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Monday, December 17, 2012

Random Brewing Update

Sorry I haven't devoted as much time to this as previously. I've been busy getting my finances in order, preparing for Christmas, and preparing for the Mayan Apocalypse. <G>

I mention on my podcast that one thing I'm constantly re-learning is patience. I had brewed a spiced holiday ale for Christmas, but, when it was conditioned, it tasted like an ordinary brown ale. Not terrible, but without the the fruity, spicy character I was looking for.

So, I waited another couple of weeks, and tried it again. And there it was! The orange flavor was perfect, and the cinnamon was very close to what I had hoped for.

The lesson here is that no beer is a failure. Either it needs a bit more time to mature, or there is a lesson to be learned. Either way, the passage of time will make things clear.

Since the Christmas Ale came out well, here's the recipe:

=============================
2 lbs 2-row malt
8 oz chocolate malt
8 oz 80L crystal malt
3 lbs light liquid malt extract
1 oz Cascade Hops (6.5% AA)
1 pkt dry ale yeast
1 oz sweet dried orange peel
2 tbsp ground cinnamon
=============================

Grains were mashed for an hour at 154 F, then boiled for an hour with the hops and extract. The orange peel and cinnamon were added for the last 15 minutes of the boil. Everything was strained out from the primary. Fermentation was a week, then I bottled.

Straining out the cinnamon was a bit difficult, so I might change my process next time, and add the cinnamon to the primary.

Even after 24 years, I'm still learning.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Life Is Finally Getting Better

First off, apologies for being away from this blog for so long. I've been busy trying to get my financial house back in order.

Things are finally better.

To celebrate my new improved condition, I ordered ingredients for several beers. Since I haven't been able to brew for about 7 months, i first wanted to make something fast and easy, to get some beer back in the house.

I brewed up an English Mild Ale, an easy and tasty beer, and a recipe I know by heart.

==========================
Mild Ale

3 lbs light malt extract
8 ozs chocolate malt
1 oz Willamette hops (3.7% AA)
1 pkt ale yeast
==========================

After steeping the chocolate malt in warm water for about 30 minutes, I took them out, added the extract and hops, and boiled for an hour. Then I added this to 2 gallons of cold water, added more water to bring it up to 4 gallons total, tossed in my yeast, waited a week.

I'm really pleased with the result. The beer is low in alcohol (about 2.5%), light bodied, and flavorful.

And, most important, I'm back to brewing!


Saturday, November 17, 2012

REBOOT!

My last homebrewing podcast was back on August 26. Now, my finances are better, I'm back brewing, so it only seems reasonable I start yapping about it again.

So, starting on Sunday, Nov 18, at 6:30 PM, EST, you can go to http://blogtalkradio.com/youmakewhat and listen to me prattle on about my favorite hobby.

So, I hope you'll listen, maybe even call.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Back in the saddle

I've decided. I now have beer to make, there fore, I have something to talk about. I'm restarting my brewing podcast.

My first new show will be Sunday, Nov 18, at 6:30 PM, at http://blogtalkradio.com/youmakewhat

Hopefully, I can get back the people who used to listen, and attract some new folks.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Finally, Some Good News!

The last time I had money to brew was waaay back in April. My financial picture has finally gotten better. So, one of the first things I did was to order supplies to make three different beers.

It'll be here in just a couple of days. I'm getting stuff to make a mild ale, a spiced Christmas ale, and a porter. I think I'll do the mild first, because that will get beer in the house fastest.

Also, since I can be back brewing, I also plan to go back to talking about it. I'm going to restart my brewing podcast.

It's hard to describe how happy I am. Life is beginning to look pretty good.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Unrelated

OK, this has nothing to do with brewing, but I had to share this. I saw a clip of Neil DeGrasse Tyson. I love listening to him, and I feel it illustrates a point I had made on another blog, at http://joestarot.bravesites.com. I'm not sure if I got this exactly right, but it's as close as I can remember it.

"One thousand years ago, we "knew" the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, we "knew" the world was flat. What will we "know" tomorrow?"

My point is that we don't know what we think we do. What was once nuts is now accepted. What is nuts now may one day be true.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Competition Is Good

My niece, Emily, has a family get together every year for St. Patrick's Day. She makes a delicious Irish stew with stout in the gravy.
This year, my son, nephew and me are all going to brew a stout, and Emily will choose the best one to use in her stew.
I don't know who will win. They're both very good brewers. But, as I said on Facebook, since I'm making a full 4-gallon batch, even if I lose, I win.

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Non-beer post

I haven't felt good about this election. I don't actively dislike Mitt Romney, but I don't trust him. He seems far too willing to say what he thinks we want to hear.

I genuinely like Barack Obama. He seems to be a good man, doing what he thinks is best. However, I haven't agreed with most of what he's done.

I started to poke around a bit, wondering if there wasn't another choice, and I found this link.

http://www.garyjohnson2012.com/

I think you should listen.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Not Everything Is Perfect

Over the last several months, I've been conducting a brewing experiment that, uh, hasn't gone well. But, I keep going back to an old quote, I think attributed to Henry Ford. "Every failure is just one step closer to success."

