Tuesday, December 15, 2015


A quick update on how things are progressing on the beers I’m planning on entering into Bluebonnet next month.  The saison has finished carbonating, and it’s delicious.  Just as good as the first batch.  This is the first time I’ve successfully recreated a beer using the exact same recipe, and have it turn out just as good, if not better, than the first time, so I’m pretty pumped.  I’ll get 3 bottles filled here soon and set them aside for the competition.

I still need to see if the quad is going to yield 3 more bottles or not.  I’m putting that off, letting it age in the keg a little longer.  I have one bottle left over from the original bottling, but since those were gushers at Operation Bravo, I’m not going to use it as an entry.  I’ll probably toss it in the beer fridge soon and then open it to see how it is.

The dunkelweizen is just about finished fermenting.  I’ll probably take a couple of readings this week, and if it all looks, tastes, and smells good, I’ll be kegging this weekend, or early next week, then getting it on the CO2.  I could potentially have it ready for Christmas even, if I force carb it with the over-pressure and shake method.  We’ll see.

After Christmas, I’m planning on brewing up an English Best Bitter.  That should be ready fairly quickly.  I’ve tentatively named it The Chestnut Troop, after A Battery, Royal Horse Artillery.  It is the senior Battery in the British Regiment of Artillery, and I think it has a cool ring for a beer name!

It’s a pretty simple recipe, too:

8lbs Maris Otter
1lb British Crystal 60L
.5lb Flaked Corn
.5lb Flaked Barley

Mash at 152F

1.5oz Fuggles @ 60
1oz EKG @ 15
.5oz Fuggles @ 5

60 minute boil

Planning on using WLP002, English Ale yeast.  Should be a pretty quick fermentation, then into the keg for a very small amount of carbonation.  I’ll be able to bottle before entries are due on 1/28 easily.

The last entry is going to be a team entry with our good friends over at New Main Brewing.  David Clark and I are going to brew up an English Dark Mild.  As the name suggests, it’s a little darker (more like a light brown or amber, than truly dark as most people would think of) and very low in ABV.  It’s a very sessionable beer.  We’re going to do a double batch, and each ferment part, and enter whichever turns out better.

As for Operation Bravo next year, there’s probably about a 50/50 chance I won’t be able to enter.  If it’s the weekend before Veteran’s Day (11/5), I’ll most likely be out of town, and if it’s the weekend right after Veteran’s Day (11/12), I could have drill.  We’ll see, I suppose.  I’m going to continue with my brewing calendar plans as if I am entering.  I’m going to probably do the quad again, but this time early in the year so it has more time to age.  I’m aiming for February.

Sticking with Belgian beers, I’m going to try my hand at a Tripel in March or April, probably.  That’ll be one of my entries for Labor of Love.  I’ve been working on a recipe for a Tripel for quite a while now, tweaking here and there as I continue to learn about this process.  I’ll try to have it finalized in the next couple of months.

That’s all for now.  We’ll talk again after the brew day for the bitter.  Merry Christmas to all!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Christmas Gifts

Thanksgiving is tomorrow, which means Black Friday is just a day later, so it’s just about time to think about Christmas shopping.  Does your husband or boyfriend (or wife or girlfriend, for that matter) love beer?  Think they’d like to take a stab at homebrewing?  Or, do they already homebrew, and are looking at stepping up their game?  If so, today’s blog entry might be for you.

Let’s start with some gift ideas for people wanting to get into hombrewing for the first time, or for those using smaller systems, like Mr. Beer, wanting to step up to larger and more complex batches.  If you’re a one stop shopper, you can’t go wrong with Northern Brewer’s Deluxe Starter Kit.  The one linked here is the version with the Big Mouth Bubbler fermentors.  I have two of these, and I highly recommend them.  Unfortunately, though, they're not the kind with a spigot on the bottom, so transferring from the fermentor isn't as easy, but they're still great.  It also comes with everything he/she (I'm just going to use "he" from now on for simplicity, but this all applies to anyone of either sex, gotta keep it PC!!) needs to start homebrewing, with a couple of exceptions.  The biggest need is going to be a brew kettle.  I started with an 8 gallon aluminum kettle, which worked fine for extract brewing.  However, it's always a good idea to look ahead, and get something that will allow him to make the leap to all grain down the road.  We'll talk about brew kettles a little later on.  You will also probably want to get an outdoor propane burner, since the kitchen stove will take a very long time to bring 5-10 gallons to a boil, plus, as my wife pointed out after my first (and only) batch on the kitchen stove, "it made the kitchen smell like a brewery!"

Now, if you're not the one-stop-shopping kind, and want to put together your own starter kit, here is what you'll need.  These also provide some great upgrade opportunities for those looking to improve their current equipment.

