Category Archives: Homebrewing

This page has all of my posts that are about my home brewing efforts.

Newton’s Oatmeal Stout

NewtonOn Boards & Barley I tend to focus on the Boards side of things. But today is a Barley day! Why? Because I just bottled my oatmeal stout and I feel like writing about it.

Most of you probably don’t know this, but there are many scientific discoveries that were made by brewers. In fact, it was a brewery in London during the sewage problems of the 1800s that provided insight into the bacteria problems in the water. The people at the brewery were not getting sick because they only drank beer, which had undergone a boiling process. Those around the brewery were getting sick from the unsanitary water that was plagued by rotten sewage. But enough about that.

Oatmeal Stout

What is a stout beer? Stouts are dark, sometimes bitter beers that are brewed with roasted barley and malt. The barley is often roasted to the point of charring. This provides a “burnt” type of flavor that can often taste like coffee or chocolate. These beers can be all over the map in terms of hoppy-ness. But the main character of a stout beer in the roasted flavor.

An oatmeal stout is a variant of a stout beer that is brewed with steeped oatmeal added to the steeping grains. The addition of the oatmeal gives this variant a sweeter, smoother finish. Also, these have a more mellow character than a standard stout. The roasted character, however, remains in the beer. Some popular oatmeal stouts include Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout and Young’s Oatmeal Stout.

My Beer: Newton’s Oatmeal Stout

Way back on September 11th, in honor of our awesome country, I brewed beer. It was my first time brewing a beer while using the steeping grains. Basically the steeping grains add about 30 minutes to the brewing process. You put a bunch of crushed grains like barley and malt into a sack and soak it in hot water for about 20-30 minutes. Then this becomes the base liquid for the boiling wort.

The sack of steeping grains sits nicely while providing beautiful character to my beer!

The sack of steeping grains sits nicely while providing beautiful character to my beer!

After you’ve steeped the grains, which is rather like steeping a tea pack in hot water, though on a much grander scale, then you can begin to brew the beer. The kits I have used have said to bring a gallon of water up to 170 degrees and use it to rinse the grains. So I simply pour the gallon over the grain sack and catch the water in the boiling kettle.

The wort boils for about 45 minutes, during which time the hops are added. After 45 minutes you’re basically done. You bring the beer down to about 115 degrees and add in enough water to bring it to about 5 gallons. Next you pitch the yeast, which is a fancy way to say you add yeast to the liquid. Then seal it up with an airlock and you’re good to go!

The original or starting gravity of my stout was 1.047. This isn’t a very high gravity, but stout beers aren’t known for being high gravity beers.

After a week in the fermenter I transferred the beer to a glass carboy. I let it ferment and age in the carboy for about three weeks and this past Sunday I bottled it.

Bottling is the worst part of the process. I don’t buy bottles, so I have to de-label them, which is a big pain. Then you’ve got to make sure your 45-50 bottles are clean, so I run them through the dishwasher without detergent. After that I sanitize them using One-Step. In the meantime I transfer the beer back to the plastic fermenter, dissolve bottling sugar, add the dissolved mixture to the beer, and then I proceed to bottle 10 at a time and cap them.

For this batch I ended up with 46 bottles, one of which will remain on my shelf for all time. Doing a little math, if an average 6-pack costs $8.50, which seems on par with my FLBS (Favorite Local Beer Store), then 45 bottles (7.5 6-packs) would cost about $64. The beer brewing kit itself cost about $42. So I am saving $22! That’s a considerable amount. The downside is that I have 7.5 6-packs of the same beer. Is that $22 worth having so much of the same beer? (It is worth it if you can bring it to game nights and drink other people’s beer!)

My Newton’s Oatmeal Stout had a final gravity of 1.015. This means that the beer has an ABV (Alcohol by volume) of 4.2%. Therefore I should be able to slam a bunch of these bad boys and feel little effect.

Why Newton?

I like to name all of my beers after Renaissance men. In my opinion Renaissance men are not necessarily from the Renaissance. Rather, these are people who happen to be experts or masters in many trades. Sir Isaac Newton was definitely a Renaissance man.

