Archive for the 'Homebrew' Category

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Dangerous math

So I was thinking…
Cost savings of a batch over commercial beer:
Average 8.5 drinkable gallons = 1088 ounces = 90 12oz bottles = 15 six packs.
15 six packs @ $7 = $105
Raw materials for 8.5 gallon batch: $35
My time spent brewing = $0
Savings: $70 per batch.

14 gallon stainless conical fementer: ~ $700-900
$700/ $70 = 10 batches
$900/ $70 = ~13 batches
$700/ $5 pints at a pub = 140 “ones”

Yeah – I know. It’s a hobby. It doesn’t need to go to 11.

Jasmine IPA kegged

The Jasmine IPA brewing hit a snag while racking the chilled wort to the carboys. The hop/jasmine cruft clogged up the outlet and I ended up using a funnel and screen and just pouring the remainder in to the second keg. Somehow, I ended up with only around 3 gallons in the second carboy (low starting volume, evaporation, and saturated hop/jasmine slop).

I broke my graduated cylinder just as I was getting ready to take gravity readings, but I’m not too upset. At least it wasn’t the hydrometer, and at least the cylinder has lasted for a decade. So I ended up using catching the siphon draw with a cup then pouring it in to the hydrometer case. The final gravity was at 1.012 – a nice place to be.

Anyway, the first carboy resulted in a beer with a really nice floral aroma and great taste. I hope the jasmine component makes it through to the final product. I opted not to dry-jasmine the keg since the jasmine flowers don’t have the same antiseptic property of the hops. After talking with Gabe, I briefly considered soaking some of the jasmine in everclear to sanitize, but opted to instead just let see what the beer did on its own.

The smaller batch got a lot more hop flavor and is also very good in it’s own right. I dry hopped the keg with some Amarillo pellets (Have I mentioned that I hate pellets?) and expect it to be quite a different beer than the “good” batch. We’ll see in what turns up in a few days.

Jasmine IPA

Today I’m brewing a Jasmine IPA loosely based on Elysian’s Avatar. Avatar (the name greatly pre-date the movie hype) is one of my wife’s favorite beers, so I thought I’d give it a try. I picked up some jasmine via the web from a local reseller on Etsy. The bag arrived yesterday. I’m not entirely convinced by the experiment, and since this is a double batch (10 gallons), I’ll probably only do 5 gallons as the jasmine brew and the other as a dry hopped IPA using Simcoe hops. Here’s the base recipe. We’ll see if I go through with the split or just decide to do 10 gallons of Jasmine.


  • 17 lbs domestic 2-Row
  • 5 lbs Weyermann Pilsner
  • 1 lb domestic Munich
  • 1 lb Crystal 40L


  • 2 oz Simcoe @ 60 min
  • 2 oz Simcoe @ 10 min
  • 1 oz Simcoe @ 2 min
  • 1 oz Simcoe @ dryhop for 1/2 of the batch


  • 2 oz dried Jasmine @ 10 min
  • 2 oz @ flameout
  • 1-2 oz dryhop (is that a verb?)
  • Safale S-05 American Ale yeast x 2

Kegged the spruce ale

I kegged the spruce ale tonight and was very pleased with the results. I crash-cooled one of the carboys to see if that helped with the abundance of yeast still in solution when I racked to secondary. Just from a visual check, there wasn’t any noticable difference, but the flavor of the warm carboy was much more interesting. No surprise there, but both had a really nice, unique citrus sweetness. The warmer beer had much more of it, and as luck would have it, that’s the keg that I’ll be bottling from for gifts.

Now, we just need to find a name. “Just the tip” won’t work since I obviously used more than just spruce tips, and, well, it’s a little crass for something that we’ll pour at Christmas dinner. Michelle is looking for alliteration, so we’ll see soon what the name is. Current favorite? Santa’s Sprucey Sauce.

Current cost of a batch

My cost to brew 10 gallons has been around $30 for the last 2 batches. (that’s roughly $0.30/bottle) The cost is largely the cost of malt, though the last two purchases have also included some yeast packets, and in this recent batch, $4 for spruce essence. The last two batches have also been on the “larger” side, so I could easily drop the price even further.

Hops are not a cost I consider. And I’m glad. I recently visited two brew shops for parts and ingredients and I was kind of floored by the cost. $3.50 for an ounce of Amarillos or Cascades? Jeez! My Cascadian Dark Ale used a total of 11 oz of hops (not including the home crop). That’s nearly $40 in hops alone! So… Thanks Doug!

The benefit I suppose is that with the batch only costing around $30, I save an estimated $90 on beer. Now, clearly I don’t do this to save money, but that’s satisfying. Half a dozen more batches, and I’ll have paid for a stainless steel conical fermenter.

Spruce Tip Brew

holding some frozen blue spruce tips

Handful of spruce tips

While planning for a holiday brew, I discovered that spruce tips can only be gotten in the spring when the trees are budding. While I read of some folks experiences using old needles (and branches), the result wasn’t something I wanted to shoot for. So I started formulating for a bigger dark winter beer. Then a coworker posted a comment about completing a spruce beer, so I pinged him to see where he’d collected the spruce from. He’d harvested in the spring then frozen it, and he offered what he had left. Score! The following day he showed up with a frozen bag of adorable green buds that had a wonderful citrus aroma. He also shared some tips for brewing with them, such as the decay rate of the pleasant flavors coming from the spruce tips.

