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.




Pitched For The Very First Time — Part 3: Sanitation 

The mysophobiacs in the audience are going to love this. It might even prove to be their favorite part of brewing.

Microorganisms are everywhere. They’re in the air, on your skin, and in your mouth, and they never come off. You’re always filthy. They just. Won’t. Come. Off. Aaaaggghhhhhh…

The good news is that these little bastards can be killed with just a little effort and due diligence. Today, we’ll look at the fascinating world of


Unfermented wort is loaded with delicious sugar and nutrients, making it an ideal place for beer yeast to live. Unfortunately, beer yeast is not the only thing that thrives in wort. Unless you eventually try to create a lambic, removing as many wild microbes from your equipment as possible is going to become an important part of your beermaking ritual. You want to give your yeast a chance to become the dominant life form in your fermenter before any other organisms can take hold. The task is not trivial, but it also isn’t in the least bit difficult.

But first, let me allay one fear you may have: There is nothing that can survive in beer that can kill you or make you sick. A contaminated beer might taste bad (or disgusting), but it will not hurt you. Once it has completed primary fermentation, the alcohol acts like a natural disinfectant against nasty microbes. The worst thing that can happen is that you will have to either drink or discard some yucky beer. Even then, spoiled homebrew still tastes pretty good.

Sanitizing your equipment is easy. I’ll take you through the routine that I follow every brew day.

  1. Sanitize the primary fermenter — Measure out a little more than 1 ounce of Star San, pour it into the 6.5 gallon fermenter, and then fill the fermenter with plain tap water until the foam spills over. Let it sit for a couple minutes, or until you’re about to start brewing. You can leave the solution in the fermenter as long as you want, but if you plan to leave it there overnight, keep adding water until the fermenter is completely filled.
  2. Empty and dry the primary fermenter — I usually do this step just as we start brewing. Empty the sanitizing solution into your bottling bucket (it’s going to be super heavy, so get your wife to do it), and place the fermenter upside-down on the drying rack for at least half an hour or so. The foam won’t all drain out, but the negligible amounts of Star San that remain will have zero impact on your beer.
  3. Sanitize instruments — Toss the following into the bucket of sanitizer: Plastic spoon, funnel, sample taker, stopper (the one with the hole in it), and airlock (3 pieces). No need for neatness; just drop them in. Make sure the inside of the sample taker fills up with solution.
  4. Sanitize your hands – You can wait until you’re ready to transfer your wort to the fermenter to do this. Dip your hands into the bucket of solution. I like to go up to my elbows, but at least go a little bit past your wrists. Let your hands and arms air dry — towels are loaded with bacteria and fungus. You’ll probably drip solution all over the house, but don’t worry about it; it won’t stain or bleach anything.

That’s all you need to do on Brew Day! Later down the line, when you’re transfering beer between fermenters and buckets, you’ll also need to sanitize your racking cane, hoses, and bottling wand. I’ll remind you when the time comes.

Here’s a tip: Leave the sanitizing solution in the bottling bucket. Maybe put your kettle lid on top of it to keep dust out. You’ll still be able to use that solution in a week or two when you need it again.


Cleanliness is just as important as sanitation. Where sanitation is concerned with killing microorganisms, cleanliness is about simply keeping your equipment clean, as in free of dirt and mold.

Over the next few months, you’re going to see dirt, dust, and leftover gunk collect in your fermenters and hoses. These deposits are perfect spots for microbes to grow, because your sanitizing solution might not be able to penetrate them. Some dirt will probably dissolve on its own in the sanitizer solution, but keeping your equipment clean with good, old fashioned elbow grease is just as important as passively soaking everything in Star San.

A little diligence is all you need. Rinse hoses immediately after using them. Scrub the brew kettle right after brewing. Use the carboy washer and brush to thoroughly clean your fermenters after you transfer beer out of them.

If you’re like us, your discipline will probably decrease to a not-so-fanatical level after one or two brews, and that’s fine. Even the most rigorous sanitation routine will only work 99.9% of the time, so it really isn’t worth worrying too much about. When the inevitable (and unlikely!) day comes and you find yourself the proud owner of 5 gallons of something funky, forgive yourself. Even the best and biggest brewers end up with a bad batch from time to time.

