Saturday, December 28, 2013

Destructive Myths: The Dissolved Oxygen Hypothesis

Part I: The Argument

There are a lot of myths and unfounded maxims surrounding the proper preparation of coffee and tea. Most are harmless, or, at worst, detrimental to beverage flavor. But one such myth has resulted in a massive waste of energy and water. I refer to this myth as the dissolved oxygen hypothesis.

The dissolved oxygen hypothesis states that, when brewing tea, one should always use freshly drawn water, and never reboil water in the kettle. The justification given is that water that has previously been boiled has less dissolved oxygen (DO). The result is that many tea drinkers are wasting enormous amounts of energy by dumping leftover hot water from their kettles.

The dissolved oxygen hypothesis rests on two premises: (1) that once-boiled water contains more dissolved oxygen than twice-boiled water; (2) that dissolved oxygen improves the flavor of tea. Both premises are demonstrably false.

Boiling itself does not remove dissolved gases. It is the change in temperature or pressure that affects the amount of gas that a liquid can hold (i.e., the solubility of a gas in a liquid). Solubility decreases as temperature increases. Assuming normal atmospheric pressure and composition, water at 0˚C can hold a maximum of ~15ppm DO, while water at 50˚C can only hold ~5ppm. Once the water reaches 100˚C, solubility is zero. Therefore, if you've brought water even close to a boil, you've removed virtually all the DO. What this means is that neither once-boiled nor twice-boiled water contain significant levels of DO, refuting premise (1).

Studies (Faust & Aly 1998, Pangborn & Bertolero 1972) have found that the level of DO in drinking water does not have a significant impact on its taste. It seems likely that the folk belief that DO improves water flavor results from the fact that running water (e.g., streams) is generally preferred to stagnant water (e.g., lakes), and is also higher in DO.

In principle, DO could soften the tannins in tea, just as decanting a bottle of red wine does. However, decanted wine contains much more DO, on account of its lower temperature, and wine is usually allowed to breathe for at least 15 minutes, compared to the 1-5 minutes that tea steeps for. Furthermore, tea drinkers can control the level of tannins in their cup via manipulation of steeping time, water temperature, and water/tea ratio. In short, a well-brewed cup has no need of oxidation.

Therefore, both premises that lead to the dissolved oxygen hypothesis are false. (1) Tea water does not contain a significant amount of DO, and even if it did, (2) there's no evidence that the level of DO has any impact on the flavor of the tea.

All argumentation aside, I simply cannot tell the difference between tea brewed with once-boiled water and tea brewed with twice-boiled water. I've done the tasting blind, more than once. In part, this post is a challenge to any believers in the dissolved oxygen hypothesis: try a blind triangle test. If you succeed in distinguishing tea made from once- and twice-boiled water, let me know.

All this is not to say that water is unimportant. Water is important. Alkalinity is important. Salt content is important. Minimal iron content is super important. Dissolved oxygen is not important.

Part II: Confounding Results

Here's the twist: I can easily distinguish between fresh tap water and water that has been boiled for an extended period of time. In the process of investigating the dissolved oxygen hypothesis, I boiled a small quantity of filtered water for 5 minutes, then refrigerated it until it matched the temperature of my tap water. I then drew some fresh filtered water, and tasted the two, blind.

There was a clear taste difference between the boiled and freshly drawn water. The freshly drawn water had a clean, crisp finish, while the boiled water had an off-putting twang to it. This was not a hard distinction to make.

I repeated the test using a different pot to boil the water, to make sure there weren't any contaminants in the first pot. Same result: the boiled water tasted worse than fresh water.

Given that DO does not have an impact on water flavor, what could explain the flavor impact of the 5 minute boil? Boiling can have a number of effects besides removing dissolved oxygen. It can also remove chlorine as well as concentrate dissolved minerals by reducing the water. But my water filter removes all detectable chlorine, and the short boiling time did not reduce the amount of water by an appreciable amount. Boiling can also remove calcium and bicarbonate ions (by precipitating temporary hardness), but my water is quite soft, and I have never noticed any scaling (which would indicate precipitation of temporary hardness.)

The only plausible explanation I can think of is that boiling the water would also have removed any dissolved CO2. Dissolved CO2 will form a small amount of carbonic acid, which can significantly lower the pH of very soft water (like mine). The fresh water would then have a lower pH than boiled water. Since most consumable liquids are at least slightly acidic, this might explain why the fresh water seemed to have a clean, crisp finish compared to the boiled water. This explanation predicts that less of a difference would be evident if more alkaline water were used, because alkalinity buffers against changes in pH.

