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Three Pint Stance - First-time home brewer questions, Vol. 2: Electric Brew-galoo

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Last week, we brought you the first installment in a series where I answer questions for the first-time brewer.

For context, my former pay check autographer and the Publisher of these fine pages (physical or internetish as they may be) Mike Fern has taken the plunge and started brewing with his newly acquired friend, Mr. Beer.

Forever in his debt for putting up with my office antics for nearly half a decade, I agreed to lend as much “expert guidance” as I could to Mr. Fern. Ever the egalitarian journalist of the people, Mike suggested we publish these tips here for all to enjoy.

With that needlessly verbose context in hand, I present you with “First-time home brewer questions, Vol 2 - Electric Brew-galoo” (it has nothing to do with electricity, but I wanted to make a “Breakin’ 2” reference and I figured if I put it in the title, Allen can’t take it out. He still might. Only I will know if he does.).

(Editor’s note: Like I’m going to pass on an opportunity to reference the second-greatest breakdancing movie in the history of the genre. Have you met me?)

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MF: I’ve been homebrewing mostly light-end stuff and want to experiment with darker beers. What would you recommend?

3PS: The key to making dark beers is really pretty simple; add some dark malt! Now, if you are brewing with extract and you only have Light or Amber malt extract available, you can always add some specialty grains to your boil.

Depending on the style of beer you are looking to make, you’ll either want to pick up some Chocolate Malt, or Black Patent malt or even some Roasted Barley. I would suggest searching for some “Partial Mash” or “Mini-Mash” recipes for the particular style you are looking to brew. If you want something on the lighter side of dark, look into Brown Ales, Dunkelweizens, Altbiers or Scotch Ales. For darker beers, look for recipes in the Porter, Stout, Imperial Stout and Black Ale categories.

If you were making an all-grain beer, you would just add your (relatively) small amounts of specialty grain into your mash. With an extract homebrew, you can’t add them to the mash (as you have no mash!), so I suggest you put these grains into a small muslin bag (available at any home brew shop) and steep it in the water that you are going to use to reconstitute your liquid or dry malt extract before adding the extract. Just get the water up to about 150-160 degrees and sit your bag full of grain in the wort for about 20 minutes or so. You’ll immediately see the color being released into your wort and will smell all of those delicious roasty-toasty flavors that make dark beers so delicious. Once you pull the grain bag out, add your malt extract in and continue on your normal brewing process.

If you want to take your newly-created dark beer to the next level, you can look adding ingredients to the beer after it has fermented. Try adding toasted oak chips to the beer for a barrel-aged note (soak the oak chips in whiskey before adding them for a more authentic barrel flavor) or tossing some cocoa nibs and vanilla beans into the fermenter for a week or so before bottling. On the smaller scale, a small amount of something like vanilla or cinnamon goes a long way, so be sure not to overdo it.

The added cost of some specialty grain is usually negligible, but will improve the flavor of your beer immensely, especially if you are looking to make a dark beer while still utilizing malt extract. As always, do be shy and ask your home brew shop expert (Props to LLCoolJosh @ CSFH) for some tips.

Brewing knowledge is much like the beer it creates, best enjoyed while shared!

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