(Artful screen dissolve as we flash back.)

I was eating some cold breakfast cereal one day when I happened to read the ingredients. Sugar was second. A lightning bolt of inspiration hit me, and I thought, "How could I get this into a beer?"

ATTEMPT NO. 1 - I made a one gallon batch of porter, using a pound of dry extract, eight ounces of crystal malt, eight ounces of chocolate malt, half an ounce of hops, and three cups of cereal. I tossed the cereal into the boil. The flavor was delicious, but there was WAY too much sediment.

ATTEMPT NO. 2 - I decided to try all-grain, and include the cereal as part of the mash. This way, any sediment from the cereal would be removed with the spent grain. Color and sediment were just what I had hoped for, but the flavor wasn't quite there. And, after a couple of weeks, I heard "BLAM!". Almost every bottle had exploded.

ATTEMPT NO. 3 - I made a second all-grain batch, but this time I increased the cereal, and halved the priming sugar. The flavor was close to what I had hoped for. The bottles were OK for about 3 weeks, but I heard one go off, and immediately moved the rest to a safe place.

And that's where I am, now. The question I keep asking is, why are the bottles exploding? Is there something wrong with my mash? Not getting enough conversion, and a secondary fermentation taking place? Is there some thing else in the cereal, retarding the yeast? Should I just let it ferment longer? I know there will be an Attempt No. 4, I just haven't worked out the parameters, yet.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

What Kind Of Brewer Are You?

Today, I want to discuss for a moment the Reinheitsgebot, or German Beer Purity Law. There's a really interesting article at Wikipedia. Here's the link.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reinheitsgebot

Essentially, the law restricted the ingredients for beer to water, barley, hops and yeast. Obviously, not many American breweries come close to that. For homebrewers, there are some people who try to brew according to the old law.

I don't really have a firm stand either way, even though I personally have brewed with, cocoa, molasses, and breakfast cereal. My philosophy on brewing has always been that there's room for all of us. I've said both here and in my podcast that the equipment doesn't make you less or more of a homebrewer. If you own a Mr. Beer, or a 15-barrel conical fermenter, you're still a homebrewer.

The same goes for ingredients. It makes no difference if you make nothing but classic English brown ales or German schwarzbier; Or if a normal part of your brewing day is scanning the kitchen or supermarket for fermentables. All brewers make what they want to drink. It's your own taste you want to satisfy.

Time for an analogy. Haydn wrote over 100 symphonies, all within the rigid restriction of the Classical Symphony. Beethoven came along and turned this format on it's head. The music of both these masters has stood the test of time. Just as we listen to both types of music, there's room in brewing for both versions of beer.

Make beer you like, be happy, and let others do the same.


Friday, September 14, 2012

A Muzzle-Loaded Rifle

This has nothing to do with beer. In  fact, don't have any if you're going to do this. But, it's just too cool not to share.

Some time ago, I had mentioned to my son (an Army vet) how much fun I used to have loading and firing a friend's muzzle-loader. One day, he showed up with this,



 a modern muzzle-loaded rifle. We took it out to the local range to try it out. Great fun!

Getting ready to fire is a much more involved process. I don't know how they did it way back when, while being fired at.

The powder is added first, then the ball is forced down the barrel, and "seated" against the powder.

Next, a priming cap is added, which produces the initial spark, after being hit by the hammer. This spark lights the powder, and propels the ball.

Firing these is very satisfying. The cloud of white smoke is unreal. And, since it's a modern weapon, it's surprisingly accurate.



The End

Why go through all that? This is why! To have beer that you crafted yourself; to taste flavors that either aren't available off the shelf, or cost way too much.

In my opinion, it just tastes better if you made it.




And...Cleaning Up

There are two VERY important reasons for cleaning up after yourself. You'll want to do this again, won't you? So, let's make sure everything is ready for the next brewing session.

And, if you have a roommate, wife, or Significant Other, you need to keep him or her happy. In homebrewing circles, the wife is often referred to as SWMBO (She Who Must Be Obeyed). Household peace will make your brewing, and beer, much more enjoyable.


I've seen a great deal about cleaning. What solutions, chemicals, equipment, brushes, etc to use. Again, use what you feel most comfortable with and what works best for you. I soak my bottle for several days in a weak bleach solution, and never use a brush. This works well for me.

Remember, keep everything sanitary!


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Bottling Video #4

So, your beer is done, in bottles, and capped. Uh, where do you put it? For years, I just had a pile of cases in the corner of the living room. One year, for my birthday, my wife got me a cabinet to store my bottles in. (I suspect it was actually for herself.)


This cabinet has room for 20 sixpacks. I don't drink very fast, so it lasts a good long time. And, with all the bottles in sight, I can easily tell when I'm running low.



Monday, September 10, 2012

Bottling Video #3

I've been brewing since 1989, and only one time have I had a problem with unwanted bacteria getting into my beer. That was the one time I forgot to sanitize my bottlecaps. So, I guess it's important.


The capper you use is a matter of personal choice. I really like this one. Others prefer something different. We're all right.



Sunday, September 9, 2012

Bottling Video #2

To produce CO2, the bubbles we enjoy when we drink our beer, we need to add a small amount of sugar. The yeast eat this, and produce carbon dioxide.

