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Mad Alchemist Poll: How do you get your wort?

2010 February 9
by Mad Alchemist

Experiment: Roasted Dandelion Roots

2010 February 6
by Mad Alchemist

Using dandelions in beer is rare, but not unprecedented. New Belgium has a rather tasty Dandelion Ale, so I decided to start working toward understanding the taste and bittering qualities of dandelion. Fresh dandelion greens are not generally available until spring, so I thought I’d see what dandelion roots were like first.

If you don’t want to read through my entire process, here’s a quick summary, prefaced by a note: First off, this is experimentation. I’m trying to share the results of my experiments as I go through with them, which means not all of them will yield positive beer-worthy potential.

Dandelion roots fall into the “not gonna brew with it” category. In short, they simply don’t taste very good. The bittering quality is poor, the aroma is off-putting, and the taste can be described as kissing someone who just finished smoking an entire pack of cigarettes at very high concentrations or shoving a stale-but-dirty sock in your mouth at half that concentration. That said, here’s what I did:

The Control – Hop Tea

  • Boiled 32 oz. water with 1/16 oz. (~0.06 oz.) of 5% Alpha East Kent Goldings for 15 mins.
  • At the end of the rather vigorous boil, I ended up with 16 oz. of Hop Tea.

The Experiment – (Roasted) Dandelion (Root) Tea

  • Boiled 32 oz. water with 12 g. (~0.42 oz) of Organic Roasted Dandelion Roots for 15 mins.
  • At the end of the rather vigorous boil, I ended up with 16 oz. of Dandelion Tea.

The estimated IBU (using Tinseth) of the Hop Tea at the 16 oz. concentration was 30.9. As you might expect, this is bile-bitter when not balanced by any malt, but I sampled it anyway. It tasted like bile. The Dandelion Tea was not nearly so bitter, but it tasted rather terrible as well.

I proceeded to make the call to dilute both back up to 32 oz., which brought the estimated IBU of the Hop Tea to 16.1. This is still very bitter, but it’s tolerable and provides enough liquid to test various dilutions. The Dandelion Tea still tasted quite bad, but it wasn’t so much bitter-tasting as stale and dirty-tasting.

It was at this point that I decided the experiment was over. Roasted Dandelion Roots are not a viable option (in my home brewery) to replace hops as a bittering agent, and I wouldn’t them as an aromatic because I don’t want their flavor or aroma anywhere near my beer.

But, I forged on with one more dilution. I diluted both to 64 oz., which brought the estimated bitterness of the Hop Tea to a not-unpleasant 8.0 IBU and the estimated grossness of Dandelion Tea to “tolerable.” I downed a glass of each to punish myself and poured the rest out.

In hindsight, I should have expected the Roasted Dandelion Root to be incompatible with beer. Firstly, a large amount of Dandelion Root is supposed to be beneficial to the liver, which is quite the opposite of what large quantities of beer is supposed to do to your liver. Secondly, I made a traditional cup of Roasted Dandelion Root Tea prior to the experiment and found it rather unpleasant to begin with.

Oh, well… You win some, you lose some. At least I learned something. I might try the same experiment using Dandelion Leaves from the local health store, or I might wait until I can get fresh Dandelion Greens from the supermarket and run my next test then. If anyone else has experience using Dandelions (in any form) in beer, I’d be very interested to learn from you.

Dear Better Bottle, I Love You

2010 February 1
by Mad Alchemist

Strong words? Because it’s the best fermentor I’ve ever used. Until now, I’ve only ever used either plastic buckets or glass carboys. I finally grabbed a Better Bottle 6 Gallon Carboy and I love it. Not because it’s super durable and lighter than glass. Not because it’s easy to clean. Not because it can be used as a pretty sweet drum to annoy your wife.

