An All-Women Pro/Homebrewer Collaboration

February 4, 2014
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



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

January 7, 2014

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.


Brew Day: English Mild & Irish Red Ale (Beers #49 & 50)

January 12, 2013

Last weekend I brewed a couple of simple beers to serve as the first batches in a run of beers feremented with the same pitch of yeast: Dark English Mild fermented with Wyeast 1028 and Irish Red Ale fermented with Wyeast 1056. As per usual, the recipes came from BCS.

The Mild had an expected OG of 1.038 (I actually hit 1.040), so I didn’t make a starter for it. Starter wort is ~1.040, so this beer is a starter. I wanted to brew a 1.040 beer for the 1056 yeast as well, but there aren’t many American styles with such a low OG and I wanted to commemorate my 50th batch by brewing the same style as I did for batch #1. With an expected OG of 1.054, I had to make a starter.

I wanted to brew batch #50 on the 10th anniversary of batch #1, but my schedule took a hit when Northern Brewer forgot to ship an order to me, pushing batches 47 and 48 back a couple weeks. I ended up brewing it ten years and five days after my first batch.

Irish blood-red ale

Due to a good amount of crystal malts & roasted barley, the Irish Red Ale is very red, blood red even. I overshot the OG (aimed for 1.054, hit 1.060) and it finished up at 1.014 (6.1% abv). The hydrometer sample had a dry, slightly roasty finish which is correct for the style. It’s not an exciting beer, but so far it seems like it should be pretty good.

The Mild went from 1.040 to 1.012 (3.7% abv). It tastes nutty, chocolatey, and with slight fruity esters. The body seems to be ok. It’s a little thin, but it’s not watery. It’s tough to get body into a 1.040 beer.

These sumbitches is fixin’ homedrink in the bathtub!

These were the fist batches of beer I fermented outside of the Franken-freezer since I built the thing. It was busy with the Belgian strong ales I brewed the week before. However, the spare bathtub was holding steady at 63-65°F, so I figured that was a good spot to ferment some run-of-the-mill ales. They both rose to about 68°F (measured on the outside of the carboy with an IR thermometer) and held that temperature throughout fermentation. I wanted to ferment the Irish Red a little cooler to make sure it comes out clean, but choosing to use 1056 provided some insurance. The gravity sample tasted very clean, free of esters & phenols.

These Mild is crash-cooling now. The Red will start its crash after another day or two. They’ll both be kegged, carbed, and ready to drink within a couple of weeks.


Brew Day: Belgian Golden Strong & Tripel (Beers #47 & 48)

January 12, 2013

About two weeks ago I brewed up a couple batches of Belgian Strong Ale – the Tripel & Golden Strong recipes from Brewing Classic Styles. This was my first go at a Tripel and second attempt at the Golden Strong recipe. The first one ended in tears. This time around things seem to have gone well.

Lots of Czech Saaz hops in the BGS.

To safeguard against stuck fermentations this time, I chose to hold off on adding the sugar until after most of the maltose was fermented. Both batches also got two minutes of pure O2 just prior to pitching the yeast and another minute eight hours later.

The Tripel is slightly orange, thanks to Aromatic malt.

The Golden Strong was fermented with WLP570 (the Duvel strain) in an attempt to copy the pear & white pepper flavors of that beer. I used the Westmalle strain – Wyeast 3787 – for the Tripel in an attempt to complex fruity and spicy nature of the original Tripel.

I was aiming for an OG of 1.072 for the BGS (including sugar) and hit 1.049 without the sugar. After factoring in what the sugar adds, I computed that I got 1.074. The Tripel was expected to come in at 1.083 (with sugar). I hit 1.060 with just the malt. After computing for the sugar additions, I get 1.083.

The sugar additions, ready for duty.

The BGS called for three pounds of table sugar. The Tripel required 2.5 pounds. So as not to overload the yeast, I wanted to add one half pound of sugar every 12 hours to each beer until it was all added. I did not want to add dry sugar to the fermentors because it wouldn’t dissolve. I also didn’t want to spend half an hour twice a day dissolving sugar in water on the stove top, so I chose to do it all at once and pressure-can it in eleven equal batches (six for the BGS, five for the Tripel). 5.5 pounds of sugar is about twelve cups. I dissolved it in eight cups of water to make a 3:2 semi-rich syrup. Pressure-canning ensured the solution was sterilized and could be kept for a few days.

