F+ Beer

Adventures in Homebrewing and All Things Hoppy

Pretty in Black

This is an interpretation of BYO’s Deschutes Obsidian Stout Clone recipe.  I like it, but it turned out way too hoppy — CDA (or whatever you want to call it) territory.  The main reason for this is the fact that I have been using a crappy plastic-and-spring kitchen scale, which is terrible for measuring small quantities of light, fluffy hops.  This beer made me finally break down and buy a digital kitchen scale. 

I couldn’t find the hops called for at the homebrew supply store, so I played around a bit.  I kept the same AAU’s but used Northern Brewer for all the mid- and late-hops.  Willing to sacrifice some subtle hop austerity (the more proper stout hop character), I opted instead for a little bit of odd interest.  I wanted to get a sense of that somewhat unusual “rough-hewn” NB character (and I think I did!).

An interesting observation: right out of the kegerator it’s quite hoppy, but let it warm to a more appropriate American Stout serving temperature, and this beer comes across as more balanced (malts seem to express themselves better).

I have no photos pertaining to beer for this post, so here’s one of the Raveonettes:

Style: American Stout

Brew Date: Sunday, 1-5-14

Transfer to Secondary: Saturday, 1-11-14

Kegged: Saturday, 1-25-14

Base Malt: 6.8 lb. light liquid malt extract (LME) 2 °L

Steeping Grains:

  • 1.3 lb. black malt 530 °L
  • 1.0 lb. crystal malt 80 °L
  • 9.5 oz. Carapils 2 °L
  • 9.5 oz. Western Munich malt 10 °L
  • 9.5 oz. Western wheat malt 2 °L
  • 1.4 0z. roasted barley 575 °L

Yeast: White Labs WLP002 English Ale (pitched at 68°F, started 2 nights before [Friday night], conditioned on stir plate)


  • “Tomahawk/Warrior/Columbus” @13.8 alpha – pellets
  • Northern Brewer @ 9.7 alpha – whole cone

Hop Schedule:

  • 0.85 oz. Columbus at 90 min
  • 0.5 oz. Northern Brewer at 30 min
  • 0.8 oz. Northern Brewer 5 min

Gravity Schedule:

  • 1.055 at pitch 1-5-14
  • 1.018 at kegging 1-25-14

Process Notes:

  • First attempt at full-volume boil.  Probably due to the time took to steep grains and bring water to temp in the cold weather, I got only 3.3 gallons (before make-up water) from a 6 gallon start!
  • Instead of the following the directions (time and extra steps) for steeping grains at 170° for 35 minutes in 1.5 gallons, I just put the grains in cold, brought it up to 170° and held grains at 166-175 (best I could do for controlling temp) for 10 minutes.  Water started at 11: 15.  90 minute boil started at 12:12.
  • OG came in way low.  Should have been 1.068.  I suspect this, in part, to be due to my steeping method above.  Why else though?  I had all the necessary LME, which should have provided most of the sugars.

Bonus! (Fun with Byproducts)

I hate just throwing away all that good spent grain after I’m done brewing.  Luckily, there are some great things you can do with spent grain so that you only have to get rid of most of it!

Spent Grain Cookies

Spent Grain Cookies

Yesterday, once I got everything going in the fermenter, I pulled up this great recipe from Omnomicon for spent grain chocolate chip cookies.  These things are delicious, with the grains adding a kind of rustic hardiness — manly cookies that chew back!

Let’s call it… I don’t know, a Black Splash.

The beer I made was an American Stout (extract with a lot of flavoring grains), so my leftover grains had a bit of thick, black liquid pooling in the bowl beneath them.  I took a taste: an oily dark/burnt grain character with a mild sweetness (as you might expect from a bunch of black, crystal, and Munich malts).  A bit tannic, but very interesting and overall fairly pleasant.  I had to try doing something with it, so I thought it might be good as a whiskey mixer.  So I tried a 1: 1 ratio of this stuff with Bourbon whiskey, mixed on the rocks.  It was okay, but missing something.  My wife was thinking as I was: some kind of citrus character would be good.  I cut a slice of orange and gave it a good squeeze.  Better — pretty good in fact!  It was sort of similar to an Old Fashioned, with the black slurry standing in for both the sugar and the bitters.  I think it could stand a bit of tweaking (maybe a tad more sugar, for one), but it was a pretty good drink for saying it was done on the fly.


I have yet to make spent grain dog treats (which are often not that far off from the human versions) but these are another popular use for brewing leftovers.  Here is one recipe from BYO.  My dogs would be so pissed if they knew this was an option.