I love it because it makes aeration easy. Because it is durable and light, I got my best aeration of any brew with the Irish Red I brewed yesterday. How’d I do it? Easy…

I filled it up with 5.5 gallons of my sweet Irish Red, then I stoppered it and put it on its side on my counter. I held the stopper and neck and shook the crap out of the big end by rolling/sliding it. I had wort sloshing around like mad in there for several minutes with very little effort.

Then, I added the yeast and rocked it for a bit to mix the yeast in well. By morning, a wonderful layer of krausen had formed at the top of my vigorously-fermenting wort. As I mentioned, this is the best I’ve seen when pitching at 65° and it took very little effort whatsoever.

I can’t believe it took me so long to shell out $25 for something that will save me from so many backaches (I know, someday I’ll say the same thing about an aquarium pump for aeration).

Intriguing: Brewing In A Bag (BIAB)

2010 January 28
by Mad Alchemist

I got turned on to a new method of all-grain brewing called “Brewing in a Bag” over at The Brewing Network. It’s an interesting approach that has been picking up steam in Australia for a few years, and it actually appears to have the potential to improve yield because you can use a finer crush than you would normally utilize.

It’s like a mini-mash that is scaled up to full all-grain volumes, and requires far less equipment than normal all-grain brewing (all you really need is a ~10 [some say 15] gallon kettle for full-volume boils and a very large mesh bag). I do worry when people talk about getting greater than 80% efficiency (and using too fine a grind) because of the increased potential for tannin extraction, but that should be easily remedied.

I’ve looked into it a bit and have found several links to help anyone interested out:

  • A Guide to All-Grain Brewing in a Bag: From the Aussie forums that seem to have started it all. Includes a handy PDF booklet and some other links to a FAQ and some other resources. You’ll need to register there for access to the files.
  • The Brewing Network Forums: A nice post describing how to brew in a bag, along with a lot of discussion on the topic.
  • Brew in a Bag All Grain Brewing Method: A good blog post with pictures describing the method for BIAB.
  • BIAB at BeerSmith: A post on the BeerSmith website that discusses BIAB and includes information about how to set your equipment up in their software.

I’m very interested in this brewing method, in part because I am lazy and I’m open to trying something faster and easier, and in part because it looks like people are getting better efficiency than most all-grain brewing gets. And, because it’s still pretty experimental.

Intriguing: Cold-Steeping Specialty Grains

2010 January 27
by Mad Alchemist

I’ve wondered for a while about cold-steeping specialty grains to reduce the amount of astringency you get from them. I just read an article about it, and it seems that is indeed possible. Has anyone tried it? It seems like the main problem will be getting fermentables out of the specialty grains. It seems like you would have to sparge with hot water, thus potentially making your efforts moot.

All that said, I really want to try it. At some point, I’ll try something like Roasted Barley or Black Patent in a cold-steep for 24 hours, then will combine it with a simple Light DME in a small batch to see what it yields. Until then, I’m hoping to find someone with experience cold-steeping specialty grains to see their results.

Links to other discussions or articles on cold-steeping are more than welcome.

Experiment: Boiling Cold-brewed Coffee

2010 January 26
by Mad Alchemist

I love to experiment. I also love putting coffee in porters and stouts. It’s a flavor I find to be complementary. I recently posted about adding cold-brewed coffee to beer, and mentioned that I wanted to test boiling cold-brewed coffee to see what it tasted like. Well, I’m not very patient, so I already did it (note: I haven’t added it to beer yet–this is a standalone coffee taste experiment).

8 oz whole coffee beans
4 cups water (Brita-filtered in this case)


  • Coarsely crushed the coffee beans
  • Put 4 cups of water in a large measuring cup
  • Added the coarsely crushed coffee beans to the measuring cup in a muslin bag
  • Put it in the refrigerator for 12 hours
  • Pulled the bag out, let it drain for 15 minutes
  • Steeped the bag again, then let it drain for 15 more minutes
  • Split the solution in half (~16 oz in each measuring cup)
  • Set Solution A aside
  • Boiled Solution B in a pot for 10 minutes
  • Rapidly cooled Solution B by immersing the pot in cold water in the sink
  • Added Solution B back to its measuring cup, then diluted it back to 16 oz
  • Put Solution A and Solution B in the refrigerator for 12 hours


  • After removing the two, I tasted them both.
  • I first took a sip of water and sniffed my wrist to cleanse my palate.
  • Then, I took a small sip of Solution A (the normal cold-brewed coffee)
  • I then took another sip of water and sniffed my wrist to cleanse my palate.
  • Then, I took a small sip of Solution B (the boiled cold-brewed coffee)

In short, they did not taste the same. Solution A tasted like I would expect cold-brewed coffee to taste. It was mild with very little bitterness whatsoever, and was quite pleasant. The real surprise was Solution B. It was stronger and fuller, but still had very little bitterness or astringency. It had a slightly-caramelized and roasted taste to it. My wife described it as such: “It tastes like coffee smells.” – Mrs. Hop.

Boiling cold-brewed coffee produces a solution that tastes unlike both cold-brewed coffee and normal hot-brewed coffee. It was quite delicious indeed, being both bolder than cold-brewed coffee and less bitter than hot-brewed coffee. I will certainly be introducing boiled cold-brewed coffee to my next batch of porter or stout.

Adding Cold-Brewed Coffee to Your Beer

2010 January 25
by Mad Alchemist

Ever try adding coffee to your boil or brewing some up then adding it before bottling or kegging your beer? Did you get a difficult-to-predict level of bitterness and acid bite? That’s because it was hot! If, instead, you want the taste and aroma of a delicious coffee (and the caffeine, too) in your beer without as much bitterness and bite, you can try to cold-brew it instead.

There are really two ways to cold-brew coffee for your beer. The first is to brew it in your fermentor. To do this, you’ll need to wait until primary fermentation has completed (to be safe, wait a couple days after all the bubbling has quieted down).

Then, you can add coarsely ground coffee beans directly to your secondary in a muslin bag. Be sure to sanitize the coffee (you can do this with some cheap vodka, but ditch the liquid before putting the beans into the secondary). The longer you leave it in secondary, the more likely you are to get astringent flavors and smells from the coffee, so it’s probably best to leave it in for one to three days.

Want to avoid the secondary and increased potential for astringent flavors? Cold-brew it and add it before bottling or kegging. To cold-brew coffee, you probably have everything you could need as a brewer. You’ll need a sanitized vessel that can hold 40+ oz (5 cups), sanitized water, sanitized beans, something (sanitized) to grind the beans with, and something to strain the beans out of the liquid with (e.g. a muslin bag).

The process is very simple (remember to sanitize):

  1. Coarsely grind 8 oz of coffee beans. Put the coffee beans in a muslin bag. Put the bag of ground coffee in the vessel you’ve selected.
  2. Add about 4 times as much water to the vessel as coffee beans, which translates to 4 cups in this case.
  3. Cover your vessel with foil or plastic wrap, then throw it in the fridge for 12+ hours.
  4. Pull the muslin bag of coffee grounds out. Let them drip for 15-30 minutes to get all the liquid out (a sanitized strainer would come in handy here). You might also want to extract as much of the flavor as possible by dipping it in one or two more times and letting it drip again.

Now, you have a nicely concentrated amount of cold-brewed coffee. All you have to do now is add this along with your priming sugar before bottling/kegging. This also has the added benefit that you can bottle some without the coffee, then add it for a specific portion of the beer. Two beers in one!

How much should you use for a 5 gallon batch? Consider starting small. Try half of the above recipe (about 2 cups) in the entire 5 gallon batch. Then, add 1 more cup to the second half (this is what it would taste like if you used all 4 cups of coffee in the entire batch). Drink the fourth cup of cold-brewed coffee.

One more added benefit to cold-brewing the coffee and adding it before bottling/kegging is that you see if you’re doing it right without destroying a batch of beer. Just do all of the steps mentioned except adding the coffee to the beer and taste the coffee to see if it’s any good. If it is, it should be good to put in the beer. You can also try adding a small amount to a beer you know is good to see if the flavors blend well (try adding 1.2 tbsp of the concentrate to a 12 oz bottle of porter or stout to get a roughly equivalent taste).

If you’re really concerned about sanitation or are too lazy to sanitize each piece of the cold-brewing equipment and ingredients, I suspect you can boil the cold-brewed coffee along with (or in a separate pot from) your priming sugar. This will likely change the taste profile somewhat, perhaps giving it a caramelized/roasted flavor but still less astringent than a hot-brewed coffee. Never tried it. Have you? Tell me of your experiment! I’ll give this a try soon to see how it turns out.

In summary, coffee doesn’t just have to be added to the boil. You can also cold-brew the coffee either in a fermentor or by itself, then add it before bottling/kegging. As with everything experimental, experiment!

Mad Alchemist Poll: Do You Rack to Secondary?

2010 January 24
by Mad Alchemist

No Secondary: Myth or the Future?

2010 January 23
by Mad Alchemist

Do you have to transfer your ale to a secondary fermentor? Will it impact the flavor or clarity of the beer? The short answer is, “no.” You really don’t have to transfer an ale to a secondary fermentor unless you plan to leave it there for more than 3-4 weeks (otherwise, you risk autolysis. You’re generally good to go up to a month. Experiment and decide what tastes best, but some people have gone a month without bottling and the beer tasted great.

Note the italicized word: ale. You should still transfer lagers (and high OG ales) to a secondary fermentor, because you will usually leave them in a fermentation vessel for 4+ weeks. Additionally, if you are putting anything crazy in after primary fermentation like cold-brewed coffee or fruit, I would still advise transferring to secondary.

What are the benefits of not transferring to secondary? Superficially, it’s less work. More importantly, you are increasing your chances of infection when you rack to secondary. So, as long as you are able to achieve the same clarity and taste using only a primary, there’s really no reason to rack to secondary.

If you are overly concerned about clarity, you can move your fermentor the day before you plan to bottle or keg so any disturbed trub will settle out.

Are the days of the secondary fermentor gone for ale brewers everywhere? Pretty much, yes.

Using Multiple Yeast Strains

2010 January 21
by Mad Alchemist

Can you use more than one type of yeast to ferment your wort? Yes! Brewer’s yeast live harmonious lives. They won’t compete with other yeast and destroy them, so feel free to combine more than one type of yeast in the same vessel if you’re looking for a “secret sauce.”

Using multiple yeasts can provide a unique, signature flavor to your beers that no one else can replicate with a single yeast strain (and they probably won’t be able to identify the correct combination of yeasts unless you tell them what you used). You can create more complex and interesting yeast profiles using multiple yeast strains than one.

There are a few things you’ll want to remember before using multiple yeasts:

First, make sure all of the yeast strains you plan to use will ferment at the temperature you’ll be keeping your wort at. Any good packaged yeast will note its optimum fermentation temperature range. Using an ale yeast along with a lager yeast might work, but you might also find that one or the other did nothing at all.

You’ll also want to be careful not to overpitch (yes, it’s possible to use too much yeast). If you use too much yeast, the beer will have a yeast character, sometimes referred to as yeast bite. In a 5 gallon batch, you’re safe to use twice as much yeast as you normally would. But, if you use three or more types of yeast, you’ll probably want to cut back on each strain by a bit.

Finally, pitch the yeast early rather than in drawn-out steps. The bulk of the flavor profile from yeast will be developed within the first 12 to 36 hours of fermentation, so you don’t want to wait too long to add your second (or third) yeast to the wort. There’s also less risk of infection if you pitch them all at once instead of exposing your wort shortly after fermentation begins.