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Beer Brewing and Wine Making Blog

  • Adding Yeast To Homemade Wine: Dried vs. Rehydrating

    Posted on March 31, 2015 by Ed Kraus

    Checking temperature before adding yeast to homemade wine.Maybe you can answer a question that I have. When using wine yeast, do you need to place it in hot water as the directions say on the yeast package, or can you just sprinkle it on the must? I noticed that some wine recipes call for it to be placed in hot water first, and other recipes call for the yeast to be sprinkled on the top of the must. What is the best thing to do?

    Eric L. — OH
    _____
    Hello Eric,

    You are correct! There is some conflicting information running round when it comes to adding yeast to a homemade wine. Almost all wine ingredient kit directions and wine recipes will say to sprinkle the dried wine yeast directly on top of the wine must, but if you look at the packet of yeast itself, it will have directions saying to put the yeast in warm water first.

    Putting the wine yeast in warm water before adding it to a wine must is a process called rehydration. What rehydration does is take a dried wine yeast and bring it back to an active state.

    If you pitch the dried yeast directly into the wine must it will rehydrate and eventually start fermenting, anyway. So why do the yeast producers recommend this extra step before adding the yeast to the wine?

    Why Rehydrate The Yeast?

    When a yeast cell rehydrates, its cell wall is swelling and gaining back its elasticity — its ability to flex and and be soft. This is a process that is prone to leaving a few cells damaged. In fact, a percentage of them don't make it. But, by using plain water at an optimal temperature you are reducing the number of yeast cells that are being damaged.

    Why Sprinkle The Yeast?

    The reason wine ingredient kit producers, wine recipes, and even the directions on our website do not mention rehydrating before pitching is that many home winemakers — particularly beginners — do not perform the rehydration correctly. Some tend to gloss over this procedure, not knowing its importance. This can cause more problems than if they had just added the dried yeast directly into the must.

    As an example, the typical rehydration directions for adding yeast to a homemade wine goes something like this:

    "Dissolve the dried yeast in 2 ozs. of warm water (100° - 105° F.). Let stand for 15 min. without stirring. After 15 min. stir and add to must."

    These are great directions and should be the directions you use, that is, if you follow the directions, exactly. But if you don't follow the directions, exactly, that thing can start to go wrong — very wrong!

    Shop Digital ThermometerIt is important to understand that at 100° - 105° F. a small portion of the yeast are dying every minute, and as the temperature goes up an even larger number die in a minute. What this means is that if a thermometer is not used to make sure that the water is at or below 105° F., or the yeast cells are allowed to stay in the water for longer than 15 minutes, too much, or potentially all of the yeast can be destroyed.

    It can take overnight or for some a couple of days to discover that their wine is not fermenting or fermenting very sluggishly — much more so than if they'd just sprinkled the yeast onto the wine must in the first place. The wine must is sitting still at a time that it is most susceptible to contamination and spoilage. It needs an active fermentation to start up in a timely manner to protect it.

    For this reason, wine kit producers elect to play it safe and advise that adding the yeast to your wine, that you sprinkle the dried yeast on top of the wine must. This is a much better option that having a first-time winemaker ruin their wine.

    What Should You Do?

    Regardless of what method you use for adding yeast to your homemade wine — sprinkle dried yeast on the must or rehydrate the yeast — some of the yeast cells will die before going into action. That's just the way it is, but that's okay. The number of yeast cells that are provided in each packet allow for this attrition. Just remember that if you do decide to rehydrate your wine yeast first, it is critical that you follow the directions closely with regards to temperature and time. Otherwise, just sprinkle the yeast on the must.

    Happy Wine Making,
    Ed Kraus
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    Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.


    This post was posted in Home Wine Making, Wine Making Blog

  • From White Stout to Black IPA: Four Homebrew Mash-Up Recipes

    Posted on March 30, 2015 by David Ackley

    MashUp BeerOne of the most rewarding aspects of homebrewing is creating your own homebew recipes. This creativity has led to a berth of new beer styles, from black IPAs to white stouts.

    Sometimes, creating an altogether new beer styles is as easy as switching out a single ingredient in an existing recipe, turning it into a homebrew mash-up recipe of sorts. Here are four recipe ideas to help you brew outside the box.

