Saison… What?

The Christmas season is finally over. Well, it was over a while ago, but I’ve been busy at work and haven’t had time to reflect until today. Regardless, I’ve bottled my last brew, started a new one, and received (and used) many gifts since my last post. Things have been a blur, but it’s good to take some time to sit down and see what’s happened so far.

My last beer to brew was a saison, and never have I had so much difficulty explaining to others what I actually brewed. I guess saisons aren’t enjoyed by many, because it was quite the debacle to get people to try it once I had starting explaining it. “It’s like a Belgian beer, but higher gravity and fruitier all at the same time.” That usually was met with a dumbfounded look, because it is unlike most beers crafted in the good ol’ US. I eventually settled on “Blue Moon with a kick”. People got on board then. The brew itself turned out exactly as I was hoping. It wasn’t that much more difficult than anything I’ve brewed before. I did have an odd time with the carbonation since I used brown sugar. Every other beer was very carbonated and required a little settling before pouring. I’m not sure why it only affected half. Next time, I’ll stick to white sugar to keep that more consistent.

Very nice. Seriously.

Very nice. Seriously.

One of the more exciting pieces of this beer was the label. My best friend Nick came up with one of the greatest gifts ever for my 25th birthday: fancy schmancy labels that really got people engaged. That’s honestly probably the real reason I wasn’t doing well explaining my beer. I’ve never had so many people ask me about it! The label really draws the eye and advertises my brand. This is the first time I’ve really been proud to bring my beer along. Not to forget one of the other beer gifts I received: a handcrafted home brew carrier.

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Imagine walking into a party with that.

My girlfriend’s father made this for me and I think it is so cool! It fits a 12 pack and really makes me look like I know what I’m doing. Overall, my beer production has been upgraded to something that not only tastes incredible (if I might boast a bit myself), it looks like a real finished product. Just a few more additions and I’ll be sophisticated enough to be bought out by Anheuser-Busch!

Rock Candy Makes Beer

Now that I’m back on the wagon, I’ve decided to brew something new. I did a little research and thought about a different variety of beer that I could try. Recently Saisons have been popping up all over beer lists and menus wherever I go. My boss even gave me a six pack of Magic Hat’s Seance Saison, so I decided it was time to craft one myself. I did a few recipe searches and kept seeing Candi Sugar listed as an ingredient. Well what is that? Scientifically, it is created from sucrose and heated with water and citric acid to become a solid mixture of fructose and glucose. More interestingly (and satisfyingly), it is rock candy.

Candi? YOU MEAN ROCK CANDY??

Candi? YOU MEAN ROCK CANDY??

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You literally punch the bag.

While at Hop City, I got my  supplies candy and decided to try a new yeast packet. In the past, I have used dried yeast that I revived with water before pitching into my wort. This time, the guy crushing my grains suggested using a live yeast that has been refrigerated. I figured it would be worth a try. I ended up with a direct pitch activator specific to a Belgian Saison (at least that is what is stamped on the cover). When I got home and started brewing, I first had to let the yeast sit out for a while to warm up. I also was instructed to “heavily punch” the bag to release nutrients/yeast. Within a few hours the bag swelled up as the yeast was growing and releasing CO2 without an escape route. When it was time to pitch my yeast, I dumped the whole bag in sanitizer and then cut it open and poured it in. Nothing about it looked or smelled any different than the yeast I’d used before. If I don’t notice a significant difference in my product, I may stick to dehydrated yeast. It is much cheaper and stores for much longer. But who knows, maybe the fancy yeast will change my beer and my life all at once?

Just like Oma likes.

Just like Oma likes.

 The saison also called for various grains including flaked wheat. Adding it all looked like porridge, but the smells were awesome. I started speaking in German, as my familial roots were calling out to me from the pot. I added my Candi Sugar at the end and I have to be honest, there was a little lot less in the bag as when I started. Candi Sugar pops easily in the mouth, just like pringles. So if you happen to be brewing with it in the near future, buy extra! You never know how much will be “lost” before it’s time to add it to your brew.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

It’s been a while. I know that. I’ve had so much going on lately, it’s been almost too daunting to imagine getting something written down and still having time to breathe. So, what have I been up to lately? I’d like to categorize this post into three sections (as expressly mentioned in the title).

