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How to Build a Kegerator

Among the most popular upgrades for home brewers of all abilities is to keg beer instead of bottling it. Using a keg has many advantages, but keeping the keg of beer properly cooled while also keeping it accessible can be difficult.

The kegerator is the solution to this problem. This small refrigerator with a built-in tap allows you to both control the temperature of your keg and fill up a pint of beer whenever you would like.

Many home brewers, prefer to build their own equipment. If you are among them, we highly recommend you check out the excellent infographic at PartSelect that walks you through building a kegerator, step by step.

How to Build a Kegerator Intro

 

Click Here to read more about How to Build a Kegerator.

Have you built your own kegerator? Share your stories and tips in the comments below!

Off-Flavor Alert: Beer Tastes Sharp or Spicy, or “Warming”

Most home brewers, unfortunately, are familiar with the “alcoholic” off-flavor even if they do not realize it.

High alcohol content is desirable in some beer styles, such as barleywines, but it is problematic in many lighter beers.

This is a harsh, sharp, or spicy flavor that provides a “warming” sensation when consumed.

What Causes the Off-Flavor?

The alcoholic off-flavor is caused by the presence of fusel alcohols, as opposed to the ethanol alcohol that is usually found in beer. Fusel alcohols are produced by yeast when fermentation takes place at a temperature that is too high, usually over 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

There are other less-common causes of alcoholic off-flavors as well. Excessive amounts of yeast used in the fermentation can cause this flaw, as can leaving beer on the trub (the settled out proteins and debris) in the fermentor for too long.

Can This Off-Flavor Be Fixed?

Unfortunately there is no way to un-ferment the alcohols out of the beer. When the alcoholic off-flavor is present in a beer it is there to stay.

Can This Off-Flavor Be Prevented?

The alcoholic off-flavor is quite preventable. The most important factor to consider is the fermentation temperature.

Every yeast strain has a different ideal fermentation temperature range. It is the brewer’s job to know that range and to find a method to hold fermentation at a consistent temperature on the low end of that spectrum for the duration of the fermentation.

If the beer will be fermenting for an especially long period of time it may be beneficial to transfer it into a secondary fermentor after a couple of weeks. This will get the beer off of the trub after most of the fermentation is complete, and it will promote a finished beer with higher clarity.

Have you experienced the alcoholic off-flavor in your brewing? How did it affect the beer?

Off-Flavor Alert: Beer Tastes Like Green Apples or Pumpkin

The unintended flavor of green apples or fresh pumpkin in beer is common, especially early in one’s home brewing career when patience for the fermentation process might be lacking.

Green apple is not a desirable flavor in any beer, and pumpkin is only acceptable in a few styles.

What Causes the Off-Flavor?

This off-flavor in beer is caused by a natural byproduct in the fermentation process called Acetaldehyde.

Acetaldehyde is an intermediate stage between the sugar that the yeast begins fermenting and the final product, ethanol, given off by the yeast which provides the alcohol content of the beer.

Many off-flavors are caused by poor sanitation, but most often the green apple off-flavor exists because there simply was not enough time allowed for fermentation of the beer. The beer is still “green.”

In rare cases the green apple off-flavor might be caused by either oxidation of the beer or a bacterial infection. If an infection is the culprit, the essence of green apple can be especially intense.

Can This Off-Flavor Be Fixed?

Fortunately, the green apple or pumpkin off-flavor will usually go away with more time allowed for the beer on the yeast for fermentation.

Further fermentation will convert the acetaldehyde into ethanol, removing the green apple flavor. This process can take longer if the beer is strong, with a high specific gravity at the beginning of fermentation.

It can also take longer if the yeast being used is weak or not enough is pitched at the start of fermentation.

Can This Off-Flavor Be Prevented?

The simple way to prevent the flavor of green apples or fresh pumpkin in your beer is to be patient with the fermentation. Allow plenty of time for the yeast to do its work and the results will be improved.

