Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Raspberry Belgian Blonde... with Cargill Malts... Oh yeah we're BACK!

Allegement des Framboises
So this year has been busy.  Promotions at work, families growing,  team members moving.   Brewing as a team has taken a smaller role in our busy lives.  It's not that we haven't been brewing, we have.  Recently we have brewed a Centennial Blonde, a couple of pale ales, and an American Light lager, that will be fantastic after it lagers.   Our sour projects are continuing and coming along beautifully.  But actually brewing what we brew, "staying in our lane"as it were and doing some crazy decoction or step mash... well that has had to wait.   But this Saturday, the wait ended.   We gathered in the brewery (John's Garage) to brew our ridiculous Raspberry Belgian Blonde Allegement des Framboises.  If you have never tried this recipe, cancel your next brew, get some Dingemans Pilsner malt, and some Fermentis BE 256, and get ready to step mash.

This is the real Belgian Grain that you have been looking
for.  Your search is over.  Dingemans is the real deal.
We have been so honored by the many of you who have supported us and brewed our beers over the years.   This one has been a favorite.  And you can expect many more Belgian Inspired Brews coming up.   In the next weeks you'll see a tripel, a BDSA, a Saison Noel, and a Belgian Amber.    Like I said we are staying in our lane, complicated step mashes and decoctions coming up.   We are also planning some fun IPAs that are cooled partially with frozen grapefruit juice, and mango juice respectively (with special thanks to Basic Brewing where we got the idea).   But today is all about the cross over beer.  The beer that is loved by soccer moms and craft beer nerds alike.   I present... Allegement des Framboises.

Allegment is a Belgian Blonde, it is pretty darn fantastic without the Raspberries, but it takes on a a whole other character with the fruit.   It is also amazing with Peaches.   Something about the esters of the BE-256 and the fruit just goes so well together.  We have tried other Belgian style yeasts,  like White Labs 530 (our go to for BDSA) and Imperial Monastery, but honestly they are too estery for this beer.  We want a hint of fruity esters and cloves... not a punch to the face.   We find that with BE 255 we can control the esters with our step mash, creating more or less of a desired flavor by modifying our step times.

Yes, this is a decoction mash,  yes you will have to do some math but brewersfriend step mash infusion calculator makes that easy.  Yes, our brew day was 5 hours long.   5 hours of awesome fun and craft brew sampling with other brew nerds is a fun way to spend a Saturday.  And yes there are more ingredients, see below.  We generally rack onto thawed frozen raspberries, and then use raspberry extract to round out the flavor.  Yes, we generally secondary age this beer.    All the crazy stuff we do pays off in a elixir that is worthy of an offering to Ninkasi herself.  We do a fairly basic water adjustment, you are shooting for about 60 CA, and about 95 Chloride.  For us that is John's tap water mixed with 5 gallons of RO water and 1.25 G of Gypsum, and 2.5 G of Calcium Chloride, but you will have to calculate your own water adjustments.  If you need help, send a message, we try to respond.

And yes for Belgian inspired beers, the grain you choose matters.   We use, love, and promote Dingemans Pilsner from Cargill.  Ask for it by name.  It will make all of the difference in your Belgian inspired ales.  All of Cargills malts have been fantastic.  But this one... well this one is particularly fantastic.   It is the real Belgian malt you have been looking for.   You can use what ever Belgian yeast you prefer, but we recommend Fermentis Safale BE 256.   We have tried Wyeast and WhiteLabs with varying degrees of success.  If you choose liquid, please get fresh yeast.  It really loses viability quickly.

The new mill set up is
The brewday started, as always with lots of cleaning and preparation.  John milled the grains while MA and I cleaned.  And when you are brewing I suggest you clean everything that needs cleaning in your brewery.  Remember, if you don't like cleaning, you don't like brewing, you just enjoy making wort.    MA and I cleaned everything.  We went through a whole container of PBW.  But now everything is crystal clean.  We scrubbed, things soaked, we rinsed... it was great.

Crushing fine improves
John crushed the grains to .3 mills.  Like our new mill set up?  That is a corona mill mounted in a 5 gallon bucket with a 3 gallon hopper on top.  It can hold about 12 lbs of grain. (well it can hold more, but the bucket gets full, so when we redesign it there will be a larger bucket)  Dust free milling in half the time.   The idea came from Wilserbrew on Home brew talk.  We love our new mill set up.  And we crush fine.  It improves everything.   Those of you who have brewed this beer before may notice that we no longer add sugar.  The truth is we are getting 75.8% from no sparge brewing.  So why add any sugar to the beer?  It really doesn't need it.   Plus last time, the beer was a little high on alcohol aromas.  So we wanted to bring it down just a bit.

Your first steps will be thick... RDWHAHB
We then started our step mash.   As you can see from the mash instructions above, this is a complicated mash.  But infusion step mashing really isn't hard.  You pour boiling water into your mash.  That's all it is.   We used to have to step mash, now we do it because it makes better beer.  Beer with real mouth feel, beer with real head retention.  Can you make a meringue like head last on a beer with out adding tons of adjuncts?  We can... because we step mash.    The first step, the acid rest is always extremely thick, don't worry about it.   By the end, it will be very thin and it will flow easily.   With the help of the calculator on Brewersfriend we nailed our step mash.   Resting at each level for our desired time, and the furthest we were off on a step was 2 degrees Fahrenheit.   Pretty darn good.

Step mashing is so much more active than single infusion brewing.  I personally think it is just more fun.   This is the step where we were 2 degrees to high.  We were shooting for 132 to 134 F.  We ended up at 134 for most of the grist, but some spots were at 136 F.  No big deal.  We know from our post boil trub that we accomplished our goal of modifying proteins into medium length chains.  (UPDATE - the ol trusty long probe thermometer is toast- so we were probably spot on)  This is the step that really makes the difference in our beers.  The protein rest.  You see, we never ask sugars to do the job that should be done by proteins.   We use the proteins to create the head retention and to create the mouth feel that you can only get from a good step mash.

