An All-Women Pro/Homebrewer Collaboration

February 4, 2014 @ 05:02 PM by Jack
And now for something special!

Mark your calendar to be at Rivertowne Pourhouse at 6:00 PM on Tuesday, March 4th!

Jess is working with another homebrewster, Dana, and professional Brewster, Megan, of Rivertowne Pourhouse to develop a collaboration brew in honor of Women’s History Month. It’s a fitting theme for these ladies, as Megan made Women’s history when she became the first professional Brewster in Allegheny County‘s 235 year history. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this batch of beer will benefit the Alle-Kiski Area Hope Center. Additionally, Girls Pint Out is putting together an auction to be held at the release party, the proceeds from which will help fund scholarships for the Pink Boots Society.

The three have been collaborating on a recipe since early this year. Over pints and email they settled in on a Rye Stout recipe heavy on chocolate malt. Think creamy, smooth, dark, roasty, and chocolatey like Oatmeal Stout, but with a zing of spice from a healthy dose of flaked rye and rye malt. Meg worked out the recipe for a 7BBL batch on Rivertowne’s 15BBL pro-system, and Jess scaled it down to a 5 gallon batch on our 1/3BBL homebrew system. On Sunday, January 26th, they brewed the pilot batch.

Jess and Dana doughing in the pilot batch on our homebrew system


The full-scale beer will be brewed by Megan, Dana, and Jess at Rivertowne on February 14th. Craft Pittsburgh Magazine will be on hand to talk to the Brewsters and take some photos for an upcoming issue.

As mentioned above, proceeds from the sale of this beer will benefit the Alle-Kiski Area Hope Center, so be sure swing by the Pourhouse for a pint or two! I’ll update this post when the charity has been finalized. There will be a tapping / release party on the evening of Tuesday, March 4th, 2014 at the Pourhouse. All are invited and encouraged to come. Help make this endeavor a success – come out to the party, drink these ladies’ beer, and support a great cause!

I’ve heard that a keg of this batch will find its way to Bocktown Beer and Grill for an event later in March. I’ll provide details when they’re available. You should go to that, too.

See you on March 4th! The beer will go on around 6:00 PM at the Pourhouse.

Jess, Megan, and Dana enjoying some Rivertowne pale ale during the pilot brew session


Some milling action Spent grain, post-lauter



Tasting Notes: Robust Porter (Beer #82)

February 1, 2014 @ 10:02 AM by Jack

I took some tasting notes for the Robust Porter I brewed in early October. I need to learn to take decent photos.

Vital Stats:
Target OG: 1.064 Actual OG: 1.058
Target FG: 1.016 Actual FG: 1.013
ABV: 5.9%
Color: 34.1 SRM (Calculated)
Bitterness: 38.2 IBU (Calculated)
Yeast: Wyeast 1469 West Yorkshire Ale
Fermentation Temperature:68°F

Rich, complex malt character. Chocolate cake and smooth coffee. Medium-low roasted malt. Secondary notes of dark toffee, caramel, dried dates. Low hop aroma, takes on an earthy, woodsy character. Trace of smoke. Low fruitiness. No diacetyl.

Very dark brown. Large tan head with moderate retention. Brilliant clarity.

Rich, smooth malt flavors of bittersweet chocolate, slightly burnt roast, coffee, and traces of caramel, toffee last into finish. Medium bitterness lingers. Medium-low hop flavor – earthy, decomposing tree bark. Off-dry up front, with a drying finish. Hop flavor and roast remain on the palate.

Medium body. Medium carbonation. Suggestion of astringency from dry, roasty finish.

Overall Impression
A complex dark malty beer with firm hop bitterness and prominent dry roastiness to balance the malt.

This beer does OK in competitions, always scoring in the mid-30s. I’ll have to have a think about how to improve it. Maybe more bitterness, perhaps from roast. A touch more mid-crystal might help as well.


Farewell To My Brew Dog

January 29, 2014 @ 07:01 PM by Jack

In late July, 2004, we brought home a tiny puppy. We named him Simon. The tiny puppy grew into a gigantic dog. Simon gained many nicknames over the years – Tonka, TK, Chuckie Wiggles, Mr. Beans, Charlie Pickles, and on and on. He also earned a title: Brew Dog. Simon was my brew dog.

