Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Analysis of beer

As a scientist and as a brewer, I can't help but try to combine the two. I've done some informal analysis of my beer (aside from tasting and metabolizing it), but since I'm not a professional brewer or a brewing scientist, I can't justify investing a lot of time and money into analyzing my beer.

I would love to get a copy of "Methods of Analysis of the American Society of Brewing Chemists." There are all sorts of interesting things in there. This resource covers thing such as:
  1. Barley
  2. Malt
  3. Adjunct Materials
  4. Cereals
  5. Sugars and Syrups
  6. Brewers' Grains
  7. Hops
  8. Wort
  9. Beer
  10. Flavored Alcohol Beverages
  11. Microbiology
  12. Yeast
  13. Microbiological Control
  14. Filter Aids
  15. Packages and Packaging Materials
  16. Bottles
  17. Bottle Closures
  18. Cans
  19. Fills
  20. Sensory Analysis
  21. Statistical Analysis


  • Tables for Extract Determination in Malt and Cereals
  • Tables Related to Determinations on Wort, Beer, and Brewing Sugars and Syrups

Granted, that is waaaaaaaay more than I as a homebrewer would ever need, and it costs about $650. This is designed for the professional brewer who needs to make a living brewing beer. There is no way in the world I can get something like this, but it sure would be cool.

I am going to grow my own hops this year. I did last summer, but I built a shed on top of them and I doubt they will survive. I'd love to be able to measure the amount of alpha acids present in my own hops. I'm sure I can figure out how to do this, but I've always been a fan of not reinventing wheels.

I also want to measure the amount of unfermented sugars left in my beer. I could easily do this using the "phenol/sulfuric acid test," but again, why reinvent the wheel.

So, if you have a copy of "Methods of Analysis of the American Society of Brewing Chemists" and want to give it to me for zero dollars and zero cents, please feel free. I'll pay shipping.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

And the winner is....


I decided to make something light and refreshing. Something as clean and crisp and as a cleansing as a spring rain.

A little bit about kölsch. Technically, I cannot call it "kölsch" unless I go to Köln (Cologne) Germany and brew it there. That's not likely, but it would be awesome. A kölsch-styled beer is a lightly hopped, straw-colored ale that pretends to be a lager. This is what I will make.

I have 4 different batches in the pipeline right now. So, this endeavor will have to wait for a few weeks. I will keep you posted.

I also need to research recipes. BYO magazine had some good suggestions a few issues ago. I may look at those and formulate something.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


In the last 5 days I have brewed three batches of beer. A dark lager and a cream ale twice.

I experimented with my cream ale. As it turns out a number of my friends and family loved my first batch. So, I decided to do two batches back to back and experiment a little.

The difference between the two is:

In the first I used Yakima Magnum as the bittering hop and in the second I used Northern Brewer.

In the first I added 4 oz of maltodextrin. In the second I added none.

I want to see what difference the hops and maltodextrin make. Everything else was the same.

In other words, I am fine-tuning this recipe and hope to have it perfected soon. When I do, I'll need to name it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The sound of broken glass...

I have the uncanny knack of identifying lab glassware by the sound it makes when it lands and breaks on the floor.

I amaze my students when I hear them drop something and identify what it was without seeing it. I get the chance to practice this a lot in General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry labs. It is mostly beakers and flasks, but there are distinct differences between the different types of glassware used in lab.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Time to buy some Boston Lager

My new beer hero is Jim Koch. This doesn't directly affect me or most fellow homebrewers, but for the small craft brewers out there it will. Sam Adams is selling off (at cost) their excess hops. During our current hops shortage, that is very good news. See the following:

From: Jim Koch/Hop Sharing [mailto:Hop.Sharing@bostonbeer.com]
Sent: Thursday, February 14, 2008 9:22 AM
Subject: Boston Beer Hop Sharing

"For a couple of months now, we've all been facing the unprecedented hops shortage and it's affected all craft brewers in various ways. The impact is even worse on the small craft brewers--openings delayed, recipes changed, astronomical hops prices being paid and brewers who couldn't make beer.

So we looked at our own hops supplies at Boston Beer and decided we could share some of our hops with other craft brewers who are struggling to get hops this year. We're offering 20,000 pounds at our cost to brewers who need them.

Specifically, we are able to spare 10,000 pounds of East Kent Goldings from Tony Redsell, a top English grower featured by Michael Jackson in Michael Jackson's Beer Companion (page 75 has a picture) and 10,000 pounds of the German Noble hop Tettnang Tettnanger from small farms in the Tettnang region in Germany. These are both type 90 pellets from the 2007 crop and are the exact same hops we brew our own beers with. We're not looking to make money on this so we're selling them at our cost of $5.72 a pound plus $.75 a pound to cover shipping and handling for the Goldings and $5.42 per pound plus $.75 a pound to cover shipping and handling for the Tetts.

They're packed in 22# foil bags, boxed four bags to a box in 88 lb. boxes and will be shipped from cold storage.The purpose of doing this is to get some hops to the brewers who really need them. So if you don't really need them, please don't order them. And don't order them just because we're making them available at a price way below market. Order them because you need these hops to make your beer. We're not asking questions, so let your conscience be your guide.A few mechanics--until we know how much need there is, we've put a maximum out there of 6 boxes per brewer, which is 528 pounds. You can order less in 88 pound increments. You pay shipping.

