Beer City Pro-Am Schedule and Information

What: 1. Tap takeovers at multiple breweries featuring 2017’s Pro-Am beers.   2.  Drop off, judging, and winners announcements in August.

When: July 30th is Pro-Am release week.  This is when all of the breweries will be releasing their beers from 2017’s collaborations.

August 3: Horrocks Market Tap Takeover

August 10th: Logan’s Alley Tap Takeover

August 11th: Pro-Am Judging.

  • Pro-Am Competition Judging – We have again secured 8 well trained West Michigan industry veterans to judge our competition this year.  Judging will again be in the Monster Room at Harmony Hall, and entries may be dropped off starting on Friday, August 10th.  The deadline for getting your entry in will be Saturday at 10am.  We are switching it up this year and using the 2018 Brewers Association Style Guidelines for judging.  You will get more detail instructions on submitting your entry later this month.

August 11th: Beer City Guild Summer Picnic and Pro-Am winners announcement @ Fallasburg Park in Lowell

Offerings to include:
5 Lakes Brewing & Jim Verlinde
Atwater Brewing & Nick Rodammer
Bier Distillery & Chad Zomerlei
Brewery Vivant & Phil and Liz Pierce
Cellar Brewing & Mike Finocchio
City Built Brewing & Andrew Brouwers
Founders Brewing & Trevor Hawkins
Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery and Supply & Steve Morren
Mitten Brewing & Ken Pitchford
New Holland Brewing & Paul Arends
New Union Brewing & John Britt
Osgood Brewing & George Lawlor
Pike 51 Brewing & Jeff Carlson
Railtown Brewing & Mark Staves
Rockford Brewing & Stan Strait
Thornapple Brewing & Frank Landgraff
TwoGuys Brewing & Jim March
White Flame Brewing & Lou Fischer

How to Make a Yeast Starter

How to Make a Yeast Starter

Making a starter culture to increase the quantity of yeast pitched into a particular beer is a great way to assure consistent results. If you are brewing a high gravity beer (greater than 1.065 original gravity) or a lager that will be fermented cold then you need to increase your pitch rate by pitching more packages of yeast or making a starter culture.

The WYeast smack-pack is designed to inoculate 5 gallons of standard ale wort (O.G. < 1.060, 65-72°F). When brewing high gravity beer (O.G. >1.060) or cold fermented lagers or ales (<65°F) additional yeast will be required. An Activator contains approximately 100 billion cells which will deliver slightly less than 6 million cells per milliliter in a 5 gallon batch of beer.

The easiest and best way to insure yeast growth and health requires using a malt based media (DME) fortified with nutrients. Gravity should be kept near 1.040 and cultures should be grown at 70°F.

Recipe:

  • 0.5 cup DME (100g, 3.5oz)
  • ½ tsp Yeast Nutrient
  • 1qt.(1L) H2O
  1. Mix DME, nutrient, and warm water.
  2. Boil 20 minutes to sterilize.
  3. Pour into a sanitized flask or jar with loose lid or foil.
  4. Cool to 70°F.
  5. Shake well and add yeast culture.

Timing of Starter:
Starter growth is usually maximized within 24-36 hours. The gravity of the starter should always be checked prior to inoculation into wort to assure proper cell growth . Cultures should be used immediately, or refrigerated for up to 1 week before using. Cell viability will decrease rapidly if culture are left at ambient temperatures for extended time.

Stirring and O2:
Agitation aids in removing inhibitive CO
2 from suspension as well as possibly adding small amounts of oxygen. Stirring or shaking the starter periodically or using a stir plate will improve cell growth. The use of stir plates has been shown to increase cell growth 25-50% over a non-stirred starter.

Caution: It is important to understand that creating a starter can increase the risk of infection by undesirable organisms. Small levels of contamination can multiply to unacceptable levels, causing undesirable effects on the finished product. Use all of the same sanitation practices that you would while normally brewing.

How to Grow Hops

How to Grow Hop Rhizomes and Plants

 

The best way to start growing your own hops is by transplanting hop rhizomes (or cuttings) or plants in the spring when they can be shipped and stored well. We recommend planting at least 2 rhizomes or plants.

Hops can be grown at almost anywhere or in any type of soil; however, they fair better in rich alluvial or sandy loam soil. They are very hardy plants but the hill they are planted in needs to be well cultivated to encourage proper drainage. They need plenty of water and food that will allow them to grow up to 1′ per day, although not typically the first year. Plant the rhizomes were they will receive plenty of summer sun. They can tolerate temperatures in the 100′s and below freezing. Hops can tolerate elevations up to 7000′; however, elevations below 3000′ encourage more vigorous growth.

Hops will grow to 20′ in length during the first year. Therefore, plant the rhizomes with a plan for trellising your hops, much like a grape vine possibly. Lay your hills out at least 7′ feet apart. Hops shoots can be trained to grow along guide wires, fences, heavy twine and a number of other elevating ideas; but elevate them so they will be easier to harvest.

1) Refrigerate your rhizomes until the soil is ready for planting.
2) Choose a southern exposure, if possible. An east or west exposure is acceptable but the hops will not grow as vigorously.
3) Hops prefer light textured, well drained soil with a pH of 6.0-8.0. If drainage is a problem, cultivate a mound for the planting. Definitely incorporate some organic matter such as manue or grass clippings into the soil, this is also a good time to add some slow release fertilizer such as cottonseed meal, bone meal, rock phosphate, oyster shell, etc.
4) Soak the rhizomes in warm water (approximately 80 degrees) for 1 hour prior to planting. Powdered root stimulates added to the water for soaking of the rhizomes and used during the planting process will bring the shouts out of the ground quicker.
5) Plant the rhizomes vertically with the buds pointing up or horizontally about 2 inches below the soil level.
6) Plant mixed varieties at least 5 feet apart. Identical varieties can be planted 3 feet apart.
7) First year hops have a minimal root system, therefore the soil should not be allowed to dry completely. Mulching the soil surface with some form of organic matter does wonders in conserving moisture as well as controlling weeds.
8) When the vines are about one foot long, select 2-3 strong vines and wrap them clockwise around a support system. This can either be a trellis, or simply a tall pole or strong twine coming down the side of your house.

In future years, the earliest shoots should be pruned off in favor of training up the hardy second growth. After the main vines have been established, all subsequent vines should be removed from around the base of the hop.

Always use strong twine because the vine can become quite heavy. Secure the taut twine to a stake at the have of the mound.

 

 

Kegging 101

Kegging 101

How to move from the epic tedium of bottling into the wonderful world of kegging

 

So, you have finally mastered the fermentation side of things and you have decided that instead of sanitizing fifty bottles and caps, you would much rather put your beer into a serving tank. Excellent! It’s easy… sort of.

First, as usual, I will go through some nomenclature:

Regulator: The body and gauges on a regulator connect to your CO2 tank and allow you to adjust the amount of gas pressure that you are pushing into the keg.

Manifold: A device used to split the gas line to multiple kegs

Purging: The process of forcing pressurized gas into a keg and releasing it a number of times in order to dilute and replace the existing gas (usually just air)

Gas/Liquid Lines: Usually you have two lines that you are concerned about – one connects the regulator and CO2 tank to your keg-this is the gas line. The other connects your keg to your shank and tap handle-this is the fluid or liquid line

Taps: There are many different types with the most simple being picnic style (made from plastic for portable use) and the most elaborate being an entire series of high end style specific all stainless faucets

 

Getting Started:

You should be treating your kegs much the same as you would a carboy. When it is time to use the keg, you should wash, rinse, and sanitize it. This can be done in advance if you would like to cap the keg and purge it.

 

Filling:

When filling a keg you will want to transfer the wort with a sanitized siphon to ensure you get as little turbulence as possible to avoid oxidation (the same way you did from primary to secondary fermentation). Now that you have racked your beer into the keg, you will need to purge the headspace. Between the beer and the roof of the keg there is a bunch of air that you do not want shoved into your beer, so you fill and purge the keg 2-3 times to remove as much air from the environment as possible.

 

Carbonation:

Here’s the rub: There is an exact science to carbonation that is really difficult to master as a homebrewer, so I am going to run down the general principles and give you two surefire ways to accomplish a good level of carbonation. Beers have different ideal levels of carbonation based on the styles, and you can find a good resource for that at the bottom of the page. A beer with more residual sugars will be harder to carb up, and a light beer will be easier (big imperial stouts or high gravity beers will be finicky).

 

 

Method 1 (High Pressure Forced Carb)– In general you can always set the PSI on your regulator up to 20 PSI and leave it for two days. With this technique it will be better if the beer is already at your dispensing temp (usually 40°) as beers hold carbonation better at lower temperatures. Once you have done that, you can set your PSI back down to dispensing pressure (anywhere between 4 and 12 depending on several factors. Find what speed works best for you and your set up).

 

Method 2 (Set it and Forget it)– You can set your regulator to the pressure you want in the beer and leave it for a full week. If you do this you can almost rest assured that the pressure will be somewhere between 8 and 16 depending on your system, and after seven or so days it should be fully carbed!

 

Method 3 (The Shake Method)– A bit less reliable than the first two, the shake method requires some experimentation. Typically this is achieved by attaching your keg, setting your PSI to somewhere between 10-20, and shaking the heck out of the keg until you hear it stop bubbling (a few minutes). Once the keg seems at pressure you can unplug it and let it sit over night to let the head space settle down. Try it out at dispensing pressure and see how close it is, and if it is not there yet you can set it a little higher and try again.

 

Dispensing:

You will have to play with your particular Kegerator but generally dispensing pressure is between 4 and 12 PSI and it will be higher if your CO2 tank is in the fridge with the kegs. When you pull the tap handle make sure you pull the tap full on and full off to ensure you don’t get a whole bunch of foam.

Links of Interest:

Beer Style Periodic Table

Carbonation Chart

We have everything you need (minus the fridge) to get you ready to keg your beer, including 5# CO2 tank exchanges for $25. Please feel free to come in, and we can help you set up your dream kegerator.

