Archives for July 2013

On Sour Beers and Sanitation


Some commercial breweries, such as Cantillon (whose barrels are shown here), are dedicated to producing sour beers. You can produce sour beers at home without giving up the brewing of non-sour beers.

Sour beers evoke a strong response in homebrewers. Some absolutely love them, others couldn’t be more put off. In my experience, there are relatively few brewers who are on the fence when it comes to enjoying sour beers. Among sour beer lovers, however, there are some who are leery of brewing them at home. This is almost always due to worries over having their equipment forever contaminated once they let the sour “bugs” into their brewery. As someone who has brewed many sour beers, I’d like to relate what I know about cleaning and sanitizing when brewing sour beers — mostly that the wild yeasts and bacteria that make sour beers sour can be controlled with proper cleaning and sanitation. If you can brew a hefeweizen, and your next beer doesn’t turn out to be a hefe-weizen, you can brew a sour beer and not have your subsequent beers be contaminated.

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Two Brewed With Dew

As I mentioned when I posted my sweet potato ESB recipe, I like brewing with unusual ingredients. I’ve actually brewed several beers using soda pop in place of part of the brewing liquor. So today I’m presenting two recipes for beer brewed with Mt. Dew — the orange-flavored, green-colored, soda made by PepsiCo.


12 oz. (355 mL) of fermentable sugars. (SG 1.046)

Mt. Dew is mostly a mix of water and high-fructose corn syrup with an OG of 1.046. It contains some sodium benzoate as a preservative. The amount of preservative is meant to deal with the tiny level of contamination that Mt Dew would normally encounter. It is no match for the amount of yeast pitched here. Likewise, every 12 oz. of Mt. Dew contains 54 mg of caffeine, but this doesn’t seem to bother the yeast, either. (As single-celled organisms, they don’t have a central nervous system, so it certainly doesn’t have the effect it has on humans.) The low pH and carbonation level in Mt. Dew could slow the yeast a bit, but in practice I’ve never seen this happen. Mt. Dew should be sanitary enough that you do not need to boil it.

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Instant Death Old Ale, by Joe Walton

Here’s a 12%+ ABV old ale recipe that develops its rich color and flavor via a 5-hour boil. Brewer Joe Walton has made this many times and the beer has won medals at many competitions. If you’ve got nearly a whole day to dedicate to brewing, try this monster ale recipe. The recipe is presented in both English and metric units. As most extract brewers would not have the capacity to begin boiling 10.5 gallons (40 L) of wort, there is no extract adaptation for this recipe.


Instant Death

All-grain, English units

by Joe Walton




Brewer Joe Walton, with a can of Jamaican soda called Irish Moss.

This is an all-grain old ale I have brewed over 20 times. It was inspired from reading an article that said you could get the characteristics of melanoidins from a long boil. The long boil caramelizes the sugars as well as breaks down many proteins. This also allows you to get these characteristics without using large amounts of specialty malts that may leave behind some harshness or astringencies that are not desired. It is a very smooth and rounded beer and the high alcohol content is not readily detectable to the drinker.  You can change the profile dramatically by switching between the Irish and Scottish yeast.  I prefer, and the judges do as well, the Irish version (it’s smoother).  I have added a pound or two of peat smoked malt to make the “Scottish” version.  It has won many awards in national and local competitions, including a first in the Austin ZEALOT’s Homebrew Inquisition.

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Beer-Brined Fried Chicken

Here’s my recipe for beer-brined fried chicken. For the rationale behind a few of the steps  — particularly the “hot wash” — see yesterday’s post on the challenges to frying chicken. I made two versions of this chicken, one brined in wheat beer and one brined in lambic. I liked the wheat beer brined chicken better and include that recipe here. The lambic version was similar, but had some “funky” notes, as you would expect.


Beer-Brined Fried Chicken


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Bitter Speculation


Could double IPAs be made a little bit more bitter?

If you harvest the yeast from an IPA fermentation, you’ll notice that it carries a lot of bitterness. Yeast absorb (or perhaps adsorb) a lot of bitter compounds during fermentation. In his handout, “10 Factors to Making Better Hoppy Beers,” Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing Company lists yeast pitching rate as critical factor in making an IPA or double IPA — pitching too much yeast will remove too much bitterness from the fermenting wort. This gave me an idea — what of you “fed” the yeast bitter compounds when you raised them, so they didn’t remove so much bitterness during the main fermentation?

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The Fried Chicken Conundrum


This fried chicken was brined in lambic (a sour wheat beer) before frying.

Fried chicken is one of my favorite foods. And beer is my favorite beverage. One way to bring these two together is by brining your chicken in beer prior to frying it. Today I’ll give a quick primer on making great fried chicken, with the focus on overcoming the major hurdle to frying chicken in this day and age. Tomorrow, I’ll give the full recipe and procedure.

