My Own Angry Orchard

As you may be aware from reading a previous post, I made a good hard apple cider recently and bottled it three weeks ago today.  This being my first fruit-based product and containing lots of sugar and active yeast, I was weary of bottling them in glass.  When my babysitter was to arrive this morning, I contemplated moving them to the shed from the kitchen floor where nothing would ruin if one popped or a cap came loose.

“Nah,” I told myself.  “…it’s been three weeks already.  It has to be settled by now.”

At 11:28 this morning, I got a text from the babysitter: “…one of the bottles in the box in the kitchen busted….”  Great.

No one was in the kitchen and no one was injured.  For that I am thankful.

I came home today to find the bottle, expecting to see a bottle broken at the neck with the cap still attached.  I did not find what I expected:

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They had swept up the rest, including the cap.  There are still glass shards around the inside of the box.  This wasn’t a bottle popping, it was an alcoholic grenade.  I had originally thought they’d be under some pressure, but I guess I was wrong about them being safe after a few weeks.  Now I’m going to keep them outside somewhere they won’t get too much sun for a while and check on them later.  I don’t think I’m comfortable with shipping these quite yet.

I’ll report later if there are more incidents (and start drinking them tonight).  I’m just glad I didn’t give too many away so far – someone could have had a bad day.

Batch 22 – Dave’s Caramel Apple Cider

Years ago when I met my friend Bill, he gave me a bottle of apple cider he’d made.  I popped the latch-top on the bottle a few days later and it hissed and popped like I’d just cracked open some champagne.  The cider was crisp and clear, and almost more like champagne than cider.  Still, I was impressed.  I had asked him how he made it and he explained the simple process.

I found a recipe a few months ago at HomeBrewTalk when I was beginning to think about making some cider at home, and the “caramel” in the name got me hooked.  My wife doesn’t like the taste of alcohol or hops, but loves Moscato wine because it’s sweet and has very little bitterness.  She might like a sweet caramel-flavored apple cider, so this is certainly worth a try!

The recipe, roughly, is 5 gallons of apple juice, 2 pounds of dextrose (corn sugar), and Nottingham ale yeast.  Dissolve the dextrose in water on the stove (medium heat) and cool it.  I ended up with about a half-gallon of sugar-water, so it reduced my apple juice quantity by that much.  Combine everything in the fermenter and pitch the yeast.

After fermentation (on bottling day) we’ll add some apple juice concentrate (five 12oz cans) to the volume plus some cinnamon dolce syrup.  We will bottle and wait for conditioning (carbonation) and enjoy!  All credit for this recipe goes to the creator.  I assume his name is Dave.

We’re big fans of the Simply Orange people, and they make all sorts of good juices including apple juice.  There’s an unfiltered, pasteurized Simply Apple that finally went on sale this week, so I jumped at the chance and made a few trips to the store to overcome the quantity limits.

I got the dextrose dissolved, everything sanitized, and rehydrated the yeast:

I pitched this yeast just before the last bottle so I could flush the yeast from this dish and the funnel.  That way I didn’t have any unused or wasted yeast!

I put a bung and airlock on and set it in the corner of my bedroom.  Within two hours it was bubbling to beat the band, which was very encouraging.

I’ll update this post as the process continues and let everyone know how it goes!

Update (01/15/2013): It has slowed to about 1 bubble every two seconds, and I’m obviously going to give it more time.  It seems to have slowed so far due to the dying of the yeast (they’re getting pretty drunk by now) given their activity for the last 9 days or so.  I may have it in the bottle by next week, but who knows?  Everything still looks good and I’m looking forward to tasting this one!

Update (2/4/2013): I bottled this a week ago today.  Even with the additives, it still had a very dry mouthfeel and was quite tart (I always taste on bottling day).  I felt as if needed to check on it; I put a lot of sugar in when bottling – back-sweetening the cider that much could have had negative effects, the most worrisome of which is exploding bottles.  No such event has occurred, and I’m looking forward to the 2-week mark when we can have a taste.  If I can stand to wait that long we’ll have a first assessment on the show for February 22.2013-01-28 20.48.42

Marijuana in Home Brewing

Would you like a pale and bitter High-PA?  A Secret Stash Stout?  Those are some corny names I came up with while thinking about beer with THC in it, given the recent passings of bills allowing recreational use of marijuana in Washington and Colorado.  I’m not here to give you instructions on how to infuse your homebrew with ganja, just to talk about the possibility.  While I’m on a roll: Cannabeer.

