Brewday: Rye Witbier

June 3, 2012

As we keep getting closer to the homebrew competition, I had just one beer left to brew for it: the rye beer. The only restriction for the beer is that it has to include rye for at least 30% of the grain used. I’ve brewed a lot of rye beers over the years, and I decided that most entrants would likely use rye pale ales and rye IPAs, so it was time I tried a different approach.

Part of what makes rye so great in a beer is that it adds a bit of dry spicy character, and a bit of an earthy aroma, so I wanted to add it to a non-pale ale style that would really benefit from the heavy use of rye. I figured a witbier would be an interesting and unique experiment. I made a wit recipe with a heavy dose of rye malt replacing a lot of the wheat malt, and was ALMOST tempted to add some peppercorns, but decided against it. So the grain bill for it was:

  • 6.50 lb Pils malt
  • 3.50 lb Rye malt
  • 1.00 lb Flaked wheat

The water additions were pretty light, just 5 grams each of calcium chloride and gypsum. I mashed it on the cool side, around 147F, to try and make sure it attenuated really well. This one should have a nice dry body to accentuate the spicy rye character. Unfortunately, the lautering went really slow for the first two gallons before I realized there was a piece of grain partially clogging the ball valve in my mash tun. After blowing that out and running a vorlauf again, the runoff went as smoothly as it usually does.

The hop and spice schedule on this one was fairly light:

  • 0.75 oz Challenger (60 minutes, 5.6% Alpha Acid)
  • 0.50 oz Challenger (15 minutes)
  • 10 gm Coriander (15 minutes)
  • 0.50 oz Challenger (End of Boil)

The other odd thing about this batch was the yeast I used for it. My previous saison, the peppercorn saison I brewed for my 100th batch last month, had its saison yeast crap out halfway through fermentation. It refused to start back up and was left sitting really thick and sweet, so I made a starter of my Northwest ale yeast that was on hand and poured that in to get fermentation going again. That did the trick, but left me with a blended yeast cake to work with, so I thought that would be interesting to use for this rye witbier. These two yeasts should do pretty well at drying out the body and giving some nice character to the beer.

Also, starting gravity was 1.045, as I was aiming for a nice light session beer for the coming warm months.

Moving On Again

May 14, 2012

So it’s time for me to move on from this leg of my brewing career. There’s no reason to get into the specifics, but it’ll suffice to say there was a disagreement over a potential conflict of interest. The place has had a very corporate feel to me for a long time now, so I’m not really sad to be gone. Part of me thinks I forced the issue because I wanted to get out and didn’t have the balls to quit. It was a great experience for the last ten months, and I met some truly awesome people there and made great friends in the Cooperstown/Oneonta area. There are no hard feelings toward this brewery at all, and I wish them all the best.

Now is the time to start looking at moving on to bigger, better, and more awesome things. I want to spend some time now figuring out exactly the best path forward for me. I’m really sick of being desperate enough to have to take the first opportunity I see, which is what led me to ITT all those miserable years ago. My time at ITT and Rochester set the stage for everything that has come since then, as it gave me the financial ability to attend brewing school, and put me near a brewery that has a strong apprentice program (and a set of amazing brewers – I can’t thank Bruce and JP enough for what they did for me). This time, though, I want to slip into a job and brewery that are exactly what I’m looking for.

Right now, there are a couple of options to choose from and several possibilities elsewhere. I’m still in talks with the guys starting Abandon Brewing out in Penn Yan. That project won’t be finished and up and running until the end of the year, at the earliest. Pursuing that would require me to find some way to survive financially for about seven or so months, which will be a lot more challenging than the fifteen months I was unemployed after the layoff from ITT (great severance and lots of savings back then). I also hear that there is a brewpub in Albany that’s still searching for a head brewer replacement, so I may look into that possibility this week.

The great thing about being unemployed in the craft brewing industry is the amount of start-ups, brewpubs, and expansions going on right now. There are tons of options out there, especially if I’m willing to move. That’s the other thing I need to think about, potentially moving away from New York state. At this point, I’ve spent almost thirty years living in upstate NY, bouncing between the Capital Region, Central New York, and Western New York. Part of me wants to go somewhere completely new and start with a clean slate, and part of me wants to get back to one of my former homes and reconnect with all the friends I don’t see much of anymore.

