Blending Beer for Complexity, Consistency & Fun

Written by Ryan Walker

Breweries have been blending beers for centuries. It is believed to be the most effective way to achieve consistency in complex beer styles such as sour and barrel aged beers. Many large-scale breweries even blend their more “standard” beers to have a more consistent product from batch to batch. Off Color’s Troublesome is a year-round beer and is actually a blend of two different beers. The main portion of the beer is a standard wheat beer w/ coriander (even described by their brewers as “boring on it’s own”). That beer is then blended with a second beer fermented with Lactobacillus. When the Lactobacillus beer is blended into the wheat beer, they are able to produce a much more complex, delicious, easy drinking Gose in a relatively controlled fashion.


Blending can also be used to save a bad batch in some cases. If you’ve brewed a beer that didn’t turn out exactly how you had hoped, blending may be the answer to save that batch from going down the drain. Figuring out what to blend it with and what proportions to use is the tricky part. The best way to figure these things out is to taste. Pull samples of each beer, get a couple of glasses with ounce or mL markings on them, and blend the beers in specific amounts. If you find a blend that works, simply scale that proportion up to fit the full batch size. For example, 1 ounce of this beer works well with 4 ounces of this beer. So you would then blend one gallon of the first beer into 4 gallons of the second beer.

Just a cool picture of some nice, bright Saison being transferred.


Blending is said to be it’s own “art” set apart from brewing. There are several “Blenderies” out there that do not even brew their own beer. They simply purchase wort from other breweries and then blend it in certain proportions to create their own beer. Hanssens Artisanaal in Belgium is a great example of a blender like this. They are the oldest existing blender in the world, and their beers are very highly regarded. I suggest trying any of their beers, but their “Oude Geuze” is a great place to start.


For my first adventure in blending, I decided to mix some old sour beer into some fresh Saison. I’ve had a 3 gallon carboy full of sour beer that I brewed back in May of 2015. It has been sitting neglected in a dark corner of my apartment for a long time (it even went through a move with me), so I figured it was time to do something with it. I’ve been tasting it throughout the years, and it is quite good on it’s own, but I felt some would find it a little too sour. Blending sounded like the perfect solution.


I did a lot of thinking and reading, and decided to go with a 25% Sour, 75% Saison blend. To be honest, I did not sit down and do a blending test with marked glasses. I decided to just go for it. I knew I wanted to only use the sour beer 1 gallon at a time so that the leftovers would fit nicely into 1 gallon jugs to be used in a future blend. I had 3 gallons of fresh Saison that was ready to bottle, and figured a nice even 25/75 blend made a lot of sense.

Transferring the Saison portion into the bottling bucket which already had the sour beer and priming solution in it.

For bottling, I prepared my priming solution like normal, only this time to prime 4 gallons of beer as opposed to my usual 3 gallons. Once everything was sanitized, I poured the priming solution into the bucket. Next, the 1 gallon of sour beer went in. I immediately racked the remaining 2 gallons of sour to 1 gallon jugs and capped them with a nice, tight-sealing cap (poly-seal) and set them back in the dark corner. The 3 gallons of Saison was then racked in with the priming solution and sour beer. I made sure to create a gentle swirl with the end of the siphon hose to ensure a nice mix of the sour, saison and priming solution.

About 2 gallons of leftover sour beer to be blended into something else in the near future.


Another reason I decided to go with this blend was that the yeast in the fresh Saison would be more than ready to chew those priming sugars in the bottle to create carbonation. If I had bottled the sour on it’s own, it is more than likely that the yeast in it would not be viable enough to create carbonation. If bottling a sour beer with a good amount of age on it, it’s a good idea to add fresh yeast at bottling. A rehydrated pack of CBC dry yeast has worked wonderfully for me in the past when bottling very old or high alcohol beers.

I have now had this beer in bottles for a little under 2 weeks and I couldn’t help myself but to try a bottle. The carbonation is definitely there, so I know that Saison yeast was definitely still working. The sour beer is definitely noticeable even at 25% of the batch, but much more restrained than if it were not blended, obviously. I have found that my Saisons hit their peak at about 2-3 months in the bottle, so I’m holding off my final judgment until then. At this point in time, the beer is tasting promising. I look forward to blending some more beers like this during the Summer, and I recommend you give it a shot yourself!

