Brew Year’s Resolutions 2018

20170903_151314It’s a new year! Having reflected on the past year of brewing as well as how I hit my resolutions for the previous year, I’m ready to set out some goals for 2018.

  • Pitch a new article for a homebrew publication.
    • This is a holdover from last year. I had one article published in Zymurgy during 2017; now, I just have to get a pitch together for something else during 2018.
  • Perfect my oatmeal stout recipe.
    • I entered my Eagle Face Oatmeal Stout in the first-round 2017 NHC, and scored an exceptionally pleasing 40. Unfortunately, comments for improvement were pretty vague (which was a bit disappointing, given the caliber of judging there). I’m going to modify the base malt a bit, perhaps, and see if I can’t kick up the score and make it into the second round.
  • Brew some more sour beer recipes.
    • I had great success during the past two years with a Berliner Weisse and am working towards a respectable raspberry Belgian sour. I’m hoping to hone the raspberry Belgian, and brew at least one other kettle soured beer. A gose or another Berliner Weisse will hopefully be in the mix.
  • Brew a perfect IPA.
    • I feel like my IPAs are good right now, but could be better. A lot of this might be in dry-hop handling; I usually keg-hop the things, but end up with a result that can be a bit harsh. The upside of this is that loss of hop flavor from oxidation is less of an issue. It’s time to find a happy medium. For 2018, I want to experiment with different ways of hopping and transferring IPAs, to finally hit peak IPA! I’ll probably start with a return to dry-hopping in the primary…I need to first see if drop-off in hop aroma is even that big of a deal anymore given my kegging and cold storage setup. I had preliminary attempts for my Thanksgiving IPA, but it didn’t stick around long enough to verify hop longevity!
  • Hit my calculated starting gravities more consistently.
    • I’ve found that I am often 0.02 or 0.03 off my starting gravity, usually a touch on the low side. This is almost entirely a boil-off rate issue, so I want to dial that in a bit better this year.

This should be plenty to keep me busy–I’ll check in at the end of the year to see how well I did!

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2017’s Brew Year’s Resolutions — How Did I Do?

Nearly a year ago, I drafted a set of Brew Year’s Resolutions for 2017. Let’s check in and see how I did!

  • Do more science communication with homebrew as a vehicle.
    • This goal was a solid win! I gave my “The Dinosaur in My Beer” lecture in various forms for five different venues, including Homebrew Con, and have more on the way. It has inspired me to do yet more with homebrew scicomm–something to look forward to in 2018!
  • Pitch another article for a homebrew publication.
    • I didn’t get this one. Move it forward to 2018!
  • 20170128_132534Explore lagers and pilsners in more depth.
  • Use water chemistry more effectively.
    • I’m feeling really good about this one! I’ve done a lot more building water from scratch where appropriate, and feel like my beers are improved as a result. I’ve definitely fixed the formerly “flabby” character of my blonde and wheat beers, which is a major win.
  • Dial in my brewing system parameters more tightly.
    • This one was a partial win. Thanks to modifications in my mash-in procedure, I’m hitting that temperature pretty consistently. I’m less happy with how closely I’m hitting starting gravities; I need to up the boil-off rates for my calculations. Once that’s done, I should be in good shape.
  • Enter at least three homebrew competitions.
    • I got two out of three on this one. I entered Romancing the Brew and the NHC, but never quite got around to doing a third competition. I think I’m okay with that. At this stage in brewing, I’ve earned enough medals to feel confident in my product, but the overall feedback is becoming progressively less valuable. My strategy moving forward will be to enter competitions opportunistically, aiming for at least two in 2018.

In the end, I racked up three total wins, two partial wins, and two misses in the 2017 Brew Year’s Resolutions. I’m pretty happy with this–now time to start drafting my 2018 resolutions!

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2017’s Homebrew Highlights

20171113_1742532017 was a fun and productive year for my brewing. Here’s are some of the highlights:

  • Favorite Batch
    • Dunkel-Osteus
      • My first Munich dunkel brought together several techniques I had been practicing–water adjustments, late addition of dark grains, and lagering. It came out nearly perfectly, creating an intensely enjoyable and very drinkable beer.
  • Least Favorite Batch
    • Czech-ed Out Pilsner
      • My first dumped batch. When the hops have a funny aroma in the bag, they’re not going to have a better aroma in the brew. This ended up as a grassy-smelling mess (even though it looked beautiful). Lesson learned!
  • Experimental Recipe with Most Potential
    • Raspberry Belgian (version 1 and version 2)
      • I did two iterations of this batch; one with frozen raspberries and acid malt to provide fruit and tartness, respectively, and one with canned raspberry puree and kettle souring. The first batch hit the fruit flavor much better, although it wasn’t terribly tart. The second batch didn’t have nearly as nice of flavor or as pretty of a color, and was almost too sour. So, I’ll probably try another kettle-soured version that hits less acid (maybe a pH around 3.8?) and uses frozen fruit. With a bit of tweaking, this recipe should be a solid one.
  • Most Fun New Style/Recipe to Try
    • Red Rye Lager
      • I haven’t tasted the results yet, but this batch was just plain fun to plan and brew. I enjoyed experimenting more with rye, as well as applying my developing skills for lagers. It was probably the most creative brew I’ve done in awhile, in terms of going off-script for recipes.
  • Best Technique Added to Repertoire
    • Kettle souring with yogurt
      • I tried this with the second iteration of the Raspberry Belgian, and loved the concept. It’s way cheaper and easier than buying a fancy bacterial culture, and produces a nice, clean sourness. I want to try this with a few other styles, such as Berliner Weisse.


  • Best Ingredient Added to Repertoire
    • I discovered the Amoretti Craft Puree series at Homebrew Con this year (we got a bottle in our “swag bag”), and have really been enjoying playing with it. It seems to fill a nice niche in between fruit extracts and straight fruit purees; the blood orange variety went nicely with my American wheat beer, and I also crafted a tasty peach IPA with the stuff. 2018 will bring more brews with this series of purees!
  • Favorite Book
    • As we close out the year, I just finished Pete Brown‘s Miracle Brew. I’ve enjoyed Brown’s writing, since I discovered Hops and Glory, and this book is a worthy successor. Brown excels at combining travelogue with beer history, while being pretty entertaining in the process. Miracle Brew is no exception–he surveys the history and cultural influence of major beer ingredients, while introducing us to many of the folks behind the scenes. His books tilt towards the British (I got a bit lost in the otherwise enjoyable Man Walks Into a Pub, because I’m not immersed in British pub culture), but this one is cosmopolitan enough to be engaging even for us Americans. Highly recommended!
  • Other Milestones
    • It was a good year for blending beer and science communication; I had an article in Zymurgy on the evolution of hops, which presented a ton of new information on hops that hadn’t made it into the brewing literature yet. Additionally, I put together a slide presentation on the intersections between beer and paleontology, which I gave at several venues (including HomebrewCon).
  • Overall Stats
    • I brewed around 30 batches this past year–that’s a new record!
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Red Rye Lager

Moving through the winter months, and moving through my practice in the world of lagers, I’m feeling like something a bit different. I’ve got a good, clean German pils conditioning, so yet another pale lager would be somewhat boring. St. Patrick’s Day isn’t that far away, so an Irish-inspired beer seemed intriguing. I like Irish red ales, but rarely brew them. And then I thought…what about a red lager? Let’s take an Irish red ale recipe, and lagerize it!

Thus, my Red Rye Lager was born. I started with the Better Red Than Dead recipe from AHA, and worked a bit of magic on it. Instead of Maris Otter, I subbed in pilsner malt. To add a little more character, I dropped in a pound of rye malt. Thanks to a suggestion on the AHA forum, I used Carafa III instead of roasted barley for color adjustment. The hops got switched over to lager-appropriate hops, too. Finally, I wanted a yeast that would be clean but flavorful–and a California Common yeast seemed perfect.


This was a fun recipe to work out…I feel like it’s something a bit different and creative. It doesn’t really conform to any particular BJCP style, which is also a plus in my book! The style guidelines are handy, but I find sometimes discourage me from thinking outside the box. I’m not brewing this for competition, so the sky is the limit!

Red Rye Lager

  • 5 lbs. Château Pilsen malt (Castle Malting)
  • 1.5 lbs. Barke pilsner malt (Weyermann Malting)
  • 3 lbs. Munich I malt (Weyermann Malting)
  • 1 lb. rye malt (Briess Malting)
  • 0.5 lb. CaraRed malt (Weyermann Malting)
  • 2 oz. Carafa III malt (Weyermann Malting)
  • 0.5 oz. Magnum hop pellets (13.2% alpha), 45 minute boil
  • 2 oz. Hallertauer Mittelfrueh hop pellets (4.0% alpha), 5 minute boil
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 10 minute boil
  • 0.5 tsp. Fermax yeast nutrient, 10 minute boil
  • 1 pkg. San Francisco Lager Yeast (White Labs, WLP810), prepared in 1.75L starter

Target Parameters

  • Infusion mash to hit target of 152°, 60 minutes, batch sparge
  • 1.053 o.g., 1.016 f.g., 4.8% abv, 26 IBU, 14 SRM
  • Water adjusted to hit target of 52 Ca, 10 Mg, 11 Na, 43 SO4, 53 Cl, 109 HCO3, RA 46 ppm.


  • I prepared a 1.75L starter for the yeast, 24 hours in advance. Within 12 hours, it had a visible fermentation.
  • I mashed in with 4.5 gallons of RO water, with 2 g Epsom salt and 3 g CaCl added, in addition to 3 mL of 75% phosphoric acid. The strike water was around 165°, to hit a mash temperature of 154°. It was down to 149.5° after 60 minutes. At this point, I vorlaufed, drained the mash tun, and added 4.5 gallons of tap water at 180°.
  • After waiting another 10 minutes, I vorlaufed and drained the mash tun again.
  • In total, I collected 7.3 gallons of wort with a gravity of 1.047, for 81% efficiency. Wow! I wonder if it was because I had a slightly thinner mash than normal?
  • I brought the runnings to a boil, adding hops and other ingredients per the schedule. After a 60 minute boil, I turned off the flame and chilled down to 70°.
  • I transferred the wort to the primary fermenter, and then hit it with 2 minutes of pure oxygen. I pitched the yeast, and sealed it all up. I will be fermenting at 60°.
  • The beer was brewed on 22 December 2017. Starting gravity was 1.053, exactly on target. I ended up with just over 6 gallons in the fermenter.
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Attempting my first hard cider

I like an occasional cider, but southern California isn’t exactly the land of apples. We do citrus and avocados quite well, but the flavorful apples that form the core of a good cider just don’t exist here. As a result, I’ve never brewed any ciders. A bit of reading and some chance conversations, though, got me thinking about giving it a try. Plus, it’s a nice time of year for the stuff!

ciderThis recipe is dead simple: apple juice and yeast. I may add 10 mL of 88% lactic acid at the end (per suggestions from Brülosophy), and may even backsweeten a touch (we’ll see). This is a first batch, so it’s entirely new territory.

After looking through the options at the local grocery store, I settled on a blend from North Coast. I liked the hazy look (which presumably means a slightly more complex flavor as opposed to the typical hyper-filtered juice), and it didn’t have any preservatives in it.

Dead Simple Hard Cider

  • 3 gallons North Coast apple juice (pasteurized, no preservatives)
  • 1 package Safale US-05 ale yeast

Target Parameters

  • 3 gallons into the fermenter, ~2.5 gallons in the keg
  • 1.042 s.g., 1.000 f.g., 6.8% abv


  • I dumped the 3 gallons of juice into a sanitized fermenter and pitched the yeast.
  • I started this batch on 27 December 2017. I am fermenting at 66°; starting gravity was 1.042.
  • I kegged this batch on 7 January 2018. Final gravity was 1.001, meaning I am sitting at around 5.4% abv.
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