Brew Kettle
I have a 16 gallon stainless steel Bayou Classic kettle with a ball valve.  It's awesome.  I can easily do 5-6 gallon batches doing all grain Brew in a Bag (more on that later), or even larger extract batches.  It works as a starter kettle, and you won't need to upgrade once you move to all grain brewing.  It also happens to be on a pretty good sale at Amazon right now.  I might have to look at getting a second one, and finding a false bottom for it to use as a mash tun!

There are plenty of other options out there for brew kettles, including keggles (a 1/2 barrel keg converted to use as a brew kettle), but the Bayou Classic is what I have experience with, so that's what I'm going to recommend.

Like I said before, I can't say enough about my Siphonless Big Mouth Bubbler carboys.  I have two of the plastic ones, and love them.  Some reviews I've seen saw they don't seal well, but I haven't had that problem.  To start, you really only need one, but if he plans on knocking out batches back-to-back, it's nice to have a second one.  The kit above comes with one 6.5 gallon, and one 5 gallon.  If you're going with multiple, I'd just stick with all 6.5 gallon.

You'll also want to get a wine thief, or some other device to pull samples from your fermentor, and a hydrometer for testing these samples for gravity readings.  There are many kits that you can buy that come with everything you need, including this one from Northern Brewer.

I, like most homebrewers, started out bottling my homebrewed beer.  And, like most, I've since switched to kegging.  Kegging is much faster and easier, plus you have the cool factor of drinking your hand-crafted beer on tap!  It's not always feasible to go right with kegging, though, so we'll start with the essentials for bottling.

First, you'll need a bottling bucket and bottle filler (you'll also need a length of 3/8" ID plastic tubing).  Once your beer is finished fermenting, it'll go into the bottling bucket, and from there into bottles using the bottle filler.  Of course, you'll need bottles and bottle caps.  For bottles, you can get these anywhere, as long as they're brown and not twist-top, they'll work.  For the longest time, I used Sam Adams bottles from the beers that I drank.  You'll need a bottle capper, to get those bottle caps on tight.  For cleaning and sanitizing bottles, I used a Vinator bottle rinser and a 45-bottle drying tree.

For kegging, there are several places that have good starter kits.  I went with Keg Connection for my starter kit.  Kegs you can get all over the place.  I'd shop around for the lowest prices on reconditioned ball lock kegs.

That's pretty much everything you're going to need to get your man/woman started in their homebrewing adventure.  Next, we'll talk about some upgrades the more experienced homebrewers can make to really up their game.

Proper sanitation is probably the most important aspect of homebrewing, and cleaning is most of what brewing is, really.  You'll want to get plenty of sanitizer.  There are several different ones, and it mostly boils down to preference here.  I use Iodophor, an iodine-based sanitizer, but I know people who swear by Star San.

Fermentation Temperature Control
If your homebrewer is like me, his first few batches will have zero temperature control for fermentation.  In Texas, this generally means that fermentation occurs way too hot, which will lead to some serious off flavors, like fusel alcohols, which will give the beer a "hot" alcohol flavor.  The simplest way to combat this is to use a "swamp cooler" setup.  That's what I did for the longest time.  If you're interested, there are a ton of articles on the Internet that talk about it, so I won't go into it.  Since this blog entry is all about upgrades, we'll talk about one other way to control fermentation temperatures.  The easiest way is to build some sort of fermentation chamber, and the most effective of these is using a chest freezer and a temperature controller.  For the chest freezer, you can buy one new from any one of a hundred places, or you can check Craigslist.  That's what I did, and ended up with a 5 cu. ft. chest freezer.  I can fit one fermentor in it, which is all I need.  You'll also need a temperature controller.  I use an STC-1000, which is very popular with homebrewers.  The only downside to it is that it will require some wiring to be done.  Here's a very good article on how to setup your STC-1000.  He uses a hairdryer for his heating element, I use a light bulb inside a paint can.  They both work.

Wort Chillers
A wort chiller of some kind is a must, especially in Texas in the summer.  Your homebrewer will want to chill his wort as quickly as possible to get nice, clear beer.  There are several different types of chillers: immersion chillers, counter-flow chillers, and plate chillers are just a few of these.  I currently use an immersion chiller, and it can take over an hour in the summer to chill the wort to pitching temperature (around 65F or so).  Plate chillers and counter-flow chillers are both supposed to be faster, but I have no experience with either of these.  If you go with an immersion chiller, make sure you get one that will easily fit into the brew kettle.

Making the Jump to All Grain
There are lots of homebrewers out there who never make the switch from extract or partial mash brewing up to all grain, and they make really good beer.  All Grain doesn't make better beer, necessarily.  The pros of doing extract include that it's cheaper, equipment-wise, and the brew day is much simpler.  The trade-offs, though, are that it is more expensive, ingredient-wise, and you're limited in how creative you can get with your recipes.  The creativity part is why I made the step up to all grain.

