Homebrewing blogs

Mead with Michael Fairbrother and Berniece Van Der Berg – BeerSmith Podcast #197

Homebrewing from Beersmith - Tue, 08/13/2019 - 11:36am

Michael Fairbrother and Berniece Van Der Berg from Moonlight Meadery join me this week to discuss mead.

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Download the MP3 File– Right Click and Save As to download this mp3 file

Topics in This Week’s Episode (49:19)
  • This week I welcome Michael Fairbrother and Berniece Van Der Berg from Moonlight Meadery.  Michael is founder and head mead maker at Moonlight Meadery, and Berniece is co-founder and Vice President of Marketing.
  • We open with a brief discussion of some of the new things going on at Moonlight Meadery.
  • Michael talks a bit about National Mead Day which was August 3rd, including some of the activities surrounding this day.
  • Berneice talks a bit about National Honeybee Day coming up on August 17th and we also discuss how important honey bees are.
  • Michael tells us how he works very closely with honey suppliers and also how they have gone 100% organic with their suppliers
  • Berniece shares a bit about the US beekeeper industry and how it is still dominated by smaller family beekeepers
  • We discuss the state of craft mead making and how it has been rapidly expanding the last few years.
  • We discuss some new innovations at Moonlight meadery and also how Michael’s mead making has evolved over his last 9 years in business.
  • We discuss how the popular meads at Moonlight have evolved over time, as well as the offering of specialty meads.
  • Michael and Berniece give their thoughts on where they think the mead industry is going next as well as closing thoughts on craft mead.
Sponsors

Thanks to Michael Fairbrother and Berniece Van Der Berg for appearing on the show and also to you for listening!
iTunes Announcements: I launched a new video channel for the BeerSmith podcast on iTunes, so subscribe now! At the moment it will only feature the new widescreen episodes (#75 and up). Older episodes are available on my revamped Youtube channel. Also all of my audio episodes are on iTunes now – so grab the older episodes if you missed any.

Thoughts on the Podcast?

Leave me a comment below or visit our discussion forum to leave a comment in the podcast section there.

Subscribe to the Podcast on iTunes or BeerSmith Radio

You can listen to all of my podcast episodes streaming live around the clock on our BeerSmith Radio online radio station! You can also subscribe to the audio or video using the iTunes links below, or the feed address

And finally, don’t forget to subscribe to the blog and my newsletter (or use the links in the sidebar) – to get free weekly articles on home brewing.

Categories: Homebrewing blogs

Adjusting Sulfite Levels in Mead, Wine and Ciders

Homebrewing from Beersmith - Sun, 08/11/2019 - 11:31am

This week I look at how to adjust the free sulfite levels in your mead, wine or cider to achieve good shelf stability.

Most commercial wines, meads and ciders have the words “contains sulfites” somewhere on the label. Sulfites, a name for Sulfer Dioxide (SO2), is a preservative that is widely used in winemaking and the food industry. It has antibacterial properties, reducing the risk of infection and refermentation. It also has antioxident properties which means it can help prevent oxidation of the beverage while in the bottle. It is typically added in the form of Potassium Metabisulfite which is available from most beer and wine supply stores.

Sulfites are generally considered harmless, but roughly 1% of the US population is sulfite sensitive. This includes people who suffer from severe asthma or have a sulfite allergy. About 5-10% of those with asthma also have a sulfite allergy. Though many prepackaged foods have sulfite levels several times that of wine, most wine makers try to minimize the level of sulfites used to avoid triggering those with allergies.

Any wine with sulfite levels above 10 ppm must be labeled with “contains sulfites”, and the maximum levels for sulfites in the EU are 210 ppm for white, 400 ppm for sweet, and 160 ppm for red wines. In the US the limit is 350 ppm.

The sulfite needed for a beverage varies by slightly pH, sweetness and type. Sulfite is added in the form of Potassium Metabisulfite, which you can purchase from most brewing and wine supply stores.

As a first order, you can estimate the minimum sulfite level needed from a pH reading of your wine, mead or cider using the Tools->Sulfite Tool in BeerSmith. Just enter the batch volume and measured pH and it will estimate the free sulfite level needed. This is your minimum target level based on an average wine.

You may want to target a slightly higher sulfite level depending on your beverage. For example white wines and ciders could use a slightly higher level in many cases. Sweet wines and sweet meads also generally need a bit more sulfite to help prevent secondary fermentation. Finally if you plan to backsweeten your cider or mead, I do recommend targeting a level much higher than the recommended level, again to prevent fermentation.

Note that the target level is expressed as “free sulfite”. This is the amount of free SO2 in the beverage, which may be different than the amount added as potassium metabisulfite earlier in the process. The reason for this is that if you add a given weight of potassium metabisulfite, some of the free SO2 will react with the beverage itself as well as any free oxygen in the beverage. So the resulting “free sulfite” level may be lower than expected.

To precisely hit a given target “free sulfite” level, many wine and mead makers use a sulfite test kit. Home wine, mead and cider makers can also purchase home versions of this kit. Using the kit you can estimate exactly how much free sulfite is in your beverage, and then make small additions to get to the target level you want. Again the Sulfite Tool in BeerSmith can help with this calculation. Simply enter the current measured Free sulfite level, your target level and batch volume and the program will estimate the amount of Potassium Metabisulfite to add. It also shows optional potassium sorbate if you plan to backsweeten your mead or cider.

In practice, I often will adjust my sulfite levels with a few additions. I will usually add the first sulfite addition once fermentation is completely done as a preservative during aging. As the mead or wine ages, I’ll make a second addition when I transfer for clearing and then take a final free sulfite measurement with my test kit and final addition shortly before bottling.

Hopefully you enjoyed this article on sulfites in mead, wine and cider. Thank you for joining me this week on the BeerSmith blog – please subscribe to the newsletter or listen to my video podcast for more great material on homebrewing.

Categories: Homebrewing blogs

Running a Craft Brewery with Tomme Arthur – BeerSmith Podcast #196

Homebrewing from Beersmith - Tue, 07/30/2019 - 6:10pm

Tomme Arthur from The Lost Abbey joins me to discuss experiences the last 13 years building and running his craft brewery.

