Book Review: Brew like a Pro by Dave Miller

This is one of the more recent additions to my brewing library.

I picked it up because I heard about the book on Beer sessions radio and I’m a sucker for brewing books, as my library can attest. This is an advanced how to brew book that’s focused on all grain. This is intended as a brewing book based on the author’s experience as a professional brewer. I appreciate the single focused approach, this is the way Dave brews, and how he brews consistent beer. I feel the author eschews some common homebrewing methods like batch sparging, extract or dme, and the use of star san, choosing more complex methods, such as using a pump, a grant, a cold liquor back, and more complex sanitizer. While I feel Dave really has a grasp of how to make quality beer, I don’t understand some of the trade offs, the complexity, and then some of the short cuts. For example, He recommends building a bulkhead, but it requires costuming fitting. Why not just go to bargain fittings and buy a pre made bulkhead and call it a day. Then when it comes to yeast, the recommendation to direct pitch dry yeast, just seems lazy. While liquid yeast, yeast starters, and propagation are covered, fermentation temperature control for ales is completely overlooked. The biggest sin, however is the Kolsh style beer recipe, rather than explaining the fermentation nuances of the beer, the recipe defaults to using a non kolsh yeast strain. The project guide at the rear of the book help is helpful in completing those projects. However I think that many of those projects have been covered ad nauseum all over the internet.
I hate to sound negative about the book, I enjoyed reading it cover to cover. I just don’t personally agree with all of the methods detailed. I’m certain the work for the author, but I feel this is a book intended for a person who wants explicit methods on how they can brew all grain beer. Specific and detailed methods with instructions, and it does a good job of providing that information. It’s also provided me plenty of food for thought on many aspects of my processes, and methods. There are two tips I’m going to take away are that most kegs that are converted to keggles are of suspect origin, and should be treated as such. These things cost professional brewer far more than the deposit left for one. I’m not saying all kegs are stolen, but you should ask it’s origin before purchasing one. The next is that a fancy sculpture isn’t necessary, Dave has an advanced setup w/out the large infrastructure of a multi tiered brewing rig.
My summary is this, if you want to simply brew, and don’t care too much, get Joy of home brewing, if you want a detailed technical resource covering all aspects of brewing, get How to brew, if you want a concise set of brewing instructions, this might be the book for you.

New Years Eve Miracle, Milk Stout

I try to brew as often as reasonable, which is usually when I’ve got a keg free, when I’ve got a competition to enter, or it’s been way too long. In 2012 it was more like every 3 months, despite wanting to brew more often. Which is what makes brewing 3 times in december quite an accomplishment. This last batch pushed the 2012 total to 6 batches, 5 beers, one cider, an extract only batch, extract and steeping grains, a partial mash, all grain, and brew in a bag all grain. To say I’m a dabbler might be an understatement. One thing that hasn’t changed a whole lot is what I brew.

This New Years eve brew session was pretty much on a lark. I had picked up a pair of 2.5 gallon kegs from adventures in homebrewing as a christmas gift to myself. From a trip to Valley Malt this fall, I have a stock pile of grain. From stocking up during the fall harvest I also have an abundance of hops. I’ve been thinking of how to fill one of the small kegs, while taking advantage of what I had on hand. 90% of the grain, 100% of the hops, came from what I had on hand. I did still have to make the trip to the home brew shop to pick up yeast, and a few misc things, but it was a little easier on the wallet. I only needed caraffa II, lactose powder, and yeast. Anyone guess what I brewed from the ingredients I picked up? Since kicking the Oatmeal stout, I’ve wanted to brew something dark to go beside the pales I usually brew, and have on tap. My wife likes stouts more than my typical beers. I wanted this to be smoother, richer, than the last stout. In an attempt to smooth this out, I modified the recipe I based my beer off. I swapped out the Roasted Barley, thinking the chocolate malt I have is going to have that edge, and roasted bitter flavor, I swapped the barley for carafa 2. I realize that some might argue that it’s not a stout if it doesn’t contain roast barley, well, it’s going to be a lactose porter then. Trust me it’s dark enough, and I’m confident it’s going to have enough bitterness to match the sweetness. I also plan on dosing the stout with some cold brewed coffee, and a vanilla bean in the keg for added complexity.IMG_2011
Since I was brewing a small batch, I decided to simplify my brew day, keep me from lugging all my equipment up from the basement, and allow me to stay out of the cold, I decided to brew in a bag (BIAB). It’s an all grain technique in which you take all of your brewing water, heat it to strike temp, add the grain to a large mesh bag, and add it to the pot. After 60-90 minutes you remove the bag and grain, and are left with your pre boil wort. It’s less efficient than other brewing techniques, but it’s far simpler. Even for this 3 gallon batch my 5 gallon pot is a little undersized. I had an overflow trying to get the grain bag into the pot. After bailing some water, I got the mash started. I struggled to keep the mash temp in the high range (156) to keep body, and a richer beer, even keeping the burner below the pot on low. The thermometer read 150ish most of the time. Removing the large bag of grains from the 5g pot was also a bit of a chore, trying to prevent a big mess while draining wort from the grain. I rinsed the grain in my 8qt pot to get some additional extraction, because I was planning on topping up the pot anyway.
The boil was uneventful, with our large 3 ring burner, I can get a boil pretty quick. Skimming as it came to a boil, and after hop additions kept the foam at bay from a boil over. As you can see above, I can barely fit the chiller into the pot, but with the cold temps, it chills quite rapidly. I chilled to 65, poured the wort into the fermentor and pitched wyeast 1028. I was really hoping to use 1099, as it’s less attenuative, and more temperature tolerant than the 1028, but the local shop was out. I checked the fermentor tonight, and it’s slowly bubbling away.

