Packaging & Tasting

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How to Brew A Crowd Pleaser

We have all been there. There is an event coming up that you want, or have been asked, to brew a beer for, and you want to brew up something that sets itself apart from the light lagers that so many are fond of while remaining accessible to those same light lager drinkers. It is a delicate balance, but with some forethought, you can brew an ale that delights the palate of everyone at that next big event, regardless of what they normally drink. What Makes an Ale a Crowd Pleaser? Now, when we say a crowd pleaser, we know what we really mean; a beer that our macro-lager drinking friends and family will enjoy, while packing in character that craft beer drinkers will appreciate, striking a nice balance between the two. Aside from style, which we will get to in the next section, there are four main characteristics that make for a beer that will be loved by all. Light - This is perhaps the most critical factor because one of the chief complaints about craft beer that I hear from BMC...

Gelatin Fining - Cold Versus Warm

In my last article about gelatin, I explained how it works (physically and chemically) and proved that a short boil does no harm to it, busting a common brewing myth. After multiple positive responses, I decided to do an experiment to bring more light into another commonly discussed, gelatin related topic: “Do you have to cold crash before gelatin fining?” While with the last topic, opinions were quite polarized, some people saying boiling gelatin is a disaster, others being on my side, with this one, most people agree cold crashing is recommended. Let’s look how much of a difference it really makes! What Exactly is a Chill Haze? Every homebrewer knows that sometimes, after putting a warm bottle of apparently clear beer into a refrigerator, the beer becomes hazy as it cools. Generally, some proteins are insoluble in beer, while others are soluble up to a certain concentration if certain conditions are met. The insoluble ones are not a problem, as most of them settle during...

Do You Really Ruin Gelatin If You Boil It? Experiment Time.

I have been brewing for some 5 years, 2 of those also as a head-brewer at a local brewery. I don’t have any official education supporting my brewing skills, I gained all of them myself, reading forums, books and articles like this, but most importantly, by experimenting. The information you get from other homebrewers can be useful, but as you probably know, you must take it with a pinch of salt. So many times you read posts from people who are claiming something, but then, after some time, you find out they were completely wrong. Sometimes the wrong information just robs you of your time, sometimes it ruins a brew or two, or slows down your progress. Some of these rumors are so widely spread that the counter-information stands no chance. One of the very common rumors is that you mustn’t boil your gelatin solution (that many of us use as a clearing agent), because you DENATURE the proteins present and it no longer does its job. However, as everybody knows, it is a good idea to...

The Why and How of Entering Homebrew Competitions

Some may ask why any self-respecting homebrewer would pay to enter beers in a competition. You make what you like and sure, we all like to share our homebrew with friends and relatives but that’s quite a bit different than PAYING to give away your beer. Each of us brews for a different reason and perhaps you have no interest in entering a competition and that’s fine. But just as we all brew for different reasons, many of us have our own reasons for entering competitions. This is by no means a comprehensive list and the order is only roughly by most popular to least popular reasons to enter a competition for the average homebrewer. Here’s my list: Why Enter Homebrew Competitions [/hide]

Serving Nitro Beers Correctly

I remember the first time I drank a nitro beer. Through various forms of sorcery, the bartender had some how arranged for my beer to have bubbles falling down in my beer instead of rising to the top. I was completely enamored by the appearance alone. With great anticipation, I took my first sip of the smoothest flowing beer I’d ever drank. It was a Left Hand Milk Stout, and I was hooked. At the time, I completely misunderstood nitro beers, but I knew I loved them. That was enough to convince me to build my own kegerator with a nitro tap on it. This noble quest is not for the faint of heart however. I sought the perfect nitro pour. I wanted the cascading bubbles. I wanted the 1 inch whipped cream head of Bell’s Double Cream Stout to be served in my basement, out of my own nitro tap. Though I would make my way there eventually, it didn’t happen without learning some lessons along the way. What Makes Nitro Pours Different? Let’s start with the reason the beers served on nitro pour...

