Homebrewing Tips

Nitrogen: Ert or Inert?

20131106-OSEC-LSC-0432I just opened up the newest Zymurgy magazine and found a letter to the brew professor claiming that nitrogen is inert, search and thus could not be responsible for the off-taste the professor has experienced. Here is my response I just sent:

Dear Professor, visit

I have to comment on the letter I read in the Sept/Oct issue of Zymurgy in which the writer claims that the off-taste you associate with nitrogen could not be from the gas because nitrogen is inert. In fact, it is not inert. Only the noble gases are inert, and nitrogen is not among that group. Granted, it may not be the nitrogen causing that flavor (never experienced that myself), but that gas is definitely ert. Or reactive. I guess that is the correct term.

Yes, nitrogen is reactive. Perhaps there is nothing in the beer or hardware that it will react with, but it certainly can react. Think of nitrous oxide, which is essentially beer you can inhale. That is made up from nitrogen and oxygen. Just setting the record straight.

Nitrogen by U.S. Department of Agriculture, on Flickr.

Homebrew Conversions: Grains and Extracts

Andy and I set out to find some gifts we think most, drug if not all, brewers could benefit from having. Here is our list of the top ten things we think you should have to make brewing more enjoyable and successful.

1. Refractometer

A refractometer allows you to read the specific gravity of a liquid without needing to take a large sample from your fermenter, as you would if you were using a hydrometer. This device requires just a drop of solution and a light source so you can read the gradations. In addition, the automatic temperature compensation (ATC) means that you do not have to do any computation to offset the temperature.

2. The Brew Hauler

The Brew Hauler is a carboy carrier that makes a glass or plastic carboy easy and safe to carry. The webbing is tough and strong and the buckle makes the carrier easy to load and unload. I do not (yet) have one of these but my friend Jason does. It is much easier to move carboys around with these, rather than using one hand to steady the neck and the other to cradle the bottom. That is an accident waiting to happen. This device can save you some time and energy and possibly help you avoid a trip to the hospital.

3. Carboy Cleaner

This bottle and carboy cleaner is ideal for getting that stuck-on schmutz knocked off the inside of the glass and get all the junk removed before you need the container again. I used to discard bottles that had not been rinsed well enough and had some remaining junk dried to the side. Of course, now I keg my brew, but the fact remains that without using some sort of device like this, quality cleaning is tough to ensure.

4. Carboy Sprayer

To go along with the cleaner above, you can hook up this sprayer to a faucet or spigot and spray water all up in your carboys and bottles to wash away all the schmutz you removed from the glass. Schmutz – I guess I like that word. This device will screw on most hose spigots and utility sink faucets but if you want to use it at the kitchen sink, chances are you will very likely need an adaptor.

5. Digital Scale

A digital scale like this one will help you measure out precise amounts of hops, and even help you when recipes call for a quarter pound of grain, for example, and your homebrew store only sells it by the pound. No more guessing. This is all part of the standardization of your brewing process. Rather than estimating, you will know for certain that your measurements are repeatable so you can replicate a process, or opt to change it.

6. Beer Glasses

These are advertised as “craft beer” glasses. Let’s be honest – that does not really mean anything. They are cool beer glasses that you can feel good about serving your homebrew in. Personally, I have a set of non-descript pint glasses, similar to what you would find in most bars. However, once I break enough of them I will probably get a set like this. Truth be told, there are optimal shapes of glass for different kinds of beer, but mostly it is just an intermediary vessel that goes between the long-term storage (keg or bottle) and the main processing unit (my innards).

7. The Complete Beer Course

Educating yourself on the finer points of beer is always good for someone who is in the business or hobby of making beer. All of us, no matter how experienced, can find something to learn in this book, and this piece is good for beer lovers young and old. While it is not technically a homebrewing book, it is informative and can help beer lovers understand what the different ingredients are and how they affect the flavor of their favorite drink.

8. Periodic Table of Beer

This is a good guide for how to classify beers, so that if you want to make a porter, for example, you can see what is related to porters and get an idea for something else to try that you might also enjoy. It is not an official BJCP diagram but it is a general way to classify beer. Fun, clever, and useful. Exactly the type of thing I enjoy. I think you will as well.
Anytime you are trying to convert homebrew recipes to your available ingredients, check
you have to do a little figuring and guessing, even experimenting. This is because different ingredients have different properties and substituting one for another may not give you the exact end product you want. However, in the end it will be beer, so you will never stray too far off course if you follow the directions and get good approximations for your substitute ingredients.

One problem comes in converting grain recipes to extract. I do not like to do this is because my grain recipes list specific grains I want in the mash. If I try to use an extract, I do not know exactly what kinds of grains were used. Plus, my general philosophy is that the more an ingredient is processed, the more it loses nuance and character. The base malts do not differ significantly but you can get more variation with actual grains than you can with liquid extracts. The same goes for the difference between dry malt and liquid malt. The more you process something, the more nuance you lose. This is not a scientific statement, I know, but I believe it to be true.

