October 24, 2014

This is fourth in a series of posts about lesser known hops that we’ll be featuring in our upcoming Hops class.


When most people hear the word “Glacier” it usually conjures heart-wrenching images of polar bears on tiny ice floes, the spawning point for icebergs that result in intercontinental tragedies (and by that I mean Celine Dion ballads), or even Bill Nye the Science Guy arguing facts backed by empirical data against some dude who just isn’t convinced on Fox News. But we’re not most people, we’re brewers!

As brewers, we should be thinking about this low alpha dual purpose hop. Glacier was released in 2000 by Washington State University right about the same time that the high alpha dual purpose craze was really starting to hit its stride. This may be part of the reason that this outstanding hop has flown somewhat under the radar.

For a lower IBU beer, Glacier’s balanced bittering and low cohumulone levels have got you covered. It yields a peachy/apricot stone fruit flavor which can border on the more pineapple-like tropical qualities in higher concentrations. That is all well and good, but where Glacier really shines is in its usage beyond the 15 minute mark. The aroma it imparts goes right back to that peachy stone fruit thing when used late in the boil, but when used as a flame out/dry hop it brings out earthy, pear-like qualities.

Glacier’s versatility lends itself to any brew with a need for lower alpha bittering (but its higher beta acids should garner some consideration if it is something you plan to store for an extended period) and for just about any pale ale you can conjure up. It will perform well as a later addition in any I.P.A., especially when used in conjunction with more unique hops like Galaxy and Mosaic, or as a contrast hop to round out the flavor of something more citrusy and floral like Centennial. My suggestion is tossing it in as a dry hop in your favorite pale ale. Our very own Resistor, Mystical Cap No. 6, and Paradise Pale Ale are the ones that immediately come to mind, but however you decide to use Glacier, I really don’t think you can go wrong.

Bobby B

Bobby Bendily

Pride of Ringwood

October 17, 2014

This is third in a series of posts about lesser known hops that we’ll be featuring in our upcoming Hops class.

Pride of RingwoodPride of Ringwood … let that sink in for a second. As names go, that sounds more likely to be the title bestowed upon a Game of Thrones character than on a hop variety, but when Pride of Ringwood established itself in the early to mid 60’s it accounted for more than 90% of the hop production in the land down under so it’s more than earned that moniker. Named for the suburb of Melbourne where it was originally grown, Pride of Ringwood is a cross breed of Pride of Kent and a wild Tasmanian variety. Primarily used as a bittering hop (back when 7-11% was something to brag about), this hop found its way into virtually every Australian brewhouse. However, as the alpha acid arms race has sped well past Pride of Ringwood’s ceiling, it has been relegated to more of the flavor/aroma usage these days.

The aroma of Ringwood has a robust pungency to it, a kind of subtle resin quality in the realm of a slightly more muted Simcoe. While the flavor does have a little citrus and even some berry-like qualities; they are slight. What’s really pleasant are the earthy notes and the hint of spice that follows. I would describe it as cedar-like, in the very best way.

If you plan on using this Tasmanian devil in your next brew, of course I would recommend it as a middle alpha bittering hop in a pale ale or hop-bursted I.P.A., but you could easily play to those earthy cedar notes as an accent in a hoppy fall amber or even as a middle/late addition in a winter warmer (maybe toss in a little spruce essence?). Truth be told, I started jotting down a recipe where I will do just that as I was writing this, so plan on me asking for feedback come the December swap.

Bobby B

Bobby Bendily

Reaching the Summit

October 10, 2014

This is second in a series of posts about lesser known hops that we’ll be featuring in our upcoming Hops class

Most of us have at least heard of SuSummit Hopsmmit, and the obligatory follow-up question is always the same, “Isn’t that the garlicky one?” Last time I wrote about a hop which seemingly had no reputation to precede it, so I figured this time it would be fun to talk about a hop which has a reputation that it just can’t seem to escape.

First off, pop open an ounce of summit, give it a sniff and yes, there is very clearly a garlicky aroma. However, this hop has a lot to offer. A low trellis hop that shows its parentage well, it gets some of its herbaceous notes from Nugget and its citrus and resinous qualities from Zeus. It is celebrated as being quite clean for bittering with relatively low cohumulone comparative to its alpha acids. Summit’s oil content makes it very desirable as a late or dry addition.

As a flavor hop it imparts a certain juicy tangerine quality. The aroma is also notably citrusy, specifically orange peel, and somewhat earthy to resinous/hemp-like. It fits well into the pantheon of American citrus hops and can be used in conjunction with any of them with great success. I don’t get a ton of the garlic when I taste it, but there is a hint of onion (more specifically red onion) to me. Some people seem to be more sensitive to those qualities than others (kind of in the same way that some folks love cilantro while others find it inedible.), but I wouldn’t describe it as unpleasant.