Subscribe on iTunes to Audio version or Video version or on Google Play

Download the MP3 File– Right Click and Save As to download this mp3 file

Topics in This Week’s Episode (38:11)
  • My guest this week is Tomme Arthur, co-founder and Director of Brewing Operations at The Lost Abbey brewery. Tomme has spent over 20 years in professional brewing working at breweries as well as White Labs and Pizza Port before founding The Lost Abbey in 2006.
  • Tomme holds dozens of GABF medals, as well as local, regional and World Beer Cup awards.
  • We start with a quick update on the consolidation at The Lost Abbey which has occupied a large part of Tomme’s time the last 18 months.
  • Tomme tells us what its like to operate a fairly large craft brewery, and shares what his typical work day looks like.
  • We talk about how they make basic descisions like what beers to brew and in what quantities.
  • He shares what the brewing production cycle is at Lost Abbey
  • We discuss how he comes up with new ideas for beers as well as how they bring them into production.
  • He shares his thoughts on quality control and quality assurance for beer.
  • Tomme tells us some of the ways the beer scene has changed over the years and we discuss the growing competition in craft beer.
  • We talk about long term planning for growth and expansion as well as how he finances growth.
  • He shares the biggest problem he ran into at The Lost Abbey and how they solved it.
  • We discuss the business vs brewing side of the job.
  • Tomme shares his advice for those looking to start a small brewery as well as his closing thoughts.
Sponsors

Thanks to Tomme Arthur for appearing on the show and also to you for listening!
iTunes Announcements: I launched a new video channel for the BeerSmith podcast on iTunes, so subscribe now! At the moment it will only feature the new widescreen episodes (#75 and up). Older episodes are available on my revamped Youtube channel. Also all of my audio episodes are on iTunes now – so grab the older episodes if you missed any.

Thoughts on the Podcast?

Leave me a comment below or visit our discussion forum to leave a comment in the podcast section there.

Subscribe to the Podcast on iTunes or BeerSmith Radio

You can listen to all of my podcast episodes streaming live around the clock on our BeerSmith Radio online radio station! You can also subscribe to the audio or video using the iTunes links below, or the feed address

And finally, don’t forget to subscribe to the blog and my newsletter (or use the links in the sidebar) – to get free weekly articles on home brewing.

Categories: Homebrewing blogs

Craft Brewing Equipment, Reviewed

The Mad Fermentationist - Tue, 07/30/2019 - 8:20am
There are so many reviews of homebrewing gear online, but when it comes to craft brewing equipment you're lucky if you can find a forum post or two. It makes sense as there are so many more homebrewers than craft brewers... I also had more time to write before I started making beer 60+ hours a week. Now that we're a year into brewing at Sapwood Cellars, it seemed like a good time to step back and get my thoughts down about the equipment we purchased. Hopefully what follows will help a brewer starting out, looking to add something, or just wanting a sense of what things cost.

Forgeworks 10 bbl Brewhouse - $71,306

The Good: Reasonable price, solid build quality, gets the wort production job done.

The Bad: A few design head-scratchers on the mash tun. It has a huge volume below the false bottom (~90 gallons/3 bbl). The under-screen spray balls spray directly into the supports making them useless (the connection for them is also around back making it difficult to access). The torsion ring on the rakes wasn't adequately tightened when we received it causing the rakes fell off mid-mash a few batches in. No issues since properly tightening. Originally the pickup arm in the kettle extended into the center (right into the trub cone), but they swapped us our for a shorter one that is now standard.

Verdict: Satisfied with it so far, but not thrilled given things like having to pull the false bottom to clean underneath/between after the last brew of the week (the plates can be annoying to remove, but not bad compared to some other systems).


MidCo EC300 Burner - $1,070

The Good: Plenty of heat to have the kettle close to a boil by the time run-off is finished.

The Bad: The burner's control board is incredibly sensitive to moisture, just a few drops and it is fried. A fact that it would have been nice to have a warning about from Forgeworks (they said some breweries have had it happen multiple times). Otherwise it has just been a learning curve to wait longer to turn it on and throttle the gas to avoid boil-overs. Our beers are 1-2 SRM darker than predicted thanks to direct fire, but not really the burner's fault.

Verdict: Steam would have been great, but wasn't in our budget. We haven't had issues since covering the control board with a plastic baggie (we've got a spare controller too). We were told that MidCo had a waterproof housing almost complete last fall, but haven't heard an update since.

Thermaline Heat Exchanger - $4,198.72

The Good: Their website allow you to input the parameters (volume, desired chilling rate, ground water/glycol temperature) and they build a unit to accommodate. That seemed to work for us as the chill times seem to line up reasonably.

The Bad: Nothing major to complain about. In the summer we do have to slow run-off as the second stage (glycol) doesn't lower the temperature compared to ground water by more than a degree or two at full blast.

Verdict: Might have been worth it to go a bit more over-sized, but no issues with the build-quality, durability etc.

Apex 10/20 bbl Fermenters - $7,500/10,700

The Good: The price is reasonable. We've got the "new style" 10 bbls that have an easy-rotate racking. The 2 inch dumps at the bottom rarely get clogged with hops, and the 4 inch dry hop ports work well, especially with our hop doser (below).

The Bad: The 20 bbl tank is the "old style" meaning the racking arm is just a tri-clamp. Not ideal, but it works fine especially after switching to a Teflon gasket. The big issue on that tank is with the hop port, the literature said it was a 6 inch, but it turned out to be a DIN150 (European fitting). Apex had been aware of this for 6 months and it took me ordering a gasket (to confirm the size) and then a customer reducer to resolve the issue.

There is a minor issue with one of the 10 bbl fermenters as well, the sparyball arm is just a little short which makes reassembly a two person operation (one to push, one to clamp).

Verdict: Given the issues and poor service with the 20 bbl, I'm hesitant to order more tanks from them when the time for expansion comes. Especially as they don't manufacture the tanks, the only advantage of going with them rather than directly from a Chinese manufacturer would be service.

