Life has been a bit chaotic the past several months between a very busy work schedule, helping raise our very active 15-month-old daughter, and once again battling poorly designed crib assembly instruction manuals as we eagerly expect our second daughter any day now. Not surprisingly, this blog has suffered.

While I haven’t been writing much, I have been able to carve out the occasional time to enjoy a beer or two, and I’ve also managed to brew a couple nice beers here and there including what I’m calling Freedom Stout, an homage to my wife who will soon be able to re-join me in the ranks of craft beer aficionados once we deliver our baby.

In the winter, I’m rarely able to get out into the garage for an all-grain brewing session, usually too cold with a detached garage, so I tend to do more extracts in the comfort of my kitchen. In thinking of Freedom Stout, I was inspired by my friend Eric’s (aka Bearded Brewer’s) Stout Chocula homebrew which he recently wrote about, as well as one of my perennial favorites Founders Breakfast Stout. I wanted to brew a more sessionable stout in the 5% ABV range that didn’t bowl you over with booze, but still gave you some of the nice roasty qualities along with some coffee and chocolate undertones. Think Guinness meets Surly Coffee Bender.

I decided to use Midwest Supplies’ Peace Coffee Java Stout recipe kit as a foundation (more out of convenience), making some personal tweaks and adjustments to get to the beer I wanted. I brewed the beer a few weeks ago, which I’d characterize as an oatmeal coffee chocolate stout, and kegged it last night. It really turned out fantastic. Here’s the recipe I went with for the 5 gallon batch:

From the Midwest Supplies Peace Coffee Java Stout kit:
   6 lbs. Dark LME
   8 oz. Chocolate Malt (steeped at 152 for 30 min)
   4 oz. Flaked Barley (steeped at 152 for 30 min)
   4 oz. Caramel 60L (steeped at 152 for 30 min)
   4 oz. Roasted Barley (steeped at 152 for 30 min)
   1/2 oz. Challenger pellet hops (in boil at 60 min)
   1 oz. Tettnang pellet hops (in boil at 5 min)
   4 oz. Peace Coffee whole beans (ground and cold-pressed in 48 oz. of water, added to secondary)

Stuff I added:
   8 oz. flaked oats (steeped at 152 for 30 min)
   2 oz. black patent (steeped at 152 for 30 min)
   4 oz. cocoa nibs (secondary)
   Wyeast 1275 Thames Valley

60 minute boil
O.G. 1.046
Fermented at 68 degrees F for 14 days
F.G. 1.010
Racked to secondary with cold-pressed coffee and cocoa nibs for 4 days (appeared to be a very minor refermentation in secondary, I’m guessing thanks to the cocoa nibs)


Hello friends, it’s been a while. My apologies for letting this little beer-soaked corner of the Internet go to seed. But I think I’m back, at least more regularly than I have been of late. 

Since brewing a traditional hefeweizen back in March (which turned out fantastic, despite a mucky sparge), it had been nearly five months since I broke out the mash tun and brew kettles, by far my longest hiatus since I began ardently home brewing about five years ago. So I went back to the recipe vault to pick something well-suited for the coming fall season, with football and leaf raking around the corner.

After some debate between a saison (which is still on the agenda in the near future) and a pumpkin beer (again, something I’ll do soon), I opted for a fairly standard brown ale, probably a little more American in attitude than your traditional English Northern or Southern varieties thanks to the somewhat aggressive hop schedule. The genesis of the recipe itself, which some of you may recognize, comes from the Surly AHA Rally wort provided by Todd Haug, with some minor variations. It’s the same general recipe I employed for my Wild Rice Brown brewed earlier in the year, minus the wild rice, and I also backed off on some of the base malt this time around to try and bring the alcohol down a bit.

Here’s what I went with:

OG: 1.058
FG: 1.015
IBU: 43

ABV: 5.5%
SRM: 16

Single infusion mash at 152 degrees F
Boil Volume: 6.5 gallons
Batch size: 5 gallons

8 lbs. Castle Pale Ale Malt
12 oz. Brown Malt
4 oz. Caramel 80
4 oz. Caramel 120
1 lb. Brown Sugar
1 oz. Willamette (60 min)
1 oz. Willamette (30 min)
1 oz. Columbus (2 min)
Wyeast 1335 British Ale II

The brew day itself went fine, however I think I collected the wort too quickly (about 20 minutes) as my efficiency was horrendous. I missed the mark on the OG pretty dramatically, coming in at 1.040, which will likely put this beer at the 4% ABV range after it ferments out. Technical failings aside, it’s not a big deal in my opinion, as it should make for a more sessionable beer.