So these are a few ideas for brewing byproducts, anyway.  I really hate wasting things, and I mentioned how I still have to get rid of most of my spent grains (none of these projects use up much of the brewing quantity).  However, even disposing of my leftovers won’t be bad from now on, as my friend wants to take it all for composting (which is another good use for spent grains).  Great!

Debris Slide Fresh Hop IPA

We hit our hop harvest season again here in the Willamette Valley last month, so I did the proper thing and made another fresh hop IPA.  This one is based on last year’s model, but with a little more LME, a different yeast selection, and a different hop profile.  I tried to make it Saaz-forward again, but this year I didn’t get quite enough Saaz to use that hop exclusively in the mid- and late-boil additions.  So my [Golden] Nugget hops made up the difference where needed.  Still, I had a ton of bright green hops rolling around in the sticky, hop-oil-infused wort – a pretty sight!

Compared with last year’s version, this one has more of a heft to it (a good thing).  On the downside, there is a harsher bitterness to this one, especially at the finish – not to the degree that it’s bad, but I wish the edge wasn’t there quite so much; it seems to somewhat mask the fresh-hopiness of the flavor.  This sharpness could be due to the slightly longer boil time, but I suspect it has a lot to do with the weird “Golden Nugget” hops taking on more of the hop duties in lieu of the softer Saaz.  (I did keep the overall alpha addition schedule the same from last year, however.)

I’ve got no photos to share for this time around, so please enjoy the below link to the the namesake for this beer (note that this is, syntactically, a command and not a request):

Style: Fresh-Hop American IPA

Brew Date: Sunday, 9-22-13

Base Malt: 8.0 lbs. light LME

Steeping Grains: 1.0 lbs. Carapils, 1.0 lbs. Centennial-10, 0.75 lbs. Munich Light, 0.75 lbs Wheat, 0.5 lbs. Centennial-60 (all steeped for 35 minutes between 152-160°F)

Yeast: White Labs WLP001 English Ale (pitched at 73°F, started 3 nights before [Thursday night], conditioned on stir plate)


  • [Golden] Nugget* at 11% α (estimated)
  • Saaz at 4% α (estimated)

Hop Schedule:

  • 1 oz. Nugget (dried) at 70 min
  • 12 oz. Saaz (wet) at 35 min
  • 3.5 oz. Saaz (wet) and 2.0 oz Golden Nugget (wet) at 0 min
  • 2.25 oz. Golden Nugget (dried): secondary fermentation stage dry hop (duration of secondary)

Gravity Schedule:

  • 1.054 at pitch 9-22-12, 3:00pm
  • 1.013 final (at kegging 10-14-13)

*We got this breed of hop (2 of our 3 hop plants) prior to my getting into brewing, just because we liked hops. This is an unfortunate hop to have as a brewer, as it seems to not have been bred especially for brewing, and the online homebrew community is peppered with not-so-definitive Q&A threads about this hop and what exactly it is, even.  Nonetheless, it has worked fine for me (as a bittering hop) so far.

Thank a Volunteer

You know, I don’t have a lot to say about Oregon Brewer’s Festival that others haven’t already said, but I couldn’t help but notice — one second here —


…Anyway, where was I?  Oh yeah, the servers at the counters are almost always friendly.  Even after several hours of standing in the hot, dusty air, constantly pouring beer after beer, sometimes for totally sh#tfaced and occasionally obnoxious patrons.  These volunteers must really like craft beer.



Three Interesting Beers at OBF

Courtesy germanbeerinstitute.com

Courtesy germanbeerinstitute.com

This year at Oregon Brewers Festival there seemed to be a number of lighter/Summer-style offerings, including a number of Cream Ales, Pilsners, Kolsch’s, and a style I wasn’t familiar with called Dortmund Export.  In his very thoughtful “Beer/No Beer” rumination on styles and perceptions, Jeff Alworth (Beervana) briefly discussed the Dortmund Export and got me interested in finding out more about this style.  In addition to being an appealing style, Dortmund Export has an interesting (and rocky in modern times) history and an intriguing association with the German laborer — worth a read. There were three Portland-based interpretations of this style available at OBF.  All were good, I thought, but I agree with Jeff that Breakside’s Float is excellent — soft and clean yet delicately flavorful.   I’ll continue seek this one out as der Sommer weiter gehen.

