Bottling, the bane of brewing.

Posted in Beer on August 17, 2015 by Aleforge

OK let me get this out of the way, I hate bottling. For me its the worst part of brewing, it even beats out all the washing and scrubbing of equipment (maybe not after a boil over but still). I put bottling days off for a long time, and this last time I moved everything into the kitchen so my wife would complain. The urgency of her frustration pushed me to finally get it done.

So here is what you do, first soak the crap out of the bottles. I wanted to be thrifty and save the environment (mostly thrifty) so I soaked used bottles to remove the labels. This takes a few days if you want them to come off easily. I used a large bucket and filled it with hot water and dish soap. I ended up once again getting lazy so they sat in the solution for a week. Needless to say the labels came off without much effort. Then I drained the bucket, took out the bottles and rinsed each one. Filled the bucked up with a starsan solution and dropped them back in. There they sat several days. When I finally got to the point of actually bottling I had to “recharge” the starsan by churning and getting it mixed up again creating foam. I am not sure if you need to do this, but I wanted foam, it made me feel like everything was well coated.

So then I got everything out, the bottle tree, auto siphon, filler tube, caps and capper etc. I took each bottle out, drained it and stuck them on the tree. Then saved some of the starsan solution and put it in a small container (for the caps). But before I drained any off I dunked anything that would be touching beer into the bucket.

You have to siphon the beer out of the carboy (off the yeast cake) into the bottling bucket. This is where you would add a measured sugar solution (boiled first) but for the first time I used carbonation drops from Northern Brewer. After its transferred you then simply use a tube to fill each bottle. A bottling wand / filler tube works great as it opens and closes as you push it into the bottom of each bottle.

One word of advice (and one you will learn quickly) place something under the filling area. Its easy to over flow a bottle, and the tube tends to drip. I have done this over the dishwasher door in the past, but a pan / bucket will work as well.

So you fill, leaving a small amount of head room (less is better, less oxygen trapped inside). I take a soaked cap and set it on top of each bottle as I fill them. Once they were all filled I went back and added a carb drop and capped each one. And well that’s it… nothing magical happens yet. After a week or so they will dissolve, and the tiny bit of yeast will eat it and carbonate your brew.

This process takes awhile, there are worse things in life (dentist). But for me it still sucks, but I am glad to be done.

Oh and I almost forgot, save some of the brew and check the gravity. I filled up the test beaker and dropped in the hydrometer. Compare this with the original gravity and it gives you the ABV %. And the attenuation of the yeast. That way you can tell if it fermented as planned.



Small batch, the American way.

Posted in Beer on July 27, 2015 by Aleforge

I made a trip over to my good ol’ buddy Brads place last Saturday. He had invited us out for some BBQ and to do a small batch of brewing. He had some ingredients he shared (thanks Brad), it was enough to do a 2 gallon batch that we split between us. It was pretty hot, but once the smell of hops and malts wafted through the air nothing else mattered.

He had the ingredients to make an American pale ale. Very standard, nothing tricky, but it will be wonderful session beer. He overshot the gravity (1.070) and added some water to hit his numbers (1.060 OG). I went ahead and left it, figured we could compare. Small batches are really fun, it seems a lot of work for for about a 10-12 bottles (12oz). But it allows a lot of experimentation, lower cost and lower risk. For instance, Brad plans on going with either a lime or strawberry addition. Myself, nothing I am too lazy, I will be bottling my last batch tonight or tomorrow (more on that below)

Golden Light Liquid Malt Extract 3.3 lbs 60 min
1/4 oz centennial 60 min
1/2 oz willamette 5 min
2.5 gallons of water
US-05 Yeast with a massive starter (Brad made a sweet stir plate)

Everything went well and nothing tragic happened. Brad grilled up some kabobs (pork / chicken), they were excellent.

My last batch (Scottish 80) has still not been bottled. The fermentation temps have been a steady 68 and the cake is fully settled. I don’t have much fear that its going to pick up off flavors but I need to get it done. Brad once again helped me out by giving me a bunch of bottles he has been saving up. And coupled with the ones I have saved I have around 40 now. The one thing I am doing is soaking them to remove the labels (which reminds me I need to get custom ones made up). I have them in a solution of dish soap and water. So many methods of doing it, but dish soap always works fairly well. I plan on bottling tonight or tomorrow.

A few more pictures of the day!


Babyback Day

Posted in Meat on July 17, 2015 by Aleforge

I decided last Sunday (July 12th, 2015) to smoke two racks of babyback ribs on my Kamado Akorn. I was going to use the 3-2-2 method, but once again had some issues with overshooting my temperature. I am going to honestly say for me anyway the smoker has been a learning process. I did add double the coal and double the wood this time around. Spacing the wood chunks (hickory) in various areas so they would burn during different times. I was shooting for about 250, I ended up at 375. I shut the smoker down by closing both air vents and waited. An hour later or so I was down to around 275 and I just went with it, it seemed to stay stable. But by that time most of my wood was burned up, and with the bottom grate, water pan / diffuser, main grill and meat it made it difficult to just add more. The idea behind this smoker is mainly to hit your temp and stick there, burning lump charcoal and allowing it to “slowly” spread so you can easily get 10-12 hours out of one batch. Since I hit 375 it caused the charcoal to burn faster and it ate up all the wood.