If I was brewing, Simon was there. It didn’t matter if it was hot out; he’d still park his butt next to the burner.

Cold? He’d happily plonk himself down on his blue brewday blanket and help. Invariably, if I was brewing, he was underfoot.

…unless maybe there was some Q on the smoker. Then he’d be 20 yards away.

Or if the spent grain had been chucked over the hill.

Or maybe Jess was baking something delicious.

Still, those distractions were temporary. Simon would always find his way back to the brewing action. Because Simon was a brew dog. Simon was my brew dog.

Goodbye, Simon.

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Tasting Notes: California Common Beer (Beer #86)

January 20, 2014 @ 08:01 PM by Jack

I tried to pull a small sample glass for these tasting notes. The keg decided my sample would be even smaller than expected when it kicked on me. Steamdrank, we hardly knew ye.

In late October I brewed a California Common Beer. It was my first try at a style that’s typically defined by a single commercial beer – Anchor Steam Beer. My beer wasn’t a clone, or even an attempt at one; it was an attempt at formulating a recipe and brewing a beer that fits the guidelines. To that end, I think I did OK.

Moderately high hop aroma – woodsy, cedar and spruce hops with a touch of herbal mint character. Medium toasted bread / bread crust malt aroma, with a touch of medium caramel. Medium-light fruity esters – hints of sweet cherry and tangerine. Somewhat sweet smelling.

Medium amber color. Huge, moussey bone-colored head with very good retention. Brilliant clarity.

Moderate maltiness and moderate-high bitterness. Bread crust / toasted bread malt flavor with a medium caramel flavor. Medium-high hop flavor, notably woodsy, cedar, lightly spicy, moderate spruce. Attack is off-dry to semi-sweet. Finish is drying. Hop bitterness lingers into finish. Low-moderate sweet cherry esters throughout.

Medium body. Medium-high carbonation. Smooth. Slight warmth in finish.

Overall Impression
Hits all of the marks for the style, particularly in the balance between toasty malt and hop flavors associated with Northern Brewer hops. Fruitiness might be a little too high for the style, and the beer is a little bit too sweet. Otherwise a very pleasant, easy drinking, well balanced beer.

I am extremely pleased with how this beer came around. I entered it in a couple of competitions in late November and it did well – scoring mid-30’s in both, winning a silver medal in one of them. At the time the beer was young, murky, and kind of muddled tasting. Now, two months later, it’s showing wonderfully. Too bad it’s all gone.


Brew Day: American Amber Lager (w/cereal-mashed grits)

January 7, 2014 @ 08:01 PM by Jack

I brewed on Sunday. It was the first time since a month ago when Jess and I co-brewed a 10 gallon batch of triple-decocted German Pilsner. I was supposed to brew this beer last weekend with a handful of non-brewer friends who I won’t see again until April, at which time we’d tap the kegs. Something came up and that get-together had to be canceled. The harvested yeast wasn’t getting any fresher, so I brewed.

Today’s beer was 10 gallons of an American amber lager. It’s not a BJCP-style beer, just something I wanted to brew to share with friends. Here’s my recipe:

  • 36.2% US 2-Row
  • 36.2% Munich
  • 13.6% Flaked Maize
  • 9.0% Grits
  • 2.3% C40
  • 2.3% C60
  • 21g (20.5 IBU) German Magnum 13.5% AA @ 60 min.
  • 28g (9.1 IBU) Tettnang 4.5% AA @ 60 min.
  • 14g Liberty 4.3% AA @ 15 min.
  • 14g Perle 8% AA @ 15 min.
  • 14g Liberty 4.3% AA @ 2 min.
  • 14g Perle 8% AA @ 2 min.
  • 90 minute boil
  • 1.056 Target OG
  • 35 IBU
  • 9.1 SRM
  • Step Mash: 20 min @ 125F, 60 min @ 150F, 10 min @ 168F
  • WLP830 German Lager, WLP838 Souther German Lager (split batch)