Colorado Brewing Double Keg Washer - $6,370‬

The Good: Great price for an semi-automated keg washer. It rinses, washes, sanitizes, and purges two kegs at a time without intervention. As long as everything is connected and the reservoirs are filled, we rarely have an issue (other than hops in the occasional keg plugging up). The cycles are customizable, so we've tweaked them. We run a double cycle on our sour kegs, and no issues so far sharing them with clean beers.

The Bad: It's been a bit of a chore to deal with the issues that have arisen in one year of use: casters fell off, weld on one of the pots failed, software "disappeared", gas solenoid failed etc.

Verdict: The company has been great at dealing with these issues as they've occurred, shipping us replacement parts, paying for a welder etc. That said, I'd rather have not spent so much time dealing with it.

Marks Mini-Hop Doser - $495

The Good: Allows us to add hops with minimal oxygen pick-up. Safer than dry hopping loose (no risk of foam-up). Ability to add hops to a tank without venting the head pressure.

The Bad: Nothing big, although expect to double the cost of the unit itself in fittings. We have 4 inch butterfly valves on our tanks and move the doser between them as needed.

Verdict: Not sure what we'd do without it... oh I do because we we're able to use it on our 20 bbl because of the wonky port size (run CO2 and hope you don't get a face full of beer).

Navien Tankless Water Heater Standard Model - $1,260

The Good: Outputs up to 180F, plenty hot for collecting water for the mash and sparge or pasteurizing a line. Relatively inexpensive to buy and operate compared to a traditional always-on HLT.

The Bad: In the winter 180F output runs at 3 gallons/min. Helps to have a tank with an electric element to speed things up, or pre-collect water the night before.

Verdict: At our scale, and without steam this made the most sense and we're still happy with it. Two units can be daisy-chained together if we want to speed things up (e.g., first heats to 140F, second to 180F).


Uline Straddle Stacker: Semi-Electric - $3,245

The Good: It's considerably less expensive than even a used propane-powered forklift. It's good in tight spaces because it's human powered, and powerful enough to lift a rack with two barrels. Being electric, it doesn't produce fumes that could negatively effect barrel-aging beers.

The Bad: Given the legs in front, it can't get around larger pallets, or standard pallets the long way.  It is propelled by pushing, and weights over 1,200 lbs (plus whatever you are moving up to 2,200 lbs more). Only one wheel turns with steering making direction changes difficult. It also needs additional height above it, which can be tricky in a building with HVAC, lights, doorways etc.

Verdict: With our relatively cramped space, a forklift doesn't make sense, this gets the job done.

FlexTanks - $460-$1,190

The Good: They are inexpensive compared to stainless steel totes, while being easier to use than IBCs (international bulk containers). They have standard 1.5" tri-clamp fittings and sample ports. We mainly use the 300 gallon ones to hold bulk sour beer waiting for barrels, or to dilute barrel-aged beer that is too oaky (especially with so many first-use barrels). The 80 gallon FlexTanks are for fruit additions, where the large opening makes them easier to fill and empty than a barrel.

The Bad: They can only take ~1 PSI, so most of the movement has to be from gravity. The gasket on the lids is round and doesn't have a grove to sit in. This makes it is difficult to align without dropping in.

Verdict: They were a good place to start thanks to the price, but stainless would be more versatile and foolproof if you have the money.

EuroTransport Container Dimple Jacketed - $6,595

The Good: It's a movable, stainless-steel, temperature-controlled tank. We use it as our blending tank for sour barrel-aged beers. The bottom port is for liquid in/out (with a T for the sample port), and the two side ports for the temperature probe and carbonation stone. We currently have it off the pad, so it is nice to be able to pallet-jack it onto the pad for cleaning.

The Bad: It's odd that a jacketed tank doesn't have a built-in thermowell for the temperature probe. We use corny fittings for some kegs anyway, but it is weird to have a tank like this with a gas poppet on top. While the tank is jacketed, it isn't double walled so it sweats like crazy in the summer, we need to insulate it.

Verdict: Reasonably happy with it, but it requires a bit of a unique situation (like ours) to justify this over a standard brite tank.

XpressFill XF4500 - $6,295

The Good: It's a reasonable price for a four-head counter-pressure bottle filler. Does four bottles a minute when everything is humming along.

The Bad: We had some issues early on with the fill sensor. One or two heads would indicate that the bottle was filled even when it was empty. Turned out it was a drop of condensation on the CO2 line "falsely" completing the circuit. Not a problem now that we know what to do. One of the switches won't stay in the off position, which can cause the pneumatic foot to rise unexpectedly.

Verdict: I'm happy with it. Worth the added cost over a gravity filler for us because it reduces oxygen exposure, and allows us to bottle partially (or fully) carbonated beer. Our general approach is to chill the beer in the blending tank, prime with sugar and rehydrated yeast, agitate the tank, then pump in CO2 through the stone to get to ~1.5 volumes of CO2. The yeast does its job to bring the carbonation to target in the bottle, and we don't have to worry about predicting residual CO2 in barrels stored in ambient conditions.



Categories: Homebrewing blogs

Simple Homebrewing with Denny and Drew – BeerSmith Podcast #195

Homebrewing from Beersmith - Wed, 07/24/2019 - 8:52am

This week Denny Conn and Drew Beechum join me to discuss their new book Simple Homebrewing. The book is focused on making home brewing simple and fun again.