Disclaimer: I have never tried weed and have no idea what it is to get or be stoned.  Sounds fun though.

I came across an article the other day that made me think about how many home brewers are also potheads (not saying potheads are bad people) and how many of them regularly experiment with this magical mix.  Since I’ve never tried any illegal drug and I’m not regularly exposed to Mary Jane, it just doesn’t come to mind for me.  Apparently now it’s legal to mix tetrahydrocannabinol in homebrew in those states, and likely more folks will be trying that where it’s been allowed.  This new liberty may in fact give rise to the popularity of doing such a thing, leading people to do what they already do with it whenever they want regardless of whether it’s still forbidden.

We could have arguments about legality, morality, the national debt, and the science of it here, but I’m not here to argue about it.  This is purely something I wonder: would the effect be the same as drinking home brew and smoking pot?  Would it be worth the money to add that much weed to a batch (I’ve heard an ounce per gallon)?

From a commercial standpoint, this is a no-brainer: marijuana is still illegal in the United States at the federal level, and they’re just the people that brewers have to work with to distribute their existing product.  The feds even have to approve the bottle/can labels and each change to any label.  I’ve heard it’s quite a pain.  So fundamentally, beer with THC won’t ever make it to market in our lifetimes.  Even caffeine in beer became a no-go back in 2010.  You’ll simply never find beer and marijuana in the same package at the 7-Eleven.

So the questions remain:

Would you try brewing a batch for yourself?  Would you try someone else’s WeedBrew?  Also, what else would you consider cramming in to your kettle or fermenter that might not be on the up-and-up?  Let me know your thoughts (and clever WeedBeer name ideas) in the comments.

Ben on Beer Episode 9 – The Keggle

In this episode, we taste the pumpkin ale that Ben made back in October and talk about brewing equipment.  Ben will have to convert a keg into a brew kettle, so that should be fun.  Cheers!

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First Pumpkin Ale

I can’t recall the origination of my idea to make pumpkin ale, but I do remember sticking with it.  It was probably sometime back in July when I decided I’d start brewing again and this time make seasonal brews, like a pumpkin ale for Halloween/Thanksgiving.

However, the season wasn’t on my side for making pumpkin ale in time for Halloween.  We don’t see pumpkins down here until the second week of October, pushing back the beer tasting well past Trick-or-Treating.  No big deal – we don’t join the majority of the United States when it comes to that holiday.  We’re really big on Thanksgiving and Christmas but not on the celebration of goblins and such.  Having pumpkin ale in time for a Halloween party just wasn’t on the top of my priority list.  Getting to drink it at Thanksgiving is a more highly desired and attainable goal.

I started searching back in August for a recipe, and luckily I found several.  There’s one at The Brew Site, Serious Eats, and Brew More Beer.  Taking something from each recipe and changing the ingredients again when I went shopping, I came up with this recipe:

5 Gallon Rehberg Pumpkin Ale


3 lb Light Dry Malt Extract 4 lb Domestic 2-row Malt 1 lb Crystal 20L Malt 3 oz Chocolate Malt 3.75 lb Roasted Pumpkin
2.5 Tsp Cinnamon 1.5 Tsp Nutmeg 1.5 Tsp Allspice 0.75 oz Northern Brewer hop pellets (9.4% AA) 1 oz East Kent Goldings hop pellets (5.7% AA)


  1. This will take three main stages: Roasting the pumpkin, Mashing, and Boiling.Cut the pumpkin into quarters (or smaller if you prefer) and remove the seeds and stems.  Place them on a baking sheet and put them in a 350°F oven for about an hour or until the pumpkin meat is soft.
  2. Put all your grains and the pumpkin in nylon grain bags and mash (steep) them at 145°F – 155°F for an hour.  Remove the grains and pumpkin, allowing them to drain into the wort.
  3. Bring to a boil and add the dried malt extract.  Boil for an hour, adding the Northern Brewer hops at 60′, the Kent Goldings hops at 15′, and the three spices at 5′.
  4. Ferment for one week in primary and rack to secondary.  Ferment for one more week, then bottle with 5 oz priming sugar.  Bottle-conditioning should be complete in two weeks.

    Poor man’s fermentation chamber

Thanks to John Larsen at HomeBrew Den in Tallahassee for his expertise and recommendations.

Batch Notes:

October 14, 2012: This recipe was followed.  Ended up with an adjusted OG of 1.046.  Pitch temperature was around 75°F.  Will rack to secondary on October 21, 2012.