If you know me at all, you likely understand just how hard it is for me to be decisive about anything. That’s really the tough issue I have to deal with now: deciding what I want as an “ideal situation” and pursuing it relentlessly. I have no interest in settling right now. No more large corporate entities, no more being someone else’s bitch. It’s time to get some creative control, an equal footing, and respect. Nothing less.


Yesterday I brewed my 100th batch of homebrew. As it was a little bit of a milestone, I wanted to make something different than I normally do. With the disgusting heat of spring and summer moving in, I thought a saison would be perfect.

The saison I brew at work is lightly spiced and hopped, and isn’t nearly dry enough for me to enjoy very much. For my saison, I said “fuck yooouuuuu, Ommegang!” and went for a spicier and drier version of the style. I used Wyeast 3724 Saison yeast, and am planning to ratchet the temperature up after a couple days of fermentation to get as much attenuation as possible (and some extra spicy phenols/esters).

The grain bill was pretty simple, and geared toward attenuation with the addition of honey and a mash profile around 150F:

  • 10 lbs Pils malt
  • 1.5 lbs Wildflower Honey

For the water, I had to bump up the gypsum to make sure the pH didn’t stay too high. It wound up at 5.62, which is on the high end, but it’s still acceptable. The gypsum will also help accentuate the hop bitterness and the dryness of the beer.

  • 7 gm Gypsum (in the mash)
  • 2 gm Calcium Chloride (in the mash)
  • 2 gm Gypsum (beginning of the boil)

The hops and spices are the core of this batch. I was going for a spicy beer with some fruit undertones, so a combination of challenger (spicy) and centennial (fruity) hops seemed like a good idea. For the actual spices, a mix of coriander, grains of paradise, and green and black peppercorns rounds out the flavors and aromas I’m looking for.

  • 0.60 oz Galena (60 minutes, 11% Alpha Acid)
  • 0.75 oz Challenger (15 minutes, 5.6% Alpha Acid)
  • 10 gm Coriander (15 minutes)
  • 4 gm Grains of Paradise (15 minutes)
  • 10 Black Peppercorns (15 minutes)
  • 4 Green Peppercorns (15 minutes)
  • 0.50 oz Challenger (End of Boil)
  • 0.50 oz Centennial (End of Boil, 10.9% Alpha Acid)

All my numbers were good. Mash pH was 5.62, boil volume was 7.8 gallons, end of boil volume was 6.5 gallons, carboy volume was 5 gallons, gravity was 1.053, efficiency was 80%, wort pH was 5.32, and pitching temperature was 70F (74F as of right now, 18 hours later). That should just about cover everything. I’m really hoping I didn’t overdo anything in this one.

A bar in downtown Troy called The Ruck is holding their first annual Extreme Homebrewing Competition in June. It’s focused on six different brews:

  • Rye: grist has to contain 30% rye at least
  • “Funky”: a significant amount of non-grain adjuncts
  • A beer with both fruit and spice
  • Platiunum: a Bud Light Platinum kind of beer with high alcohol and low body (ironically, everyone will likely have the most difficult time with this beer)
  • Black IPA
  • Ahtanum: a single-hop beer using only Ahtanum hops

The competition allows teams of up to three brewers to make the six different beers, so I’ll be working with a couple homebrewing friends in the Capital Region, Bill and Angelos. Those guys have a lot of experience experimenting with all sorts of adjuncts, fruits, and spices, so they’re taking care of the two beers requiring them (the Imperial Honey Amber from a few years ago was absolutely top notch). I’ll be doing the rye beer, given my recent heavy experimentation with those kinds of beers. The other three beers we’ll be collaborating on and brewing together.

As I like to brew four batches successively to fill my four kegs, I’m in the process of putting together the brewing schedule for these next bunch of batches. I have two yeast strains in house that I’m going to use: a Belgian saison yeast, and my standard American yeast.

