Hops Lose Alpha Acids Over Time (Part 1 of 2)

HopBagAlphaLet’s say you buy an ounce of Cascade hops and it says 6.0% alpha acids on the package. What is the percentage of alpha acids in your hops? This might seem like a trick question, but it isn’t. Alpha acids decay over time and the percentage listed on the package represents the level when the hops were analyzed. The number may be substantially lower when you brew with them. In each hemisphere, hops are harvested once a year. Once harvested, the clock is ticking on their alpha acid levels. For advanced homebrewers — especially those brewing hoppy beers in the few months leading up to the next hop harvest — it pays to understand what is going on and how you can adjust for it.

The major variables contributing to the decline in alpha acid levels are temperature, exposure to oxygen, exposure to light, and the variety of hops. As a homebrewer, you should store your hops in a way that minimizes their degradation.

[Read more…]

Hitting Your OG (Part 3 of 3: Over) 

IMG_1912Most of the time, when we miss our target original gravity (OG), we are low. However, it can happen that your extract efficiency is higher than you expect and your OG ends up being higher than you planned for. The most frequent causes of this adjusting your grain mill to a smaller gap, using a new base malt, or just learning the ropes and starting to get the hang of things. As with coming in low, you have a couple options.

The first option, of course, is to just accept the higher OG and brew a stronger beer than you intended. If you were brewing a hoppy beer, you might want to adjust the hop amounts up slightly to take the lowered hop utilization into account. However, unless you’re way over your target OG, you can probably just add your hops as planned and be fine.

[Read more…]

Hitting OG (Part 2 of 3: Low)

IMG_1912So let’s say that you’ve collected your wort, measured the wort volume and pre-boil specific gravity and, and used the “CV” equation to estimate your OG. And . . . you’re going to come in low. What do you do now? You have three main options. [Read more…]

Hitting OG (Part 1 of 3)

IMG_1912

[I’m back! You may have noticed a dearth of posts recently. I was finishing up work on my first book and was putting in a lot of late nights as the deadline approached. But, now I’m done and I have a slew of stuff coming to BWJ soon. — Chris ]

As an all-grain brew day comes to an end, a brewer hopes that he or she will yield a reasonable volume of beer at a reasonable original gravity (OG). In the best case scenario, the brewer hits both the target batch volume and target OG on the nose to within the precision of his instruments. In a less than optimal — but certainly not catastrophic — scenario, one or the other elements is slightly off, but not by much. [Read more…]

Top 10 Stories of 2015

BWJlogoThe new year is right around the corner. I have a whole bunch of (hopefully) cool things planned for Beer and Wine Journal (BWJ) in 2016. Also. James and I will be attending the first ever New Zealand National Homebrew Conference in March, and we’re also planning on the attending the NHC here in the US, too. In October, I’ll have a book out. (I’m psyched; I think it’s going to be cool.) I’ve also got some video segments shot, and — once I figure out how to edit them — you can see me demonstrate some of the techniques I’ve discussed here. Plus, I’m hoping to get more deeply into discussing homebrew science, while still covering homebrew topics relevant to all homebrewers.

But first, here are the BWJ articles that were read the most in 2015. There are no Star Wars spoilers in this article. But, there is one Walking Dead spoiler — Glenn hid under the dumpster and the zombies didn’t eat him. Ha! I told you so.  [Read more…]

Brewing with Heather

CallunaVulgarisHeather (Calluna vulgaris) grows widely across Scotland. Its purple flowers are mentioned in many Scottish poems and songs. The tips of the bush are eaten by grazing animals and bunches of flowering heather are often gathered for decorations. In the past, heather was also used to bitter Scottish beers.

Hops don’t grow natively in Scotland. In the 1800s and 1900s, Scottish brewers imported their hops. Before that, in the 1700s and earlier, there is some evidence that Scottish brewers used other bittering agents in their beer. (There is a lot of conflicting evidence about this. I’m not a historian, but it seems there is at least some evidence to support this.)

[Read more…]

10 Steps to Better Beer (Part 2)

gold-number-5

The final 5.

Here is the second half of my list of the top 10 steps towards brewing better beer. My hope is that new brewers can benefit from this by knowing where their efforts are best expended. Although I’ve ranked the items, and produced an argument for that ranking, none of these can be ignored. They are the top 10, after all. Even if the list extended to the top 100, everything on the list would have some degree of importance.

I’ve ranked the items on the list based on the degree that failing at a given step would have negative consequences that would overshadow any other things you did right. This ranking is an opinion, but I hope an informed opinion.

[Read more…]

Top 10 Steps Towards Brewing Better Beer

gold-number-5

The first five of which I’ll post today.

When I started brewing, information of how to make the best quality beers was just starting to emerge. These days, there is an abundance of information on homebrewing, and sometimes it can be overwhelming. Sorting important information from minutiae or the latest fad can be hard. As such, I’m going to present what I think are the top 10 most important aspects in brewing. This top ten list is presented as both an informed opinion on what the most important aspects of brewing are, and an argument for their ranking.

The list will cover things that are important to brewing quality beer. I’ll ignore economics, among other things, and just focus on what is most important to making outstanding beer. I will assume that the brewer can already manage to produce a drinkable beer. Incredible foul-ups or intentionally ruining items farther down the list could ruin a beer, and argue for a different ranking of items, but I’m trying to help brewers who are actually attempting to brew good beer and can reasonably hit the temperatures, volumes, and durations required on an average brewday.

I’ll start this list at the top, rather than doing the usual countdown, because I want this list to be an argument. (And by argument I mean a set of statements meant to support a central thesis, not a shouting match.) And, it is easier to understand my logic if start at the top. 

[Read more…]

Four Beer Spices (Part II of II)

BWJrelatedMoleculesMaking spiced beers is a winter tradition for homebrewers. Here is the second half of this article on four popular beer spices.

[Read more…]

Four Beer Spices (Part I of II)

A spiced dark beer.

Most brewers know a fair amount about barley and hops. They know barley is the seed of a species of grass (and specifically a cereal) and hops are cones from a vine. However, when we brew beers with other ingredients — such as fruits or spices — we might be familiar with its origin. In this article, I take a quick look at four spices commonly found in winter warmers and how to use them in brewing.

[Read more…]