Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Huge Barley Wine The Begining

We've got a problem, some of the grain stock is getting a little up there in age due to a busy portion of last year.  That coupled with a recent order to spruce up the options has left quite a surplus that needs a use sooner than later.  The logical option? Create a huge barley wine.  I'm hoping to detail the process here as it's developed over the next month or two with periodic updates during the aging process that's expected to take nearly a year.

This first step (although completely out of sequence) was mainly to get the process kicked off and make me commit to the idea.  Yesterday I crafted 4 lbs of Belgian candy sugar to add in steps during the fermentation.  Belgian candy sugar is commonly used in dubbles and triples to help get that lighter body in a high gravity beer while adding some great unique flavors.  It's available at most home brew shops and usually costs a pretty penny.  You can however  make your own at home since it's simply invert sugar.

Step 1 - Gather Ingredients/Equipment

Table sugar - use how ever many pounds of candy sugar you want to produce
Creme of Tartar - 1/8 tsp per pound of sugar
Water - just enough to cover the sugar, I used 1/2 a cup per pound
Candy Thermometer (got mine at a grocery store for <$6)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

First Year Grape Vines

Earlier this year we was able to plant muscadine and scuppernong grape vines. Both species are native to the southeastern United States and do very well warm and humid climates. The plan is to brew both grapes separately and to have a small blend. Usually first year grapes have a very small berry yield but all the vines are doing well and have lots of clusters of grapes already growing. They look like they are doing so well, that we've already planned another row to go in for next year.
Muscadine and Scuppernong Row

Muscadine Cluster

Scuppernong Cluster

Vine Trellis

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Homebruin Cup II Update

Rye Ale - Bronze Metal Winner for the American Beers Category

You may remember that we posted that a few beers would be entered in the the Homebruin Cup II club competition.  Judging took place yesterday and we are thrilled to have placed with one of the two entries that we supplied.  A simple American Rye Ale that we put together took the bronze metal in the American Beers category. I'll post an abbreviated version of the recipe below if anyone wants to give it a go. 

This was a tough competition with tons of great beers for every category.  I had the privilege to serve as a steward for the Amber Beers category that the eventual best of show came out of and can tell you that while I did not get the opportunity to sample all of the gold metal winners the Scottish 80 that won the flight was truly spectacular.

Ryevalry - Named for the combination of English and American Ingredients
Amt Name Type # %/IBU
11 lbs Pale Malt, Maris Otter (3.0 SRM) Grain 1 52.4 %
8 lbs Rye Malt (4.7 SRM) Grain 2 38.1 %
2 lbs Caramel/Crystal Malt -120L (120.0 SRM) Grain 3 9.5 %
1.25 oz Magnum [12.50 %] - Boil 60.0 min Hop 4 29.1 IBUs
1.25 oz Fuggles [4.50 %] - Boil 5.0 min Hop 5 2.1 IBUs
1.0 pkg East Coast Ale (White Labs #WLP008) [35.49 ml] Yeast 6 -
Est Original Gravity: 1.052 SG
Est Final Gravity: 1.011 SG
Estimated Alcohol by Vol: 5.3 %
Bitterness: 31.2 IBUs
Est Color: 15.2 SRM
Single infusion Mash @150°F for 60 minutes
Edit - The Yeast listed above was grown up in a 2 liter starter from the original tube for the 10 gallon batch

Many more posts to come!

Making Pinot Noir

We recently purchased Selection Estate Series Sonoma Valley Pinot Noir. This will be the second time we've brewed this and am excited to brew this again. This kit comes from Winexpert, the largest manufacturer of award winning wine making products. Brewing these kits are about the easiest brewing I've experienced. But they produce some of the best tasting wine I've had. Here is the setp by step process.

Pinot Noir Kit

Contents of the kit include...

Huge Bag 'O Grape Juice

  • Instuctions
  • Juice
  • Bentonite
  • Metabisulfate
  • Sorbate
  • Isinglass
  • Yeast
  • Oak Powder - I do not use this ingredient. I filter my wine and it clogs up the filter and makes it nearly impossible for the wine to flow through because the powder is too fine. I use my own oak stick or shavings.
Kit Contents

First Step is to clean and sanitize all all of your equipment. StarSan is my preferred sanitizer because it's no-rinse. I don't have to sanitized then rinse all of it out thoroughly be for I brew.