Also, as a homebrewer I’m always interested in learning more about specific hop varieties.  For this reason, I love to try single-hop beers as little self-study exercises.  Double Mountain’s excellently named OBF beer this year, the ClusterF#ck, is all about the Cluster hop.  (Note: This is not the first year they brought ClusterF#ck — did I not get to this one before?) Again, the Cluster hop was something I was unfamiliar with, so, again, I looked it up.  Turns out this was, out of necessity and convenience, the go-to American hop for, well, ever, but fell out of favor due to American hop inferiority issues, but has been falling back into favor due to the the craft brewing movement’s interest in, um, interesting flavors and local ingredients.  It’s another interesting history lesson you can read more about.

Anyway, I’m starting to sound like a history teacher and not an OBF beer drinker, so back to the beer.,, At 85 IBU’s, this was very much about the hops (bitterness, flavor, and aroma).  I like big, hoppy IPA’s, and thought this was a good one.  i just wish I could sit down in a less distracting (and often way too aromatic) environment than OBF with a full pint of this stuff to really try picking up the nuances of the Cluster.

Also, this year’s OBF was the first time I got to try Rogue’s Beard Beer, based around yeast from the facial hair of brewmaster John Maier.  I had to try it just to say I did so, but it was a nice, round, nuanced “Golden Belgian”-style beer according to OBF (“American Wild Ale” according to other sources, but it does have sweet-ish, boozy, slightly spiced sort of Golden Belgian thing going).

Impressions of Portland International Beerfest

I’ve regularly attended the Oregon Brewers Festival  (OBF) for a number of years but have never been to the Portland International Beerfest (PIB).  There are a number of reasons for this, including:

  • Higher entry price and expensive pours
  • Reports that most beers aren’t actually international
  • The fact that many international beers at IBF are not exotic at all
  • PIB generally happens right up against OBF
  • Reports of it being shoulder-to-shoulder crowded, worse than OBF at its peak

Allow me to convey my general impression via cartoonishly stereotypical exaggeration: IBF equals “brewfest light” — a snootier event “in the Pearl district”, where one might see buzzed yuppies absently sipping Stella.  Something like that, anyway.

That being said, a beer enthusiast friend encouraged my wife and I to check it out this year, and we were really glad we went.  I was pleasantly surprised.

(There were also draft tents)

IBF Bottle Tents

First off, there were 160 beers there (OBF has 84 beers by comparison).  I’m too lazy to parse it out, but at a glance I would say that clearly more than half were international.  Furthermore, even though the only Polish beer was Black Boss and some less-than-rare beers like Bitburger Pils were among the offerings, most of the internationals were indeed interesting.  US beer offerings also seemed pretty good from what I saw, but I stuck to internationals since I was at Portland INTERNATIONAL Beerfest. 

Also, it was a very nice atmosphere.  The North Park Blocks where it is held provided a nice shady, green area.  IBF was less of the dirt and hot tents and “WOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” of OBF.  I went from about 12:30 to 5:00 on a Satuday, so to be fair I can’t compare it to my usual Friday evening and later Saturday OBF visits (though even Saturday afternoon can get crazy at OBF).  It was not jam-packed and super-noisy, but it was very busy.  Still, though, the lines were almost always short.

Yes, there are some expensive pours, but there are some damn expensive beers there!  I had no idea how many beers on offer were off-the-shelf bottles that they just buy in mass quantity and keep on ice.  And there are a large number of 1-ticket pours. I stuck with interesting 1- and 2-ticket pours first, but then moved on to a few 3-ticket and maybe even one or two 4-ticket beers, just because there were some really interesting and unique ones I wanted to try.  It’s nice, for example, to be able to compare and contrast a number of good Belgian beers without having to commit to buying all those expensive bottles!

Courtesy portland-beerfest.com

One final note on the price: PIB “is a fundraiser for PET CROSS”, so part of those ticket prices goes to a good cause.  What’s better than drinking beer?  Drinking beer… FOR PUPPIES AND KITTIES!!

So all-in-all, if you’re like me and have not bothered to try IBF “just because”, I encourage you to give it a shot next year.  Is attending YET ANOTHER good beer event in the Portland area going to kill you?

Beer in China: Part Three

“This Dirty Little Cup Really Sets Off the Starchy Adjuncts”

Here’s another fairly minor observation I made about beer culture in China: I’m pretty sure it’s a social faux pas to drink beer straight from the bottle there.  Every time you order a bottle of beer, no matter the size or how crappy the brew, it comes with a little drinking glass that you are to keep filling as you go.

Little drinking glass... check.

Little drinking glass… check.