Why then wouldn't removing dissolved CO2 from water also affect tea flavor? Well, the amount of dissolved CO2 in tap water is not enough to have a significant impact on the pH of any solution much stronger than pure (soft) water. A full explanation of this phenomenon would require an in-depth discussion of pH buffering, but this is why the pH of a brewer's mash depends much more on the alkalinity than the pH of the source water.

Even if small amounts of dissolved CO2 did affect the flavor of tea, heating water close to boiling will remove virtually all dissolved CO2, just as it removes DO. For brewing tea, coffee, or any other hot beverage, dissolved gases are irrelevant.

Faust & Aly, 1998. Chemistry of Water Treatment, 2nd Edition. p. 114 (
Pangborn & Bertolero, 1972. Influence of Temperature on Taste Intensity and Degree of Liking of Drinking Water. Journal of the American Water Works Association.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Lichtenhainer (9/13/13)

Certainly the most obscure style I've ever attempted, Lichtenhainer was an extinct German beer style that combined the tartness of a Berliner weisse with the savory Beech smoke of a rauchbier. Before modern kilning technology emerged, many beers exhibited smoky flavors from the wood used in the malt's drying process. Likewise, before careful sanitation became standard, most beers were mixed fermentations, with both lactic acid and alcoholic fermentations proceeding in parallel. Smoked sours, therefore, would once have been quite common, though they're now virtually nonexistent.

Lichtenhainer was one of the last remaining examples of a smoked sour beer. The last continuously-produced Lichtenhainer was brewed in 1983. The style has since been brewed by at least one German brewery and one American brewery, though neither are easily available.

For this beer, I used the same souring technique I used on my last sour: 5 days of spontaneous lactic fermentation at 112˚F. This time I did the lactic fermentation in a CO2 purged keg, in order to further inhibit aerobic spoilage bacteria. I then performed a 5 minute boil and fermented it with US05 American ale yeast.

Like my previous sours, this beer reached typical levels of attenuation. It's neither as dry as a traditional lambic, nor is it as sweet as sweet lambics or most Flemish sours. The acidity is aggressively lemon-like. The beech smoke plays a supporting role, expressing itself as a rich, savory finish. Unusual, to be sure, but delicious and surprisingly drinkable.

ABV: 5.5%
IBUs: 10
OG: 1.055
FG: 1.012

Malts Mashed Amount % Max Pts.
Smoked 5 50% 37.00
2 Row 5 50% 36.00
Hops/Additions Amount Time AA%
Spalt 0.75 60 4.0%

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Simplicity Stout (5/15/13)

Stouts are a great way to use strange ingredients. Since they're so strongly flavored, there's little risk of overpowering the flavor of the beer. As a result, they've become a kitchen sink beer for American (and Scandinavian) brewers. First came the coffee stouts, then the chocolate stouts and vanilla stouts. Then came spiced stouts, fruit stouts, mint stouts, even bacon stouts. Right now the highest-rated Russian Imperial Stout on BeerAdvocate is Three Floyd's Bourbon Barrel Aged Vanilla Bean Dark Lord.

This time, I wanted to take the opposite approach. No weird ingredients, no aging on wood, just an intense, full-bodied beer with a prominent roasted grain flavor. I did use five different types of barley in this recipe, but each plays a vital role. The two row is a fairly neutral base malt; the chocolate malt and roast barley together produce intense and complex roast flavors; the English crystal adds sweetness to balance the bitter roasted grains; finally, the flaked barley adds body. Since aroma is often where regular stouts are lacking, I also added a decent amount of Nugget as an aroma hop, which adds pleasant floral notes.

Had a stuck mash and didn't get very good efficiency. I did a long boil and added a bit of extract to make up for it.

First tasting 10/21/13: Good aroma, balanced flavor profile, excellent mouthfeel. Just enough alcohol in the aroma to add complexity. Subdued but noticeable esters. This beer is great now, but I expect it to continue to improve for at least a year. I will have trouble making it last that long.

ABV: 8.2%
IBUs (Tinseth): 40
OG: 1.082
FG: 1.019

Mash adjustments: 2.5 grams slaked lime, 5 grams calcium chloride
Sparge adjustments: 1 drop 88% lactic acid
Mash temp: 154
Mash length: 60 minutes
Efficiency: 60%

Yeast: Wyeast 1098 British ale yeast (close relation to WLP007)
Starter: 4 liters
Pitching temp: 65F
Max temp: 74F

Malts Mashed Amount % Max Pts.
2 Row 15 79% 36.00
English Medium Crystal 1 5% 34.00
Chocolate 1 5% 28.00
Roast Barley 1 5% 25.00
Barley (flaked) 1 5% 32.00
Other Fermentables Amount
Max Pts.
DME 2.25
Hops/Additions Amount Time AA%
Magnum 1 60 14.0%
Nugget 2 5 10.0%

I performed a 90 minute boil to reduce volume.

