Friday, September 16, 2016

The Growler

Last night was poker night and I wanted to bring the boys a sample of my latest brew. While I didn’t have a bottle officially designated a growler, I did have a clear glass, half gallon jug that had originally contained fresh apple cider. I cleaned it with Starsan with the notion of filling it with beer and taking it along to the game. However, after doing a little research while waiting for the jug to dry, I abandoned the notion

Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at the Brooklyn Brewery and editor-in-chief of the Oxford Companion to Beer, is not a fan of the growler. “Growlers are basically beer destroyers. They’re often unsanitary, and the refilling process mixes in a lot of oxygen–the tiniest amount of oxygen kills beer so quickly. Then, if you walk across the street with say, an IPA, in full sunlight, with a clear growler, the beer will skunk before you get to your car.”

Good things come to those who wait. I am hosting the next poker game and I look forward to serving my beer fresh from the kegerator tap. Did I make the right decision? What is the view of those experienced in the use of the growler?

Friday, September 9, 2016

I Have Suds!

Suds? Man, do I have suds! I recently brewed a Kolsch style beer and stored it in a Cornelius Keg. My approach to carbonating a brew has been to turn up the CO2 pressure to 30 lbs, leaving it in the kegerator for a few days. This has always proven a successful method. Seemingly not so in this case. Pouring a glass of beer proved a 5 minute challenge. Essentially you got a glass of suds that when settled was flat.

Occasionally, the tap produced a burst of liquid that was tasty and well carbonated. However, gaseous bubbles were the norm in most pours, an exercise that proved most frustrating.

I have researched possible causes. The most probable, it seems is a short output line from the keg. While my output line is not as lengthy as most kegerator designs recommend, the system has produced beautiful pours before and since this keg of Kolsch.

At this point, the Kolsch is resting, unattached from any lines in or out. I’m enjoying my most recent brew, a sweet, bubbly, golden coloured Bavarian Hefe while pondering the cause and possible solution to my problematic Kolsch.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Bootle or Keg?

As a novice home brewer, very early in my experience I encountered the “bottle or keg” dilemma.
Bottles clearly offered several advantages including availability, cost and transportability. Not surprisingly, bottling was my first choice as I embarked on this new hobby.

Very quickly, however, I learned that all was not as simple as first appeared. Most Ontario beer bottles now come with the “twist off cap”. The neck of these bottles is made of thinner glass that will not support the downward pressure when crimping caps. To this challenge, three solutions were considered. Green plastic bottles with twist off caps were available at the brewers’ supply outlet. Beer in plastic bottles? Yuck! Brown glass bottles could also be purchased but my Scottish blood could not fathom this expense. Hence, I staked out the Brewers’ Retail and intercepted two cases of Miller’s High Life bottles being returned for deposit. 

My first attempt at filling bottles proved quite messy. I was using a plastic syphon hose and pinching off the flow when the bottle filled. Spillage and drips were everywhere. The five dollar purchase of a 3/8 inch bottle filler eliminated the mess. This device allows a perfect fill every time without spillage.

While the caps and capper to seal the bottles are relatively inexpensive, I quickly found that I did not have the temperament needed for an assembly line. Filling and capping fifty bottles proved a difficult challenge for my concentration span.

Perhaps the greatest disincentive to bottling stemmed from the carbonation process. In order to carbonate the bottled beer, a small amount of corn sugar must be added to each bottle before capping. This sugar reacts with residual yeast cells to produce the needed carbonization but also produces a small amount of residue as part of the chemical reaction. This residue accumulates in the bottom of the bottle. While the residue is harmless, if not careful when pouring, it will cloud the appearance of your beer when presented in a glass. 

Not surprisingly, it wasn’t long before the option of kegging my beer was considered.

Hours were spent developing an understanding of kegerator design and the mechanics of the Cornelius kegging systems. YouTube proved an invaluable resource in this endeavour. Over time, the needed parts and equipment were acquired from various auction houses. My kegerator is made from an old refrigerator that offers sufficient space to house a 20 lb. CO2 cylinder and two “Corny Kegs”.  I have mounted two taps and a drip tray on the door. This has proven an amazing storage and dispensing system, but one that dictates the investment of considerable time and possible expense. 

Patience are an asset when kegging. While the carbonation of the beer can be “forced”; much better to crank up the pressure to 30 lbs. and leave it a few days. Your waiting a few days to savour the new brew will be rewarded by an eventual glass of sparkling, clear liquid.

Now the only thing I need is a couple of growlers. This will get the boys off my back at our next poker game as they have now visited my home and sampled the delights that flow from my basement treasure chest.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

So Why Home Brewing?

With the launch of an array of independent microbreweries across Ontario (see:, beer drinkers are reminded that there are a variety of sudsy delights that go well beyond the bland blond lagers offered by the big brewers who control the Brewers Retail. Travel about the province allows the products of these craft brewers to be enjoyed, however their availability, particularly in draft, may be limited when at home. 

For the beer epicure with a little time, home brewing offers a way to enjoy a variety of beers and with practice even the option of customizing the product to personal preference. 

Arguably, the desire to produce and enjoy a variety of beers more than the pursuit of monetary savings should motivate a move to home brewing. Typically, as with any hobby, the home brewer will adopt more and more sophisticated methods associated with the craft. This growth comes with a cost and offsets any savings that may accrue from the relatively low cost of the beer’s ingredients.