Archive for the ‘Beer’ Category

My own hops in a beer!

This summer I’ve been watching a few hop vines take over the vertical space beside the garage. They are amazingly productive plants and quickly reached the end of the 10-12 foot runs I had given each of them. Of the 8 or so plants I planted, the Cascade, Centennial and Chinook varieties have made hops this year. I’m hoping the Magnum still will also.

Hop production is pretty light in the first year, so hopefully next year my hop productivity will allow me to switch a few beers to my own source. But for now, I’m happy experimenting with what I have grown.

I added my own hops (Chinooks) to a recent batch of beer. The beer was meant to be a lightly-hopped amber ale. I added a handful of the hops at the end of the boil (should contribute more floral than bitter to the brew).

I’ll probably add some more hops when it gets to the secondary fermenter as well. I look forward to seeing what results!

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Growing Hops Started!

This spring, I was the glad recipient of hop rhizomes from two different locals. These are the basis for growing hop vines, which leads to the fragrant flowers that are medicinal and used in brewing beer. Thanks to local generosity, I now have 10 hop plants that span 7 different types!

This weekend, I got six of the plants into the ground, with support strings for the vines to climb on. Already half of them are reaching up the string and growing a couple inches a day.

Though most people say that I shouldn’t expect much from a first year harvest, I’m glad they’re getting established and growing quickly already. Hopefully they like it here!

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I wrote an article a while back on the impact of changing yeast choice on the economics of homebrewing. That certainly is a theme I’m brining into the blog and today I found some more goodies on the subject.

Today I pulled a couple samples off of two brews that are almost ready. While searching quickly for a alcohol % calculator (I found this ABV one here and found out that my beers are 5.4% and 5.8%…but into the later I poured 16 oz of bourbon!) and in the process found:

  • Pie charts breaking down distribution of costs in homebrewing vs commercial brewing. Most annoying part:
  • “The relative cost of commercial beer to the consumer is 70% marketing, packaging, and taxes!”

  • A breakeven analysis for homebrewing to help you see – based on the complexity of your setup – how many batches it takes to start saving more by doing it yourself, even if you spend a lot on a setup. Highlight:
  • "If you just want to make ales, you can break even after only four batches. Some starter kits are so cheap, you can break even after less, but the more ‘tools’ the more fun and the easier the job becomes."

    Note to self…using bourbon as an ingredient in beer does not improve the economics of homebrewing.

    Note to self 2…investigate making bourbon 😀

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    Kegging Beer: I’m a convert!

    In December, we had a party that was the perfect opportunity to figure out the kegging equipment that arrived at my house. After that one experience, I’m a convert! Here’s more about kegging and my experience, which will hopefully be helpful for any other homebrewers curious about what it means to take the step to keg.

    Why kegging made sense

    The month before our party, I was traveling a bunch. I brewed several batches of beer to ensure we had some for the end of the year merriments, but leading up to the party, I didn’t have the party beer done yet. With only a month to go (and a recipe that asked for 6 weeks), I went for it anyway.

    The beer came out fine and finished fermenting and I racked it to hang out. With just barely enough time till the party, kegging also meant I could wait a little longer before getting it ready for the party. Generally, you just transfer your beer to the keg and put on the C02 tank and let it sit for a 2-3 days to take its carbonation (as opposed to bottling, where you put extra sugar in the bottle and wait a week for it to carbonate in the bottle).

    One other reason kegging made sense – it is cold! The keg was fine outside (was in 30s day of the party, so didn’t even need ice or kegarator).

    The Complication

    I had an extra business trip thrown in for the 3 days before the party. Since I was still trying to work out the CO2 (getting it filled, finding the washers), there was no way to get it all in time to have the beer carbonated with the tank. As it was, it was a lot just to get the CO2 tank filled – there are few options for filling CO2 in town in Atlanta and so it meant working it into a busy work schedule.

    So Tirza got the tank filled while I was on my last trip. But that meant I would have to carbonate it with sugar in the keg, and then use the C02 tank just for the serving. But this basically means mixing two big variables:

    • I hadn’t ever used the equipment before
    • I had no idea how much sugar to use for the kegging setup (all I knew was it should be less than when bottling)

    And I had no margin for error with the party right around the corner! I served at around 10 PSI and put at 2/3 of the normal sugar into the keg for the carbonation. The keg wasn’t under pressure from the CO2 until time to serve.

    Show time

    Day of the party, I pulled a beer off the keg. Perfect! Lovely tiny bubbles and great pressure (despite the fact I was guessing on most of the variables!).

    Beers were pouring great for the first dozen or so, and then I noticed it had slowed. I pondered increasing the pressure but instead decided to go over the setup, and OOPS! Operator error – I had somehow switched off the main valve! So the beer was coming out by its own carbonation (and was going flat in the process). I cranked back on the tank and away we went, with slightly flat beers for the next hour or so. All in all, I was very pleased with the evening and got lots of compliments on the beer 😀

    Cleanup and Review

    A few days after the party, I figured I should finish cleanup so I don’t get left with any nasty messes. To my delight, it was a cinch! Pop open the keg, rinse, clean and then store. Wow, that was easy. And efficient – there was probably about 2 tablespoons worth of liquid in the bottom of the keg!

