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!

Lazy Afternoon Drinking

June 13, 2014

I don’t get out as much as I’d like to. Usually on my day off I do some chores, drink some homebrew and catch up on Game of Thrones. When Brooklyn Magazine kindly included Bitter & Esters in their A to Z guide to craft beer in Brooklyn, I noticed some places that I had never been too and some I had never heard of! So many places in our Borough to drink craft beer and a couple to buy ingredients to make it! Pretty awesome.

So instead of watching Orange is the New Black, Carla and I jumped on our bicycles and set forth to discover new places and new tastes. We decided to start close to home with three places we had never been to.

First stop was the Pickle Shack on 256 Fourth ave in Park Slope. When we walked in I noticed the chef Neal was one of our customers. I asked him how long he had been working there and he said ever since he opened it. No wonder I haven’t seen Neal in a while! We sat in their lovely backyard. All of the drafts at the Pickle shack are from Dogfish Head. Neal told us his business partner was friends with Sam Calagione, and they decided to carry 8 Dogfish Heads as their draft options. Carla ordered Namaste, a wit beer made with lemongrass that she just loved.

I got the Red and White, an oak aged beer fermented with pinot noir juice. It went beautifully with my veggie burger. The Pickle Shack also has an impressive list of bottles from other breweries. Speaking of the menu, we noticed they were very vegetarian friendly at which point we were told that they are actually a vegetarian restaurant. Being vegetarians this made Carla and I very happy. Carla got the fried Oyster mushrooms which were fantastic. The Pickle Shack partners with Brooklyn Brine so everything came with delicious pickles.

It is so nice to eat at a vegetarian restaurant. It makes life easier for us. I am not against meat eating, I get it. I used to eat meat. But there are so many meat heavy places in Brooklyn. Does everything have to include bacon? Before you say anything i know the answer, of course it does. Thanks for the beer Neal!

Right across the street is Mission Dolores, which I have never been to! I know, hard to believe. I never saw forrest gump either, sue me. I can now say i have been to Mission Dolores and really liked it. Nice space. Old garage I assume, very cool decor. Carla had the empire cream ale on nitro (that girl loves nitro) and I had the Thornbridge Jaipur IPA, a really nice British IPA. This boy loves cask ales. We could have stayed for more, it’s a great place and carry’s the Good Beer Seal.

From there we went to Die Koelner Bierhalle at 84 St Marks Place. Customers have been telling me about this place for a while, but I had it confused with someplace else. This place is a massive German style beer hall. Both Carla and I have spent time in Germany and this felt pretty authentic. A nice selection of German beers on tap, all with the proper glassware. The oompa music topped off the Deutschland air. I really felt like i was back in Germany, a nice feeling (as I write this Kraftwerk’s Das Model came on my playlist).

I was impressed by the bartenders knowledge of the beers they poured including a lot of lagers and a good selections of Kolsch. I had a Bayreuther Zwick’l kellerbier while Carla had a Weihenstephaner Kristallweissbeer. We were pretty full from lunch but had to have a giant pretzel. At 8 bucks it was a bit steep but it was great. What the heck, it’s my day off. The bartender told me it gets packed on the weekend. Not for me. I like lazy afternoon drinking. I convinced him to learn to brew his own.

We hopped on our bikes, buzzed, and trekked home. And had some home brew.

Next time we are hitting the new places in Williamsburg and Greenpoint.

Research, always research.

Dogfish Head and the World Science Festival

June 6, 2014

Last week we were asked to contribute 5 gallons of fermenting wort to Cheers to Science! Nordic Grog: Brewing on the Wild side, as part of the World Science Festival.

The presenters for this event were University of Pennsylvania bio-molecular archaeologist Patrick E. McGovern, known as the Indiana Jones of ancient ales, wines, and extreme beverages and Sam Calagione, the founder and owner of Dogfish Head Brewery.

Sam asked the producers of the event if he could have some actively fermenting wort as part of the program so he could have on stage during the presentation. The WSF contacted us and we were happy to oblige. The wort ended up on the bar they set up and was happily bubbling away, there wasn’t enough lighting for it up on the stage!

I met Sam right before the presentation and he was just the nicest, friendliest, most sincere guy you can imagine. He thanked me for supplying the wort and got my information for a shout out to the store during the talk. That was just over and beyond, I really appreciated it.

