journal of a self proclaimed beer connoisseur

Our Brews

William the Bastard – Label and two week tasting

Here is the (simplistic) label we designed for this batch:

It is a little bit on the “long” side but it should still fit on our bottles nicely. Next batch I hope to get into color labels and I will just have them printed at the local print shop.

Yesterday (Monday, February 1, 2011) we cracked the last 1 liter bottle of beer that we had filled. It was not completely filled like the others so it makes a good choice for the first taste test.  We popped it open – and I mean popped. I pushed the swing top lid and a very loud pop resulted. Good sign that we got it carbonated.

The beer poured beautifully with just over one finger of head. So far so good.

As we took our initial smells we both agreed that there was a bit of a funky aroma going on with this beer. I am too inexperienced at home brewing to know exactly what or why this is. I have a suspicion that it is just because our beer is still so green and needs to bottle condition a few more weeks.

It has been in the bottle for about 2 weeks and our understanding is that it is thought to be best to wait 1 month before drinking it. Hopefully over the next little while the aroma mellows out to something more pleasing.

As for the taste…it was green but very good. The weird smell was definitely not in the taste of the beer. It is still young but was quite tasty. I can already see that our adaptation of this kit from a Cream Ale to a Northern English Brown Ale has been successful. I hope some more complexity develops in the flavors but as it is now it is already clearly the style we were going for.

We each downed just under a pints worth and were left satisfied with our efforts and hopeful for the remaining 21 liters.

I’ll post pictures next time I open one up.

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William the Bastard – Brew Day 3

Brew Day 3 – January 16, 2011

End goal for today was to get the beer into the bottles. There was a lot more work for today’s efforts compared to bottling our Blackout Stout. This was due to the fact that all our bottles have been used one before and also have a Blackout Stout label.

First thing we did was clean all the bottles and remove the labels from the last batch. We then submerged and soaked the bottles in a sanitizing solution made from Diversol and water. Once sanitized we rinsed the bottles and let them dry.

All equipment being used needed to be thoroughly sanitized as well. This included:

  • bottling bucket (i.e. same bucket used as primary)
  • spoon
  • measuring cup (for dissolving sugar)
  • siphon hose and pump
  • thermometer
  • hydrometer
  • beer thief
  • sampling tube
  • bottling attachment (just attached to a hose and then when pressed beer comes out!)

We submerged everything we could and let it sit for 15 minutes. We periodically wipe the sanitizing solution up the walls of the bottling bucket to ensure that it comes in contact with the sanitizing solution periodically. Once the time had elapsed we rinsed all the items and let them rest on a sanitized surface.

(more…)


William the Bastard – Brew Day 2

Brew Day 2 – January 6, 2011

Today we racked the beer from our primary to our secondary. This is the quickest stage of brewing I find. The majority of our time was spent sanitizing all of our equipment.

This is what the beer looked like after sitting in the primary:

Once sanitizing was finished, we got everything setup in the brewing area of my basement and started the auto siphon.

Next we just stood there and held the auto siphon in place being careful not to disturb the sediment at the bottom of the primary. We carefully tilted the bucket to get all the beer we could without bring along the sediment. There was very minimal beer left on top of the sediment when we were finished.

We kept the siphon in that last few drops and detached the one of the hose. We then took turns sucking a bit of the remaining beer from the  bucket to get a sample of our creation. Despite our own curiosity this isn’t bad practice to ensure that your batch hasn’t spoiled already through contamination or anything else.

We were both quite impressed with the taste and are now very excited for the finished product.

Once the carboy was full of our brew we put a bung and airlock in the top and hoisted it up onto the elevated surface. Best to do this now while any sediment in the carboy is already stirred up. You don’t want to do the lifting immediately before you bottle the beer or you will kick it all up and more sediment will  end up in your bottles.

We didn’t take any measurements of the beer (i.e. specific gravity) because the data at this point does not really matter too much. In other words, it doesn’t factor into the calculation to determine your alcohol by volume (ABV) at the end of the process. At least that was my thinking at the time.

In retrospect, we probably should have taken those reading and recorded them. I was thinking if my batch screwed up (or ended up delicious) we could compare our second attempt at it to these data points to see if we were on the right track. I suspect it would have given us the ability to be more consistent if we attempt this beer again in the future.

Should be about a week in the secondary and we can bottle!


William the Bastard – Brew Day 1

Brew Day 1 – December 27, 2010

This beer is being made using the Cream Ale kit from The Brewhouse and “hacking” it by creating a mini batch of wort and adding it to the kit.

Other than what is different from the mini wort batch we have modified the kit by discarding the dry yeast and using Wyeast 1098 Brit Ale.