I added a half gallon of spring water to my fermenter to stir in the bentonite. I'm using a oak stick to stir. I also let the oak stick stay in the wine throughout the entire fermentation process.

Note: Wood harbors bacteria and other microbes that you don't want in your wine. Steam any  wood for 15 minutes before  using it in your brews. I also soak it in sanitizer before but that's totally unnecessary if you steam it.

After this I pour in the grape juice. Then I will top off the fermenter with spring water to get the desired volume or initial gravity. Stir Thoroughly to mix all liquid.

When I have my desired volume, I get a wine thief and hydrometer to get the original gravity reading. This wine in particular had a reading of 1.092 OG. A full fermentation should get this wine to around 12% ABV.

Hydrometer In Wine Thief

Now we pitch the yeast. These kits include a packet of dry yeast or you could substitue with liduid wine yeast. The dry yeast suits me just fine for now. This means I don't have to make starters or aerate more than shaking because dry yeast is designed for oxygen deprived musts. Your juice should be around 70 to 75 degrees fahrenheit for fermentation. Temperature is one of the most important factors for good fermentation.

Note: Yeast manufacturers suggest that you re-hydrate the yeast before pitching. I have never done this and still had excellent results. Also, the instructions of these kits to sprinkle contents in and it will activate itself.

Now I'm ready to place the lid and airlock on and wait for primary fermentation to end. I will periodically check it for signs of fermentation and get sample readings with the hydrometer after the next five days. The hydrometer should read around 1.002. 

Fermenting Wine

I will update this post in the next several days to finish the entire process. Stay tuned...

Saturday, May 12, 2012

First Year Hops

Well it's been nearly a month since I planted hop rhizomes and they are looking pretty good. I've had almost two feet of growth on the Nugget and a foot on the Cascade. I was concerned about the Cascade when I received them in the mail. The rhizome had been broken in the mail and looked pretty rough. I went ahead and planted them and I'm glad I did. They are a little behind the Nugget but they still look nice and healthy. Can't wait to see the yield in the fall. I know they won't produce mush being first year plants, but things are looking good. I'll keep posting updates on their progress throughout the year.

Cascade - 4 weeks
Nugget - 4 weeks

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Beer Citadel Update

Beer Citadel is planning on expanding this blog to more topics than just brewing beer. Don't worry, this site will be mostly about the brewing of beer. But, I will be posting some updates on my first year hop vines very soon. And my grape vines for wine. What's that? Wine making? Yes! I will be brewing two batches of wine this weekend and will document the entire process. We also have some more brewery builds and even some beer based recipes on the way. Thank you for following.

Home Brew Talk

HomeBrewTalk.com is one of my favorite website for homebrewing. It is one of the best forums I've ever been a part of and continues to give beer makers a wealth of knowledge and resources. If you are a beginner or and old hat at the hobby and you haven't been to HBT, you are missing out. They have topics on beginning brewing all the way up to advanced all-grain electric brewing. Many home brewers there have been brewing mead, wine, and beer for many years even some have been professional brewers. If you are just joining or are a veteran member, please don't hesitate to say hello to HelperMonkey, that's me.

The have also launched a new website to where you can talk about everything beer. Whether it's your favorite pub or the best commercial brew you've ever put to your lips. Check out Beer Forum.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Brew Day Data

We usually try to take as much data as possible on brew days.  Some items are for repeatability when we want to recreate a real winner.  Even if you don't really brew the same beer that often  (we rarely do) it can still help future brews of similar styles or even your brewing process as a whole.  Other data just help keep the day on track.  I thought it would be of some value to go through some of the items we try to record and why.

Ingredient Measurements - This one is pretty obvious, you need to know what you put into the beer first and foremost.  You can go a little further than pounds of grain and ounces of hops though.  What brand of each grain and even the age of the grain (if you buy in bulk and store grains for a period of time) can help isolate what went wrong later if there is an issue.  Same goes for hops, alpha acid percentage and age are useful items to keep up with.

