Over the last year or two, session beers have been making a real name for themselves and are becoming more and more commonly featured at breweries. With their new-found popularity, many might ask, what makes a session beer a session beer?
That is a fantastic question. A session beer is typically considered to be a balanced beer with an alcohol by volume content of less than 5%. A session beer allows the consumer to enjoy multiple beers with out becoming overly intoxicated. Session beers can be a fantastic choice if you want to enjoy a couple of beers without having to worry about getting home safely.
The key to a great session beer is not simply a low alcohol content—that would be easy. It is about complimenting a potentially thin body with a great and memorable flavor. The perfect session beer is one where the drinker does not realize they are having a session beer.
Perhaps the best session beer that I have had is the Tustin Brewery Stay All Day India Session Ale. It strikes an ideal balance between flavor and body. Just before the pint glass reaches your mouth for the first sip, your nose is filled with the fragrant dry hopped aroma, and a smile instantly comes to your face. Each sip is packed with a robust hop flavor, yet does not go overboard. The body is slightly lighter than what is usual for an ale, but unless you are thinking about it, you can hardly notice. If you ever have the chance to grab a pint, or even better, a mug, I highly recommend it.
If you are looking to brew your own batch, I have an all grain recipe for a fantastic session pale ale located here. This is my second favorite session beer:
A Graf or Graff is a term used to describe either an apple cider that has been hopped, or a beer where apple juice or cider has been added to the wort to enhance the flavor of the finished beer. Graf beer seems to have recently become more popular in the home brewing community.
A couple of months ago, I decided that I would try my hand at creating an Oktoberfest Graf Ale hybrid beer. I wanted to capture the feeling of the harvest in my beer without producing an overly fruity flavor, and figured that an Oktoberfest Graf Ale would be the perfect match. I was very pleased with the final product, and it was well received by everyone who tried it.
I kept the apple cider level to only 16% of the total wort so that it would only accentuate the beer instead of taking the focus away from it. As the beer fermented, the majority of the apple flavors were removed from the graff; in fact, before I told those who had a glass, most were unaware that it had apple added to it. On my next batch, I may try going as high as 25% to pick up a bit more of the apple, but to be honest, I am very happy with the outcome and may just replicate the recipe next time around. You may also want to consider back sweetening your graf as well, if you want some extra sweetness.
Here is a quick version of the West Coast Brewer Oktoberfest Harvest Graf Ale all grain recipe (6 gallons).
4 lbs. German Pilsner Malt
6 lbs German Munich Malt
1 lb German Dark Munich Malt
.5 lbs. Weyermann Caramunich II
1 oz German Tradition (60 min)
1 gallon of fresh apple juice or apple cider with no additives or preservatives (add at secondary)
Drop me a line if you have any questions and happy brewing!
Here is a photo of the graf beer. It still needs to age for a while to bring a bit of the haze out, but aside from that, it is delicious and ready to consume!
Cleaning and sanitizing your home brewing equipment is perhaps the single most important step in the home brewing process. Without proper cleanliness, your home brew is almost certainly going to suffer off flavors caused by organic compounds, residues, bacteria or fungus. In today’s blog entry, I am going to review some of the popular home brewing cleaners that are available on the market.
There are two typical types of cleaners available to home brewers, oxygen based and alkali based. Perhaps the most popular alkali cleaner is PBW or Powdered Brewery Wash. PBW was originally developed for Coors Brewing Company, but is now widely used in many large commercial breweries. PBW should be diluted to 1 to 2 ounces per gallon of warm water for cleaning kettles and chillers, and approximately 3/4 ounces per gallon of warm water for all other equipment. If time permits, it is best to soak equipment for approximately 12 hours in PBW solution and then rinse. PBW is capable of dissolving most organic brewing compounds without the need for scrubbing and is safe to use on all standard brewing equipment, including stainless steel. Powdered Brewery Wash is my cleaner of choice.
The most widely used oxygen based home brewery cleaners are Easy Clean and One Step. The main advantage to these cleaners is that no rinsing is required, but they are not typically as effective as PBW at removing tough stains or cleaning hard to reach areas.
It is important to keep in mind that cleaning is only the first step in preparing your fermentation, racking, and bottling equipment. You must also sanitize your equipment to insure that it is free of bacteria or fungus that could compromise the taste of your beer.
A false bottom is a perforated or slotted screen on the bottom of a mash tun or lauter tun that restricts grains from being collected with the wort when it is drawn from the mash in preparation for the boil. There are a variety of false bottoms available for home brewing.
Keg airlocks are now available if you decide that you would like to use your kegs to ferment your beer. I conduct my secondary fermentation in kegs because I am able to store more of them in my fermentation refrigerator than carboys. Since there is only minimal fermentation occurring during secondary, head space is not a real issue.
I thought it might be helpful if I created a list of must haves if you are considering getting into home brewing, but do not want to spend a lot of money on gear until you know how much you will enjoy it.