The Pros and Cons of 5L Kegs

Five liter kegs have been used for a long time. You can get them empty for you to fill with your homebrewed beer, cider, or soda. Or, you can buy them filled with beer and reuse the container after you drink the beer. They hold 1.3 gallons of beer, or 169 ounces. That’s equal to 10 pints or 14 twelve ounce bottles. They have gone up and down in popularity. There are several manufacturers that made countertop dispensers for these kegs that were very popular a few years ago and had a fair amount of breweries filling them for the dispensers. That number has gone down quite a bit now. But now, some of the new mini/nano brewing systems are bringing them back for use in their systems. I bottle, keg, and use mini-kegs. I use what works best for me for the situation. Bottles are easiest to share and kegs are easier and less time consuming to clean and fill. Plus, the kegging setup becomes more expensive, as you move up the ladder. I started out using the mini-kegs as my first step into...

DIY Beer Gun for Under $40

I have been kegging my beer for a while, now. One of the things I miss is the ease of sharing my beer. I used to just grab a bottle from the case and pass it along. So, I wanted to an easy way to be able to get back to sharing bottles. And it seems that bottle fillers are one of the best ways to go. I have wanted a bottle filler for a while now. I have used the Blichmann Beer Gun™ and looked at the Last Straw, too. I just couldn’t justify the $100 price tag, just to fill a few bottles. I made a simple counter pressure filler. It worked okay, but it didn’t give me the ease-of-use I was looking for. So, I decided to take a closer look at the designs of some bottle fillers and see what parts I might be able to get at the local hardware store or on Amazon. I discovered that most of the parts could be easily purchased. The ones that I could not find wouldn’t be that hard to make or modify from something that I could purchase. I played with design for a while and I combined some things...

What Cellaring Does for Your Beer

Wine aficionados have always been passionate about the vintage of their bottles. They often say “it was a good year,” or talk about how many years the bottle has been aged. Some people are compulsive enough to only store bottles on their sides, in a temperature and humidity controlled fridge. This is loosely accepted as the proper way to mature your fine wine. Although the majority of people believe that wine will get better with age, many still believe that beer won’t. I’ve heard people claim that a beer can’t change once it’s bottled, because nothing can get in or out. Ironically, those same people are worried that after a year of sitting in the bottle the beer will spoil. What a double standard! Time and Cellaring Your Beer As many of us know light is also the enemy of beer. There’s an old Sam Adams commercial where they brag about only using dark brown bottles and high cardboard walls on their 6 packs to block more light while their beer is sitting in a store’s cooler waiting...

Simplifying Your Bottling Day

Bottling day brings you even closer to your brewing goal of having your very own handcrafted beer to enjoy and share. Bottling can either be a pain or painless. Learning through the pain process I have a few ideas to share so your brewing day experience will be something to enjoy. What you will need: Bottles Bottle brush Bottle caps and a capper Sanitizer Towels Sponge 5 gallon bottling bucket with spigot 1 gallon bucket for miscellaneous purposes Hoses Siphon Racking cane with sediment standoff Bottle filler Preparation, Cleaning, & Sanitizing You need a nice uncluttered work surface where you can stage your bottles, have room for capping, and have a place to set your fermenter containing the soon to be drinkable beer. Assemble your equipment and start sanitizing. Think of bottling like an assembly line, because it is. Put the fermentation bucket on the counter above your bottling bucket. You want it elevated because when bottling at home gravity is your friend. Be...

Bottling and Kegging - The Best of Both Worlds

Most of us homebrewers started out bottling our beers, some of us then decided to move on to kegging. Those who bottle claim that bottling is better for portability (bringing to parties, sharing with friends, entering competitions.) Those who keg claim that the time saved cleaning and filling bottles is one of the best things they’ve done to save time, and that you can always Counter Pressure Bottle (CPBF) fill some bottles for competition or for giving away. But a CPB filler is one more piece of equipment to buy and there’s a bit of a learning curve when using one. I know you can also just fill a growler but many times the carbonation on a growler is lacking. The Process If you keg and wish that you could just bottle up a 6-pack or two, or if you’re bottling now and don’t want to take the leap to kegging because you really like the portability of bottled beer, this article is for you! You’ll get to enjoy the best of both worlds! I will usually bottle three to four 6-packs of beer...