The Good

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Xcambo Mayan Ruins

I went to Mexico. It was a much needed break. We started off by visiting with my old roommate David and his wife Jordan in New Orleans. They graciously allowed Hannah and me to stay with them for a night AND PARK by their house for the entire cruise (saving us like $100). We had a blast for sure. On our cruise we visited Progreso & Cozumel, Mexico. The entire trip was all about the buffet and increasing our chances of obesity and diabetes, but boy was it relaxing. I think we both enjoyed it immensely.

My costume might have been inspired by our trip.

My costume might have been inspired by our trip.

I also turned the big 2-5. My birthday comes the day after Halloween, so I typically celebrate the night of, and did I celebrate. I ended up being reminded that 25 is not 21 and my youthful days are numbered. In essence, I killed it (and some of my liver too). I received many thoughtful beer gifts that I plan to feature in future posts as I start to use them.

The Bad

I haven’t brewed in 6 weeks! I know, it’s simply unthinkable. I’ve committed so much time up to this point creating a blog around a new found passion of mine. I’ve read pretty much every day about methods, types of beer, products and so much more. I just haven’t gotten around to sharing with anyone. I’m not happy about it, but things sometimes come up.

The Ugly

The main reason I wasn’t able to write in this blog for so long was a tragic event that happened to my Pumpkin Ale. In mid-October I traveled home to Texas and I took a few IPAs and a six pack of the pumpkin beer I brewed. When I arrived, I noticed a few of the bottles had leaked on the flight. I didn’t think anything of it. The last night of my visit I opened up the IPAs and shared them with my family. The taste was well received by all. I then opened a pumpkin beer and it was completely flat. My carbonation never took and the beer wasn’t ready. I left the rest of the beer with my brother and told him to wait it out for a bit, because perhaps I was just jumping the gun.

The Culprits

The Culprits

I flew back to Birmingham, and upon my arrival, I noticed that one of the bottles had fallen over during my absence, and the beer had mostly leaked out. It was then that I realized that my bottle caps were dysfunctional. They never sealed properly. Upon closer inspection, all of my beer had a nice layer of mold on the top of each bottle. The beer had been exposed since I had bottled it! The whole batch was ruined.

This really traumatized me. Seriously, it was a big deal. I had been talking up this beer to so many people and had really enjoyed brewing it and adding my own touches. To have bottle cap errors was just sad. It turns out the bottle caps I purchased (in bulk, mind you) were exclusively meant for crafting. Why someone would by 2000 bottle caps to craft with, I do not know. I will certainly find out now, since I have a huge surplus of them. The customer service representative I spoke with suggested making belts (Note: if you receive a beer bottle cap belt for Christmas, it comes from my creativity and my heart and not simply because I happen to have a few extra lying around).

The reason things have been so delayed, is that I did not have the heart to pour it all out. I just couldn’t work myself up to do it. For weeks I just walked past it and acted like it was still brewing and one day it would miraculously heal itself. This obviously did not happen, so I had to eventually man up. These are the results of that day. I promise to do better.

Moldy beer, everywhere.

Moldy beer, everywhere.

The Miracle

Pumpkin Ale!

Pumpkin Ale!

Midway through the dramatic pouring out all of my beer into a bathtub, one bottle opened differently than all of the others. When I peeled off the bottle cap, I heard a familiar (but yet unheard) sound of carbonation and liquid combining. One of my beers worked? I immediately took a sip of warm sweet pumpkin ale, and despite its temperature, it was simply fantastic. I HAD BEER! Throughout the next 10 minutes, I discovered a total of 6 of my beers were spared. Somehow they managed to seal, without bottle cap seals. I had a six-pack and I wasn’t sharing! Though I didn’t get the yield that I originally intended, my limited run was enough to get excited about brewing once more. Look forward to more posts to come!

