Sunday, February 27, 2011

BrewDay 1: North German Lager

North German Lager grains steeping
Yesterday was brew day around here. We brewed a North German Lager recipe (a la St. Pauli's Girl, or so it was described) from Austin Homebrew Supply. This is one of our first attempts at lagering beer, but since the weather is cool, we thought this would be the time to do it. Plus, this way, it will be ready when it starts to get warm and spring-like outside. It was a partial-mash brew. Not very hardcore I know, but like we always say, we are tight on space around here, so it makes sense.
New keg fermenter setup

This was also the first brew where we used our new Sanke keg fermenter. We got the keg conversion kit a few months ago from However, it took some extra time to find a slim quarter barrel keg to use with it. The 7.75 gallon size is perfect for 5 gallon batches because it leaves plenty of extra head space for all the fermenting action while not taking up too much space in the already crowded work area. In the close up picture you can see that it took a little rigging to get an airlock in place with this new setup. I think next time we'll just set up a blow-off tube. (Note: It is important to obtain Sanke kegs legally).

New setup and corny kegs

In the larger picture, you can see the very high tech method we are using to keep the lager yeast and beer at a happy 50 - 60 degrees Fahrenheit: a tub of water and a frozen half-gallon milk container. The frozen jugs get rotated every 12 or so hours and have done a pretty good job of consistently keeping the water the right temperature. We are also excited about being able to push the finished beer directly in to a corny keg for conditioning and lagering. The beer will have hardly any contact with oxygen until it is served!

The English bitter

In the last two pictures you can see what else we have in the works. We already have a coffee malt stout keg conditioning from a few weeks ago. We love stouts and coffee, so we can hardly wait for this one to be ready in a couple weeks. Also, in the carboy we have an English bitter. This is the first bitter we have brewed, but we really enjoy the style, so we hope it turns out to be tasty. It was a little bit of a gamble, in that the recipe is from AHS's Session Series collection. All the beers in the collection are designed to be ready in just a week after fermenting. I don't know it the flavor is going to be smooth and blended enough after that short a time, so we might give it an extra week or two before we taste it.

So that's the first installment of "BrewDay" here at BrewTaps. We'll post again when we get to transferring and tasting these brews. In the mean time, we'd love to hear what y'all are brewing and any great recipes we have just got to try.

- BrewTaps

Monday, February 21, 2011

Cask Ale 101: The "Real Ale"

Cask ale, cask-conditioned beer, “real ale,” or whatever you want to call it, it is regaining popularity. The buzz I am hearing from beer crazy cities (like Buffalo, NY) illustrates the popularity that cask ale is gaining amongst craft beer aficionados. I admittedly did not know what all the fuss was about, so I did some research. Below is a little intro to cask ale, or “Cask Ale 101.”

What is cask ale?

Cask ale is non-pasteurized or filtered beer, conditioned in the vessel from which it will be served, and served from that vessel without the aid of secondary pressurized gases. Beer must adhere very strictly to these guidelines to be considered “real ale,” a term coined by CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ales), a British group trying to preserve the tradition and practices associated with this method of beer brewing and serving. Cask ale/real ale can be served from a cask or in a bottle, as long as the guidelines are followed.

What isn’t cask ale?

The definition put out by CAMRA is rather restrictive, so what might resemble “real ale” while not really being “real ale?” Well first, anything filtered or pasteurized is not cask ale. Real cask ale uses finings put into the secondary fermenting vessel (which must also be the vessel from which it is served) in order to draw proteins and yeast to the bottom and keep them out of the draughted beer. Second, “bright beer” is not cask ale. If the clarified beer is transferred to another vessel before being served, in order to reduce the amount of sediment in the beer, it does not qualify. The beer cannot be separated from the yeast before serving. Bottle real ale must have yeast in the bottle. Third, any beer that uses outside collected gases (CO2 or Nitrogen) to serve the beer does not meet standards. Beer must be served by the force of gravity, hand pumped or use an electrical pump.

So what’s the big deal?

The big difference here is that cask ale is a “living beer.” As such, it can get better with time providing it is kept in the right conditions. The beer can develop complex flavors from the extended contact with the yeast, sediment and even the cask (for example, charred wooden barrels). However, because the ale is not preserved by external pressurized dispensing gas, once a cask is tapped, it has to be consumed relatively quickly (3 or 4 days for most non-high gravity offerings).

I can’t say I have had any “real ale”; these parts are often pretty slow to catch on to anything popular in the world of beer. But if any of y’all have had a chance to sample any, let us know what how it is!


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Best College Course Ever: Intro to Beer Brewing

I really wish there had been a course like this offered when I went to college! Applachian State University is now offering an honors chemistry class that teaches college students the science behind making beer and wine. The professor, Brett Taubman, cites the connection between fermentation and chemistry as the basis of the class and a great way to get students interested in the science.

Taubman has high hopes for the class. He would eventually like to expand the class into a full major at the university. Students would graduate with a degree in fermentation science. Additionally, the program would be self-sustaining by selling the beer to local bars and stores.

As for the tricky subject of purposefully mixing college students and alcohol, Taubman and university feel that educating the students about the process of making beer will give them a greater respect for the beverage and help decrease its abuse.