The Kegerator Arcade Build

Written by Andy Denton
Cheers to Arcades and Beer

This project was a ton of fun to build, but it will also teach me to keep my mouth shut when I am just spouting off about cool ideas in the presence of my wife. With that said, before I go any further I need to thank a few people who without their help this project would have never been completed. Kirk and Eddie of Graphic Partners, who printed the graphics, Amanda McCann who designed the images, Mark K who installed the controls and had a far better understanding of the the Raspberry Pi than myself, and my cousin Bryan who donated the cabinet from his personal collection. Thanks for all the help. In the end, this machine was auctioned off as part of a fundraiser for my kids school, Village Green Montessori.

Getting it loaded in Northern Michigan.
Originally a Williams Double Dragon Cabinet

Lots to remove before a kegerator would fit

This far into the project I realized a few things.

First, Northern Michigan had an obscene amount of snow this year 2018 /2019)

Second, These cabinets have about a thousand staples / nails holding them together and about 600 lbs of glue or so it seemed. It took considerably longer to remove things that I considered no essential to the functionality of the unit.

Third, I cut a lot of the structure out of the cabinet, lets hope it holds!

It Fits, barely!
Installing the graphics
New buttons and controls

We had to cut a new piece of metal to so we could add additional buttons to the cabinet. Unfortunately we did not have room to add more buttons.

We couldn’t fit a door on the front so we wrapped the door of the kegerator

Honestly the kegerator could not have fit more perfectly. It only has up to a 1/4 inch of room on each side.

This is the longest shank that we could find, and it just fit, almost like it was meant for this.
Testing before the monitor was installed.

Everything is running off of a Raspberry Pi with Retro Pi software. This could be the coolest little cpu on the planet.

Faucet Installed
Finished Product! Time to Test.
Ready for Auction

In the end stared and finished the build over the span of 5 days and several late nights. It raised over $2000 for Village Green! It was so much fun that I am searching for another cabinet or two…

Brewing Big Beers with Small Equipment

Written by Ryan Walker

When brewing at home, I am very limited due to the small amount of open space in my apartment, and zero outdoor space to set up a propane burner. Therefore, my brewing set up is somewhat minimal. I use two pots, one to hold my strike water (which then acts as my boil kettle) and another for sparge water, and a 10 gallon cooler w/ false bottom as my mash tun. I have an 8 gallon pot and a 5 gallon pot, but because I am only able to get about 4.5 gallons up to a nice, rolling boil on my stove top, I do 3-3.5 gallon batches that I boil in the 5 gallon pot. I’ve been doing it this way for years and have my system very well dialed in and am quite happy with the beers I’m able to produce this way.


I prefer to brew low – medium gravity beers, but occasionally I will brew a high gravity beer. After pondering what to brew next, I realized that I’ve never brewed an English Barleywine. I decided to go for it and did some reading on the style and how it is brewed. I found that, traditionally, these beers were brewed not much differently than standard English pale ales, but with a much longer boil time (usually around 3-4 hours). Although it sounded like a long brew day, I decided to go for it. However, on my system, if I were to boil my wort for 3-4 hours, I would only be left with a gallon or so in my 5 gallon pot. Such a long brew day with only 1 gallon to show for it? No thank you. I decided to get a little creative in order to get a better yield.

Running off through a hop spider to catch all grain husk material that might make it past the false bottom.

I started the brew day as normal by mashing in about 14 pounds of grain (remember, this is a 3 gallon batch) and hit my mash temp of 151F. I let the mash rest for about 90 minutes as I ran some errands. A slightly extended mash time helps to ensure as many sugars are converted as possible. I’ve noticed on my system that I lose some efficiency when brewing higher gravity beers (and I think this is typical of most systems). Typically around 5-8% efficiency loss, so I adjusted my Brewhouse efficiency from 68% to 60% when calculating my grain bill. I mashed a little bit on the thin side to ensure my first runnings would be about 4 gallons into the boil kettle. After recirculating and collecting my first runnings, I had about 4 gallons of thick, syrupy first runnings wort at around 1.084 SG. I started heating the first runnings as I continued sparging the grain bed into my other brew pot. By the time my first runnings had been boiling for about 30 minutes, I had another 3 gallons or so of second runnings wort (around 1.030 SG) that I began to bring to a boil on another burner on my stove.

