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Bottling day and tasting notes: Molasses Stout

Standard bottling process, you know how it goes. Sanitize everything, shoo the Morale Octopus off the fermenter, and get busy.

I’m really happy with the Molasses Stout, but you know what I need about a ton more of? MOLASSES. I thought I was overdoing it, but I didn’t even scratch the surface of overdoing it. I may have barely begun to simply do it, and overdoing it will require a tanker truck.

Tasting notes:

Really, really good. I love this beer. Hoppier than expected, but less spicy and less molasses-y. Good balance, will probably be especially super after a few months in the bottle mellow the hops out. There’s a little bit of barleywine-type raisin fruitiness. It’s also pretty strong. As usual I have no idea what the gravity or ABV are, but a test glass suggests that this batch is comfortably in the imperial range.

Recipe notes:

I would happily make this beer again, unaltered. But for a gingerbread molasses stout of the sort I originally intended, the recipe needs about half the hops–and twice the molasses, lactose, and spice mix (leaving juniper at original amount). 8 oz of lactose and nearly a gallon of molasses for a 5-gal batch. That sounds absolutely ridiculous. I’m going to do it anyway–but probably as a 1-gal test run first.

Here’s a look at the actual beer, just after bottling. Looking forward to seeing what kind of head it ends up with once it’s done.

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Beer is friendly, dammit

I recently saw a very new brewer ask a question on a forum I spend some time on: is it okay if I put herbs or fruit in my beer, to add some flavor? Is that a thing I can do? What’s good to use?

It was honestly pretty depressing to see how unanimous the response was: NO. Or, more accurately: HELL NO, NO WEIRD STUFF UNTIL YOU CAN MAKE A GOOD NORMAL BEER.

Believe me, I do understand  where they’re coming from. I love the idea of a standard, old-reliable recipe that can comfortably accommodate a lot of adjuncts. The idea that you should learn the basics before improvising is a very old idea, and definitely a practical one; everybody’s probably got at least one wildly ambitious first project that went terribly wrong, wasted materials, and came out nothing like what they wanted. I know I do. Brewing is a very friendly hobby to people focused on details and procedure and measurements…and people who focus on those things tend to focus on perfecting a foolproof, reliable process they can control all the variables of, or duplicating something they already like. I GET IT.

But you know what? It still pissed me off. An experienced brewer had the gall to give this newbie a homework assignment: make 20 batches the normal way, then you can start messing around. I saw the sad little reply: “okay, you guys give good advice. I guess I’ll just focus on making good beer”.

I wanted to throw things.

I wanted to reach through the internet with a witbier in one hand and a juniper branch in the other and start bludgeoning everyone involved in the exchange.

This person wanted to do something that was good, normal beer–the kind a beginner or anyone else would make. It’s the definition of good, normal beer for most of history and most of the world, in fact. It was unbelievably frustrating to see an idea as unremarkable as socks treated like something dangerous. Our beginner may not make it to twenty brews before trying out some adjuncts, but when s/he does, it will probably be anxiously, tentatively, and with a nagging conviction that they’re going to ruin everything by doing it. IT DOESN’T NEED TO BE THIS WAY.

Beer is forgiving. Beer is tolerant. Beer is not scary, and it’s not waiting for you to mess up so it can laugh at you. Please, please, brewers–remember, and help others to remember. You can get away with more than you think.

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Zugzug, beer done

The Most Serene Republic of Pumpkin is safely in bottles now. FIRST: PICTURES!

Here’s a quick recipe post-mortem.

Mouth experience:

  • Definite squashy/pumpkin flavor. Total success there. Huzzah!
  • Pleasantly spicy. Hops blend in with spice. May settle down during bottle-conditioning…more spice required? Probably more ginger.
  • Moderate breadiness. I like the yeast choice. No tartness.
  • Minimal sweetness. As usual, I underestimated how much malt/adjunct would be required. I need to tape a sign over the stove that reads DROWN THE YEASTS IN THEIR OWN URINE. That’ll put me in the proper spirit.

Recipe experience:

  • Keep yeast. Use more malt in general, especially dextrin and Crystal. Try Maris Otter next time?
  • Use kabocha, rather than pumpkin, for even more pronounced pumpkin flavor.
  • Don’t forget the ginger in the boil, geez.

And that’s pretty much that! This was my first recipe built from scratch, and I thank everybody who biffed their batches before me so I knew what not to do. If you like a pumpkin ale that has pronounced spice-bread flavor without tasting like dessert, stick with the original recipe. For a sweeter pumpkin-bread ale, you’ll want to tweak it with some of the suggestions above. Either way, IT’S PUMPKIN and that’s the important thing.

(incidentally, a note to Seattle-area folks. Sound Homebrew Supply is a sweet new joint and it’s about time a homebrew shop opened in the Georgetown/Sodo area given how many craft breweries, like Two Beers, Georgetown Brewing, Schooner Exact, Epic Ales, etc etc, are there already. I have no doubt they’ll do fine. They certainly don’t need me to boost their signal and they haven’t recompensed me in any way for this, but I did stop in yesterday and they were super-cool. It’s early days still and smells a bit of new carpet. đŸ™‚ Check out the solid array of specialty grains. I want to see them stick around so I can keep having a brewshop so ridiculously close to home.)

