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Oktoberfest is almost upon us, time to start brewing!
Oktoberfest is almost here, time to start brewing! – Images from Pinterest
I know that it may not feel like it with how hot most of the country has been this summer, but October is just around the corner. If you are like me and like to celebrate Oktoberfest or appreciate a good German lager during that time of the year, you are probably going to want to heat up the kettle, cool down the fermenter and get your brew on because you do not have that much time left!
For those of you who have not brewed beer at home before, I would recommend that you start with an extract home brewing kit before you attempt to tackle all grain home brewing. There are several inexpensive home brewing starter kits available that will allow you to try your hand at it and see if you enjoy the hobby as much as myself and a growing number of other home brewers do. You can click on the home brewing starter kits image below for a list of available homebrewing equipment kits that will help you brew your first batch!
Home Beer Brewing Starter Kits
Once you have your home beer brewing kit picked out, you are going to want to select a great beer recipe kit to brew for Oktoberfest! This will really depend on your personal beer preferences but I will give you a couple of suggestions to consider. First off, you will want to keep in mind how much time that you have before your batch of beer has to be ready to serve. This is important because a lager may take 6 to 8 weeks to ferment and condition and opposed to certain ales which may be ready to drink in 3 weeks or even 2 weeks if you are really pressed for time. Another thing to consider is that if you are having an all day or night event, you may want to opt for a lower alcohol beer so that your friends can put back a few with out getting too tipsy!
Here is a great listing of home brewing recipe kits that would go well with any Oktoberfest party. I personally like to brew up a Munich lager and an American Hefeweizen so that there is a little variety available but you really can not go wrong with any of these home beer brewing recipe kits. All of these beer ingredient kits are available in both extract and all grain versions.
Sometimes how brewers take for granted how big of an impact yeast makes on a beer. It seems like the grain bill and the hops garnish the lion share of attention, but the truth is that the yeast can play just as large of a role in certain beers. This is especially true with sours, lambics, gueuze and wild ales. One of the main yeast stains commonly used with wild ales and sours is brettanomyces or also commonly called brett.
Brettanomyces is very special because in addition to converting sugars to alcohol and CO2, it also creates a high amount of acetic acid and off flavors in certain environments. Brett or Brettanomyces is often described as adding a funky or horse blanket like flavor to beer and as you can imagine, in most cases is undesirable. It is important to note that if you are going to dabble in the use of brettanomyces or other souring bacteria such as lactobacillus and pediococcus you will want to consider setting aside specific equipment such as fermenters, kegs and racking canes for your wild ales and sours. Once these yeasts and bacteria come in contact with your fermenting equipment they can be more difficult to eradicate than typical brewing yeast strains due to their ability to survive in high temperatures, tolerate high alcohol levels and their ability to survive in low pH environments. If not, it is very important to make sure that you practice proper cleaning and sanitization methods to insure you will not contaminate future batches of beer.
Recently Brettanomyces has made become very popular in alternative beer styles. It is a powerful tool to have for a creative brewer who is working on designing interesting and flavorful beers. It is also an important reminder of just how important both yeast and fermentation conditions are in creation of a beers taste.
If you are looking to taste examples of well crafted brettanomyces beers, I highly recommend Russian River Sanctification which is a 100% brett beer and also any one of the Crooked Stave 100% brett release beers.
Have you ever finished up the fermentation of an IPA or pale ale, excitedly poured yourself a pint only to be dismayed that that it looked more like a hefeweizen?
That is where beer claifiers come in. Different parts of the home brewing process can contribute to chill haze or cloudiness in a finished beer. Too high of a pH or temperatures in excess of 170 F during the mash can lead to tannin extraction from the grains which will cloud and cause off flavors in your beer. Additionally, excess protein from big lighter colored beers can contribute to haze.
One of the best solutions that I have found to combating haze is a beer clarifier called whirlfloc. Whirfloc is a blend of irish moss and kappa carrageenan that encourages the precipitation of haze causing materials such as tanis, proteins and beta glucans. Best of all, whirlfloc is inexpensive and easy to use. About 10 minutes prior to the end of your boil, toss 1 tablet of whirlfloc into the kettle for every 10 gallons that you are brewing (half a tablet for a 5 gallon batch). The whirlfloc bind with the heavier solids and sinks with them to the bottle of the kettle.
Another great way that I use of fighting of haze in a beer is to cold crash at the ending of fermentation. To do so, I will knock my fermentation chamber temperature down to about 35F which will help the yeast and other residual solids in the beer precipitate to the bottom of the fermenter. I will typically allow the beer to crash for a week or two at that temperature prior to racking to a keg. This can also help clean up the flavor of a beer by removing excess yeast, prior to moving it to a keg or holding tank.
Just let me know if you have any questions on whirlfloc, cold crashing or any other beer clarifiers.
A recent trend for microbreweries and home brewers is to impart oak flavor upon their beer. Imbuing a beer with an oak flavor can be a good way of adding complexity or mellowing out other strong flavors in a beer.
Beer styles that typically benefit most from oak flavors are higher gravity stouts, porters, sours, traditional English Ales, and some Belgian ales. It is always important to use caution when adding oak to your beer because it is easy to overdo it and end up with a beer that tastes like a desk. Factors that impact the degree of oak flavor are the ABV of the beer, age of the oak, ratio of oak to beer, type of oak, toast of the oak, previous use of the oak, surface area, aging temperature, and aging time.