    So, in summary, kegging was:

    • Fast
    • Easy
    • Clean
    • Very party-friendly!

    Thanks to my local homebrew club (FinalGravity) for support in working out some of the logistics!

    Future of Kegging for Me

    As I type, I’m waiting on another beer to transfer into the keg :D. For at least the cold season, this will be a great treat for me. I’m not sure what I’ll do when the heat comes back, as I don’t have a kegarator (and don’t really have space for one at the moment). I guess I’ll worry about that when I get there! For now, here’s to easy serving of beer!

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    From October 4 (notably, when we had no more beers):

    Tirza and I started brewing beer this year. Homebrewing has been fun and satisfying thus far. While it is easier than I expected, it hasn’t been as economical as I thought it would be. That said, I wasn’t trying to brew beer to be as cheap as possible. Those first four batches were just whatever we wanted (in particular, America Pale Ale, Porter, Saison and a Belgian Dubbel). Now that I’m planning for making more batches (we have no more beers!), I’m trying out a few new things and getting to understand the economics of beer making better.

    Three of our first four batches were made from ingredients all purchased at our local homebrew store, Hop City. It’s great to be able to stroll in with little knowledge of the task at hand or plan for a recipe and be able to come out equipped with everything needed to make a great beer! Definitely the way to start out. The batches I have made costed me between $35 and $50 (that gets about 45 (+/-5)  bottles of beer ). By the time I factor in some equipment I figured it is averaging $1/bottle on average.

    I found a few new recipes to try this time around (different porter and scottish wee heavy, again driven by what I wanted to drink), but then started thinking about the future (my collection of fermenting equipment has grown so I am excited to have more beer around!). And with that I thought it worth looking into the economics.

    $1/bottle isn’t bad for tasty, local beer that I can even get on Sunday :). But it’s also about the same price as buying Sweetwater’s 420 in a six-pack (local craft brewer). Seems to me we could do better on the cost. Now, I’m a lazy brewer with a toddler spreading havoc around as I brew, so I’m happy getting only as complicated on brew day as it gets with partial mash (some grains and extract) brewing.

    Finding Ways to Save

    Increase Unprocessed Materials?

    The first topic of discussing more economical brew tends to go to the “all grain” topic (and the dream of buying bulk grains, milling them ourselves, etc).

    This is an area for more exploration, especially if more equipment shows up in our world. But as we are really nomads at heart (and live in a small house), we’re basically doing a minimal setup…I got no additional equipment for brewing day other than a spoon, thermometer, and mesh bag!

    Watcha Makin?

    More relevant are 2 factors we can control. The first is the recipe. I checked out Northern Brewer for the first time for this one. The convenience of everything online is big in my world, and they’ve got an extensive collection beyond what are local store provides. I found the shopping experience very easy on that site! By browsing through the “kits“, I was able to quickly get a sense of what recipes were more expensive than others. For example, everything you need for some of the IPAs and Porters are 60-100% more than a basic Stout or Scottish beer. All depends on what’s needed for the beer!

    In picking my next batch of beers, I went with 2 recipes that were appealing (one that sounded decadently delicious and the other an adventure in a beer area that I wasn’t too familiar with). For the third beer, I went with a recipe that sounded tasty but gave preference to economical. I ended up with the Caribou Slobber for that.

    Huge variability in yeast prices are an opportunity!

    Besides the recipe itself, one of the easiest ways to change the price of a batch of beer is in the yeast. There are basically two kinds you can get – dry yeast and wet yeast. When I started, I used the wet yeasts, because that’s what my local store had in variety. They come in a package that you smack to activate and then just dump in…super-easy. But when I ordered the kits, I had a choice with every one!

    Wet yeasts run $5-6+ each. Dry yeasts are usually $1-2. In other words, for the same ingredient, for one option you can pay 3-4 times the other option to get the same result. For the particular beer I ordered, getting the wet yeast over the dry would add 16+% to the overall cost of the batch! That was enough to get me looking into dry yeast more. And after some searching and reading in beer forums, it seemed that it wasn’t a big deal to switch (lots of hype about ease of wet yeast, but really dry yeast is simple!!).

    I ordered dry yeast for all of the batches. Using it was even easier than I expected (2 different yeasts, one which is just poured directly in without starting). And for the Caribou Slobber, I brewed a double batch and only purchased 1 packet of yeast, so saved another $1.45 there.

    All told, the Caribou Slobber should come out to about $0.65 per beer in cost of materials (and a portion of the shipping on the order). Not bad! The beer’s not done yet (has been racked already), but it’s fairly tasty already.

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