AHA/NHC Conference 2014 Grand Rapids #homebrew #NHC

I just attended the AHA Conference for 2014 in Grand Rapids, and I am capturing my thoughts here.  I realize I have a bunch of negatives here, but that does not reflect the truly great time I had, it’s just that much of good points were the same as last year.


Wednesday was a day of airports,  travel to Grand Rapids is tricky.  There were no great flights to get there.  I had to get up at 5am to catch a flight to Minneapolis and .  On the connecting flight I met a number of homebrewers including a few from Australia.  Most of us went the same hotel, the Riverfront, so we shared a taxi.  We then hooked up and spent time hitting HopCat which had nice beers and food, and then I discovered it was Stone Night.  I immediately took over ordering beer for the Aussies🙂

Judging Second Round NHC

I have not been able to make it to judge second round before so this was exciting.  It also started at 8am, which mean getting up at 7am, which meant 4am for me.  I must really want to do this, or I am just stupid with time zones [this would later come to haunt me].  The second round is supposed to be about rating beers quickly, as they have already been judged, and are the best of the first round (there are 7 regional centers and beers advance from all of them.  We had a table of 10 judges, 5 pairs, and I think we did 8 beers.

I judged Wood aged and Smoke Beers, Category 22.  The fun of this category is to justify your taste buds from a smoked Helles, to a Russian Imperial Stout in a Bourbon Barrel (which was half the entries, to the point we joked that it needs its own style).   I think the entire table, or just Drew Beechum, gasped when I explain that I loathed coffee.  That did not me stop from really appreciating a beer with coffee added, mostly because I thought their use of Oak was the best of all of the beers (meaning we could sense it was there, gluing flavors together, but was hardly detectable).  Later at the Mini-BoS the other judges complained about the type of coffee used (good god Coffee and Beer snobs together), so I felt good about sending it up.

When judging you fill out a score sheet and rate the beer on Aroma, Appearance, Flavor, Mouthfeel, and Overall Impression.  You either write-up a score sheet, or fill out a check list and then score them out of 50, according the specific style guidelines.  A Best of Show is when all of the best beers are judged against each other, but no scores are mentioned.  A mini-BoS happens when there are enough entries that a category.  Typically this involves a fresh bottle of the beers you marked for BoS and 1 judge from each group. We had 11 beers which meant the first focus is on eliminating beers, to help the hard decisions ahead.  Sometimes second bottles taste different.  I’ve had the best beers I’ve judged taste off in the mini-BOS.  There is an odd thing that happens, you tend to fight for beers you passed up, somewhat out of defensive ego, but also as an advocate for “your team’s beer.”   I really thought Drew did a good job of narrowing opinions using good math/stat analysis when we got to 5 beers.  It was clear what was #1 and #2, and all we had to do was pick #3 (rank does not matter) from one of two beers.  That was much easier than hemming and hawing over 5 beers.


Best Talks

The Malt Nerds History Hour

There is always the one talk which makes the entre event worth it, and this was it.  The speakers were Andrea Stanley an artisan maltser (http://valleymalt.com/) , John Mallett  from http://bellsbeer.com/.  Since this was history, they dressed in period costumes from the 1800’s:


They talked about the history of malting around that time, and focused on one malt that has disappeared, Brown Malt.  It turns out brown malt was what made Porter, well Porter, in the 1800’s.  Andrea recreated the process for making brown malt, and actually made a “full” batch of it.  In short, she took soaked malt and kept it over a hard wood heat source, basically smoking it.  Because it was soaked the grain would eventually explode like popcorn does.  She had a cross section of a normal malted grain, which is all white with endosperm, and brown malt which is caramelized from the inside, in an explosive way, like a cross section of a geode (thunder egg).  Because the grain was turned by hand the kernels ranged from white to black.

She handed out a sample of the malt and we got to smell and taste it.  It was sweet like crystal but less cloying and of course the flavors were varied amongst the grain like homemade toasted pumpkin seeds .  They was a very nice smoke aroma and flavor.  John then broke out a porter that Bell’s has homebrewed with the grain.  It really tasted different and IMHO far better than most porters (Bell’s Porter was sent around as well).  The brown malt added a superior roast/toast/caramel flavor and perfect amount of smoke.  The smoke sort of glued together the other flavors, rather than being a prominent flavor itself.

And this is what makes the event worth it, while AHA members can hear the talk and see the slides, unless she makes the malt again, and she only produced 18 lbs.,  via a labor intensive process, I may never again get a chance to taste that grain and porter.

And to answer the question homebrewers are asking:   In 1817 Daniel Wheeler invented a process that blackened grain directly in a drum, allowing brewers to stop using a very expensive ingredient, use less of a cheaper one, and the flavor of porter changed, against the desire of England’s beer drinkers.  Why?  The usual: taxes, labor costs, and the fact that malting houses tended to go up in flames due to the smoking process.  Listen to the talk for more details.  Oh and the blackening process?  Turns out it was the one of the first times someone patented a process for malt, thus it was referred to as “patent malt” or as we know it know “black patent” (some more details: http://faithfulreaders.com/2012/05/06/black-patent-malt-and-the-evolution-of-porter/).