 

Nick

Home Brew Expert and O’Connor’s General Manager 

How to Make Soda & Hard Soda

How to Make Soda and Hard Soda

Making soda is easy and simple, but as with everything brewing, you can make it as easy or as complex as you wish.  The basic recipe for 4 gallons of any soda is as follows:

1 bottle of concentrated soda extract

8 cups of sugar

4 gallons of warm water

That’s it! Pretty simple right? Well we still need to carbonate. If you already have a kegging system then great! Keg that puppy up just like you would a beer. If you don’t have a kegging setup then it is time to collect, clean, and sanitize 40 bottles. A lot of people use plastic bottles to help assess when carbonation is complete. Glass will work too and is my personal preference. Using a bottling bucket, add yeast (we recommend Champagne yeast) into your uncarbonated soda and stir well. Bottle into sanitized bottles and cap the top. Let the bottles sit at room temperature for 3 to 4 days. DO NOT allow bottles to stay out for much longer than this. Your bottle could overcarbonate and burst. While this generally won’t hurt anything it will make you defecate your pajamas at 4 in the morning and is a real pain to clean up. With that said, it doesn’t hurt to pop one in the freezer quickly to get it cold and give it a try to see how carbonated it is. After you are satisfied with the carbonation (3-4 days) stick all the bottles in the refrigerator and let them sit. In general giving them two weeks to age out really helps. With this recipe you can make root beer, orange soda, ginger ale, sarsaparilla, birch root beer, cream soda, and so much more.

Hard Soda

Hard soda is almost exactly the same as above, however instead of bottling right away put the uncarbonated soda into a fermenter. At this point you need to choose what to ferment with. Any sugar or malt you add will increase the ABV (alcohol by volume). Add your fermentables and put the soon to be hard soda in a fermenter. Take note that this fermenter will smell and even taste like soda for a while, so its best to have a dedicated soda bucket.  After two weeks of fermentation its time to bottle. You will need to add around 8 cups of sugar to sweeten the soda because the sugar you added before is now alcohol (thanks yeast!). At this point bottle or keg like above. Again make sure to refrigerate as soon as carbonation is complete (usually 3-4 days).

My Favorite Recipe

Over the past year I have experimented with root beer extensively. I finally stumbled upon my favorite recipe.

Ingredients: 2oz old fashioned homebrew birch root beer extract, 2 oz Indian Sarsaparilla, 1 vanilla bean, a pinch of dried wintergreen leaves, 8 oz maltodextrin or 1lb lactose, 5lbs corn sugar (fermentables). 6 cups table sugar (to sweeten), 1118 champagne yeast.

Brewing Steps

1: Add half bottle of birch root beer extract to 2.5 gallons of water in a pot. Add 2 oz of sarsaparilla and a pinch of wintergreen (a little wintergreen goes a long way) and boil for 10 minutes.

2: Turn off heat and add 5 lbs corn sugar. Stir vigorously.

3: Cool down your pot of water to 70-80 degrees F in an ice bath either in the sink or bathtub.

4: Poor the root beer into a sanitized bucket and pitch Champagne yeast into the mixture. (Feel free to experiment with different yeasts.)

5: Add lid and insert an airlock that has been filled with sanitizer.

6: After one week of fermentation add the vanilla bean and maltodextrin (to add body). If you like a more creamy root beer I suggest adding a pound of lactose.

7: Continue to ferment for an additional week.

7: Right before you bottle or keg add the 6 cups of table sugar and stir well.  Give the soda a taste. Feel free to add more root beer extract, sugar, or anything else your heart desires to make it taste right.

8: After desired flavor is achieved bottle or keg.

8: Two weeks later serve with ice cream!

If you have any questions or want us to put together a soda kit for you give us a call or email us. We are always here to help.

-Andy Chambers

Home Brew Expert

Andy Chambers
Andy Chambers

How to Lager

How to Lager

Andy Chambers, Home Brew Expert

It’s cold and miserable outside. But one thing about this time of year keeps me excited; brewing lagers! A lager is a beer that has been fermented and stored at cold temperatures. Lager styles range from highly drinkable and refreshing pilsners to filling and warming dopplebocks. This article will cover the processes involved in brewing a lager at home.

The first step for making a lager is making sure you have enough yeast. Lagers require much more yeast than ales do. Either use multiple packs of dry yeast or do a multi-step yeast starter to attain the yeast count needed. O’Connor’s HBS has an article that explains the steps needed for a yeast starter if you are not familiar with the process.

The second step is obtaining wort. Whether you use extract or all grain brewing methods does not matter at this point. When chilling wort try to bring the temperature as far down as possible to fermenting temperature. I have read articles that suggest beginning fermentation at ale temperatures to give the yeast a good start,  but I have personally never tried this method.

The third step for making a lager is maintaining fermentation temperature. Most lager yeasts require temperatures around 55ºF or lower- depending on the yeast strain. This initial fermentation will last for about two weeks. The best and easiest way to maintain this temperature is to create a fermentation chamber. Typically these are made out of old refrigerators or freezers. I have seen a few made with foam insulation and window air conditioning units as well. If you are only brewing lagers then you only need a cold side temperature controller. If you plan on brewing ales as well, a two-stage controller is best. A two stage controller will require both a cold source (refrigerator) and a heat source (small heaters work well). I don’t have the space or money for a fermentation chamber, so I have to rely on old mother nature and my creaky drafty home to keep my attic a constant 50 degrees Fahrenheit. It has worked fairly well so far, but I can only brew lagers in winter.

The next step is the diacetyl rest. Many lager strains produce an off flavor called diacetyl during normal cold fermentation. To counteract this off flavor, increase fermentation temperature to 68ºF for two days. I do my diacetyl rest when my gravity reaches the last five points of fermentation. The timeline for this can vary widely. I have had beers take anywhere from 5 days to just over two weeks to reach its final five or so points. It definitely help to check the gravity fairly often (every 3 days or so).

Now its time for the big step: lagering. Move your beer into a secondary container and turn your fermentation chamber to 35ºF. Some people choose to stagger their temperatures and slowly bring the temperature down to 35ºF. I have never noticed a difference in doing this. Don’t have a fermentation chamber? No problem, just find the coldest place you can possibly can where the beer won’t freeze. I just put my carboy into my kegorator and forget about it. The beer should sit for a minimum of two weeks, but preferably longer. I let my Oktoberfest/Marzen lager sit for over 3 months. Although this is a lot shorter than a traditional Marzen, it still tasted amazing.

Final step. Take a deep breath. Whew. It’s been at least a month of waiting for your delicious beer. Now all you have to do is keg or bottle it. If kegging, simply keg the beer as you normally would. Bottling, however, requires an extra step. Because you have spent so much time letting the yeast crash out, you need to add bottling yeast  to ensure that you get proper carbonation in your beer. This is especially important if you aged for a long time. I prefer to use CBC-1 bottling yeast. It is cheap and easy to use. After 2 weeks in the bottles crack and enjoy.

In short the fermentation schedule should look something like this:

2 weeks at  55ºF in primary fermenter

2 day diacetyl rest at 68ºF

2 weeks (minimum) lagering at 35ºF

Bottle or Keg

This is a very simple method and is how I personally lager my beers. There are many other ways and methods to use. If you have any questions or comments we always love to hear from you.

In a hurry? Email us your recipe

We know that many of you have busy schedules, and we want to help. You can email us your recipe list, and we get everything ready for you to pick up.  It works great for both parties.  Just let us know the grains (and if you need them milled), hops, yeast, and whatever else you need (muslin bags, priming sugar, bottle caps, etc) and we can get it together for you.  If we do not have a particular item, we will email you back with ideas for substitutions.  It’s that easy!    We are all about helping our customers and providing the best customer service possible.

DME comes in 1 and 3LB bags

All LME comes in 3.3LB jugs.

Pellet and Whole Leaf hops come in 1oz packages.

Grain can be weighed out however you need it.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Email:  orders@oconnorshomebrew.com

Gluten Free Beers: A Review & How to Brew a Good One!

New Planet’s Off Grid Pale Ale

Gluten-free beer: some would say there is no such thing, while others would say there’s just not a good example. Regardless of where you stand, any curious beer-drinker is in search of something new. For this review, our two ridiculously awesome employees Nick and Andrew review a bottle of Fort Collins Brewery’s gluten-free New Planet Off Grid Pale Ale against the BJCP Pale Ale guidelines. Before we get to the sensory descriptions, here’s a list of the beers ingredients to give you an idea of what this ale contains:

WATER, SORGHUM & BROWN RICE EXTRACT, MOLASSES, TAPIOCA MALTO DEXTRIN, CARAMEL COLOR, HOPS AND YEAST.

This copper-colored ale pours brilliantly clear with a generous amount of head. Unfortunately, the head quickly dissipates leaving no sign of carbonation behind. The aroma is mostly comprised of caramel, over-shadowing what little American hop aroma there is. Andrew sensed a slightly musty, stale character. Upon taking a drink, the beer comes across as dry, tangy, with a chewy malt presence, little-to-no hop flavor, and a heavy lingering bitterness. The beer finishes too dry for the style, and it comes across as astringent. Nick notes that this beer would be much better by focusing more on late and dry-hop additions, and less on bittering additions.

The reviewers agreed that, overall, this was good for a gluten-free beer, however, judged against what most people would expect out of a pale ale, this beer falls short. Its astringency and lack of body, combined with its huge lack of hop flavor and aroma does not make for a good example of a pale ale. It’s not undrinkable, but more could have been done to make this gluten-free beer compete against its barley-filled counterparts.

 

Scores:

Category 10A American Pale Ale

Nick 34/50

Andrew 29/50

 

 

Tips on brewing a good Gluten Free beer (yes, it is possible)

*Use lactose to sweeten the beer.  Gluten free extracts ferment out really dry.

*Use a blend of rice and sorghum extracts for a better overall taste.

*You pretty much have to use Malto Dextrin for body and head retention.

*Gelatin Finings are great for clarity (another must).

*Gluten Free beers benefit from a secondary, because that astringency from the extract mellows with age.

