The Beginner Brewer: 2014

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Small-batch Recipe: IPA

In a previous post, we discussed the equipment you'd need for small batch experiments, and with hope, you've tried a few batches already. If you're a hop head like me, you're going to have to try and brew an IPA, so today's post covers a reliable recipe for this super-hoppy beer. Enjoy!

Humulone-Head IPA

For a 3 liter extract batch (that's a 6-pack of 440ml bottles) you will need:


5 liters of H2O.

Extract and Specialty Grains

485g Dried Malt Extract
32g Caramunich I (50 SRM) Malt (steep at 65-70C for 30 minutes)
21 g Carared or similar (20 SRM) Caramel malt (steep at 65-70C for 30 minutes)


3g of Apollo @ 60 minutes
3g of Warrior @ 10 minutes
4g of Cascade @ 1 minute
4g of Warrior: Dry hop for 7 days before bottling.


A third of a packet of US-05 dried yeast (or similar American yeast)


A third of a teaspoon of Irish Moss @ 10 minutes.

For a 3 liter full-grain version:

You will need:
708g of Pale 2-row Malt
69g of Caramunich I (50 SRM) Malt
45g of Carared or similar (20 SRM) Caramel malt 

Use the same hops, Irish Moss, and yeast.

Mash Schedule (using the BIAB method):

Get your water to 72 C, then add the grains to achieve 66.7 C.

Mash the grains at this temperature for 75 minutes, then mash out at 75 C for 10 minutes and lift the bag. 
Do not squeeze the bag.

Your pre-boil gravity should be close to 1.036. Boil for 60 minutes.

Fermentation & Bottling

Ferment at 16-18C for 2 weeks. 
Bottle with 18g of dextrose or keg for 2.5 vols.

Technical Notes

Pre-boil Gravity: 1.036
OG (Original Gravity): 1.060
FG (Final Gravity): 1.014
ABV (Alcohol): 6.0%
IBUs (Bitterness Units): 65

Some Experiments to Try:

Small-batch brewing can be an excellent opportunity for the homebrewer to experiment. Here are some suggestions for this recipe:
  • Hops: Substitute the Warrior with a different hop, I recommend Centennial, EKG, Amarillo, or Chinook
  • Sugars: Try adding some Maple Syrup (about 60g) in the boil for a dry finish and wooded taste.
  • Other Flavors: Try adding some honey in the primary fermentation (50g) or chuck some juniper berries into the boil at 10 minutes (a handful should do).


Sunday, 6 April 2014

3 Beer Books for Non-Brewers

Homebrewers are a passionate lot (some would say obsessive), and often want to share our love for beer with friends and family.

So, apart from handing over your latest masterpiece in a tall pint glass, what about gifts that can be given to help others understand this wonderful hobby (i.e. obsession)?

Today's post looks at three books that homebrewers can safely hand to their non-brewing friends and loved ones without risking a puzzled look.

Brewing up a Business: Adventures in Beer

The author, Sam Calagione, is the owner and mad beer genius behind Dogfish Head Breweries, famous for their 60 minute IPA and recreating ancient brews from around the world. He's also written some kick-ass how-to books for homebrewers.

In this book, Sam takes a bit of a departure from that and talks business. More specifically, he takes the reader on an entertaining and occasionally revolutionary journey through his craft business model. 

If your non-brewing friend or significant other has an interest in business, guerrilla marketing, or just plain fascinating autobiography, this book is a great read.

The Brewmaster's Table

Garrett Oliver is the brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery in NYC, and also a leading authority on food and beer pairings. Apart from authoring this book, he's also the editor for the Oxford Companion of Beer.

The Brewmaster's Table is a fantastic read for anybody who can be described as a "foodie" or is passionate about a good meal (accompanied by good beer, of course).

I'd also recommend Oliver's book to my fellow homebrewers--He is a very, very knowledgeable brewer, and his insights into different styles of beer are incredibly useful for getting your homebrew's flavours just right.