I designed the recipe with 5 lbs of flaked maize. But I accidentally only ordered 3. A friend grabbed the other two for me and was going to bring them to the brew day last week. Since I never got the corn from him, and since it was just me brewing (meaning I didn’t need to stick to a short single-infusion brew day), I improvised and grabbed some de-germinated grits at the grocery store. Minimally grits need to be boiled prior to mashing. Ideally they should be cereal-mashed. I had the time, so I went ahead and tried a cereal mash. It was straightforward, but was kind of a pain in the ass. To the 2 pounds of grits I added 5 ounces (about 15% of the grits’ weight) of crushed 2-row and mixed them in a pot with enough water to form a thin porridge. I heated it to 158, left it there for probably 15 minutes while milling my grain, etc., then raised it to a boil, where it was held for a half an hour. Like a decoction, it needed constant stirring as long as the flame was under it. I found I needed to add a cup of boiling water to the grits about four times during the boil to thin it back out. Once done, I ran about 2 quarts of the wort from the mash tun into the grits pot and stirred it in to aid in pouring the grits into the mash and avoid having grit-balls in the mash tun.

The corn-like aroma from the boiling grits hung heavy in the kitchen. It was a summertime smell, half-way between fresh corn on the cob and the “used corn” smell of a pig sty. It had a certain “country” quality to it. Hopefully this lends a prominent corn aroma & flavor to the finished beer without coming across as DMS. I think I might try the process again for a cream ale. That time I’ll skip the flaked maize altogether and go with a big batch of grits in the mash.

Whirlpool kettle allows for a nice hop cone to form in the concave bottom.


Back to Bloggin’

January 4, 2014 @ 07:01 PM by Jack

A lot of time has passed since I last posted anything to this site. We haven’t given up on brewing. In fact, the opposite is true; we started brewing so much that I couldn’t keep up with this site. We brewed over 35 batches of beer since I last posted ten months ago! I was unable to post a brew-day write-up about each of them, so I sort of gave up altogether. My goal going forward is to journal any brew days that are interesting for any reason – new process, new ingredients, new equipment, experiments, group brew days, that sort of thing. And, more importantly to me, I need to get back into taking detail tasting notes for each batch. This is a good place to post them.

Speaking of new equipment…

Last summer we set out to design and build our ideal brewery – one that we won’t outgrow, one that will last the rest of our days in the hobby. I think I succeeded. Above is a single tier, three vessel, dual pump, 15 gallon HERMS brewery. The core details are:

  • Stout Tanks and Kettles 20 gallon tangential inlet combi-tank (brew/whirlpool kettle)
  • Stout Tanks and Kettles 15 gallon MLT with bottom drain
  • Stout Tanks and Kettles 15 gallon HLT with HERMS coil
  • Blichmann Floor Standing Burners, mounted in…
  • Brew Stand bolted together from strut channel
  • Chugger Pumps
  • Convoluted Counterflow Chiller
  • Control Panel for pumps and HLT burner

I aim to create a complete write-up describing the step-by-step process for brewing on this thing. A video sounds like a decent idea as well. If you have questions about our setup, please leave them in the comments below and I’ll address them in future detailed coverage.

We’ve only brewed on this new system a half dozen times or so, but the process is starting to get dialed in. Will this system make us better brewers? Probably not. But it was fun to build and is even more fun to brew on.

Everyone wants to know what it cost to build. The answer: a lot. You can make great beer on a much simpler, less expensive system. But this is a hobby and you can put as much into your hobby as you want, and for us this was money well spent. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll document my brew day for this site…


Tasting Notes: Belgian Golden Strong (Beer #47)

March 3, 2013 @ 02:03 PM by Jack

A couple months ago I brewed a batch of Belgian Golden Strong Ale. It’s still early to be drinking a beer like this (it needs more age), but I need to get it bottled up for the upcoming competitions, so here are some tasting notes:

Vital Stats:
Target OG: 1.072 Actual OG: 1.074
Target FG: 1.002 Actual FG: 1.005
ABV: 9.1%
Color: 3.3 SRM (Calculated)
Bitterness: 30.5 IBU (Calculated)
Yeast: White Laps WLP570 Belgian Golden Ale
Fermentation Temperature:Pitched at 64°F, ramped up 1°F every 12 hours for five days to 74°F

Bright lemon and white pepper over top of ripe pear and a touch of tangerine. Some banana. Pronounced floral hop aroma, which combined with the alcohol smells rose-like. Cracker-like malt becomes more prominent as it warms and the head falls. Very light solvent notes.

Yellow and hazy with a big, somewhat rocky white head that lasts for five minutes before falling to a ring around the glass.