Along the same lines, sufficient levels of strong yeast need to be pitched to encourage a strong fermentation. Determine the expected starting specific gravity of your beer and ensure that you have enough yeast to handle it. A calculator like the one over at MrMalty can be very useful for this.

Check the manufacture date of your yeast. Liquid yeast packs lose their viability quickly after a few months. A yeast starter may be required to build up the number of yeast before fermentation.

Finally, prevent the introduction of oxygen to the beer during transfers into a secondary fermentor or bottling bucket. Flush your fermentor with carbon dioxide and ensure that your transfer lines are secure to prevent oxygen from leaking in. This will prevent off-flavors due to oxidation.


Brewing Beer to Welcome Baby

With our baby two months away from being born we decided that it was time to brew some good beer to enjoy once the child is finally here. My wife hasn’t had a beer in quite a while so she got to pick the style. She is quite a hop-head so she wanted an IPA, but she also likes really dark beers so we got a beer kit that is both hoppy and dark – a black IPA. I went down to the local home brewing supply store yesterday and picked it up, and I am quite excited about it. Check out what this beer contains (this is an extract beer kit):

Beer Ingredients:

-1 pound of specialty grains (1/4 lb Wyeremann Carafa III, 1/4 lb Chocolate malt, 1/2 lb Briess Caramel 80)
-9.15 pounds of Dark malt syrup (3.15 pounds boiled for 60 minutes, 6 pounds late addition – 15 minutes left in the boil)
-1 pound of corn sugar, late addition

And my favorite part, the hops:
-1 oz Summit (60 min)
-1 oz Chinook (15 min)
-1 oz Centennial (10 min)
-1 oz Cascade (5 min)
-1 oz Centennial (0 min)
-1 oz Cascade (dry hop)

This should be a great beer! There is going to be a lot of information to keep track of with this beer, so I will make sure to keep plenty of notes in my brewing journal (I use this one) in case I want to repeat the beer later.

Have you ever brewed a “welcome baby” beer? What type of beer did you make?

Four Unique Gifts for Beer Lovers

A couple of weeks ago I posted my ideas for gifts that would be great for home brewers. They are all gifts that I have given or received, and I think that they are great gifts. Look around the internet, though, and you will see that pretty much every home brewing blog and web site suggests the same gifts. For something different, here are four more gift suggestions that you might not have thought about right away:

1. Hop Candy ($4.99)
A great stocking stuffer, and something you might not see in too many places. I bought some Hop Candy at Northern Brewer and my wife loves it (she’s the true hophead in our household). This stuff packs a PUNCH! Be ready for some bitterness and true hop flavor with this candy.

2. Unique Beer Glasses ($6.95 – $11.95)
A simple yet fun gift is a crazy beer glass. Drinking beer out of a glass is always preferable over a bottle or a can, so why not have a variety of fun glasses? My personal favorites are the Hopped Up Beer Glass and the Tulip Glass.

3. Home Brewing Journal ($14.99 – $42.49)
Something that I spent a lot of time trying to perfect when I started home brewing by myself was my record-keeping system. I am fastidious about keeping detailed, repeatable recipes and procedures so that I can improve my brewing in the future. I couldn’t find any templates that I completely liked so I designed my own and self-published it as a book, allowing me to get hard copies that I can write in and look through easily. If you are interested in one, you can choose from the Hardcover (fanciest, a keepsake)or Softcover  (most affordable) versions.

Another option is to find an app that will record your brewing. This is a very viable option, but I am hesitant to recommend any specific app since I haven’t ever used one. I personally prefer written record over digital, and a app is difficult to find a gift bag for.

4.Custom Beer Bottle Labels ($24.00)
This is a product that I have not tried out, but I think it would be really cool. This site allows you to submit your own artwork and they will create reusable labels for your home brew beer bottles. This could be the first step in branding your future brewery!

What gifts are you giving the home brewer in your life (or yourself!) for their next gift?

How to Enjoy a Rare Beer

Tasting beers that are hard to come by requires some tough decisions. If you get multiple bottles of the beer do you set some aside to age? For how long? If you only get one or two bottles, do you share the beer with others or save it for yourself? With all the hype around the Westvleteren 12 release last winter I found myself considering these questions, so I thought I would review a few of the rare-beer situations that I have experienced.