     

    White Stout Homebrew Recipe

    A few craft breweries have released something called a white stout in recent years. Two of the more prominent examples are from the James Page and Durham breweries. But what is a white stout exactly?

    There’s still some debate about what defines a white stout, but from what I gather, it’s basically a strong, pale beer. (Back when most beers were dark, strong beers were called stout.) You could try to create the illusion of roasted flavor in the white stout by adding some whole roasted coffee beans to the secondary fermenter. Use this homebrew mash-up recipe as a starting point, optionally adding 8 oz. of whole (not ground) coffee beans to the secondary fermenter.

     

    Belgian IPA Homebrew Recipe

    India Pale Ales are an English creation, but I think it’s safe to say that the style has been popularized by American craft brewers and spread throughout the world. It’s not surprising then that we’ve seen a multitude of mash-up variations on the style, including a Belgian spin. A Belgian IPA recipe basically swaps the American or English ale yeast for a Belgian strain, which brings in a range of fruity and spicy characteristics to the beer. Some recipes may also include other throwbacks to traditional Belgian beer styles, like candi sugar, spices, wheat, or oats. For starters, give this Brewers Best Belgian IPA recipe kit a try.

     

    Black Saison Homebrew Recipe

    Shop Brew KettlesSeveral craft breweries have jumped on the black saison bandwagon, not the least of which include Stone, Stillwater, and Evil Twin. Their 2012 collaboration, “The Perfect Crime”, wasn’t only dark, it was smoked as well. Their mash-up version contains quite a range of malts in the grain bill: pilsner, red wheat, carafa III, oats, biscuit malt, and smoked wheat. For your first black saison, I’d suggest starting with a Belgian Saison recipe kit and adding up to a pound of carafa III or midnight wheat to get the color you need.

     

    Black IPA Homebrew Recipe

    Probably the one homebrew mash-up recipe that has taken off the most, the black IPA features a wonderful combination of roasted malt and spicy hop flavor. I would wager that my Uinta Dubhe Imperial Black IPA clone is one of the best beers I’ve ever brewed. Give that recipe a shot, or try one of the partial mash recipe kits from Steam Freak or Brewcraft.

     

    Do you like to mash together beer recipes into something new? Do you have a favorite homebrew mash-up recipe you'd like to share?

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    David Ackley is a beer writer, homebrewer, and self-described "craft beer crusader." He holds a General Certificate in Brewing from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and is founder of the Local Beer Blog.


    This post was posted in Beer Brewing Blog, Beer Brewing Recipes

  • How To Use Bottle Sealing Wax

    Posted on March 28, 2015 by Ed Kraus

    Man Using Sealing WaxDear Mr. Kraus,

    Did not receive any instructions on how to use the bottle sealing wax I ordered . What is the best method to melt the wax beads. Have never used this wax before. Do you sell some type of melter. If you would please let me know how to use.

    Thanks,
    Sammy L.
    _____
    Hello Sammy,

    How you use the bottle sealing wax can vary somewhat. There is not a specific way it has to be used.

    We recommend melting the sealing wax in a tin of the appropriate size. This can be something as small as a soup can if you are only doing 5 bottles. If you are doing 50 bottles you may want to use something as large as an old 2 pound coffee can. Sit the tin in a pan of water to make a double boiler on the stove. This will help the wax to heat more evenly or a period of time.

    Once the sealing wax is melted you will want it to stay in that tin, permanently. The wax if very hard to remove once in a container, so don't actually put the wax in any good pots or pans, themselves.

    How to use the bottle sealing wax is something that can be approached from a couple of different angles:

    • Dip the whole neck of the wine bottle into the sealing wax.
      Not only will the wax be sealing the wine bottle air-tight, but it also become part of the wine bottle's decorative decor. The colors look incredible against the glass and can work together with the wine label to a bottle of wine worth sharing.

      The downside is that this method can use up quite a bit of sealing wax. One pound of wax will do about 40 to 80 bottles depending on how far you dip the neck into the wax. You may also need more sealing wax than this to create a resvoir deep enough to coat the amount of the bottle neck you want. This is dependent on what size of tin you select.Shop Sealing Wax

    • Pour the wax directly onto the cork itself.
      The second way to use the sealing wax is more efficient but not as decorative. Inset the cork by an eighth to a quarter of an inch into the neck of the wine bottle. Then pour a disk of wax into the inset. You will want to pinch a spout onto the tin you are using. Heat protective gloves will be needed for this method, as well.Just like dipping the bottle into the wax, the cork is sealed air-tight, but will use much less sealing wax per wine bottle. You will usually get about 150 bottles per pound done with this method.