The Great Pumpkin Ale

WARNING – There are quite a few photos of butchered pumpkins in this post. If you have sensitive children that might have attachments to their Jack O’Lantern friends, this might be a post they should skip on (besides the fact that the rest of the time the posts are about beer).

No uglies here.

No uglies here.

Pumpkin time! I went to Winn Dixie and got the nastiest, gnarliest, creepiest pumpkin I could find. I think they went out of their way to remove all of the ugly pumpkins, because this was the nastiest one availabe. So much for trying to find something revolting to work with to shock people. I dug around in the “patch” (or whatever they call the area where you buy pumpkins at the grocery store), and had the hardest time looking for a defiled pumpkin with scars and bumps. After a good amount of searching I was able to at least find one with this cool stem, so I settled on it.

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Nasty Stem

7 lbs. should suffice...

7 lbs. should suffice…

When I brewed this batch a few weeks ago, I ended making a last second decision and not adding pumpkin during the brew. Instead, I decided to wait to add the pumpkin during secondary and let the beer ferment with just the spices I added (primarily cinnamon and nutmeg). It has been a while. Fermentation has stopped, and now it is time to add the ingredient that gives my beer its name (I’m adding pumpkin today, if you haven’t figured it out already). When deciding how I wanted to add the pumpkin I did my usual research on the boards and forums that I like. A few people suggested caramelizing the pumpkin before adding it to secondary and I could not think of a better way to enhance the brew! I ran over to Costco and bought some sugar. When I say some, I mean 7 pounds. Some might say this is overkill, but it at least wasn’t a 50 pound bag of food (which I may or may not have made the mistake of purchasing and hauling around for years once before). I also pulled together my pumpkin (as shiny and beautiful as it was), and that was all I was going to need for today!

Right after I decided to brew beer and stop making Jack O'lanterns

Right after I decided to brew beer and stop making Jack O’Lanterns

I started by cutting up my pumpkin… Well, this completely confused me at first. Every other pumpkin in my life that I have taken a knife to has turned into a work of art. I would cut open the top, meticulously scrape out every seed and make award winning Jack O’Lanterns. On this day, about 10 minutes after I was working on removing all of the seeds, I realized that I was cooking this pumpkin and could instead chop it up however I wanted and no one was going to care. Boom. Butcher knife out, 2 minutes later and we had a cut up pumpkin.

Post Pumpkin-Chop Realization

Post Pumpkin-Chop Realization

Post cooking

Post cooking

I threw these pumpkin chunks (minus the seeds, see below) in the oven for an hour on 450. For the first ten minutes I was certain that I had done something wrong, because I could hear these mysterious noises coming from the oven. It took me about that long to realize it was just the water from the pumpkin popping as it was getting hotter. Eventually the pumpkin cooked in silence.

Post scraping

Post scraping

When I took the gourd out, it looked just about the same as how I put it in. This did not make me happy. I then pushed one spoon into the pumpkin and was soon giddy with delight. The pumpkin was cooked and soft, and tasted pretty great. A few minutes after scraping the crap out of my chunks I had a very gooey mess, and some very creepy leftovers. If you ever do this the day of Halloween, I would find some way to incorporate the pumpkin exterior as faux human skin, because that’s exactly what it looks like. That could scare somebody for sure.

I eventually took all of the mess and threw it back on my pan and sprinkled my brown sugar all over it. This went back in the oven and cooked for some amount of time at some temperature (recall, I do drink beer during this process, so some facts are left a little fuzzy). Eventually it came out gooey, caramelized and perfect.

Beer ingredient? Dessert? Not sure still.

Beer ingredient? Dessert? Not sure still.

 

Tasty

Tasty

Here’s where the beer comes in.  I almost forgot to add the pumpkin. No joke. I was about to move the brew over with nothing in the bucket until Hannah quickly reminded me what I had been creating for the past few hours should probably included in the beer. I heeded her advice. I put my sugary pumpkin-mush in the bottom of a carboy and started to siphon over my wort into the new bucket. Let’s just say at this point, I was ready to be done.

