What is Brewnity?

September 19, 2014

By now you might have heard me talk about Brewnity. So what is Brewnity? I can tell you what Brewnity is not.

Brewnity is not a homebrew club. There are no officers, no dues.

Rather it is a gathering of the homebrew clubs and homebrew shops in the greater NYC area. The goal being that there is strength in numbers. Our objective is to promote the great hobby of homebrewing through charitable events, club to club competitions and anything else we find fun and beery. At Bitter & Esters we are currently setting up a friendly competition with one or more of the clubs in the area with our monthly beer swap.

New York City has some of the greatest homebrew clubs and homebrewers, Brewnity brings them all together for the greater good. By being a member of one of the participating homebrew clubs, or a customer of one of the participating homebrew stores, you are a member of Brewnity.
Just recently Brewnity helped organize and contributed homebrew to Kegs and Kluckers. An annual event at Brooklyn Brewery that raises money for JustFood.org. The event also allowed homebrewers and chicken farmers to meet and organize getting spent grains to farmers as feed.

Coming up on November 2nd, 2014, Brewnity’s NYC area brewers will gather at the Bell House in Gowanus Brooklyn to celebrate the burgeoning home brewing scene in New York City. It will be a party to benefit a local charity of your choosing! You get to vote for your preferred local charity, or write one in that you would like considered. The organization with the most votes by 5pm, Wednesday October 8th will be first choice. 100% of proceeds from this annual event will be donated to the organization. Please vote here. Tickets for this event are scheduled to go on sale Friday September 26th. More info coming soon to www.brewnity.com.

If you want to be part of the event, come to Bitter & Esters beer swap on October 1st at 6:30. I’ll be laying out more details then about how you can be involved. If you can’t make the swap, drop by the store and we’ll chat.

Brewnity is a great thing. It gives the clubs and shops a way of communicating and organizing awesome events. With all of us combined we can really get the word out about our homebrew community here in the greater NYC area and do some good in the process.

For more information on the homebrew clubs in NYC check out last weeks post (just beneath this one or click here!).

Brewnifyingly yours,

Know your local homebrew club!

September 12, 2014

You’ve made your beer and now you want some feedback. Your friends will pretty much tell you it is great (so they can get more of it). You like your beer, but you want some critique. Or maybe something is not quite right and you want honest opinions. You can always come to Bitter & Esters and bring us a bottle (or two) and we will gladly talk to you about your beer. The other thing you can do is join a homebrew club. At a club meeting not only will you get several different palettes and levels of experience to give you feedback, but you can taste what your fellow homebrewers are concocting and talk all things beer.

There are several clubs in the five boroughs, Westchester and Long Island. They usually meet monthly, have internal contests, do charity events and have online forums. Some have minor dues to help maintain the website etc., some don’t. As a member of a club you have camaraderie, feedback and will learn from fellow homebrewers while helping others out as well. And you don’t have to be confined to just one club. You can join as many as you like and can be active with. Plus, members of homebrew clubs get a 5% discount at Bitter & Esters! (If you belong to several clubs you still only get one 5% discount, don’t be thinking you can stack them!)

Here are the clubs available in this great city of ours and surrounding areas.

The first one is Bitter & Esters monthly bottle swap. It starts at 6:30 on the first Wednesday of every month. Not really a club per se, we have no dues and are pretty loose. Bring some homebrew to share and swap. Lately we’ve been dong internal contests and will be doing more events involving the swap. It’s a great time and a good night of beer talk and information exchange.

New York City Homebrewers Guild
New York Citys oldest homebrew club. They have a Yahoo group where members can ask questions, trade or sell gear and make announcements. They have a lot of events including a yearly picnic. Plus they run NYC’s only BJCP sanctioned homebrew contest, Homebrew Alley. The guild also sponsors an annual BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) class and exam. Notable past Presidents include Brooklyn Brewery’s brewmaster Garrett Oliver, 508’s Chris Cuzme and fermentation guru Mary Izett. Meetings are at 7:30pm every third Tuesday of the month at Burp Castle in the East Village (41 E. 7th St, betw 2nd and 3rd Aves).

Malted Barley Appreciation Society

MBAS is where beginners and experts alike meet to talk and share beer. Often there are guests from local breweries speaking at club meetings. They have a monthly newsletter and sponsor homebrew contests. They meet every 2nd Wednesday at 7:30pm at Mugs Ale House, 125 Bedford Ave, Williamsburg Brookyln

Brooklyn Brewsers

Started in 2010, the Brewsers welcomes brewers from all walks of life and varying levels of expertise. The members consist of both amateur brewers as well as award-winning brewers who are always happy to discuss their techniques. The Brooklyn Brewsers meet on the first Monday of every month at 7:00pm unless otherwise noted. The meetings are held at Brouwerij Lane in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Knights of Bruklyn Homebrew Sentry

Formed as a collection of “Home Brewers” the Knights are dedicated to bringing a sampling of their finest creations to the table for enjoyment and conviviality. The knights look to provide safety and protection anywhere beer is being served. They also sponsor a quarterly homebrew competition. The meetings are at 7 pm on the 1st Wednesday of every month at Union Hall, 702 Union St at 5th Ave. Park Slope, Brooklyn.


