mix the wine. Remember to sanitize all equipment before touching the wine.

8. Fermentation and Additions: Fermentation will finish in about 1 to 2 weeks. During this time you will also be doing several nutrient additions. On fermentation days 2, 4, and 6 you will be adding 4.5 g of Fermaid K and 2 g of DAP.

9: Final Gravity Reading: To determine if fermentation is complete, take a hydrometer reading 2 days in a row. If the gravity remains stable, your wine has finished fermenting and is ready to be racked.

10. Racking to Secondary: first remove the bag of pulp and allow to drain. Put on a pair of gloves, sanitize your hands (with gloves on) and squeeze the bag, trying to extract as much juice as possible. Once the bag has been drained trash the pulp and skins, then rack your wine to a 5 gallon glass carboy.

Blueberry Bag Squeeze                   Blueberry Wine 1st Rack (2)

11. Stabilizing and Degassing: Once the wine has had time to settle, you can degas and stabilize. Add metabisulfite and sorbate. Optionally you can add a clarifying agent such as Super-Kleer, Gelatin, or sparkoloid powder. Degas as you would for any wine. For instructions on how to degas click here: Degassing and Stabilizing Wine.

Wine Clarifying Agents

12. Racking to Tertiary: Rack the wine to the tertiary container, adding a campden tablet to ensure stability. Allow the wine to age an additional month. Longer aging will not hurt your wine as long as the air lock is maintained.

13. Bottling: After a month has passed, feel free to bottle your wine.

Bottle & Glass of Blueberry WineBlueberry wine is best served fresh. Crack a bottle every few weeks to see when it hits a sweet spot, then enjoy our share.


This Post was sponsored by Keg and Barrel Home Brew Supplies

Lavender Hill Cider and Applewine

Lavender Hill Apple TreeI am extraordinarily lucky to have an aunt who has an apple tree on her farm. I’m additionally blessed that she has no interest in using the apples from her tree. The story goes that the previous owner of her farm planted the tree in order to make wine. I am not sure if he ever achieved this dream, but I am happy to take up his mantle. The tree sits in the middle of what used to be a pig pen. It hasn’t been attended too for several years and has been allowed to grow more or less wild. My aunt admitted that she has not sprayed the tree, so it is just about as organic as you can get. With all of this in mind, I started my journey by picking the apples from the tree.

2015 Apple HarvesAs I was collecting apples from the gnarled old tree, positioning my precariously placed ladder to pick the best fruit, I felt connected to the spirit of cider making. When you are not only juicing the apples, but actually picking the apples from the tree, you are truly starting from scratch and taking the cider into your own hands. On that day I was able to collect about 60 lb of fruit. I was unable to pick from the highest branches, but still felt good about my yield. From what I had read on line, you will get approximately 1 gallon of cider from 15 lb of apples, so I was looking at around 4 gallons of potential juice.

IMG_3128Upon arriving home with my haul, I had to determine how I would extract the juice from my apples. Unfortunately, I do not have a cider press handy, so I had to be creative with my extraction. From a previous health food kick, I had a juicer handy and decided that it would be the best way to extract my cider. With the help of my friend Kevin, I was able to  juice around 1.5 gallons of cider… until the motor died on juicer. After a moderate amount of cursing and general messing around with the juicer, I gave up and decided to try another method. I took my handy food processor and shredded my apples. I then “hand” pressed them in my fruit bag (the nylon bag I use for the pulp when brewing fruit wine). With one of us holding the bag and the other squeezing, we were able to extract a good amount of juice from the pulp. IMG_3127While this method worked, I would recommend working with the juicer to avoid some headache and aid in your yield. One note is that the cider produced from the juicer was more tannic and structured than that produced by the fruit bag method. Since tannin is what gives backbone to cider, I was happy to have this component in my juice. Finally, after Kevin went home for the evening, I was able to get the juicer working again and finished extracting the juice.

With my juice in hand, I had to decide what to make with it. Since I may not have the opportunity to ferment from whole apples again this year, I wanted to brew at least 2 different apple beverages. After waffling between English cider, Wild cider, French cider, New world cider, New England cider, Cyser, Applewine, Ice cider, and Graff; I settled on a simple new world style cider and a classic applewine. After tasting the juice I decided that the apples were somewhere between sharp and bitter sharp variety (For more information on Apple Varieties Click HERE). I was elated at this discovery, since it meant that I would not have to tinker too much with acidity and tannin.

