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Adventures in Homebrewing and All Things Hoppy

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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.

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.



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 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

Dawg Grog

courtesy http://pinterest.com/pin/210191507579891962/

Bull Dog Beer Ad

I’m a fan of Oregon’s reputation for being both pro-beer and pro-dog, because I’m… well, pro-beer and pro-dog. I often love anything that brings the two worlds together. For example, I sometimes get in arguments with my wife because I think bars should be able to let patrons bring their dogs in with them. I know there are a lot of good reasons to keep dogs out of bars, but I WANT TO GO TO BARS WITH DOGS IN THEM! And I want to bring my dogs into my favorite boozy establishments.

That said, I’m not so sure about the latest dog-beer intersection in Oregon. Somebody (incidentally associated with the [very good] Boneyard Beer Company) decided to make Dawg Grog – a beer for dogs. Now, for health reasons, many argue that dogs should not be given actual beer* (ok, maybe I let my pups have a sip every once in a great while). However, Dawg Grog isn’t actually beer and is designed to be fine for dogs to drink.

OK, so far we have a dog-safe “beer” that you can give to your beloved pooch. This sounds great, right? Maybe, but your dog had better LOVE it, because it costs $36 for a six pack! In addition to costing more than many a damn fine ‘human beer’, it has no alcohol, making this quite possibly the world’s most expensive N/A beer.

So to my dogs I’ll continue to say, “Sorry pups, no beer for you!  …OK, maybe a sip of mine if I can ever sneak you into the Horse Brass.”

*Look this up for yourself.  I’m not going to get into this debate.

North American Scum

Oh I don’t know, I don’t know, oh, where to begin…

This winter I thought it would be nice to have a stout on hand. With our dark, cold, rainy Oregon winter in full swing, I was really in the mood for a nice, heavy one. I started looking through American Stout recipes, as American stouts are known to be a bit more robust: fatter, more aggressive, and more in your face—you know, more American.

This is the first full-on stout I’ve brewed.  It’s based on the BYO ‘American Stout‘ extract recipe. Modifications included replacing the Centennial Hops with my homegrown Saaz (equivalent AAU’s), and doing some other odd damage-control hop adjustments to make up for some wacky stuff that happened early in the boil.

We are North American Scum

And for those of you who still think I’m from England…
I’m not, no.

Yeast: WLP001 (one vial in a 1.3L starter)

Gravity Schedule:
1.062 at pitch, 11-11-12
1.022 at racking to secondary, 11-19-12
1.021 at bottling, 12-3-12

Bottling Notes:
4.25 oz corn sugar for ~2.5 volumes.

Hillsboro Hops IPA

As I mentioned, we got another good load of hops this year.  I’m excited to have brewed my first fresh-hop beer and the first beer made exclusively from our own backyard hops. As mentioned previously, this beer is based on a Lagunitas IPA clone but with hop modifications galore.

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Style: Fresh-Hop American IPA

Brew Date: Sunday, 9-23-12

Base Malt: 7.8 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 154-163°F)

Yeast: White Labs WLP002 English Ale (pitched at 83°F [thought it was cooler], started nights before [Friday at 10:30pm], conditioned on stir plate)


  • Nugget at 12% α (estimated)
  • Saaz at 4% α (estimated)

Hop Schedule:

  • 0.75 oz. Nugget (dried) at 60 min
  • 11.25 oz. Saaz (wet) at 30 min
  • 7.2 oz. Saaz (wet) at 0 min
  • 4 oz. Saaz (dried): secondary fermentation stage dry hop (duration of secondary)

Gravity Schedule:

  • 1.052 at pitch 9-23-12, 6:30pm

Bottling Notes: ¾ cup corn sugar.

Other Notes:

This beer definitely has the “fresh hop” zing.  It is bit light on body, though, which I suspect may be due to a too-small grain sack (crammed pretty full and thus not as efficient for steeping and releasing sugars).

Nice hop aroma from the dry hop, but not as much as I expected given that I used, like, a gazillion pounds of hops in the fermenter. I think it would have been much more pronounced if I could have found a good way to sink a sack full of them to the bottom.  Wasn’t happening though when I tried that — stupid carboy neck was too small and I didn’t want to mess around with it too much.

Bring on the minor leagues.

Hillsboro Hops

The management of the new Hillsboro minor league baseball team announced their official team name last week: Hillsboro Hops.  Reception of the name has been varied.  I had mixed feelings myself.  Naturally I liked the beer theme, but (among other minor reservations I had) I agreed with critics who said that hops aren’t grown in Hillsboro commercially.  Sure, they’re grown near here, but the commercial farms are all clearly a little ways south in the Willamette valley.

