What’s Brewing? February 2020 Edition

stainless steel fermenter in fermentation chamber
The new fermenter, bubbling away with a Czech dark lager

Excitement at the brewery! I just got my first stainless steel fermenter, thanks to a clearance deal at my local homebrew shop*. The fermenter is nothing fancy, but the price was right and I have been meaning to start transitioning away from glass carboys in the name of safety and easier sanitation.

Since last report, I have had three brewing sessions, for a kölsch, a Czech dark lager, and an American IPA.

Kölsch is my homebrewing club’s March contest beer. I vacillated a bit on recipe design, but settled for a version without wheat, which supposedly better matches “typical” kölsch in Cologne. Pilsner malt makes up 2/3 of the grist, and kölsch malt (from Schill malting) makes up the remainder. I elected to run with American hops, swapping in Liberty instead of German varieties. It seems to be moving along pretty well, and I will keg it in a week or two before lagering until the contest.

The Czech dark lager is the inaugural batch for my new stainless steel fermenter. I’ve never brewed this style before, but wanted to try it as a dark lager option for the taps.

Finally, the American IPA is taken from a recipe in Homebrew Recipe Bible. It used some hop varieties I haven’t brewed with much (particularly Ahtanum, along with CTZ and Chinook), and some familiar favorites (Cascade, Amarillo, Centennial, and Simcoe). Although I’m fairly comfortable formulating an American IPA recipe, I think it’s good to sample some external recipes on occasion, to see what flavor combinations others like. It keeps me out of a rut!

In the lagering chamber, I have the German pils and red rye lager. I had a near disaster with that a few days back, when I shifted some things around and didn’t notice that the probe on my temperature controller had fallen out of the chamber. The result was an overnight freeze of the kegs! Luckily, the damage seems to be minimal, and I thawed them out over a day or two. One interesting phenomenon–as the beers thawed, they stratified heavily, forming a sort of eisbock. Unfortunately, it meant I had to agitate the kegs a bit to remix the beer, setting back a week of quiet lagering. Hopefully the haze will continue to settle before I serve. When I tasted the beers following thawing (and after agitation), I didn’t notice any major flavor damage. I normally tape the temperature probe in place on a fermenter (to make sure the fermenter temperature is accurately measured), but leave it loose when lagering in the keg. I learned a valuable lesson–find some way to secure the temperature probe inside my lagering chambers!

Right now, I have a festbier, a session porter, and a pale ale on tap. It fits my tap philosophy well, of having something lighter, something darker, and something hoppier on tap at all times.

*If you’re in the San Dimas area, Pacific Brewing Supplies is an awesome, family-run (and family-friendly) business. They have a broad, well-stocked inventory, and the owners are super knowledgeable.

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Kitchen Sink Porter

Continuing in my “kitchen sink” series of beers, I brewed a porter recently; it was really a session porter in the end, which has been nice for easy quaffing during the winter months.

Kitchen Sink Porter

  • 7 lbs. Maris Otter malt (Crisp)
  • 1 lb. Munich II malt (Weyermann)
  • 0.75 lb. caramel 60°L malt (Briess)
  • 0.5 lb. pale chocolate malt (Crisp)
  • 5 oz. caramel 120°L malt (Briess)
  • 2 oz. chocolate malt (Bairds)
  • 1 oz. roasted barley (Bairds)
  • 2 oz. Bobek hop pellets (4.5% alpha), first wort hop and 30 minute boil
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 10 minute boil
  • 1 pkg. Windsor dry yeast (Lallemand)

Target Parameters

  • 30 minute full volume infusion mash, 155°
  • 1.044 o.g., 1.012 f.g., 4.3% abv, 26 IBU, 23 SRM
  • Claremont tap water