I could have chosen a pudgy character who more closely fit the bill of being “stout.” However, Newton seemed to fit the bill of being “stout” due to his contributions to science and his place in history. I suppose I could have saved Newton in case I ever brewed an apple ale, but I don’t think I’ll ever brew an apple ale. So Newton joins my Renaissance fleet that already includes Leon Battista Alberti (Amber Ale) and Benjamin Franklin (Honey Ale).

In a couple of weeks a new Renaissance man will join the team behind the guise of a Scotch Ale. Unfortunately William Wallace is not technically a Renaissance man, so I’ll have to choose a different Scot as the namesake for the beer.


If anyone has questions about brewing or beer styles or anything having to do with zymurgy, please let me know!

Monday Brews: Reviewing Ben Franklin’s Honey

I’m back from a series of mini-vacations. In that time my Ben Franklin’s Honey Ale was able to carbonate and mature enough to try it out. So today I will review my second beer, Ben Franklin’s Honey!

Brewing Ben Franklin’s Honey

Bottling Ben Franklin's Honey while enjoying Alberti Amber!

Bottling Ben Franklin’s Honey while enjoying Alberti Amber!

I’ve mentioned this beer before so I won’t go into depth here but I wanted to mention a few things.

The first is that brewing my second batch of beer was much less intimidating than the first. Everything was easier. Everything went better. And the overall amount of time and effort that was required fell a lot.

The second thing I wanted to mention is that I recently learned a little about lagering. This seemingly has nothing to do with Ben Franklin’s Honey, however, I only learned about lagering due to a conversation that was started because of Ben Franklin’s Honey. Why do I mention this? See more below.

The third thing I wanted to mention is that timing is an important part of brewing beer. Due to the amount of time is takes to brew/ferment/carbonate it is important to choose a date by which you want your beer to be ready. Then work backwards. So assume you want a month in the bottles. Then add in a week in the carboy. Then add a week in the fermenter. All told for a simple ale you’re looking at a month and a half minimum. That’s how far in advance you need to brew before your desired release party.

So completing my second brew has taught me a lot about the process and what it all involves. And I now have a great summer beer to enjoy over the next couple months!

Tasting Ben Franklin’s Honey

Last night I had the privilege of sharing the first tasting of Ben Franklin’s Honey with three friends over a game of Ora et Labora. My friends were willing to give it a try. The collective opinion: Enjoyable!

This beer is a pretty light beer that tastes “summery.” It comes in around 5% alcohol. It has a light and clear color. The honey flavor was not overwhelming, which was good.

Overall I would say this was an enjoyable brew. I have plenty more to enjoy and may bring a few to GenCon. I will hold off on rating this beer until I have had a few more. But if this brew is like the Alberti Amber, which got much better after maturing in the bottles for a month, then this will be a fantastic beer come August!

Ben Franklin’s Honey’s Successor?

So above I mentioned lagering. This leads me to my next brew. I am planning on brewing an Oktoberfest!

The problem with lagering is that it is slow and needs to ferment at a cooler temp than a typical basement. My luxury is that I have an extra refrigerator in my basement. So I can probably adjust the temperature on the fridge to a point that might work for lagering.

Since I can try to lager, I now have to make sure the timing will work. If lagering takes 6 weeks and maturing in the bottle takes a month, then I have 2.5 months before it will be drinkable. So if I want my Oktoberfest to be available at typical Oktoberfest time (September), then I need to get going on it.

If I brew within the next two weeks I should be able to have a decent Oktoberfest ready on time. Oktoberfests are one of my favorite beer styles. Perhaps it’s partially due to the season in which they show up since I really love late summer/early autumn. Perhaps it’s because I would love to attend the real Oktoberfest in Germany. Whatever the reasons, I am planning on brewing/lagering an Oktoberfest for this fall.

Have you been brewing? Any tips you’d like to share about lagering? I’m planning a post about the lagering process and how it compares to brewing ales and your tips could be included. Thanks for reading!

