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WILT 15–16A: Witbier

I seem to have started an annual thing here.  Last year, for the Canton PTO I contributed a “Custom brewed case of beer.”  This was one of the items that was part of the silent auction.  Last year I brewed a Chocolate Stout with hints of coffee and vanilla for Bob.  This year I did the same thing again and the winner elected to have me brew a Witbier.  This is my first attempt at a Witbier so some research was required…

So, what is a Witbier?  It’s a refreshing, elegant, tasty, moderate-strength wheat-based ale.  It has a relatively simple grain bill consisting of about 50% pilsner malt and 50% unmalted wheat.  I added in a small about (about 2%) of acidulated malt to give it some of the lactic sourness that it often has.  The most challenging part was finding some bitter orange peel.  My regular homebrew shop was out and, after looking at a variety of other stores I was able to find it a different homebrew shop in the area.  Most stores carry orange peel, but it’s a sweet orange, not bitter like a curacoa or seville.

Here are the vital statistics for a Witbier

  BJCP Guidelines ThreePines Witbier
IBUs 10-20 18.3
SRM 2-4 3.5
OG 1.044-1.052 1.047
FG 1.008-1.012 1.012 Est.
ABV 4.5-5.5% 4.63% Est.

It’s currently in the carboy with a 1000 mL starter of Wyeast 3944 Witbier yeast.  I look forward to sampling it towards the end of May, just in time for Memorial Day!


With the Munich Helles and Dopplebock under my belt I’ve gotten over the initial trepidation associated with a lager.  In fact, the first beer that I helped my Brother-in-Law brew as he began his homebrewing journey was a Schwarzbier.  I thought I’d get another one going (since it takes about 3 months).  Looking at the time of year it seemed appropriate to make a Maibock. 

So what is a Maibock?  It can be thought of as either a pale version of a traditional bock, or a Munich Helles brewed to bock strength. While quite malty, this beer typically has less dark and rich malt flavors than a traditional bock. May also be drier, hoppier, and more bitter than a traditional bock. The hops compensate for the lower level of melanoidins. There is some dispute whether Helles (“pale”) Bock and Mai (“May”) Bock are synonymous. Most agree that they are identical (as is the consensus for Märzen and Oktoberfest), but some believe that Maibock is a “fest” type beer hitting the upper limits of hopping and color for the range. Any fruitiness is due to Munich and other specialty malts, not yeast-derived esters developed during fermentation.

Here’s how my Maibock stacks up against the guidelines.

  BJCP Guidelines ThreePines Maibock
IBUs 23-35 28
SRM 6-11 7.9
OG 1.064-1.072 1.066
FG 1.011-1.018 1.016 Est.
ABV 6.3-7.4% 6.53% Est.

So, what was special about this brew?  Well, like any other lager it required a larger than normal starter and a ferment at around 47 degrees.  What was different was the fact that I did a triple decoction mash.

Many beers first used a triple decoction as this method provided an easy way to get repeatable results during a mash without the use of a thermometer.  A triple decoction was also almost a requirement with pilsner and/or munich malt historically being less modified than today’s examples.  Higher modification leads to easier sugar extraction during the mash.

Decoction is basically the process of taking a portion of the mash (mostly grain) and bringing it to a boil to then add it back to the mash to bring the temperature of the mash from one rest temperature to the next.  Here’s what I did…

  1. Mash in with about 3 gallons of water at 70 degrees (13lbs of grain). Hold for 15 mins.
  2. Add 2 gallons of 169 degree water to bring mash to 105 degree acid rest.  Hold for 20 mins.
  3. Decoct 1 gallon of mash, bring to boil for 5 mins and add back to mash to bring to 122 degree protein rest for 10 mins.
  4. Decoct 2.25 gallons of mash, bring to boil for 2 mins, add back to mash to bring to 155 degree dextrinization rest for 20 mins
  5. Decoct 1.5 gallons of mash, bring to boil for 5 mins, add back to mash to bring to mash out temp of 170 degrees for 5 mins.