Next Time

Brew Day!




Pitched For The Very First Time — Part 2: Ingredients 

Last time, we looked at all of the equipment we’ll need for our first homebrew, plus a bunch of stuff that we don’t need need, but that is Major League Nice-to-Have Town. Now, we need something to put in it.

Today, we’ll look at


Beer is made from four key ingredients: water, sugar (fermentable sugar, I should say), hops, and yeast. And actually, hops aren’t technically required, but you’ll hardly ever see a beer without them. Three plus a yeah-but-not-technically, we’ll say.

Water — A tasteless, odorless, and nearly colorless chemical required to sustain all terrestrial life. It is the most common molecule on Earth, and can be found covering approximately 70% of its surface. It is a liquid at room temperature, and the Celsius temperature scale is based around its freezing and boiling points, which are defined as 0 ºC and 100 ºC, respectively. The refractive index of water for the yellow sodium D line at 20 ºC is 1.333. It is commonly available from taps installed in most buildings.

Water will make up more than 90% of your beer, and so I highly suggest that you purchase a water filter attachment for your kitchen sink. Purchase bottled water for your beer only if your tap water tastes genuinely bad — your particular tap water will impart its own unique character to your beer. As long as your water tastes good, you should use it in your beer. An entire science exists around the replication of specific brewing waters. It’s that important.

Fermentable sugar — Your primary source of fermentable sugars will be malted barley. Barley is a grain that is very similar to wheat in appearance. Malted barley is created by steeping barley in water until it begins to sprout. The germinated barley is then dried. This germination produces some sugars, along with starches that are converted to sugar in a process called mashing. These sugars will be converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide during the fermentation process.

These surgars can also be derived from wheat, rye, and other grains. Some breweries, particularly the big American ones, also use rice and/or corn. If I may be permitted a brief editorial, please please please don’t emulate these breweries.

Hops — Green, conelike flowers that grow on long, green vines (or bines, technically). These add bitterness and floral flavor and aroma to your beer. Some hops also impart citrusy, earthy, or spicy flavors. There are dozens upon dozens of different hop varieties, but you’ll probably quickly find a few that are your favorites. Americans are particularly fond of the “C” hops, (i.e. Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, etc.)

Yeast — Microorganisms that eat sugar and excrete alcohol, carbon dioxide, and various other byproducts depending on the strain. Different yeast strains will produce beer with different flavors, but the end result, barring contamination, is the conversion of sugar to alcohol.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: Homebrewers do not make beer. Yeast makes beer. The stuff that homebrewers make is a non-alcoholic tea called wort (pronounced wert). Yeast then converts the sugars in the wort to alcohol and carbon dioxide, turning the wort into beer. They don’t get paid for this, and many of them die in the process or are discarded afterward. They have a terrible union.

Your First Recipe

I’ll make this easy for you. For our first homebrewed beer, we’ll use Morebeer.com’s Extra Special Bitter kit. This kit contains all of the ingredients you’ll need, minus yeast, which can be found here. This is the same kit that Mel and I used in our first homebrew. It’s an easy recipe to start with, and the results will probably knock your sock off. New socks can be found here.

Let’s go over what’s included in the kit.


The kit comes with 7 lbs of Ultralight Malt Extract. Malt extract exists to make your life easier. No malting, no mashing — that work has been done for you. After mashing, most of the water is removed from the resulting liquid, producing a concentrated syrup that happens to be one of the most delicious substances known to man. Almost all of your fermentable sugars in almost all of your recipes will come from malt extract (unless you eventually decide to try mashing yourself — we haven’t braved that yet, and probably won’t until we have a house to do it in).

In addition to the extract, the kit also includes 8 oz of Crystal Malt 40L, 8 oz of Honey Malt, and 4 oz of Special Roast. These are what we typically call specialty grains, malts that we will steep in our wort, allowing them to add their unique characteristics to the beer. In this particular case, Crystal Malt adds color; Honey Malt adds a sweet, nutty flavor; and Special Roast adds a biscuity flavor and a deep, orange color.