Most fried chicken recipes involve soaking the bird in something before frying it. Buttermilk is probably the most common marinade, followed by a vinegar and salt brine. I use a vinegar and salt brine often, and I wondered if replacing some of the water with beer would make a difference. I decided to try it out with a hefe-weizen (a wheat beer) and a gueuze (a sour wheat beer).

The biggest problem people encounter when frying chicken these days is getting it to cook through without burning the outside. Or sometimes they cook the outside to perfection while leaving the inside nearly raw. [Read more…]

Why Grapes?


Most wine is made from grapes. If you are attempting to make wine from fruit other than grapes, it pays to understand why this is. (Photo from Wikipedia.)

You’ve probably noticed that most wine is made from grapes. If you go to the liquor store, you may be able to find a few wines made from other fruits (so-called country wines), but these are a small minority. The vast majority of wines are made from grapes. And not just any grapes —  most wines are made from grapes of the species Vitis vinifera.

With summer here and many fruit harvests to come, some homebrewers may be wondering if they can make homemade wine from the bounty of their local orchards or gardens. You can, but before trying to make wine from fruit, it pays to understand why most wine is made from grapes. In a nutshell, grapes contain the right balance of sugars, acids and tannins to make a fermented beverage that will keep and also taste good.

On their own, most other fruits do not. However, you can add sugar, acid or tannins to balance the juice from any fruit and ferment it into a delicious fruit wine. Over the summer, I’ll explain how to make fruit wine from a few of the more popular fruits. But first, let’s take a look at grapes and what makes them the fruit of choice for most winemakers.

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Harvesting Arkansas Cascades

Arkansas Cascades ready to pick

Arkansas Cascades ready to pick

Northwest Arkansas is a long way from the 48th parallel, which is considered the “hop belt” – the optimum latitude for growing our favorite bitter ingredient. Unfortunately for my hop farmer aspirations, northwest Arkansas is where my tiny hopyard is. My hopyard consists of six spaces: two spaces where English hop varieties Golding and Fuggles used to reside (until they gave up the ghost), two spaces where German varieties Hallertau and Saaz barely cling to existence, and two spaces where American Cascades are loving life.

My two rows of hop trellises receive full sun, and in Arkansas that means heat coupled with typically dry conditions as summer wears on. While its European cousins have withered in the heat, Cascade is a variety that doesn’t seem to mind living in Razorback country. In fact, most years I’m able to get two harvests from the Cascade bines. I pick them using a ladder to leave the bines up until they’re done and dead-looking at wintertime. [Read more…]

A Mash In Option


A mash/lauter tun right after mashing in. One option you have is to add the water and grains simultaneously (or nearly so).

Homebrewers sometimes debate whether it’s best to stir the crushed grains into your strike water when mashing in, or vice versa. However, there’s a third option — add them at the same time. The biggest advantage of this method is that you can monitor your mash temperature as you build your grain bed. If you want to hit your mash temperature exactly, this method of mashing in works well. Plus, it’s easy to do and requires no extra equipment.

In the not too distant past of commercial brewing, many breweries used a Steele’s Masher to mash in. (Some still do, although it’s less common these days.) A Steele’s Masher is essentially a big auger that delivers crushed grain to the mash tun. Hot water is added to the grain a couple turns of the screw before it falls into the mash tun and thus the mash tun is filled with hydrated grist, not water first then grains or vice versa.

You can do something very similar to this at home with two “scoops” of the same size. I use plastic 60-oz. beer pitchers.

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Dry Hops and Dry Ice


Pellets of Dry Ice. You can see the cold carbon dioxide gas subliming from them against the black background. This gas can save you from dry hopping oxidation.

Dry hopping is great for adding extra hop aroma to your beers. However, there are a couple problems that can accompany dry hopping. One is that hop tannins can lead to haze. The other is, when using whole hops, the air entrained between the bracts and bracteoles (the “leaves” or “petals” on the hop cone) can lead to noticeable levels of oxidation in your beer — especially in heavily dry-hopped beers. Fortunately, there are a few easy ways to address the oxidation problem.

Dry hopping is the process of adding hops to fermented beer. Oils from the lupulin glands of the hops dissolve into the beer, adding hop aroma to it. Because the hops are not heated (and hence alpha acids are not converted to iso-alpha acids), dry hopping does not add bitterness to the beer.

At the homebrew scale, dry hopping is usually accomplished by placing hops (whole or pellets) in a nylon bag and steeping the bag in a secondary fermenter or keg. Contact time can last from a few days to a few weeks.

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