Reader alert – I started this post 5 months ago.

The Stand

Let’s start from the top: I’ve been on the hunt for a brew stand. I’d thought about making one, getting one made, buying one right out , sat around looming at craigslist and walked the lanes big-box home improvement stores looking for possible structures and so forth. Nothing was ‘just right.’ I’m quite particular about most everything – research to find the ‘right thing’ can be exhaustive, to the point of missing out on ‘good enough’ items due to waiting. It can drive other people crazy – namely my wife, my father-in-law, anyone directly affected. It can be maddening, but to me persistence and patience pay off.
A few months ago a Craigslist ad popped up, a sale for some shlub’s entire brewhouse somewhere in the depths of South Bend, Indiana – easily a 4-hour drive. I posted the link to the local homebrew facebook group with a serious offer to buy up the stand but not the entire deal; I had no need/want for the rest. Long story short that is what happened. Some helpful guy snatched up the whole lot and contacted me to have me come take the stand. In the crunchy earth mid-winter that is January in the Midwest, I rolled into St. Charles with a three hundred pound plus behemoth. My brew stand is a three tier gravity stand with two natural gas burners (3rd eventually coming). It’s a heavy iron stand centered around a thick-walled 3″ pipe. It’s an exciting step toward being content with the hot-side of my brewing. A big plus: Not having to lift the mash and HLT. While it won’t necessarily make better beer, it’ll make brew days more manageable.

I’ve also procured a keggle (kettle meets keg) as well; excellent for never worrying about ten-gallon boil overs again. It’s been great thus far.

The Single

Bouncing around in the back of my head for a while was this beer I’ve wanted to do for some time. It’s a less-common style outside of breweries/monasteries: a small(er) beer that takes on a lot of interpretation – some have caramel malts or long boils or are this or that. For me, I believe the focus should be on something simple, drinkable, and not really ‘for the public.’ A Belgian single, patersbier, etcetera.

My version comes from a couple of recipes for a single I found that built around their entire malt bill being pilsner malt. My choices were German or Bohemian at the LHBS I chose the latter. I also added some Carafoam b/c I “feel” like I’m getting better head retention using it thus far, even if it is placebo.

The brewing part of the day was relatively uneventful – fired the MLT after finishing the stand, ground grain, mashed in at 152f, got the sparge water headed, sparged, boiled and tossed in hops, cooled, and pitched. I also bottled four batches and we were on our way.

I bottled half in 750ml Belgian crown-capped – plainly put: pry off champagne bottles – at four vols of co2 and the other half in standard bottles at 2.8 volumes. Side-by-side tasting notes very soon. As a preview, they are both lovely with nice mellow hop and malt profiles with the primary focus on the yeast.

2015-02-16 17.51.18
In the wandering, flowing timeline of moving back to Illinois, the city, and what we were going to make of our life, I bumped across styles once again. It floated into my mind that I’d add brett to a style in which I’d never personally had (narley even a bad example). There was a low hum and talk of favoring one recipe over any other, on a forum I haunt and I made plans – came to find out the guy has quite the reputation on his recipe. I’m a real butt and of course can’t brew anything to the slated recipe, and as such I of course had to take liberties. Mine added dashes of rye, added oak, brett, different yeast, and slightly altered malts. My fault also may have been not taking notes through the year and half process, but again here we are. A bottle was also shipped to a close homebrew-nerd long-distance friend B Hall, who will have his own review.

I should say after bottling I felt as though it changed so much from where I wanted, I nearly abandoned all hope. My plan was to allow the bottles to mature for sometime in a desperate attempt to save a beer from the brink. The brink approached like an abandoned house fire, you’ve just got to watch it degrade into something.
2015-02-16 18.10.39