The source of the sugar can vary. Possibilities include dextrose (corn sugar), sucrose (table sugar), corn syrup, malt extract, honey. Opinions vary on which is best, and, um, I don't have one. Use what you feel most comfortable with.

There is also a difference of opinion on when you add the sugar. Either add it all at once in a separate bucket, then fill the bottles; or, fill all the bottles, then add a small amount to each bottle. I've done both, and I can see advantages to each.





More On Bottling

Some time ago, I produced a series of videos, with my son's help, on bottling. Since I was talking about the bottling process anyway, I decided to repost them here.

As with any part of the brewing process, sanitation is the key. Anything that touches your beer must be sanitary. That includes the bottles and caps. I won't tell you what to use, everyone has their opinion, But, use something.


I've always been big on saving money. You don't have to use actual brewing equipment to brew. I do fine with stuff I get cheap, or free. The one piece I find essential, though, is a bottle filler. You can bottle without one. But, since it only costs about $2.50, it won't break the bank.


Saturday, September 8, 2012

An Old Controversy

A little while ago, I came across a post on a message board relating to a very old controversy; to bottle or to keg?

Homebrewers on both sides are adamant that they are RIGHT. I stand firmly, in the middle.

I happen to bottle, myself. I enjoy the process, it works well for me, and it's by far the cheaper option. But, that doesn't mean I regard keggers as the evil spawn of Hell.

I can well appreciate the convenience of simply pulling a beer from a tap any time you want one. And there is a considerable "wow" factor involved.

My point is, simply, that there's room for both. People are different, with different resources and needs. What works for one may not work as well for another.

If I had the space for the equipment, and the money to purchase it, I would probably keg, some. But, I like bottling, and don't look at it as a chore. I would do both.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Yum!

Well, I have to declare the hard lemonade experiment a success. It's delicious, especially ice-cold. The lemonade tart and alcohol bite meld well. And, at less than 3 dollars for 10 bottles, it's something I can (almost) afford.

So, I know lemonade works. I think I'll try grape next.





Monday, September 3, 2012

Second Choice

OK, so I can't make beer. While I wait for the Money Fairy to drop a load of cash on my doorstep, I might as well have some fun.

I have some yeast nutrient left over from when I made some mead awhile ago. Two pounds of sugar costs about 2 bucks. Two packets of  Kool-Aid are 50 cents. A packet of standard yeast is twenty cents. I made some hard lemonade.

There are other flavors. Grape would make, uh, cheap wine?


Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Sad Day

Today is a sad day. I had done a weekly podcast on home brewing since March of 2011. Every Sunday, I would prepare for the show, rehearsing what I would say, and confirming the occasional guest.

Well, not to cry, but things aren't going well. I can't afford ingredients, and haven't brewed in over 5 months. With no brewing going on, and no beer in the house, there isn't much to talk about. So, last week I put the podcast on indefinite hiatus. My situation will get better. I will make beer, and talk about it, again.


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Free Software Choices

After trying all the different types of free brewing software I could find (There may be others.), I've reached a few conclusions.

* Provided you download from trusted source, free software is a viable option. The two most important words in that statement, "trusted source". If it isn't someone who checks for hidden viruses or malware, you're simply begging for trouble. So, start with C-Net's Download.com, the Android Appmarket, or some other software site that you KNOW checks.

* It won't do everything. You probably already know that. I don't expect free software to tell me everything, or help me control everything, about my brewing process. For free, I want some help developing my recipe, and some inspiration. If you want more, well, you have to pay more.

* There is not a "best". All brewers are different, with different sets of priorities. A piece of software that has everything one person wants may not do anything for someone else. Do what I did. Download them, input a favorite recipe that you know works, and see how it reacts. Of the programs I tried, there are ones I liked more than others. But, that only makes them "better" for me. Or, as the old acronym says, YMMD.

Here are the links to all the products I tried. You may find something that works for you.


For the Android app, BrewR, Either use this link, or the Appmarket icon on you phone or tablet. By the way, since I wrote the original article, I got a new Android phone, and installed BrewR.
https://play.google.com/store/apps

Brewtarget can be run on Windows, Mac, or Linux. You can find run-ready versions of the software. Or, you can compile and install it yourself, which takes a bit more work. But, you know it is tuned for your machine.
http://brewtarget.sourceforge.net/

As part of the Brewmasters Warehouse website, obviously, they want you to buy something. Now, I'm not a marketing guru of any kind. But, I consider this a stroke of genius, and, I don't know why everyone doesn't include this.
http://www.brewmasterswarehouse.com/brew-builder

Brewmate worked for me as well as one of my old favorites. I was surprised. As I said before, I consider the huge splash screen incredibly ugly. Don't look.
http://www.brewmate.net/

The Home Brew Digest has been around since the late 80's, longer than some of you. You should go here, if just to get a sense of history.
http://hbd.org/recipator/

I've used this one for nearly 20 years, so it obviously works well for me. As I said, we're all different, so while it may not do all you want, I feel it's worth a shot.
http://qbrew.softpedia.com/

And, that's it. I'm certain there may be other free packages out there. For instance, I know there are several spreadsheets to do your calculations. The are tools for each stage. And, I'm sure there are programs I didn't find. The resources are out there, use them.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

BrewR


Well, I thought I was done with my software reviews. But, I was fooling around with a little Android tablet I had gotten awhile ago, and found a couple of free applications. One of them, called BrewR, works as well as my favorites.