Victory pose for being almost done.

Victory pose for being almost done.

As my beer was mixing with the pumpkin, the smells were awesome. The nutmeg started spicing up my apartment as it slowly transferred over, filling to about 5.5 gallons. Despite wanting to keep the aromas, the lid and air lock went on and everything back to the beer shelf. Another two weeks and it will be time to bottle!

—-Pumpkin Seed Sidenote—-

Washed Seeds

Washed Seeds

I decided to go ahead and use my pumpkin seeds for a snack as well. I cleaned the seeds and was about to roast them in the oven with salt, when my eyes caught that 7 pound bag of sugar. Well, the rest you can probably figure out, but I had to mention it. The truth is, brown sugar anything is better than the original. So, I believe (though I may not be the first creator) that my brown sugar pumpkin seeds may be the greatest Halloween invention in recent history. Just try it.

Caramelized sugary goodness doesn't get any better. I'm sure they have vitamins too.

Caramelized sugary goodness doesn’t get any better. I’m sure they have vitamins too.

What does fermentation look like?

For those of you not sure whether your wort is making the magical transformation into beer, this is something you should look for.

 

The first time I saw this bubbling I got really excited. Honestly, I get excited every time I see it. If only other people got excited about my gas bubbles…

King Louis II’s Pumpkin Ale

Meet Louie.

Louie, the big black dog

Louie, the big black dog

He is a beast.

Just shy of 100 lbs, the dog can take you where he wants, when he wants. He’s my friends’ dog and recently I had the pleasure of entertaining this big guy while they were out of town. I decided to show him what beer making was like, so he helped me with my next project, a Spiced Pumpkin Ale.

Adventures in Homebrewing

I had it shipped to work… oops?

When planning this beer I decided to change up a recipe that was on sale at Adventures in Homebrewing, by adding my own little extras. My research was mainly on the homebrewtalk forums, and it appeared that most people had brewed a pumpkin ale at least once, with general success. I’d been trying various major labels’ pumpkin ales that were out already, and I felt that in general the pumpkin flavor tasted syrupy and more of an afterthought. After more research and I found out that it’s really hard to get that pumpkin flavor in the beer naturally, and the true flavor is more spice than anything. A lot of brewers don’t even add pumpkin. I decided to go ahead and order the recipe and would figure out the changes when I could. My beer simply had to have pumpkin.

Chocolate?

Chocolate?

Turned everything black.

Turned everything black.

The recipe was a combination extract brew and called for 6 lbs of Pale LME along with Chocolate Rye and Caramunich grains. Despite my longtime disagreement with chocolate, I went ahead and brewed the beer including all of the required grains. During the steeping process I very quickly noticed my wort turning black! It matched Louie!

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Louie “helping”

Louie thought iLME meant "lick my extract". The beer tastes just fine... trust me.

Louie thought LME meant “lick my extract”. The beer tastes just fine… trust me.

Thirty minutes later my specialty grains were done, and Louie and I decided it was time to add the LME, followed by the hops and spices. Here is where I was expecting to add some pumpkin in to go ahead and change up the recipe. Notice I said ‘expecting to’. I (we) changed my (our) mind(s) (Louie and I truly consulted on this one). I decided that I really liked how my blueberry beer turned out. I wanted the process to work the same, because it tasted so good last time. So, instead of cutting up my pumpkin and adding it to my wort now, I decided to wait to rack my beer to secondary and add the pumpkin then.

I added my final ingredients and let my wort boil for about an hour. When I added the spices, my entire apartment (and quite possibly the building) smelled like nutmeg even though there was maybe a tablespoon in the recipe. If you ever plan to replicate it, I’d make sure not to overdo that on accident. It can be very overwhelming.

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Pitching time

Finally I transferred my beer over to a bucket, added and chilled the water, and took some measurements with my hydrometer.  I was at a 1.045 original gravity, a little higher than my suggested 1.044. I could have added some more water, but I was already well above five gallons and didn’t want to risk the beer over fermenting into my air lock and subsequently getting infected. The beer can have a little more kick, and that works for me.