At this point I then carried out my standard batch sparge where I drained the mash tun, collecting about 2.5 gallons of wort and then added about 5.6 gals of 168 degree sparge water to collect an addition 5.5 gallons of wort in preparation for my boil.

At the end of a much longer brew day (added on about 2-3 hours) I had successfully completed my first triple decoction.   Whether I do this again will depend on how well it comes out… looking forward to the end of May.



Microsoft decided at some point over the last couple of months that it is no longer going to provide Windows Live Spaces support.  Well, forget the support, the service itself was turned off on March 16th.  Normally this type of abrupt action might be looked at with scorn and discord.  However, Microsoft informed the end user (me) ahead of time and provided a path forward.  Specifically, they built a custom migration tool that took my Spaces content and moved it (posts, comments, tags, categories, etc.) to the free WordPress platform.

Not only was the process seamless and easy, but it worked.  So, here’s to Microsoft and good customer service.  I set up a WordPress blog for my wife and so this actually works out well because now I can become more familiar with the day-to-day admin aspects of it to help her out when she needs it.

Next post will be on my recent MaiBock (Helles Bock) and a triple decoction…



Building a Heatstick

I spent some time last year/early this year building a burner stand for outdoor use to hook up to my whole house propane.  It has two 70,000 BTU low-pressure burners on it and does a great job with my 15 gallon heavy-duty pot.

The only problem is that during the summer most of my weekends are taken up and so I brew mostly from the end of September through to the end of May.  During those times, most of my brewing is at night on a Saturday.  I get the water going before dinner, mash in around 6:30, do baths with the kids and then they go to bed and I brew.

This has worked well with the brewing/family life balance.  Unfortunately it means that my heatsource is my stove top.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I am very happy to have a stove top that is conducive to holding my 15 gallon pot.  It can straddle two burners which collectively put out about 28,000 BTU.  While I have made some good beers this way, I never really have a good, hard, rolling boiling.  I’d say it’s more like a hard simmer…

One of they guys in our newly formed brew club suggested that I make a heatstick.  I had never really heard of or thought about a heat stick until he suggested it.  So, kudos Jeremy for the insight.  He pointed me here for instruction:

I read through the materials and listened to the audio files.  I found that the authors description of the parts was a bit lacking.  I wasn’t able to walk into my local home depot and pick things up quickly/easily.  Also, he suggests that making a 90 degree bent heatstick is good for multipurpose use.  This is what I chose to make and again, his part list was lacking.

To address this I have put together a comprehensive parts list to create your own heatstick.  I’d follow the instructions on his site for the most part.  I explain what I did here specifically though.

Parts List

  Description UPC Code Price
J-B Weld Epoxy 043425826558 $4.97
Husky 9 ft. 14/3 Power Tool Replacement Cord 781756626323 $10.96
DBHL 1-1/2 In. x 7 In. L. Chrome Sink Drain Waste Arm 041193051806 $9.98
DBHL No. Hp9793a, 1-1/2 In. x 12 In. Pvc Tailpiece Extension 041193057259 $3.22
1-1/2" x 2" Double Slip Connector 041193057266 $2.98
MUELLER STREAMLINE 1-1/2 in. PVC Schedule 40 FIPT Cap 012871628603 $1.23
Camco Copper-Zinc Chromate MWD Electric Water Heater Screw-In Element
1500 Watt
014717158961 $9.67
Imagine some screws, nuts and washers pictured here.  I’ll try to snap a picture of these at some point. 1ea. 3/8" long #6 brass machine thread bolt, #6 brass nut, #6 brass washer 030699199815


Building the Heatstick


Putting the heatstick together wasn’t very difficult. 

