Sunday, November 8, 2015

Easy Chocolate Raspberry Liqueur

This will be my shortest blog ever. That's because this is super easy, and phenomenal (slight over-selling, but wait, there's more). Seriously, this is really tasty and fun for an after dinner drink. Or, for a nip or two once in a while.

The recipe is easy. Buy a bag of frozen Raspberries, your favorite Cocoa mix and a good Vodka. Don't be cheap on the Vodka, the flavor comes through and cheap Vodka will make it taste bad.

Here is the step by step process:

  1. Blend 1 cup of Blackberries with a quarter cup of sugar and two tablespoons of Cocoa. The blending will liquefy the sugar and cocoa.
  2. Strain the mixture through cheese cloth into a bowl.
  3. Add the bottle of Vodka to the mixture and stir.
  4. Use a funnel and add back to the Vodka bottle. You will have some left over, so be prepared with another bottle, or mason jar.
  5. When it runs low, pull the remaining mixture and add it back to the Vodka bottle.
  6. Chill. You will need to shake the bottle prior to pour.
Note: Using a lot of sugar without cocoa makes this taste like cough medicine. The magic comes from the combination that includes the cocoa mix. If you decide to make this without the cocoa, use the sugar sparingly to slightly accent the fresh raspberries.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Easy "Hard Cider" with Rum & Mulling Spices

The following recipe is perfect "sit by the fire" type of drink with a warming amount of alcohol. This is not a Cider that is fermented. It's very easy and doesn't require anything more than apple juice, rum and spices.

To make a Cider with Mulling Spice drink, you will need at least one gallon of apple juice. I am aiming for 5% alcohol so that it's warming, not biting.

Remove 2 3/4 cups of juice from the Container so that you can add the spices, tea and alcohol.

Here are the mulling spices:
1 Tsp Cinammon
1 Tsp all spice
1 Tsp Nutmeg
1 Vanilla bean, cut and scrape
    or 1 Tsp of Vanilla
1 Black Tea Bag

Add 2 cups of good Dark Spiced Rum (see calculation below) and 1 Tablespoon of dark sugar for that slight molasses. Now add all the mulling spices to the gallon container of juice except the Black Tea Bag.The tea bag adds a slight tanic flavor similar to wine. Make a hot tea with the tea bag into 1/2 a cup of water. Add while hot to the gallon of juice.

Place the container in the refrigerator to avoid spoiling and/or fermentation. Taste daily until the flavors meld to your taste. When you believe it's ready, filter out the ingredients by pouring into another container through cheese cloth.


Shake the container of juice and pour enough liquid into a pan to adequately serve your guest. Warm to serve in glasses. Add a cinnamon stick to the glass and pour your apple cider for a delicious warm Christmas Drink

Cheers and enjoy,

Calculating amount of 80 proof/40% ABV Rum needed for a 5% ABV in 1 gallon of Hard Cider:
  1. 1 Gal. = 128 oz
  2. 128 oz x 5% ABV=6.4 oz of 100 proof (to find how many oz of 100% proof for 5% ABV)
  3. 6.4 oz / 40% ABV = 16 oz, or 2 cups (divided oz needed by ABV of spirit used since it isn't 100 proof)

Alcohol By Volume (ABV)

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Fall Brewing Schedule - How to Make a Last Minute Christmas Beer

Fall Brew Schedule
How to Make a Last Minute Christmas Beer

Summer is gone and Fall is upon us. It's time to brew dark, big ABV and holiday beers.

In the following article I will address Christmas Beers, along with a recipe formulation. I know it's late to brew a big ABV Christmas Beer, but you can compensate so as not to require aging.

First, the available time before the next holiday is a major factor. I'm writing this towards the end of October, which gives you about 1 1/2 to 2-months before Christmas and the New Year.

Because big ABV beers need time to mature, you will need to stay with low ABV beers. Most Ales will be ready for Christmas if started now. Big ABV beers, Sours and other beers that need aging should consider brewing in December or January for next years holiday.

A Winter Seasonal Beer under 30C of the BJCP Beer Style Guidelines suggests holiday spices, specialty sugars, brown sugar and spices that are reminiscent of mulling spices or Christmas holiday desserts. I would suggest considering wood chips plain or soaked in rum, bourbon or whiskey, orange peel, cherries, figs, chocolate (a favorite of mine) and spices.

The base beer can be a American Barley wine, Belgium Strong, Belgian Dark Strong, Porter, Stouts, wheat, American or English Brown. However, as noted earlier, keep the ABV low enough to avoid aging the Beer. It's very important that there is only a hint of spices and fruits so as not to overwhelm the beer's malt flavors.