A pretty good blog about someone else making this kind of malt (hornbeam smoked) and straw based can be found here http://perfectpint.blogspot.com/2011/12/making-diastatic-brown-malt.html

Michael Tonsmeire The Influence of Mashing on Sour Beer Production

This is when the impact of getting up at 4 am (my time) for judging and 5 am for the flight caught up with me.  I was dozing off in the talk, even though it seemed fascinating.  I will want to re-listen to it when it comes online.

John Palmer’s  Water Chemistry and Beer pH

I was wary of this talk.  Water Chemistry can lose me quickly, but John did a very smart talk on specific interactions focusing on pale ales and hop perception.   He had two sample of beers, which *all* talks should do.  One with each profile he talked about.  When this talk comes out, it will be worth listening to.

2014 BJCP Style Guidelines

Changes are a coming!  BJCP has a pretty big change list out.  The biggest impact will likely be to specialty beers and IPAs.  They added several new categories and a few new styles:  2014 Style Guideline.  I think I might need to take the written exam now if I want to make national…

Let’s Brew Small

James Spencer from http://basicbrewing.com  gave a great talk on doing small batches of beer.  It was not just how, but why and some very good examples of beers he’s done for recipe creation, experimentation, and cost savings.  He also released the results of David Curtis’s experiment.

Best Beers

There many, many great beers.  When going to an event like this, you need to have a plan, you cannot drink everything.  My plan this year was to taste as many Rye beers as possible.  While the pro brewers were a dismal bust (see below) the homebrewers brought it.  It confirmed my opinion of Rye as a malt in that it is dusty/musty sometimes spicy and generally something I do not like, unless it is done “right” in which case it is awesome.  Go figure.

Major Funk:  This was brewed by Eric [something like Fouc but not pronounced the way you wish].  Eric has managed to grow a variety known as Major (though I cannot find a link).  Eric takes these apples and spontaneously ferments them.  The cider was amazing.  It definitely had a brett mustiness but against a gentle sour of the apple (which was excellent). This was the best beer until the one I cannot name (below).

Rye Saison:  Of all of the Rye beers I tasted the Rye Saison.  It had the musty/dusty of the Rye mixed with the Banana/Spice of the Saison.  While I did not grab a photo of that one, I did of the second best Rye, McFly Rye, which clearly won for label”


Lennenenhinininenen:  This beer went on at the end of the night.  And honestly the way the guy wrote it on the chalk board was sorta “Castle of Arrrggghhh” style.  I thought the name was a joke until a woman recognized the style as asked for it by name.  I cannot find any details on the style.  My memory is weak here (it was towards the end of Club night) but it was a perfect blend of smoke, sour, and malt.  It was wonderful and absolutely different.  Several of the folk I was with agreed.

Club Night

At first I thought club might was a bit lamer than prior ones, there were few booths with ridiculous themes expressed to the max.  Then I realized the effort was more in the taps than the booths.  Take the one, which solved the analysis paralysis problem by having logs with numbers on it flowing around the booth, you picked a log and ordered the beer:


Or the wood work:


Or the super creative naming:


There were still costumes:



And while maybe smaller than previous club nights, it was not small:


Registration process

In the past years the conference sold out in hours which is pretty unfair to people who cannot be connected at the time of the conference ticket release, especially since many people drop out over time.  This year the AHA went with a lottery process that turned out to be unnecessary as the number of people who applied was less than the tickets sold.

One of the  byproducts of this process was the elimination of the Social Package, which allowed a full paying member to bring a guest, for the social events (Expo, Hospitality Suite, Welcome Toast, Pro Night, Club Night, and optionally the banquet).   The main use for this is to allow someone to bring their significant other or friend, who will not want to go to the talks, but wants to engage socially.  I’ve gotten this for my wife for two years and it kind of stung that she could not get this again (and she was in the main picture for the conference at http://www.ahaconference.org for the last year, the purple haired woman).  In all truth, she could not attend this year for other reasons, but would love to attend next year if our kids’ school schedules allow for it.  Several local members who have attended with their SO’s in the past feel pretty bitter about this.

I do understand the desire to ensure that  tickets are sold first to members, but they could have opened up the social pass when they realized how many were left unsold.  However, the real reason I think it should be open is for locals.  When the conference was in Seattle many local homebrewers who could not get out of work, or afford a full pass, got social passes.  Maybe AHA will want to have local passes in the future, if not the social passes again.

Pro Night, or the lack thereof

This year Pro Night did not happen.  There were reasons stated why, but none of them felt like they really ring true.  Supposedly the survey has indicated a downward trend of Pro Night.  I can understand why, the brewer’s stopped bringing their A-Game and started treating it like another beer-fest.  Frankly the sampling in Phili was mediocre and even Seattle seemed less exciting.  I am not interested in getting a beer I can buy down the street, I want something great, unusual and maybe a chance to talk to the brewer.

