Archives for August 2013

Pumpkin Ale Recipe


Getting the spice mix right is crucial to a pumpkin ale. (Photo courtesy Mark Pasquinelli.)

Get ready for fall by brewing a pumpkin ale now. The key to this beer is getting the spices right. Remember that you can add spices in secondary, if needed, but you can’t take spice away. Over time, the spice character will change — so if it is slightly overspiced to begin with, let it age for a few weeks.


Pumpkin Ale

(Spiced Ale)

All-grain, English units

by Mark Pasquinelli



This beer is designed to taste like pumpkin pie in a glass.

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Pumpkin Fermenters


Two roughly 5-gallon (19-L) batches of old ale fermenting inside two pumpkins.

A couple years ago, I brewed a pumpkin ale. The beer was an old ale — an Old Peculiar clone — spiced with traditional pumpkin pie spice. But I decided to take things one step further and ferment the beer inside a pumpkin. That year, I was growing some large pumpkin varieties in my garden. Two of the pumpkins were large enough that I estimated they would hold about 5.0 gallons (19 L) of beer apiece. On brewday, I made 10 gallons (38 L) of wort and cooled it down. While the wort was chilling, I cut the pumpkins open (with a sanitized knife) and scooped out the “guts” (with a large, sanitized spoon). You always want your fermentation vessels to be food grade and pumpkins are not only food grade, they’re actually food. Likewise, you always want your fermenters to be sanitized. And, unless it was diseased, the inside of a pumpkin should not be infected with microorganisms.

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Ten Tips For Better Yeast Starters


These 10 tips will help you make the best yeast starter possible.

Making a yeast starter — almost any kind of yeast starter — is likely to improve your beers. Growing healthy yeast cells in the ballpark of your optimal pitching rate is going to yield a fermentation that starts promptly, proceeds without any hitches and reaches a reasonable final gravity. Although any old yeast starter is usually a good thing, with time you will want to refine your starter-making techniques to raise the healthiest yeast possible. Here are ten tips to help you do so:

1.) Pay Special Attention to Cleaning and Sanitation

Contaminating microorganisms in the pitch is one of the main causes of contaminated beer. (No, it’s not “infected.”) Be extra diligent with your cleaning and sanitation when making a yeast starter. If it gets contaminated, your beer will be very contaminated. Clean the starter flask or jug, then hold it up to a light to visually inspect it. If you see any spots, no matter how small, re-clean the vessel. Sanitize everything well. (And remember, given the size of glass jugs and flasks, boiling is option.) Work swiftly when transferring the yeast to the starter vessel.

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Spur of the Moment “Saison”

I sparged the grain bag in a smaller pot.

I sparged the grain bag in a smaller pot.

This is not an article on how to brew the perfect traditional saison, or farmhouse ale. It’s the story of a beer of the moment — an inspiration of improvisation. It has been an embarrassingly long time since I have brewed. So, when the opportunity arose today, I took advantage of it with the ingredients I had on hand.

The inspiration for brewing a saison came from two sources. First, our recent trip to Philadelphia included stops at breweries that featured exceptional saison-based beers. Gerard Olson and Daniel Endicott brew beers at Forest and Main in Ambler, Pennsylvania, that are hybrids of English and Belgian styles. Saison yeast is often well featured. Tom Baker of Earth – Bread + Brewery in the Mt. Airy Neighborhood of Philly served us two saison-inspired beers that knocked our socks off. One was infused with generous amounts of American hops. [Read more…]

Beer, Birds and BBQ


A smoked 12-lb. bird waiting to be carved.

I’m a turkey fiend (as opposed to a fiendish turkey). I wish Thanksgiving was held once a month. I make turkey once every month or so and my specialty is smoked turkey. My smoked turkey turns out nicely every time in part because of the cooking method I use — setting the turkey on a beer can “throne” à la beer can chicken and barbecuing it upright. This crisps the skin all around the bird but leaves the meat inside juicy.

I do some things differently than many BBQ cooks. First and foremost, I don’t smoke the bird “slo and lo.” I smoke closer to oven roasting temperatures because I think the pink meat that comes from smoking at around 225 °F (107 °C) tastes slimy. Even though I like beef rare, poultry cooked in the same manner simply tastes undercooked to me. I like the taste of roasted turkey meat — Maillard reactions are good! — so I cook at a temperature that yields white (fully cooked) meat. Also, to me one of the best things about turkey is a nice, crispy skin. Smoking the bird at 225 °F (107 °C) yields whitish, rubbery skin. Likewise, some cooks spice their brine and even inject spices into the turkey. I like the spices to be associated with the skin, so I don’t usually add spices to the brine or inject them under the skin or into the meat.

You can take this recipe and adapt it for roasting in the oven or using your own favorite brines or spice rubs. Enjoy!

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Measuring Tiny Amounts


Kitchen measures of weight and volume (in the foreground). may not be as accurate as you’d like. Relatively inexpensive scientific gear can improve your ability measure things accurately. However, even without them, there are ways to reasonably accurately weigh out tiny amounts.