We have several Gluten Free recipes on file that people brew all the time and are very pleased with.  Come talk to us if you are interested.   

 

Bad Beer Gone Sour…In a Good Way

Bad Beer Gone Sour….in a good way.  The art of blending beer.  

This summer I had my eyes on brewing a huge Russian Imperial Stout that was to be aged in bourbon soaked oak chips. I was exploring a handful of new methods that I previously hadn’t dabbled in: brewing a beer that big (OG 1.102), using a yeast cake from a previous beer, wood chips, and bourbon.

The brew day went very uneventful, hitting all my target numbers on the nose. So where did things go wrong? Problem one: Yeast cake was old, about 1 month. My thought was that there was enough yeast there that the age of it didn’t matter and volume of it would make up for any flaws. I was expecting a massive krausen. Nope, I had little to none. The temp on my beer fermentation was also north of 80 degrees (I used an English yeast, so this was NOT a good thing). To my surprise it actually finished the fermentation were it should have, 1.022. And, for that English style, it was almost 1% over the recommended ABV. The first time I tried it, nothing but fusel alcohol notes. Massive burning. I believe this was a result of the yeast cake and the high fermentation temps. I knew it would age out, but after a long time.

So, I added the oak about 2 months after brew day. There is where I made my second mistake. I added all 4 ounces of oak that I soaked in nearly a fifth of bourbon. I sampled it ten days later and all I could taste was tannins from the oak and a strong alcohol nose. Gross.

I was disappointed in my mistakes, but I learned from them, which is great, but I was still stuck with 4 gallons of Stout that I had no intention of drinking, but I didn’t want to waste it. That’s where I had the idea to blend 2.5 gallons of it with our shop Solera. I think the beer in the Solera sour was about 2-3 years old (!!). Once I blended it, I wanted to keep the mouth feel (the bugs would eat all the rest of the sugars and leave a dry imperial stout). I used some potassium sorbate to kill any activity and retain the mouth feel of my RIS. The results: a Russian Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels that tasted like it was made by Jolly Pumpkin. Score

Rob is our newest employee.  He is the president of the Grand Rapids Home Brewers Club and won our home brew competition with his “Unholy Ale” Tripel

 

5 Tips to Improve Your Home Brew

5 Tips to Improve Your Home Brew!

How many times have you heard, “This beer is great. It doesn’t taste like a home brew!”? Many people can make a good home brew by following simple directions and simple recipes. If you want to take your brew to the next level (that beer that could pass for a commercial brew), take a peak at this article about five ways to improve your beer.

Pitch Rate

Yeast pitching rate (amount of live yeast cells that ferment out your beer) is in my opinion one of the most important factors in making a really good home brew. A great recipe along with sound brewing techniques is not guaranteed to produce a great beer. Under or over pitching yeast into your wort can nullify previous efforts. Pitch rate is important because yeast needs to be in a desierable environment to do their job of producing alcohol without also producing off flavors. Under or over pitching causes yeast cells to become stressed or over worked. Under pitching causes the viable yeast cells that are within the wort to be over worked (each cell has to consume more sugar that it should, i.e stressing out the organism in turn producing undesirable flavors). Over pitching could cause your beer to stall or under attenuate, which would make your beer taste sweeter and cloying.

Mash pH

The pH of a home brewer’s mash is extremely important when considering the efficiency you will get out of the grains that you use. An optimal mash pH is around 5.2. This will allow you to get better conversion to sugar, and in turn, better overall effiency in your brew. Good pH can be achieved by adding chemicals to the mash such as Five Stars pH Stabilizer, which contains a blend of buffers that brings mash and kettle water pH to 5.2. If you do not want to use chemicals to lower pH, you can add a small amount acidulated malt to the grain bill (10% of grain bill max).

Follow BJCP Style Guidlines

BJCP (the Beer Judge Certification Program) is exactly what it sounds like. The BJCP style guidelines can be found at BJCP.org and they are a great way to get started when building a recipe. The guidelines are not a “be-all-end-all” for brewers, but they make for a great jumping off point and give you a good idea of what typical beers in that style are as well as a few clues to what they may contain. For example, you might think “I love hops” and as a result put 100 IBUs into a wheat beer; that beer is going to taste like an IPA instead of a wheat beer since the hop flavors overpower it. If you wanted it to taste like a ‘hoppy wheat beer’ you might have just veered twords the hoppier end of the IBU limit for BJCP wheat beers and avoided the mistake.

Fermentation Temperature Stability

This is a biggie! Uniform temperatures are good for yeast and what is good for yeast is good for your beer. While some strains may enjoy a bit of fluctuation (Belgians in particular) ales ferment best around 68 degrees and lagers primary ferment well around 50. Once you have settled into a temperature it is best not to have your beer in a place where temperatures fluctuate, most people find that basements provide steady teperatures year round and attics are generally terrible in both summer and winter. Keep your beer clear of the sunlight; there are carboy covers and shields available to buy or you could simply cover everything up with a towel or blanket.

Fast Effective Wort Chilling

The main reason we chill the wort is for the yeast. It will die if you pitch too hot, and if you pitch too cold the yeast may get shocked or go dormant. So, getting everything into that 65-75 degree range is important. The other main advantages to chilling your wort rapidly is that once you are below 160 degrees a lot of bacteria can begin to work, so you want to minimize your wort’s access to these off-flavor causing demons. If you are using top-up water you can mix that in to help absorb heat, but transferring too quickly after will not give your beer time to cold-break, and you may end up with hazy bottles. The best methods of chilling typically involve a wort chiller; there are many types but the two most widely available are:1) immersion chillers which you hook up to ground water and allow the chiller to do a heat exchange while the metal is in contact with the wort. These typically take 15-45 minutes depending on type 2) Plate or Counter Flow, where the actual wort travels through the chiller which is hooked to ground water, these tend to chill the wort to near 70 as fast as the wort can flow through them.

Article written by Ben and Nick. Items in red can be purchased at O’Connor’s Home Brew Supply.

Pitch the Right Amount of Yeast or Pitch Your Beer

Pitch the right amount of yeast or pitch your beer!

I truly believe that incorrect pitch rate is the fatal flaw of homebrewing.  Hell, even some brewpubs suffer from this mistake. Proper and complete sanitation is my motto, but even if you keep everything squeaky clean, infections are most definitely not the biggest cause of mediocre beer. I once knew a guy who told me “just make good clean beer first, then you can do whatever you want to it”. He was talking about making the fermentation as “clean” as possible. Even if your equipment was dirty, if you put the right amount of yeast in there those little warriors can fight off most infections.  Yeast produces alcohol, which is the enemy of bacteria.

Brewers’ Yeast-Lagers and Ales

To begin, I want to cover a few very broad points about yeast, discuss liquid vs. dry, and just briefly cover flavor components before we get a little more technical. First, there are two broad categories that brewers separate yeast into: Lager and Ale. Lagers taste better fermented cold (around 50F) and Ales taste better fermented at or around room temperature(70F). As far as yeast goes that’s narrow enough for today’s discussion (if you want to know about bacterias and wild yeast strains ask the O’Connor’s staff).  For the purpose of this article, I want to focus on the previously mentioned Lager and Ale Yeasts.

The Two Phases of Yeast

Yeast has two general phases: 1) Aerobic – During this phase the yeast uses oxygen to produce cells (reproduce). 2) Anaerobic – During this phase we see the yeast using glucose to create CO2 and Ethanol (Fermentation). When you are pitching yeast into your beer obviously you want the second phase to be in full swing, and that is the main reason for not over oxygenating your wort. Fortunately as a homebrewer you would really need to shake your fermenter for a whole week or dump a tank of oxygen into it to force constant aerobic activity.

Liquid vs. Dry Yeast.  What’s right for your beer?

The difference between the two is very similar to the difference between liquid malt and dry malt extract. Dry yeast is just processed one step further to make it more storable. Both are obviously good for fermentation. One of the most important factors when using either dry or liquid is using them consistently in order to get repeatable results. I think of dry yeast as the boring less attractive friend of liquid yeast. It is  consistent and it will always be there for you, but it is definitely more fun to go party with the younger and more interesting liquid stuff. The biggest problem with the liquid is that it is much more needy and it spoils MUCH quicker. Lucky for you we handle the spoilage by never selling yeast that is “out of date”. Hard as it is to pull a product without selling it, we do that here because yeast is alive and we do not want you to be making bad beer with dead yeast. Different yeasts make different beers, and the liquid has much more variance in selection. Regardless of what type you are using, you want to get consistent results, and that means you need to do something about that pitching rate!

Here Comes the Technical Part

Pitching rates are dictated by your original gravity and the volume of your beer. Professional brewers measure this by mL per degree Plato. For the sake of this article I will try to convert all of my numbers into the homebrewer friendly “gravity” points. This is how I get that gravity number: multiply ºPlato by 4 and get the number you’re familiar with (4P = 1.016; 12P = 1.048). If you want to get the exact conversion you can use the charts here: http://www.brewersfriend.com/plato-to-sg-conversion-chart/ .

Dry yeast packages contain around 230 billion cells and Wyeast packages hold about 100 billion. The formula for proper pitching rate for Ales is:

(1 million cells x mL of wort) x º Plato

If you’re starting with a 1.048 starting gravity you need to first convert gallons to mL and SG to ºP.

 

1.048 is 12ºP and 5 Gallons is 18927.2 mL

 

(1,000,000 x 18927.2) x 12 = 227,126,400,000

 

For lagers you would ideally take this number and triple it-so just under 700 billion cells.

227 billion cells!!! BILLION. Do not be afraid of the big numbers. Now is the part where you say, “Wait, what the WHAT!?  My Wyeast package says its good for a 1.060 SG and now you’re telling me I need almost 3 times that for 12 gravity points lower?” Yep, but here is the dirty little secret about yeast pitching: when you introduce yeast to the wort party the freshness of yeast (called viability by the pros) causes reliable results with up to 40% of recommended rates. Don’t ask me why that is the case, because that is microbiology, and I am just spouting that information from a micro PhD student that I happen to know. Viability of your yeast needs to be a concern whenever brewing but in particular when you are using less than the recommended rates. If your yeast is not fresh then you had better be doing a starter regardless of your starting gravity. If you are doing anything with liquid yeast,  it is always going to benefit from a starter… and for that matter using dry yeast and doing a starter is not bad either. Dry yeast companies do not recommend using their yeast for starters, because it is not economical (dry yeast tends to be inexpensive and buying another pack costs less than the time and effort spent to make a starter, but I know homebrewers and I know you want to save that 50¢).

