Making a coffee beer

, March 11, 2013

Coffee. Oh yeah!

Mmmmm. A nice delicious cup of coffee. Or a cold, dark, stout. Wait! Why not blend the two together? A good coffee beer goes a long way, and can be a lot of fun to make. It’s a specialty beer that I have made at least a handful of times in different varieties. Some of them have been merely adequate, with a couple approaching sublime. My last was by far the best yet.

There are three different techniques used for brewing coffee beers. The oldest, and most commonly used technique, is to add the coffee beans into the boil. The ground coffee can be boiled anywhere from 15 minutes to being added at flameout. This technique extracts some flavor from the coffee, although boiling for any length of time drives off most of the very volatile aromas. The drawback of this technique is that it extracts more of the bitterness from the coffee. That bitterness can give a strong impression of coffee, but it can’t give you the degree of coffee aroma and flavor you might prefer. The next technique is to add the ground coffee in a secondary fermenter after the main fermentation is complete, similar to a dry hop. Because there is no heat being applied, the delicate aromatics are not forced out of the beer, but can be dissolved into it. I have used this technique with much greater success than boiling, so it is the focus of this article. The final technique involves making a cold brew coffee and then adding that to the beer. Add the coffee grounds to a cold jar of water and let it soak overnight. This cold brew can be added to the beer to add the coffee flavor and aroma you desire. This extracts very similar compounds from the coffee as leaving the coffee in the beer, and should provide excellent results. That said, I haven’t tried it: adding coffee into the fermenter provides such excellent results I have had no need to try any other techniques.

Coffee can be added to any kind of beer, but most commonly it is added to porters or stouts. On occasion, you will see one along with an oatmeal stout, and I once even found one mixed with bacon (thank you Haven Brewing). Coffee can also work with lighter beers, but the roasty, malty, and chocolaty flavors of these beers complement the coffee flavor.

Delicious Coffee Beer
First, get a delectable coffee beer to drink. There are a variety of great coffee beers on the markets today. A couple of excellent examples are the Java Porter from Mountain Sun, Santa Fe Brewing’s Imperial Java Stout, and Founder’s Breakfast Stout. All of them will be an excellent accompaniment to a coffee brewing session.
Next, select a nice brand of coffee. Folgers? No. Yuban? No. Dunkin’ Donuts? Not even. Basically, if it’s coffee that you would want to drink, that’s what you want to add. The darker the roast, the more flavor you should expect. I have used the French Roast from that coffee manufacturer that you can’t avoid, gotten nice organic dark roast from the local grocery, and used the exotic stuff from my local coffee roaster. As long as it’s fresh, properly roasted, and freshly ground, you are bound to make an extremely tasty brew.

Coffee to be added to your beer
Grind your own beans immediately before adding them to the fermenter. If you can’t do it yourself, have it done at the store, but use the ground beans as quickly as possible, preferably the same day. The volatile chemicals in the coffee can escape very quickly, and you would much rather have them escape into your beer. Go with a fairly coarse grind. You want to make sure that the coffee will be absorbed into the beer, but the contact time will also be fairly long. Use about 1 cup of ground coffee for a 5 gallon batch for a robust coffee flavor. Use less if you don’t want the coffee to be as strong, but I would be cautious about putting in too much more.
Proper coffee grind for beer

Add the ground coffee directly to the fermenter. I use a sanitized funnel to prevent making a big mess. I don’t worry about actually sanitizing the coffee, as it is generally pretty clean. Make sure to take good care of it en route.

Adding Coffee to a carboy of stout

Let the grinds sit in the fermenter for 18-24 hours. Pull a sample THE NEXT DAY! This technique works quite quickly. If the coffee aroma and flavor are where you want it to be, rack off the coffee beans into another fermenter. Proceed to bottle or keg the beer as soon as you are ready.

Enjoy your coffee beer and don’t forget to share some with your friends.

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Brewing log sheet

, January 11, 2012

One of the things that I have learned during my brewing adventures is that there is nothing worse than coming out with a great tasting beer and not being able to make it again. So I developed a Brewer’s Log Sheet that is designed to keep track of all of the information you need to make a good replica of previous batch. This sheet is based from a book of recipe sheets that I used early in my brewing days, but updated and enhanced for the sorts of brewing conditions I am used to encountering in the wild. Due to differences in fermentation conditions like temperature and the nature of small scale brewing, it’s tough to get two batches of the same recipe exactly the same like you would expect from a professional brewery, but these can help you get that much closer. So let’s get down to the particulars.