The big downside to all grain is that it can require some different equipment than extract brewing.  If you already have a larger (15 gallons+) brew kettle, though, you can make the jump pretty cheaply if you want.  There are really two ways to make the jump, multi-vessel or single-vessel.  Multi-vessel means you have a separate mash tun and boil kettle (and sometimes a separate hot liquor tank).  Some people use two or three kettles for this type of approach, and some use one kettle for the boil, and a combination of coolers for the mash tun and hot liquor tank.  Single-vessel all grain brewing is mostly accomplished with Brew in a Bag.  This is how I brew, so I'm going to spend the most time talking about how to go all grain that way.

As I said before, if you already have a larger brew kettle, you can almost immediately start doing Brew in a Bag, or BIAB.  BIAB uses your brew kettle as a mash tun by using a large bag to contain the grains.  You can make your own bag from voile (or similar) material, or you can buy them custom-made from wilserbrewer.  I bought his "Grand Slam" package, which came with a custom-sized bag (you give him the dimensions of your kettle), a hop sock for boiling, a dry hop sock, and a pulley and rachet system (the bag full of wet grains can be heavy).  For only $32, that's a pretty cheap way to upgrade to all grain.  For an in-depth look at BIAB, check out this blog post on Beersmith.

Some all grain brewers turn their nose up at those of us who do BIAB, but I think my gold medal winning saison, and my friend David's best in show robust porter (both done with BIAB) prove that it makes just as good, if not better, beer than traditional multi-vessel brewing.

Yeast Starters
Dry yeast packets normally have plenty of yeast cells for a 5-6 gallon batch of beer.  Liquid yeast, on the other hand, generally have only 100 million cells, and that number will drop as the package sits in a fridge at the homebrew store.  Thus, you need a way to bump up the number of cells so you're not underpitching (although underpitching is desired in some instances, but that's a totally separate discussion).  Mr Malty has a great calculator that will help you see how many yeast cells you'll need.  For the saison I did a couple of weeks ago, I needed 190 million cells.  The package was about 2 weeks old when I bought it, so it had around 85-90 million viable cells left.  To get that to 190 million, Mr. Malty tells me I need a 2L starter.  That will drop to 1.2L with intermittent shaking, or all the way to 1L with a stir plate.

So, what do you need to make yeast starters?  Well, you need a vessel of some kind for sure.  Erlenmeyer flasks are great for this, since they're Pyrex, and you can boil water in them directly on the stove.  I would get at least a 2L, if not larger, one.  As you can see above, a stir plate will really reduce the size of the starter needed.  These can be either bought or you can try to make your own.

Hopefully this gives anyone out there looking for Christmas gifts for the beer-lover in their life some ideas.  I'll also happily answer any questions people have!  Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Bluebonnet Brew Off

With two pretty successful homebrew competitions under my belt, I’m looking at entering the biggest one in Texas, which is also the largest single-site homebrew competition in the United States, the BluebonnetBrew Off.  As far as I can tell, there isn’t a max number of entries a person can have, but last year they cut off total entries at 1525!  That’s a lot of beers!  

I’m going to enter the saison that’s finishing up fermentation for sure, and hopefully I’ll be able to get three bottles’ worth of the quad out of the keg.  We’ll see, it’s feeling pretty empty!  I’m also planning on brewing a Dunkelweizen (German dark wheat beer) this weekend (probably Saturday), and I’d like to get one more in after Christmas (something that’s good fresh, so an IPA or a Pale Ale, most likely).

Here’s the recipe for the Dunkelweizen I’m brewing this weekend:


7lbs Wheat malt
5lbs Munich malt
.25lbs Chocolate malt

Mash @ 149 for 60 minutes

60 minute boil

1oz Tettnanger @ 60 minutes

1L starter of either Wyeast 3068 or WLP300 (supposedly both are the Weihenstephan strain), pitched at 70°F

The Donar is a reference to a German self-propelled 155mm howitzer, named after the Germanic pagan god of thunder (analogous to Thor in Norse mythology).  That’s where the name came from.  Took me a while to figure out an artillery themed name to go with this, but it seems to fit pretty well, and rolls off the tongue pretty well, too!

Also, as you may have noticed, there’s a new Recipes section in the menu bar.  I’m going to be posting my recipes there from now on, so anyone who wants to is welcome to try to duplicate anything I’ve brewed.  Right now, I haven’t added very much, just Fiddler’s Green and Donar.  I’ll add more soon, I promise!

I’ve put a bottle filler on my Christmas, to hopefully make it really easy to fill bottles for competitions, or for taking beer places (tailgates, parties, etc).  That should help me avoid overcabonating problems like I had with Canon de 12 at Operation Bravo earlier this month.  I’m still kicking myself over that.

