Softland Aleworks

Big Beers Brewed in a Tiny House

Month: March, 2012

Juniper Rye Ale

Juniper Rye Ale

The second beer we brewed was the Juniper Rye Ale from Austin Homebrew Supply.  Rye is a grain that I really love in both beer and whiskey. There seems to be a number of domestic breweries debuting really great Rye ales these days, often as an extension of their IPA. I think one of the best examples of its use is by the folks at the Terrapin Beer Company in Athens, GA, whose Rye Pale Ale and Rye Squared are/were beautiful.  Though we can’t get them all the way out here in Texas, I make sure to pick up a few sixers of their brews whenever I am in the Southeast.

This beer, however, is more closely aligned with the German and Finnish styles of Rye ales and was a lot of fun to brew, introducing us to a number of malts: Crystal 40L, Rye (obviously), 2-Row, Chocolate, and Black Patent. The recipe also calls for Munich LME, Chinook and Fuggle hops, and crushed Juniper berries. For the yeast, we chose White Labs’ German Ale/Kolsch (WLP029) — a tip of the hat to the Roggenbier style — for about 10 days each in primary and secondary. We fermented at room temperature (68-70F), which is hotter than this yeast demands; but with no temperature control at the time, it was the best we were able to do.  AHS recommends that this beer age at least 3 weeks in the bottle, which was the age of the beer we tasted.

Juniper Rye Ale: Appearance

OG: 1.053
FG:  1.013
ABV: 5.2%

Appearance: This beer has a beautiful dark color, which when held in light belies a chestnut hue with a subtle red tinge; Pours with about one finger of head; Great lacing on the glass as you drink.

Smell: Minimal hop aroma; There is a bit of Sulfur, which I believe is the result of fermenting too high (WLP029 is known for its stinky fermentation, especially during high krausen, and I definitely found this to be the case).

Taste: Wow! A big ball of malty sweetness; Lots of roasty chocolate and toffee; The juniper is minimal, even hard to find, until right at the finish; The rye is very present, but not overpowering; the hops definitely take a backseat, serving mostly to balance out the malt bill; The yeast gives this ale a great, clean finish.

Notes: I am very pleased with how this beer turned out: A refreshing dark ale with a lot going on.  With so many strong flavors in play, I was a little afraid that the palate would be “busy”, but the recipe does a great job of keeping them in balance. I would love to set aside a few bombers to see how this beer ages and mellows out, but at the rate it is running out I might be better off just brewing another batch. Next time I will increase the juniper addition 2x and do a better job of keeping the fermentation temperature within the acceptable range.  It says a lot about the quality of this yeast strain that I was well outside the recommended temperature and the beer still turned out this well. I would definitely consider using WLP029 for other beers in the future.



Brew Day: Summer Saison

Ah, the first days of spring! Clear skies, warm weather, and high time for brewing summer ales! A lot went into the preparation for this Brew Day (including a fair amount of research!), and I was excited to try out some great new gear and get down to the business of Belgians.

As previously posted, I knew that I needed to begin making yeast starters in order to decrease lag time before fermentation and to ensure that I am pitching enough yeast. After researching a few different options, I decided to buy a StirStarter stir plate, which came highly recommended via the interwebs and at $45, you can’t beat it.  In tandem, I also bought the yeast starter kit  and a 2000 mL flask.  This setup worked like a charm and after two days I had about 800 mL of happy yeast chomping at the bit to get at that wort.

Yeast Starter boiling Yeast Starter on StirStarter

The brewing itself went smoothly.  In addition to the hops, I also added lemon zest and seeds of paradise, common for the style. As the OG on this beer was going to be around 1.065, I was right around the threshold of “should have made a bigger starter”, so went ahead and threw in an extra vial of WLP568 when I pitched (at 72F).

After reading a bit about farmhouse ales and what other homebrewers had done, I decided to do one long primary fermentation and rack directly to the bottling bucket.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I prepared to transfer the wort that I realized my oversight: no funnel. I did, however, have five empty water jugs and a blow-off tube that was really too long anyway. Voila! A little finagling, a bit of sanitizing, a helping hand from a lovely assistant, and we were good to go.  The chug-chug-chugging of pouring the wort down this jug-funnel had the bonus effect of aerating the wort pretty well on its way down the neck. Nonetheless, I gave the carboy a good shake before pitching.

Makeshift Funnel

And that was it! A bit stressful at the end, but luckily I knew to relax, not worry, and have a homebrew. By the next morning, the krausen was at blowing out the tube.

Krausen at 8 hrs

And by lunchtime, well…

Blowoff Jar

For the first few days I let the carboy heat itself through the (vigorous) activity of fermentation. Having leveled off (around 75F), I ramped up the temperature to 78F using the new fermwrap and temperature controller — strange as it is to be heating beers this time of year in Texas. I am hoping that fermenting at the higher end of the spectrum will bring out more clove notes from the yeast.  Now for the hard part: waiting.  I will start taking gravity readings next week to see how it is coming along, but I don’t expect to bottle this beer til mid-April.

Thanks to sp for the photodoc!

Fermentation Temperatures

Next week we will be trying our hand at one of my favorite styles, the Saison. We are planning to use White Labs’ Belgian Style Saison Blend (WLP568), which I’ve come to find out is a somewhat finicky yeast. The suggested fermentation temperature for this blend is listed as 70-80F, which (one would think) should be no problem this time of year in Texas.  However, after a cold snap brought us down to the low 40sF this week, I thought I had better do a bit of research.

One particularly useful resource I came across was an episode of Brewing TV:

Brewing TV – Episode 37: Happiness is a Warm Carboy from Brewing TV on Vimeo.

In it, Chip shows a few helpful DIY alternatives to buying a Brew Belt or FermWrap (Incidentally, we will be using the latter to ramp up the temperature of our carboy during primary fermentation).


Yeast Starters

There is a great article in the March-April 2012 issue of BYO Magazine titled, “Major League Pitching,” written by Terry Foster (of BAR New Haven).  In it, Foster discusses the common problems homebrewers experience with their yeast and how making a proper starter will remedy them:

Is pitching rate really that important? Does it matter if the yeast takes a bit more time to get going, so long as the beer isn’t infected and tastes all right? Well, actually, yes it does matter, because for a start if you consistently have long lag times you will brew infected beer sooner or later. Also, even if it is free of spoilage organisms your beer will not taste “all right,” it will taste like “homebrew.” Ask any professional brewer and he will tell you that the most common mistake made by amateurs is under pitching their yeast, and this is what causes that homebrew tang.

It was this last point that really resonated with me, as the finish on our Extra Pale Ale clone was a bit, er… tangy.

Making a yeast starter is basically the process of making a “mini beer,” where you boil half a cup of Dry Malt Extract (DME) in 2 cups of water, cool, and pitch your yeast.  After two days on a stir plate, you should have doubled or tripled your healthy yeast cells, which will in turn decrease not only the lag time before fermentation begins, but also the chances that your yeast will exhaust itself in the process. It is simple and easy, but does require a little extra planning and some extra gear.

Up to this point, I have directly pitched single vials of White Labs yeasts. At first it was a rookie mistake; however, now that I know better I guess I don’t have an excuse.  I plan my brew days pretty far in advance, so preparing the starter a few days out should be no sweat. Now all that’s holding me back is the gear, and any homebrew shop worth its salt will sell a yeast starter kit.

There are those who simply advise the homebrewer to “double pitch” in beers with a higher OG; however, from what I have read, this does not achieve quite the same thing. Yeah, you have twice the number of yeast cells going into fermentation, but making a starter also prepares the cells to “fight the good fight” by acclimating them to the wort.  A good tool for devising just how many yeast cells you will need can be found at Jamil Zainasheff’s website. There are also lots of useful resources that can be found in the usual places.

Three Floyds Extra Pale Ale

 Three Floyds Extra Pale Ale

It had been several years since my introduction to the joy of homebrewing and high time that I got some gear of my own!  After moving around the country for a few years, we have finally landed back in Texas in our cozy little house (with a porch that’s just begging for a turkey burner). One xmas gift certificate and two boxes from Austin Homebrew Supply later, we are up and running.

My appreciation for craft beer was fostered primarily in the Midwest, where there is an abundance of truly exceptional breweries. Among them, Three Floyds. Though it is no longer in their line-up, the Extra Pale Ale seemed like a good tip-of-the-hat to my salad days and a hell of a beer with which to kick off a hobby. (Note: If you happen to make it to the region, try their Gumball Head or Alpha King…Both are great.)

The recipe I used was the AHS clone: Crystal 10L & Carapils, Extra pale LME, Kent Golding and Cascade hops. I fermented with White Labs WLP001 at room temperature (~70F) for about a week each in primary and secondary. AHS recommends 4 weeks in the bottle before it is ready, but I couldn’t wait that long. The notes below are after week three.

OG: 1.042
FG:  1.012
ABV: 3.9%

Appearance:  A beautiful golden color; It pours with about a half-inch of rich, foamy head; Great lacing on the glass. A great looking first beer!

Smell:  A nice subtle cascade aroma; Hints of citrus.

Taste: The hops blend well with the malt bill; The flavors are full and in balance at the front, but fall off about mid-swig, devolving into “mediocre homebrew flavor”; Residual hop goodness and hints of citrus round out the finish; A really nice mouthfeel, perhaps owing to the Carapils.

Notes:  I missed the OG, but hit the FG dead on. Consequently, this beer ended up being a bit more sessionable than I had intended. Nonetheless, it is a delightfully refreshing beer and a great way to welcome the coming warmth of Spring.

Though not quite the original, it’s a good start!


Greetings! And welcome to our little homebrew blog, which we are calling Softland Ales (and, eventually, lagers too with any luck).

My intention is that this will serve mainly as a sort of clearing house for updates on the beers that we are brewing as well as information that we have found helpful along the way.  At this point, I doubt that I will offer much in the way of advice or advanced knowledge, but perhaps will be able to point towards folks who might.

As you’ve stumbled upon our little patch-of-grass in Internetland, Welcome and Cheers!