Shows 1.001, but this hydrometer reads .004 low

Both beers finished up nice and dry. The 570 yeast is much less of a top-cropper than the 3787. The 3787 was blowing over into the catch bin after 24 hours whereas the 570 never grew more than about 2.5″ of krausen. 48 hours after pitching, both beers were at 1.022, so I began the sugar regimen. 60 hours later and the sugar had all been added. The BGS was at 1.005 (9.1% abv). The Tripel was still at 1.022. It was still actively fermenting, so I wasn’t too worried. Two days later it was at 1.014 and airlock activity had pretty much stopped. This is the high end of acceptable FG for the style and it tasted a little sweet to me, so I roused the yeast with a gentle stir and let it sit for a few more days. As of today it is at 1.008 (9.9% abv). Perfect.

Both beers are crash-cooling now and will be kegged next week. Due to the high abv, these beers will need some age to mellow out, but the gravity samples tasted OK. They’re hot, but not solventy or astringent. Here’s hoping they don’t suck!


Brew Day: Classic Rauchbier (Beer #46)

December 15, 2012

Two weeks ago when I brewed the Bohemian Pilsner, I also brewed another batch of Classic Rauchbier. I like to brew two patches per brew day – mash the 2nd one while the first one is boiling. I feel I get more out of my time doing that.

Nice amber color. Whirlfloc + mostly pilsner malt = lots of cold break

This is the second batch of rauchbier that I have brewed recently. The one I brewed a little over three months ago came out pretty good, but I can do better. That one scored in the low 30s in a couple competitions and won a bronze medal at Oktobersbest Zinzinnati, but I wasn’t entirely happy with it. I felt it was slightly too sweet, and balanced too malty. It wasn’t crisp enough. Moreover, the smoke character was way too low for my taste. Some felt it was plenty smoky. However, being a fan of Schlenkerla, I like campfire in a glass.

To that end I changed the recipe this time so that Weyermann smoked malt makes up 75% of the grist bill as opposed to the 38% used last time. (The rest is made up of a bit of Munich malt, Carmunich, Melanoiden, and a touch of Black Patent.) I also used a different yeast this time. I have found that WLP830 provides a very round, smooth, malty beer. I wanted something a bit more crisp, so I’m giving Wyeast 2124 (the Carlsberg yeast) a try.

Top: Rauchbier. Bottom: Bohemian Pilsner.

Both of these beers are done fermenting and have been crash-cooling for about four days now. I’m going to keg them today. They’re scheduled to go on tap some time in late winter or early spring, but I’m sure I’ll be posting some tasting notes before then.


Brew Day: Bohemian Pilsner (Beer #45)

December 12, 2012

Sunday before last I brewed up a couple lagers, the first of which was the Bohemian Pilsner recipe from Brewing Classic Styles. Also known as Czech Pilsner, this beer is maltier and more rounded than the dryer, more crisp German Pilsner. It’s still a crisp, refreshing, hop-forward beer; it’s just not quite as dry and bitter as German Pilsner.

Beer doesn’t get much lighter than that. Those are the darker first runnings, even.

The recipe was as simple as can be: 10 pounds of German pilsner malt, 13 ounces of Cara-Pils, and about six ounces total of Czech Saaz hops added at at various times. That’s a lot of hops for a five gallon batch of beer that isn’t some sort of American Ale.

Loads ‘o hops

They’re low-alpha hops, so the bitterness is down around 40 – high, but not american ale high.

Brewmaster Bean kept an eye on the process.

After a 90 minute boil, I chilled the wort to 65°F, racked it to a fermenter, then put it in the fermentation chamber to finish chilling to 48F before pitching the yeast later that night.

A while back I swtiched from Irish moss to Whirlfloc for my kettle finings. That, coupled with pilsner malt protein’s tendency to clump, created one super clear wort. The wort in the carboy was a clear as a filtered glass of beer. At least until I got close to the bottom of the kettle and started sucking up some cold break, which is actually good for the fermentation & flocculation. For future batches I need to devise a way to get all the wort, some of the cold break, and none of the hop debris. That’s a problem that pretty much all homebrewers wish they could solve.

Clear wort atop cold break & hop debris

This beer was about 75% finished with fermentation after five days, at which point I warmed it up to 67°F for a diacetyl rest. It sat there for three days and now it’s resting at 34°F for a crash-cool. I’ll keg it tomorrow night. I plan to serve it sometime in March or April, though I’m sure I won’t be able to wait that long.