Pre-boil wort, light orange color at 1.084 SG.


What I was doing was basically a “parti-gyle” brew, but instead of getting one big beer and one small beer, I decided to use the small beer to “top up” the boil on the big beer as it boiled and just go “all in” on the big beer. As the main beer boiled and concentrated, I continued to feed it more of the boiling second runnings to keep the volume up, but still continually concentrating the first runnings. After topping up and boiling off for about 4 hours, I decided to call it good. I still had a little second runnings left in the pot, so I could’ve continued to boil, but I figured 4 hours was long enough (plus, I was getting tired and still had to clean up). I transferred about 3.5 gallons into my fermenter, took an OG reading (1.102, an increase of almost 20 points from the pre-boil gravity), oxygenated the wort and pitched a big, healthy looking starter (OYL-006). I was pretty happy with this OG reading considering it comes out to almost 65% efficiency on my system, which is the highest I’ve gotten on a high gravity brew.

Post-boil wort, deep red color at 1.102 SG. So much maillard reaction!


The next morning, I oxygenated the wort one more time before leaving for work. A second dose of oxygen about 12 hours after pitching can be beneficial for very high gravity beers as the yeast typically needs more oxygen than it gets on the first dose. I came home that night to a very violent (or happy?) fermentation. Luckily, my fermenter was in my Cool Brewing Fermentation Cooler which not only keeps the fermentation temp a few degrees cooler than my apartment, but also contains quite a big mess. I cleaned it up, switched out the airlock and let it continue to rip (had to keep an eye on the airlock to make sure it didn’t clog for the first few days). After a week or so, the beer seemed to have fermented out completely. At time of writing this, it is still in primary right around the 4 week mark. I plan to move it to a secondary vessel very soon and allow it to age at least another 2-3 months before bottling (adding fresh yeast at bottling).

Cool Brewing Fermentation Coolers are more than just temp control. Contained quite a mess!


If you have a larger set up (a larger boil pot to hold an extra 4 gallons or so of wort pre-boil) and higher BTU output on your burner, then this method may not make sense for you. However, the extended boil is known to enhance the mouthfeel and viscosity of your wort (and of course increase the gravity), which many styles can benefit from, and this was the only way I could utilize an extended boil without sacrificing a large percentage of my yield. It seemed to work on my system pretty well, and I am happy with how it is going so far. Stay tuned for tasting notes some time in the next few months.

Lessons in Brewing Brut IPA

Written by Ryan Walker

The sound of a bone dry, effervescent, hop-forward beer is very appealing to me. As soon as I heard of this new style of IPA, I knew I had to try brewing it. Apart from THIS ARTICLE (which wasn’t published until after my first attempt at the style), there is not a whole lot of info out there on how to brew a Brut IPA properly. More and more info is coming to light as more brewers try their hand at the style.

I used the dry version of Glucoamylase packaged by FermFast. It has worked well for me in the past when added directly to the fermenter.

One of the biggest things that makes a Brut IPA so dry (terminal gravity around 1.000) is the addition of an enzyme called Glucoamylase (or Amyloglucosidase). This enzyme breaks down complex sugars created in the mash into more simple, easily fermented sugars. This enzyme is denatured at higher temperatures, so common practice is to add it either to the mash (around 143-146F) or directly to the fermentor right when you pitch your yeast (once the wort is chilled). For my first attempt at Brut IPA, I opted for the latter, mostly because it sounded easier. 

This method definitely worked quite effectively (that batch finished with a final gravity of .996… extremely dry), however, it felt like the hops were not shining as much as I would have liked. I dry hopped the beer quite heavily with about 8 ounces total in a 5 gallon batch, and they just seemed muted. Considering the massive dry hop, and the less-than-huge hop aroma of the beer, I was a little turned off by the style. A few weeks later, the article linked above was published. The creator of the style was interviewed for the article and gave his recommendations on how to go about brewing a Brut IPA. In the article, he recommends adding the enzyme to the mash. According to his experiences, the hop aromatics are much more pronounced when the enzyme is not present throughout fermentation. I had to try brewing a Brut IPA again.