Subscribe on iTunes to Audio version or Video version or on Google Play

Download the MP3 File– Right Click and Save As to download this mp3 file

Topics in This Week’s Episode (46:29)
  • Today on the show I welcome back Drew Beechum and Denny Conn.  Drew is author of The Everything Homebrew Book, The Homebrewer’s Journal and The Everything Hard Cider book.  Denny is a nationally ranked beer judge, and author of Craft Beer for the Homebrewer. They wrote Experimental Brewing together and today they join me to discuss their new book Simple Homebrewing. [NOTE: All links are Amazon affiliate links].
  • We start with a short discussion of what Denny and Drew have been up to recently.
  • Denny explains the genesis behind the book “Simple Homebrewing” and also describes what simple means when it comes to homebrewing.
  • Drew provides some advice for simple extract brewing and talks about how extract brewers can improve their beer and save time.
  • Drew and Denny provide some simplificiation tips for all grain brewers including the importance of planning ahead to save time during brew day.
  • Denny talks about both small batch brewing and Brew-in-a-bag (BIAB) which can be big time savers and also allow you to make experimental batches that may not require 10 gallons (40 liters) of beer.
  • Drew discusses how technology can be a double edged sword with the potential to both save time and make the brew day more complex.
  • Drew introduces the concept of simplifying flavors by including only the ingredients needed to achieve the flavors you want.
  • Denny talks about recipe design, and how it can also be simplified by taking the right approach.
  • Denny takes on a simplified approach to water and advocates a two-stage approach where you adjust the water profile first and then address the mash pH separately.
  • We discuss briefly ingredients, as well as managing yeast and fermentation, and Drew finishes with a discussion on sour beers.
  • Both guests provide their closing thoughts.
Sponsors

Thanks to Denny Conn and Drew Beechum for appearing on the show and also to you for listening!
iTunes Announcements: I launched a new video channel for the BeerSmith podcast on iTunes, so subscribe now! At the moment it will only feature the new widescreen episodes (#75 and up). Older episodes are available on my revamped Youtube channel. Also all of my audio episodes are on iTunes now – so grab the older episodes if you missed any.

Thoughts on the Podcast?

Leave me a comment below or visit our discussion forum to leave a comment in the podcast section there.

Subscribe to the Podcast on iTunes or BeerSmith Radio

You can listen to all of my podcast episodes streaming live around the clock on our BeerSmith Radio online radio station! You can also subscribe to the audio or video using the iTunes links below, or the feed address

And finally, don’t forget to subscribe to the blog and my newsletter (or use the links in the sidebar) – to get free weekly articles on home brewing.

Categories: Homebrewing blogs

Unit Conversions and Settings in BeerSmith 3

Homebrewing from Beersmith - Fri, 07/19/2019 - 1:19pm

This week I provide an overview of how to adjust unit settings in BeerSmith 3, the unit conversion tools and some hidden features for converting units on the fly.

Global Unit Settings in BeerSmith

The basic unit settings can be set using the Options dialog. On the Windows/Linux versions this is available on the Tools->Options menu while on the Mac, the options dialog is under the BeerSmith->Preferences menu item. There is also a video on unit settings here.

From the options dialog, select the Units tab to display unit options. Here you can set individual unit settings for various units, or if you wish to set all of the unit settings at once you can click on the Set to English or Set to Metric buttons at the bottom to change the defaults to English (US) or metric units.

In addition to the basic unit settings, you can also specify the precision (number of digits after the decimal point) to display, and the defaults for weight and hop units. Note that there are two volume unit settings – one for Batch Volumes and one for Mash Volumes. The mash volume setting defaults to quarts, as some people prefer to calculate mash volumes in quarts.

In addition you can specify whether english units are shown as lbs/oz for things like grain weights. Checking this box will show a value as “2 lb 4 oz” instead of “2.25 lb” for many weight values. At the bottom you can change currency settings, date formats and also the decimal point character.

When you change the global settings above, it will affect all of the displayed values for recipes, profiles and ingredients except for Misc ingredients. Each Misc ingredient has its own unit setting to give some additional flexibility, so they will not change with the global settings.

Unit Conversion On the Fly

In addition to the global settings, each data entry field in BeerSmith 3 has a mini-calculator in it that can do unit conversions on the fly for you. All you need to do is enter a number followed by a unit abbreviation and the program will convert the unit in place.

For example if your global units are set to pounds and you enter 3.2 kg into a grain weight field and hit the tab key, the program will convert the 3.2 kg into pounds and display the equivalent weight. This actually works in any data entry field within BeerSmith 3 desktop, so you can enter temperatures, pressures, volumes or weights into any field along with the units and the program will convert it to the global system you are using.

You can also enter mixed lb-oz English weights, so for example entering “2 lb 3 oz” into a weight field will correctly convert it to the decimal equivalent.

Each field also incorporates basic math operations, so you can use math operators +, -, *, / as well as parenthesis to perform simple math in any field. For example entering “3/2” into a field will result in 1.5. Entering “4*1.2” will result in 4.8. This makes easy work of simple calculations without having to open a separate calculator.

Unit Conversion Tools

BeerSmith also has a separate set of stand-alone unit calculators on the desktop and mobile versions. These are available under the Unit Tools menu. The tools are for Temperature, Specific Gravity, Pressure, Weight and Volume. To use these, simply enter a value in one unit and it will automatically show the equivalent value in all of the other units in the dialog.

Tip: If you want to show the unit tools (or any tool) in a small separate window rather than creating a new tab, you can hold down the shift key on your keyboard while clicking on the tool. It will then show the unit tool in a small separate window you can move/adjust to use while building a recipe for instance.

I hope you enjoyed this quick overview of unit settings in BeerSmith 3. Thank you for joining me this week on the BeerSmith blog – please subscribe to the newsletter or listen to my video podcast for more great material on homebrewing.

Categories: Homebrewing blogs

The BeerSmith Hop Age Tool and the Hop Stability Index

Homebrewing from Beersmith - Wed, 07/10/2019 - 7:20am

This week I take a look at how to use the Hop Age Tool in BeerSmith, as well as address the hop stability index, proper hop storage and how your hops age over time.

How Hops Age

Hops, like any organic ingredient, have a finite shelf life, and their aroma, bitterness and flavor will degrade over time. How quickly your hops degrade is a function of their form, packaging, temperature and time.

The enemies of hops are oxygen, heat, light and time. Hops exposed to oxygen will oxidize, which is why most modern hops are packaged in oxygen barrier packages, often vacuum or gas-purged made of foil or mylar. Once you open a package of hops, the oxygen will start the process of oxidizing it.

Light and heat are also enemies of hops, so proper packaging is opaque to prevent light from reaching the hops, and your hops should be stored in a freezer at or below freezing to maximize shelf life.

The form of the hops also plays a minor role. Compressed hop pellets and plugs which minimize the exposed surface area will degrade more slowly when exposed to oxygen than whole leaf hops, for example.