African Brew

Lucy Corne is without a doubt one of South Africa's true craft beer heroes. In this book, she journeys across South Africa, sampling craft beer, chatting to brewers, and sharing some great beer-friendly and beer-infused recipes (sounds like hard work, that).

This is a must-have for anybody who is interested or passionate about the craft revolution currently sweeping South Africa. A solid, well written tome with lovely photography and mouthwatering food (and beer) porn. Get it.

Friday, 28 March 2014

3 Tips for Better Beer

My apologies for not posting in a while--alas, starting a craft brewery is somewhat time intensive! More on that development in future posts.

But today, we're going to cover three very important things to keep in mind when making your own beer. They all improve flavour, stability, and the general health of you homebrew--enjoy!

Tip #1: Full Volume Boil.

I've mentioned this step in previous posts, but it bears repeating: unless you boil the full volume of wort you will not gain the advantages that it brings.
A full, rolling boil

And the advantages are many:
  • Full volume, rolling boils utilize hops more fully, and ensures a nice, rounded hop flavour
  • Full volume boils ensure that proteins responsible for haze are fully broken up, resulting in nice, clear beer
  • The full volume boil is essential for blowing off compounds naturally found in malt that produce off-flavours, like DMS.
  • A rolling boil ensures that no oxygen can enter the beer at this stage, helping with flavour profile and stability

Tip #2: Re-hydrate Dry Yeast

Properly re-hydrated yeast
Dried yeast is a popular choice with homebrewers--it’s easy to handle, lasts for a long time, and is relatively cheap. But dried yeast is not as lively as its liquid cousin. To help it along, and ensure that your yeast starts to replicate quickly, you should re-hydrate it.

It’s simple and will ensure that you have a good, strong fermentation that out-competes any potential nasties that may have crept into the brew:

  • Take the yeast out of the fridge and allow it to get to room temperature
  • Measure your room temperature by putting a thermometer in a glass of tap water
  • Clean and santitise a mason jar. Clean and santise the outside of the yeast packet and the scissors you’ll be using to open the packet.
  • Pitch the yeast into 150ml of sanitised water (I use a freshly opened bottle of mineral water)
  • Close the mason jar with a clean and sanitised lid
  • Let the yeast diffuse naturally for about 20 minutes
  • Then, swirl the jar gently every five minutes or so for another 20 minutes. The re-hydrated yeast will now be a nice, even-coloured cream, ready to pitch.
  • Make sure that you pitch the yeast into the wort when the wort has chilled to within 5 degrees Celsius of the yeast (the re-hydrated yeast will be at room temperature—which you measured earlier). Rather pitch into a warmer temperature, so if your yeast is at 20 degrees, then pitch into wort that is at 25 degrees, to avoid yeast shock.

Tip #3: Fermentation Control

The Fermenter: Strange things are happening inside

The fermentation phase of brewing is often perceived as a hands-off process by most homebrewers. Once you’ve pitched your yeast and placed your fermenter in a suitable spot, it’s all up to time and the gods. But this is where most of the flavours (and off-flavours) of beer are produced. So some careful control is necessary.

The main contributor to the flavour profile of your beer during fermentation will come from three things: Oxygen, competition, and temperature:

  • Oxygen: Yeast needs oxygen to function properly, so make sure that you’ve introduced enough of the gas into your wort before pitching (either by shaking the fermenter, whisking it, or using an aeration stone).

    • Once fermentation is going, you want to keep oxygen away from the developing beer—this is usually not a problem during primary fermentation, but if you’re going to rack your beer into another vessel for secondary fermentation, oxygenation is a real risk. My recommendation: don’t bother with secondary fermentation in another vessel—just use the one your beer is already in. If you are going to use another fermenter, fill it with CO2 first, or lacking that, fill from the bottom up. Slowly.