Instead they had something called a welcome night, and then you had the option to pay more money to go to the BN Army party.  While I will not hold it against the BN, frankly I was not excited to pay more money to go to wait in line to get a bus to drink beers in baseball field.  Part of the reason I go to the conference is to be in one place and be focused on exploring beer, not just drinking it.  Several people felt the AHA sold out to the BN do they could get more money.

The event they did have (a welcome reception), simply put, sucked.  I got there a bit late (due to my nap and lack of busses) and the food was gone, and the beers were scattered around card tables with hotel staff pouring them out of pitchers.  The staff had nothing to do with the brewers, the beers were not in any sensible order, so I wound up not being able to find the beers I wanted to try, and had no one to talk to about the beers that were there.  When you did get beer, it was usually slightly warm, flat and had little or no aroma, since it was sitting in a pitcher for some time.

Supposedly there was going to be more pro-brewers in the social club, but I never saw them there.  Maybe they were there, but it was not clear to me.

The final hospitality slot, after the banquet, was worse.  Instead of the clubs running it, they had pro beers, but no pros.  The beers were set up in hallway, there was no rinse or drinking water nearby (I found a single cooler a ways away), and none of the beers had good aroma.  Also since there was not any homebrew, they did not bring out the left over beers from the competition, which was so much fun in prior years.

t is really criminal that the AHA would allow such awful treatment of beer at, and this is not hyperbole,  the premier beer related event in the world.  Whatever the theories they had on this, were completely wrong and left a huge negative impact on the conference (not just for me, but for many people, and I was not soliciting opinions).  The AHA needs to do a Mea Culpa and return Pro Night, but make it clear to the Pros what is expected.

Schwag Bag

One cool thing  about NHC is the schwag bag.  This year it had two beers, a glass, more Saison dry yeast, lots of stickers, less openers, and oddly no hops.  Northern Brewer had a cool thing:  a button with a number on it.  You had to find someone else with your number on it and then go to their booth.  This made people do some creative things, like taping their number to their equipment, or announcing the number when asking questions.  It seems like a way to meet people.  This Schwag is so much better than any conference I’ve attended (which is a lot) with the exception of Can Sec West  which had the best jackets (still have 3) and gave out Knives (passed TSA 2 times :)).


After a bad experience getting food last year (both getting my wife’s vegetarian option a few hours late, and awful), I chose to skip it this year and work out at the gym.  I am so happy I did that (and given the hotel gym, this is not a positive on the banquet).  The Banquet started at 7:30pm, and seemed to run past 11:00pm.  I heard the acoustics were awful, which is just stupid since apparently they were bad at the welcome reception.   Does the convention center not know how to set up their own space?

But the real problem is that the awards for each of the categories take forever to go through.  I think the conference organizers need to wake up and radically change things.  I know some people feel that everyone need their moment in the spotlight, but really ask yourself, does someone who entered category 22 need to wait for the previous categories?  Is it fair to mead people that most people have left?  If people want a medal and photo, do it in bulk.  Announce all of the winners, have them line up and go through a quick process.  Georgia Tech did this for graduation, and they cut the boring time down considerably.

I did hear from most people that the food was good (I heard from a few who did not like it, but that is normal).  One interesting thing is that Rouge has sponsored the beer for the event for many years, but this year it was Sam Adams.  I like a lot of Sam Adams’ beers, but they are not Rouge.  Apparently more than one table left unopened beers behind.

Unless it changes next year, I will gladly skip again.

Travel and Lodging

Probably the major downside to choosing Grand Rapids was the cost of travel.  It is a small city (town?) and not a major airport hub.  Getting flights to there was crazy hard and expensive.  Hard and expensive enough that people chose to drive from Seattle, or from a major airport like Chicago., or as is clear from ticket sales, not go. Getting a flight from Seattle meant painful timing and cost choices.   Most everyone I talked to had problems, except those people who drove (in which how many more breweries could they hit was problem #1), and the Commercial Pilot from Reno who was flying free, and he was highly sympathetic to the flight plight.

Lodging was also an issue.  I missed the announcement that the hotel blocks were open and wound up with few choices:  very expensive rooms near, but not at the convention center, fairly expensive hotels within a few miles, or really far hotels.  I am a huge believer in getting rooms at the event for conferences.  The main advantage is “time to room” which means you can drop stuff off, change clothes, or grab a 20 minute nap.  On the first full day I found myself exhausted due to a combination of time zones and lack of sleep (see Sour Beer talk above), plus my back was hurting from carrying my backpack and schwag bag, so I decided to head back to the hotel to rest and drop off stuff.  It was 2.2 miles away and while there were busses that ran to the hotels every 20 minutes, I only found out that the busses had an inexplicable hour off between 3:20 and 4:20.  After waiting for 30 minutes I paid someone to take me there.  That blew any chance of getting in an afternoon talk.  Apparently, the close hotels were at least 10 min walk, but that would have been certain, and not random.