5/21/13: Gravity is 1.019.
6/4/13: Bottled to 2.3 volumes of CO2.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Iced Coffee, Part 2

Last year, I wrote a post detailing my attempts to brew good iced coffee at home. I intended to follow up on it once I'd done some more experiments. Then summer ended and I stopped drinking iced coffee. Pretty much the same thing happened this summer, but I've made some progress. Iced coffee, for me, will never compare to hot coffee, but I've grown to appreciate both cold brew and chilled iced coffee.

For cold brew, I like a ratio of 1 part coffee to 12 parts water (i.e. 83 grams per liter). If you cold brew in the refrigerator, รก la Barismo, use a medium (cupping) grind. If you cold brew at room temperature, use a medium-coarse (press) grind. (Room temperature coffee will melt the serving ice quicker, and hence become diluted faster.) Both methods produce good results in 12 - 24 hours.

Filtering cold brew can be challenging, especially if you make a lot of it. The first step is to remove the large particles of coffee with a metal chinois, china cap, or tea strainer. But even extremely fine metal filters will not provide an acceptable level of clarity by themselves. For a polishing filter, there are three options: paper, cloth, or synthetic. Paper filters are easy to find, but clog up very quickly. Organic cotton filters are a better option if you can find them, but they're still fairly slow and require careful cleaning. My preferred filtration medium is food grade monofilament nylon, so long as it's rated 20 microns or smaller.

In Peter Giuliano's influential post on iced coffee from last year (Japanese Iced Coffee), he argues against cold-brewed coffee, on the grounds that it is (allegedly) underextracted, oxidized, and lacking in aromatics. I'll discuss these objections individually, then look at what alternatives to cold brewing exist.

Giuliano claims that low brewing temperatures necessarily result in underextracted coffee. It's true that most cold brew is underextracted, if its extraction yield is calculated according to the traditional formula (Extraction[%] = BrewedCoffee[g] * TDS[%] / CoffeeGrounds[g]). But this is only true because cold brew is usually made as a full immersion brew. As Vince Fedele has argued, calculating extraction yield for immersion brewing requires a different calculation (Extraction[%] = TotalWater[g] * TDS[%] / CoffeeGrounds[g]). Making this adjustment puts cold brew back in the proper range of extraction, if performed properly.

Giuliano also claims that long brewing times result in oxidized (i.e., stale) coffee. In my experience, cold brew does certainly become oxidized, but not nearly as quickly as hot brewed coffee, because oxidation occurs more slowly at lower temperatures. Still, I prefer to drink cold brew within 12-24 hours of brewing. Even with refrigeration and nitrogen flushing, more than a couple of days is pushing it. Of course, many people enjoy the woody flavors that result from oxidized cold brew. (The entire success of coffee stouts is built on this fact.)

Giuliano's preferred iced coffee brewing method, which he calls the "Japanese iced coffee method", involves brewing hot coffee via pour-over directly onto ice. I've tried this technique dozens and dozens of times over the past couple of years. I've tried varying grind, dose, ice/water ratio, and water temperature. I've tried both V60s and Chemex, as well as immersion brews poured through a paper filter. Every single time, I get a unpleasant musty aroma.

Now that I'm using an espresso machine again, I've noticed a very similar aroma when making espresso over ice. I think, therefore, the most likely source of the unpleasant aroma is temperature shock. I've been reluctant to believe that temperature shock really exists, because no one I know of has given it an adequate scientific explanation. But I've found that by allowing the coffee to cool somewhat before adding ice, the unpleasant aroma can be minimized.

Upon re-reading Giuliano's post, I was struck by this passage on volatility:

"Cooling the coffee quickly, though, reduces volatility dramatically.  This effectively locks the ephemeral volatiles (like floral and fruit notes) into solution until the coffee is warmed again.  This happens on the coffee’s way down your throat (sorry to get graphic here), which sends a punch of beautiful volatile aromatics through your retronasal cavity to your olfactory receptors.  And that explains the olfactory-flavor punch of brewed-hot-quickly-cooled Japanese-style iced coffee."

