Friday Beer Blogging: Make It Yourownself (Plus BONUS Cat Blogging with FLAIR)

By popular demand, this week we raise a chipped stein to the folks who get their beer the old-fashioned way: by making it theirownselves.

Homebrew 3

A short story; bear with me. Picture a freshman dorm in Colorado. Two friends have to run out to the homebrew supplier so it’s up to me to watch ten gallons of boiling, stinking pumpkin beer mash. For those of you who aren’t brewers, that’s roughly what it would smell like if Halloween died in a hot, sealed room and stayed there for a week. Rachel, a feared RA who loved nothing more than to bust students doing outlawed things like brewing beer, wanders in holding her nose.

“Whad are you doing?”
“Uh, ”
“Cooking dinner.”
“Seembs like a lod…”
“Whad is dat?”
“…Gazpacho. Ukranian pumpkin stew. It’s a family specialty. Want to try some?”
“Your loss. Sorry about the smell.”

I like to think that some day in the future she grabbed a waiter at a fine restaurant and declared, “I’ve seen gazpacho, and THAT’S NOT GAZPACHO.” Or something to that effect. The beer was worth the wait.

Have a secret recipe? A yeast/malt/hops combination that shames Rochefort #10? Have at it in the comments.


In the spirit of making it yourownself, this week’s non-beer alternative is glogg, a Swedish holiday drink that’s served like tea. Goes to your head faster than warm sake if you’re not careful.

glogg 2

You can find a classic recipe here, but you can do just as well with a neutral alcohol like vodka, some sugar and whole ripe fruit of your choice. Mix the alcohol, sugar and fruit in a large mason jar, leave in a closet and forget about it for a year or so. Then add spices and serve warm. Alternatively, a friend with a pear tree simply pulls pears off his tree, steeps them in vodka for a year and serves it cold in a shotglass. Delicious. His favorite trick is to tie a narrow-mouthed jar to the pear bud and let the pear grow inside it.


Bonus links:

* Beer and microscopes with polarizing condensers. Cool.
* Find about more about homebrewing from the American Homebrewers Association.
* Image sources: here, and here.

*** Update ***

[from John] A Friday twofer: Beerblog, plus Cat Blogging (with flair!)

Tunch on the printer posing.

Posing is hard work.

31 replies
  1. 1
    John Cole says:

    When I lived in germany, there is a traditional holiday liquor that is served with a pear. I can not, for the life of me, remember the name.

    That may be because of the elevated proof of the drink…

  2. 2
    Marcus Wellby says:

    HA! The only thing that can compete with the smell of homebrewing is the gas that your body passes after consuming said homebrew.

    I once had an apartment above a guy who brewed his own “amber bach” (which was neither amber nor bach) and across from an Indian family that cooked all hours of the night. Needless to say the fact that I did no saw off my own nose is a miracle.

  3. 3
    Jcricket says:

    Blecch, homebrew. I’ve never had a good home brewed beer. Give me a good old PBR or Iron City maxi-brew anyday.

    In the, It’s Friday IOKIYAR/let’s laugh at Santorum department

  4. 4
    rilkefan says:

    The German holiday drink I know is Feuerzangenbowle, which involves setting fire to a bowl of red wine and high-proof rum containing cinammon and cloves and citrus and zest and melting sugar into it.

  5. 5
    guyermo says:


    My girlfriend can’t think of it either, and she’s German. Right now, all she can think of that are close are birnenlikör, quittenlikör and Berentzen. But then she’s not a big drinker.

  6. 6
    stickler says:

    Our mission to improve public education is clearly failing.

    HA! The only thing that can compete with the smell of homebrewing is the gas that your body passes after consuming said homebrew. I once had an apartment above a guy who brewed his own “amber bach” (which was neither amber nor bach)

    What? Homebrewing smells like boiling malt and hops. I’ve had gas — the smell is not, remotely, antyhing like the smell of malt and hops. Unless you’re homebrewing Rotten Garbage Pale Ale.

    I think Mr. Wellby meant to say “amber BOCK”, which is a kind of lager beer. Bach is a dead composer. If the spelling was correct, however, this might have something to do with Mr. Wellby’s olfactory confusion. And the neighbor was a mass murderer.

