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.


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.

Last week Wednesday I did a whole bunch of homebrew related things but never got around to updating this site about it all. First I racked the mocha porter to a secondary fermenter. The gravity dropped from 1.066 to 1.016, giving it an ABV around 6.5%. At that point it had no coffee flavor because I was about to add the coffee beans, lightly ground, to the beer in the secondary fermenter. I prefer to cold extract the coffee in the beer instead of adding it to the boil, as I’ve always extracted a smoother flavor that way in my coffee beers. When I wake up in the morning, At this point, this beer is done and will be bottled when I wake up in the morning.

The next thing I did Wednesday was rack the amber ale to secondary so I could use its yeast cake for another brew that day. The amber’s gravity had dropped from 1.046 to 1.014, giving it around a 4.2% ABV. That’s low for a lot of amber ales available on the market, but I was really going for a session beer with lots of flavor on this one. It’s got a nice body that’s solid but not too heavy to be hard to drink, a very nice sweet malty flavor and aroma, and a firm bitterness that balances it all out in an American amber kinda way. I also added an ounce of Chinook dry hops to the beer in the secondary. There was still a small amount of fermentation activity when I did this, so I’ll be bottling this one late in the week to give it time. This recipe is solid, but probably not really anything special. Still, it’s gonna be a nice session flavorful session beer, which is what I wanted.

The yeast from the amber ale went into the batch of beer I brewed that day. I had originally intended to brew an Imperial IPA, but decided to get an extra beer out of that yeast before jumping up to a strong beer that would stress the yeast too much to reuse. That got me to brew up an American pale ale using some of the Simcoe and Columbus hops I had in the freezer. I was basically aiming for around a 5-5.5% ABV beer with a lightly malty body, a solid bitterness, and a nice citrus and pine aroma.

Pale Ale
Boil Volume: 8.06 Gallons


Batch Volume: 6.50 Gallons

Fermenter Volume: 5.25 Gallons

Starting Gravity: 1.053

Efficiency: 75%


  • 10.00 lb Pale Malt
  •   2.50 lb Munich

  • 1.00 oz Columbus (60 minutes, 13.2% Alpha Acid)
  • 0.50 oz Simcoe (15 minutes, 12.2% Alpha Acid)
  • 0.50 oz Columbus (15 minutes)
  • 0.50 oz Simcoe (End of Boil)
  • 0.50 oz Columbus (End of Boil)
  • Dry hops: TBD (Probably Columbus and Chinook)


  • Strike with 4 gallons at 170F
  • Mash at 152F for 60 minutes
  • Sparge with 6.4 gallons at 180F

Water Additions:

  • 2 gm Calcium Carbonate
  • 4 gm Calcium Chloride
  • 10 gm Calcium Sulfate

Wyeast 1332 Northwest Ale Yeast






Brewday: American Amber

October 2, 2011

Today was the day I was going to brew a pale ale to get my Northwest Ale yeast propagated for next week’s Imperial IPA. When I got the mash water in the kettle heating up, I decided to change the recipe for some strange reason. Instead I put together an American amber ale recipe. Going into the cooler months of the year, it seemed smarter to make a sessionable beer that was darker and heavier than a pale ale.

Amber Ale

Boil Volume: 8.00 gallons

Batch Volume: 6.97 gallons

Fermenter Volume: 5.00 gallons

Starting Gravity: 1.046

Efficiency: 80%


  • 7.00 lb Pale
  • 2.50 lb Munich
  • 0.50 lb CaraAmber
  • 3.00 oz Kiln Coffee
  • 3.00 oz Special B


  • 0.70 oz Columbus (60 minutes, 13.2% Alpha Acid)
  • 0.50 oz Simcoe (10 minutes, 12.2% Alpha Acid)
  • 0.50 oz Columbus (10 minutes)
  • 0.50 oz Simcoe (End of Boil)
  • 0.50 oz Columbus (End of Boil)
  • Strike with 3.25 gallons at 172F
  • Mash at 154F for 60 minutes
  • Sparge with 6.75 gallons at 180F
Northwest Ale yeast
Water Additions

  • 3 gm Calcium Carbonate
  • 8 gm Calcium Chloride
  • 8 gm Calcium Sulfate

After three months, I’ve finally been able to get my equipment together and setup so I can brew here in Cooperstown. Given how tiny my kitchen is, I kinda figured it would be a bit of a challenge, but it worked out really well. I guess after six years of brewing in weird environments, improvisation becomes second nature.

Leading up to the homebrew competition in early November in Albany, I have decided to tweak some previous recipes and try to nail some of them down. Today I brewed the latest modification of my Dark Mild Ale. In this version I added a couple small hop additions to second half of the boil to give it a little bit more hop character, while increasing the body and adding some creaminess to the mouthfeel by using a small amount of flaked oats.

The only issue with brewing in this setup is that the gas stove boils off more liquid than the electric stove in my previous place, so I’ll need to adjust that in my future recipes.