Brewing Process: Bottle Prep

When it comes to home brewing there are two approaches to the bottling stage. The first is kegging, which is awesome, but very expensive. The second is bottling. Bottling can be nearly free and today I’m discussing my three step process to prepare bottles for holding your precious creation.

Step 1: Bottle Procurement

Everyone has friends. And if you share the other hobby that this blog covers (board games) then you likely get together and hang out quite often. Well, if you’re a home brewer this is a great opportunity for you. During our board game nights my friends typically each bring a 6-pack of beer.

Is it weird when at the end of the night I ask to keep their empty bottles? Not at all. One friend thanked me for taking his trash. But beware… here are some tips for successful bottle procurement.

  1. Don’t be sneaky. Just ask if you can have the bottles.
  2. Don’t take any twist off bottles since they aren’t good for home brewing. (Life tip: avoid twist off bottles if you enjoy quality beer!)
  3. On the drive home, put the bottles in your trunk. I can’t emphasize this one enough!

Now that you’ve procured your bottles (about 50 for a 5 gallon batch) you’re ready for step 2.

Step 2: Label Removal

This is the worst part of home brewing. If I weren’t also trying to save money by home brewing I would just purchase new bottles. But I’m guessing I’m not the only one out there who removes the labels from bottles so here’s how I do it.

It's a Utility Sink Party!

It’s a Utility Sink Party!

I first fill my utility sink full of hot water. Then I place the bottles in there for a good half hour. The idea here is to soak the labels and get them ready to be peeled off.

After a half hour I take one bottle at a time and peel off the label. There will likely be some residue left on the bottle. To remove the residue I take a dish scrubber or dish wand and apply a little elbow grease.

This is sort of a buy beware point, though. Some bottles have great labels that basically fall right off. Others have very gummy labels that leave behind some terrible glue that is nearly impossible to get off. In Wisconsin I’m blessed to have the New Glarus Brewing Company in my back yard. They have the best labels ever! Soak them and they fall right off.

And the best part about labels that fall right off is that you can make some really cool art with them. Here is a collage I made with the New Glarus labels:

New Glarus Label Art

New Glarus Label Art

To get all the labels off and residue removed will take a little while. Be prepared to stand over the utility sink for a while. But once you’ve got the bottles all spic and span I like to move on to step three.

Step 3: The Dishwasher

Dishwasher parties are hotter than Utility Sink parties!

Dishwasher parties are hotter than Utility Sink parties!

Now that your bottles are free of all denigrating marks of previous ownership they are ready to visit the dishwasher. This step helps to remove any leftover residue from the inside of the bottles and helps to sanitize them as well. And for some reason I really like how they look all lined up in the dishwasher.

The key here is to run it as a normal wash cycle, but do not use any detergent. These bottles aren’t likely to be caked with peanut butter or broccoli or any other typical dinner fare. They were filled with beer. So they really only need to be rinsed.

So run the cycle a few hours before you are going to bottle the beer. That will give you enough time to let the bottles cool off from the hot dishwasher cycle.

Bottle Prep: Simple but Tedious

And that’s it! You now have bottles that are ready to go for bottling. I would, however, make one more recommendation. And that is to do one final rinse in your sanitizer before bottling, especially if these are sitting around for too long. Better safe than sorry. If you have a preferred method for bottle prep, please let me know. I’m always looking to get more efficient!

The Monday Brews 6-3-13

Well, we’re off to the start of a great week! And since it’s Monday, that means I get to talk about beer! It’s been a while since I discussed my brewing adventures. They’re just not as exciting as board game design. But I’ll get you all up to date on what I’ve been up to.

Alberti Amber

My first taste of Alberti Amber

My first taste of Alberti Amber

As you know I bottled my first beer about a month ago. That was my Alberti Amber. It is named after Leon Battista Alberti, a 15th century Italian renaissance man who invented the Alberti cipher.

I have now been able to enjoy the beverage and I was asked to give a 140 character “Tweetable” review of the beer. After the first bottle, which had been in the bottle for about two weeks, here’s what I had to say:

I have since had a few more and I can tell that maturing is making them better.