    As you can see, how to use bottle sealing wax is open to some interpretation. If you are looking for full decorative value, dip the bottle neck into the sealing wax. If you are only wanting to make a better seal then use the second method and add a layer of sealing wax on top of the cork, itself.

    Happy Wine Making,
    Ed Kraus
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    Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.


    This post was posted in Home Wine Making, Wine Making Blog

  • Choosing a Mash Tun Design for Homebrewing

    Posted on March 27, 2015 by David Ackley

    Dumping Grains Into Mash TunMaking the switch to all-grain homebrewing involves making some important decisions around equipment. In particular, what kind of mash tun should you get? Which mash tun design is the best? In this blog post, I’ll walk you through the options, but first, what is a mash tun?

    A mash tun is simply a vessel where crushed grains are mixed with hot water. During the mashing process, sugars are extracted from the grains and into the liquid, which is called wort. At the end of the mash, the wort is drawn out of the mash tun and into a boiling kettle. A perforated false bottom holds behind all of the spent grain.

    Now let’s cover the options when deciding what kind of mash tun design to buy.

     

    3 Basic Mash Tun Designs from Which to Choose:

     

    1. Brew in a Bag (BIAB)Brew in a Bag
      OK, the first option isn’t exactly a mash tun, but for many homebrewers, it’s the easiest and most economical way to get into all-grain brewing. The way it works is that a mesh straining bag (grain bag) is fitted into a brew kettle filled with water, then the crushed grains are added to the bag. After the mash (usually 60 minutes), just pull out the bag of grains.For best results, the water in the brew kettle should be pre-heated before setting up the bag. You want to avoid the possibility of the grain bag coming in direct contact with the heat source, so some bungee cords might come in handy.The bottom line: Brew in a Bag is an economical mash tun design, but requires some effort to keep the grain bag away from the kettle.
    1. The Mash Tun CoolerMash Tun
      The mash tun cooler is a great option for all-grain brewers. It’s still affordable, yet offers a setup that closely mimics the multi-vessel system used by professional brewers. The ability to lauter, or shower the grain bed with hot water as you draw off the wort, can help improve mash efficiency over the BIAB method. The mash tun cooler setup also tends to be very efficient at holding heat.There are just a couple drawbacks with the mash tun cooler system. For one, they’re easily scratched. As a result, they can be hard to clean. These issues can be remedied by being mindful of what you use to clean the mash tun (something non-abrasive – a cloth or rag is best.The other issue with this mash tun design is that you can’t apply direct heat to the plastic mash tun, making it a challenge to do step mashes. To raise the temperature of the mash, you have to add hot water. Dialing this in can be a challenge, but luckily there are online calculators and brewing software available to help you through the process.The bottom line: A mash tun cooler system is a great middle-of-the-road option for all-grain brewing.
    1. Stainless Steel Mash TunStainless Steel Mash Tun
      Not only does the stainless steel mash tun look cool, it’s also extremely durable and easy to clean. Most come with a build in thermometer. The main advantage of the stainless steel mash tun is that you can apply heat directly to the kettle, making it easier to dial in your mash temperature to the degree.The main drawback of a stainless steel mash tun is the price. But with that price tag you get quality construction that will last a lifetime. A stainless steel mash tun is an investment for the long term, and if you ever want to sell it, you can probably get back most of what you paid for it.The bottom line: A stainless steel mash tun design is the best option for serious brewers – if you can afford it.

    So what kind of mash tun design do you use? Is it working for you, or do you plan to upgrade?

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    David Ackley is a beer writer, homebrewer, and self-described "craft beer crusader." He holds a General Certificate in Brewing from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and is founder of the Local Beer Blog.


    This post was posted in Beer Brewing Blog, Home Beer Brewing

  • 3 Starter Wine Making Kits: Which One's Right For You?

    Posted on March 26, 2015 by Ed Kraus

    Wine from wine making kitsMy husband asked me to write you and ask about which of your wine making kits he should get to make wine with. He does not really know the difference between them and would like you to advise on how to get started.