We had two more additions after the protein rest, and a schluss mash decoction to get to mash out. By then end of our mash, our wort was thin, the brewery smelled like heaven.  And our mout (wort) was digestable.   That is what you want when you are making a Belgian inspired beer.   By the way, the flavor of the wort was amazing, sweet, biscuit, toast, slight sourness from the acid rest (the yeast will turn that into awesome Belgian flavors)   This should be a great beer.

I know I have told you to take records while you brew.  But I really mean it.  Take good notes, keep records.   John documents our brew days in a brew journal he got.   I use my computer.  MA takes photos.  I can't tell you how many times the records have saved our bacon, or allowed us to figure out what went wrong or right.   It is also fun to go back and read your brewing notes from previous brew sessions and see what was going on.

Record your gravity through out the process.  You will quickly learn how your brewery operates, and what changes you need to make to craft the beer you want to make.  This is how you learn your system.  This is how you brew world class beer.  Learning and experience... there's nothing that compares to Learning and experience. 

The boil was uneventful, we boiled hard, hoping to destroy any long chain proteins that weren't modified by the step mash.   There is only one hop addition.   At the end of the boil we had 9 gallons of delicious wort.   We were shooting for 1.060.   We got... 1.060.   We will gain a couple of points from the sugars in the raspberries in secondary.   It was a great brew day.  Lots of fun.  And most importantly we're back.  So get ready for a whole slew of new posts from us.  We'll keep things rolling, and if you are ever in KC on a weekend, and want to brew with us, let us know.  We'd love to brew with you. 

Keep checking back.  We're brewing a tripel this weekend, our infamous "desir".   We have some cool stuff coming up on decoction mashing, and on how to correctly add spices to your beers... can you say Christmas farmhouse ale?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

I think I may already own my dream brewing rig...

This is Marshal's (Brulosophy) old set up, but mine is identical.
I didn't have a picture handy, so I used his.  
If you don't read Brulosophy, well
start reading it today.
So as I have been responding to questions and comments about my recent post about using your head when brewing, it occured to me... I may already own my dream 5 to 10 gallon brewing rig.  I already know my stove top gear is ideal for 2.5 to 3 gallon batches.   This might be the perfect rig, or at least the rig that makes the most sense for me (and probably for most of you).   I have an old 48 quart cooler mash tun with a 3/8th" valve.  I have a bad ass burner (231K BTU 12" banjo) that I have had since the Clinton administration.   I have a Keggle,  and I have an electric turkey fryer. (it's getting harder and harder to find a 30 quart electric turkey fryer but you could also use a large coffee urn)   So all I really need again is a stand and some PVC tubing and some silicone for my sparge arm.  If I use my pump it will be more for vourlauf and temperature stabilization than for anything else.

PVC Sparge arm for my cooler mash tun. Pretty easy build
consistent rinsing of the grains. 
I used to own a huge gravity system we called the beast.  We made 30 gallon batches on it with out a single pump.  If our mash temp fell we didn't worry about it.  We knew another step was coming up, and that we would be adding near boiling water.  We made fantastic beer.  Balanced and malty, clear enough to read through.  And our beer had head retention and real mouth feel,  even if it was crisp and fully attenuated. I know the concept of mouth feel and crisp together is hard to explain to single mash step brewers, but think of a Pilsner Urquell.  It has mouth feel even though it is crisp and light.  You see a Pilsner Urquel doesn't ask sugars to do the job of proteins.  It is lovingly and carefully step mashed through a decoction process.  Long chain proteins are modified in this process into medium length proteins, melanoidal flavors are developed.   And that my friends you can not do with single rest mashing.   To get close you have to add more grains that are designed to mimic the taste of the authentic process.  So why not just do it right from the beginning.  In the old days if we wanted a dry ultra crisp beer like American lager or dry Irish stout we just changed our step mash in order to create a dry beer.   I still believe multiple step mashing is the control panel of wort creation.

My trusty ol Keggle and Burner
It might be time to take what I have learned over the past couple of years and apply it to my current gear.  So here is what I am thinking.  I prefer mashing in a cooler mash tun with a brew bag as a filter. I crush fine, and always get 75 to 80% efficiency.  I can get over 90% when I  slowly fly sparge.  But I want to do a kinda modified fly sparge. (basically, I am going to do a step mash but I will try to make sure I have 30% of the brewing liquor left for sparging.)  I always step mash.  (you all know my feelings on single temperature mashing). So with that in mind.  I am stealing bits and pieces of what I have learned from BIAB and 3 vessel to brew in the way that makes the most sense to me.

If you read this blog you have seen the
Cajun Injector countless times. 
So my electric turkey fryer will be my hot liquor tank.  My keggle and bad ass burner will be my... well my keggle and burner.   My old extract pot will be for decoction (the keggle is just too deep).  My trusty old blue cooler mash tun will be my mash tun.    I will be step mashing with up to 70% of the water.  To ensure that the wort temperatures even out I will be using... a spoon!  (Although the technology is unproven, I am confident that spoons for use in brewing will catch on. )  The remaining 30% of the water,  I will use for a modified fly sparge, like a sparge rinse but slower and more controlled.   I am going to try to keep my system short, even though I am 6'1" and two of the other team members are 6'4" or taller, shorter systems are easier to manage. So,  I am going to collect the wort in a graduated bucket (bottling bucket) and transfer it manually to keggle.  That way I can stop my sparge when I get to the volume i want to be at, or the exact gravity I want to be at for my boil.

We'll make the ol girl look
like this with some elbow grease!
Now, I may add some features to my brewing set up, like a thermometer for my keggle.  Just because it is cool to know where the temperatures are as you are cooling, and when you are almost to a boil. And a sight glass, to make volume determination easier. And a With this system and process I should come in around 75% to 80% every time, but this also allow me to fine tune my mash exactly how I want it.   And more importantly it gives me more connection to the brewing process.  The more hands on the better. The more focus needed the better.  That is what makes a great brewer.  Great brewers are focused and connected to the brew... every time. 

