The Easy Way to Fly Sparge (Part 1 of 3)


A sparge arm

When I started brewing, continuous sparging (sometimes called fly sparging) was the only method for sparging a grain bed described on the homebrewing literature. Later, some homebrewers adopted batch sparging as their method of choice, and still later some homebrewers started using brew-in-a-bag methods.

A variety of criticisms have been lodged against fly sparging. I have an easy method of fly sparging that answers some of these criticisms — and the remaining ones are minor, in my opinion. (I’m convinced fly sparging is the best of the homebrew lautering methods, and I’ll explain why in a separate article. But for today, here’s the start of a “how to” article.) [Read more…]

Beer Foam (Part 1: General)

At the 2016 New Zealand Homebrew Conference, I gave a talk on beer foam. Here’s that material, reworked into an article.


Foam in a dry stout.

Why would anyone give a talk (or write about) beer foam? Besides the fact that I find foam interesting, there are a couple reasons. When we are served a beer, our first impression is visual — we notice the color, clarity, and the character of the foam in the glass. Secondly, and more importantly, good foam is a partial indicator of beer quality. As we will see, a number of things need to go correctly to get a nice foam stand. So, the presence of nice foam indicates the brewer has (at a minimum) taken sufficient care with his or her process to produce that foam.

[Read more…]

Hops Lose Alpha Acids in Storage (Part 3 of 3)

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A spreadsheet (Apple Pages) used to calculate alpha acid loss over time.

In the previous post, I related a quick and dirty way to estimate the loss in alpha acids of hops over time, assuming they were stored in a freezer. That method was based on two measured variables (initial alpha acid percentage and amount left after 6 months at 68 °F/20 °C), plus a couple “guesstimations” — how the rate of loss changed at colder temperatures and a linear extrapolation from the initial condition through the one “data” point.

We would expect the loss of alpha acids to be an exponential function. So, it’s almost certain the simple model underestimates hop losses prior to six months and overestimates them after 6 months — although the deviations should be small. Using the simple method is better than not accounting for the losses at all, but there is a more accurate way of estimating the alpha acids if you’re willing to put in a little more work. [Read more…]

Hops Lose Alpha Acids In Storage (Part 2 of 3)

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Alpha acid loss in two hop varieties over time, estimated from data from Hop Union. (In reality, the rate of loss is likely not linear. See the next article for more details.)

As I detailed in the first half of this article, hop alpha acids levels decline during storage. Proper handling can slow the degradation of the alpha acids, but even properly stored hops gradually lose their bitterness over time. In this post, we’ll examine if the loss if alpha acids is great enough to matter, and how to account for it if you do wish to take it into consideration. [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)


[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…]

Forced Fermentation Test (II: Practice)

IMG_1912Last week, I described the basic idea behind the forced fermentation test. Basically, you overpitch a small sample of wort, and ferment it at high temperature. The sample will reach it’s final gravity (FG) before your main batch of beer. Knowing the FG of the sample will tell you what the FG of the your beer will be. This can be good to know when you are deciding whether to bottle. Here’s how to perform the test. [Read more…]

Forced Fermentation Test (I:The Basic Idea)

IMG_1912Brewers, especially new brewers, may wonder what the final gravity (FG) of their beer should be. Perhaps their barleywine stopped fermenting at SG 1.022 and they are wondering if it’s done or the fermentation is stuck. This is something the FG alone can’t tell you.

Established recipes frequently list an expected FG, and these should be a good estimate if you follow the recipe exactly. If, however, you’re formulating your own recipe — or modifying an existing one — the FG depends on three main variables. First, every yeast strain has a different range of apparent attenuation. Secondly,grain bills can be mashed to yield more or less fermentable worts. (Likewise, different malt extracts yield worts of differing fermentabilities.) And finally, some kettle adjuncts are more or less fermentable than wort made from mashed grains or dissolved malt extract. Table sugar (sucrose), for example, is 100% fermentable. In contrast, milk sugar (lactose) is not fermentable by brewers yeast. Although it may be possible to calculate a likely FG, you can determine experimentally what your FG will likely be with the forced fermentation test.  [Read more…]

Blending Beer for Black IPA

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 3.50.19 PMLast week, I posted an article on making extra dark beers with the intention of blending them into lighter beers for added color and perhaps flavor. This way, you could enjoy both the pale beer and a darkened version of it. In this post, I’ll give a specific example of brewing a dark beer that, when blended into an IPA, makes a black IPA.

The recipes given here are for 5.0 gallons (19 L) of the dark blending beer, but you can scale them to any volume desired. Frequently, you will only need 1 or 2 gallons (4–8 L) of the dark beer per 5.0 gallon (19-L) batch of the lighter beer. To scale these 5.0-gallon (19-L) recipes, multiply all the ingredients by your intended volume of dark beer (in gallons) divided by five (gallons). [Or divide your intended volume of dark beer (in liters) by 19 (L).] [Read more…]