  7. 7
    stickler says:

    When I lived in germany, there is a traditional holiday liquor…

    Stop right there. In most parts of Germany, the traditional “holiday” liquor (because every day is a holiday over there) is usually the local form of firewater, schnaps, distilled from fruit somehow. In the Rhineland this can be pear or cherry (Birnen- oder Kirschschnaps, Kirschwasser). In Austria they use little apricots called Marillen, or they use a bitter little plum from a wild tree, usually called Zwetschken (same thing, further south, is called Slivovitz). In desolate, cold Prussia sorry, Brandenburg, they often skip any pretence of fruit and just serve distilled grain alcohol called Korn.

    Whatever the firewater, it seems to be regarded by Germans and Austrians as good for: circulation, headache, digestion, indigestion, insomnia, ennui, mania, nervousness, and hair loss. Rural dwellers, especially older farmers, are prone to offer you a snort at the slightest provocation. Often it is home-distilled. In such cases it might taste like kerosene; this effect disappears after the third dose.

  8. 8
    demimondian says:

    I’ll go beyond stickler — if your fermenting wort doesn’t smell like slightly overintense bread with funny overtones, then you’re doing something wrong. Wort smells *good* — but FDDD won’t help me brew anymore. For some reason, she says that the level of cleanliness involved in successful homebrewing is too much like lab work.

  9. 9
    Pb says:

    When Cats Drink. Next, on Balloon Juice!

  10. 10
    Jack Roy says:

    This may be the single greatest post in the history of blogging. A Norse holiday drink that may or may not rhyme with “blog” (but probably sounds more like “glug”) and cat pictures.

    I am humbled.

  11. 11
    jobiuspublius says:

    My only interest in home brewing is Guiness. Unless, it’s possible to get stouter.

  12. 12
    stickler says:


    Stouter than Guinness? Yes, it’s possible. Much stouter, in fact. Guinness is actually fairly tame by “stout” standards, its alcohol level isn’t much above your average lager.

    Next time you’re in the store, look for an “Imperial Stout,” and that will open your eyes. North Coast in California brews Old Rasputin and I think its alcohol content is around 9%; it’s pretty sweet, malty and roasty. You generally can ease off after one, unless you want to experience horizontality.

    And if you’re brewing your own, the sky’s the limit. This month’s Zymurgy lists some of the strongest beers in the world, and you’re free to emulate them if you’d like. I think the strongest is around 24%.

  13. 13
    Tim F. says:

    If you want strong, you need to think about barleywine. Sierra Nevada makes a good one (Bigfoot?) which should be available nationwide. Don’t try making it, though, unless you truly know what you’re doing. Very hard recipe to get right.

  14. 14
    jobiuspublius says:

    I think I had Imperial Stout once. Pitch Black beer, white label w/ gold lettering, something about the official beer of her majestie’s troops written on it? It had a hard liqour vibe to it. I prefer Guiness. Doh, I thought stoutness refered to something having to do with the darkness of a beer.

  15. 15
    stickler says:

    Actually, barley wines aren’t all that hard to brew. You just have to pay attention to sanitation and yeast. (The easiest style to homebrew, by the way, is stout: since it’s so dark, cloudiness issues are less of a problem.)

    For a big beer, you have to pitch a whale of a lot of yeast. One smack-pack isn’t going to be enough. But if you can get a yeast starter going, it’ll ferment just fine.

    Sierra Nevada brews the granddaddy of West Coast barley wines, big on the hops and big on the alcohol. But there are a bazillion of ’em out there. Every microbrewer nowadays considers it an unavoidable test of their manhood to brew a big beer. If your local brewpub doesn’t have it on tap, ask the man behind the bar if they have a stash laid up.

  16. 16
    stickler says:

    Doh, I thought stoutness refered to something having to do with the darkness of a beer.

    No, though it’s a reasonable assumption. “Stout” was originally a type of “porter,” popular in London and Dublin in the late 1700s. A “stout porter” was just a stronger beer. Porter was notoriously consumed all day long by stevedores and, well, porters, so it was pretty weak beer. The stouter version was stronger in alcohol. Even though Guinness isn’t actually all that strong.

    Beer history is fascinating but it doesn’t always make much sense.

  17. 17
    demimondian says:

    In modern terms, a stout is largely differentiated from a porter by virtue of the inclusion of scorched…err, I mean, toasted barley. Porter mashes contain choclate malt, which gives them their dark brown color and strong caramel flavor. Stouts incolude toasted barley in addition, which give them a black color and a slightly burnt taste.

    I don’t like ’em.

    As to “stouter”, that depends what you mean? Blacker? I don’t know of any commercial brews that run much darker than Guinness, but I imaging you could add more barley to a mash, to make a darker beer. More alcoholic? There are several mechanisms, including making a wort with more sugar in it to begin with (and fermenting with a champagne yeast instead of a beer strain), or by making a very intense lager and then ice-distilling it. (Which is a German and northern European tradition.)

    Me, I hate ’em all — pale ale for me, with lots of dry hopped goodness!

  18. 18
    demimondian says:

    One smack-pack isn’t going to be enough. But if you can get a yeast starter going, it’ll ferment just fine.

    Yeah — to get high alcohol content, you need to really smash the wort hard. I usually make up a half-gallon dextrose culture the night before I’m going to brew, and pitch the entire slurry into the primary fermenter if I’m going to go for a high starting gravity, high final alcohol content beer.

  19. 19
    Perry Como says:

    Been debating the “brew your own” idea for a couple years now. The best hefe I ever had was from an old boss who swears he made it by accident (couldn’t repeat it if he’d tried). Open a bottle and you immediately smelled bananas in the room, but the beer itself was not fruity.

    What are the pros/cons of homebrewing?

  20. 20

    So, will the white kitty be in the COTC? ;)

  21. 21
    danelectro says:

    i’ve done about 5-6 batches, all extract. the last couple were beer clones from maltose express. i can’t seem to get it right, though. i think i need to apprentice for awhile.

  22. 22
    jobiuspublius says:

    On the lighter end of the beer spectrum, I like Hoegaarden, not Heineken. Heineken has a weedy(not weedy like pot, which, would suck anyway) aroma/taste. Although, Heinekin dark ain’t bad, but, not Guiness. It’s better than the dark variant of Yeungling. And that self foaming crap in a can sucks. Glass bottle and no widgets, please.

    I suspect Guiness has a relatively high iron content. One, it has barley. Which, IIRC, is rich in iron. Two, my taste buds said so. Three, I can feel some relief from it after sleep deprivation the way I do with beef(also high in iron). Sleep deprivation causes iron deprivation, I heard from a guy who sleeps no more than 5 hours a day. He goes to the doctor for an iron shot every 6 months or so for it. The shots pep him right up.

    Out of curiosity, can corn syrup be used to make beer? If so, beer could be made from the malt drinks found in BO-DAY-GUZ? :)

  23. 23
    BIRDZILLA says:

    We had a white cat that would lay around our front pourch with the tip of his tougne sticking out and we even had a dog that would sit on one of our cats

  24. 24
    ppGaz says:

    Okay, I’m just a shined up cowpoke from Arizona, but I am confused about the cat. I thought that was John’s cat?

  25. 25
    demimondian says:

    ppg — notice that the print is blue? That’s John commenting.

    And that’s a *bi-ig* cat.

  26. 26
    ppGaz says:

    ppg—notice that the print is blue? That’s John commenting.


  27. 27
    demimondian says:


    Out of curiosity, can corn syrup be used to make beer?

    I think this is a set-up for the next line, but I’m going to take it seriously anyway. (So there.)

    You can make a “fermented drink” from almost any sugar syrup. Extract beers, for instance, use barley malt syrup instead of (or in addition to) a grain mash. (And, yes, slummer that I am, I make them in addition to pure mash brews. They’re a lot less work, and can be indistinguishable from mach beers,. Unfortunately, there are some corners of the beer style space which are kind of hard to explore with extracts.) Corn syrup, though, merely ups the final alcohol level in the result without adding much flavor. If you’re making a very light “American-style pilsner”, that’s what you’d add to your wort to stabilize the resulting drink.

  28. 28
    Steve S says:

    This made me laugh so much. Gazpacho! HAHA! I love it!

  29. 29
    stickler says:

    Regarding the corn syrup and bodegas, actually I remember reading about just such an experiment last year. In BYO magazine, maybe. The result, apparently, was like a cross between ginger ale and mead.

    But as demimondian points out, if it has sugar that yeast can digest, it will ferment. An old tale which is probably true is that your orange juice in your fridge has already started to ferment and has measurable alcohol by day #3 after opening. Yeast is everywhere, which is probably how our nomadic ancestors discovered alcohol in the first place.

    Danelectro complains:

    i’ve done about 5-6 batches, all extract. the last couple were beer clones from maltose express. i can’t seem to get it right, though. i think i need to apprentice for awhile.

