Category Archives: Techniques

Rozay Raspberry Hefeweizen

The Story

RozayRaspberry wheat beers are a fantastic summer beer: fruity, sweet, refreshing, pink. AJ, being a man nervous about close associations with traditionally feminine colours, was not comfortable making a pink beer. But there had been endless requests from friends to make a raspberry beer.

To overcome his fear of emasculation, AJ looked for inspiration from Rick Ro$$.  Normally, AJ only looks to Mr. Ro$$ when it comes to driving Maybachs and dramatizing life, but this was an exception. Look at that picture of Rick Ross. It just oozes masculinity: oversize man-glasses, an oversized man-timepeice, oversized man-fingers, face cloaked in man-beard. Yet Rick is a man of balance. Too much man is never good for a photoshoot. So there he is, holding a bottle of rosé, perhaps not the most manly of wines. The feminine bottle in the delicate yin to Ross’s huge yang. If Rick Ross can proudly drink rosé and go by “Rozay”, AJ could certainly make a pink beer.

Most raspberry beers use a very neutral ale yeast, to let the flavour of the raspberries dominate. While that does make a very refreshing beer, it is also somewhat simple. So we wanted to use a hefeweizen yeast. This will add some banana and spicy flavours to the beer, and make it a little more complex.

We assume the final product should be consumed while listening to this.
However, if your favorite rap song is “Changes” by Tupac, then listen to this instead.


Just Ross looking boss.

The Tasting

Raspbeer HefeAppearance: Dark pink (some might say red). Strong head, fairly cloudy, and strong signs of carbonation
Aroma: A tart, raspberry aroma. There is also a slight hint of hay. Don’t know where that came from, but it’s there.
Taste: It strikes right away with a tart raspberry flavour. Most of the sweetness of the fruit fermented away. Then comes an almost smokey taste. It’s difficult to describe. Somewhat like the smell of walking past wooden crates full of fruit (if you have ever had such an experience).  There is also a very complex taste of spices from the hefeweizen yeast. Most notable is the clove taste, but it is also peppery, with a lemon taste as well. The high alcohol content (7%) is well hidden. The body is very heavy.
Overall: This is not your typical sweet raspberry wheat beer that manages to convince a subset of the population they like beer. This beer is heavy, tart, complex and spicy. This is most certainly not how we expected the beer to turn out, but we like it. It is not a thirst quenching beer, but it would be the perfect beer to enjoy on a summer evening while enjoying the orange and red colours of the sky (and listening to Rick Ross).

The Process

Specifics: 23 litre batch, unknown extraction efficiency, ABV 7%, O.G. 1.058, IBU 11, single infusion mash with 120 minutes at 65 Celsius.

Grain Bill
The grain is very simple. But it also huge: 30 pounds. This is because we did a parti-gyle brew with a wheat wine. The mash was also very long (120 minutes) at a low temperature (65C) mainly to help the yeast ferment the wheat wine.

Gambrinus Pale Malt: 15 lb
Gambrinus Wheat Malt: 15 lb

Full Mash Tun

(AJ stirring mash with 30 pounds of grain in it)

Hop Schedule
Fairly simple hop schedule, designed to let the raspberries come through, but provide a little bit of citrus bitterness as well.

60 minutes: 0.25 oz Columbus (Columbus is a bittering hop that keeps it citrus flavour when boiled for 60 minutes. And we wanted that citrus flavour)
5 minutes: 0.25 oz Columbus (We  just wanted a little extra citrus flavour/aroma, so we did a very small 5 minute addition as well)

Washed WL380 yeast. Third generation.
Primary Fermentation: 5 days at 20C
5 pounds of raspberries added to secondary during racking. From what we read, about a pound of fruit per gallon of beer was recommended. The fruit was frozen when it was added to the secondary.
Secondary Fermentation: 20 days

Left image: 2 days of raspberries in the secondary. Right image: 20 days of raspberries in the secondary.
Notice the change in colour of the berries and beer between the two pictures.

Raspbeer at 2 daysRaspbeer at 20 days


French Farmhand Witbier

BC farm sceneThe Story

We are in a saison making mood, mainly because we have saison yeast sitting in jars, waiting to be used. However, we were also in the mood for a witbier, with all its lovely orange zesty flavours. So we combined the two. All the ingredients are similar to a witbier: lots of flaked wheat, orange peel, coriander, and very few hops. But we fermented the beer with a French saison yeast, which should add peppery and citrusy flavours. We are hoping for a citrusy, tart beer and hints of pepper and oak from the yeast. This will be a nice beer to have in the fridge as we get closer to summer. It likely won’t last that long, because AJ is a witbier drinking fiend.