I usually* just used the glass because it was there. However, some of my travel mates were out drinking one cheery night, and another table of Chinese patrons kept raising their bottles toward them and making different motions, all while laughing and saying things in Chinese to my friends.  “We thought they were just toasting us and being friendly,” one of my American friends told me (by the way, this behavior is so common there that this would have been my first thought as well), “but then we began to realize: Hey! I think they’re making fun of us for drinking straight from the bottle!” I haven’t been able to verify this idea about drinking from bottles since getting back to the states, but I’m pretty sure she was right.

And now for the asterisk part of the discussion:

A little low-rent Korean place.  Food was great, but beer came with tiny plastic drinking "glass".

A little low-rent Korean place. Food was great, but beer came with tiny plastic drinking “glass”.

*Like I said, I almost always drank from the little glass, and I do firmly believe in the old “When in Rome” saying.  However, while it may be uncouth to drink straight from the bottle in China, below are a few thoughts about why this isn’t always the most logical approach to downing a beer in the PRC:

  1. The little glasses sometimes come to the table a bit wet.  Unknown water is your enemy in China.  Short of a napkin, I’ve used my shirt to thoroughly wipe a glass dry and then let it sit for a minute or so to evaporate what moisture was left.  You know, just to be safe (or paranoid, depending on your point of view).
  2. In a very modern, mall-like bullet-train station, my two friends and I ordered 12 oz. Tsingtao bottles, and all three of the glasses that came with them were damp and stunk of stale beer, as if they had not been washed after last use.  Bottles are at least (relatively) sanitary, and these bottles had just been opened, so we went ahead and yokeled it up and passed on the glasses, thank you very much.
  3. When in doubt about the glass, remember: In China, you’re probably not drinking Old Rasputin, so glassware is often not really a necessity.  In fact, wait a minute… That’s a 2.5% abv Snow adjunct lager sitting in front of you, for God’s sake!  Who cares?


Beer in China: Part Two

Craft Beer in China and My Accidental Adventure

In my last post, I referenced a great article about beer in China.  I found this article in an issue of HOPS Magazine, and I found HOPS magazine by (almost literally) stumbling into it.

HOPS is a publication (I got a copy of both their Chinese and English versions) dedicated to Chinese beer culture, with an emphasis on craft and high-quality beers.  It should come as no surprise, therefore, that they were at a pretty significant Shanghai beer event known as Sinan Mansions Beer Festival.  What did surprise me, as I walked down Chongqing South Road in Shanghai at about 2:00 on a Sunday afternoon, is that I was heading right for a beer festival!  In China!  Where I hadn’t had any Chinese beer stronger than about 4% abv in over two weeks!

I had a couple of hours to kill, so it popped into my head to check if Untappd worked and see if I was close to any good beers.  Untapped does work in China, and I was fairly close to Boxing Cat Brewery, which I had read about stateside.  So I headed that way.

Just roll with it, OK?

Just roll with it, OK?

When I arrived, a big banner on Boxing Cat’s block announced that the Sinan Beer Fest was going on right there on that block.  I went straight for the tents and started navigating the crowds (which were significant but not on the scale of the Oregon Brewers Festival). In my excitement to find good, strong beer, I bought a Chimay on the spot, which, in retrospect, was a mistake, as I only had limited cash on me and there ended up being a lot of Chinese craft beer options, toward which I should have devoted all of my resources (I was in China, after all!).

I was also able to try a number of the Chinese beers, though.  I had East City Porter by the superbly named Great Leap Brewing, Buckwheat Ale by Le Ble dÓr’s Suzhou facility, TKO IPA by Boxing Cat Brewery, as well as a few other samples here and there. To get a good, quick overview of craft beer in China, I, again, recommend the HOPS article, but here are a few of my own observations about craft beer in China:

Sainan Beer Festival

Happy Drunk People

  • The mix at the brew fest was about 60%-70% white expats, and most brewers and brewery booth staff were expats as well (though this wasn’t necessarily the case for distributor/retail/publications booths).  Craft beer seems to be very expat-driven; however, the article notes that “now Chinese now outnumber expats in the Beijing Homebrewing Society”, and I agree with the author that this is a good sign for the future of the Chinese beer scene.
  • I hate to be a critic in matters like this, but the beers I was able to try were, overall, pretty good but not great, and not to the level of what we’re used to in, say, Oregon.  As the article notes, brewing (including access to supplies) is a tougher go in China, and it this may play a part in many a finished product.
  • Like craft beer scene in America, the scene in China seems to be fun, dynamic, and energetic.
  • It would be very exciting to be associated with one of the craft brewers in China right now. From what I’ve seen and read, I think it could be argued that the industry has developed enough steam to move past being characterized as “nascent” and is now better described as “burgeoning”.  Further to this, the growth of incomes, interests, and Western tastes among China’s local citizens (urban ones, at least) bodes well for places like Boxing Cat Brewery.