The hotel I stayed in was the Riverfront.  To be honest it cost me $110/night and it was really worth $50.  It was run down and poorly maintained.  I think I barely won the crappy hotel-off with some folks whose air conditioner only started working after they discovered the filter was fully clogged  and had to clean it themselves (this was after maintenance looked at it), vs. my description of the “work-out” room, which  I did in fact attempt to work out in:  There were two exercise bikes, 2 stair masters, 1 treadmill.  The only things with a power cable were the treadmill and the carpet dryer which was clearly drying the carpet under the broken water fountain.  The exercise bikes seats did not move.  All of this was in a very humid 8×10 ft. space.  Oh and the scale said I gained 18 lbs. at the conference (only slightly accurate).

The vending machine signed changed daily, this was a favorite:


When I read this, I noticed the bag, which is Pop Corn, which made the sign even funnier to me.

On the plus side the walk to the hotel (which I did several times back and forth) was along the river and either quiet industrial or a very green park.  Oh and the bar was stocked with very good beers, both local and costal.  However the band on Saturday was so bad I had to leave.  I can normally sit through any music (due to my lack of skill with music, including listening to it), that was a first for me.

Then again this was my view:


Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids was nice, for the area near the conference center.  Like a lot of Midwest towns, it is downturned, but like many University towns, the area near the University is great.  There were many bars and breweries to walk to, and plenty of good eats in range.  Walking away from the conference center had the usual mid-west issue of great, great, great, shut down factory, seedy bar, sketchy area, hotel.

However being a good college and beer town it had it some awesome points:

The beer bike trailer:



The B.O.B. (Big Old Building) A brewery on floor 0, bars clubs, etc.  A wall of cans and huggable woodwork:


Mike Stoccardo like to hug trees in all forms:


And of course Bob Stempski with an awesome shirt:



Overall the conference was great.  Although, many parts seemed a let-down from prior years.  I know how hard it is to run a conference, especially as it grows.  I appreciate the efforts of the AHA full-timers, and know how much of the work is done by volunteers.  I’m planning on going to San Diego next year and I hope they address the issues that pointed out here, but I really hope that San Diego takes it up a notch from 4 years ago, especially the club, because they rocked it.

Brewing BIAB for Brad Smith at NHC 2012

I’ve been sitting on this post for over 6 months, time to post it I think🙂

The 2012 National Homebrewer’s Conference (NHC) was held in the Seattle Area.  The local clubs were heavily involved.  At some point I was asked if I could help out at NHC by brewing a Brew in the Bag (BIAB) beer for a talk being given on BIAB.  Without hesitation, I said yes!  I can whip out 5 gallons without a problem.  I was already going to do a keg or two for club night.

Then I found out they wanted me to brew a BIAB beer, and…  this is where writing or talking about this get interesting, what do you call a non-BIAB beer?  “Normal” seems pejorative to BIAB and “other” seems wrong, so I will say non-BIAB which is accurate, but flawed (see next paragraph).

So now they’ve asked for me to brew a BIAB and a non-BIAB beer.  The did offer to have someone else brew the non-BIAB beer, but  I knew that to have a good side by side test, 1 brewer really ought to do both.  Of course, I did not mention I had never brewed a non-BIAB, All Grain batch before… (see even “non-BIAB” is flawed since it could be partial or extract…).  Never one to shy from over-commitment, I thought it was high time to see what I was missing, and use this as a forcing function to use a mash tun.

I chose to brew my standard All Cascade APA since I had a bunch of Cascade Hops and it was my default experiment brew.  Also it a clear beer which should help show that BIAB beers are not cloudy.  And, and this become more important later, if it was not up to par, I could always drink it myself.

I needed to borrow a cooler or other mash tun.  As my deadline was looming I was failing to locate the tun.  Finally, after asking for help,  Steve Antoch came through and lent me his igloo converted cooler.  Now I was all set to brew 5 gallons of BIAB and non-BIAB beers.  I had recently bought a second turkey fryer and I was set to go side by side.

That’s when the email came in with a “ok you going to brew 10 gallons of each,” message. Gulp!  Around now I suddenly made the connection that the “guy” was I brewing for was Brad Smith of Beersmith.  Double Gulp!  I should really think about this stuff before saying  yes…

I considered,  the cooler was big enough for a 10 gallon batch; I just needed to plan for a longer day.  I had 4 large carboys, and I should have 3 kegs, plus 1 that was full of barrel brew, so I needed to buy an extra one or two.

I planned out the day.  I bought rice hulls since i tend to grind to flour and i had never ground for cracked grains (see my setup ). This is when I had to make a call… Do i grind both batches the same  or different?  I chose “same” which meant lower efficiency for BIAB than normal for me.

So I started with the BIAB batches by laying out hops.  That’s when I discovered that I do not have enough cascade hops for 4 batches….  So I had to modify the hop schedule.  I decided to add 1 oz. of  Amarillo to the brews.  Originally I had planned on no dry hopping but then I forgot the 1 min addition on the first batch, so dry hop it was for all!