New World CiderFor my cider, I went with my classic cider fermentation process which I have used in the past with quite a bit of success. Two and a half gallons were dedicated to this half of the project. I pasteurized the juice with 2 1/2 campden tablets, while adding 1 1/4 teaspoons of yeast energizer and 1 1/4 teaspoons of Pectic Enzyme. I transferred to the carboy and allowed the sulfate gasses to disperse for 24 hours. I then pitched 1 packet of belle saison yeast. While this is not a classic strain to use in a cider, I wanted to give the cider a bit of a unique funk. Additionally, I wanted this to cider to ferment quickly and clear rapidly, so this yeast fits the bill perfectly. The plan is to rack to secondary after 2 weeks, then bottle to approximately 2.75 Volumes of CO2 in Champagne bottles.

applewineFor my applewine, I decided to follow the basic instructions from EC Kraus with a few changes. Instead of using Cane Sugar, I went with Corn Sugar in order to dampen the possible off flavors of the latter sugar. Additionally, I decided to let the acidity and tannin stay where they were and not add any additional acid or wine tannin. If later on I find that the tannin is too low, I will put the wine on oak or add some liquid wine tannin. I pitched Lavlin EC-1118, a yeast which has a very good reputation in both dry white wines and ciders. The goal is to rack to secondary after 2 weeks, age for a month, dose with metabisulfite and sorbate, age for 2 more weeks, then bottle.

I think that what this project has taught me is how easy it is to make cider, even if you are starting from scratch. Lets be honest, our ancestors fermented this beverage successfully with much less equipment and far fewer resources than we have today. If they could make some refreshing cider, there is no reason why we cant do the same. Go out, find a friend with an apple tree, and do your best to make some tasty cider.

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.


Cider: The All American Beverage could be more American than… Cider? Surprisingly, cider is one of the most patriotic beverages which you can brew. In fact, it was more likely that the earlier settlers tankards were filled with cider than with beer. During the founding of America, beer was a drink of immense luxury, mostly due to the deficit of readily available barley. Instead the Neo-Americans turned to locally available sugar sources. As the old poem went “If barley be wanting to make into malt, We must be contented and think it no fault; For we can make liquor to sweeten our lips,
Of pumpkins and parsnips and walnut tree chips“. Americans were desperate for safe sources of hydration, and cider provided an excellent source.

The wholesome vision of Johnny Appleseed, planting orchards from his bag of seeds, proves a little more saucy when we think about what those apples were used for. Apples (much like hops) do not grow true from seed. In other words if you plant the seed of a red delicious, you will most certainly not get a red delicious apple in 10 years time. In fact, every one of that apple’s seeds will grow into a completely unique and most likely inedible apple. So… what would be people be doing with these inedible apples? Making Cider of course!

Apples come in many different varieties, most of them quite difficult to eat. The main categories of apple are Sweets, Sharps, Bittersweets, and Bittersharps. Each category is defined by the level of of tannin (bitterness) and acidity (sharpness).

Sweets: These are your every day edible apples, containing low acidity and low tannin. These varieties make a great snack, but often lend very little to your cider. Varieties include Golden Delicious, Johngold, Macoun, Gala, Fuji, Braeburn, and Honeycrisp.

Sharps: These are very interesting apples containing low tannin and high acidity. These are mostly for major consumption but can have some value if you want to add a bit more acidity to your cider. Varieties include Granny Smith, and Rhode Island Greening.

Bitter Sweets: Highly inedible yet extraordinarily useful in cider, these apples are high in tannin and low in acidity. These are the darling of the American cider seen, giving the fermenter a sweet base with a substantial amount of tannin for backbone and aging potential. Common Varietals include: Dabinett, Yarlington Mill, Tremlett’s Bitter, and Nehou.

Bitter Sharp: These beers are the classic crab apple varietal, they contain high levels of both acidity and tannin. These are pretty much the Cadillac apples of the cider world, often being used as a single varietal cider. They are quite disgusting as a raw apple, but their juice is prized for its ability to be used as a single apple cider, with no need for addition of acid blend or wine tannin. Common varietals include: Kingston Black, Foxwelp, Herefordshire Redstreak, and Porter’s Perfection.

Even with the wide variety of apples available, most of us will be fermenting our ciders from pre-blended juice, apple cider concentrate, or locally purchased juice. The juice is often a solid blend of various grapes, making a palatable yet complex unfermented cider. These juice blends often provide a solid base for your cider, but if you need to make some adjustments you can use both wine makers acid blend or wine tannin. Alternatively, you could use oak to add tannin to your cider.

1 Gallon Cider Equipment & Additives

  • Cider Equipment1 Gallon Glass Jug
  • Air Lock and Bung
  • Racking Cane
  • Yeast Nutrient
  • Hydrometer
  • Funnel
  • Graduated Cylinder
  • Optional: Wine Tannin, Acid Blend, Oak

Cider Making Instructions:

1) Sanitize your Equipment: Follow your basic sanitation procedures. For more information click HERE.

Sanitize Cider

2) Pour your Juice into the Fermenter: Oxygen at this point will only add fermentability to your cider. Simply pour your cider through a sanitized funnel into the primary fermenter.

Pour Cider

3) Take a Hydrometer Reading: Most cider will come out to about 1.045 original gravity. If you would like to increase your alcohol potential, you can increase your ABV by adding corn sugar (1 lb of corn sugar will increase the alcohol of 1 gallon of cider by 5% or 5 gallons of cider by 1%).