Westvleteren XII

Last December Westvleteren 12 was released in very limited quantities in the U.S. and a few other countries. It was sold out immediately and will probably never be sold via retail again. What do you do with a beer that you will only be able to buy only once in your lifetime? I like this guy’s approach. He bought a six pack and enjoyed one immediately, saved one or two to try with some friends, and then set three aside so that he could taste the beer after it had aged one year, three years, and five years. That is patience!

Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA

This beer is released regularly and it is probably not difficult to find in some parts of the country, but this is a tough beer to get a hold of in the midwest. When I lived in Michigan there was a single store in the area that carried Dogfish Head, and when they got one or two six packs of the 120 Minute IPA they would put it on the shelf one bottle at a time so that more people would have a shot at getting it. It is not sold at all in Minnesota (or Wisconsin. or Iowa). I have only ever seen two bottles of this beer in my life. We bought that twelve ounce bottle for $10. This winter I paid a store clerk in Florida $15 to give me one bottle out of their aging cellar, and he only did so because I was from the other side of the country and I was buying a lot of other beer from him.

The 120 Minute IPA is extreme. This beer comes in at 15-20 percent alcohol by volume and hits the maximum of the bitterness scale. The brewery actually recommends sharing a 12 ounce bottle with a friend or two due to its potency, and that’s exactly how we enjoyed the single bottle that we bought – passing it around between four or five people one evening. We were still exploring the world of more extreme beers at the time so we found this beer too shocking to fully appreciate it. I still haven’t tried the second bottle, so I have to make a decision about whether I should try it soon or let it age for a while.

Surly Darkness

In the Twin Cities area the big craft brewer is Surly, and once every year they release a powerful Russian Imperial Stout called Darkness. This beer is released in a limited quantity and is sold in 750 mL bottles for $18-20 apiece. The release of the beer every October is called Darkness Day. Beer fans line up at the brewery starting the evening before the release just to get a chance to buy the beer, and it is quite a festival.

How do you enjoy a beer like this? One of my good friends scored a six pack of Darkness a couple of years ago. He enjoyed one or two right away, has been saving another bottle or two to for tasting when it has aged, and is holding back the rest for their trade value. If you look on Craigslist for this area you will see that there is a solid market for this beer (obviously this market is for the unopened collectible bottle, since re-selling the beer itself would be illegal). Older editions of this beer sell for a good return on investment. There is also a trade market for the beer – my friend has seen offers such as two bottles of the 2012 edition for one bottle of his 2011 edition. Not a bad deal.

Have you ever gotten hold of a rare or hard-to-find beer? How did you manage its enjoyment?

Left Out of the Conversation

BeerAdvocate.com is a website that serves as a forum for people to describe and rate beers. As I was cruising around there earlier I found this description of a certain beer’s taste by a person on the forum:

“Sweet on the tip of the tongue with a warm middle. A little note of alcohol warmth but well hidden. The dark fruits now come out with greater intensity and phenols from the yeast’s work let it be known.”

I don’t really get a good sense of how the beer tastes based on that description. I feel left out of the conversation, like the author is trying harder to appear sophisticated than to help others understand the beer.

Look as this description of the same beer by somebody else:

“Aromas are pleasant and come through more as the ale warms: musty, boozy, earthy, sweet, caramel, honey, fruity as it warms w plum & cherry. Tastes are boozy, rich, sweet, malty, fruity with plum, raisin, currant, rum, bready yeast, mossy, musty, earthy – great complexity!”

I’m not certain that it is actually possible to pull out that many distinct flavors from the beer, but at least I get a really good idea of how the beer tastes from the second description. It is truly a description of the taste, not of the experience of drinking the beer. This makes me think two things:

1. Get familiar with many different flavors so that you can recognize and describe them when tasting beer (or anything else).

2. Keep it simple and approachable. Don’t try to appear sophisticated or appeal only to the “True” beer tasters.
Have you had experiences in the beer world that have left you feeling left out of the conversation?