After I sealed the beer I had a few moments where I second guessed my decision to wait on the pumpkin. Will it turn out as well as I expect? I’m not quite sure, but if the quality of the beer is based upon the effort of the brewers… well, the truth is we may be in some trouble. I maybe wouldn’t describe Louie as having a great interest in brewing.

Sleeping on the job

Sleeping on the job

 

Blue Ribbon!

A few weeks ago I brewed and did something risky, I threw blueberries into my beer during secondary. I was a little nervous about the outcome, but I went ahead and bribed my boss to let me off of work a few hours early with the brew. He told me he and his wife would let me know how they liked (or hated) it. The results are in…

“Verdict is in. The blueberry is good, definitely a home run.” -Bossman

It's blue?

It’s blue?

I am thoroughly pleased with the result. Actually, I’m pretty proud of this one. I used a kit to brew, so it wasn’t the most original recipe. But, I did add my own touch by using blueberries and it enhanced the flavor in a great way. The beer was fruity and refreshing, and the alcohol content was kicked up a few notches by the extra sugar the yeast fermented during secondary. It was all around, a win.

The other surprising aspect was that the beer was a dramatically different color than the original witbier I brewed. It had a reddish blue pigment and it didn’t have the clarity of my first beer. I’m assuming that a third racking would have allowed a little more sediment clear the beer, but the taste is unaffected.

If I were to give myself an award for my beer, it would most certainly be a BLUE Ribbon…

Beer. Number one in family fun.

Beer. Number one in family fun.

I’m really pleased with the production! It is getting me excited about the Double IPA I am now waiting on.

Ramping Up Production

I want something spicy. I want it to be flavorful and hoppy. Bold. I actually want a ton of hops. I want this beer to be all mine. I’m brewing a Double IPA.

I also don’t care that I have two beers brewed and plenty of bottles still needing to be consumed. I want more, I can’t stop.

My ideal set up for my apartment

My ideal set-up for my apartment

To get started, I did what most people do when they need a solution, I googled “Double IPA Recipe”. I was bombarded with recipes that had varying levels of detail and ingredients. Some had comments, others had no reviews whatsoever. I was at a loss. Then, I remembered this very handy tool put out by Brewmasters Warehouse. That, in combination with a bit of trolling on the homebrewtalk.com forums and I was on the right path. I ended up deciding to go all grain. This was going to be a much more involved process than my previous two brews.

Before, I used a process called extract brewing, where one adds liquid malt extract (LME) or dry malt extract (DME) instead of mashing grains (similar to steeping tea/coffee). The purpose for using extract versus mashing is that it is a much more manageable process. In extract, someone has already steeped your grains and you end up with rich sugars with almost no work on your part. The actual brewing of your wort is an hour long, single temperature (rolling boil) process. With a full grain brew, you have to bring water to a warm temperature and let your grains stew for up to an hour or more to release the sugar. This can be tricky, because the water has to stay warm enough to break down the enzymes in the grain, without getting too warm to stop the whole process. The benefit of doing this mash process yourself is you are controlling a lot more of the flavor of your beer on the outset. It makes the beer more customizable to your style than what someone else has done for you.

I decided I would start with this recipe, and make minor adjustments as I needed. A quick trip to Hop City downtown and I was set up with grains and yeast. While I was waiting for my grains, I grabbed all of the hops I would need. This recipe calls for 4 times the amount for my last brews, so I started getting a little nervous. It also required over 13 lbs of grains, so the Hop City worker crushed the grains for me (essential for the mashing process) and filled up a few bags. Now it was time to start brewing.

Goldilocks would think this was just right, only after being carded at the door.

Goldilocks would think this was just right, only after being carded at the door.