So I had no choice put to pull out the setup (the boiling water pan was the hardest) and add more wood, I also moved the charcoal around trying to become Mr. Wizard and fix the burn rate. It seemed to work, and when the meat was much farther along I pulled it out to wrap it and I still was getting smoke.


This is obviously a positive, and I was fairly happy. So I wrapped and spritzed it down with this combination I randomly came up with. Mostly because I thought we had apple juice but did not.

Some of the serious guys do not spritz at all. They say it can ruin the bark and it ends up kind of chewy instead of a slight crunch. Others have noted it helps keep it moist and adds an extra kick of controlled flavor. All I know is it smells absolutely wonderful when it hits it. I didn’t notice the bark being ruined Of course I am not a pro at this.

I ran the ribs over a bit on temp, its suggested to take them off at 180. Ribs should NOT fall off the bone, obviously if you have ever had them you know you kind of chew them off. There is this fine line of staying on the bone and being tender. I jumped over that line. I am so use to pulled pork butts and beef chuck roast that I didn’t consider a lower final temperature. So instead of 180, I took them off close to 195. They full completely off the bone, you couldn’t even pick the rack up without it breaking apart.


OK so maybe someone is wandering does it taste OK? Yes, honestly staying on the bone is a style guideline on how they should be. My ribs were moist the fat was all rendered by the higher temps, and the bark exactly how it should have been. However I pretty much made pulled pork.

I learned a lot from this rib journey. However my old vertical smoker was so damn easy, it made me question why I would put myself through this stress. Well I will tell you why, this is real. It was one of the main reasons I went with a Kamado. There is a huge debate over what type of smoker is the best in the community. When I watched guys smoked there was something about hand lighting up the fuel (and setting it up right), placing logs on top and feeling the accomplishment of no switches, feeders or gas. The hands on if you will, a craft perhaps. Not putting down all you guys flipping switches and turning knobs, lol. Smoke is smoke and hell if it isn’t delicious using any setup.


So anyways it turned out OK, not to the style, not to the best it could have been but it cooked and worked out. I also as with each time learn a little more from my mistakes and I am eager to go again.

A second topic, my beer is ready for bottling. I plan on doing it this Sunday. Brad was over a couple days ago and we took a FG (final gravity) reading. I don’t have the number with me but it got fairly close (4.5 ABV), a little off but I had added a gallon of too much water for the boil. In the past I had always added a gallon and it boiled off. But I finally realized it was because I mostly brewed in cold dry weather. This is one of the first times I have brewed during the summer months and I believe that caused less boil off. I plan on brewing up a one gallon batch of barley wine next week out at Brads place.


July 3rd Brew Day

Posted in Beer, Meat on July 8, 2015 by Aleforge

I had a good full day of brewing with my buddy Brad (and Chris later on) last Friday (3rd of July). We did three batches, two for Brad and one for myself. Brad did a partial mash “pale” stout, his own creation (Orcs Brew) that included the following:

1 lb pale malt
1 lb oats
3/4 lbs dark malt extract
1 ounce centennial at 60
Nottingham ale yeast (500ml starter)

The calculations from brewsmith predicted an OG of 1.080, he ended up hitting 1.076. He believes this was due to the oats not providing enough sugar.

The second batch Brad did was an American Amber, he made some modifications to the hop profile to lower the IBUs. He will be adding raspberries to the secondary . It sounds really awesome.

I ended up going with a Scottish 80 w/ specialty grains. Its considered an English ESB but focuses on malt instead of hops (lower IBU).

OG 1.047 (I had too much water ended up with OG 1.043)
1lb English medium crystal (specialty)
3.15 lbs Gold malt extract (60min)
3.15 lbs Gold malt extract (15min)
1oz US Fuggle (60min)
Wyeast 1728 Scottish Ale

I also used my new smoker for the first time. I smoked two 6lb pork butts. I ended up running way to high of temps (300-325) and it completed the smoke way to soon (6hrs). Talking with some experts I found out I just plainly set it up wrong. First off I didn’t add enough charcoal / wood (you would guess less fuel would make it cooler, but its not true for a Kamado). In fact I needed to triple the charcoal and double the wood. Once things shoot a bit over temperature you shut it down closing both dampers to kill some of the fire. Then slowly open them up to hit your target.

I did wrap them a few hours in and kept spraying them down with a mixture of apple juice and maple whiskey. It seemed to help keep things moist. The maple whiskey smelled really awesome. Overall it didn’t turn out bad, but it lacked on the smoke.

That’s it for the July 3rd brew day! Brad is encouraging me to do a Scottish Wee Heavy next. Its one of my favorite styles and one I don’t get very often. Its a great fall / winter beer so I might take him up on it. I also would like to get a mead going ASAP!


Finally, 4 years later and I am back.