Is it possible that the aromas that I perceived as unpleasant and musty are the same that Giuliano describes as 'floral and fruit notes'? My, how tastes vary! What it comes down to, I think, is this: Cooling coffee very rapidly results in a distinctive aromatic profile not found in cold brewed or slow chilled coffee. The degree to which this aromatic profile is desirable depends on both the coffee and consumer.

Since I have not yet found a coffee that I enjoy brewed directly over ice, I prefer to slow down the chilling process somewhat. My basic method is this: brew coffee at a 1:10 ratio (100 g/l). After brewing, cover and allow the coffee to cool slowly, until it's below 150˚F (66˚C). Then add ice and stir until the coffee is under 50˚F (10˚C). Strain the coffee over fresh ice and serve. The whole cooling process should take 5 - 10 minutes. For large batches, an ice bath may be necessary to hit this time frame.

There are two standard objections to this technique. The first objection is that the increased coffee/water ratio will decrease extraction yield, making the resulting coffee underextracted. The premise of the argument is true, however, this effect can be compensated for by using a slightly finer grind, as in bypass brewing, and/or by adding water at a slower rate.

The second, more serious, objection is that allowing the coffee to cool slowly allows an unacceptable amount of oxidation to occur. Oxidation is largely responsible for the staling of brewed coffee, and oxidation occurs much more rapidly at high temperatures. Therefore, the slow cooling to 150˚F involved in the above method means that more oxidation occurs than if the coffee were chilled immediately.

My response: When I brew hot coffee, I don't drink it when it's over 150˚F, because at that temperature it's impossible to taste all its subtleties. (Also, I don't like to burn my tongue.) I (gasp!) let it sit for a few minutes before tasting. If the above objection were valid, it would imply that all the hot coffee I'm drinking is stale. But the fact is, even at high temperatures it takes a little while for oxidation to reach a noticeable level—at least 20 minutes. Therefore, there's no reason to believe that allowing coffee to cool somewhat before adding ice will make it noticeably oxidized, provided the coffee is served soon after chilling.

Other iced coffee resources (not all of which I agree with):

Friday, August 9, 2013

Mash-up Quick Sour

Over the course of my first three attempts to brew a Berliner weisse, I've learned a few things about brewing quick (i.e., less than 6 months to complete) sour beers—having had to dump two of my first three batches. They weren't poisonous, but they also weren't worth drinking. Sour beer is the one style of beer in which even the most skilled brewers still routinely have to dump batches.

Lesson #1: If you want to make sour beer fast, induce a lactic acid fermentation before alcoholic fermentation. Alcohol seriously inhibits lactic acid bacteria, as do hop acids.

Lesson #2: If you're souring prior to fermentation (and don't have a completely sterile environment), keep the temperature above 110˚F (43˚C), in order to inhibit spoilage bacteria that produce nasty compounds like butyric acid (think vomit, parmesan cheese). Lactobacillus is thermophilic and can handle the heat. Above 115˚F, however, lactic acid bacteria are much slower to produce sourness. Above 140˚F, most bacteria are dead or inactive.

Rather than continuing my attempt to brew a perfect Berliner weisse, I've decided to switch my efforts to attempting the most delicious quick sour I could brew, borrowing techniques from both Belgian and German brewing traditions. My current approach is as follows:

Mash and lauter normally, but instead of boiling the wort, allow to cool to 112˚F (44˚C), then add a handful of crushed 2-row and cover with plastic wrap. Maintain this temperature until the desired level of sourness is reached, sampling daily (2-7 days is a reasonable window). The beer will taste a little bit more sour after most of the sugars have been fermented into alcohol, but it's a minor difference. If the beer starts to smell "off", raise the temperature to 122˚F for 30 minutes. After souring, boil the beer with hops, then cool to 70˚F and pitch your favorite ale yeast. Add fruit if desired after the yeast fermentation is complete.

The main challenge with this technique is keeping the beer at 112˚F. My current set-up consists of an electric heating element and a digital temperature controller, but I've also heard good things about the fermenter heat wraps that homebrew stores sell. If you have little money and much time, intermittent low heat from a stovetop might work. But that would also be a huge waste of energy.

Even though this technique involves spontaneous fermentation, it produces a very clean sour beer. The fact that the beer is boiled after souring also means that almost no bacteria are present in the finished beer, so contaminating your non-sour beers is not a concern. If you want a funkier sour, adding brettanomyces to secondary is always an option, but cross-contamination then becomes a concern again. If you want a sweeter sour, my preferred method is to add a fruit syrup to the glass when serving, as is traditional for Berliner weisse.


