Sunday, February 27, 2011

Porter House Brew Class - a hidden gem

It's been awhile since the last post, but I figured I would wait until after my brew class at the Porter House Brew Shop to update the blog.You usually don't find a diamond on the side of the road, especially in Butler county, but that's just what I found by discovering the Porter House Brew Shop. A tiny, store front next to a general store that is home to 2 of the best people I've met in my home brewing journey.

Let me start off by saying: I had a busy weekend, but to make a long story short, I missed a trip to Penn Brewery for a good friend's Bday, and my girlfriend became Miss Butler County. In the midst of all that action, I got take my brewing class at the Porter House Brew Shop. Do yourself a favor....  just sit back, grab a beer and enjoy this story, because it's a good one. My brew class was yesterday from 4:30 - 6:30 in Portersville, PA. Portersville is right off of I-79, exit 96, on Perry Highway. Not too far from Moraine State Park. The shop is a great little place run by the husband and wife team of Ruth and Don. Ruth and Don decided to open up the shop three years ago and this place is has the classic mom and pop vibe. Ruth is a real firecracker and one of the most genuine people you'll meet. She makes everyone really comfortable and relaxed, especially if you don't know anything about brewing. Don is more of the silent type, full of knowledge, really nice guy, but is a little awkward in front of large groups. I'm pretty sure that's why Ruth had the reins during most of the class

Ok, ok, let me back this train up a bit. So I walked into the Porter House Shop right before 4:30 and to my surprise there were about 20 people all seated and huddled around the front table. Everyone had a beer in their hand, so right off the bat I knew this class was going to be good. There was a food table set up with cheese, crackers, and a crock pot filled with hot sausage and the shop's special sauce. Ruth greeted me and grabbed me a beer just as Don walked in from the back patio. Don looked to have something brewing on the deck. We'd later find out Don was brewing a black IPA that he had been working on for awhile. Ruth jumped right into introductions and told us what we would be learning. This was the breakdown for the night:
  • Laws on homebrewing
  • History of Brewing
  • What beer is made of and how to brew
  • Home brewing levels
  • Equipment
Oh, I almost forgot the best part. The really awkward meet and greet with everyone in the room. You know the feeling, everyone says their name and introduces themselves like you're in 4th grade again. Almost had an AA meeting vibe as we went around the room. "Hi, I'm John, I don't home brew yet, but I heard you were giving away beer samples". Who knows, maybe brewing classes are precursors to half these people going to AA - I joke, I joke. We all went around and said who we were, how much experience we have in home brewing, and what their favorite beers were. Some people were there to learn, some to get the free beer, and some to show everyone else how much they knew about craft beer. It was an eclectic assortment of people, but a fun group none the less. My favorite part about the meet and greet was how Ruth would judge what kind of person you were by the beer you said you liked to drink. I guess you can learn a lot about someone by what they have in the glass in front of them. Ruth is your classic beer snob and she's not afraid to tell you all about it. Ruth grabbed our hands and took us for a walk down memory lane. She said she used to like shitty beer when she was younger. Many years ago you would find her at a bowling alley with a pitcher full of coors light and a plastic cup. Not until her husband Don started brewing his own beer did she realize how bad coors light really is. She drinks craft beer now, and when she goes out, you'll find her with a rum and coke unless she's at a place that serves good beer.

OK, sort of went off topic there, but I wanted to paint a picture of the scene and the people. Home brewing, is it legal? Yes, you can brew up to 150 gallons of beer in a year per person or 200 gallons of beer if you have a family. Ruth said, "Let's get serious, you can brew as much as you want." According to her, unless you're selling it, no one is checking. After a brief history on beer we jumped right into beer and how to make it. Ruth went over all the basics I've been reading about - malt, hops, yeast, water, and sanitation. We talked about why and when you used each ingredient in the beer. We actually got to sample some of the liquid malt Don was using for the black IPA. The best part about the class was as we would go over something, Don would take us outside to show us what that step entailed. He was brewing the black IPA so we could see how home brewing is done. Of course we sampled a new beer during each step to make sure everyone stayed "hydrated". I had my notebook and took notes during the class. Some stuff was a repeat from the book, but I learned a good bit of stuff from the class that I did not cover in my book (so far).