To Clone or not to Clone: That is the Question

viagra on Flickr” href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/motherscratcher/2288764665/” target=”_blank”>beer beer beer!I read a question on an online forum recently that asked why people liked to clone beers. In the whole world of creative control and making pretty much whatever a person wants, this web some choose to reproduce what has already been done. Doesn’t this go against the nature and spirit of homebrewing?

I say no. Cloning a commercial beer can be a good way to learn the craft of brewing by trying to make something that is already a known quantity. You know you nailed it if you got the product you were expecting, or something reasonably close. To me, this is the strongest argument for clone brewing.

Gluten-Free Homebrew with Sorghum Extract

buy on Flickr”>Anheuser-Busch EagleI just read an article about Anheuser-Busch telling a new microbrewery in London to change its name. AB apparently though the Belleville Brewery’s name was too similar to their own Belle-Vue beer because it starts with “Bell” and ends in an “e.” Pretty weak argument, in my book. Belleville Brewery, which has since changed its name to Northcote Brewery, is run by some fathers who met because their children all attend Belleville Primary School, and distributes its brew locally in south London.

Come on, AB. Just admit that you don’t want to share the sandbox with anyone else. A small start-up with a similar name that probably produces far superior beer is not your real competition. Squashing small-scale competition like this is ultimately bad for the industry. Granted, AB did not put the microbrewery out of business but it did cause a disruption, to be sure.

One theory of business growth is that a rising tide lifts all ships. That is, the more the industry grows, the better off everyone is. Perhaps Anheuser-Busch is not interested in seeing the industry grow. However, it is true. The more people buy beer and try new things, the more beer gets sold. Those of us who are into homebrewing and mircobrews do this because we find brands like Budweiser to be ultimately unsatisfactory, but the American light lager is a legitimate style of beer. What makes it undersirable is its prevalence in the market, not that it is inherently bad. Thus, some people who get turned on to beer really like that style and will buy it. Microbrews can be that gateway drink that helps people learn that beer can be good and eventually lead them to buying Budweiser and similar products. It is not the normal order of things, but it does happen occasionally.

Anheuser-Busch Eagle by Steve Snodgrass, on Flickr
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on Flickr” target=”_blank”>Ears of SorghumThe trick to making good gluten-free homebrew beers with sorghum syrup is to add something that will give the brew some body. Sorghum extract ferments very well, which is great when it comes to alcohol production, but it makes a brew that is very light on flavor. Apparently it lacks the stuff that gives a solid body to traditional barley-based beers. The good news is that sorghum is rich in nutrients for the yeast, as well as enzymes that can help in head retention. Adding adjunct flavors to the brew will improve the overall experience.

How to Host a Brew Day

approved on Flickr” href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/stephee/3002032127/” target=”_blank”>Teach A Friend to Brew DayLots of people are curious about how to make beer and even more simply want to come over and drink it. Either way, it is nice to have a group over to make beer together, whether it is for them to learn or just to hang out for fellowship. Having done this a few times, I have learned some key steps to have in place prior to people arriving for the event.

Water Quality and Brewing: pH and Testing

noun on Flickr” href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/haikugirl/7409559076/” target=”_blank”>calling all junior scientists!Just like many other aspects of homebrewing, disease pH can be as simple or complex as you want to make it. For those who are having chest pains caused by flashbacks to high school chemistry and perhaps wishing you paid more attention, don’t worry. I didn’t pay attention either. Without getting into too much detail, pH is a 14-point scale that measures the acidity of liquids, specifically the level of hydrogen ions (H+) contained in the liquid. On a pH scale, 7 is neutral (neither an acid or a base). Anything less than 7 is an acid (think lemon juice) and anything more is a base (think baking soda). Like water hardness, pH is a much bigger concern to all-grain brewers versus extract brewers. This is assuming the water used for the extract brew has been deemed suitable for human beings to drink by a competent laboratory. Almost all tap water is fine.

Watermelon Wheat Homebrew: The Perfect Storm

this on Flickr” href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/nicolelee/3796057441/” target=”_blank”>Watermelon wheat beerI need help.

I was dining out with my wife recently when she happened upon 21st Amendment Brewery’s seasonal, psychotherapist Come Hell or High Watermelon (cans or draft). Come Hell or High Watermelon is an American Wheat beer flavored, cystitis as you would expect, with watermelon. I gave it a try, and though fruity wheat beers are not really my preferred style (at all), I could easily tell it was a crisp, good quality, and nicely balanced beer. My wife’s reaction fell closer to the religious epiphany end of the spectrum. After consuming more than one can she says, “I love this! Figure out how to make a watermelon beer.”

