Andy’s Homemade Tonic Syrup

When I’m not drinking beer, my absolute favorite mixed drink (especially in hot weather) is a gin and tonic. I love a good gin, and it also turns out that I’m picky on tonic water. The store brand tonic is cheap but pretty dreadful, being about 90% corn syrup and overly bitter without any complexity. The Fever Tree brand (and others like it) is good, but it’s also pretty expensive. In both cases, I end up with empty bottles that have to be recycled (if they can be recycled), and I’m spending money I shouldn’t have to spend! So, how do I balance my desires to A) save money; and B) get good tonic water?

A few years back, we invested in a Soda Stream–I normally don’t care for single-purpose, ultra-speciality kitchen gadgets, but this has been totally worth the initial cost and the occasional CO2 refill swap (we end up doing this about once a year–I keep two spare bottles on hand at any time)). Thanks to Soda Stream, we don’t have to buy sparkling water from the grocery store (with its accompanying plastic garbage and the inevitable waste of the water that doesn’t get used before it goes flat), and we can mix just about anything we like with syrup. Overall, this gadget cuts down on our waste, and lets us save a good chunk of money by crafting some of our favorite fizzy drinks at home!

Simmering the ingredients

It’s turns out that it’s fairly easy to make a really nice craft tonic water. The key is to start with a tasty syrup…and just add (sparkling) water! I got a copy of The New Cocktail Hour for Christmas a few years back, and used its tonic syrup recipe as a starting point. After a few iterations, I figured out a version that suited my tastes. The main changes were less sugar and a touch more cinchona bark. I had to do a little hunting for specialty ingredients (I ended up ordering the cinchona bark and gentian root online), but once I had those on-hand it’s a pretty inexpensive and easy recipe. A pound of cinchona bark cost ~$25, and it was about the same for the gentian root. These will last me forever! We can just walk out our door and pick the citrus and the lemon grass (thanks, SoCal!), so there’s little cost there. Averaging out after the initial material purchase, it probably costs well under $5 per batch, and I get around a dozen servings of tonic water (<50 cents per serving). Contrast this with ~$1.50 per bottle for the fancy stuff, and it’s a pretty big savings.

Note the an overdose of quinine can lead to ill effects…so, make this recipe at your own risk. I do not recommend consuming the tiny bits of bark that might make it into the syrup, nor do I recommend using powdered bark.

Andy’s Homemade Tonic Syrup

  • Peel from a whole lemon, zested or peeled w/vegetable peeler
  • Peel from a whole lime, zested or peeled w/vegetable peeler
  • Peel from a whole orange, zested or peeled w/vegetable peeler
  • 2 tsp. cinchona bark (coarse cut, not powdered)
  • 1 tsp. gentian root
  • 1/2 tsp. whole allspice berries
  • 2.5 tsp. citric acid powder (or 2/3 cup lemon juice)
  • 2/3 cup lemongrass stalk (fresh, not dried), chopped
  • 1/8 tsp. sea salt
  • 2 cups water (or 1-1/3 cup water if using lemon juice)
  • 1/2 cup demerera sugar (can also use white sugar)

Procedure

  • Combine all ingredients except sugar in a sauce pan, and bring to a low boil.
  • Turn down the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Strain the mixture through a mesh strainer or equivalent device, and then transfer into a Mason jar. Add the sugar, stir to dissolve, and store in the fridge.
  • When ready to serve, mix with sparkling water to taste. I usually use just under a shot glass (1.5 oz), with ~6 oz. sparkling water.
  • As long as you keep the syrup refrigerated, it will last around a month (in my experience), and potentially even longer. (as a fair warning, the conservative thing would be to consume it all in a week, but that’s up to you!) You can freeze the syrup, too; it’s never as good as it is fresh, but it’s still way better than the store-bought alternatives!
  • Recipe note: It turns out OK if you leave out one of the types of citrus (e.g., if you don’t have limes in the house), but it’s really better with more different citrus notes. I find the peels rather than zest are more manageable, especially for the lemons and oranges. Also, straight-up citric acid powder creates a crisper-tasting result than using lemon juice, but either way is okay.
Gin and tonic–the syrup creates a gorgeous color!
Posted in not beer | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Czech-Style Dark Lager

I am loving the challenge of brewing lagers, lagers, and more lagers! It seems like there is always a new style to make, and the process has opened me up to a spectrum of flavors I haven’t experienced in the abundant craft beers from my area.

glass of beer held by hand, with the beer having a brown color, quite lear, and a tan head

Most of my lagers to this point have sat at the pale end, with a few forays into amber. A few years back I did a schwarzbier, and I’ve done a Munich dunkel twice, and that’s been about it for dark lagers. Sounds like it’s time to get to work! I like to have a darker beer on hand most of the time, and that space is usually filled by a porter or stout. A Czech-style dark lager seemed like a good candidate for my next brew.