The following is a list of spices and fruits used in commercial and home-brewed examples of Christmas Beers:

Spices for Winter Ales include:
Grain of Paradise

Fruits for Winter Ales include:
Orange Peel

Cocoa Chocolate
Bourbon Barrel (Bourbon soaked chips)
Rum Barrel (Rum soaked chips)

Commercial Examples of Christmas Beers

The following are commercial examples I enjoy:

Anchor Steam Brewery in San Francisco makes a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year Ale. Although it is only 5.5%, the beer and it's wintery flavors are bold, including pine, cinnamon, nutmeg and chocolate. Bob Brewer (Head Brewer at Anchor Steam Brewery) brought a couple cases to my club, the Maltose Falcons, when we won Club of the Year in 2013. It's a fun beer to drink.

Goofy pic of me at Anchor Steam in front of the Mash Tun

St. Bernardus Christmas Ale at 10% ABV with typical Christmas spices. The Ale is dark as chocolate, malty without being too sweet.

Troeg's The Mad Elf Holiday Ale is an American Strong Ale that clocks in at 11%. This beer has a big cherry flavor component along with chocolate and malty sweetness. However, making beers this strong will require aging.

Ommegang's Adoration is a Belgian Strong Ale that is 10% and coriander, cardamom, mace and grains of paradise, with a hint of sweet orange peel.

Christmas Beer Recipe Formulation

The Base Beer:

In my recipe formulation, I want a base beer that is dark, malty sweet, and I want to avoid the harsh tannin's from dark grain husks and big hoppy beers. Therefore, I will avoid Stouts, sours and IPA's, and consider either a Brown, Porter, Black Lager or a Saison. In this recipe formulation, I will use a Porter recipe as the base beer, which has won 1st place in multiple competitions due to it's dark color and it's close kinship to a stout, but doesn't have the harshness of roasted barley.

Hops, Spices and Fruits

When I think of Christmas spices I think of chocolate, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg, all balanced in harmony.

Base Malt

I like the 2-row and Munich Malt combination, and think it would marry well with the yeast, hops and spices. I added a small amount of wheat malt to stabilize the foam due to the addition of cocoa, which has oils that will degrade the foam at time of pour.

Crystal Malts

Crystal malts should be used based on its flavor. For a porter, I believe that the 80°L crystal malt is the most appropriate due to its pronounced caramel, slight burnt sugar and raisins.

Other Additions through blending spices:

I think that Bourbon is appropriate for this beer. I'll soak wood chips in Bourbon and add them to the secondary. To avoid making your beer taste like sawdust, flash boil the wood chips for 30 seconds prior to soaking them in Bourbon. It appears to have worked well in previous beers, but I'm still experimenting with this method. I added brown sugar to thin the beer a little and to get slight molasses flavor.


I should be able to get 6.0% to 6.5% ABV without aging. This is dependent upon the health of the yeast and temperature control.


Think of yeast as the Engine pulling a train. It does all the work and requires enough energy to pull through the fermentation. If you are not aware, or have ignored it previously, you must have an adequate amount of yeast bodies, nutrients and Oxygen. A 1-Liter starter with one vial or smack pack of yeast fermented at 1.04 OG on a stir plate, or swirl starter every couple hours, is the minimum required for a clean fermentation.

It is my opinion that too much yeast is better than too little. I have used multiple trillion cells in a simple 6 gallon brown ale that fermented out within 48 hours and it came out clean without any flaws. On previous occasions, when I was new to brewing, I used one pack, period. It took almost two weeks and it didn't ferment out completely and suffered multiple flaws. Take my advice if you're new to brewing, focus on the health of yeast for clean professional tasting beer.

For my Christmas Beer I plan on using a California Lager Yeast I previously used at Ale temperatures from a previous batch. I estimate it to be several trillion cells. You can use an American Ale Yeast with a 1 Liter starter to keep the beer clean.

The Last Minute Christmas Beer Recipe

All Grain Recipe - (Check back later for the extract recipe)
12.00 lb.   2-Row Barley Malt
2.00   lb.   Munich Malt
0.25   lb.   Wheat Malt

Hop Schedule
0.25   oz.  Columbus pellet 13% AA (60 Minutes)
0.50   oz.  Columbus pellet 13% AA (20 Minutes)
0.50   oz.  Columbus pellet 13% AA (0 Minutes)

Malts and Additions added at end of boil (flame-out):
0.75   lb.   80° L Crystal Malt
0.75   lb.   Chocolate Malt
0.50   lb.   Special Roast (not roasted barley) or Victory Malt (both considered biscuit malts)
2.00   lb.    Dark Brown Sugar
0.25   lb.    Cocoa powder
0.50   Tsp. Cinnamon
0.50   Tsp. Allspice
0.50   Tsp. Nutmeg

Note: Do not mistake "roasted barley" for "special roast." Roasted barley is harsh tasting and is most appropriately used in stouts. Some brewers have used it in other styles, but do a cold soak and add it to the boil at flame out. However, it's still harsh. Stay with Victory, Special Roast or other biscuit type malts.

The Crystal, Chocolate and Biscuit malts are added at the end of the boil (or, better yet, a cold soak the night before then added to end of boil, or flame-out) to avoid harsh tannin's from the grain husks, resulting in a mellow, balanced tasting beer. The only downside is the lower efficiency of these malts.
However, lower efficiency can be compensated by adding 25% of the total "flame-out" grain weight  (in the form of 2-row barely malt) to the base malt grains at flame-out (2lb. flame out grains x 25%=.50 lb additional base malt). e.g., figure out the weight of the grains added at flame out. In this case it's 2 lb. Multiply by 25%, which equates to 0.50 lb. Now, weigh out the 0.50 lb in 2-row (base malt) and add it to the existing base malts, increasing the efficiency and compensating for lower efficiency of the grains added at flame-out. Sorry if that's confusing, hopefully I explained it correctly.

For a maltier and bigger mouth feel, consider taking 2-quarts of the base malts during mashing and boil them for "melanoidins," which creates a bigger mouth feel and a rich maltier sweetnes than regular mashing. Be sure not to scorch or burn it. If so, throw it out and start again. Scorched or burned barley malt is rancid and will ruin the beer.

Mash Schedule

  1. Mash in grains on 5 gallons of water at 162°F for a final mash temp of 154°F. Hold 60 Min.
  2. Lauter the wort to the boiler and Boil 90 minutes
  3. Add hops per schedule during the boil
  4. Add hops, malts and spices at end of boil per schedule
  5. Cool and move to a fermenter
  6. Add yeast
  7. Hold until fermentation is close to ending and either hold or move to secondary.


I'll ferment at 65°F ambient temperatures because the heat generated from the yeast will push it to approximately 68°F during fermentation. You can allow the temperature to increase after 48 hours of strong fermentation.


You will need to filter or clarify the beer. The cocoa, cinnamon and other ingredients have hard particles that will not mix into the beer and will settle out of solution at the bottom of your keg or bottles. It's very harsh if you get a mouth full when you pour your first several beers.

There you go, last minute Christmas Beer. If you make this beer, be sure to respond with a taste test. No matter, if good, bad or indifferent.

Thank You and Cheers,
David Lester

how to brew beer

Friday, March 20, 2015

Spring and Seasonal Homebrewed Beers For The Month of March

It's March and Spring has Sprung. It's time to decide what you are going to brew the next 30 to 60 days. Yes, the weather is starting to change, it's going to get warm, trees and plants will bear fruit and we will once again begin brewing lighter beers for family, friends and ourselves.

We're done with the snifter full of big 12% Barley Wines, Octoberfests and Marzens. Big beers just doesn't seem right now that it's starting to warm up. Now is the time to make refreshing Ales and Lagers. However, don't fold up your proverbial Snuggie Blanket just yet. Certain beer styles that require aging will require some forethought and planning. So, let's make plans before you race off to look up your next lawn mower beer recipe.

If you want a big winter warmer that's aged 6 to 8 months, being that it's already March, you should
setup to brew one now. You can't brew a big beer a month before Octoberfest or December for winter consumption. In fact, January through May is the season to brew big beers for consumption within 9 to 12 months. Brewing big beers now will give your beer a chance to age nicely, with the consideration of aging over some wood or in a barrel. Big beers are also good for long term aging, which can be brewed anytime if long term is the intent.

Aged big beers to consider for consumption include Marzens and Octoberfest for August/September, and Imperial Stouts, Barley Wines and Scotch Ales for December/January. However, as of today, we are running late on styles that require more than 9 months aging. Unless, it is for competition, not consumption.

Competition season is a consideration for this months brewing. If you entered the National Competitions with the American Homebrewers Association, you've already brewed several of your favorite beers hoping for that big win, and maybe even a Ninkasi Award. For competitions with due dates in June and July, most Ales and Lambics should be brewed March through April. However, beers that require long term aging, now is the time to brew next years competition winning big beer.

Other beers to start in March for consumption and competition within the next 30-90 days include Pale Ales, Pilsners, Stout, IPA's, Lambics, Kolsch, Bocks, Maibock, Munich Helles/Dunkles, American Lagers and pretty much anything Ale and light, as opposed to a big beer.

Since IPA's are best consumed young, brewing in March will be best for consumption and competitions due in May/June. Lagers will require a lagering period, therefore a finished Lager would be ready for competition June or July depending on when you start and how quickly your yeast will finish out.

It's time to schedule your brewing for consumption and competitions. Good luck and feel free to post your responses.