Many homebrew recipes are scaled down from commercial-sized batches. And occasionally you’ll find that the amount of certain ingredients or additives required at the homebrew scale is small, or even tiny. To make matters worst, the ability for homebrewers to accurately measure small weights and volumes is frequently limited. Even scaling a regular, 5.0-gallon (19-L) homebrew recipe down to a 1.0-gallon (3.8-L) test batch sometimes results in certain additions of hops, other spices or mineral salts to be smaller than can be easily measured.

Most cooking-type scales only measure down to 1/4 ounce when set to English units and 5 g when set to metric. (And note that these are close, but not the same. A quarter ounce is 7.1 g.) More accurate scales or balances are available, but they are generally pricey. Along those same lines, measuring small volumes of liquids (for example hop extracts) can be problematic for homebrewers who may have only kitchen measuring cups — or teaspoons and tablespoons — available.

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Stuck Fermentations: II



Getting to a respectable final gravity following a stuck fermentation may be easy, or it can be a real pain.

If your fermentation is stuck, you can sometimes remedy the situation. Depending on the problem, this fix may be fairly simple or more involved. In every case, your first step should be to try to rouse the yeast.

Yeast can flocculate (drop out of solution) suddenly for a variety of reasons, including low temperatures, lack of nutrients or a stressful fermentation. A stressful fermentation frequently results when too few yeast are pitched to a high-gravity wort. Sometimes, however, all it takes is stirring them back into solution to restart the fermentation. This is sometimes called rousing the yeast.


Rousing the Yeast

To rouse your yeast, sanitize a long brewing spoon, racking cane or any utensil that can reach to the bottom of your fermenter. Open the fermenter and stir until the sediment on the bottom is at least temporarily back in solution. Try to stir as quietly as possible, as you don’t want to aerate the wort at this point unless the fermentation stuck before moving more than 1/3 of the way through it’s apparent attenuation range. [For example, if you had an OG 1.080 old ale that you expected to finish at FG 1.020, it would pass through 60 “gravity points” as the beer fermented. If the beer stuck above 1.060 (less than 20 “gravity points” or 1/3 of the way through), aerating it would likely help.]However, aeration after fermentation has started causes diacetyl to form.If you aerate as part of your plan to unstick a fermentation, you’ll have leave the beer on the yeast for a few days, or maybe longer, when fermentation was complete for the diacetyl to be reduced.

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Stuck Fermentations: I


Measuring a beer’s specific gravity can help you determine if a fermentation is stuck or finished.

Homebrewing has changed a lot since I first started, but some things never change. One problem that homebrewers seem to constantly face is stuck fermentations. A stuck fermentation is when the fermentation stops prematurely, leaving the beer at a higher-than-desired final gravity (FG). This can happen to any beer, but occurs more often in big beers.


Avoiding This Situation

Before addressing how to remedy a stuck fermentation, know that the best way to fix a stuck fermentation is to prevent it from happening in the first place. If you pitch enough yeast, aerate your wort well and keep the fermentation temperature in right range, you will likely never encounter a stuck fermentation. For homebrewers, a big part of this is making a yeast starter, when needed, to achieve the right pitching rate; since I began making yeast starters, I have never encountered a single stuck fermentation.


Is It Really Stuck?

But let’s say that you suspect you have a stuck fermentation. What do you do? First off, don’t panic. Instead, determine if your fermentation is really stuck . . . and don’t even think about pouring the batch down the drain until you are sure there is a problem, and if it is fixable.

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Extract Efficiency Tradeoffs

At some point after learning how to brew from grains, most all-grain brewers begin to think about ways to increase their extract efficiency — the amount of extract they obtain from their grain, relative to the maximum possible. (Here, “extract” means carbohydrates and other soluble substances that contribute to the wort’s specific gravity, not malt extract.) Because you can put a number to this, it’s human nature to want improve upon this number. There are several ways to increase your extract efficiency, but often there is a tradeoff.


The Crush


Finely crushed malt yields more extract.

For most homebrewers, getting a better crush is the most effective way to increase their extract efficiency. The more finely malt is crushed, the higher your extract yield. However, finer crushes also lead to lautering problems, as larger husk pieces create a more porous grain bed that allows liquid to flow through with less resistance. In addition, because the husks are reduced to smaller pieces in finer crushes, thereby exhibiting a higher surface to volume ratio, the possibility of extracting an excessive level of tannins is increased.

One approach many homebrewers take is to progressively mill their grain more finely each batch they brew. Once they encounter a problem with lautering, they back off a notch for the next. This trial and error approach works well for finding the best tradeoff between extract efficiency and lauterability on your system.

One way commercial brewers seek to get better efficiency without incurring lautering problems or running the risk of excessive tannin extraction is by conditioning their malt. In malt conditioning, the grain is lightly wetted (usually from steam) immediately prior to milling. This makes the husks slightly more pliable, allowing the brewer to crush the interior of the grain more finely, while leaving larger husk pieces.

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Fossil Cove Sour – Video

You’ve read the blog posts, now see the video! Watch Ben Mills, brewer at Fossil Cove Brewing in Fayetteville, Arkansas, step up my two-gallon sour mash recipe into a two-barrel version with tasty results.