The Little Imp’s Pale Ale

Take a look at this picture. I’m really moving up in the world of brewing, at least in terms of equipment. Santa Claus and the birthday version of Santa Claus (every once in a while being a Christmas Baby pays off) got me a fancy smancy Blichman Propane Burner. CostCo gave me a propane tank (after I gave them money). And I became a registered Professional Engineer in the state of Illinois, and I used part of the company bonus to buy a Spike Brewing 15 gallon stainless steel brew kettle (the rest goes to the Wedding).

Last weekend I brewed my first full-scale partial mash batch. If I get a big enough mesh bag, next time I will brew my first BIAB all grain batch. One day I might even do the complete traditional all grain.

It has been a little while since my last brew, and I’ve been having the itch, so I hit the local homebrew shop on Saturday to get the ingredients for my first Belgian Pale Ale (so many firsts).

There are a few differences between Belgian Pale Ales and the English and American Versions. I used Pilsner Malt extract instead of extract made from regular 2-row. I used Czech Saaz for the aroma additions instead of a British or an American Hop. These differences are important, but the real star of the show is the Belgian yeast used. If you used your regular brew pub yeast, all you are making is an ale version of a Pilsner. The Wyeast 1214 Belgian Abbey Ale supposedly comes from the Chimay Brewery, monk makers of world glass Chimay line of Beers. It will produce cloves and other esters, and have a delicious spicy note.

7 lbs of Pilsner Based Extra Light DME
1/2 lb of Munich Malt
3/4 lb of CaraMunich Malt
0.8 oz East Kent Golding at 60 Minutes
0.5 oz Saaz at 40 Minutes
0.5 oz Saaz at 15 Minutes

I also used my electrical skills to wire up a my old college fridge to use as a temperature fermentation chamber. I bought an STC-1000 temperature controller. It is about 100 bucks cheaper than a Johnson Controls temperature controller. Of course, those 100 bucks do buy you a plug and play ability and a display in Fahrenheit. That is nothing that some wires, electrical tape, and Google’s ability to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius can’t fix. After the first test batch I’ll solder the connection and throw some heat shrink on it to make a more solid commercial.

Contamination in the Lines

The other day I was eating at one of those chain English-Style pub restaurants. It has decent English style food and decent beer. It’s actually more than descent in the form of Fuller’s ESB and London Pride. I’ve had Fulller’s beers on several occasions, but I have never had a Fuller’s London Pride on draft, so I figured it was time. I get the beer, waft in the aroma, and take a sip. Wait a minute! There seems to be something horribly wrong here. I take another sip. It tastes off. It certainly doesn’t taste like any of the London Prides I’ve had before. I know the draft should be a bit different from the bottle, but not this different. In fact, no beer should have this flavor. It seems kind of spoiled, maybe moldy, and just plain off. Sadness.

My first suspicion is a contaminated draft line. This has happened in the past and I never did anything about it. This time I figured it wouldn’t hurt to email the brewery, or at least the US representative Paulaner HP. They responded to say that their Chicago sales person would look into. Hope it changes something at the restaurant. All it really takes is cleaning the lines at a minimum of once every two weeks, and preferably weekly. If somebody had this beer for the first time and found this foul taste, there is a good chance they would think it was Fuller’s fault and never get that beer again. A damn shame. Before I started studying draught systems for the Cicerone Beer Servers exam, I never really understood how prevalent dirty lines are, and how most people (including myself) would never attribute it to the dirty lines.

It is important to understand what the differences are between flavors from  contamination and from poor recipes.  A professional brewery didn’t become a professional brewery by having poor quality control and off flavors in the beer. If you find a beer that has offensive flavor, that is probably a contamination due to poor handling or dirty lines. If you drink a beer with an offensive flavor, especially if it is from the draft, I’d try the beer from somewhere else before giving up on the beer altogether. If everything is alright there, it was probably the restaurant or bar’s fault. Sometimes things happen beyond a bar’s  control, but if you properly clean your lines and equipment on a regular basis, you shouldn’t be getting these problems.

The Pale Rider Porter

Because death needs something robust to get him through the end times.