Getting More Alcohol in your Homebrew

troche on Flickr”>Watermelon wheat beerI need help.

I was dining out with my wife recently when she happened upon 21st Amendment Brewery’s seasonal, website Come Hell or High Watermelon (cans or draft). Come Hell or High Watermelon is an American Wheat beer flavored, arthritis as you would expect, with watermelon. I gave it a try, and though fruity wheat beers are not really my preferred style (at all), I could easily tell it was a crisp, good quality, and nicely balanced beer. My wife’s reaction fell closer to the religious epiphany end of the spectrum. After consuming more than one can she says, “I love this! Figure out how to make a watermelon beer.”

At this point it occured to me that I was about to experience a dilema that most homebrewers deal with from time to time: keeping the spouse happy. To ensure things stay positive and I can continue to fill the garage with absolutely necessary brewing equipment, it is necessary to brew a beer she will enjoy from time to time. This has historically been a small price to pay and has actually done me good by forcing me to expand my brewing experiences into different styles. However, this watermelon beer has become my own personal homebrewing perfect storm.

The problem:

  • Taste (specifically mine). I do not like wheat beers…at all. I know enough to tell the difference between a good and bad wheat beer, but it is just not my thing. I am also not a big fan of fruit beers, but I can tolerate most for recreational purposes. My wife will not drink five gallons of anything and because wasting beer is a sin, I will have to find creative ways to distribute the batch. One of the tried and true methods of disposing of excess homebrew is to share it at barbeques and parties. Unfortunately, taking a watermelon wheat beer to a barbeque would be the homebrew equivalent of taking a DVD of “Steel Magnolias” to a bachelor party. I am not ready for that kind of social awkwardness.
  • Logistics. A smaller batch is not possible without additional equipment. This may sound counter-intuitive as well as a great argument to buy more stuff, but it has taken a great deal of effort to engineer my brewing activities to be soley five-gallon and keg-based. Bottles are not an option. They take too much space, are a pain to clean and sterilize, and I have my pride. In addition, I have a finite amount of refrigerated space and based on the issues outlined in problem #1, this beer will most likely be a long-term resident. At the end of the day I am going to have a lot of beer I’m not a fan of taking up valuable space and equipment.
  • Fear. I might mess this up. This is not going to be an easy beer to make. So far I have never brewed a batch of beer that went so “bad” that it was undrinkable. I have brewed beer that did not end up like I expected, but it was still a good, enjoyable beer. I once tried to brew a Christmas Ale (essentially the same as our Pirate’s Ale), which ended up being a great porter, just not very Christmassy. This watermelon wheat is dangerous. Based on the research I’ve done so far, it will probably have to be an all-grain batch, relatively low bitterness, and the watermelon will need to be added in either the primary or secondary fermentation. Contamination is going to be a big concern and the use of watermelon can still be considered “experimental.” Plus, if this thing ends up going south, I lose some serious street cred. “What finally did Andy in? A watermelon wheat? We shall never speak of him again.”

A dilema, by definition, implies that there is no safe direction to go and I think that is the situation I’m in. Another way to look at this is a challenge, a way for me to mature as a small batch brewer. Maybe I should take an eastern philosphy mentality and look how this experience will craft my inner brewing soul. Regardless how I personally accept my circumstances, I think I’m going to have to embrace this storm, hope fate will show me the path and trust that the brew that does not kill me only makes me stronger.

Suggestions, recommendations, and/or condolences are absolutely welcome!

Watermelon wheat beer by Nicole Lee, on Flickr.
cialis on Flickr” href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/stephee/3002032127/” target=”_blank”>Teach A Friend to Brew DayLots of people are curious about how to make beer and even more simply want to come over and drink it. Either way, ed
it is nice to have a group over to make beer together, whether it is for them to learn or just to hang out for fellowship. Having done this a few times, I have learned some key steps to have in place prior to people arriving for the event.

First, decide what your event is for. Here are some suggestions:

Teach A Friend to Brew Day by stephee, on Flickr.
aerating your wortAerating your wort is one of the more important steps when making beer. After boiling it for an hour or however long your recipe specifies, unhealthy a lot of the oxygen that was in the water has come out. All those bubbles during boiling are water vapor – H2O – a third of which is O, recipe or oxygen. This oxygen is a vital part of the fermentation process, as yeast are aerobic creatures, meaning they need oxygen to thrive and procreate, just like we do.

Top Ten Homebrew Father’s Day Gifts

If your Dad loves beer as much as mine does, urticaria these Father’s Day gifts will be the perfect things to surprise him with on June 15. I wanted to list a good number of products, approved first to get…

Unstick Your Stuck Fermentation