Anyway, that’s it for now.  Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Operation Bravo

Well, another competition is in the books.  This one didn’t got quite as well for me, but I still had a really good time doing it.  This one was Operation Bravo, held at Shannon Brewing Company in Keller.  It was put on by the good folks at Homebrew for Heroes, and was free for all current and former military, as well as first responders.  This was the first (of hopefully many) annual event, and the turnout was pretty great.  There were about 30 homebrewers or so, and the crowd was great.  I’d bet at least half of the crowd were walkups from Shannon’s normal Saturday open house and tour.

I got there pretty early and got my tent and table all setup with the help of my father-in-law.  I had a good spot, only a few spaces down from the entrance, so I was able to get guests to come by before they had already had a few!  I dropped my entry bottles off and then waited for the crowd to get there.  In the meantime, a homebrewing friend of mine, David with New Main Brewing, showed up a little late, and there wasn’t a lot of room for him to setup anywhere.  Since I wasn’t taking up all that much space, I offered to let him setup under my tent.  It worked pretty well, as we turned out to be a popular stop.

Unfortunately for me, my bottles all turned out to be gushers, so they weren’t able to be judged.  The judges did end up stopping by my booth later on, though, to try out my quad out of the keg, and they were impressed.  The only negative comment that I got was that it needed to be aged/conditioned longer.  So, for next year, if I enter the same beer again, I’ll brew it 9 months or more ahead of time!  I had several people stop and ask if I was the guy with the quad they were told they had to try, so I had some good word of mouth going.  Can’t be too upset about that!  All the other homebrewers that came by and tried it were impressed as well.  It wasn’t all bad news in the competition under the tent, though, as David’s robust porter took first overall!  He’ll be joining Shannon Brewing at some point in the future to brew a batch of it on their system for local release, and to enter into the 2016 Great American Beer Festival in the ProAm category!  I was able to taste a sample of it before it was all gone, and it was damn good.  Well-deserved win, David!

The next competition I’m going to try to enter will probably be next year’s Bluebonnet Brew-off.  Entries are normally due in February, so I’ll probably enter the saison that’s fermenting now into that one.  It’s a competition only, no serving festival to go along with it, so I’ll only need to enter three bottles.  I might try to see if I have three bottles worth of the quad left, too, and save that to enter as well.  It claims to be the largest single-site homebrew competition in the country, so it will be nice to see how my beer stacks up there!  I might also be able to get one or two more brew days in before then.  I don’t want to rush anything, though, so we’ll see.

Up next for me, I thinking of doing a Dunkelweizen.  It’s similar to a hefeweizen, just darker, maltier, and a bit stronger.  It’s a style that’s good for fall brewing and winter drinking.  Of course, half of the fun of homebrewing is being able to brew whatever you want, whenever you want, so seasons don’t really matter, so maybe I’ll try something else.  Apparently I’m getting pretty good at brewing Belgians, so maybe a nice Tripel or Biere de Garde!

I do need to take a quick moment to thank Shawn and the guys at Homebrew for Heroes for putting on an amazing event.  I chatted with Shawn for a bit during the event, and we're all hoping this is the first of many for this.  Also a big thanks to Shannon at Shannon Brewing for hosting us all, and giving all the homebrewers a quick, private, tour of the brewery before the festival started.  It was a great time all afternoon!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Beer Names

So, at Labor of Love, I had some people ask about the brewery name and my beer names.  The brewery name, Steel Rain, comes from the artillery.  Artillery rounds are made of steel, and they rain down on the enemy.  Pretty straight forward.  The beer names can be more obscure, I admit.

The first beer I named was my double IPA, which I called Charge 8 Imperial IPA.  At the time, I was assigned as Platoon Leader/Fire Direction Officer for a M119A2 battery.  The M119A2 is a 105mm howitzer, and the max charge for the weapon system is normally called charge 7 (there are seven increments).  Charge 8 can be used, but rarely is, to boost the max range from ~11.5km to ~13.7km.

Here are some of the other beers and the stories behind the names:

Willy Pete Wheat – a German-style hefeweizen, named after the nickname for white phosphorous, which is used in artillery rounds for smoke screens now, but used to be an anti-personnel weapon.

Enzo’s English Ale – my only non-artillery named beer, this is an English Pale Ale named after our dog, Enzo, who is an English Springer Spaniel

D30 Russian Imperial Stout – a RIS named after a still in wide use Russian made 122mm howitzer.  Some friends on mine used them while training the Afghan army a few years ago, named in their honor.

Killer Junior IPA – Killer Junior is a direct fire (as opposed to normal indirect fire) technique where an HE round is fitted with a time fuze and the fuze is set to function over a target very close to the gun’s position.  Killer Junior referred to the technique when used by 105mm and 155mm howitzers.  Killer Senior was used with 203mm howitzers.  The name comes from the call sign of the battery that developed the technique during the Vietnam War.

Fiddler’s Green Farmhouse Ale – a Belgian-style saison, the name comes from the legendary Valhalla where artillerymen go when they die.  “Halfway down the trail to hell in a shady meadow green, Are the souls of all dead Redlegs camped near a good old-time canteen, And this eternal resting place is known as Fiddler's Green.”

