Fermentation Friday — Beer, Liquor, and ABV 

Northern Table is hosting this month’s Fermentation Friday, a last-Friday-of-the-month blogging event specially made for homebrew bloggers. This month’s topic: “Beer and Liquor”

One of the easier ways to add spice flavors to a beer is to steep the spices in vodka for a week or two and then add a measured amount of the resultant “potion” (as Randy Mosher likes to call it in Radical Brewing) to the beer at bottling time.

The advantage of this technique is that the recipe for the spice extract is easy to reproduce with precision, and it’s easy to make sure you’re adding the exact amount of spice flavor that you want. We’ll go over the details of this process in a future post.

The biggest disadvantage is the potential increase in alcohol content in the final beer, unless your personal philosophies dictate that this is not, in fact, a disadvantage. If alcohol content is a significant factor for you, it will pay off to learn how the addition of liquor to your beer will affect the final %ABV.

Get ready. This is gonna be mathy. Skip to the end if you’re not interested in the derivation.

Before mixing the liquor into the beer, we know the following quantities (note that percentages must be expressed as decimals, i.e. 35% is equivalent to 0.35):

ABV_B, the %ABV in the beer
ABV_L, the %ABV in the liquor
V_B, the volume of beer
V_L, the volume of liquor

From these quantities, we can derive the following:

The volume of alcohol in the beer: (1) V_{AB} = {ABV_B}\cdot{V_B}
The volume of alcohol in the liquor: (2) V_{AL} = {ABV_L}\cdot{V_L}

We can now derive our final equation. The final %ABV is equal to the total volume of alcohol in the beer and the liquor divided by the total volume of the beer and liquor:

Final %ABV: ABV_F = \dfrac{V_{AB}+V_{AL}}{V_B+V_L}

Substituting in our equations for volumes of alcohol in the beer and liquor (equations (1) and (2), respectively), we get the final equation:

(3) ABV_F = \dfrac{{ABV_B}\cdot{V_B}+{ABV_L}\cdot{V_L}}{V_B+V_L}

Now for an example. Suppose we add 8 fluid ounces of 80 proof vodka (40% ABV) to a 5 gallon batch of beer at 6% ABV. We need to be working in the same units for each volume, so let’s convert the volume of beer to ounces:

5 gal\cdot128 \dfrac{oz}{gal} = 640 oz

Plugging all of our numbers into (3), we get the final %ABV:

ABV_F = \dfrac{{0.06}\cdot{640}+{0.40}\cdot{8}}{640+8} = 0.064

So the final %ABV will be 6.4%. As you can see, the difference will be small (though not insignificant) for even a half-pint of vodka. In reality, assuming you make a concentrated spice extract, you’re likely to need much less liquor than that, so in most cases, the change in alcohol content should not matter very much.




Fermentation Friday — Brewing Up a Batch of Spring Fever 

HomeBrewBeer.net is hosting this month’s Fermentation Friday, a last-Friday-of-the-month blogging event specially made for homebrew bloggers. This month’s topic: “How will you grow or change as a homebrewer this Spring? How will you embrace your Spring fever and channel it toward your homebrewing endeavors?”

In a way, this topic reminds me a bit of January’s Fermentation Friday topic of Brew Year’s Resolutions, but at the same time, I see the difference. The changing of the seasons can really have an impact on people, as well as every other living thing on this planet. For me, I know when the days become consistently sunny, the weather warms up — but isn’t sweat-drenchingly hot — I become crazily optimistic and happy-go-lucky. Springtime for me means evenings after work at the park, lunchtime walks to Whole Foods, and shoving my coats to the back of the closet. It’s amazing what an effect winter can have on our bodies and attitudes!

So, how does this relate to brewing? Bryon at HomeBrewBeer.net asked how we’ll embrace this newfound optimism charged from sunlight and channel it into homebrewing. I think for Ray and I, that means our beers will lighten up with the sun — I may love stouts, but nothing beats a delicious, thirst-quenching hefe on a warm day. We want to brew beers that we can sip on our balcony in the evening after dinner. And so far, we’ve already begun.

We just bottled a lovely hoppy dubbel and brewed a simple kolsch-style beer (more info on those brews to come!). On the docket for the coming months, we have brews that will tend toward slightly lower ABVs, lower SRM units, and lighter on the palette — all while remaining flavorful, of course! No “triple hops brewing” Miller Lite crap here.




Fermentation Friday — Brew Year’s Resolutions 

Lootcorp 3.0 is hosting this month’s Fermentation Friday, a last-Friday-of-the-month blogging event specially made for homebrew bloggers. This month’s topic: Brew Year’s Resolutions!

Ray and I began brewing June 7, 2008, and since then we have completed 8 brew days, with brew day #9 being this weekend. We’re not quite newbies, but we’re also not completely seasoned veterans, even if we did have our photo taken with Charlie Papazian.

We could resolve to become all-grain brewers and build a kegerator, but our condo just isn’t big enough, nor do we have a garage, basement, or even a lawn. Our balcony is not going to cut it. Those resolutions will have to wait until we move into a house, which just means we will need to resolve to work with what we’ve got.