Hydrometer Reading Cider

4) Add the Yeast: At this point you have a lot of choice. If you are looking for a very clean and very dry fermentation, I would recommend going with Pateur champagne yeast. If you are looking for interesting aromatics, try a Belgian yeast. If you want a classic and clean fermentation, try a yeast that is designed specifically  for cider. For my part, I really enjoy a nice dry white wine yeast.

Pitch Yeast Cider

5) Wait and Allow to Ferment: Cider generally takes 1 – 2 weeks to ferment out fully. Your goal is to keep the cider at about 70º – 75º F during fermentation. You will most likely notice that there is a great deal of suspended protein and yeast even after fermentation is complete. This is perfectly normal and just requires time to settle out.

Fermenting Cider

6) Rack to Secondary Fermenter: After your beer is finished fermenting, its time to rack to a secondary container. You simply move your cider from its original fermenting container to the secondary (either a 1 gallon, 3 gallon, or 5 gallon glass carboy).

Rack Cider

7) Wait 2-4 weeks: Your goal during this time is to allow the cider to clear, if you find that the cider is taking to long to clear, you can try a clarifying agent such as gelatin, super-kleer, or isinglass.


8) Bottle and Prime: One of the down sides to bottling cider is that you can not back sweeten. This creates a very dry cider which is very tasty to some, yet highly undrinkable to others. I have heard of people trying invert (un-fermentable) sugars such as splenda to the cider to allow for some final sweetness in your cider. I can not vouch for that procedure but would be interested to know other people’s results. In general if you want a very  carbonated cider (think champagne), go with 1 oz per gallon of priming sugar (corn sugar), if your more interested in a beer type carbonation, try 0.75 oz per gallon.

9) Wait 2 Weeks and Enjoy your Cider: Put your cider in a cool and dark location for 2 weeks, during this time, your cider is going to produce carbon dioxide to carbonate your beverage. After that long and tempting time, chill down to 45 degrees, crack a bottle and enjoy your patriotic beverage.


Cider Apple Compositional Data:

Cider Apple Guide – Bittersharps:

Cider Apple Guide – Bittersweets:

Cider Apple Guide – Sharps, Sweets, and Sharp-Sweets:

Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan

Making the Best Apple Cider by Annie Proulx

New England’s Annoyances:

Special thanks to Keg & Barrel Home Brew Supplies for providing the yeast for this project!

Argentinian Chardonnay

This is my first attempt at a wine from fresh juice. Ive previously made batches from concentrate with various levels of success, but Ive been anxious to try my hand at more of a “grass roots” type fermentation. While there are a lot of similarities between kit wine and fresh juice, there are a number of differences which add a depth of complexity to the fresh juice.

Firstly, when purchasing fresh juice you are getting the raw product from the grapes without much alteration of the must. In a kit, you have a number of the complicated procedures done for you. For instance, the acid is adjusted to the perfect level for that wine must. Additionally kits are packed with nutrients in order to make fermentation as rapid as possible. Finally, the kits are completely sanitary, taking out the need for sanitizing the must.

These various difficulties make fermenting unprocessed juice a real pain in the butt! In my opinion there are only a few reasons to use juice. Firstly, if there is a grape varietal you can not find in a wine kit, juice gives you an opportunity to ferment a grape you love. Secondly if you are able to snag some juice from a region you love or a vineyard you like, fresh juice gives you a great opportunity. Finally fermenting fresh juice gives you a trainingwheels type training if you are ever interested in fermenting from your own or purchased fresh grapes. If none of these apply to you, go with the Kit! You will have great wine, with less headache, and in less time.

Anyway, as is true with most brewers, I love a challenge! So if your like me and want to test your skills and learn from my inevitable mistakes, read on!

Step 1: Add 6 Campden Tablets to the Must and let sit 24 Hours

Step 2: First try at an acid titration. My results came up as 3% Acid, much lower than the ideal. Adding 70g of Acid Blend I brought the acid up to approximately 6.5% acid, admittedly on the low end of the white wine spectrum but still reasonable considering I’m going for a more “New World” Style of Chardonnay. Additionally I added 3g of Fermaid K and 2g of Diammonium Phosphate. Finally I pitched a packet of Wyeast Dry/Sparkling.

Acid Titration

Step 3: 27 days later. Ive missed my chances to do more nutrient additions but I’m hoping that the wine will turn out well on its own. Ive racked the wine from the primary bucket. I should have done this sooner but time got away from me. My hydrometer reading showed quite full conversion of sugars with the final gravity reading 0.994. On tasting it, the wine was quite yeasty but still shows a lot of promise. At this point I’m tempted to do a split fermentation in tertiary, with half being on oak and the other half clean.

Step 4: Rack the chardonnay into the tertiary. Racked on top of oak cubes.

Racking Chardonnay     Chardonnay on Oak

Step 4: Racked to Quaternary off of the oak. I used a crushed campden tabled yo prevent oxygenation. At this point, tasting the wine I found the flavors to be overall pleasant. There is a slightly plastic type undertone which I am hoping is just a slight off flavor from taking a yeasty sample.

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