Saturday, November 7, 2009



Wildfires are mixed blessings:  they destroy homes and vast swaths of forest and foliage, yet a fire can be a cleansing event, clearing the forest floor of dead debris, and preparing ground for new growth.  2009 has been such a year for people too, killing off old careers and old companies with too many deadfalls, and making room for new enterprise. That’s both terrifying and freeing.  That fresh start comes with a human price:  lost careers, lost lives, and sometimes lost hope.  But the end to things also creates an un-crossable firebreak in our lives too -- there’s no hanging on to something that’s been completely destroyed: you have no choice but to build from scratch and create something new.  When the fire’s gone, weep no more for the old things.  Sweep the ash from your heart.  Build again.


This beer was brewed during the 2009 Station Fires in California, and took its inspiration from that fire.  It’s big, red and woody, with a firery intensity from the hops.  Miller may CLAIM to be tripple-hopped, but this one really is:  hopped for bittering, hopped for aroma, and hopped again after fermentation, creating a coat-your-tongue intensity reminiscent of Pizza Port’s Shark Attack, or Pike’s Tandem Double, both of which are huge, spicy, Imperial Reds.  Here’s the recipe:

  • 7 lbs Ultralight LME
  • 2 lbs. 2-row barley
  • 1 lb. flaked wheat
  • 1 lb. Crystal 75L
  • 8 oz. rye
  • 8 oz. Munich
  • 2.8 oz. Carafa
  • 1 oz. Magnum pellet hops (AAU13.1%)(bittering)
  • 2 oz. Centennial pellet hops (AAU10.4%)(aroma)
  • WLP 002 English Ale yeast
  • 2 oz. Columbus pellet hops (dry hopped)
  • 1 oz. French oak chips

Fermented at 68° for two weeks, then transferred to secondary for dry-hopping and to sit on the French oak chips for another two weeks.  Racked again to get the beer off the hops and oak, then cold-conditioned for three weeks.  Bottled with 6 oz. corn sugar.

The label features an amateur photo taken August 30, 2009, near the Mount Wilson Observatory.

Brewed August 2009, and bottled late-October 2009.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Hacking Sun Tea

No, this doesn’t qualify as “brewing” under the traditional sense of this blog – no fermentation involved here – but I thought I would pass along this accidental discovery. hacked_sun_tea I love sun tea, but I hate the huge gallon-sized container sitting in my frig, because it’s hard to handle and by the time I get to the end of the jug the tea is stale.  There is an alternative – use quart or pint-sized Mason jars for the brewing.  Discovered this quite by accident – wanted to do sun tea, but didn’t have the appropriate pitcher on hand, but did have Mason jars.  Hmm, big improvement.  The jars take up less space in your frig, already have a a good resealable lid (so they’re car friendly), and with the smaller size you can doctor each container to suit personal preferences.  When you’re done “brewing”, go ahead and sweeten/add lemon while they’re still warm, then stash in the frig – no more trying to get sugar to dissolve in cold tea.  If you like, mark the outside with a Sharpie to show adjuncts.  Grab and go!  Try it – you’ll never go back to that unwieldy gallon jug.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Father Stimulo’s Slightly Mad Monk – Abbey Single Ale

father_stimulos_slightly_mad_abbey_ale Inspired by my Saison Noire and Christmas labels, I coaxed my Father-in-Law into posing as a Trappist Monk for this unusual Abbey Single Ale.  He’s wearing one of the nephew’s Halloween costumes.  My Sister-in-Law shot the picture.  He kind of reminds me of the copy of a copy of a copy clone in Harold Ramis’ film Multiplicity – Michael Keaton’s character duplicates himself until the last copy can only utter words about pizza.

The beer is a clone of Witkap Pater’s Abbey Single, known in Belgium as “Stimulo”.  As far as I know, Witkap Pater is the only Belgian Single available in the U.S.  I liked the simple, golden, spicy and low alcohol characteristics of this style, so I thought I’d give it a try.  Here’s the recipe:

  • 6 oz. pale DME (starter)
  • 6.6 lbs. Pilsner LME
  • 8 oz. sucrose
  • 2 oz. Styrian Goldings 2.9% AAU (bittering)
  • 1/4 oz. Saaz, 1/2 oz. bitter orange peel, 1/2 oz. coriander, 1/2 of a medium lemon (zest only) (flavoring)
  • 1/4 oz. Saaz, 1/2 oz. fresh orange peel, 1/2 medium lemon (aroma phase)
  • Wyeast 1762 Belgian Abbey II yeast (Rochefort Abbey)