The first batch with the yeast I have will be a saison with honey and rose hips, and will be my one hundredth batch of homebrew. After that, I’m thinking of doing the other three beers as different rye-based experiments as potential entries for the competition. For the second batch using the saison yeast, I’m highly tempted to my witbier recipe, replace a bunch of the wheat with rye, add peppercorn (not sure which just yet), ferment a bit warmer, and switch to some spicier hops.

With the American yeast my first thought is to go with a rye pale ale and a rye IPA, as per normal. I haven’t had anything hoppy on tap in a while, and I’ve been pretty damn happy with most of the rye pale ales I’ve made. Part of me wants to try an American rye ale, which would be a very light, dry, spicy session beer.

Those are preliminary thoughts. I’m hoping to get the saison brewed sometime this week, then I can start trying to finalize all my other recipes.

Sunday Musings

March 18, 2012

A statement that I hear from time to time that I really dislike is “I hate lagers”. The natural outgrowth of that is the plethora of polls on beer blogs asking “which do you prefer: ales or lagers?”, which is ridiculous due to the complete lack of good representations of the traditional lager styles in this country.

Now, I spent a month last year in Germany at brewing school, where I was drunk pretty regularly on great lager styles. I’m sure that the majority of average beer drinkers in this country, and many craft beer enthusiasts, don’t have much understanding of the wide range of lager styles that are out there. Unfortunately, there really isn’t much supply of good lagers in this country. Most of the lagers sold in the U.S. are of the American Lite Lager style that Bud/Miller/Coors developed over the last century. The rest are mostly imported bottles of German lagers that have spent weeks in non climate controlled containers on a ship, then a dock warehouse, then a truck, then a distribution warehouse, etc. No bottle you get in this country from Germany will do the beer justice.

Compounding this is the fact that craft breweries are routinely very small operations with little available capital and tenuous debt levels. Many of them would find it incredibly difficult to justify letting product sit in their tanks for the extra weeks necessary to make a good lager style. There are some breweries that do this, like Metro Brewing in Chicago, but they are few and far between at this point. If you have a chance, try Victory’s line of German lager styles. Their Helles is a wonderful beer.

So that statement about hating lagers does bother me, but I understand where the mentality comes from. It’s just misconceptions and lack of knowledge, which is fine. Hopefully I can get my own brewery off the ground some day and can find a way to make some of these beers profitably and represent the styles well.

Next Milestone Coming Up

March 11, 2012

With four kegs on tap, two beers fermenting, and one more waiting to be bottled, I’m not really in dire need of brewing again soon. This gives me plenty of time to consider what to do for my next batch, which will be my 100th batch of homebrew. The problem with picking a beer to make for number 100 is that I have way too many ideas that I want to try.

I’ve been thinking about making my first saison, as Spring and Summer begin to roll in. My idea here would be to use a basic recipe of pils malt with a decent amount of wildflower honey and some wheat malt. Rose hips would either go into the boil into the beer after fermentation, though I’m not entirely sure yet which way is best. The hops would be either strongly fruity or strongly floral, I haven’t quite decided. I would probably pitch the yeast around 68 degrees and slowly try to ramp it up to 85+ degrees over a few days to let the yeast really give off a lot of character.

Another beer I’ve been toying with is an imperial mint chocolate stout, which would age in bottles until this coming Winter. It’s a take on an imperial chocolate stout I brewed back in 2007 just after I had moved to Rochester. The starting gravity was 1.100, it used about 15% flaked oats in the mash, and came in over 10% ABV. That was a really nice beer and I really want to try adding mint to it cause it would go great with the chocolate flavor.

On the other hand, given my current set of beers, I could use something hoppy that isn’t quite as big as an imperial IPA. Part of me wants to try making a Belgian IPA, possibly brewing my Amarillo IPA with Belgian yeast. A Belgian RyePA could also be interesting, as the yeast esters could play really well off of the rye character.

I could also decide to go against usual convention and mark this milestone by brewing something that’s not strong or crazy. Belgian wit? American rye? I could do something simple and sessionable like those. I don’t really know what I want to do, so I’m just throwing ideas around.