WP_000014 (1)

Normally, I sparge/rinse my BIAB by pouring hot water as it sits in a strainer (see photo).  I basically heat water in a kettle until it is close to 170 and then pour it onto the bag and often get back many points of gravity.  To try to keep things simple, I did not do that.

I managed to hit both BIAB batches at 1040 (BTW here ‘s a hint, don’t start two batches at the same time, since I only have 1 chiller).

For the non-BIAB/cooler batch, I did an infusion mash while heating sparge water on the extra turkey fryer.  I dumped the wort in the main pot, added the 170 water  for 15 minutes, and then mixed the worts to get the OG the same.  I hit close to 1040 for both starts.  When I was done, one was 1042 and the other was 1047 so there was some boil off difference.

This means the cooler was more efficient than the BIAB which is unusual.  Normally I see 90% efficiency with the BIAB method (not 67%).  This is probably due to the coarser grind and lack of sparging/rinsing.

From there I added US-05 (hydrated) to each carboy and let them ferment.

After 2 days I got another email, turns out Brad Smith was giving two talks, and the conference was wondering if we had enough for both talks, which would be 20 gallons of each…  I had to say no finally.

Right before the NHC I had to kill and clean my kegs (one of those is “work”🙂 ).   As I only had three, I was going to have to scramble to borrow one (kegs get scarce right before the conference).  That’s when I remembered the spare from Tom Schmidlin from when we kegged the club barrel brew…  This was also one of my mistakes…

I brought all four kegs to the hotel, scrambled to find them right before the talk, and then tapped one of each type.  Except now one of them was just not the same.  So I tapped another one from the same type, and shared it during Brad’s talk.

There were differences between the beers, but they can be attributed to the efficiency issue.

We had enough beer for both talks and I took the weird keg home.  That’s when I remembered I had previously used that keg for barrel beer and planned on filling with more barrel brew, so I didn’t need to clean it, I had just purged it…  Lesson learned.  And while different, the blend was awesome, another lesson learned…

Overall we proved that brew in the bag made the same beer.  Brad gave a great talk, people enjoyed the beers, and I learned I have no need to invest in the mash tun.

And if people think I’m slack for taking a year to get this post up, Steve just picked as mash tun up last week…🙂

Saving a Beer, One draft at a time

    I had a beer, which was made with just LME + cascade hops. The goal was a simple beer my buddy Dan could brew exactly the same. I targeted just LME and cascades. We brewed it when he was visiting after thanksgiving (http://hopville.com/recipe/1687073). Normally I would add Crystal 40 and Carapils (Dextrine) (http://hopville.com/recipe/154926) to an APA like that.

    The problem was the beer. It was not bad, just "Meh." The malt was missing in flavor, body and mouthfeel. After a while I decided I wanted to "fix it." My first thought was to mash/steep the crystal 40 and Carapils and just add it. Then I realized that might not work, since the malt would not be boiled fermented and the yeast does other things to it besides convert to alcohol. There I set out to test the idea, before I ruined a whole keg.  My plan was to add one pint’s worth of malt to a pint of beer, tweak, and then add the scaled amount to the whole keg.

    About that time I heard the Specialty Grains shows on Basic Brewing on Jan 17th 2013 with Darnelle Brawner (http://www.basicbrewing.com/index.php?page=radio). I decided to try a variety of grains and explore my grain library, and of course science ensued.

    Then I recorded a podcast with James Spencer for Basic Brewing which posted March 6th, 2013 (http://www.basicbrewing.com/index.php?page=radio).


    This experiment does not really replicate adding grains to a mash, it is a bit closer to adding steeping grains to a boil. It does show you some of the flavors and colors you get from the grains.


    The basic technique was to steep 11g of grain, strain it, and add beer. The compare to the base beer.


    1. Infrared thermometer
    2. Kettle and/microwave
    3. 2 glasses
    4. Small Strainer
    5. Small Scale (1-11 grams will be measured)
    6. Mediocre Beer
    7. Specialty Grains
    8. Notepad or other way to record results, say a brewers log book!


    1. Startup
      1. Start water boiling in a kettle, or microwave it to about 170.
      2. Get two glasses and a scale.
      3. Place one glass on the sale and tare it (zero it).
      4. Add 11g of grain to the glass (based off of what I would have added to 5 gallons of beer, and some very sketchy math)


    1. Steeping the grains
      1. Add hot water just enough to go over the grains (in a nonic pint glass, it is about 1/2 inch)
      2. Measure the temp, this is where the infrared thermometer kicks butt, or just guess. If it is too low (normal) put it in a microwave for 15 seconds.  It will foam up! Check temp, repeat until about 170F.
      3. Wrap glass in beer cozy or towel, place second glass on top to hold in heat (stack the glasses). The following picture is two nonic glasses stacked with a 1/2 of water in he bottom glass with grains.