Blockhouse Blonde Ale – every artilleryman knows the namesake of this beer, Blockhouse Signal Mountain, which sits on top of the most prominent point in the impact area at Fort Sill.

Canon de 12 – a Belgian Dark Strong Ale, also called a Belgian Quad.  This beer is named after a WWII Belgian medium field gun, the Canon de 12 cm L mle 1931

Redleg Red Lager – A Vienna-style lager with a red tint.  Redlegs are artillerymen.  In the Civil War, Union artillerymen wore red stripes down the sides of their blue uniform pants, and were called Redlegs.  The name endures today.

Thus ends today’s lesson on beer and artillery.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Gold Medal!!

So, I’d say Labor of Love was a smashing success for Steel Rain Brewing!  We took home gold in the Strong Belgian Ale category with our Fiddler’s Green Farmhouse Ale!  Both scorecards had great comments about the beer, especially about how dry it ended up.  I’ll be using that Wyeast 3711 on all my saisons from now on!  The only negative was one judge would have liked to have seen better head retention.

Killer Junior didn’t score nearly as well, though, with both judges commenting that it was watery and very astringent.  Since it was very good the first time around, I’ll go back and see what I might have done differently, and then try it again a third time and try to get it right!  It was really good the first time, and still pretty good, I thought, this time.  Obviously the judges disagreed.  It happens!

We’ve got Operation Bravo coming up next, at Shannon Brewing Company in Keller.  I’m entering Canon de 12, a Belgian Dark Strong Ale (sometimes called a Belgian quad).  It should be pretty much done fermenting by now, and the yeast should be working hard cleaning up after themselves!  I’ll probably try to keg it after we get home from vacation.  My plan is to naturally carbonate a handful of bottles, then the rest in the keg.  Belgians are almost always naturally carbonated, so I’m going to stick with that.  Not sure if I’m going to repitch yeast at kegging time or not yet.  That’s sitting in the pantry working away at around 78F.  There’s a new beer fermenting in the chest freezer now.

The blonde ale I’m doing for the baby show for my brother and his wife is all brewed and should also be ready for the keg when we get back from vacation.  I missed my OG by a bit, I was under again.  I’ve missed my target a few times in a row now; I’m not getting the efficiencies that I had been.  I might start trying a double-crush on the grains and see if that helps.  I really don’t care what the number is, as long as I can stay consistent, I can make up for lower efficiency with more grain.

Anyway, that’s it for now.  In case anyone reading wants to try their hand at making their own great saison, here’s the recipe I used for the gold medal winner!

11lbs Dingemanns Pilsner
Mash at 151F for 90 minutes
90 minute boil
1oz Cascade @ 60
1oz Cascade @ 15
1oz Cascade @ 5
1oz Cascade dry-hopped for last 5 days of fermentation

Wyeast 3711 starter

Pitched at 65F and kept it there for 3 days or so, then let it free rise to 76 and kept it there for another 10 days or so.  After that, it went into the house and sat in the pantry at ~78F ambient for another week before going into the keg.  Carbed cold in the keg (warm in bottles) to 2.8 volumes of CO2.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Long Wait

The day is almost upon us.  Labor of Love is 4 days away!  Four days until the rest of the world (or at least 1000+ people who attend a homebrew festival in Dallas) is introduced to the epic wonderfulness that is Steel Rain Brewing!  I cracked open one of the last two bottles of Killer Junior last night, and it’s fantastic.  I’ve sampled both it and Fiddler’s Green from the kegs, and they’re both really damn good and ready for Sunday.  I’m getting pretty excited about it.  Between the wait for this, and the wait for the start of college football on Saturday, this has already been the LONGEST. WEEK. EVER!

I’m also looking forward to meeting other DFW-area homebrewers, and sampling some of their wares.  Homebrewers are a very experimental lot, I so expect some wacky stuff to be out there.  If you’re out there to come support me and taste my beer, be sure to stop by and check out New Main Brewing as well.  He always has good stuff on tap, and has a great blog worth checking out.
I’ve been thinking about how I want to keep my beer cold out in the September heat.  The ideal way would be a jockey box.  Those are pretty pricy, though.  The low end ones are $250 to $300 for a double tap system.  Or, I can just pick up a big trashcan at Lowe’s and pack that sucker with ice around the two kegs, and serve from picnic taps, which I already have.  Yeah, I think I’ll go that route.  If it turns out that other people actually like my beer, then maybe I’ll think about a jockey box for future events.

So, if you’re bored and have nothing to do on Sunday evening (and remember, Monday is a holiday!), come on out to Labor of Love 4 at Deep Ellum Brewing Company in Dallas.  Tickets (they call them memberships in order to be legal with the Gestapo TABC) are $35 and can be purchased at http://www.lolhomebrew.com.  You need to pick your affiliated homebrew club.  I can be found under Steel Rain Brewing (duh).

