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,


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!

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.

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