    1. Strain
      1. After 30 minutes, remove top glass, smell the grain tea, write down notes
      2. Strain the water from the grain tea into the second glass.  I have a small tea strainer that was perfect.
      3. Rinse the first glass
    1. Pour
      1. Pour a full pint into the glass with grain tea in it. Get decent foam to help bring up the aromatics.
      2. Pour a half pint into the second glass.
  • Observe
    1. Run a judge sheet on the first beer, check appearance, aroma, taste and mouth feel.  Write down notes!
    2. Compare with the other glass (non-tea beer).
    1. Mix
      1. After drinking about 1/2 of the grain tea beer, if it too strong, pour
      2. the other half pint in, compare and take notes.
    1. Repeat
      1. Repeat with every specialty grain you have, borrow some from friends, get small amounts from your LBHS.
    2. Thoughts What would I do different?

  • Grind? Might work for 1 grain, but painful for mail grains, I think mortar and pestle would work.
  • Steep longer and colder? Seems like it is a time waster
  • Not brew a mediocre beer? Only in the name of science!
  • I am changing my base beer away from Crystal 40, towards 80
  • I will likely do something with bittering hops with my Xlite (1025 APA) Zythos hop beer. Tastes bit malt-flat and needs bittering, but mixing with Ninkasi IPA was very good.
  • Would I do it with Pilsners? YES! I would added darker malts to move in the BJCP spectrum, Alt, Schwartz, etc.
  • My Results

    1/22/2013 Crystal 40


    Added 11gm of Crystal 40, did not crush,

  • Water about 140F after being microwave, just enough water to cover the seeds. Let sit for 30 minutes
  • Smells like mash, getting more flavors than I thought.
  • Strained and added to pint. Poured pint on top
  • Much darker than test beer
  • Malt aroma is overpowering, very bready
  • Head Retention less?
  • Might want to cold crash it, forgot that part
  • 1/23 Carapils:


  • Not as much flavor
  • Not as much color
  • Not as much impact
  • Probably really need to crush this grain.
  • 1/24 Crystal 80


  • Seems like same aroma as Crystal 40
  • Much darker
  • More balanced than the 40, expected otherwise
  • Still too much, or too soon. Liked it much better than expected.
  • Slight more water this time.
  • 1/25 Wheat malt


    Great aroma

    Slightly acidic/sour, no matter what Jamil says (I was listening to his podcasts on wheat styles and he said people say it has an sour note, but he said it didn’t, I think people are tasting the grain…)

    Much better mouthfeel



  • Grainy/Bread aroma and flavor, strong like crystal 40, surprising, might be hard to tell them from flavor/aroma.
  • Maybe color is different?
  • 1/26 Dark Chocolate Malt


  • Very roasty/coffee in the raw, black
  • Not as aromatic as I expected
  • Taste of coffee very apparent
  • Cut it in half, much more caramel than coffee, very well rounded, hops seems to pop better
  • 1/27 Carafa II


  • Very roast, very black in glass
  • Very black mixed in, darkened head
  • Coffee taste high, when cold, less as it warmed up
  • 2/9 Special B


  • Grain had rasiny smell, not present in beer
  • More deep copper than brown or black, pleasant aroma, went from grainy to fruity as it warmed
  • Vienna


  • Very little impact, bit grainy aroma, no color difference
  • Slightly better aroma
  • Cherry Smoke


  • Vienna doing nothing, so I added cherry smoke to it.
  • Not as much aroma as expected, lots of taste, too much
  • Added more body though
  • Mixed pint much better.
  • 2/10/2013 Pale Chocolate 250


  • Smelled like old coffee, I had just brushed teeth, maybe that is affecting the taste?
  • Picking it up in beer, not as chocolate as I expected/hoped
  • killed keg!  Time to write this up

The Extra Sour Berliner Wiese #homebrew

UPDATE 2/21/2013 : pH measured 3.4, after being left out over night in a glass (i.e. no CO2)

I thought I did not like sour beers, until I had one, specifically a New Glarus.  It was awesome cherry with a sour to balance the sweet.  I then tried a Petrus Oaked Pale Ale which I really enjoyed  So, when, sometime later, I ordered “something like a Petrus, you know not too sour…”   was met with “Like Petrus, but not too sour?!!!!” I discovered I really like sours, apparently.  What I really discovered was that I like sour, but I m not fan of “funk.”  I think I just smell or taste it stronger  than many other people, so it overwhelms the beer.  Up until then most beers described as sour also had lots of funk (at least to me).

I am also a sucker for odd and more “natural” brewing techniques, and the idea of doing a sour mash by using naturally found Lactobacillus was too tempting.  Note, I did not try the beer first, I decided brewed it first.  It happened that James over at www.basicbrewing.com was also doing this, and the ran a podcast on it, as well a video.  I have links at the bottom.

I then bought a bottle of Full Sail’s limited release and shared it my Sister when she visited.  That’s when I discover she likes sour beers too!