How to Make a Yeast Starter

Doing a starter is making a miniature batch of beer ahead of time. You can add that beer directly to be batch you make, or you can put the yeast starter in the fridge and decant the beer at a later time. Whichever route you choose, it is never going to hurt your beer. It is always going to improve it and we have some pretty simple instructions to do it here: http://crashtest.emberlydigital.com/2012/09/how-to-make-a-yeast-starter/.  This is one of the best tried and true websites for figuring out how much yeast you need:  http://www.mrmalty.com/calc/calc.html

If this article just made you hungry for more you can slake your unquenchable thirst for knowledge by reading Yeast by Jamil Zainasheff and Chris White -available for your purchasing pleasure at O’Connor’s.

Until next time, Sanitize Sanitize Sanitize (and pitch the right amount of yeast).

Nicholas LaVelle

O’Connor’s HBS’s General Manager and Home Brew Expert

 

Making wine at home is sooooo easy!

How to Make Wine From a Kit

It’s very easy to make delicious wine from the variety of kits that we offer. All of our wine kits produce 6 gallons of wine which is about 30 750ml bottles.

Equipment Needed:

  • 7.9 gallon fermenting bucket with airlock

  • 6 gallon glass carboy with bung and airlock

  • Bottling bucket with bottling wand

  • Auto-Siphon or racking cane

  • Hydrometer

  • Wine corker

  • Wine thief

  • Bottle and carboy brushes

  • A large spoon for stirring

Each wine will have a different recipe or process, but the general steps are:

  • Read through the directions included with the wine kit.

  • Put together ingredients in the sanitized fermenting bucket

  • Ferment in primary bucket for 14 days. Generally, red wines should ferment at 70-80 degrees and white wines should ferment at 70-75 degrees. Temperatures below or above these can cause the yeast to drop out and halt fermentation, as well as cause off-flavors.

  • After the gravity has dropped to 1.020 or below, rack the wine off the yeast into a sanitized carboy. Add fining agents included with the kit.

  • Allow wine to condition in the carboy for two weeks. If you wish to age the wine for longer, rack again to another sanitized carboy to move wine off of finings.

  • Once the wine has reached the final gravity estimated by the kit, you may bottle.

  • Enjoy your homemade wine!

Estimated Costs:

  • If you brew beer, you will only need to pick up certain items (corker, ingredients, etc).

  • For those of you with no equipment, you can get a custom O’Connor’s equipment kit for $140. Ingredient kits start at $65 (remember, you will get about 30 bottles of wine!)

Questions? Give us a call or shoot us an email.

616-635-2088

info@oconnorshomebrew.com

 

Guide to All Grain Brewing

O’Connor’s Guide to All Grain Brewing

Introduction

All grain brewing is the process of creating beer from malted grains such as barley, wheat, rye and corn- as opposed to using malt extracts or concentrates.

Why brew all grain?
There are many reasons brewers choose all grain over extract brewing. The main reason brewers switch to all grain is because it gives the brewer more control over the final product. Another reason to brew all grain is because it is generally about 40% cheaper to brew than malt extract beers.

Terms to Know

Mash – the combination of warm water and milled grain that you create in a mash tun

Vorlauf – the process of cycling the first few liters of cloudy runoff bath through the mash tun

Wort- the sweet sugary liquid runoff from the mash tun

Lauter- to collect the sugary wort from the grains

Sparge – the process of rinsing sugars from grains after lautering

Equipment

Beginning all grain brewing requires more initial investment than just our standard brewing kit.

Necessary Equipment

Mash Tun- This is the most important piece of equipment for all grain brewers. Mash tuns are typically a cooler or pot that have a false bottom and a ball valve.

Brew Kettle/Pot- The kettle size for a 5 gallon batch should be at least 7.5 gallons. I prefer 10 gallon pots which are helpful when brewing high gravity beers or beers that require over a 60 minute boil.

Helpful Equipment

Hot liquor tank – This is simply a cooler or pot with a ball valve. It holds water for fly sparging.

Sparge Arm – A sparge arm takes water from the hot liquor tank and spreads it gently and evenly across the bed of grain in the mash tun. This is used when fly sparging.

Propane Heater/Alternative heat – Unlike extract all grain brewing requires the brewer to boil 7+ gallons of wort. Some stove tops are capable of this but some aren’t. Options other than a propane burner include an electric element (220v) or an induction heater (requires a tri-clad bottom pot).

Brewing Steps

Step 1: Recipe
People rant and rave about different recipes. No matter how particular people get, it is not the recipe that matters the most. It is the execution on brew day and during fermentation. Rob has already created a great article on our website, but here are just a few general tips.

Most beers consist of 90% base grains such as 2-row, Pale Ale Malt, or Pilsen. The other 10% is composed of specialty grains. This can vary depending on style. Adding hops at different points in the boil matters. Any hops during the first 40 minutes of the boil are considered bittering hops that contribute to a beers bitterness. Hops added during the last 20 minutes are called aroma hops and affect the beers aroma and hop flavor.
When choosing a yeast make sure it is one that can handle your fermentation temperature. Remember fermentation temps are generally a few degrees higher than the ambient temperature.
Water is also an important ingredient in beer. In general if water tastes good to you and others it is probably ok to brew with. If you really want to start playing around with water however, a decent water filter can go a long way. Also, blending tap water with reverse osmosis or distilled water can also be beneficial.

Step 2: Mashing In
Heat up water to your mash in temperature and dump it into the mash tun. Slowly add milled grain while stirring to make sure there are no grain clumps or air pockets. After stirring take the mash temperature. It should be somewhere in between 140 F and 158 F. A higher temperature creates a sweeter final product while a lower temperature creates a drier beer. Most beers are between 150 F and 155 F. If you miss your initial temperature try to fix it as soon as possible. Put the lid on the mash tun and let it sit typically for an hour. During this process several enzymes (such as alpha and beta amylase) are working to convert the starches found in the malted grains into fermentable and non-fermentable sugars. Mash times are generally around 60 minutes but can vary depending on the style of beer.

Step 3: Lautering
Lautering is separating the wort from the milled grains. This is what the false bottom on the bottom of your mash tun allows you to accomplish. When lautering it is important to go slowly. An average speed depending on the system is a quart a minute. It is very important to Vorlauf when you begin lautering. Vorlaufing is collecting the first amount of runoff or wort from your mash tun until the wort runs clear and doesn’t have big chunks of grain in it. This usually takes the first gallon or so depending on beer recipe and equipment setup. You then take the unclear wort and gently run it through your mash again. It is important to not just dump the wort back in but to slowly poor it over a spoon or through a wort aerator as to not disturb the grain bed. If enough grain gets into the boil it can cause tanic off flavors.

Step 4: Sparge
Their are mainly two ways to sparge.
Batch Sparging is heating up a specified amount of water to 168°F and pouring it into your mash tun after lautering. Leave the hot water in for about ten minutes, vorlauf, and then collect what is called your second runnings. Again, just like lautering the idea is to drain your mash tun slowly.

Fly Sparging is done simultaneously to lautering and requires a hot liquor tank. You fill a hot liquor tank with a specified amount of 168°F or slightly hotter as your figure out how much your temperature drops. Hot water from the hot liquor tank then goes through the sparge arm into the mash tun. The rate at which water flows from the mash tun should match the amount of water flowing into it from the hot liquor tank. You want about an inch of water above the grain bed at all times.

Step 5: Boil
After you have collected your wort it is time to begin the boil. Most recipes call for a 60 minute boil. This is also the time to start adding hops. Some home stove stops can boil 7 gallons of wort, but others cannot. Any old turkey fryer can work to heat up your beer, but be careful because some do not have a good flame adjustment and can easily cause boil overs. The Blichmann floor burner is one of the best burners easily available and can run off of natural gas with an adapter. It is important to remember that absolutely everything that touches the beer after the boil should be sanitized thoroughly.

Step 7: Cool
Cooling wort quickly is important to making a top quality brew. It reduces the chances of infection and also helps accentuate your hop aroma in hop forward beers. Unlike cooling extract kits, which require cooling 2.5 gallons, all grain recipes require 5 gallons to be cooled.
There are many ways to cool beer. The easiest way to cool beer is by using an immersion chiller. Immersion chillers are made of copper tubing (or sometimes stainless) that has been coiled. Cold water runs through the chiller, cooling the beer.
Other options include a counter-flow chiller and a plate chillers. When in desperate need a snowbank will work well too.

Step 8: Pitch Yeast and Aerate
Almost done! Now all you have to do is pitch your yeast into the beer. Afterward cover the grommet hole and shake the beer for five minutes. This will add needed initial oxygen to the beer to help the yeast ferment.

Step 9: Fermentation
The most important part of fermentation after having enough yeast cells is temperature. Again this temperature depends on yeast, but should be around 66-72°F. Active fermentation generally takes about 2 weeks. Airlock activity can generally be seen in the first few days. No airlock activity is not a sign that your beer is not fermenting. The only way to really tell is by taking a gravity reading. After fermentation is complete you can age the beer, bottle, or keg it.

The all grain brewing process
The all grain brewing process
Drew brewing an Irish Ale
Drew brewing an Irish Ale
Grains and recipe for a Cream Ale
Grains and recipe for a Cream Ale
Ben uses an advanced Blichmann set up to brew beer.
Ben uses an advanced Blichmann set up to brew beer.
Brewing All Grain Beers Outside
Brewing All Grain Beers Outside
All Grain Equipment Setup
All Grain Equipment Setup

Recipe Writing 101

Recipe Writing 101

Rob Qualls, OHBS Home Brew Expert

One of the things that I love the most about brewing is writing a recipe-whether it is a recipe for me or for a customer, it’s my favorite aspect of making beer. I, and this is just me personally-not passing judgement, do not get that much excitement about brewing a clone or brewing a recipe that someone else has written. The recipe writing process is important to me. That being said, when I brew a clone or a recipe that someone else has written, and it turns out great, I’m still proud. So if you are new to writing recipes or would like some expert tips on designing a recipe that will help you make the best beer possible, keep reading.

