Monday, April 28, 2008

Just Gruit

Finally got around to brewing a gruit yesterday. It was definitely strange to brew without hops, it just didn't feel right. I brewed a small 2 gallon batch just to see if I am even into hopless beer. Before starting the boil, I steeped some dingeman's biscuit malt in the water for about 30 minutes to impart an earthiness to the gruit (A gruit seems like it should be earthy to me). Duirng the boil I added a variety of herbs and spices: sweet gale, spruce tips, paradise seeds, and coriander. I also threw in some crushed juniper berries after the boil ended. Most of the ingredients were purchased with the exception being the spruce tips.

I took a morning jog on Sunday and I passed some spruce trees showing signs of spring growth along the W&OD trail. I picked off a handful of spruce tips and finished out the jog. I was laughing at myself the whole way home, because it must of been funny to see me running with a handful of green vegetation.

This morning the gruit was bubbling away and it looked like a healthy fermentation. Because of the small batch size I got a chance to break out my old brew pot, it was nice to be to get a boil started in under an hour. There might be some more small batches in my future.

Have a good week,


Friday, April 25, 2008

History of Beer, Part Dos


The Sumerians' resourcefulness and prosperity soon became a magnet for other people around them. These strangers probably wanted all of the fantastic beer the Sumerians were brewing. Newcomers, mostly Semitic tribes from the north and west, began to move into Mesopotamia - sometimes they were friendly and sometimes not so much. As a consequence, the Sumerians eventually began to be absorbed by their neighbors and gradually disappeared as a culture. By the beginning of the third millennium BC, Sumer had faded almost completely. In its place arose a new culture, which historians call Babylonian.

Initially, the future of beer in Babylonia seemed promising, because the new rulers of Mesopotamia, like all good conquerors, took what was working for the Sumerians and made it their own. While beer in Sumeria was mostly a matter of religion, beer in Babylonia became mostly a matter of politics. And similar to modern society the Babylonians started to regulate beer.

Unlike the loosely regulated (liberal-minded) Sumerian culture the Babylonians loved their discipline. All things in Babylonian society were heavily regulated and beer was no exception, especially once Hamurabi, the 6th king, took over. Hammurabi’s famous Code classifies beer into 20 different categories, each of which we would now call a beer style. By defining beer categories in the legal code, Hamurabi was the first to regulate the production of beer. The consumption of beer did not escape his regulation either. Hamurabi slapped price controls on the brewers and innkeepers, a historical first!

In Babylonian times beer was cloudy and unfiltered (hefewiezen say what?). Drinking straws were used to avoid getting the bitter brewing residue in the mouth. Beer from Babylon was exported as far away as Egypt. Hammurabi’s Code established a daily beer ration. This ration was based on the social standing of the individual, a normal worker received 2 liters, civil servants 3 liters (who says government jobs don’t pay?), administrators and high priests 5 liters per day. In these ancient times beer was not frequently sold, but used as barter.

That's the Babylonians and beer in a nutshell,


Monday, April 21, 2008

Obama Brew

Great shot from yesterday of Obama at Bethlehem Brew Works in PA. Its great to see beer in the news regardless of your politics. Last week Hillary was doing a boilermaker in Indiana and now Barrack in PA sampling beer.

Thought you might enjoy it,


Sunday, April 20, 2008

History of Beer, Part 1

Something that I have always found interesting is that beer is the earliest known alcoholic beverage. Beer’s story has pretty much followed the history of civilization.

There are different accounts of what may have been the very first beer brewed. As always, leading the way in the cutting edge of beer is Dogfish Head (is it really the cutting edge if the beer is thousands of years old?). Check out Chateau Jiahu for a taste of ancient history, brewed from a recipe that may be 9,000 years old.

Professor Solomon Katz, of the University of Pennsylvania, proposes the theory that the earliest farmers were moved to stop their hunting-and-gathering way of life and settle down to a life built around agriculture because of the desire to cultivate barley, not for baking bread, but for making beer!


The generally accepted origin of beer is Mesopotamia and the Sumerian civilization. In Mesopotamia, the oldest evidence of beer is believed to be 4,000 years old. A Sumerian tablet was discovered, depicting people drinking a brew through reed straws from a communal bowl. A 3900-year-old Sumerian poem honoring Ninkasi, the patron goddess of brewing, contains the oldest surviving beer recipe, describing the production of beer from barley via bread.

The Gilgamesh Epic describes the progression from primitive man to "cultured man".

"Enkidu, a shaggy, unkempt, almost bestial primitive man, who ate grass and could milk wild animals, wanted to test his strength against Gilgamesh, the demigod-like sovereign. Taking no chances, Gilgamesh sent a (prostitute) to Enkidu to learn of his strengths and weaknesses. Enkidu enjoyed a week with her, during which she taught him of civilization. Enkidu knew not what bread was nor how one ate it. He had also not learned to drink beer. The (prostitute) opened her mouth and spoke to Enkidu: 'Eat the bread now, O Enkidu, as it belongs to life. Drink also beer, as it is the custom of the land.' Enkidu drank seven cups of beer and his heart soared. In this condition he washed himself and became a human being. "

How crazy is that story? A prostitute civilized a man by making him drink beer.

That’s all for now,


Sunday, April 13, 2008

If you rest, you rust-ico

Saturday night M and I were looking for some good eats coupled with good beer. We were considering Brasserie Beck, but unfortunately we could only get 5:30pm reservations and we weren't interested in the early bird special. What to do? We decided on a trip to Rustico in Alexandria. When I used to live over in A-town, I regularly visited this watering hole.

Before hitting up Rustico M and I swung past Cheesetique, so M could use a gift certificate she got a Christmas time. Cheesetique is definitely one cool place. Its specialty cheese and wine bar. We ended up with four different types of cheese: a Gouda, Cheddar, Manchego, and a cheese made from Rogue beer. I was also pleased to see that they carry several excellent brands of beer as well.

At Rustico, we hit up the bar as we waited to be seated. I went with a Gouden Carolus Classic and M got a Brigand (not sure who makes this). Both were excellent choices. The Gouden is a dark belgian strong ale and its really a malty sweet beer that finishes with a little bit of clove. The Brigand had a big Orange Grapefruit taste to it and finished with a sweet honey taste.

The food at Rustico was awesome. We started with some oysters that were topped with cheese and a remoulade sauce . The salty taste of the oysters was a great contrast to the sweetness of the Belgian brews that we were drinking. For the main course I went with their Rigatoni with pork shoulder and M got one of their wood fire grilled pizzas. I got a Dale's Pale Ale and Meg got a Eggenburg Naturtrub.

All in all it was a great dinner with great beer, in an environment thats very inviting and casual.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Phase 2

I've got underpants gnomes on the brain. Sounds like a personal problem, right? I've always been a big South Park fan and I think the sheer genius of the show is Matt Stone and Trey Parker's ability to take a social/political/pop issue and break it down into all of its ridiculousness. The underpants gnomes episode is classic and it basically is Matt and Trey making light of all the dot com businesses that really did not have a definable business model. If you've never seen the episode you can see a great clip from it here:

Today I got to thinking about "Phase 2" and the craft beer business. I subscribe to Beer Advocate magazine and every month there is a regular piece titled, "9 Steps to Beerdom." Its basically 9 pointers or tips from a professional craft brewer or brewery owner. The one thing that I always find remarkable is that routinely one of the tips from a brewer is to ignore what your customer base is interested in and only brew those beers that you really like. For example, in this month's issue Mikkel Borg Bjergso, a Danish brewer, states, "We brew the beer we like, and we don't think too much what the customer wants -- which I think is actually a good thing. We can go all the way every time, and just hope people like it."

Issue after issue brewers say this very same thing. This creedo must be unique to the rebellious nature of the craft brewer. I can't imagine going to work everyday (as an accountant) with the mind set of "clients be damned" and still finding professional success. Additionally, I find it interesting that most craft breweries really don't do much in the way of marketing. The product literally sells itself. I believe that running a successful craft brewery takes guts and just a "feeling" that people are going to buy the beer that you brew.

Desperately seeking "Phase 2",


Monday, April 7, 2008

New Beers Eve

Horay! Prohibition finally ended … 75 years ago.