Boxing Cat

Beer in China: Part One

General Observations

I recently returned from a trip to China, and while it was very interesting in many ways, this is a beer blog, so I’m going to talk about the beer of China over the next few posts.

Actually, I’m going to first refer you to this great HOPS article on the current status of beer in China – both mainstream and the emerging craft beer movement. My experience in China almost completely falls in line with what the author details in terms of typical super-light, watery, adjunct-style lagers being the only option in most run-of-the mill restaurants and bars (though some bars [even non-Expat] offer some pretty good Western beers by the bottle if you’re willing to pay for them).

Hot fish, hot tea, hot room, and slightly cool Snow Beer.  Actually, a really good experience.

Hot fish, hot tea, hot room, and slightly cool Snow Beer. Actually, a really good experience.

Really, if you can’t read the beers on a Chinese menu and the server doesn’t speak English, your best bet is to just say “Tsingtao”, because it’ll most likely (though not always) be the most robust thing you can get (in Suzhou-Shanghai, at least). Oh, and though this kind of beer is obviously best served cold, it often comes to your table just semi-cold (more like a proper ale temperature at first, only to warm in the hot air if you dally). But hey, this beer does go great with a lot of Chinese food!

Sinkiang Black Beer at a Muslim Restaurant in Suzhou

Sinkiang Black Beer at a Muslim Restaurant in Suzhou

Every once in a while, though, there will be an oddball Chinese beer that holds some interest. Sinkiang Black Beer was a nice change of pace. It was a dark beer – the only dark Chinese beer I found outside of the craft scene – yet still a bit on the weak/mild side for a dark beer (tasted maybe like a dark lager with some strange backflavors?) It’s from the Xinjiang (heavily Islamic/Uyghur) region of China, so look for it in Muslim restaurants.

I also liked the above-mentioned article because it does a good job of laying out the history of the industry and reflects so much of China’s business and economic culture at the moment. I was in China as part of an MBA “China Studies” program, and I’ve spent a lot of time lately learning about Chinese history, culture, and business. The beer scene in China could make an interesting case study, as it is in many ways a microcosm of what’s happening in China in general: changing consumer tastes, Western influence in an increasingly open China, the emergence of new industries, the governmental and infrastructure challenges of the existing system, etc. Cool stuff, and very exciting times for beer enthusiasts in China!


Unbeknownst to me at the time, the last porter recipe I picked out ended up being a “Brown Porter” (based on OG and other traits), which is not really the standard porter we craft-beer-drinking Americans are used to. I liked it fine for what it was, but I had wanted a deeper, more flavorful porter and thought I had screwed it up. So anyway, I’ve brewed another porter, ensuring this one is a “Robust Porter” per BJCP’s style guidelines. This one is based on BYO’s Jolly Roger Double Mocha Porter (found in Jan-Feb 2012 issue), with the only real changes being in the bittering hop variety and yeast type.

My New Kegerator!

It turned out to be pretty good! Dark and robust as I hoped, and balanced. I missed my final OG target of 1.016(?), which may contribute to the richness of the mouthfeel. At the end there’s bitter-roasty finish, which my wife and I like, though there might be a touch of astringency associated with it. Not sure if such a finish would get me docked in a BJCP evaluation or not, but it seems nice to me.

I kegged this in my brand new kegerator system: a Nostalgia kegerator kit which I modified (with way too much trouble) for a Cornelius keg. Nice to have a good beer on tap at home! Just in time for the April skies…

Darklands Robust Porter


Grain Bill:
8.0 lbs. light LME
0.25 lbs. Crystal 120
0.25 lbs. Crystal 150
0.25 lbs. Carafa Type II
0.25 lbs. 2-row black patent
0.5 lbs. kiln coffee malt
0.5 lbs. chocolate malt

Yeast: WLP001 California Ale (one vial in a 1.0L starter)

Hop Schedule (60 min boil per recipe*):
0.6 oz Chinook hops (17.6% alpha) for last 45 min.
1 oz. Willamette hops (5.6% alpha) for last 20 min.
1 oz. Willamette hops (5.6% alpha) for last 5 min.
*Why a 60 minute boil on an extract beer with a 45 min. hop duration?!

Gravity Schedule:
1.056 at pitch, 2-23-13
1.020 at kegging, 3-17-12

•Yeast started about 17 hours before pitch.
•This was my first extract brew with a wort chiller (immersion). Much better than the ice block thing.
•More on the Nostalgia kegerator thing later. It was a good deal but there are a few things to watch out for if you want to modify it.

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