When it starts up, you're greeted with a pretty standard screen, showing a list of recipes that are saved, and a few buttons at the top. By choosing “New Recipe”, you're brought to the start screen for a new beer. Choose your desired style by pressing the button, and picking from the list.

All the usual choices are available; two-row, extracts, crystal, color malts, hops, dry and liquid yeast. It also includes the little cartoon mug showing the approximate color of your beer. (I've found I really like that.) It also lets you know if you've hit the parameters for your chosen style, and there's a spot to include notes you might want to add.

The absolute coolest thing I like is the ability to save your recipe to Google Cloud, and print it when you get home. With this little tablet, you can work up a recipe while you're shopping, save it to the cloud, and have it ready to print when you get home. Ain't technology great?





Since it's available from the Android App Market, I'm pretty sure you could install it on your Android phone, also. I really like this, and I intend to try it out next time I'm shopping.



Sunday, August 5, 2012

Brewtarget


Today, we're looking at Brewtarget, a program available for Windows, Mac and Linux.

One very odd thing happened as I prepared to work with this program. I couldn't get it to run. My regular computer is an older Dell laptop running Windows Vista, so, it might be me, not the program.

I switched over to my backup, an even older machine running one of the many flavors of Linux. After I installed Brewtarget on that machine, it ran fine. What does this mean for you? Well, like anything in computers, it might not run for you.

It opens up to a screen much like Brew-Mate, with space to put in your fermentables, hops, yeast, and “other stuff”. One quirk I found which I didn't like was I could not specify the batch size. I was stuck between a 2-gal small batch or a 5-gal. I brew 4-gal batches, and have for years. This fact means the program, well, won't work for me. If you brew 2 or 5 gallons at a time, feel free to ignore me.

Although I couldn't replicate my standard recipe, I found the interface well-designed and easy to navigate. As with Brew-Mate, there's a graphic of a beer mug showing the approximate color of your beer.




Sunday, July 29, 2012

Brew Builder


Today, I'm looking at a recipe program that's actually part of a retail website. So, let me start by saying I have no affiliation with this site. In fact they don't even know I'm writing this.

I'm certain there are other online retailers that have this feature. And, to be honest, I don't know why they don't all include this. Usually, you design your recipe, go to your favorite retailer (online or in person), and gather all your ingredients, hoping you haven't forgotten anything.

Here, you design your recipe from what's in stock. Then, when you're finished, click on the button marked “Buy Recipe”, and it all goes into your cart. You can't forget.

It works like any of the simple recipe programs. Decide on the style you're making, what size batch, and your mash efficiency (For a straight extract recipe, don't touch this.) Then, just go tab by tab, and choose your grains, extracts, hops, etc.

Under “Recipe Statistics”, you can see if you hit your target figures or not. Just under that is a running tally of what your recipe includes so far, as well as what you're spending (Yeah, that's important.)

Now, to be fair, there are both plusses and minuses to this. On the plus side, as I said, you design and buy all in one place. You save time and effort by avoiding having to transcribe your recipe from one place to another (and another, and another....). On the other hand, your recipe design is limited to what they have in stock. If you want to use something really exotic, or just weird, you'll have to guess at the effect.

With that in mind, I must say I've used it, and like it. I think it's especially useful if you have an idea of the kind of beer you want to make, but aren't sure of what to use to get there. Oh, and if you really like what you've come up with, you can save your recipe, and buy the same one again.

As a final word, of course, you aren't obligated to buy, so you can just play around at recipe design. It works well, and given the built-in lag of the internet, it's quite responsive. It can be a worthy addition to your toolbox.




Sunday, July 22, 2012

Brew-Mate Review


Today, I take a look at BrewMate v1.22. At first, I didn't have a good feeling, because the program opens with a huge, garish splash screen.

But, once I used it I was very pleasantly surprised. I like it, a lot.  

Once the program fires up, you're presented with the main program screen, divided into three sections; grains, hops, and miscellaneous. Way down at the bottom is a menu for your yeast choice.

The first steps you need to take are fill out the basics at the top; beer name, style, batch, and efficiency. No need to be fancy with the name, yet. When you choose a style, the various parameters for you beer turn yellow, and will go back to white when you hit the target for that style.

Over on the right is a beer mug, which changes color as you add malts, so you have an idea if you're getting close to the desired appearance.

The grain window allows you to add all the usual grains, malts, sugars, and adjuncts. In the hops window, you get an extensive menu to choose from (although I'd like to see a generic option). You can change the AA of whatever you choose, whether it's pellet, plug, or whole, and exactly when you add it.

The coolest part, for me, is the miscellaneous window. There is some funky, fun stuff there. I'm definitely going to try some of those additions.

The yeast menu allows you to add standard dry yeast, some specific dry yeast, or any one of a bunch of liquid types.