Fallen Dekkra

the nose: in this bottle it was hard, and nearly impossible to miss: grape runts. As if someone had taken a bottle of water and a package of runts and thought it’d make great babies. There was also acid and low funk – like fleeting wafts mixed with of lots of very “dark cherry.” After an hour or more, it started warming up to “spicy medicine,” a boozy version of what we took as kids.
the palate: As it hits, it’s oak and a “buttery” sort of slick texture. Brett/cherry funk play up more and not the grape. It’s quite, quite dry for something that held a high starting gravity. It’s low “slickness” makes for an interesting drink, and a lot of the complexity in mid/late palate. Mild oak/vanilla with roast is the far back palate. Meandering splashes of coffee feels like your chasing tastes. There is a light “grape” taste and malt is nonexistent – thanks to the brett. My thoughts on how it came to be is this: oak, dark malts, brett all dry out, fruit up and mix to create this flavor. It’s not ‘bad’ but it can be ‘off’.
The result: 7.5/10 – still a favorite, even though in many ways it’s lost a lot about what I initially loved about it. Lis still loves it, Travis still loves it. B Hall’s wife seemingly liked it. It’s not bad, just marred.

2015-02-16 18.10.47

Dekkra on Plums

the nose: “the grape runt” flavor is still there but is much more subtle. This version is analogous to macerated plums. It’s got smells less acidic, even quite sweet, like a bag of candied plums. There is also an interesting floral note floating around in there.
the palate: much more tart, and residual sweetness – both do so well it makes my mouth water. The roast is nearly non-existent/faded; oddly enough it’s much cleaner, less complex. Really nice to drink. No oak, MAYBE vanilla, and more carbonation. The acidity and plum push out A LOT of the “grape” – or maybe the plum compliments the profile? It’s got a very lightly roasted coffee flavor hidden deep in the aftertaste. Sipping makes it almost candy-like, but no over-sweetened. This version is seemingly better and more “rounded.”
the result: 8.5/10 – easily something I’d bring out for a friend’s visit or as a treat to myself along a year. I’ll be going through these much more slowly. I’d like to see how the plums, and flavors age together.

2015-02-16 18.07.05
the takeaway: No brett. Yes plums. No oak. Yes age. No bulk aging. Yes high gravity. No rye. I think I have a soft spot for this beer. I love it even though I can’t really figure out why. It sounds insane, but I’m not alone on it. So it’s not a Quad – at all. Okay so I don’t know shit about style. That may be obvious by now – and maybe that is part of my problem. I tried to make this beer a handful of things instead of what it was supposed to be: a great quad that had gusto. I grew out it’s hair, let it stay out late and didn’t treat it right. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love it any less. I will, for sure, be brewing this again; about a month or so before plum season and adding a decent helping of plums. The dark malty belgian flavors played so well with plum that I’m hooked. If I were to wager, I’d guess I’d make a split batch with half being just the base. My problem isn’t keeping the grain bill simple, it’s keeping everything after simple and the Dekkra series one was a perfect example of that. This time it’ll be ready for fall when that time comes – a brew calendar and the beer doc are working in conjunction to make a happy 2015.

More soon.

I told myself I wouldn’t finish writing this post until I drank the second bottle of Lambic ‘BHall’ from Brouwerji-chugach sent over from Maine. Well here I sit, in bed, with 1/8th of my glass left. My initial notes are below, but my pallette is likely much cleaner than previously – no other tastings, had cider previously – so I wanted to take a quick ‘second look’.

Lambic – 9/10; simply put: superb, verbose: not overly tart/sour (as many of my wild ales lean toward) making for a shockingly drinkable beer with mellow ‘green apple’ flavors, it smells like funk and a barrel had sweet babies crafting  an amalgam to simply draw intrigue – lemon rind, vanilla, light malt, and that ever elusive ‘cherry pie’. Honestly, if his brewery – once it starts – churns out beers like this, I’ll be bragging to everyone that I knew him when.


Now for the first tasting. My [sometimes] brew buddy and his wife stopped over at our “new” place along with a long 10 beer flight with some recent brews, and not so recent, along with BHall’s choice options (lambic, gueuze).