  1. After determining the type of beer you are going to brew, do your research. I always consult Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels. This is a must have if you are looking to write recipes on your own. Each type of beer is broken down to the core. Malt bill, hops, yeast, water, and fermentation tips are all available. And best of all, this book is available at the shop. Using the wisdom in this book can prevent bad recipe formulation and a beer worthy of a drain pour…..remember…..ANYONE can put recipes online…..trust the experts when it comes to recipe formulation.  
  2. Keep it simple (when appropriate): One of the most popular recipes to brew are IPAs, so I’m going to use this style as an example. You need three malts, that’s it. Seriously, that’s all I, and many others, use to make some pretty great IPAs. There are a lot of great malts out there, but when you start throwing 10 different malts together, then the end result is usually a muddled mess. The three malts is all I use to make my IPAs include a base malt (usually 2-row), some victory (or any toasted malt), and carapils. For extract brewers, it’s usually even less than that. Since most extract already has caramel or carapils in it, I usually just add some toasted malt. When you get a chance, come in and take a look at the extracts and see what malts are in there to help you construct your next recipe. That being said, there are styles that are more forgiving (Scottish ales, Imperial Stouts, Barley Wines) with complex malt bills, but remember to do your research on the styles so something wonky doesn’t end up in your glass.
  3. Keep specialty malts in check: 4 pounds of caramel malt, 5 pounds of brown malt, and 3 pounds of carapils, in a 5 gallon batch, is probably a bad idea. A good rule of thumb is to have 10% of your recipe contain specialty malts. When your at the shop, we like to give people the freedom to create and have fun with things, but if we see something really out of sort, we do like to tell you that possible ramifications of adding too much of a particular malt, but we’ll never tell you not to do it. We just want to educate you and have you decide for yourself what you want to do. If you want to add 5 pounds of caramel malt, do it! It’s going to be extremely sweet and cloying, but if that is what you want, go for it. Pushing style boundaries are how some of the most successful breweries came about, so don’t let us stop you.
  4. Research the right hop for your brew: It’s really tempting to throw some of those fancy new hops in everything (I have!), but remember to think of flavors and how they will marry together. Citra is a great hop, however, using it as the lone hop in a Dry Irish Stout may lend to some “interesting” flavors. We have a great handle on which hops work good in certain styles, so just ask us if you didn’t research it before hand and we’ll point you in the right direction. A great way to learn the hop flavors are to only include one hop in your brew. I have been doing this a lot as of late. SMaSH (Single Malt, Single Hop)beers are also a very good way to learn the hop profiles.
  5. Use the correct yeast strain for your beer: Research which yeast is the correct yeast for your application. Different yeast have difference characteristics which can greatly influence the flavor and body of your beer. If you do not know which yeast to use, you can ask us! If in doubt and your making an American style ale, use our house yeast (O’Connor’s West Michigan Ale Yeast). This is a very hardy and forgiving yeast that produces great beer.
  6. BeerSmith:  So now that you have some basic ideas on how to formulate a recipe, it is important to make sure that you are combining the right ingredients for your style.  We use BeerSmith at the shop, and it is a great way to learn recipe formation.  It has all of the tools that you need (style guidelines, hop profiles, water needed, etc).  There are other tools out there for creating a recipe, but BeerSmith is our definite go to.

If you find your self questioning the formulation of your next brew, just follow these tips. If you are still unsure, just ask us! We love to talk beer (obviously) and are more then willing to show you all the options that are out there and what goes good together.

 

Blichmann Conicals vs. Ale Pail Throw Down

Fermenters: Blichmann Stainless Steel Conical vs. Ale Pail Throwdown

Nick LaVelle, O’Connor’s Home Brew Expert

This month I wanted to do something a little different. Instead of exploring a brewing technique or a style of beer, I really wanted to do a side-by-side comparison pitting our Blichmann Conicals up against my trusty 8 year old Ale Pail. That’s right, I said 8 years old. I don’t change out my equipment unless there’s some sign of deterioration. My brewing bucket has made it through thick and thin (not something I can say for the “siphonless” equipment in my possession which was harboring infections within a couple years). So what gives then? Why spend all that money on fancy equipment when my bucket has been kicking a$$ and taking names for almost a decade? So, I brewed up a 10 gallon batch so I have something to compare. And since I’ve brewed about 15 wheat beers this year I figured a space-age wit beer would do nicely.

Beer: Pink Peppercorn Wheat with Tangerine and Grapefruit Peel
Total Post Boil Volume: 10 Gallons
Grains: Flakes and Instagrains –  Rice, Oats, Red Wheat and Barley (3# Rice Hulls)
Boil Hops: Hallertauer, Sapphire, Citra  Dry Hops: Columbus  Additional Boil:– Tangerine and Grapefruit Peel; 4 Days into Fermentation – Pink Peppercorns

Process:  I brewed up the batch and had a little loss, so I ended up with about 4.5 gallons in each fermenter. It was a basic single infusion mash, and I ran the wort through the Citra leaf hops in our HopRocket and into each fermenter. Once in fermentation, I let each go for 4 days before I added in the pink peppercorns. The biggest difference in Fermentation was that once the beer reached 1.012 terminal gravity I was able to dump the yeast on the conical while the bucket was left to its own devices. After dumping the yeast, I transferred the conical beer to keg under CO2 and brought both the keg and bucket up to crash in the fridge overnight. The next day I added dry hops to the keg and the bucket and let it go for an additional 4 days on the dry hops. I used the trusty ol’ autosiphon on the bucket and transferred that to a keg on the same day I pulled the dry hops from the conical’s keg. I carbonated both up on the same day and had a little tasting with Ben and Andrew to see what thoughts were on them.

Results:

Look – Both beers had great head, golden color and there was no difference in haziness.

AromaThe Conical had far more subtle and balanced aromas. For whatever reason the keg     hopping added a nice rounded aroma complement whereas dry-hopping in the Bucket did very little. The peppercorns were an overwhelming aroma on the Bucket beer which may have been the result of continued contact with the yeast cake or it could be that the dimensions of a Bucket give more surface area with the pepper… whatever the case the result was apparent.

Flavor – The Bucket mouthfeel was a little more toothsome and had more of a bite from the peppercorns but the base flavors were pretty similar outside of that. As with the aroma the flavors too seemed more subtle and complimentary with the conical than with the bucket. I think the minimal amounts of oxidation that occurred in the bucket definitely changed the flavor a bit, but both have a month of storage in the keg and seem to be stable in flavor. I do NOT think the bucket version was dramatically more oxidized and it hasn’t shortened the shelf life in a noticeable way.

What would I do differently:  I wanted to keep it to a one vessel comparison but with dry hopping and all I ended up moving the beers to kegs on different days. Next time I would try racking the bucket to secondary when I racked the yeast off on the concal. Because of the differences in machinery there was a need to do things differently that I didn’t anticipate so now I can find a better way to compare the two (i.e. just keg hop both).


My Conclusion? I think that the bucket cleaned and sanitized properly exceeded my expectations. Overall the beer fermented in the conical and keg hopped was superior, but does that mean that it was $300 better? Not for my money. If you have money sitting around you should make the upgrade to Stainless Fermenters, but they still have downsides so don’t go thinking they will solve the worlds problems. You encounter a little more loss (closer to a half gallon) with a conical and they tend to take a little more time to clean up after. The results were noticeable enough that here at the shop I’ll stick to using the conicals but things like Yeast Starters, Fermentation Temperature Stability, and above all Proper Sanitation are definitely bigger issues than the shape and material of your fermenters.

 

Achieving Beer Clarity

Some brewers make a big deal about it, others don’t, but the clarity of my beer as of late has been a big deal. I think it is just a natural progression in brewing education, which makes sense because you need to conquer the fundamentals of brewing before you worry about what your beer looks like. Being sanitary is of course the first thing that you need to master in your brew house. Pitching yeast at the correct rate and controlling your fermentation temperature are both extremely important. Also, having a firm grasp on cellering your beer and keeping the air out makes a big difference in the quality and longevity of your beer. So, if you have not “perfected” the previously mentioned steps, clarity should be a non factor.
Relatively speaking, concern over clarity only became relevant when we stopped drinking out of wooden, stone, and porcelain mugs. If you are still drinking out of a vessel that is wooden, stone, or porcelain, you are probably not concerned with clarity since its pretty evident that you are have other worries, like if Frodo will make it to Mordor and destroy the Ring for the sake of Middle Earth. Ok, jokes aside, here are my tips for clarifying beer.
Time: The longer you let your beer sit around in a glass carboy, the better it will look. The yeast and haze causing proteins come out of suspension.
Cold conditioningThis has the same effect as time, however, it works faster. Works on the same principles as the time method, it just expedites the process.

Irish Moss: ­ Irish moss works by making the smaller molecules aggregate into larger particles so that they settle out of solution. It does this by changing the ionic charge of the proteins. They provide a surface which carries an ionic charge opposite that of the charge of the waste material. This should be used in most beer. Why? Irish moss helps settle out a lot of waste material that is separated out during the boil as well. So it may not actual make your beer clear in all circumstances, it will improve the quality.

Gelatin Finings: Used properly, this will help settle out the waste created during fermentation. For me personally, gelatin has been the most effective agent outside of just letting it clear naturally. When using gelatin, first you must let it bloom in cold water for an hour, then add boiling water after that hour. Pour into your secondary and wait a couple days.

Clarity Ferm:  Clarity Ferm (White Labs) is a newer product that does two things: 1. Help reduce chill haze. 2. Drop the gluten out of your beer below 10ppm. I do not have firm grasp on how this actually works, even after talking with Chris White (owner of White Labs). I know that it’s an enzyme White Labs developed. I’ve used it in a handful of beers. I haven’t seen the clarity I was hoping for, however, it does drop the gluten without any impact on flavor.