Next up on the brewing schedule is a simple Blonde Ale for my brother and sister-in-law’s baby shower that we’re hosting at the end of October.  I took a popular recipe from the HomeBrewTalk forums that has a bunch of good reviews and went with it.

7lbs 2-row
¾ lb Carapils
½ lb Crystal 20L (recipe called for 10L, but Dallas Homebrew was out, at only ½ lb, shouldn’t change the recipe all that much)
½ lb Vienna

½ oz Centennial @ 60
½ oz Cascade @ 15
½ oz Cascade @ 5

Danstar Nottingham ale yeast

See everyone on Sunday!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Labor of Love

Deep Ellum Brewing Company sent out some more info on the 4th Annual Labor of Love Homebrew Competition and Festival.  The event is on Sunday, September 6th from 6:00pm to 10:00pm, at the field across from Deep Ellum Brewing Company, at 2823 St. Louis, Dallas.

Tickets are $35, and can be purchased at http://www.lolhomebrew.com/.  Select Steel Rain Brewing as the affiliated homebrew team, of course.

I'll be serving the two beers that I entered, Fiddler's Green Farmhouse Ale and Killer Junior IPA.  The Farmhouse Ale is a French-style Saison, using Belgian Pilsner malt and Cascade hops.  The IPA is an American IPA that doesn't have the normal punch-you-in-the-mouth hop flavor, but come across very refreshing and citrusy.

Both turned out fantastic, and I can't wait to see how the judges rate them!  I dropped my entries off on Monday.

There will be food trucks and live music, as well.  Should be a great time!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Wyeast 3711

Short entry today.  Brewday for the saison went pretty well.  I think I need to recalibrate my refractometer, though.  Based on it's reading, my gravity into boil was 1.043, which would have given me a mash effeciency of 99%!!  That's insane.  Unfortunately, I tossed the sample before I thought to use a hydrometer to get a good gravity reading.  I'll be sure I do that correctly this weekend for the IPA.  OG was 1.045, a little under the 1.049 I was shooting for, though.  I might try double-crushing the grains next time, that seems to help other who are using the BIAB method.

I was able to get the wort cooled down to around 68F pretty quickly this time, though.  I got it down under 100F in a few minutes with the immersion chiller.  After it got down to around 90F, it started really slowing down, so I went ahead and transferred to the fermentor and put the whole thing into the ice chest filled with ice water.  Yeah, I'm using that method again this weekend.  It was down to 70F in no time.  By the time I got it into the fermentation chamber, it was at 68F.  Got the yeast pack and pitched at 68F.

This is the first time I've used a Wyeast yeast pack, and the first time for the French Saison strain as well.  Last saison I used WLP565, which is the Dupont strain.  The Internet tells me that it's a very vigorous strain, and will ferment quickly and end up attenuating way down.  I kept it set at 65F for 3 days, then bumped it up to 75F.  Took a sample on Sunday and checked the gravity.  It's already down to 1.010, which is 78% attenuation (Wyeast claims 77-83 is normal)!  I'm going to check again Thursday to see where it is.  I'm hoping it will finish around 1.004, which would be over 90%.  If it's not done by Saturday when I need the fermentation chamber for the IPA, I'll just move the fermentor into the pantry, probably, and let it sit for another week before kegging.  That will also give the yeast a chance to clean up after themselves, and get rid of any off flavors.  I might have to get a second 6.5 gallon fermentor, though, for that.  I'll see what they have at the homebrew store tomorrow when I go for the ingredients for the IPA.

That's it for now.  More to come in the next few weeks as these start to get finished and ready for Labor of Love!

Friday, June 26, 2015

New Name and Labor of Love

Greetings loyal readers!  It’s been a while since I’ve made an entry, and if you’re here, you’ve probably noticed a new name in the URL.  Since there is now a commercial brewery called Texas Ale Project (and it probably existed before I started brewing, considering how long it takes to get a license), I figured I should come up with something new, and more creative than Texas Ale Company for my home brewery.

After much thought and internal deliberation, I came up with Steel Rain Brewing.  As you may have noticed, most of my beer names have been artillery-themed, so it made sense to go that direction with the brewery name.  Unfortunately, the very obvious Redleg Brewing is already taken by a brewery in Colorado.  I came up with a handful of ideas, but to me, Steel Rain had the best ring to it.  Now, I just need to come up with a logo!  Any artistic people out there want to help me with that…for free? :-)

So, now that I have a new name, I need to enter some contests, so people will come to know and love the Steel Rain beers!  Deep Ellum Brewing Company has such a contest every year, their Labor of Love.  The name comes from the fact that the festival that accompanies the contest is held Labor Day weekend.  Brewers (or homebrew teams/clubs) can enter up to two beers each for the BJCP-sanctioned competition, and can serve up to five beers at the festival.  The Best in Show winner will have their beer featured as DEBC’s 2016 Labor of Love beer, and it will be entered into the Pro-Am Competition at the 2016 Great American Beer Fest!  Since this is my first homebrew competition to enter, I’m not expecting much, but I still have high hopes, especially for my IPA.