My plan was to BIAB and just add a cup of 2 row to get the bugs in there.  The main tricks are to cut off O2, and keep the temp close to 120F.  This should keep the Acetobacter or Clostridium out.

Recipe is at http://hopville.com/recipe/1669338  The following is my motes and a diary and links:

8/24/2012 Mash day

  • Shot over 150 by a ways
  • BIAB Mashed,  Did not get a sample afterward, added 1 cup of grain to water when it cooled to 120F
  • Put the whole kettle into blue cooler with a water bath at 120


  • I sealed the top of the pot with cellophane



  • Added hot water to bring outside to 120 a few times.
  • Used the autosiphon as a bilge pump
  • Souring smell leaking out (which means air in) is very nice.
  • I then got smart and added CO2 to top.



  • Water at 90 again, seems to be set point.  Drained most water, added tap water at 112, then 4 kettles full of boiling.  Temp was at 120 when I checked, expect that it will drop.
  • Souring smell is nice still.
  • You can see some white, but mostly grain near top.  I wonder if keeping so much water blocks O2 from getting there, or is there O2 in the water?  Maybe I should boil the water first.
  • Definitely will need to build a heat stick.

8/26/2012 9:49:20 PM :

  • Sour mash smelled sour and sweet, fellow homebrewer Jason says like Honey, dead on.

Brew Day!  ( I cannot now remember if I brewed at night or the next morning)

  • Boiled, added hops for 15 minutes.
  • 8 Brix on going into fermenter, 1032, oddly what I expected at mash.  Which is higher than I expected….
  • Tasted, sour is spot on, exactly what I expected from smell!  Very excited.  The honey taste is very much like a cough medicine mom used t make, 1/2 honey, 1/2 lemon and a shot of whiskey (honey coats the throat, lemon cuts the honey, whiskey opens the bronchial tubes, still more effective than anything else I have tried).


  • Pulled a sample and a bottle for road trip to Denver added 2 carb drops to a 750ml bottle.
  • B1004 FG, lots of bubbles, moved carboy downstairs.  Was a bit warmer lately then I would like.


  • Tasting with sister and mom:  WOW IS IT SOUR.  Honey taste is mostly gone, but comes back when it is flat.  At first I was like, this sip is nice, then ok I will try another, and push it away, and then, I was finishing my glass, the bottle and fighting my sister over Mom’s….


  • Went to New Belgium brewery.  Tried La Folie for the first time.  Slightly less sour than my Berliner Weise…  But tastes a lot like it mixed with our barrel brew….  Hmmm…  I still have a keg at home….


  • Brought it home brewers meeting, for some, too sour for the style, for sour lovers, there is no such thing…


  • Mixed 1/3 and 1/4 with the barrel brew and brought it to the home brewers dinner, overall a huge ht.  We should have soured the barrel🙂

Links to research:

Basic Brewing Video:

Basic Brewing Podcasts:

Heat Stick #1 #homebrew


The heat stick is an easy concept.  Think of it like a wizards staff of heat, or light saber!  Simply put, take an electric heating element from a water heater, attached a power cord, place the element at the end of a pipe, epoxy the connections, and add a few fittings.

The sticks are then added to the water or wort, plugged in, and heat happens.  You can heat all sorts of things with it, including Sous Vide pots, water buckets, hot tubs, etc.  You can use this to boost heating  for stove tops, or even use it to boil, though you might want more than 1, or a bigger one.

 Some notes of caution

  • This is electricity, it can kill you,  This is a lot of electricity
  • This thing gets hot, oddly not as hot when in the liquid as you might think (the heat dissipates into the liquid quickly, but the element is still hot
  • If you run the element dry, for any length of time, it will fry (literally it overheats in seconds)

DYI or buy

You can build your own, or buy one from Amazon as a "water bucket heater."  The ones form Amazon are around $40, a fellow homebrewer reports that it requires a deeper pot to maintain immersion than he wanted, but it works.

Water heating elements range in power.  It is tempting to go for the biggest one possible but over 1500 watts will require a 20 amp circuit, and you likely only have 15 Amp circuits around the house.  They pull a lot of steady power, so it needs to have a heavy duty, and preferably short cord, on a circuit with little else on it.  If you are building an electric homebrew system, where you can dedicate power outlets, you can go 240 and serious wattage.  I would never plug 2 into the same circuit (note, not just same outlet, but same circuit!).

I was able to buy all of the parts in 1 Home Depot run, building takes 30 minutes.  It does take a few days to build since you have to let the JB Weld cure for 24 hours.  Note, JB weld is rated to 600 deg F, and is food safe once cured.  Some of the other products in Home Depot did not meet both criteria.  The aquarium sealant I used for other projects is not rated for high temps and one of the example project  links  below had to rebuild because of that.  Total costs was under $30, and if you ignore the JB Weld, probably under $20.  I did not need a power cord as I have many heavy duty server cords to cut up.