Brewstoria is the first and currently only homebrew club in Queens, New York. They meet from 7pm to 9pm on the first Wednesday of every month at 5 Napkin Burger in Astoria, Queens Brewstoria was founded in December, 2010. Since then, Brewstoria has grown to have almost 50 active members.

Pour Standards Richmond County Brew Society

Pour Standards is Staten Islands only homebrew club. Strongly involved in the homebrewing and craft beer community, Pour Standards also hosts many charity events like Brew for Autism and Pour to Restore. Pour Standards meets every second Thursday at 120 Bay Cafe, 2 blocks from the Staten Island Ferry

The Dive Bar Homebrewers’ Symposium

A loose meeting of homebrewers sharing beer and ideas. They meet at either Dive Bar or Broadway Dive on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Which of those two locations varies sporadically, as does the date. They don’t have a set time of the month, so the best way for people to get the info is to email Tristan Cook and he’ll add you to the list. And finally, no requirements; all are welcome!

Bronx Homebrewers Association

The Bronx Homebrewers Association was founded in August 2013. It is the first Homebrewers organization in the Bronx which means that now all 5 boroughs have an organization. They hold meetings the 2nd Tuesday of every month at the Bronx Ale House, 216 W 238th St. Bronx, NY. Meetings begin at 7pm. Homebrewers of all levels are welcome.

Westchester Homebrewers Organization (WHO)

The Westchester Homebrewers Organization is a club that was founded in 2008 for people who share an interest in the craft of homebrewing and an appreciation for well made beer. Check their website for the next meeting time and place.

Long Island Beer and Malt Enthusiasts (LIBME)

Their mission is to spread knowledge and enthusiasm of homebrewing, craft beer and malt with others. They hold events such as tastings, style clinics and talks with local breweries. They meet on the first Wednesday of every month at various places in Suffolk and Nassau County’s on Long Island.


Brewnity is not a club but a gathering of all of the New York City homebrew clubs and homebrew shops. With so much enthusiasm and talent, the idea is to pool our resources for information, events and power. A brain child of Chris Cuzme and Mary Izett, the next Brewnity event is planned for Sunday Novemeber 2nd at the Bellhouse in Gowanus. Check Bitter & Esters website for more information in the near future.

American Homebrewers Association

Not really a club but a national organization. All homebrewers should be members of the AHA. Your membership gets you Zymurgy magazine 6 times a year, years of back issues of Zymurgy online, tons of homebrew related resources, discounts at various shops and bars among many other things. They hold the largest homebrew contest in the world and the National Homebrewers conference (NHC) every year at a different city with an amazing club night. Over 1.2 million people brew their own beer at home in the United States. The American Homebrewers Association® (AHA) is a not-for-profit organization based in Boulder, Colo., dedicated to promoting the community of homebrewers and empowering homebrewers to make the best beer in the world. Since 1978, the AHA has worked to educate people worldwide about the coolest hobby there is—homebrewing. You can thank the AHA for lobbying to make homebrewing legal in all 50 states (looking at you Mississippi and Alabama!).

It is a blast that there are so many resources for homebrewers to meet and hang out with other brewers. If I missed your club please let me know.

Clubbing along,

Improving Your Efficiency

September 5, 2014

People ask me all the time how to increase their mash efficiency. (For more on what efficiency is check out last weeks blog post).

There are several factors that affect efficiency, they all work in conjunction with each other. Let’s start with your mash tun. Using a cooler is very efficient because it allows you to maintain temperature throughout the mash. This will keep those enzymes working.

The type of false bottom you use in your tun is also important. If you are using a kettle screen you are better off doing a batch sparge instead of a continuous sparge. Water likes to find it’s level and with a kettle screen your water will channel towards the screen. If you are continuously sparging this channeling can cause a lot of your grain to not get rinsed leading to lower efficiency. When you batch sparge channeling is not a problem.

Continuous sparging is more efficient because sugar in suspension stays in suspension, but you don’t want channeling. That is why a perforated false bottom is best for continuous sparging, the water won’t channel to one place and you will have a more efficient sparge.

But even before you mash there are ways to increase your efficiency. Freshness of your grain is very important. Fresh grain will give you better flavor and better enzymatic conversion. The percentage of diastatic (enzymatic) malt to non-diastatic malt is also important, as is the ˚Lintner of your malts. ˚Lintner is the measure of enzyme power in your malt (not to be confused with ˚Lovibond, which is the measure of grain color). A malt needs at least 35˚Lintner in order to convert its starches to sugar. If you are using a large amount of non diastatic malts in your grist, make sure you have enough ˚Lintner to cover the entire grist .The crush of your grain is also very important. We want as fine a crush as possible so the water can hydrate the starch, and the enzymes can get in there and do their job, but not too fine because we need grain hulls for the lauter/sparge or else the whole thing will get stuck. People who brew in a bag will double crush their grains to increase efficiency because they don’t have to worry so much about sparging, but there is a chance of more tannin extraction from the hull if it is crushed too fine.

So we have a good mash tun and an excellent fresh crush, what’s next? Why, water of course! The malt enzymes need the right water to grain ratio, the right temperature and the right pH to work at their optimal efficiency. The water to grain ratio should be between 1.25-2.5 quarts of water per pound. Brew in a bag is usually a little higher than that since it is a no sparge or mild sparge method. With a mash tun I find 1.3 quarts per pound to beer optimal. Temperature of the mash will depend on what enzymes you are trying to activate. For our saccharification enzymes we want between 140 to 150˚F for beta amylase and 150 to 160˚F for Alpha Amylase enzymes. If you are already doing all grain you should know the math or use calculators to determine your strike water temperature, so I won’t go into it. But pH is something that many brewers do not bother with. By adjusting your pH in the mash you can increase your efficiency 5 to 10%. Without getting too deep into water chemistry, most base malts when mashed with distilled water will have a pH of 5.7 to 5.8, from the natural acidifying action of the malt. But beta amylase likes a ph of 5 to 5.6 and alpha amylase like it a little higher, between 5.3 and 5.8. (Remember, ph readings are always assumed to be at room temperature). So a good general overall mash pH is 5.5. New York City water is very soft and does not have enough minerals to lower our mash pH. This is where calcium additions come in. Calcium sulfate (gypsum) and Calcium Chloride will add calcium to the mash that will react with malt phytase and reduce the pH of the mash. Or you can use some acidulated malt (one or two ounces for a five gallon grist should do it) to lower your pH and increase your efficiency. This is obviously a much larger subject but worth looking into as water adjustment can really help with efficiency and overall beer flavor. For more information check out John Palmers book Water. Also check out his water adjustment spreadsheet available on the LaMotte site.

The amount of time you mash also affects your efficiency. Although 60 minutes should be enough time to convert all of your starches, do a conversion efficiency reading to make sure you are at 100% before you sparge. If not mash a little longer until everything is converted.

As I said before all of this works in harmony. If you’re not getting the efficiency you want, go through these suggestions and see what you might be able to improve. Or drop by the store and ask one of us, we are always happy to help you get the best wort possible.

Keep it efficient!

All About Efficiency

August 29, 2014

When brewers speak of efficiency, what do they mean? Basically it means the percentage of sugar you extract from your grains during your mash and/or lauter. Breweries need to get as much sugar out as possible because this will affect their overall cost of goods and their bottom line. Plus it allows them to have a consistent product. Home brewers need to know their efficiency so they know how much grain to use to hit their target original gravity and for consistency. Plus there are bragging rights when you have a high efficiency.

If you are brewing on your system for the first time you won’t know your efficiency. Most people assume 70% to start off. There are different points in the mashing/brewing process that you can test for your efficiency, after conversion, in the kettle and in the fermenter. But first you must know about points per pound per gallon.

Points per pound per gallon (ppg) tells us the yield of sugars that you extract from your grains. In the case of malt extracts it tells us how much sugar there is per pound of extract. Simply put, one pound of grain that has had 100% of it’s sugars extracted (yield) will give you a certain gravity in one gallon of water. For example, if a pound of a grain has a 100% yield of 37 ppg, you would end up with a gravity of 1.037 in one gallon of water. (We drop the numbers before the decimal point when talking about ppg). But this is only if you are able to extract 100% of the grain’s sugars, which no one can really do. The yield of a grain is based on a scientific mashing method called a Congress Mash. Most malt sheets will give you both an extract fine grind dry basis (fgdb) or an extract course grind dry basis (cgdb) which is the percent of sugar that is available after the congress mash. I like to go by cgdb because most mills grind fairly coarse. I said percentage because there is usually about 20% of the grain that does not convert to sugar in the mash, i.e. hull and proteins. The percentage to ppg is based on sucrose having a ppg of 46. So if your cgdb is 78% of 46 then your 100% yield is 36 ppg. Most base malts like two row have a ppg of around 36. If you are not into math don’t fret, there are plenty of charts that will tell you the ppg of every grain, usually they will call it yield.

For malt extracts, most dry malt extracts (DME) have a ppg of 45 and most liquid malt extracts (LME) have a ppg of 35 (lower ppg since they are around 20% water). This is very helpful to the extract brewer who wants to figure out their original gravity. Every pound of DME added to a five gallon batch will raise the gravity 9 points, or 1.009, every pound of LME will raise the five gallon batch 7 points.

Knowing the ppg of the grains you are using is the only way to know the efficiency of your system. Knowing the percentage of sugar you are able to extract will allow you to calculate the amount of grain needed to hit your OG (Original Gravity).

But there are different times in brewing that have different efficiency calculations.

The first point you can test is called the conversion efficiency. This will determine if you have converted all of your starch to sugar in your mash. Sometimes people will use an iodine test to see if the starch converted to sugar, a drop of iodine in a sample of wort will turn black if starch is present. This does not tell you if all of your starch has converted to sugar though. It just tells you that the starch that the saccharification enzymes got to have converted. There can be starches still left in the hull from a bad crush that did not get hydrolyzed. You want 100% conversion efficiency or close. I know I said no one usually gets 100% efficiency but that is after the lauter/sparge, I will get to that. For conversion efficiency you want all your starch converted to sugar before the lauter/sparge. The math is simple. Take a gravity reading of your mash after you are finished mashing, before lauter/sparge. Adjust for temperature, (a refractometer as opposed to a hydrometer helps with this. Uses a lot less wort and adjusts for temperature almost right away). Add the ppg of all your grains according to weight and divide by your mash water volume in gallons. This is the ppg (yield) of your grains combined at 100%. Then divide your measured mash gravity by the ppg of your grains and that is your conversion efficiency. Hopefully your grain ppg and your mash gravity are very close. If not, you know you have conversion problems and this can be due to temperature, water to grist ratio and ph among other things. Those are topics for a different time.

For example, lets say your grain bill for your 5 gallon batch is 10 lbs of 2 row malt at 36 ppg and 2 pounds of caramel malt 20L at 34 ppg. Your overall grain ppg is 428 points. Divide this by your mash water at 1.3 qts per pound which is 3.9 gallons. You will have 109.74. This is your 100% ppg extract yield. Divide this number by your mash gravity reading, this is your conversion efficiency. Anywhere in the high 90’s is close enough for rock and roll.

I rarely take a conversion efficiency reading unless I am having a big problem with my kettle efficiency. The pre and post boil gravity numbers are what most people are looking at. Conversion of the well modified malts we have now days is easy. I swear sometimes if I look at those grains long enough they will turn to sugar. What we really care about is the amount of sugar that gets into the kettle. This is usually measured pre-boil, after the lauter/sparge. This is a combination of conversion efficiency and the amount of sugar we rinse during our lauter/sparge. The type of sparge we do after mashing is very important to our kettle efficiency. Batch sparging, where we lauter off our first runnings completely and then add more hot water to the mash, letting it sit to dissolve the sugars and then lautering again is the easiest way, but the least efficient. Continuous, or fly sparging where we continuously add our sparge water to the mash while we lauter until we get our pre-boil volume is the most efficient, because sugar that is suspended in water will stay suspended, making for a better yield. Figuring out our kettle efficiency lets us know how efficient our overall mash process was and allows us to adjust our recipe accordingly. The math is similar to the conversion efficiency math.

First we take a temperature adjusted gravity reading of our wort at pre boil volume. Be sure to mix your wort gently before taking this reading because sugar tends to stratify during the lauter/sparge.

We still want to know the total ppg of our grain bill. We then divide that number by our pre-boil volume in gallons. That is your grain bill 100% ppg yield in the kettle. Then divide your pre-boil gravity points by your grain bill ppg and this will be your pre boil kettle efficiency. Using our grain bill example from above, we still have 428 ppg of the grain. Divide this by our pre boil volume, let’s say 6.5 gallons for a typical 5 gallon batch. This gives us a ppg of 65.84. But the gravity reading you took was 1.052 or 52 points. Divide 52 by 65.84 and you end up with an pre boil kettle efficiency of 79% which is pretty darn good. Your post boil OG will be higher because you are boiling off water during the boil and concentrating the sugars, but the efficiency will remain the same. To figure out your post boil gravity from your pre boil gravity, times you pre boil gravity points by your pre boil volume and divide by your post boil volume. In our example, 52 x 6.5 = 338 / 5 = 67.6 or an original gravity (post boil) of 1.067. Here is a calculator to make this easier.

There is one more efficiency reading you can do and this is called the fermenter efficiency. This is the efficiency after the wort is cooled and transferred to the fermenter. There are points lost due to hop absorption, kettle loss and loss to hot break. If you really want to hone in the efficiency of your system you will write your recipes using this number. The math is the same as the kettle efficiency only this time you take the gravity reading of your final amount in the fermenter, use the volume that is in the fermenter and still use the same grain bill ppg.

When writing a recipe you do all this kind of in reverse. I usually write for five gallons. I would add up my grain ppg, divide it by 5 (gallons) then times that by my efficiency percentage. In our example, 428 / 5 = 85.6 x .79 = 67.6. Knowing my efficiency allows me to adjust my grain bill to reach my gravity points.

Thank goodness we have online calculators to do all this for us!

Efficiently yours,

Vermont Beercation

August 22, 2014

I have been fortunate this past year to have taken not one, but two beercations. Last September I spent a week in Portland Oregon and just last week I was in the Waterbury/Burlington area of Vermont. One of our former employees, Mark opened a great bottle/growler shop in Waterbury called the Craft Beer Cellar. If you happen to be in the area check it out and tell him I said hello. His store is right around the corner from the Prohibition Pig (a great beer bar and they also make small batches of their own excellent beer).

On both trips we drank a ton of awesome beer from excellent breweries. But we also drank some not so awesome beers as well. Nothing terrible, but nothing remarkable. This past trip got me thinking why are some breweries beers just better than others?

I have my thoughts on this but it is subjective of course. I guess what would make one brewery’s beer better than another would be the brewery paying more attention. I guess you could call this better crafting. The ingredients are basically the same for all beer, water malt hops and yeast. So why aren’t all beers great? Details like fermentation temperature, pitch rate of yeast, water profile and freshness of ingredients comes to mind.

Of course all breweries pay attention to their beer, they have to. But to give an example in Vermont, one of the better brew pubs we went to is called Lost Nation. Every beer in their portfolio was exceptional. Their beers ranged from one of the best examples of Gose I’ve ever had, to a hop forward amber that was outstanding. I was fortunate enough to speak with one of the brewers and I asked him about the water profile of the area and whether he made any adjustments. He told me they used reservoir water that was very soft (similar to NYC) and they made no adjustments. They brewed beer styles that fit their water. He told me they would never make an Irish dry stout (not enough bicarbonate in the water). I found this very interesting that they paid as much attention to the water to not make certain styles. Some places will make every style of beer without regard to water or water treatment and it shows.

Another thing I have noticed at many brewpubs is the tendency for the beers to all taste the same. This comes from using the same yeast strain for all styles. Brewpubs will do this for economy and ease but it does not make for a good roster of beers. A good brewery pays close attention to their yeast strains and pitch a good healthy amount for the style they are brewing. Some breweries have a house strain or two that make their beers exceptional, along with all the other details, (I’m talking to you Hill Farmstead). Other breweries stick to only a few styles such as Trapp brewery. They make only lagers, but they make them really well. Plus their location is so beautiful the beer just tastes better (it was hard to get me to leave that one).

Fermentation temperature is also very important according to the strain of yeast you are using. Most breweries have glycol jackets to maintain temperature but what I don’t know is how often they will adjust the temp to style.

Then there is the freshness of ingredients and the recipes. A good recipe must be balanced and pleasing to your particular palette. This includes the grain bill, mash temp and the type of mash (I am personally a sucker for decoctions), hop bill and lastly, the yeast strain. Another thing they did at Lost Nation was to lager all of their beers in secondary at around 34 F before racking to the bright tank. Ales for 7 days and lagers for 6 weeks. This helps smooth out the flavors before packaging. Again, it showed.

I love beer. And any beer you enjoy is a good beer. It’s those times when I take the first sip and go wow! that makes me love it more. These are some of my thoughts on what produces those wow moments, but I am always learning. What are your thoughts? What makes you go wow?

Always hoping to wow you.

New York Pro Am Brew P.I.T.

August 14, 2014

What was my favorite part of New York Pro Am Brew P.I.T. this past Saturday August 9th at Covenhoven?

Was it the incredibly beautiful weather at an amazing beer bar? Well . . . yes.

Or was it the kick ass beers being poured by both local professional breweries and home brewers? Uh . . . also yes.

Could it have been the fact that Marcus from Sixpoint brewery poured a great salted caramel beer inspired from one of our homebrewers Shannon when he worked at Bitter & Esters? Oh yeah.

Marcus and Sixpoint

Or maybe it was hanging out with old friends and meeting new ones during a chill, welcoming event? You got it, another yes.

But the best thing for me was seeing the New York City beer community coming together, drinking beer, talking and enjoying a great event on a beautiful day. There were no cliques, no differentiation between pro brewer, home brewer and drinker. We were all there for the same reason, to celebrate the growing craft and home brewing movement in New York City. It was such a great thing to see this community together, I was really digging it.

Cuzme, LaPolla, Sherrill

It made me think about why this particular beer movement is growing so fast with such great quality? Surely it is because of awesome breweries like Sixpoint, Singlecut, Finback, Yonkers, Flagship and 508 among others pouring delicious innovative brew. Great bars like Saint Gambrinus, Jimmy’s No. 43, and Covenhoven making these beers available to the thirsty masses. Home brew clubs like the New York City Homebrewers Guild, Pour Standards, Brooklyn Brewsers and Brewstoria organizing brewers and helping each other out to make great beer. And cool home brew shops like Bitter & Esters and Brooklyn Homebrew providing ingredients and guidance so homebrewers can make their awesome concoctions.


But the main reason is because of you. You want New York City to be a beer town and you are making it happen. By supporting this community and helping it grow. We have such a great thing happening here in this city and we are all a part of it. That was what I got out of Brewers P.I.T. Our beer community is the best. Thank you.

Check out this article from our friend Meredith in Brooklyn Magazine. She really captured the feeling of the day.

Passionately, Inspirationally and Technically yours,


P.S. Thanks to Carla Coria for all of the wonderful photos!

Farewell to Good Beer Month

August 1, 2014

Good Beer MonthJuly is good beer month was a blast! So many great events, our town is really becoming a craft beer destination.

Last night was the final event of good beer month. Edible Manhattan hosted Good Beer Edible. It started with the sixth annual Good beer seal awards. Eight bars got the seal this year. When you see the Good beer seal at a bar you know that they are independently owned, have at least 80% craft beer pouring, clean lines and are dedicated to community and good beer. Congratulations to them all. It was my honor this year to participate in the nomination of bars for the good beer seal.

After the awards ceremony we enjoyed samples from over thirty breweries and cideries and from over twenty food establishments. Great beer was being poured but Doug and I were really intrigued by the local (New England) ciders being produced. From sweet to dry, still to sparkling, there were some really tasty options. I’ve really been digging cider lately.

There was excellent food but I could only eat about a quarter of it. Vegetarian me. But what I had was delicious, Samosas, Mac and cheese balls, pretzels, good stuff.

Good Beer Month AwardsGood beer month may be over but I still have my Good Beer passport. Only $35 and you get a pint from over 30 bars. It is good until the end of August and we have been doing our best to get to every bar on the list. It’s a good excuse to try bars in different areas of the city that we don’t get to as often as we like.

Having lived in new York most of my life, I have seen the changes in the beer and home brew community. More beer bars with excellent selections and more and more people home brewing. These are great things and it makes me proud to be a part of our beer community. You should be proud too.

Special thanks to Jimmy Carbone and Astrid Cook for all that they do. And thanks to all of you for supporting your local beer bars and home brew shops, you are what makes all of this happen. Good beer month may be over but as far as I’m concerned, every month is good beer month!

Drink what you love!


Sours Galore

July 25, 2014

American Sour BeersIn recognition of Wyeast’s new private collection sour blends and the release of Michael Tonsmeire’s (aka The Mad Fermentationist) new book, American Sour Beers, I thought I would talk a little bit about sour beers.

Sour beers can be intense for the uninitiated but once you start acquiring the taste you will notice a great complexity and refreshment. The traditional European sours are Berliner Weisse, Flanders Red, Oud Bruin, Lambics and Geuze. And now the Americans are taking off with sour and barrel aged beers. Just about any beer style can be soured, but it is best to use styles that won’t clash with the sourness and funk flavors. Saisons, pale ales, even porters and stouts can work with some sourness to them, big hoppy beers not so much.

The sourness in these beers come from the blends of yeast and bacteria used to ferment them (often referred to as “bugs”). The main souring bugs are Lactobacillus, Pediococcus, and Brettanomyces. Lactobacillus is the bacteria that turns milk bad. Its by product is lactic acid which is a smooth, pleasing sort of sour. Pediococcus also create lactic acid but more aggressively and can create a lot of diacetyl (buttery flavor) and a snotty like mouthfeel. It is almost always pitched alongside with Brettanomyces which will clean those flavors up.

Brettanomyces (or Brett) is actually a strain of saccharomyces yeast (brewers yeast).The word Brettanomyces is Latin for British fungus. It is a bit of a misnomer to say that brett sours beer as it adds more funkiness, flavor and tartness than sourness. It’s the lacto bacterias that really do the souring. There are three main types of Brettanomyces:

  • Brettanomyces bruxellensis is known for giving sweaty “horse blanket” flavors and aromas
  • Brettanomyces lambicus is known for giving cherry pie like flavor to beer
  • Brettanomyces claussenii is known for having fruity pineapple like qualities in beer. It was originally isolated from strong British ale

Many yeast labs also sell blends of some or all of these for different flavor profiles. The quickest way to sour a beer is to kettle sour. This involves creating your wort, cooling it down to around 120F and either pitching in some Lactobacillus or a handful of crushed malted barley (which contains lactic acid bacteria) and letting it sit at that temp for a day or two until your wort is the sourness you would like. Once it is there you bring you wort to a boil as usual, add your hops and ferment with an ale yeast of your choice. This is a good way to make Berliner Weisse which is basically 50% wheat malt and 50% pilsner malt. It helps to have a heating blanket to wrap around the wort to maintain the temperature while the souring is taking place. It is also a good idea to purge your wort of oxygen with some co2 and cover it with plastic wrap to keep it from oxidizing. If it oxidizes you can get a cheesy flavor that will not boil or ferment out.

You can also pitch Lactobacillus to boiled and cooled wort to sour it, you will still have to pitch yeast for fermentation. Keep in mind your IBUs have to be low. Hop alpha acids keep gram positive bacteria (like lactobacillus) from reproducing. This is how they keep beer from spoiling. Luckily yeast is gram negative. On a side note, acetobacter (which creates vinegar) is also gram negative so hops have no affect on them. Keep your equipment clean!

Other styles like Flanders Red Lambics and Geuze (which is a blend of young and old lambics) are traditional worts that are then inoculated. Worts that are going to be soured do well with warmer mash temps to create more dextrins, which are long chain sugars that common yeasts cannot ferment. Brettanomyces can ferment dextrins, so a more dextrinous wort will create more interesting flavors when using brett. You can pitch all brett into your wort or a blend of brett, saccharomyces and bacteria. Either way it will take months before you get the brett character you are looking for.

One of the new Wyeast sour blends, De Bom Sour Blend, is said to be able to finish up a Lambic in one to two months. The trick is no O2/aeration at beginning of fermentation, periodic dosing with O2 during fermentation (shaking the fermenter is sufficient), and sample periodically for taste and final gravity. Since brett can eat sugars that other yeasts cannot, you want to make sure you are done fermenting before bottling to avoid bottle bombs. It is also a good idea to repitch about a gram of fresh dry ale yeast for five gallons at bottling time to insure carbonation.

It is good practice to reserve the fermenters and tubing and such on the cold side of making a sour beer for sour beers. Many of these bugs have a biofilm that makes them hard to clean and sanitize. Using them for non sour beers just might sour them anyway!

If you are new to sour beers, go to your local bottle shop and try a Berliner Weisse or a Flanders Red (Rodenbach Grand Cru is my favorite) or one of the many new American sours out there (Peekskill Simple Sour comes to mind). You will be pleasantly surprised.

Sour but happy.

Passion, Inspiration and Technique

July 11, 2014

PIT LogoI am looking forward to our upcoming event at Covenhoven on August 9th, New York Pro-Am Brew P.I.T.

The P.I.T. Stands for Passion, Inspiration and Technique. Thinking about those three words, I realized that this is what drives brewers, whether home or pro.

Every brewer feels passion about brewing. It’s what makes you brew. Writing a recipe. The feel of the grist, the smell of the mash, that feeling when you hit a good efficiency. Boiling, adding hops (that aroma!) cooling the wort, pitching the yeast. Then the sweet anticipation of fermentation, the patience to not check your beer every day, watching the airlock bubble. Bottling or kegging, having to wait to try your finished product. And then, drinking an excellent beer that you crafted yourself. And doing it all again. These and many other reasons are why we brew.

Inspiration can come from many areas but I find it almost always starts with beer. You try a beer that blows your mind and you want to do something like it, or build on it. Or you have a meal and you think what sort of beer would work with this? If the flavors and spice of the food work a certain way maybe it will work in your beer? Maybe a friend is getting married and you want to brew something awesome for their special day. Or maybe you are inspired just because you like really good beer. Inspiration can come from anywhere.

And then there’s technique, which for me is the fun part. The thing that brewers talk to each other about. What was your mash temp, did you treat the water? What was your grain bill? Hop bill? Your yeast, fermentation temp, fermentation strategy? What kind of gear do you have? Personally I have been brewing for over 20 years and I learn more about technique every day. Brewers share this knowledge happily with each other. And our beers get better because of it.

P.I.T., it’s the beauty of brewing. Imagine if you could learn and share all this from someone who brews for a living?
That is how New York Pro-AM Brew P.I.T. was born.

When our friend and customer Robert Sherill discussed the idea of doing an event with Bitter & Esters, the first thing we all agreed upon was that it wasn’t going to be a bunch of home brewers sharing their beer type of event. Don’t get me wrong, those events are a lot of fun and I love going to them. But they’re being done well already by other people. We felt we wanted to add something else to the mix.

Kicking a bunch of ideas around, the one that excited us the most was pairing home brewers with some of the new breweries popping up in NYC. All of these new breweries are started by people who were home brewers first. They all made that leap to the next phase, going pro. We thought, how cool would it be to get our more advanced brewers to see what it is like from a pro brewers point of view? One of the perks of owning a home brew shop is that you get to know a lot of the people who are brewers for local breweries. Getting five of them on board was easy, they all loved the idea.

The next step was picking the home brewers. Our criteria was simple, you had to be an all grain brewer, been brewing for at least a year and write your own recipes. We got over 50 entries! We put everyone’s name in a hat and picked the lucky five at one of our monthly beer swaps. We wanted the brewers chosen to be as fair and random as possible. We then picked the breweries from a hat to pair with the brewers, again totally random. We set them up to meet each other, tour the brewery and discuss brewing beer. We told the home brewers to think of themselves as the new head brewer for the brewery, what would they want to add to their portfolio based on their discussions with the brewer?
Hearing back from the pro and amateur brewers it sounds like everyone had a great time. Passions were discussed, Inspirations followed and Techniques were swapped. I cannot wait to taste the end results!

Brew P.I.T. Is not really a contest, it’s more of a gathering and bridge between breweries and home brewers, but there is a prize! One home brewer will be chosen by audience choice to brew 70 gallons of their beer with Chris Cuzme at 508 Gastrobrewery and have it served at the restaurant in Soho. Also, $200 will be donated to the charity of the brewers choice.

Here are the breweries that will be there and the home brewers they are paired up with.

Sixpoint Brewery – Sebastian Schinkel
Sebastian has been a friend of B&E since the beginning. A great guy and an amazing brewer, his specialty is saisons. Sebastian was paired with Sixpoint and got to spend several hours with Heather and Marcus at the Red Hook brewery, seeing their process, talking about brewing and of course sampling beer. Can’t wait to taste what they’ll be pouring. BTW, that’s the same Marcus who used to work for Bitter & Esters. From Home Brew shop employee to brewer!

Finback LogoFinback Brewery – Sam Burlingame
Sam is also an old friend of the shop. A long distance runner and excellent brewer, he runs a small business called Brewheister. Serendipity paired him with our friends Basil and Kevin at Finback brewery in Queens. Turns out Basil and Kevin are runners too, although I heard it’s really Kevin that can run long distance! They met and discussed beer at Finback’s awesome brewhouse in Queens. and I am looking forward to taste what that meeting inspired.

Singlecut Beersmiths – Frank Lockwood
I spoke with Frank yesterday and he told me he had a great time at Singlecut with Brian and Amanda. Singlecut is a major player in the NYC brewing scene, all of their beers are inspired by different guitar players. Frank told me he decided to run with that theme and picked the great Link Ray as his inspiration. He is brewing a hop forward ale and since Link Ray is from the south he is going to brew his beer with brown sugar, molasses and southern spices. Frank’s been talking back and forth with Brian about the recipe formulation and has learned a ton from this collaboration.
Read all about Frank’s recipe here.

Yonkers Brewing Company – Neal Hundt
We met Sharif from Yonkers Brewing Company before they opened. Sharif, John and Nick came to our brew on premises to run test batches of their excellent Vienna Lager. Pure luck paired Neal with Sharif, and it turns out Neal’s mom is from Yonkers and Neal still goes skating there every week. Neal’s Great Grandfather was a Brewer in Pre WW1 Prussia (now Poland)! Neal decided to make a Belgian blonde after spending time with Sharif and Sharif will be pouring Yonkers Belgian honey blonde as well.

Flagship Brewing CompanyFlagship Brewery – Ken Webster
Flagship is the newest brewery in town and the first on Staten Island in 30 years. We’ve known head brewmaster Pat for as long as we’ve been open. Why? Because he used to be head brewer at Greenpoint brew works 3 blocks from the shop. Greenpoint is known for brewing Kelso and Heartland among others. (On a side note, the brewers from Greenpoint love bringing us high alcohol beers to try early in the afternoon to get us tipsy for the rest of the day. I’m talking to you Peter!) Ken Webster has been brewing since 2008 and after meeting with Pat from Flagship and talking about their lineup of beers, he decided to make a Brooklyn version of a German alt, providing more body and bolder flavor while balancing the pale color and refreshment of a Kolsch. Pat felt that the perfect compliment to Ken’s beer is Flagships Dark Mild. Sounds awesome!

On top of all this Bitter & Esters will be pouring samples from their wide array of brews. Robert Sherill and Xavier Serrano will be pouring their collaboration Kolsch.

Even if you don’t brew but love beer this is a great event for you. You can taste the beers that were made with passion by your neighbors. You can talk to the brewers about what inspired them to brew this beer and to open their business. You can find out about the techniques that are used to make the beers you love, and hopefully one day try your hand at making some yourself. Plus you get 12 – 4 oz samples of kick ass local beers at a great place, and a Pelzers pretzel! What’s not to love?

New York Pro Am Brew P.I.T. is August 9th 2014 at Covenhoven, 730 Classon Avenue in Brooklyn, NY.

There will be 2 tasting sessions.

Session 1: 1:00-3:00pm
Session 2: 3:30-5:30pm.

Only 50 tickets available for each session and tickets are $25 each – available here.

I would like to thank everyone for making New York Pro-Am Brew P.I.T. happen.
The brewers and the breweries, Robert Sherill, Chris Cuzme and 508,
Billy and Molly at Covenhoven.

See you on the 9th!


July is Good Beer Month in NYC

June 27, 2014

Mayoral Proclamation

A Mayoral Proclamation!

The Good Beer SealI had the good fortune to sit down and chat with Jimmy Carbone, owner of Jimmy’s No. 43 on 7th Street in Manhattan and one of the founders of Good Beer Month (as officially proclaimed by the Mayor!). Find out more about Good Beer Month here.

I’ve known Jimmy for three years now when he first invited me to be on his Beer Sessions radio show on the Heritage Radio Network. An extremely likable and gregarious guy, Jimmy has been a champion of craft beer in New York for years (and a great friend of Bitter & Esters). If you love craft beer then you’ve been to Jimmy’s and probably know the man himself. Always quick with a high five, Jimmy loves bringing people together through events, tastings and educational gatherings.

With all the great beer flowing in NYC nowadays it is easy to forget that not too long ago it was hard to find a brew of quality in the greatest city in the world. It was a slow and risky move for small and independently owned places like D.B.A, Jimmy’s 43, The Blind Tiger, Bar Great Harry, Spuyten Duyvil and Burp Castle to cater to craft beer lovers. But they did. When Josh Schaffner founded the first New York City Craft beer week everyone was thrilled, yet a lot of the small craft beer bars said every week is craft beer week for us. Getting people to know about all these great places was the challenge. So July is Good Beer month was born.

Cofounded by Jimmy Carbone and the late Ray Deter of D.B.A., Good Beer Month is now in its sixth year. It is more of a media awareness campaign then a beer festival. Yes there are events happening all over the city, but it was founded as a way to expand the dialogue about the quality of beer pouring in the five boroughs, who was pouring it and promoting the Good Beer Seal.

From left to right, Yours Truly (John L), Tim Stendahl, and Jimmy Carbone

From left to right, Yours Truly (John L), Tim Stendahl, and Jimmy Carbone

Picked by a panel of beer and food writers, a bar or pub that has the Good Beer Seal has been open for at least a year, is small and independently owned, carries at least 80% craft beer and is active in the community. If The Good Beer Seal is on the door, good business practices, good atmosphere and good beer are inside. As Jimmy puts it, the places you go to drink and hang out are really important.

There are over 50 bars in the NYC area that carry the Good Beer Seal and with this growth the definition of the good beer seal is growing as well. They are looking to expand beyond New York to as far as Toronto! All in the belief that education about where you can get a good beer is good for all.

Back to Good Beer Month, the best way to promote the idea of good beer and craft beer in New York is through media. Good Beer Month partnered with Edible to create the event Good Beer now at 82 Mercer, a food and beer focused event and a signature event of the month. Also out of Good Beer Month came Beer Sessions Radio, Jimmy’s weekly radio show dedicated to all things beer.

Every July Jimmy hosts the show from the Greene Space in Soho in front of a live audience. This years three shows will be:

July 9th – Beer in the ‘burbs
July 16th – Hops aroma and flavor
July 23rd – Pairing beer with food.

(On a side note, I was a guest on a homebrew tasting panel last year for Good Beer month with Chris Cuzme, Mary Izett and Sam Merritt at the Greene Space. It was an amazing good time and awesome to see how many people came out.)

Another cool event happening is Coney Island on Tap sponsored by America on tap, a larger beer festival happening at the Brooklyn Cyclones stadium.

You can also get the Good Beer passport for 35 bucks that will get you a pour at several craft brew bars in the city from July 1st to September 1st. It’s a helluva town.

At the end of July a summit will be held with bar owners, brewers and home brewers for the announcements of what is happening next with the good beer seal.

Every month is a good month to go to your favorite craft brew bar but in July it is all about awareness and support. Show your love and raise a pint! Thanks to Jimmy for sitting down with me and giving me all this insight into his tireless efforts. It was an enlightening and interesting conversation which you can listen to right here:

After our conversation Carla and I sat down for a food and cider pairing event Jimmy was hosting. It was so good I’m going to have to write a post all about it on another day.

Drink good beer!

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