Home Brew Year One -2011 in Review

Below is a recap of what we brewed and what we learned.

Key Learnings:

  1.  Patience – It is not a race! Relax and give yourself plenty of time to brew and extra time just in case things do not go as planned.
  2. Keep it simple – Don’t over complicate things.  Adding too many ingredients can lead to more complications.
  3. Brew to your tastes – If you start brewing what you like, you won’t be disappointed and once you feel comfortable with the process, try expanding into new styles.
  4. Save the refreshments till after – It is important that you are focused on what you are working on.  Boil overs can happen every quickly, and you’re going to need your reflexes.
  5. Equipment will break – So far the brew gods have claimed: 1 glass thermometer (dropped on cement floor), 1 digital thermometer (dropped in the boil-too many refreshments), a plastic spoon (after 8 brews, the all-grain was too much, we upgraded to metal spoon), and a plastic lid (cracked under pressure).
  6. Review and prepare – Know what the process will be and set aside ingredients before you start.  Make sure you have the equipment you need; clean sterilized and ready to go.
  7. DON’T PANIC –don’t worry if you think something is going wrong or that you are not doing it right just leave it be. You are more likely to make things worse then better.
  8. Just remember to have fun and enjoy the process. There’s nothing better then cracking open a fresh brewed beer, that you have made yourself.





The Brews:

  1. Tartan Eater (extract and grain) -we used the Storm Highlander Scottish Ale recipe on Dan’s Homebrew website.  It turned out fairly well.  We named is Tartan Eater because Alexander Keith’s Tartan Ale had just come out and we figured that as long as we could brew something that tasted better than a macro-brew, there was hope for our brewing endeavours.  Everything went well but when it came time to bottle we had a collective brain fart and added ALL the priming sugar than came with the starter kit.  The first bottle I opened was a geyser and blew the swing top right off the bottle and into the ceiling.  After letting the contents of each bottle settle after pouring, the result was a very sweet but very delicious Scottish Ale.  So note: if your beer is over-carbonated we recommend pouring it into a pitcher to settle.  Key lesson: read the directions.
  2. Summer Run (extract) – a Weizen (wheat ale) with blueberries.  We added 3.5 pounds of frozen blueberries to wheat extract brew in the primary.  It turned our well, though in hindsight that was a lot of blueberries, and we would have done better to defrost it, puree it and add it to the boil.  Key lesson: read Extreme Brewing by Sam Calgione which has a useful table on when best to add fruits and how much and for how long.
  3. Sweet Tooth (extract and grain) – a Russian Imperial Stout from extract with grain adjuncts.  This also had an addition of raisins soaked in rum.  The inspiration was to make it taste like Rum Raisin, however there were too much raisins and not enough rum flavoring.   We want to remake this brew but with less raisin fruit and more rum raisin spices.  Key lesson: concentrate your flavor using extracts and spices.
  4. Hopful Monk – a strong Belgian Double Imperial Pale Ale (DIPA) made from extract and Belgian strong yeast.  We used Simcoe hops for bittering and Chinook hops for aroma and flavor.  It turned out perfectly.  We have done this recipe with slight variations 4 times.  Key lesson: keep good notes, so that when you are successful you’ll be able to repeat what you did.
  5. French Saison (all grain) – our first attempt at all grain and our first time using a mash tun.  We didn’t research the single step infusion process very well and ended up with a very tasty Saison but only 3.7% ABV.  Key lesson: take longer on the infusion.
  6. Trapt Monk (all grain)– our homebrew shop was out of belgian yeasts so we took the opportunity to try something different for our second attempt at a Belgian DIPA.  We used a  *Brettanomyces strain, which is aggressive yeast, which can be hard to clean especially if there are any scratches for it to “hide” in.  To circumvent this we used a glass carboy as our primary.  We used an all Chinook hop bill and made our first attempt at dry-hopping. The result was an astringently bitter beer that was big on flavor and aroma.  The Chinook hops are naturally citrusy, and compliment the Belgian strains of yeast very well.  Key lesson: refer to your notes when repeating a style.
  7. Highgarden Honey Wheat Ale (a.k.a. Lemon Pops) – for this attempt at an all-grain wheat ale, basic science got away from us.  We thought that if we lowered the pH level of the mash we’d get greater efficiency.  To accomplish this we added powdered citric acid.  We also added 2 pounds of honey to the boil.  The result was a mostly undrinkable lemon soda with 6.4%ABV.  We also added champagne just prior to bottling.  The citric acid worked in lowering the pH and our mash efficiency was excellent.  However the citric acid was made for wine and made the beer very lemony.  The added yeast made each bottle foamy and gave it a drier flavor.  Key lesson: people have been brewing for millennia.  Ask someone before you add adjuncts.
  8. Porter I (all grain) (a.k.a. Lemon Pledge) – we brewed this at the same time as the Lemon Pops, so we hadn’t tasted the extend of our mistake yet, though we had an inkling and added less citric acid.  On this one we didn’t even hit our desired original gravity.  We had some oak chips as well so as a test we split the batch into two secondary fermentors and added oak chips to one half, and left the other half as it was.  Again we added champagne yeast when bottling; effectively turning each bottle into a bomb.  The batch had to be dumped but we learned a lot about how oak influences the flavor profile.  Key lesson: don’t be afraid to make mistakes, just make sure to learn from them.
  9. No Nut Brown (all grain) – originally supposed to be an all-grain nut brown ale with nut extract and maple syrup, but we left those out.  So instead we got a decent brown ale that was a bit short of the desired original gravity (5.5% BV instead of 6.1% ABV).  Key lesson: if a process isn’t working, find a new way.
  10. Hopful Monk v2.0 (all grain) – for our third attempt at the Belgian DIPA, we had to downgrade it to just an IPA because of poor mash efficiency.  The brew itself turned out well.  This time we used Belgian Abbey yeast and we dry hopped for a month!  We used Simcoe hops for the backbone and added Chinook and Cascade hops frequently.  The result was a very aromatic hoppy beer that was a little astringent but full of flavor.  The hops seemed to be slightly at odds with the yeast, which is usually noted for its spiciness; we found undertones of banana.  Key lesson: when doing super hoppy ales, the oils from the hops sit on the top.  Frequent agitations of the fermentor help fold the oils in, giving a more uniform tasting beer.

So what’s next for us?

Well it’s early in 2012 but we already have two brews in fermentors; a barley wine and an all-grain Scottish ale.  Our plan was always to switch to all-grain brewing but we’ve come to realize the value in malt extract.  As well we have incorporated decoction method of brewing into our repertoire, which was very successful.  We also want to start scaling up and start doing bigger batches.

Look for more Adventures in Homebrewing soon.

If you have questions or comments, please contact us.

*Edited for accuracy because I have bad memory.

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