We set up to brew another attempt at Brut IPA, and once the grain was doughed in and sitting around 144F, we added the enzyme and stirred it in to mix evenly into the mash. It was a busy day that day, so my attention was not solely on brewing, unfortunately. We let the mash sit around 144F for about 30-40 minutes before ramping up to 150F to denature the enzyme and finish up conversion. This is where things went wrong, I believe. I do not think I let the enzyme have enough time to finish it’s job. The rest of brew day finished up rather smoothly and the beers were fermenting happily the next day. We went about dry hopping and eventually kegged the beer when it was ready. When kegging, I took a final gravity of each carboy (half of the batch fermented with OYL-004 West Coast Ale and the other half with OYL-091 Hornindal Kveik from Omega Yeast Labs). The West Coast Ale yeast finished at 1.008 and the Hornindal at 1.010. I was a little disappointed, however, the beers are tasting and smelling great so it is not a total loss. I don’t think I can justifiably call this batch a Brut IPA, so considering the higher final gravity, I will just call it an Extra Pale Ale. Recipe is below for those interested.

Recipe for 10 Gallon Batch:

FERMENTABLES:
10 lb – German – Pilsner (50%)
7 lb – United Kingdom – Maris Otter Pale (35%)
1.5 lb – Flaked Rice (7.5%)
1 lb – Flaked Corn (5%)
0.5 lb – German – Acidulated Malt (2.5%)

HOPS:
1 oz – Hallertau Hersbrucker, AA: 3, First Wort
5 oz – Nelson, AA: 10.6, Whirlpool for 20 min
3 oz – Mosaic, AA: 11.3, Whirlpool for 20 min
4 oz – Nelson Sauvin Dry Hop for 4 days
2 oz – Vic Secret, Dry Hop for 4 days
5 oz – Nelson Sauvin Dry Hop for 2 days
2 oz – Galaxy Dry Hop for 2 days

The journey to brewing an awesome Brut IPA is still ongoing. For the next attempt, I will add a little more enzyme (looking back, I may have skimped on this a little) and let it rest in the mash for an entire hour, or maybe even longer just to be sure it does it’s thing. The article linked above is a great resource, but make sure you follow ALL of his directions, or you might just end up with a light-bodied IPA instead of a bone-dry Brut.

Brewing the BJCP Styles

Written by Andy Denton

Starting the beginning of January, I had an idea. I am not sure if it was a good one yet, but only time will tell. I was looking at the BJCP ( Beer Judge Certification Program) guidelines and thought it would be a good idea to brew one style from each category. The BJCP currently has up to 40 different categories listed including mead and cider. This will certainly be an adventure. Questions and comments are appreciated.

First up – Style 1, Sub Category 1A American Light Lager

Recipe: Lawson Light Lager

Measuring specific gravity
Over shot my gravity a bit

Canada Malting 6 Row

Flaked Corn

Vienna Malt

Acidulated Malt

Magnum and Hallertau Hops

Omega Bayern Lager Yeast

This is a well known style, but not one that is brewed by the home brewer all that often. Reading the profile, and taking in our countries love of hops, I can see why. According to the BJCP the characteristics are as follows:

“A highly-attenuated pale lager without strong flavors, typically well-balanced and highly carbonated. Served cold, it is refreshing and thirst-quenching.” It is also know to have a very low hop, malt, and yeast characteristics, hence why you drink it ice cold, there isn’t much to taste!

On brew day I did overshoot my gravity and volume a bit, I have been getting awesome efficiency on the Blichmann Horizontal Brew System and will be adjusting my recipes a bit to reflect the gained efficiency.

Now beer is currently in the lager chamber and waiting on the taste test once carbonation is complete. I will update with more details shortly.  