So, on to the good stuff-what I’ll be entering into the competition.  The last IPA I did, with Citra and Mosaic hops, was immensely popular with my regular brewday crowd.  It was gone very quickly, so I’ll be brewing that again with no tweaks.  For the other beer, I’m going to try a new recipe, but one that’s pretty simple, a SMASH (Single Malt And Single Hop) dry-hopped Saison.  I’m going with Belgian Pilsner 2-row malt and Cascade hops, with mostly late additions and dry hops to give it plenty of aroma.  In keeping with my theme, I’m going to call it Fiddler’s Green Farmhouse Ale.  The IPA remains Killer Junior IPA.  Hopefully I can logistically pull off getting two beers brewed and finished by the August 17th deadline to submit them for entry.  With my National Guard AT in there, it might be a tight squeeze, but I'm confident that I can do it!

The recipes for the beers (both 6 gallons into the fermentor):

Fiddler’s Green Farmhouse Ale

11lbs Belgian Pilsner (Dingemanns)

1oz Cascade @ 60 minutes
1oz Cascade @ 10 minutes
1oz Cascade @ 5 minutes
1oz Cascade dry hopped in the keg

WY3711 French Saison yeast

Killer Junior IPA

11lbs 2-row (Briess)
2lbs Munich 20L (Briess)
1lb Crystal 10L (Briess)

1oz US Magnum @ 60
1oz Citra @ 15
½oz Mosaic @ 5
½oz Citra @ 5
1oz Mosaic @ flameout
½oz Citra dry hopped in the keg
½oz Mosaic dry hopped in the keg

WLP001 California Ale yeast  

The festival is September 6th, time TBA, but I believe last year it was late afternoon/early evening.  Last year it was $30 a ticket, and it sold out pretty quickly from what I hear.  Homebrewers can get their team of 4 people in free.  There were bands and food trucks last year, as well.  Hope to see some of you out there, and make sure you stop by Steel Rain Brewing and say hello!

Monday, April 20, 2015

I'm Alive!

So, it seems that my posts on here have slowed down quite a bit since I started.  I’ll try to be more frequent with updates, at least post some recipes up for anyone who is actually reading this and interested.

In my last update, I posted the recipe for the IPA I wanted to enter into Brew Riot.  Well, good news and bad news, and a small screw up.  Good news, beer got brewed on 2/28.  Bad news, I put off entering Brew Riot too long, and it was full when I finally got around to it.  The screw up I’ll talk about in just a second.

So, for those of you in the DFW Metroplex, you might remember that on 2/28 we were in the middle of our snow/ice-pocalypse of 2015.  It was a balmy 25°F on brew day.  I had a few brave souls make the trek from around the neighborhood (and one from all the way down in Bedford) to join me in the garage.  As you can imagine, on a brisk day like that one, it took a bit to get my mash water heated up.  Finally got it done though, and had no more issues through the mash and boil.  The one small hiccup came when I accidentally knocked over the table and spilled sanitizer all over the garage.  Unfortunately, the hops that were set aside for dry hopping were also on the table, and they got pretty much ruined, so there were no dry hops in this batch.  Everything else went fine, though, and to wort cooled to pitching temps very quickly, thanks to the cold weather.  Lesson learned: don’t try to lift one leg of the table to get a dog leash attached to it.  The dog can stay warm and lonely inside on brew day.

This beer was the first to use the new chest freezer fermentation chamber.  Man, how did I ever make beer without this?  It simplifies that process so much.  All I had to do was set the temperature controller and let the beer ferment happily away at 63°F, regardless of how hot or cold it was outside.  The cool side was hooked to the freezer, and the heating side to a lightbulb-inside-a-paint-can setup.  It never got more than a degree away from the target any time that I saw it, and was usually within a half degree.
Once it hit FG, I cold crashed for a few days to help with clarity, then racked over to a cleaned and sanitized keg, and into the fridge and onto CO2 to carbonate up for a few weeks.  Sampled it after a week, and it still needed more carbonation, but the flavor was awesome.  Let it sit until last weekend when we went to a Cards Against Humanity (awesomely un-PC game) party, and I took a growler full.  It was very well-received.

Meanwhile, during my March drill weekend, some neighbors had a crawfish boil, and Erin went.  The host, Scott, and his neighbor, Lloyd, were at the 2/28 brew day, and both raved about all three beers I had on tap at the time (hefe, stout, IIPA), so Erin came back and got a growler of both the stout and the hefe (the IIPA keg had kicked a week or so earlier) to take back.  That finished off the hefe keg, so I was down to one keg (two, once Killer Junior IPA was ready).