  1. Assemble your parts
  2. Gather tools:
    1. A drill with a bit the same size as the outside diameter of the machine screw (I don’t remember what size I used)
    2. A screw driver
    3. A pair of long-nose pliers
    4. A disposable cub and a popsicle stick.  These will be used to mix and apply the epoxy.
  3. Drill a hole in the sink drain near the end with the bend large enough for the brass screw to fit through. It was probably about 1/2 to 3/4 inches from the end.
  4. Drill a hole large enough for the extension cord to fit through in the cap.
  5. Attach the tailpiece extension to the drain pipe using the slip collar.
  6. Attach the double slip connector to the tail piece in the same way.
  7. Unscrew the other side of the slip connector – you won’t need these pieces.  You will screw on the cap when you are done.
  8. Run the electrical cord through the cap and then through your pipe assembly.
  9. Insert the brass screw from the outside of the pipe.  Attach a washer and a nut to the inside.
  10. Attach the ground wire to the brass screw you just inserted and tighten down using the screw driver and needle-nose pliers.
  11. Attach the black and white wires to each screw on the heating element. 
  12. Cinch down the heating element using the screw and washer that came with the drain pipe.
  13. Mix up the epoxy.
  14. Apply generously to all areas around the union between the heating element and the drain pipe.  You should put some over the screw as well to ensure a water tight seal.
  15. Let dry overnight.

The next day you should test out your heatstick in a pot of water and check for leaks.  Note that as the plastic warms up your previously tight slip connector connections may become loose.  You an either epoxy these closed or simply tighten them once they have heated up.

So, was it a success?  Yes.  I brewed with it a couple of weeks ago and it was great.  I used it to supplement my stove top while bringing the mash water to temp.  Then, when I sparged (I batch sparge) and I added my water I under shot the temp and hit 164 instead of 168.  I used the heatstick to stir it up a bit and quickly raised the temp in my plastic cooler (yes, you heard me right) to 168.  Finally, I used it during my boil to give me a much more rigorous, hard boil.

I’ll try to get a picture of a completed heatstick up here at some point. Here’s the completed project after three batches of use…

I look forward to continued use of my heatstick and am very happy with how it turned out.



Summer’s Over

It’s been several months since I last posted here.  A lot of that had to do with the fact that during the summer months  my weekends are quite busy and brewing takes a back seat.  After the Doppelbock I brewed the following:

  • Northern English Brown Ale
  • American IPA
  • American Wheat
  • Scottish Wee Heavy

Sorry for not keeping the WILT posts up to date on each of those styles.  The Wee Heavy was the last batch I brewed before the summer.  I finally got back to brewing in late september and crafted a Baltic Pumpkin Porter.  I used about 3lbs of pumpkin in the mash.  The beer is still conditioning and will likely be kegged this week.  Early samples suggest that this is a winner.

I had the fortune of helping my brother in law get into brewing with his first solo (with oversight) batch.  I guided him along the way, but let him do all the work.  He elected to make a Schwarzbier  It was a lot of fun brewing with him that day.  I think he’s going to start brewing himself soon.

I’m thinking it’s time to make a stout of some sort.  I haven’t made one in a while and enjoy them so. I may also go down the path of a Belgian of some sort before it becomes too difficult to keep my basement warm. 

In other news I’ve decided to study for and take the BJCP exam in April of next year.  I’ve started the studying and am making good progress.



WILT 13 – 5C: Doppel Bock

After what I’d consider success with my first lager (a Munich Helles I brewed in January) I decided to try another.  This time I opted to attempt a Doppel Bock.  A Doppel Bock is a Bavarian specialty first brewed in Munich by the monks of St. Francis of Paula. Historical versions were less well attenuated than modern interpretations, with consequently higher sweetness and lower alcohol levels (and hence was considered “liquid bread” by the monks). The term “doppel (double) bock” was coined by Munich consumers as they are generally twice the alcohol content than a traditional bock. Many doppelbocks have names ending in “-ator,” either as a tribute to the prototypical Salvator or to take advantage of the beer’s popularity.  A well known example is Spaten Optimator.

