Searching for the line between "hobby" and "obsession"


First batch of cider

Inspired by a recent cider-centric BrewingTV episode, I managed to get a contact through my homebrew club in September for some homemade cider. The guy has seven apple trees in his Victoria, MN backyard and had pressed the cider the very same day I picked it up, drove home and began the fermentation process. Can’t get much fresher than that! $25 for 5 gallons. Happy to pay that price, especially because the guy made it himself. The batch I picked was a blend of Macintosh and Prairie Spy apples.

I hadn’t done much research on making hard cider prior to the BrewingTV episode and was pleasantly surprised at how easy this is compared to all-grain (and even extract) brewing. No boiling involved! Here’s the process: (more…)


CUJO SPICE 3.0 pumpkin helles lager

For my annual fall pumpkin beer this year, I decided to switch up the base recipe. In 2011 I did a rye ale base and in 2010 I did just a basic amber/pale ale base. 2012 is the year of the lager for me (#2012!), so I opted to do a helles base. Thought it would set a decent, unobtrusive stage for the pumpkin to shine through. Also, pumpkin… halloween… hell-es… Sounded appropriate.

I brewed this on 8/26, back when it was still relatively warm out. It was really tough to get the wort down to lager pitching temp (low 50’s). My ground water+immersion chiller only took it to 78°F, after which I transferred to the fermenter and let it cool further in the fridge. I woke up by happenstance at around 2:00am (5 hrs. after putting the fermenter in the fridge) and the temp had made it to the low 50’s, so I pitched at that time. When I woke up the next morning, the temp had continued to drop all the way down to the mid-low 40’s. Oops! I turned the temperature regulator up further on the fridge and brought the temp of the wort back up to the 50’s over the next day. I believe this attributed to a slow start to fermentation. All in all, it took nearly 36 hrs. for visible signs of fermentation to show. Something I’ll make sure to do better in the future is to calibrate the temp of my chest fridge/freezer further ahead of time when I plan to ferment in there. For this brew day, I didn’t turn up the temp until I started brewing. I really should allot 48 hrs. to accurately move the temp from 37°F (where it generally sits) up to the low 50’s for lager fermentation.

Here’s the recipe (based on Jamil’s helles in Brewing Classic Styles):


SaiSon of a bitch (SOB) 2.1

I recently whipped up another batch of S.O.B., as my neighborhood drank most of the first at our National Night Out block party in August. There were only minor changes made from the first batch. More table sugar to further promote a dry finish and some alcohol heft, an ounce more caramunich and some year-old homegrown Cascade hops as part of the bittering addition (as opposed to the year-old homegrown Hallertau hops I used at this step in the first version).

Man, I love WLP566 Belgian Saison II. The attenuation level is quite high and it begins working very soon (two hours?) after pitch. I left this one in primary for 12 days but almost all of the fermentation activity was done within seven. Enjoyed the first pint 19 days after brew day, which was a bit longer than the fist batch (16 days) but that was intentional, as I had more time to leave this one in primary to ensure it fermented as dry as possible.

This might be my most favorite beer I’ve made. I love the style, love the yeast, love how it turned out (twice in a row!). Yes, Saison is my favorite summer beer by far. Here’s the recipe: (more…)

Dry humor…

Have you ever had a saison that was too dry? I just took a refract reading while transferring my SOB 2.0 to secondary after 9 days at 72 ramped up to 78 degrees. Mash target was 147 but ended up being between 143-146. 1 lb table sugar in a 12.5 lb grain bill batch…

The refractometer wouldn’t register! At all! There isnt a reading to correct off of (if I assume it’s straight zero and a 1.055 OG, that puts me at 0.97 after correcting for alcohol and temp, and roughly 7.3% ABV). It’s basically telling me there is no sugar left. It all fermented. Upon tasting, I’d agree. I was hoping it’d end at like 1.005 or something, was aggressive in trying to ensure the batch would be dry because I’d read that too much body in saisons is the most common flaw. I succeeded, and then some. It’s spicy and almost evaporates off the tongue… (more…)

SaiSon of a bitch (SOB) 2.0

It’s been a HOT and busy summer in Minnesota. Par for the course, I guess. I’ve either playing shows with the band or hanging with my wife and daughter. I haven’t brewed since I did a double brew day back on 5/12 (wheat and oktoberfest). It was about time to find a day again to get something new going. I decided to do a saison on 7/22. This is the second saison I’ve ever made and will be named after the first, SaiSon of a bitch. I love this style. My favorite summer beer by far. The hot weather is well attuned to fermenting this style of beer as well, which definitely went into consideration when selecting this style.