For the first half of my brew I had two assistants and we ended up mashing all of the grain in my large 8 gallon pot. It looked like we were making oatmeal for my entire building, at least that’s what I will tell my landlord if he ever asks. Normally (perhaps in a few more months), one would have something called a ‘mash tun’, which is basically a cooler with a false bottom. What it allows you to do is get the water temperature exact, and keep it that way pretty easily. The false bottom allows you to remove the liquid wort from the tun, leaving the grain behind without having to use a colander, like I did.

After 60 minutes of trying to maintain the wort at a temperature of 158-160 degrees Fahrenheit, I gave up and filtered out the grains as best as I could, leaving behind a soupy, but delicious smelling wort. At this point, I sparged (another cool brewing term sparging, is when you run additional warm water over the grains you have left to get as much of the sugars out as you can). I continued with my standard boil and pitched my hops and yeast, following my directions. I ended up with my brew after about 2 and half hours of work (and the loss of my two assistants).

5 gallons?

5 gallons?

My only task now was to add water to get to my 5 gallons. I was at about 2 and had a few gallons in the fridge, ready to add to get to my full brew. I started adding a little water at a time and taking readings with my hydrometer as I went. I only got to about 3.5 gallons before I didn’t want to add any more water. My OG reading was at 1.078, just shy of the suggested 1.080. I decided that my mashing wasn’t exact, and that I clearly left some sugars behind, but that I was okay with it and wasn’t going to make my beer watery in order to get the full volume.

Overall, a good night to brew. But to those who buy me gifts, a mash tun could be in my future and I wouldn’t be opposed!

 

Weekend Warrior

Team Shake yo' black bass

Team Shake yo’ black bass

Happy Labor Day weekend! What started off as an open weekend turned out to be pretty busy after all. Hannah, some friends, and I did a scavenger hunt. It’s called the Urban Goose Chase and was loads of fun. After three hours of hard work and intensity, we were in first place and headed to the pool for some beer and cooling off.

On Sunday we went to the lake and had dinner with some neighbors, the Gossets. About halfway through our meal, we were discussing beer and other libations when our friend pulled a special brew out of his refrigerator. Two glasses were pulled out and we started sipping on his 2012 Pumpkin Spiced Mead. Boy was it delicious. I started talking to him about how he brewed it and apparently (I hadn’t really thought about mead since reading Robin Hood) it is fermentation with honey as the base. Mead takes anywhere from 3 to 6 months to ferment and age to perfection. Instead of a beer yeast, he uses a champagne variation. His Pumpkin Spiced Mead tasted in between a cider and wine (which is where the alcohol content sits as well), but without so many fruity flavors. Instead it was crisp and smoother with some obvious pumpkin spice. All I can say is that I am going to try this process at some point. The drink was too good to let pass.

Delicious, yet disgusting all at the same time.

Delicious, yet disgusting all at the same time.

On Monday I finally got around to doing two important things. First, I took my beer that was sitting in secondary and bottled it. This was much messier than the first time I did it. The fruit inside of the carboy was quite a bit to work around, not to mention eventually clean out of the small opening on my glass carboy. I tried running everything through a colander one more time in the transfer between the carboy to the bottling bucket. I am going to need to invest in one that is large enough to sit on top of the bucket opening, because the balancing act of holding a small colander while filling up the bottling bucket with beer proved to be too difficult. I don’t want to lose precious beer to the transfer process! Getting everything capped and finalized made me feel really good about this batch. Hopefully everything will taste like I hope it to. The smell was nice and full and very fruity.

The second important accomplishment of the weekend started about a month ago. While taking out the trash, I noticed a futon laying on top of the furniture pile that sits next to the dumpster in my building. I didn’t know quite what I was going to do with it, but I went ahead and hauled it back to my tiny apartment and leaned it against the wall. All of my beer supplies started piling around it, so I decided to build a beer shelf out of it; a place to store my bottles and buckets and where my wort can ferment in peace (and out of my closet). I really decided that a few weeks ago, but finally got around and made the effort to get it done on Monday (after a gentle push from an unnamed party).

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No measuring

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The hoarding is in my blood.