Water Volumes - We have calibrated all of our kettles with a sight glass and try to use accurate water measurements for the mash.  This is important because you should be doing a temperature calculation that takes into account the amount/temperature of the water and the pounds/temperature of the grain to hit your mash temperature after you combine the two.   You also want to target a good mash thickness for optimal conversion, 1.25 qts/pound (2.6 L/kg) is the standard number most people stay around.

Gravity Readings - Yes readings in the plural.  You can get away with just a starting gravity at the end of the brew day but we've usually taken gravity readings at several spots during the day.  If you have an efficiency/conversion problem early on in the day you have a shot to fix it before the boil, after the boil, or just scrap the day and move on.  We use a refractometer so it's quick and easy to take a reading, there is no way we would do this many with a hydrometer.  As a general rule we look at: 
  1. First Running out of the mash
  2. Each Sparge (if you get too low you are extracting tannins)
  3. The Pre-Boil gravity of the combined runnings
  4. Post Boil Gravity (this is the starting gravity)

Mash Ph - We check the Ph of the mash somewhat infrequently, grab some test strips and see what your local water and grain come out to and adjust if needed.  Once you learn what you usually get you should be fine.  5.2 to 5.4 is the normal desired range.

Mash/Boil/Hop Times - Just recording the mash and boil times for the record, it can be quite hard to remember if you did a 60 or 90 minute boil three weeks later.  The hop schedule is crucial as the length of time in the boil affects bitterness in very different ways.

Volume of Wort Collected -  This will help you identify losses in your brew house due to dead space in equipment, evaporation due to boiling, and any other losses.  Use this to dial in your equipment profile in your brewing software or in your water calculations.  You don't want to end up way short or way over on how much beer you make.

Yeast - What strain was it.  What lot # if it was purchased or what generation was it if you're keeping your own supply in the freezer.  Did you build a starter and if so how big was it and how long did you let it go.  Yeast really is one of the mysteries of brewing that can have the greatest effect on flavor and quality of your finished beer.  Know everything you can about it.  We once had a bad batch that we couldn't figure out, turned out the package we used had been recalled by the manufacturer for poor performance.  We were only able to confirm that this was the issue by checking the recorded lot#.

Fermentation Temperature - Going back to yeast again, a second batch that had an off flavor was likely caused by a higher than desirable temperature range during fermentation.  Know where you're going to ferment and what temperature you expect it to be.  Add a few degrees to that (yeast produces a little heat when active) and select a yeast that performs well in that range.  Even better build a controlled fermentation space.

Final Gravity - If you want to know how much alcohol is in your beer (or if it's finished) you need a starting and finial gravity reading.

Bottles Bottled - If you're bottling it lets you get a good idea of how much fermenter volume you're losing to the yeast cake and any trub left in the wort before fermentation.

Priming Sugar - Type and amount.  See our post on natural carbonation here

Does anyone else record other information about their brewday?  I'm always interested in improving the process.  If you have anything we should lookout for or if there's an error in anything above let us know in the comments.  I'm also trying to decide on the next post does anyone have an opinion on which post they would like to see first, making a yeast starter or a discussion on fermenters (buckets/better bottles/glass carboys)?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Natural Carbonation


We have almost always bottle conditioned every batch we’ve turned out (even most of the kegged batches).  My personal opinion is that bottle conditioned and carbonated beer adds to the flavor depth and creates a better product.  Many of the Trappist Ales that consistently rank among the top beers in the world are bottle conditioned.  In a commercial setting this usually accomplished using wort from the newest batch currently being produced with a small pitch of viable yeast with very specific cell counts introduced.  It’s a finely tuned system that has evolved over a number of years (or generations) at the brewery where they know exactly what level of carbonation they will get.

On the home brewer scale we usually don’t have a fresh batch just finishing up around the time we bottle.  Even if we have brewed the same day it usually a different style and you wouldn’t want to mix beers would you?  To approximate this we can prime the batch with equivalent amounts of sugar to what would have been in that fresh wort.  What kind of sugar we use can affect the end result in different ways but nearly any sugar that yeast can eat will result in carbonation. 


Find a table online for the type of sugar you want to use, they’re available all over the place for all kinds of sugars, Google is your friend.  Common sugars are Dried Malt Extract (DME), Corn Sugar (sometimes called priming sugar), and even plain white table sugar (I think this is how the Mr. Beer system recommends you carbonate). 