As hops age, the effectiveness of the hops will also degrade. Part of this degradation includes the alpha acid percentage which is usually printed on the label for the hops. As hops get older, less of the alpha acids will remain in a state where they can be isomerized during the boil to provide bitterness for the beer.

When the remaining alpha acids for a hop reach roughly 50% of their original fresh level, most sources consider the hops spoiled, and they should be discarded. Keep in mind that flavor, aroma oils and other compounds are also degrading as the hops age.

The Hop Stability Index

In addition to heat, light temperature and time, each hop variety ages at a slightly different rate. There is a measurement called the Hop Stability Index (HSI) that is used to determine how quickly a given hop degrades.

The HSI is expressed as a percentage of the hop alpha acids that are lost in 6 months at standard temperature of 68 F (20 C). So a hop variety that has a HSI of 25% means that it would lose 25% of its alpha acid content in 6 months if stored at 68F (20 C).

So if the original alpha acid percentage of the hops was 10%, it would lose 25% of that in 6 months, leaving an effective alpha percentage of only 7.5%.

The BeerSmith Hop Age Tool

Obviously few of us store our hops at 68F (20 C) and also with proper pelletization and oxygen barrier packaging the hops can last much longer. This is where the BeerSmith Hop Age Tool is useful as it takes into account the packaging, temperature and HSI to estimate the total aging effects for your hops.

Open the tool from Tools->Hop Age Tool on BeerSmith desktop. You can either enter your hop name, starting alpha and HSI at the top or select a hop variety by clicking on the Choose Hops button.

After you have entered the hop information at the top, you can enter the age of the hops, storage temperature and type of packaging in the Storage Conditions section.

The main output, the Adjusted Alpha is shown at the bottom of the tool window. A good rule of thumb is that you should discard hops when they reach approximately half their original alpha acid. So if the starting alpha acid was 10%, then you would want to discard the hops if their adjusted alpha drops below 5%.

The Adjusted Alpha number is the one you should use in your beer recipe as that percentage reflects the aged state of your hops. For properly stored, vacuum sealed hops, the change will be small over the first year, but for older or improperly stored hops the adjusted alpha can be significantly lower.

Keep in mind, also, that fragile hop oils may degrade more quickly than alpha acid, so you probably don’t want to use 3 year old hops as whirlpool/aroma/dry hops even if they still retain enough alpha acid. Use some hops from this year’s crops instead for your whirlpool/dry hop stages and save the older hops to use in the boil.

Thank you for joining me this week on the BeerSmith blog – please subscribe to the newsletter or listen to my video podcast for more great material on homebrewing.

Categories: Homebrewing blogs

New Developments in IPAs with Mitch Steele – BeerSmith Podcast #194

Homebrewing from Beersmith - Sat, 06/15/2019 - 2:27pm

This week Mitch Steele, author of the IPA book and brewmaster at New Realm Brewing joins me to discuss new India Pale Ale beer styles.

Subscribe on iTunes to Audio version or Video version or on Google Play

Download the MP3 File– Right Click and Save As to download this mp3 file

Topics in This Week’s Episode (51:32)
  • This week my guest is Mitch Steele. Mitch is author of the book IPAs: Brewing Techniques, and the Evolution of India Pale Ale (Amazon affiliate link) and also the COO and Brewmaster at New Realm Brewing Company. He was formerly the brewmaster at Stone.
  • Mitch briefly describes some of the new things happening at New Realm Brewing.
  • Mitch wrote the book on IPAs back in 2012 but a lot of things have changed – he describes some of the changes and new styles.
  • We discuss some sub-styles and trends that have taken over the IPA market.
  • Mich starts with a discussion of Brut IPAs and what makes them different from your average IPA.
  • We talk about how a Brut IPA is made including key ingredients and enzymes.
  • He explains some of the challenges in brewing a beer that comes down to nearly a zero finishing gravity.
  • Next we discuss the style of Hazy/Juicy IPAs (i.e. New England IPAs).
  • Mitch provides his thoughts on how to add the haze, as well as how to best enhance the fruity/juicy flavors.
  • We talk about achieving the proper balance in the IPA without creating vegetal/lawnmower flavors.
  • Mitch shares his closing thoughts on IPAs and where they are going next.
Sponsors

Thanks to Mitch Steele for appearing on the show and also to you for listening!
iTunes Announcements: I launched a new video channel for the BeerSmith podcast on iTunes, so subscribe now! At the moment it will only feature the new widescreen episodes (#75 and up). Older episodes are available on my revamped Youtube channel. Also all of my audio episodes are on iTunes now – so grab the older episodes if you missed any.

Thoughts on the Podcast?

Leave me a comment below or visit our discussion forum to leave a comment in the podcast section there.

Subscribe to the Podcast on iTunes or BeerSmith Radio

You can listen to all of my podcast episodes streaming live around the clock on our BeerSmith Radio online radio station! You can also subscribe to the audio or video using the iTunes links below, or the feed address

And finally, don’t forget to subscribe to the blog and my newsletter (or use the links in the sidebar) – to get free weekly articles on home brewing.

Categories: Homebrewing blogs

Homebrewcon and the AHA with Gary Glass – BeerSmith Podcast #193

Homebrewing from Beersmith - Wed, 05/29/2019 - 12:24pm

This week Gary Glass, Director of the American Homebrewers Association, joins me to discuss HomebrewCon and the state of home brewing.

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Topics in This Week’s Episode (44:29)
  • This week my guest is Gary Glass. Gary is Director of the American Homebrewer’s Association which has approximately 45,000 members.
  • Gary is here to discuss the state of homebrewing and also the 2019 Homebrewcon coming up in late June.
  • We start with a discussion of some of the new things happening at the AHA.
  • Next we move to Homebrewcon which will be held this year in Providence, Rhode Island from 27-29 June 2019.
  • Gary tells us about this year’s keynote speaker as well as some of the 68 seminars that will be presented.
  • We discuss the National Homebrew Competition which is the world’s largest beer competition including over 9000 entries and how the final round of judging is done at Homebrewcon
  • Gary talks about the industry exhibition and social club that run throughout the conference.
  • We talk about the kickoff party with Craft breweries on Thursday night as well as my favorite event which is Club Night.
  • Gary wraps up the Homebrewcon discussion with a bit more about the final National Homebrew Awards presentation on Saturday.
  • We switch gears to discuss the state of US homebrewing and AHA, including the decline that started around 2014 and seems to be leveling out.
  • We talk about how the average homebrewer has changed a bit and also how we can all work to promote homebrewing as a hobby.
  • Gary shares his closing thoughts.
Sponsors

Thanks to Gary Glass for appearing on the show and also to you for listening!
iTunes Announcements: I launched a new video channel for the BeerSmith podcast on iTunes, so subscribe now! At the moment it will only feature the new widescreen episodes (#75 and up). Older episodes are available on my revamped Youtube channel. Also all of my audio episodes are on iTunes now – so grab the older episodes if you missed any.