If we get more orders than the 20,000 pounds, we'll have a lottery. We will be putting the basic information to order, some faqs and the actual offer on our website www.samueladams.com in the next day or so, probably no later than Tuesday. Look for "Hop-Sharing Program" on the front page of the site.We hope this will make brewing a little easier for those hardest hit by the hop shortage."

Jim Koch, Boston Beer Company

This proves to me that the Boston Beer Company is not about dominating the craft brew industry, but assuring its survival and ability to flourish. Check out their website.

I drink a toast of Boston Lager to Jim tonight.

Thanks to my sister-in-law for pointing this out to me, even though she should be busy planning a move instead of reading beer blogs :)

Basement lagering

Lager beers should be fermented and aged at low temperatures. Depending on the yeast, the beer should be fermented at about 45-55°F. This requires a spare refrigerator and temperature controller. That is something I do not currently have.[1] As a poor but necessary substitute I take advantage of the cold Minnesota winters to lager.[2] Placing the carboy in a closet on a cement basement floor gets the fermentation down to 56-60°F. That's not perfect, but it works, sort of. I have made a number of lagers this way and have always been content with the product.

The fermentation is not as "clean"[3], but it is still fine beer. I drink it. It is not as crisp as a real lager, but I drink it. It tends to be hazier, but I drink it.

Another important step in making a lager correctly is the "lagering." Lagering is done after fermentation is complete. Usually the beer is transfered to a secondary and cooled to 34-40°F. This is stored at this temp for up to 2 weeks. During this time, the beer "cleans up." Chemically the goal is to allow the levels of diacetyl, acetaldehyde and sulfur compounds to decrease.

One trick homebrewers can do is allow the fermented beer to warm to room temperature for a couple days before lagering. This is called a diacetyl rest and allows the yeast to convert acetolactic acid into valine instead of converting it into diacetyl (a.k.a. butadione). This helps clean up the beer.

Yesterday I brewed a dark lager. Something along the lines of a Beck's Dark. It is fermenting at 60°F right now in my basement. We are at the start of another cold streak, so that temp should drop further as the current cold arctic blast removes kinetic energy from my house.

[1] this summer will be spent watching the classifieds for a free refrigerator :) I hope to have lagering capabilities by the end of summer.
[2] just like the good old days when lagering was invented.
[3] what a "clean" fermentation is could be debated.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

30000 page views

Wow, I just hit 30,000 page views. Hooray for my little blog!!!!
Cheers everyone!!!!!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

You decide 2008 (the beer, that is)

I'm heading to Minneapolis for a conference to make me real good at learnin' my students good. While there, I will be stopping at my brewing supply house. Since these trips are few and far between, I need to plan ahead. I usually try to plan 4-5 batches in advance.

A recent cream ale I made was fantastic, but I made the mistake of sharing it. All I got out of it was half a case. I have got to stop sharing my good stuff. I plan on getting supplies to do two batches of it. Some to share and some to hoard.

Beyond that, I can't decide what to brew. So, I thought I'd let you the reader decide what I should brew next.

Which style of beer should I brew and why?

I will choose the best idea and brew that style. You will get nothing but the satisfaction of knowing you helped me decide. You will get none of the beer. Sorry :(

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Not so unrealistic after all

I've been a bit under the weather lately. Nothing serious and nothing 4 mg of loperamide HCl couldn't fix. I wanted to blog about the cyclopentene post I made, but I haven't gotten around to it.[1] Now I'm feeling better.[2]

Enough about me. Let's talk about the dehydration of cyclohexanol. As it turns out, I probably should not have been too surprised at the results. From the comments and an email I got from my brother including an attached paper from Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Research[3] it is clear that the formation of methylcyclopentenes during the acid catalyzed dehydration of cyclohexanol is entirely reasonable.

In hindsight, I should not have been so surprised. Before divulging my ignorance to the world, I should have mulled it over. Oh well.

What I've learned is that having colleagues in Organic chemistry would be nice. I teach in a 2 person department. My colleagues is an Inorganic chemist. He is great at what he does, but we find it difficult to have discussions on advanced topics in organic or inorganic chemistry. Neither of us knows enough about the other's area to be any good.

I love teaching where I teach, but I miss the impromptu discussions that occur between chemists. My substitute for that is this blog. I may continue to post questions that could easily be resolved with a discussion with another organic chemist. My goal is to learn even at the risk of exposing my ignorance.

[1] I also wanted to bottle all of my beer, but I only got 2 of the 3 batches done.
[2] Sadly my 2-year old is not.
[3] I gotta be honest, I'm not a regular reader of what I'm sure is a fine journal.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Explain this one to me...

In my organic lab this week my students did the classic elimination reaction of cyclohexanol to form cyclohexene. The reaction is easy.

The cyclohexanol is mixed with some phosphoric acid and refluxed for a bit and the cyclohexene product is distilled. A second distillation with a toluene chaser is used to purify the product. I analyzed the products with GC-MS. The GC-MS showed what one would expect a 2nd year Organic lab student to produce: cyclohexene, toluene, and unreacted cyclohexanol.

However, in some product mixtures I also saw a significant amount of 1-methylcyclopentene. The reaction of that is as follows:
My question is, "How does that form?"

Here's a possible mechanism that I think is highly unlikely due to the primary carbocation.
This mechanism moves the atoms to the correct final position, but I find the ring contraction to form a primary carbocation unlikely. Maybe I'm wrong.

Other things: I check the starting material. It was 99.8% cyclohexanol. In the reaction dicyclohexyl ether forms. I'm not sure if this could assist in the rearrangement.

Any ideas?