Searching for the line between "hobby" and "obsession"

Barking Dog (homebrewery operations)

Getting ready for Oktoberfest

Got my “Osk”toberfest kegged this past weekend (named after one of my dogs, Oscar). I knew my volume was high and that it wasn’t going to fit into just one keg so I ended up cleaning all three out, filling one and then putting the last half gallon or so in another.

I made a mistake, however. I stopped syphoning too late and didn’t have enough volume to get it going again. I had two choices in my mind: I could try to suck the beer through the syphon to get it going again or I could put a funnel on the keg and just pour the last bit in. I went with the latter option, choosing potential for oxidation over potential for infection. In retrospect, I could have syphoned some volume back from the full keg into the carboy, thus allowing me to get the flow going again into keg #2. I probably would have done that if I would have thought of it. I won’t let this happen again, however. I’ll just loose an ounce or two and let the flow continue as I move the syphon hose from one keg to another. (more…)

The neighborhood drank all my saison

I lugged a keg of saison and CO2 out into the street for my neighborhood’s annual National Night Out gathering on 8/7/12. The keg was full, save for maybe two beers I’d pulled off a few days before. Based on years prior, I didn’t expect my neighbors to be big drinkers. I was thinking they’d go through two or maybe three gallons. Once a few people really got to drinking it, the word spread and pretty soon most everyone was giving my saison a try. I was glad, as I think it’s one of the better beers I’ve done. Fermented fully and at a lower temperature so the yeast esters were present but not crazy out of control. Very important, given that this beer had been brewed just 16 days prior.

I’d never seen my neighbors this “social” before! When I grabbed the keg at the end of the night, I was very surprised as to how light it felt… The pic I’ve included here is from a few nights later when I used my Blichman Beer Gun to bottle the rest of the keg. How many bottles were left, you ask? FOUR. Jesus freakin’ H. Christ. The neighborhood downed about 4.5 gallons in about three hours. “Baxter, I’m not mad. I’m impressed!” 

I’ve gotta make more of this stuff. (more…)

Lager time!

Ok, game on. I picked up a 15.3 cubic ft. chest freezer off of Craigslist for $75 and a Johnson Controls temp regulator to turn it into a fridge. You know what that means? Lager time! I’m going to try my hand at an Oktoberfest in the coming weeks and will probably do a dunkel this fall.


Stir plate for growing yeast

I’m lame. Most homebrewers would have the drive, ingenuity and thrift to to build one of these things out of a few magnets and an old hard drive fan. Not me. I just walked into Northern Brewer and dropped $80. Sorry, but case closed. Call me lazy or good at delegation, but now I can focus on making lots of yeast instead of making things to make lots of yeast. Much more interesting. Here’s a similar stir plate to the one I bought that you can find on

The first brew I used this on was for my Malinois Belgian Pale Ale, working the WLP-510 Bastogne ale yeast I’d washing from the sour beer primary into a viable amount to pitch for a 1.049 wort. There was a full 24 hrs. between making this starter and pitching. Fermentation took off within 6 hrs. of pitch at 65* so I think this worked out ok.

The only thing I’ll say is that the upgraded $10 stir bar I bought is as loud as shit unless you turn the speed down pretty low. I still think it’s fast enough but I’d be interested to see next time if the smaller stir bar that came with the plate is quieter. Is the noise worth the extra awesomeness of the larger stir bar? Not sure…

Washing yeast

To complete primary fermentation on the sour beer I brewed near the end of March for my brew club‘s barrel-aging project, the organizer had us use one of two specific types of Belgian yeast: White Labs limited edition WLP-510 Bastogne ale yeast or Wyeast Ardennes ale yeast. Naturally I went for the White Labs product as I freaking hate those smack packs (I can never get them going correctly!).

