"I work like I drink, alone! Or with a monkey watching me." - Krusty the Clown

Monday, December 5, 2011

My First Dubbel

A few pictures of my first all-grain Dubbel, Day Two of fermentation.

The grain bill was 12 pounds of Belgian pale malt, 1 pound of Belgian Special B (an aromatic, similar to a dark crystal malt), and 1 pound of dark Belgian candi syrup.  I used the pale ale instead of pilsen because it's more modified, and I think better suited for the kind of single mash I'm set up for.

I used a variety of hops, including Sterling, Saaz, Tettnanger, and Liberty.  Just 2 ounces total, low alpha.  (I was going to use just the Sterling, but I had the others in the fridge in small amounts, so I threw them in instead.)

Finally, I chose Wyeast's Belgian Abbey II ale.  I think it's good for strong dark ales.  Because I'm using a whole pound of special B I thought I would try this yeast.

The floculation has been crazy.  This is the best kreuzen I've had on an all-grain.  I'm optimistic this will be a good batch. 

Here are a few things I think I've learned from the last few all-grain batches:

1)  Make sure your thermometers work, and take measurements from different places in your mash!  I think I had too low a temperature for many of my early batches.

2)  Let your mash sit for at least 75 minutes.  I think the longer the mash, the better.

3)  It's okay to stir the mash near the end of your last sparge to get the last of the good sugar.

4)  It's good to brew with a friend.  You find yourself rethinking your processes.  It especially doesn't hurt if that friend is Larry. 

5)  The boil needs to be VIGOROUS.  And let it go for 90 minutes.  I pulled 6.75 gallons from my last mash, and boiled it down to just over 5 gallons. 

6)  Consider using gypsum, or maybe bottled water, for your beer if you live somewhere the water is soft.  I've started using gypsum in my all-grain brews and I think it's helping the fermentation.  I'm pretty sure Chicago water is particularly soft.

My OG for this beer was right on the mark - 1.065.  If I get it down to 1.012 or so, it'll be the right ABV, about 7%.  So far so good!  My last two all-grains, my Cascade Ale and Rye Pale Ale, were both pretty good.  I hope this one is as well.



Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Downy Woodpecker at our Birdfeeder

A new bird at our feeder; a downy woodpecker.  
You can tell by the red on his head, the white spots on his wings,  and the short beak.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Birds in flight at our feeder. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Homebrew Club June 25 Meeting

It's a little dark, but Brian's hops are already climbing vines above our heads!
Saturday, June 25th, we met at Brian's house for our monthly meeting.  Larry, John, Jason and Brian were in attendance.  We sat on the backporch under Brian's already impressive hop-leaf trellis.

Squall IPA.
We started with a 9% abv Dogfish Head "Squall" 90 Minute IPA.  "Unfiltered and bottle conditioned," said the label.  Interesting how something all homebrewers do is "special" when a brewery does it!
This was a very nice, strong, IPA.  Heavy in body and you can certainly taste the alcohol.

Jason's extract Bavarian Weissbier, made with the Wyeast Weihenstephan yeast, is clear in the bottle with a nice haze when you poor in the yeast.  The banana aroma is just right and it pours nicely.

Brian's Helles.
Brian's other Helles.  I think.
Brian's all-grain Helles continues to lager nicely in the bottle and tastes great.  We compared it to his extract version of the same beer, and we think that beer tastes a little sweeter, perhaps from the malt extract. 

Jason's all-grain American Pale Ale tastes a little dry, and is very hoppy.  It's a better ale than his previous all-grains, with more body.  Definitely a step in the right direction.

John's American Wheat extract beer is very good, with a hint of flower or pepper.  Very drinkable and a great summer beer!

Larry shared some tasty home made bread and and a white table wine from a recent trip to Pennsylvania to round out the evening.

We discussed Brian's techniques of cultivating yeast from a carboy to a growler, and adding some boiled DME to grow the yeast. 

The next beers we may try and do as a group are Oktoberfest lagers to be ready for the fall.  Any suggestions on recipes?  I would love to do something a little darker.

Finally, we still don't have a name.  Chicago Beer Machine came up again as an option; John suggested looking for acronyms.  I'm beginning to like CPM more and more.   Any other suggestions would be welcome at the next meeting.