One of the things that I was worried about was during fermentation my basement was a little too cold for the yeast to throw the kind of party they like to throw. So the result is that this particular Amber Ale is a little sweeter than normal. I actually think it helps to give the beer a little character.

Overall I’m very pleased with how it turned out. I may try to brew the same thing again and see how much different it would taste.

Ben Franklin’s Honey

I think this one will be good!

I think this one will be good!

My second beer is currently in the carboy. It has been in there for just over a week and is therefore ready for bottling.

When this was in the plastic fermenter it was really bubbling like crazy. Bubbles were coming through the fermentation lock every two seconds. For the Alberti Amber at its peak bubbles were coming through every five seconds. The faster bubbling could be due to the large amount of honey in the brew. All that sugar was really giving the yeast something to chew on.

So the brew is sitting patiently in the carboy, just waiting to be bottled. I may try to get that done tonight since I’ve got a busy week. I sure hope it goes better than with the Alberti Amber.

The bottling process seems to be the worst part about brewing. You have to peel off the labels of the bottles, unless you buy new bottles. You have to wash the bottles. You have to boil the sugar that will get added to the beer so that it can carbonate within the bottles. You have to transfer the beer from the carboy back to the plastic fermenter. I suppose you don’t “have” to transfer it, but it’s easier if you do. And then you have to fill and cap about 45-50 bottles.

That’s all part of it though. I hope this turns out to be an awesome summer beer! Hopefully I won’t drink it all before summer officially starts.

Brew #2: Bumblebee Honey Ale

Now that I’m a homebrewer and it all comes so easily to me I figured that I might as well brew up another batch while the first is carbonating in the bottles. So I stopped at my local brewing store (Wine & Hop Shop) and picked up a kit called Bumblebee Honey Ale.  I chose a honey ale for several reasons:

  1. I enjoy New Glarus’ Cabin Fever Honey Bock and Leinenkugel’s Honey Weiss
  2. My wife enjoys honey beers.
  3. Brewing beers my wife enjoys helps justify my brewing endeavors.
  4. It’s almost summer and a honey ale would be refreshing on a hot afternoon.

I bought the kit and a couple other things to help with the hydrometer reading and I was ready to brew!

Two pounds on honey in this kit!

Two pounds on honey in this kit!

So on Saturday afternoon while the kids were napping and when I should have been mowing the lawn I brewed instead! This beer has a 45 minute boiling time. The 1 oz. of Cascade hops get added at the start. Then after 35 minutes a half ounce of the Czech Saaz hops are added. And finally after 45 minutes the rest of the Czech Saaz hops and the two pounds of honey are added.

Before I brewed my first batch I was incredibly nervous. Everything seemed so complicated, so detail oriented, and seemingly required perfection. This time around I just got to it.

Awesomeness in a pot!

Awesomeness in a pot!

One of the lessons I learned the first time around is how to better control the heat from the turkey fryer. During the first batch it kept foaming up. This time I was able to recognize when that would happen and I turned down the heat to avoid that.

As it was boiling my daughter woke up and came outside. When she got a sniff of the wort she said, “Ooh, yummy!” I’m not sure what to read into that. But I was happy that it smelled good to her. Later though, when I added the Czech Saaz and it smelled more hoppy, she changed her opinion and said, “PU!”

Overall this second brew went very well. I was able to refine my process and speed things up. I didn’t make as many mistakes. And I had a lot more fun. It’s already bubbling like crazy, which is a joy to watch. Seriously, I could sit in my basement and watch bubbles move through the fermentation lock for an unhealthy amount of time. I even took a video of the bubbles.

So the beer is fermenting nicely in the plastic Ale Pail. Next weekend I’ll switch it over to the glass carboy. I’m hoping to have this beer bottled and ready to go by the end of June. I may even bring some to GenCon in August (unless I drink it all by then)!

The only question is what I should name it. I am naming all of my beers after Renaissance men since I consider myself to be a mediocre one. My first beer I named after Leon Battista Alberti. I’m thinking I might go with something like “Ben Franklin’s Honey” for this one.  I hope it turns out to be delicious, no matter what I name it!

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