The Tasting

Appearance: A light, hazy beer, with a very strong head. AJ is colour blind, so he claims it has an orange hue. He is clearly has no idea what he is talking about.
Aroma: A punget aroma full of wheat, spice and citrus. It is amazing how much the saison yeast and coriander bring out the orange aroma. A slightly tart and yeasty smell as well.
Taste: Starts off tart, but the orange flavour comes in right after. Hints of lemon and oak as well. There are a lot of flavours, but they all work together very well. Thick body from the wheat, but is still very refreshing.
Overall: This is a fantastic beer, assuming you like witbiers. It has a very traditional witbier flavour, like Hoegaarden, but with a twist. When you really think about the flavour, you notice the lemon, oak and pepper. But they blend in so well with the rest of the flavours you might not even notice them. We don’t often recommend people brew the recipes we create, but this is an exception. If you like witbiers, but want to try something a little different, make this recipe. Or, if you live close to us (or know us personally), ask to try some. We will most certainly be brewing more batches of this.

French Witbier

Also, AJ is proud that this beer was the first beer his near-brother Braydon ever consumed. A ringing endorsement for sure. It was also popular with those at the stag of AJ’s other near-brother Greg; however, this was most certainly not their first beer.

The Process

Specifics: 23 litre batch, 64% extraction efficiency, ABV 5.5%, O.G. 1.045, IBU 14, step mash: 20 minutes at 56 Celsius; 50 minutes at 67 Celsius.

Grain Bill
We just made a fairly simple grain bill. A typical grain bill for a witbier is 50% Pilsen malt, 50% flaked wheat. We tried to follow that model, but made some changes.

Gambrinus Pale Malt: 5 lb (Pilsen malt is generally preferred, but we did not have any)
Gambrinus Wheat Malt: 4 lb (We did not have enough flaked wheat, so we replaced it with wheat malt. Plus this looks like more of a middle ground between a witbier recipe and saison recipe? We convinced ourselves of that.)
Flaked Wheat: 3 lb (This cleared out our supply of flaked wheat. Now we need to head off to Dan’s Homebrew store to buy some more)

Mash Schedule
Normally, we just do a single infusion mash, meaning we keep the temperature of the grain in the mash tun at one temperature (normally for 60 minutes). This is simple, and it works well with today’s malts, which are well modified and don’t need things like protein rests, beta gluten rests, alpha gluten rests (We admit, we don’t really know what those are, but we have read a lot about them in Brewing Better Beer and How to Brew.)

However, something we’ve always noticed is a huge decrease in our efficiency when making wheat beers. Normally we have an extract efficiency around 85% (meaning we get 85% of the sugar out of the grain), but with wheat beers we normally drop to around 65%. We’ve tried crushing the wheat twice; mashing for a really long time; higher temperatures; lower temperatures. For this batch, we tried using a step mash, hoping this would increase our efficiency.

20 minutes at 56C (This is a protein rest, and it is supposed to help break down unmalted grain, like flaked wheat)
50 minutes at 67C
(This is just our regular temperature for a single infusion mash, converting the starch to sugar)

For the record, reaching different temperatures in a mash tun that is not directly heat (aka it isn’t on a burner, thus we cannot just turn up the temperature) is a huge pain. We had to start off with a very thick mash, and then add more water later to increase the temperature.

Mash at 56Mash at 67
(Left: A very thick mash in the mash tun before adding water. Right: A thinner mash after adding water)

Sadly, none of this increased our efficiency, as our extract efficiency was 64%. Maybe it will improve flavour? Let’s hope it was not all for naught. We should probably do some (poorly conducted) experiment to see if there is any noticeable difference in taste between a witbier with a single infusion mash, and a witbier with a multi-step mash.

Hop Schedule
Saaz hops are the classic witbier hop, but we had Ultra hops (similar to Saaz) with higher AA%.

60 minutes: 0.5 oz Ultra (Just a little bit of hops to balance out the sweetness of the malt. We added no flavour or aroma hops, this will allow flavour of the spices and yeast to dominate the beer)
5 minutes: 1 oz Bitter Orange Peel, 1 oz Coriander Seeds Cracked (We just threw the spices in (instead of putting them in a hop bag). So they sat in the beer as it was cooling for 20 minutes. This might result in a very strong spice flavour)

1 litre starter from harvested Wyeast 3711 French Saison yeast. This is the third use (third generation) of this yeast.
Primary Fermentation: 14 days at 20C

French Wit Yeast Starter(The 1 litre yeast starter)

Ginger Spiced Saaz Saison

The Story

gingerThis is another beer in our line of saison experiments. For this beer, we wanted to experiment with spices and hops. In terms of spice, we added ginger and black pepper. In terms of hops, we added 3 oz of Saaz hops (compared to just 1 oz of Saaz hop in our previous saison). Saaz has a delicate spicy and floral aroma, which we hope will be nicely complimented by the saison yeast, ginger and black pepper.

We feel that spices are best used when they compliment other flavours. The idea is not have a clear pepper taste in our beer; in fact, the idea of tasting black pepper in your beer is somewhat repulsive. We want the pepper to bring out the flavour of the ginger, and bring out the flavour of the spicy Saaz hops.