So yes, my decision is made,  unless I win the lottery,  I have what I need already.  And I'm guessing most of you have what you need as well. If you don't already have what you need, I'm guessing you can get what you need for less than $350.00 USD total.  You probably have most of what you need.  And anything and everything else you need you can get online, or at your local hardware store.  There is just no reason to spend a fortune on home brewing.  It is learning, cleaning, and actually brewing that will make you a great brewer, not equipment.   Lots of guys (and gals) have won big time awards on basic equipment.  The difference between them, and you... they really, really know what they are doing.   So, yes, I have my brewing rig already. I'm guessing you do to.   I know you probably surf the web and look at the awesome stuff that is now available.  My best advice is change how you surf.  Begin researching the awesome brewers who post their stuff to the web.  Begin learning about advanced brewing techniques, there is a reason last years brewer of the year did a ferulic acid rest... just saying.  There is a reason last years Ninkasi award winner does decoctions.    Not all of these guys would agree on everything, but by researching them you can learn what works for you.   That's all for now brew nerds...

Friday, July 14, 2017

OK Knuckleheads its time for some TRUTH again

This blog was launched years ago largely on the back of a blog post called A quick Rant.   Years later I find myself still saying and preaching the same things.  Listen to me round eye... you go brew how you want to brew.  If you want to make nothing but no boil hibiscus flower gose... then do that.   If you want to boil everthing for 90 minutes than do that.   But please use your heads about brewing.  There are some disturbing trends that I am noticing that I think need to be addressed. So, today I am addressing them... again.

1.)  It is all about the skill of the brewer not the equipment.  In the past couple of years there has been a near explosion of quality brewing equipment for home brewers.  And most if it is awesome.  Most of it will really help you make excellent wort.  But it will only help you if your recipe doesn't suck.  If you have great fresh ingredients. If you've calculated the correct amount of hops to add. If your process is solid.  If you know how to aerate.  If you can control fermentation temperatures.  If, If, If!  

This is a dream set up for almost all of us.  The electric brewery
sells everything you need to craft your own dream set up. But
remember you can make great beer with a cooler mash tun. 
If you are a brewer who prefers to step mash your beer, these systems are very appealing. I will admit that the idea of wort moving through tubes and then back into the mash tun is kinds cool.  I will admit I am still considering the purchase of one.  But, since I step mash anything and everything I brew, and I happen to own a stove and a pot and a spoon. I'm still not convinced they make much sense.  I can accomplish the same thing by adding near boiling water and stirring.  The effective cost to me...$0.  I already own a pot for boiling and a spoon for stirring.  Remember wort doesn't know it is being recirculated, enzymes couldn't care less.  You see the equipment won't do squat for you if your water profile sucks, if your grain is stale, if your hops are old, if your fermentation temperatures rage uncontrolled. And it won't save you from a lack of general skill and knowledge.  

Listen, you can probably get away with messing up one variable of your beer, and have it still be pretty darn good. (the Brulosophy guys are testing this).  But don't imagine for a minute that a fancy wort production machine will make up for abject failure in other areas of your brewing.  I've said it before, and I will say it again.  Wort production is less important than; great recipe design, water adjustment, aeration, fermentation control, and above all else cleaning.  So follow some common sense in making beer.  Your first big investment is of course your kettle, burner, and mash tun. But your second big investment should be fermentation related.  Remember, brewers make wort, yeast makes beer.  

Commit to 1 or 2 processes for the production of wort (we always step mash unless we are doing German beer, then we do a decoction step mash). Commit to a method of chilling your wort.  Commit to a method of yeast preparation (vitality starters for this guy). Commit to a method of aeration.  And finally commit to temperature controlled fermentation.  Most importantly we use quality fresh ingredients.

2.) You can not make great beer with crap ingredients.   It can not be done, do not dispute this point.  So I understand that you want to save some money and buy in bulk, and it isn't a terrible idea for your grains.  After all, grain is malted and kilned in part to preserve the grain.   But please understand that if you are entering a contest with 2 year old pilsner and you are hoping to win category 2B (Bohemian Pilsner) you're screwed if I show up.  Because I'm getting the freshest pilsner I can get.  (Probably from our amazing sponsors at Cargill) And I am lovingly, carefully performing a step mash decoction with out the aid of a recycling wort system. You'd better not try to use the remaining Saaz from the 1 lb bag you bought last year, cause I'm showing up with fresh nitrogen flushed Saaz from our friends at YCH.   And I can promise you I will get perfect fermentation with a brew-day starter of SafLager 34/70 carefully controlled in our fermentation chamber.  And forget it completely if you do not know how to adjust your water to the correct profile for a Bohemian Pilsner.

How many times have you watched a YouTube video where the guys brewing didn't really know what they were doing, and they never mentioned how old their grain was, and they didn't utter a word about the AA% of their hops? And they are trying a brand new process they have never tried before... shockingly they miss their target OG, and then they blame the process and conclude it doesn't work.  Do yourself a favor, ignore those guy.  Remember the aspects that make quality beer, and keep your process consistent keep your ingredients fresh.   Do the same things every time, for that matter brew the same beer over and over again with great ingredients.   Commit to quality ingredients (if your LHBS doesn't have fresh hops, order them on line)

You can not make great beer if your brewery looks like this.
3.) FACT - most of the problems we face as brewers are because of a lack of cleaning,  a lack of understanding, or a lack of quality ingredients.   If you get even reasonable efficiency, your problems aren't because your wort production sucks.  It's because something else, or everything else, in your process sucks. Most common error?   Lack of sanitation.   So, best advice is slow down and clean everything.  Think carefully about every step of the process.   And again clean your stuff a lot.  I am known to grab a piece of gear and clean it while I watch TV.  My gear is pristine.

You don't have to spend a fortune on any particular step of the process to make great beer.  You do have to be clean.  You do have to think carefully about each step in the process.  Incidentally if you do want to spend a fortune, spend it on quality ingredients, temperature controlled fermentation, on water filtration, and on aeration.  Too many guys are focusing on the wrong things. Remember many of the equipment choices commercial brewers make are motivated in part by ease of cleaning.  They don't have the advantage of being able to easily carry and break down their gear.   They can't deep clean a mash tun while watching Sports Center.