Next, we went over equipment - from beginners to advanced brewers. The Porter House shop has a great selection of equipment and will even build you a custom kit. They sell 4 main kits at the shop ranging from basic to ultimate. The price range of these kits falls between $78.00 for a basic kit and $285.00 for the ultimate kit. I'll be buying one of the ultimate kits, which includes all the kegging equipment to keg the beer. All the other equipment/ingredients you will need: malt, hops, yeast, pots, carboys, sanitizers, hydrometers, brushes, and tubing can all be purchased at the shop as well - just in case you don't need a whole kit. Ruth and Don have a ton of recipe kits ready to go right there at the shop. They even offer call ahead service. If you need a certain kit, just give them a call, they'll put it together and you can pick it up that day. All the kits they sell have been brewed by either Ruth and Don so you know they are good.

I thought it was pretty funny going back and looking at the notes I took in the class. Most were readable and some were not. There was always a funny caption attached to the note I took. Soooo here's my top 10 for "Things I learned during home brewing class"

10. Don't use reverse osmosis water or distilled water - it F's the beer up
9. Don't use water from the sink - it sucks, smells bad, and has chlorine in it
8. You need a 24 quart stainless steel pot - why...Ruth knows best
7. Black canning pots are OK
6. 60 minute boils most common - don't brew unless you got time
5. If you want to add flavors in the beer aka fruit, candy - soak it in vodka before 2nd fermentation step
4. Don's black IPA is phenomenal
3. The brew shop smells really good
2. The kid behind me thinks he is running the brew class
1. Krausen is a sweet word - look it up

As you can see I started good - but was more interested in the hands on learning and the beers to keep taking notes. Luckily they gave us a cheat sheet of everything they were over, so my note taking could take a break.

Before I knew it, our 2 hours were up and I had to head to BC3 to watch Amanda win Miss Butler County. I'm not going to lie, this class was way more than I expected. From the beers and food, to the personal hands on training with Beth and Don, everything was great. This is my new brew shop, and they definitely won me over last night. I recommend this class to anyone interested in home brewing.The next brew class is on March 26th from 4:30 - 6:30 and it only costs $25.00. Trust me, you'll get your money's worth at this class.

Next Post - Mystery Post (rumors and here say)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Who Drinks Beer from a Wine Glass

While exploring the wonderful world of beer, I've discovered something so elementary, so easy, I can't even believe I initially missed it. Something so simple, yet so important to what you are trying to accomplish while drinking beer. Well, let's take a step back real quick and make this a little easier to understand. If I'm playing baseball on a warm summer day and I step to the plate to take an at bat, what am I holding???........ I'm holding a bat right....usually made of wood, aluminium, or some combination of space metal filled with air that will most likely propel the baseball at 1,000 MPH off of some poor kid's forehead. That's not the point, nor the time, but I'm holding a bat none the less. If I'm teeing off at a golf course with a few friends, what am I holding???....I'm holding a golf club (probably a shitty one) but it's a golf club. And if I'm sitting around enjoying a great craft beer, what am I holding???.... I'm holding some type of beer glass. Beer glasses are the bats and clubs of drinking. You cannot drink a certain style of beer the right way unless you are drinking it from the proper glass for that style of beer. Believe it or not, your lucky beer mug is not the right glass to use for every type of beer you consume. WHY???? Well one might think, "I don't care what my beer is in, as long as it gets me drunk." Well, well my friend, then this blog is not for you. This is dedicated to people who enjoy the ingredients, flavors, and brewing techniques behind the great beers we drink. Of course everyone has a premeditated slaughter house weekend planned from time to time, when you are going to do just that. You plan well in advance a complete annihilation of your liver, mostly because of a special event, birthday or bachelor/baccalaureate party. Then your lucky beer mug plays 99.97% of the time. Back to the point. How many times have you been at a microbrewery and you order a beer from the list that you've never had before? If you're like me, this happens all the time. When I get my beer sometimes it's in a mug, a pilsner glass, or in a wine glass??? I think to myself, "Wow, wonder why it's in a wine glass?" Usually I'd assume because the beer is some kind fancy pants beer that deserves a classy wine glass. Or the beer has a high alcohol content, so it's best if I drink a wine glass full instead of a pint glass full. Well those rookie assumptions are completely and utterly wrong. Certain beers are served in certain glasses to compliment how they were made. What happens every time your pour a beer into a glass? It foams, some more than others, but it foams. As Al Snow once put it "What does everybody WANT........HEAD!!!" Al should of said "What does everybody WANT......GOOD HEAD." When you pour a beer into a glass the foam (or head) that forms is considered to be a net to release aromas, flavors, and volatiles from the beer. Volatiles are compounds that the beer releases AKA aromas, spices, certain additions and flavors. If your beer creates the proper head and proper retention, then you actually can taste all of the flavors of the beer. If it doesn't, then they don't get released and stay trapped in the beer. So if I'm enjoying an American Ale I should actually use a flute glass instead of my pilsner glass. Huh, I've never even thought about it until today. I'm sure some people are thinking, "Shit, no wonder that Imperial Stout beer I had didn't really taste as good as I thought." Well not only did you have it in the wrong glass, but you probably didn't have it at the right temperature either. Believe it or not, but not all beer should be "tap the rockies" cold. Certain beers should be served ice cold, cold, cool, room temperature, and warm. I'll give a link in this post of types of beers and temperatures as well. Better go get those IPA's out of the fridge. Go, right now, because they are supposed to be kept between 54-57 degrees F.