As if the excitement of brewing my first beer in ages wasn’t enough, I also invested in a new digital temperature controller that allowed me to convert my basement refrigerator into a fermentation chamber. It was stupidly simple to set up, and I’m now in full control of my temperature settings instead of leaving fermentation in the whimsical hands of Mother Nature depending on how hot or cold the ambient air in my house happens to be.

With this newfound control, I’m planning to brew an Oktoberfest this coming weekend, my first attempt at a lager. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I think I learned what it is to be a patient man this evening.

Toward the end of the work day I caught the brewing bug, and after some quick recipe formulation I settled on a fairly standard Bavarian hefeweizen recipe, using half malted white wheat, some pils, and Munich for a bit of character. I also opted for a couple ounces of German Tettnanger hops to help balance things out, although with this beer the defining characteristic certainly comes from the Weihenstephan yeast strain that will deliver a fragrant banana and clove aroma. Amidst all of this, I had the foresight (or so I thought) to add some rice hulls, considering what I already knew about the gummy nature of wheat in the mash and how long sparging can take with this kind of grist.

After more than an hour sparge with less than half my brew kettle filled, I felt like giving up watching the torturously slow trickle of wort dribbling out of the tun. I didn’t actually get boiling until nearly 10 p.m., long after I’d started the process. What should have been a pleasant after work brewing experience turned into a tiring brew night. But that’s the way homebrewing goes some times. On the plus side, I had plenty of time to destroy nearly every microbe in my house sanitizing the hell out of all my brewing equipment.

Here’s the recipe I went with:

Single infusion mash at 152 degrees for 60 minutes
Boil volume: 6.5 gallons
Boil time: 60 minutes
Batch size: 5 gallons

OG: 1.053
FG: 1.013
ABV: 5.1%
IBU: 19
SRM: 7

5 lbs Malted White Wheat
4 lbs Pilsner
1 lb Munich
0.5 lb Rice Hulls
0.5 oz Tettnanger (4.8% AA) @ 60
1 oz Tettnanger (4.8% AA) @ 30
0.5 oz Tettnanger (4.8% AA) @ 2
Wyeast 3068 Weihenstephan Weizen

The kegs have run dry, my bottles are dwindling, and the carboys stand empty. 

I’m definitely overdue for some homebrewing.

After chatting with a few fellow homebrewers at the recent Twin Cities Beer Blogger Summit at Stub & Herb’s (thanks again to Stu for coordinating), including Eric at Bearded Brewing, Derek at Beer This!, Don Osborn, Eric at Lucid Brewing, and Michael at A Perfect Pint, I was reinspired to kick my homebrewing efforts back into full gear.

It’s been a little while since I’ve brewed a batch, and I’ve  been mulling over a few recipe ideas lately, including what I think will be a very interesting use of a local Minnesota ingredient (Sumac Saison, more to come on that). But for my first beer of the new year I’ve decided to brew up a pretty straightforward IPA using all Centennial hops, shooting for something close to Founder’s very tasty version, as it’s always nice to have a sessionable beer on draught.

To keep it even more manageable given my tight schedule these days, I made a game time decision as I walked into Midwest Supplies and opted to use extracts for the bulk of fermentables in the recipe. Here’s what I went with:

Boil volume: 6.5 gallons
Batch size: 5 gallons

OG: 1.053
FG: 1.013
ABV: 5.2%
IBU: 65
SRM: 12

6.6 lbs Gold LME
1 lb Caravienne (steeped at 152 for 30 min)
0.5 lb Crystal 60 (steeped at 152 for 30 min)
0.5 lb Belgian Biscuit (steeped at 152 for 30 min)
1 oz Centennial (60 min)
1 oz Centennial (30 min)
1 oz Centennial (2 min)
1 oz Centennial (dry hop)
Wyeast 1056 (1000 ml starter)

The batch should trend to the sweeter side, thanks in part to the Caravienne and Crystal malts, but the hops should balance that out. It’ll also have a bit of toasty flavor from the Biscuit. I’ll keep everyone updated on progress.

In addition to craft beer, anyone who knows me also knows I’m a BBQ freak.

It all started in college where I spent several years working at a BBQ joint, slinging ribs, brisket and tips for a little extra beer money and the occasional free meal. I can recount many nights after the place closed up hanging out at the bar with a sloppy basket of Memphis-style pulled pork piled on top of Texas toast, and a nice cool beer to wash it down. Life was very good.

It doesn’t matter the time of year, I’m always up for grilling or smoking. But with winter clenching its especially steely cold fist around our state, it’s tough to get out on the patio and fire up the Weber. So I recently took a shot at cooking some pork spare ribs in the oven, a technique I’ve surprisingly never tried before, and the results were excellent. I whipped up a tangy mustard- and honey-based sauce to complement, adding a really nice dose of heat and sweetness. As I’m wont to do, I also paired the meal with a nice pint of Stone Arrogant Bastard, procured from Casanova’s in Hudson, with the bitter yet malty beer equaling the aggressive tone of the rib’s tang and spice.

Here’s the recipe I went with:

10 oz. honey
10 oz. dijon mustard
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp black pepper

Bring combined ingredients to a slow boil, reduce heat and stir to ensure mustard dissolves. Simmer for 15 minutes, and let cool. Sauce will thicken after about 30 minutes and is ready to use.

Pork Spare Ribs
Preheat your oven broiler and start removing the membrane from the back of your ribs (I went with three slabs). If you don’t know how to do this, I’ve found using a paper towel to get a good grip on the thin, slippery membrane makes it easy to pull off in one fell swoop, like ripping off a big Band-Aid.

Generously coat the ribs with a dry rub, any type will do. I’ve made plenty of traditional rubs in the past, but to keep it easy I simply used Cavender’s Greek Seasoning, you can find it most anywhere.

Once seasoned, place on a large cooking sheet and pop in the oven. Using the broiler, sear the tops of the ribs, maybe 2-3 minutes, until you start to see them darken up just a bit.

Turn off the broiler, and switch your oven to bake at 300 degrees. Cook the ribs for about three hours, or fork tender. You’ll start to see the meat pulling away from the bone as it slowly cooks.

After three hours, pull the ribs out of the oven. Slide a shallow pan of either water or red wine (or both) under the ribs, and wrap the whole production in foil. This will help make the ribs even moister, giving you that authentic “fall off the bone” presentation. 

Put the foiled ribs back in the oven for another 90 minutes at 300 degrees. After an hour and a half, remove from oven, open foil, and top with the sauce. Use the broiler one last time, only a minute or so, to help the sauce stick to the ribs and achieve a nice glaze.

That’s all there is to it. It’s really easy, and a great afternoon cooking project that’ll make you contemplate opening up your own rib joint.

I’m normally not one to turn down a challenge…especially when it comes to my favorite hobby.

So when Peter over at Simply Beer recently contacted a handful of homebrew bloggers across the country to take part in what he dubbed a Beer Blogger Brew-Off, well, there wasn’t much debate on whether I was going to throw my hat into the ring.

The format is pretty straightforward…everyone will brew the same base stout recipe this coming Sunday the 13th, but the variable is we all get to change ONE thing about the recipe…whether that’s tweaking the grains, hops, yeast, or introducing a secret ingredient.  The secret ingredient can be anything, as long as the 5 gallon batch is completed on time.  Everyone will bottle their beer January 10th, ship each participant a couple bottles on February 1st, and do a virtual tasting on February 12th that Peter will record and post as a podcast.

I think this event is a pretty cool idea, for a couple reasons…aside from the beer itself, the camaraderie and friendships developed being part of the homebrewing community, whether local or national, are some of the greatest things about the hobby, in my opinion. I’ve also learned alot from connecting with other brewers, and I’m certain this experience will be no different once I sample their beers and get a chance to learn about their vision and process.   

Here’s the list of participants, including a couple local guys. If you’re not familiar with some of these accomplished homebrewers, check out their sites:

DerekLuther Public House (@LutherHaus)
ErikTop Fermented (@topfermented)
JosephHopfentreader (@hopfentreader)
MichaelThank Heaven For Beer (@heavenlybrew)
NateThank Heaven For Beer (@THFBeer_nate)
PeterSimply Beer (@simplybeer)
ThomasBeer Genome Project (@TomBGP)

Here’s the base recipe we’re all going with:

9 lbs. domestic 2-row barley
1 lb. chocolate malt
1 lb. roasted barley
4 oz. flaked barley
4 oz. caramel 60°L
1 oz. Willamette (60 min)
1 oz. Tettnang (2 min)
Wyeast 1056