As a reference point, I currently have on hand:

  • Mocha Porter Version 2 (keg)
  • Belgian Pale Ale (keg)
  • Belgian Dubbel (keg)
  • Dark Mild/Brown Porter (keg)
  • Mocha Porter Version 3 (fermenting)
  • Belgian Quad (fermenting)
  • Imperial IPA (ready to bottle)
  • Amber Ale (a few bottles left)
  • Mocha Porter Version 1 (a few bottles left)
  • Amarillo IPA (a few bottles left)

With the Belgian pale ale and Belgian dubbel both done fermenting and going into kegs, it was time for me to get one last batch out of this yeast. I figured that it’s been a long time since I made a big beer, so now was the time to get back into it.

Belgian quads, or dark strong ales, have been a personal favorite for a long time, but I’ve never actually brewed one. I started with aromatic malt and special b to build up the malty backbone of the beer and all of the dark fruit and caramel flavors. To keep the beer from getting too thick while increasing the alcohol, I used Turbinado sugar, which gives a hint of dry molasses to a beer (in my experience). So the whole grain bill was:

  • 15.50 lb Pilsner malt
  • 2.50 lb Munich malt
  • 1.75 lb Aromatic malt
  • 1.25 lb Special B
  • 2.00 lb Turbinado sugar

The hop schedule was light and mellow, as they’re really only there to balance some of the sweetness and add a little complexity to the aroma.

  • 1.00 oz Northern Brewer (9.6% Alpha Acid, 60 minutes)
  • 0.75 oz Northern Brewer (15 minutes)
  • 1.00 oz Spalter (5% Alpha Acid, End of Boil)

The one spice I used in the beer was 10 grams of licorice root. We use it in our Abbey Ale at work, and I really like that kind of mouthfeel it adds to a dark beer. This was added 15 minutes before the boil ended.

For such a large beer, the lauter was extremely smooth and uneventful for this batch. It took about 40 minutes to collect a bit over 8 gallons of wort. As it was really thick, I wound up under-boiling it, so I got 7 gallons post-boil and ran 5.5 gallons of that into the fermentation tank. The gravity came in a little low because of the underboil. 1.094 is still fine, and still gives me 75% efficiency with my system, which is higher than I was expecting for a high gravity beer.

The water additions were minor in this one. Two grams of calcium sulfate, three grams of calcium chloride, and four grams of calcium carbonate. The mash pH was 5.53 and the temperature was 149F, so perfect conditions to get a highly fermentable wort. The yeast was pitched at 68F, and I’m hoping to get it to rise up to about 75F over the next day or two to really get that yeast’s character to show through.

Now it’s on to planning my 100th batch…

In my continuing quest to improve, and become satisfied with, my mocha porter, I made a revised version of it yesterday. This was the first time I’ve made it since I got my pH meter, and all of my dark beers have been on the low side for pH, so I made some adjustments to the water chemistry.

The first two versions of this beer had a bit of a dry, bitter bite to them. That was more evident in the first, and was cut down in the second as I dropped some hops out and added the cocoa after the boil was over. This time I jacked the calcium carbonate up a bunch to help buffer the pH, and added some crystal malt to add some sweetness to balance any bitterness.

The pH of the mash came in at 5.45, which fits perfectly in my target range of 5.30-5.50. Keeping the mash pH from getting too low will help avoid extracting tannins from the grain, and it will let the enzymes work at a more optimal rate to ensure good efficiency. Of course you’ll find lots of opinions on what the optimal pH range is, but I try to keep it safe and go with 5.30-5.50. That range WILL work, so I see no need to change things.

So the grain bill changed a little bit from last time. I dropped the Munich malt down a bit and replaced what was lost with more pale malt. Some of the oats were replaced with my remaining Simpsons Golden Naked Oats, as I forgot to buy a second pound of Quaker instant oats (oops). I also decided to replace the small amount of Carafa III Special with more Carafa II Special, as the little bit of III that was in there didn’t seem like enough to make a flavor difference. It also helped simplify my grain bill, which I always like to do. The big change, though, was the addition of some 80L crystal malt. That’s a darker crystal malt that will lend some dark caramel flavors and some supporting sweetness to the beer.