Once you're done, you can save it, or export it to a text file, which I've printed below.

================================================
Porter
Robust Porter

Recipe Specs
----------------
Batch Size (G):           4.0
Total Grain (lb):         6.800
Total Hops (oz):          2.00
Original Gravity (OG):    1.055  (°P): 13.6
Final Gravity (FG):       1.011  (°P): 2.8
Alcohol by Volume (ABV):  5.82 %
Colour (SRM):             29.7   (EBC): 58.5
Bitterness (IBU):         26.4   (Tinseth)
Brewhouse Efficiency (%): 75
Boil Time (Minutes):      60

Grain Bill
----------------
3.300 lb Liquid Malt Extract - Dark (48.53%)
2.000 lb American 2-Row (29.41%)
0.500 lb Brown Sugar, Dark (7.35%)
0.500 lb Chocolate (7.35%)
0.500 lb Crystal 120 (7.35%)

Hop Bill
----------------
1.00 oz Cascade Pellet (6% Alpha) @ 60 Minutes (Boil) (0.2 oz/Gal)
1.00 oz Willamette Pellet (7.1% Alpha) @ 0 Days (Dry Hop) (0.2 oz/Gal)

Misc Bill
----------------

Single step Infusion at 153°F for 60 Minutes.
Fermented at 68°F with Ale yeast


Recipe Generated with BrewMate
===============================================

As I said at the start, I really like this one. I especially like that everything is on one screen. No jumping back and forth. The mug is cool, although I think the color comes out a little light.

All in all, it's a very helpful program. Granted, it may lack some features of a high-end program. But, for quickly working up a new recipe, with a minimum of fuss, it absolutely does the job.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Recipator, from HBD.org


Before I get into the review itself, I have to apologize. I had meant to have this up some time ago, but I had some -uh- stuff go on in my life. An old friend of mine passed away recently, and since we were nearly the same age, it sort of hit me harder than I thought it would. But, here it is. I should get back on track.

Today, I'll take a look at The Beer Recipator, an online recipe calculator hosted by HBD.org, The Homebrew Digest. The Digest has been around longer than some of you have. Here's the beginning of their official history:

The Digest has existed in various forms since before 1988. The most successful incarnation of the Digest came at the hands of Rob Gardner, the original Digest Janitor (though, I must say, its current instantiation may be more successful yet). The least successful incarnation occurred in 1996, and very nearly destroyed the Home Brew Digest.

When you click on the Recipator link, you're brought to a page with 7 different choices. We'll only look at the first, the spreadsheet. But, feel free to explore the others.

On the spreadsheet page, the first thing apparent to me is that this is a bit more, involved. There are more places where you can make choices, and there are more places where you must make choices.

On the initial page, you choose the beer style and whether it's extract, partial mash, or all-grain. Then you choose your measurement units. Finally, you click on everything you're using in your recipe. If you're not sure, or you forget something, don't worry. You can add or change things later.

Clicking on continue brings you to the main recipe page. Fill in the amounts of all your ingredients, and press one of the “calculate” buttons. The online spreadsheet will then figure out your beer, and let you know at the top of the page if you hit the right parameters for the style.

You can view, and save, a report of what was found. My porter recipe appears below.

The Beer Recipator
The BreweryHomeSpreadsheetRecipesDiscussion

Porter


Brewer:JoeEmail:-
Beer:PorterStyle:Robust Porter
Type:Partial mashSize:4 gallons
Color:
95 HCU (~34 SRM)
Bitterness:27 IBU
OG:1.056FG:1.010
Alcohol:5.9% v/v (4.7% w/w)
Grain:2 lb. American 2-row
8 oz. American crystal 120L
8 oz. American chocolate
Mash:75% efficiency
Boil:minutesSG 1.0455 gallons
3 lb. 5 oz. Dark malt extract
8 oz. Brown sugar
Hops:1 oz. Cascade (6% AA, 60 min.)
1 oz. Willamette (aroma)

This web page generated by The Beer Recipator.


With any of these programs, there are things which only come with experience. The different flavor characteristics of your ingredients cannot be quantified. You might get the same strength and color from brown malt, smoked malt, or crystal malt, but the contributions to the flavor of the final beer are completely different. Only your own taste buds can tell you what to use.

This spreadsheet may be more than some people want, or less than others. But, if you're out at a coffeeshop, with a tablet and a wifi connection, you can work up a recipe very quickly. It can be a valuable resource to use along with your regular recipe program.


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Tonight, On My Podcast



Tonight, I'll talk about my software review, why I'm not always as smart as I think I am, and do you really need software?

Friday, July 6, 2012

This Isn't Easy

I've noticed something, that I probably should have realized. Reviewing software is not exactly a slamdunk. Q-Brew was easy. I've used it for so long, that I know exactly how it works. Anything else, I have to learn it first.

I'm working on it, though. I should have the next one up in the next day or so.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Program Review - Q-Brew


Today, I'm starting my review of free brewing software. First, this is the recipe I'll be using in all my reviews. It's my porter recipe, which I've used for -uh- a really long time, since 1990 or so. It's a partial mash recipe, and it has a small addition of brown sugar, to impart a little molasses flavor.

