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Eric San Juan

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Eric San Juan

Brewing Session Beers

It wasn’t that long ago that if you had offered homebrewers and craft beer drinkers a low-impact, low-alcohol beer with approachable flavor, they would have scoffed. Real beer was meant to be big, bold, adventurous, and preferably have a sizable ABV (Alcohol by Volume). Oh, how times have changed. These days, beer lovers recognize that there is a welcome place at the table for flavorful, low-impact beers that can be enjoyed over a long session without worries about going overboard. Brews like this actually have a long and rich history, with the very concept of “session ales” or “session beers” springing from the British pub scene. They were popularized in the U.S. craft scene thanks in no small part to Founder’s All-Day IPA, among others, and now they are ubiquitous. But before we get into that we’ve got to answer the big question: What the heck is a session beer, anyway? Defining the Session Beer There is some debate and wiggle room on the specifics, but the basic gist...

Using Spices In Your Homebrew

If there is one thing homebrewing enthusiasts have learned during the decade-long explosion of craft beer we’ve experienced, it’s that the Reinheitsgebot, aka the historic German Beer Purity law, is a respectable piece of the past, but that beer can be so much more than water, malt, hops, and yeast. Indeed, there is a world of spices out there just begging to be used in your beer. You already know some of them (coriander probably most prominent among them), but others might have you saying, “In my beer? Are you sure?” We’re sure. Get ready to have some ideas thrown your way, both sane and insane, yet all tested in actual beers that real human beings have enjoyed. We’re going to focus on spices that are easy to find in your local grocery store, sometimes those you typically don’t use in beer, and sometimes fairly common spice additions. We won’t pretend this article offers an exhaustive list of the possibilities when it comes to uses spices in your beer – that would be an entire...

Growing Hops: Soil Preparation & Composting With Spent Grains

Before long, any homebrewer with a little yard space is going to start eyeing up the corners of his or her yard and thinking about where to plant some hops. We encourage that urge! As we’ve touched on before, gardening for your homebrew is a great extension of the hobby, and even with a plant as big as hop plants, you don’t need as much space as you think. Hops are a good plant to grow not only because they can be used in your homebrew, but because they come back every year and as long as they get their start in good soil, they are relatively easy to maintain. Plus, they give you another use for all those spent grains left over on brew day. The soil is important, though. Hugely important. Most beginning gardeners know how important both sunlight and watering are, but a common mistake is to overlook good soil preparation. We’re going to help you fix that mistake. In this brief guide, we’ll go over the ideal soil conditions for hops, how to prepare your soil, and some simple home...

Interview with Icarus Brewing Company

By now you know the story of most startup breweries. Someone with a passion for homebrewing gets a glimmer in their eye and starts daydreaming about doing it for a living. They take the plunge and go professional, but the road towards opening a brewery ends up being longer and rockier than expected. After some trials and tribulations the doors open, pints and flights are poured, and the world is given another great craft brewery that once again began with someone who started with nothing more than a mash paddle and a dream. Jason Goldstein’s story is a little different. The result of his blood, sweat and tears, Lakewood, NJ’s Icarus Brewing, opened in November 2016, with the tap room opening to the public two months later. Yet he wasn’t a guy stirring wort in his garage and hoping one day that that garage would turn into a professional brewery. Instead, it was science that led him to the mash tun. Homebrew Talk: Tell me a little bit about your background in homebrewing, and how...

The Science of Suds: Interview with Neva Parker from White Labs

White Labs needs no introduction to homebrewers. As one of the largest providers of brewing yeast in the United States, all of us at one time or another have used their products. Founded way back in 1995 by President and CEO Chris White, their mission has been simple to sum up, though perhaps not so simple to accomplish: to provide, save, and develop scores of high quality yeast strains for the more than 1.2 million homebrewers (and counting) in the United States, and countless more beyond. We recently had an opportunity to catch up with Neva Parker, White Labs’ VP of Operations, to talk about her unusual road into the world of brewing, how science and brewing intersect, and how homebrewers can get the most out of their experimentation. Neva came to the world of brewing by way of science rather than by beer. With a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA, she joined the White Labs team in 2003 and has played a vital role in what they do ever since. She...

An Interview With Saint Benjamin Brewing

Succeeding in a big beer city like Philadelphia can’t be easy. This is a town that sits alongside Portland, San Diego, and Asheville as one of the great beer Meccas in the United States, after all. While that means it’s packed with beer lovers, it also means there is a lot of competition. How do you rise above the pack and get noticed in a city that is already swimming in a sea of amazing beer? For the brewers at Saint Benjamin Brewing Company, it has been a combination of hard work, smart business, and tapping into the lessons they learned as homebrewers. Located in the historic Kensington section of Philly, Saint Benjamin is named after the city’s most famous denizen, Benjamin Franklin. Good ol’ Ben was known for many things, and one of them was brewing. Ben Franklin was an avid homebrewer who never actually said the beer quote famously attributed to him – “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy” – but who did brew an excellent spruce ale that some modern...