Below are 2 very important links that you should check out ASAP. The first link is on glassware for your beer and the second link is a serving temperature guide for beer.

Enjoy!! - Glassware - Serving temperature guide

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Craft Beer in the Burgh'

If you like craft beer/microbreweries and you're from Pittsburgh, there's a really good chance you've been or drank at the following establishments:

Church Brew
Penn Brewery
Rock Bottom

You might be at the point where you are thinking, "I've been there and done that." What else can you drink that's local, craft, and delicious? I set out on that journey, only to find the Craft Pittsburgh magazine. A full color publication dedicated to the craft beer scene in Pittsburgh. What a find!!!! They even have a website that provides local craft beer tastings, events, home brew recipes and great info on local craft beers. Have you ever heard of East End Brewing or Voodoo Brewing? I hadn't, but I wanted to find out more. Just because these places don't serve food doesn't mean they don't provide quality beer. Where do I buy this beer, how can I try it, and what does it taste like? How great would it be to go to a brew event in Pittsburgh where you could sample great home brews and local breweries craft beers? I mean I never knew there were such things as the Millvale Brew Fest, the Pittsburgh Big Pour Event, and the Pittsburgh Brewmasters tasting event. There's a 3 Rivers Beer club??? Where do I sign up? There are 40, events just in February listed on the Craft Pittsburgh site for beer tastings, meetings, and craft beer events in Pittsburgh. For all the math people out there, that's 1.428 beer events per day, since 2011 is not a leap year. How bored are you in the middle of winter in Pittsburgh when it's 11 degrees outside? You don't ski, the gym is always packed, so what do you do? I mean you can play Call of Duty, NCAA or Madden but eventually you win 10 straight Super Bowls, take SMU to elite status, and prestige 10 times. While doing all those things you never leave your house, you start to go crazy, and most likely your eyes burn from staring at the TV for 5 straight hours a night. I figure, get a friggin' hobby, meet some people, drink some beer, talk about ideas and recipes. Everyone already loves to drink good beer so why not do it as a hobby with other people who like to do the same thing. Check out this site, follow them on twitter, and check out an event. - It's a great read. You can also download the magazine for free.

Rando Thought: I'd actually like to hold a local brew fest for charity some day. Invite tons of local breweries and home brewers. Give out awards, sell merchandise, and make some money for a great cause. What cause? Not sure yet. I once drank to raise money for cancer. I drank a lot, way too much, but it was for a good cause.

So in the meantime before the next post on the book, I figured I'd throw out some good info.

Monday, February 7, 2011

I said a hip HOP.....and you don't stop

A lot has happened since the last post. Much of that involving copious amounts of beer, celebrating, tears, happiness and disappointment. Let's take a quick minute and think about drinking. Drinking beer is really not that fun unless you're with great people enjoying great beer. No one likes to sit there and drink beer by themselves listening to Sugarhill Gang. People do it, but it's really not that fun. You can't play photo hunt by yourself at the bar. You can't enjoy sports with a beer by yourself because there's no one to high five when the Steelers score a TD or the Pens score a goal. Let's face it, when you drink it should be done with more than yourself. Same with brewing beer. It's best done with multiple people. Can't wait to get back with the old crew and talk about brewing beer together.

As I promised last time, this post will be about the wide, wonderful world of hops. Let's hop in (pun intended).

Let's start off easy. What are hops and what do they do?

Hops are the main bittering agent in beer as well as a natural preservative. There are 2 main varieties of hops, bittering and aroma.

  1. Bittering - increased alpha acids 10% by weight / these are added at the start of the boil process
  2. Aroma - lower alpha acids 5% by weight / these are added at the end of the boil process
Now that you know there are 2 main types of hops in brewing and the basic time they are added to the boil let's move onto hopping processes and types of hops.

Bittering Hops
  • These additions are boiled for 45-90 minutes  to isomerize the alpha acids
  • Most common internal boil time here is 60 minutes
  • Usually use 1/2 ounce 
Flavoring Hops
  • These hops are added 20-40 minutes before the end of the boil
  • Most common time is 30 minutes before the boil is over
  • Any hop variety can be used - usually lower alpha varieties are used
  • High alpha varieties that can be used in this rare occasion are Northern Brew and Challenger
  • Small amounts of several varieties are recommended - usually 1/2 ounce of several varieties will be combined at this stage to create a high complex flavor
Finishing Hops
  • These hops are added closer to the end of the boil to retain more hop aroma
  • 1 or more varieties can be used here as well
  • Amounts can vary from 1/4 ounce to 4 ounces depending on the character desired
  • Most people use 1-2 ounces per hop added
  • Finishing hops are added 15 minutes or less before the end of the boil or added at the "knockout" - when heat is turned off
  •  and allowed to steep for 10 minutes
  • In some setups a "hopback" is used but I won't be using this step in my brewing. Mostly because I won't have a heat exchanger or chiller. If you want to know about the hop back you can go to and search it
Next I'll talk a little bit about dry hopping. Dry hopping is not the safer alternative to sex, but it is a different way to add hops to your beer.

Dry Hopping
  • This is when you add hops to the fermenter to increase hop aroma in the final brew step
  • The fermenter is the bucket your beer sits in so the bacteria can do work son.
  • This step, if done, is best done late in the fermentation cycle
  • Usually 1/2 ounce per 5 gallons of beer - rule of thumb
  • After bubbling has slowed and beer is going through conditioning
  • Good idea - add hops to nylon mesh bag to facilitate removing hops
  • High alpha varieties used in this step are usually Centennial, Columbus, and Horizon

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Drink Up Yinz Bitches

So I wanted to throw one of those random thought posts in before the next segment on hops. To get you warmed up for the hops, just fast forward to 1:16 in the Super Bad video. I can't tell you how many times I've said, "I hear they recently added more hops!"

Also I wanted to take a second and shout out my Super Bowl beer of choice for this weekend. I'm from the Pittsburgh area so I figured I should be drinking some type of Pittsburgh beer. My first though was , "Well I live 3 minutes from a microbrewery so I should get my growler filled and treat myself to some Firehouse Red, Jack Frost Winter Warmer, or Winter's Gold." Then I thought, "Well I'd like to have more than 5.333 repeating beers for the game." (capacity of the growler 64 oz divided by 12 oz). I wanted to get a case of something, but what should it be? Some of you maybe thinking: Iron City, Rolling Rock, Penn Pilsner.....well I'm actually going with the hot hand in my opinion. I've been riding the Duquesne Beer hot hand since the first batch came out in late August 2010. At first I had no idea what it would taste like or how much it would cost. All I know is my grandfather used to drink it and it had a reputation for being a blue-collar working man's beer. AKA it used to taste like shit and was pretty cheap, so most people drank it on a steel mill salary. When I saw that Mark Dudash was bringing the beer back from the dead I was intrigued. I had questions....big questions. How do you take a beer that was at one time Pittsburgh's best selling beer, and make it into something that's your own brand, flavor, and style? Well according to Mark you basically "can", no pun intended, the shitty ingredients and go with two row barley instead of 6 row barley. I'll answer that question before you can ask it. According to the Duquesne beer site, 2 row barley has greater fermentable sugar content. 2 row barley is used a lot in Germany and the Czech Republic. This sets it apart from 6 row barley because it has lower protein content and tastes less like animal feed. 6 row barley is more suitable for animal feed? I'm guessing I don't want my beer tasting like that, though I do hear you can make it taste just like that if you screw up your finishing hops step in home brewing. - Note to self - don't do that. And to make my decision a little easier, I hadn't had a Duquesne Pilsner in about a month. My decision is made and I'm going with Duquesne beer for the Super Bowl. Brewed in Latrobe, PA at the old Rolling Rock plant. The plant is now owned by City Brewing and brews other varieties of beer, malt beverages, and iced tea. My favorite being 4 Loko (joke), which is pretty much banned in PA (except for college kids selling it for $300 a case). I'm definitely going to get my growler filled tonight as well. I need a good micro brew for Friday and Saturday night. I think I'm set on the Jack Frost Winter Warmer. I had one last weekend at dinner and it was one of the best tasting 
The Prince of Pilsner
beers I've ever tried. It's a malty ale beer that leaves you feeling like you just had 3 beers, when you've only reached the bottom of your first glass. 

I'll dabble into the wide world of HOPS in my next post. In the meantime, drink up yinz bitches!!!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Make it, don't break it

Took a 1 day hiatus from blogging to rest up, and read on into the How to Brew book. I want to move into breaking this down the easiest way without actually you actually having to read the book. I left off explaining alpha acid unit calculations. This may seem like rocket science, but it's actually a pretty easy calculation. I'm going to go into the most basic brewing procedure for home brewers.

Brewing Procedure: Chapter 1 Continued
  1. Prep Work - get your shit together
  2. Boil Water - boil 1 gallon of water
  3. Sanitize - clean all equipment
  4. Making Work - usually 1.5 hours
  5. Boil Brew Water
  6. Rehydrate Dry Yeast
  7. Add Malt Extract
  8. Add Hops
  9. Add finishing hops (optional)
  10. Cool Wort
  1. Cooled wort poured into fermentation bucket
  2. Add water
  3. pitch yeast
  4. Store fermenter (2 weeks)
Chapter 2: Brew Prep

This chapter basically goes over brewing sanitizers. I won't beat this to death, but different sanitizers like detergent, bleach, and percarbonates are used for different situations. These sometimes come with the kit that you buy.

Chapter 3: Malt, Kits, Sugars

Malts - concentrated sugars extracted from malt barley
Malts come in syrup and dry form

Basically, there is more to this chapter, but for me to try to explain it in a blog would be pointless. We'll talk later.

Chapter 4: Water

Water is super important for brewing your own beer. Minerals, harness, and nastiness in water can fuck shit up for the beer. Basically there are a few methods for cleaning your dirty, nasty, mon valley water.
  1. Boil it
  2. Potassium metabisulfate tabs
  3. activated charcoal AKA Brita
  4. Water softeners
Well I'm tired and I think this is a good point to stop tonight. Enjoy what there is today because the next entry will go into the wonderful world of hops. When to add them, what to use, and techniques. ALL YOU CAN EAT HOPS!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

If you ain't movin' you losin'


Sure everyone can read what I type on here, but many people are visual learners and want to see how brewing actually works. I've added some brewing videos from youtube on the right panel of the blog so you can check out some basic brewing techniques and how the process actually works. I've linked a channel from youtube called Home Brewing. They post some really good videos and most of them are pretty short AKA - you can watch them at work pretty quickly without wasting your whole lunch break. They also have a website with some really great content for everyone that is non-youtube savvy. - check it out!!!!!!!!

Also, check out the beer poll below the videos. I'm trying to get a feel of what most people are drinking during the winter months. I feel that I like to try a variety of beers in the winter for some reason. Mostly craft beers or beers I've never tried before. I'm not sure why, but in the summer I tend to stick to my "go to" beers for refreshment more than taste. Maybe because it's 100 degrees outside and I need to taste something remotely close to water???? Not sure but it's a trend I tend to follow.

Next post:
Break down Ch. 1 - 3 of How to Brew in the easiest most non - technical way (easier said than done)