Homebrew Roulette

KGB club members tackle a variety of homebrewing questions 

What was your favorite batch you’ve made, and why?

I actually have 2 beers I’ve brewed that are my favorite. My Blackberry Wheat & my Belgian Spiced Saison. The Blackberry Wheat was the first time I put the fruit in secondary to get the forward flavor using the 49oz can of Vintner’s Harvest Blackberry that is used primarily for wine. I also added 4 lbs of fresh fruit at the end of the boil. My co-brewer and friend Brandon helped me brew this beer, and drink it too! I recall when bottle carbonation was done two weeks later we sucked back 3 apiece in an hour. The brew was tart and so delicious!

My other favorite batch I brewed was a Belgian Spiced Saison. This was about 8 years ago when Saisons were not common in homebrewing.  The fact that it was a Belgian yeast I was using, and being 25% Belgian myself, made me feel closer to my heritage. To brew this beer I used the leftover extract ingredients I had from my first beer I brewed [a banana ale]. I only brewed a 3 gallon batch on the stovetop.  And the spices – I used so many spices!  Cinnamon, Ginger, Cloves, All-Spice, Zest of Orange, Juice from Orange, Honey etc. It was everything but the pumpkin; it smelled of a spiced tea the last 15 minutes of the boil. I bottled in the 6.5 oz mead bottles because it was a small batch and I wanted it to go a long way.  Here is the best part. It wasn’t great young. It was when I learned early on ALL extract beer can taste better with age or at least this beer did!  And a year later – it was fantastic!! This beer recipe is the basis in which most of my beers were based on [I added specialty grain to the recipe] for the next 5 years until I upgraded to a 10 gallon pot out of necessity - Nikki

Best batch. This would be the Maple Bochet that we made. It was one that started out as a crazy concept and kept moving forward with new ideas. Slow cooker the honey, ok sure why not. Oh damn, Motor City Gas is running a Black Friday special on barrels, yes please. Bourbon barrel aged maple syrup at Costco, put it in the cart. Somehow all of it came together to make something really good - Ryan Funk

What did you discover was the most challenging aspect to brewing when you first started?

The part I found was the most challenging was the recipe building. I learned early on because of Nick Miller that there is a world of recipes out there and I do not have to buy a “kit” to brew a beer.  My first batch brewing myself, not as co-brewer, was specialty with extract that he found online - an award winning vanilla cream ale. Recipes fascinate me, I wonder what I can do to blend recipes that don’t normally blend together and I add a dash of this and a dash of that. I am an “A” personalities worst nightmare in homebrewing.  I approach it like baking. To this day I still enjoy a good recipe building, without BeerSmith and just knowing my equipment. - Nikki

Hitting my OG and FG, especially on high gravity beers. I have noticed that where I get my grain from seems to have a big impact on whether I get proper conversion. On some occasions I ask to have the grain milled twice if it seems to be a poorer quality of grain that is smaller and therefore will not get cracked/crushed enough? Other times I get the OG but not the volume. Sometimes I get it right! Hitting my FG sometimes seems to take forever. I'm pretty sure that's because my lack of temperature control. I recently got a heating wrap but being summer, that hasn't been a factor. Biggest problem in warm weather has been keeping it cool enough. I have a fan blowing on the fermenter but it's a struggle - John Golden

What is your favorite piece of homebrewing equipment you’ve purchased and why?

On both the homebrew scale AND the pro scale, my answer is: a stainless steel whisk. Everyone talks about mash paddles, but for mashing in, whisks cut right through any doughballs that form - Gary Marshall

My favorite? It’s like asking a parent who their favorite child is!!! I really like my carbonator....it’s a godsend. Or my ten gallon igloo cooler - Barry Mulso

What is your favorite yeast and why?

For yeast, my favorite right now is Imperial's "Harvest" lager yeast. It works well at warmer temperatures and is less fickle than some lager yeasts. My Oktoberfest is about to be made with that one - Gary Marshall

Favorite yeast is either Lallemand Nottingham or Lallemand Dry-97 - Doug B

Nottingham - Hungry little effers! It tolerates higher ABV beers very well and can stand some of the higher temperatures that I can't control right now. It's also pretty clean and doesn't add any unwanted esters or phenols. Great for most American and English style beers (not so great for Belgians) - John Golden

What recipe or style have you brewed the most? Did you encounter any challenges in replicating the batch? 