Brew Day: Baltic Porter (Beer #44)

December 8, 2012

Three weeks ago I brewed the Baltic Porter recipe from Brewing Classic Styles. This is a beer style I don’t know very well since there aren’t many commercial examples available in the US. Some craft breweries make beers they call Baltic Porter, but from what I’ve read and been told by those who’ve been to the Baltic region these beers aren’t true to the style. The US craft versions are big, bold, nearly black, and roasty – built like a robust porter but with higher ABV. Baltic Porter, on the other hand, should be dark but not black, mildly roasty, with moderate dried dark fruit esters from the malt & alcohol. Jamil’s recipe is supposed to approach that.

4 oz of low-alpha hops makes for a very green wort!

The recipe had an esitmated OG of 1.089. As is shown below, I ended up at 21.8 Plato, or 1.091. I was pretty happy with that.

The beer finished at 1.018, giving it 9.7% ABV. It is kegged, carbed, and lagering now. It should be ready for drinking after a few months, but realistically it will be best if saved for next winter. I will post some initial tasting notes soon to give me something to look back at when tasting it after it has aged.


Brew Day: Red Spruce Ales (Beers #42 & 43)

October 23, 2012

I have wanted to brew a spruce beer since I first tasted the 2011 Spring Spruce Steinbier at ECB. It’s a love-it-or-hate-it flavor that I happen to love, and I figured it would work great as a Christmas/Winter beer.

The first step in developing the recipe was to choose a type of spruce. In my back yard I had two spruce trees – a blue one and a Norway. I have read that Norway gives better results as the blue variety is too piney and resinous. But I wanted to try for myself, so I brewed a batch of each. I can say that the tips, themselves, were quite different from each other. The blue ones smelled very “sprucey” and somewhat musty, whereas the Norway ones had a bright, lemony, citrus, pine smell to them. I chewed up one of the norway ones and found it to taste the same as it smelled, but with the lemon more pronounced. It was not at all unpleasant.

Spruce tips are available in May where I live, but I wanted these beers for the holidays, so I vacuum-sealed and froze them immediately after harvesting. They sat in the freezer until this week.

First wort addition of blue spruce tips

The next step was to determine the base recipe. That steinbier at ECB was great, and I pegged it as being akin to a Vienna Lager. I want this beer to be ready in about six weeks, so I chose to go with an ale. And since it’s a holiday beer, I figured a bright red color would be approrpriate. So here’s the grist bill I came up with:

– 10 lb Muntons Maris Otter
– 6 oz Crystal 40L
– 4 oz Belgian Special B (180L)
– 2 oz English Roasted Barley (500L)

Infusion mash at 152, then batch sparge. Target OG: 1.054

Blue spruce ale, chilled

The color in the picture above is exactly what I was looking for. It does sound like an odd selection of specialty grains, but my reasoning was thus: (1) The C40 because it’s an amber ale – it has to have crystal malt. (2) The Special B provides a ruby color that you can’t get from typical crystal malts. Also, it provides a figgy, raisiny flavor that’s often present in holiday beers. I believe those bigger winter warmers get it through kettle caramelization and extended aging, but the end result is similar. (3) A wee bit of black patent makes Irish Red ales red and gives them a slightly bitter, drying finish which I think will work well in this beer. It should also give some color to the head, making it sort-of khaki instead of off-white-to-bone.

Norway spruce ale approaching boil

The “hop” schedule for this beer follows:

– 6 oz fresh (frozen) spruce tips @ FWH
– 8 g Polaris hops, 21.8% AA @ 60 min
– 3 oz fresh (frozen) spruce tips @ 20 min
– 3 oz fresh (frozen) spruce tips @ 10 min
– 10 g Polaris hops, 21.8% AA @ 10 min

Polaris is a new hop variety that a friend bought an 11 lb sack of. I bought a pound from him. They are supposedly Germany’s answer to Cascade. They have an extremely high alpha acid content, are very oily, and provide a minty “ice glacier candy” character. When selecting hops for this recipe, I dissolved a few pellets in hot water and felt they would compliment the pine flavors from the spruce well.

The two batches are currently fermenting at 67°F. I pulled a slurry of 1056 from the fridge that I harvested a month ago. I rejuvenated it in a 1.5L starter, then split the resulting yeast between the batches. said this should be enough yeast. Lag time was a little longer than I’m used to – longer than 10 hours but less than 20 hours (I was at work when it started) – so maybe it was a bit of an underpitch.