  • Competition: Yeast has evolved, through natural and artificial selection, to be very adept at fermenting out wort. But there are bacteria and wild strains of yeast that are also pretty good at working within the fermentation cycle. First off, you need to try and limit the unformed beer’s exposure to these harmful critters, and you do that by following the basics of good sanitisation (see my article on it here). Here are some additional points to keep in mind:

    • Make sure the fermenter does not have deep scratches inside where bugs can hide. If it does, you need to invest in a new one
    • Ditto for rubber grommets, gaskets, and airlocks in your fermenter lid. Check them periodically for tears, gouges, and places that can harbour nasties. Rather spend a few bucks buying new ones than stubbornly ruining your beer by being a cheap skate.
    • Make sure that you fill the airlock with sterile liquid. I prefer vodka, because unlike sterilisers, it doesn’t lose its potency, and if some of it ends up in the beer, it won’t affect its flavour

  • Temperature: Controlling the temperature of the fermentation is always a challenge for homebrewers, and unfortunately, it’s also one of the most important factors influencing the final product. This is a very wide generalisation, but most ales ferment really well at around 16-18 degrees Celcius. This temperature, depending on the yeast used, tends to produce minimal off-flavours while still allowing the tasty esters ales are known for to develop. There are exceptions though:

    • For Saisson yeasts, ferment at higher temperatures, from 22 C to 27 C works well
    • For Belgian ale yeasts, higher temperatures from 25 – 30 C work well.
    • For lager yeasts, your fermentation temp will be far lower, from 11-15 C.

  • As for controlling the temperature, the best possible option is to get an old fridge or freezer and bypass the thermostat with an external thermostat (digital or analog). You can get these from most homebrew supply shops. Put your fermenter in the fridge, adjust the temp to the desired range, and Bob’s your uncle!

    • Another option is to measure the ambient temperature in various rooms in your house, as well as in cupboards, etc. Make notes and track seasonal changes. That way, you’ll know which places are more suitable than others for different fermentation schedules.
    • In summer, you can cool down your fermenter by placing it in a large container with water, and periodically placing frozen bottles of water in the container
    • In winter, you can warm up a fermentation by using a heater in the room (costly), or wrapping the fermenter in a blanket or thermal cover (cheaper)

Hope you enjoyed the tips! Let me know about your homebrew experiences by posting a comment or question below, or connect with me via Facebook. I always answer any question, even if it takes a while. Happy brewing!

Monday, 27 January 2014

What is Craft Beer?

Yep, I’ve decided to tackle this hairy subject. It seems that sooner or later, every craft beer enthusiast, every beer geek, will have to come up with a good answer to this question. Usually it’s the first thing that friends and family ask you when you shove an IPA into their hands and tell them to try “craft beer.”

Pictured: something slightly less
elusive than the definition of craft beer
The problem is, nobody seems to agree on what we mean by “craft beer.” Many have tried, and some have even argued that there is no good definition, that even attempting to find one is less likely to succeed than those crazies who stalk Big Foot (you know who you are). 

And it’s certainly true that one can lump a lot of inappropriate things under the banner of “craft”. For an excellent treatment of that subject, please read Lucy Corne’s article here.
But I think that there are at least a few reasons why finding a workable definition for craft beer is important (and not just so that you have an answer for your buddy who is trying that IPA):

  1. It’s a fledgling industry. For craft brewers out there, especially in South Africa, the craft beer industry is still very young. Yes, it is reaching the eyes and ears of more people every day, but it is still very, very tiny in relation to other markets. Unlike the States, we don’t even have reliable data on who craft beer drinkers are, or how many of them are out there. So, having a proper definition helps in defining markets and helps brewers make better business decisions, which in turn will help grow the market and ensure survival of artisan brewers.

  2. It helps to define standards and identify pretenders. Craft brewers (and roasters, and bakers) are often mavericks, people who like to swim against the stream. But it’s not long before that disruption becomes yet another marketing gimmick. So, having a definition that distinguishes craft brewing (baking, roasting, etc) from other, more mass-produced endeavors is useful if only to create a shared consciousness among craftspeople about what we are willing to fight for. It also helps call out businesses that are trying to capitalize on the good will craft creates without wanting to actually contribute to the craft movement.

