Brewing Liquor For Dark Beers (30–40 SRM) 

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 3.51.03 PMFor brewers who want to start treating their water appropriately, but don’t want to wade through the requisite chemistry, here’s the second in my series of simple water guides. Today’s post is a quick guide to generating brewing liquor for dark beers, starting with distilled water as the base. I’ll discuss beers ranging in color from 30 to 40 SRM — porters, stouts, and the like.

I will post the remaining two water guides — for brown beers (20–30 SRM) and pale beers (0–10 SRM) — soon. I’ve skipped to dark beers because of an interesting quirk to making brewing liquor for dark beers. [Read more…]

Brewing Liquor For Amber Beers (10–20 SRM)

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One diagram of beer color, from Wikipedia.

Water chemistry is a topic that many homebrewers wait to tackle until they have been brewing for awhile. For those who don’t deal with chemistry on a regular basis, the learning curve can seem pretty steep. For those brewers, here is a quick guide to generating brewing liquor for amber colored beers (SRM 10–20), starting with distilled water. I’m using the word “amber” here fairly loosely, as 10 SRM is really a dark golden color and 20 SRM is almost into the brown range.

This rough guide can help you treat your brewing liquor, and improve your beer — without having to dig into much of the underlying chemistry.

I will put out three other quick water guides — for brown beers (20–30 SRM), black beers (30–40 SRM), and pale beers (0–10 SRM) — soon. [Read more…]

Hops Lose Alpha Acids Over Time (Part 1 of 3)

HopBagAlphaLet’s say you buy an ounce of Cascade hops and it says 6.0% alpha acids on the package. What is the percentage of alpha acids in your hops? This might seem like a trick question, but it isn’t. Alpha acids decay over time and the percentage listed on the package represents the level when the hops were analyzed. The number may be substantially lower when you brew with them. In each hemisphere, hops are harvested once a year. Once harvested, the clock is ticking on their alpha acid levels. For advanced homebrewers — especially those brewing hoppy beers in the few months leading up to the next hop harvest — it pays to understand what is going on and how you can adjust for it.

The major variables contributing to the decline in alpha acid levels are temperature, exposure to oxygen, exposure to light, and the variety of hops. As a homebrewer, you should store your hops in a way that minimizes their degradation.

[Read more…]

Brewing with Heather

CallunaVulgarisHeather (Calluna vulgaris) grows widely across Scotland. Its purple flowers are mentioned in many Scottish poems and songs. The tips of the bush are eaten by grazing animals and bunches of flowering heather are often gathered for decorations. In the past, heather was also used to bitter Scottish beers.

Hops don’t grow natively in Scotland. In the 1800s and 1900s, Scottish brewers imported their hops. Before that, in the 1700s and earlier, there is some evidence that Scottish brewers used other bittering agents in their beer. (There is a lot of conflicting evidence about this. I’m not a historian, but it seems there is at least some evidence to support this.)

[Read more…]

Four Beer Spices (Part II of II)

BWJrelatedMoleculesMaking spiced beers is a winter tradition for homebrewers. Here is the second half of this article on four popular beer spices.

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Four Beer Spices (Part I of II)

A spiced dark beer.

Most brewers know a fair amount about barley and hops. They know barley is the seed of a species of grass (and specifically a cereal) and hops are cones from a vine. However, when we brew beers with other ingredients — such as fruits or spices — we might be familiar with its origin. In this article, I take a quick look at four spices commonly found in winter warmers and how to use them in brewing.

[Read more…]

Uses For Black Malt


Black malt works well in blends with other darkly-roasted grains.

Black malt is a misunderstood grain. Written off by many early homebrew authors as yielding burnt, sometimes ashy flavors, and an acrid aroma, it’s actually a fairly mildly-flavored malt, given its extreme color. Because a large amount of the aromatic compounds developed during kilning are vented from the kiln, black malt has a subdued aroma compared to other darkly-roasted grains — something a simple sniff test will show you. Because our sense of taste is highly influenced by our sense of smell, the relative lack of aroma to black malt means that it tastes milder than one might expect. Once you understand the actual properties of black malt, you will have an edge over homebrewers who refuse to use it, or don’t understand what it really adds to a beer.  [Read more…]

The Truth About Black Malt

darkMaltHomebrew malt myths die hard. This is especially true for myths that may have a grain of truth to them. (Get it, a grain of truth?) Likewise, myths that seem to be confirmed by casual observation can be hard to debunk. Case in point — black malt (sometimes called black patent malt). This very dark malt has been described as lending an aggressively burnt taste to beers that contain it. Sometimes the adjectives “sharp” and “acrid” are used, and less commonly you will even see it described as ashy. Sources that describe black malt in that manner frequently urge brewers to minimize its use, or to use debittered (or dehisked) black malt in its place. Debittered black malt is black malt that has had the husks removed. As the name implies, it adds less roast “bitterness” to beers brewed with it.

This description of black malt is a mishmash of truths and falsehoods, and perhaps for this reason many homebrewers still cling to this poor description. Let’s start with what’s wrong and then describe the malt as it really is.

[Read more…]

Barley Starch for Brewers (V: Gelatinization)


This is the fifth article in this series on starch. After an introductory article, I have posted articles on amylose, amylopectin, and starch granules

In the mash, brewers need to get the starch-degrading enzymes (amylase enzymes) to reduce the large molecules of amylose and amylopectin into mixture of fermentable carbohydrates (esp. the sugar maltose) and non-fermentable carbohydrates. In order for this to occur, the starch needs to be dissolved in water hot enough to dissolve it. This step is call gelatinization, even though gelation might be a more appropriate term. (When starch is dissolved in water, it would be more appropriate to describe the result as a gel. Gelatin is an animal product, formed from collagen.) However, the term “gelatinization” is firmly entrenched in the brewing literature, so I’ll use it here.

[Read more…]

Barley Starch for Brewers (IV: Granules)


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Starch granules contain alternating layers of less dense, amorphous starch (light blue) interspersed with more tightly packed, semi-crystalline regions of starch (dark blue). When exposed to water, the less dense regions swell, disrupting the internal structure of the granule.

Starch is composed of amylose and amylopectin. In barley malt, however, starch does not exist as a pure mixture of these two molecules, contained by the husk. Instead, Amylose and amylopectin are associated with other molecules, and packed into to tiny granules.

[Read more…]