  • 11.25 lb Pale Malt
  • 18 oz Flaked Oats
  • 8 oz Golden Naked Oats
  • 1.50 lb Munich Malt
  • 1.00 lb Carafa II Special
  • 0.75 lb Crystal 80L

The hops and cocoa were left pretty much unchanged

  • 1.00 oz Northern Brewer (60 minutes, 9.8% Alpha Acid)
  • 1.00 oz Northern Brewer (5 minutes)
  • 2.00 oz Challenger (End of Boil, 5.6% Alpha Acid)
  • 5.00 oz Unsweetened Baker’s Cocoa Powder (End of Boil)
  • 1.00 oz Lightly Crushed Coffee Beans (dry hop addition) [not sure yet which type of coffee I’ll use this time]

So, all the other details of this guy… I used my standard 1.25 quarts per pound ratio for the mash, and mashed at 156F for 60 minutes. Because I don’t use a mash-out procedure to denature the enzymes, I start vorlaufing 15 minutes before the mash is over. It’s been working pretty well, and speeding up the brewday somewhat, so I just keep rolling with it.

The boil volume was 8.12 gallons, which got down to 6.70 gallons. 5.20 gallons were pitched onto the yeast cake from my previous Dark Mild, which was a Wyeast 1098 British Ale yeast. I pitched it at 68F with a starting gravity of 1.069, giving me 80% efficiency. The wort pH was on the money at 5.24.

Oh, the water additions were as follows:

  • 3gm Calcium Sulfate (in the mash)
  • 4gm Calcium Chloride (in the mash)
  • 8gm Calcium Carbonate (in the mash)
  • 4gm Calcium Sulfate (in the boil)
  • 5gm Calcium Chloride (in the boil)


February 22, 2012

Tonight I kegged the Belgian Pale Ale I brewed at the end of January. It came to a final gravity of 1.009 and 5.6% ABV. That leaves me currently with one empty keg, a dark mild that’s ready to be kegged, and a Belgian dubbel that’s ready to be kegged/bottled (and an IIPA that still needs time). The issue with deciding on which to keg next is that I want to use the English yeast cake of the dark mild and the Belgian yeast cake of the dubbel to brew with.

So I basically have fresh and healthy English yeast and Belgian yeast I need to brew with soon, and tons of ideas for both. A new version of my mocha porter, imperial chocolate stout, Belgian IPA, Belgian quad, Belgian dubbel with licorice root and some other interesting spices, English bitter or ESB. I don’t really know what I want to make, but I’d like to figure something out to brew either tomorrow or Thursday.

So yesterday before I went to work, I got back to brewing English session beers. I wanted to make another dark mild ale, as that tends to be my favorite lower alcohol beer to keep around, but I decided to use it to experiment with a couple malts I’ve been curious about.

The first malt I wanted to try out was mild ale malt. It’s an English malt that’s kilned a bit higher than pale malt, so it’s a bit darker and I wanted to see what kind of flavor difference it would give. The other malt was pale chocolate malt. I’m not really sure what kind of difference to expect, but I was hoping maybe it’ll smooth out the flavor profile a little bit.

The malt bill wound up being:

  • 7.00 lb Mild Ale Malt
  • 10 oz Crystal 60L
  • 8 oz Pale Chocolate Malt
  • 6 oz Carafa II Special

The hop profile was basically the same as all the other dark milds I make:

  • 0.50 oz Northern Brewer (60 minutes, 9.6% Alpha Acid)
  • 0.50 oz Northern Brewer (15 minutes)
  • 0.50 oz Northern Brewer (End of Boil)

The mash profile was pretty standard: 2.5 gallons of mash water, 154F mash temperature for an hour, 6.75 gallons of sparge water. The water additions were: 4gm calcium sulfate, 8gm calcium chloride, and 2gm calcium carbonate. My efficiency wound up over 80%, and the original gravity was 1.040.

Overall it was a pretty smooth brewday. And the best thing is that this style is usually in a keg for me about a week after I brew it, so I’ll be able to try the experiment pretty soon.