Thoughts on the Podcast?

Leave me a comment below or visit our discussion forum to leave a comment in the podcast section there.

Subscribe to the Podcast on iTunes or BeerSmith Radio

You can listen to all of my podcast episodes streaming live around the clock on our BeerSmith Radio online radio station! You can also subscribe to the audio or video using the iTunes links below, or the feed address

And finally, don’t forget to subscribe to the blog and my newsletter (or use the links in the sidebar) – to get free weekly articles on home brewing.

Categories: Homebrewing blogs

BeerSmith Memorial Day Sale – 48 Hours Only – Great Chance to Upgrade!

Homebrewing from Beersmith - Sun, 05/26/2019 - 10:20am

In honor of my fellow veterans who served and sacrificed so much, I’m running a 48 hour sale on BeerSmith 3 brewing software with a 20% discount on all desktop software levels

A Great Chance to Upgrade to BeerSmith 3

Many of you have not had a chance to upgrade from BeerSmith 2 to BeerSmith 3. I have some announcements about new online tools and features coming out next week, but now is a good time to get BeerSmith 3 Gold starting at $11.95/year.

Some very good reasons to Upgrade To (or Renew) BeerSmith 3:
Act Now – Sale Ends in 48 Hours (Tuesday Evening)!

The BeerSmith sale only runs through Monday and Tuesday and will end at midnight Eastern time on Tuesday 28 May. Get 20% off on your BeerSmith plan. If you are coming up for renewal (not on autorenew already) you can go to this link, log in and click on the renew button for your license.

Thank you again for your continued support!

Brad Smith, PhD
BeerSmith.com

Categories: Homebrewing blogs

Viking Age Brew with Mika Laitinen – BeerSmith Podcast #192

Homebrewing from Beersmith - Wed, 05/22/2019 - 3:52pm

Mika Laitinen joins me this week to discuss his new book Viking Age Brew about ancient farmhouse brewing techniques including Sahti beer.

Subscribe on iTunes to Audio version or Video version or on Google Play

Download the MP3 File – Right Click and Save As to download this mp3 file

Topics in This Week’s Episode (43:53)
  • This week my guest is Mika Laitinen, author of the new book Viking Age Brew (Amazon affiliate link) about Nordic and Sahti Farmhouse Ales.
  • We first discuss the tradition of farmhouse ales, which were traditionally brewed throughout Europe using local ingredients going back 1000 years.
  • Next Mika explains the Sahti farmhouse beer style which is native to Finland and Nordic countries, and has survived in Finland due to its association with certain festivals and ceremonies.
  • We explore the handful of commercial breweries that still brew Sahti.
  • We discuss some of the unique aspects of Sahti including its lack of hops, no boil during the brewing process, and use of herbs and rye malt.
  • Mika explains how Sahti was traditionally brewed in wooden vessels using hot stones. He also shares typical ingredients used including juniper.
  • We talk about the use of herbs, particularly juniper in the mash.
  • He shares with us techniques for brewing ancient farmhouse ales at home, along with a sample recipe.
  • Mika shares some resources where you can learn more on this topic.
Sponsors

Thanks to Mika Laitinen for appearing on the show and also to you for listening!
iTunes Announcements: I launched a new video channel for the BeerSmith podcast on iTunes, so subscribe now! At the moment it will only feature the new widescreen episodes (#75 and up). Older episodes are available on my revamped Youtube channel. Also all of my audio episodes are on iTunes now – so grab the older episodes if you missed any.

Thoughts on the Podcast?

Leave me a comment below or visit our discussion forum to leave a comment in the podcast section there.

Subscribe to the Podcast on iTunes or BeerSmith Radio

You can listen to all of my podcast episodes streaming live around the clock on our BeerSmith Radio online radio station! You can also subscribe to the audio or video using the iTunes links below, or the feed address

And finally, don’t forget to subscribe to the blog and my newsletter (or use the links in the sidebar) – to get free weekly articles on home brewing.

Categories: Homebrewing blogs

How to Win Untappd (or any Online Beer Rating)

The Mad Fermentationist - Thu, 05/16/2019 - 6:57am
Like it or not, online beer ratings have been one of the big drivers of craft beer over the last 20 years. As a brewery, you don't need to cater to them, but high scores can drive sales and excitement.

I spent a good deal of time on BeerAdvocate during my first few years of beer drinking (2005-2008). Reading other's reviews was beneficial for my palate and beer vocabulary. I reviewed a couple hundred beers, which gave me confidence to "review" my homebrew for this blog. However, there were aspects of trying to track down all the top beers that made it not entirely healthy. Whether it was fear of missing out on a new release, or the thrill of the catch outweighing the enjoyment of actually drinking the beer. I  find how many new beers there are now freeing, there is no way to try them all, so I don't try!


Now that Untappd is the dominant player I'll glance at reviews (especially for one of our new releases), but I don't rate. It's rare to see a review that has much insight into the beer. Even the negative ones are rarely constructive. As an aside, I find it a bit weird when people in the local beer industry rate our offerings. Generally they are kind, but it just seems strange to publicly review "competing" products.

For four or five years I maintained a spreadsheet to track the beers I drank and those I wanted to try. I weighted the beers not just on their average BeerAdvocate score, but on the score relative to their style. That's to say I was more interested in trying a Czech Pilsner rated 4.2 more than a DIPA at 4.3 because Pilsners generally have lower scores. If all you drink are the top rated beers, you'll be drinking mostly the same handful of styles from a small selection of breweries. Why is that though?