    Brenda
    _____

    Dear Brenda,

    We have three different starter wine making kits. Each has a collection of the necessities you will need to start making wine. The equipment in these wine making kits are of the same quality items you can purchase from us individually, only this way they are packaged together at a reduced price. This makes these kits a great value for someone starting out.

    Each of these starter kits were carefully put together with simplicity in mind. We wanted to make it as easy as possible for you to make your first batch of wine without a lot of confusion and frustration. Truth is, what want you coming back to make more.

    We also spent a lot of time selecting equipment that goes into these wine making kits. We wanted to make sure that everything is of high quality — not cheap stuff — but equipment that will last you for many batches of wine.

    We also want your first batch of wine to turn out exceptional. That's why we did not go for the cheapest wine making juices you can find. Again, we want your wine to turn out so good that you cannot resist coming back for more.

    1. Your Fruit! Wine Making KitYour Fruit Wine Making Kit
      As the name implies, this starter kit has all the equipment and ingredients you will need to make wine using fruit you already have. It makes 5 gallons at a time. It includes two books that contain well over a 100 different wine recipes. The wine making instructions you will use with this kit are very easy to follow. With this kit you can make wines from raspberries, peaches, dandelions, blackberries, strawberries, rhubarb, watermelon... The list is very extensive. You can also use the wine recipes on our website's Recipes Page with this kit. If you are wanting to make wine from your own fruit then of the three wine making kits, this is the one your want.
       
    2. The SunCal Wine Making KitSunCal Wine Making Kit
      This starter kit contains all the equipment and ingredients you will need to make wine using any one of our SunCal concentrated grape juices. Very simple directions are provided. Start off with your choice of wine. Each can makes 5 gallons. You will also have additional yeast and other wine making ingredients for making additional batches. All you need is another can of SunCal concentrate.
       
    3. Connoisseur Wine Making Kit
      This kit will allow you to make wine, starting with your choice of Connoisseur wine ingredient kit. These ingredient kitsConnoisseur Wine Making Kit contain the grape juice concentrate and all the additional ingredients you will need, pre-measured and ready to go. After you make your first batch, you will have all the wine making equipment you need to make wine using any of our 200+ boxed ingredient kits. If you are wanting to make a large variety of different grape wines, then of the of the three wine making kits, this is the one you want to get.

    Each of these kits are designed with simplicity in mind. They give you exactly what you need, whether it be making wine from fresh fruits or from concentrated juices. So, which of these wine making kits is right for you?

    Happy Wine Making,
    Ed Kraus
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    Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.


    This post was posted in Wine Making Blog, Wine Making Kits

  • 8 Tips to Make Bottling Homebrew Easier

    Posted on March 25, 2015 by David Ackley

    Bottling HomebrewOf all the processes involved in making beer at home, the one that most often gets in people’s way of enjoying the hobby is bottling. Why is this?

    Maybe it’s the sheer number of beer bottles that have to be cleaned and sanitized. Maybe it’s all the labels that have to come off the bottles. Whatever the reason, chances are someone has come up with a way to make it less of a chore. Here are some tips that will help make bottling your homebrew easier.
     
    Tips for Bottling Your Homebrew

    • Start with clean beer bottles without labels – This might not make financial sense for some people, but I believe that a lot of the frustration of bottling homebrew comes from having to remove labels from the bottles you recycle. If you dread the idea of peeling labels from 50+ beer bottles, just go ahead and buy a couple boxes of new beer bottles and save yourself the headache.
    • Rinse beer bottles as soon as they’re empty – This will prevent funk from growing inside the bottle, making it much easier to prep the bottles for filling. Soak them once in cleanser, soak again in sanitizer such as Basic A, and you’re ready to go.
    • Use a bottle washer – For the bottles you forgot to rinse out, take advantage of the strong blast of water from a carboy and bottle washer. One of these will let you rapidly clean a batch of bottles in no time flat. Also works great for cleaning out your siphon tubing!
    • Sanitize bottles in the dishwasher – This is my favorite tip for bottling homebrew. Sanitizing your glass beer bottles in the dishwasher can save you a lot of work. Just load them in and set the dishwasher to the “sanitize” or “high heat” cycle. You’ll need to start them well in advance of when you plan to bottle, but at least you can do other tasks in the meantime. This works best if the labels are already removed.Shop Bottle Cappers
    • Clear your space ahead of time – This is a good tip for any stage of the homebrewing process. Keeping your workspace from getting cluttered will go a long way towards preventing mishaps. Take a few extra minutes before bottling to put everything in its place.
    • Sit down while bottling your homebrew – I like to hook up my bottle filler to the bottling bucket with a 2-inch section of transfer tubing. Then I can have a seat while filling bottles. It definitely helps to save the back!
    • Enlist a friend – Get a friend or significant other to help and cut your time commitment in half. One person fills, the other caps. Just be sure to repay them with some homebrew!
    • Switch to kegging! – OK, this tip for bottling your homebrew is a bit of a cop-out, but if bottling really gets on your nerves, why not get yourself a homebrew draft system? Not only do you avoid bottling your beer altogether, you get to drink your beer in three or four days instead of 14!

     

    What tips to you have for bottling homebrew?

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    David Ackley is a beer writer, homebrewer, and self-described "craft beer crusader." He holds a General Certificate in Brewing from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and is founder of the Local Beer Blog.


    This post was posted in Beer Brewing Blog, Home Beer Brewing

  • Leigh Erwin: Racking A Rosso Fortissimo

    Posted on March 24, 2015 by Leigh Erwin

    Carboy Being Filled With WineHey all!

    Just a quick update in case you missed my last entry: my Gewurztraminer wine ingredient kit seems to be going along well, though it’s just a little bit slower coming out of secondary fermentation than the instructions that came with it predicted. It probably has another day or two to go, so I’ll just check the specific gravity every day. By the way, it tastes great for this stage…

    On the other hand, the Rosso Fortissimo wine ingredient kit, had a specific gravity of 0.999 which is less than the 1.000 recommended in the instructions that came with it, so it is ready to move into secondary fermentation. This is a process winemakers call racking. That’s where I left off my last post, so I’ll pick up from there!

    I gave the Rosso Fortissimo a little taste while I was checking the specific gravity, and I think it’s tasting pretty nice for this early stage. I got a lot of bright cherry character, while my husband made note of some good tannin structure. We’ll see how it develops — but I’m optimistic at this point.

    The next step for this wine was to transfer or rack it from the primary fermentation vessel to the secondary fermentation carboy. I had cleaned and sterilized all equipment prior to getting started, so I was all ready to go after checking the specific gravity.

    Fermenter Faucet With HoseI was debating whether or not to use the siphon tube and hosing for the racking, or if I should just hook the hose up directly to the spigot at the bottom of the fermentation vessel. At first I thought I’d use the siphon tube, and had it all clean and sterilized, but then I decided at the last minute it would be a heck of a lot easier, quicker, and probably less messy to just hook the hose up directly to the spigot. I mean, what else would there be a spigot there for, right!

    shop_wine_kitsThe racking went really well, and I stopped it right at the point where I could see all the lovely dead yeasts and other gunk at the bottom of the fermenter. I’m sure a little bit snuck in the secondary fermentation carboy, but I’m sure it was minimal based on the stuff that was leftover in the first tank! There an excellent post about racking wine on this blog that's worth noting. It explains how to minimize wine loss during the procedure.

    These wine ingredient kits didn’t come with any enzymes or anything, which normally one would add at this stage, so I just closed it up with a rubber bung and fermentation lock and said “nighty-night!”. There already seems to be some gentle bubbling activity in the fermentation lock, so things seem to be progressing nicely. Now it’s a waiting game — I’ll keep my eyes on it every day to make sure nothing starts growing on it, but theoretically I won’t have to do anything with it for at least 10 more days (Day 20). At that point, I’ll check the specific gravity to see if it’s ready to move on to the clearing stage.

    Fingers crossed things continue to move along well!
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    leigh_erwin_bioMy name is Leigh Erwin, and I am a brand-spankin’ new home winemaker! E. C. Kraus has asked me to share with you my journey from a first-time dabbler to an accomplished home winemaker. From time to time I'll be checking in with this blog and reporting my experience with you: the good, bad — and the ugly.


    This post was posted in Wine Making Blog, Wine Making Kits

  • “German” IPA Beer Recipe (All-Grain & Partial Mash)

    Posted on March 23, 2015 by David Ackley

    German Beer In GlassesOne of the fun things about homebrewing is mashing together different beer styles and creating something altogether new. After trying a “German IPA” at a brewpub in Atlanta, I knew I had to give it a shot. The beer had the wonderful, malty backbone and the in-your-face hop flavor of an IPA, but the hops themselves were not what you’d usually expect to find in that kind of beer. Instead of piney, citrusy American hops, this beer showcased the more spicy and floral character of noble hops.

     

    Developing a German IPA Beer Recipe

    A number of clues came from the beer menu:

    Grain bill: Munich, Vienna
    Hops: Magnum, Perle, Northern Brewer, Hallertau, Tettnang
    Yeast: German ale yeast

    These were my tasting notes: Balanced bitterness, medium to medium-full bodied, spicy notes in the flavor, but with assertive noble hop aroma.

    Based on this information, I took a couple of stabs at the beer recipe, and this is its current iteration. Feel free to use it as a starting point for your own German IPA, or modify it to suit your tastes.

    Good luck!

     

    German IPA Beer Recipe – All-Grain
    (5-gallon batch)

    Specs
    OG: 1.064
    FG: 1.016
    ABV: 6.3%
    IBUs: 64
    SRM: 11

    Ingredients
    9 lbs. German Vienna malt
    4 lbs. German Munich malt (dark)
    0.5 oz. Magnum hops at :60
    1 oz. Perle hops at :20
    1 oz. Northern Brewer hops at :10
    1 oz. Hallertau hops at :5
    1 oz. Tettnang hops at :5
    1 oz. Hallertau hops dry hopped for five days
    1 oz. Tettnang hops dry hopped for five days
    Wyeast 1007: German Ale Yeast

    Directions
    shop_barley_grainsThe day before brewing, prepare a 2L yeast starter. On brew day, mash grains at 154˚F for 60 minutes. Sparge and lauter to collect about 6.5 gallons of wort in the brew kettle. Boil for one hour, adding hops according to schedule above. Chill wort and transfer to a clean, sanitized fermenting bucket. Ferment at 66˚F for about a week, then transfer to a secondary fermenter. Dry hop for five days, then bottle or keg.

     

    German IPA Beer Recipe – Partial Mash
    (5-gallon batch)

    Specs
    OG: 1.064
    FG: 1.016
    ABV: 6.3%
    IBUs: 64
    SRM: 11

    Ingredients
    2 lbs. German Vienna malt
    2.5 lb. German Munich malt (dark)
    6.6 lbs. Munich LME
    1.65 oz. Magnum hops at :60
    1 oz. Perle hops at :20
    1 oz. Northern Brewer hops at :10
    1 oz. Hallertau hops at :5
    1 oz. Tettnang hops at :5
    1 oz. Hallertau hops dry hopped for five days
    1 oz. Tettnang hops dry hopped for five daysshop_hops
    Wyeast 1007: German Ale Yeast

    Directions
    The day before brewing, prepare a 2L yeast starter. On brew day, do a “mini-mash” of the Vienna and Munich malts in 6.75 qts. of clean water. Hold at 154˚F for 60 minutes, then strain wort into the brew kettle. Add the malt extracts and enough water to make 3 gallons. Boil for 60 minutes, adding hops according to schedule above. Chill wort and transfer to a clean, sanitized fermenting bucket, adding enough clean, chlorine-free water to make 5.5 gallons. Ferment at 66˚F for about a week, then transfer to a secondary fermenter. Dry hop for five days, then bottle or keg.

    Have you ever brewed a “German” IPA before? What was your beer recipe like?

     -----------------------------------------------------------------
    David Ackley is a beer writer, homebrewer, and self-described "craft beer crusader." He holds a General Certificate in Brewing from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and is founder of the Local Beer Blog.


    This post was posted in Beer Brewing Blog, Beer Brewing Recipes

  • Is A Wine Refractometer A Good Alcohol Tester For Wine?

    Posted on March 21, 2015 by Ed Kraus

    Refractometer With Grape Being SqueezedI have been told that a wine refractometer works real nice as an alcohol tester for my wine must and also at the end is this true?

    Gary
    _____
    Hello Gary,

    Thanks for the great question. Testing the alcohol level of a wine is a subject that always seems to some confusion among home winemakers.

    A refractometer can not be used as an alcohol tester for wine. It will not test the alcohol level. A refractometer will only test the sugar level of a wine must or finished wine. This is no different than what a wine hydrometer can actually do. They both measure the sugar in a wine, not the alcohol.

    By comparing two sugar level readings, one taken before the fermentation and another after, you can determine how much alcohol was made. This is because wine yeast consume sugar and turn some of it into alcohol. If you know how much sugar was consumed by the wine yeast, you can then determine how much alcohol was made.

    This principal is exactly the same for a refractometer as it is for a hydrometer. Neither are alcohol testers, but they will allow you to calculate the alcohol level of a wine must or finished wine by comparing a current sugar reading (brix) with a beginning reading.

    What makes the refractometer extremely useful — and more handy than a hydrometer in some cases — is that you can take accurate sugar readings with very small liquid samples — just a couple of drops is all that is needed. This makes it ideal for checking the ripeness of the grapes while out in the vineyard. You only need to squeeze the juice from a single grape to see how sweet the grapes are becoming. This is very valuable when trying to determine when to pick your grapesShop Refractometers.

    Alternately, the hydrometer needs enough sample for it to float. This could take as much as 4 or 5 ounces of wine or must. A hydrometer jar is also needed to hold the sample. So as you can see more time and effort is involved to take a reading with a hydrometer. This pretty much rules out taking a sugar reading on the fly as you might with a refractometer.

    Gary, to answer your question more directly, a refractometer is a great tool for any winemaker to have. It is very handy, and it provides a quick way to get a sugar reading almost anytime, anywhere. But a wine refractometer is not an alcohol tester. It will not directly give you the alcohol level of your wine. This can only be done by comparing a beginning reading (before fermentation) with a current reading.

    Happy Wine Making,
    Ed Kraus
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    Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.


    This post was posted in Home Wine Making, Wine Making Blog

  • Tips for Brewing Your First Batch of All-Grain Homebrew

    Posted on March 20, 2015 by David Ackley

    Crushed grains for all-grain brewingSo you’ve finally decided to brew your first batch of all-grain – congrats! Brewing with grains is a big step towards brewing just like the pros do.

    Thinking back on my beginning homebrew experiences, here are some handy tips for brewing your first batch of all-grain homebrew.

     

    Tips for First-Time All-Grain Brewers

    • Brew with a friend – Brewing with others is often more enjoyable than brewing solo, but it’s also nice to have an extra set of hands. Better yet, if your friend has experience with all-grain brewing, they’ll probably be able to give you some valuable tips and pointers that will serve you well for years to come.
    • Have plenty of water ready – Due to the nature of mashing and lautering, all-grain brewing requires that you have plenty of water. This will mean that you’ll have to plan ahead in order to boil off chlorine or otherwise treat your brewing water. A five-gallon batch will likely need 8-10 gallons of water. Use a calculator like this one to get a good estimate ahead of time.
    • Try brew in a bag (BIAB)Brew in a bag is a great way for partial mash brewers to transition to all-grain brewing. Instead of a mash tun, all you need is a mesh grain bag. With BIAB, your boil kettle should be big enough for a full-volume boil, so if your kettle is five gallons, maybe try a three-gallon batch of beer.
    • Take notes – Everyone’s brew setup is different, so while you can find all kinds of advice for how to brew, it’s important that you become intimately familiar with your own all-grain equipment and procedures. Take good homebrewing notes so you can refer to them when troubleshooting or replicating a beer recipe.
    • Don’tShop All Grain Brewing System be afraid to use malt extract – Just because you’ve started brewing all-grain doesn’t mean you have to stick with it forever. Extract and partial mash will still serve you well if you ever find yourself looking for ways to save some time and effort. Even though I normally brew all-grain, it’s still nice to brew from a homebrew recipe kit once in a while. Plus, adding malt extract to your all-grain batches can also make it easier to make high-gravity beers.
    • RDWHAH – Relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew. Charlie Papazian’s mantra has guided me through several brews that have bordered on frustration. Keeping a cool head will make the experience much more enjoyable. Remember that as long as you follow some basic principles, like good cleaning and sanitation, it’s actually pretty hard to mess up a batch. Breathe, relax, and have fun!

     

    What tips do you have for someone beginning their first batch of all-grain brew?

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    David Ackley is a beer writer, homebrewer, and self-described "craft beer crusader." He holds a General Certificate in Brewing from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and is founder of the Local Beer Blog.


    This post was posted in Beer Brewing Blog, Home Beer Brewing

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