3/1/2019 tasting notes

I brought this beer to the Lake County Craft Beer Festival and it was certainly not the most popular option, but it was appreciated by many of our visitors.  I enjoy the 3.5% ABV as a festival where many of the beers are much stronger.  It does taste true to its description, not much there, but a bit of sweetness, which I attribute to the high percentage of corn.  It is a yellow fizzy beer, that is pleasant to drink.  I did enter this into two competitions, The Drunk Monk and the Charlie Orr competition.

 

Next up – Style 2 sub category 2B International Amber Lager

Recipe: Most Interesting Beer in the World

6 Row

RIMS Brewing, Electric Brewing, Blichmann Engineering, Mash Tun
Recirculating the mash

Cara Amber

Vienna Malt

Flaked Corn and Flaked Rice

Dark Crystal

Carafa II

Acidulated Malt

Cascade and Cluster for the Hops

I reused the yeast cake from the Lawson Light Lager

The International Amber Lager, is a bit more of a crowd pleasing style. This style taken from the guidelines is “A well-attenuated malty amber lager with an interesting caramel or toast quality and restrained bitterness. Usually fairly well-attenuated, often with an adjunct quality. Smooth, easily-drinkable lager character.” I can’t wait for this beer to be ready to sample!

Tilt Hydrometer, Hydrometer, Tilt Pi
Tilt Data Sheet

To monitor fermentation I used the Tilt Hydrometer and a Rasberry Pi, so I could see what the temperature and Specific Gravity was reading from anywhere I could connect to the internet. Very cool piece of equipment, it may be one of the coolest things I have seen in awhile. This technology gave me a better indication to when I should warm up the beer for a diacytl rest as well as giving live action data.

Boiling water reduce hardness

Style 3B Czech Premium Pale Lager

This beer is slowly becoming a favorite style around the shop. It is fantastically refreshing and easy to drink. Its characteristics described from the BJCP are, “Rich, characterful, pale Czech lager, with considerable malt and hop character and a long, rounded finish. Complex yet well-balanced and refreshing. The malt flavors are complex for a Pilsner-type beer, and the bitterness is strong but clean without harshness, which gives a rounded impression that enhances drinkability”. Seems simple enough right… Pilsners are the most consumed beer in the world, some experts say somewhere around 90% of all beer consumed in the world is a pilsner type beer. So why aren’t more homebrewers brewing Pilsners? For one you need consistent temperature control, which is sometimes hard to find, or homebrewers aren’t interested in investing in temp control for their home. The recipe is not complex, but this is a style that highlights the brewers processes and attention to detail, which is something that I don’t pay as much attention to as I should.

The Recipe is as follows:

Just another Czech Pilsner

9 lbs of Floor Malted Bohemian Pilsner

9 lbs of German Barke Pilsner

.5 lbs of Acidulated Malt

.5 oz of Magnum at First Wort Hopping

.5 oz of Magnum at 60 minutes

3 oz of Czech Saaz at 30 minutes

2 oz of Czech Saaz at 10 minutes

Yeast Omega Bayern Lager Yeast. I am still reusing the the yeast cake from the first beer of this project.

Water is very important to making a nice Pilsner, I tried a method that I will was a bit easier for me, but only time will tell if the process of boiling my water the night to reduce the hardness of the water as well as remove chlorine and reduce O2, but without measure the level of O2 its really hard to know.

You may be wondering why I used a Floor Malted Pilsner Malt and a Barke Pilsner Malt instead of just using all the same. The Floor Malted Pilsner Malt is less modified, so basically what it means is that you have to work a bit harder to get all the goodness out. It is a more traditional way of malting grain but it gives you earthy flavors and more intense aroma, according to Weyermann. The Barke Pilsner malt is malt that is better modified and gives many of the same characteristics of the Floor Malted, but with better brew house efficiency.

To get as much as could out of the malts and to make for a longer brew day I also step mashed with rest at 113, 137, 149, and mashed out at 170 degrees.

Style 4C Helles Bock or Mai Bock

Mai-ty Bock Walking the Plank

This is my first time brewing this style and I loved it! The overall impression according to the BJCP is as follows:

A relatively Pale, Strong malty German Lager with a nicely attenuated finish that enhances drinkability. The hop character is generally more apparent than in other bocks.