The third Tuesday this month is July 19th, and I'll be out of town.  Any suggestions on another night?  I could meet the following Tuesday - the 26th - or the following weekend.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mulberry Beer on the Way?

I started picking mulberries from the tree in front of our house today.  I got six ounces.  Only twenty-six to go!
Six ounces of tart mulberries.   Great for a weiss beer.

 The berries are sweet and a little tart, just like last year.  I don't know why more people don't use them for cooking.

Maybe the label for my "Two-Berry Wheat."

Picking these berries reminds me of my Grandparents' house in Valley Stream, NY.

With some help from my mother-in-law Charlene I got the hops I planted (thanks to Brian!) to start trailing along trellises.  One of the hops has four vines already - the other just one.  When they reach the top of the trellis I'll add a wire for them to go horizontally. 

Hop leaves.

 Hopefully I'll get some good "local" hops from these plants.  Combined with Lake Michigan water, my own berries, and some mid-western grain, this promises to be a good Chicago beer!

These vines have a long way to go to reach the top.

It's amazing how they hold on and climb.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Homebrew Club May 17 Meeting

Northside Homebrew Club

May 17, 2011 Meeting

Mark, John, Jason, Brian and Larry attended.  Carlos was our honored out of town guest.

Some "hunters sausage," not quite Landjaeger but pretty good.

As it's Maifest season, Jason put together a plate of German coldcuts and made some warm German potato salad. Larry brought some homemade rye bread and mustard. John also brought some good brown Belgian chips.

 We started by comparing Jason and Brian's different lagers.  Jason did an all-grain and used Bohemian lager yeast.  Brian's was more of a German Helles, but with some hops.  Both lagers have aged well and have distinct lager flavors.  Some of the strong lager aroma in Jason's has mellowed (although it still suffers from chill haze).  Brian's lager pours and looks great, and is still a subtly Hoppy Helles, a nice personal interpretation on that beer. 
Next we had some "Procrastinator Bock," a Maibock style lager Jason made back in January.  Malty and sweet, it has the kick of a proper Maibock.   A good kit beer.

Two Saisons, one straw colored, one amber.
 We compared John and Alison's extract Saison with Jason's all-grain version, both from the same issue of Zymurgy.

Jason's is very pale, almost straw colored, with a slight tang.  Not much head on it, except when poured into a full glass.  Sour and alcoholy.

John and Alison's is a little less tart, fuller body, nicer head, and more amber in color.  Both good, but different, examples of the style.

(As these came from the same recipe, I wonder about the difference in color.)

For "dessert" we had a cherry Belgian ale from New Glarus that Mark brought.  This is an excellent fruit beer.  Reading the label it seems that we would need up to 25 lbs of cherries per 5 gallon batch of homebrew to make a similar beer. 
A very cherry New Glarus ale.  Apparently 25 lbs of cherries go into every 5 gallon batch!
Something for us to aspire to, and hopefully we can do something like this later this summer for a good winter/Christmas beer.

Gherkins und Senf
We finished with some New Glarus Wheat that John brought.  A great exmample of a proper Bavarian style wheat, a little cloudy, with nice banana flavor. 

We discussed growing hops.  (Jason's are coming in nicely; John is worried about his not sprouting yet.)  We discussed names for the club again.  Brian suggesting Chicago (or Northside) Keglers, in reference to both beer and bowling.  (I like the idea, but my wife reminded me that Kegel is also the name of a certain type of exercise we might not want to inadvertently reference.) We also discussed Mark's current beer, an ale, which should be ready soon.

The next meeting should be Tuesday June 21.  I will be out of town that day; Brian says he would like to host on a weekend.  How about we do it Friday or Saturday, June 24 or 25?  We could also think about having the meeting at one of the pubs, taverns, bowling alleys, or distillers we mentioned at past meetings.

I expect to have a weissbier to share.    Brewed it May 4, bottled it May18.  I also expect to do another ale this month.  And hopefully Mark will have an ale, and I think John and Alison are working on something as well.

