I recently had a chance to revisit Russian River Brewing when some friends and I decided to take a trip to Northern California to visit a few breweries. For those of you who are not familiar with the Russian River name, they brew such popular craft beers as Pliny the Elder, Pliny the Younger, Blind Pig, Beatification, Consecration, Supplication and Sanctification. In the craft brewing world they are perhaps the most highly regarded US brewery and for good reason.
Russian River Brewery Review
In my opinion what makes Russian River so great is their uncompromising commitment to making the best craft beer possible. What I just stated above sounds like something you would read on any brewery’s marketing material, but in this case I truly feel that that the statement is true and deserved. Consider this, Russian River servers up flights of beer that consist of up to 16 beers on tap. As you make your way through the overwhelming diversity of styles and variations, in addition to becoming intoxicated you are awe struck at how one brewery could master so many styles. Not one of their beers are good, they are all either great or exceptional. Sure, you may not be a fan of a few of the styles, but it is still a great beer for that type. One of my friends ordered a porter for his second beer and I remember thinking, you are at Russian River, home of the best IPA’s and Sours in North America, why in the world did you just order a porter. So I asked him if I could try it before I passed judgement on his sanity and I was shocked by how fantastic it was. If they make mistakes, they certainly do not serve the questionable beer to their customers. I have never received a beer from them that was cloudy when it should have been clear, a beer that was still when it should have been carbonated, a beer that was bitter when it should have been subtle or a wild ale that was more skunk than funk. That is what I mean when I say that they do not compromise when it comes to their beer.
If you are ever in the Santa Rosa area and love beer, you really owe it to yourself to stop by the Russian River Brewing Company. There will be more than likely be a wait, parking will probably be difficult to find and the bar will probably be crowded, but it will all be worth it!
West Coast Brewer Top 10 Easy Ways To Improve Your Home Brewed Beer
Top 10 Tips For Improving Home Brewed Beer
Home brewing is an fun but complex hobby, and home brewers are always on the lookout for ways to make their next batch of beer better than the last. The following is a list of the 10 easiest tips and methods for improving your home brewed beer.
1) Proper Cleaning And Sanitization Probably the easiest way of improving the quality of your beer is to simply clean and sanitize your home brewing equipment properly. Cooled wort is extremely susceptible to contamination from bacteria and wild yeast strains. Anything that comes in contact with the wort once it has been cooled must be sanitized. Even small amounts of bacteria can quickly ruin the taste of your home brewed beer.
2) Use a Yeast Starter (or at Least Rehydrate Dried Yeast) Many home brewers fall prey to under fermented home brewed beer, stalled fermentations, or off flavors caused by under pitching yeast or pitching nonviable yeast. A yeast starter is a great way of boosting your yeast cell count and of verifying the viability of a liquid yeast. If you are unable to create a yeast starter and are using dry yeast, at the very least you should rehydrate your dried yeast.
3) Aerate/Oxygenate Your Wort Aerating and oxygenating your cooled wort is a fantastic method for improving the quality of your beer. Yeast requires oxygen to replicate quickly and once the airlock has been placed onto your fermenter, little to no new oxygen will be available for the yeast to consume.
4) Temperature Controlled Fermentation Many home brewers who are first starting out take the importance of fermentation process for granted. During fermentation, billions of yeast cells are digesting malt sugars and converting them to nearly equal portions of carbon dioxide and alcohol. If the temperature of the fermentation is too high for your yeast strain, the fermentation may occur too rapidly and foul off flavors may be produced in your beer. If the temperature is too low, the yeast may not reproduce quickly enough and your beer may stall, be under fermented, or increase the possibility of a bacterial infection. So always pay attention to the temperature requirements of your yeast strain, and ferment your beer in a temperature controlled environment if possible.
5) Dechlorinate and Filter Your Water Water is the primary ingredient in beer, and its importance should not be underestimated. Chlorine and contaminants can create significant off flavors in your finished beer. Carbon water filters are relatively inexpensive, and I highly advise that you pass your brewing water through one before using it during any part of the home brewing process.
6) Use Fresh Ingredients, Especially Hops Home brewing ingredients, just like all other food ingredients, go bad and diminish in flavor and effectiveness over time. Whenever possible, always use the freshest available extracts, grains, yeasts, adjuncts, and hops when making your home brew. If you have spare ingredients, make sure that you store them properly for future use. Hops and yeasts should always be stored in the refrigerator.
7) Dry Hop Your Beer Dry hopping is a simple and effective way of improving the aroma of a beer. Approximately 7 days prior to kegging or bottling your beer, simply add an appropriate amount of aroma hops to your fermenting beer to impart some fresh hopped aroma to it. Dry hopping is not acceptable for all beer styles, but can be a fantastic addition to IPAs and pale ales.
8) Do Not Rush Your Beer It is easy to get excited about a beer and cut corners so that you can enjoy the beer more quickly. Unfortunately, cutting corners typically comes with a price. Beer takes time to brew, ferment, and condition. Do your best not to cut your boil short of 60 to 90 minutes, rush your fermentation by allowing the temperature to get too high, end fermentation early, or take shortcuts in bottle or keg conditioning.
9) Use Finings When Appropriate A lot of things go into making a great home brewed beer. It is more then just taste. When appropriate, fining agents such as whirlfloc should be used to improve the clarity of your beer. Whirlfloc and other finings, such as Irish Moss, are very simple to use; you just drop a tablet in 15 minutes prior to the completion of your boil, and it will help precipitate excess proteins and tannins out of your wort, leaving you with a clearer and cleaner finished beer.
