Brewing Information

Consistent Homebrew Beer: Bitterness from Hops

Hop cone in the Hallertau, Germany, hop yard

Hop cone in the Hallertau, Germany, hop yard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not much of a fan of big hop flavours in beer. This led to a monumentally stupid mistake on my part – not paying much attention to hops when home brewing.

Yes, I use hops in my beers, but I have never fully appreciated or given hops the right amount of respect. That’s changing.

I think part of my ill-placed mistrust or disinterest in hops came from the current hops/alcohol arms race going on between some brewers. I’m sure you know what I mean. Brewers that seem to chase the “World’s Most Hoppiest/Strongest Beer” accolade. The title that seems more  marketing gimmick than anything else. 

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How To Homebrew Beer: Temperature

Measure Homebrew Temperature

Measure Homebrew Temperature

I’m not going to lie to you – I’m no expert in homebrewing and still learning the ropes myself.

However, I do want to blog a bit more often and recently I’ve been thinking and reading up on the importance that maintaining the right temperature during fermentation has on beer. In particular the direct impact it has on yeast performance.

It’s no secret that yeast is an exceptionally important, nay vital, part of the brewing process. Ensuring that the yeast that you use is “comfortable” plays a major role in getting the best results from the microorganisms.

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Choosing Yeast for Ale

I previously mentioned in my last post that I’m working my way through Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation by Chris White & Jamil Zainasheff. It is a great reference and is helping me in understanding how important those tiny wee guys are when it comes to brewing.

As I work my way through the book I am taking notes… and low and behold, here they are:

Choosing Yeast

Before you choose a yeast strain for your fermentation, it is importance that you  know what you are brewing – this may seem like an obvious statement, but it is extremely important. Try answering some of the following questions to help you pin point what you need from your yeast:

  • Is your beer going to be dry and hoppy?
  • Is your beer going to be sweet and malty?
  • Is your beer going to be clean or cloudy?
  • Is your beer going to be high or low in alcohol?

By knowing the answer to these questions you can start to explore the strains available and find one that will provide you with the correct outcome.

When selecting yeast consider what each strain offers in terms of:

  • Attenuation
  • Flavour profile
  • Flocculation (aggregation of yeast into larger clumps)
  • Temperature range productivity

Different Yeast Strains

Saccharomyces Cerevisiae – Ale Yeast to you and me. This is a large group that contains yeast that works for bread, distilling and labs.

Ale yeasts typically ferment quickly, consuming the correct profile of sugar and tolerate levels. It is normally a top fermenting yeast – the foaming head produced in fermentation is perfect for top cropping.

The temperature range in which Ale Yeasts generally produce their best flavours when fermenting is 18-21C

Clean Ale Strains

Popular in the USA. Produces low fruit flavours and fusel alcohol. This strain is good for brewers looking to showcase the flavours of their hops and malt.

The strain is known to produce a trace amount of sulphur when exposed to stressful conditions.

Fruity Ale Strains

Traditionally used in English brewing, but it gaining steady traction in the USA. Produces more interesting flavours and aromas than Clean Ale Yeast strains. The fermentation process is generally quicker as well.

As a general rule, Fruity Ale Strains produce clearer beer, but has been known to leave behind more by-products. The strain is often described as leaving behind hints of honey and citrus.

Hybrid Ale Strains

Typically, this is a strain that ferments at a cooler than average temperature. Produces a clear, almost lager like beer.

Phenolic Ale Strains

Historically used in Belgian ale and German wheat beer. The main characteristic is an increase in phenol – an aromatic compound. This is from the same class of compounds as used in antiseptics and some drinkers describe the flavour (plus aroma) of beers brewed using this yeast strain as medicinal.

Most phenolic beer strains do not flocculate well, leaving behind a cloudiness to the beer – this is something which is often aimed for when brewing a German wheat beer.

Eccentric Ale Strains

This strain is typically any Ale yeast that has not been pigeonholed into any of the previous categories. Again, this strain is most commonly used in Belgian-esque ales. This is due to the fact that it produces some unusual flavour compounds. For example:

  • Earthy
  • Barnyard
  • Sourness

Deals well with extremely high gravity wort.

And… that’s that for this post. Apologies – I sometimes struggle to conclude a post concisely. So yeah. Done.

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Yeast – Much More Than a Microorganism with a Sweet Tooth

I recently started reading Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation by Chris White & Jamil Zainasheff to get a better understanding of Yeast. I had read some basic information in the past, but it wasn’t until I started reading this book that I have began to understand the imperative importance of yeast in the brewing process.

It goes much deeper than just “yeast eats sugar and makes alcohol” which, although a bit dumbed down, was my basic understanding before.

Looking back now at times when I brewed beer from kits, as well as my recent extract brew experience, I didn’t choose in the right way. It was based – I’m afraid to say – on what was cheapest. Don’t worry (I could see the worry on your face) I will no longer use price as a way of choosing a strain in the future.

Anyway, as I have been working my way through the book I have been taking notes, which I’ve decided to put up on this blog as a way to document my growing understanding of these tiny, but hugely vital microorganisms.

Only 55 pages in, but here is what I’ve learned so far.

Very Quick History

Although yeast had been observed in the past – under the microscope around 1680 – it wasn’t until the mid-1800s that Louis Pasteur established that yeast was a living micro-organism  Previous to this, it was believed that yeast was simply a by-product of fermentation. Pasteur experimented for many years with various yeast cultures and sugars to better understand what made it tick. 

One of the 1st breweries to adopt his ideas was Carlsberg. Under Emil Christian Hansen the brewery’s lab managed to isolate the 1st Lager strain of yeast – Saccharomyces uvarum (today known as S. pastorianus).