4.) It's not a race.  They don't give out awards for brewing quickly. And why would you want to? Brewing is so much fun.   Just slow down and use your heads, yes I know you are busy.  Yes I know you need to carve out time to brew.  But remember there are no short. If you are serious about making world class beer, Clean, Clean, Clean.  Learn to adjust your water.  Build a mash tun and learn to do infusion step mashing.  Buy a brewbag for a filter, they are just better mash filters than false bottoms, or toilet braiding.  Those changes alone will improve your wort way more than a $2,000.00 wort machine.  (don't misunderstand me, If you are flush with cash go for it! If I win the lottery I'm buying all kinds of cool stuff from Colorado Brewing Systems and SS Brewtech )

For your German beers learn to decoct, it makes a difference.  Who cares if your mash takes 2 hours? It makes superior authentic German beer.  And please don't tell me you can make the same caliber of beer with a single sacchrification rest.   You CAN NOT so don't bring that weak sauce up in here. Only pitch healthy vital yeast.  Learn to make a starter, or at least a vitality starter.   Aerate your wort, so it can become healthy beer. And for the love of Sally control your fermentation temperatures.

Above all else have fun, RDWHAHB, and don't be a douchebag.   I have to suggest that you consider brewing beers that expose problems you are having.  Brew a basic Blonde,  brew a Cream Ale.  If you can, brew a basic lager.  And if you can't control temperatures on a lager, why are you worried about a wort production machine?   Once again for excellent brewing,  expenses related to water adjustment and temperature control should come before wort production expenses.

I write this today as much as a reminder to myself as I do a reminder to all of you.   I also see the fancy rigs on line and think how cool it would be to have one.   I also see the shiny stainless fermenters and think, "man that would be cool,a glycol controlled system in my basement."   But the truth is you don't need that to make world class beer, you can ferment in a keg, or in a stainless steel pot for much less.  You can literally purchase 4 kegs to ferment in for the price of 1 stainless fermenter, and with a keg you can ferment under pressure.   Just a reminder to all of you and to myself, stay clean & use your head.

UPDATE:  I was just thinking... Riddle me this batman, how come standard brew in a bag gets 80 -90% efficiency, and the recirculating units don't get anywhere near that.  You have to do all kinds of stuff to a Grainfather mash to ensure 75%?   Robobrew is no different.  Gash Slug reports 80% on his robo brew with no pump, and we're hearing reports much lower with the pump.   So yeah for me, I will keep my pot, and my spoon.  I will use my BrewBag and crush as fine as I can, No sparge in the cooler infusion step mash.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

5 gallon all grain on an average stove top? Concentration Cream Ale

Good ol' cream ale.
Delicious for you, and for your beer
muggle friends.
So recently I posted that I actually prefer the craft beers of my youth.  With the possible exception of my MWIPA, I prefer simple clean beers.  I prefer basic flavors.   This weekend I will be brewing a Basic Cream Ale.  Old School Style in my mash tun, with my brew bag as a filter, step mash, to full volume.  I will be draining slowly to see if that has an effect on my efficiency. Infusion step mash no sparge in my cooler is always around 72% efficiency.   I will be stirring throughout the process.   I think I prefer cream ale to American lager and American pilsner.   Something about it just really agrees with my pallet.  I think it is the corn.  So I am going back to my good ol' Cream Ale recipe.  And I will be making 5 gallons of a concentration batch.  Because... well... It's Cream Ale.  And because I don't think I've ever shown you all how to do a concentration before.

Concentration is a simple process of making a smaller higher OG (concentrated) batch of wort, and then blending it with water to get to volume.   It used to be a common practice in home brewing.  Basically you brew a high OG small batch, in our case 1.075 and then blend it with water to reach volume.   You then stir and aerate to thoroughly combine the wort and the water. I use one of my wine degassing whips attached to a drill to mix the concentration and the water, and to aerate the wort.

Say what you will, Genesee is Delicious.
And, I'm reasonably confident the Genesee River
is safe to drink out of...
This is one of the recipes I will be focusing on. I love great cream ale.  It is hot as heck in KC right now.  I don't feel like firing up the turkey fryer.  So I am going to make this on the stove top in the air conditioned comfort of my apartment.  And show you all how you can make 5 gallons of all grain beer in a 5 gallon kettle on your stove top, by only boiling 3.5 gallons. And it is delicious.  And it tastes like any other all grain brew.  If you follow close instructions, it tastes just as good as any other beer you make.

I will be making the recipe below. And don't worry I will post all about how I do it with lots of photos, so that you too can make your own concentration wort.  This is a great technique for those of you who want to keep brewing in the dead of winter, but who don't want to stand in a freezing garage.

Concentration Cream Ale - All the grains... 
OG 1.047
FG  1.008
IBU 14
ABV 5%
72.5% efficiency
SRM - 2.63 predicted - probably around 3.5

Grain Bill
5 lbs of American Pilsner.  I will be using IdaPils from Cargill
2 lbs of Flaked Corn
1 lbs of Flaked Rice
.5 lbs of White Wheat Malt - yes wheat! I'm trying to get some head on the beer by doing a protein rest and using some wheat.  Feel free to substitute CaraPilsner if you like.

Hop Bill
.8 oz. of Liberty Hops at 60 minutes Yes I realize that at 4.77% this is not 14 ibu's remember this is a partial boil brew, like an extract. You have to account for that.
.5 oz. of Liberty Hops at 15 minutes

Yeast & Extras
1 package of US05
1 whirflock tablet
1 tsp of yeast nutrient

Mash schedule
Rest at 132 F for 15 minutes - dough in with 2.64 gallons of water at 142 F
Rest at 146 F for 40 minutes - add .7 gallons of 210 F water to get to this rest (why 210 F ? Well to be truthful, 210 F, because you can not actually add boiling water to your mash tun, the minute you take the kettle off of the stove it will stop boiling, I account for that in my calculations by using 210 F)
Rest at 156 F for 15 minutes - add .7 gallons of 210 F water to get to this rest
Rest at 168 F for 10 minutes - Drain 1.3 gallons of wort from the mash and heat it to a boil, when boiling add it back into the wort to get to this rest.  This is a Schluss Mash Decoction.
Collect 3.6 gallons of wort Check gravity, it should be about 1.068
Boil and follow hop schedule
As you near the end of the boil, check your gravity, you should be around 1.072 to 1.074.
Chill the wort to near pitching temperatures
I know they call it a farmhouse ale
but they are esoteric, and much smarter
than we are.  Trust me it is a cream ale!
Blend the wort with water to get to volume
Mix it and or shake it up so it is totally combined.
Pitch your yeast

That's it.  That is all you have to do.  Yes, you can make 5 gallons of all grain beer on your stove top. And yes, you can do this with any style of beer.  And yes they will come out just fine.   For very high gravity beers, you should plan on doing a partial mash, where a portion of your sugars come from DME.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Wine HACKING part 1... Using Kits and Concentrates to make great wine at home.