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Calibrating a Brew to the House

This isn’t a brew about developing a house yeast, though I’ve got plans to try that out in the spring when the environment is a bit more cordial to micro (and macro) organisms. A friend of mine took advantage of the generosity of the folks at Big Al Brewing to score some of their yeast a while back. I’ve still got a few of the bottles I made with that. Big Al is seriously good stuff AND THEY’RE SOUNDERS FANS and I have a particular fondness for the funk-rich sours that they’re so good at, so I don’t think there’s a better place to start the Chez Ape Micro-Preserve than that yeast culture.

I did say this wasn’t going to be a post about that, though. Heh.

Mostly it’s about dealing with the fact that my housemates don’t drink enough beer.

I like to brew in 5-gal batches; maybe that’s the basic problem. But I love having a lot of a beer that turns out well, so eh. I am constantly running out of bottles. I’ve got about a batch and a half’s worth in constant rotation. Occasionally one gets gifted or purchased, so the number stays more or less constant. There’s just too much beer still in bottles when I come around to bottling day again. Like today, when the Most Serene Republic of Pumpkin gets decanted. I’m brewing faster than the house likes to drink.

The solution came to me in the car on the way to the brewshop today: BAAAAARLEYWINE. Pretend there’s a Ghost of Brewing Past saying that, it’s cooler that way. If the housies aren’t drinking enough beer, and I don’t want to deplete my stock of bottles by giving them out, the obvious solution is to calibrate what I brew to give them more time to drink the batch I just made. Batches that take longer are GO! Having a bucket filled up with nice fermenting things seems like the best way to deal with the urge to fill up buckets with nice fermenting things. So now I’m looking for recipes, just in time for prime barleywine season. Got a favorite? Let me know. Otherwise it’ll be some ridiculous Galactic Imperial Wheat Sahti nonsense, and who wants that?

(actually I do seriously want that now. It’ll give me a chance to bust out the stormtroopers again.)


Fir love, pumpkin ale update

The pumpkin update isn’t a very substantial one; it’s that the fermentation is done and tomorrow is bottling day as soon as I can get to the shop for some more bottles and sanitizer. I don’t have a photo of the sludge at the bottom of the fermenter, but it’s really pretty fabulous. I’ll see if I can’t get a shot tomorrow before I mess everything up. There are four distinct layers! The bottom one is probably pumpkin sediment from the boil, the second is likely to be yeast, and the top one is probably the post-fermentation dreck of the can of (preservative-free) pumpkin I stuck in last week for grins.

That’s only three layers, I know. I have absolutely no idea what the fourth one is. More yeast? Gremlins? Who knows.

I found a handy tip for making sure the spices in your beer are nice and potent, because fermenting time and bottle time do mellow them: make a mix of the spices you used in the brew in and steep them in an ounce or two of spirits for a bit (I used rum), then add them to taste at the same time you add your priming sugar. I forgot the ginger in the Most Serene Republic of Pumpkin during the boil, so I’m going to see if I can make up for that this way.

Now, the fir love! I was down at the liquor store a few days ago and spotted Douglas Fir Eau de Vie from Clear Creek Distillery! (scroll down) I didn’t get any, because that’s a bit steep for me, but–without discounting the fine work done by the Clear Creek guys–it seems like it ought to be easy enough to attempt a reasonable facsimile at home. Don’t you think? Some fir, some brandy, some time? Hell, it works for vodka-based liqueurs. I’m going to give it a whirl.


Okay. Cloudy homebrew.

Wine and mead first: it’s not as though I have some sort of principled stand against a beautiful clear wine or mead, no. Clear wine shows off the color of the brew fabulously, which is kind of the point. It’s just that I don’t think it’s worth half the time and trouble it takes, and that the road to clear wine paves over some other very pleasant options.

The pectin that causes haze/cloudiness in fruit wines is the same pectin that gives jams and jelly their gel, and gives the wine it’s in more body and a smoother mouthfeel. Sure, you can add pectin enzyme to your fruit to eliminate the pectin and add glycerine later when your wine seems thin–or you can leave the pectin right where it is. The feel of a wine that still contains its original pectin is something you can pretty much only get in a homebrew, and I dig that.

I also brew things because I like to drink things I’ve brewed. Clarifying can take a long time. You can rack a wine off its sediment three times and still see clouds. Mead in particular is a slowpoke, and can take months and months and months and still not clear until you give up and use some Sparkolloid or whatever. All of these mean more time, more fuss, and more chances for something to go wrong–the brewing ape does not like these things. The ape is very strongly anti-fuss. The ape certainly does not go looking for these things when there is a delicious bottle of cloudy homebrew sitting in front of her. Waiting for flavor is worth it; waiting for other things, not so much.

Now for beer: I like cloudy beer. I like its taste and its texture. That’s pretty much that. Irish moss, cold crashing, et cetera, they’re good to know about but I’ll probably never use them.

Now that you know my thoughts on cloudy homebrew, you can figure out if you agree or not. If you don’t, you’ll want to make sure to add pectin enzyme/pectinase to most wine recipes and read up on clarification techniques for the other brew types.

Cloudy brews, a treatise on their excellence