The recipe is based primarily off of that in Modern Homebrew Recipes, by Gordon Strong. I increased the amount of dark Munich malt slightly, partly to increase the maltiness and partly to use up ingredients on-hand. I adjusted the dark specialty malts a touch, to adjust for ingredient availability at my LHBS. I elected to do a step infusion mash, rather than decoction, just for simplicity.

Czech-Style Dark Lager

  • 6 lbs. Vienna malt (Weyermann)
  • 2 lb. Munich malt (Bestmalz, 7.6 SRM)
  • 1.5 lb. Viking Munich Dark Malt (11.2 SRM)
  • 0.5 lb. Caramunich I (Weyermann), added at vorlauf
  • 5.5 oz. Carafa Special II (Weyermann), added at vorlauf
  • 2.5 oz. Carafa Special III (Weyermann), added at vorlauf
  • 3 oz. Saaz hop pellets (2.4% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 1 tsp. Fermax, 10 minute boil
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minute boil
  • 1 oz. Saaz hop pellets (2.4% alpha), 5 minute whirlpool
  • German lager yeast (WLP830, White Labs), ~130 mL repitched from slurry harvested from Crystal Pilsner

Target Parameters

  • 75 minute infusion step mash, 15 minutes at 131°, 30 minutes at 147°, 30 minutes at 158°, batch sparge
  • 1.048 o.g., 1.012 f.g., 4.8% abv, 26 IBU, 21 SRM
  • 8.75 gallons of RO water with 3.4 g of CaCl, to hit 28 ppm Ca and 50 ppm Cl.

Procedure

  • I mashed in with 2 gallons of water at 149° and 3.25 mL of 88% lactic acid, stirring like crazy to drop down to a protein rest of 134°. This was a little above my target of 131°, but I figured this was okay.
  • After 15 minutes, I added 5 quarts of 180° water, to hit between 146° and 148°, depending on where I measured and how I stirred.
  • After 30 minutes, I added the remainder of the mash water (~6 quarts) at 185°, to bring the mash up to 154°. This was a touch lower than my goal of 158°, but I’m OK with it. I let this sit for 30 minutes, and in the last 5 minutes added the dark grains (CaraMunich, Carafa Special II and III).
  • I vorlaufed, drained the mash tun, and then added 3.58 gallons of water at 185°. I let this rest for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected the second runnings.
  • In total, I collected 7.15 gallons of water at a gravity of 1.040, for 73% efficiency. I brought the kettle to a boil, adding finings and hops per the schedule. After 60 minutes, I turned off the heat and chilled.
  • After chilling down to 70°, I transferred the wort into the fermenter and continued the chill down to 52°. I oxygenated and pitched ~130 mL of harvested yeast slurry (from my Crystal Pils, around 1 week old).
  • Starting gravity was 1.048. I brewed this beer on 1 February 2020.
  • Fermentation temperatures were held between 52° and 54°. On 9 February, I moved the fermenter to ambient (~60°), to finish out fermentation.
  • I kegged the beer on 22 February 2020. Final gravity was 1.012, to reach 4.8% abv.