So obviously here at Counter Brew we are mostly focused on beer.  But,  I also have a passion for great wine.  Not just drinking it, but also reading about it, and making it.  For most beer dudes, wine has kind of a negative stature.  After all, we all know the "fake ass" wine snobs who claim they can detect a hint of "lemon balm softened by a touch of french milk chocolate" in a glass of average Cabernet.   But, you'll find that people who actually know and love wine, are kinda like home brewers, they are happy to talk and share what they know about wine.  And they are happy to help you appreciate wine more completely.  And wine appreciation is a blast.   You really can pick out all kinds of flavors if you learn how.

But this time of year we wine makers are playing the waiting game.  The harvest is months away.  Oh sure we could just grab kits at the LHBS, and there are some great kits out there.  But kit wine is kinda like the extract beer of the wine world.  It is good, but it just isn't the same.  In truth,  Home made wine is almost always delicious,  and it can be great (think Grand Cru, world class stuff).  But making kit wine is not the same as crushing the grapes, punching down the cap, pressing the wine and adjusting the acids to make the exact wine you want.  I should stress again the high end kits make world class wine, wine that would cost you $35 to $80 a bottle at the liquor store (it's that good).  But it just isn't the same as making wine from grapes.  So let me assure you if you can make beer, and you or your SWMBO enjoys good wine, you can easily make great wine from a kit at home.  Don't worry, you don't have to become a wine snob to enjoy good wine.  But you shouldn't be an anti wine guy either, you'd just be depriving yourself of a lot of fun.

freezing strawberries and using them
as ice cubes in a Strawberry wine
So what is a guy who likes to make wine to do in the summer months?  What can I make to get that wine making kick?  The answer: fruit wine.  Strawberry Moscato wine.  And that is just what I did.  I am also making a 1 gallon wine expert Pino Noir, and a 1 Gallon Merlot with Blackberries and Raspberries.  Pino Noir and Merlot are very drinkable young, so I will probably drink a bottle and age the rest for 6 months.   (UPDATE I got a hold of a Wine Expert Trinity White Kit and made it too).  In a later post I will talk about what to age and, what you don't really ever need to age.

When you make fruit wines (as we have before here on Counter Brew) you can just use the fruit to give the wine flavor and color, and table sugar to get the fermentables that you need to make the alcohol.  And that process is the standard way to make fruit and country wines.  But those wines are kinda hit or miss, and without a grape wine base, fruit wines can be kinda thin and flabby. (Even with tannin additions.)

So when I make fruit wine I generally start with a wine concentrate base or a 1 gallon kit. This gives the fruit wine more interest and rounds it out. To give you a beer comparison,  think of it this way- it is like adding 20 and 30 minute hop charges so there is no hollow area in the taste of a hoppy beer.  For strawberry wine, I usually use Moscato or Savignon Blanc ( Reisling is incredible with green apples).  I usually make 3 gallons with a can of Alexander's wine concentrate.  Alexander's Muscat will give you the gravity you need for 2 gallons of great fruit wine, you'll add sugar for the remaining gravity.   And for those of you who already make wine, yes I know Alexanders is not vintage level concentrate, but it works really well for this practice.  To be fair, I sometimes just make 1 gallon of fruit wine with a Wine Expert Kit.  Both approaches make great fruit wines.

Now it is important that you know that wine is easier to make on brew day than beer, but where beer is all about the skill of the brewer, great wine is all about the quality of the ingredients.  "World Class" wine can take years to make and age and it will never be better than the grapes (fruit) you start with.  And there are advanced techniques in wine making just like brewing.  So, if you are trying to make world class award winning wine you need to purchase the highest level kit you can afford ($175 - $200) or learn to make wine from actual wine grapes and frozen grape must and skins.  Just like brewing, you will need to learn how to adjust the acids, pH, and sugar level of your wine to make a world class wine.  Just like brewing and blending sours, you will need to learn to blend wines to make a world class wine. But have no fear Mark Anthony and I will be doing that for you all in the fall.  But today is not about world class wine, it is about the best strawberry wine you have ever had.

For easy drinking delicious fruit wines... this is the way to go.  So here is what you will need need to make a great summertime strawberry wine.  Everything is available at your local home brew store.

Memories Last - a Strawberry Moscato ( Alternatively titled - Soccer Mom)
1.074 OG
.980   FG
1.014 Back sweeten level
12%  ABV
.65 g / 100 ml  Acid Titration Level
Profile - Sweet and loaded with Strawberry flavor - Smells like fresh berries.
Color - Red and clear


  • 1 Can of Alexander's Moscato (Alexander's Muscat)
  • 4 lbs of frozen mixed berries (this will provide some interesting flavor and  deeper color Strawberry wine can turn kinda orange over time)
  • 5 lbs of fresh or frozen strawberries (very ripe but not rotting, I prefer frozen berries and it took me years to accept that they make better wine)
  • 2 - 2.5 lbs of sugar (you will have to use a hydrometer to figure this out)
  • 2 crushed Camden Tablets
  • 1.5 tsp of Pectic Enzyme
  • 1.5 T of Bentonite
  • 1 tsp of Yeast Nutrient
  • 1 tsp of Acid Blend (or exact amount needed if you can test.  Adjust wine to .65 / 100 ml acid level)
  • 1/2 tsp of wine tannin
  • Wine Yeast - Lalvin 71B 1122 is my go to for this one
  • Brewer's Gelatin or Super Clear KC - fining agent.
Equipment needed
  • 5 Gallon Food Grade Bucket with a lid and air lock. (good idea to add a racking spigot if you will be racking your wine)
  • 3 Gallon hardware store PET water jug ($7 at Walmart by the primo water)
  • Hydrometer
  • Auto siphon and tubing
  • Wine Thief or Sanitary turkey baster, or .75 inside diameter silicone tube.
  • Wire Whisk or wine whip
  • Air Lock for secondary fermenter
  • 3 1 gallon jugs with screw caps.  or 6 half gallon jugs.  
    • I am not recommending you buy an Italian floor corker quite yet.  Lets see if you enjoy this first. (I suggest the 1 gallon jugs because you can use them for pico batches of beer as well)
    • Plus if you really get into wine you will need to make 1 gallon batches of wine for blending with larger batches.
Acid Test Kit (worth it, and necessary if you get into wine)

