Debbie’s In The Keg

Not a ton to say today.  Sunday was a rough day so I didn’t get to brew. I spent a lot of time sleeping off the fun I had at our brew club’s holiday party on Saturday night.

Tonight though I managed to get the Debbie Does Amarillo Dirty Blonde Ale into a keg. The final gravity was a 1.008 for a final ABV of 5.0%.

Thankfully kegging from a conical is as easy as hooking up a sanitized hose and opening a valve.20150126_175258

This turned out to be a very clean, smooth and easy drinking beer.  20150126_175317

I really look forward to freeing up a tap so all the visitors to the Mighty Penguin Brewing bar can have a taste.


If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Buy ‘Em

In brewing news:

Anheuser-Busch And Elysian Brewing Announce Purchase Agreement

This seems to be a growing trend for the big boys. Every couple months you are hearing about a craft brewery selling out to one of the big breweries. Other than the big guy getting bigger I don’t have a lot of opinion on this topic. Depending on how much control they allow their new acquisition to have over their day to day business will decide whether this is a good or bad deal for the consumer. It seems to reason that if they were making a good, successful product before the buy out it would be in the best interest of all involved to have a hands off approach going forward.

For quite some time the mega brewers have been losing market share to craft breweries. Over the past few years that change has gotten exponentially larger. Despite how small of a dent craft brewing is in the grand scheme of barrels produced it is making the biggest producers take notice. One of the biggest problems that is beginning to surface for craft brewers is that the mega brewers are buying hop crops years in advance. This is an area where having a superior product doesn’t matter because the average craft brewer doesn’t have deep enough pockets to compete. This also has direct impacts on home brewers as it causes the price of hops in general to go up. However, if you are making a dozen batches each year you probably won’t notice it much. I think that will make this trend continue to grow and possibly have some long term negative consequences for craft brewing and home brewing as well. Just more reason to begin growing your own hops.

I’m sure that this is a topic that will resurface often and I’ll do my best to keep up to date with it so you can make an informed decision when you are standing in the beer aisle.


What’s A Firkin?

After my last sign off I’ve been asked what a firkin is.

A quick trip to Google reveals a firkin to be 40.9148269 liters. 40.9 liters is roughly 10.8 gallons.

Firkin is derived from a Dutch word meaning fourth.  This leads to a firkin being a fourth the capacity of a barrel of beer.  Besides being a unit of measure the word firkin has been associated with a small container of cask conditioned ale. In this special process a beer is transferred from the primary fermentation to the secondary where it finishes fermenting and naturally carbonating inside of the firkin. The beer is then served somewhat warm, in the mid 50s, from a beer hand pull pump instead of a typical tap due to the lower carbonation.

Often you will see bars offering some common beers that you have had before as firkins or cask ale.  They will have different flavor profiles and mouth feels. Next time you see one give it a try,  it’s definitely worth the experience.

That’s a high level overview of a firkin. Hopefully you can now go enjoy your next Firkin Friday.





Buying Bulk Grain

A question I get asked often is, “How much does it cost to brew your own beer?” Typically my answer is something like, “It depends…”

There are a lot of factors in the cost of making your own beer. Not only do the costs of your ingredients vary from batch to batch, but there are also other factors that people typically don’t think about. Things like the cost of propane, up front equipment cost, or bottle/keg cost are typically not really talked about much and in turn not as quantifiable.

One of the components that I’ve recently tried to improve my per batch costs for has been the grain bill. By volume and cost grain is the largest component of your average beer. Since I began doing all grain brewing this past fall my grain bills have been in the 15 to 20 pound range per batch. Roughly 70%-80% of that weight is the same base malt that gets used in many different kinds of beers. The other 20%-30% are specialty grains that change from beer to beer. That being said, trying to save money on the base malt is something worth looking into, but first you need a couple things to do it.