Whether it is the BeerAvocate Top 100, Rate Beer's Top 50, and Untappd's Top Beers they all show a similar bias towards strong adjunct stouts, DIPAs, and fruited sours. I don't think the collective beer rater score aligns with what the average beer drinker enjoys the most or drinks regularly. It is a result of a collection of factors that are inherent to the sort of hedonistic rating system.

So what makes beers and breweries score well?

Big/Accessible Flavors

People love assertive flavors. Once you've tried a few hundred (or thousand) beers, it is difficult to get a "wow" response from malt, hops, and yeast. This is especially true in a small sample or in close proximity to other beers (e.g., tasting flight, bottle share, festival). So many of the top beers don't taste like "beer" they taste like maple, coconut, bourbon, chocolate, coffee, cherries etc. If you say there is a flavor in the beer everyone wants to taste it... looking at reviews for our Vanillafort, it is amazing how divergent the experiences are. Despite a (to my palate) huge vanilla flavor (one bean per 5 gallons), some people don't taste it.

Sweetness is naturally pleasant. It's a flavor our palates evolved to prefer over sour/bitter because it is a sign of safe calories. That said, too much can also make a beer less drinkable. I enjoy samples of pastry stouts, but most of them don't call for a second pour. Balance between sweet-bitter or sweet-sour makes a beer that calls for another sip, and a second pour.

Even the most popular IPAs have gone from dry/bitter to sweet/fruity. They are beers that are less of an acquired taste. More enjoyable to a wider spectrum of drinkers. I'm amazed how many of the contractors, delivery drivers, and other non-beer nerds who visit the brewery mention that they are now into IPAs.

If you want a high brewery average, one approach is simply to not brew styles that have low average ratings. That said, for tap room sales it can really help to have at least one "accessible" beer on the menu. For us that has always been a low-bitterness wheat beer with a little yeast character, and a fruity hop aroma. Their scores drag our average down, but it is worth it for us.

Exclusivity

The easier a beer is to obtain, the more people will try it. The problem is that you don't want everyone rating your beer. To get high scores it helps to apply a pressure that causes only people who are excited about the beer to drink (and rate it). This can take a variety of forms, but the easiest is a small production paired with a high price-point and limited distribution. You can make the world's best sour beer, but if it is on the shelf for $3 a bottle at 100 liquor stores you'll get plenty of people sampling it that hate sour beers. Even with our relatively limited availability we get reviews like "My favorite sour beer ever!" 1.5 stars... The problem with averages is that a handful of really low scores have a big impact.

I'll be interested to see how our club-exclusive bottles of sour beer rate compared to the ones available to the general public. The people who joined self-identified as fans of ours and sour beers. My old homebrewing buddy Michael Thorpe has used clubs to huge success at Afterthough Brewing (around #20 on Untappd's Top Rated Breweries). In addition to directing his limited volume towards the right consumers, clubs allow him to brew the sorts of weird/esoteric (delicious) beers that might not work on a general audience (gin barrels, buckwheat, dandelions, paw paw etc.).


As noted above some styles have higher average reviews than others. Simply not brewing low-rated styles goes a long way towards ensuring a high overall brewery average. Anytime I feel like one of our beers is underappreciated, I go look at the sub-4 average of Hill Farmstead Mary, one of my favorite beers. Afterthought recently announced a new non-sour brand, which will prevent beer styles with lower averages from "dragging down" the average for Afterthought.

I remember there being debate over the minimum serving size for a review on BeerAdvocate. I think a few ounces of a maple-bacon-bourbon imperial stout is plenty. However for session beers, can you really judge a beer that is intended to be consumed in quantity based on a sip or two? We don't do sample flights at Sapwood Cellars. We sell half-pours for half the price of full pours. Not having a flight reduces people ordering beers they won't enjoy just to fill out a paddle. It also means that more people will give a beer a real chance, drinking 7 oz gives more time for your palate to adjust and for you to get a better feel for the balance and drinkability. What kills me is seeing people review one of our sessions beers based on a free "taste."

Another option is physical distance. Most trekking to Casey, De Garde, or Hill Farmstead are excited to be going there and ready to be impressed. It helps that all three brew world-class sour beers, but I'm not sure the ratings would be quite as good if they were located in an easily-accessible urban center.

The trick to getting to the Top Beer lists is that you need a lot of reviews to bring the weighted average up close to the average review. So having a barrier, but still brewing enough beer and being a big enough draw to get tens of thousands of check-ins and ratings. Organic growth helps, starting small, and generating enough excitement to bring people from far and wide. Lines (like those at Tree House) then help to keep up the exclusivity, not many people who hate hazy IPAs are going to wait in line for an hour to buy the new release - unless it is to trade.

Shelf Stability/Control 

Many of the best rated beers are bulletproof. Big stouts and sours last well even when not handled or stored properly. This means that even someone drinking a bottle months or years after release is mostly assured a good experience. Most other styles really don't store well and are at their best fresh.

Conversely, hazy IPAs are one of the most delicate styles. I think it's funny that some brewers talk about hiding flaws in a NEIPA. While you sure don't need to have perfect fermentation control to make a great hop-bomb, they are not forgiving at all when it comes to packaging and oxygen pick-up. That's partly the reason that the best regarded brewers of the style retail most of the canned product themselves. Alchemist, Trillium, Tree House, Tired Hands, Hill Farmstead, Aslin, Over Half etc. all focus on direct-to-consumer sales. That ensures the beer doesn't sit on a truck or shelf for a large amount of time before a consumer gets it. Consumers seem to be more aware than they once were (especially for these beers) that freshness matters.

Of course the margins are best when selling direct too, so any brewery that is able to sell cases out the door will. It can turn into a positive feedback loop, where the beer is purchased/consumed fresh which makes the beer drinker more likely to return. This worked well for Russian River, not bottling Pliny the Elder until there was enough demand that it won't sit on the shelf for more than a week.

Sure the actual packaging process (limiting dissolved oxygen) is important. But generally an OK job on a two-week-old can will win out over a great job on a two-month old can.