John L and Sam Calagione

The talk itself was fascinating. Sam and Patrick had been traveling the world to different archeological sites getting data from ancient drinking vessels. Through gas chromatography and mass spectrography they would analyze the ingredients of what ancient people were drinking. During the presentation they poured three examples of beers they made from the data they collected.

The first one was from a 9,000 year old discovery in China called Chateau Jiahu. Made with rice, barley honey, grapes and hawthorn fruit, it was sweet yet a little tart. It reminded me of a melomel (a mead with fruit added to it). The food they used to pair with it was spicy popcorn, kind of strange.

The next beer they poured was a Nordic Grog called Kvasir. Sam and Patrick teamed up with Swedish brewery Nynashamna Ångbryggeri, to develop this recipe. The source was a 3,500 year old Danish drinking vessel that was buried with a women who was either an upper class dancer or priestess. This brew is made from wheat, lingonberries, cranberries, myrica gale, yarrow, honey and birch syrup. Myrica gale and yarrow root are components in Gruit, the spices that were used in European beer until hops started to be used (around the 1400′s). This beer was drier, a little tart with a unique flavor from the fruit spices and was paired with oatmeal cookies (again, a weird pairing). It was my favorite beer of the three.

The last one Sam made exclusively for the event. Only one keg was made! This one was a wild yeast ale. By this point everyone was a little tipsy and they were running out of time so I didn’t get to catch the ingredients. Before pouring it Sam said this beer was very sour but for me, it wasn’t sour enough. They served chocolate covered pretzels with it. I guess to balance the sour but it didn’t work for me. Although I do love chocolate covered pretzels so I was happy.

Sam Calagione Time MachineDuring the talk, Sam pointed out that humans have been brewing for 10,000 years and it wasn’t until the Reinheitsgebot (the German purity law) of 1487 that beer was defined as water, malt and hops (yeast was added later when it was discovered). Until then there was no definition. Sam called the Reinheitsgebot Art Censorship.

I have always been interested in anthropology and archaeology and I think the work these two are doing is amazing. Afterward I got to speak with Sam again. I invited him to the store and he said next time he’s in Brooklyn he’ll stop by. Awesome!

When I got home a few hours later I got a call from one of the producers of the event, the wort was bubbling out all over the bar!

Keep brewing uncensored!

Saisons for Summer

May 29, 2014

Summer’s almost here, and that means it’s the perfect time to brew Saisons. This time of year we sell more Saison yeast than any other. Why? Because those little buggers like it hot! And they make delicious beers.

The two main Saison yeast Strains that we carry are Wyeast 3724 Belgian Saison Yeast and Wyeast 3711 French Saison yeast. The Belgian Strain is from the Du Pont brewery in Belgium and can ferment up to 95˚F! This is the yeast used in Saison du pont, the definitive example of a Saison. This strain is known for stalling out around a specific gravity of 1.030 if not fermented warm enough, but give it time and it will finish. Some people will add the French Saison yeast to finish up fermentation after a few days fermenting on the Belgian strain. Wyeast describes it as spicy, with complex aromatics, including bubble gum, very tart and dry on the palate with a mild fruitiness.

The French strain is from Brasserie Thiriez in Esquelbecq in Northern France. This strain can handle lower fermentation temperatures (65-78˚F) and is known to be highly attenuative (which produces a drier beer). Wyeast says this strain enhances the use of spices and aroma hops, is extremely attenuative and leaves an unexpected silky and rich mouthfeel.

Saison (French for “Season”), also known as Farmhouse ales, are a refreshing, medium to strong fruity/spicy ale with a distinctive yellow-orange color, highly carbonated, well hopped, and dry with a quenching acidity according to the BJCP. Brewed with Pilsner malts, Saisons are a versatile style that works well with different spices. They can even be dry hopped. The distinct Saison character comes from the strain of yeast used.

Historically, Saisons were brewed in Farmhouses in the autumn or winter for consumption during the summer for the farm workers. Because of the lack of potable water, saisons would give the farm hands the hydration they needed without the threat of illness. Nice work if you can get it.

Our brewshop teacher Dave is a huge fan of Saisons and makes many delicious types. Here is a recipe he developed called Hydra.

Hydra Saison Extract/Partial Mash
Hydra Saison All-Grain

Also included is one of our signature recipes, Saison Du Grapefruit, that uses grapefruit peel to spice it up a bit.

Saison du Grapefruit Extract
Saison du Grapefruit All-Grain

We are offering 10% off on both of these recipes until June 8th. Use coupon code DOUG at checkout.
Discount available in store only.

Hot or cold, keep on brewing!

Kev’s Rugged Good Looks Irish Red

May 23, 2014

One of my favorite recipes at Bitter & Esters is Kev’s Rugged Good Looks Irish Red. A smooth, malty easy drinker, it’s a favorite. Here are the recipes for all-grain and extract if you want to make it yourself!

Kev’s Rugged Good Looks Irish Red – All Grain

Kev’s Rugged Good Looks Irish Red – Extract

So, what is an Irish Red? And who is Kev?

According to the BJCP, an Irish Red is an easy-drinking pint. Malt-focused with an initial sweetness and a roasted dryness in the finish. Irish Red ale originated in the town of Kilnenny, in 1710, and was similar to an English Pale Ale, the only difference being having a bit of roasted barley added to the grist. Just a little bit of roast barley is needed to give the red character and smooth flavor with only one to two ounces in a five gallon batch. Any more than that and the beer will turn brown or black. I also put some Aromatic (melanoidin) malt in this one to give it that “malty” character. Go easy when using this as well as using too much will give you some weird flavors.

Kev's Rugged Good Looks Band PhotoAs far as Kev is concerned, he’s an old friend of mine from the Pocono mountains of PA. I lived there the for the entirety of the 90′s, the only time that the clothes I always wear were in style. Kev was the drummer for the band I was in at the time (I was the singer). Along with Vince the guitar player, we became good friends for many years.

Kev always had a wry sense of humor. A famous line of his was “Songs don’t just pop out of your head like pop tarts.” He was always saying things like that.

After over a decade in PA I decided to move back to NYC and eventually opened a brewshop. Kev and I stayed in touch. (Thank you Facebook!)

Not too long after we opened, Douglas and I were interviewed by Bob and B.R. on their WFMU podcast Beer Hear! Putting this blog together I revisited that podcast, it’s a cool little time capsule.

Kev happened to listen to that podcast and messaged me with “Johnny, Great interview. But next time could you mention my rugged good looks?” I did him one better and wrote him a recipe. Hoping he would come to the shop and try it. He hasn’t, yet.

Kev is getting married this weekend to Maggie. And we’re going! It will be my first time back in the Poconos in ages, I am really looking forward to it. And of course I am bringing some Kev’s Rugged Good Looks Irish Red so Kev can finally try it.

Is Kev ruggedly good looking? His namesake beer certainly is. You can see him here circa 2008 and judge for yourself.

Kev circa 2008

I like using Wyeast 1084 Irish Ale yeast for this beer but you can use 1968 London ESB or any English ale strain. You could even make this a lager. Try 2633 Octoberfest Blend and remember to always pitch double the amount of lager yeast.

Keep looking good.


Riding in cars with John Palmer

May 8, 2014

Early into John Palmer’s visit at Bitter & Esters this past Saturday, I was pouring grain into our mash tun while John was stirring and I suddenly thought, I’m brewing a beer with John Palmer! For weeks it’s been emails and scheduling and getting things ready, and here I was, doughing in with the man who wrote How to Brew. It was a “Holy Crap” moment. I was fortunate enough to spend a good amount of time with John as he visited our fair city.

Most of it was in cars going from event to event (nine in three days!). When John first walked into the store I was on the phone ordering pizza and like everyone else I’ve observed who meets him I was a bit star struck. John put me at ease right away. He is the nicest guy, very humble. Just a regular Joe who happened to write How to Brew, Water, has a great podcast about brewing and is a metallurgist who did work for the space station. You know, just a regular guy.

Doug Palmer John


This was John’s first visit to NYC in twenty years and his first since he became a home brew guru. It was fun watching people meet him. Adults with families and jobs would get tongue tied and starry eyed. John put them at ease right away. He was happy to answer any questions and just hang out. I asked John about how he felt about all this and he said he just likes to meet homebrewers. He is happy that he is responsible for so many people learning to brew. He is a rockstar who also answers brewers emails on a regular basis.

While he was here we brewed an IPA of John’s design for big brew day. Here are the recipes if you want to give them a try:

John Palmer’s Big Olde IPA (Extract/Partial Mash)

John Palmer’s Big Olde IPA (All Grain)

At 1pm, we did the Big Brew Toast where we celebrated all things good and home brew. Hanging and eating pizza, talking with brewers. From Bitter & Esters we went to Bierkraft for lunch with Sean and Samantha from Pour Standards Home brew club on Staten island. Just hanging with our buddy JP, talking beer, shooting the shit. He also did an interview with the Village Voice!

We went to the Staten Island makerspace after that for a Pour Standards meeting and to brew another beer. John spoke and signed books and talked with the brewers. A highlight of the evening was when the makerspace folks made a 3D action figure of John Palmer holding a mash paddle using a turntable and an XBox Kinect.

It was funny to watch as they had to scan him several times, he was a trooper. He was thrilled with the end result and wanted to show his three kids that there is a John Palmer action figure. Thanks to Sean and Sam for ferrying everyone around!

Pour Standards with John Palmer

One of the points John made at every stop was that brewing is like cooking and your water additions are seasonings. He made a great analogy using spaghetti sauce (I loved that, being Italian). If your sauce is too base, it will be dull. If it is too acidic, it will be bright but one dimensional. Balance is key. He said the difference between really good beer and great beer all came down to the water profile. Home brewers tend to be intimidated by water adjustments, but it’s not that hard once you know what you are doing. Home brewers need to see water as the fourth ingredient and your adjustments should be based on your water source and type of beer you are making. John is coming out with an app that will help with adjustments but for now there is a ton of info in his book.

What I got out of it was that you should increase sulfates for hoppiness and increase chlorides for maltiness. Then adjust your residual alkalinity for the change in PH. There is a lot more to it than that, too much to go into right now. But as with any other ingredient adjustments you need to brew the beer in order to know if it’s the way you want it to taste. Water profile should always be taken into account when writing a recipe and brewing. I predict that as all this info starts getting digested we are going to see even more kick ass homebrews coming down the pike. We are lucky in NYC that we have such soft water. Alkalinity is the real problem in adjustments and ours is very low. We can add salt for our beers and not have to worry about taking things away. There are parts of our country with very high mineral water that needs to be dealt with before brewing (usually by dilution).

John emphasized that a brewery’s source water is not necessarily the water they brewed with. Most breweries adjust their water to get the flavor and ph that they need. There has been an excellent series of articles in Zymurgy magazine about brewing water in different regions by Martin Brungard. Martin has a page here that can help you determine your water profile. Check them out and of course, read John’s book.

On Sunday we started early for the Long Island Beer and Malt Enthusiasts (LIBME) club meeting at The Good Life in Massapequa Park. They did a really nice beer pairing with brunch. Thanks to the chef at The Good Life for accommodating my vegetarianism!

In between courses John did a powerpoint presentation all about brewing water. Riding around with John in cars got us talking beer and water chemistry but also a bit of small talk. We are the same age and we’re able to bond over many things. In case you were interested, John is a big fan of the Foo Fighters, Rush, Triumph and the Travelling Wilburys. During the drive from Long Island to Finback Brewery in Queens I took the opportunity to record a short conversation with John.

Our next stop was at Finback which is a brand new brewery in Queens started by Basil Lee and Kevin Stafford. They were having an American Homebrewer’s Association rally that featured a meet and greet with John. What a great space those guys have. Their beer is delicious and they have room to grow. I predict really great things for them. They’ve been busting their asses and it shows.


After 4 hours at Finback we drove to 508 Gastrobrewery in Soho. Chris Cuzme and Mary Izett set it up so that John could meet people in Manhattan and try the many beers at 508. They gave out a drink ticket that said “Dude, that’s John Fucking Palmer” which John got a kick out of. We had an awesome dinner there. John spoke with brewers, toured the brewery and answered questions. Mary poured some of her ciders and awesome short meads. Barry at The Brewed Palate was also able to do a quick interview!

Chris Palmer Mary Izett

It may seem like an easy thing to go from place to place and talk about beer, but it’s exhausting. John is constantly meeting new people (he was great with remembering names, I was impressed), answering questions, and drinking beer. He is an ambassador for homebrewing and he loves what he’s doing. He is a beer writer, commentator and consultant for breweries full time now. He commented that writing about beer was better than anodizing aluminum. His goal was to be able to walk into a place and get a free beer and he has definitely achieved that. We spoke a bit about all the travelling he does all over the world. There are now huge home brewing communities in South America, especially Brazil. The homebrew community is worldwide and we are a part of it!

On Monday we met for dinner at Roberta’s in Bushwick for Chris and Mary’s Fuhmnetaboudit Radio show. The Fuhmentaboudit show went really well. It was just Chris, me, Chris Prout from Dirk the Norseman and John.

The final event was Sunday evening at Brouwerij Lane in Greenpoint for the Brooklyn Brewsers home brew club meeting. John spoke a bit and then hung out tasting homebrews and talking with brewers. One more car back to Brooklyn.

I felt sad saying goodbye to John. It was a short but intense time and we really got along well. I hope he makes more visits to NYC in the near future.We have a great home brew community here in NYC. It gets larger every day and the beers keep getting better. John was impressed by what he saw and tasted. His recognition of our efforts meant the world to me. He envisions a future where brewing beer at home will be as common as cooking food at home. I would love to see that.


Hope to ride in a car with you sometime.

Steve Hindy, Kim Jordan & Charlie Papazian Live from the NYPL

May 1, 2014

NYPL Shot SmallThis past Friday I had the pleasure to see Steve Hindy, Co-Founder, Chairman & President of The Brooklyn Brewery, Kim Jordan CEO & Co-Founder of New Belgium Brewing Company and Charlie Papazian, author of The New Complete Joy of Homebrewing talk at the New York Public Library. Our good friend Aisha Ahmad-Post organized this event (along with many others) and she did a great job with an excellent choice of speakers.

All three speakers were engaging and interesting. Introduced by Michael Kiser (Good Beer Hunting) and moderated by Paul Holdengräber, the conversation moved quickly and was filled with information. I found out later that the less Paul knows about a particular subject the better the conversation can be. He admitted several times during the event that there was a lot about craft beer that he did not know.

A lot of the conversation revolved around Steve’s new book The Craft Beer Revolution: How a Band of Microbrewers Is Transforming the World’s Favorite Drink, what the current definition of a craft brewery is (under 6 million barrels per year, with a barrel being 31 gallons) and where craft brewing is going. Charlie is president of the Brewer’s Association and Steve and Kim are on the board. The purpose of the Brewer’s association is to promote and protect American craft brewers, their beers and the community of brewing enthusiasts, along with deciding what constitutes a true craft brewery. Charlie is also one of the founders of the American Homebrewer’s association, which is a division of the Brewer’s association. On a side note, if you are not a member of the AHA, you should be. They work with legislators to make sure homebrewing and homebrewing events are legal plus they organize events and contests and the National Homebrew Conference. On top of that you get their excellent magazine Zymurgy, plus 5% off at Bitter & Esters!

All three were fun and interesting but my favorite was Kim Jordan. There was something about her that was compelling. She is one of the only female brewery owners and she was witty, smart and intriguing. Her story and how she runs her brewery is inspiring.

Earlier in the day we got an email from Aisha saying they wanted some beer for the event for the panel to try and she needed advice. We gave her some ideas of what to get, but it turned out that we had a pale ale brewed by Dick Cantwell, owner of Elysian brewery in Seattle. Dick brewed it at our store as part of our Brew like a Pro series using experimental hops hbc366. I thought serving that beer would be a cool idea since Dick is Kim’s boyfriend! Having them try our beer on stage was very exciting.

Doug John and Charlie PapazianSigned Joy of Home Brewing SmallDuring the question and answer I got up and asked if any of them still homebrewed. Charlie’s hand went right up (Kim and Steve don’t homebrew anymore, understandably). Charlie then asked the audience who homebrewed and at least half of the audience raised their hands. It was heart warming. If you want to listen to the whole thing you can find it right here.

The best part of it for me was meeting all three of them afterwards. Kim was
gracious and we spoke for a bit, I congratulated her on starting construction on New Belgium’s new brewery in Asheville, North Carolina. Look for New Belgium beers in NYC soon, hopefully. Meeting Charlie was a real treat as it was his book The Complete Joy of Homebrewing that I bought in 1992 that got me started on this exciting ride. I told him if it wasn’t for that book I wouldn’t own a homebrew store. He just smiled. I invited him to come visit us but he was leaving the next day. It was thrilling to meet him and get him to sign my original copy of his book.

Overall an awesome evening. They have these live from the NYPL quite often, I am personally looking forward to John Waters on June 4th.

Keeping control of your fermentation temperature

April 24, 2014

Summer is coming, and in NYC that means heat, lots of it. Especially in our tiny apartments. Here at the store I am often asked what is the right temperature for fermentation and how do I maintain it?

As the saying goes, brewers make wort, yeast makes beer. I like to joke with my classes that the yeast does not care about us, but boy do we care about them. How we take care of them makes all the difference in beer flavor and temperature control is one of the most important factors in that process.

Our single celled friends are basically little enzyme bags. Enzymes are a type of protein that act as a catalyst for chemical reactions. In the case of fermentation the enzymes the yeast use are mainly for the metabolizing of sugars that are in the wort. Enzymes work best at certain temperatures and this is where our fermentation temperature comes to play (among other things).

I would love to go deep into yeast metabolic properties but I’d rather just give some practical advice. Certain yeast strains offer different depending on the temperature they ferment at. One example is Wyeast 3068 Weihenstephan Weizen ale. Lower fermentation temperatures (64˚ to 70˚F) will produce less banana esters and more clove flavors whereas higher temperatures (70˚ to 75˚F) will increase that banana flavor. So by manipulating the temperature you can greatly change the flavor profile of your beer. This will vary from strain to strain.

Pitching temperature is important too. People go back and forth on this but I personally like to pitch a few degrees cooler than my target fermentation temp, especially for lagers. This keeps ester production down and produces a smoother, cleaner beer. I will let my wort and yeast sit in the same area until they are at the same temperature, oxygenate and then pitch.

Every yeast strain will tell you the range of temperatures that best fit the profile of the strain. Going cooler than suggested will make the yeast sluggish and in some cases make them dormant, resulting in under attenuated (fermented) beer. Too warm of a fermentation temperature will speed up the metabolism of the yeast and can cause many off flavors. This is the biggest beer flavor problem I run into. It is hard to describe but beer fermented too warm has a chalky, solventy flavor caused by higher molecular weight alcohol created called fusel alcohol.

Proper fermentation temperature of lagers (as opposed to ales) is important (45˚ to 55˚F) to reduce ester production. As lager fermentation temperatures are much cooler than ales, other compounds created during fermentation (sulfur, diacetyl or buttery flavors) don’t get to dissipate or get metabolized. That is why after primary fermentation of a lager is near complete you need to warm lagers up to around 70˚F in order to mellow out these flavors. And then rack off the yeast and lager (cold store) at around 40˚F.

So, now we know that temperature control during fermentation is important. But have you seen the sweat box I live in? How to I maintain temperature especially during the dog days of summer?

The first thing most home brewers do is make Saisons during the Summer. Saisons are a delicious French farmhouse style ale that can ferment up to 90˚F depending on the yeast strain. But what if you don’t want to make Saisons all summer? This is where home brewers get creative.

ThermowellThe first and best thing to do is get a freezer that your carboy or bucket will fit in. Put a temperature thermostat on the freezer that has a separate probe, and then you can adjust ambient temperature to any degree that you’d like. If you really want precision you can use a thermowell. This is a hollow metal tube that your temperature probe will fit into so that the thermostat adjusts to the temperature of your beer, not just ambient temperature. During fermentation yeast create heat, by using a thermowell you will have the most constant temperature control. While this is the optimal solution, it isn’t the cheapest and requires a decent amount of space. What other alternatives are there?

What I do at home is make 2.5 gallon batches that fit perfectly into an igloo cube cooler. I fill a bottle with water and put a liquid crystal thermometer on it in order to be able to see the temperature. Then I put plastic bottles that I freeze with water into the cooler to keep the right temperature. Remember to change the ice bottles regularly.

Cool Brewing BagAnother option is a swamp cooler. All you do is put your fermenter into a large bucket with ice (or frozen water bottles) and water. Put a t-shirt on your fermenter, put one end of the shirt in the cool water. It will act as a wick and keep your fermenter cool. Low tech but effective. You can make it even more effective by aiming a small fan at it to make the water evaporate more quickly. For larger batches, there is a great insulated bag called the Cool Brewing fermentation cooler, available at Bitter & Esters. It is like my cooler method, just larger. It is a zip up insulated bag that can take up to a 6.5 gallon carboy. Put some ice bottles in their and viola, instant fermentation chamber!

BrewJacketIf you’re up for supporting a Kickstarter campaign you can pre-order this new type of cooler which was just developed. It is an immersion temperature controller from Brew Jacket. They claim that you can brew a lager without a refrigerator and use your current fermenter. It is still in production so I don’t know anyone who has used it. But it sure does seem cool. Cool, get it?

These solutions are not as important during the winter. If you have a closet or somewhere away from light and direct heat, room temperature usually works. What you want to look out for is temperature fluctuation. When the temperature of fermentation fluctuates wildly the yeast create heat shock proteins which inhibit enzymatic reaction. You don’t want these in your beer.

The other temperature problem I get asked about, although less often, is how to keep the fermenter warm. This is mainly asked by Saison brewers during the winter time. There is an electric brew belt available that will keep your fermenter around 75˚F. Not really warm enough for saisons, but consistent. I have heard that people will use electric blankets to ramp temp up but I’ve never tried it.

How about you? How do you maintain your fermentation temperature at home?

Keep cool.


Pride of Brooklyn

April 17, 2014

BRIC Arts MediaA whirlwind weekend for me! It all started last Friday at Bric Arts Media in Brooklyn. I was a guest on a television show called Brooklyn Live with my friend Casey Solof, organizer of the Pride of Brooklyn home brew contest, and with new friend and home brewer John Henderson.

Being on tv is a lot of fun and a lot of waiting. This was a live shoot which was a little nerve racking, but I think it came out well. The producer had asked that we bring plenty of beer, not so much for the show itself, but for the crew! After we wrapped at 1pm we had one hour to drink until their next show at 2. I brought a good assortment so everyone could try different styles of home brew. They were a great cast and crew and we had a blast. Here’s the segment:

BK Live 4/11/14: Homebrewing segment from Brooklyn Independent Media on Vimeo.
Pride of Brooklyn

The next day was the Pride of Brooklyn homebrew festival at Littlefield in Gowanus. This is the second year for Pride of Brooklyn and what really impressed me was how well organized everything was. I have put together large events like this in the past and it is a lot of work. Any show or event is always a little nerve racking but Casey was calm and cool and everything was ready to go. Littlefield was a beautiful venue and added to all the great homebrew being poured.

I poured a Kolsch (we weren’t competing, just hanging) and I was lucky to have my friend Sharif from Yonkers Brewing Company pouring their delicious IPA right next to me. As we were in the front room we ended up being the first two people who were pouring beer when you came in, so we got to meet just about everyone who came to the festival which was over 300 people! Be sure to check out the write-up from the Village Voice.

Yonkers Brewing CompanyThe main hall was where the 25 home brewers were pouring samples. I took the time to try every one of them and there is definitely some great beer coming from NYC home brewers that ranged from well crafted traditional styles to innovative experimental batches. Judges decided the top three beers while the audience picked their favorite. On top of that the brewers themselves picked their favorite as well. It was a crazy fun day. When it was all over I brought my gear back to the shop, went home and passed out. Can’t wait for next year.

The winners of Pride of Brooklyn were:

    1st Place: Ryan McMahon – “Tropical Paradise” Imperial IPA
    2nd Place: Patrick Alfred – “BIG” Barrel Aged Imperial Stout
    3rd Place: Dylan Mabin, Andrew Said Thomas & Bill Ryder – “Quad Pro Quo Quercus” Port Aged Belgian Quad
    People’s Choice: Alex Kalaf – “Mirthful Monk” French Saison
    Brewer’s Choice: Brett Taylor – “Bird on a Wire” Bourbon Barrel-Aged Brettanomyces-Finished American Brown Ale

Next week I will talk a little about fermentation temperature and ways you can control it in the upcoming summer months in your NYC apartment. Until then, keep brewing!


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