Here are a few sites with instructions for building:

I was not sure what I wanted for the top end, so I did everything else first.  This means I could not run the power cord through a cap (with a hole drilled).  My choices:

  • Put  the element at a right angle so it does not touch the bottom, this also means it might touch my BIAB bag
  • Use a J fitting so I can hang it over the edge of the pot
  • Went with a 16 inch sink fitting for more room, this was a bad idea as it is too tall to use the J fitting in my pots, next time I will do 12 inch fitting
    Testing, and more Testing

I put it together and JB Welded it.  After a day I set it in a pot.  No leaks!  Then I ran a heat test.  It seemed to do a degree a minute from 60F to 100F.  I got to 140F when I had to stop.  I left it in there.  A few days later when I pulled it out, to my surprise water came out the tube .  I retested to see if water poured in the top (since I had not added the J fitting yet).  It leaked, very slowly.  I think the JB Weld had cured away from the threads.  I reapplied JB Weld and it worked.  Lesson:  Test leaks for days, after heating.


I will have to control this via a relay.  I could potentially use the STC-1000 box, but at 1500W continuous, it seems a bit much to push through there.

What’s it doing now

Helping heat my hot tub of course!



Temperature Controller #1 #homebrew

Homebrew (http://www.homebrewfinds.com/2012/02/temp-controller-round-up.html) finds regularly posts controllers on sale at eBay, like this:

D2381_1 (2)

These appear to be aquarium controllers.  Hey get sold on eBay for $13/$20 or more, including shipping.   You have to be careful to select the right voltage, look to see if they are dual stage (heat and cool), and wired or not.  The unit I bought  is dual stage, un-wired, and reads Celsius only.  The seller has been awesome when there have been issues, and shipping was fast (from Hong Kong).

My plans for this is a fermentation controller since I want to have both heat and cooling, but I also want to play with it.  The controller can handle 10A at 220V, which is 15A at 120, sorta, I would not want to push it with something like a heat stick, but an aquarium heater, immersion heater, hot plate, even a fridge should be fine.

I did some quick tests, mostly hooking up power up and attaching it to an outlet.

When I went to look for ways to mount the controller, I did a quick search.  A few just mounted it into random boxes, and some into the device they were controlling (like a keezer).  But then the awesome Revvy from homebrewtalk posted his build in a long thread.

So I had to build that!  I modified the circuit in a few ways.  I saw no need for a different outlet for heat and cool.  You can split an outlet and I would never need to plug two things at once.  That gave me room to put a switch in the unit. Then I ran the entire circuit through a GFCI.  All down stream circuits are protected and I have a GFCI circuit for tools.  Given that this will be used for water areas, this is critical.

I really like this package, as it is portable, clean and protected.

Temperature Controller Box

The circuit I used:


Temp Controllers: Smokers, Fermenters, and Mashes, OH MY! #homebrew

I’ve been playing with temperature controller ideas for a while.  But the need really came to me this spring.

One of the many advantages of living in the Pacific Northwest and brewing beer is that we basically have ale fermentation temps year round.  Bit cool in the winter, move the carboy inside.  Bit hot in the summer?  Find a cellar room, or wait a day for summer to pass.  So unless you are lagering, the pressing need most homebrewers have for temp control doesn’t hit until  you want to dial a beer in, or you are a gadget freak…

Last spring my wife decided to go look at smokers.  I was thrilled!  Paleo diets for spouses are awesome to induce this kind of behavior (previously she did not like BBQ, let alone smoked meats and veggies).  The only problem was I knew this would invoke a 5-6 hour research project for me, and it did.  I spent the time reading reviews on sites like Amazon and I found a simple hierarchy to smokers:

  1. Gas/charcoal — Better for chicken since it can go higher temps, worse for fish
  2. Electric — Better for fish, harder for chicken, but easier to control the temp.
Both had issues with access: how many doors you opened to put in more wood or water, as well as cleaning.  Metal cabinets do not hold heat as well as ceramic..
I liked the idea of smoking for long periods of time, but not leaving an open flame near the house. So I looked into Electric and the order seemed to be:
  1. Temp Control
  2. Time Control
  3. Remote sensing
  4. Multiple Thermometers
  5. Temperature Range
  6. Alarms
  7. Weatherproofing
As you add each of those items in, the price goes up.  And weatherproofing was probably the most important issue.  If you read 1-2 star reviews of the products you will almost always see the review is for a purchase over a year, and things started breaking, especially the controls, even more so when the author lived in the PNW.  The more electric controls and sensors and displays, the more things broke.  This explained why so many people I know, round here, with smokers, do it on their front porch:  it is the only truly covered area for many of the houses!  So this meant paying a lot of money for a smoker, or getting a year out of it (bringing inside after done is just not going to happen).

That’s when it hit me, I have need for temperature control for brewing (Mash temps, natural Lacto souring, Saisons), as well I wanted to start cooking sous vide, and I already made a remote temperature sensor for the hot tub.  So clearly I just needed to make a temperature controller that would meet all of these needs and then make it remote accessible! Well 6-7 months later, I’ve succeeded🙂 More in future blogs.

%d bloggers like this: