My best homebrew recipes

These are the beers I most like to brew. OK, to be honest, I like to drink them. And that usually means I have to brew them first. Sourmash stout, for instance, is just plain hard to find at Beers 'R Us.

Sourmash stout (Skip the essay, go straight to the recipe)

Sourmash stout is a pre-Prohibition American style of beermaking. As far as I know, there are no commercial examples today. In sourmash brewing, the mash undergoes a lactic fermentation between mash-out and sparging. This gives a tart character to the beer.

Today, we associate an acid flavor with wines, but not with beers. Yet a number of European beer styles are more or less acid. Berlin wheat beers, Lambics, and some Flemish brown ales are downright sour, while Kölsch, strong Guinness, and some Belgian white beers are mildly tart.

I like the acid note particularly in a strong dark beer like strong Guinness. (By this I mean the bottled Guinness sold in Belgium at 8% v/v, even stronger for other markets. Guinness uses a small portion of deliberately soured beer to give their strong stout its almost undetectable acid note.

Mild beer has two flavors: bitter hops and sweet malt. A good brew balances these flavors. Strong beer adds a third flavor: alcohol, which exceeds the threshold of taste somewhere around 7% v/v and is basically sweet, although unlike malt sweetness. Acid can work to balance the alcohol without disturbing the malt/hop balance. I like this. Or maybe I'm just a born tweaker.

Finally, a purist will use wild "yeast" (actually lactobacillus) to sour the mash. That's too chancy for me. I use commercial sourdough culture. You can buy it by the packet. I console myself with the belief that L. Sanfrancisco (the commercial sourdough variety) is pretty much what I would get naturally here in the Bay area.

Sourdough stout
Mash-extract recipe
Makes 10 gallons
OG 1.080
FG 1.023
Pre-preparation: sourdough culture Mash 1# pale malt in 1 qt. of water. Raise to 157F and rest for 30 minutes. Cool to 105F, inoculate with a package of commercial sourdough starter. Cover loosely and let sit in a warm place until it gets bubbly and smells so awful that your spouse threatens to kick you out of the house. (The package directions never mention the smell.) This may take a week. Cover tightly and refrigerate until needed. Partial mash: total grist 14# 8.00# 2-row pale malt 1.00# Brewer's wheat flakes 2.00# Flaked unmalted barley 1.00# Rolled oats 0.25# Black patent malt 1.75# Roasted barley Mash in at 105F. Rest 30 minutes. Raise to 130F. Rest 30 minutes. Raise to 152F. Rest 60 minutes. Cool to 100F. Mix in the prepared sourdough culture. Keep at 100F (a heating pad or insulated box may help) until the mash sours (bubbly, stinky). When the pH reaches 3.9, put the mash back on the stove and heat to 170F. Sparge. The sparge is likely to be difficult. Have patience. Because of the high acid level, you can use hotter-than-usual water. This helps. Sparge out a full 12 gallons of wort. The pH at the end of the sparge should still be below 5.5. Add to the brew kettle: 12# amber extract At beginning of boil, add: 22 HBU Eroica hops. (Northern Brewers also work.) Boil for an hour. Because of the low pH, the hot break may look unusual. Don't worry. Cool to pitching temperature and pitch a prepared starter of: Wyeast Irish ale yeast Ferment at about 70F. This will probably ferment out in a week.

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Belgian white beer (Bag the essay, go straight to the recipe)

White beer (Witbier in Dutch, Bière blanche in French) is a traditional style of beer that has recently had a renaissance in the Low Countries. Revived single-handedly by Pierre Celis at the Hoegaarden brewery in Belgium, white beer is now brewed at a dozen breweries in Belgium, the Netherlands, Canada, and the United States.

White beer is pale and hazy, with a floral nose. It is light-bodied and delicious. Hop levels are low, but the beer is also spiced with a mixture of spices that varies from one brewer to the next. Coriander is commonly used, as is bitter orange peel. White beer can be more or less tart, caused by a secondary lactic fermentation. This is not a universal practice, however. (Pierre Celis says that acidification is the only really tricky part of the whole brewing process. I agree -- see below.)

Before hops were introduced to Europe in the sixteenth century, beers were flavored with herbs and spices. They were also uniformly dark, top-fermented (ales), and sour. Sour beers, dark beers, ales, and spiced beers are popular in Belgium to this day.

White beer is midway between the old-fashioned types and modern German-style lagers. It is an ale, but as pale and light-bodied as any lager. Its hop and spice levels are low, as in a mild ale or a Munich lager. Acid, where present, is at a refreshing level, but never enough to call sour. Alcohol level is fairly low for a Belgian beer, making this a beer that can be drunk in some quantity as a thirst quencher.

White beer is perishable -- it doesn't ship well and sometimes doesn't even bottle well. When I lived in Brussels, I always liked Hoegaarden best in bottles and Dentergems best on draft. Here in the US, I have never found what I would consider a good bottle of Dentergems. Riva, made in the Netherlands, is also good on draft. I've never had it bottled. Steendonk is nice in bottles, and sometimes available in the US. Blanche de Bruges is OK, but not impressive. There are lots of others, best enjoyed near the brewery.

Pierre Celis himself, after selling the Hoegaarden brewery to Interbrew, a large Belgian brewing company, moved to Texas where he established a small brewery near Austin. There he produces several fine beers, including Celis White, possibly the best example of the style that you can buy in the U.S. Look for it on draft. (Celis recently sold his brewery to Miller, but continues to run it and produce the same beers as he always has. Hopefully, Miller will let him continue to do so.)

As a shot at what the English language might have done if white beer had been an antique English tradition, I call my recipe Whitbeer.

All-grain recipe
Makes 10 gallons
OG 1.045
FG 1.007

To make the sparge easier, I use a double decoction mash. You can use an infusion mash if you prefer. It probably doesn't matter a lot to the flavor of the beer. My decoction procedure is unusual: I start with a thick mash (1 qt/#), but add 2 qt of water in each decoction, bringing the mash into a normal range (1.25 qt/#) for the final rest. This cuts the chance of scorching the decoctions, and leaves the main mash with as much enzymes as possible.

White beer is supposed to be hazy. This is not a yeast haze or a protein haze; it is a starch haze caused by the high amount of unmalted grains in the grist. It took me several tries to get a beer that had a starch haze and yet was not starchy tasting. This is my best shot, and I'm happy with it. Do not do an iodine test. If you do, it will fail -- or ought to, at any rate. Your sparge will be milky white at first, and should never get crystal clear. Don't try to make it do so. Relax, don't worry, and enjoy your white beer.

The spice levels in this recipe are low. I use only 7 HBU hops for 10 gallons, and 1 oz of coriander. You can vary this as you like. I don't acidify my beer. If you like a tart white beer, consider adding lactic acid at bottling/kegging time.

Grain bill: total grist 16#
   7.5# Belgian pilsener malt
   7.0# Brewer's wheat flakes
   1.5# Rolled oats

Mash in with 16 qt water.
Rest 30 minutes at 110F.
First decoction: pull 6 qt of the solid part of the mash,
add 2 qt water, heat to 158F and rest for 20 minutes. Heat to
boiling and boil, stirring constantly, for 15 minutes. Stir
the decoction back into the main mash, which should wind up at
a temperature of about 130-135F. Immediately pull the 
Second decoction, using just the same procedure as the
first. The mash should wind up at 153-156F. If it does not,
add boiling water as required to bring it into this range.
Let the mash rest at 155F for 60 minutes for saccharification.
Don't bother with an iodine test -- it should fail.

Boil for an hour. At start of boil, add:
   7 HBU  Liberty hops (Saaz works well, too)
   1 oz   uncracked coriander seeds

At end of boil, you may wish to add:
   1/4 oz dried bitter orange peel (optional)

Cool to pitching temperature. Pitch a prepared starter of:
   Wyeast Belgian Witbier yeast

Ferment warm (75F). This is a slow-working yeast. It may
take three weeks to ferment out. 

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Smoked chipotle beer (Screw the essay, go straight to the recipe)

Boy, I don't know just what to say about this. Smoked beer, of course, is traditional in some parts of Germany. It's a style I didn't much like at first, but then I tried Rauchenfels Steinbier, which is boiled with white-hot rocks (really!) and has a lightly smoked taste.

You can make smoked beer a lot of ways--I've heard of home brewers smoking their own grain (which end do you light?) with alder wood or mesquite. You can add "liquid smoke" to the fermenter. Or sometimes you can find smoked malt.

Chile beer is hardly traditional, but it can be quite good--there are a few commercial examples, notably Crazy Ed's from Cave Creek, Arizona. I've tried making it once or twice, with more or less success. Chile beer goes well with hamburgers. I like it best when the chile is mild--not enough to burn the back of your throat out.

You can use several kinds of peppers. I've had jalapeño beer. Crazy Ed's uses serranos. And I always wondered about using chipotles, which are smoked jalapeños with a special flavor of their own. (Want to try chipotles? Go to a Mexican market and get a bottle of Bufalo hot sauce. There's a picture of a bison on it. It's chipotle sauce and it goes on everything. Especially burgers. Yum.)

So one day I was at my favorite brewing supply place (B.R.E.W., in San Leandro) and Jim had this bag of English peated malt. Smells like Scotch whisky. So I bought some and made a batch of smoked ale. I used nothing but the peated malt, so the ale came out pretty strong, and although it was interesting, I wouldn't do it again that way.

But there was a problem. I had thought the peated malt would have a low yield, while in fact it has a higher extract efficiency than ordinary pale malt. So after the boil, I had a much higher gravity wort than I expected. In diluting it to the right gravity, I had to split the batch because it wouldn't all fit in my fermenter.

There I was with two batches of smoked beer. Tinkerer that I am, I couldn't just let them be identical--I went into the pantry, got out some dried chipotles, and dropped them into one of the fermenters. Wow. It worked. The regular smoked beer wasn't really great, but this, on the other hand...

Here is how to make it without the trial and error. The only hard part of this recipe is finding the ingredients.

Smoke and Fire
All-grain recipe
Makes 5 gallons
OG 1.048
FG 1.008
Grain bill: total grist 7# 7# English peated malt Mash with 8.75 qt water, raise to 157F, rest 60 minutes. Sparge, top up brew kettle to 6 gallons. At start of boil add: 12 HBU Cluster hops. (Cascades would be interesting) Boil 60 minutes. Cool and pitch a prepared starter of: Wyeast American ale yeast (or just about anything else) After the fermentation begins, blanch 1 oz. dried chipotle peppers in a cup of boiling water. Put peppers, water and all, into the fermenter. This will probably ferment out in a week or two. Remove the peppers before kegging/bottling.

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