The brew day went reasonably well. The biggest mistake I made was leaving the kitchen while I was filling a bucket with sanitizer and water. I have these clamps that hook onto the sprayer and let me multi-task. I went outside to do who knows what and forgot I was filling the bucket. When I came back in there was a quarter inch of water all over my kitchen floor. I ran for the sink and slipped on the water, banging my knee hard against the cabinet. This all happened with about 20 min. left in the 90 min. boil. It took me an extra 15 min. to clean up my kitchen as fast as I could, turning a 90 min. boil into a 105, which is what you’ll see noted in the boil schedule below. What were supposed to be 60 min. additions turned into 75. (more…)

Fraz(zled) Wheat 3.0

Back by popular demand for the third year in a row, I crammed in a double brew day back in May so I could have some Fraz(zled) Wheat raspberry hefeweizen on hand for the coming summer months. Though last year’s 2.0 version didn’t do so hot in competition (“too much raspberry flavor overpowers the base style”), it sure was greatly appreciated by anyone who was able to snag a bottle. This is the only seasonal brew I’ve done each year I’ve been brewing, starting off as an extract version in 2010, moving to all-grain in 2011 and of course again this year as well.

I tried a new base hefeweizen recipe for Fraz Wheat this year, taken directly from the book Brewing Classic Styles by John Palmer and Jamil Zainasheff: (more…)


Though my dog Leinenkugel gets most of the attention on this blog as Barking Dog Beer’s official mascot, what better time to give my other dog Oscar a shout-out than while naming my first attempt at an oktoberfest bier. Thus, “Osktoberfest” was conceived.

The recipe I used is basically one I pulled out of Brewing Classic Styles, the book I bought from co-author John Palmer when I met him at a book signing at Northern Brewer back in April. I think the only tweak was the yeast, as I had to use a White Labs and a Wyeast O-fest strain because Northern Brewer only had one White Labs O-fest vial left. I already know the FG on this one because I’m super behind in writing this post. I brewed this batch on May 12th, same day I brewed a hefeweizen, hence the two different types you see in the adjacent pic.

Here’s the recipe: (more…)

The barrel is full

And thus commences the souring of the beer. 14 members of my brew club, the Nordeast Brewers Alliance, got together on 4/28 and filled the 59 gallon honey wine barrel with the sum of our collective brews (the recipe we all used is found in a prior post here and here is a post on the entire project). The collective FG on 4/28 was 1.013, so there is a decent number of fermentable sugars for the bugs to feast on as well as plenty of long-chain sugars left over from everyone employing a higher mash temperature. We pitched a huge slurry of beer-souring bacteria Nick has collected and propagated over time as well as fresh dregs from sour beers we were drinking that afternoon (New Belgium’s La Follie, Lindemans Cuvee Rene, Surly 5, a handful of Jolly Pumpkin brews and others I can’t recall).

Now… we wait. The plan is to take a sample 6 months from now (Halloween!) and every consecutive 3 months thereafter until we’re satisfied with how it has soured and matured to pull each of our five gallons back out to do with as we please. Along the way, we’ll likely need another five to ten gallons more to syphon into the barrel to account for evaporation, which may be a good opportunity to add beer that’ll pump up the body of the final product if needed. Nick has some ideas about adding beer made with a higher than normal percentage of oats to thicken it all up. Should be interesting when it’s completed!

Most of the pics featured in this post were taken by club member Daniel Snow, professional photographer. I think they look awesome. Check ’em out: (more…)

The California Common is shaping up

I bottled my California Common steam beer back on 3/31 (Golden Gate Retriever) and cracked the first bottle three weeks later. I think it was a bit early, as I thought I sensed a trace amount of acetaldehyde green apple flavor. I haven’t had a problem with this off-flavor much in the past. Acetaldehyde is usually found in beer that was racked from primary fermentation too early, not giving the yeast time to clean up this off-flavor they create during the process. I looked back at my fermentation schedule and it was in primary for 20 days (plenty of time!) at temps of 55-58*, which I’d think would be the culprit if this weren’t fermented with WLP-810 San Francisco lager yeast. In reading the description on White Labs’ site, I guess they say the optimum fermentation temp for this strain is 58-65*, so I might have been a bit under the optimum fermentation temp which may have inhibited the yeast from cleaning up after themselves…

Fortunately, the yeast appear to be cleaning up the small amounts of acetaldehyde in the bottle over time. The green apple flavor has dissipated over the past week of bottle conditioning since I opened the first bottle. It’s getting clearer at lower temperatures too. This drinkable 4.5% brew will be one of the two I may compete in my brew club’s summer <6% beer competition. We’ll see if it’s better than the Belgian Pale Ale I’m working on, which should clock in at 5.5%. (more…)

Sour beer flocculation

It was kinda cool to watch the WLP-510 Bastogne ale yeast flocculate out of the sour beer (11 lbs. modified pilsner, 2 lbs malted wheat) recipe as ferment completed. It changed color in a definitive manner three pronounced times. After pitch to primary fermentation color, primary fermentation color to a darker color once transferred to secondary and finally a slightly darker color (and clearer) yet again a week after being transferred to secondary. The pics below were taken over a few days during the second of the three pronounced changes. Check it out:

Going lower… (more…)