The Tasting

Appearance: Strong, smooth head, dominated by small bubbles. A deep amber colour, with lots of carbonation. Fairly clear.
Aroma: A strong peppery aroma, from the large amounts of Saaz hops and enhanced with the pepper. There are also hints of lemon and ginger.
Taste: A sweet, floral and spicy start with a little bit of banana. The flavour of candied ginger comes in later, and lingering in the mouth. There is quite a bitter bite to the beer despite all the sweetness. There is quite a heavy body to the beer as well. The carbonation makes all the flavours more prominent. This beer is very ‘tangy’.
Overall: This beer is somewhat of an oddity. It is sweet, yet has a bitter edge. The taste of ginger lingers in the background, yet the spiciness of the Saaz hops and pepper and in the foreground. The spice really dances on your tounge, from the ginger, pepper and Saaz hops all acting in unison. Perhaps the beer had too many late addition Saaz hops that dominated the rest of the beer. The inclusion of the malt Special B, which is supposed to add flavours of plums, it pretty much unnoticeable, aside from making the beer a deep amber colour. Nevertheless, the beer is surprisingly easy drinking despite all its complexities. Perhaps this is best as a dessert beer.


The Process

Specifics: 23 litre batch, 76% extraction efficiency, ABV 6.7%, O.G. 1.057, IBU 34, single infusion mash at 68 Celsius for 60 minutes

Grain Bill
The idea was originally to let the hops shine in through in this beer, with a clean bitterness, but our love for malts got the best of us. As you can see from the grain bill below (and a picture of our malt cabinet), there are a lot of different malts in here. This will make it very interesting, and hopefully refreshing. The bitterness likely will not be very noticeable due to the CaraHelle and Honey malt used; however, we still hope the hop aroma and flavour will come through nicely.

(Update: this was a totally wrong assessment. Lots of hops come through this malt bill)

IMG_20130112_152631Gambrinus Pale Malt: 9 lb (We wanted Pilsen malt, but we didn’t have any)
Gambrinus Wheat Malt: 2 lb (Wheat makes it tart and adds body, which we thought would nicely compliment the Saaz hops and the ginger)
Flaked Wheat: 1 lb (Same reason for adding the wheat malt, but flaked wheat has even more of a ‘wheat flavour)
CaraHelle: 12 oz (This is a light coloured carmel malt that will add some sweetness)
Gambrinus Honey Malt: 4 oz (It’s just a nice complement, plus it adds a toastiness)
Special B: 2 oz (There is really no good reason for why we added this malt. It adds a bittersweet toffee, raisin and plum flavours. It is often used in Belgian Dubels. We added it here just because)

Hop Schedule
We wanted the spicy and floral flavour and aroma of Saaz hops, and a lot of them.

60 minutes: 1.25 oz Ultra (9% AA) (We couldn’t waste our delicate Saaz hops for bitter, so we used a different German-esque hop Ultra. The AA content was unusually high so it worked as a bittering hop)
15 minutes: 1 oz Saaz (For that spicy flavour)
5 minutes: 0.2 oz Black Pepper and 0.5 oz Ginger (We didn’t really know how much ginger and pepper to add to compliment the hops and yeast, so we settled on the more conservative side)
1 minute: 2 oz Saaz (To get loads of floral and spicy aroma. After we stopped the boil, we let the hops steep in the wort for 10 minutes, hoping that with would extract extra aroma and flavour out of the hops)

Poured onto a Wyeast 3711 French Saison yeast cake used for the Winter Harvest Saison. This was not overly wise, as it muted the flavour of the yeast (due to over-pitching). In our defense, the OG of the previous beer was lower (1.050) and it was a smaller batch (only 17 or so litres). Nonetheless, we still overpitched.

Primary Fermentation: 14 days at 19C (a little cool for this yeast strain, recommended between 18-25 C)

Pitching on a Yeast Cake

Yeast can be expensive. Liquid yeast from Wyeast and White Labs costs between $6 – $20 (depending on your location). As frugal people, we like to reuse our yeast. There are two ways to do this: pitching on the yeast cake or yeast washing. We often prefer pitching on the yeast cake. The yeast cake is all the gunk that is left at the bottom of your primary fermenter. Don’t throw that yeast out; it can be reused.

How to Pitch on a Yeast Cake

The beauty of pitching on a yeast cake is it’s simplicity.

Step 1: Remove (rack) beer from the primary fermenter
Maybe you are bottling the beer, maybe you are transferring it to a secondary. It doesn’t matter. Just remove the beer. Ensure that nothing unsanitized touches the beer, the inside of the fermenter or the yeast cake.  Once the beer is out the primary, the yeast cake is exposed. Put the lid/airlock back into the primary fermenter to seal it. Try to make sure the yeast cake is exposed to the open air as little as possible. This reduces the chance of infection.

primarybeer(A French Witbier waiting to be racked out of the fermenter for bottling)

Optional Step: Remove the remaining the beer
If there is beer still remaining in your fermenter, you can dump it out.

yeastcake(Yeast cake at the bottom of the primary fermenter. Don’t take pictures of your yeast cake; you have more important things to do)

Step 2: Add new beer to the fermenter
Just pour/siphon the new beer onto the yeast cake. The yeast in the yeast cake should be more than happy to start fermenting another beer (unless you’ve abused the yeast in some way, then the yeast will get back at you by making your beer taste awful)

Note: The more air and foreign material the yeast cake is exposed to, the greater the risk of infection. This does not mean an infection is bound to happen, but be aware there is a risk.