The Most Common Descriptive Terms Used In Beer Tasting

Lately I have been very interested in the art of beer tasting since readings Gary Vaynerchuk’s book Crush It!, which frequently references adventures in wine tasting. Recently I did a little exercise with beer tasting in mind, and it made me realize just how many home brewing and beer drinking terms I don’t understand – when I encounter them I usually skip over them or make a guess as to what they mean.

So here’s what I did:
I went through an entire home brewing supply catalog and highlighted every word that was used to describe beer tastes. My survey included 62 different beer kits that were described in the catalog, and from these I pulled out 192 descriptors of which about 134 were unique terms. It is important keep in mind, though, that these descriptions are being used to sell the beer kits. There were no descriptions of off-flavors or off-putting tastes (although “tar” was listed as a flavor in one of the stouts!). Even so, I think that the results are interesting, and they show me just how much I have to learn about beer tasting.

Here’s what I learned:

  • There are many, many flavors that I am not familiar with. If I am going to become a more prodigious beer taster I will need to become familiar enough with flavors like coriander, plum, and buttered pastry to pick them out of the complex flavor profile of a beer.
  • There are a bunch of terms in the advertising literature that are supposed to be luring me in, but instead they are blocking me out. Over the next few weeks I will be exploring terms like “nose,” “body,” “bouquet,” “finish,” “esters,” “phenolic,” “quaffable,” “dryness,” and “hop-bursting,” specifically with how they relate to beer making and tasting. I can make a pretty good guess as to what each word means given the context, but it is still just a guess.

Most Common Terms To Describe Beer Tastes:
My little study was not scientific – I sat down with a highlighter, turned on some loud music, and went through a single company’s catalog. Many beer styles are represented, from pale ales to Belgian ales to IPA’s and stouts. This wide variety of beer styles clearly necessitates a wide variety of descriptors. Even so, below are the top 6 general words that were used to describe the beer flavors. These six comprise about 22% of the total descriptors used in the magazine. The rest of the descriptors are just used once or twice.

  1. Fruity (used 10 times)
  2. Spicy (used 8 times)
  3. Caramel (used 7 times)
  4. Citrus (used 6 times)
  5. Coffee (used 6 times, including descriptions like light-roast, dark roast, etc)
  6. Floral (used 5 times, usually referring to hop flavor)

Finally, below are each of the descriptive words that I found in the catalog.  Are there any words below that you wouldn’t know how to use when describing beer taste?

All Descriptors Found In the Catalog:

apricot coriander hop-bitter shot of hops
baking chocolate cream hoppy smooth
big finish creamy textured hops smooth mouthfeel
biscuit character crisp lemon-citrus snappy
bitter chocolate character crisp finish light sweet malt sour apple
bitter orange peel dark fruit light-bodied spices
bittersweet finish delicate floral note lighter body spicy
bittersweet roastiness dried fruit lingering bitterness spicy cloves
bittnerness drier malt spicy English hop profile
black tea dry maltiness spritzy
bread dough overtones dry  and mildly bitter finish malty spine subtle fruit notes
bread tangles dry finish medium-bodied sweet
bready earthy medium-full body sweet finish
burnt earthy hop bitterness medium-light body sweet graininess
burnt caramel english biscuits modest bitterness sweet malt body
butter toffee estery multigrain bread sweet malt profile
buttered toast fig neutral finish syrupy malt
buttered-pastry sweetness floral maltiness nutmeg tangerine
candied citrus floral nose oats tar (!)
candy-like sweetness floral notes oilier mouthfeel tart
caramel flowers peppery finish toasty
caramel toffee flowery hops phenolic toffee
caramelized sugar fruity pine tropical fruit flavors
chewy minerals full-bodied plums turbinado sugar
chocolate ginger pumpernickel bread vanilla
chocolate liqueur grain-and-bread malt raisins warm cereal
cinnamon grainy flavor rich in malt complexity warming
citrus grainy sweetness rich spiciness warming alcohol note
citrus hop profile grainy-spicy ripe pear fruit wheat malt character
clean grapefruit roast grain
clean-finishing herbal roasted chocolate
cocoa herbal hops roastiness
coffee hint of grain roasty notes
complex finish honey rum
complex malt hop flavor rye

On How Beer Saved the World

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aV36ytSgC3o]

The other day my wife and I watched “How Beer Saved the World.” It is humorous and entertaining, yet informative. We watched it on Netflix streaming, but it looks like it is also available elsewhere. It’s only 45 minutes, so I definitely recommend checking it out!