Until next month!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Homebrew Club April 19 Meeting

Alison and John hosted this month's meeting at their home in Evanston.   Thank you John and Alison!  Erik brought some home made pretzels, while the hosts provided sausage and cheese and a variety of  German mustards (Dusseldorfer and Lowensenf).  New member Larry brought some chocolate caramels, and grapefruit and vodka sorbet, for dessert.  We also welcomed new member Mark.

Alison and John shared their Saison, brewed from a recipe from the March 2011 issue of Zymurgy.   It's a very good representative saison, good color, nice white head, effervescent, with just a hint of sour.   Jason brought both a Roasted IPA and a Bohemian Lager.  The IPA tastes a bit like a brown ale with some hops hiding underneath.  The lager is a little cloudy (not surprising as it's an all-grain with no clarifying agents).  It's also a little funky.  (Says Jason - I think it's just a strong lager taste that might mellow, but I think there's also the chance that it was oxidized, or fermented too warm.  But when it's cold, it tastes like a strong German lager.) 

We also discussed getting hops rhizomes for planting, options for building a hops trellis, converting freezers into lagering units, and maybe going in together on some kegging gear. 

We still don't have a name.  We need a name by the end of the next meeting.  Suggestions?

In addition to home-brews, we shared a great variety of craft beers, including:

Short's (out of Bellaire, MI.) Huma-Lupa-Licious, a nice hoppy IPA,

and Good Humans, a very good brown ale. 

Alison shared a Half Acre Crusch, a variation of kölsch style beer.  After reading some reviews at Beer Advocate, I understand better what Half Acre was doing with this beer - I think it's a good light ale, but different than what I often expect from a kölsch. 

Other beers we sampled included Shiner Black Lager, Rogue Chocolate Stout, and Arcadia Flying High Rye.   All excellent; I particularly liked the rye beer, and the chocolate stout would make an excellent digestiv. 

We discussed visiting a brewery for our next meeting (or maybe between meetings?), maybe going to Haymarket, Revolution, the Local Option bar, or even Erik's distiller friend's space. 

Finally, we decided that we should meet the Third Tuesday of every month, making the next meeting May 17.  I'm happy to host unless someone else would like to take a turn.  We should have a few beers to taste test and compare, including lagers (from Brian and Jason), saisons (from Alison and Jason), and other beers that are in production.

As this is traditionally Maifest season, if there is enough interest I'll prepare some German food for the meeting.  I even have some Bock beer that's been quietly lagering . . .

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Homebrew Club March 1 Meeting

At our second Northside Homebrew Club meeting we tasted a nice variety of home and commercial brews.  Eric B. brought a few of his homebrewed Double IPAs, his first homemade beer, made from an extract and partial mash recipe.  We all agreed it was a great first beer, hoppy and balanced.  Eric is making the leap to all-grain brewing with a Bell's Hopslam clone, using his own homemade copper mash-tun.  We wish him good luck and high gravity readings!

I was so impressed by Eric's IPA that I brewed a quick extract recipe Friday evening, May 5.  Here's the recipe I used:

From the Papazian Palilalia India Pale Ale recipe, with some adjustments:

5.5 lbs light plain dried malt extract
1 lb crushed Crystal malt (steeped for about 30 minutes at 150 degrees)
.25 lb roasted barley malt (steeped for about 30 minutes at 150 degrees)
2 oz Northern Brewer hops (boiled for 60 minutes)
.75 oz Cascade hops (finished for 5 minutes at end of boil)
Wyeast American Ale yeast

(It's bubbling nicely - so nicely it bubbled up into the airlock, which I had to swap out for a clean one this morning . . .)

Back to the meeting:

I shared my all-grain "stout," which came out very thin - more like a session brown ale.  Still has lots of roasted oatmeal flavor, but not the body of a stout.  I also shared my "California Common" lager, which has a nice lager taste but is a little sweet and malty for that style.  Remains highly drinkable and they are disappearing quickly from my basement.

Erik G. and Alison brought a bottle of their Oktoberfest from last fall, which has aged well!  A good example of a malty brown German lager.  Alison also brought along a bottle of her Ha Ha Holiday ale, which she thought had some off flavors originally.  I think it tasted like gingerbread, and it would go great with desserts.