  • I mashed in with 7.5 gallons of water at 159.5°, to hit a 154° mash temperature.
  • After 30 minutes, I vorlaufed and collected 6.3 gallons of runnings with a gravity of 1.039, for 68% efficiency.
  • I brought everything to a boil, boiling for 30 minutes and adding hops and finings as required.
  • After a 30 minute boil, I turned off the heat and chilled down to 70°, before pitching the yeast.
  • I brewed this beer on 3 January 2019. It had a starting gravity of 1.043.
  • The beer was fermented at ambient temperature of around 60°. I pitched the yeast immediately after transfer into the fermentation vesel, and fermentation took off pretty quickly.
  • On January 6, ambient was down to around 58°, so I moved the fermener into the fermentation chamber, where I applied some heat and set the temperature for 66°.
  • I cold crashed the beer on 13 January 2020.
  • I kegged the beer on 15 January 2020. Final gravity was 1.015, for 3.6% abv.


  • Appearance
    • Medium brown color, mostly clear (slight haze), with persistent tan head.
  • Aroma
    • Chocolaty, clean aroma. I’m not picking up much of the bread and biscuit aroma that a good English porter should have.
  • Flavor
    • Roasty, chocolate flavor, with a distinct (but not harsh) bitterness that persists on the tongue. As the beer warms up, some of the biscuity malt notes start to come through.
  • Mouthfeel
    • This is a little thinner than I would like; it needs some extra body, I think. Moderate carbonation, smooth and off-dry finish.
  • Would I brew this again?
    • There’s a fair bit happening in dark malt flavor, but the mouthfeel department needs some serious augmentation. I also feel like the lighter character malts (e.g., crystal malts) could be expanded a bit more, because the dark malts really take over. It’s not unpleasant, just a bit one-dimensional. This is a pretty drinkable beer–and the low abv certainly helps with that–but not a recipe I’m likely to do again. For a future iteration of this type of beer, I would definitely mash at a much higher temperature (maybe 158°?) and perhaps add in some biscuit malt and/or more crystal 120.
  • Overall
    • 5.5/10
Posted in English porter, porter, session beer, tastings | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Holiday Festbier

I have always stereotyped lagers–especially those that are lighter in color–as beers best suited for warm weather. Lawnmower beer. That kind of thing. As my palate has expanded, though, I’ve decided that lighter lagers aren’t just for the summer. A festbier–with its slightly more complex flavor profile–seems like a good option for cooler months. And who says it’s just for Oktoberfest?

My recipe was inspired by a festbier recipe I saw on Brulosophy, with pilsner and Vienna malts carrying the bulk of the grist alongside a splash of Munich malt. In the end, it worked out pretty well!

Holiday Festbier

  • 6 lb. Vienna malt (Weyermann)
  • 5.5 lb. Superior pilsen malt (Great Western)
  • 0.75 lb. Munich Malt (Best; 7.6 SRM)
  • 0.35 oz. Magnum hops (13.2% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 2 oz. Saaz whole hops (3.0% alpha), 10 minute boil
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 10 minute boil
  • 1 tsp. Fermax yeast nutrient, 10 minute boil
  • 2 pkg. Saflager lager yeast (W34/70)

Target Parameters

  • 60 minute infusion mash, 149°, batch sparge.
  • 1.056 o.g., 1.011 f.g., 5.9% abv, 21 IBU, 5 SRM
  • Water built from RO, for target of 35 Ca, 3 Mg, 29 Na, 41 SO4, 40 Cl, 77 HCO3, 37 RA