There are a couple more options we have at the shop, come check them out!

Article by Rob Qualls, O’Connor’s Home Brew Expert

Clarity Ferm
Clarity Ferm
Gelatin Finings
Gelatin Finings
Irish Moss
Irish Moss

How to Make Hard Cider

Hard Cider

Hard Cider is pretty darn easy to make, and this recipe and process is quite simple.

*A typical recipe is five gallons, but you can change the recipe to make any size (less or more).

*Most raw cider will ferment out to about 5% ABV, so if you want to add sugar (brown sugar, honey, etc) to bring the alcohol percentage up… about 1lb of sugar will give you an extra percent of alcohol. For example, 7.5% cider needs 2.5lbs of sugar. We would suggest that when adding sugar to cider it should be dissolved in water (simple syrup solution) before being added. This ensures that the sugar is equally dispersed in to the cider, and prevents you from having to heat the cider.

1. Get 5 gallons of raw, unpasteurized cider from a a cider mill, fill into a sanitized carboy or plastic bucket. See recommended local cider mills at the bottom of the page.

2. Use Campden Tablets to kill wild yeast if you desire, but you can leave wild yeast in for some unique character. To use Campden Tablets, crush 1 tablet per gallon of cider, and put it into the carboy when you get home after filling it. Wait 24 hours to let the Campden do its job. One hour prior to adding the yeast add Pectic Enzyme if you want a clear, nice looking cider. Without Pectic Enzyme the final product will most likely be a little cloudy.

3. Pitch yeast. We recommend Wyeast Cider Yeast, but any dry ale or wine yeast will work. The type of yeast used will determine the body of the cider i.e. Dry or Not Dry. If you like a very dry crisp cider then use a champange yeast. If not, use an ale yeast.  Click on the “cheat sheet” pic below for yeast and additive options.  

Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 4.36.24 PM

4. Ferment for about 2 weeks, and transfer to secondary. At this point, you can leave the cider in the fermenter for as long as 2 weeks or 6 months. We are usually not patient enough to wait, so I bottle or keg after about a month of total fermentation.  It should be noted that if you use an ale yeast, your cider could smell like sulfur for quite some time….that is normal, and wait for that smell to go away before bottling.  

5. Bottle or keg the cider. Enjoy!

*Recommended local cider mills:

Vandermill

Hill Brothers

Sietsema

Robinette’s

And the Winners are….

First of all, thank you to everyone who participated in 2017’s competition.  From the people who entered beers, the judges, stewards, sponsors….everyone, thank you!  

All of the scoresheets have been entered into the website. Log in to view your scores.  Paper copies are also available at the shop.  Also, please pick up your unused entry beers by Sunday at 5pm.

We would like to invite all those involved with the competition to the awards ceremony at Harmony Hall on Saturday at 5.  Even if you did not win, it will be a great time….beer…home brewers….come on!  Of course, families are welcome.  Prizes and medals will be awarded to all style winners and and the Best in Show beers.

Prizes!

Home Brew Competition Winners-2016

The official announcement of the winners of O’Connor’s 4th Annual Home Brew Competition was announced at Harmony Hall on Sunday, November 13th.

*Chad Bocian*

Fruit/Spice/Vegetable Beer Style winner with “Just the Tip” A spruce tip Pale Ale

*Zachary Dreyer*

Historical Beer Style winner with “Pre Pro Porter”

*William Katerberg*

Sour Ale Style winner with “Pucker up Sour” Mixed Fermentation Sour Ale

*Michael Meadow*

3rd Place winner with “PumpRumLicicous” Experimental Beer

Wood Aged Style winner with “PumpRumLicicous” Experimental Beer

*Nick Rodammer*

Best in Show winner with “Rodtoberfest” Oktoberfest

2nd Place winner with “Old Nic” Belgian Golden Strong Ale

Lager Style winner with “Rodtoberfest” Oktoberfest

Strong Ale Style winner with “Old Nic” Belgian Golden Strong Ale

*Kevin Schumacher*

IPA Style winner with “WIPA it Good” Specialty IPA

*Jonathan Shiflett*

Wheat Beer Style winner with “A Kettle Soured Doughnut” Berliner Weisse

*Brian Smith*

Pale Ale Style winner with “Phlagship” American Pale Ale

*Kirt Weakman*

Amber and Brown Ale Style winner with his Belgian Dubbel

harmonymedals nickrodammer ourguys stylewinner1 stylewinner2 stylewinner3 stylewinner4 stylewinner5

Thank you so much to everyone who entered a beer.  A very special thank you goes out to everyone who volunteered their time to be a judge. We appreciate your enthusiasm for home brew, and as always, we appreciate your business.

Please support our 2016 sponsors: Foxx Equipment, LD Carlson, Harmony Brewing Company, Pilot Malt House, and Hop Head Farms.

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-9-46-45-pm screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-9-46-25-pm Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 9.47.15 AM hophead pilot

Put Diaceytl to Rest

Put Diacetyl to Rest

It all started with an IPA. The first sip and I instantly spit it out. It was a buttered popcorn death bomb. Why did this happen? I guess the  cold temperature in my home did not agree at all with my yeast. The real punch to the gut happened when I brewed a triple decoction pilsner. I spent an 8 hour brew day and 2.5 months of waiting for what would be the nectar of the gods. Unfortunately it was the return of the “Diacetyl Beast” part II.

Diacetyl can be a serious problem for many brewers. Diacetyl has the flavor of butter or butterscotch. It is a naturally occurring product of yeast fermentation, and healthy yeast will clean up this flavor while fermenting. Bacteria such as pediococcus and some strains of lactobacillus can also create this flavor. Creating a large yeast starter and ensuring proper fermentation temperatures are the best ways to avoid this flavor.

But what can you do if you have already fermented your beverage and the flavor persists? My immediate thought was pitch more yeast. After doing some deep internet searches , I found a process called krausening. Krausening is the same as creating a starter, but pitching the starter in right as it reaches peak fermentation. Seeing as I had two separate beers that needed fixing I decided to try an experiment. For the first starter I used 1118 champagne yeast. I knew this yeast was an absolute powerhouse and could eat through anything. 3 packs of yeast went into a starter. As soon as I saw foam on top I dumped it into my fermenter. For the other batch of butter beer I used US-05 the standard go-to American ale yeast. Two packs in a starter and a few hours later I pitched it into the fermenter. I wrapped both beers in a Fermwrap to keep them warm. and threw a blanket over them.

A week later I cold crashed and put them both on tap. The beer with the 1118 had no trace of diacetyl whatsoever. It was wonderful, but remained cloudy and would not clarify-thanks 1118. The US-05 beer cleared out fairly well for being an IPA. It still had a small amount of diacetyl off flavor, but far far less than when I started. The beer was at least drinkable by my standards.  I’d like to experiment with more yeasts to see how they perform.

Andy Chambers

Home Brew Expert

Andy entertaining Marty O'Connor
Andy entertaining Marty O’Connor

Cider House Select Kits

O’Connor’s now carries Brewer’s Best Cider House Select 6 Gallon Kits

“Everything you need to craft your best cider is here.  We start with fresh ingredients packaged to maintain flavor as well as easy-to-follow recipes measured to perfection. All of our recipes are perfectly formulated to maintain the integrity of the style you choose to brew.”  Brewer’s Best 

And it’s easy to make….

1.  Pour concentrate, 2lbs of dextrose, and 1 gallon of boiling water in your 7.9 gallon fermenter and mix.

2.  Top up to 6 gallons with cold water and stir in contents of yeast package.

3.  Store fermenter at 64-74 degrees and leave for 7 days.

4. Bottle and store for two weeks before sampling.

If you already have the equipment, all you need is the Cider House Flavor* of your choice, cleaner, sanitizer, 2lbs of corn sugar (dextrose), and priming sugar for carbonation.

Questions? Comments? Concerns? Call or email our Home Brew Experts.  Cheers!

*In stock right now are Pear, Apple, Spiced Apple, Mixed Berry, Cherry, and Cranberry Apple.  All kits are $39.99

Cider Instructions

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And the winners are….2015

Thank you to everyone who entered beers into our 3rd Annual Home Brew Competition.  We had our best turn out yet, and the beers were great.  

Best in Show

Alfred Schmidutz

American Wheat IPA

“Don’t Wheaty Be Hoppy”

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2nd Place

David Lopez and Ben Knoll

“Dirty Banana” Porter

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3rd Place

Austin Zeno

“CPA” Pale Ale

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Light Hybrid

Kirt Weakman

“Roger’s Blonde” Blonde Ale

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Scottish and Irish Ale

Kathy Troxell, Jim Meyers, Dale Taylor, and Steve Wisneski of the Muskegon Ottawa Brewers

“Double Scotch Neat” Strong Scotch Ale 

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Pale Ale

Ben Knoll and David Lopez

“Citra Up” American Pale Ale

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Amber Ale

Dennis Willyard of Rivertown Brewers

“Amber Waves of Grain” Amber Ale

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Brown Ale

Andrew Brouwers of GR Homebrewers

Dark Mild

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Porter

David Lopez and Ben Knoll

“Dirty Banana” Porter

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Stout

Joe Hunter

“Shot in the Dark” Imperial Stout

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IPA

Alfred Schmidutz

American Wheat IPA

“Don’t Wheaty Be Hoppy”

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Wheat and Rye Beer

Terry Lacy

Dunkleweizen

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Belgian and French Ale

Micheal Meadow

“DD” Belgian Golden Strong Ale

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Radical Beer

Tyler Reeder

“Rage Against the Reinheitsgebot”

Please support our incredible/amazing/fantastic sponsors of this event.  This wouldn’t be possible without them.