OG: 1.056 (pre-souring, pre-boil)
FG: 1.008
ABV: 5%?
IBUs (Tinseth): 15

Water adjustments: 5 grams of calcium chloride
Mash temp: 151F
Mash length: 60 minutes
Efficiency: 75%

Yeast: WLP545
Pitching temp: 70F
Max temp: 71F

Malts Mashed Amount % Max Pts.
2 row 8 74% 36.00
Barley (flaked) 0.75 7% 32.00
English Medium Crystal 2 19% 34.00
Hops/Additions Amount Time AA%
Cascade 0.75 60 6.0%

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Beer Glassware

I don't like branded glassware. I find it incredibly tacky and commercial. I have purchased many branded glasses because I like their shape, but I generally remove the brandings with acid. It bugs me to no end that many beer bars devote an enormous amount of labor and shelf space to serving beers in branded glasses.

But it's not just branded glassware. Nearly as irritating to me are those who insist that every beer must be served in a style-specific glass. The only reason pilsners are served in pilsner glasses, while pale ales are served in pint glasses—and not vice-versa—is tradition. Sure, there's an interesting history behind most beer glasses, but with regards to the beer drinking experience, there are only a few aspects of glassware that matter.

Handle: The main benefit of a handled glass is that the beer warms up slower, because the drinker is not holding the glass directly. Therefore, handled glassware is appropriate for large servings of a beer that does not taste good warm. Glass mugs also tend to be thick and sturdy, which is good if you're serving drunk people.

Glass shape: Bowl-shaped glasses (e.g., snifters, tulips, wine glasses) concentrate the beer's aroma. In general, I think beer should be served in bowl-shaped glasses, unless there's a good reason not to.

Glass size: Highly carbonated beers should be served with a good deal of headspace in the glass, so that the inevitable foam can be served, and not dumped down the drain.

Lip flare: Glasses with flared lips (e.g., tulips) make drinking highly carbonated beers easier by allowing the drinker to drink beer from under the foam.

From a functional perspective, therefore, the only types of beer glasses you need are tulips and mugs. I will, however, admit that imperial stouts look funny in a tulip, and prefer to serve them in snifters.

Any glassblowers who want to make me a tulip-stein: hit me up.

Friday, June 21, 2013

How Old is Too Old?

Beer never becomes unsafe to drink, so retailers are under no legal obligation to sell fresh beer. Most people don't think much about beer freshness, so retailers who sell stale beer aren't punished by consumers. However, the age of a beer is vital to its flavor. I don't doubt that some people like the flavors that age and oxidation impart to beer, but I think that most people, like me, dislike these flavors.

Large American lager breweries have spent a great deal of money developing extremely low-oxygen brewhouses and packaging lines to allow their pale, weak beer to last six months in refrigerated storage. Retailers generally understand this shelf life and are able to move these beers on schedule. Craft beers are the problem. Craft brewers produce a huge variety of different beer styles, each of which ages differently. American IPAs are the poster child for beer freshness, since the vast majority of American IPAs are sold extremely stale. Furthermore, craft breweries are often unable to afford refrigerator space in stores, which only worsens the problem.

As my small contribution to fixing the beer freshness problem, here's my impression of the aging potential of various craft beer styles (assuming refrigerated or cellared storage):

American IPA - The most fragile of beer styles. Nearly all of the fresh hop aroma that the brewer has worked so hard to get in the beer will be gone in 1-2 months. The flavors that replace it include molasses, cardboard, and cat piss—none of which I like in beer. Do not age more than six weeks in the bottle/keg.

American/English pale ales - The fresh hop aromas in most American pale ales will fade just as quickly as in IPAs, but pale ales are generally less offensive to drink aged. Nevertheless, don't age them more than three months.

American/English dark ales - Roasted malts are powerful antioxidants. High alcohol stouts are the only beers I brew that actually benefit from extensive aging. Stouts get softer and more complex for at least the first year, and will be delicious for years after, since the roasted malts stave off oxidation. Lower alcohol dark beers don't need as much aging, but will still hold up to a year or two of storage without much trouble.

Belgian pale ales - Tripels, golden strong ales, and saisons have a better shelf life than American pale beers, since they're less reliant on hop aroma, and I think Belgian yeasts have some antioxidant capacity. (Need to confirm.) I'll happily drink a tripel at six months, maybe even a year. I don't recommend longer aging, though some do it anyway. For Belgian pale ales with Brettanomyces, see sour/wild beers.