  • I built up 4.25 gallons of mash water by adding 1.7 g baking soda, 1.3 g CaCl, 0.8 g gypsum, and 0.5 g epsom salts. I aimed for a mash-in temperature of 160.5°, to hit 149.1° for the mash. Immediately after mashing in the grains, I added 9.5 mL of 88% lactic acid, to adjust the pH appropriately.
  • I built up the sparge water with 4.6 gallons of RO water supplemented with 1.9 g baking soda, 1.5 g CaCl, 0.9 g gypsum, and 0.6 g epsom salts.
  • I started the batch sparge with 1 gallon of water at 180°, let it sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected first runnings. I then added the remainder of the sparge water, vorlaufed, and collected the rest of the runnings.
  • In total, I collected 7 gallons of runnings with a gravity of 1.045, for 70% efficiency.
  • I brought the kettle to a boil, adding hops and finings per the recipe. After 60 minutes, I turned off the flame and chilled down to 75° or so. After transferring to the fermenter, I chilled down to 50° in the fermentation chamber before oxygenating the wort and pitching the yeast.
  • I brewed this beer on 7 December 2019. Starting gravity was 1.053, a touch below my target (1.056), but not too awfully low.
  • I started fermentation at 52°, and raised it to 56° after two weeks (21 December 2019). I raised the beer to 60° on 23 December 2019, before crashing to 33° on 26 December 2019.
  • I kegged the beer on 28 December 2019, by semi-closed transfer into a CO2 purged keg. Final gravity was 1.009, which works out to 5.9% abv.
  • After kegging, I lagered the beer at 33°. From the start, flavor was really nice. When I sampled the beer on 12 January 2020, after two weeks of lagering, flavor was still amazing, but the beer was still fairly hazy. By February 6, the beer had only a slight haze, and could be rated as relatively clear (but not yet bright). I expect it should be up to snuff within a week or two.


  • Appearance
    • Gold, nearly clear (only a slight haze at the time of this tasting), with a nice and persistent white head.
  • Aroma
    • Malt, malt, malt. Aroma is a slightly sweet malty quality, and I don’t pick up much for hops.
  • Flavor
    • Smooth maltiness, with the malt character being a combination of pure maltiness and a bit of breadiness. (I’m using various forms of “malt” in my descriptions, but that’s really the best descriptor for this beer!) Hop level is moderate and has a beautiful smoothness, with the balance of the beer definitely tilted towards malt.
  • Mouthfeel
    • This beer is sooooo drinkable! Medium body, moderate carbonation, just a pure thing of beauty.
  • Would I brew this again?
    • Absolutely! This is a wonderful recipe. My only mild knock-down is for the slight haze in the beer, but if I were to lager this for months as a proper festbier I think it would be fine. The malt character and hopping level are perfect. On top of all of this, it really nails the high drinkability that a good festbier should have.
  • Overall
    • 9/10
Posted in festbier, lager, tastings | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Kitchen Sink Pale Ale

To ring in 2020, I did some “kitchen sink” brews to finish out some of my grain and hop stash. One of these was a mixed English/American pale ale, brewed using Brulosophy’s “Short and Shoddy” technique–essentially, using a 30 minute full-volume mash and 30 minute boil to reduce the brew time. It was a quick-turnaround, and has been a pretty good (even if not perfect) batch.

Kitchen Sink Pale Ale

  • 10.25 Maris Otter malt (Crisp)
  • 0.5 lb. Caramel Munich 60°L malt (Briess)
  • 0.25 lb. Caramel 20°L malt (Briess)
  • 0.80 oz. Warrior hop pellets (15.8% alpha), 30 minute boil
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minute boil
  • 2 oz. Cascade whole hops (est. 5.5% alpha), 5 minute boil
  • 1 pkg. Safale American Ale yeast (US-05)
  • 2.25 oz. East Kent Goldings hop pellets, 4 day dry hop in fermenter

Target Parameters

  • 30 minute full volume infusion mash, 154°
  • 1.050 o.g., 1.012 f.g., 5.0% abv, 39 IBU, 9 SRM
  • Claremont tap water, with 1 tsp. of gypsum added to boil