So here goes: I think that craft, and more specifically, craft beer, is distinguished by these key factors:

1. Artisan brewers are fanatical about quality of beer and will often do commercially “stupid” things to ensure this quality. This is because they are producing art, not product.

Yes, I know that there are brilliant, really nice people working at the big commercial brewers. They are not horrible to old people, and don’t eat little fluffy bunnies in their spare time (although…). 
Your average SABMiller brewer is fanatical about quality and consistency of product as well, but what distinguishes craft brewers is that second part of the definition. 

The part about being stupid.

A case study in this theme is Sam Callegione’s story about Dogfish Head’s take on making a craft version of cheap malt liquor (you can read about it in Sam’s book, Brewing up a Business). In their quest to make the ultimate craft malt liquor, they spent a lot of money on premium, rare ingredients, roped in highly-paid staff members (including Sam and the COO) to bottle the product by hand, and sold the beer at way more than malt liquor is ever sold at.

None of these decisions made any sense from an accountant’s high profit, low cost perspective.

Fact is, commercial brewers at big corporate brewers will never be allowed to make beer like this, unless there is a huge market and unless the profits can compete with their other, main-stream lines (both very unlikely).

But this sort of financial “stupidity” is exactly what distinguishes craft brewers from commercial ones. Craft brewers would rather pay premium prices for a rare or special ingredient than source the cheapest, most mass-produced ingredients simply to ensure a large profit margin.

It makes for risky business models, but fortunately, craft brewers keep operating costs small and don’t employ thousands of people, so a living can be made.

The approach has limitations built in—given the high costs of producing some beers, plus the logical limit of what you can charge for a bottle of beer, craft brewers are sometimes limited in the volumes they can produce (some would argue that this adds to the charm of craft beer, however).

I often find that people simply don’t understand this characteristic of craft beer. Maybe it’s because as a society we’ve lost a lot of traditional artisanship, and because the predominant models are those handed down by the big corporate success stories like Coke and P&G. 

Massive global food and beverage companies are massive because, in part, they've found the right balance between cheap ingredients, mass appeal, and large distribution networks.

Craft brewers however, are not aiming for this endpoint. What they want to achieve is, for want of a better word, art. And art can be mighty stubborn about profit margins and such..

2. Craft does not aim at mass appeal. It is often disruptive of mass appeal.

Again, when we look at big business, we look at the success of mass appeal. Why is Coke so successful? Because almost everybody likes (to some extent) Coke. MacDonalds? Same thing. A Mickey Dees burger is not gourmet food, but it is also not absolutely horrible either. So billions of people will eat a couple of them, at least once a year.

Mass produced beer is similar. SABMiller’s Castle is a good American premium lager. It does not offend too many taste buds, and it is quite refreshing on a hot day. It has mass appeal. Craft beer does not aim for mass appeal. 

Craft brewers like to play with definitions of what beer should taste like, they like producing obscure styles like Saissons and Imperial Ales that have not found their way into the lexicon of beer drinkers. Also, they like poking fun at the boring, re-tread ways of their more commercially-minded cousins (although that’s not a requirement, it is fun).

In many ways craft beer is the rebellious off-shoot of mass produced beer that says: “I don’t care if only a few hundred people appreciate this weird taste. As long as they’re fanatical about it and I enjoy making it, that’s okay.”

Mass market brewers do not have that luxury, and nor should they, really.

And Finally..

There are other ways of defining craft, but I think these two above do the job pretty well. It allows us to have meaningful discussions about the craft beer industry without it devolving into silly “chemical beer” debates, and what I especially like about it is that it opens to scrutiny brewers, large and small, who claim the “craft” title.

For instance, it allows us to call bullshit on mass-production brewers who think that they are making craft beer by producing slightly altered, smaller quantities of their commercial brands and labeling these ‘craft.'

It also asks some searching questions of existing “craft” brewers who seem content to produce beers that offer little differentiation in terms of taste from existing mass brands, contain only the cheapest ingredients, but are sold at high “craft” prices.

Your thoughts? Am I up a tree or is this some brilliant revelation (probably not..)?