I figured it was about time for another brew day.  I asked Facebook what to brew, putting forward a few options.  By far, the favorite was the red lager idea.  I really wanted to brew a lager, since I haven’t done one yet, and with the chest freezer fermentation chamber, I’ll have no problems getting down into the low-50s needed for lager fermentation.  I came up with this for a red Vienna-style lager:

7lbs Vienna malt
3lbs Dark Munich malt
0.25lbs Carafa II Special malt

The Vienna and Munich malts are pretty standard for the style, and are both give a good malty flavor to the finished beer, with the Munich being a little darker, and giving a little more pronounced malty and grainy flavor.  The Carafa II Special is a dehusked version of Weyermann’s Carafa II malt.  Since it’s dehusked, it add the rick color, flavor, and aroma of the husked version, but without the harsh flavors and astringency you typically see with darker grains.  It’s supposed to contribute to a nice reddish-brown color when used in smaller amounts, and that’s what I’m hoping for from it.

The hop schedule is pretty straight forward:

1.5oz Tettnanger @ 60 minutes
1.5oz Tettnanger @ 10 minutes

Yeast is the Saflager W34/70 dry yeast.  2 11.5g packets rehydrated and pitched at 50°F.

Brew day was 4/18, and had a good-sized group come out this time-both neighbors and friends who live in other parts of the Metroplex came.  Erin made some awesome mint chocolate chip brownies, as well.  The only issue with the day’s activities was that I overshot my strike temperature by about 10° since I wasn’t paying attention.  It was solved by getting rid of a gallon of hot water, and adding in a gallon of cold water.  Mashed for 60 minutes at 152°, then removed the grains and heated to boiling.  Added the hops (forgot the Whifloc, I’m just realizing, but hopefully the cold crash and lagering will help clear the beer) and cooled the wort down to around 60°.  Racked to the carboy and into the fermentation chamber it went, set at 50°.  Once it got to about 52°, I pitched the yeast and left it to do its thing.  Once it’s close to FG, I’ll bump it up to 60° to 65° for a quick diacetyl rest, then I’ll cold crash and keg, and let it carbonate and lager at the same time.  I’ll probably check on it around Memorial Day to see if it’s ready to drink yet or not.

I’m definitely learning more and more every time I brew.  Using different grains allows me to see how they affect a beer’s taste, aroma, and color.  Next up, I’m thinking I’ll do something darker and a little higher ABV to replace the stout once it’s gone.  Something I can age until the fall or winter.  Maybe a Belgian quad, or even a tripel, even though it’s a paler beer.  After that, I’d like to do a saison that will be ready for the heat of July and August.  Depends on how long the IPA and stout last.  The IPA turned out so good, it might just become a sort of “house” beer, and on constant rotation!

Well, that’s it for now, hope you enjoyed reading.

SlĂ inte!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Brew Riot

Been a while since my last update.  The hefe and the imperial IPA are probably pretty close to being kicked by now, with the stout not too far behind.  So, it's getting close to time to start brewing again!  Each May in Dallas, there's a homebrew competition/festival called Brew Riot.  Homebrewers and homebrew clubs can enter their beers to be judged by both festival goers and actual judges.  I'm going to try my hand this year and enter a couple of beers.  Since I'm sure it will be warm in May, I'm going to do a couple of refreshing beers.  I'm thinking a good citrusy IPA and a hefeweizen.  My hefe that I did last year turned out pretty well, so I'll probably just brew that same recipe again.  For the IPA, here's what I've got:

11lbs 2-row
2lbs Munich 10L
1lb Crystal 10L

1oz Magnum @ 60
1oz Citra @ 15
1/2 oz Mosaic @ 5
1/2 oz Citra @ 5
1oz Mosaic @ flameout
1/2oz Citra Dry hopped for 10 days
1/2oz Mosaic Dry hopped for 10 days

WLP001 yeast

The Magnum is a pretty "clean" bittering hop, so it shouldn't overpower the citrus characteristics of the Citra and Mosaic.  I have a chest freezer now to use as a fermentation chamber, so I'll be able to control fermentation temps much better.  I'll start it around 64* for active fermentation, then let it warm up to 68* until it hits FG.  I'll rack over to secondary at that point and add the dry hops.  Then into the keg to carbonate.  I'm going for 6 gallons into the fermentor, and hoping to have a bit extra to bottle when it's all done.  We'll see.

For brew Riot, you enter as a team/individual with a team name or brewery name.  Since there is now a commercial brewery up and running with the Texas Ale Project name, I'm going to have to change the name of my little homebrew brewery so I don't get them all upset.  I have a few ideas percolating, so hopefully I can decide on something soon.

Brew day for the IPA will probably be next weekend, with the hefe a month later.