To hack this kit we have purchased 1/2 lb of dark crystal malt and 1/4 lb of chocolate malt. The first thing we did was measure out the malt and add it in approximately 4 ounce batches to a heavy plastic freezer bag. We then used a standard rolling-pin to crush the malt within the bag. You don’t want this to make the malt powdered at all – just enough to break the husk.

We then added all the malts to grain bags and tied them off to prepare them to be added to the heated water. These were set aside.

All equipment being used in the days efforts was then thoroughly cleaned and sanitized using Diversol. This was done while we had 4 liters of water being heated on the stove.

Once the temperature was at 160 F (71 C) we submerged the grain bags in the water. Heat on the element was adjusted to maintain this temperature for 30 minutes.

We stirred the mixture lightly every 10 minutes.

At the 30 minute mark we removed the grain bags from the water and placed them aside for cleanup. The pot of heated wort was then taken outside (it is winter and cold here) and placed in the snow. This is to bring the temperature down to room temperature (approximately 21 C) and is known as “cold crashing”.

Once the temperature was about 21 C the mixture was brought back in the house to the “brewing area”.

Next we added the pH buffer to the primary before pouring the remaining 4 liters of water into the primary. We then added the wort from the beer kit. We were sure to pour this fairly aggressive to adequately aerate the wort. The more oxygen in the mixture the better the yeast will ferment the beer.

The last thing to add to the mixture is the liquid yeast package. We had “smacked the pack” about 4 hours earlier to break the nutrient pack and release it into the dormant yeast. This starts activating the yeast. We poured the yeast over the top of the wort. You do not stir the yeast at this point because you don’t want to fast track it to the bottom of the bucket.

The lid was then placed loosely on top of the primary and we hoisted it up on to an elevated surface so that when we go to rack the beer to the secondary we don’t need to move the primary and disturb the sediment that will have accumulated at the bottom. We covered the whole thing with a blanket and there it will sit until Brew Day 2 where we rack it to the secondary (i.e. glass carboy).

Brew Day 2 should occur in approximately 3-5 days or whenever the initial fermentation has settled down from the “aggressive” stage.

Data recorded:

Datecode on kit: 20101116
Datecode on yeast: 20101116
Original gravity (OG): 1.054
Temperature: 16 C (61 F)
Temp adjusted OG : 1.054


William the Bastard

We have decided what we are going to do for our second batch of beer. It is the base Cream Ale kit from The Brewhouse; however, we are going to “hack” it using some guidelines found online.

To summarize these modifications we would basically be doing a small wort batch independently using some dark crystal malt and chocolate malt. We’ll add this wort to the wort from the kit. The end result is intended to produce a Northern English Brown Ale.

We’ll also be substituting the dry yeast in the kit for Wyeast 1098 – British Ale Yeast.

That being decided…we have started to think about potential names for the beer. After much thought, I have reached what I think would be the most appropriate name.

English Brown Ales are characterized by their nutty flavor. So there is always the temptation to name the beer Busted Nut Brown Ale. But that has been done before.

My vote is to call the beer William the Bastard.

William the Bastard is another name by which William the Conqueror was called. William was the first Norman King of England from Christmas, 1066 until his death. His birth was illegitimate which is what landed him his unfortunate nickname.

I see three good reasons for this name:

1. William the Bastard was from Northern England and so is our style of beer.

2. Our beer is also of “illegitimate” birth as we are arriving at Northern English Brown Ale through a base kit of Cream Ale. Cream Ale is traditionally an American pioneered beer style.

3. It sounds cool and will allow me to use the picture above (of William the Bastard) as our label!

Feel free to send me your thoughts.


Blackout Stout – Finished Product

Here are a few pictures of the finished product. I will create another posting regarding my official “tasting” of the beer later. I didn’t take a lot of time to do these pictures carefully so please pardon the fingerprints on the glass and the fact that I allowed the head to dissipate while I was experimenting with camera and lighting.


Blackout Stout – Brew Day 3

Today we bottled.

At the end of Brew Day 2 we hoisted our secondary carboy onto an elevated surface so that it would settle and not need to be disturbed when we bottled.

Everything was meticulously sanitized again – this time including the bottles. We have opted for  EZ Cap bottles in both the 500 ml and 1 L sizes. We settled on brown glass as it protects the beer from light which is not good for a finished beer. Other options were clear or green.

These are the bottles: http://www.ezcap.net/

We love them – they work very well and are very easy to bottle (and open!).

Before bottling we racked the beer into a bottling bucket (just a big plastic bucket) where we had already poured the priming sugar solution. See it here on top of the filing cabinet:

To make the priming sugar solution we just added the sugar to two cups of boiling water. This step is necessary to achieve carbonation in the bottle.