Overall, I’d say that Summit is a hop that demands a degree of thoughtfulness and a subtle hand in use. It is definitely not an all-purpose hop that works however you use it (e.g. Mosaic) and while I wouldn’t suggest it for a single hop beer, I would readily use it in just about any west coast IPA. I’d also happily find a place for it in a vegetable/spiced beer (like our very own Blood Red Beet Ale). Hell, I intend to toss an ounce or two into the 10% American IPA I have going right now, and I look forward to ya’lls feedback come the next swap. If you still find yourself a little leery about using Summit in your next brew, just pick up a can of Oskar Blues’ Gubna Imperial IPA, and see what you think. As a commercial example I can’t think of a beer that better exemplifies what you can expect from this incredibly interesting hop.

Bobby B

Bobby Bendily

Let’s Talk Topaz

October 2, 2014

Our guest blogger Bobby Bendily is the newest addition to the Bitter & Esters crew. He hails from the great state of Louisiana and has been brewing heartily for the past three years. He likes to keep his mash temp low.

TopazSo you come into the shop and begin putting together the recipe for that seasonally appropriate amber or a nice rich porter and you get to that inevitable point we all eventually reach. You open the cooler to grab those reliable old East Kent Goldings and you see the myriad of hops with the cool names you’ve never used before and you ask yourself “Why am I not brewing an I.P.A.?” They have names like Summer, Glacier, Phoenix, Admiral, and Vanguard. The descriptions read something fairly mundane like “Fruity” or “Unique.” Not enough to tell you anything that might sate your curiosity, just enough to fuel your imagination to begin usurping your current plans for that highly drinkable English Mild. You could very rightly say this is obsessive behavior yet here you are reading a beer blog so welcome to the club friend; see you at the meetings.

I recently had this very same problem. You see, I reach into that cooler several times a day, and the hop whose siren song has been calling to me for the past couple weeks is Topaz. Hailing from the land down under, whose main export is iron ore and actors who play comic book characters, this dual purpose hop is an alluring choice for a 7-8% percent I.P.A.. The flavor it imparts fits the ever popular “Fruity” description in earnest, but it comes off more subtly as berry-like on the palate (specifically blueberry). I’m told it comes off as resinous when used aggressively as a dry hop, but I found Topaz’s aroma to be almost tropical, with notes of lychee (but in a more subtle way than say Nelson Sauvin).

To be sure, Topaz ranks highly amongst the high alpha dual-purpose hops from Australia and New Zealand which brewers can’t wait to use like Galaxy and Motueka, but if I had to suggest a way to use it, I would play to its more subtle nature. Using Topaz as a late addition or dry hop as a supporting character to a more standout hop like Galaxy, Mosaic or even something piney and dank like Chinook may be the way to get the most out of it. Whichever purpose you end up using it for, I just hope you end up bringing it to the beer swap because I am really into this hop.

Bobby Bendily

Bobby Bendily

Filtering Your Beer

filtered beers 1Beer is sensory. Smell, taste, mouthfeel and sight.

The first thing you will notice in your glass of beer will be how it looks. Expectations are funny things and if the beer you get doesn’t match them, it will have an effect on the taste. A muddy looking beer could give you the impression that the beer tastes muddy.

The funny thing is that clarity is usually just aesthetics, rarely does it have anything to do with the taste. Sometimes cloudiness is because the beer is yeasty, which would affect flavor, but generally its just protein/tannin haze that will make your beer cloudy.

Since this is a sensory experience shouldn’t all of your senses be rewarded? (Not so sure about hearing, although I do love the sound of a cap coming off the bottle. Fizz!) The beer should look the way you desire.

There are different ways to clarify your beer. Using carrageenan like whirlfloc or irish moss at the last fifteen minutes of your boil will help bind and precipitate cold break proteins that can cause chill haze when your beer is chilled. Cooling your wort quickly (a wort chiller always helps) will also help bind these proteins and straining your cool wort when adding it to your fermenter before pitching your yeast will also get some of the hot and cold break proteins that form during the boil.

Hoppy beers, especially dry hopped beers, tend to be cloudy because of the tannins that are naturally in hop oils (polyphenols). Yeast that are less flocculant can also stay in suspension giving your finished beer cloudiness. This is desirable in some beer styles, e.g. Hefeweiss.

If you are looking to clarify your beer post fermentation you can use gelatin or isinglass ( which is made from fish bladder, who the hell thought of that?). Added after fermentation is finished but before packaging, these finings attach themselves to the stuff in suspension and help them drop out of solution. After a week or so you then have to rack the beer into your secondary, keg or bottling bucket.

Or you can filter your beer. Filtering beer is fairly uncommon among homebrewers because of the mess and potential oxidation and contamination that can occur. But it works well and faster than post fermentation finings as long as you are careful. I recently made an esb (extra special bitter) that was cloudy. It tasted great but it was just too murky, probably from chill haze. I had already transferred it to kegs so I decided to filter it.

Filtering SetupThe best way to filter homebrew is with a plate filter. It’s a plastic contraption that holds two paper filters inside it. You slowly push the unfiltered beer using co2 from one keg, through the filter, into another keg. Of course before you do anything, everything must be sanitized. I soaked the filter and hardware in starsan at first and then pushed some starsan through the filter to make sure I got everything. It is also a good way to check for leaks. One thing about these plate filters, they leak a little. Especially if you push the beer at too high of a psi. It is rated for 8 psi but I rarely go over 5 psi. I put the filter on a bucket to catch any drips.

There are three micron sizes of filters available, coarse, polish and sterile. You have to start with coarse to get the big stuff filtered. Usually one pass with the coarse filter is enough to get some good clarity, but if you want really clear or even sterile beer, you have to filter them again with each size. You do lose some flavors with filtering, especially some hop compounds. I would never do this to my IPAs. They will be cloudy from dry hopping. You also will lose some beer, but not a lot.

It took me about an hour and a half for a 5 gallon keg of beer! It is a slow go but worth the wait. I did one coarse filter pass of each of my kegs and am very happy with the results. I swear, now that the beer looks clearer it tastes better. Senses!

I hope I made myself clear.

LaPolla Headshot

The Importance of Branding Your Brew

September 27, 2014

Brand Me!

Guest Blogger Tamara Connolly is the Principal & Creative Director at We Are How, a branding, design, and web development studio. She has over 14 years of experience helping clients from the retail, publishing, news, foundation, brewing, and health & wellness sectors implement well-conceived and effective branding and design solutions that help their organizations succeed. 

The Business of Branding Your Brew

If you are in the beginning stages of starting your own brewery, chances are that naming, branding, and design are on your list of things to do. Just having them on your list though, without knowing more about how to proceed down this path in the best possible way is setting yourself up for some unfortunate things to happen — aggravation, larger than necessary expenses, increased demands on your already limited time, and/or design that isn’t great or cohesive. Here are some tips for how to approach this process in a way that yields the best results with the least strain.


While it might sound easy, naming is typically a very involved process. From my own informal observation of start-ups engaging in this process, it takes about 4 months, on average, from start to final name. Some people get lucky and it will take less, some people wrestle with it for much longer. Because that can be such a difficult process, I recommend that you start at least 6 months before you anticipate signing a lease. Don’t fall in love with any name until it checks out with a search on the USPTO trademark electronic search system, the Beer Advocate, and a general Google search. Hand in hand with a name, should be some kind of story or description of your brand attributes — the two should work together, and should be appropriate for your audience. Once you have a name that is firm and not likely to change, I recommend you engage a trademark lawyer to file an Intent-To-Use application with the USPTO, in order to hold your name until you can file a trademark when you are actually using the mark in commerce. What makes a good name? That’s a separate conversation, worthy of it’s own blog post.

Weaving Branding into your Business Plan

How you plan on funding your brewery start-up costs will influence when and how you begin to think about branding and design. Self-funding vs. seeking investors will dictate a different timeline for this process. If you are funding the start-up on your own, you can probably put off branding and design until you’ve got a lease signed, but once that lease is signed, it’s go-time (remember, you’ve already got an Intent-To-Use application filed for your name at this point). If you are seeking investors, you’ll want branding and design reflected in your investor document — most investors want to see it, and you’ll stand a better chance of wooing them. It is an important piece that shows you’ve thought about the market for your product, and how to appeal to them. That investor document, even though it’s not for public circulation, is your first piece of marketing collateral. If you are working with a very limited budget, you might not be able to include a fully fleshed about visual brand identity in your investor document, but you can, and should, have it be well designed and convey the essence of your brand.

Beyond the logo

When you engage with a design agency or consultant it’s important to be thinking beyond a logo. Many start-ups will hire an agency or consultant to fill that specific need, without realizing that the logo isn’t an end point — it’s really a piece of something much larger, your whole brand identity. While it may seem like more work, creating a strong brand style guide, including your logo, as the first phase of work is going to save you a lot of agony and cost later down the line. It will inform everything you do in the short-term and long-term future so there is cohesion with less guesswork, less rounds of “getting it right”, and less time explaining what your brand is all about to anyone that you hire to create brand touch-points (interior designers for your tasting room, tap handle designers, packaging design, etc). A good style guide doesn’t just list color specifications and fonts, it should clearly convey your spirit and style with visual and written content. Having a style guide doesn’t mean that your brand can’t change over time, but if and when it does, it should be intentional, not a byproduct of shooting from the hip. When you do evolve your branding and design, you would change your style guide accordingly to ensure it’s carried out with consistency.

Want to learn more?

If you are interested in learning more about effectively branding your brew, I’ll be going into more detail in my upcoming class: “The Business of Branding Your Brew” on Saturday October 25th. Book it here! Hope to see you there!

Happy Branding!


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 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

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,

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