The Best of Each Beer Style

If you are a beginning home brewer you may or may not be familiar with the wide variety of beer styles that is out there for you to both brew and enjoy. There are many, many different styles of beer as illustrated in this Periodic Table of Beer from the University at Albany, but I thought I would discuss my favorite commercial example of the main styles of beer.

Amber
Keweenaw Brewing Company’s “Red Jacket Amber”
It took me almost a year after I turned 21 to find a beer that I liked the flavor of, and that beer was an amber. My favorite amber of all time is one you’re only going to find distributed in the upper midwest, unfortunately. This is the beer that sustained me through my college years and is my favorite beer to have with pizza. It’s Keweenaw Brewing Company’s Red Jacket Amber. This beer has an excellent smoky flavor, and it just never gets old. It knocks my socks off every time I have one.

Brown
Leinenkugel’s “Fireside Nut Brown”
It looks like I’m going to have to find a new favorite in the category of brown ales 🙁 To date, my favorite brown has been Leinenkugel’s Fireside Nut Brown, which was a winter seasonal beer that has recently been replaced by their Snowdrift Vanilla Porter. I like the porter, but I will always have a soft spot for the Fireside Nut Brown.

Porter
Deschutes “Black Butte Porter”
The chocolate flavors in Deschutes Brewing’s Black Butte Porter make it one of my favorite beers of all time. I can still remember the first sip of this beer that I ever tried – it had a major impression on me. So good!

Stout
Tallgrass “Buffalo Sweat”
Don’t hate me Guiness lovers, but I can’t stand the texture of nitrogenated beers. My favorite stout is Tallgrass Brewing’s Buffalo Sweat. It’s a lot more complex and flavorful than Guiness and most other stouts that I’ve tried.

India Pale Ale (IPA)
Dogfish Head “90 Minute IPA”
There is a huge selection of great IPA’s out there, but my favorite is Dogfish Head’s 90 Minute IPA. I thoroughly enjoyed this beer when I lived in Michigan, but they unfortunately do not distribute in Minnesota so it has been a while since I’ve had one. I recently paid a premium to get one bottle of it on a trip to Florida, and now I’m waiting for just the right moment to enjoy it.

Scottish Ale
Odell “90 Shilling Ale”
Probably my favorite style of beer to drink next to a fire on a cold, snowy night is a Scottish ale. My preferred Scattish ale is Odell Brewing’s 90 Shilling Ale. It goes down so easily!

Winter
Sierra Nevada “Celebration Ale”
Winter seasonals can really vary from one to the next. They aren’t really a set style, mostly just beers to warm you up when it’s cold. I recently tried Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale and I was immediately impressed. It has a whole lot of flavor, and it definitely warms you up. This is another one that left a lasting impression with me.

Wheat
Bell’s “Winter White”
I’m not much of a wheat beer fan, but I really like Bell’s Winter White. It’s a lot lighter than your typical winter seasonal but it makes you think of snow and it just tastes good.

Coffee
Surly “Coffee Bender”
Really any style of beer could be a coffee beer. There are ambers with coffee out there, you hear a lot about coffee stouts, etc. The only one that I’ve ever taken to is the brown ale with coffee made by Surly, called Coffee Bender. In my opinion, this one gets the balance between the coffee flavor and the beer flavor just right. This is one that you can probably only find around the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, unfortunately.

Beer styles I just can’t get myself to care for:
Pilsner
Oktoberfest
Pumpkin Ales

What are your favorite examples of different beer styles?