Brew Day -
  1. Add .5 gallons of water to your sanitized fermenter add the bentonite, and with a sanitized whisk get it dissolved. 
  2. Add the Muscat concentrate 
  3. Add 2 gallons of water to the fermenter stir with whisk to get the Muscat Concentrate mixed in, check your gravity.  It will be around 1.050.   
  4. In the remaining water dissolve enough sugar to bring the gravity up to 1.070, the fruit will provide the rest.  For me it is always 4 to 5 cups of table sugar.  
    1. Remember when you are doing this you will have to account for the additional water as well.  So 2.5 gallons at 1.050 means that if you just added water to full volume your gravity would drop to 1.042.  (Because you are going from 2.5 gallons to 3 gallons.)  2.5 is 83% of 3 gallons. 1.042 is 83% of 1.050 (roughly).   So you need to add enough sugar to get your gravity up 28 points per gallon.  1 lb of sugar has 42 gravity points per pound per gallon.  so you need to add .66 lbs per gallon.  28 / 42 = .666   or 1.9998 lbs of sugar = 2 lbs.  or 4.5 cups of granulated sugar, dissolved in the .5 gallon of remaining water.
  5. Add the sugar and water to the fermenter - check gravity  you should be at about 1.070, the fruit will provide the remaining gravity points. 
  6. Add the berries to a disposable brew bag (nylon paint straining bag, 4 for 2.50 at my local ACE Hardware store in the paint area).  Tie the top closed.  If you are using frozen berries, thaw them first and don't lose that precious juice as they thaw. 
    1. I like frozen berries for this.  Half the work is done for you already and I have to tell you they tend to make better wine.  You need 3 to 3.5 lbs of berries per gallon of wine you are making.   For this batch I used fresh berries, well see how it turns out.
  7. Crush the berries with your clean and sanitized hands - get them well crushed.
  8. Add the berries to the fermenter
  9. Test the acid if you can, if not just add a tsp of acid blend.
    1. Adjust as necessary to get to .65 / 100 ml. 
  10. Add the pectic enzyme
  11. Add the wine tannin
  12. Add the crushed camden tablets (crush between two spoons) - 
  13. Cover your fermenter with a clean towel, hold it in place by setting the lid on it.
  14. Walk away for 24 to 36 hours.  Why isn't this precise?  well you have to wait for the Sulphites to off gas.  When the sulfur smell is gone, you can pitch your yeast.  
Day 2
  1. Uncover fermenter
  2. Check gravity with sanitized hydrometer, it should be deep enough to float in the must, just hold the fruit bag off to the side with a sanitary whisk. Record the Gravity
  3. Add yeast nutrient - stir in to dissolve 
  4. Add the yeast (follow the manufacturer's instructions for this) You may need to re-hydrate.
  5. Cover with towel and lid
  6. Walk away for 24 hours
Day 3-7
  1. Uncover Fermenter
  2. Check Gravity and Record
  3. Remove fruit bag to a sanitary bowl
  4. Whisk the wine - you are de gassing as you go, this isn't beer don't worry about adding oxygen at this phase.  
  5. Add the fruit and any juice that drained off back into fermenter.  Give the fruit a squeeze- I usually press it against the fermenter wall with the whisk.
  6. Cover with towel and lid
  7. Repeat
Day 8 - 1st Racking
  1.  Use your auto siphon to transfer wine to a clean and sanitized 3 gallon fermenter of your choice.
    1. This is not a wine you will age.  So PET works just fine.
    2. Make sure you squeeze all the yummy goodness out of the fruit, before you start your transfer and stir it in.   
    3. The wine is safe to taste, so go ahead and try some.
  2. Fill it as full as you can - leave only an inch or so under the air lock.  If you need to add wine, choose a light fruity wine like White Zinfandel.  I use other wine or mead I have made.
    1. Now we care about oxygen. So go easy and don't aerate the wine.
      1. This is not always the case...some big red wines you actually want to aerate at this point. 
  3. A fix and air lock and walk away for at least 2 weeks
Day 21 - 2nd - 4th Racking (OPTIONAL)
  1. If you want to clear your wine naturally (no fining agents)  you will need to let it sit and rack it a couple of times, and it will take a couple of months minimum. 
  2. Each time it is clear and lees develops on the bottom of the fermenter, transfer the wine to another 3 gallon fermenter - top it up if necessary with other wine.  I use bottle I made previously, but if you don't have those just use a cheap White Zinfandel. 
Stabilizing and Fining Your Wine
  1. Check your gravity, it should be around .990-.980
    1. If it is not, it is not done. 
  2. I do not rack fruit wine more than once - it's fruit wine not Grand Cru. If you are like me you will probably choose to stabilize and fine the wine in secondary. 
  3. To stabilize your wine you will add 1/4 tsp of potassium metabisulfite and 2.25 tsp of potassium sorbate.  
    1. Stabilizing will stop fermentation. 
      1. When a wine is stabilized you can then back sweeten the wine. 
    2. Stabilizing wine will provide preservatives for the long term storage of the wine
  4. At the same time you stabilize your wine you will want to fine the wine.  Fining makes the wine brilliantly clear.  
    1. Since you are a brewer I suggest you consider using Brewer's Gelatin to clear the wine.  
      1. Do it just like you would a batch of beer
      2. Dissolve 1 tsp Gelatin in cool water, then heat it to dissolve. Then add it to the wine.  It will clear just fine at room temperatures. 
  5. Add your fining agent to the wine and stir / degas.  this is when you degas the wine.  This is when you hook the whip up to your drill and go to town.  Your goal is to get all of the CO2 out of the wine.   You may need to rack a gallon of the wine to another container while you de gas, so that there is room for the bubbles and the spinning wine. 
  6. Walk away for a week.  When you return the wine should be brilliantly clear.
Back sweetening and Bottling
  1. Transfer the wine to your sanitized bottling bucket.
  2. Fruit wines taste best with some sweetness.  I generally back sweeten to 1.014. You may prefer more or less.  
  3. To do this you have to calculate how much sugar to add, just like above.   
    1. Most of the time you are going from 0.0098 to 1.0140, that is  .0042 gravity points per gallon.   1 lb of sugar has 42 gravity points per gallon.   So you need to add .1 pound of sugar per gallon, or .68 cups of sugar dissolved in a warm liquid of your choice, I actually usually use another wine I have made for this but you can use water.
  4. When the wine is back sweetened to your liking, it is time to bottle.
  5. Drain your wine into the 1 gallon (or half gallon) glass jugs.  Put the screw cap on the jugs. 
    1. If you are able to cork, then really you probably already know how to do this. 
  6. Fruit Wine is ready for drinking as soon as you bottle it.
Well beer nerds, that's it.  That is how you make awesome wine from fruit. It is a lot of fun, and it makes a reliably delicious batch of home made fruit wine. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