Fermented at 65° for a week, then added 1 lb. sucrose and additional pack of 1762 and bumped the vessel up to 72° to try to get more ‘funk’.  Next time I would just start the ferment at 68 and let it rise naturally.  Let it lager at 32° for a month to clear and because I wanted a clean, lager-like finish.  Still too sweet at bottling, but hoping it will dry out during the conditioning process (the Belgians usually do for me).  Bottled with 5 oz. corn sugar and 2 oz. sucrose in attempt to achieve Belgian-like high carbonation levels.  Bottled May 2009.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Black Dog Jaggery Ale


Throughout his life, Winston Churchill would lie in bed for days, crippled by deep depression.  He described these periods as his “Black Dog” days.  What an incredible man who could still manage to work fiendishly during these bouts, commanding naval maneuvers or orchestrating The Battle of Britain while the “Black Dog came to visit, and lay on my chest”, as Churchill would say.  I guess naming his angst was his way of controlling and isolating it – it wasn’t who he was -- he wouldn’t let it define him.  It was this “other thing” that came to visit periodically, but could be tricked into eventually leaving, like a stray dog.

This English ale is exactly the kind of drink you might offer a man during those dark days, and our current ones – dark, strong, with a peppery mix of ginger, anise, cardamom and allspice – a tonic to warm the soul.  This one is for the strong of heart, as strong as the Lion of Winter himself.  My homage:

Fo’ when the black dog crush your vest,                                                Take a nip,                                                            Mister,                                                                                                                       You’ll earn the rest                                                                                           Fo’ kith, ‘n kin, and hearth, and valor                                               Blood, sweat, tears, toil, guts and pallor                                              Take a nip, and tuck it in                                                                                   and face the belt, like Gunga Din                                                                So’s brace yourself,                                                                                          with all your might                                                                                           With one good drink,                                                                                            For ONE more fight.

Bully for you Mr. Churchill.  Here’s the recipe:

  • 3 lbs dark dry malt extract
  • 3.3 lbs liquid dark malt extract
  • ½ lb. chocolate malt
  • ¾ lb. crystal 40L
  • 2 oz. Cascade (bittering)
  • 1 oz. Willamette (aroma)
  • 6 gals. spring water
  • 3 lbs. ginger (40 oz. after skin is peeled) – 30 oz. at 45 mins., 10 oz. at 5 mins.
  • 1 lb. Piloncillo sugar (Jaggery)
  • 1 lb. lactose
  • Wyeast 1968 (English So., because it ferments-out with residual sweetness)
  • Dry-hopped with black Indian cardammom, sasparilla, star anise, and allspice
  • ¾ cup corn sugar (priming)

Brewed May 2008.  With the 3 pounds of ginger I was aiming for a huge peppery-heat flavor, but didn’t realize how astringent ginger can be – waited 8 months for the ginger to drop out, then dosed it with the other spices to develop more complexity and balance in the spice profile.  It worked.  Bottled April 2009.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

La Saison Noire


Uh, no, I don’t smoke, those are joke photos.

This is my interpretation of a French Flanders black saison, using Wyeast’s private collection #3711 French Saison Yeast.  The ingredients are very simple, but develop complex flavors during fermentation as a result of the unique yeast – phenolic, citrusy, peppery, dry with a sweet aftertaste.

  • 1 lb. Belgian Caramunich
  • 0.5 lbs. Belgian Carafa III
  • 6 lbs. Pilsen Malt Syrup
  • 1 lb. Pilsen Dry Malt Extract
  • 2 oz. Argentina Cascade (bittering)
  • Wyeast #3711 French Saison Yeast - Fermented at 68°F.

The label is inspired by an African independent film, “Une Saison Noire”, literally One Black Season.  The lobby poster features black revolutionaries and machine guns, so I had my daughters snap some mock “Che” revolutionary leader photos.  The middle photo is licensed from a stock photo company, but the other two are me.  The cigarette is not real – I don’t smoke – but every picture of French Resistance Fighters you ever see has one guy with a cig, so I thought it would be funny.  My 8-yr-old snapped the left panel pic – I think she shows some real promise. 