October 21, 2012: I racked it to secondary yesterday, October 20.  I can still smell the spices but the fruitiness of the hops has settled in a bit.  It really feels like this is going to be good!  I have a gravity of about 1.012 now, and the calculators say I have about 4.3% ABV.  So far it hasn’t been very active in the Better Bottle, so I’ll be checking on it again tomorrow to see if the gravity has changed.  If not, it’s ready to bottle and cap — meaning we may can have it on the show on November 9.

October 23, 2012: Wow.  White Labs California Ale yeast is aggressive.  I got a final gravity of 1.010 tonight and decided that it was time to bottle.  I didn’t want to wait too long and not get a good carbonation, so here we are.  It was non-active in the Better Bottle and hadn’t really done much since I racked it to secondary on Saturday.  I added the priming sugar to the bottling bucket and went to work.  I yielded exactly 48 bottles, and the last one was only about 3/4″ short.  I hope it doesn’t explode.

This is the end of the process for the Pumpkin Ale; I’ll report back in a few weeks when we crack it open.  Look for it on the show November 9.

Almost All About Hops

Hop Flower ConeIt has taken me a long time to write an article on hops for many reasons. I’m not going to tell you anything here that you can’t find or read about anywhere else, but there’s so much to this plant and about its use that no single source seems to capture it all. I think it answers most of the questions about hops that I originally had, plus some lesser-known trivia I found along the way.

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A Brief Overview of the Beer Brewing Process

I have heard some people suggest that home brewing is hard. Whenever I’ve heard that point given it’s usually stated by someone who has never tried it. The more I read about brewing the more complicated it seems, but when I take a step back and look at the overall process it’s really very simple. Sure, there are a whole bunch of variables and ways to change or improve your beer, but the guy brewing his first batch shouldn’t be worrying about when to add gypsum or attenuation levels.

I’m about to attempt to give you a brief overview of the entire brewing process so you might can get a handle on how easy it is. I want to remove any barrier you may have with regard to the complexity and sheer work involved. While I can’t make your spouse agree with what you’re doing or make your kitchen any bigger, at least I can try to make you say, “It’s really not that complicated…” I have read books and numerous articles on the myriad aspects of home brewing, and sometimes the whole idea just seems daunting because there’s so much to it.

Home brewing beer is only as complicated as you can make it. There are some very basic steps that if followed will create great tasting beer without any worry. In the words of some anonymous person, “Relax. Don’t worry. Have a homebrew.” Whatever you do, just keep it cool and don’t worry about it. It’s science, but it’s not exact.

To be honest, I couldn’t figure out how to write a decent summary that would be a good length for a post. I could either put it in a nutshell-type paragraph, or I could bother you to read a short story. The nutshell version won’t give you enough information, and the short story would be too long for you to sit at your kitchen table this morning to read it. Stay with me – I’ll try my best.

Beer is made by yeast turning sugars into alcohol. That could also be said for wine, so I’ll revise: Beer is made by yeast transforming the sugars derived from malted barley into alcohol. I believe for it to be classified as beer the sugars must come from barley at a minimum. There are other things that will create fermentable sugars, but we’ll stick to malted barley for now. The sugars are extracted from the grain through a process called mashing. A process called lautering has the brewer draining those extracted sugars and placing the concoction (called wort) into the boiler.

The boiler is where the magic happens. During a typical 60-minute boil, hops are added at specific times to counter the sweet taste of the wort. Sometimes the recipe will call for finishing hops, which are simply hops added at the last 10 or 5 minutes of the boil. The wort is cooled down as quickly as possible (pretty important) from a boil to 70 degrees or so and then transferred to the fermenter. This is the final step of what I lovingly refer to as “brew day” (with the exception of cleaning up), and also an important part: the yeast is added.

For those of you who don’t know, yeast is a living organism. It’s really easy to manage but it requires some attention. Yeast should be activated if it has previously been packed for shipping – sometimes brewer’s yeast comes in a vacuum-packed envelope, and the instructions say to thump the bag several times before opening. I don’t agree with that practice, but go ahead – relax, have a homebrew…

Yeast is added to the cooled wort in a little activity called pitching. After the yeast is in there and the brewer is happy with it, the lid goes on the fermenter and science and biology take over. As long as the fermenter is kept at a consistent temperature, all should be well. Room temperature (typically below 75?) will get you decent ale. The importance is stressed on the consistency of the temperature, even if it’s a bit high. In about two weeks, the yeast will transform the wort into beer. After that, the beer is bottled or kegged and carbonated in either forced or natural processes.

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