But first a HOP BOMB!

I have always loved Raspberry Wheat beer. Say what you will
but when it is done right, it is truly awesome!
I miss the craft beers of my misspent youth. Honey Brown, Raspberry Wheat, Cream Ale, Pale Ale,BDSA, Belgian Blonde, and Steam Lagers.  Don't get me wrong I still love the newfangled IPAs and Sours, who doesn't love a juicy NEIPA, or a complex Bret Beer aged on whiskey soaked oak or an Oud Bruin aged on Cabernet soaked currants? (we have 20 gallons of complex sour beer fermenting right now) But recently I find myself missing the more basic beers of my younger days.

I think what is motivating this is my need to make beer that more people will appreciate.  Sure it is nice to drink interesting craft beer with beer nerds, but it is also nice to be able to give your bud drinking uncle Leroy a beer he will enjoy.

So I am putting out a series of recipes and brew days called... wait for it... younger daze.  (I'm so damned creative.)  In this series I am going to brew 2.5 gallon batches of the beers we loved in the mid 1990's and early 2000's.  These are beers that anyone could make well. These are beers that didn't require a pressurized fermentation system and oxygen free transfer. There was no water chemistry required.  And these were beers that always tasted better when you made them your self.  These are all beers than can be kegged or bottled, and they will taste just fine.

Who doesn't love the beer and the TV of the
1990s and early 2000s
Heck I may just put these beers back into rotation full time.  I like them... that's right, after years of cognitive therapy and home brewing, I'm able to stand before you right now and say... I like basic craft beers.

I invite you to brew along with my younger daze series.  Return to basic awesome beer that all of your friends and neighbors will enjoy.   If you have never tried all grain, well now is the time to get started. None of these beers require advanced equipment or advanced water adjustments.   Although, making water adjustments is certainly an acceptable practice. I will certainly be starting with RO water and making adjustments.  (Remember sports fans, John showed us all an easy way to adjust water for a low IBU beer last week, mixing RO water and tap water 50/50 and using 5.2 stabilizer.)

So over the next few weeks I will be posting the recipes for these beers.   All 6 of them, I'll probably brew the BDSA first so that it can age properly before the fall and winter.  But I'll probably brew 2 a weekend.  And I am returning to Step Mashing all of the time.  That's right every single beer get's step mashed.   I may be crazy, but I am more and more convinced that (overall) we made better beer in the early days of home brewing. Not as complicated, but better over all. Our mash process was more complete. We made beer with real head retention, and real mouth feel.   I am pretty sure my millennial brewing partners would agree with me on this controversial claim. The beers we step mash are more complete.  They have real mouth feel, and real head retention.

We've been brewing August Hyppo for years.
It is our version of a Classic West Coast IPA.
We always shoot for about 75-80 IBUs.
That is the range where we really feel like you can
get the best taste, and still experience the bitterness.
But before I do any of that, I will be brewing a hop monster, well a hop hyppo.   Why?  Because I happen to have the ingredients for one, and because I really like this recipe.   Here it is feel free to brew along with me.

By the way the Hop Bomb is the last of the 2 hour beers I will be making for now.  I will only be mashing until the mash is done, and boiling for 30 minutes on this beer. update: I mashed for 45 minutes, and boiled for 40 minutes. the dang 1oz package of Warrior was only .7 oz, so I had to extend my boil. Still brew day was only 2:48.   The recipe is for 5 gallons, but I will only be brewing 2.5 gallons.   Enjoy.

August Hyppo 3.0 Classic West coast IPA
1.051 OG
1.007 FG
6.7% ABV
76     IBU (1.25 IBU /OG)
5.5    Gallons
72.5% efficiency on a step mash no sparge

3.8 #  6 Row Brewer's Malt
3.8 #  2 Row Brewer's Malt
1.0 #  Cara 20
1.0 #  Pale Wheat
  4 oz  Acidulated Malt

Mash at 150 F until the mash is converted then raise to 168 F to denature enzymes.

1.6 of Warrior  (16%) at 30 minutes
2.0 of Cascade (7%)  at 5 minutes
1.0 of Centennial (10.5%) whirlpool (175 F for 20 minutes) update a neighbor stopped by so whirlpool lasted for 25 minutes.
1.0 of Cascade (7%) whirlpool (175 F for 20 minutes)
1.0 of Simcoe (13%) whirlpool (175 F for 20 minutes)
1.0 of Centennial (10.5%) dry hop 3 days
1.0 of Cascade (7%) dry hop 3 days
1.0 of Simcoe (13%)  dry hop 3 days

US 05 yeast

Make a vitality starter - 1 cup of sanitary water + 3.5 Table spoons of DME at the beginning of brew day.  Should be around 1.035 to 1.040 (I use my refractometer and get it in this range).  Performance will be as fast and easy as liquid yeast. update with the vitality starter the beer took off.  It is Now Tuesday and the wort is at 1.014...arent sample ports great!