What intrigued my about the Mai Bock is the malty profile, with very little hop presence and a dry finish. So its not sweet, hops are there, but not really and it generally served in the Spring, which was perfect for the colder start that we had to the year this year.

The Recipe is as follows for a 15 gallon batch

Mai-ty Bock ( pronounced Mighty Bock )

20 lbGerman Pilsner

12 lbGerman Dark Munich

.75 Acidulated Malt

1 lb Melanoidin

1 oz of Magnum as a first wort hop addition ( Starting to love the first wort )

.75 of Magnum at 60

.85 Perle at 10

.5 Hallertau in whirlpool

This was the 4 time I used the Omega Bayern Yeast Cake. I just pitched right on top of the existing cake. To say their was a lot of yeast was an understatement. Fermentation was finish within a week! I was worried about the amount of yeast and if it would create issues with how fast and furious it fermented, but know we’re noticed.

What the Kölsch Style 5B

I don’t know if it is my age or that I my tastebuds have been getting worked over by all the juicy flavor intense beers over that last year, but I was really looking forward to drinking liters of this beer and not thinking and analyzing it too much. This style also has a great history as stated here by the BJCP:

“Cologne, Germany (Köln) has top fermenting brewing tradition since the Middle Ages, but developed the beer now know as Kölsch in the late 1800’s to combat encroaching bottom-fermented pale lagers. Kölsch is an appellation protected b the Kölsch Kovention (1986), and is restricted to the 20 or so breweries in and around Köln. The Konvection simply defines the beer as a “light, highly attenuated, hop-accentuated, clear, top-fermention vollbier

With that said the yeast is a somewhat unique strain, it is an ale yeast that ferments at cooler than usual ale temperatures, generally between 50 and 65 degrees F, depending on which yeast strain.

The overall impression if you were to judge it via the BJCP would be: A clean, crisp, delicately balanced beer usually with a very subtle fruit and hop character. Subdued maltiness throughout leads into a pleasantly well-attenuated and refreshing finish. Freshness makes a huge difference with this beer, as the delicate character can fade quickly with age. Brilliant clarity is characteristic.

Recipe for 15 gallons of What the Kölsch is as follows

18 lbs German Pils

1 lb Acidulated Malt

2.5 lbs German Dark Wheat

1 oz Herkules as a First Wort hop addition

.5 oz Tradtion hop at 30 min

I used the Omega Kolsch II yeast with an adequate starter for the age of the yeast and original gravity of wort.

Wait a minute, only 1.5 oz of hops in 15 gallons of beer! Thats right, and it seems to be just enough. My “X” factor on this one is using the Dark Wheat, wheat is sometimes used in recipes, but is rare in authentic recipes. Using the Omega Kolsch II strain was quite exciting. I mixed up a starter using the Proper Started from Omega and talk about easy! The ferment was almost complete in about 4 days at 62 F. The Omega strain is able to ferment at warmer temperatures, which is far different than the Wyeast counterpart. The other noticeable difference was when I tasted the beer after 4 days and it very much tasted like an apple jolly rancher! Fortunately that flavor mellowed and has all but gone away. Some fruitiness is acceptable for the style fortunately.

Next Up Oktoberfest…

Can Your Own Homebrew

Written by Andy Denton

It is time to can your own homebrew!

 What is included in the rental

  • Use of our
    Blichmann Beer Gun
  • Co2 for purging
  • Sanitizing solution
  • 48 twelve ounce cans
  • Seamer / Canner to put the lid on
  • Guidance from our staff to help you along the way.
  • Canning and cleanup with two people will take approximately an hour.
  • Allow more time if you are by yourself.
  • 16 oz cans will be available as well for no additional charge.  We may not always have 16 oz cans in stock so call ahead to check availability.
  • For additional charge you can have labels custom made and printed with your image or design.
  • Or use one of our ready to go labels.
  • Call or email us for more details.
  • Plastic 6 pack or 4 pack carriers will be available upon request
  • We are currently testing to see what happens if you “ Can Condition “ your beer adding priming sugar to uncarbonated beer.
  • Introductory price for canning your homebrew is $35.00
  • This is also great for corporate events to add to your Private Brewing Parties
  • Call or email to schedule a time to can your homebrew!