Tasting

reddish-brown beer in glass
  • Appearance
    • This beer pours with a creamy, persistent, tall tan head. In the glass, it has a very deep amber, almost reddish brown color, and is brilliantly clear. The reddish tinge makes for a really pretty beer.
  • Aroma
    • Amazing. Crisp, spice-infused aroma, with bready notes behind that. This beer smell delicious!
  • Flavor
    • Malty, crusty breadiness, with a slight roasted, coffee-like note behind that. The flavors combine to produce a slight, dark dry fruitiness on the tongue that doesn’t show up in the aroma. It’s not fruitiness in the same way as a warm fermentation or the wrong yeast strain; it’s like the fruitiness you get in some roasts of coffee. It’s unexpected…and apparently within style, according to the 2015 BJCP. The bitterness level is fairly low, but perceptible. The hopping comes across as a smooth, extended bitterness that persists after the malt fades away on the tongue, so the balance is very slightly tilted towards the hops (but not overly so).
  • Body
    • The body is a touch lighter than I expected; I expected something more towards the medium-body, but it’s medium-light at best. I think the beer is slightly overcarbonated, but that should hopefully subside with time.
  • Would I brew this again?
    • Yes? This is a super interesting beer, and definitely a flavor space that I’ve not tasted before. It’s growing on me, and I think I’ll enjoy it plenty as I finish up the keg. However, there is a bit of a clash between the roastiness and fruitiness, which detracts slightly from enjoyability. So, it’s not a bad beer, just maybe not to my taste. If I brew this style again, I will choose a different recipe, maybe one with less roastiness to it. As I read about the style from the BJCP guidelines, apparently a pilsner malt base is more typical, so I might reformulate with a very different grist. All that said, this beer looks really great in a big pint mug!
  • Overall
    • 7/10
tall mug of dark lager with tan colored head
Posted in Czech dark lager, lager, tastings | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Repurposing and Conserving CO2 During Kegging

With the current recommendations and restrictions on leaving the house, I’m trying to conserve basic brewing necessities as much as possible. This includes propane and CO2–neither of which can be ordered online (and really don’t count as necessities in the same way that groceries do, so it’s hard to justify many extra trips out to get more).

Keg purging is one brewing task that’s non-essential but nice, in terms of long-term beer quality. By keg purging, I mean replacing the ambient atmosphere in a keg (the stuff we breathe) with CO2 from a tank, to greatly reduce oxygen concentrations and postpone noticeable oxidation in the beer. My usual procedure prior to kegging is to fill a keg with StarSan, and push it out using CO2 from my CO2 tank. This doesn’t use a ton of CO2, but it still does use some up that could go to other purposes.

The easiest CO2-conserving scenario is to go without a keg purge, which is my normal procedure anyhow for many “non-delicate” beers (e.g., porters and stouts). However, I’ve noted that lighter lagers, pilsners, and blonde ales do show noticeable oxidation effects within a month or two without a keg purge. In the “good old days” of sharing growlers and homebrew happy hours and such, I could finish a keg in 4 weeks or so. Now, I expect many kegs will stay on service longer, and so I want to extend the quality as much as I can. Keg purging is nice, if possible!

One option I’ve considered is to use sugar-based carbonation (wort-driven krausening or corn sugar), which should both eat up any latent oxygen and carbonate simultaneously. I’ll likely try that for some future beers (especially more robust, darker styles), but I worry about oxidation risk from adding the sugar and also leaving the beer at slightly higher temperatures to allow the yeast to carbonate more quickly. It’s not an ideal option for light lagers.

So, how might I purge kegs to avoid oxidation and simultaneously conserve precious CO2 from my tanks? Reuse CO2 from empty kegs!

When a keg in the keezer is drained of beer, it’s full of CO2 at serving pressure. Normally, I just bleed this off before cleaning the keg. Why not repurpose the gas?

So, I hooked up a jumper between the gas ports of the empty keg and a StarSan-filled keg (the latter being the one I’ll fill with fresh, uncarbonated beer). Before doing this, I let the empty keg warm up, to give a bit more gas volume (yay, physics). I put a picnic tap on the StarSan-filled keg, hooked up the gas, and let the empty keg push out the StarSan.

It worked like a charm! The transfer took around 10 minutes, but the whole keg got drained, with a bit of residual CO2 left over. No CO2 went to waste, and I ended up with a purged keg ready to fill with pilsner!

The keg setup for CO2 purge. The keg at lower right is empty and just moved out of the keezer. The keg at upper left is empty and filled with StarSan. The red line is pushing CO2, and the clearish-white line is moving the StarSan into a sanitation tub (for use sanitizing equipment).
The colored lines and arrows here show the path of the gas and liquid. The yellow arrows indicate the flow of CO2, and the red arrows indicate flow of the StarSan.
Posted in equipment, kegging, miscellaneous | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Kölschy Kölsch

My homebrew club had a kölsch-style ale scheduled as our March contest beer. Well…world events meant that we couldn’t get together. But, I could still do my own tasting at home!