Sour Beer Do's and Dont's

Few things get a beer geek ready to talk your ear off than name-dropping a sour beer or two. Sour beers are more of a distinct continent on Planet Beer than a style as there are many styles of sour and/or wild ales. It’s a world countless homebrewers want to dive into, but also one they may find a little intimidating. Between strange microbes, lengthy fermentation times, the risk of contaminating your equipment you’d be forgiven for thinking that brewing sours is difficult. The good news is, brewing sours isn’t all that much different than brewing any other beer. You brew, you pitch, you wait, you package. The only thing different are the details. Consider some of the DO’S and DON’TS below and you’ll find yourself navigating the slightly offbeat world of wild ales in no time. Homebrewing has come a long way over the years, and there are now means of making quick sours that don’t require the extensive aging and wild fermentation traditionally used in making these beers. This piece...

Made to be Broken: Style Bending and Thinking Outside the Box

Rules are made to be broken. Admittedly, I may be a little biased in that regard. I grew up in a household that leaned towards punk rock rather than Pat Boone, my teachers wondered when I was finally going to straighten out (answer:32), and speed limits were more suggestions than limits. That same slightly reckless philosophy applies to my love of beer and, more importantly, to my love of making beer. Oh, make no mistake; I am a great admirer of well-crafted, perfectly executed examples of classic beer styles. In many ways, I lament the way today’s craft beer world doesn’t fully appreciate a perfect English bitter or simple brown ale. But when I’m standing over a hot kettle or about to open a bottle representing the fruits of my labors, there is always a little part of me that likes to thumb my nose at the expected and embrace the unexpected. This doesn’t always work out of course. Carefree experimentation means you will brew some batches you won’t want to share with friends. But...

Experimenting With Ingredients In Your Kitchen To Make Prepackaged Kits Unique

Kits are a staple of the homebrewing scene. Put together by your local homebrew shop or the big online retailers, they are all-in-one boxes that give you everything you need to create beers that are time-tested and brewer-approved. Sometimes they are clones of popular craft brews, other times they are retailer exclusives that recreate classic styles, but either way they take the guesswork out of making a great beer. For both newbie homebrewers and veterans alike, that can be a very welcome thing indeed. But sometimes you want to throw a little twist into an old favorite. Sometimes you want to get creative but don’t know where to start. Sometimes you have a beer idea in mind, but don’t want to spend ages tinkering with a base recipe before you start introducing more unusual elements. That’s when you start kitbashing. What was once a kit-based Abbey ale became three different beers thanks to some kitchen ingredients and experimenting in secondary. Don’t Be Afraid to Split Batches –...

Growing Hops With Limited Space

There are few things in the homebrew world as enjoyable as growing your own hops. Being able to craft a killer pale ale or IPA with hops you grew yourself is not only fun; it’s one of brewing’s most enjoyable bragging points (and let’s be honest, we all like a small brag now and then). Unfortunately, not everyone is blessed with space enough to grow their own hops. These aggressively growing bines can climb to upwards of 30 feet tall, spreading out bushy limbs covered in the fragrant hop cones we know and love. Most growers built tall poles or trellises for their hops, which require materials and yard space. But here’s what you may not know: You don’t actually need a huge yard or sprawling acreage to grow your own hops. In fact, if you get creative, you can even grow hops indoors – and we’re going to give you some tips how. We’re going to start with a brief overview of the basics of hop growing, but if you already know your stuff feel free to skip to the next section. Growing Hops...

Growing Ingredients for Use in Your Homebrew

For most homebrewers, the process begins and ends in their brewing area, and whatever goes into their beer comes from their friendly neighborhood homebrew supply shop or their favorite online retailer. While there is nothing wrong with that-- it’s a system that serves countless happy homebrewers every year -– it’s possible (and impossibly fun) to expand your brewing hobby to an unexpected place: your garden. You don’t have to be a skilled gardener to do it either, nor do you need a lot of space. All you need is the desire to be even more hands-on and creative with the things that go into your beer. If you want to get started, here are some ideas on things you can grow at home for use in your homebrew, as well as how to use them and the kinds of beer you’ll want to brew so these homegrown ingredients will shine. Cilantro Cucumber Plant in Window Box Cigar City’s sought after cucumber saison kicked off a minor trend of cucumber craft beers, with breweries like AleSmith, Ballast...
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