Our flight:

Grapefruit Wheat (GFW), OLY-500 with Pummelo Grapefruit rind and meats and thyme flowers ‘dry hopped’

Summer Stouts (ss04/05), split batch of first attempt at “warm weather” stout – US05 vs S04

Belgian Pale (BP2), “beta” pitch of 100% brett pitches from Omega Yeast labs, second floor version – high heat

Wine Hybrids: Saison with Sav Blanc must added and pitched with EYC20 (20), ECY01(01), WL670 (670) or Cuvree (cuv)


  • GFW – 8/10; Very grapefruit forward, light spice
  • BP2 – 6-7/10; lots of ‘malt’; herbal, earthy
  • ss04 – 7/10; chocolate nose w/ “semi-sweet palate”, nutty?, stone fruit
  • ss05 – 7.5/10; more “stout”, grain forward
  • 20 – 8/10; funk/sour nose, smells VERY tart but is reserved on the palate
  • 01 – 6/10; floral nose w/ overipe fruit, quite tart, “nerds”, ‘drink one’
  • 670 – 8.5/10; fruit salad nose, very “sweet/sour” along the palate
  • cuve – 3/10; sulfur nose, palate: smooth very nice, like a “malty wine”
  • lambic – 9/10; “barrel” nose, vanilla, lightly sweet meets a nice mellow sourness, VERY drinkable
  • gueuze 8.5/10; “vanilla” nose w/ a touch of sulfur; under ripe apple, a more ‘tame’ version of the lambic


  • GFW – 7/10; sour grape fruit after taste, wheat at the top w/ a subtle sour note
  • BP 2 – 7/10; caramel, malty, earthy, dry
  • s04 – 8-9/10; coffee, caramel, malty, nutty
  • s05 – 9/10; semi-sour, very nutty, hint chocolate
  • 20 – 8/10; sour nose, grapefruit, clove hint of banana, citrus, vanilla aftertaste
  • 01 – 5/10; sour nose, overripe fruit, tart (like drinking nerds)
  • 670 – 7/10; stone fruit nose
  • cuv – na/10; n/a
  • lambic – honey, touch of citrus, oak, vanilla
  • gueuze – honey, oak, green banana, vanilla


  • GFW – 8/10; sour, bitter, fizzy, champagne, grapefruit
  • ss04 – 8/10; peach, caramel, coffee, nutty, smooth
  • ss05 – 5/10; sour, acidity, salty
  • bp2 – 6/10; cocoa, malt, bitter, green
  • 20 – 10/10; light crisp, citrus, lemon
  • 01 – 6/10; spice, tart, sweet, dessert
  • 670 – 5/10; dry, citrus, grapefruit
  • cuv – n/a; sulfur, dry, sour
  • lambic – 9/10; honey, grapefruit, green, lemon, vanilla
  • gueuze – 7/10; tart, oak, fruit

Some had obvious favorites – but a pretty decent spread of beers that makes up the current profile. My surprise: the summer stout is really quite fantastic, none of that “acidity” found in many of my earlier stouts – how? Adding the chocolate malt with the sparge, wouldn’t have thought it, but it’s a huge difference – a nice mellow actual chocolate/coffee profile. I am no master taster by any stretch, but my brew buddy is burgeoning and his wife has never done anything like it before which gave me a good spread on experience and expectations, a nice swath I’d like the replicate in the future.

My hit list series is a kind of quick-list of things I’d like to accomplish. This go-round: fruit/spices added – in brackets are possible style applications.

  • Pomegranates (again) [saison, wheat]
  • Cherries [wild]
  • Figs [saison, wild, wheat]
  • Blackberries [wheat]
  • Dates [IPA, Pale, Stout]
  • Elderberries [Pale]
  • Raisins [brown ale]
  • Earl Gray Tea [IPA, saison]
  • Apples [cider, mead]
  • Plums [saison, wild, stout]
  • Grapes (again) [wild, saison]
  • Tamarind [saison]
  • Lavender (again) [wheat]
  • Nuts [brown, porter]
  • Herbal Tea blends [saison]
  • Mole [stout]
  • Dandelion [wine]
  • Ginger [stout]
  • Juniper [IPA]
  • Vanilla (again) [mead, pale]
  • Chocolate/coco nibs [stout, porter, wild]

Most have a place in the beer doc and will be addressed soon. What is on your “hit list?”

For a bit of time, the idea of a solera has been rattling around in the noodle.