3.3lb dark malt extract
.5 lb crystal malt (120L)
.5 lb chocolate malt
2 lb 2-row malt
.5 lb brown sugar
1 oz hops (6% AA), bittering
1 oz Willamette, dry-hopped
1 pkt dry ale yeast

I'm starting out with the program I've used myself for nearly my entire brewing career, Q-brew. It's available in versions for Linux and Windows, and also as source code that you can compile yourself.

When you start the program, it opens to the main screen. You can input your beer's name, your name, and choose the style and batch size. When you choose a style, the strength, color and bitterness you're shooting for are shown for you. By choosing the grain bill and hops you can make sure your beer meets the parameters for your chosen style.

Flavor components are so subjective, you can only match those with experience.

You also have the option of saving your recipe for future retrieval, or exporting it as html, xml, pdf, or txt. This is how it looks exported as text:


Porter
------
Brewer: 
Style: Robust Porter
Batch: 4.00 gal Partial Mash

Characteristics
---------------
Recipe Gravity: 1.055 OG
Recipe Bitterness: 31 IBU
Recipe Color: 24° SRM
Estimated FG: 1.014
Alcohol by Volume: 5.3%
Alcohol by Weight: 4.2%

Ingredients
-----------
American chocolate malt       0.50 lb, Grain, Mashed
American two-row              2.00 lb, Grain, Mashed
Brown sugar, dark             0.50 lb, Sugar, Other
Crystal 120L                  0.50 lb, Grain, Mashed
Dark malt extract             3.30 lb, Extract, Extract

Generic                       1.00 oz, Pellet, 60 minutes
Willamette                    1.00 oz, Pellet, 0 minutes

Ale yeast                     1.00 unit, Yeast, 

Notes
-----
Recipe Notes:


Batch Notes:


I have to admit to some prejudice, since I've used this program for over 20 years. It doesn't have a lot of bells or whistles, but it does a good, basic job of aiding in recipe formulation.





Monday, July 2, 2012

Last Night, And This Week

Yesterday, for the first time in a month, I was podcasting. I missed it. I don't have any illusions of fame, or fortune, but I know there is a small, loyal, audience that looks forward to my ramblings. I find that gratifying.

This week, I plan to start reviewing free brewing software. As I started combing the internet, I noticed two things. There's a lot of free stuff out there. So far I have three software packages and four websites, and I may not be done, yet. The other thing I saw was that this review idea has been done, many times.

However, these reviews have all chosen one piece of software as "the best", and not even the same one. I think that misses the point entirely. Every brewer works differently, and has different needs. It's a bit presumptuous to think that one piece of software is going to be the best for everyone.

So, with that in mind, I have no intention of telling you which is "best". I'll look at what's different, what's  the same, what I like or don't like. But, the decision to use or not use a particular product should be yours. I just want to help you see what's out there, where to find it, and what it can or can't do.

Tomorrow, I plan to have the first review up on the blog. What I'll do is simple. I have a recipe I've used for years, which I know works. I'll input that recipe into each program, and see what happens. I think it'll be interesting, and fun.


Sunday, July 1, 2012

You Make What? Podcast Restarts Tonight


After a month off, I restart my podcast tonight. I've missed it, and I'm glad to be back. I had originally taken the time off to try and get my financial house in order. Well, it didn't quite work. I'm just as poor as I was at the end of May. But, I did have some good ideas, which still may bear fruit.

Tonight on the show, I'm going to go back over a couple of those ideas. This blog, and the other one I'm doing, will be the topic. I'll talk about some of the links I've found, experiments I've done, what I hope the future brings.

I hope you'll call. Ask a question, make a comment, let's talk about beer.

Call-in number - (714) 459-3925



Saturday, June 30, 2012

DIY Chocolate Milk

This isn't about beer, but it is about doing things for yourself. A few weeks ago, I wanted some chocolate milk, but we were out of syrup, and my wife was out with the car. I found out you can make your own chocolate syrup with cocoa powder. This is all it takes.

==================================
Chocolate Syrup

1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup(rounded) sugar
1/2 cup water
2 dashes vanilla extract

Mix the cocoa and sugar well. Add the water and heat over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until a thin syrup forms. Continue to heat until it boils and begins to thicken. Take off heat and add vanilla. Allow to cool, and pour into bottle of your choice.
==================================

Once I realized how easy this is, and how good it tastes, I decided I'm never buying chocolate syrup again.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Next Couple Of Days

I'm starting my podcast back up on Sunday, at http://blogtalkradio.com/youmakewhat. I plan to talk about this blog, and how I hope I can get my different online efforts in sync.

I've also downloaded several free editions of brewing software, which I intend to evaluate and review. :) They have to be free, because I can't afford to buy anything.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

An Adventure In Cooking


This doesn't really have anything to do with beer (except that I poured a beer when I was done), but I was so proud of how it came out, I had to share it.

I like to cook. I especially like to create meals out of what I already have, instead of going out and buying things for a recipe.