This was a fun experiment, and I can’t wait to try the results and tweak the recipe for future batches. I moved this summer, so I no longer have a blue spruce tree in my yard but I do have about 12 Norway spruces, so I’m really hoping that turns out to be the better batch!

Edit: Actually I do have a blue spruce tree in my yard. My yard is the woods, so I don’t have a good inventory of all the trees just yet. I also have several sassafras trees. Anyone have a good root beer recipe?


Brew Day: Belgian Dark Strong (Beer #41)

October 22, 2012

About three weeks ago a couple of friends hung out in my garage and we all brewed a batch of Belgian Dark Strong Ale. The weather was beautiful and we all had a good time. More importantly, we all made a batch of what we hope will be good beer. We were aiming for a starting gravity of 1.107, but all came in at 1.115! Big-ass beer. A different yeast strain was used for each one. I used WYeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity – the Westmalle strain. Another guy used White Labs WLP530 Abbey Ale – also the Westmalle strain, but isolated at a different time so is likely somewhat different. Finally, the third dude used WLP500 Trappist Ale Yeast.

Mine fermented like mad right off the bat:

But after a few days it slowed dramatically, and after three or four days it was chugging along slow and steady but had only dropped to 1.060. Through temperature ramping and yeast rousing via stirring I was able to eek out a final gravity of 1.030. The beer has since been crash-cooled and kegged and is now lagering, which it will do throughout the winter before it sees light in time for TRASH and NHC 2013 first round. If it’s good and not overly sweet, I will enter it in those competitions.

Last I heard, the WLP500 batch finished at 1.021 and the WLP530 batch, like mine, was around 1.030. The sample I tasted as I put mine away for the winter was promising – very “Belgian,” but not too much bubblegum or banana or any of that crap. It had loads of fig an dark dried fruit flavors, plus a good touch of spicy phenols. The 12% abv was strong and hot, but not solventy. My only concern was that it was too sweet. 1.030 is a high FG. We’ll just have to see how it ages out over a few months…

Here’s the bonkers recipe we followed for five gallon batches:

– 17 lb, 10.2 oz (8 kg) Weyermann Pilsner Malt
– 1 lb, 7.5 oz (.75 kg) Aromatic Malt
– 1 lb, 7.5 oz (.75 kg) Munich Malt
– 1 lb, 7.5 oz (.75 kg) Victory Malt
– 1 lb, 7.5 oz (.75 kg) Vienna Malt
– 12.3 oz (.35 kg) Belgian Special B
– 1 lb, 6.9 oz (.65 kg) Table Sugar
– 1 lb D-180 Belgian Candi Syrup
– 84 g German Hallertau Hops (4.0% AA) @ 60 min
– 28.3g Czech Saaz Hops (4.0% AA) @ 15 min

Mash at 152. The sugars were added for the last five minutes of the 90-minute boil.


Brew Day: Vienna Lager and Schwarzbier (Beers #39 & 40)

October 22, 2012

About a month ago (September 23rd) I brewed two lagers – Vienna Lager and Schwarzbier.

The recipes came from Brewing Classic Styles. That book actually has two Schwarzbier recipes, and this is not the same one that I brewed about a year ago. This one is supposed to conform more to the BJCP style guideline, whereas the one I brewed last year was overly roasty. The judges notes confirmed that.

After one week of fermentation at 50°F I began the diacetyl rest by allowing them to free-rise to 68°F ambient temperature. At that point one beer was just about fully fermented and the other was about 90%. I would have preferred to start the D-rest at about 75% attenuation, but it got away from me for a day. After three days of rest I couldn’t detect much diacetyl, if any, so I moved the carboys to the fridge to crash cool and four days later (10/7/12) I kegged them up, sealed the kegs with CO2, and put them in the fridge to lager. They’ve only been lagering for 15 days, but I decided to move them to the keezer (40°F) and start carbonating them because I plan to enter them in the Butler Brewfest Homebrew Competition and entries are due next week. I would like to let these beers lager for a couple of months at least, but I don’t have a lot of beer in my pipeline right now. After the competition I might let them sit a while longer before putting them on tap for Thanksgiving.

The yeast for this beer came from the Rauchbier I brewed a month prior to brewing these two lagers. I did not create a starter for these lagers because the re-pitches were fresh (harvested two weeks prior) and half a yeast cake per pitch should have been sufficient for a couple of 1.047 lagers.