Category Archives: Porter

The Four Stages of Homebrewing

So today is a momentous occasion, full of brew-significance. We have beer in (or soon to be in) all four stages of the homebrewing life-cycle.

First off, our 10 gallon batch of Amber ale is ready to make the move from secondary into bottles. I’m a bit wary of this batch, as it turned out unusually light. I don’t want to make no weak beer! But we’ll see how it comes out. One of our other “weaker” brews as the Wit, and lots of other people liked it even if it wasn’t Andrew and my favorite.

Making the jump from primary to secondary is the Thai Pale, put down by my lovely wife Amber and I a couple weeks ago. This is a 5 gallon experiment, spiked with a massive amount of ginger (think head-sized), lemongrass and some spicy chiles that hopefully won’t bite back too much. Those little Thai chiles can be really hot if you’re not careful.

The third beer that’s happening is a porter we’re going to brew. We’re aiming for something with a little more chocolaty notes this time. I know, that’s normally a stout sort of thing, but we don’t like playing by the rulebook here.

So what about the fourth? Well, Amber’s out of town so I’ve invited tons of the guys I know over for a day of brewing, video games (MARIOKART WII!) and chili. And of course, what would a guys’ brewing day be with consuming some beer? Just doesn’t seem like it should be allowed.

There you have it, the four stages of homebrewing, all in one 24 hour period. Life is good.

A Year in Brews

Hard to believe, but it’s been over a year since Andrew and I started brewing. Things have gone much better than I had originally imagined, and I’m enjoying myself even more than I would have thought possible.

In celebration, here’s a rundown of the brews we’ve made and how they turned out:

  • Porter (P1) — Our first attempt, 1 1/2 gallons short and a little weird, but drinkable. Ah, sweet success!
  • Stout (S1) — Tasty, and especially excellent after the “passable” port
  • Trappist Ale (T1) — Kit was a Christmas gift. Very nice, with the bubble gum/banana fruitness expected of the variety.
  • Nut Brown (B1) — First real failure… just turned out with a weird flavor, overly foamy.
  • Porter (P2) — Fantastic redux on the porter. One of my favorite batches.
  • Irish Red (R1) — Good red color, nice flavor, a solid entry.
  • West Coast Stout (S2) — Great stout. When I found one more six-pack of it recently in the utility room, I actually cheered.
  • Habanero Amber (H1) — Solid Amber ale + habanero kick. Not kill-your-taste-buds-off hot, but you definitely need another drink by the end of it.
  • Belgian Wit (W1) — Our lightest beer yet. Expected more of a spiciness from the coriander and orange zest, but drinkable.
  • IPA (I1) — Enter the hops! Not quite as light as many IPA’s in color, but good flavor.
  • Stout (S3) — Another good stout. Intended for gift-giving (really, I will give it away soon once it’s rested enough!)
  • Porter (P3) — Ditto the S3. Good porter effort, but not long for my home unfortunately.
  • Porter (PB) –Arg, busted thermometer screwed the batch!
  • Porter (PB’) — Still in the carboys, but it’s the “baby porter” for after my wife can drink again.
  • Stout (SB/S4) — Stout base for a bourbon spiked stout. Still in the primary, but hopes are high!

All in all, far more success on that list than I expected getting into the brewing game. Plenty of other challenges ahead, but then the rewards make it all worthwhile.

Keep brewing out there folks!

From Joy to Devastation

My beloved wife, who not only allows but supports my brewing efforts, got me the top item off my list for Christmas–a 15 gallon brew pot. No more rushing brewing two batches on a weekend to get the 10 gallons of beer down that we want, nay, need.

It’s a fantastic brew pot as well. Converted from an old commercial beer keg (which just plain makes it look cool), the top’s trimmed off and a spigot is welded down low. There’s a second hole for an optional thermometer which we may purchase later. As Amber’s already saying, “You’re ‘spensive.” To top it all off, a special grate and pipe for the bottom keep hops from clogging the drain and enables us to get every last slurp of beer out. Sweet!

So a couple weeks ago Andrew and I came around to our first brew with the new pot. The evening got off to a rocky start. I started assembling the pot with the straining pipe, and found that it wouldn’t quite fit. One of the pipes was too long by about an inch and a half, and with the grate around it there was no way to make it seat properly. Worse, I’d already fitted the bushing and couldn’t get it back off, so we needed a replacement bushing if we were to cut the pipe.

Annoyed but determined to brew, we headed to Home Depot. While looking for the right part, Andrew broke out his Leatherman and managed to work the bushing off. We bought a replacement anyway, but actually ended up using the original.

Having burned so much time on the excursion, we got home, sawed the pipe short, and started. We’d picked up a 15 gallon plastic fermenter from the local brew store, but it came without any holes drilled. We weren’t sure exactly how to drill it, whether we risked getting plastic bits inside, whether the seals on top should come out or not. In the face of this uncertainty, we decided to use our existing brew bucket plus a carboy. It was disappointing to not use the new gear, but the prospect of ruining a batch of beer seemed worse.

By this time, Amber started asking whether we really wanted to brew that night given how late it was already. I missed the subtle undertones and replied “Of course we want to brew!” On we forged into the glory of brewing 10 gallons at once.

It was a cold evening, but Andrew and I mostly hovered outside watching the boil. With the narrower pot than our old one, we got more foaming in the early stages than we’re used to, but nothing serious. Through the boil and on to the cool-down, everything was looking good.

Then I came out to check temperature on our cruise down to 80 degrees, lifted the thermometer from the wort and found broken glass. The thermometer bottom had shattered. Wax impregnated lead pellets even now settled, cozy and happy in the bottom of our new brew pot.

It was 1AM already, my wife was annoyed how late the brewing had gone, and we’d just lost our first batch in a year of brewing.

I felt like crying.

Demoralized and weary, we left the debris for clean-up the next day. What a sad day to pour ten gallons of good porter out, but the idea of drinking a waxy, leaden, glass-tinged brew stalled that idea out.

We’ve successfully used the new pot since, but it was a good reminder that you’ve always got to be prepared for the unexpected when you come to brew.

“The yeast died!” — A first batch brewing story

Brewing can be a nerve-wracking endeavour when you’re starting out. Here’s a story from our first batch, since dubbed “Passable Porter.”

We did the brew on Saturday. Happy little newbies that we were, we thought we’d done a pretty well. No major screw-ups, nothing spilled or contaminated.

We shuttled the bucket off to the utility room, uncertain of whether it would make a serious mess or smell bad (it was our first batch–brews have since moved inside). Since the inception of the brewing plans, that room had been the intended home for our beer. But one thing we hadn’t thought through was the temperature. It was actually quite a bit colder there in October than might have been good. Regardless, we set the bucket there, and by Sunday the yeast had taken off. Oh the joy of hearing that burbling!

Monday rolled around, and I headed in to work. It was a normal day until the phone rang. My wife had called to tell me that the beer had gone silent. Not slowing like we’d expected, but a dead stop already.

Panic! I remembered reading about beer perking away for days, sometimes even weeks. What could have happened? I immediately suspected the utility room was at fault. It had gotten awfully cold overnight. That must have killed the yeast. I forgot entirely that some yeasts can even be frozen without harm. I was certain the cold had brought our fermentation to a premature end.

What a terrible afternoon. The joy of completing our first successful brew turned sour in my mouth. I fretted about it until I got off work, and finally broke down and called the folks at Main Street.

Turns out that it isn’t unusual for a batch to only go for a day, especially with the type of dry yeast we were using. We moved the porter to the secondary, bottled and eventually sampled. It wasn’t perfect–merely passable–but despite my nervousness, the yeast had not died.

Brown in bottles, Porter in the pot

Although the blog may have gone quiet for a bit, the brewing certainly hasn’t around here. This past weekend we started up our fifth batch–a redux on the initial porter, which we badly botched since we didn’t add enough water back.

Our last effort, the brown, has been in bottles for a couple weeks, but hasn’t gotten the real taste-test yet. The first sip we took at bottling time was okay, and has us wondering what the end product will taste like. However, time does a significant amount to change the character of any home-brewed beer, so I’m still hopeful.

The past month or so of sitting has done a lot to enhance the Trappist-style ale. A lot of the sharpness has worn off. It has a significantly fruity taste, a sweet bubble-gum/banana smell (which is the hallmark of this type of brew), and only a bit too much hoppy bitterness that’s out of the ordinary.

More brewing stories here to come, but for the moment I’m just going to savor the sound of the porter bubbling away in the next room. Ahh, it’s like beautiful music.

Obligatory Introduction

After many years of dreaming it finally happened–I’ve started brewing with my good friend Andrew. As a beer lover, the idea of crafting my own brew has always appealed both for building an understanding of how it’s made and enjoying the results. Plus, who could resist the call of harnessing millions of wee-yeasties to do my bidding!

Between a gift certificate that Andrew got and my own birthday present from my lovely wife, we were finally set in October. Our first attempt was a porter, and I suggested we call it “Passable Porter”… assuming it was passable. I’ll ramble more about the process and details later, but we came out with something drinkable, which was more than I expected from a first batch.

From there, we’ve got a West Coast stout sitting in the primary, and plans to use a Trappist ale kit that Andrew received for Christmas this weekend. All in all, we’re off to a great start.

I’ll be inviting Andrew to write here too, and we’ll record the trials and travails as we learn the ins and outs of making that most potable of potables–beer.