Last night, for supper, I decided to make some pasta. I found a jar of sauce, but decided instead to try and make a sauce. One of my favorite things to do is make a basic white sauce and add some kind of flavoring to it. Here's a recipe;

=======================================================================================
BASIC WHITE SAUCE

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • salt
  • white or black pepper

Preparation:

Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat; stir in flour. Stir and cook for about 2 minutes. Do not brown. Gradually stir in milk and continue cooking over low heat, stirring constantly, until sauce begins to thicken. Season with salt and pepper.
For a richer sauce, add a few tablespoons of heavy cream.

When I opened the fridge, I noticed two things. We had no butter or margarine. No problem, vegetable oil works fine. I also saw some leftover mashed potatoes, and had a flash of inspiration. Could I substitute the potatoes for the flour? Only one way to find out.

So, this is what I slapped together;

3 tbsp vegetable oil
¼ cup leftover mashed potatoes
¼ cup leftover sauteed onions
½ tsp seasoned salt
½ tsp black pepper
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

It did take a bit longer to thicken, but it was delicious!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Homebrew Training Video

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Homebrew Recipe Book

Click Here!

All-Grain Brewing With No Equipment


Since I started brewing back in 1989, I had brewed exclusively by extract. I always appreciated the technical aspects of all-grain brewing, as well as the additional control you get over your ingredients. But, I simply didn't have the additional funds to shell out for two additional containers (mash tun and lauter tun).

One of my online brewing friends has been after me for some time to try all-grain brewing. I had several reasons not to. I liked my beer, I didn't have the money, and, since I live in a small apartment, I didn't have the space to either store additional equipment or do a full-volume boil.

Then, everything changed. Listening to my favorite podcast, Basic Brewing, I heard about a new brewing technique called Brew-in-a-bag. It apparently solved all the problems that had stopped me. The only thing I had to buy (and store) was a large nylon bag, 5 bucks. I could do that.


This picture shows my brewpot, with the bag lining the inside. All I have to do is heat my water to 165°, dump in the grain, cover the pot, and wait.


The grain is in the pot, inside the bag. After the hour is up, all I do is pull out the bag, and got onto the rest of my process.

By using the bag, I can use partial grains for any recipe, or I can do a small-batch all-grain beer. I would recommend this method for any brewer.

Check out http://basicbrewing.com for the details, and give it a try.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Making Labels


One thing I've always liked about the homebrewing hobby is the range of different people it's open to. Everything from a Mr. Beer from your local Target, to a 15-barrel conical fermenter in your garage.

I like bottling. I've mentioned that before. One thing I like is making labels for my beer. Not everyone does, which I understand. Many people put a code on the cap with a Sharpie. Hey, whatever works.

But, even if you do that, there may come a time when you are giving away some of your precious brew as a gift. A nice label will make that gift much more impressive.

Here are three sites I've used, along with examples of what can be done. The samples were each done in about a minute, so there is more you can do, if you want.

First is The Beer Labelizer, found at http://www.beerlabelizer.com/ . This site has 12 different label designs, and you just type in your information into text boxes. After you finish typing, you can print out a sheet, or save the design to your computer to use with your own label software.

With only 12 designs to choose from, it's the least flexible. But, if you want a nice-looking label, fast, it can't be beat.


Next is labely.com http://labeley.com/beer . Using this site is a bit more involved, but you get a LOT more control. You choose the shape, border, background color, graphics, and text style from a series of menus.

Because of the amount of choice you have the ability to produce something really beautiful (or really UGLY).






This last site isn't really a label site, but I've used it the longest. At Says-It.com http://www.says-it.com/ , you have the ability to insert your own text into several graphic images. One of the choices is a seal, which works well as a simple beer label.

You could include the beer name as part of the seal, or use the seal as a generic logo, and use the image in your label along with your other text.

If you have a few minutes to spare, try out these sites. You may find a label you like, either for everyday use or for your next gift.

Monday, June 25, 2012

A Plea

I apologize for the nature of this post. I promise I won't repeat it. I started this blog, and the podcast that goes with it, in the hope of generating income. Like anything on the 'net, to make money you need traffic. That's where I need your help. My audience has grown slowly, but I need a lot more eyeballs, and soon. So, please read over my posts, and click "share" on something interesting.

And, ask the others in your network to share with their friends, as well. I'm depending on you, as well as the electric company and the phone company. We'd all appreciate it. :)

How Much Money Do You REALLY Need?


I have to admit, I don't know if I'm right. But, I don't think you should start a hobby specifically to save money. If you do, great, but the first idea should be personal satisfaction. On the other hand, lack of money shouldn't stop you from taking up a hobby.

Starting any hobby needs a cash outlay of some sort. Homebrewing costs less than some other pursuits. At most homebrewing websites, you can get a starter equipment kit, including ingredients for a first brew, for about $60-$90. Mr. Beer has a starter kit for under $40.

Not everyone has extra money lying around, waiting for something to spend it on. Back in 1989, when I started, a kit cost $45, which I didn't have. For over three years, I only could think of what it must be like to have your own homebrew. Then, one year, my father surprised us all by giving us each $50 cash for Christmas. As soon as I opened the envelope, I knew where it was going.

I wouldn't count on that happening. I decided one day to try an experiment. I knew what you needed to make beer. If you gathered your equipment yourself, could you do it more cheaply?