Anyway, I reformulated my beer and tried to bring the body down to much paler malt profile as to not overwhelm the spruce tips.

Grain bill

  • 14 lbs 2-row
  • 8 lbs Gambrinus pils
  • 2 lbs Munich
  • 1 lbs Crystal 10L
  • 1 lbs Victory


  • 2 oz Newport  (8% alpha) @ 60
  • 2 oz Crystal (4% alpha) @ 10
  • 1 oz Crystal @ 5 & 2 min


  • Unknown quantity of spruce tips (Tim, where’s my scale?)
  • 2 packs for Safale us – 05
  • 2ish tablespoons of Spruce essence (use sparingly)

I also picked up some spruce essence to bolster the fresh tips if needed, as well as two packets of dry Safale, which Steinbarts seems to have marked up significantly from the last time I purchased any. The price increase can’t have had anything to do with a shortage (yeast, exponential growth…), so I think it was just realization that the product is great and (used to) cost $5 less per unit than the liquid yeast. But I’m rambling.

Anyway, day of the brew, I mashed in  at around 6:30 am, and Alan showed up with some treats for later. My strike temp was on pretty well for a change and we mashed for 45 min @ 156F. After sparging, the kettle had just over 10 gal of wort, and we proceeded with a normal boil until around 10 minutes, at which point we gradually added the bag of spruce tips in over the total of ten minutes until flameout. I also added between 2-3 tablespoons of spruce essence at around 30 minutes hoping that the boil my eradicate the sodium benzoate. On Scott’s advice, I used less than 1/4 what the bottle recommended.

The wort actually tastes pretty good. It’s got a nice sprucely flavor, and my samples all had needles in them, but the flavor was clean, citrusy and hopefully, that carries to the final product.

Again, thanks to Gabriel for the tips (spruce), Scott for the tips (advice), and Alan for the help and company.

Hop crop 2010

Ella and I harvested this year’s hop crop from the Centennial plant and I estimate the harvest was at least 5 times what it was last year. This is good news. I can’t find my scale, so I have no idea what the final weight was, but volume-wise, it was about half-a gallon. The cones came right off the plant, with a  short pause to let some of the bugs out, and in to the kettle with about 5 minutes left in the boil. I don’t think the contribution will amount to much, but they’re in there. They’ll be competing agains 11oz of other hops (8 of Cascade, 3 Amarillo).

Ella picking hops

Ella picking hops

The Willamette plant didn’t do anything again. I think it’s coming up next year to make way for a producer.

Hiatus: terminating

I am a little shamed to admit I’ve not brewed since I did a fresh-hop ale back in October of 2009. Thesis work, kids, renovations, sloth, and guilt all got in the way. But tomorrow morning I’ll be brewing a Cascadian Dark Ale, which I’ve not yet “officially” tried. I’ve brewed a few browns and stouts that were a bit too hoppy, but this will actually be to style. Well…. if you can call it a style yet. When trying to find a guideline, I saw several different versions. I suppose I could aim for the top for the range, but I’m going to try incorperate fresh hops from my yard so there’s a bit of unpredictable going in to the brew.

A while back I’d spoken to my man Joe about how to create a successful dark without imparting too much burn flavor, and he recommended either steeping or mashing carafa III. Having since tried O’ Dark:30, I figured he know’s what he’s doing. Sadly, Steinbarts (which was a zoo) only had carafa II, so if the beer fails…

The malt bill will be:

  • 10 lbs domestic 2-row
  • 8 lbs Gambrinus pilsner malt
  • 1 lb Crystal 60
  • 1 lb Crystal 20 (they ran out of 60)
  • 1 lbs German Carafa II
  • 1 lbs domestic chocolate malt

The jury is still out on hops, but I have a 1 lbs brick of Cascades begging to get in on this. It’s a whopping 8.6% alpha, so I really need to be cautious. Plus, I have a yet to be determined amount of fresh Centennial hops which are just lovely, but I doubt it’ll amount to more than an ounce or two, wet.

So, the gear is staged in the garage, ready to go, and I’ll get up and start heating the HLT at 6am tomorrow, hoping to knock off with 10 gallons of wort and no more “dishes” by noon.

Hops Up!

Guess who I found poking up under the leaf mulch?

Fresh hop brew day

Yesterday turned out to be a rather long brew day. I started just after 6am and didn’t finish until nearly 3pm. The addition of time came from having to pick and prep the hops, doing a 10 gallon batch, and from having to stop for lunch with Ella, which then required a trip to the grocery store to get some bread for our grilled cheese. All said, I think maybe 1.5 extra hours were added by the extra child-based side trips, 1/2 hour from the extra hop-related work, and maybe an extra 45 minutes because of the larger volume of beer.

All told, the process went rather smoothly, and I ended up with over 11 gallons of wort, using 35 ounces of fresh hops, 2.5 ounces of commercially grown summits for bittering, and 1 ounce of mystery hops that I got from a neighbor and dried on an old window screen in the garage. The original gravity turned up around 1.052, lower than initially planned, but I ended up with more volume than expected. No complaints though.

The prototype tier is still in use, and this time I set up a perimeter using patio chairs and a dog lead. I didn’t want any curious neighborhood person or scrap metal collector to try and mess with a precariously perched tier with 9 gallons of 180F water sitting 6 feet in the air.

Here are some pics: