Category Archives: Beeeeer

I can feel it in the wind…

It has been creeping up on me for a long while, now. Just recently I’ve been asked by many people if I’m still doing it. Thoughts have been percolating in the back of my head ever since I had a taste of a special one at a local restaurant. I just cracked open the magic tome of recipes for guidance.

I am going to start brewing another batch of beer!


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Let me tell you, we just came back from one of the local bar & grills (it’s not really a brew pub, but it’s associated with Breckenridge Brewery so they have semi-local beers) and I had the most amazing beer I think I’ve ever had.  It was their Vanilla Porter (which is pretty good in its own right) which had been aged in a used bourbon barrel.  Wow.  Amazing.  Dee-lish.  If anyone out there ever comes through my area of Colorado, I highly recommend stopping by The Ale House and trying it out.

And then when we got home we saw this sunset:

And all was good.

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What’s he drinking tonight?

My latest batch, which was supposed to be a Belgian Saison.

I think I’m going to call it “Saison Sludge” because of how murky it is. Murky… and DELICIOUS. Man, if it’s this good after being bottled only a week, I can’t see it lasting much longer. Perhaps I’ll put up the recipe sometime so the wide, wide world of the Interwebz can share in the joy.


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Beer beer beer!

Well, the last batch (this time a Belgian saison, with all sorts of things in it, from grapefruit peels to peppercorns) is about ready to be bottled, and since my mother and brother are leaving for Ohio and Pennsylvania on a jet plane dark and early tomorrow, we’re going to strike now.  Hopefully it won’t be as, um, enthusiastic as the last batch, in which I didn’t stir in the bottling sugar quite good enough and you never know if you’re going to get a volcano or a dud. 

Wish me luck!

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Layman’s Beer Making: Bottling

So we’ve done the brewing, and racked it into the secondary fermenter for a few weeks–now it’s time to bottle the beer. 

Start by cleaning and sanitizing about 50 bottles.  This batch, I think, I used about 45 bottles, but it’s good to have a few extras just in case.  I use the sanitize cycle on the dishwasher, which is the easiest way to do it.

While the dishwasher is running, mix up some sanitizer solution, assemble your equipment, and clean/sanitize things. The important stuff that we haven’t seen yet are the bottler (the red thing with the big lever on it), the bottle caps, and the bottle filler cane (the thing with the black tip that’s in the bucket in the picture).  You will also notice that this bucket has a spigot in it to ease bottling.

Start soaking a bunch of bottle caps in a bowl of sanitzer.

We have to add some more sugar to the beer to give the yeast something to eat to make CO2 to carbonate the beer. Different beer styles call for different amounts of sugar. You usually will use corn sugar, as the yeast will eat it without making off flavors appear in your beer, but I have heard of people using all sorts of things for this purpose–even using a sugary liqueur, which has the added benefits of boosting your alcohol content and giving a flavor that would be hard to put into beer otherwise. Assuming you go the traditional corn sugar route, you need to boil your sugar in some water to dissolve it evenly.  Boiling for 10-15 minutes also removes the dissolved oxygen from the water, and at this point we don’t want to expose the beer to any more oxygen than we need to, or else it will be more likely to oxidize.

Get the carboy or bucket you are using as the fermenter and siphon the beer out of it into the bottling bucket–remember to try to avoid sloshing, spraying, or otherwise exposing the beer to more oxygen.  While you do this, gently add the sugar solution.  If you don’t think the sugar has mixed in with the beer evenly enough, you can gently stir the beer with a long spoon. Oh yeah, and make sure the spigot is closed.  Don’t ask me how I figured out that last one…

Now is where things start getting crazy–you will probably need another person to help you (at least, I’ve never bottled by myself).  Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures of this part because, well, I needed both hands.  But I’ll describe how I do it, and if it isn’t clear, you can ask in the comments. 

Put the full bottling bucket on the counter and attach the hose to the spigot.  On the other end of the hose, attach the bottling cane.  The bottling cane is a little device with a spring and a gasket, that when pushed down onto something allows the beer to come out.  The idea is to insert it into an empty beer bottle and push it against the inside bottom of the bottle, allowing the beer to come out.  When the bottle is full, you stop pushing on it, the spring pushes the gasket closed, stopping the flow of beer, and you can move on to the next empty bottle without wasting your beer on the floor.  This process also minimizes the amount of oxygen exposure.  Whoever is doing this part will need to sit lower than the bottom level of the bucket–I’d suggest using a short footstool to sit on so you aren’t sitting on the floor.  I would also suggest doing this over a towel, and not over your priceless antique Persian rug, unless you think you can do it without overfilling any bottles.

The now full bottles are handed over to the person with the bottler and bottle caps.  My bottler has a little magnet in the brass-colored crimper-cup that holds a bottle cap.  Put a cap on the magnet, put the lever in the upright, vertical position, adjust the height of the device to fit whatever type of bottle you are using, put the bottle in under the cap, and pull down on the lever.  You can think of it as reloading your bottle, and seating the bullet–and depending on how pressurized your beer is, that may be closer to the truth than you’d like!  This picture might give you a better idea of how it works than the one up above:

Repeat until you’re out of beer in the bucket.  You will probably need to tip the bucket up at some point to get the beer level up over the bottom of the spigot opening, at which point you probably only have a few bottles-worth of beer left in the bucket.

Last, clean off the bottles so they aren’t sticky and put them in boxes to sit for another couple weeks. It may be a good idea to put the bottles on a towel, in case you over carbonated any (that hasn’t happened to me yet, cross your fingers). They need to sit for the yeast to eat the sugar and carbonate the beer.  And anyway, they always say that the batch is ready to start drinking about the time that you open the last bottle, so the longer they sit, the better the beer will be (to a point, at least). I also like to mark the bottle caps with some distinguishing symbol so you know what kind of beer is in them, especially if you are going to have more than one batch at a time.  This was supposed to be an Irish red ale, so “R” it is.

There you have it.  A Layman’s beer making guide.  This is by no means everything there is to know, but is is how I currently do things.  There are people who are way more hardcore, and keep track of the exact temperature/sugar content/whatever other little detail you want to fixate on, but I always like to keep in the back of my head that the Vikings made beer by using “magic spoons”–if they could do it, then you can do it, as hardcore as you want to go.  And always remember the unofficial motto of all homebrewers:   Relax.  Don’t worry.  Grab a homebrew.


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Layman’s Beer Making: Secondary Fermentation

I know when I was talking in my first Layman’s Beer Making post I said I don’t usually do a secondary fermentation. But since I was on a roll with that last post, and this is a lighter beer than I usually make and so will visually benefit from being nice and clear, I thought I might share with you my method for secondary. So here goes!

First, gather all of the things you will need.  There on the bottom is the most important part–the 5 gallons of beer, still in it’s bucket like we left it two weeks ago.  On the counter is the 6.5 gallon glass carboy, my sanitizer solution (in the big measuring cup), another airlock with a holey rubber stopper, and the siphon (which hasn’t been assembled in the picture yet).  Since the carboy has been sitting for half a year, I washed off the layer of dust with some hot water before pouring the sanitizer into it and swishing the solution around thoroughly.  I also ran the sanitizer through the siphon to make sure that everything was clean.  You shouldn’t have to worry too much at this point, as the beer has it’s full alcohol content, but it is always better to go on the safe side.  They say that a spoiled batch is always just a matter of time, but I have been able to avoid it so far…

Now, what I always find the hardest part, remove the lid.  It really likes to stay on there.  You can see a few of the hop leftovers stuck to the rim–depending on the amount/type of hops you use, there could be some still floating in the beer, but here most of the hops have settled to the bottom.  Be careful not to drop anything in, and be careful not to slosh it.  At this point you want to keep the beer from being re-oxygenated, as this can oxidize the beer and cause off-flavors.

Carefully siphon the beer out of the bucket and into the carboy.  This process is called “racking.”  Again, don’t go spraying it all around, you want it to go nice and gently, without adding too much oxygen.  Also, try to keep the siphon end that’s in the bucket from wandering all around the bottom and sucking up all the dead yeast/hops that have settled out.  The whole point of this exercise is to remove the beer from the sediments.

Plug in the stopper/airlock assembly and move the carboy back to your cool, dark place where you did the primary fermentation.  Let it sit for a couple more weeks to let even more of the sediments settle out.  Technically, now you are in a non-gas-permeable container (that is another problem with the plastic buckets), so you could let it sit this way for a long, long time, as long as you keep the airlock from drying out.  I’m planning on  bottling in a couple few weeks here, so that isn’t particularly important to me right now.

Here’s all the dregs in the bottom of the bucket.  Dead yeast and soggy hops.  Put it in your compost or down the sink, if you are brave and didn’t use whole or leaf hops. 

And that’s that.  Still hard to see if this batch is going to be as red as I wanted it, but it should be good in any case.  Perhaps I’ll snap some photos when I bottle it, too.


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Counterpoint to Brewing

Butch Cassidy shows how he makes mead (with pictures!), a nice counterpoint to my recent beer making post.

He’s also done some explanations on cider recently.  There’s something for everyone, and no reason why you should be going without homemade alcohol!

“Give a man a beer, and he will waste an hour, teach a man to brew, and he will waste a lifetime.”
–Old Homebrewer’s Proverb

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Layman’s Beer Making: Boiling to Fermentation

I thought I might just put up a little post (with pictures!) today on how I make my beer.  So far I have only done extract+malt brewing, the all malt takes more equipment, and in my opinion, the end product doesn’t justify the added cost and complexity.  Some people are way more into it, though, so keep your mind open. 

There are probably other better how-to’s out there, but perhaps mine will be useful in some small way.

The first thing to do (after gathering your ingredients and equipment, of course) is start your pot boiling.  There is a trade off here, as you can get the best saturation of sugar in your water if you boiled the full 5-gallon batch, but it takes forever and you’d need a huge pot.  I have a 5-gallon pot here, with 3 gallons of water in it.  Three gallons seems to be a widely recommended compromise that works well for me.

Put your previously ground up crystal malt in a bag like this one, or you can tie it up in a bundle of cheesecloth.  Once your water boils, take it off the heat and add the grain bag to the water.  Let it steep like a tea bag for however long your recipe calls for. 

The grain bag and water after steeping for half an hour.  Remove the bag and let it drain.  Don’t squeeze it too much, as you’ll extract more tannins (make it more bitter) and little bits of grain. Set the bag aside, you can dispose the grain later.  I give it to the chickens, they really like it.

Add the malt extract.  My local homebrew shop sells it fresh out of a big nitrogen-pressurized drum.  Usually, it is hard to get it all out, I dip some of the hot liquid into the cup and let it heat up the extract. It usually takes several tries to get as much as I like out.  And this time I had three containers of extract, so that took even longer.  But I digress.  Your pot should still be off the heat at this time, by the way.  Stir the concoction until all of the sugars dissolve otherwise you will scorch the bottom when you turn the heat back on.  Speaking of which, turn the heat back on and bring it back up to a boil.

When the liquid comes back to a boil, add the first hops.  Here, the hops are in pellet form, but you can get them in all sorts of other types, too.  You will probably have some sort of hop schedule, with different amounts and  types to be added at certain times.

Usually when I add the first hops, I get a big billowing boil with lots of foam.  KEEP STIRRING!  This is the point that you are most likely to have a boil-over, and that is just a big mess.  Boil it however long your recipe call for, adding the hops at the required times and stirring periodically to keep it from scorching.

When you are done with the boil, take the pot off the heat and immediately put it into some ice water, or use a wort chiller if you have one.  This is called the “cold break,” the rapid cooling causes protein chains to form and precipitate out.  Makes a clearer beer, etc.  At this point, you want to start being careful to keep random junk from falling in and contaminating it. 

You will have to add some more water to bring it up to the full 5 gallons–I like to buy some distilled water from the store and put it in the freezer until it is just starting to crystallize, at which point I pour it into the cleaned/sanitized bucket and add the still hot wort. Then stir it vigorously for a while–you are aerating the wort so the yeast has some oxygen to get going.  Some people are really hardcore and buy a tank of pure oxygen and a bubble stone (like the kind you may have seen in an aquarium).  In my opinion, that is crazy.  I mean, the vikings made beer with magic wooden spoons passed down from generation to generation.  See? No tanks of pure oxygen  required.  By the way, I don’t know what happened with this picture.  It looked fine in the upload menu…

Between the added cold water and the ice bath, you want your wort to be around 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit (ale yeast, at least.  I have no experience with lager yeast) when you pitch the yeast.  I use a liquid yeast, because that’s what my homebrew store has.  Shake it up, open it, and dump it in.    I suppose I should mention here that for storage, keep the yeast in the fridge, but when you are going to use it it needs to sit out for a while and warm up.  You want it to also be roughly the temperature of the wort when you pitch it, to keep from shocking and killing the yeast.

Now seal up the bucket and put the airlock in.  You can also see the liquid crystal thermometer that is on my bucket, which is helpful when you are worrying about the temperatures.  Then, put your bucket in a dark place that has a constant temperature at what your yeast likes, and forget about it for a couple few weeks.  I have heard of people going anywhere from one week to a couple months in the primary fermenter. I have personally gone as long as five weeks, but I usually go about three weeks and then bottle it–if you desire to go the extra mile, you could instead siphon it into a secondary fermenter, which results in a clearer beer (or so they say). I am lazy, and have never noticed any problems from skipping that step.

This batch is now bubbling happily along, and I have high hopes for it.  If it turns out any good, I may post the recipe.  If it stinks, then I for sure won’t be boasting about it on a public forum like this blog…

Anyway, like I said, beer making is so easy vikings could do it with “magic” spoons and the souls of their ancestors, so it’s pretty hard to screw up.  I hope this was helpful, and I hope if you make something good you let me know the recipe!


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Irish Red

Got the makings for another batch of beer. I’m going to give the Irish Red–my first non-kit recipe–another go. Last time it just wasn’t red enough. I took out the 90L crystal malt and added more roasted barley. Hopefully that will do something for me.

Time to get some water boiling!

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If it all goes according to plan (why do I always say that? It never does…) we will be bottling that beer that was started at Christmastime today. Oh, and you may remember that I was missing my slippers? They were out in the garage in a box full of bottles–some empty and some full. Both the slippers and the full bottles should not have been out there. I think some wires got crossed when I was putting stuff away… in any case, I now have both more beer and my slippers back, which is a win in my book.

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New Converts

Some family friends liked my stout so much that they wanted to start making beer themselves. So today we’re going to start another batch. Beer making is like shooting–show someone how to do it and they can’t help but enjoy themselves!

“Give a man a beer and he will waste an hour. Teach a man to brew and he will waste a lifetime.”


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bluesun’s Bugeye Stout

I have a friend who was trying to replicate the stout I made two summers ago.  Since I was typing it up anyway, I decided, “hey, why not share it with the whole interwebs!”  So, without further ado, I present to the world my stout recipe:

Dark Caramel
2 ½ cups “Fair Trade Raw Cane Sugar”
~2 tablespoons blackstrap molasses
½ cup water
Cook on low until almost burnt.
Bugeye Stout
Dark Caramel, from above
5.5 lb Light Liquid Malt Extract
0.5 lb 90L Crystal Malt
0.5 lb Roasted Barley
1.0 lb Dehusked Black Malt
1 oz. Fuggle hops (4.8% AA)
1 oz. East Kent Goldings (4.5%)
Minutes Left
Last Minutes
1/3 oz
1/3 oz
1/3 oz
East Kent Goldings
1/3 oz
1/3 oz
1/3 oz
Yeast:  White Labs british Ale Yeast WLP005
Primary Fermented ~4 weeks, bottled with very little sugar for light carbonation


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News of the Beer

The last batch is bottled and drinkable (and delish!) so I made another batch.

I’ve never done anything Belgium-y, so that’s what I decided to go for.  Without further ado, I present to the world:  bluesun’s Bugeye Belgium

1 cup Fair Trade Cane Sugar, heavily carmelized
5.5 lb Ultra-light Liquid Malt Extract
0.5 lb De-Bittered Black Malt 509L, steeped 30 minutes
0.5 lb Special B Malt 118L, steeped 30 minutes

1 oz Saaz Hops 3.3% AA@ 60 minutes
0.5 oz Saaz Hops 3.3% AA@ 20 minutes
0.5 oz Saaz Hops 3.3% AA@ end

Belgian Ale Yeast White Labs WLP550

And I’ll say that if you’ve never made your own beer, you’re missing out.  It’s fun, easy, and way tastier than that disgusting yellow fluid you can buy at the store.  And if you are like me and like to collect skills, what more of an excuse do you need?

We’ll see how this one turns out… I’ll let you know.

Give a man a beer and he’ll waste an hour.  Teach a man to brew and he’ll waste a lifetime.                                                         —Confucius Say

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Beer on the Way!

My first batch of the summer is bottled and maturing. Now, I still have about 200 empty bottles, two empty buckets, and an empty carboy. What should I make next?

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