Pear and spice with a lemon-peppery zing. Touch of banana. Finishes dry, crisp, and clean. Crackery pilsner malt lingers into the finish, as does substantial hop bitterness.

High carbonation. Medium-light body. Smooth; no astringency. Very warm, approaching hot. Slightly solventy. Alcohol lingers into the finish.

Overall Impression
Crisp, clean, dry, and very drinkable beer with assertive floral, spicy, and fruit character. A touch of solvent in the aroma and flavor detract slightly. Overall very good.

This is a difficult beer to brew. The high percentage of sugar and high abv stress the yeast significantly. Assuring that fermentation doesn’t stick and keeping off-flavors away is tough with this one. While this example isn’t perfect, I’m very happy with how it turned out. If I brew it again I will use a better pilsner malt. The Northern Brewer-sourced “German Pilsner” malt I used here is brings too much cracker aroma and flavor. I’ll also add a bit of Carafoam in an attempt to add some head stability. I’m not sure what to do to eliminate the slight solvent character. I need to stress the yeast even less, but how? Maybe it will age out. After all, this batch is only two months old. When was the last time you had a two-month-old Duvel in the States?


Tasting Notes: Bohemian Pilsner (Beer #45)

January 13, 2013 @ 10:01 AM by Jack

I brewed a Czech Pilsner in early December. It is terrible, but I think it can be saved.

Vital Stats:
Target OG: 1.055 Actual OG: 1.054
Target FG: 1.013 Actual FG: 1.012
ABV: 5.5%
Color: 3.7 SRM (Calculated)
Bitterness: 39.8 IBU (Calculated)
Yeast: Wyeast 2001 Urquell Lager
Fermentation Temperature:50°F until 75% attenuated, then 67°F for 3 days

Butter. Not artificial buttered popcorn, but straight up real butter. Behind the butter is a nice crackery Pilsner malt profile and floral, spicy noble hop aroma. The buttery diacetyl dominates.

Light straw color with a huge bright white fluffy head. Good retention. Slight haze. (The picture is from before the beer really cleared up.)

Much like the aroma, there’s a decent pilsner hiding behind loads of butter. You can taste the malt & hops, but the diacetyl really gets in the way.

Medium-light body. Medium-high carbonation. No astringency. No slickness.

Overall Impression
A deluge of diacetyl turns what could be a good beer into an undrinkable one.

Taken 3 days after kegging. It is less hazy now.

I have brewed seven lagers so far and all except for this one have had a very clean fermentation profile with no diacetyl. I follow the same fermentation temperature schedule for all of them: pitch at 48°F, ferment at 50°F until about 75% finished, then raise the temp to 67°F to allow the yeast to clean up the diacetyl while it finishes up. I crash-cool three days after it reaches terminal gravity, hold it there for three days, then keg. I usually use WLP830 and this schedule works well with that yeast. I used Wyeast 2124 for the Rauchbier I brewed the same day as this BoPils, and it has no diacetyl. It looks like the Wyeast 2001 used for the BoPils is a diacetyl producing monster and requires more of a rest. I have read as much online since running into this problem. An experienced brewer friend also said he won’t use 2001 because it creates massively buttery beer.

In the end, though, I do think I can save this beer. I have warmed the keg to room temperature and I am going to krausen it with a smalle 1/2 liter starter of 1056 after I harvest it from the Irish Red Ale next week. I performed this same procedure on a butterscotch bomb English Pale Ale last spring and it cleaned the beer up beautifully. That beer went on to win a silver medal in the TRASH competition. I will post follow-up tasting notes after this beer has been krausened and settled out to see if it helped.


Tasting Notes: Classic Rauchbier (Beer #46)

January 12, 2013 @ 12:01 PM by Jack

I have plenty of stuff I need to get done around the house today, but what better way is there to procrastinate than by tasting homebrew and taking notes? The smoked lager I brewed in early December is maturing nicely. Here’s how it tastes after a month and a half.

Vital Stats:
Target OG: 1.054 Actual OG: 1.052
Target FG: 1.013 Actual FG: 1.012
ABV: 5.2%
Color: 17.2 SRM (Calculated)
Bitterness: 27.7 IBU (Calculated)
Yeast: Wyeast 2124 Bohemian Lager
Fermentation Temperature:50°F until 75% attenuated, then 67°F for 3 days

Balanced between sweet smoke and Munich-like malt character. Smoke quality is bacon-like. Malt is toasty with a very light caramel quality. No hop aroma. No diacetyl, DMS, sulfur, etc. Clean lager character.