RBC pilot Hop Head Farms LLC Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 10.34.16 AM Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 9.47.15 AM

Rob’s Tips to Speeding Up Your Brew Day

Rob’s Tips to Speeding Up Your Brew Day

Let’s face it; everyone’s time is precious. Like me, many people use brew days as a way to escape and unwind. Because of my other commitments (kid, work, life, etc), finding a 4-5 hour free time period to brew was becoming more and more troublesome. My options were to start brewing at 8pm and getting done between 12-1am or start at 5am or earlier hoping to get done before my son got up. Over the past couple of years I have really tried to find areas of my brew day to make more efficient. My most recent brew was record breaking-just over 3 hours. Yes, 3 hours  for an all grain brew AND I managed to get all the groceries my family needed while I mashed for the week ::mic drop:: How? Well I’ll lay it out for you….

1. Organize the day before

I made sure everything I needed on brew day was where it needed to be. Pot cleaned? Check. Fermenter cleaned and filled with sanitizer? Check. Bucket filled with sanitizer? Check. Organization can set you free. These small steps the night before can keep you calmer and more level headed the day of brew, not to mention save you time.

2. Use preheated water

The biggest time waster for most homebrewers is the heating of water. It doesn’t matter if you are brewing extract or all grain-getting that water up to temperature takes time. The night before, you can turn up your hot water heater to the hottest setting. This was an awesome “hack” for me. My heater, when at the hottest setting, has water coming out at 155 degrees. That means I had to only come up 5 degrees to hit my strike temperature of 160. For those that are extract brewers, you just completely cut a corner and you can steep those grains right at 155. One thing to keep in mind is if you have an electric hot water heater or gas. The electric heaters have magnesium anode rods in them to keep the element from rusting, which means that there is excess metal in your hot water, just filter the water. I use a RV inline water filter and my water is good to go. However, magnesium is good for the yeast, but I have no idea how much those anodes give off at a time, so just play it safe, filter the water, and use a yeast nutrient (which you are using anyways…right??)

3. Multitask

During the “dead time” of mashing/boil is when I start to get anything ready for post boil. I take my partially filled fermenter bucket/carboy and give it a shake and drain the excess sanitizer. I then close the bucket up and put an air lock on it so nothing can get it. During the mash (if you do not go grocery shopping like I do…) start getting your boil additions lined up (mise en place for those cooks out there). This means getting your hops weighed and separated, Irish moss and yeast nutrient measured out, and any other kettle additions measure and ready to go. This makes things go smoother.

4.Chill fast(er)

I mentioned above that the longest parts of brewing are heating up water, and depending on how you chill, that can take just as long. So we spend hours watching water get to temperature and now we have to get it back down. I spent so much time, money, and energy when I first starting brewing on chilling. I would by four bags of ice (at $2.50 a bag), and it would still take almost an hour to chill. Then I received the most glorious Christmas gift ever: an immersion chiller. For a lot of brewers, dropping $67.99 on a 25ft copper chiller was a tough pill to swallow. My wife was smart enough to do the math. I had spent enough on ice to buy a chiller, maybe even two. It was literally throwing money down the drain. The chiller was such a good investment that it took my chilling time from about one hour to around 15 minutes. Then my brew buddy had a brilliant idea. I knew that stirring the wort would chill it faster, but I didn’t want to have to manually stir for 15 minutes. So I bought a wine degasser. The degasser attaches to my drill. I pull the trigger ever so slightly and let the blades do the work. You don’t want to go full bore, just enough to get the wort spinning. Using this device I was able to get my wort chiller in about 7 minutes.

5. Clean up later

This is not a lazy thing, but it actually has some practical value. I usually clean my mash tun during the boil, but all the other equipment, like the kettle can take some time to clean, especially if you have an electrical element in your kettle to scrub. I usually do a quick rinse with hot water then fill up the kettle with a weak PBW mixture (usually 2 TBS per 5 gallons). I throw all things brewing in the kettle and let it sit 24 hours. The next day, all I have to do is rinse off all the brewing equipment. The kettle just needs a gentle scrub and it comes clean.

6. Siphon quicker by not siphoning at all

By using a mesh strainer you can cut some time off of  your brew day. Siphoning can take 10-15 minutes. If you are brewing extract, then dump the brew into your bucket thru a strainer. You can also attach a ball valve to your kettle and drain off into your bucket. The opening on a ball valve is much wider than the siphon tubing allowing for a faster transfer.

Using all these tips can significantly cut your brew day time by hours. I can now brew with little notice and don’t have to plan a whole day around it, which makes it more enjoyable for me. And for you hopefully.

Rob Qualls

O’Connor’s HBS Home Brew Expert

President, GR Homebrewers

What it Feels Like to Win Our Homebrew Competition

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Article by Rob Qualls, winner of our 1st homebrew competition 

I had never entered any of my beers into competition up until the O’Connor’s inaugural contest last Fall. In fact, my Belgian Tripel, the beer that ended up winning, was only the 6th beer that I brewed and my second all grain beer. I knew I had a good beer but had never had any qualified, constructive criticism concerning my brews*. My wife would tell me how good my beer was, but I never knew if she was saying that to keep the peace in the Qualls household.

When I found out that my beer was going on to the final round, needless to say, I was thrilled. Finally, the day came that I would really find out how well it did. I remember sitting at Midtown on Tap listening to all the style winners and watching everyone else walk up there with a huge smile on their face. Then, came the top three. It’s hard to describe how I felt while they were announcing each winner. I didn’t know if I was a top three, I just knew I finished in the top ten. So, there was a possibility that I was there and didn’t win anything. With each announcement there was a feeling of excitement and disappointment at the same time: “Yes! I might finish higher than 3! No! I didn’t even win third!”. Needless to say, Allison was toying playfully with my emotions as she read each winner on the cold and rainy day in October. I should mention that I was battling the flu hard that day, so I was in no mood for being disappointed. Finally, the announcement came. I heard my name, and I swear my wife heard it before I did because she was screaming in my ear before I even knew what happened. I’d won. I could finally feel like “yeah, maybe I do make good beer” as I walked up to the podium to collect my medal. This may sound cheesy but I’ve only had a few truly proud moments in my life: the day I married my wife, the birth of my son, finishing the Riverbank 25k, and winning this medal.

Since that day, things have changed for me. I quit my corporate job and since taken a job here at O’Connor’s were I can “work” all day around something that I love and have a great passion for. It truly was the start of something special for me.

Fast forward to June 10th, the release of my beer at Rockford Brewing. To drink your beer at a real brewery (especially as good as Rockford) and watch others around you smile and tip their glasses to you as they drink the beer you brewed and wrote the recipe for is really special.

To the next winner: I really hope it means as much to you to win as it did to me. It is truly a great honor.

*Rob’s winning beer, Unholy Ale, was one of the best Belgian Tripels that has come through our doors.  If you would like constructive, professional criticism for your brews, feel free to bring them in for the guys to sample and take notes on.  

The guys review Stone’s “Enjoy By”

We (Nick and Rob) were tasked with reviewing an IPA. Typical brewers  only want to drink hoppy hoppy hoppy beers, right? WRONG! Lately we’ve been drifting more and more into the world of Lagers here at O’Connor’s (we’ve already brewed 3 this season and have a couple more on deck). However, this was a special occasion. Western Michigan has found itself the center of the Midwest beer universe and that means a lot of eyes are on our region to create and produce some of the best beers in the world. How can we say that we make amazing IPA’s without judging ourselves against the undisputed champions of the IPA-Stone Brewing? So, when the “Enjoy By” series made its way to Grand Rapids it was time to do some serious judging. Literally speaking, this is not an IPA unless you are incredibly liberal with the ABV range, so we judged it to style in the Imperial IPA category.  Once again, we are using our O’Connor’s HBS official beer scoring sheets and guidelines.

Appearance: 15 out of 15! This beer was fined, filtered, or centrifuged. Crystal clear with a pretty golden hue and a white rocky persistent head.

Aroma: 30 for 30. Smelled like delicious hops. Rob and I really tried to find something to critique, but in the end we decided that we were really just saying what we could do differently. Basically our critiques were invalid, and Rob and I decided that we couldn’t improve the aroma, just change it for fun. Malt aroma was cookie-ish (that’s a real beer aroma). As far as hop aroma goes, it ran the spectrum: woody, floral, grapefruit, pine, and resinous.

Flavor/Mouth feel: 40/40. It tasted like what it smelled like. It was amazing on all counts. With most Stone IPAs the hops completely overpower the malt bill. However, the malt was very well balanced with the hops. Malt left a light bready flavor with a medium mouth feel. Hop flavors were citrus, earthy, pine and floral.

 Overall: 100/100. Rob and I could not find any flaw in this beer. Its rare that a beer lives up to its hype, but this one is flat out phenomenal.

 

 

 

 

O’Connor’s is a Local Treasure

O’Connor’s is proud to be a part of Local First.  We would like to thank Local First for this awesome article on our shop.

Why we shop local and why you should too:

1.  73% more money stays in West Michigan when consumers shop at local and independent businesses.

2.  Shift $1 in $10 towards local businesses and help create 1, 600 new jobs in Kent County.

3.  On average, local businesses donate 350% more than national and global companies.

Thank you for shopping at O’Connor’s and other local businesses.

Advanced Parti-gyle Brewing

This month I (Nick) wanted to take the O’Connor’s loyal fan base on a journey into the world of parti-gyle brewing. Math warning! This is a bit in depth and technical, and I am doing my best to get my scattered thoughts onto paper.

First, a little background on the subject at hand. Parti-gyle brewing is an age old method of using your first runnings for a beer (that is higher in gravity) and using your second or third runnings for a beer that is lighter in gravity. For the best example of this process, we need to look at the Belgians. It was typical in medieval times to brew first batch Golden Strong or Trippel Ales with the first runnings and then a Single or Dubbel from the second and third. Coincidentally the batch we are working with today is partially a Belgian beer. To start, most of the info out there on parti-gyle brewing is geared towards knowing what the Original Gravity of your full volume of beer is. This number would be given to you by Beersmith or whatever program you were using to do your brewing calculations. This is not that method. You can read about that from Randy Mosher and other home brewing demi-gods elsewhere (it basically involves separating the batch into ⅓ High Gravity ⅔ lower gravity wort).