I will be adding 1 g of Gypsum to my water pre mash.  I will be adding .5 tsp of Gypsum to the boil (late).   I will be using yest nutrient, and whirlflock.

The beer has been fermenting for 8 days, and has dropped to 1.012.  It is not clear at all.  I think because of the massive whirlpool hopping and dry hopping.  The beer is bracingly bitter and the hop flavors are well defined.  It explodes with Citrus, Grapefruit, and citrus Juice, but there is enough bitterness to balance.  It reminds me more of a NEIPA than a WCIPA, It actually really reminds me of Boulevard "The Calling".  I will bottle on Wednesday night.  It is what it is at this point.  I am not going to fine the beer.  I don't want to lose any of the precious hop flavor. I am not surprised by the cloudiness of this beer.  Remember I shortened the boil, and threw a lot of hops into whirlpool I think I will call this a MidWest IPA.  MWIPA.  I wont know for sure until I bottle, but right now this is the best IPA I have ever made.  This oneis getting naturally carbonated.  Cheers brew nerds.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The wedding brew day... featuring Cargil IdaPils

Saturday the crew gathered at John's brewery / garage for a special brew day.  You see Mark's brother is getting married to an awesome girl.  (how awesome?  she loves beer... and not just beer... the girl loves Sour and Funky beer).  And we were asked to brew something for the wedding.   Now the wedding is coming up soon, so there wasn't time to make a sour. (yes I know we could have done a Berliner Weiss, but this is a wedding, how many Bud guzzling muggles do you think would actually enjoy that beer).

We were joined by a whole bunch of Mark's cousins.   And it made for a fun brew day.  Mark and John explaining the process, and why we were doing what we do.  Great beers were sampled, and hi-jinks and shenanigans ensued.

On this brew day we were making Biermuncher's classic Centennial Blonde ale.   If you have never made it, well to be honest if you have never made it, where have you been?  It was the number 1 recipe on home brew talk.  It is a home brew classic.  Equally loved by craft beer fans, and beer muggles alike.  Medium gravity (1.046 target) and low bitterness (21 ibu)  make this beer a home brew classic.  At my home I always have Centennial Blonde or Cream ale available for beer muggles.

Now one thing to know about brewing 10 gallons.   Step mashing is usually faster than single infusion mashing.   Yes, you read that correctly.   Step mashing is usually faster.   Why?  Well use your common sense.  It is much faster to heat smaller volumes of water, and it takes less time to get your mash going.   The entire brew day for 11 gallons of Centennial Blonde, only took  a little over 3 hours, and that included clean up.
infusion mashing won't be
equalized unless you stir it
to make it even out
 On this day we were doing a no sparge 4 step infusion mash, with rests at 132 F, 146 F, 156 F, and 168 F. Now, remember we brew a lot, and we have our process down.   John chose to do a simple water profile for the day.   He mixed tap water with RO water 50/50 and used 5.2 stabilizer to buffer the pH.  Worked like a charm  We were at 5.46 for most of the mash.  His chief aim was making the water softer to let the malt shine a little more.  But we sometimes make Centennial Blonde with tap water and a basic acid adjustment, and it comes out just fine.  Great beer for new all grain brewers.

stir your infusions to equalize
and to get better efficiency.
We doughed in at 142 F, and the mash stabilized at 132 F.  We loose 10 degrees this time of year.  In the winter we pre heat the mash tun, and we still lose about 12 degrees Fahrenheit.  As soon as we doughed in we started our next water heating.  1.3 gallons of nearly boiling water would take the mash to 146 F The 2nd rest is our long rest, it lasts for about 35 minutes. At the end of that rest we added 1.7 gallons of nearly boiling water to get to 156 F.  where we rested for 15 minutes.  Finally we added 3.3 gallons of boiling water to get to 168 F where we rested for 10 minutes.   The smell of the Cargill IdaPils dominated the garage, and driveway.  You can use IdaPils for German Beers, American Lagers, heck you can even use it for Belgians.  Although we prefer the Dingeman's Pilsner for the Belgians.   It really is excellent malt.  An iodine test and taste test confirmed that our mash was complete.  One note on Brewing with John, don't leave an open bag of IdaPils near him, he eats it like pop corn.

There are so many advantages to a step mash, not the least of which is the ability to manage your proteins more effectively. We breakdown long proteins into medium length proteins.  What is left behind gives great head retention and great silky mouth feel. It's the way beer used to be, it's the way beer should be. Have you ever experienced a creamy meringue like head on a Belgian beer? Well, they step mash.  Step mashing also gives you very complete and predictable conversion of your starches.   The multiple temperatures are a more reliable methodology for conversion than just a long single infusion mash.   John collected 11.5 gallons of delicious pilsner wort.

The boil was uneventful.  Our 12" Banjo Burner quickly brought the 12.5 gallons to a boil.   John added .6 of Centennial at 60 minutes, .6 of Centennial at 35 minutes, .6 of Cascade at 15 minutes, and .6 of Cascade at 5 minutes.   That's it.  It is that simple of a beer.  The deliciousness of the beer has much more to do with it's simplicity.  The combination of Centennial and Cascade is the key.  Don't over do them.  Your target is 20-22 IBUs.  Do not half ass this thing into an "almost pale ale, or a "not very hoppy IPA".  Although these hops work for those styles just fine, do your self a favor, and just follow Biermuncher's recipe.  If you want to mess with something mess with the malt.

step mashed wort has lots of protein break.  That is a good
thing, that is what you are trying to created.  RDWHAHB
At the end of the boil, the wort was quickly chilled with our Jaded Hydra immersion chiller.  This thing is a beast.  The wort went from 210 F to 74 F in 5 minutes.  John and Mark then transferred into carboys, and put the beer in the chamber to continue chilling to 64 F.   When they got home from the Sporting Kansas City match (a Champions league 3-0 drubbing of Minnesota United)  John pitched Fermentis S-04.   The original gravity was 1.046 (spot on). Now, one important note, when you step mash you will have lots of protein break in your wort.  Don't freak out, it will settle out.

the proteins have settled
This beer will ferment fast, and will easily be ready in time for the wedding.  It will serve to protect the "special beers John has created for Rob on his big day.  But I suspect it will be enjoyed by all.