  • Save money
    • You can use one yeast packet to ferment multiple beers, saving you the cost of buying new yeast.
  • No need for a starter
    • There is a very high yeast cell count in a yeast cake, which allows it to ferment nearly any beer without stressing the yeast. We often put our high gravity beers (Original Gravity higher than 1.070) on yeast cakes.
  • Less esters/fusels
    • This is related to the previous comment. Since the yeast cell count is so high, the yeast does not have to reproduce as much, producing less yeasty flavours that may be undesirable depending on beer style
  • Simpler than yeast washing
    • Yeast washing is another technique for reusing yeast. It requires you to remove the dead yeast cells from the living yeast cells. It is a very useful techinque. However, it is more time consuming and requires more caution to prevent potential infections. We wash our yeast if we are concerned the previous beer (if it is very dark or hoppy) will impart unwanted flavours t0 our new beer.
  • Ferments very quickly
    • Since there is so much yeast in a yeast cake, there is nearly no lag time. We’ve had beers finish the fermentation stage within 24 hours. It might be necessary to use a blow-off tube because the fermentation is so vigorous


  • Increased risk of infection
    • Anytime you open up your fermenter, you are at risk of infection. However, this is a risk that can be managed. If you have good sanitation practices, this should not be a concern for you. If you have poor sanitation practices, you should probably not pitch on a yeast cake; you probably should not make beer either.
  • Less esters (over-pitching)
    • Repitching on the yeast cake is not recommended if you want flavour from the yeast. It is difficult to know how many yeast cells are in your yeast cake, making over-pitching very likely. Generally, we are not concerned with over-pitching because we rarely want yeasty flavours (we brew so few Belgian/German styles).
  • Off flavours from dead yeast cells
    • The yeast cake contains a lot of dead yeast cells. These cells can start to affect the flavour of your beer if you reuse the yeast too many times or you let the yeast cells sit in the fermenter too long. However, this should not be an issue if you reuse the yeast just a couple times. We’ve never had an issue with this, but we generally do not use a yeast cake more than 2 times. We recommend not keeping the same yeast cake for more than 5 weeks. Also, do not pitch onto a yeast cake that was used to ferment a high alcohol beer. High alcohol stresses the yeast, and can result in off flavours.
  • Time constraints
    • A yeast cake with no beer on top of it should be used as soon as possible. We don’t like to let it sit for more than a day before pouring another beer on to it (some people say it can be kept for several days if it has a thin layer of beer to covering it, but we have never tried this).
  • Flavour from the previous beer
    • There are two factors to keep in mind to prevent this problem: colour and hoppiness
      • Do not ferment a light coloured beer on the yeast cake of a dark beer, or you will have dark flavours in your light coloured beer.
      • Do not ferment a un-hoppy beer on the yeast cake of a hoppy beer, or you will have hoppy flavours in your un-hoppy beer.

Our position is the pros outweigh the cons (as most of the cons can be mitigated). But that is for you to judge. We don’t think this technique necessarily makes better beer (unless you really don’t want esters), but it does make more efficient beer: spending less money on yeast, and fermenting the beer more quickly. These issues may not be of primary concern to you as a homebrewer, but they are things to consider nonetheless.

7 Deadly Sins of Homebrewing

We have gotten a lot of our friends and family into the hobby of homebrewing. It’s fun, creative, and the results are often delightful. However, not all results are delightful. In fact, some beers that we’ve tasted are downright nasty. Learning from our mistakes and our friends’ mistakes, we decided to make a little list about the Seven Deadly (well, potentially deadly if you really really mess up) Sin of Homebrewing. We ranked them in order of importance.


1. Poor Sanitation

The emphasis on sanitation is a delicate line. Obviously, you should make a concerted effort to clean all your fermenting equipment and anything that touches the wort after it has been chilled. This is the best way to prevent infections. However, this should not result in paranoia about infections ruining your beer. We’ve thrown out batches because we thought they were infected, but there were not. In all honesty, your beer is pretty durable and isn’t at serious risk of infection. But why risk it?

We generally just use bleach to sanitize our equipment (I can already see the faces of horror). It works fine on any non-metal surface, and we rinse it with boiled water.


(Let no little bug live)

2. Under-Pitching Yeast


We have had plenty of homebrew that just reeks of esters/fusel, aromas of cider, alcohol, solvents and fruits. Often this is caused by not using enough yeast. When not enough yeast is used, the yeast has to work harder to eat the sugar, reproducing and creating nasty aromas and flavours. Make sure you pitch enough yeast, especially when you are brewing a high gravity beer (higher than O.G. 1.060). This often require making a starter.

Admittedly, some yeast you will not want to over-pitch (adding too much yeast). For example, hefeweizens get their banana, clove flavour from the esters produced by the yeast. Over-pitching will result in little yeast flavour in your beer. Though counter-intuitive, adding less yeast produces more yeast flavour, and adding more yeast produces less yeast flavour.

3. Temperature

Find out the temperature your yeast should be fermented at. Often this information can be found on the yeast package or the internet. If your yeast’s preferred temperature is between 16-22 Celcius, make sure it ferments in between those temperatures. Fermenting too warm seems more common than fermenting too cold.

Generally, we prefer to ferment on the colder side. This results in a cleaner tasting beer. Plus you cannot really harm your beer if the temperature is too cold. The fermentation will just stop. All you need to do is raise the temperature and the yeast will start up again (though this does strain the yeast). However, if you ferment your beer at a warmer temperature, more esters and fusel flavours will be produced, which can result in unpleasant flavours in your beer.

4. Impatiences

When we first started brewing, we could barely wait to try our beer. We would bottle it after 7 days or so, and then drink it 7 days after bottling. This doesn’t ruin the beer, but it does not give the beer enough time to age properly; the yeast has not had enough time to remove the harsh flavours.

As a guideline, We don’t drink any of our beer until 5 weeks after being brewed. That is long, but I believe the time pays off. Here’s a schedule I often follow
1 week in the primary fermenter: After 1 week, most of the primary fermentation is complete, and we transfer the beer into the secondary fermenter. We use a secondary fermenter because we like to pour new beers onto the yeast cake in the primary fermenter. Thus we condition/age the beer in a secondary fermenter while we pour a new beer onto the yeast cake in the primary fermenter.

2 weeks in the secondary fermenter: Depending on the alcohol of the beer, we may let it sit in the secondary fermenter for longer than 2 weeks.
2 weeks in the bottle before drinking: It is tempting to drink your beer as soon as possible, and we often open one bottle a week after it has been bottled, but we are rarely impressed with the beer at this stage. We are just curious how the flavour is developing. The carbonation is often a little weak and the flavours are still harsh; the yeast has not had time to go into dormancy. In our opinion, beer must be in the bottle for at least 2 weeks before it can be properly enjoyed.

5. Using Old Ingredients

It is obvious; fresh ingredients are better. But old ingredients aren’t necessarily bad. If they are stored properly, old ingredients can retain their freshness.

Signs of Age: Damp, not crunchy, flavourless, moldly
Consequence of Adding to Beer: Flavourless, boring beer. Or nasty mold flavours
Solution: Make sure the grain is stored somewhere cool and dry relatively protected from oxygen. You don’t need to vacuum seal all your grain (though this will allow you to keep for much longer)
Shelf Life: Grain doesn’t have a ‘best before’ date, but the older the grain gets, the less flavour it has. Ground grain has a shorter shelf life, around 20 days or so. If the grain is still whole and stored in a cool dry place, it can be stored around 12-18 months.

Signs of Age: No hop smell, or cheesy moldy smells
Consequence of Adding to Beer: The ability for hops to bitter your beer decreases with time. So you could have an under balanced beer with no hop flavour or aroma. Hops that smell moldly and cheesy will add that flavour/aroma to your beer. 
Solution: Vacuum seal your hops and store them in the freezer. This is a somewhat expensive investment (vacuum sealers cost around $70 to $120), but it is worth while if you like hoppy beers.
Shelf Life: If vacuum sealed and stored in the freezer, around 2 years. Remember that hops are only harvested once a year. For example, if you buy hops in April, those hops are already 5 months old (assuming those hops were harvested in September/October). The hops you purchase in the fall will be the freshest, unless your homebrew store is just trying to get rid of old stock. Solution: Find a new homebrew store.

(We store our hops in Foodsaver bags in the freezer)

Signs of Age: The expiration date on the yeast package. Or your beer isn’t fermenting
Consequence of Adding to Beer: Your beer will not ferment, or the yeast will be so badly damaged that it produces harsh tasting beer.
Solution: You have many options. Store your yeast in the fridge. Create a starter. Use your yeast as soon as possible. Pitch on yeast cakes or wash your y
Shelf Life: Dry yeast has a shelf life of about one year. Liquid yeast has a shelf life of about 4 months. But don’t wait that long. Yeast is best fresh.


6. Not Taking Good Notes on Your Batches and Recipes


Notes are important for two reasons. First, it allows you to reproduce good batches. Second and more importantly, it allows you to troubleshoot issues with bad batches.

There are three things we take notes on: ingredients, techniques and results. Ingredients consist of grains, hops, yeast (what generation is the yeast and how old is it), and water (whatever minerals you’ve added to the water).