The method I am utilizing today allows me to use two mashes for two different beers at the same time but with dramatically different results. I wanted a dark beer and a beer that had no black or caramel malts. More specifically, I wanted to get a higher gravity beer with a lot of caramel and black malts in it and a lower gravity second runnings beer that was the color of a Pale Ale to Hop burst (most of the hops near the end).This method also requires me to steal a buddies mash tun…oh yeah.

1st Batch: Belgian Quad: Total grains = 25lbs
2nd Batch: Hop Session: Total grains (2nd runnings) =18.5lbs

When you mash in on a beer like this your water to grain ratio determines your maximum extraction. For a really great read on this stuff you can hit the website http://braukaiser.com. I utilized the chart on potential first running gravity available here: http://braukaiser.com/wiki/index.php?title=File:First_wort_gravity.gif.

 

For the Quad I mashed in all the grain:18.5 lbs of non-colored grain in one cooler (without any of the caramel and dark roasted malts) and the remaining grains in the second cooler. In the second cooler with the remaining grains I made sure to have some highly modified base malt in there to convert it. Since I wanted to just use the first runnings from both mash tuns I was able to calculate the volume I needed (8 gallons-ish) and dial in my pre-boil gravity using the sheet from Braukaiser. With our system you can usually count on a grain absorption of about a half quart/lb of the mash so total I needed a little more than 10 gallons to mash. This volume of water ended up being a 1.6-1.7qt/lb water to grain ratio. With a higher water to grain ratio the conversion is a little slower, so I ended up mashing for 90 minutes to ensure I had maximum conversion. Once I was done recirculating, I collected from both tuns at the same time until I was at my desired volume in the first kettle. I measured my preboil and it was on the mark (I usually live if its within 4 gravity points this ended up higher than my estimate and hit 1.080)

While the Quad was getting up to a boil I reloaded the mash tun with base grains in it with an additional 7 gallons of water for my second runnings beer and let it set up for a half an hour. I got the Quad to a boil and did its one hop addition. Now it was all about the second runnings beer. I recirculated until the line ran clear and collected the 7 gallons of wort. It ended up being about 1.042 for the pre-boil gravity. I then did a one hour boil and bursted it with 6 oz of Nugget hops right at flameout. I cooled both and ran them off into two different fermenters. The Hop Session was on tap at my house in less than two weeks, and the Quad went from primary to a carboy to age and finally into an oak barrel spiked with Makers Mark before it found its way into the keg. Not a bad couple beers for my first brew day with my newborn son!

I hope you get the chance to play around with your home brew the way I do and remember, malt hops and yeast with a little water pretty much always ends up becoming beer so just try to make make it fun and relax, it’s just science… I mean… it’s just home brew.

Nick Lavelle

Nick@oconnorshomebrew.com

 

More w/ Less Part II-Grain

More with Less pt. 2: A Cornucopia of Mash

 I was driving down US-131 with my windows down the other day when I hit some dense traffic. My mind has a hard time coming to grips with the reality of being on a hot, concrete interstate with no working a/c, and not moving. At that moment of sheer annoyance, on the wind comes an all-too-familiar smell: mash-in. I could almost see Founders from my window as that sweet, honey-like smell came wafting in my window. For me, it’s almost as comforting as the smell of a fresh tray of cookies.

As a recent experiment I have been exploring the world of multi-batch mashing.

 

The Life of the Parti-Gyle

 While dog treats and bread may be applicable uses for your spent grain, what if that grain isn’t entirely spent? The English employed multi-batch mashing (or as they refer to it, parti-gyle) centuries ago, doing multiple runnings of a single mash to produce several beers. The first runnings could be used to produce a high alcohol beer; the second runnings, a moderate alcohol beer; and third (and so on) runnings for a low alcohol beer. Often times the first and second runnings were combined to produce more moderately high alcohol beer, which is the same practice that 99% of all-grain homebrewers implement.

A few weeks ago I decided to try this out. I had 15 lbs. of grain that I mashed and sparged to get the 6.5 gallons I needed for the Double IPA I was brewing, then I sparged with another 6 gallons and collected into a separate pot. Using the BrauKaiser batch sparge simulator and taking gravity reading throughout the process, I drew off about 5.5 gallons of wort at 1.015 gravity. I then put this on the stovetop as my DIPA started to boil on my propane burner. After about an hour of boiling I was left with about 4.5 gallons of 1.018 wort to which I added one can of Apricot Puree (3lbs. 1oz.), which brought my gravity to 1.020.

I hopped it at the end of the boil with some leftover Citra as well as ounce of sweet orange peel. I also reused some of my Wyeast 3711 French Saison yeast off a batch of saison I did (see last month’s article). After a week of fermentation, it had fermented out to 1.000, resulting in a whopping 2.6% ABV. So I decided to add another can of apricot puree to kick up the fruity punch, and will be bottling the beer within the next week.

Overall, I would say the experiment was a mild success, though next time I think I would do it differently. First off, I would have started with more grain in my mash tun to result in a higher ABV. second beer. Second, I would have used a different yeast. I used French Saison because it was what I had on hand, and because I am a huge fan of that yeast, but in hindsight I would preferred a lower attenuating yeast strain on the second batch to leave a little more body in the beer.

Besides the beer, the best thing to come out of this experiment was the knowledge. This is one of those things I never was going to figure until I just did it, and now that I’ve done it, I’ll know how to do it better next time. It’s easy to get into a rut involving your process, and while it’s good to nail down your brewing technique, trying something new is the only way to grow in your ability as a brewer. Now, I’ve got some beer to drink.

Andrew DeHaan,O’Connor’s Home Brew Expert

Have any questions for Andrew?  Email him at andrew@oconnorshomebrew.com

More with Less-Yeast

More with Less Part. 1: Yeast

If you have been homebrewing long enough, you have probably realized by now that you could save a lot of time and energy not homebrewing. Essentially, homebrewing is work; if you’re doing it right, it’s very rewarding work. I have a hard time thinking of something I would rather spend my day doing than refining a tried-and-true creation or bringing a new recipe into the world.

 

If I learned anything from the years I spent getting my Bachelor of Arts (and the subsequent post-graduation years of “finding myself”) it was how to make more with less. This usually means more work and planning. However, when it’s something as enjoyable as brewing, a little time and a little more work simply means more to enjoy.

 

In the first part of this series of articles I would like to talk about something I have been doing for some time, and have had great outcomes with—reusing yeast.

 

You Can Re-Pitch That!

 

Like many aspects of brewing, there are a variety of ways to approach yeast re-pitching, depending on your time and financial dedication. The simplest ways of reusing your yeast come in the forms of pitching onto the yeast cake and top-cropping from a primary fermenter.

 

After your primary fermentation, that gunk and sludge at the bottom of your bucket/carboy/shiny-all-stainless-Blichmann-Ferminator-conical contains billions of living yeast cells ready to keep the party going. Why not use them? If you plan your brew-days, you can brew a new beer to pitch onto that slimy living cake as you transfer the other beer. I have had great success doing this, but there are a few things to keep in mind.

 

Generally you want to start out with a lighter in color, less hoppy, and less alcoholic beer, and brew a strong beer onto the yeast cake. The reasoning behind this is that a lot else is left behind in that cake than just living yeast. If you start with an 8% ABV. Black IPA and re-pitch a Cream Ale onto the cake, chances are the Cream Ale is going to end up darker in color, more bitter, and could present some stressed out yeast flavors, such as plasticky phenolics or an ethanol burn. This is because there are remnants of malt proteins, spent hop matter, and, in a beer 7% ABV. and up, some stressed out flabby old yeast. I typically plan my beers in pairs, with a small beer to start with, then brewing a double-sized beer and reusing the small beer yeast. One thing to take note of: if you wanted to brew several similar moderately alcoholic beers with the same yeast, I would recommend using about half of the cake as using too much yeast can also stress out the yeast. I “cut the cake” like this several times with a series of Pale Ale and have had no perceivable ill side effects. While this method may not be the most scientific or sophisticated, with a little consideration, it can work very well.

 

Another method of yeast collecting is through top-cropping. Top-cropping can be done with ale yeasts, and works especially well with yeasts described as “true top-cropping strains.” These yeasts form a large krausen on the top of the fermenting wort. This krausen is full of thriving, hungry yeast that can easily be scooped up with a sanitized pint glass to be reused. This method obviously does not work with fermenting in a carboy, and though it may work to add this directly to another wort ready to ferment, it would be a good idea to make a yeast starter to bulk up your yeast count before repitching.

 

Washing It Down

 

It’s super simple to rinse your yeast to allow it to store better for use down the road. Yeast collected with the trub from the bottom of the primary fermenter needs to be separated from the rest of the gunk in order to store and stay viable. At this point, all you need is a couple of large, sanitized mason jars and some distilled (or pre-boiled, then cooled) water.

 

Take some of your yeast trub from your fermenter and pour it into the first mason jar. It’s preferable that it’s a little liquidy in order for it to separate better, so adding a small amount of distilled water could help you out. Stick it in your fridge, and after 30-60 minutes you should be able to see some clear separation. There will be three layers: water on top, tan yeast in the middle, and trub gunk on the bottom. Decant the yeast into your second sanitized jar, trying to leave all the trub behind. Repeat the process until no trub can be spotted (usually 2 or 3 times). This yeast can then be stored in the jar for up to two months, and then can be used in a yeast starter to get it going.

 

Yeast is an amazing, living organism that will gladly do your bidding if you take care of it. If you have any questions, feel free to ask us at O’Connor’s and we’ll do our best to answer. Some great articles to check out on yeast reusing can be located at BYO (http://byo.com/scottish-ale/item/739-harvesting-yeast-techniques) and on the BeerSmith blog (http://beersmith.com/blog/2008/07/25/yeast-washing-reusing-your-yeast/). For more incredible, in-depth information, pick up a copy of Chris White and Jamil Zainasheff’s Yeast book available at O’Connor’s.

 

Andrew DeHaan, Home Brew Expert
andrew@oconnorshomebrew.com