To modern Americans it seems almost unfathomable that for thirteen years (1920 – 1933) you couldn’t legally drink alcohol and it wasn’t readily available. It would have really sucked to be 17 years old (was the drinking age 18 back then?) in 1919 finally looking forward to be able to sit down at a bar and order a cold beer AND bam out of nowhere you have to wait until you’re 30 until you can buy beer. Its no wonder the Great Depression occurred during this period of time.

Honestly, Prohibition put the brewing industry in a bad place. My understanding is that before prohibition in the late 1800’s there was close to 1,200 active breweries or brewpubs in the US. After prohibition and up until the late seventies (and maybe early eighties) there were only about 60 breweries or brew pubs in the US (I understand that just recently we have finally eclipsed that 1,200 mark set in the late 1800’s). This is really where the macro brewing companies like Anheuser-Busch and Coors established their dominance over the American beer drinker’s palate. Despite making great strides in the last decade, it’s still very hard for small craft brewers to convince the American public that their beer is far better than the majority of the stuff put out by the macro chains. The macro chains have massive advertising budgets (literally billions of dollars) whose sole purpose is to convince you Joe or Jane American that their beer is cool and good tasting.

I’ll get off my soapbox for the rest of this post and get back to talking about prohibition. Anyone with a computer can wiki prohibition in the US and get the facts. The one thing that I really thought was interesting was that repealing prohibition was one FDR’s ideas. He thought that repealing prohibition would be a good way to help jumpstart the ailing economy. In fact during the first 48 hours of repeal, $25M was spent on beer. This had the effect of helping not just breweries, but also farmers, glassmakers, and the trucking industry. Additionally, the government realized that this sort of thing could be taxed and would be a great revenue stream for the federal government. Apparently, the first day of beer sales generated $7.5M in tax revenue for the US Treasury. The more and more I hear about FDR makes me think that he was a PHD economist (truthfully he went to Harvard and studied law at Columbia, not too shabby) and someone I’d love to have a beer with.

So tonight when you sit down for dinner hoist a beer (hopefully a craft beer or a home brew) and say thanks to ‘ole FDR.

Other News

M and I bottled our Baltic porter yesterday (Blackheart Porter). At room temperature and noncarbonated the sample that I had was fantastic. I think you guys are really going to like this one. 2 weeks and it will be drinkable.

Your Hero,


Friday, April 4, 2008

New Brew

A few people who are new to homebrewing have asked me which of the many different beer styles are best to start with. For your first brew I recommend an ale on the lighter side (i.e. less than 6% ABV). Why? The reason being that these beers need a shorter fermentation time and they will allow the brewer to reap the benefit of his/her efforts in a few weeks rather than in a few months (or years, barleywine say what?) Additionally, larger beers require few extra steps in the brewing process to keep the yeast going and healthy enough to attenuate the wort fully ( all of the sugars). Why an ale? Generally, ales can be fermented at room temperatures. Lagers require refrigeration and close monitoring of temperature. Many first time homebrewers don’t always have an extra refrigerator around which can be used solely for fermentation.

I usually recommend American pale ale for your first time brew.

American Pale Ale

Because of its simple nature and great flavor the style of American pale ale is a great first brew. The all important component is hops. It is important to make three hop additions during the boil. The first hop addition is for bitterness. You should use a fairly high alpha acid pellet hops. Seven percent alpha acid (AA) or higher should be used and boiled for at least 1 hour. The second addition of hops is for flavor. This hop can be lower in AA since it is for flavor. Centennial is a great flavor hop because of its citrus-like flavor (also because it is the name of my high school). The flavor hops should be added in the last 15 minutes of the boil. This will give you a flavor of the hop with very little bitterness. The third and final hop addition takes place in either the last five minutes of the boil or during the primary or secondary fermentation stage (called “dry hopping”). The triple hop additions will give an excellent nose of hops to your pale ale. You might even become a “hop head” like me.

Three C’s American Pale Ale
(5 gallons, extract with grains)
OG = 1.060 FG = 1.014
ABV = 5.8%

6 lbs. light dry malt extract
1 lb. crystal malt (steep grains @ 150 degrees for 20 - 30 mins)
1 oz. Chinook hops @ start of boil 60 mins. (bittering)
1 oz. Centennial hops @ 10 mins (flavor)
2 oz. Cascade hops 1 oz. in primary and 1 oz. in secondary fermentation (aroma)
5 oz. priming sugar
White Labs California Ale Yeast
1 grain steeping bag

I buy a lot of my ingredients online at:

Additionally, there is a good local store called My LHBS in Falls Church, VA. Derek is the owner's name and he is good guy to go to for advice.