Like many homebrewers I only grazed the info of what other posters were talking about and pieced it together to create my kind of story. A lot of “sour soleras” for homebrewers means whipping up a massive 30-60 gallon batch, letting it age in a barrel, then at X number of months/years pull 5-15 gallons and replace with new. Headspace fills back in, you’ve got aged beer and fresh beer, it’s in a neat in a little package, and so it goes. To me this sounds like someone took the idea of what Rodenbach does with bottling for their Grand Cru and ran with it. Only, this isn’t really what on is, this a solera is:

12diagramofasolerasystem-1That. That blob of circles with arrows and all kinds of whatever the fuck. Technically, posted above is for making sherry at a particular winery, but what we’ll focus on is the bottom. Basically, you make a thing, put things in barrel and move it down and through the system to the bottom where you end up with a bunch of old product being bottled and increasingly younger product trickling down.

What does this do? Well for me, a few things. One, it’s a pretty bad ass ‘thought experiment’ put into practice. Two, it creates a blended consistent product. Three – maybe, someday,  it will create a system for having always badass delicious aged wild beer on hand.

How the hell am I going to do this? First and foremost, I’m NOT doing the lazy ‘one giant barrel’ approach. So that is out. Then I thought, brew the same beer every month for a year, then start blending down. Things get a little complicated when I want a real drinkable amount through. Why not two fermentors every two months? It suits me perfectly. I brew an unorthodox 8 gallons, and split, makes an ideal space in those amazingly cheap 5 gallon food-grade buckets widely available at hardware stores. Recently, I’ve loved the amount for blindly easy yeast experiments (more on these soon).

And, so, without further ado, my process:


Quick details: Brew 8 gallons of ‘house’ every other month for a year (solera -> 5). Bottle 4 gallons (solera), blend 2 gallons from each fermentor down newest (6) added to stack while birthing a 4 gallon one-off.

First thing one would likely notice is the painful vertical nature of my solera. I toyed with a building a ‘base’ solera first to then move build up and attempt to blend down, but this is simply a starter project. It’s really a peek into how much I’ll hate brewing the same thing over and over, how much I’d enjoy working a brewery, and an exercise in patience. I may end up not loving the idea after a year and a half and just bottle the thing and give up. It’s a working example.

The beer will be a slight variation on my personal favorite brew and attempt at crafting a ‘house’ beer – I could not think of a better candidate.

Photos, updates, and much more to follow. Brew day to follow arrival of the group grain buy.

UPDATE: 4.19.14
After a bit of thinking, prompted mostly by a ‘B’ below, and the grilling from my wife on why we needed 48 gallons in ‘the pipe.’ I worked on a new “design” of the solera:

Update: 1.11.15
#1 and #2 stages are done and #3 is to be brewed in short order.

Here in a list is all things bubbling.

.5 gal – pear cider – natural fermentation
.5 gal – (mixed grape) wine – 5 day natural fermentation, then cote des blancs
5 gal – apple cider – natural fermentation
5 gal – apple cider – s-04
5 gal – mead – EC118/Red Star Champagne dual pitched
1 gal – mead – EC118
1 gal – mead – Red Star Champagne
1 gal – mead – ‘Blonde blend’ w/ cherries added

5 gal – Quad – Wy3787, will oak and pitch brett blend
5 gal – Coffee Porter – WLP400, adding cold brewed Metropolis Medium Roast to keg

That is just what is fermenting/ed.

Tuesday, an IPA with 2012 experimental hops for good measure. Will have to work on vetting a recipe this weekend. I may also bring back all the yeast and my yeast culturing biz to start ranching that week.

I love this hobby.

An aside: the blog has fallen to the wayside because work is taking over any time I wish I had and when I’m not working – I’m not writing, I’m playing a game because I don’t even want to write for myself. It’s work. Well, get on the horse. Practice makes perfect. Now, beer making.

While stationed at the fringe of the Chicago suburbs at my mother’s house for a month – I knew I wanted to brew and brew I did. I’ll try and remember most of the brew day(s) but this post is coming nearly two months so stick with me and you’ll make some tasty beer as well.