I decided to go for a super-simple beer, with a minimalist grain bill. Last year, I did a kölsch with the Kolsch malt from Schill malting. It turned out pretty well, but was a bit darker than acceptable for the style. So, I used around 1/3 of this malt and the rest was pilsen malt, to lighten up the beer and make the flavor a touch more subtle. I have read in several places that wheat malt is not frequently used in “traditional” grain bills, so I chose to leave this out. Finally, I used Liberty hops for an American twist, and chose WLP029 (White Labs’ German Ale/Kolsch yeast).

As for the recipe name…well, I wasn’t feeling that creative!

Kölschy Kölsch

  • 7.25 lb. Superior Pilsen Malt (Great Western Malting)
  • 3.5 lb. Kölsch (Schill Malting)
  • 1.5 oz. Liberty hop pellets (4.3% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minute boil
  • 0.5 oz. Liberty hop pellets (4.3% alpha), 5 minute boil
  • 2 pkg. German Ale / Kölsch yeast, WLOP024 (White Labs)

Target Parameters

  • 60 minute infusion mash, 151°, batch sparge
  • 1.047 o.g., 1.010 f.g., 4.9% abv, 24 IBU, 4 SRM
  • “Cologne-ish water”, built from 8.5 gallons of RO water with 3.5 g baking soda, 4.5 g of epsom salt, 4.0 g of calcium chloride, and 2.5 g of gypsum, to hit 52 ppm Ca, 14 ppm Mg, 30 ppm Na, 98 ppm SO4, 60 ppm Cl, 78 ppm HCO3, RA=19 ppm, alkalinity=64 ppm

Procedure

  • I mashed in with 3.6 gallons of water at 162°, to hit a 150° mash temperature. It was down to 146° after 45 minutes.
  • After 60 minutes, I added 1.25 gallons of water at 185°, let sit for 10 minutes, and vorlaufed before collecting the first runnings.
  • Next, I added 3.6 gallons of water at 185°, let sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected the remainder of the runnings.
  • In total, I collected 7.2 gallons of runnings with a gravity of 1.041, for 76% efficiency.
  • I brought the kettle to a boil, adding hops and other ingredients per the recipe.
  • After a 60 minute boil, I turned off the heat and chilled the wort, before transferring to the fermenter and pitching the yeast.
  • Starting gravity was 1.050, and I fermented at 65°.
  • I brewed the beer on 25 January 2020, and had vigorous fermentation within 24 hours. I moved the beer to ambient conditions on 1 February 2020.
  • I kegged the beer on 29 February 2020, and was able to save around 1/2 quart of yeast for a future brew (probably an altbier).
  • Final gravity was 1.010, which equates to 5.3% abv.

Tasting

  • Appearance
    • Clear, nearly brilliant. Light gold color, with a fine white head. The head is low but persistent around the edges of the glass.
  • Aroma
    • Sweet graininess, with a light touch of honey and apple–almost a Riesling-type character. No hop aroma.
  • Flavor
    • Grainy and lightly sweet grain character, with a subdued apple or pear-like fruitiness. Hop flavor is minimal, although the bitterness is a little stronger than I anticipated.
  • Mouthfeel
    • Moderately light body; crisp, but not overly dry. There is a lingering hop bitterness in the finish…it hangs around perhaps a touch more than is completely enjoyable for my taste.
  • Would I Brew This Again?
    • This is a pretty good beer, with a nice flavor and appearance. I feel like the malt character is a bit stronger than I really want for this style, so I might go with a 100% pilsner or pilsner+American 2-row version in the future, or mix in some Vienna malt instead. That said, though, it’s a solid version of a kölsch!
  • Overall
    • 8.5/10
Posted in ale, kolsch, tastings | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Wildfire IPA

I love IPAs, but I’m also a bit burnt out on brewing them. Often if I want this style, I’ll just buy a four- or six-pack, and that will satisfy my temporary craving. There are tons of really good (and many great) IPAs out there, but they start to blend together after awhile. The contemporary Citra/Mosaic/etc. versions are tasty, but honestly there’s not always a lot of difference from one to the next. I like the taste of many hazies at first, but get tired after half a glass. The theme in many contemporary IPAs is tropical fruit notes…which can be fun, but gets monotonous after awhile. Can you tell that I’m bored?

