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1st Batch Ready? Should it be All-Grain or Extract brewed? Find out!

So you’ve read up enough online and consumed enough craft brews and friend’s homebrews and you think you are actually ready to take this passion to the next level….the big step…. the first batch! Now that you are ready to take the plunge its time to decide if you will start with all-grain or extract based brewing. The end product will be very similar to the average craft beer consumer, but the means of getting there and the fine details are very different.

 

Extract Brewing

 

In extract based brewing all or most of the needed grain sugars have already been extracted into a readily available syrup like substance at your local homebrew shop. Usually, these extracts come in a narrow range of choices but can be mixed and adapted with partial grain additions to create different malt profiles in the finished product.

 

The main benefit of extract brewing is the large cost reduction up front because less equipment is needed. Secondly, extract brewing is much simpler and there are far fewer areas for things to go wrong, and the process takes significantly less time.

All-Grain Brewing

The main difference between all-grain and Extract Brewing or Partial Mash brewing is that in an all-grain brew, the entire volume of unfermented beer (called wort) is created by mashing crushed Malt and running hot water through the grain bed in a process called lautering. via brewwiki

 

Arguably the biggest advantage of all-grain brewing is the complete and total control over the content of the final product. Any number of grains of all varieties can be mixed to attain a specific taste profile unlike extract brewing. Aside from control, all grain brewing is actually considerably cheaper than extract brewing. For example, when I first switched from extract brewing to all grain brewing my costs per beer dropped about 40%(but my labor and equipment expenses went up).

 

You can make great brews via either method of homebrewing, and more complexity can be added to either method through use of hops. Stay tuned for my in-depth all-grain and extract brewing writeups coming soon. Follow me on twitter @Tanner_Brews for more.

 

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Getting Thrifty for Brew Equipment

 

At this point you likely feel like a craft beer expert with years of experience. You’re beyond ready to brew your first batch on your own and yu can’t wait to amaze all of your friends with incredible brew. Nothing is going to stop you from designing and brewing the best damn beer the friend group has ever had the pleasure to enjoy! Only thing standing in your way is the critical lack of equipment in your garage. Online and in the brew store equipment for brewing that first batch can cost thousands of dollars! What if there was a more reasonable solution at a much lower cost with a little effort?

 

The answer to your brew problems just might be that old empty keg shell from the side of your house or potentially on craigslist. That’s right, that old stainless steel keg might just be your next brew kettle or mash tun depending on what you need. Now as far as conversions go there are some affordable kits out with grates used as filters at the bottom, but if you are going for a simple boiler it will be quite a bit easier.

To make the boiler you will most likely want to cut out the whole top circle using a setup like the picture above. This will safely allow you to cut an even circle for the opening. After that simply instal your preferential drain valve with necessary attachments for draining at the bottom of the keg in the side. Double check all connections and add spacers to assist with sealing where necessary.

From this simple boiler or mash tun you can infinitely expand and improve the system as money allows for it. Pumps for easy beer transfer and other non-essentials can be added later to the system by either attaching to the drain or adding a sparge attachment.

Go outside and brew a fresh batch this weekend, and follow me on Twitter @Tanner_Brews for more.

 

 

 

PUCKER UP! The Return to Popularity of Sour Beers

 

Brief History:

 

Imagine a place where all beers available for purchase are at least a little bit sour. Now take a step back and think because that place was the entire world of beer until the last 100 years or so. This sourness was largely due to lack of understanding of bacterias as well as the absence of proper cleaning and sanitization practices. The critical gaps in understanding and practices would leave naturally occurring unpredictable yeasts in the batches of brew. Wild yeast then causes unintentional fermentation and flavoring, as well as a citric acid buildup causing the sour taste.

Modern Practice:

Brewers these days have access to cheap and plentiful means of sanitization and all wild yeasts and unpredictability are generally taken out of the process. With this resurgence we are seeing in the popularity of sour beers, brewers are taking their properly sanitized equipment and adding unusual or wild yeast or one or more varieties to create the sour effect. Often specific acid producing microbes are added to the batches such as the varieties discussed below.

Some modern brewers are using the classical method of simply leaving parts of the brewing process exposed to wild yeast. A gentle breeze or perhaps the wood of the building can be home to wild yeast and will provide the microbes needed for souring to occur. This approach is generally too unpredictable for the standard brewery but is being implemented by those going for a classic approach.

The Microbes:

Sours get their trademark tartness and sourness from bacteria and wild yeasts—Lactobacillus, Acetobacter, Brettanomyces, and other critters—that you wouldn’t find in other styles of beer. Each type of bacteria gives its own trademark flavor and aroma: Lactobacillus has a yogurt tang, Acetobacter has the sourness of vinegar, and Brettanomyces has a barnyard, earthy, or farmhouse aroma. via Paste Magazine

One of the biggest sources of joy for a drinker of sour beer is the complexity endowed to each sour. The variety of wild yeast from batch to batch creates unique and distinct tastes based on the mix of yeasts and can be hard to replicate. Some breweries such as Brasserie Cantillon in Belgium believes it is so important to replicate the yeasts naturally occurring in the brewery that they are spraying down new locations with their beer to pass on the yeast! “The brewery allows the specific yeasts found in their building to ferment their beers in similar ways through the ages (Cantillon was founded in 1900), resulting in the consistent, aforementioned world-renowned product.” via Food and Wine

Now go try a “contaminated” beer!

Perfect Head – Guide to Proper Beer Pouring

 

If you spend much time in the brewing industry it will be important to understand what defines a properly poured beer. Before I begin, understand that pouring beer properly is an art. Just like any art, the art of pouring beer is somewhat subjective and opinions on how to do the perfect pour vary from person to person. This is my take on how to consistently pour like a pro.

 

 

 

The Glass:

Before I get into specifics about the pour…. probably the most important thing about a perfect pour is that it is being poured into a clean glass free of contaminents and leftovers from a previous beer. “A dirty glass, containing oils, dirt or residuals from a previous beer, may inhibit head creation and flavours.” – (Beer Advocate).

Temperature:

Optimal beer temperature is vital to enjoying a beer as it was meant to be enjoyed. For most craft beers I recommend 45 degrees fahrenheit. Some brews such as lagers should be served colder and some brews like porters should be served higher. Temperature of beer is largely subjective but 45 degrees is generally a safe rule when serving people that you are unfamiliar with preference-wise. A word of caution, frozen glasses may cause the beer to pour improperly or to cool below desired temperature upon pour.

The Pour:

Believe it or not, the way a beer is pouring into a glass can have a profound impact on the smell and taste of the beer and your overall experience. When pouring a beer into a glass you want to hold the glass at a 45 degree angle. Tilt the bottle or open the tap and aim for the middle of the glass. Allow the beer to cascade for about 2 inches or so of gap before hitting the glass. Roughly halfway through the pour shift the glass upright to a 90 degree position and finish the pour this way to create the perfect head. In size the head should be .5 – 1.5 inches or about 2 finger widths in size.

There are endless subtleties to the perfect pour, but experiment with each beer you pour to find the perfect pour for you. Follow me on Twitter @Tanner_Brews for more beer information.

 

Beer Aroma, Just How Important is it?

 

 

Take a second and think hard about your favorite brand and line of craft beer. Think about the taste when you take your first sip out of the cold glass. I bet you can practically taste it now (shoot for all I know you just might be drinking one as you read this). Now think about the smell you get right before you drink it and as you consume the delicious craft brew. Although you may not know it, the smell you get from the beer you are drinking directly affects the taste. It is widely thought that between 1/4 and 1/3 of the taste of food and beverage is dependent on its smell.

Smell is the dominant sense affecting flavor perception. Without it, what we taste would be very simplistic and much more one-dimensional. Thus smell is a synthetic experience, in that the brain has a hard time picking apart the individual pieces, compared to taste which is an analytic experience where our brain can dissect the parts more easily. – Craftbeer.com

Truth be told it’s actually important to let beer breathe briefly similar to wine in order to let the head settle and flavors develop. It doesn’t have to be long, but there is a difference between the brewer intended smell and taste and the first taste right after opening a bottle. There are two primary elements of beer that affect the smell of most beer.

Malt:

The malt in beer is where the beer will derive its semi-sweet nature, and internationally it is the most recognizable element to craft beer’s smell. The malts can vary greatly in what has been done to them such as roasting, toasting, and mixed dark and deep flavored malts. Generally, malts are known evoke flavors and smells such as caramel, coffee, chocolate, and the general sweet smell in craft beer.

Hops:

A regional favorite smell and taste of craft beer drinkers on the west coast, hops are known for creating herbal, earthy, bitter, piney, floral, citrus, and a variety of smells. IPA’s and some pale ales are well known for their high hop concentrations resulting in a strong showing of these flavors that we on the western coast of the United States have learned to love and appreciate. Depending on when the hops are added to the brew it will differently affect taste and smell, for more information on why and how; check out my hops blog post.

Outside of the traditional components to smell and taste, the large variety of beers on the market today have a wide variety of smell components. Sour beers, experimental beers, and variations to the brew process create new and exciting smells and tastes although some are better than others.

 

I challenge you to get a flight of beers at the local brewery in your town, order the most different sounding beers you can and try to pick them apart by smell. Let me know how you did!

 

Sediment in Your Bottle? Natural VS Artificial Carbonation!

Have you ever looked into a bottle of craft beer/cider and seen a layer of fine looking powder-like sediment in the bottom? Don’t throw it out just yet, it’s probably just natural and perfectly safe to consume brewing yeast. This yeast is no worse for you than the yeast found in bread for example, and it can be consumed or carefully avoided for appearance sake by pouring the beer into a glass just short of the small yeast cake. The presence of yeast at the bottom of the bottle simply means the beer was carbonated naturally as opposed to forced artificial carbonation.

Natural Carbonation

Homebrewers will be familiar with the concept of natural carbonation already  as for the beginning brewer it is the most accessible method of carbonating brews. Natural carbonation uses yeast in the uncarbonated beer for carbonation. The brewers add a measured amount of priming sugar to the uncarbonated beer just before bottling. Once bottled the yeast will wake up and consume the newly added sugar, producing the desired carbonation as they do so. In the process, they will multiply and then drop to the bottom of the bottle when they have consumed all of the sugar. Although this process is the standard for homebrewers there are some major breweries that also carbonate their beer in bottles. The most popular beer on the top of my head that utilizes bottle priming is the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

The most popular beer on the top of my head that utilizes bottle priming is the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. The reason you may not have noticed yeast at the bottom of these popular craft beers is that these breweries have often perfected the art of bottle conditioning and have found ways to minimize the yeast in bottles while at the same time providing what they feel is a unique taste only achieved by bottle priming. Alternatively, some breweries and home brewers have begun filtering out the brewing yeast, and then adding a special bottling yeast that produces very minimal sediment in the bottom of bottles.

Artificial Carbonation

“Force carbonating will allow you to hit your desired level every time, without exception” –Homebrew.com

Artificial carbonation can be done in a variety of ways at different levels of brewing. For all of the methods of force carbonating the goal is the same; to get the desired level of carbonation into the brews without the sediment normally added from naturally carbonating brews. By artificially carbonating the brew it also ensures that the yeast won’t be stirred up and cause the beer to appear cloudy. Most of the craft beer industry utilizes artificial carbonation for consistency and the ability to carbonate beer faster than via natural yeast carbonation.

“What many Reinheitsgebot purists fail to realize is that they cannot add priming sugar or extraneous CO2 to carbonate their beers. Large commercial brewers solve this problem by harvesting the CO2 from fermentation and reinjecting it into the beer. The small brewer, however, must carbonate beer naturally by kraeusening.” –BYO.com

Next time you are looking for craft brew in the store, check out the bottom of some of the bottles. You might just find a layer of yeast from natural carbonation!

Ales VS Lagers, Whats the Difference Anyways?

 

 

If you are an avid beer drinker there is a good chance you formed some opinions and prejudices when you read the title of this post. Chances are you tend to drink either mostly Ales or mostly Lagers, and you may even avoid the other when at all possible. Almost all modern beer can be classified as either an Ale or a Lager, but do you know the technical differences between the two?

 

Lagers are relatively new to the brewing scene. They first arose in Bavarian breweries in the late 15th or early 16th century, then eventually spread to the rest of Europe (most famously to Plzeň, the birthplace of pilsner) and eventually to the rest of the world. All of those beers you think of as “national” brands — Heineken, Tsing Tao, Sapporo, Kingfisher, Budweiser to name just a few — those are all lagers. VIA Popular Science

“Bottom Fermenting Beers”?

Lagers are often known and referred to as “bottom fermenting” beers, but that statement isn’t entirely accurate. With both Ales and Lagers, the yeast is distributed throughout the beer and fermentation is happening universally wherever there are convertible sugars. The illusion that Ales ferment on top of fermenters and Lagers ferment on bottom of fermenters is caused by the large cake of foam given off by a fermenting ale. This large foam cake makes the beer appear to be fermenting directly on top when it is actually distributed. Lagers also have a foam layer on top, it is just much smaller than that of Ales.

It’s all in the Yeast

The largest differences can all be attributed to the discovery of Lager yeast in the 15th or 16th century but that part is up for debate. What we do know is that around the time Lagers started their rise to the top of the commercial brewing world, international trade routes were developing to Europe. It is therefore speculated that Lagers spawned out of yeast that arrived in Europe on a ship from overseas. Ales have been in production by humans for thousands of years longer than Lagers, Ale yeast was sourced locally beginning in Europe. Over time, Ale and Lager yeast have been moved from brewery to brewery, quickly adapting to their environment and forming the many variations of Ale and Lager yeast on the market today.

Lager yeast thrives in cold temperatures such as 40 degrees Fahrenheit and runs at a much slower and methodical rate. The yeast is sulfite-metabolizing and produces the much sought after “crisp clean” taste thought to be found in Lagers. The sulfite-metabolization means that Lagers will often smell of rotten eggs while fermenting, but do not be concerned as this is normal. Higher temperatures such as those enjoyed by Ale yeast tend to give off more fruity and robust flavors than that of the lean and crisp Lagers.

Additions

Whilst Lagers are appreciated for being crisp and clean, they generally feature only the basic pure malts. Ales are generally appreciated for being robust and for featuring flavor additions like those infused by the additions of hops throughout the brewing process. Roasted and specialty malts are also common additions to make Ales more robust and significantly more intense than Lagers.

 

Yeast, temperature, and extra additions are the main differences between Ales and Lagers. If you had to choose between Ales or Lagers for the rest of your life, which would you choose and why? Leave your choice below!