A Doppel Bock has strong maltiness and some toasty aromas.  Generally not very hoppy.  Some slight chocolate like aroma may be present in darker versions.

Here’s how my Doppel Bock stacks up against the guidelines.

  BJCP Guidelines Scoville Doppel Bock
IBUs 16-26 19.4
SRM 6-25 16.1
OG 1.072-1.112 1.086
FG 1.016-1.024 1.020 Est.
ABV 7-10% 8.65% Est.


Like the Munich Helles it will take a while for this one to finish – looking at being able to enjoy it in the begginning of July – perhaps I’ll force carb it faster than normal so that I can take it with me to the Lake over the 4th of July weekend!

Keezer Expansion

As mentioned in an earlier post I spent some time making changes to my keezer to make room for the Munich Helles I was going to brew.  I just made the last of modifications to it for a while.  I now have three faucets hooked up the distributor for dispensing three different kegs at a time.  I also spent a few bucks at the hardware store and bought some quick disconnects like you’d use for an air compressor with different tools.  In doing so, off of my second regulator I have the capability to set the pressure to whatever I want and then attach either an air chuck (like you use to fill your car tires) or a ball lock disconnect.

I made my wife some Ginger Beer soda for her birthday and needed a way to carbonate it.  Rather than messing with yeast I decided to force carb.  I could have bot some carbonator caps (look like a ball lock) and then connected a regular ball lock disconnect to it.  However, at $20/cap they are kind of expensive.  I decided to get some tire valve stems, drill a hole a soda cap and attach them with the provider washers/nuts.  Then, with an air chuck attached to my CO2 tank, I was able to force carb them.  By using the quick disconnect I can either attach the chuck or a ball lock disconnect to carb a keg.  It’s a great setup and one I’m happy to show off.

Since I can only fit 4 kegs in my keezer I think I’m good with three faucets.  I could dispense 4 at a time, but I doubt I’ll ever get there.  As it is, I’ve kicked 2 of the three kegs I have in there.  Good thing I’ve brewed twice in the last month 🙂  I made a Honey Stout this past weekend.  My next batch is going to be a Northern Brown Ale. 



WILT 12 – 1D: Munich Helles

As I looked back at all the beers I’ve made since I started in May last year (11 prior to this batch) they have all been ales.  Most of that has to do with the fact that I like ales.  An almost equal portion, however, has to do with the fact that making a lager requires some specific temperature control capabilities.  Specifically, the ability to ferment at 50 degrees and below.  That all changed this past weekend.

I’ve made small investments over time and so when I got my freezer off of craig’s list I went with simple single gauge regulator and CO2 tank along with one keg.  I put all of that in the freezer (along with my temperature controller) and called it a day.  Subsequently I have added a second regulator which allows for two different pressures (serving and carbonating), a second faucet and more kegs.  All of this culminated with moving my CO2 tank from the inside of my keezer to the outside of the keezer. 

It wasn’t really all that expensive an operation – it did require some modifications to my existing setup though.  I purchased a simple 3-way distributor which allows me to hook up a single CO2 line to the inlet and have three lines running off of it to three separate kegs.  With that in place I was able to move my CO2 tank out of the freezer and mount it to the side of it (attached to my wooden collar of course).  I drilled two 9/16” holes (same as the OD of the tubing) to pass a hose from each of the regulators through.  One is connected to the distributor and the other is connected to a gas pin lock disconnect. 

By moving the CO2 and the gauges off of the compressor hump I freed up space that fits a 6 gallon carboy quite nicely.  I now have a temperature controlled location for making a lager.  Now, I don’t plan on making a lot of lagers as they aren’t my favorite style, but I thought I should at least give it a try.  That said, I opted to give a Munich Helles a shot.

A Munich Helles is a malt-accentuated lager that is not overly sweet, but rather focuses on the malt flavor with underlying hop bitterness in a supporting role.  It is sort of like a Pilsner, but is a little maltier.

  BJCP Guidelines Scoville Munich Helles
IBUs 16-22 16
SRM 3-5 4.6
OG 1.045-1.051 1.050
FG 1.008-1.012 1.010 Est.
ABV 4.7-5.4% 5.21% Est.


I’m on the lower end of the IBUs, but I’m not a huge hop-head either.  I’m thinking this should work out nicely.  One of my biggest concerns was/is the fermentation.  After some reading and accounting for my setup I decided that I would pitch the yeast at the normal 65 degrees or so that I pitch at and then put the carboy in the keezer.  This seems to have worked out ok.  I don’t have a huge amount of airlock activity, but it is there.  It took about 18 hours for the wort to equalize to the 50 degree temperature of the keezer.  I plan to leave it at 50 for about 3 weeks.  I’ll then remove it from the keezer and leave in the basement and let it rise to 65 for a day or two until activity subsides.  Then I’ll transfer it to another carboy and put it back in the keezer and drop the temp to about 40 degrees.  I’ll leave it there for another 2 weeks and then move it to the keg for carbonation.

Should be ready just in time for March Madness!

WILT 11 – Soda

It’s been about two months since my last post.  So, what are my excuses?  I got incredibly busy with a project at work, I had a couple of holidays, a couple of deaths in the family, two colds and well, I guess that’s enough.

Anyway, what I learned was that it seems to be incredibly easy to make soda.  I was browsing around on the website and came across soda extract.  Basically, you add in some water, yeast, sugar and let it go.  You can get fancy with adding honey and dextrose and such, but on the face of it it’s very simply (compared to beer at least).  What’s neat is that you can keg it like you would beer or put it in 2-liter bottles.

I think when my kids are older (only 3.5 and 1.5 right now) that I’ll add a tap for them to my keezer for ice cold soda.  Could be kind of neat.

I did get some things done over the holiday.  I bottled the two cases of the United Way Saison and brewed a batch of Stone’s Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout.  This was a brew I promised my Brother-In-Law several months ago that we finally got to do.  I’m looking forward to it – smells great.  It’s pretty much done fermenting.  I think I’ll let it sit for a couple months (if my BIL lets me) to age it a bit.  Mmm.

My next batch will be either a Honey Stout or a Munich Helles.  I think I might do the Helles next.  This will be my first lager and I’m looking forward to it.  I just made room in my keezer for a carboy so that I can control the ferm temp.

Perhaps my next WILT will be on Munich Helles…


WILT 10 – Belgian Saison

For our recent United Way Goods and Services auction I put up for auction two cases of beer (same style) that two different people won.  They agreed on a Belgian Saison for the style of beer they wanted.  I warned them that I had never made one before, but they were still game.  So, the research into Belgian beers began. 

Here are the BJCP stats:

  BJCP Guidelines
IBUs 20-35
SRM 5-14
OG 1..048-1.065
FG 1.002-1.012
ABV 5-7%


I’m still working on a recipe, but think I’ve got one that might work well.  It was suggested by a few brewing friends from the Knights of the Mashing Fork.

What is a Saison?  Well, it is described thusly:

A seasonal summer style produced in Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium. Originally brewed at the end of the cool season to last through the warmer months before refrigeration was common. It had to be sturdy enough to last for months but not too strong to be quenching and refreshing in the summer. It is now brewed year-round in tiny, artisanal breweries whose buildings reflect their origins as farmhouses. 

I had an Ommegang Hennpin at Arugula in West Hartford Center a couple months ago and very much enjoyed the style.  The one thing that I’ve read about these types of beers is that I should step up the fermentation temperature into the 80’s.  Not sure how my basement pantry will tolerate that, but we’ll give it a shot.

Hopefully it turns out well.