First, the reading. Like with all the beer I brew I do at least some digging in finding those who have forged the river before me. Those newer to brewing, do this, but you may already be doing so reading this – so good on ya. I found some info on Wikipedia [link], a couple of guys on HBT [#1, #2], and just about anywhere I could. This was not my first sour mash so I knew the routine, it was the % of grains that were a bit fuzzy. Nevertheless, here is where I landed:

Amt                           Name / %
6 lbs 12.0 oz          Pilsner (2 row) (Gambrinus) (1.6 SRM) / 64.2 %
2 lbs 8.0 oz            Corn, Flaked (1.3 SRM)  / 23.8 %
1 lbs                          Rye Malt (4.7 SRM) /  9.5 %
2.1 oz                       Chocolate Wheat Malt (400.0 SRM) / 1.2 %
2.1 oz                       Crystal 75, 2-Row, (Great Western) (75.0 SRM) / 1.2 %

Kentucky Common Mash

Then came the mash in. Just like in the hybrid sour mash [link] I had previously used, I started with a standard mash in schedule. Mashing in during the morning, I aimed for 148°f, but hit a few degrees high. From there acid malt was forgot for this particular step on this sour mash, so it simply became a more traditional sour mash where I allowed the mash to sit nearly all day and added a handful of crushed grain in the evening with the idea of hitting the magic 100°f mark which lacto loves so much. A sanitized plastic wrap across the top of the mash allows for less O2. This is to avoid spoilage microbes to flourish and keep those in the air from getting into the mess. I then sat the kettle on top of my mother’s pre-auto-off heating pad and a thick blanket I use to insulate my mashes, covered it all up and walked away for the evening.

Sour Mashing

This is where a lot of people would complain about the smell of the mash, but between the two – the “worst” smell I’ve had is way-over-ripe pineapple. That’s it. I also check mine often making sure to keep the souring mash at 100°f. This is less than easy without a temperature controller so keep an eye on it if you do no own one (like me). For this sour mash, a short 18 hour souring period was what I planned for as it wouldn’t be as ‘lemonade-y’ as the Berliner Weisse. The wort smelled like toasty pineapple and a freshly cracked plain yogurt.

Fly sparge

The sparge was super easy and I even fly sparged for the first time. Ballsy. Boiling was a short 30min with two ounces of hops at the start only. Uneventful and likely too late in the evening to care about smells, I think I was too focused on keeping the mosquitoes from ravaging my body.

Boiling Kentucky Common

Fermentation was during a sudden cool spell that ended up working perfectly for me. A pitched sachet of K-97, a pretty clean and dead simple dry yeast that I thought would fit the ‘heritage’ of the brew. The heat kicked up again after it was close to being done but it wasn’t taken for a tumble and just finished a touch lower than anticipated. It was then kegged and an ounce and half of medium french oak cubes were placed in for a week. I tasted it through the oaking and found day 7 right where I thought the ‘wood’ and vanilla held just a whisper in the spinning anamorphic flavor profile in the glass.

The first few pours were confusing to the senses. It always, always poured a muddy, dredged-from-a-creek-bed, brown. Which to say that I’m not afraid of having hazy beer, but the sight is just too much like pond water. The smell is deceptively sweet with cracks of fresh lemon from lacto. My first impressions were that I wouldn’t likely try it again. It was too odd and pulled in too many directions at once but after about a month it sat slowly dwindling it calmed down. Either I began to pull apart its layers or it just simply grew on me or it just became an amazing (easily one of my favorite) beers is beyond my simple mind – but the thing was astounding.

An undertone of caramel with a ‘just this side of tart’ pared against a backdrop of looming oaky vanilla. The yeast stepped to the side but was not outmatched and made for a clean drinking low-but not invisible ester profile. Drinkable in a way the Berliner never was: complex, deep, and rich with new flavors each take. A beer I will love to revisit soon, likely a perfect candidate for early spring or fall.

So I’ve been lamenting a lot on what exactly I should be brewing. I know for a lot of brewers it’s making a great pale ale, or kicking out a pilsner to be proud of, but for me it’s about making something I can’t buy at the store; I want my beer to mean something to me in a way too, a self-expression and representation of me as a person.

So far it’s done a pretty good job of describing my clunking along in a sort of ‘duct-tape-the-muffler-back-on’ sort of way. From the not great attempts at brett table beers, to the way brew days always seem to go, I’m more or less running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

But I’m trying to change that – at least with my brewing.