Typically home brew supply stores sell grain by the pound or a 50-55lb sack. Buying a full sack of grain is where you see the savings. Buying it by the pound will typically cost you anywhere from $1.25 to $1.50 per pound. Buying a 50lb sack can lower the per pound price closer to the $1.00 range, and sometimes even lower with group buys. Over time this difference can really add up.

Buying  considerably more grain than you need for a single brew does present a few challenges. The first is that you need some place to store it. Grains need to be crushed before they can be used in the brewing process. Crushing your grain starts a count down of it’s life expectancy for a variety of reasons. Grain that has not been crushed and is stored in a cool, dry place has an amazing shelf life. To store it properly you need to provide a large enough sealed, food grade container. One common container a lot of home brewers use may already be in your house right now. Vittles Vaults are very common in the home brewing scene. Even though they are designed to hold pet food they are made from FDA approved food grade plastic and their Gamma seal lids keep moisture and critters out. Recently I acquired two of the 60lb bins.

They are very well constructed and I foresee many years of use from them. I just noticed too that on Amazon the 25lb  non stackable version is only $15.99.

Thanks to my Amazon Prime membership, something I’d highly recommend purchasing if you do a lot of internet shopping, one will be here in 2 days. This is where I will store my specialty grains.

After your grain has found a good place to be stored you will probably want to brew with some of it from time to time. Here is where the next challenge for bulk buying comes into play.

When you purchase grain by the pound at your local homebrew store you will typically get it crushed at the store. If you are still doing kit beers and you only have a pound or two of specialty grains to steep you can get a little creative and crush the grains with a rolling pin or something similar. However, if you are doing a 18lb all grain recipe you will want to have a better method, for both time and improved grain utilization. You need a grain mill.

I currently use a Barley Crusher grain mill. Not only is this mill made in the USA, but it is also made in Michigan, which is a big plus for me. It’s a very simple device that allows you to split open the malted grains, but not crush them into dust. It comes with a crank handle, but you will quickly put your cordless drill on it instead. If you keep the RPMs down a bit it’s a perfect way to make short work of the grain.

Now you may be thinking to yourself, “I’m spending over $100 to save a few cents per pound on grain. What the heck?”. Over time it is something that would pay for itself, but the up front rewards are two fold. First, crushing your own grain gives you better control over your process. I am by no means an expert brewer, nonetheless an expert all grain brewer, but from the few batches that I have done recently my efficiency was considerably higher using grain that I crushed versus grain the store crushed. The second reward is convenience. You now have a good portion of your brew day supplies at your home, ready to go. Storing a little extra specialty grain along the way, some extra hops, and maybe an extra yeast packet now makes for a great spontaneous brew day without needing to make a trip to the store.

Hopefully this post will help you decide if buying bulk grain is for you or not. Now go out and see what your local brew pub has on tap for Firkin Friday!


2015 World Expo Of Beer

Our recent trip to the Royal Oak Beer Fest got me thinking about my favorite event of the year, the World Expo Of Beer. It’s a two day event at Heritage Park in Frankenmuth, MI  that is half beer fest and half full blown party. With 300 beers to try it is a must attend event. This year the expo will be held on Friday, May 15th and Saturday, May 16th.

We have made the trip two years in a row and are anxiously looking forward to this year’s event. We have always done the expo on Saturday, but may switch it up a little this year and do Friday night instead. Hopefully that will let us do more around Frankenmuth and give us more time to enjoy the amenities of the hotel. Speaking of the hotel,  The Bavarian Inn  is a very short walk, or stumble, from Heritage Park and has all sorts of entertainment for the whole family. The highlight though is the two indoor water slides. Not too much farther away is Zenders Splash Village Hotel. They also have an indoor water park and that may be calling our names this year.

It looks like tickets are on sale already.  I recommend buying ahead of time to save yourself a lot of time on the day of the expo. Having tickets still puts you in a long line because of the popularity of the event, but it moves much quicker than the line for purchasing tickets at the expo.

Even though there won’t be a Mighty Penguin Brewing booth I still hope to see you there!

Mike Schaffer's Home Brewing Site