The ultimate is to have people drink draft at your brewery. That way you can control the freshness, serving temperature, glassware, atmosphere etc. That said, I notice the scores for our beers in growlers are usually higher than draft. I suspect that this is about self-selection, people who enjoyed the beer on draft are more likely to take a growler home and rate it well. It might also be a way for people to appear grateful to someone who brought a beer for them to try.

Reputation

This is one area where blind-judged beer competitions have a clear edge over general consumer ratings. When you know what you're drinking, that knowledge will change your perception. Partly it is subconscious, you give a break to a brewery that makes good beer. Or after a lot of effort to procure a bottle you don't want to feel like you wasted money/time. It can be more overt. I've had friends tell me that they'll skip entering a rating for our beer if it would be too low. I remember boosting the score of the first bottle of Cantillon St. Lamvinus I drank, it was so sour... but I didn't want to be that 22 year old who panned what people consider to be one of the best beers in the world.

I could also be cynical, but I can imagine someone buying a case of a new beer to trade and wanting to make sure they get good "value" by helping the score for the beer. Might be doubly true for a one-off beer with aging potential!

Sapwood Cellars has done pretty well in our first year. Out of more than 100 breweries in Maryland, we have the third-highest average score (4.06) on Untappd. That isn't even close to meaning that our beer is "better" than anyone below us though. In addition to being solid brewers, we're helped by our selection of styles (mostly IPAs and sours) and by selling almost all of our beer on premise. Hopefully that feeds a good reputation, which further drives scores as we continue to hone our process.


Categories: Homebrewing blogs

How Much Beer is Left in my Keg?

Homebrewing from Beersmith - Mon, 05/06/2019 - 12:50pm

This week I look at a simple way to determine how much beer you have left in your kegs using the weight-to-volume tool in BeerSmith.

Many brewers, myself included, like to keep one or two regular beers on tap at all times. Eventually this becomes an inventory management issue, as you need to have some idea how much of a particular beer you have left to decide when you need to brew to restock.

Ignoring for a moment the problems of lead time to get the beer brewed and mature, a key piece of information is having a solid measure of exactly how much beer you have in inventory. If you keg this can be a challenge as lifting the keg will tell you roughly how much beer is in it but won’t give you an exact volume.

The BeerSmith Weight to Volume Tool

To solve this problem, some years ago I added the Weight to Volume Tool to BeerSmith. This tool lets you weigh your kegs (or other vessels) and calculate the volume remaining based on the weight and empty weight of the keg.

To use the tool you do need to know the empty weight of the keg so you may want to weigh a keg before filling it. In my case, I primarily use standard ball lock Corney kegs (5 gal/19 l size) which weigh 9.29 lb (4.21 kg) empty and I also use the newer ball lock Slimline Torpedo kegs which weight 8.5 lb (3.86 kg). If you have a different keg type, just weigh an empty one using your grain scale and record the weight in your notes for future use.

To determine how much beer is left in your partially filled keg, simply weigh it with your grain scale. Next enter that weight into the Current Container Weight field. Enter the Empty Container Weight you recorded earlier along with the Specific (final) gravity of the beer if known. If you are not sure about the final gravity of the beer, you can use 1.015 as a reasonable value as the gravity will not affect the calculation much. Once you have entered these values into the tool the Estimated Volume of the beer will be shown at the bottom.

This tool is available under Tools->Weight-Vol on the menu for both BeerSmith 3 desktop and BeerSmith mobile. It will also shortly be available as an online tool on BeerSmithRecipes.com for Gold+ users.

Leave a comment blow if you have other books you have enjoyed. Thank you for joining me this week on the BeersSmith blog – please subscribe to the newsletter or listen to my video podcast for more great material on homebrewing.

Categories: Homebrewing blogs

Launching Sapwood Cellars Brewery with Michael Tonsmeire – BeerSmith Podcast #191

Homebrewing from Beersmith - Mon, 04/29/2019 - 9:23am

Michael Tonsmeire joins me to discuss his experience starting a new brewery called Sapwood Cellars.

Subscribe on iTunes to Audio version or Video version or on Google Play

Download the MP3 File – Right Click and Save As to download this mp3 file

Topics in This Week’s Episode (51:39)
  • This week my guest is Michael Tonsmeire. Michael is the author of the book American Sour Beers (Amazon affiliate link) and also partner in a new brewery called Sapwood Cellars in Columbia, Maryland.
  • Today he joins us to discuss some of the challenges and decisions to be made in opening a new brewery.
  • Michael gives us a quick overview of the size and scope of the brewery where he primarily sells out of the taproom.
  • We discuss his opening lineup of beers and how he decided which beers to brew.
  • Michael explains how his lineup has evolved over time and which beers are now the top cellers.
  • We talk about direct (taproom) sales versus distrubuting through other channels and also some models for growth.
  • Michael explains some of the challenges in marketing and driving traffic to a new brewery, including things like social media and promotions.
  • He shares some of the marketing and business lessons he learned.
  • We discuss how he raised funding for the new brewery and also some of the surprises he ran into along the way.
  • Michael explains the difference between brewing on a 10 barrel system and a 10 gallon brewing system
  • He shares his closing thoughts for those looking to open a small brewery.
Sponsors

Thanks to Michael Tonsmeire for appearing on the show and also to you for listening!
iTunes Announcements: I launched a new video channel for the BeerSmith podcast on iTunes, so subscribe now! At the moment it will only feature the new widescreen episodes (#75 and up). Older episodes are available on my revamped Youtube channel. Also all of my audio episodes are on iTunes now – so grab the older episodes if you missed any.

Thoughts on the Podcast?

Leave me a comment below or visit our discussion forum to leave a comment in the podcast section there.

Subscribe to the Podcast on iTunes or BeerSmith Radio

You can listen to all of my podcast episodes streaming live around the clock on our BeerSmith Radio online radio station! You can also subscribe to the audio or video using the iTunes links below, or the feed address

And finally, don’t forget to subscribe to the blog and my newsletter (or use the links in the sidebar) – to get free weekly articles on home brewing.

Categories: Homebrewing blogs