  • I mashed in with 7.75 gallons of water at 160°, and hit my target temperature of 154° pretty closely. I added a scant 1 tbs. of 88% lactic acid to the mash, to bring the pH down to acceptable levels.
  • After 30 minutes, I vorlaufed and collected the runnings. I ended up with 6.6 gallons of runnings at a gravity of 1.049, for 77% mash efficiency. That’s a bit better than I usually expect for this kind of mash, more typically around 70 to 72%.
  • I added the gypsum to the kettle, brought everything to a boil, and added hops as required by the recipe. After 30 minutes, I turned off the heat and chilled down to 72°.
  • I transferred to my fermenter, noting a fair bit of trub loss due to the whole hops. I’ll want to remember to adjust accordingly for future recipes that use lots of whole hops!
  • Starting gravity was 1.050, right where I wanted it.
  • I started the fermentation on 2 January 2020, fermenting at ambient temperatures of around 56° to 60°. On January 6, ambient was down to 58°, so I moved the beer into the fermentation chamber and set the temperature for 66°.
  • On 12 January 2020, I added the dry hops.
  • On 13 January 2020, I cold crashed the beer.
  • I kegged on 16 January 2020, using a partial closed transfer into a CO2-purged keg.
  • Final gravity was 1.010, for 5.3% abv.


Gold colored beer in glass
  • Appearance
    • Gold, slight haze, with persistent off-white head.
  • Aroma
    • Slightly spicy hop aroma, with light caramel aroma alongside that.
  • Flavor
    • Moderately bitter, with hop qualities in the realm of slightly woody and herbal. The malt character is somewhat bready, with a bit of caramel (likely from the CaraMunich).
  • Mouthfeel
    • Medium-light body, only slightly dry; really nice on this count, actually! Moderate carbonation.
  • Would I Brew This Again?
    • This is a pretty decent beer, and is quite drinkable, but there’s nothing that really jumps out at me. As a pale ale, it’s very much in the realm of qualities that I like–not overly bitter, some malt character, some interesting hops in there too. But, there’s nothing that wows me, either. So, I can say this was a good way to use up some ingredients, but nothing to put on the “must brew” list. On the plus side, the short-and-shoddy technique worked just fine on this batch!
  • Overall
    • 7.5/10

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What’s Brewing? January 2020 Edition

Awhile back, I changed my blogging habits to condense each batch into a single post, rather than split across multiple updates. Some of this was to save time, and some of this was to make it easier to find the full story on a particular batch later on. I’ve (personally) liked this switch overall, but feel that it also can lead to a drought in posting.

So, I’m introducing a new, occasional series–“What’s Brewing?” These will be quick, informal posts to highlight planned batches, currently fermenting batches, and other bits that don’t quite warrant a full write-up.

What’s Brewing? January 2020 Edition

Over the holidays, I brewed up a storm! I’ve been doing a ton of lagers, and hope to have enough backlog that I can let some of them condition for a good stretch of time.

Decoction mashing for my German-style pils

December kicked off with a festbier, which is now lagering in the keg. I brewed it as a fairly traditional version of the style. I followed that up with a German pils, but made with American pilsner malt (from Great Western) and Crystal hops. This one got the double decoction treatment, as I work on perfecting that technique. Finally, I did a rebrew of my Red Rye Lager, an American-style amber lager made with California common yeast (in this case, Imperial Yeasts Cablecar version). The nice thing on the latter is that it’s cool enough that I can just ferment it at ambient, without having to tie up fermentation chamber space!

With so many lagers in production, I was a bit worried about taps sitting vacant while I waited for beers to ferment and condition. So, I kicked off 2020 with two quick-and-dirty kitchen sink brews. One was an English-style porter, the other an American(ish) pale ale. I took some shortcuts with ingredients, using up odds-and-ends that were on hand. I also adopted the “Short & Shoddy” format of Brulosophy, with abbreviated, 30 minute full-volume mashes and 30 minute boils. Those batches should be ready to keg in a few days.

Over the break, I did a full cleaning of my keezer lines. On tap, I currently have my ESB, the smoked Scottish ale, and a cider. The Scottish ale has cleared up and conditioned beautifully, and has been absolutely enjoyable. My cider was made with Treetop brand Honeycrisp apple juice from the shelf and Mangrove Jack cider yeast. It’s dry, hazy, and perfect for winter evenings. Both the Scottish ale and cider are in 2.5 gallon kegs, and will probably get kicked pretty soon. I’m aiming to have the Short & Shoddy porter and pale ale ready to go in their place.

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