Medium amber color. Average sized, long lasting, cream colored head. Brillian clarity.

Initial soft, toasty, Oktoberfest-like malt character yields immediately to pronounced campfire smokiness reminiscent of smoked ham. Attack is moderately sweet, but finishes pleasantly dry. Smoke flavor is of medium intensity. Low-moderate hop bitterness. Very low noble hop flavor. Clean lager character. No diacetyl, DMS, sulfur, esters, or phenols (aside from smoke).

Medium-full body. Medium carbonation. Very smooth. No astringency. Significant alcohol warmth on the finish. Smoke and moderate hop bitterness linger.

Overall Impression
A clean, slightly crisp, very malty Oktoberfest style beer with a pronounced smoke character in the aroma and flavor. I am very happy with this beer for how clean and balanced it is. It may be lacking some intangibles – which keeps it from being amazing – but it is a very good beer overall. Much better than my first attempt at the style, which itself was pretty decent.

It looks darker here than in real life.


Tasting Notes: Spruce Ales (Beers #42 & 43)

January 12, 2013 @ 10:01 AM by Jack

The other day I realized that I never reported on the results of my Spruce Tips experiment. About two an a half months ago I brewed two batches of identical red ale that differed only in the type of spruce tips used: one had 11 ounces of Norway Spruce tips, the other got 11 ounces of Blue Spruce tips. (Both were five gallon batches.) On to the tasting notes:

~~~Norway Spruce Ale~~~

Soft maltiness – buiscuity with a pronounced caramel note, some raisin-like fruit character. Not much to remind you of spruce or pine, but there’s a pleasant hard-to-describe floral quality that must come from the spruce. No hop character. No diacetyl, et al.

Medium amber with a large, fluffy, bone-colored head with infinite retention. Brilliant clarity.

Medium-low bitterness. Malt-balanced, but not overly malty and not sweet. Malt profile similar to aroma followed by perfumey christmas-tree-like pine with lemony notes. The spruce character is pronounced in the aftertaste and makes a strong case for taking another sip.

Medium-light body with creamy carbonation. No astringency. Some very light alcohol warmth on the finish.

A pleasant beer well suited for December drinking. The spruce flavor is strong, but not overwhelming of off-putting. The base beer is kind of like a strong bitter with a bit more raisin flavor. I am pleased with how it came out.

~~~Blue Spruce Ale~~~

Soft maltiness – buiscuity with a pronounced caramel note, some raisin-like fruit character. Dirty, earthy, musty.

Medium amber with a large, fluffy, bone-colored head with infinite retention. Nearly clear. Slight hazy.

Medium-low bitterness. Malt-balanced, but not overly malty and not sweet. Malt profile similar to aroma. There is a murky, unpleasant, earthy, dirty character from first taste well into the aftertaste. This flavor is piney, resinous, and sort of mushroom-like.

Medium-light body with creamy carbonation. No astringency. Some very light alcohol warmth on the finish.

The base beer is the same as the Norway Spruce version, but the spruce character in this one is disgusting. If I recieved a glass of this at a bar I might think the lines were dirty. This seems to be what blue spruce tips brought to the beer – the taste of dirty tap lines. I will be dumping the keg whereas the Norway one continues to impress me.

This experiment yielded interesting results. I expected the Norway spruce beer to come across as citrusey, piney, floral and it did. I expected the blue spruce beer to have a strong resinous pine-like flavor. Instead it just tasted dirty and rank. I will brew with spruce again, but only Norway spruce. Blue spruce does not make good beer. It’s Latin name, Picea Pungens, makes sense to me now.

Here is what I’ll change for this year’s spruce beer:

  • Fresh tips. Last year I harvested the tips and froze them in a foodsaver bag to be brewed with later. This year I will pluck them from the trees while the beer is mashing.
  • Lager. The tips are ready for picking in May, but who wants Christmas beer at the end of Spring? I will alter the base beer recipe a bit to make something like a Vienna Lager so the beer can benefit from cold aging until the holiday season.
  • More spruce. The spruce character – especially the aroma – was a little low in this year’s beer. Because of that, and because the beer will be aging for half a year before being tapped, I will up the spruce from 11 ounces to a pound or more.