First, I had to determine what you really needed. To make beer, you need something to boil the unfermented beer (called wort), a container to allow the beer to ferment and keep out unwanted microbes, something to store the finished product, and a way to move your beer from one container to the other.

With this list in mind, I set about putting together a homebrew kit, always with the intent of spending as little as possible, without compromising the quality of the beer.

First, the boilpot. A larger pot will cost more (Duh!), so what's the smallest pot I can reasonably use? In brewing, especially starting out, you don't boil the full volume. About a gallon of water along with any malt extract will be enough. So, a pot of at least 2 gallons would be sufficient. I found a 2-gal stainless steel stockpot at my local Sears for $7.

By the way, a smaller pot also means you can do your boil on the stovetop. Boiling a larger volume requires more heat, more than you can get from your stove's burners. You would have to purchase a separate, high-output burner; another expense.

Next, the fermenter. I went to my local fast-food joint, and asked them to let me have one of the plastic jugs their fry oil is delivered in. I got a 5-gallon plastic jug for nothing. I had to wash it several times to get the oil residue out, but it wasn't hard.

For storing the beer, I used the easiest, and most time-consuming, method. We saved our soda bottles and caps. I did ask my wife to stick with 1-liter bottles for awhile. I don't drink enough to empty a bigger bottle before it goes flat. After a couple of weeks, I had 16 bottles.

Now things got a bit more difficult. To move things around, I decided on vinyl tubing, 3/8” inside diameter. But, I immediately had two problems. Can you siphon hot wort from the boilpot to the fermenter? How do you start and stop the flow to fill your bottles?

On the siphoning, I decided to just take a chance and try it. After all, it's an experiment. For filling the bottles, I first looked for a clamp of some kind that I could use on the tubing. I couldn't find anything (maybe it was just me). I decided to take the easy way out, and bought a bottle filler from my local homebrew shop. It cost $3.

Finally, I got seven feet of vinyl tubing from my local hardware store, at $1 a foot. So, how much did I spend, and should have I gotten anything else?

I spent $7 for the pot, another $7 for the vinyl tubing, $3 for the bottle filler, and nothing for the bottles and fermenter. My total was $17.

I picked up a simple canned kit at my local homebrew shop for about 10 bucks, and used the 4 lb. can to make 4 gallons of beer. Everything worked perfectly. I was surprised to find that I could use the vinyl tubing to siphon the hot wort into the fermenter. If I do this again, I will get a funnel, though. Even though it worked, I wasn't comfortable with the hot solution moving through vinyl.

So, at the end, my total cost was $27, which is less than any other kit. The biggest advantage is that it doesn't have to be bought at once. Instead of buying a kit for $40-$90, you can put together your kit a piece at a time, as you have funds.

If you've been thinking of making your own beer, but are short on cash, don't wait for my father. Start planning, and start putting your kit together.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

What To Name Your Beer


First of all, I know this isn't for everyone. One of my favorite things about brewing is thinking up names for my beers. I call my mild ale “Born To Be Mild”, and my blond ale is “Dotted Line Ale” (the punch line to a blond joke).

One brewer who I know and respect says he prefers to drink his beer, rather than name it, which is fine. But, coming up with different names is fun for me.

I get help in this from my wife and two children, who are intelligent, well-read, and witty. Not everyone has this advantage.

If you like to name your beers, and need help, here are links to a couple of random beer name generators. Copy the names, or use them as inspiration.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Beer And -um- What?


The other night, I was thinking of having a beer, when I realized I wanted something with it, and we had no snacks. I couldn't go get anything, because my wife had the car. I decided to make something, but what?

I love the internet. After surfing around for a few minutes, I decided on soft pretzels. However, all the recipes I found seemed more work than I wanted to invest. Apparently, classic pretzels are dipped in a boiling lye solution. First of all, I don't have lye. Second, that seems a little risky for a mere snack.

Someone else suggested using a strong baking soda solution. You get a similar flavor, without the danger. OK, better, but still more work than I wanted to do. A compromise seemed in order.

So, I decided to just add a bit of baking soda to my dough. Alkali flavor, no additional work, problem solved. Here's what I decided on for a recipe;

2 cups flour
1 cup sourdough starter
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 tbsp sugar

I mixed all this together. Oh, if you don't have any starter, I'm sure a cup of water and a packet of yeast will be fine. The dough came out a little dry, so I added water, by the drop, until I got a nice workable dough. After kneading it a bit, I put it aside to rise for about an hour.


After the hour (or so) was up, I rolled them into ¾ inch logs. If I felt more ambitious, I might have tried a pretzel shape, but I was more interested in just getting done.

The recipes I had seen called for brushing them with an egg wash. When I opened the fridge to get an egg I found...nothing. Ooh, what now? I decided to try brushing them with milk. Then I sprinkled kosher salt on each, and put them in a 400° oven.

I had no idea how long this would take, so I just checked them every 5 minutes. After 15, they looked almost done. At 18, I pulled them out, and let them cool.

Poured myself a beer, grabbed a couple of homemade pretzels, and sat down to watch some stupid TV.