10) Do Not Oxidize Your Beer Oxygen can quickly skunk the flavor of your home brew, and the only time when oxygen is a good thing is when you are aerating your wort prior to pitching your yeast. Even then you must be cautious not to aerate your wort if it has not been cooled to 80F or less, as you may risk causing hot side aeration. When racking or transferring your home brew, always be cautious not to splash or let the beer bubble up, introducing oxygen into it. If you keg your beer, it is a good idea to purge the head space of the keg with CO2 after filling the keg.
Those are the West Coast Brewer 10 Easy Ways of Improving Your Home Brewed Beer.
Many of the items mentioned above such as whirlfloc and Irish moss can be purchased 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.
A wort chiller is a device used to rapidly cool the wort after the boil has completed. Typically the wort is knocked down from boiling temperatures to less than 80° F as quickly as possible so that yeast can be pitched. Once the wort falls below boiling temperatures, it becomes susceptible to bacterial and wild yeast contamination. It is important to get the wort below 80° F without splashing or aerating it too much, as hot side aeration can oxidize your wort above that temperature.
There are three typical types of home brewing wort chillers. Immersion chillers are large coils constructed of copper or stainless steel. They are placed inside the brew kettle while cold water is pumped through the chiller, cooling the wort. Plate chillers are made of fused plates and have channels where the cold water is pumped in from one end, causing it to intersect with the plates being heated by the wort from the other end, which rapidly cools the wort. Lastly, counter flow convolution chillers have hot wort flowing through one tube as chilled water passes over it from the opposite direction in a surrounding tube. I personally prefer the counter flow convolution chillers because they permit me to cool my wort quickly while also being easy to clean, since hops and trub are less likely to get lodged in the tube than they are in a plate chiller.
Below is a photo of three examples of home brewing wort chillers: an immersion chiller, plate chiller and a counter flow convoluted chiller.
Vorlauf comes from the German word for mash recirculation. Vorlauf is the process of pulling the wort from the base of the mash tun or lauter tun and recirculating it back on to the top of the grain bed. Vorlauf typically occurs after the end of the mashing process. As the hot wort is recirculated through the grain bed of the mash, the grains act as a particle filter, clearing the wort. As the wort is recirculating, it becomes cleaner and less turbid until finally it is clear and ready to be passed to the boiling vessel. A pump is typically used to recirculate the wort at a steady and controlled pace. In the case where a home brewer does not have a pump available, the wort may be drawn into a container and slowly poured back on top of the grain bed. This process can be repeated until the wort has become clear. Additionally, rice hulls may be added to a mash as a means of boosting the filtration capability of the grain bed.
Wort recirculating in the mash tun prior to being transferred to the boil kettle:
Turbidity is haziness or cloudiness in beer or wort. It is caused by the suspension of particulate matter in the fluid. In order to remove the turbidity of wort in the mash or lauter tun, it is recommended that you recirculate the wort over the grain bed, which will act as a particle filter. Recirculation is a great method of clearing the wort prior to sending it to the boil kettle.
Sparging is a brewing process that involves passing heated water through the grain bed of a mash to extract sugars from the crushed grains and adjuncts. Sparging is typically conducted at approximately 167° F to 170° F; if the temperature exceeds 170° F, the brewer risks extracting excessive amounts of tannins from the grains. If the temperature is too low, then the sparge will be ineffective at liquefying the remaining converted sugars from the grains. While the sparge water passes from the hot liquor tank to the mash tun, or lauter tun, via a sparge arm, the extracted sugars and water are being drained from the base of the vessel and relocated to the boil kettle in preparation for to upcoming boil.
This mash is being sparged at 168° F, while the beer is being transferred from the false bottom at the base of the mash tun over to the boil kettle.
Sparging in the mash tun, while wort is transferred to the boil kettle.
A session beer is defined as a beer with an alcohol by volume or ABV of less then 5%. The purpose of a session beer is to permit the drinker to enjoy multiple beers at a sitting without becoming overly intoxicated.
Beer sediment is the collection of solids that fall out suspension of a fermenting or conditioning beer. Sediment is mostly comprised of yeast, grain solids, hop solids, and adjunct solids. As the beer ferments or conditions, the dense solids fall and settle to the floor of a fermenter, conditioning vessel, or bottle, in the case of a bottle conditioned beer. The sediment is typically discarded, but if the yeast is still healthy, it may be recycled from the sediment to be used to ferment future beers.
Primary fermentation in beer brewing is the initial fermentation process where yeast will convert most or all of the wort sugars to alcohol and CO2 (carbon dioxide). After the yeast has been pitched into the wort, there is typically between 2 and 24 hour yeast lag time where the yeast acclimates to the fermentation environment and begins to replicate consuming sugars and the available oxygen in the wort; there is little alcohol conversion and CO2 generated during the lag phase.
Once the lag phase completes, a foamy head called a krausen begins to form in the fermentation vessel. The krausen is composed mostly of proteins, yeast, and the carbon dioxide that the yeast is rapidly producing. During primary fermentation the yeast is producing approximately equal parts of both alcohol and CO2. Depending on the style of beer, original gravity, quantity of yeast pitched, and fermentation temperature, the primary fermentation for an ale will last between 5-14 days, then it will then be transferred to a secondary fermentation vessel to allow the beer to condition and finish out its fermentation. In some cases only a primary fermentation is completed, and the beer may spending additional time in the primary fermenter or condition in the bottle, keg, or holding vessel.
Primary fermentation occurring two days after the yeast was pitched into an American Wheat style Hefeweizen. The krausen has formed and a great deal of alcohol and CO2 is being produced.
Milling is the crushing of grains and malt in preparation for the mash. The grains are milled so that the husk is cracked and the internal starches of the malt and grains will be exposed to the enzyme reaction taking place in the mash.