There are a lot of available options when it comes to imparting oak flavor on your beer. You can age the beer in an oak barrel, or you can add pieces of oak to your fermenter and age your beer with that oak. If you choose the latter option, you will need to decide if you want to use oak cubes, oak chips, previously used oak barrel pieces, an oak infusion spiral, or just chunks of oak. Each option has different potentials for flavor, so make sure that you choose the one that is right for you.
Oak cubes tend to be the most popular with home brewers. For most styles, you will want to add about 2 oz of medium toast new oak cubes per 5 gallons of beer, and allow it to age with the beer for 2 weeks to about a month. I would recommend sampling the beer each week to see if it has acquired the right amount of oak flavor, if it needs to be aged longer, or if it needs to have additional oak added.
A wide selection of oak additives for home brewing can be found here:
Here is a photo of the oak cubes that I added to my Russian River Consecration Clone. They were actual chunks of previously used Russian River Consecration barrels. I allowed the beer to age with them for about a month.
Adding oak flavor to your beer
In regards to my Russian River Consecration clone, I first soaked the oak cubes in a Cabernet Sauvignon. Vinnie from Russian River recommends using a bottle of Kenwood if you will be soaking your cubes first.
If you are interested in purchasing a Russian River Consecration clone kit, they can be found here and sometimes have the oak included in the kit. Consecration Kit
I highly recommend the kit, but make sure you have at least 6 months available for the beer to finish up. Just let me know if you have any questions.
There are right and wrong ways to store your hops to keep them as fresh as possible for future brewing and dry hopping. In this blog entry, we are going to cover some best practices for preserving the quality and potency of your hops when storing them for an extended period.
First off, it is important to be aware that hops are constantly degrading, and at best, all we can hope to do is slow the process down. As time passes, the resins, acids, and oils in the hops break down and the potential for aroma and bittering is drastically diminished. The two greatest causes of hop degradation are temperature and exposure to oxygen.
The colder you can store your hops, the better, as it will slow the rate of oxidization. Ideally, you want to store your hops in a freezer with a temperature of less than 30F. If possible, strive for a temperature closer to 20F, and do your best to make sure that the hops are vacuum sealed and free of any moisture when frozen. Oxygen is the true nemesis of hop freshness. Do your best to keep your hops properly sealed in a bag that is resistant to oxygen permeability and flushed with nitrogen. If you do not have access to a vacuum sealer, use a Ziploc bag, and remove as much oxygen out of the bag as possible.
If you have stored your hops for longer then 12-24 months, you will probably want to consider replacing them with some fresher hops. It is difficult to know how fresh the hops were when the supplier received and packaged them, so at that point they may already be 3 years old, and their bittering potential will be very difficult to predict. If the hops are brownish in color, and the aroma is faint or unusual, they should be discarded.
Over the last couple of years, both gluten free beer and gluten free home brewing have been becoming more and more popular. A person who is gluten intolerant no longer has to miss out on fantastic beer; you have choices! I have brewed several batches of gluten free beer and will be publishing some of my recipes in the upcoming months as well as adding a gluten free category to our best beers list.
For the most part, gluten free home brewing is identical to home brewing with non-gluten free ingredients. The only place where it gets tricky is when you need to make sure that you have enough diastatic starch conversion power available in the situation where you are making an all grain batch and are using starch based adjuncts. If you are making an extract batch, you should be good to go.
There are a variety of widely available ingredients for gluten free home brewing. The most common ingredients include sorghum liquid extract, brown rice liquid extract, dried rice powered extract, sugar, candi syrup, honey, maltrodextrin, corn, buckwheat, oats, and sweet potatoes.
If you are interested in gluten free beer home brewing kits you can find some quality kits here:
The following video shows American Wheat Ale yeast in active fermentation. The yeast was taken from the krausen of a beer that had been fermenting for a week. If you expand the video to fullscreen and look closely at the 400x magnification segment of the video, you will see yeast activity where small black specs are moving around inside of the yeast cell walls.
The video continues on to show the yeast at 100x and 40x magnification to give you an idea of just how many yeast cells there are on such a small glass slide. An active 5 gallon beer fermentation should have well over 10 billion active yeast cells during primary fermentation.
Video showing active yeast during fermentation:
Here is a still shot of the yeast at 400x magnification:
Active beer yeast at 400x magnification shown under a microscope.
Below is a video of a two-row malted barley grain shown under the magnification of a microscope. The video allows you to see a closeup of the structure of the grain. The footage was taken under approximately 100 power magnification.
Here is a still shot of the grain under magnification:
Crushed Malted Barley – Malt shown under magnification.
Dry Malt Extract or DME is typically used in extract beer brewing, for yeast starters, and in some cases, all grain brewing. To make dry malt extract, the sugars from a brewing mash are transferred from a mash tun or lauter tun and completely dehydrated and in a vacuum chamber. Typically, hops are not added to a malt extract.
A wide variety of home brewing dry malt extract is available here:
Liquid Malt extract or LME is typically used in extract beer brewing, yeast starters, and in some cases, all grain brewing. To make liquid malt extract, the sugars from a brewing mash are transferred from a mash tun or lauter tun and dehydrated and reduced in a vacuum chamber. When the process is completed, the liquid malt extract is only 20% water. Typically, hops are not added to a malt extract.
Irish moss, a beer fining agent, is a blend of seaweeds used to clarify beer. It works by making the smaller molecules in the wort aggregate into larger particles and then fall out of suspension where they collect on the bottom of the brew kettle. Typically 1 tsp per 5 gallons of wort is added 15 minutes before the end of your boil.