Belgian dark ales - Dubbels, dark strong ales, and quadruples already have a lot of dark sugar/dark fruit flavors, so oxidative flavors are less obvious. They're not one of my favored styles, so I don't feel qualified to say how long they can be aged, but many people do age them extensively.

German wheat beers - Hefeweizens are known for their banana aroma. The ester associated with this aroma, isoamyl acetate, fades fairly quickly in beer. Less than three months is best with weizens.

Sour/wild beers - Most sour/wild beers take at least a year of fermentation before they're released, so freshness is clearly not paramount here. (Lambics are brewed with aged hops!) But if the beer is pasteurized (as most Flemish sours are), it's best drunk fairly fresh. If unpasteurized, sour/wild beers continue to evolve in the bottle, often becoming more sour and complex. However, aging a live sour/wild beer can also throw off the balance of flavors, and in the case of fruit beers, diminish fresh fruit aromas.

A note on barleywines: One style of beer embraces the flavors of oxidation, just as sherry does in the wine world. That beer is the barleywine. Barleywines don't have roasted malts or wild yeast to protect against oxidation. Nevertheless, they're often aged for many years. Aging does soften the alcohol bite, but it also brings the typical nutty, brown sugar flavors of oxidation. Many people enjoy this in a barleywine. I do not. I don't brew barleywines.

Can't find the date on a beer? For a guide to best by dates and bottling codes, visit

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Fermented Cabbage

About six weeks ago, I started fermenting what I thought was a small batch of sauerkraut. The recipe was simple: cabbage and salt. I chopped the cabbage and massaged it with salt to release the water. I put it in a mason jar and weighed down the cabbage with marbles*, so that all the cabbage was submerged. The kraut has been fermenting in the mid 60s since.

I used a fairly high level of salt (and, stupidly, forgot to take notes), so the fermentation proceeded fairly slowly. After two weeks of fermentation, the kraut was only slightly sour. So I forgot about it for awhile. Four weeks later, I tasted it again. Delicious. Still not super sour, but incredibly complex. Interestingly, this batch turned out tasting distinctly Asian, with flavors of sesame, soy sauce, and anise, even though no such ingredients were added.

It turns out that adding more than 2-3% salt to a vegetable ferment favors different strains of lactic acid bacteria, characteristic of high-salt Asian ferments like tsukemono (Japanese pickles), soy sauce, and kimchi.

I like the result a lot, but it requires different pairings than normal sauerkraut. This experiment makes me want to try high-salt fermentations of more traditional Asian vegetables like daikon and bok choy.

*I do not recommend the marble technique. Although effective in weighing down the cabbage, they're a huge pain to remove whenever you want to sample the ferment. Zip-locs filled with salt water are much more convenient.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Wedding Beers

For my brother's wedding last week, I brewed six batches of beer. They turned out pretty good. My cousin Spencer made wedding-themed labels for each beer. They also turned out pretty good.

Ale We Need is Love – An American amber ale. Lots of hop aromatics, but low levels of bitterness. Flavor notes: pineapple and jasmine aromatics, caramel sweetness.

IBUs: Some

Hoppily Ever After – An American IPA. Fresh hop aromas jump out of the glass. Very bitter. Flavor notes: grapefruit bitterness, passionfruit and pine aromatics.

IBUs: Many

RachAle – A strong Belgian-style ale. Pale to amber in color, highly carbonated. Flavor notes: black pepper, fresh bread, clove, apple.

IBUs: 26


Lovey Weisse – Modeled after the sour wheat beers of Berlin, but with two pounds per gallon of whole blackberries added during fermentation. Very light and drinkable, with a pronounced tartness. Available with or without homemade blackberry syrup.

IBUs: 12 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Homebrewing Book Reviews

One of the great things about being a homebrewer today is the breadth and depth of literature that is easily available. The homebrewing books I've read have been nearly all been well-written, well-researched and focused on issues relevant to homebrewers.

Introductory texts:

How to Brew, by John Palmer. For most homebrewers, the only book you'll ever need. It's written so clearly that it's accessible to nearly anyone, but includes in-depth discussion of all the major brewing issues and techniques.

Brewing science:

Principles of Brewing Science, 2nd edition by George Fix. A slim text, but packed with important information. Dense, but accessible to anyone with a scientific bent (no biochemistry background required).

New Brewing Lager Beer by Greg Noonan. Not just for lager brewers, this book reads like an expansion of Principles of Brewing Science, but benefits from the author's experience as a professional brewer. A must-read for anyone thinking of going pro.

Yeast by Chris White and Jamil Zainasheff. Very good discussion of yeast handling and fermentation practices. Some of the information is very much geared towards professional brewers with tens of thousands of dollars to spend, though.

For the Love of Hops by Stan Heironymous. Far and away the most readable of the science-y texts. More relevant information about hop chemistry, hop growing, and hopping techniques than you can find anywhere else.

Beer styles and recipe formulation:

Brew Like a Monk by Stan Heironymous. Very readable. This book is a great guide to brewing Trappist-style beer. (Also covers similar breweries like Duvel, Karmeliet, etc.)

Farmhouse Ales by Phil Markowski. An excellent guide to brewing saisons and bieres de garde.

Wild Brews by Jeff Sparrow. The only text available on sour and wild beers. Poorly written and short on information.

Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher. Probably the most fun brewing book I've read. A must-read for anyone who likes to experiment with new ingredients.

Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels. Contains good information, but is quite dated, poorly organized, and not much fun to read. Still, if you want to brew traditional English- and German-style beers, it's worth reading.

Bitterness, Acidity, and Astringency

These three flavors play a crucial role in many of the beverages we consume, and are often confused. All three are essentially defense mechanisms that plants have developed to fend off predators and parasites. Now, ironically, many plants are used precisely because they have high levels of such flavors—a testament to human perversion. But these flavors are not unequivocally desirable or undesirable. In certain contexts they're highly valued, while in other contexts they're considered flaws. In some cases certain types of acidity or bitterness are desirable, while other types are undesirable.

Bitterness is one of the four traditional basic tastes. Since many toxins are bitter, aversion to bitterness confers evolutionary advantage. Beer is one of the few beverages in which bitterness is valued. (Many cocktails also rely on bitterness.) Hops contain compounds known as alpha acids that, when isomerized by boiling, are highly bitter. In low concentrations, this bitterness balances the cloying sweetness of unhopped beer. (Beer is generally sweeter than wine, because barley imparts more unfermentable dextrins than grapes do.) In higher concentrations, this bitterness becomes a powerful, lingering sensation that many Americans have become enamored of. Very bitter beers like American IPAs are off-putting to the uninitiated, but for hopheads, there's no substitute. Other natural sources of bitterness include cinchona bark (quinine), orange peel, artichoke, cascarilla, and many more.

Acidity is a prized attribute in wine, coffee, and certain styles of beer. One of the reasons acidity is so desirable is that, when combined with certain aromatic compounds, it evokes flavors of fruit, nature's only dessert. Acidity also provides a crisp, refreshing quality, and balances out sweetness that would otherwise be cloying—which is why soda is usually dosed with citric or phosphoric acid. However, perceived acidity does not always track pH. People often talk about coffee as being highly acidic, but it only has a pH of ~5, on average. For comparison, that's about the same pH as black tea. A typical beer has a pH around 4, even though beer is not usually thought of as an acidic substance. Wine and sour beer sit in the 3 - 4 range, and anything below 3 isn't something you'll want to consume straight. The main acids found in beverages are citric (lemon), malic (apple), lactic (yogurt), tartaric (grape), acetic (vinegar), and phosphoric (cola), each of which has its own flavor.

Astringency is not traditionally classified as a taste, but as a tactile sensation. The source of astringency is a group of compounds known as tannins, which are a type of polyphenol. When tannins come into contact with proteins, they bind them together. When this reaction occurs in your mouth, it results in a dry, parching sensation. In tea and wine astringency can provide a sense of body to an otherwise thin liquid. Adding milk to tea reduces its astringency, because the tannins in the tea will bind to the milk proteins, meaning there are fewer unbound tannins that can bind proteins in your mouth.

Friday, May 24, 2013

IPA (4/27/13)

Christened Hoppily Ever After, this IPA is probably the best I've made yet.

The last IPAs I brewed turned out too dry, so for this batch I added more specialty malts and raised my mash temperature. I also increased my hop-stand addition significantly, a decision I made based on the success of my hop-stand amber ale experiments.

My current theory on hopping is that some hops are inherently better suited to dry hopping than hop stand additions, while others are the reverse. Simcoe and Nugget, for example, produce beers with high levels of linalool, a desirable aromatic compound. Linalool, which has a floral aroma, is not itself present in hops, but is produced through enzymatic reactions. Many of these reactions are accelerated by the presence of yeast, so adding linalool-producing hops before fermentation should be advantageous.

Other hops, like Cascade and Amarillo, have very high levels of myrcene. Myrcene, which has a pungent resinous and pine-like aroma, is extracted most effectively after fermentation through dry hopping.