Taking Draft Homebrew on the Road: Your Options Compared

Some people bottle, some keg, and some do both. Sometimes there are styles that steer you towards one medium or the other. But sometimes you keg because you just can’t stand the bottling process. That’s all fine and good, and you feel quite content in your decision to avoid bottle cleaning and let's not forget messing around with the red bottle capper. But then you end up making something really great that you want to share, and you’re stuck. Unless you play host and have people over, that great beer stays exclusive to you. It’s like if Leonardo da Vinci kept the Mona Lisa as a bathroom wall decoration and the only people that ever saw it were his poker buddies. Not cool, right? Bottled beer obviously is easier to share, but it’s hard to pass up the ease of kegging and serving beer on draft. Luckily, in the homebrewing world, if you’ve thought about something, someone else has probably thought about it too, and maybe come up with some slick equipment to help you out. That is...

Studying for the BJCP Exam

So you want to become a beer judge? Good for you! Not only will you be helping yourself by expanding your knowledge of beer, brewing and sensory evaluation but you’ll be helping others improve their brewing as well. An admirable goal! But how do you go about becoming a beer judge? You must first pass an online exam before moving on to a tasting exam. A visit to the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) website (www.BJCP.org) provides the curious with plenty of information to absorb. Understanding in detail the brewing, fermentation, finishing and bottling of a beer and what can go wrong at each stage and how these flaws can appear in the finished product are critical. So you’ve mastered all of that. Awesome! The BJCP Guidelines [/hide]

Creating Vector Beer Labels in Inkscape

***READ BEFORE CONTINUING: This is not an Inkscape tutorial. There are already a ton of these across the web that will explain the software better than I can. This is a guide to developing ideas, layouts, and graphical components of a label.*** What is the first thing you notice when having a beer? You notice either the bottle it comes in or the tap handle it’s being poured from. Both of these are given a face using labels. Labels give your beer an identity. They say “you aren’t just drinking a beer, you’re drinking my masterpiece.” And if your beers don’t turn out great (like some of mine), they still leave the drinker with something to remember. Fortunately, label designing doesn’t have to be difficult. You can create professional looking vector labels in Inkscape for free by keeping a couple simple concepts in mind. For those unfamiliar with Inkscape, it is a free vector drawing program that is available on all your favorite operating systems. However, because it is a vector...

Beer Sensations: What's in Your Beer, Beyond Flavor?

Are you constantly on the hunt for the holy grail of beers? There is nothing like the euphoria of tasting an absolutely fabulous brew. But have you paused to think about the exciting sensations that beer offers . . . beyond flavor? When beer's non-flavor sensations - astringency, body, carbonation, finish and temperature - are out of whack, the beer lacks balance and can even be undrinkable. A brewmaster designs, brews, ferments, and packages a beer with a vision of how sensations figure into the overall experience of the beer drinker. The next time you are evaluating a beer, think about how these physical sensations contribute to your total tasting experience. Astringency is that dry, puckering mouthfeel that you get from beer, and it's caused by tannins. Astringency results from the phenolics in beer. Tannins are mostly extracted from the husks of grains and from other ingredients such as hops and adjuncts. If you make a beer that gives you that mouth-puckering feeling and a...