The team’s management concede that hops aren’t a Hillsboro agricultural product, but they contend that they were going for originality.  They also claim that the name “Hops” ties to baseball terminology (and I’ll just have to take their word for that).  Furthermore, Hops management point out that they were thinking not only of Hillsboro itself, but giving a nod to an important and characteristic industry in the state of Oregon, and this is where their argument started to get to me.  After all, I love the whole concept of the Portland “Timbers”, but they’ve got the same thing going: there’s no tree-chopping industry within Portland’s city limits, but people all over the nation have this notion of the state of Oregon and it’s historically important—and even mystical and romantic in some ways—timber industry.

So yeah, I say let’s celebrate the Hillsboro Hops and the significant and very interesting hop agriculture industry that I’m proud to have in my state.  And for anybody who flatly claims hops don’t grow in Hillsboro, they probably haven’t talked to many Hillsboro homebrewers .

(Wait! The Hillsboro Homebrewers… now there’s a team name! But I digress.)

Anyway, just in time for the new team name, I’ve got a whole batch of fresh hop IPA’s about one week from being ready to drink, and they’re chock full of hop goodness from right in my back yard in—where else?—Hillsboro!

So in solidarity, I will soon raise my first glass of Hillsboro Hops IPA.  Stay tuned.

No Pity Porter

I brewed a porter this time, based on a “Basic Porter” recipe from one of the local homebrew supply stores.  I think it turned out pretty good.  Off flavors do not seem to be a noticeable issue.  However, the beer has a slightly light-ish quality (color and mouthfeel and/or taste) for a porter.  I don’t know if it’s real or if it’s just me.  It could be that the recipe is for a brown porter instead of the black porters I’m more used to (recipe description does not specify).

The name is thanks to a cool label design a friend sent my way (thanks, Chris). PTFC!! Check it out:

Type: “Porter”

Brew Date: 4-7-12

Base Malt (Extract): 7.6 lbs. light malt extract

Steeping Grains: 1 lb Crystal 10L, 0.25 lbs. Chocolate, 0.25 lbs. Black Malt

Yeast: White Labs WLP011 European Ale

Hops: Willamette at 5.6 alpha

Hop Schedule:

  • 0.5 oz. for all 60 min
  • 0.5 oz. for last 10 min
  • 0.75 oz. at 0 min

Additional Additives: 3/4 tsp. Irish Moss for last 45 min of boil

Gravity Schedule:

  • 1.053 at pitch 4-7-12, noon-ish (matched recipe)
  • Unknown at secondary racking (hydromicide), 4-14-12
  • 1.015 on 4-29-12 (recipe estimated 1.012)

Estimated ABV: 4.98%

Bottling Notes: 1 cup corn sugar


  • That’s right, I broke another hydrometer somehow.  I’m three for three.  I bought another replacement, this time a better one from a different place.  It looks a lot thicker at the bottom, where my other ones inevitably cracked.

Other Notes:

  • Recipe called for all Goldings hops, but these were unavailable.  Instead, I used Willamette as it’s a recommended substitute (and the standby on my list that had the closest alpha acid value). I added the hops at the same schedule as the recipe, but the 0 minute addition called for 0.5 oz. instead of 0.75 oz.  I had more hops than I needed, and my sense of smell isn’t so keen sometimes, so I thought I’d kick up the hop aroma a bit.  Though I’m trying not to overhop any styles (yet), I feel an extra kick of aroma hops won’t sully the purity of the style.
  • I forgot to write down the alpha acid number for the Willamette hops I used, but it was in the 5-6% range (I’m pretty sure it was 5.6%).
  • It was a beautiful and warm day for (see my previous post about this), but this made for a slow cool-down time to reach pitching temp.  Next time I should stick the bucket in an ice bath in my sink (or invest in a wort chiller?).
  • With ice and cold make-up water, I ended up right at 5 gallons, but I added a liquid yeast starter of about 1 liter.  I came  in a little high on the liquid mark – even though it was a simple “beer” of a sort, I wonder if it contributed to the lighter nature of the mouthfeel.
  • If the Timbers had kept up on their crappy streak and didn’t win last weekend I was going to have a hard time sticking with the name.  Might’ve had to consider something like ‘Pity-Ful Porter’.  As it is, at least we can say we’re ahead of the Galaxy.

Stir Plate: Up and Running

I bought a 1.5″ stir bar and threw it in my 2000ml flask to test my new stir plate out.  Works great!  At some frequencies the water excitations can throw the stir bar off to the side of the flask but it’s pretty easy to adjust away from any odd behavior.  It’s been test run for long periods without derailing. Here’s a video of it running.

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