    Well, I had the same problem back in 1993 when I started, and my beers improved after a while. Here are a few early discoveries which helped enormously:

    – Sanitation. Be clean. You’re not doing open-heart surgery, but pay attention to what you’re touching and how clean things are. If you’re bottling, make sure the bottles are both clean (no crud) and sanitized (no micro-organisms).
    – Don’t use bleach. Ever. Use one of the modern sanitation methods, and no-rinse is best. Iodophor, tri-star, star-san, etc.
    – Pitch lots of yeast. Lots of it. Get the Wyeast smack-packs, or learn how to get a yeast starter going.
    – If you’re using extract, ignore the recipes which call for dark or amber malt. Only use pale malt, and if you want color/flavor, order specialty grains for it. Amber/dark malts (for me, YMMV) always left a sort of weird extract “tang” in the flavor profile. Alexander’s Pale Malt is the gold standard of pale: no color at all.

    Finally, start with a style you like and that’s easy to brew. Don’t start out with lagers unless you have a fermentation fridge (used, probably about $50, BTW). Do stouts, brown ales, or maybe a hefeweizen (very fast fermentation, and hey, it’s supposed to be cloudy anyhow!). Get good with a style you like and then branch out.

  30. 30
    demimondian says:

    I’l largely agree with stickler. The only advice I’d contradict is the “be clean, but not obsessive” recommendation. I always recommend that one be obsessive. Scrub everything that can be scubbed. Assume that the germs are everywhere — since they are — and that all they want in life is to make your next batch into rope — which they do. Heat sterilize all glass items. Etc. Etc. Etc. (Now you know why FDDD thinks that brewing with me is like lab work.)

    The big advantage of that is predictability. You can control the temperatures, you can control the gravity, you can control the yeast. You can’t control the beasties in the air, except by getting rid of them.

    I would start with a high alcohol porter as a learning batch. The bitterness and caramel flavor will hide mistakes, and the alcohol will stabilize the beer. Move off that as you get better.

  31. 31
    Johno says:

    Demimondian is right that it’s good to be fanatical at first. Over time you may (or may not, depending on your temperment) decide that you can chill out about some things. I mean, no matter what you do, a few (hundred) bacteria are probably going to end up in your wort (raw beer). But the alcohol and low pH of the beer will kill or enervate most strains enough that they will never show up as a problem.

    Can you go that last mile and kill every bug dead? No. And since homebrewing is supposed to be fun, I say don’t bother. Be sanitary, clean every surface and keep you hands sanitized while you work, but don’t drive yourself insane. That being said, I still clean the kitchen real well before brewing, and the bathroom too since I put the brewpot in the bathtub with ice to cool down. You can’t totally kill all the beasties, but it’s not wise to invite them in for dinner either.

    If any of you out there do extract brewing, here’s a very nice recipe for my Extra Special Bitter:

    6.6 lbs (2 cans) light liquid malt extract
    1/2 lb crystal malt, 60L
    1/2 lb caramunich malt, ~40L
    1 pkg water crystals
    1.25 oz Northern Brewer hops (pellet)- bittering
    1 oz East Kent Goldings hops (whole)- aroma
    1 oz East Kent Goldings hops (whole)- dry hopping
    1 pkg dry Windsor yeast

    Steep specialty grains for 1 hour at 165 +/-5 degrees in 1 gallon water. Bring 2 gallons water to boil in your brew kettle and add the steeping liquid. Add malt extract and water crystals and return to boil. Add Northern Brewer and start a 60-minute timer. At 50 min add 1 ounce EKG in a muslin bag and boil 10 minutes.

    Rehydrate your yeast (if using dry) in 8 oz water at 85 degrees and let cool to 70. Cool your wort to 70 degrees and add boiled or distilled water as necessary to make up 5 gallons total, strain, and aerate. Pitch yeast. After 1 week rack to secondary and dry-hop with 1 oz EKG, or just add hops to primary and let sit two more weeks.

    If I hadn’t broken my dang ol’ hygrometer, I’d give you starting and finishing gravity readings, but I can’t, so tough luck.

    I like the Windsor for this recipe for the soft, estery maltiness it leaves. You can surely use a liquid if you want… Wyeast 1028 (London Ale) or 1968 (ESB) or White Labs English Ale or British Ale would surely work, as long as there is noticeable residual maltiness and estery characteristics.

    You can also sub in some regular Crystal 40L malt for the Caramunich if you desire, and maybe throw in a couple-few ounces of Crystal 80L for fun without throwing off the flavor profile.

    … tomorrow is stout day. Brew up a big old batch of stout and then sit down with a nice sixpack of microbrew to watch my beloved Browns try to stay alive against the hated (yet loveable; wife from Pittsburgh) Steelers. That’s what I call a good day. Especially if the Browns win.

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