Tasting Beer: A Primer To Share With Your Wine-Loving Friends

It was a kick putting together this video to share knowledge about tasting beer at the 101 level. You will find information here about appearance, aroma, taste, mouthfeel and character. For those of us who grew up with wine, discovering the complexity and depth of craft beer is akin to entering a parallel universe of gustatory delights. I was a wine snob until the day I tasted my first peanut butter milk stout in Vista, California, a San Diego County town of about 100,000 people, and over a dozen established breweries. My husband, Peter, and I feasted like vampires on the fresh craft beer along Hop Highway 78 in the area. One day, Peter turned to me and said, You make bread "why not make beer? I jumped into five-gallon, all-grain brewing after completing three partial-extract beers, and was invited to assist a local brewer in making an IPA and a Pilsner. The members of my homebrew clubs, The Society of Barley Engineers (SBE) and the Quality Ale and Fermentation Fraternity (QUAFF)...

Easy Kegs and Mini Kegs

Earlier in the year, I decided I had enough of bottling and wanted to start kegging. I didn't have the money to start a kegerator or keezer build, so I started researching five liter kegs. I found the Brewferm Mini Keg starter pack with the posh picnic tap to be the one I wanted (two sites sold the same package, each with different tap set ups). Just my luck that the one I wanted was not in stock, so I had to play the patience game. I'd planned to take a keg camping with me but this wasn't going to be. So, I went to the supermarket and purchased an Easy Keg of something to everyone's liking. I found the use easy, and it didn't take too long to settle down after a three hour drive. My first thought was refilling it. After all, why let a perfectly good keg go to waste? So when I got home, I started researching. [/hide]

Casks For Homebrewers

This summer, I won a pin cask as a raffle prize at the River's Edge Homebrew Festival - yahtzee! Knowing nothing about casks, I did a little research, talked with some cask-experienced friends, and then cask conditioned a beer to serve at our homebrew clubs annual picnic. While I'm no expert, I'd like to share with you both what I've learned and my first homebrewed cask ale experience. What are Casks? A cask is a metal container for unpasteurized beer that is naturally carbonated through the use of active yeast inside the cask. It is like bottle conditioning a beer, but in a larger vessel. It's different than a keg, in that it doesn't have posts for CO2 or beer outflow - just two openings, one on top and the other on an end. Those holes get closed by pounding in two plastic parts - the shive on the top and the keystone on the end. The cask is then air tight and as the secondary fermentation happens inside it, the beer naturally carbonates. [/hide]

Carbon Dioxide Purity And Off Taste

There are numerous discussions on HomeBrewTalk about off-flavors from CO2. Some are non-believers and insist that CO2 is CO2, while others claim to have experienced these off-flavors first-hand. I am primarily a soda brewer, and I'm a firm believer now that CO2 can have a significant impact on flavor. It is not about 99% vs 99.95% purity; it is about what the impurities are. [/hide]

Seven Sizzling Summer Labels

Today were going to take a look at some of the more eye catching labels submitted to HomeBrewTalk this summer. Homebrewing is unique in that you get to decide where to devote your talent and energy. Some of us, me included, dont have an artistic bone in our bodies and so we sit behind our screens in admiration of those who do hoping one day they will offer to make us a label (hint hint). As the seasons start changing and dog days of summer start winding down, our enthusiasm for surf and sun changes to harvest, school, and the seasonal beers of fall. Today we raise a glass to summer, and these labels that reflect the spirit of the season. Salud! *** [/hide]

A DIY Keg Line Cleaning Solution

I want to start off by saying that there are so many awesome articles on HomeBrewTalk, written by homebrewers like myself, that are incredibly helpful and show the extreme level of ingenuity we bring to this hobby. That said, this article may not be as technical or as creative as some (or even most), but if it can help a few fellow homebrewers out, then it is well worth it. So let's begin. One of the most important things (if not THE most important thing) in homebrewing is sanitation, whether at the fermenting stage, the bottling/kegging stage, or the serving/dispensing stage. It is at the dispensing stage that I found myself looking for an easier and cheaper DIY solution to a problem that many of us keggers face: keg-line cleaning. There are several solutions to this already from some ingenious people, and some are quite cheap, but I thought it could be easier and cheaper still. My issue was that I did not want to purchase extra equipment with only one use, and one infrequently...
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