Due to the fact that Lager yeast has specifically used and therefore well cared for, with the brewers understanding what to expect from it, lager became clearer, more consistent and gained a longer shelf life. Ale production was not as sophisticated with wild yeast and bacteria problems common place. This led to a rise in lager drinking, over Ale.

Very Brief Overview

  • Yeast is a part of the fungus family and is a single cell organism.
  • There are over 500 species of yeast – each with thousands of strains.
  • Yeast coverts sugar into alcohol, CO2 and other compounds that influence the taste and texture of fermented food and drinks.
  • Different strains of yeast produce different flavours and characteristics. Knowing what different strains of yeast produce – in terms of aroma, flavour, etc – goes a long way to producing beer that matches your intended vision.
  • Yeast requires nutrients to improve and/or maintain good health and performance.
  • Temperature control is essential for consistent beer. If there is a problem – and contamination can be ruled out – the majority of the time the issue will be temperature related.
  • There are two main species of yeast favoured for the brewing of beer:
    • S.Cerevisiae (ale yeast)
    • S.Pastorianus (lager yeast)

Next up in the book is the section on how to choose the right yeast for your beer. This is something I’m quite interested in, so once read and digested the information  I’ll no doubt write-up a post about what I learn.

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My Rudimentary Alcohol Maths – working out the ABV

It’s been almost a week since I kegged my beer and I am finding that waiting is the hardest part. I am anxious to let the nectar flow and find out how it tastes… but patience is a virtue.

So in the mean time lunch breaks at work are spent reading brewing blogs, forums and books in an attempt to continue absorbing as much information as I can.

One point that I‘ve found comes up often is the question of working out the alcohol content of your home brew.

Alcohol Content

It is a valid question, but I’ve actually found it pretty hard to pin down a precise answer – as different brewers seem to favour different formulas.

However, one constant in the alcohol maths is the main tool you use when gathering the numbers – of course, I’m talking about the hydrometer.

As you’ll no doubt be aware the hydrometer is used before fermentation (to find the original gravity – OG) and after fermentation (to find the final gravity – FG).

It is the difference between these readings that form the building blocks you require when working out how much alcohol has been produced by the yeast – when they’ve been snacking on the sugars in your beer.

The formula I have settled on for predicting the ABV (alcohol by volume), and one that I am fairly confident works well, is as follows:

ABV% = ((OG-FG) x 105) x 1.25)

Full disclosure: I’ve yet to find information explaining why 105 and why 1.25, but there we are.

With my recent extract home brew, the OG was 1.043 and the FG settled out at 1.012. Using the above formula this means that I have a beer on my hands (ok, in my pressure keg… don’t worry I’ve not contaminated the beer by sticking my hands in there) of around 4.06%.

ABV Reference Table

The reason I am happy with this formula (aside it being fairly straight forward – I should have paid more attention in maths at school!) is that in John J Palmer’s book “How to brew” I found a reference table for working out alcohol content.

Now, although this table is a general overview and should be taken with a pinch of salt, it does give you a nice reference point for you to check whether your formula conforms – the formula I use does.

Based upon John J Palmer’s table, I have made my own (apologies, it is rather crude due to width issues):

Original Gravity
Final Gravity 1.030 1.035 1.040 1.045 1.050 1.055 1.060 1.065 1.070 1.075
0.998 4.20 4.86 5.51 6.17 6.82 7.48 8.14 8.79 9.45 10.11
1.000 3.94 4.59 5.25 5.91 6.56 7.22 7.87 8.53 9.19 9.84
1.002 3.68 4.33 4.99 5.64 6.30 6.96 7.61 8.27 8.92 9.58
1.004 3.41 4.07 4.72 5.38 6.04 6.69 7.35 8.01 8.66 9.32
1.006 3.15 3.81 4.46 5.12 5.77 6.43 7.09 7.74 8.40 9.06
1.008 2.89 3.54 4.20 4.86 5.51 6.17 6.82 7.48 8.14 8.79
1.010 2.63 3.28 3.94 4.59 5.25 5.91 6.56 7.22 7.87 8.53
1.012 2.36 3.02 3.67 4.33 4.99 5.64 6.30 6.96 7.61 8.27
1.014 2.10 2.76 3.41 4.07 4.72 5.38 6.04 6.69 7.35 8.01
1.016 1.84 2.49 3.15 3.81 4.46 5.12 5.77 6.43 7.09 7.74
1.018 1.58 2.23 2.89 3.54 4.20 4.86 5.51 6.17 6.82 7.48
1.020 1.31 1.97 2.62 3.28 3.94 4.59 5.25 5.91 6.56 7.22
1.022 1.05 1.71 2.36 3.02 3.67 4.33 4.99 5.64 6.30 6.96
1.024 0.79 1.44 2.10 2.76 3.41 4.07 4.72 5.38 6.04 6.69

This is based upon table 10 in How to Brew: Everything You Need to Know to Brew Beer Right for the First Time by John J Palmer – page 98.

This table uses the formula stated earlier in the post and is for reference only – don’t take it as gospel.

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Words words everywhere, nor any seem to make sense

Hmmm, that title is my rather poor attempt at some literature/home brew satire – I don’t think I pulled it off. I’ll just stick to simple ones in the future…

Anyway, to the purpose of today’s post. Words.

Home brewing, like most niche hobbies/interests has its own unique language.

As a relatively new brewer, I find that I regularly rely on Google to find a source which will explain terms that I come across whilst reading other blogs and forums.

So, to help myself keep track and learn the large plateau of home brew jargon that exists – it will hopefully aid others too – I intend to create and regularly maintain my own glossary of terms.

In other news, my first batch of extract home brew is almost ready to be kegged. I will update as and when this takes place.

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