If you are just starting out, you will want to begin with extract brewing. In extract brewing, the starches from grains have already been extracted and converted to sugar for you. To make things even easier, most home brewing supply stores and online vendors will have ready made extract home beer brewing kits that will provide you with all of the ingredients you will need. I advise that you start with an ale since they are lower maintenance than lagers and are typically ready to drink much sooner.
Here is what you will need to get started home brewing beer:
1) Large Pot – You’ll need this to boil your home brewed beer. The larger the better, but at least 3 gallons in size if you’ll be making a 5 gallon batch of beer. You will need to add additional water after your wort has been boiled to dilute it to 5 gallons if you do not have a large enough pot to boil the entire batch.
2) Fermentation Vessel – You’ll need a glass or plastic fermentation carboy, or a plastic bucket with a drilled hole airlock. The fermenter needs to be sanitized and airtight, but it has to allow the massive amount of CO2 that is being created during fermentation to escape. I highly recommend you purchase either a carboy or bucket built for fermentation as opposed to making your own unless you are very handy. If wild yeast or bacteria gets into your fermenting beer, it can quickly ruin a batch.
3) Airlock – As mentioned above, you will need an airlock for your fermenter.
4) Cleaner and Sanitizer – Cleanliness is rule number one when it comes to home brewing. Anything that will come in contact with the wort or beer after boiling must be cleaned and sanitized first to avoid contaminating the wort or beer. Every item should be cleaned properly and then rinsed of any soap or cleaning residue. Next, the item should be sanitized using either an iodine or acid-based solution to ensure that it is free of any germs, bacteria, or foreign fungus/yeast. You can use a food grade cleaner that you have around the house, just make sure that all of the residue is removed, as it can impact the taste of your finished beer. I recommend you purchase a food grade sanitizer if possible.
5) Siphon and Siphon Tube – You will want to purchase a siphon and siphon tube to allow you to transfer your beer from primary to secondary fermentation if you will be conducting a two stage fermentation. You can also use it to transfer the finished beer to your bottles.
6) Bottles – If you want to save money, you can collect beer bottles and reuse them to bottle your own beer. Be sure that the bottles are properly cleaned and sanitized prior to bottling. You will want to avoid screw cap bottles, and if you can find them, latch top bottles are ideal since they do not require capping.
7) Bottle Caps and Beer Bottle Capper – You need to purchase an appropriate amount of beer bottle caps and a beer bottle capper so that you can bottle your beer when it has been finished.
8) Thermometer – You will also want a cooking grade thermometer to check your temperatures.
9) Beer Ingredient Kit – Lastly, you will need to choose a beer ingredient kit for the type of beer you want to make. I recommend starting with something simple that you really enjoy drinking. My first kit was an American Wheat extract kit. It was very easy to brew and it came out wonderful, way better then I expected it would. Beer always seems to taste better when you brew it yourself!
There are a variety of other items that will come in handy, such as a large paddle to stir with, a funnel, a wort chiller, and secondary fermenter; but for your first batch, you should be able to get by with the items listed above. I have included some links for home brewing recipe kits and home brewing equipment kits that will provide you with all that you need to get started at a reasonable price.
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.
Liquor is simply water in beer brewing terms. The hot liquor tank is a large vessel that heats water for the different steps in the brewing process. The water that is released from the hot liquor tank is known as liquor.
A mash tun is a brewing tank used for converting and extracting sugars from grains and certain types of adjuncts. The crushed grains are loaded into the mash tun and then mixed with temperature controlled hot water. The hot water causes an enzyme reaction in the grains that converts their starches to sugars. The sugars are then rinsed from the grains with hot water that helps liquefy the sugars so that they can be more easily extracted from the grains. Many mash tuns are fitted with a raised perforated false bottom that permits the sugars to be extracted from the grains without requiring the grain husks to be transferred to the next stage of the brewing process.
The photo below displays a mash tun in the WestCoastBrewing.com home brewing sculpture/beer rack. The mash tun is in the center with the hot liquor tank to the right and the boil kettle to the left.
Beer lacing is the white foam residue that is left on the side of the glass after the beer has been consumed or once the head has subsided. It is called lacing because it resembles white lace cloth. Lacing is considered a beneficial quality for a beer to have, and typically speaking, a beer with a good head retention will also have good lacing.
RIMS or recirculating infusion mash system is a mash infusion system that either utilizes a pump to recirculate the fluid in the mash over a secondary heat source (outside of the mash tun) to maintain the mash temperature, or constantly recirculates the mash onto itself while direct heat is applied to the mash tun to regulate the temperature. The fluid is pumped at a rapid enough pace to keep the temperature of the mash at an equilibrium and prevents the wort from being scorched or overheated.
A HERMS or heat exchanged recirculating mash system is a mash recirculation system that regulates mash temperature by pumping the wort from the mash tun through a heat exchanging tube, coil inside of the hot liquor tank, or a secondary heating tank. The wort then flows back into the mash tun to maintain the mash temp without applying direct heat to the mash tun.