This is a tough one because I rarely make the same thing twice. English brown variations and American Amber are probably the styles I’ve made the most because those are the styles my buddy’s wife likes best (we split 10 gallon batches). I don’t know that I’ve ever tried to replicate one exactly because I’m always looking for the places to improve the recipe. More often than not, there is a year or more between iterations too, so it is hard to compare. I take pretty detailed notes though and since I have temp control, the biggest variable is the agricultural aspect, which is really beyond my control anyway. Memory tells me I’m close and so far - my tweaks have never led to me going backwards. There are too many options to do the same thing repeatedly. I’ve made my Duvel clone about 3 times and I feel like I can do that consistently and the last one, bottle conditioned with champagne yeast, seems to be the winner - Steve Smalenberg

The style i’ve brewed the most is a stout, but it’s never been the same recipe. I’ve brewed an Irish stout, Imperial, chocolate, coffee, ect. It’s been different every time. The recipe i’ve brewed the most is an Irish Red. I’ve brewed it once a year since I started brewing around mid February for Saint Patricks Day. I’ve tweeked it a little over the years. The first year I really liked it, but it missed the mark the second year. After a couple minor adjustments I like where it is at, and i like the idea of trying to replicate a batch for the learning experience. Homebrewing is fun, and when I started I just wanted to make a bunch of different crazy things, but I really like the idea of sticking with a recipe for the sake of consistency. I think there is a lot a brewer can learn by sticking with a recipe. It’s like lasagna, the first couple I made weren’t so great, but over the years making it here and there, I’ve become pretty decent at making lasagna. Long story short, just because it doesn’t turn out the first time, keep trying - Lee Lind

What piece of equipment did you discover was the biggest game changer in your brewing experience?

Easy one: override thermostat for temp controlled fermentations in a freezer improved results pretty significantly and opened up the styles I could do to lager. First medals came after that - Steve Smalenberg

The biggest game changer for me was getting a good propane burner. I bought a banjo burner from Concord Kettles when they ran a sale and it changed everything. My first two years of brewing was spent brewing on a stove top. I had a decent system down where i could position my brew kettle over two burners, but it still took close to 45 minutes to get a good boil going after mashing out. Plus my whole house would get steamy and the corners of my calendar would wilt over. Not to mention the moisture that would cover my kitchen cabinets and roll down onto the counter top. Getting a burner let me brew outdoors, and that was great because i didn’t have to make such a mess of my kitchen, and getting my strike water to temp was way faster. It cut an hour out of my typical stove top brew time - Lee Lind

What have you discovered is the most important aspect to making a good batch?

The most important aspect in making a good batch is temperature control - Doug B

What was the biggest homebrewing mess you ever made?

Biggest Mess. This was a Bells Chocolate Cherry Stout clone. Every thing went fine with making it and kegging it. It was not until I installed the new tap in the keezer and did not tighten the clamp all the way on the shank that things became a mess. About 2 gallons leaked out. It wasn’t until we noticed the puddle under the keezer and took it all apart to clean that the scope of the mess was found. I cleaned it up pretty good, but I am still upset about the lost beer - Ryan Funk

Biggest mess was when the supply side hose of my wort chiller came loose in the kitchen. Turned it off, reconnected, turned it back on, and took about 5 minutes of drying up the water, and then it was all good - Doug King

What is the craziest homebrewing technique you’ve come up with?

On two separate occasions, once brewing on a stove top, and once outside in my garage, I’ve used snow to help chill my wort. My fancy kitchen faucet doesn’t have a garden hose attachment to connect my wort chiller, so one winter day I decided to improvise by filling two five gallon buckets with snow and water. I dropped in the sub-pump I used to make my carboy washer and attached it to my chiller. As i ran the snow chilled water through the coils I put the drain hose in the second bucket, and refilled with more snow. I kept running outside and filling these two buckets with the snow piled along my driveway. I caught the nosey neighbor lady staring at me from her window across the street. She had no idea why i kept filling up buckets with snow and bringing them indoors. After one bucket was drained, another was filled, and i moved the pump over. I chilled a 5 gallon batch in 15 minutes! After I got my propane burner I used this same technique outside because i didn’t want to dig my garden hose out and turn my outdoor faucet on in the middle of winter. This technique has worked so well I’m thinking about making ice blocks by freezing water in some empty totes and buckets this winter and leaving them outside in the back yard for when i need them. Or I could leave them in the front yard and really give that nosey neighbor something to contemplate - Lee Lind