In terms of techniques, keep track of mash temperatures, length of time of the mash, mash thickness, when hops are added to the boil (or first wort hopped/dry-hopping), length of time of the fermentation, if secondary fermentation was used, and the fermentation temperature.

For results, we keep track of the original gravity, final gravity, IBU, and volume of beer. We generally are not overly concerned with hitting are targeted original gravity. If our beer’s original gravity is higher than expected, that is divine intervention that our beer should be a little more boozy. If our beer’s original gravity is lower than expected, then we will have a slightly more session-able beer. We might adjust the hops the properly balance out the bitterness.

Some homebrewers take very extensive notes, covering everything from the temperature of the mash water to the amount of wort collected after the sparge. This is fine, but we feel this is information that is dependent upon your brewhouse. After you brew many batches with your brewhouse, you will start to instinctively know the temperature loss and wort loss of your brewhouse. That being said, taking notes on these aspects can help you better understand your brewhouse: mash/lauter tun, hot water tank, brew kettle and fermenting buckets/carboys.

7. Using Malt Extract


Yes, you can make fine beer with malt extract. You can even make great beer with malt extract. However, it’s not really making beer. Using Duncan Heinz to make a cake isn’t the same as making a cake from scratch. Malt extract doesn’t give you the same level of control.

There are many types of malt you cannot use, like Munich malt, Vienna malt, barley flakes, wheat flakes and any other grain that needs to be mashed. Plus you can control the body of your wort by what temperature you mash at.

All grain brewing does take more time (about 3-4 hours to make a batch) and more equipment, but this is making beer the same way breweries make beer. If you’re going to put time into making your own beer, why not go all the way? You’re obviously somewhat passionate about brewing seeing you are reading a homebrew website.

(Kevin Spacey does not approve of bad homebrew)

Cedar Brown Ale

The Story

snowy cedarAs winter comes upon us, we realize that our large selection of IPAs aren’t able to provide that toasty warming feeling that darker ales can bring. So we decided on a brown ale. What type of brown ale: American brown ale, Southern English brown ale, Northern English brown ale, Flander’s brown ale, Brown porter etc. Well I’ll tell you. Something that tastes good.

We wanted a mildly sweet, malty beer, with no bitter taste from hops or dark grains. Thus we used two techniques to hide the bitterness of the beer. First wort hopping, which creates a less harsh bitterness from the hops. And cold steeping the dark grains, which prevents bitter/astringent flavours from the dark grains (chocolate malt and roasted barley) from getting into the beer. This is our first time cold steeping, so we could have total debauchery.

The Tasting

Appearance: Dark brown, close to becoming the colour of a porter. There is a thick, bubbly head, but it quickly recedes to just a thin layer of foam on the top of the beer.
Aroma: Lightly fruity, with the dark malt aromas of chocolate and coffee coming in later.
Taste: A surprising taste of dark fruits like plums and raisins, followed by a hint of caramel. Very little bitterness. There is a sweetness that comes in a little bit later. Slightly thicker mouth feel. Does not really taste like a dark beer as it lacks dark flavours of burned coffee and harsh cocoa. Very smooth. It almost has the taste of port wine
Overall: This is a very mild and smooth beer. There are no harsh tastes. The malt and hop bitterness are both very smooth. However, from all this smoothness comes a muddled flavour; nothing really sticks out and captures your attention. This can be a good thing as it makes it very easy drinking and session-able; however, it also makes it somewhat boring.


The Process

Specifics: 23 litre batch, 79% extraction efficiency, ABV 5.4%, O.G. 1.052, IBU 31, single infusion mash at 68 Celsius for 60 minutes

Grain Bill
We wanted the grain bill to have a strong character. Even though this is a brown ale, we still like to add hops, so we wanted Honey malt and Munich malt to more than cover the hops we are going to add.

Gambrinus Pale Malt: 6 lb (we would have used ESB malt, but we didn’t have any)
Gambrinus Munich Light: 4 lb (to create a strong malt character to balance out the hops)
Chocolate Malt: 8 oz (to add the dark chocolate taste and colour)
Gambrinus Wheat Malt: 8 oz (to add more protein for a good head, plus since the beer is fairly dark is doesn’t matter if it makes the beer slightly hazy)
Carmel 70-80: 4 oz (to add complexity, adding some bittersweet toffee flavours to linger on the tongue)
Gambrinus Honey Malt: 4 oz (more sweetness to balance out the hops, plus it has a toasty character we like)
Roasted Barley: 2 oz (to darken the beer even more; because we cold steeped the grain, I’m not sure what flavour it will contribute to the beer)


adding dark grain

(Left: Roasted barley and chocolate malt steeping in cold water in a pot for 8 hours. Right: Just after the dark grains are added to the mash tun)

Dark grains like chocolate malt and roasted barley can add harsh bitter tastes to the beer when they are let sit in the mash tun for 60 minutes at high temperatures (between 65 and 70 Celsius). To prevent this, there is a technique called ‘cold steeping’. Instead of adding the dark grains to the mash tun, we let them sit in a pot filled with cold water for 8 hours. After they were finished steeping, we added the dark grains to the mash tun during the last 10 minutes of sparging. Thus instead of sitting in the mash tun for 120 minutes (60 minute for the mash, 60 minute for the sparge), the dark grains sat in the mash tun for only 10 minutes, being exposed to less heat, extracting less of the harsh bitter flavours that linger in dark grains.