Keep it Gangsta,


Thursday, April 3, 2008

Gruit to it!

In this scary time of skyrocketing hop prices and the possibility of not even being able to find certain varieties of hops, what's a homebrewer to do? Perhaps gruit (GREW – it).

What is gruit and why have I never had one?

Gruit is ale brewed without hops. Usually spices are substituted for hops in order to add some biterness to the wort. I have heard of people using all sorts of spices when brewing a gruit. The most popular being spruce, yarrow, juniper berries, mugwort, and heather tips. Sounds like something that might go in a witch’s cauldron, right?

With the exception of a few microbreweries, very few people even brew gruit. Gruit appears to be a drink that went out of favor by the 16th century. For an interesting read check out the historical context section of the wiki page on gruit. My favorite explanation of why it fell out of popularity is because of a “Protestant crackdown on feisty Catholic tradition, and as a Puritan move to try and keep people from enjoying themselves with aphrodisiac and stimulating gruit ales by imposing the sedative effects of hops instead.” Those crazy Catholics and their intoxicating gruit! Maybe Catholics just gruit better (I could keep this up all day).

I think sometime in the next couple of weeks I might brew a small test batch of gruit. I’m thinking spruce and juniper berries. If you see me picking things off trees in your backyard, don’t shoot me. That’s the great thing about homebrewing the ability to get creative. Who knows maybe you’ll come up with something that’s a real crowd pleaser.

A great gruit resource that I found online is:

Until next time,


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Holzburg Update

Lot's of brews coming together here at the casa. We just bottled an imperial stout (aka Guerrilla Stout) that was brewed back in the beginning of December. Its a monster at over 9% ABV. I tasted one last week and truthfully its still a little hot. I aged it on french oaks cubes that had been soaking in Maker's Mark for a month. M tells me the beer still needs more time to come together and mellow out some of the oak/bourbon flavor. But if you you love bourbon like me then its pretty darn good right now.

The two gentlemen you see pictured in this post are a Baltic porter (aka Blackheart Porter) and a wheat ale (aka Field of Dreams). The Baltic porter was brewed back in the beginning of January and should tip the scales around 8% ABV. This is the first porter that I have ever brewed and I decided to get nuts with the Baltic Porter. Baltic Porter's are somewhat unique in that they are actually brewed with a lager yeast strain although fermented at ale temperatures. This style of porter has an interesting genesis, from

"Porters of the late 1700's were quite strong compared to today’s standards, easily surpassing 7% alcohol by volume. Some brewers made a stronger, more robust version, to be shipped across the North Sea, dubbed a Baltic Porter. In general, the style’s dark brown color covered up cloudiness and the smoky/roasted brown malts and bitter tastes masked brewing imperfections. The addition of stale ale also lent a pleasant acidic flavor to the style, which made it quite popular. These issues were quite important given that most breweries were getting away from pub brewing and opening up breweries that could ship beer across the world."

The wheat ale is somewhat tame in comparison to the Guerrilla Stout and Blackheart Porter and will probably have a modest 5.5% ABV. Sometimes you just want a beer thats not a complete meal. I used what's called an American Wheat Yeast that puts off less clove and banana flavors than its famous German cousin (think Hefeweizen). Additionally, to keep this bad boy 100% American I used only Cascade and Summit hops that should give this guy a citrusy flavor. I hope to bottle both the porter and wheat either this weekend or the next. 2-3 weeks and we will be drinking them.

Tonight I had Troegs Sunshine after work, nothing says here comes summer than Troegs sunshine pils. It just came out last week. If you are into a crisp hoppy pilsner grab a sixer of this (hell, grab a whole case). After dinner I finished off my last Sierra Nevada Stout. This was a random pick that I made when I was home (in MD) for Easter, what a nice surprise. Sierra shows that they just don't do pales and IPA's. This guy has got a great roasted barley flavor with some American hops on the back end. Surprisingly, you can't find Sierra Stout in the NOVA area, but they have plenty in MD.