60 min mash @ 152
75 min sparge @170
60 min boil
Estimated gravity of 1.046 and finish around 1.014

So what’s my secret ingredient going to be? I’ve put a fair amount of thought into it, and it’s been surprisingly challenging coming up with that ONE ingredient to go with. After some pretty funky suggestions, including one from my buddy Aaron at The Vice Blog to brew an egg nog stout (not sure I’d be able to pull that off with just one ingredient), I’ve decided to keep it relatively simple and add about a half pound of lactose during the boil to make this a nice milk stout. My focus will be on making this the most well-executed stout I can, as opposed to blowing people away with barrel-aged, fruit-infused craziness.

I’m curious to see what the other guys decide to do with their batches. I’ll keep everyone updated as the competition progresses.


Forget hops…over the past several months, I’ve been slowly becoming what can be called a sour head.

After having a few phenomenal sours at GABF, and more recently sampling stuff like Russian River Consecration and Supplication at a friend’s beer tasting event, I’ve been itching to brew my own. I did some research into styles, bacteria and brewing processes, and decided to focus my first foray into the category on making a Berliner Weisse, a very delicate, low-alcohol beer that originated in northern Germany several hundred years ago.

When Napoleon’s troops marched into Germany and sampled the beer, they called it “the champagne of the North,” and it does indeed resemble a champagne with its high effervescence and dry acidity. They generally come in between 2-3% ABV, with extremely little (or no) hop bitterness or aroma, and are often served with various syrups to balance the trademark sourness. The grain bill is very simple, traditionally made up primarily of pilsner malt with about a third (sometimes up to half) wheat. The puckering sour in the beer comes from lactobacillus delbrueckii, a bacteria that can be imparted in the wort any number of ways, either naturally using a sour mash or via inoculation from a prepared culture as I did, figuring the sour mash procedure seemed like too much of a crapshoot on the level of sourness you’d ultimately get.

It’s fairly difficult to find commercial examples here in the Twin Cities. But if you’re willing to order beer online or travel to Hudson, you can find a few nice ones (often seasonal) including The Bruery’s Hottenroth, New Glarus’ Unplugged Berliner Weisse, and Dogfish Head’s Festina Peche.

Here’s the recipe I went with for a five gallon batch:    

3 lb Pilsner
3 lb White Wheat
1 lb Carapils
1 oz Tettnanger (4.4%)
Wyeast 5335 Lactobacillus Delbrueckii
Wyeast 1338 European Ale

Saccharification rest: 152 degrees for 60 minutes
Sparge: 170 degrees for 45 minutes
OG: 1.028

This is a no boil recipe…yes, you heard me right…no boil. And the reasoning behind it is two-fold. First, while I decided to inoculate the wort using a bacteria culture from Wyeast, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to let any naturally occuring lactobacillus from the grain husks in the mash play a less significant role in upping the sourness of the beer (assuming any survived the saccharification rest). I suppose that also means there’s potential for other unwanted bugs to get in the beer, but I’ll take that chance (the style is also known to have low levels of brettanomyces, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). Secondly, hops play an extremely small, almost non-existent role in this type of beer, so I hopped in the mash using a small amount of the low alpha acid German Tettnanger as opposed to boiling which would have extracted and utilized more compounds than required. Hop compounds can also inhibit the growth of bacteria (ever heard that hops have a preservative effect?) which is counterproductive for this style.

Once I had collected my wort, I cooled down to about 85 degrees and pitched the bacteria into the carboy, thinking that the bacteria would work more effectively at a warmer temperature as opposed to cooling to the preferable 65-68 degree range for ale yeast. I gave the bacteria a 24 hour head start before I pitched the yeast, as I wanted the bacteria to get some sugars before the yeast came into the picture and gobbled everything up. However, the bacteria can quickly cause the pH level in the wort to become too acidic, creating an unsuitable environment for the yeast to do its thing. So 24 hours seemed like an appropriate timeframe between bacteria and yeast.

Within 12 hours of pitching the yeast, I saw a small but active krausen in the carboy. The beer’s original gravity is only 1.028, so very small. I’m anticipating this will finish out around the 1.002 range, giving me about 2.5% ABV. After primary fermentation and a diacetyl rest, I’ll condition in secondary for a few more days before I bottle. When I do package the beer, I’ll dose it with another shot of lactobacillus and let it bottle-condition for at least a couple months.

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