The yeast will feast on this sugar in the bottle and create some gas as a byproduct. This will be the carbonation in the beer. The yeast will then settle again and create that bit of sediment common to home brew.

So to bottle we just had the siphon hose with an attachment that I forget the name of. Basically what this thing does is attach to the end of the siphon hose and once the siphon has started it won’t actually come out the end of the hose through this attachment until you press it up against a surface.

So you just press this to the bottom of your beer bottle and watch it fill up. When it reaches the level you want you just lift the end off the bottom. Very easy.

Pictures of the process:

Our final gravity reading I believe was 1.059 so with the starting value of 1.010 we estimate that our beer finished at an alcohol by volume of about 4.9%. I am trying to find the paper with this information to get a more accurate value.

Our next batch will be more carefully documented.


Blackout Stout – Brew Day 2

We again spent some quality time sanitizing everything that was going to come in contact with our beer.

The goal for today was to take more sampling information about our beer to gauge the progress of the fermentation and to move the beer into a glass carboy – called a “secondary”.

The process of siphoning the beer from the primary to the secondary is called “racking” the beer. The reason that it is preferable to use a glass carboy (or even plastic carboy) for the secondary fermentation stage is to reduce the amount of air in the headspace of the container. Unlike in the primary fermentation stage – where fermentation is very aggressive – you don’t want to have excess air in contact with the beer.

Our beer after racking to the secondary:

Blackout Stout - racked to secondary

Not everyone will even use a secondary or separate the fermentation phases. However, it is generally accepted that by doing so you are able to achieve more clarity and a cleaner beer in the end. As you rack the beer you are able to leave the sediment from the yeast at the bottom of the primary.

For this reason, it is a good tip to move your primary up to an elevated surface on your first day of brewing so when you go to rack it you don’t have to move it and thus disturb the sediment.

I recommend having an auto-siphon tool. These take one pump to start your siphoning. We just used our mouths the old-fashioned way but this obviously greatly increases your risk of introducing contaminants into your precious liquid.

The upside of this? You don’t have to spend more money and you get a chance to see what the beer tastes like!

These were the readings for our beer at this stage:

Date: 20101106

Specific gravity: 1.010

Temperature: 21 C

Temp adjusted S.G.: misplaced the paper with the converted number (we will be more professional next time)


Blackout Stout – Brew Day 1


Our first batch of beer turned out quite well. I am going to put up some posts summarizing the process we followed for the beer.

Although we gave our instance of this beer its own name, really it is just the Stout kit from http://www.thebrewhouse.com/.

We only made two notable modifications to the instructions:

1. We discarded the garbage dry yeast that comes with the package and instead opted to use Wyeast 1084 – Irish Ale. You can read all about that fine liquid yeast here: http://www.wyeastlab.com/hb_yeaststrain_detail.cfm?ID=6

2. We did not just blindly add the instructed amount of water. Instead we added about 2 liters and took a hydrometer reading to get the specific gravity. We then continued to add water until the specific gravity was within the style guidelines from BJCP.

I didn’t manage to take any pictures of our brewing on the first day where we added the wort to the primary (i.e. plastic bucket) and pitched the yeast.

We broke the smack pack for the yeast approximately 4 hours prior to starting the brewing process.

We spent a great deal of time carefully sanitizing all our equipment. If you didn’t know this – that is the golden rule of brewing. Be absolutely anal about sterilization or you will indeed spoil the batch.

So we added the water and the wort to our primary bucket and made a point of splashing quite a bit to aerate the wort. This is the only stage in the brewing process where air is good. The more air in the liquid the better the yeast will be able to do it’s job.

We also added the pH buffer to the mixture. When using the Brewhouse kits this is mandatory or your beer will be disgusting. It neutralizes what the manufacturer adds to keep the wort fresh in shipping / retailing. The end effect is that there is no change in taste to the beer.

Lastly we pitched the yeast into the beer (and did not stir) and then placed the lid on top of the bucket with a couple rolls of duct tape sitting on top to keep the lid from blowing off or anything. The lid was loose enough that gas can still escape.

We then covered the whole thing with a blanket and left it two weeks before “Day 2”.

Here is the pertinent information we thought to record:

Datecode on kit: 20091020 (this is old! we should have looked before buying!)

Datecode on yeast: 20101013

Date: 20101027

Specific gravity (S.G.): 1.049 – also known as “original gravity” or “O.G.”

Temperature of wort: Unknown – we didn’t know to check

Temp adjusted S.G.: Unknown