Materials Section of Log Sheet
First and most important we have ingredients. This allows a place for you to log everything that goes into your beer, including grains, hops, yeast, adjuncts, flavorings, salts and anything else you need. This is very convenient because you can see everything you need in one spot, create a shopping list, and be ready to go to the brewstore. It is also very convenient for modifying recipes by adding and removing ingredients, converting extract recipes to all-grain, and finding good information about them. Plenty of space for comments also allows you to track ancillary information about the ingredients.

Next up is the mashing procedure. Keeping track of mash temperatures and times enables consistent extraction of sugars including controlling fermentability. Temperatures and quantities make it easy to reproduce process and manage your mash, while the times make it easier to keep track of the current mash.

Boil section of brewers log
The kettle operation section is used to record information about the boiling procedure. This information is extremely important for process control when attempting to reproduce recipes. Timing information is useful in planning and tracking when additions are required and the boil can be ended, and after the boil completes, the time boiled column is very useful for planning future batches. Recording the quantity and type of ingredients makes it easy to get ingredients and quantities matched up between batches, and leaves a convenient place to track the final boil volume.

Section of log sheet for Pitching and Fermentation
Next it is good to record information about pitching and the fermentation process. This space includes the place to record initial gravity and temperature, yeast type and pitching time. During fermentation, any time you test or move the beer, the gravity can be recorded to monitor fermentation activity and track dry hop and other post-fermentation flavoring additions.

Bottling section of log sheet
Finally, bottling. I created these logs before I acquired a keg system, and these sheets reflect that. All of the basic information, including gravity, date, and temperature is the same in both cases, so I have never gotten around to updating it. In the rare case that I bottle condition, it is nice to have a place to keep track of how much sugar is added, so it is probably best to leave it.

The Brewer’s Log Sheet is designed to cover the front and back of a regular sheet of paper. I print a bunch of them out, then 3 hole punch them and keep them in a binder. The Nutty Brewer’s Log stays with me whenever I am brewing or working on any other brew tasks. Hopefully it works for you, too.

Download the Brewer’s Log Sheet.

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New Year’s Homebrewing Resolutions

, January 9, 2012

Happy 2012 everyone!

I recently saw this very entertaining post on the Serious Eats: Make These 7 Homebrewing Resolutions for 2012.

I enjoyed the resolutions as they are quite well rounded: learn more about beer, make more beer, and always plan ahead. I do enjoy them, but would also like to add a few of my own.

Teach someone else to brew. They say you learn more about doing something by trying to teach someone else how to do it than by doing it yourself, and I for one am ready to try this one. It’s also a great way to spread the love of great beer and make sure that anywhere you go you always have good homebrew to drink!

Brew with an ingredient I’ve never used. I have used a lot of different ingredients over the years, including herbal tea, molasses, and clippings from spruce trees. It always livens things up to go with something you’ve never tried, so go with something different. Be it spices, coffee, candy sugar or a new yeast strain, there is always room to grow.

Finally, have more fun brewing. I know over the last few years I have found myself getting hung up on the mundane tasks you have to perform during this process. This year, I resolve to have more fun during the processes of brewing.

Happy New Year to you and yours from the Nutty Brewer.

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End of an era – Whale of an Ale IPA

, December 20, 2011

Brewing is fundamentally a process where each batch has a similar life cycle and this can lead to the development of a lot of brewing traditions. One of the ones that I observe is to always declare “End of an era” when I get to the last of any brew. Sometimes it’s just for me, others it’s just a way to let my brewing partners and friends know that the keg is kicked. But I always feel a moment of sadness when that last bit of foam spurts out of the keg; gone from the world is something very real that will never be here again. My brew system isn’t perfect like that of the big boys, and I understand that the particular experience that was this brew won’t likely ever come back. I might get pretty close, but some way, somehow, we’ll never be here again. I guess I just get a little sentimental.

So when I heard the keg sputter out that last bit of foam from the Whale of an Ale IPA tonight, I had a somber moment as I reflected on its impermanence. Much like life, a great batch only lasts so long, but it has the opportunity to make brighter the lives of those around it, if only in a small way. I couldn’t help but smile, and as I took my nearly empty glass (the last inch of the dregs that made its way into the bottom was mostly foam anyway) into the other room, I told Mim “End of an era” and we paid our little moment of respect. But our troubles were brief, as the bubbling carboys in the next room will be our next story to tell. Someday I’ll look back in the brew log and think, that Whale of an Ale, there will never be anything quite like that again.

A happy new year of brewing to all of you.

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Coming home from an off site brew day

, December 18, 2011

As many of you probably do, I brewed today at a brewing partner’s house. We had a great day, making ten gallon batches of a porter and a stout. It’s really a great system, and is pretty straightforward with a little planning. You do end up loading a fair amount of gear up, but it’s sometimes nice to go work with other people’s brew systems and techniques. I certainly have leaned a lot in my travels this way.