Apparently, cold steeping is also beneficial if your water is very soft (the water along coastal British Columbia, where we are located, is very soft). Dark malts are very acidic, and can cause significant drops in the pH level of the mash. Soft water has less alkaline minerals, thus the pH level is already lower. By not including dark malts in the mashing process, the mash pH level remains higher, which is important when working with soft water. (I’m not a chemist, thus this information comes only from the reliable halls of information of the internet. Water chemistry is considerably more complicated than just assessing the ‘softnesss’ of the water.)

before dark grainafter dark grain

(Left: Light colour of the wort before adding the dark grains. Right: Dark colour of the wort 2 minutes after adding the dark grains to the mash tun)

Hop Schedule
We wanted a more ‘English’ style brown ale, so we only used Willamette hops. Though these are technically American hops (named after the Willamette Valley/River in Oregon), they have a woody, earthy aroma and flavour similar to English hops. We thought they were perfect for complementing the dark toasty grains in a brown ale. Also, citrus flavours in a brown ale sounded weird.

First Wort Hopping: 0.5 oz Willamette (added when the wort is still sparging into the brew kettle; this creates a smoother bitterness)
60 minutes: 1 oz Willamette
15 minutes: 0.5 oz Willamette (to add some hop flavour, without adding hop aroma to let the sweet malt aroma come through)

first wort hop

(‘First Wort Hopping’ with the hops sitting in the wort as the wort drains into the brew kettle)


Put on the yeast cake (Cooper’s Ale yeast) used after a Bitter Peach Wheat Ale.
Primary fermentation: 14 days.
No secondary fermentation, we were lazy.

Dry Hopping

Drying hopping is a brewing technique that some breweries brag about. But rarely are details provided describing the dry hopping process, and its affect on beer.

hops2Normally, hops are added when the wort (beer) is boiling. The heat from the boil extracts bitter oils from the hops, making the beer bitter. However, boiling causes the more aromatic qualities of the hops to evaporate. To add more hop aroma to the beer, hops are boiled for a shorter period of time (from 1 to 5 minutes). However, the heat from the boil still causes some of the hop aroma to evaporate.

To add the most possible aroma, hops are added to the beer after it is done fermenting. Since there is no heat, none of the aromatic qualities of the hops are lost. The hops sit in the beer for 3 to 14 days (or longer), and their aromas seep into the beer.  None of the bitterness of the hops is added to the beer because there is no heat to extract the bitter oils. Dry hopping does not increase bitterness, it only adds aroma.

Dry hopping is very common in beers that want to highlight the taste and aroma of hops, namely India Pale Ales and American Pale Ales. Drying hopping can add very strong smells of grapefruit, pine, flowers, spice, citrus or herbs depending on the type of hop being added to the beer.

How to Dry Hop Your Beer

1. Decide if you want to dry hop your beer: Not all beer styles should be dry hopped. While I completely encourage going crazy with experimentation, sometimes the aroma of the malt or yeast might clash with the aroma of the hops. Dry hopping an IPA is a good place to start, because you can’t really go wrong. Some might argue an IPA must be dry hopped to be considered a good IPA.

2. What hops are you going to use: This very must depends on what aroma you are going for. American hops like Cascade, Columbus and Centennial will add a strong citrus aroma to your beer. English hops like East Kent Golding or Fuggle will add an earthy herbal characteristic. Noble (German) hops like Saaz, Mt. Hood or Crystal will add floral and spicy aromas. Smell the hops to determine which aroma you prefer. You can always combine different types of hops to create a wide spectrum of aromas in your beer. I generally like a blend of a citrusy hop like Cascade with a more floral hops like Crystal to create a sweet and fruity aroma with a bit of spice.
Also, don’t mess with hop pellets for dry hopping. Only use whole hops. They are the most aromatic. If you’re going to dry hop, do it right. Kick those hop pellets to the curb.
Be aware that the AA% of the hops does not matter because dry hopping does not add bitterness.