I’ve got a spreadsheet running with upcoming beers, ideas, and current/past beer on the list. I’ve added what is ready, what is currently fermenting, and the litany of ideas below. I think this year as well, I will attempt to have a standard ‘house brew’ on tap. I’ll work on getting my method down more. Brew more often, and just generally ‘tighten’ up the ship.

2012-11-28 09.16.49

As far as current brews, I’ve got the first group brew day beer on tap. It’s a toasty dark-brown beer with heavy doses of wheat and fermented with wheat and roeselare blend (pictured above). It’s mostly “wheat” with a kind of over-toasted bread taste profile. I don’t get much sour/funk but I’ve been told it’s there. Hard to compare it to something else I guess. A stout of unknown recipe is bubbling along from a huge 40 gallon brew day just this past weekend. Myself, I tried to blast through 4 batches of solo-hopped beer during the same time, but due to weather and bad planning only made it to 3 with the last one a blend of last two remaining hops. It’s likely that those are in the upper 1.070s – didn’t get a clean measurement (another mistake).

So in a roundabout way – this post is also my declaration that I’m going to start taking this much more seriously.

In a delayed birthday present to myself and partial wedding gift – I picked up some brewing goodies.

The Run Down

  • Picked up a wort chiller from NY Brew Supply, the cheapest and best value stainless steel chiller I could find – trust me I’ve done the digging.
  • A couple of buckets, some yeast, and some grain from Northern Brewer.
  • Amazon is shipping a 10 gallon pot, bazooka tube, and stainless ball lock.

I’ll be ready to finally do all-grain without a cooler, no problem. My other thought too, is that this way I’ll be ready for upgrading if/when it happens. I can reuse the tube in another MLT, the 10gal pot for the HLT if I wish to go larger. I did a lot of lamenting on which would be the right way to go, and I think this is the ideal for me.

And none too soon. I’ve got a Cream Ale and a Floral IPA slated for asap. With the new buckets and my wishes to move to parti-gyle 1 gallon sour ales.

For those non-homebrewers reading this, basically that last part means, I’ll be rinsing the grains one last time and making a beer from it using Brettanomyces strains (a souring yeast) to create a sort of table-beer. These will only be bottled, for a number of reasons – but mostly because I’d like to keep the amounts low. More on these later.

So, really – not a lot to share but I had forgot about updating, so here is one.

I thought I’d take a second as to why I love brewing and to a greater extent – beer. Initial impressions would lead people to think I’m a drunk; that I make the cheapest swill garbage possible with as much booze as spirits, and then get blasted for fun. Reality being, for me, that drinking my work is only an added bonus. Then folks may say, oh sure – I brew huge bomb beers, sure I enjoy the process, but I’m basically out to get plastered. Still not true, I brewed a ~3.5-4% abv last go-round. Then ‘they’ will say oh, so you are just a super ned with a hobby of fun toys, making a slightly more complicated version of tea, and reading. To that I’d say – oh, so you are a homebrewer as well?

It’s really less about the drunk part so much as the process. The ability to make something that [nearly] everyone can enjoy. It’s about cultivating a living organism, watching it grow and chew away at sugars and hearing the ‘clink clink’ of the airlock. Sure, like most homebrewers the process can lead to frustrations, burning your extract, missing your target OG, having a stuck sparge, ect – but the clouds clear after the first deep sniff of a bubbling blow-off tub. Even if the beer sucks (I’m looking at you cranberry beer) there is a flood of happiness that fills you when you watch someone drink your beer. It’s a learning process, something to be picked up, cleaned up next time. You shuffle again and deal. Didn’t like the bitterness in this one? Want to tweak a famous beer you had? There is almost nothing the big boys do that you cannot. There are few hurdles, which I think make it appealing in the first place.

A year only I’ve been at it. I’ve plowed thorough a handful of beer making books, cram my day full of reading beer blogs, it envelops my day. Finally a passion, a goal orientated hobby, and a relatively cheap one, comparatively. I don’t see this ending soon. You could maybe expect bottles for Christmas gifts.