This is great system, but it’s a good idea to follow some basic ground rules. First, and most obvious, go easy on step one (relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew). Have a good time, of course, but always stay safe. If you are bringing your own burner, don’t forget propane. Yup, I learned that one the hard way. Make sure your carboys are clean before you go, although sanitizing them on site is generally simple enough. Plan ahead and make sure you have everything you need – the day will go easier.

As for loading up the carboys on the way home, make sure you get the lids screwed on nice and tight to prevent spilling. Double extra make sure that you loosen them and get the airlock on when you get home. There is nothing worse than letting a sealed carboy ferment for a day or two.

Remember to buckle up.
Carboy full of fresh stout riding home in the front seat

Yes, even in the back seat.
Carboy of porter tightly buckled for the ride home

And remember, it’s always best to keep any sunshine off your beer, particularly if you use lots of hops. At the same time, you can even put yourself in position to use the HOV lane!
Every girl's crazy about a sharp dressed carboy

Happy brewing at your place, your friend’s place, or at the Nutty Brewer’s brewery.

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Increasing batch efficiency – reducing siphon losses

, December 14, 2011

Ever finish siphoning a batch from one carboy to another or into a keg and wonder how you can leave less homebrew in the bottom of the batch? All that beer that is left in the bottom of the carboy becomes beer that you can’t drink. These losses can add up, especially if you are dry hopping or have a beer that has to be racked multiple times for any reason. Here is a simple modification that you can make to your standard racking cane to reduce the amount of loss each time you siphon.

To reduce the amount of beer that is left in the bottom of the carboy, all you have to do is cut down the foot of the racking cane. This foot is very useful for preventing trub, yeast sediment, dry hops, or any other undesirable materials from making it into your secondary or keg, but most of them are too tall and end up leaving too much beer in the bottom of the carboy. By cutting down the foot, you can still keep most of the nastiness in the bottom of the carboy, but with a lot less beer. Here’s how.

To perform this task, all you need is a couple of simple tools. I used a vice grip and a hacksaw. Only the hacksaw is really required, but it is very nice if you have a vice or vice grip to make it easier to hold onto, and also makes the modification somewhat safer.
Tools for racking cane modification

Take your vice or vice grip and clamp it around the foot of the racking cane that you wish to enhance. This can take a couple of tries to get a good solid grip and get in the correct location, but make sure you have it right before you move to the next step. I like to cut about half of the height of the foot off, to make sure that you can leave all of the sediment in the bottom of the carboy. You certainly don’t want to let a lot of that through if you can avoid it. Note that there may be some scratches that end up on the foot during the process, so minimize that if you can, because scratches can harbor bacteria, but since we all do a very good job of sanitizing these things, don’t worry about some minor scuffing.
Preparing to perform the racking cane modification

Using a hacksaw, cut the top off of the racking cane foot. Be careful while you are doing this, as obviously the saw is sharp, but also to get a good groove in the plastic and stick with it. If you get multiple grooves in the plastic, the rest of the sawing can be much harder.
Cutting the racking cane foot

When you are done cutting the foot, you should have the shorter version of the foot and the piece that was cut off as well as some smallish bits of plastic left over from the cutting. You can get rid of everything except for the remaining part of the foot at this time.
Completed cut for the racking cane modification

The cut will have some very rough edges and burrs on it from the cutting, so I recommend getting out a piece of sandpaper and sanding down the cut until it is smooth. Simply place a piece of sandpaper, rough side up, on a workbench or table and wiggle the freshly cut end of the foot until there are no more burrs and it is as smooth as possible. If available, do this twice, using 60 and then 100 grit sandpaper to make it as smooth as is practical.
Sanding the cut racking cane foot

Rinse the racking cane foot well in water, and then do a visual inspection to make sure that it looks good, and is free of any burrs or other pieces of plastic that could come off during the rack. You wouldn’t want to see any plastic bits floating in your beer! You are now ready to put it on your racking cane, sanitize the entire setup, and siphon away. Good luck keeping more of your beer to drink and increasing your efficiency by reducing the losses you encounter during the siphoning process.
Completed racking cane modification

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Temperature Conversion Calculator Released

, November 30, 2011

The new Temperature Conversion Calculator has been released. This calculator performs temperature conversions between Fahrenheit, Celsius, Kelvin, and Rankine (a fairly rarely used scale that uses Fahrenheit degrees, but equals 0 at absolute zero like Kelvin (I am a big fan of absolute zero)).

This is the second calculator brought to you by the Nutty Brewer. Stay tuned for the latest updates to the Calculators as more will be coming soon.

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Critical Brewing Equipment – Towels

, November 14, 2011

Now I know that most of you have a set of towels that you keep handy for Brew Day. You almost have to. Between boilovers, leaky sample jars, overfilled bottles, and spilled beers, a good table Zamboni is about the most important tool in your collection. As with so much of my equipment, I prefer to have a dedicated set just for brewing. That way I have full control over how they are treated, including selecting, cleaning, and stashing in convenient locations so there is always one close by when a spill occurs.

A nice neat stack of brewing towels next to a cold beer.

Over the years, I have built up an assortment of odd towels from a variety of sources. Check them out! As you can see, I prefer hand towels. Hopefully it doesn’t get to the point where you need a beach towel (what a mess!), and you can keep a small one in your pocket at all times for all sorts of minor things.

Mammoth Towels
I am a huge fan of the Colorado Mammoth, and you can see that I have picked up some towels from going to the games. As a season ticket holder, I get out there a lot, so these towels end up being the backbone of my towel fleet.

Denver Sports Team Towels
I also like to keep around any towels I pick up from my other local sports teams. In this case, the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Rockies have made runs into the playoffs in recent years. The Nuggets towel I picked up at a home playoff game. As it happens, Rockies towels were much harder to come by, and that one was given to me by a friend who was lucky enough to get a ticket.

Green Bay Packer towel from Lambeau Field
Ahh, the Green Bay Packers. I am not a huge football fan, but I am not afraid to catch a game once in awhile. On a business trip to Chicago a year or so ago, I had the opportunity to move my flight to the Saturday before my meeting started. Of course, I took advantage of this and drove the rental car up to the Holiest Patch Of Grass On Earth, Lambeau Field. While I ended up there during breast cancer awareness month, which is why the towel is pink, instead of yellow, it’s still a pretty cool item to have around. I rather enjoy having it in the collection.

Sierra Nevada Brewing Towel
And finally, the flagship of the fleet. The Sierra Nevada Brewery towel. I picked this one up at, of all places, the Bonaroo music festival. I attended in 2011 to do a presentation at the “Broo’ers” Festival (read “Brewer’s” Festival) where I gave a talk about beer styles, process, and homebrewing. It was the first time I had done a beer talk on that scale, and turned out to be a fun experience, even though we were overrun by a bunch of Rooers who had been in the 100 degree heat for too long and just wanted some free beer. After the talk, the rep from Sierra Nevada gave me the towel.

Next time you brew, have some towels around. But even if you make a mess and don’t have a towel around to clean it up, the Nutty Brewer will never say “I told you so.”

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ABV Calculator Released

, November 2, 2011

One of the things I have been wanting to do with this blog is to put some handy calculators up to allow me to do whatever calculations I have a need for. I am proud to announce the release of the first Nutty Brewer calculator, the Alcohol By Volume Calculator. Simply enter your initial and final gravity, and voila, there is the measure of your alcohol content. Don’t worry, there are more to come soon!

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The right tool for the right job

, September 10, 2011

I spent a large portion of the last week and about 200 bucks installing a utility sink in my brewing area. Man, was it ever worth it. I finished the installation on Thursday night (after roughly 5 trips to area Home Depot stores (including nearly $100 of returns on the last visit)), 2 shutdowns of the water to my entire house, and roughly 24 hours of a drip that would have been totally unmanageable had it not fortuitously been dripping into the sink itself!

On Friday night, the day after wrapping up the installation, I got a hankering to get that India Black Ale in the keg. It’s been in carboys of various ilk for nigh on a month, and the dry hops have been in there for at least 2 weeks. After staring at everything for a few moments, I decided to at least clean out a keg. How amazing is this? I don’t have to carry the keg upstairs, then go back downstairs and get the drain tube that I always forget, then bring that up, move some dishes around so I have a place to work, then worry about which pieces and parts I end up leaving upstairs and have to get later. I don’t have to worry about making a mess in the kitchen and making sure everything is back in order there. No. Just grab the keg and throw it in the sink. Nothing’s going to hurt the sink, and nothing is going to damage the keg. I don’t have to worry about a bunch of kitchen germs, and best of all, there aren’t any stairs. Even if I forget something 🙂

As I sit here enjoying a pint of the aforementioned India Black Ale, I can’t help but think about how much easier the whole process becomes. 2 kegs cleaned, 1 beer kegged, that carboy cleaned, and everything done, ready, and put away in just over an hour. It’s that much easier, and this is just for kegging. I can’t wait for Brew Day!

If you’ve never done any plumbing before, it might be a bit of a stretch, but the reality is that I am pretty happy about the whole situation. It turns out that with these “sharkbite” fittings (closeup below), it really is easy enough that anybody could do it. All you do is cut the pipe to length and slide these connections on there. I was amazed at how easily these allow you do what you need, and they are compatible with copper, pvc, and pex at the very least.

Brewing is good.

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