- BrewTaps

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes w/ Bailey's Frosting

It's almost Valentine's Day and what would be more perfect than beer, liquor AND chocolate all in one recipe!? I came across this recipe on a few other blogs and it looked so awesome I had to share it. There are lots of recipes out there for this kind of thing, but we found one that looks pretty great on the "Nook & Pantry" blog and posted it below. We really want to try it. If any of y'all do, let us know if they are as amazing as they sound!

Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes with Bailey’s Cream Cheese Frosting

2 C unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 C Dutch processed cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 C granulated sugar
1/2 C light or dark brown sugar
4 oz./1/2 C unsalted softened butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 egg
1/2 C sour cream
1 12 fl. oz. bottle/1 1/2 C Guinness or stout beer

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter or line with paper cups 2 12 count muffin tins.

In a large bowl briefly whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar until light and fluffy.

Add one egg and beat until evenly mixed and fluffy, make sure to scrape down the mixer bowl once in a while. Add the second egg and vanilla extract and beat again until light and fluffy.

Add the sour cream and beat in, then with the mixer running, slowly pour in the Guinness.

Sift the dry ingredients into the batter and slowly stir the batter until it is evenly mixed and there are no streaks of flour. Make sure to stop the mixer frequently to scrape down the sides and make sure to mix up any flour pockets hidden on the bottom of the bowl.

Divide 1/4 C of batter into each muffin cup, you’ll get about 20 – 24 cupcakes.

Bake at 350 degrees F on the middle rack for 20 – 25 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake in the middle of the pan should come out clean. Make sure to rotate the pans halfway through baking. Set on a rack to cool to room temperature before frosting.

For layer cakes: baking 25 – 30 minutes, rotate the pans around halfway, a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes should come out clean.

Bailey’s Cream Cheese Frosting
1 8oz. bar of cream cheese, softened
1 4oz. stick of unsalted butter, softened
2 C confectioner’s sugar
4 – 6 Tablespoons of Bailey’s Irish Cream

In the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or with a hand mixer, add the cream cheese, butter, and confectioner’s sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Slowly drizzle in the Bailey’s, more or less depending on how boozey you want the frosting, and beat until completely incorporated into the frosting.

(Recipe from Nook & Pantry Blog:
- BrewTaps

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Best Homebrew and Draft Beer Suppliers on the Web

In our neck of the woods, (Alabama) local homebrew stores are few and far between. So where is a homebrewer to get all of the equipment and ingredients he or she needs? The inter-web of course! There are quite a few websites out there that sell homebrew parts-and-pieces, but they are not all created equal. From customer service to selection, we want to share our take on homebrew and draft beer supply websites:

Midwest Supplies –

A great selection of starter kits for those just getting in to homebrewing. Their recipe kits are fairly limited, but what ingredients we have gotten from them have been good quality and produced great beer. The used corny kegs they sell are not in the greatest shape, but nonetheless are vey useable. Additionally, they have a pretty good selection for home vintners as well. In the way of shipping, they are a little vague in letting you know when orders have shipped. Check out their FAQ database for an invaluable resource to those getting started. BOTTOM LINE: a great place to start when you are new to brewing.

Morebeer –

Not our favorite place for homebrew supplies. Their ingredient/recipe kits are fairly limited, but they do have some specialty parts and pieces that are hard to find elsewhere. Our experiences with their shipping and customer service have been less than stellar, but I am sure experiences will vary. BOTTOM LINE: not the best selection or service, but if you are looking for a specialty item, look here before your search is exhausted.

Austin Homebrew Supply –

There is one word to describe this site – “selection.” While I have never been to the Austin, TX store location, I can imagine the amount of choices in supplies and recipe kits would have to completely overwhelming in person. The number of ingredient/recipe kits they offer has to run somewhere in the two to three hundreds! The ingredients we have gotten from them have been high-quality and are shipped quick! Additionally, the used corny kegs they sell are in great shape! BOTTOM LINE: probably THE best selection of beer recipe kits on the net!

KegWorks –

Draft beer anyone? These folks have an awesome selection of draft beer equipment. While they don’t offer a ton of homebrew supplies, anyone looking to setup a kegerator should check out this site. Additionally, these folks have some of the best customer service in the business. BOTTOM LINE: KegWorks is king of draft beer.

These are some the sites that we have had experiences and success with, but what about y’all? Which homebrew and draft beer sites do you use? Which are the best?

- BrewTaps

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Thomas Jefferson's Beer Brewed Again

The beer that Thomas Jefferson brewed over 200 years ago at Monticello will soon be available to the public. Of course, it isn't the actual batch, but Starr Hill Brewing, in conjunction with the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, are brewing from Jefferson's original recipe. It will be called "Monticello Reserve Ale" and use all of the ingredients Jefferson was reported to have used. According to Levi Duncan, the lead brewer at Starr Hill, the beer has "earthy hops, little bit of corn in the finish and lots of malt." In Jefferson's day, the beer was brewed there at Monticello in his personal brewhouse (bad a$$!), it was then cellared in the main house and graciously served to dinner guests.

Unless you are able to find it locally in Virginia, I am not sure where you might be able to get your hands on some of this stuff. However, I can't imagine a more patriotic way to spend this President's Day (Feb 22nd) than sipping the very ale a president once served at his home. Let us know if y'all are able to get your hands some of this!