Bitter American Clone

Another brew day, another clone recipe. This time it’s from the pages of Brew your own magazine, a clone of 21st Amendment’s Bitter American. A hoppy american style bitter, weighing in at 4.4 ABV, 42 IBU, featuring warrior and cascade hops, according to 21A’s website. A beer I’ve had a few times, and have enjoyed it. It’s similar to my earlier brews, pale, hoppy, lower abv, and a clone recipe. Whats different about this brew day was that I brewed all grain.
This is a big change from my last batch which didn’t even include steeping grains. My all grain setup is a typical basic homebrew setup. A converted 10 gallon home depot cooler as a mash tun. My boil kettle is a 42 qt polar ware kettle, and my hot water tank is my old 5 gallon brew pot. It’s not really an adequate size for batch or fly sparging. No pumps, brew sculptures, or fancy brewing carts to speak of. Just me lugging stuff around, hoisting hot pots of water, and what not.

Since the recipe was pulled from the pages of BYO, not a kit or a home brew store recipe, I was not able to get the exact grain bill from my local home brew shop. Every time I come in with a specific recipe, which calls for specific grains, he gives the same lecture about how he only stocks x grains, and not every grain ever made, that recipes call for every grain under the sun, bla boa bla. I wish he would give it a rest. I’m sure the rest of his customers would appreciate him not talking down to them as well. I get it, you don’t have it all, just give me what you have.
So, in addition to the grain type variation, I bumped up the grain bill by a pound of base grain to account for any inefficiency in my brew process. I made additional recipe changes, using some stockpiled hops, I replaced the bittering addition of warrior with german hercules, cascade pellets with local whole cascades. I kept the centennial pellets at flameout, and will keep the dry hopping additions the same. The flavor and aroma of those specific hops are really what makes the beer what it is.
The brew day went ok, I remembered to smack the yeast pack well ahead of time, skipping the starter since I have yet to build my stir plate. This beer is also low enough abv that a single smack pack should have sufficient cell count. Milling the grains was easy enough, although I think I might need to adjust the mill to factory settings, I had a fair amount of flour with my grist. My process was pretty straight forward, heat the recommended volume of strike water to the recommended temp. I then mixed in, almost hitting my target temperature, 158 (very high, but the goal of this low abv beer). Next time I’ll try preheating my cooler. It was a bit challenging to add the grain to the water while stirring. I kept hitting the stainless mesh tube when stirring. Then I set a timer, and left the grain to sit. I had other stuff to do, so it sat longer than expected. The cooler held the temp surprisingly well for all that time. I then tried to set my grain bed, and begin running off, but I couldn’t get much flow, so I decided to go no sparge instead of batch sparge.

I mixed in my additional 4 gallons of 170* water, and gave it a big stir up, and let it sit for another 20 minutes. It ran then, albeit still quite slow. I really missed my target run off volume, and at this point I should have heated another 4 gallons, and sparked once more, but it was getting late, and I needed to get the show on the road. Next time more water, and rice hulls. With almost 7 gallons of wort, I started heating to boil. I was inattentive and had a massive boilover, my first since using the new large kettle. About 30 minutes in I decided this was going to be a 60 minute boil instead of a 90. I just didn’t have the time or the wort to spare. I was already shaping up to be up a 2am, and at least a gallon low. Chilling went as planned, I’m amazed how fast chilling works when ground water and ambient temps are at winter temps. 15 minutes, instead of 40 to get to 65, instead of 70. The transfer to carboy went well too, the new stainless scrubby kept the hops and pellet mush at bay. With the low run off, boil over, boil off, I only managed to eek out about 4 gallons into the 6 gallon carboy.
Leaving at least a gallon of sludgy hoppy mess in the pot. The volume was so low I could not manage to get any wort with the turkey baster for a gravity reading. I’m fairly certain it’s going to be quite a bit higher than expected. I pitched yeast 1056, and plopped it into the water bath for temp control. It was bubbling away in less than 24 hrs. It has climbed all the way up to 70, where I’m currently holding it.
Changes for next batch / brew day. First and foremost I’ve tweaked my beer smith settings. Fixing mash tun dead space, trub loss, and boil off numbers in an attempt to fix my volume to fermentor issues. Of course those changes are going to sink my brew house efficiency, but I’m here to make good beer, not cheap beer. I also plan to use rice hulls, and, use a larger pot for heating sparge water, and adjust my mill gap.