I knew that I had plans to brew a Belgian pale ale in the weeks to come, so after transferring the batch to secondary, I took it upon myself to do a bit of quick research to figure out how to properly wash and preserve yeast. I watched an annoying but information video made by a guy who probably works as Santa Claus at the local mall over the holidays who was just as over-the-top jolly to match. I’ll spare you the agony of watching that video and outline the basic steps necessary for washing yeast here (let me know if I’m missing something, but I’ll say what I did here seems to be  working great after re-pitching yesterday): (more…)

Bottling the smoked lager

Back in mid-December I decided to try my hand at my second lager, having done primarily ales for the past two years. I chose a rauchbier or smoked lager to brew, as the tradition behind the style intrigues me. The Rauch! Rauch! batch sat in primary for the two remaining weeks of December, then moved into a cold closet near my garage to lager for the month of January and first week of February, eventually moving out into the garage due to an unseasonably warm Minnesota winter this year.

I bottled this beer during the Super Bowl on 2/5/12. I described in detail the extra steps I took to prep the batch to bottle condition in a recent post found here. FG was 1.014 on bottling day before adding the yeast and yeast nutrient solution and 4.4 oz. of priming sugar, bringing this beer to 6.4% ABV. The yeast and nutrient solution made the beer quite hazy for about three or four days after it was bottled, something that was quite disappointing at first as I’d been so patient to let it lager for over a month. After that though, the beer cleared and is looking great a week after bottling. (more…)

How to bottle homebrew

No, I’m not kegging yet. After two solid years of brewing, I still haven’t yet carved out the space in the basement nor the acceptance of my wife to head down that road. I’ve got my process down for bottling and sanitization though. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate these basic rubber vinyl gloves. The way I’ve got my water heater set, my tap water gets to about 122* in the middle of winter. This can make it difficult to wash out bottles with full-on hot water without sorta burning my hands. I finally remembered this fact while on a grocery run and picked up a pair of  tough vinyl brewing gloves like these. Amazing! I don’t have to burn my hands while washing bottles or get bleach all over them when cleaning out a fermenter.

My process for bottling is as follows: (more…)

Cleanin' up the brewery

With a baby on the way, we’ve had a lot of changes happening lately at Barking Dog Brewery. Kicked the band out of the “practice room” downstairs, turned the office upstairs into a nursery and turned the practice room into an office. With all the shifting of space usage, I figured it was time to claim 100% of the “beer room” for my own. Granted, it’s now the “beer and guitar” room so as to consolidate my hobbies into one area, but I’m pretty happy with the result especially because I requisitioned plastic shelves that weren’t serving much purpose in another part of the basement.


Homebrew Apps: Brew Pal

I recently dove head first into 2007 by finally acquiring a smartphone. Yes, the days of whipping out my flip phone at parties and pretending it had a touch screen are finally over. Sigh. Being one for extremes, I decided to get the best god damn smartphone currently on the market, the iPhone 4s. Though I am a bit embarrassed for having migrated to the dark side, there are still brew-centric positives to this move. Notably, I can start trying out some homebrew apps to see if I can better monitor and refine my process.

After listening to this podcast on homebrew software, I decided to go with Brew Pal as my first app. I was looking for something free or cheap (it was $1.07 with tax) that also had good reviews.

I’ll walk you through some of the screens here:


Cherry bomb the stout!

Back on 10/23 (16 days after brew day), I took Snot Snout, my imperial chocolate stout, and transferred it to another primary fermenter. Awaiting in that second vessel were six full pounds of pasteurized, pitted and thawed cherries. Just like with my raspberry wheat batch from last spring, I just used the frozen fruit bags you can easily find at the grocery store. Even if cherries were in season and I would have had to freeze and thaw them before adding to the beer. Buying frozen saves me a step in the process.

One issue I had with the raspberries earlier this year was that they got mushed into a sludge when I heated them up to 170* for 15 min. to pasteurize them. In order to prevent that from happening to the cherries, I took the advice of my buddy Dave who said I should put the cherries into a kettle and then drop that kettle into a larger kettle of water, then boil that water. The cherries were able to heat to the proper temperature while generally maintaining their structural integrity. Good suggestion Dave!

To promote further complexity with Snot Snout, a week after dropping the batch on the cherries I took about 1/3rd cup of french oak chips and soaked them in a cup of California Zinfandel for an hour. Then I poured the Zin/oak mix into another fermenter and transferred the batch over to that vessel. As of this posting, the batch has been aging on the oak chips for a week. I’ll probably let it sit there for another two weeks before bottling. That’ll give it five weeks in the bottle prior to the Christmas release date.


Pitching on an active yeast cake

I planned my wet hop and imperial chocolate cherry stout brew days six days apart and used a relatively versatile yeast strain (WLP051 California V ale) so I could take advantage of the big yeast cake produced by the first when pitching the second batch. The OG of Wet Dog, a wet-hopped pale ale, was 1.057 with 12.5 lbs. of fermentables. The OG of Snot, the imperial chocolate cherry stout I’m brewing for the holidays, was 1.081 with nearly 19 lbs. of fermentable material (prior to the addition of the cherries, which will be added to the secondary fermenter at a later date).

The picture below was taken during the transfer of Wet Dog from primary to secondary onto an ounce of dried cascades picked from my own hop yard on 9/11/11, packaged air-tight and frozen shortly after they were dried. (more…)

Getting ready for fall…

It’s almost September… Start thinking “fall beers!” I clearly have been:

A productive spring

Fraz Wheat, Frosty Dog, Amber, Chasseur de Bruin

Man, it’s FINALLY warming up here in chilly Minnesota. It has taken so long to get to this point that coincidently I had a lot of time to brew these past few months. Further motivation was provided by the fact that my wife and I will be going to Europe very soon (my first time), and I don’t anticipate having much time to brew until maybe late-June, but more likely not until mid-July. As a result, I hit it hard in March/April, having brewed something crazy like five batches in seven weeks. Considering I did a total of only eight batches in all of 2010, this spring has indeed been quite intense. (more…)

Commercial bottle re-useage: It's all in the glue

As an avid homebrewer, I’m always interested in maintaining or adding to my bottle inventory. However, I’ve found through painful experience that I must be discerning when choosing which used bottles I attempt to salvage.

First, I should say that it’s usually a pain in the ass to reuse bottles that weren’t adequately washed out in the minutes following their consumption. Beer is actually kind of sugary in nature when you really break it down, and sticks to the bottom of a bottle like a mother fucker. I have some bottles filled with a bleach solution right now that I’m attempting to save. We’ll see if that works.

Second, not just any bottle can be reused. I’m not interested in bottles of wacky shapes and sizes or with “Samuel Adams” or “Summit” molded into the glass, and it should probably go without saying that I can’t use screw-off bottles. With all that said, I perceive the smaller the brewery, the more likely they are to use less effective adhesives in attaching labels to their bottles. In my head, I attribute this perception to the fact that most small brewers started as homebrewers and still remember how cool it is if you can reuse a bottle of their commercial brew for your homebrew. That’s probably just in my head, though.

Since a percentage of my purchase decisions honestly hinges on bottle reusage (not an overwhelming percentage, maybe 15%? Worth mentioning though), I decided recently to find out if my perception was in fact reality. Here are the brewers of the three bottles I examined: (more…)

Attempting to harvest yeast…

I got inspired by the Nordeast homebrew club guys after my last brew session and decided to try and harvest my own yeast. Normally I just wash the yeast cake down the drain after I transfer the batch, but I figured I’d try to save myself a few bucks and see if I could maintain the same yeast strain for a few batches. This attempt to harvest the Belgian Wit yeast used for the SaiSon of a Bitch batch fit especially well with my brewing plans, as I am going to brew multiple saison batches this year.

SOB in the foreground about to be transferred, In the Name of doG fermenting away in the background.

After doing all my sanitation due diligence, I got a majority of the yeast cake from primary into a beaker, sealed it up and stuck it in the fridge to pull the yeast out of suspension. Later that evening, I was reading online and people were saying it’s better to harvest the cake after secondary, not primary as there is more trub and non-yeast particles in the primary cake. After everything settled a few hours later, I went down to the basement fridge to check out the sample for darker brown undesirable flecks. I was greeted by a fermenting sample that had blown the top off the beaker. Whoops! Live and learn. Yeast is too active still to be harvested from the primary fermenter. Noted.

I still plan to try and grab some of the saison yeast off the secondary when I bottle that batch this coming weekend. We’ll see if it explodes again… Anyone have any tips on harvesting yeast? Am I doing this completely wrong? Please let me know.


Comparable Yeast Strains Chart

I’m starting to wade into the very beginnings of thinking about possibly considering potentially developing my own recipes (If that statement doesn’t exude confidence I don’t know what would). In digging around, I found this Should I Brew That? blog, which had a great conversion chart for Wyeast vs. White Labs yeast strains.Very helpful. I’ll have to dig around more on that blog.

Here’s the chart:


Making a Yeast Starter

Making a yeast starter is essentially like making a mini-un-hopped batch of basic beer and inoculating it with the yeast you’ve purchased so they can begin to eat the sugars in the mini-batch of beer and reproduce. When you finally pitch this mini-batch of beer with all the additional yeast cells into the actual batch of beer you’re brewing, fermentation will begin much sooner and with much more vigor than it otherwise would if you’d just pitched the yeast you purchased directly into your batch of beer. There are many advantages to a vigorous and timely fermentation.

I’ve made yeast starters for my last two batches of beer, so I thought I’d photo-document the process the third time around. I’ll be brewing a Scottish 80/- Export Ale tomorrow (the 80/- means 80 shillings, which is how much a beer of this style and alcoholic strength was taxed when it was popular a few hundred years ago). I had a lot of success with the last yeast starter I did. Fermentation on that batch of coffee stout took off like a rocket, so I’d like to give every batch I brew that opportunity to succeed going forward. Nobody likes a sluggish fermentation. (more…)

Bottling Day Begs the Question: To Keg or Not to Keg?


Off-leash Coffee Stout batch, bottled New Years Day 2011

Ahh bottling day… part three of what makes a batch of beer happen. When bottling day rolls around, your beer has already had some time to mellow out in the secondary fermenter for (depending on the style being brewed) weeks to months. Right now I’m lagering a – shocker – LAGER that I brewed back at the beginning of December. I’m not really sure when I’ll throw in the towel and bottle that batch. Probably whenever I get anxious enough to taste it and when I want to make that secondary fermenter available for a different batch. I’m guessing I’ll last another month or so before I cave (the recipe recommended lagering it for anywhere from 3-12 weeks and it’s only just been three this weekend).

Clean those bottles

Anyway – bottling day. Back on January 1st I bottled a batch of coffee stout that was brewed three weeks prior. Essentially, bottling day entails siphoning the batch from secondary to the bottling bucket and then filling each bottle by hand. You boil roughly a cup of sugar in a few cups of water for 10-15 min. to sterilize it and then mix this sugar solution in with the beer as you transfer the batch to the bottling bucket. The reason for doing this is because once you bottle the sugared beer, the yeast left in the brew will jump at the chance to eat some additional unfermented sugars since, at this point in the process they have exhausted all sugar supplied by the wort weeks ago. Since this all happens in a closed/bottled environment, there isn’t anywhere for the CO2 bi-product of fermentation to go, so the beer carbonates itself in the bottle. This is known as “bottle conditioning.” Some micro and craft breweries will tout that a beer has been “bottle conditioned” as opposed to the beer having been carbonated in what is essentially a massive keg, or a “bright tank.”

I sanitize bottles by running them through the dishwasher (without soap, as the oils in soap kill head retention in beer) and steam clean them. Then I’ll dip them in some no-rinse sanitizer solution just before I fill them. It also helps that I generally am pretty good about washing out bottles fairly soon after they are open and poured. This way, no sticky beer residue has time to settle in the bottles and become a pain when it’s time to sanitize them for the next batch. Bottle caps are sanitized by boiling them for 10-15 min. in a separate pot. I’ve got a clamp capper so one by one, I cap the full batch. (more…)

After brew day… now what?

Siphoning Snaggletooth IPA from primary to secondary

There is more to brewing beer than brew day. Most of my posts tagged as “batches” should provide a (overly?) detailed synopsis of a brew day. Sure, brew day is the most important day in the entire process where attention to detail is of the utmost importance, but there are two other milestones in the process that get the beer from grain to glass.

Once fermentation slows and the airlock on the carboy is only bubbling every 10 seconds or so (should happen between 5 and 10 days after you pitch the yeast, thought this has always happened closer to 5 for me), it’s time to start thinking about transferring the beer from the primary fermentation vessel to the secondary.The purpose of this transfer is to take the beer off of the dead/dormant yeast cells and proteins, or trub, that have collected at the bottom of the primary fermenter during fermentation. If you leave the beer sitting on the trub for too long (some say more than a month is bad), some off-flavors could be perceived in the finished product as a result.

You can know for sure that the time is right to transfer to secondary by taking gravity readings of your fermenting wort. I do this using a refractometer instead of a hydrometer for three reasons: (more…)

All-Grain Here I Come!

Here we go. I decided to make a leap into a whole different (and intimidating to many a seasoned extract brewer)mash tun supplies world of brewing. All-grain. I watched hours of video online of guys brewing all-grain to make sure I knew exactly what I’d be getting into.

I already had purchased a 10 gal. kettle back in October, so now what I needed was a mash tun. The liquid extract batches I’ve been brewing up until this point haven’t necessitated a mash tun because the “mashing” or “steeping” of all the grains is already done for you and condensed into thick syrupy liquid form. I wanted to start all-grain brewing so I could eventually deviate from recipes and develop my own beers as I come to understand how malts, hops and yeast work together to create a unique finished product. (more…)

Paw Prints

My wife had the great idea of etching a paw print on each bottle. I’d been thinking about labels since about the time Istarted brewing. The thought of working so hard to develop them and spending money on printing them off for eachPaw stencil batch was a bit of a deterrent, but then when you add in the fact that I’d be scraping a lot of these labels off only to pay for, print and apply new ones was far too daunting.

Michelle’s glass etching idea is perfect for my situation. It gets the “branding” point across and stays on forever through infinite cleanings. The only problem is that the bottles don’t differentiate the brew. I will continue to mark all the bottle caps with the brew’s initials to differentiate multiple batches from one another.



New Equipment

After visiting Summit Brew Co. and brewing the pumpkin ale batch the weekend prior, I decided to make a more firm commitment to a life of brewing. I bought a nice 10 gallon boil kettle with a ball valve and thermometer so I would be able to do full-boil batches instead of partial boils (where you essentially brew 2.5 gallons of condensed beer and water it down with another 2.5 gallons of water when you put it into the fermentor) and a propane burner so I could take the bulk of operations out to the garage (my wife is not nearly enough of a beer fan to like the smell of boiling malted barley and hops).

I figured the kettle would provide me plenty of room to eventually grow into – gasp – all-grain brewing. With 10 gallons of potential volume, I have plenty of room to fill ‘er up with 7 gallons at the start of the boil and get down to just about 5.5 gal. in a typical 60 min. boil time.

The picture to the right shows the kettle and burner in action for the very first time, doing the Sammy’s Golden Porter batch on 10/23/10.

CUJO SPICE Promo Poster

Here’s a little promo I made for CUJO SPICE:

(and I actually was able to have the first beer from this batch on Halloween, pretty cool!)

The beer in primary there is actually the Cujo batch, too. I got Leinie to lick the pumpkin by slathering it with butter.