This means that we resolve to try to brew as many different styles as possible. We also resolve to keep to our fairly regular schedule of brewing once a month — however, Ray and I have both agreed to a brewing hiatus for the months of October and November, since we’ll have the wedding coming ’round the bend. I resolve to brew with real fruit, and kick the fruit extract to the curb. I also resolve to calm down my overly ambitious recipes — not everyone can be Sam Calagione — and instead work on perfecting clean, balanced brews. Then I can get all crazy.

My turn.

Not to contradict my betrothed, but I resolve to incorporate some more adventurousness into my beer recipes this year. Since I believe in having metrics for these things, I specifically resolve to brew at least two beers that include ingredients other than common fruits (raspberries, apples, etc.), common spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander, etc.), and the Big Four (malt, hops, yeast, and water). For example, a beer that uses rosemary would qualify.

I also resolve to read no fewer than two homebrewing books cover to cover this year, perhaps three. I figure that ought to make my first resolution easier to accomplish.

Finally, I resolve to marry the crap out of Mel.




Fermentation Friday — Homebrewing Horror Stories 

Pfiff! is hosting this month’s Fermentation Friday a last-Friday-of-the-month blogging event specially made for homebrew bloggers. This month’s topic: Homebrewing Horror Stories!

It was a dark and stormy night. Thunder crashed and lightning flickered, casting blueish light on us as we stood around the old brew pot, with wort a’bubbling. One stir, two stirs, three times round the pot with the brew spoon, smells of midnight mischief filling the kitchen. Time to add the hops, to bitter the brew and darken our souls and holy crap a couple of hop pellets fell out of the mesh bag, rolled under the pot and straight into the flames of the gas burner! Hops on fire! Hops on fire! Gotta move the pot (oof that’s heavy), kill the gas to the burner and try to put out the hop flames without burning any fingers. Finally managing to stub out the pellets like stubbing out a cigarette’s stubborn cherry, the kitchen fills with a new aroma.

It smells like we just lit up.

That’s my best attempt at telling our smoking hops story campfire style. Luckily Ray and I have managed to avoid any true horrors when it has come to brewing. No one has lost a finger or singed off any eyelashes, and if I remember correctly, the burning hop pellet story actually comes from our first brew day, which was a quite normal day, and not a stormy night, à la the three witches in Macbeth.

I also boiled my hand in a wort geyser. Dunno if you remember. It was the one where I screamed a lot and chucked an Erlenmeyer flask at the stove.




Fermentation Friday — The Checklist 

Brew Dudes Mike and John are hosting this month’s Fermentation Friday, a last-Friday-of-the-month blogging event specially made for homebrew bloggers. This month’s topic: What one tip would you give a beginner homebrewer before they brew their first batch and why?

Homebrewing is easy. No, really! If you can boil water and put things in boiling water and read a clock and pour things without slopping on the floor and measure dry ingredients and sanitize equipment and read a hydrometer and— Okay, so maybe I spoke too soon. These things are all easy to do, but remembering to do them all at the right time and in the right order can be incredibly difficult. I myself am notorious among my peers for my inability to keep my memory organized. I think I am, at least. I forget. Har har.

In my experience, trusting your memory is a great way to set yourself up for disaster. It’s why I’m such an avid GTDer. Just this past week, for example, Mel and I nearly forgot to prime our Coffee Nut Brown Ale for bottling. It wasn’t until we were nearly done siphoning the beer into the bottling bucket that Mel noticed. If she hadn’t been on her game, we’d be eagerly waiting for our beer to carbonate, except it never would. It’s like when your dog runs away, and you wait on your porch all week, thinking he’ll come home. He won’t. He’s in the circus now, and much happier for it. Wow, I really derailed there.

Paper, however, never forgets. When you write something down, it stays there until the cat eats it, and that might not happen for weeks! On the other hand, try to remember your girlfriend’s birthday without a notice going off in iCal to remind you — doesn’t work, does it? I’m sorry!

It is for these reasons that you, the novitiate homebrewer, will need a long, comprehensive checklist ruthlessly guiding you through the sharp rocks of failure to the golden palace of great beer. Here are the checklists that Mel and I use, adapted from a checklist given to us by Steph (PDF — sorry, just easier this way):

Brewing Checklist
Bottling Checklist

When Ray let me know about Fermentation Friday and this month’s theme, I instantly thought about anal retentive organization. Having your equipment out, sanitized, ready; having your ingredients lined up and categorized … okay, so maybe I’m a little obsessive compulsive, but if anything, it’s easier to start out that way, then chill out and become a little lax. But I guarantee you, the first time we have a beer go south — possibly due to contamination — we will certainly get back onto our overly organized high horses and shape up. But until then, in the immortal words of Charlie Papazian, “Remember, the best beer in the world is the one you brewed.”

Ha! Thought I was going to use his most famous phrase about chilling the hell out and having a homebrew, eh?