Brewed November 2008, bottled March 2009 in 22 oz. Bombers.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Sachsen Alt

If you’ve ever had an Alaskan Amber from Alaskan Brewing Co., then you’ve had a variation of a North German Alt. It’s a clean, dry and malty beer with yeast-bread overtones and a firm hop bitterness. This one is a “sticke” (secret) version, which is served unannounced by pubs a few times year. It’s a bit darker, bigger, and has a larger hop aroma than the regular Alt. With good yeast control, I’ve avoided the sweet, heavy character which is a common flaw in homebrew versions of this style.

  • .5 lbs. Weyermann CaraAmber
  • .125 lbs. Weyermann Carafa I
  • 6.3 lbs. Gold Amber Malt Syrup
  • 1 lb. Briess Amber DME
  • 1 lb. Briess Wheat DME
  • 2 ozs. German Tradition pellet hops 5.7% AAU (bittering)
  • 1 oz. Spalt pellet hops 4.0% AAU (aroma)
  • 1 oz. Hallertau Select (dry hopping)
  • WLP036 White Labs Platinum Series Dusseldorf Alt Yeast

I was looking for iconography for this label when I came upon this symbol, the Niedersachsenross, (a white horse on a red field).  I thought it an appropriate image for my interpretation of a Düsseldorf Alt.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Düsseldorf Domination!

I just brewed a strong Dusseldorf Alt, commonly known as a Sticke Alt, pitching a June 2008 tube of White Labs WLP 036, their Premier Series strain of Dusseldorf Alt.  The age of the yeast was a concern, so I built up a 2000ml starter over a week – uhh, not to worry, it’s churning like crazy, and the blowoff jug is now dark with expended wort.

That high-tech gadget on the carboy is a digital temperature probe with a styrofoam insulator and copious amounts of tape – the insulation is a method to obtain the temp of the wort, rather than the frig.  The controller is plugged into a low-heat dehydrator bottom, which supplies enough heat to maintain the wort temp at 60° for primary fermentation of this yeast (if you wanted to cool the wort, you just plug the controller into the frig).  Once I finish primary, I will crash both the Alt and the Pils in the background down to 36° for a month-long lager.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Peoples' Pilsner

A year before I had been denied a visa to Moscow, so I knew it was a long shot as I sat in the Czechoslovakian Embassy in Vienna, waiting for a sweaty, rotund and greasy-faced clerk to review my papers.  Just the day before I had been given a stern-faced no from the Yugoslavian Embassy.  I had managed travel to East Berlin twice because of the strange “Allied” status we enjoyed there, and didn’t want to leave the rest of Eastern Europe completely unexplored, so it was worth a try.  The Czech bureaucrat looked positively disappointed when he said that he was sorry, but no, I couldn’t hop the next train to Coffeehouse/Urquell-Land.  His look conveyed the helpless manner of a jovial but otherwise resigned Communist functionary, as if to say, “I know you’re no Yanqee Imperial Dog Spy,” but “Thems the rules, sorry mate.”  Was it the Jewish surname?  My status as an ambitious young Captain?  Leadership of the College Republicans?  That unfortunate incident with my soldiers showing their butts to the Czech border patrol when we visited the 11th ACR garrison?  I wasn’t in search of State Secrets, just a beer – I’ve always wondered why they considered me a threat – I knew of many other American officers that had traveled to the Bloc.  Seemed ridiculous at the time, even more so today.  I consoled myself with a delicious golden Pils from the gasthaus, and booked the next train to Seville via Barcelona (which led to a serendipitous side jaunt to Tangier and southern Morocco).  In retrospect, I should probably thank those Godless Commies for the trip of a lifetime.  In tribute, I brew this very simple and pleasantly bitter rendition of what I might have enjoyed during my own Prague Spring.

I highlight the absurdity with my own absurd phrase on the label:  “In Demokratic Czech Republic, Pilsner drinks you!”  Hats off to you Mr. Sweaty Bureaucrat, and hope you enjoyed the crushing defeat of the Soviet Empire by My People.  Cheers! 

  • 1 lb. Caramel Pils
  • 6.3 lbs. gold liquid malt extract
  • 1 oz. Galena (bittering)
  • 1 oz. Saaz (at 15 mins.)
  • Wyeast 2278 Czech Pils (fermented 2 weeks at 50°, then at 60° for diacetyl rest, lagering at 36° for a month until clear)
Brewed December 2008.