The winter is in full force, and my second beer of the season will be a bit bigger than my earlier Christmas Mild. I really like porters, and since I have never brewed one before, I figured that it was time. Porter was probably the first industrialized beer in the world. In 18th century England, patrons used to ask the bartender to mix the various beers they had in certain proportions to get the taste they want, sort of like a Black and Tan today. Legend had it that Porter (or originally called entire) was first brewed as an equivalent to a popular combination called “three threads”.

At least that is the legend I originally learned  from the Brewmaster Table, but according to Wikipedia, that story arose due to some misinterpretation of brewing terms in a famous history of porter written by John Feltham. It actually started out as a more aged version of the earlier brown beer. The first style of beer aged at the brewery itself, ready to drink out the door, and the first beer produced on an industrial scale. It was very popular with the street and river porters and the name stuck. Eventually porter fell out of favor, and all but the stout porter, or simply Stout died out. Even breweries like Guiness, now famous for its Stout, eventually dropped the beer it started with. It wasn’t until 1978, when craft beer was emerging again in the  UK, that the style started to come back.

What exactly makes a robust porter robust? It is more Robust than a brown porter of course. It has more alcohol, has more hops, and  has some black  patent malt. It also generally seems like it could be an American version of the porter. A glance at the list of commercial examples on the BJCP style guidelines basically lists American breweries making Robust Porter and English breweries making Brown.

I took my recipe from the Robust Porter episode of the The Brewing Network’s: The Jamil Show. You can find the recipes over at, a site which only lists award-winning recipes. These recipes are probably similar,  or even the same as the ones in his book Brewing Classic Styles.

I adjusted the recipe, as I used dry malt extract, and his extract recipe calls for liquid malt. Let’s hit the main points:

SRM: 32.4
IBU: 34.1
OG: 1.064

I did a partial mash with the following ingredients:

1 lb 6 oz Crystal 60L
1 lb 6 oz  Munich Malt
10 oz Chocolate Malt
7.3 oz Black Patent Malt

This didn’t work out well. I tried to do brew in a bag. I used the recommended amount of water that Beersmith told me, but with the bag I had and the width of my pot, the water didn’t really cover the grain completely. This made it hard for the water to regulate the temp and different parts of the grain had widely different temperatures. I will have to change the method next time, probably with a bag that doesn’t keep the grain so tight.

After the “fun” of mashing, I brought the water up to boil, and threw in half of the 6 pounds of extra light Dry Malt Extract, and 1.7 oz of East Kent Goldings at 5.6% Alpha Acids. At 15 minutes I threw in a Whirflock tablet. This is the first time I have ever used a fining agent. A fining agent binds to the proteins and help make the beer nice and clear. Whirflock is essentially Irish Moss – a red Algae – in a convenient tablet form.

Then I threw the rest of the extra light DME in, and threw the last 0.75 oz of East Kent Goldings in at flame out. I chilled it down to about 65 degrees topped it off to 5.5 gallons and realized my original gravity was under by over 13 points. To fix this I threw in more extra light DME until it hit 1.063, and am hoping for the best.

I have been listening to the Jamil Show a lot, and he  is constantly stressing that proper  fermentation is the key to good beer. Therefore, I made a yeast starter for the first time. To make a yeast starter, you essentially take your liquid yeast and put it in some water with light extract (i.e. you make a low gravity wort) and let it start to ferment. During the first stage of fermentation, the yeast eats all the oxygen in the liquid and multiplies. Then you take your multiplying yeast and throw them in your beer to get a healthy fermentation. Unfortunately, to get the recommended amount of yeast with out a mechanical means to constantly introduce oxgen you need about 3.5 liters of yeast starter. Good thing I have a gallon jug and an extra 12 ounces of DME lying around. Every time I passed it, I gave it a shake help it along.

I pitched the yeast, aerated the wort, and took the bucket to the basement, where there has been a surprising lack of bubbles lately, The krausen did form, so something must be happening.

Homebrewer’s First Labels

This is not actually the first time that I have labeled my beer. The first time really was the beer I made for my Family Reunion. However, my cousin designed the labels then, and had them professionally printed on die-cast vinyl stickers. This time I didn’t tell him about this beer early enough, so I quickly made the labels up myself with an online label maker called beerlabelizer. I also added an extra line of text on the bottom using adobe acrobat.

I printed the labels out on a laser printer, and put them on the bottles using the milk method. You simply use milk as glue. It works pretty well, they supposedly are not hard to get off, and they don’t stink when they dry.