Simply measure out the amount of sugar needed and boil it with 1-2 cups of water for a few minutes.  Always do this by weight if you have an accurate scale, one half cup is not always the same as another half cup.  What you see can vary by viewing angle and the compaction of the sugar can vary by scoop.  The point is to be as repeatable in your process as your equipment allows.  Place this in the bottom of your just sanitized bottling bucket (we usually sanitize right after cutting the heat to the priming sugar). 

Place the outlet of your hose in the very bottom of the bottling bucket to avoid aeration. I like to position it in a nearly tangential position to the wall of the bucket to create a good mixing effect (not too good as that will aerate).  From there start your siphon (sanitized of course), a racking cane and a tube full of clean water work but an auto siphon is very easy and quite inexpensive. Rack all of the beer from your fermenter into the bottling bucket being careful not to pick up too much of the yeast cake (some won’t hurt but keep it to a minimum). 

Cover the top of the bottling bucket to keep out free floating nasties that could cause an infection, saran wrap works fine here (sanitize it too).  Bottle and cap away, store the finished bottles at a good temperature for the yeast to work because if it’s too cold they will never carbonate the beer.

After you’re familiar with the common sugars you can experiment with anything you want.  There may be a little research to do to figure out the fermentable levels in special sugars but it shouldn’t be too difficult, and you can always just try it in a similar level to one of the common sugars.  Brown sugar, maple syrup, fruit juice, beet sugar, and probably anything else you can think of have been tried before with varying results. 


1.  Amount of sugar to get the proper volume of CO2 - too little and your under carbonated, too much and you get bottle bombs

2.  Infection (Bacteria or Some other microbe) - Clean everything like you have OCD.  See the picture below of the broken bottle?  It was the only one in the batch that broke; all the other ones were carbonated at the correct level.

3.  Structural weakness in bottle likely due to damage or a manufacturing defect - This is the other possible cause of the broken bottle above.  Look them over for the obvious and discard ones with defects.

4.  Incomplete fermentation before bottling - Check out this video of a Saison we brewed.  It was great after 3 weeks, good for a few more weeks after that, and then it just became impossible to drink at all.  There was no way we added enough priming sugar to get to these levels it just wasn’t done when we put it in the bottles.


Insanely cheap start up equipment costs compared to kegging..  You need a bottling bucket, a racking cane, some hose, a bottle capper, caps, and bottles.  A capper comes with most starter kits and is pretty cheap to pick up on its own.  Bottles don’t cost much to purchase or come free with commercial beer (no twist off’s).

The method works for all styles.  As a bonus Abbey Ales, Russian Imperial Stouts, Barley Wines and other beers that take a much longer time to condition won’t be keeping a keg or tap tied up. 


Bottle Bombs
Inconsistent Results - depends entirely on your process and equipment
Additional Infection Exposure - If you aren’t careful
Additional Oxygen Exposure - If you aren’t careful
Higher Level of Effort Compared to Kegging

May add some residual sweetness if using DME, can beneficial and sometimes it completely changes your beers flavor profile (especially in lighter and drier beers).  Think about trying corn sugar or dextrose if you want to avoid this. 


Try it a few different ways.  Set up an experiment where you brew a super simple 5 gallon extract batch and bottle each gallon with a different approach try out.  Remember to check the volumes of CO2 for the style and try to keep the same volumes using:

            -Corn Sugar
            -White Table Sugar
Then grab some of those carbonation tabs for a gallon and maybe use too little of one of the three above for the last gallon (don’t overdo it as bottle bombs are dangerous and an absolute mess to clean up).  Figure out what you like the best and make your beer that way, there is no right answer just personal preference.

Additional Notes on natural carbonation and conditioning in kegs:
We have done this several times and really can’t form an opinion on it yet.  Good thing is it doesn’t require a dedicated line off your CO2 tank for carbonation.  This is quite useful if your tank is in the fridge with the kegs on tap like mine is.  It is a bit slower than force carbonation.  You can’t just put in the same amount of sugar that you would for bottling, your beer will be way over carbonated (strike this one up to personal experience).  Take all that for what it’s worth.