More and more, my flavor preferences come back to the “old school” IPAs. Pine, low-key citrus, and herbal notes are all something I crave. It’s hard to find these in many of the newer (and dominant) commercial IPAs! Even the local breweries that have otherwise excellent IPAs aren’t filling this flavor-space anymore. I can’t blame them, if this IPA variant doesn’t sell well. As a homebrewer, though, I can more easily tailor my beer to personal tastes!

I recently received a copy of the Homebrew Recipe Bible, which is a nicely written and expansive tome of recipes. Their recipe for Wildfire IPA immediately appealed to me. It had a hefty blend of old school and newish-hops, while also dodging Citra and Mosaic tropes. I made some small modifications for ingredients on-hand, but otherwise it’s as-written.

Wildfire IPA

  • 12.75 lbs. 2-row malt (Great Western)
  • 1.25 lbs. Dark Munich malt (Viking), 11 SRM
  • 0.75 Crystal 30 malt (Great Western)
  • 0.6 oz. Chinook hop pellets (13.0% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 0.6 oz. Columbus/Tomahawk/Zeus (CTZ) hop pellets (15.5% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 0.6 oz. Centennial hop pellets (9.3% alpha), 10 minute boil
  • 1 tsp. Fermax, 10 minute boil
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minute boil
  • 0.5 oz. Simcoe hop pellets (13.6% alpha), 5 minute boil
  • 1 oz. Amarillo hop pellets (7.7% alpha), 10 minute whirlpool
  • 1 oz. Cascade whole hops (~5.5% alpha), 10 minute whirlpool
  • 2 pkg. US-05 American ale dry yeast
  • 1 oz. Ahtanum hop pellets (6.0% alpha), dry hop in keg
  • 0.5 oz. Cascade Cryo-Hops (12.5% alpha), dry hop in keg

Target Parameters

  • Infusion mash to hit target of 150°, 60 minutes, batch sparge
  • 1.066 o.g., 1.013 f.g., 7.0% abv, 68 IBU, 7 SRM
  • Claremont tap water, with 1/2 tsp (~2 g) of gypsum added to boil kettle

Procedure

  • I mashed in with 5 gallons of water at 161.8°, to hit a mash temperature of 149.8°. I added 8 mL of 88% lactic acid to the mash, to adjust the pH.
  • After 60 minutes, I added 0.5 gallons of water at 185°, let sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected the first runnings.
  • Next, I added 3.6 gallons of water at 185°, let it sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected the second runnings.
  • In total, I collected 7.10 gallons of runnings with a gravity of 1.053, for 70% mash efficiency.
  • In the kettle, I added the 1/2 tsp. of gypsum and brought the mixture to a boil, adding hops per the recipe. After 60 minutes, I added the whirlpool hops and let it sit for 10 minutes before chilling.
  • As I transferred the wort to the fermenter, I noticed a lot of trub. This is due to the heavy hop load. Like, a lot of trub. For future recipes, I’ll need to adjust my kettle leavings (~1 gallon) to ensure I have a full 5 gallon batch.
  • I fermented the beer at 66°, following my brew day on 9 February 2020.
  • I kegged the beer on 29 February 2020. Starting gravity was 1.053, and went down to 1.008, for 7.7% abv. At the time of kegging, I added the dry hops in a weighted mesh sack.

Tasting

  • Appearance
    • Deep gold color and hazy but not cloudy, with a persistent and creamy white head.
  • Aroma
    • Pine, citrus pith, slight dankness
  • Flavor
    • Hop forward (as it should be), with a wonderful piney and bitter citrus character. Malt has a slight caramel, bready quality (likely from the Munich malt).
  • Mouthfeel
    • Moderately light body, off-dry, moderate carbonation.
  • Would I brew this again?
    • Yes! This is a very solid “traditional” West Coast IPA recipe, like something that would have been popular in the early 2000’s. I can’t think of much to change with this one…the only minor “ding” would be the slight haziness, but I’m pretty willing to tolerate that. Overall, it’s exactly the beer I wanted.
  • Overall
    • 9/10
Posted in IPA, tastings | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment