My Amber Ale: A Review

I’m pretty proud of this beer. The aroma is fantastic and flowery, the color is rich with amber hues, and the taste is incredible. You can’t see from the picture but the head of the beer after first pour was magnificent too. All this is wonderful but what makes me most proud of this beer was the fact that I picked out my own ingredients, added them in my own pre-determined ratios, and waited two and a half weeks before finally cracking one open. Prior to making this beer I used a Brooklyn Brew Shop kit that practically spoon-feeds you everything you need for your first batch of all-grain home brew. This is nice for people who don’t want to venture out and experiment with choosing their own things, but I’m the kind of person who is DIY enough to want to choose my own ingredients and here it worked out quite well.

The sad thing is this was only a one-gallon batch and my final output was only eight bottles of beer. This is the reason I’ve stepped up to three-gallon batches now; it doesn’t seem worth the effort to make home brews when you’re only getting about eight bottles of beer as output. I bottled my wheat beer recipe today so now I wait as it bottle conditions. With the wheat batch I made three gallons worth and my final output turned out to be 31 bottles! Now THAT seems worth the effort.

If you’re interested in making either one of these batches, check out my recipes in my previous posts. Bottoms up and enjoy a great home brew!

Brew Day for Afternoon Wheat Beer: 3/6/2017

Ok, so I had planned for my brew day to fall on Sunday but that just didn’t happen. To be quite honest, I had a great time watching Netflix and chilling with my wife that day instead. That said, I knew I still wanted to get my brew day underway as soon as possible. I got it in on Monday, March 6th instead. Unfortunately the lesson I learned from this brew day was simple but painful: Don’t ever schedule a brew day on a weekday when you were just at work all day and have to go to work the next day!

My other brew times have totaled only about three hours per brew day, but they’ve also only been one-gallon batches. This weekend I spent some time picking up my latest toy: a nice, hefty five-gallon carboy to get to work on larger batches. (As an aside: if brewing is going to be a full-on hobby of yours, I’d recommend you get the largest carboy you could imaginably see yourself making brews in sooner rather than later. It’s a lot less costly to just get the large carboy from the jump rather than constantly upgrading to larger and larger equipment. The same should hold true for other home brew equipment too.) I had no idea just how much longer it would take to make a three-gallon batch over a one-gallon one. All in all it took me two additional hours to finish the larger batch for five hours total!

The steps are still the same for larger batches; it’s the waiting and lag time that’s different. I found that both the sparge and the boil take a whole lot longer with larger batches than they do with smaller ones. In order to get a really good sparge with a larger batch, you pretty much have to divide your grains up into multiple allotments in your mesh strainer again and again and again. Not a deal-breaker but it definitely eats at your time a bit especially since you want to recirculate your wort through your grains at least once during the sparge.

Meanwhile the boil was on a whole different level! I used a nice, new, extra-large stainless steel brew pot that I picked up from a nearby discount store for about 30 bucks. While I liked the fact that it fit so much volume inside it making it efficient for mashing, I underestimated how inefficient it would be for the boil. It took almost 45 minutes for me to reach a boil and even then I only reached the boiling point because I temporarily covered the pot with its lid in order to contain the heat!

Once it got boiling, everything else was pretty smooth sailing. Even the ice bath seemed to work out pretty well, and I subsequently found that using a large ladle works really well for getting a good amount of your wort into your primary fermentation container fairly efficiently until you’re ready to just grab the pot and tip the wort into the container directly.

I followed the recipe pretty much as described previously. As for my hops, I used 1/2 Hallertau at the start of my boil, 1/4 Glacier after 45 minutes into boiling, and then I topped it off with the last 1/4 of my Hallertau after turning off the heat following another 15 minutes of boiling.

Primary fermentation seems to be moving along pretty nicely so far; I took a couple of peeks at my batch while it ferments underneath my kitchen cabinet in the darkness, and I saw lots of carbon dioxide bubbles popping along the surface of the sanitizing solution where my blow-off tube is gently relaxing. The inside of the container looks like my yeast is having a grand old party!

All in all, the brew day was a success. To summarize, my main lessons were as following:

  1. Don’t brew after a long day of work. ESPECIALLY if that long day of work is being followed by another day of work the next day. Your body won’t forgive you for it.
  2. Larger batches mean longer brew times.
  3. To help increase your efficiency it might help to divide up your wort into a couple of smaller brew pots during the boil. Boiling wort requires a lot more time and energy to bring one large volume to a boil but that’s not the case when you divide your volume into smaller containers.
  4. The ladle is your friend. Use it when you’re beginning to transfer your cooled-down wort from your brew pot through your strainer through your funnel and into your fermentation container.

I owe you a post outlining my basic all-grain brewing steps. I’m also excited to inform you that the Amber Ale I started making a couple of weeks back looks like it might only be a day away from bottling. Stay tuned for updates on that.

Please feel free to post comments with any questions or thoughts you might have. Have a great day!

An Afternoon Wheat Beer recipe

While patiently waiting for my American Amber Ale to finish brewing, yours truly went back out to the local homebrew shop to pick up some more ingredients for my next brew day! I’m planning on making a nice, hearty 3-gallon batch of a Dark Afternoon Wheat beer. As usual, I’ll be using the all-grain technique to brew this beer.

Here’s the final recipe I came up with:

  • 3 lb. 6 oz. of pre-crushed Briess grain
  • 2 lb. 4 oz. Vienna
  • 2 lb. 4 oz. Red Wheat
  • 10.5 oz. Cara-pils/Dextrine
  • 7.5 oz. Crystal 60L
  • 4 oz. Chocolate

The next brew day is set for tomorrow. My wife accompanied me to the brew shop to help with collecting the grains and milling them, and she even seems excited to help me out tomorrow with the next batch! As usual I’ll keep you posted with the results!

Saving for retirement

I’m not a financial planner. I’m also not a CPA or some other type of accredited “money guru” out there that offers financial advice for pay. My financial knowledge stems from a minor that I earned in economics from my university, having read countless articles on financial topics on the internet, being an avid reader of the New York Times Business section as well as Reuters financial news, and my limited life experience.

In order for you to save for retirement, I offer these pieces of advice.

  1. Have a financial plan. Your financial plan doesn’t have to be anything complex. In fact, I feel the simpler the plan, the better the chances are that you’ll follow the plan, which means the more likely you’ll be to save for retirement. For example, I’ll lay out my plan – it’s basically an asset allocation that I’ve personally decided upon given my tolerance for risk, my investing time horizon, and my feelings about asset classes. For retirement investing, I chose some broad-index mutual funds from Vanguard and decided to allocate myself to 60% US stocks and 40% international stocks. For a while I was invested in a target-date fund but then I decided to go all-in for stocks after reading a New York Times article that I’ll link to here. It was the most convincing article I’ve ever read for an asset allocation favoring plenty of stocks in a retirement portfolio.
  2. Invest at least up to your company match. The company’s match is free money towards your future. If you can invest even more than the company’s match then certainly do so but to leave free money on the table just doesn’t make sense. Maxing out your 401k or 403b is probably the best thing to do for retirement investing but if that’s just not do-able for you then start with the match and gradually work your way up by increasing contributions year after year. Your future self will thank you for it.
  3. Keep costs low. You can do this by forcing yourself to invest only in passively managed index funds. They usually have the lowest expense ratios of the bunch and research suggests that over the long haul they simply perform better than the actively managed bunch.
  4. Start investing early in your career. One of the biggest things young workers have going for themselves is time. The power of compounding is massive, and it works its wonders when its given more time to do so. If you don’t believe me, Google search a compound interest calculator and play around with the variables a bit to see how small changes can make a big difference over time.
  5. Rebalance your portfolio at least once per year. This concept ties back to having a retirement plan. If you decide on a certain asset allocation, oftentimes you’ll find that after a year of allowing your allocation to play out, your ending allocation might be slightly skewed. For example if your US stocks start going on a tear while your international stock values decrease, your US stock allocation might be larger than you originally intended. You can rebalance by selling some US stock mutual funds in exchange for buying some international stock mutual funds. The beautiful thing about rebalancing is you then force yourself to buy low and sell high without even realizing it.

If you have any questions or any added suggestions feel free to comment. I hope you find this post useful.

First Homebrew: DEEEEELicious!!!

I had been looking forward to this day for several weeks now. Before I left for work this morning, I popped two of my bottles homebrewed beer into the fridge after the whole batch of seven and a half bottles had been sitting in the kitchen cabinet for two weeks following bottling and capping. Today was a Wednesday, which means it was my “long day” at work. When it was finally time to leave work, I was amped up. I knew in just a short time I’d finally be tasting my first homebrewed beer.

For some background, my brother bought this Brooklyn Brew Shop Chocolate Maple Porter kit for me for Christmas of 2016. I started my whole brewing experience at the end of January and had been anxiously waiting to see how it turned out for several weeks now. To put things in perspective, the brew process all went mostly as planned except for when I began primary fermentation. For some reason I misread the instructions and pushed my blow-off tube too deep into my fermenter causing some of my wort to escape out of my blow-off tube and into the bowl of sanitizing solution that I had at the end of it. I thought for sure that might cause some issues – in fact it did, kind of, because I ended up with about a 3/4 gallon batch rather than the full gallon batch that I had been shooting for. I corrected my mistake and continued the rest of the way without any major hiccups and even went ahead with making a second batch of beer after bottling my first batch (see my previous article for more details!). But then came the moment of truth: was the beer going to taste good?

I cracked open two bottles: one for myself which I poured into a beer glass and the other for my wife which I left in the bottle. I smelled both of them deeply and then tried them both – let me tell you both of these beers are delicious! I’m so glad they came out so tasty. Not trying to talk myself up, but they honestly taste like they could have been professionally done. I love them so much that I definitely could see this being a long-standing hobby of mine. The one that I left in the bottle to drink seemingly tastes better to me than the one I poured into a glass, but I’m not sure if that’s just psychological.

For me the real excitement comes from the second batch I made, which I’m currently waiting another a few days to begin bottling. While the first batch makes me extremely proud since it came out so well for a first batch, the second batch was primarily my own brainchild. See, with the Brooklyn Brew Shop kits, the ingredients, yeast, and hops all come along with the packaging, which really takes out a lot of the experimentation and guesswork that you’d have to use if you were shopping for your ingredients and equipment on your own. With the second batch, I used Beersmith for a blueprint of a good recipe but then tinkered with it on my own to replace certain ingredients that I wasn’t able to find at my homebrew outlet or that I didn’t think would taste as well as the ones I settled on. If my second batch comes out great, I’d be even more proud of it than my first one.

One thing’s for certain: now that I know that I enjoy my own homebrews, I’ll be purchasing a larger carboy to make larger batches at a time so that I always have a continuous supply of homebrew right in my kitchen. I will keep you all posted with my progress!!