In order to take advantage of both these effects, I've loaded up on the linalool-producing hops in the hop-stand, and saved the myrcene-heavy hops for the dry hop.


OG: 1.066
FG: 1.012
ABV: 7.1%
IBUs (Tinseth): 185

Water adjustments: 7 grams of gypsum
Mash temp: 154F
Mash length: 60 minutes
Efficiency: 65%

Yeast: US05
Pitching temp: 67F
Max temp: 72F

Malts Mashed Amount % Max Pts.
2 row 12 84% 36.00
Belgian Munich 1 7% 36.00
Muntons Crystal 600.25 2% 34.00
Barley (flaked) 1 7% 32.00
Hops/Additions Amount Time AA%
Magnum 2 60 13.0%
Chinook 1 60 13.0%
Nugget 1 30 13.0%
Simcoe 1 30 13.0%
Nugget 2 Hop stand 13.0%
Simcoe 2 Hop stand 13.0%

5/5/13: Dry hopped with 1 oz Chinook, 1 oz Cascade, 0.5 oz Simcoe, 0.5 oz Citra (leaf).
5/11/13: Bottled to 2.6 volumes of CO2.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Hoppy Amber II (4/19/13)

Christened Ale We Need is Love, this American Amber is a descendent of my hop-stand experiment. It has no hops in the boil, but lots of hops at 175 degrees. It turned out fantastic.


ABV: 6.5%
OG: 1.060
FG: 1.009
IBUs: 25?

Water adjustments: 3 grams calcium chloride, 2.5 grams calcium sulfate
Mash in: 152F
Mash length: 60 minutes
Efficiency: 67%

Yeast: US-05
Pitching temp: 66F

Malts Mashed Amount % Max Pts.
2 row 8 64% 36.00
Munich 2 16% 36.00
Munich 1 8% 36.00
Crystal 80 0.5 4% 34.00
Barley (Flaked) 1 8% 32.00
Hops/Additions Amount Time AA%
Nugget 2.5 3 13.0%
Simcoe 2.5 3 13.0%

4/25/13: Dry hopped with 1 oz Cascade, 1 oz Chinook.
5/6/13: Bottled #11 to 2.8 volumes of CO2. FG: 1.009

Sunday, May 12, 2013

That Belgian Again (4/16/13)

Christened RachAle, this beer is a tweak on the last Belgian ale I brewed. This time I used a lighter (Belgian) Munich, dropped the biscuit malt, lowered the IBUs and added flavor hops (Nugget).

OG: 1.062
FG: 1.009
ABV: 6.9%
IBUs (Tinseth): 26

Mash-in: 150
Mash time: 60 minutes
Efficiency: 70%

Yeast: WLP570 (Belgian golden ale)
Starter: 1 liter
Pitching temp: 66

Malts Mashed Amount % Max Pts.
Belgian Munich 1.5 14% 36.00
2 Row 7.5 68% 36.00
Barley (flaked) 0.5 5% 32.00
Other Fermentables Amount % Max Pts.
Cane sugar 1.5 14% 46.00
Hops/Additions Amount Time AA%
Magnum 0.4 75 12.0%
Nugget 1 5 13.0%

#10 bottled 4/28/13 to 3.3 volumes of CO2.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Robust Porter (4/7/13)

Tasting notes:

Aroma: Chocolate, toffee, fruity esters and (pleasant) spicy alcohol notes.

Taste: Caramel sweetness balanced by a mild roastiness.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with moderate carbonation. Light enough to drink easily, but thick enough to support itself.

Overall: Near perfect for a porter in this alcohol range. Balanced and quaffable, but with a lot of depth.


OG: 1.051
FG: 1.012
ABV: 5.2%
IBUs (Tinseth): 33

Water adjustments: 5 grams calcium chloride, 2 grams calcium hydroxide, 1 ml 88% lactic acid
Mash in: 154F
Mash length: 60 minutes
Efficiency: 57%

Yeast: WLP007 (Dry English Ale)
400ml of thick slurry from smoked brown ale (harvested one day earlier)
Pitching temp: 66F
Max temp: 70F

Malts Mashed Amount % Max Pts.
Crystal 90 0.5 4% 34.00
Briess Chocolate 0.5 4% 28.00
Simpsons Chocolate 0.5 4% 28.00
Barley (flaked) 1 7% 32.00
2 row 11.5 82% 36.00
Hops/Additions Amount Time AA%
Magnum 0.75 60 12.0%
Nugget 0.5 5 13.3%

Bottled 4/19 to 2 volumes of CO2.