Archive for the ‘Homebrewing’ Category

Beer Style Guide

May 18th, 2017

Heres a good Beer Style Guide, on the American Home Brewers Assoc website.  Its a handy reference.

Yeast Substitutions…

June 17th, 2016

Yeah its cool, we all do it.  Last minute brew day and IOB doesn’t have the particular liquid strain on hand?  Don’t freak, a lot of strains are very similar!  Check this chart & see if a in stock dry yeast will work for you…keep in mind: Its still beer brewing yeast & is just as pure, just as good…just not avail in all the different hybrids, blends and cultures that are on the market, but the dry packs are pretty diverse, likely more hearty as the cell counts have been stabilized and are very consistent- often packed with more cells than the equivalent vial or pack.   Not only are they half price, but the shelf life is fantastic!  Have a look & give dry yeast a try!


Hmm, now what hop should I use?

February 10th, 2016

If you’re formulating a recipe & get stumped on what hop variety to try, click here & check out YCH Hops’ list for a little inspiration & a general overview of all the common varieties available today.  Another favorite tool is from Hopunion, which is our supplier the packaged hops we sell here at In & Out.  Their Aroma Wheel here will help you even further by narrowing down the list by specific flavor/aroma characteristic that will be imparted to your beer.  Feel free to shoot us an email as well, for an opinion on what to use- we’re happy to help!  Also if you’d like feel free to email in your grist, we can pull the necessary grain bill & mill it for you, as well as get your hops, yeast & any thing else you need, boxed up & ready for you to pick up, saving you time on brew day!

Yeast starters are important- heres how:

April 28th, 2015

Yeast Starters for Home Brewing Beer – Part 1

Most brewers understand that yeast starters are important for making your beer.  If you pitch the proper quantity of yeast, your beer will ferment fully and give you a clean finish. Some time back, I wrote an article on how to create a basic yeast starter, but that only touched briefly on the important topic of starter size.  This week I dive in with an in-depth overview of yeast starters, how to properly size them and how to best use them.

Using too little yeast (under-pitching) will result in a diaceytl flavor (butterscotch) in your finished beer as well as high finishing gravities.  While far less common, over-pitching (too much yeast) can also result in off flavors as the yeast will run out of sugar before it completes a full fermentation cycle.

Some time back I had Chris White from White Labs as a guest on the BeerSmith podcast, and read his excellent book Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation (Brewing Elements Series)(Amazon Aff Link).  I also did quite a bit of research while developing a yeast starter tool for the next version of BeerSmith.  In both cases, I learned a lot about yeast starters and how to properly calculate and size them.  I thought I might share this knowledge with you.

The Pitching Rate – How Much Yeast Do I Need?

The amount of yeast you need (called the pitching rate) varies depending on the type of yeast you are using.  Most sources quote 1 million yeast cells per milliliter per degree plato for an average beer.  A more accurate figure from Dave Miller is 0.75 million/ml-P for ales, 1.5 million/ml-P for lager and 1.0 milion/ml-P for hybrid yeasts.  To calculate the number of yeast cells you need overall, you simply multiply the pitching rate by the volume of the beer (in ml) and gravity of the beer (in plato) to get the number of live cells you need to pitch.

So for a sample ale of 5.25 gallons and 1.048 gravity – the number (if you do the math converting to ml and plato) is 177 billion cells.  So if you pitch a starter with 177 billion cells, you will have a proper amount of yeast for fermenting the beer.

Liquid and Dry Yeast Pack Size

Knowing how many yeast cells you need for a given batch provides a starting point, but next you need to figure out how to meet that need.  Most home brewers use commercial liquid or dry yeast packets to prime their starter.

The two primary liquid yeast providers in the US are White labs and Wyeast.  White labs yeast comes in vials that contain from 80-120 billion cells each, with an average of about 100 billion cells for a fresh  vial.  Wyeast labs come in large and small smack packs.  The large pack is comparable to the vials, with about 100 billion cells per smack pack.  The small smack pack has considerably less – about 18-20 billion cells per pack.

Since even the 100 billion packs/vials are less than the 177 billion cells we calculated for a moderate ale, this means that most 5 gallon batches would benefit from a starter.

Dry yeast packets (Danstar, DCL SafeAle and others), which are considerably denser, contain about 18 billion yeast cells per gram.  Dry yeast packets come in small and large packet sizes of 5 grams and 11.5 grams.  Running the numbers, the 5 gram packet contains about 90 billion yeast cells and the 11.5 gram packet contains 207 billion yeast cells.


The figures above are for fresh liquid or dry yeast packets.  Unfortunately both dry and liquid yeast cells do die off as they are stored, making older yeast less effective.  The percentage of live yeast in a sample is called its viability – a brand new packet is 100% viable, but loses viability over time.  The effect is much more pronounced for liquid yeast than dry yeast.

Dry yeast has a long shelf life.  If stored at room temperature it loses only about 20% of its viability per year (<2% per month), and if refrigerated it only loses 4% per year.  So if you refrigerate your dry yeast it will last many years.

Liquid yeast, which must be refrigerated, has a much shorter shelf life.  Wyeast lists their shelf life at 5-6 months while White labs recommends 4 months.  White labs on their web site says that after 30 days, their vials have 75-85% viability, which is a loss of about 20% of viability in the first month.  If we compound this loss (20% per month), this means that the viability of liquid yeast follows this progression:

  • 1 month – 80% viable
  • 2 months – 64% viable
  • 3 months – 51% viable
  • 4 months – 41% viable
  • 5 months – 33% viable
  • 6 months – 26% viable

Now even at 6 months, with 26% viability you can make a suitable starter, but you need to take into account the viability of liquid yeast when calculating the starter size.

Dry Yeast

Dry yeast does not by itself need a starter, as long as you pitch enough packets of yeast.  Generally all that is needed is that you hydrate the yeast with warm water for about 20 minutes before pitching.  Use lukewarm water at 105F (41C) in the amount of 10 ml per gram of yeast.  This works out to 50 ml (1.7 oz) of water per 5 gram packet or 115 ml (3.9 oz) per large dry packet.

If you are using dry yeast as the seed for a starter to step up for a larger starter, hydrate it as usual and then add the yeast to the starter.  As above, the 5 gram packet contains about 90 billion yeast cells and the 11.5 gram packet contains 207 billion yeast cells.  Age is seldom a significant factor unless the yeast is over a year old or has not been stored properly.

Liquid Yeast

Liquid yeast, due to both the cell count and viability lost as it ages, often does require a starter.  To figure out how large the starter needs to be, you first want to calculate the number of packets needed.  Generally the way to start is by calculating how many viable yeast cells you have in your vials or packets.  This is done by multiplying the starting yeast cells for a packet by the viability (use the table above).  So if you have a White labs vial that was manufactured 2 months ago, you will have 100 billion x 64% which is 64 billion cells per vial.

Next calculate the growth in cells needed.  The beer in the earlier example (5.25 gallons of ale wort at 1.048) requires 177 billion cells.  If we were to use 1 vial of 2 month old ale yeast at 64 billion cells, we would calculate the growth at 177 billion divided by 64 billion = 2.77 — meaning that we need to expand the yeast 2.77 times to get to our target population.

This means our starter needs to grow 2.77 times, from about 64 billion cells to about 177 billion cells in order to create the proper pitching rate for our finished beer.  The next step is to figure out how large a starter we need to create to achieve this growth.  One might think this is a straightforward calculation, but it turns out that the growth of yeast is not linear – it depends on how many yeast cells you have to start with.

The graph to the right, extracted from a table in Chris White’s yeast book, shows the growth rate from an experiment with a 100 billion cell vial of yeast added to starters of varying size.  Obviously if you start with a very small starter, and a lot of yeast there is not much sugar to support growth and the growth rate remains low.  At the other end of the spectrum, if you pitch a relatively small amount of yeast into a large starter (approaching 20 liters) you get high growth.

However, growth rate peaks out at around 6.0, so pitching 100 billion cells is not going to get you much more than 600 billion cells total (6x growth rate), no matter how large the starter is.

Starter Size Coming in Part 2

This week I covered how to calculate the number of yeast cells for a given batch as well as the viability of liquid and dry yeasts.  I also explained how to calculate the number of dry yeast packs needed and how to hydrate those.  We started to look at growth rates for liquid yeast starters, a topic which I’ll continue in part two.  I’ll also take a closer look at the above graph and how it helps us calculating the actual starter size for a liquid yeast sample in part two.

Thank you again for your continued support!

Brad Smith
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hmm what Hops to use? Let the HopWheel help!

April 17th, 2015

Check out this handy little tool…Hopunion’s new Hop Aroma Wheel…give it a shot & let us know what Hopunion Variety you’d like for your next brew!


to Krausen or not to Krausen?…that is the question.

April 16th, 2015

Krausening Home Brewed Beer

Krausening is a traditional German method for carbonating beers without using sugars or other adjuncts.  Instead actively fermenting malt wort is added to the fermented beer to provide the malted sugars needed for carbonation.

The History of Krausening

The “Reinheitsgebot”, or German purity law, originated in Bavaria in 1516.  It specifies that beer may only be made from the three basic ingredients: malt, hops, and water.  Interestingly yeast was left out of the original law as it was unknown until Louis Pasteur discovered microorganisms in the late 1800’s.  It was recently replaced by the “Biergesetz” in 1993, which also allows the use of malted wheat and cane sugar, though the term “Reinheitsgebot” is more commonly used.

Since sugars were not allowed in beer, malt wort was used instead.  Krausening was widely used in Germany particularly for lagers.  Many lagers are cold fermented and aged, often causing the yeast to go dormant.  By adding actively fermenting wort for carbonation the lager could be properly carbonated.  Krausening was less commonly used in Kolsch or Alt, as these ales were fermented at warmer temperatures leaving active yeast.


In a brewery, krausening would be done with fresh wort taken from the most recent batch made.  For the homebrewer, Krausening is most often done with a small amount of wort made from dry malt extract.  Alternately you can use a fresh batch of wort or keep some wort in a sterile container in the refrigerator from your last batch.

A key question is how much wort to use for proper carbonation?  A good rule of thumb is that you should add enough wort to raise the gravity of the beer three points.  For simplicty you can try the following formula from the Home Brewing Wiki:

Quarts_of_wort = (12 x Gallons_of_beer) / ((Specific_gravity_wort – 1.0) * 1000)

For example, if the krausening addition of wort (also called gyle) has a specific gravity of 1.060, and we’re krausening 5 gallons of beer, the result would be (12 x 5)/((1.060-1)*1000) which works out to exactly one quart of wort we add at bottling.

Traditionally, the krausening addition is added at the most active point of fermentation.  Ideally you should add yeast to your krausen and monitor it for active fermentation, but try to catch it before a lot of the malt sugars have been consumed.  You need to measure the specific gravity of the krausening addition and do the above calculation before adding it to the wort to get the appropriate amount.

After you add the krausening wort, you can bottle or keg your beer and naturally carbonate it just as you would if you were with sugar carbonation.  Store your beer in a cool, dark place for a week or two to allow it to carbonate and then lager or age as desired.

Krausening is a great way to add some variety to your beer brewing techniques, and assure that your beer is made from pure barley malt.


BeerSmith on gettin’ Oaked!

April 7th, 2015

Oak in Your Beer – Oak Chips and Barrel Aging

The use of oak and other woods in flavoring beer has enjoyed a resurgence recently among home brewers and some micro breweries. Oak is commonly used in winemaking, and was once widely used to barrel beer. This week we take a look at using oak to flavor your beer.

When To Use Oak

Oak flavor does not match every single beer. Oak barrels were widely used for storing beer for thousands of years, however you probably don’t want to accent your delicately balanced Koelsch or Bohemian Pilsner with oak chips. Oak is most strongly associated with English and some Scotch ales such as Old Ales, Stouts, Porters, Browns, IPAs and some Bitters. Some brewers have used oak in Belgian styles such as the darker Belgian Ales, Farmhouse Ale, or Saison. More rarely you will see oak used with darker central european beers such as Bock or Schwarzbier.

In general oak flavoring is associated with darker, older beers or beers replicating historic brewing techniques.

Types of Oak

There are many types of oak though the three most popular are American, Hungarian and French. French oak provides the mildest flavor including some sweet vanilla hints, while American oak gives the strongest oak flavor. Hungarian oak provides a middle ground.

The flavor of oak also can be changed by toasting your oak. The dark toasted oak has a more carbonized or carmelized flavor while lightly toasted or untoasted oak has a much more mild flavor. Toasting is usually graded on a light-medium-heavy scale and you can purchase wood chips toasted at these different levels.

Forms of Oak for Homebrewing

Oak Chips – These are the most popular form used in home brewing – typically the chips are sold in a bag and look like wood shavings. The small chips have a large surface area which delivers the oak flavor to the beer quickly. The only disadvantage is that the small chips can be hard to separate from the finished beer, so it is important to have them in a grain or hop bag so they can be easily removed after aging.
Oak Cubes – Packages of cubes are also widely available from home brewing supply shops. They work similarly to chips but take longer to impart their flavor as they have much less surface area than oak chips. However the advantage of cubes is that they can easily be separated from the beer when you are finished aging.
Spirals – Though less common that cubes or chips, spiral cut oak is a compromise that offers a large surface area similar to chips, but are still easy to remove like cubes. Therefore they still impart flavor to the beer quickly but allow for removal. Their only disadvantage is that they are more expensive than chips or cubes.
Oak Essence and Oak Powder – Oak essence (such as Sinatin 17) is a liquid flavor extract that can be stirred in at bottling time to taste. Oak powder is similar – essentially it is a powdered oak flavor stirred into the beer. Both work instantly and can be added in small amounts to taste.
Barrels – Oak barrels offer both unique opportunities and challenges. They are generally pretty expensive to purchase unless you get a great deal on a used one, but they offer a lot of potential for reuse. They can be a challenge however, as older barrels can get infected, can leak, allow some oxygen in, and may have their own flavors depending on what they were previously used for. Some home brewers prize used sherry, whiskey and bourbon barrels for the added flavor they impart, but you need to make sure the flavor you want matches the barrel’s previous use. Be very careful with wine barrels as most wine flavors don’t go well with beer (try mixing them in a glass sometime). Wine barrels should be sanitized before use, and any barrel needs careful maintenance. Finally it can take some time (often months) to achieve the desired flavor, particularly for larger barrels.
Oak Flavoring Methods

Three major methods are available to home brewers:

Oak Aging – The simplest method – which involves adding the oak chips/spirals/cubes after fermentation while aging the beer. Also this is the method used with barrels, since you store the beer in the oak barrel. I recommend sanitizing the chips/spirals/cubes first by steaming them for 15 minutes to reduce the risk of infection (don’t use sanitizing solution as it is absorbed by the chips). Most home brewers add their oak shortly after fermentation completes and before bottling (i.e. in the secondary) and leave the oak in there until they achieve the desired taste – sampling every day or two. Some brewers with keg systems also add the oak chips/cubes in the keg itself – containing it in a bag so it will not block the keg’s dip tube. Oak aging can take anywhere from a few days to several months depending on the oak used and desired flavor level.
Oak Tea – You can boil the oak to make an oak tea. Simply drop your chips/spirals/cubes in enough water to cover them fully and bring it to a boil for 10-15 minutes. Once the tea is complete you can add it a bit at a time to the finished beer until you achieve the overall beer flavor you desire. Making a tea is much faster than aging with oak, and also lets you more closely control the flavor.
Liquor Tea – If you are looking to add burbon, whiskey or your favorite liquor flavor to the beer you can make a tea using liquor instead. In this case you add the chips/cubes/spirals to a small amount of your favorite liquor (possibly diluted a bit with water) and let it sit for a week. Then mix the liquor in with you beer in small amounts until you achieve the desired overall flavor. Obviously moderation is important here as the liquor can easily overpower the flavor of the beer or wood chips.
Beechwood in Beer

Despite the fact that one very large American brewer advertises their beer as “Beechwood Aged”, beechwood chips do not actually impart flavor to the beer like Oak does. Beechwood is actually used because it has very low phenolic resins so it won’t flavor the beer. Adding beechwood chips to a beer provides a large surface area for yeast cells to attach to and helps in settling and clearing the beer. Beechwood is therefore added at the end of fermentation to help the yeast fall out more quickly which reduces aging time needed for commercial brewers.

I hope these tips help you to add a great oak flavor to your Old Ale or other favorite beer style.

Whats a sweet stout all about?

March 26th, 2015

Sweet Stout and Milk Stout Recipes

Sweet stout and milk stouts are increasingly popular beers that form a counterpoint to Dry Irish Stouts.  This week we take a look at the history of Sweet Stout, how to brew it and recipes for making it.

History of Sweet and Milk Stout

Milk Stout (also called Cream or Sweet Stout) traces its origins back to Porters.  Strong Porters which were widely popular in the 1700’s were often labeled as Stout Porter.  Eventually the Porter name was dropped in the 1800’s to become simply Stout.  A number of variations of stout emerged.  Dry Irish stouts (like Guinness) pushed the limits of using heavily roasted malts to create a dry coffee-like flavor.  Other stout variations such as Russian Imperial Stout pushed the limits on the malty or sweet end.  Still others, like Oatmeal stout pushed in other directions.

Milk stout and Sweet stouts push the sweet end of the spectrum by using lactose – which is unfermentable.  The iconic example of milk stout, Makeson’s stout, was first brewed in 1801 in the Southern United Kingdom.  Milk stouts were widely marketed in the 1800’s as nutritious – even to nursing mothers.  After World War II, the UK outlawed the use of the word and imagery for milk in association with beer, so many modern examples are labeled as Sweet stouts.

The Sweet Stout Style

Sweet stouts use dark roasted malts to create the dominant flavor which is a malty, dark, roasted chocolate character.  Like Dry Irish Stout, they may have roast coffee-like flavors.  Unlike Dry Stout, Sweet stouts have a medium to high sweetness (malt or lactose) that provides a counterpoint to the bitterness of hops and roast malt.  Some (though not all) sweet stouts include lactose, an unfermentable sugar that enhances sweetness and body.

These stouts are full bodied and creamy, and have low levels of carbonation.  Original gravity starts at 1.044-1.060 and finishes at 1.012-1.024 for a 4-6% alcohol by volume.  Many English examples use a relatively low starting gravity, while US examples tend to be brewed at a higher starting gravity.  They have low to medium esters and little to no diacytl.

They are moderatly hopped at 20-40 IBUs for a bitterness ratio of around 0.6.  The hops should balance the malt, but hops is not a major flavor in this style.  The color should be dark brown to black (30-40 SRM).

Brewing a Sweet Stout

Sweet stouts start with an English Pale Malt base which makes up 60-80% of the grain bill.  To that, we add a mix of crystal/caramel malts (roughly 10-15%), and chocolate, black and roasted malts (10% or more in total) to provide color and flavor.  Corn, treacle, wheat or other off-beat malts are sometimes (though rarely) used.

For a true milk stout, lactose is often added.  Since Lactose is unfermentable it provides a distinctive sweetness as well as body for the finished beer.

Sweet stouts traditionally use Southern English ale yeast as this is where the beer was originally brewed.  A relatively low attenuation English ale yeast with moderate esters  such as White Labs WLP002 or Wyeast 1092 would be appropriate.

English hop varieties such as Fuggles, East Kent Goldings, or Columbia  are appropriate, though many US variations also use popular American hops.  The hops should primarily be added as bitterness hops since hop aroma and flavor is not dominant.  Hops should balance the sweetness of the beer.

Mashing an all grain sweet stout should be done at the higher end of the temperature range to enhance body and residual sweetness.  I will typically mash this style in the 153-156 F range.  Fermentation is done at normal ale temperatures and the beer is conditioned as any other English Porter or Stout.

 Sweet Stout and Milk Stout Recipes

Here are some recipes from the BeerSmith recipe archive:

Nothin wrong with K.I.S.S. principle Brewing!

March 23rd, 2015

Simple Beer Brewing

With the emphasis of many intermediate and advanced home brewers on larger and more complex brewing systems, many of us who have brewed for years (over 24 years in my case) have started turning back to smaller, simpler beer brewing.  The trend is far from universal, but I’ve found even friends with brewing systems that cost 10’s of thousands of dollars occasionally enjoy making a simple 5 gallon batch of beer using traditional methods and equipment.  [Aside: If you have never made your own beer, you can start with a simple extract based batch here]

Another factor at work here is the realization that pumps, whirlpool chillers, RIMS, and HERMS systems are not necessary to brew great beer.  The automation can make some steps easier and more consistent – especially for large batches, but some amazing award winning beers have been made with nothing more than a picnic cooler and large pot.

The other challenge many brewers face is the lack of time.  Jobs, kids, longer hours and the diminishing line between work time and play time eat into our brewing time.  We are blessed, as beer brewing in itself does not have to take a lot of time – but one is pressured to get the most of the precious hours spent brewing.

There is certainly nothing wrong with taking the entire day to brew 25 gallons of beer on your giant home-built brewhouse, but sometimes it is also fun to go back and brew a simple beer in a small batch.  So this week I’ll take you back and share some of the lessons learned in an attempt to simplify my all grain beer brewing and get back to basics:

  • Five Gallons is Great – It is fun to play with 10-20+ gallon brewing systems, but time, space and other considerations make dealing with 5 gallons the easiest (you can still lift the fermenter or pot easily) and fastest.  The time spent in setup, brewing and particularly cleanup is all less with a small 5 gallon system.  The equipment is light, easy to handle and easy to clean.  Also a 5 gallon batch is a great test size to perfect a recipe before moving to a larger brewing system.
  •  Keep the Grain Bill Simple – Many beginners tend to think that adding as many types of grains as possible will somehow enhance the beer.  The truth is that many great commercial beers are made with pale malt and perhaps one or two other malts.  If you do some research into beer styles, you will find that it is rare that more than 2-3 specialty grains are needed to make even complex beer styles.
  • A Single Infusion is Good Enough – Yes, I’ve played with decoctionmulti-step infusion, mash-outs and other exotic mash profiles, but for beers that don’t have exotic cereals or adjuncts added (which is about 97% of all beers), a single infusion mash is good enough – so keep it simple.
  • Overlap the Tasks to Save Time – Sometimes I have only the evening to brew beer, and have brewed  full all grain batches in as little as three hours.  The key is to overlap the tasks as much as possible.  For example, I will heat my mash water, and while it is heating I’ll crush the grains.  Once the infusion mash has been started, I’ll measure and lay out all of the equipment and ingredients for the sparge and boil.  When the boil is on, I’ll be cleaning the chiller and getting my fermenter sanitized.  In every step, I try to make sure I’m prepping for the next step or cleaning the equipment I’m finished with so I can save time.
  • Two Hop Additions Is Enough – For most beer styles, a single bittering hop addition and a single aroma addition is often enough.  The fact is that most aromatic hop oils boil off in less than 10 minutes, so if you want to preserve aromatics keep the boil time short for those additions.  For example, I will often add a bitterness hop addition at the beginning of the boil and a second addition the last 5 minutes to preserve aroma.
  • You Don’t Need Fancy Equipment – More equipment means more setup time and more cleaning after you are done.  For all grain infusion mashing, often a 5 gallon water cooler and large pot is sufficient.   Extract beers require even less equipment.  If you want to keep it even simpler, consider Brew-In-A-Bag (articlepodcast) which requires only a single large pot and one large grain bag to brew great all-grain beer.  Formulating a good recipe, and following a good process when brewing will affect the quality of your beer more than the latest brewing widget.

Brewing beer on a fancy recirculating mash system is fun, but occasionally its also fun to get back to basics and brew a few gallons the old fashioned way.  Even for large systems, simplifying your recipes and processes can save you time and money without sacrificing on quality.  So get back to basics!BIABdoughin

Why do I need a Hydrometer anyway?

March 5th, 2015

Using a Hydrometer for Beer Brewing

A hydrometer is one of the simplest tools a home brewers has at their disposal, but also an important one so I thought I would spend a few moments this week discussing how to properly use a hydrometer and also how to adjust your hydrometer readings for temperature.  Most brewers rely on a hydrometer to determine their original and final gravity, and more advanced users will also track mash gravity and end of fermentation gravity.

What is a Hydrometer

A hydrometer is a very simple device that looks like a large thermometer.  When you immerse it in wort or finished beer it sinks to a varying degree depending on how dense the wort is and provides a reading of the specific gravity.  Most hydrometers used by home brewers are scaled for specific gravity readings, which is technically a unitless measure that generally ranges from 1.000 for water to 1.100 or higher for high gravity barley wines.  An average beer might have a starting gravity between 1.040 and 1.050 and a final gravity around 1.010.

The reason specific gravity is unitless is that is is simply a measure of the density of the liquid relative to water – so 1.000 would be the density of distilled water, and most wort or beer has a gravity slightly above that of water (1-10% higher actually).  To calculate the specific gravity of a liquid sample with known density, we just divide its density by the density of water – that is the specific gravity value.

Many professional brewers use hydrometers that measure in degrees Plato, which is another density system developed by Bohemian scientist Karl Balling in 1843 and later improved by Fritz Plato.  This scale is a measure of density relative relative to the percent sucrose in the water, so a reading of 11 degrees plato would be equivalent in density to water with 11% sucrose dissolved in it.

Converting from plato to specific gravity is not strictly linear, but most brewers use the approximation of 1 degree plato = 4 points specific gravity, so 12 degrees plato would correspond to 48 points of specific gravity, or a measure of 1.048 approximately.  For significantly larger values the approximation starts to drift off, so its best to use a calculator at that point (such as the one in BeerSmith).

Actually Using a Hydrometer

Use of a hydrometer is a pretty simple affair.  You typically remove a small amount of sample wort, place it in a clear sample cylinder and then immerse the hydrometer in the liquid.  Read the gravity reading from the scale on the hydrometer where it crosses the water-air boundary.  There will be a slight curve along the water-air line (called the meniscus), so if you want to be really accurate you should take the reading at the lowest point in that air-water curve (the bottom of the meniscus).

One final cautionary note – many beginners tend to take the sample in the tube that the hydrometer was sold in.  You need to be a bit cautious when doing so as the tube is quite small and the hydrometer will sometimes stick to the side a bit which could give you an inaccurate reading.  Ideally you want it floating freely in the wort, which is why more advanced brewers will purchase a small sample vessel or use another vessel to hold the sample.

Adjusting for Temperature

Hydrometers are all calibrated to be accurate at a standard temperature.  For most home brewing hydrometers, the calibration temperature is 60F (20C), though a few laboratory hydrometers are calibrated to a different temperature (usually 68F/20C).   The calibration temperature is usually printed on the scale of your hydrometer in really small letters.

Manufacturers calibrate the hydrometer to be accurate at their calibration temperature, and its often a good idea to validate that by cooling a sample of distilled water to that calibration temperature and verifying that your hydrometer reads 1.000.

If you use your hydrometer at another temperature other than the calibration temperature you should add or subtract a small adjustment to get an accurate reading.  In practice, if you are working near room temperature the adjustment is relatively small (typically one point).  However when you measure hot wort (such as wort coming from the mash tun or boiler) the difference can be significant and you should adjust your hydrometer for the calibration temperature.

The formula I use in BeerSmith is:

sg = sg_measured + sg_measured * (1.628E-5 * (tc – t) – 5.85E-6 * (tc*tc – t*t) + 1.532E-8 (tc*tc*tc – t*t*t))

where sg_measured is the measured value, tc is the calibration temperature and t is the temperature (both in celsuis the sample was measured at.  This gives a pretty accurate measure, but its not much fun to calculate by hand, so there is a hydrometer calculation tool in BeerSmith to do this adjustment for you.

BeerSmith on Baltic Porter

February 23rd, 2015

BeerSmith Home Brewing News

Baltic Porter Recipes – Beer Styles

Baltic Porter is a very strong, robust Porter brewed to fight off the harsh winters of thriving 18th and 19th Century Baltic trade routes.  Though the style originated in England, it was subsequently brewed throughout Northern Europe.  This week we take a look at the Baltic Porter beer history, style, recipes and how to brew it at home.

History of Baltic Porter

Baltic Porter owes its origins to the rise of wildly popular English Porter in the 1700’s.  Though Porters of the time were already much stronger than today’s beers (many exceeding 7% ABV), an even more robust version of Porter was made for export across the North Sea to support Baltic trade.   As the style grew in popularity it was also brewed in virtually all of the Northern European and Baltic states including Germany, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Denmark and Sweden. (Ref: Wikipedia)

Like English Porter, the character of the beer has changed over time.  The earliest Baltic Porters were made from wood kilned brown malts that had a smoky roasted brown somewhat bitter flavor.  They also were brewed with top fermenting ale yeasts.  They were often highly hopped to preserve the beer and also offset the heavy flavor of malts (over 7% ABV for many early porters).

Some authors also claim Baltic Porter owes some of its heritage to Russian Imperial Stout, another export beer brewed in England for export to the Russian imperial court in the 1700’s.  Like Baltic Porter, Russian Imperial Stout is a stronger, sweeter more robust version of the stouts made domestically in England at the time.

In the mid 1800’s as the beer was brewed more widely and continental influences drove production, most Baltic Porter brewers switched to bottom fermenting lager yeasts in a tradition that continues today.  Also as industrialization occurred, coke fired kilns eliminated the smoke flavor from brown malts, and gradually the Porter base of mostly brown malt was replaced by a combination of modern pale malt, Munich, Vienna and roasted malt.  While taxes and supply shortages during the Napoleonic wars drove the alcohol content of other Porter’s down to modern levels, Baltic Porter remained a strong beer at a robust 7-10% alcohol content.

The Baltic Porter Style

Baltic Porter has a complex flavor profile combining a rich malty sweetness with caramel, toffee, nutty, toasted and sometimes licorice flavors.  A warm alcohol profile is present, as the moderate fruity ester profile common to many English beers.  Some variations have a smoky or dark roasted profile similar to Schwarzbier though the flavor should not be burnt.

Since lager yeast is used the finish should be relatively clean.  Hop flavor should be moderately spicy (often from Lublin or Saaz hops).  The overall impression should be a full bodied, smooth Porter with a well aged alcohol warmth.  The beer is generally well carbonated to enhance mouth feel.  The beer should be rich and robust, but not as strong or robust as a Stout or Imperial Stout.

Baltic Porters start with a high gravity of 1.060 to 1.090 for an alcohol by volume content of 5.5-9.5%  Most Baltic Porters are in the traditional 7.5-9.5% ABV range.  Hop rates of 20-40 IBUs are needed to balance the roasted malt flavor (0.46 BU:GU bitterness ratio).  They are dark brown to black in color (17-30 SRM).

Brewing a Baltic Porter

Modern Baltic Porters start with a combination of Pale Malt and Munich/Vienna base malts that make up about 70-80% of the grain bill.  If using a Pale-Munich or Pale-Vienna mix often 50-50 is used.  However, it is not uncommon for some continental versions to use a base of all Munich or all Vienna malt.

Debittered Chocolate or Black malt provide the bulk of the color and roasted flavor (up to 10% of the malt bill).  A variety of other specialty malts are often added (5-10% total) for complexity and body including Crystal/Caramel malts, brown malt, amber malt, caramunich, carafoam, etc…

Historical versions often make heavy use of brown and amber malts and may even include a small amount of smoked malt in an attempt to recreate the slightly smoky brown malt base of the 1700’s.  Spices are sometimes added for complexity in small quantities including anise or black licorice.

Baltic Porter is typically mashed at a moderate conversion temperature to generate both body and alcohol content.  Continental noble or spicy hops are used including Saaz and Lublin.  Continental lager yeast is now widely used, with fermentation at lager temperatures.  Some historical variants still use ale yeast, but these are fermented at low (near lager) temperature.

Water profiles are not a major feature of the style – so use of a moderate profile is sufficient.  The style is highly carbonated to enhance mouthfeel.

Baltic Porter Recipe

Here is a sample recipe for a Baltic Porter that makes heavy use of Munich malt and some brown malt to provide the malty, complex base.

Makes 5 Gallons, All Grain, No spices used

  • 8 lbs Pale Malt (2 row Belgian or German)
  • 4 lbs Munich Malt (9 SRM)
  • 8 oz Chocolate Malt (450 SRM)
  • 4 oz Black Patent Malt
  • 2.25 oz Saaz hops (boil 60 min)
  • 1 pkg Belgian Lager Yeast (White Labs WLP815)

Counting Calories?

February 3rd, 2015

BeerSmith Home Brewing News

Counting Calories in your Homebrewed Beer

This week, I take a look at calories in your home brewed beer, how to calculate them and where they come from.

Calorie Counting

I’ll start with the good news first – an average 12oz commercial beer has slightly less calories than a comparable soda or even a glass of juice.  An average American lager (say Budweiser at 5% ABV) has about 145 calories for 12 oz.  A Coke classic runs about 155 calories for a 12 oz can and orange juice is about 184 calories.

If you drink light beer, they generally run from 100-112 calories per 12 oz and have slightly less alcohol (average of about 4.2% alcohol), placing them well below regular sodas or juice.  Premium beers run a bit heavier – a Sam Adams Lager or Boston Ale has about 160 calories and high alcohol beers like New Belgium Trippel (7.8% alcohol) contain 215 calories in a single 12oz serving.

Where Do The Calories Come From?

Not surprisingly the calories in beer comes from alcohol and carbohydrates – both from the malted barley (or other grains) used to brew beer.  During fermentation, yeast breaks down the simple carbohydrates and converts them into ethanol (ethyl alcohol).  The longer chains of carbohydrates that the yeast cannot break down remain in the finished beer, contributing additional calories.  Full bodied and all malt beers tend to have more residual carbohydrates.  Roughly 60% of the calories in an average beer come from alcohol and 40% from residual carbohydrates.

Despite the term “beer belly”, very little of the alcohol you consume is converted into fat.  In fact, your liver converts most of the alcohol into acetate which is then released into your bloodstream and consumed directly to produce energy.  The bad part is that when your body is burning alcohol/acetate, it is not burning fat, so you will tend to retain the fat you already have, plus your body may convert some of the residual carbs from the beer into fat.

Adding to the effect is the fact that alcohol tends to be an appetite enhancer – so if you drink a lot you will likely eat more than you would with water or even other carbohydrate drinks.  Not that all news is bad – in fact several studies have found that drinking in moderation (1-2 drinks a day) can actually have a positive effect on overall health if combined with a healthy diet and exercise.  However, clearly moderation is the key.

Calculating Calories

Calorie conscious brewers can estimate the number of calories in 12oz of homebrewed beer from the starting (OG) and ending (FG) gravities.  BeerSmith also will show you the calories if you use the Alcohol/Attenuation tool.

  • Calorie_from_alcohol = 1881.22 * FG * (OG-FG)/(1.775-OG)
  • Calories_from_carbs = 3550.0 * FG * ((0.1808 * OG) + (0.8192 * FG) – 1.0004)
  • Total calories – just add the Calories_from_alcohol to Calories_from_carbs

So lets look at a sample beer with a OG of 1.048 and a FG of 1.010 which has 4.9% alcohol by volume.  Running the numbers above, we get 99 calories from alcohol and 59 calories from carbohydrates, for a total of 158 calories.  Most beers have calorie counts in this range – with the bulk of calories coming from alcohol and not carbohydrates.

Light and low-carb beers tend to be made at lower alcohol levels, and also have less malt and more adjuncts (corn, rice, etc) to reduce residual carbohydrates.  Essentially light beer makers attack the problem on both sides – by cutting the alcohol levels and also cutting the residual carbs.  Corn, rice and other non-barley adjuncts tent to ferment more fully leaving less residual carbs.  The tradeoff is that the body of the beer comes from the residual carbs, so light beers made with more rice will generally have less body than barley malt beers.  However, in very light bodied styles like American Pilsner, the effect is less noticed than it would be in a low-cal Porter or Pale Ale.

BeerSmith on Oatmeal Stout

January 27th, 2015

Oatmeal Stout Recipes – Great Beer Styles

Oatmeal stout is a popular variant of Stout introduced in the late 19th century and famous for its smooth, creamy, silky texture. This week we’ll talk a bit about the history of oatmeal stouts, the beer style, how to design a recipe for one and how to brew it.

The History of Oatmeal Stout

As mentioned in my earlier article on Dry Irish Stout, as well as my podcast on Irish Stout with John Palmer, all modern stouts trace their heritage back to Porter, which was an immensely popular drink in the 17th century. As far back as 1677, the term “stout” was used to describe “strong” beers, and most beers in that time period were dark ales (what we would call Porters) because malt at the time was kilned over fires – true Pale malt did not arrive until the early industrial revolution brought coal fired malting.

The term “Stout ” was used to describe strong beers of various kinds well into the 1800’s, and evolved over the century to refer to strong very dark “Stout Porters”, or simply “Stouts”. Oatmeal Stout was first widely marketed in the late 1800’s as a nutritional drink. The marketing worked well as oats were though to have a restorative, nourishing and healthy effect in Victorian England.

The use of oats in beer was not a modern innovation, however, as oats were widely used for ales in medieval Europe. The use of oats in beer had largely died out by the 16th century, with the exception of Norway where it was still used.

Oatmeal stout sales flourished in the late 19th and early 20th century, and continued to be brewed until shortly after World War II. However, in the 1950’s most breweries stopped producing oatmeal stout, and by the early 1970’s no commercial examples remained. However, brewer Samuel Smith revived the style in the late 1970’s and since then hundreds of small and micro-breweries have produced Oatmeal Stouts.

The Oatmeal Stout Style

Many beer fans are surprised to find that oatmeal stout has very little oatmeal flavor. Instead the oatmeal adds a rich, creamy, silky character to the beer due to the high protein, lipid and gum content. Several early commercial examples included very little oatmeal (less than 1%), though most were made with between 5% and 30% oatmeal by weight. Using more than 30% oatmeal will lead to an astringent flavor and bitterness.

The BJCP style guide describes Oatmeal Stout as a variant of sweet stout that is less sweet, and relies on oatmeal for body and complexity rather than lactose. It may have a roasted grain aroma mixed with a light sweetness, with little fruitiness or diacetyl. Hop aroma and flavor are low, and it may have a slight oatmeal aroma.

Color is medium brown to black (22-40 SRM), with an original gravity of 1.048-1.065 which results in an alcohol content of 4.2-5.9%. Bitterness is in the 25-40 IBU range, with a bitterness ratio in the 0.5 IBU/GU range.

Brewing an Oatmeal Stout

The grain bill for an oatmeal stout typically starts with UK or American pale malt, which generally comprises about 60-80% of the grain bill. Oats are the next major component, making up 5%-25% of the bill in most recipes, though some extreme examples use as much as 30% oats. I personally recommend targeting the 10% oats to start with.

A variety of grains are often added to enhance body and complexity including Caramel/Crystal malts, Cara-Pils, Cara-Foram malt, flaked barley, and occasionally even wheat or flaked wheat. These typically are included in the 5-10% (each) weight range. When using Caramel/Crystal malts, the darker versions are often favored to add color and caramel sweetness to the beer.

The stout character and color is usually achieved by using Chocolate malt and Black Patent malt (along with the Caramel mentioned earlier). These are typically constrained to 4-10% (each) of the grain bill to achieve a stout character without creating an overwhelming roasted coffee flavor, as oatmeal stout should be in the “sweet stout” family, and not dry like Irish stout. Stout roast and roasted barley is generally not used in oatmeal stout as it adds too much “coffee” or “burnt” flavor to the mix.

Traditional English or American bittering hops are used such as East Kent Goldings, Fuggles, Centennial, Willamette, Northdown, etc… to balance the strong dark malts. As hop aroma and flavor is not a significant characteristic of oatmeal stout, it is rare to add finishing or dry hops. Instead, enough boil hops should be used to properly balance the beer (about 0.5 IBU/GU).

Some all-grain brewers prefer to use a full bodied mash profile (around 156 F for conversion) to further enhance the body of the beer, while others have advocated lower temperatures (148 F) to achieve a cleaner fermentation of barley malt and enhance the oatmeal character. I tend to prefer a medium to full body mash profile to preserve the sweet character of the beer as the finish should be sweet and not overly dry.

English ale yeasts are traditionally used with oatmeal stouts. I try to select a strain without excessive ester (fruit) or diacytl (butterscotch) production that will still leave residual sweetness in the beer such as White Labs WLP002. You don’t want a yeast that ferments too cleanly, as complexity is part of the flavor, but you also don’t want an English yeast that is too fruity.

Fermentation is done at normal ale temperatures and the beer may be bottled or kegged. Traditional stouts are served with fairly low carbonation and warm, but many American drinkers prefer a moderate carbonation and chilled beer.

Oatmeal Stout Recipes

Here are a few oatmeal stout recipes from the BeerSmith Recipe Archive:

Dirty Pig Oatmeal Stout – Extract
Muddy Pig Oatmeal Stout – Extract
Oatmeal Cookie Monster Stout – Partial Mash
Oatmeal Stout – All Grain
Oatmeal Stout by Gregar – All Grain
Prairie Oatmeal Stout – All Grain
Thank you again for your continued support!

Brad Smith
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RIMS & HERMES…the next step?

January 19th, 2015

RIMS and HERMS – Recirculating Infusion Mash Systems for Beer

Recirculating mash systems such as RIMS (Recirculating Infusion Mash System) and HERMS (Heat Exchanged Recirculating Mash Systems) are advanced beer brewing systems that use a pump and heating element to maintain a stable mash temperature during brewing.  RIMS and HERMS are the two most popular, though many other systems exist.  So this week, we take a look at these more brewing systems and how they differ from simple infusion mashing.

Infusion Mashing vs RIMS/HERMS

Most brewers switching to all grain start with a simple infusion mash system – made of some kind of cooler with a filter screen or tubes added to create an insulated mash tun.  Another all grain setup gaining in popularity for first time brewers is Brew-in-a-Bag (BIAB) (podcast).  Both of these systems offer simplicity at a reasonable cost, and both give you a method to maintain a steady temperature during the mashing process.  The cooler retains heat, and for BIAB you can apply heat directly to the kettle.

The limitations of the simple cooler or BIAB setup become apparent when you try to work with much larger home brew systems.  While its relatively easy to transfer 5-6 gallons of hot wort by dumping or siphoning it, or manage 10 lbs of grain in a bag, brewing at larger scales of 10, 15 or 20 gallons starts to make transferring large quantities of hot wort and grain by lifting very difficult.  Also its difficult to find coolers large enough to support these batches.

As one scales up to larger brewing systems, pumping wort and water around becomes a necessity for most brewers, and most sophisticated all grain setups use three large vessels – one for the mash, one for the boil and one for hot water used during the infusion and lauter.  Large converted Sanke kegs with the tops cut off are common, though many also use high end stainless steel pots.  Pumps are used to transfer wort and water between the various components.

Recirculating Mash Systems

If we consider the problem of keeping a large 15-20 gallon stainless steel mash tun at a constant temperature for the an average 60 minute mash, other problems arise.  First, most stainless vessels are not insulated, and conduct heat relatively well.  The old technique of heating an infusion and letting it sit in the cooler we used for smaller batches might not work as well in our large stainless pot or converted keg.  A second problem is that the larger volume is more likely to develop hot and cool spots in the mash tun over time – again making it difficult to achieve a consistent temperature across the entire grain bed.

A recirculating mash system addresses both of these problems using the pump mentioned earlier.  Rather than infusing hot water and letting the mash tun slowly cool, a recirculating system uses a pump to constantly recirculate and heat the water to maintain temperature and also avoid hot spots.   Typically a controller is used to turn on and off the heat source in the pump line to maintain a constant mash temperature.

This provides the following benefits:

  • The temperature can be maintained very close to the target temperature even in an uninsulated metal mash tun – particularly if you use an electronic controller.  Often the mash temperature can be controlled much more precisely than a typical infusion cooler.
  • Hot spots in the mash are minimized as there is a slow steady flow through the tun
  • The constant recirculation of the mash results in very clean wort during the lauter
  • Overall the mash is more consistent and repeatable for large batches than a non-recirculating infusion.  Repeatability is important when working with large home brewing systems or advanced systems that may serve as pilot batches for commercial microbrewers.

The recirculating mash systems (RIMS/HERMS) vary in how they heat the recirculating wort.

  • A RIMS system uses direct heat on the tube to heat the wort as it is recirculated.  The heat source may be electric or gas, but the wort is heated as it passes through the tube and is pumped during recirculation.  The pump keeps the wort moving through the tube at a steady rate to avoid scorching it.  The pump must run continuously during the mash when heating, though the heater itself is often cycled on and off to control temperature.  A risk with the RIMS system is scorching the wort if the pump fails for some reason.
  • In a HERMS system the wort is passed through a heat exchanger.  The most common type of heat exchanger is an immersion setup (much like an immersion chiller) where a coil of copper tubing is immersed in a hot liquor tun.  In this type of setup the hot liquor tun is often kept at a constant temperature slightly above the target mash temperature and the pump is cycled on and off to maintain the temperature of the mash.

Which one best fits your needs is up to you.  Often a RIMS system is easier to physically construct, but you need a variable heat source (one that can be turned on and off).  A HERMS system requires more equipment (often a coil immersed in a large pot) but can be regulated by simply turning the pump on and off.  Both offer similar overall performance for the advanced brewer.

Old Ale Recipes – Stock Ale and Winter Warmers

January 13th, 2015

Old Ale is a English beer with a dark, malty profile also called “Winter Warmers”, “Stock ale”, “Keeping Ale” or “Dark Ale” in Australia.  It was traditionally served along with mild ales, and sometimes blended with mild at the tap to suit a customer’s preference.  This week, we’re going to talk about how to brew old ale at home and cover a few homebrewing recipes for old ale.


Old ale has its origin in English pubs where the sharper, stronger “stock ale” was often blended with sweeter mild ale.  Old ale was frequently cask aged for extended periods, often giving it a slightly sour, lactic taste due to contamination of the casks with lactic bacteria.  At one time Old Ale was made from simply storing mild for extended periods in casks and selling it at a higher price, though over time old ale developed into a style of its own.  (ref: Wikipedia)  Variants of old ale are thought to have formed the basis for India Pale Ale.

A variation of old ale called Winter Warmers is a more modern style that has a slightly maltier, darker and full bodied character.  Winter warmers are brewed in winter, are darker (though not as dark as stout) and have higher alcohol content (6-8% and sometimes as high as 10%).  Some US winter warmers also are brewed with spice additions.

The Old Ale Style

Old ale has medium to high malt character and a complex flavor profile that often includes caramel, nutty or molasses flavors.  Light chocolate or roasted flavors are also common.  The overall balance is malty though it may be well hopped.  Fruity esters are common as in many English ales.  Extended aging may give it a lactic (sour), or aged wine character and alcohol strength may be evident.  It is generally full bodied with low to moderate carbonation.

Color can be light amber to dark reddish brown (SRM 10-22).  While most are quite dark and may darken further with aging, they generally are not quite as dark as stouts.

The strength of old ale varies widely but is generally in the range of 6-9% (original gravity of 1.060-1.090).   They have a fairly high finishing gravity of 1.015-1.022 leaving plenty of residual sweetness and body. (Ref: BJCP Style 19A)

Brewing an English Old Ale

The grain bill for old ale starts with copius amounts of well modified English pale malt.  Typically this makes up the bulk of the grain bill.  Darker caramel malts give old ale its color and character – frequently from a mix of various color caramel malts with sparing character malts.  Small amounts of chocolate or black malt may be used, but they must be used sparingly to avoid an undesirable roasted character.

Adjuncts such as molasses, treacle, invert sugar or dark sugars raise alcohol content along with high protein adjuncts such as flaked barley, wheat and maize (for body) are often added.

English hop varieties are often used for bittering.  Aroma, finishing and dry hops are rarely needed as the extended aging tends to negate the effect of hop aroma additions.  30-60 IBUs of bittering is recommended to balance the highly malty old ale flavor.

A high temperature (full bodied) mash (around 156F) is appropriate.  A single infusion mash is sufficient as the highly modified pale malt will convert well during the mash.

English ale yeast is used for fermentation at traditional ale temperatures.  Some care must be taken to choose strains that can handle the higher alcohol content found in some stronger old ales.  Old ale is aged for extended periods (many months and sometimes years) and was traditionally stored in large wooden casks.  Oak chips or wood chips may be appropriate depending on your preference.  Some versions also had a slight lactic sourness from aging which could be duplicated with judicious use of lactic acid, lactic bacteria during aging or the addition of a small amount of soured beer.  Keep in mind that the sourness is not a dominant flavor.


One brew 2 beers?

December 18th, 2014

Parti-Gyle brewing is a method for making more than one batch of beer from a single all grain mash. It offers tremendous flexibility since you can brew two beers of different gravities, and also add different hops and yeast to create distinct beers from one brewing session.


Parti-Gyle brewing is not a new method. The method goes back hundreds of years, and many modern sub-styles are examples of light and heavy versions made from a single mash. Examples include the various weights of English and Scotch Ale, various grades of Bock, and even variations of Trappist ales. In the 1700’s and 1800’s it was very common to create a strong beer from the first runnings of the mash and a lighter common beer from the second runnings of a mash.

The Parti-Gyle Method

The standard method for Parti-Gyle brewing is to make two beers from a single mash. Typically a fairly high gravity beer is made from the “first runnings” of the mash, and the second runnings are boiled separately to make a lighter beer. Often different hop additions, boil additions and yeast are used to create distinct styles from the two runnings depending on the brewer’s preference.

Estimating the Gravity of Each Beer

When designing a parti-gyle beer, one is usually concerned with gravity and color of the two beers being created. This is important for determining how much grain is required for each beer and also how much liquid to run through each to achieve a target boil gravity. The rule of thumb for an average mash is that 2/3 of the gravity potential is in the first 1/2 of the runnings. This is due to the fact that most of the high gravity wort comes in the first third of the lauter.

One common parti-gyle split is 1/3 volume for the first runnings and 2/3 volume for the second which results in a first batch of beer that has twice the points that the second batch will have. So for example if the total mash had an estimated original gravity of 1.060, we would expect the first 1/3 to have a gravity of 1.090 and the second to have a gravity of half the points or 1.045.

For a 50-50 split by volume, with half of the wort in each batch we get a roughly 58% of the gravity points in the first batch. So a 1.060 overall batch OG would translate to a 1.070 first runnings and 1.050 second runnings, with both of equal size.

Estimating OG for Split Batches

To perform these calculations yourself, start with the OG estimate of the mash runnings using conventional methods. This can be done using the method described here, except you use the mash efficiency and total lauter volume instead of the overall brewhouse efficiency and overall batch volume to get your mash OG estimate.

Once you have the OG estimate for the overall batch, get the number of points by subtracting one and multiplying by 1000, so 1.060 becomes 60 points. Next we use the following to calculate the final number of points in this fraction:

Number_points_ runnings = (Tot_points * Points_fraction / fractional_volume)

So if we look at a 1.060 total gravity estimate with a 1/3-2/3 volume split which has half the points in each runnings we get 60 points, 0.5 as the points_fraction and 1/3 or 0.333 as the fractional volume:

Number_points_runnings = (60 * 0.50 / 0.333) = 90 points or a gravity of 1.090

The second runnings of 2/3 is:

Number_points_runnings2 = (60*0.50 / 0.666) = 45 points or 1.045 gravity

Using the same equation, you can come up with an accurate estimate for the gravity of each of the runnings based on the original gravity of the overall batch.

Color Considerations

It should be no surprise that the color of the two batches in a parti-gyle will be darker for the first runnings and lighter for the second in most cases. Calculating the actual color for a regular beer is described here, and is based on the Malt Color Units (MCUs) which are simply the sum of the pounds of malt times their color for all grains in a batch.

Looking at the examples above – a 50-50 volume split has about 2/3 of the gravity in the first runnings and 1/3 in the second runnings. The malt color units follow, so about 2/3 of the MCUs will be in the first running and 1/3 in the second. So if you calculate the overall Malt Color Units for the total batch (sum of the pounds of malt times color of each malt), you can multiply it by 2/3 or 1/3 for each running and then apply the Morey equation to get the color estimate for each of the runnings. Here the OG_FRACTION refers to the 2/3-1/3 OG split so you would apply 2/3 to the first runnings and 1/3 to the second:

SRM_color = 1.4922 * ((MCU * OG_FRACTION) ** 0.6859)

Since the Morey equation is not linear, you will see a larger color difference for a parti-gyle beer when working with lighter beers. So for a very light beer and a 50-50 volume split, the first runnings will be almost twice as dark as the second runnings. However as the beer gets darker the difference will be smaller – to the point where the second runnings of a Stout beer might have no perceivable difference in color from the first.

After the Mash

Once you have mashed your parti-gyle beer and taken the two runnings, the rest of the brewing process is the same as with any other beer. Obviously the two runnings are boiled separately so you either need two boil pots and heat sources or a sterile way to store one of the runnings for a few hours while you boil the other.

One of the great features of part-gyle brewing is the ability to change the character of the beer in the boil and fermentation. By adding different hop additions, yeast, spices or steeping additional grains prior to the boil (much like an extract brew) you can dramatically change the character of the two beers produced. With a little imagination you really can create two distinctly different beer styles from a single brewing session.

For design purposes it is usually best to treat the two runnings as separate beers at this point, and the usual rules for estimating bitterness, final gravity and fermentation apply. The design possibilities are nearly endless. You could create a strong ale and bitter, a wheat bock and weizen, a brown and pale and many other combinations from a single mash.

Does hose size matter? Sure it does.

November 25th, 2014

Line Resistance is Not Futile from BeerSmith

So how does one design a draft beer system to maintain proper balance at the tap? The pressure drop depends on resistance in the beer line. Beer lines have two types of resistance – one due to elevation change (i.e. the keg being higher or lower than the tap), and a second due to the beer lines themselves which generate friction as the beer flows through the lines.

Lets look at resistance first to keep things simple. Here are some sample resistance ratings for various popular beer lines:

3/16″ ID vinyl tubing = 3 psi/ft
1/4″ ID vinyl tubing = 0.85 psi/ft
3/16″ ID Polyethylene tubing = 2.2 psi/ft
1/4″ ID Polyethylene tubing = 0.5 psi/ft
3/8″ OD Stainless tubing = 0.2 psi/ft
5/16″ OD Stainless tubing = 0.5 psi/ft
1/4″ OD Stainless tubing = 2 psi/ft
Generally plastic tube of smaller than 3/16″ ID is not recommended – it provides too much resistance for practical use!

So now that we have the resistance factors how to we go about designing a keg system that is in balance? For the purpose of our example lets assume that you have pressurized your kegging system at a nominal 12 psi, which at a 40F refrigerator temperature represents a mid range carbonation level of about 2.5 volumes of CO2 – typical for an average American or European beer.

At the tap end of our balanced keg system we want a slight positive pressure to push the beer out, but not enough to foam. Generally this would be between less than 1 psi. So let’s target a tap end pressure of 1 psi. The math from here is pretty easy to calculate the balanced line length (L):

L = (keg_pressure – 1 psi) / Resistance
So starting with our example of 12 psi keg pressure, and some typical 3/16″ vinyl keg tubing (which loses 3 lb/ft) we get L= (12-1)/3 which is 3.66 feet. So a 12 psi kegging system would provide 1 psi of pressure at the tap with 3.66 feet of tubing.

*A simpler, practical 3/16 direct draw example would be 10# at 35 degrees F for a carbonation volume of 2.52.  So with the same equation, (10-1)/3= 3′ of 3/16 tubing, which is normal in a standard beer meister or converted fridge.  Lets see what happens when we go a bit longer, because that wont hurt anything right? Well working backwards with the same equation would look like this: 5=(x-1)/3 so x= 16 pounds of keg pressure!  If adding length then perhaps going to bigger tubing is the answer.  So 5=(x-1)/.85 so x would only be  5 pounds…not quite right either, at that point your beer will be FLAT in no time!  So how much tubing do we need for 1/4″?  Well with the same formula we have x=(10-1)/.85 or 9/.85 with is 10.59 feet, which you can curl up on the top of the keg & have great dispense volumes for filling pitchers.  Who said 8th grade math class was useless?
*edit -C

Note that some authors leave out the 1 psi tap pressure (i.e. use zero tap pressure) and simplify the equation to L= (keg_pressure/Resistance) which makes the math even easier (the simplified equation would give you 4 feet of tubing vs 3.66 ft). The truth is that you can target anywhere between zero and 1 psi at the tap and still be in balance – the difference is relatively small, though a slight positive keg pressure will give you a better flow rate.

The four foot example with 3/16″ ID vinyl is great if we only have a few feet to go (i.e. in a fridge) but what if one needs to go further? A simple switch to 1/4″ ID vinyl tubing will get us there – looking at the same 12 psi keg system we get: L = (12-1)/0.85 = 12.9 feet. So with the larger tubing we can deliver our beer to just under 13 feet. For other applications we can consider polyethylene or stainless. However if going a long distance one needs to also consider refrigeration – as you don’t want a large volume of warm beer in the lines.

Beer Line Length and Elevation

Changes in elevation also come into play if you design a more complex serving system. The rule of thumb is that your beer loses 0.5 psi/foot of elevation gain. So if your tap is 1 foot higher than the keg it loses 0.5 psi, and conversely if it is lower than the keg it will gain 0.5 psi per foot of elevation.

So if we roll this into our equation, we get the following for a given height (Height – in feet) of the tap above the keg itself:

L = (keg_pressure – 1 – (Height/2)) / Resistance
So lets go back to our original example of a 12 psi keg pressure, 3/16″ ID vinyl tubing and this time put the tap 2 feet above the keg itself. We get L=(12-1-(2/2))/3 which is 10/3 or a line length of 3.33 feet.

Another example with longer lines: 12 psi keg pressure, 1/4″ ID vinyl and a tap four feet above the keg gives: L=(12-1-(4/2)/0.85 which is 9/0.85 or 10.6 feet of line length.

Gotta’ have that funk!

November 18th, 2014

If you feel like adding a little twang to your brew, try adding bugs!  This week the BeerSmith goes over Souring your homebrew.

Soured Beer in Homebrewing

The use of soured beer is an ancient technique used to add character to many beer styles. One of my personal favorites, the Irish Stout, often includes a small addition of soured wort. Sour beer dates back to the ancient times, as the discovery of beer likely occurred when someone left some wet grains out and they started fermenting. It has also been widely used in Belgian beers, where in many cases entire batches are left to sour in open vats, producing many sour styles such as Lambic and Flanders. Flanders brown is often made with blended sour and unsoured beer. I won’t cover Lambics in great detail here, as the methods used for Lambics vary considerably, but also often include blending soured wort with unsoured beer.

Brewing with sour beer at home involves taking a portion of the wort from your mash (or for extract brewers, a portion from the boil) and setting it aside and either adding souring yeasts such as Lactobacillus or letting it sour naturally.Personally I recommend getting some Lactobacillus culture such as Wyeast Labs #4335 “Lactobacillus Delbrueckii” as natural yeasts and bacteria can often go awry. For Lambics, Wyeast #3112 “Brettanomyces Bruxellensis” or Brewtek’s “Brettanomyces Lambicus” are often used with other yeasts as part of the main fermentation or part of the fermentation. The spoiled wort is then pasteurized by heating it and added back into the original beer to give a slightly sour character to the beer.This will add character and a lactic sourness to the beer, which is desirable for many styles.

The Sour Mash Method

If you are brewing an all grain batch, a portion of the runnings from your mash tun should be collected and set aside in a separate container.For something like an Irish Stout, I typically would set aside 1/2 quarts of wort from the middle runnings of the mash and set it aside for a 5 gallon batch. A good rule of thumb is that your spoiled wort should only make up about 3-4% of your total finished volume for stouts, and up to 25% of your volume for a Flanders Brown Ale, though I recommend starting with less and blending to taste. If you use too much you will end up with excessively sour beer.

For extract brewers, you can draw a portion of the wort near the beginning of the boil, ideally after you add your extract but before adding the hops, as hops themselves can have an antibiotic effect.

Once you have collected your wort, simply set it aside in a small closed container and continue to brew the remainder of your batch in the normal way.For the sour portion I prefer to simply add a small amount of Lactobacillus bacteria strain to the wort, apply an airlock, and let it sour in a cool, dark location.

The soured wort will quickly get a sour smell, and likely a disgusting film over the top.After a few days it should be thoroughly infested and largely fermented.At this point, carefully siphon or skim and pour the liquid, attempting to leave as much of the scum and sediment behind as possible.

Place the soured wort in a pan and heat it to 170F and hold it there for at least 30 minutes.This will pasteurize the soured wort to kill off the bacteria and yeast without destroying the sour lactic acid flavor you want in your beer.

Rapidly cool the sour portion, being careful at this point to handle it with sanitized equipment.Siphon or very gently pour the soured wort into your already fermenting main batch, and continue fermenting, aging and bottling the beer as you normally would.

Done properly, the sour mash method will produce a slight, but not overly pronounced sour edge to your beer.In styles such as classic Irish Stout, the sourness helps to enhance the overall flavor mix of stout roast barley and English hops. For Flanders, this provides the classic sour twang. This technique can also be used to sour some more sophisticated Belgian styles, though brewing a complex beast like a Lambic is beyond the scope of this particular article.

I hope you enjoy adding a bit of sour twang to your next homebrew.

Anyone wanna make Sake?

November 10th, 2014

Making Sake

Author:  Bob Taylor Issue: November 2008

Grains, water, yeast . . . and koji? Learn the secrets of making sake (Japanese rice wine) and get your moto rising.


When making sake, the first ingredient to consider is water, which is something we’re all familiar with. The water used for making sake should meet the same requirements that hold for beer: clean, good tasting and chlorine-free. If the water used for sake meets those requirements, minimal mineral adjustment will be necessary (more on that later). 

Rice, of course, is the staple food grain for all of Asia. Japan does not, under any circumstances, export their rice, so getting genuine Yamada Nishiki sake rice is out of the question for even the largest of North America’s sake producers. Fortunately, the US grows some excellent quality, hybrid, medium-grain rice. My personal favorite is Kokuho Rose sushi rice, which is grown in California, but any medium-short grain rice you can get your hands on will produce very respectable homemade sake.

Rice for making sake must be milled (polished) in order to remove the husk, germ and bran material. This causes a couple of problems when it comes to making a fermented beverage out of the grain. First, without these parts rice can’t be malted, so how can the yeast get the simple sugars they need to ferment our sake?

The answer is koji. A small portion of the rice used to make sake is incubated with the spores of a very specific strain of mold called Aspergillus oryzae. This mold is known for its ability to create a lot of amylase enzymes — the very enzymes we need to break down our rice starches and make them available for the yeast. Koji will very likely prove to be the most difficult product to find. Asian grocery stores in your area may stock Cold Mountain Rice Koji next to the miso in their refrigerator. If you can’t find that product, you can order koji-kin (koji spores) from Vision Brewing ( and produce your own koji.

The second problem is that polished rice is very poor in the nutrients that yeast need for a healthy fermentation — particularly magnesium and potassium. For this reason, the recipe on page 55 calls for some salts and brewer’s yeast nutrient, which are available at your local homebrew supply store or your local grocery store. These ingredients aren’t required — you can make sake without them — but they’re not expensive and omitting them will slow your fermentation down and alter the flavor of the finished sake.

Then there is the final ingredient: yeast. Wyeast WY3134 Sake #9 is my choice. In fact, it’s the second most commonly used yeast strain by professional sake brewers worldwide. White Labs also produces WLP705 Sake Yeast, which is available each year in September and October. Any neutral white wine yeast is also an acceptable substitute.

Gear Good to Go?

The list of required equipment is surprisingly short, and most of it is probably already in the average homebrewer’s equipment kit. You will need a racking cane, vinyl tubing, airlocks, one-hole stoppers and a plastic bucket fermenter, which are probably already in your inventory. Besides basic homebrewing equipment, you’ll also need a few pieces of very inexpensive specialized equipment:

• A steamer. Multi-tier bamboo steamer baskets are commonly available and dirt cheap. They need to be lined with a layer of cheesecloth to steam rice with them. For even cooking, don’t try to steam more than two tiers of rice at a time.

• One-gallon glass jugs. These will serve as secondary fermenters and clarifying vessels. I suggest having at least four of them to make rotating through them easier.

• A small fruit press. This device, while not required, will make pressing sake from the rice lees later on much easier. If you own one, use it. If you don’t own one, you can get away with using your hands to press the lees in a nylon paint straining bag.

How Sake is Made

The process itself is where homebrewers are tempted to take shortcuts. At first glance it appears very complex, labor intensive, and intimidating. It’s really not that bad! It helps to think of it as all-grain brewing, but with the mash and fermentation happening at the same time over a longer period of time. Like any other complex task, it helps to break things down into steps, and sake has three main steps with only one having a series of sub-steps:

1. Moto. This is a yeast starter. The traditional yamahai moto technique relies on using Lactobacillus bacteria to acidify the mash at this point, which is why pasteurization is important later on. The low pH helps to protect the fermenting sake from spoilage.

2. Moromi The primary fermentation, but to get a complete fermentation the mash needs to be built up in stages, with each stage doubling the total amount of the mash:

a. Hatsuzoe. First addition of koji, water, and rice.
b. Nakazoe. Second addition.
c. Tomezoe. Final addition.

3. Yodan The stabilization step where the nigorizake (cloudy sake) is separated from what’s left of the rice after fermentation is nearly complete. Water can be added to dilute the alcohol content, and the sake can be fined or filtered to clarify.

One final point of sake brewing that needs to be addressed is temperature control. The Japanese have a long tradition of only brewing sake in the winter months, much the same way German brewers used to brew. This is the “kan-zukuri” or “cold brewing” method. With modern refrigeration equipment, keeping to that traditional timetable isn’t strictly necessary, but for the homebrewer on a budget it can help.

Making sake requires frequent stirring, which means an open fermenter, so keeping the fermentation temperature as close to 50 ºF (10 °C) as you can get it during primary fermentation is necessary to keep the sake from becoming too sour from runaway Lactobacillus activity.

Steamed Rice

Rice needs to be cooked to gelatinize its starch before it can be used to make sake. When dealing with large volumes of rice, steaming is the preferred method of cooking. There are a few reasons for this, but it all boils down to ease of handling. It’s a lot easier to steam a large volume of rice than to simmer it, and the resulting cooked rice kernel is much firmer and less sticky than simmered rice, resulting in clumps that are much easier to break up. Steaming also volatizes and removes a lot of the fats that are still present on the outside of the rice kernel, resulting in a more delicately flavored sake.

The process for steaming rice is fairly straightforward.

1. Wash the rice thoroughly in cold water until the runoff is no longer cloudy.

2. Place the rinsed rice in a large bowl and add enough cold water to cover by about three inches. Place this in the refrigerator to soak for 8 to 12 hours, overnight is fine. During this time the rice will soak up the water that will actually cook it during steaming, so it’s important to get the right amount of water into the grain. Properly soaked rice is just slightly less than crunchy and breaks up easily, but is not squishy.

3. After soaking, allow the rice to drain in a colander for half an hour while you prepare the rest of your steaming equipment.

4. Place the drained rice in a bamboo steamer lined with cheesecloth (or whatever kind of steamer you own), cover, and steam for 45 minutes. Keep an eye on the water level in the steamer during this long steaming time and add water as required.

How to Make Sake
Starting with the moto, a basic batch of sake takes about six weeks to complete. There are many steps in the process, so it helps to keep a checklist and a calendar. Here are the basic steps, broken down, for making sake according to the recipe
on page 55.


1. Prepare 2.5 cups (591 mL) of cold
water by adding 0.75 teaspoon of yeast nutrient and a pinch of epsom salt. Stir until dissolved, then add 0.5 cup of koji. Cover the container and store it in the refrigerator overnight.

2. Meanwhile, rinse 1.5 cups of rice and cover with 2 to 3 inches of water. Place this next to the koji in your refrigerator and allow to soak overnight as well.

3. The following morning, drain and steam the soaked rice. After steaming, de-pan and mix the hot rice with the chilled koji and water mixture in your sanitized fermenter, using your clean hands (yes, your hands are the best tool for the job here) to mix and make sure all the rice clumps are broken up. The temperature of the mixture will fall to the 75–80 ºF
(24–27 °C) range.
Allow this mixture to remain at an ambient room temperature of around
70 ºF (21 °C) for two days, stirring twice a day with a sanitized spoon. Over the next 48 hours the koji will work its magic and the rice will almost completely liquefy.

4. After the two days have gone by, cool the rice and koji mash down to as close to 50 ºF (10 °C) as you can get it, then pitch the sake yeast. Hold the mash at this cool temperature for the next 12 hours.

5. Once the 12 hours have gone by, it’s time to allow the temperature to come back up to the 70 ºF (21 °C) range so the starter’s fermentation can carry out as quickly as possible. Stir the mash with a sanitized spoon twice a day for the next three days, then once a day for three days after that.

6. The basic fermentation of the moto is completed after nine days. The temperature should again be lowered to 50 ºF
(10 °C) and the moto allowed to rest for another five days. After those five days pass, the moto becomes ready for the moromi build up.


In order to ensure a complete fermentation, it’s best not to add all of the rice and koji at once. Just like syruping a wine, gradually adding the fermentables coaxes the yeast into going above and beyond their usual alcohol tolerance. Rice, koji, and water are added three times over a period of four days.


1. The first addition of rice will be
2.5 cups, which needs to be rinsed and covered with water to soak twelve hours before you plan to steam it. While you’re rinsing the rice, stir 1 cup of koji into
the moto.

2. The next morning, steam the rice for this addition. While steaming, dissolve 1.25 teaspoon of Morton salt substitute in a little warm water (this is the only time you will need to do this), then add enough cold water to make a total of 2.75 cups (651 mL). Place this in the refrigerator to chill until the rice is done.

3. After the rice is finished steaming, de-pan it and mix with the chilled water from step two. Use your clean hands to break up all the clumps and then, when the temperature of the rice drops below 85 ºF
(29 °C), mix it into the moto. The temperature of the moromi mash should settle somewhere in the 70–74 ºF (21–23 °C) range. Keep the mash at room temperature and stir every 2 hours for the next
12 hours, then twice a day for the next
36 hours.


1. On the evening of the day after you started the hatsuzoe step, prepare 6 cups of rice for steaming. At the same time, stir 1.5 cups of koji into the moromi mash.

2. Steam the rice the next morning as usual, then de-pan and add 8.75 cups of well-chilled water. Mix well and, as before, add it to the moromi when the rice is sufficiently cool.


1. Immediately following step two of nakazoe, allow the moromi to rest at room temperture for twelve hours, then stir in all of the remaining koji (20 ounces). Afterward, wash and soak all of the remaining 5 pounds of rice for the final addition.

2. The following morning, drain and steam the soaked rice. Work in batches if necessary, this is a lot of rice for even the most ambitious of steamers. The freshly steamed rice will need to be mixed with 1 gallon plus 1 cup (237 mL) of cold water before being added into the moromi.

3. Let the moromi, now at nearly 4 gallons (15 L) volume, rest overnight at room temperature. You can observe the odori or “dancing ferment,” which is sake’s version of the high kräusen that homebrewers are familiar with.

Now that the moromi is built up and fermentation is well underway, it’s time to get the temperature down. Move the fermenter to a location that will maintain it at as close to 50 ºF (10 °C) as possible and allow it to ferment undisturbed for the next three weeks.


As the fermentation nears its close, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to keep an eye on the specific gravity. Once the gravity has dropped below 1.000, it is time to separate the sake from the rice lees (called kasu). Use a racking cane to siphon the cloudy nigorizake out from under the floating cap of kasu and into sanitized one gallon glass jugs until you can’t draw off any more liquid. Things will tend to clog up here, and that’s okay, you can just pour the remaining liquid and kasu into a nylon straining bag and use either your hands or a small fruit press to extract as much sake from it as you can. Aeration isn’t a huge concern here because there is still a little bit of active fermentation going on to help clean things up, but do try to keep things sanitary and splashing to a minimum.

Secondary, Clarifying, Maturing and Packaging

You should now have about three gallons of milky white nigorizake with an alcohol content somewhere between 18% and 22% by volume. Put stoppers and airlocks on the secondary fermenters and keep them at 50 °F (10 °C) so they can finish fermenting. In a couple weeks the cloudy rice particles will settle into a fluffy white layer of sediment on the bottom of each jug and you can just siphon the clear sake off into another sanitized vessel.

At this point in the process, you will have pale yellow sake that is no longer milky, but can’t quite be called clear. To render it brilliantly clear (and largely colorless), commercial sake producers use activated charcoal filters. For homebrewers, take a page from the winemaking book instead: bentonite. Used in a ratio of 1⁄2 teaspoon per gallon (3.8 L), bentonite finings will remove most of the haze from homebrewed sake in a matter of days.

To use bentonite, start with 8 fluid ounces (237 mL) of very hot water and slowly whisk in 1.5 teaspoons of granular bentonite. Once it has become a smooth slurry, divide it evenly between your containers of hazy sake, cap, and gently shake to distribute. In about three days, all of the bentonite will have settled out, taking almost all of the haze particles with it.

While you’re at it, there’s no reason why you can’t stabilize the sake by pasteurizing it immediately after adding the finings. It’s very easy to do. Place your jug of sake in a pot large enough to hold it plus a water bath, then add enough tepid (to avoid shocking the glass) water to come up to the shoulder of the jug (or the pot if the jug is much taller than the pot). Place a thermometer down the neck of the vessel and apply heat. Watch the thermometer carefully, and when it reaches 140 ºF (60 °C), remove the sake from the water bath, take out the thermometer, and cap the sake tightly. Allow the pasteurized sake to cool completely before refrigerating.

Once pasteurized, you can bulk age sake like this for up to six months before siphoning into smaller bottles and re-pasteurizing. Clarified, double-pasteurized sake has a shelf life of up to a year at room temperature, and considerably longer if kept refrigerated and away from light.


Once you know the technique, where to find the ingredients and have a few pieces of inexpensive equipment, making a batch of sake can be rewarding. For more information, visit my Web site http://www.

Bob Taylor is a homebrewer from Anchorage, Alaska. This is his first feature story for BYO.


Steam Beer explained

November 5th, 2014

BeerSmith on brewing Steam Beer and California Common

Steam Beer brings to mind visions of the California gold rush, the Sierra Nevada mountains, and San Francisco. Today we’ll look at the history of California common beer (aka Steam Beer) and how to design steam beer recipes and present a collection of Steam Beer recipes you can brew at home.

History of Steam Beer

Steam beer was originally made by dozens of breweries in the California from 1850-1920, particularly around San Francisco. After prohibition, Anchor Steam Brewing Company continued to brew steam beer and eventually trademarked the term “Steam Beer” for use with its famous brew. Since “steam beer” was trademarked by Anchor Brewing Company, brewers adopted the name “California Common” to refer to this unique beer style.

The key distinguishing feature of steam beer is that it is a lager beer fermented at high temperatures (between 60-65F) and often well hopped. The precise origins of California Steam Beer is somewhat ambiguous. Daniels notes that “One Hundred Years of Brewing” provides conflicting information on precisely where the first steam beer was made (Los Angeles and San Francisco being candidates), but says that at least 25 California breweries made steam beer in the period from 1850-1903. The origins of the term “steam beer” are also shrouded in mystery, but one source cites the escaping gas when a keg of steam beer was tapped.

Anchor Brewing started making steam beer in 1894 and was the sole producer of the beer through the 1960’s after prohibition closed its competitors. The original steam beer was cask fermented and conditioned, and often delivered to the saloon in a “young” state.

A historic beer may or may not have used adjuncts, was hopped between 28 and 40 IBUs, and was run through a “clarifier” after a very short fermentation directly into the keg. Krausen was used to carbonate the kegs, often to very high levels of carbonation (as high as 40-70 psi before tapping!). (Ref: Daniels)

Designing a California Common Recipe

The modern California Common beer remains remarkably true to the steam beer heritage. California Common has an original gravity between 1.048 and 1.054, and a moderate hopping level of 30-45 IBUs according to the BJCP Style Guide.

It is brewed with a medium body, and the distinct flavor of Northern Brewer hops. It is typically amber to light copper in color, between 10 and 14 SRM. The modern beer is more highly attenuated than its predecessor, and has a mix of ale and lager character. This leaves a clean finish with low fruitiness, ester and diacytl.

California Common uses a pale malt (usually 2 row or pale extract) base for the bulk of the malt bill. Crystal malt in the 40-80L color range makes up an average of 10% of the remaining malt bill and is selected to achieve the desired beer color. Additional ingredients such as Munich/Vienna, Cara Pils, Chocolate and Special malts are occasionally added to homebrew versions, usually in quantities of 5% or less.

The mash schedule should target 152-156F to produce a medium body beer. Hop aroma and bitterness are desirable for this style, so multiple hop additions are the norm. Northern Brewer hops is traditionally used for bittering with an aroma hops such as Cascade added near the end of the boil for flavor/aroma. Dry hopping is often used. The water used historically for this beer is soft in character.

A distinguishing feature of California Common is clearly its fermentation and yeast strain. California Common lager yeast is most often used, though many brewers have had great success with high attenuation lager yeasts or even high attenuation ale yeast. Steam beer should be fermented between 60-68 F (16-20C). Conditioning homebrew at 50F for 3-4 weeks after fermentation will aid in clearing the beer. (Ref: Daniels)