I dismantled the futon into two pieces and then using a hand saw just cut those in half. With my four “halves” I built a simple box. From there, I braced the back with some 2x4s I picked up from Home Depot and haphazardly cut. I then attached two longer pieces to the back and added two brackets (also from Home Depot) to make a shelf at the top. It was a pretty simple project. I really didn’t measure once. The only thing I’m afraid of is the positive reinforcement I’ve created in my mind for grabbing free things and turning them into useful ones. I hope that I can control myself and don’t turn into a hoarder. At least now I have a work place and storage area for all of my brewing things and I didn’t spend much to make it happen. More $$$ for the beer!

Not too bad for only $12

Not too bad for only $12

Reading – Under the Influence

Alcohol is bueno. Muy bueno.

When you drink it, all of these things happen in your brain. Alcohol activates some inhibitory transmitters, which slow down the response time in your cerbral cortex causing you to have various symptoms: Difficulty walking, blurred vision, slurred speech, slowed reaction times, impaired memory. It also increases dopamine production, which makes you have all of those happy feelings we look forward to. The reason I bring this up is that when most people are brewing beer, they are drinking it too. This makes the process more fun, but also a little difficult at times. Once you’re an hour or two in the process you could be feeling great, but all of the technical aspects of the brew won’t be so easy.

Your vision after a few beers.

Your vision after a few beers.

This is especially true when we’re talking about reading a hydrometer. The first time I brewed I managed to break my hydrometer. Not having one (or reading it incorrectly) can adversely affect your beer, because you don’t know how much water to add to have the proper starting gravity for your beer. This can make your beer be too watery or way too strong (leading to an overwhelming taste). Not to mention if you can’t read your hydrometer, you don’t know how alcoholic your beer will be! One of the first questions people will ask you about your beer is the ABV, so knowing this is important for your marketability of your product (and it makes you look much cooler). This is why I’ve decided to explain how to read a hydrometer right now, while you are (hopefully) sober. Practice enough now, and you can be a few beers in on game day, and able to read your hydrometer without a hitch!

Who knew there was a real use to Chemistry class?!

Who knew there was a real use to Chemistry class?!

What is a hydrometer? Above, there is a graduated cylinder (shout-out to Mrs. Sutton’s chemistry class, and my ability to remember the proper name) with beer in it. Inside of the beer you can see something that looks like a thermometer; it is in fact a hydrometer. The purpose of the hydrometer is to determine the density of the liquid it is floating in. Around 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit water will read at exactly 1.000 on the hydrometer. By knowing how dense your beer is, you can see how much sugar is in the liquid. If you note this and then let the yeast eat these sugars and take another reading, you know roughly how much alcohol they left behind in your beer.

IMG_0675 HydrometerHow do you actually read it? Looking at the photos to the left and the right (no the picture to the right is not real, jeeze) you can see that there is some variability in the possibilities of your proper values. The liquid will create a dip between the surface to the glass. This meniscus (thanks again Mrs. Sutton), will throw you off. The proper way to read the hydrometer is to take the value from the bottom of the water level, not the part touching the glass of the hydrometer. After a few practices (you can give the hydrometer a good spin if the reading isn’t clear) you should be a pro.

Your recipe should state a range for your original gravity that you should be aiming for. This is something you check after your hour long boil, but before you add your wort to the carboy to ferment. You should take a reading and add enough water to get to your desired specific gravity. Additionally, write down your starting gravity, because you will use that to figure out your ABV.

The ABV calculation is simple. You subtract your finishing gravity from your starting gravity and multiply it by 105* to get your ABV. For example, if you have an original gravity of 1.08 and a finishing gravity of 1.012 your math would look like this:

1.08- 1.012 = .068 * 105 = 7.14%

You can either do this when you aren’t drunk, or you can go here and type the information in and it does all of the math for you.  All in all it’s just science!

SCIENCE!

SCIENCE!

*Note – I’ve seen other places mentioning multiplying the difference of the specific gravity by 133, but it doesn’t change your end value by too much. You are really just getting a great estimate here.