In general, the more malts that are used in a beer, the heavier and more alcoholic the beer is. This recipe uses a moderate amount of malts. A light lager would probably use half as much malt, while a big barleywine might use as much as 11 – 12 lbs of malt extract along with another pound or two of specialty grains. There is a lot of room for experimentation, and no two beers are the same!


The kit contains 1 oz of Magnum hop pellets, and two 2 oz packages of Kent Goldings hop pellets. We’ll get into more detail about how we’re using these hops when we get to brewing. As for what hop pellets are, they are hops, simple as that. Okay, they look like rabbit food after having been squeezed down into pellets, but ounce for ounce, they’re exactly the same thing, only they stay fresher longer and are more convenient to store.

Magnum hops are primarily used for bittering, because they are very, very good at it. You can get a lot of bitterness out of a little bit of Magnum, and the bitterness they impart is so smooth that even people who are typically sensitive to hop bitterness can enjoy the flavors it provides. You may find yourself using this one frequently.

Kent Goldings hops have a mellow, flowery aroma and flavor that perfectly compliments malty beers. Many English beers use them to great effect.


The yeast we are using is called English Ale yeast, produced by White Labs. These little guys impart a rich, malty taste to the beers that they make. During fermentation, they also produce organic compounds called esters, which add a slightly fruity flavor and aroma to the beer.

Based on the combination of malts, hops, and yeast that we are using, we should expect a semi-sweet, nutty, mellow, flowery, slightly fruity beer. That’s a lot of different flavors from just a few ingredients! Already, you should be seeing the power of homebrewing.

Other stuff

By now, you’ve noticed two more ingredient bags in your ESB kit: a little, white tablet labeled Whirlfloc, and a 4 oz bag of white corn sugar.

The Whirlfloc tablet is what’s called a clarifier. During the boil, you’re going to see lots of little globs of stuff floating around the pot. Whirlfloc (also called Irish moss in some circles) helps to precipitate these globs out of suspension, giving you a clearer beer in the end.

The corn sugar will find use in a couple of weeks, when you are ready to bottle the beer. By this time, almost all of the fermentable sugar in the beer will have been eaten by the yeast. But we need to carbonate the beer, and the only easy way to do that is to have the yeast produce carbon dioxide!

To remedy this, we will add just a little bit more sugar before the beer is bottled, in a process called priming. The yeast remaining in suspension in the beer at the time of bottling will then turn the sugar into carbon dioxide, which the caps on the bottles will hold in, forcing it to dissolve into the beer, creating carbonation. But, more on that later.

Next Time

In our next article, we’ll learn about the most exciting part of brewing: sanitation! I can’t even begin to tell you how much fun it is!

After that, we’ll get to brewing. Don’t worry.




Pitched For The Very First Time — Part 1: Equipment 

Looking in from the outside, homebrewing seems complicated. There are all kinds of weird equipment you have to buy; you have no idea what the recipes mean; people keep harping about sanitation; and the list of steps goes on for pages.

I know how you feel, and while brewing isn’t the simplest hobby you could pick up, it isn’t nearly as involved as you would expect. If you’re interested in starting but feel intimidated, the best thing you can do is find a friend who brews and sit in on one of his or her brew days. Mel and I watched Steph and Tim brew a pumpkin ale around this time last year, and we were genuinely surprised at how little work was involved, even for a recipe as relatively complex as a pumpkin ale. By the time we left their house, we felt like we were ready.

But, what if you don’t have any homebrewer friends? That is where I come in — Hi! I’m your new homebrewer friend! Today, we begin our beginning homebrew tutorial series, Pitched For The Very First Time. We are friends now. Please be my friend.

Today’s installment:


Ready? This part’s easy. Here’s what you need: sanitizer, bottle filler, bottle caps, bottle capper, bottles, steeping bag, hop bags, big spoon, funnel, carboy, carboy brush, bottling bucket, airlock, rubber stoppers, flux capacitor, aaaggghhhhh…

Let me start over.

When you’ve committed to your decision to start homebrewing, go to Morebeer.com and buy this starter kit.

Ah. That was much easier.

The kit that I just directed you to contains almost all of the equipment that you’ll need. I’ll show you what else you should buy, but to get started, here is what the kit contains:

  • Bottle of Star San Sanitizer — A colorless, odorless, tasteless, viscous liquid that creates a 2.5 pH solution when mixed with water, acidic enough to kill microorganisms, but neutral enough to comfortably sanitize your hands (unless you have extremely sensitive skin). You’ll use this to sanitize anything and everything that will come in contact with your beer after you finish boiling.
  • Steeping bags — Thin mesh bags. You’ll use these to steep grains and to boil hops and/or hop pellets.
  • A big plastic spoon — Used to stir the boiling wort (unfermented beer). Also very useful for aerating the wort before you pitch the yeast.
  • 6.5 gallon glass carboy — This is where the magic [science] happens. The carboy will be your primary fermentation vessel. The basic kit comes with a plastic bucket instead, but I strongly suggest you get the glass carboy. I’ll explain why I’m having you get the deluxe kit in a moment.
  • Airlock — A plastic device designed to let air produced by fermentation out of the fermenter without letting air and microoragnisms in.
  • Rubber stoppers — For the carboy. One with a hole, and one without. The airlock attaches to the stopper with the hole in it.
  • Carboy brush — A bent brush on a long, metal handle. Makes cleaning the carboy a lot easier for people without 1-inch wide arms.
  • Funnel — For pouring the wort from the kettle into the carboy.
  • Hydrometer and hydrometer cylinder — A device that measures the specific gravity of your wort. Don’t worry about what that means just yet. Suffice it to say that you’ll use this to estimate how much alcohol is in the beer when it finishes fermenting.
  • Bottling bucket — A plastic bucket with a spigot. When it’s time to bottle your beer, you’ll siphon it into this bucket, hook up the bottling wand (see below), open the spigot, and fill your bottles. This bucket is also a great place to keep your sanitizer solution when you’re not bottling. Simply pour an ounce of Star San into the bucket, and then fill it to the top with tap water.
  • Tubing — Used to transfer beer between vessels.
  • Racking cane — A bent, metal tube that you’ll use to siphon beer between vessels. The kit also contains a siphon starter, but you use it by blowing air into the carboy, which I feel runs the risk of contamination. We don’t use ours, but I won’t stop you from using it yourself. It’s probably perfectly safe.
  • Bottling wand — A tube with an attachment at the end that allows liquid through when you press on the end. You’ll use this to fill your bottles with uncarbonated beer.
  • Bottle brush — For cleaning out the bottles
  • Bottle caps — They keep the beer from all falling out of the bottles when you throw them around your living room.
  • Bottle capper — A tool that locks your bottle caps down onto your bottles, creating a tight seal.
  • Homebrew book — I haven’t looked at this yet, but I’m sure it’s very informative. Charlie’s book is better.

Why am I having you get the deluxe kit instead of the basic one? For the glass carboy. The plastic bucket that you get in the basic kit will do the job, but plastic can scratch, and scratches make outstanding bacteria homes (it’s hard to get sanitizer into them). Plus, the carboy just feels more elegant. I even feel better saying the word carboy than when I say bucket. If you stick to brewing, you’ll probably upgrade to a carboy anyway, so why not get one now?

Apart from bottles (you can just clean and save the bottles you get at the liquor store) and a kettle (if you don’t already have a big enough pot, which you probably don’t), if you want to stop with that kit, you can, but here are a few more handy items that you may want to pick up to make brewing easier and to improve your final beer:

  • 5 gallon Kettle — A nice, big kettle is a must. You may already have a large pot, but depending on how old it is, it may have some funny flavors on its surface, ready to mix in with your wort. It’s probably also not very big, and you’re going to want to be able to boil about 3 gallons of water. Just get a dedicated brew kettle and save yourself a lot of strife. Benefit: You’ll almost definitely need one anyway.
  • Wort chiller — A coil of copper tubing attached to two long plastic tubes. You hook one tube up to your kitchen faucet, lower the copper coil into your boiling wort for the last few minutes of the boil (to sanitize it), and point the other tube down the sink drain. When the boil is complete, you’ll turn the cold water faucet on and stir the copper coil around the hot wort. This will chill the wort much more quickly than if you simply let it sit, which will allow you to pitch the yeast sooner, minimizing the amount of time that the cool wort is exposed to air and microbes. Benefit: Faster; Less risk of contamination.
  • More mesh bags — As your recipes start getting more complicated, you’re going to need more bags for steeping and hopping. We own three. I wouldn’t mind one more. Benefit: Easier boils.
  • Sample taker — Basically a big pipette. You’ll need this to take samples for hydrometer readings. I have no idea why the starter kit doesn’t include one. Benefit: Easier sample taking. I know, right?
  • Bottle/Carboy washer — Hooks up to your sink to turn it into a raging fountain. Cleaning a carboy will be unbelievably difficult without one. Benefit: Easier cleaning.
  • 5 gallon glass carboy — A smaller carboy to use as a secondary fermenter. When your beer is done fermenting (yeast settles to the bottom of the fermenter, no more bubbles come out of the airlock), you’ll siphon it into this carboy, leaving the sediment on the bottom of the primary fermenter (called trub) behind. After another week in the secondary fermenter, you’ll find that more sediment has settled out of the beer. The end result will be a clearer beer with fewer off flavors. In addition, you can leave the beer here for several weeks if you do not have time to bottle it for a while. Benefit: Clearer, better tasting beer; Convenience.
  • Carboy drainer — Used to leave your carboys upside down to drain. Easier than holding it like that yourself for an hour. Benefit: Convenience.
  • More Star San — May as well stock up. Benefit: It’ll be years before you need to buy more.

Overall, you should expect to spend about $200 – $300 on equipment, plus another $40 – $50 for ingredients for your first batch. Don’t let that scare you off. Theoretically, you should save money in the long run because you won’t be buying as much commercial beer. In practice, Mel and I still make weekly trips to the liquor store, but hey. The initial investment is the worst of it, though; I only set aside $10 from my paycheck every week to fund our homebrewing, and that has been more than enough.

Next Time

That was a long one. Next time will be a bit shorter. We’ll go over ingredients: what to buy, and where to buy them.

PS: If you want to go ahead and order your equipment and ingredients now in one shot (which you may as well), I’ll be talking about the Extra Special Bitter kit that we used in our first brew, so I suggest ordering that. You’ll also need a vial of White Labs English Ale Yeast. When your kit arrives, freeze the hop pellets and refrigerate the yeast.




Best and Worst Freaking Labels To Have To Remove 

Bottling is the bane of most homebrewers’ existences. Apparently. Mel and I don’t very much mind it, ourselves; we can bottle a 5-gallon batch of beer in under 45 minutes, and I almost think the process itself makes us love each other more. There something very sensual about watching a woman fill empty bottles with beer, and few things make me feel manlier than smashing down on those caps with our bottle capper.

I have no clue what Ray thinks is so “sensual.” I sit on a stool from his office when I fill the bottles, so I kind of look like I’m milking a cow. I haven’t been brave enough to try the bottle capper yet, simply because I have visions of a full bottle of beer flying across the kitchen floor as my hand slips and loses the grip. Maybe someday though.

So long, that is, as we have a clean set of bottles to work with. If the bottle supply is low, though, we need to dip into our supply of labeled bottles, which means an extra hour of hot water and scrubbing before we can even begin.

The best way to clean the labels off of bottles is to run them through the dishwasher, stopping it just before it hits the heated dry cycle. In theory, this should leave the labels soggy and the glue soft, allowing you to remove them with a scrubby sponge and bit of elbow grease, but in practice, some breweries’ labels will come off easily, while others will all but break my strength in an epic contest of will and adhesion. Here are some of the best and worst labels to have to remove:


  • Dogfish Head — Like removing a wet band-aid
  • Heavy Seas — The paper turns to something resembling oatmeal by the time it comes out of the dishwasher
  • Ithaca — I am convinced that Ithaca Beer Company doesn’t use glue and that their labels are held on by nothing more than hope


  • Weyerbacher — Lamination and rubbery glue combine to clog your garbage disposal and ruin your plastic scrubby pad forever
  • Smuttynose — Thick, glossy paper that repels water; glue that acts more like the stains in your microwave; pretty pictures that you kind of feel bad destroying
  • River Horse — You’ve got to be kidding me… A front label, a back label, and a neck label?




Brew Day #2 — “Nuts About Coffee” Nut Brown Ale 

For our second brew day, and our first completely solo project, we purchased a Nut Brown Ale kit from Morebeer.com. Brown Ale is a darker, maltier version of Pale Ale. They are usually slightly sweet, a little bit nutty, and conservatively bittered. Truth be told, I find the style boring, mostly due to the fact that there just isn’t a whole lot of variety to be found in Brown Ales amongst brewers. Maybe we should do something about that.

To help make things a bit more interesting, we decided that we’ll add about 8 oz of strongly brewed coffee to the beer when we rack it to the secondary fermenter. From tasting the wort, we have a good feeling that this will work out well, and add some badly needed complexity. Our bathroom also tends to run a little warm, so the fermentation should produce some nice esters, adding a hint of fruitiness to compliment the roastiness of the coffee. Here’s hoping!

5 June, 2008
“Nuts About Coffee” Nut Brown Ale
5 gallons

8 lbs Ultralight Malt Extract

8 oz Crystal Malt 60L
8 oz Caravienne Malt
4 oz Victory Malt
4 oz Chocolate Malt

1 oz Glacier Hops (60 min)
1 oz Willamette Hops (5 min)
1 oz Willamette Hops (1 min)

1 tablet Whirlfloc (20 min — clarifier)

White Labs English Ale yeast

8 oz quadruple-brewed hazelnut coffee (secondary fermenter)

4 oz corn sugar (bottling)


Steep grains at 155°F for 30 minutes.

Remove grains, turn off heat, and add malt extract while stirring

Bring to a boil. Add remaining ingredients as indicated above.

Chill wort to ~80°F. Pitch yeast. Allow to ferment to completion at ~75°F.

Brew coffee using a French press. Filter dregs and allow to cool to room temperature. Add coffee to secondary fermenter.

Rack fermented beer to secondary fermenter. Age for at least one week.

Let’s go through these ingredients and get an idea of what we should expect when this is done.

First, the hops: There isn’t much happening here, really. They’re just there to balance out the sweetness of all of that malt, which is what leads us to choose Glacier and Willamette hops, both of which are fairly mild in flavor and aroma. However, these two hop varieties also contribute an earthy smoothness to the beer, which should compliment the nutty roastiness that we should be getting from our specialty malts.

Now for the malts. We start off with 8 lbs of Ultralight extract. Ultralight does not contribute anything interesting to the beer — it’s mostly just a base that we build off of. Most homebrews start with it. We are using quite a bit of it, though, so we can probably at least expect a nice medium body in the finished beer. To be honest, you could probably stop with just this and still come up with something that you enjoy drinking, but where’s the fun in that?

Beyond the extract, we also have a total of 1.5 lbs of specialty grains that we steep into the wort before the boil begins (and before it’s even wort, really [Ed. Steph points out in the comments below that it is called sweet wort until the hops are added.]).

The first specialty grain is 8 oz of 60L Crystal malts. Crystal malt usually lends a sweet, caramel taste to beer, while also increasing body. The 60L in the name indicates the color type of the malt (in degrees Lovibond, which we’ll discuss another time), as Crystal comes in many different color varieties. 10L would be very light, while 90L would be quite dark, so we can say that this will give us a medium-dark color in the beer.

After that, we have Caravienne, Victory, and Chocolate malts. Caravienne produces a toffeeish flavor, Victory lends a toasty, nutty flavor, and Chocolate malt results in (get this) a cocoa flavor. Combined with the Crystal malts, we can deduce that this beer will have a sweet, caramel flavor punctuated by toffee, nuts, and cocoa, which Mel and I hope will compliment the shot of coffee that we’ll add after the beer is done fermenting.

My hope is that the coffee gives a little extra punch to the brown ale, because like Ray said, the style can be a little un-exciting. Nevertheless, it was a good beer to brew to continue to hone our skills, and the addition of coffee to the fermenter will give us a chance to try a technique that I hope to use with our next beer… but the specifics of that, I’m not telling!