Posted in Beer, Meat on June 30, 2015 by Aleforge

I took a long break from homebrewing and plan on finally getting back into it  thanks to my very good friend Brad. He got into it awhile back and has been egging me on to start back up myself. This blog is for my own personal amusement and to keep a log of my adventures. I doubt many will read it, but if you do welcome! I plan on posting my homebrewing and meat smoking adventures.

I got some new equipment last week (for fathers day) as I am missing the majority of my old stuff.

I also recently got a new smoker for my birthday. Its a Char-Griller Akorn, and does pretty much everything. But smoking will be the main usage. Akorns are “Kamado” style grills / smokers that are very much a more affordable version of the “Big Green Eggs”. When I say affordable I mean they run around 300 bucks. They are heavily insulated and can hold steady temps with very little fuel. There is also a very active community for Kamado’s with some passionate users that tweak and modify these guys.

During the first burn in, you are suppose to keep temps around 450 for an hour or so. Afterwards I grilled up a bunch of meat. I was able to fit 6 brats, 6 burgers and 8 hot dogs without an issue. They also come with an additional warming rack that fits into the holes. When smoking you can easily get 3-4 pork butts in there. Another neat feature is under the grate there are tabs that can hold a pizza stone, or another grate to place a heat shield / drip pan. You might also notice the removable center piece, this allows you to drop in wood during a session.

I plan on brewing with my two good friends Brad and Chris this Friday. I am making up a Scottish 80 Shilling extract with specialty grains. And using Wyeast 1728 (Scottish ale).  Not going all grain just yet, Brad will be soon and I plan on using his knowledge when the time comes (and his equipment lol)



Posted in Beer on June 16, 2009 by Aleforge

Been away for awhile and have not spent enough time brewing with so much going on. The Irish Red has been all done and is 75% gone now as I gave many bottles away.  I still have everything hanging out reaching towards their experation date for the “American lager” so I am going to try and squeeze that in either tonight or thursday evening. Biggest challenge is my keezer needs to be transported and hooked up in the basement, and I have been as mentioned putting everything off. One good thing is my Wife and I have been venturing out more and have recently taken up biking.  So I guess trading off for something healthy isn’t such a bad decision. I have a bike ride planned for tonight and then a Katy trail expedition for Saturday.

Anyhow I have two competitions coming up as mentioned in a previous post, they are both HBT member driven events. Both casual in nature but I’m starting to run out of time.  I need to somehow get this Lager done then move onto a APA then IPA in the next month.  I took up spots for both as they limited entries so it would be crappy of me to fail to partake.

Something else that has been long left forgotten is the Dunkelweizen that was finished and ready a month ago. Dunkelweizen being a moderate gravity wheat beer doesn’t benefit from aging, so it really needs bottled ASAP!

I had some pictures to toss up of the Irish Red but they are at home still, will update this thread tomorrow with them.


The Irish and the Apple.

Posted in Beer, Cider on April 28, 2009 by Aleforge

I finally got chance last weekend to bottle the experimental Cider and Irish Red Ale.  I have been so busy / lazy the past month that I have not been on the ball with my brewing responsbilies. Luckily when bottling I had some help, my daughter really enjoyed helping wash and sanatize the bottles. Which is good to know, because as she gets older she will become a huge asset in the war of bottling.


Bottled about 80 bottles in total, since the Cider was only a 3 gallon batch. Good thing to because I am not sure how well this stuff is going to become. Just a fair warning, the recipe I posted was quoted as being a “Wood Chuck” clone, and after several people have made it everyone agrees its anything but. It has an upfront tart flavor, coupled with toasted malt on the back end. Very unique but not what I expected well see how it ages. Its defaintly drinkable though which is a big positive, just not something you want to run around and try to impress people with.

The Irish Red also got bottled, finished up around 1.015 started up at 1.060 so its ended up at 5.86% ABV so its got a little kick to it not really happy with the color, its not as Red as I wanted. But that’s what happens when you use a partial mash kit and don’t tweak it.

On deck: Dunkelweizen and an American Lager. I’m going to move my chest freezer to the basement and dedicating it 100% to lagering now, and will be moving my taps to my old fridge. Hope to crank out a few different lagers this year as I so far have only made one since kegged beer always took over the keezer.

I also have to come up with an APA and PA recipe for two competitions I signed up for, both over at the HBT forums. And since its summer I have to get a Hefe going, as its my favorite summertime style. So thats 5 batches that need to be made in the next month…

Lastweekend My Wife and two youngest attended the Annual Earthday celebration in Forest Park. Schlafly beer was the ONLY available brewer handing out some of the delicious offerings. The brought out their new “Organic Ale” and it was a very well rounded beverage. The also had their Kolsch and APA on tap also. I had the Organic and an APA while listening to some drumming at the grass stage.  It was a great day, plus I got to hear some people mumbling as they walked buy “where is the bud light” which gave me a chuckle.

This weekend we are attending the STL Microfest,

It will be the first time attending and from what I hear is one of the best beer fests STL has to offer, one that completely blows away the “Heritage Fest” put on by AB. I will be attending the afternoon session on Saturday and did pick up the VIP access as well. Its also for a good cause, so everyone should run over and pick up their tickets before its sold out. (and it will)

I will be posting pictures from the event next week!