Dark Mild Ale

Boil Volume:                 8 gallons

Batch Volume:             6.25 gallons

Fermenter Volume:   5 gallons

Starting Gravity:      1.045

Efficiency:                     83%


  • 7.50 lb Maris Otter
  • 10 oz Crystal 60L
  •   7 oz Carafa III Special
  •   6 oz Flaked Oats
  •   3 oz Carafa II Special

  • 0.60 oz Northern Brewer (60 min, 9.8% Alpha Acid)
  • 0.25 oz Northern Brewer (10 min)
  • 0.50 oz Northern Brewer (End of boil)



  • Strike with 17.75 qt water at 166F
  • Mash at 150F for 60 minutes
  • Sparge with 5.25 gallons at 180F


Wyeast 1098 British Ale Yeast


Water Additions:

  • 2 gm Calcium Carbonate
  • 4 gm Calcium Sulfate
  • 9 gm Calcium Chloride

Homebrew Competition Time

September 20, 2011

After years of homebrewing, I had always been interested in entering a competition to get some feedback on my brewing and maybe actually compete for an award. On the other hand, given how subjective beer tasting can be and how widely different palates can be, I had always been hesitant.

Last year I entered the Knickerbocker Battle of the Brews at the Albany Pump Station to see how the whole experience would be. I wound up entering six beers in the competition, and though I wound up getting a few awards, it’s the feedback that was most important. Of the judges that reviewed my beers, several were professional brewers from brewpubs in the region, some worked at homebrew shops, and a bunch were homebrewers that were certified judges. The experience levels of these people varied drastically from novice judges up to the very experienced ones.

When I read through all of the comments, there definitely seemed to be a divide between the judges that work in the field professionally and the judges that were homebrewers that were staying involved in their hobby by being judges. The homebrewer judges seemed to be a bit more strict and narrow in interpretation of styles, while the judges that were pro brewers tended to be more accepting of the outer edges of the guidelines. That’s just an observation, and I’m not complaining. The differences in the viewpoints and perspectives in the comments were interesting and lead to some ideas on how to alter the recipes if I wanted certain beers to do better in the competition.

The fact that three different judges review each beer is nice in that you get three different levels of experience, three different viewpoints, and three different sets of preferences from which your beers are judged. Given the different perspectives, you kind of have to give the subjective comments on flavor and aroma a wide berth, the comments on technical flaws all seem to be pretty accurate. As I’m not overly experienced at detecting off-flavors (at Siebel I found there are some off-flavors I can’t detect very well even in significant quantity), that’s the aspect of the judging that I really look for, and where competitions can be really helpful to me as a brewer.

All in all, going to the Pump Station in November last year with a couple homebrewing friends to hang out during the competition was an absolute blast. This competition is coming up again this November, and now I’m living much closer so it’s even easier to get out there for it. I have yeast en route that I ordered so I can finally start brewing in my apartment here in Cooperstown (I would use yeast from the brewery, but I don’t plan on making any Belgian styles anytime soon), and hope to have some beers ready to submit to the Battle of the Brews at the end of October.

My goal as a brewer right now, other than continuing to research opening a brewery myself, is to seriously work on tweaking some recipes and getting them to the point where I’m happy with them and can call them finished products. For the competition I’m hoping to be able to submit the next iteration of my Dark Mild Ale, a combined version of last year’s chocolate porter and coffee porter, and a new version of all the Rye Pale Ales I’ve been making. Hopefully I get my yeast in a couple days and can start brewing again this weekend. I’m working on getting all of these recipes finalized, and will post them as I brew them.

Last Sunday I decided to brew my Amarillo IPA recipe again with some minor tweaks. The comments this brew received from the judges at last month’s competition suggested that a bit more aggressiveness from the hops would be helpful. I liked it as it was, but I also see where a bit more bitterness could make it more interesting, so I’m giving it a try. Of course I wound up oversparging just a bit, but that just gives me a quarter gallon more IPA to drink 🙂

Amarillo IPA

Boil Volume: 8.20 gallons

Batch Volume: 6.80 gallons

Fermentor Volume: 5.30 gallons

Gravity: 1.058

Efficiency: 75%


  • 12.00 lb Pale Malt
  • 2.00 lb Vienna Malt
  • 0.50 lb Crystal 60L


  • 2.50 oz Amarillo (First Wort, 7.30% Alpha Acid)
  • 1.00 oz Amarillo (Boil for 30 minutes)
  • 2.00 oz Amarillo (Boil for 5 minutes)
  • 1.00 oz Amarillo (End of boil)
  • 1.00 oz Amarillo (Dry Hops)


  • Strike with 18 quarts of 163F water
  • Mash at 150F for 75 minutes


Wyeast 1332 Northwest Ale

Water Additions:

  • 2 gm Calcium Chloride
  • 5 gm Gypsum
  • 2 gm Chalk