3. Quantity of hops: More hops means more aroma. For a 23 litre/6 gallon batch of beer, 1-2 ounces of hops is generally enough to get a nice aroma. If you want a more subtle aroma to compliment other aspects of the beer, add an ounce or less. If you want to tear people’s nostrils a new one, go all the way up to 4 ounces. I normally add 1 ounce of Crystal and 1 ounce of Cascade to my IPAs.
Be aware, hops absorb some of the beer, so the more hops you add, the less beer you will have at the time of bottling.

dryhopping14. When to dry hop: Dry hopping should occur after primary fermentation. If you add the hops during the primary fermentation, the carbon dioxide from fermentation will carry away most of the aroma, resulting in an un-aromatic beer. Here’s a schedule I generally follow for dry hopping:

7 days in the primary fermentation tank
7 days in the secondary tank without hops
7 days in the secondary tank with hops
Total of 21 days fermenting, with 7 days dry hopping

I only dry hop for 7 days because hops can give off grassy flavours if they sit in the beer too long (though I have let hops sit in beer for 3 weeks and I generally haven’t noticed any bad flavours). Furthermore, I haven’t really noticed any benefits of letting hops sit in the beer for any longer than 7 days; most of the aroma seems to be extracted within 7 days of adding the hops. People who use kegs instead of bottles often add the hops directly to the keg instead of the secondary tank. This is very convenient. Jamming 3 ounces of hops through the narrow opening of carboy (secondary tank), however, is not very convenient. Perhaps I should invest the money into kegging.

dryhopping25. Bottling: When transferring the beer from the secondary tank into the bottles, the hops will still be sitting in the beer. This means it is possible to have hop seeds and hop leaves end up in your bottles. This adds a certain natural quality to the beer, but tends to freak out big wusses. You can use a hop bag to avoid having hops just floating around carefree in your beer. Hop bags can be used both during the boil and dry hopping.

Hop aroma does decrease with time, so don’t age your dry hopped beer too much.

Train Wreck FreshHop IPA

The Story

The genesis of this glorious boozy beverage is located in the Abbotsfordian park of Fishtrap Creek. We discovered a treasure trove of hops growing in the wild. Our best guess as to the variety was “Cluster”, based on local history and their intense pine aroma. AJ discovered that a train system once went through the park during the days of hop production in the Fraser Valley. We surmised that a train derailed or stopped there spilling its contents around the area. This theory was the inspiration for naming our fresh hop beer, the Train Wreck FreshHop IPA.

Old Hops

The Tasting

Appearance: Light coloured; foamy head (note: the picture below was taken before the carbonation was complete)
Aroma: Very piney, herbal. Probably would have benefited from some Cascade hops, but that’s not the purpose of this beer.
Taste: A slow build up of pine taste, with a bit of that English spicy, herbal flavour. For lack of a better term, it actually tastes fresh, and a little bit of a tang (again a poor term, but the English language eludes me at the moment). The sweetness of the Munich and Honey Malt comes in a little bit later, preventing it from getting too bitter. The body also is not too thick, making it probably easier drinking than it should be.
Overall: This is most certainly an English IPA, a style I’m not a huge fan of. The herbal, piney hops are distinctive, and there is most certainly no citrus going on. Though this experiment does not confirm these hops are Cluster, it does confirm they are not some of the typical Northwest hops like Cascade, Columbus, Simcoe etc.

Train Wreck IPA

The Process

To best bring out the aroma and the taste of the hops, we wanted a fairly simple grain bill.
Specifics: 23 litre batch, 89% extraction efficiency, ABV 7.4% O.G. 1.066, IBU Unknown, single infusion mash at 66.5 Celsius for 50 minutes

Gambrinus Pale Malt: 11 lb
Gambrinus Munich Light: 1 lb (to add a little bit of maltiness)
Gambrinus Wheat Malt: 8 oz (to create a longer lasting head)
Flaked Barley: 8 oz (to increase the body)
Gambrinus Honey Malt: 4 oz (I love this malt because it adds a very nice, sweet balance, especially in an IPA. It is used in varying amounts in nearly every one of our brews)

To ensure the hops were as fresh as they could be, we mashed and sparged the grains before picking the hops. Once the wort was collected, we brought it up to a boil for 30 seconds to ensure that we stopped all enzymes from breaking the sugars down into smaller compounds (if we did not do this, the wort would be too fermentable, and the beer would have a watery body once fermentation had finished). We turned off the propane burned and let the wort cool down, then we went off to spend 2 hours picking wild hops at Fishtrap Creek, a 7 minute walk from the homebrewery. We managed to collected 5 pounds of fresh hops. Once we finished picking them, we walked back to our homebrewery, and started adding the hops to the boiling wort.

Hop Schedule

75 minutes: 6 oz
30 minutes: 2 oz
20 minutes: 4 oz
15 minutes: 2 oz
10 minutes: 2 oz
5 minutes: 4 oz
1 minute: 4 oz

You might think the amount of hops we added is insanely high. Well, that is only partially true. Since they are fresh hops, they have not been dried, and a lot of their weight is still composed of water. Brief research seemed to indicated using a ratio between 1:4 to 1:6. This means if a recipe normally called for 1 oz of dried hops, you would add 4-6 oz of fresh hops. We used the more conservative 1:4 ratio.

Cluster Hops


Yeast: Poured onto a Nottingham yeast cake left from a pale ale.

7 days primary
18 days secondary
3 oz dry hopped for 14 days (same hops we picked, except they were dried)