We tried a few commercial beers, including Goose Island's peppery Pepe Nero (not our favorite - some of us thought it tasted a little ashy), Harpoon IPA ( a very pale colored ale, almost tasted like an IP "lager" to me), a Schneider Weiss, and finally, the strangest beer of the night, a Quelque Chose cherry and brown ale from Unibroue.

We opened the bottle and were surprised to find it "flat."  It tasted strongly of the fruit, almost like a juice.  We thought it might have gone bad.  But after reading reviews on Beer Advocate, we discovered that the beer is almost an aperitif!  It can be served chilled on ice (as we had it), or even warmed up Après-ski, as the bottle suggested.

Reactions to the beer were mixed.  I decided I liked it, but then again I like fruit beers.  It was definitely something different.

Eric B. also told us of his visit to breweries in Colorado, including Trinity Brewing Co. and Phantom Canyon.  We discussed other regional beers including Short's Brewing in Michigan and New Glarus in Wisconsin.  It got us all thinking of a beer road trip . . .

Finally, we agreed on doing a Saison as the next club beer.  Alison will do an extract recipe from the latest Zymurgy, and I will attempt an all-grain version of the same beer to compare.

We haven't yet planned the next meeting, or picked a club name yet.  At the next meeting we might be able to preview my hybrid bohemian-german all-grain Pils and Brian's  partial-mash Hoppy Helles.  And my quick IPA might be ready as well.

Until next month!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Northside Homebrew Club

All-Grain Pale Ale.
We had the first meeting of our homebrew club last night.  We went through quite a bit of beer while we talked about homebrewing. 

Allison and John brought a Bell's Winter White Ale, some homebrewed Porter, and a few bottles of Unibroue's Trois Pistoles. 

Erik (who was co-brewer of the Porter) brought some Rogue Juniper Pale Ale. 

Brian provided a variety of homebrews; his Spiced Cherry Dubbel, Belgian Trippel, and Orange Honey Lager. 

I brought up a few homebrews from the basement; my all-grain Pale Ale, a Weizenbock, my Two-Berry American Wheat, and my Over-Oaked IPA.  We finished the night with a palate cleansing Sam Adams Noble Pils.

Belgian Trippel in tasting mugs.
We discussed how often we should meet (once a month sounds good), what our name should be (Northside Floculators?), our level of homebrewing experience, and what our first "project" beer should be.  We're leaning towards doing a lager, probably a Märzen.  We also discussed different ways to add fruit in beer, and possible approaches to smoking grains.

Our next meeting will be in February.  By then I hope to have my California Common lager and my Dry Stout ready to sample.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Fermenting bock beer in closeup!

Much airlock activity as CO2 is released as the yeast turns the sugar in the wort into alcohol.  And the yeast are busy in the wort - the gravity was high so there is much sugar to convert.
I also think the "chilly" basement temps of 60-65 degrees are really helping this yeast.  I'll definitely use it again in the future, until I get a temp controlled fridge.

Just Getting Started

Bock beer fermenting vigorously in foreground, stout quietly bubbling in back.

Brewed a bock beer yesterday from a kit my mom gave me for Christmas.  What's interesting is that I didn't ask for the kit or suggest the style, but it's exactly the kind of beer I was thinking of doing next.  

The kit came from Homebrew Heaven out of Washington state.  It came with about 7.5 lbs of dark malt extract (although I think it was "cut" a bit with corn sugar), 1.5 lbs of various malts (including Victory, Crystal, and Chocolate), and both boiling and finishing hops of Hallertauer and Saaz.  The yeast is the dry Saflager S-23 lager yeast, which I had success with before. 

My basement is about 65-67 degrees right now, which is okay for this kind of yeast, although 45-55 degrees would be better.  I expect the beer to ferment for a week, then sit in a secondary for 2-3 weeks, then age in the bottle.

The OG was about 1.068, which points to a final ABV of over 6%.  Good for a bock style beer.

I'm brewing it now so it will be aged nicely for Maifest.

Which is why the next big step is buying a mini-fridge with temp control.   A lager like this wants to sit in a cool place for a few months.

So in the past four weeks I brewed and bottled my two-berry wheat; I brewed an all-grain stout, which is still in a primary; and I brewed an extract bock beer.  Do I have a homebrew problem, or am I just getting started?

Monday, January 3, 2011