Category Archives: Craft Beer Talk

My musings about craft beer and the craft beer world. Topics will range from beer reviews, tastings, events, chats with brewers, etc.

Hoppy Brown Belgian Stout

Back in July I made my second beer using the Grainfather system. Not one to back away from going overboard a little, I decided to do a take on a stout and add a bit of Belgian flare. The idea was simple. Make a good stout, pull back on the grain bitterness a bit, and the use a golden Belgian ale yeast. The hops too needed to complement the yeast.

Choosing the grains was the easy part: pale, crystal, chocolate, and roasted barley. Yeah, but what kind of pale? American? English? Belgian? Being the Belgian influence needed to be recognized, the pilsner malt would be good. SRM of 2, so nice and pale. The amount? 12 pounds.

Deciding on the SRM level of the crystal was next. Using BeerSmith helped. A compromise here to keep the beer from getting too dark and too toasted: 40L at 12 ounces. Just a touch.

A regular chocolate malt was chosen at 350 SRM and the roasted barley at 300. For now, the debittered malt was skipped. After, this is a stout base, not a dark Abbey ale.

The total malt bill looks like so:

  • 12 lbs – Pilsner 2 row Belgian malt (2 SRM)
  • 12 oz – Crystal Malt 40L
  • 12 oz – Chocolate malt (350 SRM)
  • 4 oz – Roasted Barley (300 SRM)

Now for the hops

As we are already playing around with the yeast and target taste profile on the malts, why not the hops too. Usually a stout as very little, if any, hop flavor, but yeah, why not? For bittering, Northern Brewer is a good one. Here the alphas were at 8.5% and boiled for 60 min. Ahtanum has hints of grapefruit and other citrus flavors and dark fruits are wanted, so in go 2 ounces at whirlpool time. Alphas here were 6%, but with no boil time, they will impart no bitterness. Only hop pellets were used.

  • 1 oz – Northern Brewer (8.5%)
  • 2 oz – Ahtanum (6%)

The yeast was to be Belgian Golden Ale WLP570 from White Labs. The store was out of it though, so Wyeast 1388 was substituted. This is not an exact one for one swap, but it should be close enough for the first go.

Stepping the mash

Aiming for a better mouth feel this time, a I decided on a step mash. Strike water as 120 F and the mash started at 113 after dough in. The Grainfather is a recirculating system, so no water is added to increase the mash temperatures.

  • 113 F @ 20 min
  • 127 F @ 20 min
  • 140 F @ 40 min (mash switch setting)
  • 158 F @ 20 min (mash switch setting)
  • Mash out at 168 F for 10 min

Sparge water temperature was 170 F and enough to collect 6 gallons for boiling. The expectation is to lose 1 gallon during boiling.

The results were quite good. Give it a try with your system.

Happy brewing!

The End Of Beer Tastings

It was nearly five years ago that I first attended a beer tasting at Jungle Jim’s in Fairfield, Ohio. That night, Samuel Adams was the brewery visiting and letting everyone enjoy the fruits of their labors. It was October 10, 2009 and I had wanted to bring my brother as it was his birthday, but he had other plans, so I brought a friend.

We had the scheduled 10 beers, plus 2 others from a Sam Adams taste test. There were 2 more from the master brewery who had made a hop extract to mix with some of their sweeter beers. They were fantastic.

Back then, Jungle Jim’s was nearly the only place in town having regular beer tastings. Every month, they were well attended and people listened with great interest to the speakers. A few months later, I started to write about the Cincinnati Craft Beer scene for It was just the beginning of it all.

Since then, the various beer festivals have grown greatly. Jungle’s own beer fest on Father’s Day Weekend has grown to two days. Many bars and restaurants have small beer tastings and Friday night flights are not uncommon. With the opening of the Eastgate store, Jungle Jim’s now has pint nights on Friday evenings where patrons can buy a beer and walk around the store. The enjoyment of good beer is becoming common enough that having a special event feels no longer necessary. Alas, the tastings have become a victim of success.

The truth be known, over the last year or so it has been harder to truly enjoy the beer tastings. Many of the attendees are there to socialize and it is hard to hear the speaker, even with the use of the microphone. Bit by bit, the true beer nerds stopped attending as the crowds got larger. Then the crowds started to go other places and attendance this year become worse with each passing month. Before summer started, several tastings were cancelled due to lack of sign-ups. The trend was set and now it is done.

For those of us who looked forward to each month’s chat with a brewer or someone from the brewery who was truly passionate about craft beer. It was a bit of release from the mundane and became an Untappd check-in game. Over the years, I was able to meet Larry Bell and Greg Koch. What great times those were. What great times they will remain. So long monthly beer tastings. We knew you well.

Vanilla Oatmeal Stout

English: Vanilla: 6 beans
English: Vanilla: 6 beans (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is time to make beer again. I have a request from a fan to make something “tall, dark and handsome”. I thought about that might be in a beer and came across Oatmeal Stout. Several years ago, I made one called Crystal My Oats, but that recipe was lost in BeerSmith when my computer crashed (back when I as running Windows still). I do remember elements of it and that was extract, how to make one via all-grain?

Time for some research

As I learned to homebrew in the mid 90’s, the old archive Cat’s Meow 3 is my first stop, always. Sure, there are more up to date places to find recipes, but I like the simple format of this archive and it feels like home. I am looking for general guidelines more than specific rules that must be followed at all costs, so it also fits my style better.

Searching through the oatmeal stouts lead to many extract recipes. Nuts. I need an all-grain. There’s one. But it uses flaked barley. And another. Nice. Rolled oats. Notes jotted.

A search via Google returns hits at several places, most of them discussions about a particular recipe. Do rolled oats go in the mash tun or on the stove for steeping and fading in? Where is Charlie Papazian’s phone number when I need it??? Answers found.

Start up BeerSmith

I chose the Oatmeal stout guide and start working on ingredients. It doesn’t take long and the SRM and bitterness guidelines are blow. Oh well. I want it DARK! Based on batch size and boil time, the estimated SRM is 46.7. Awesome! The upper limit is 40 for the style, but what’s 6.7 among friends???

The IBUs estimate to 52, ah only 12 over style. No worries. And that makes some assumptions about utilization in the boil. Maybe it will lower or higher. No worries.

Once complete, the parts list looks like this:

  • 14 pounds pale malt
  • 1.5 pounds Roasted Barley
  • 1 pound of Chocolate Malt
  • 1 pound of Caramel/Crystal Malt (80L)
  • 2 ounces of Centennial hops (10%) – 60 min
  • 1 packaged of Irish Ale (Wyeast Labs #1084)

I really do want a beer near 10%. If the efficiencies in conversion and sparging have hit 72%, this one might get to 9. That’s good. The idea is to either put vanilla beans in secondary or use vodka to make an extract. Wait! Why vodka? What about bourbon instead?

Researching Home Made Vanilla Extracts

Back to Google for some searching. The best site on Wow. Didn’t know there were various types of vanilla beans. Based on the descriptions, looks like Bourbon or Madagascar beans are in order. Now, make an extract or just put 3 of them in the secondary for 10 days? Hmmm.

The site has great ideas. Perhaps put some in bourbon and some in the secondary? Decisions. Decisions.

Made the Beer

Used a single step mash of 150 degree water for an hour. Mash density was 1.25 quarts per pound. Sparge water at 170 degrees until 6 gallons were collected. As the boil is an hour, about 1 gallon will be lost to evaporation.

Once the wort was chilled and in the fermentor, the hydrometer reads 15 on the Brix scale. Potential here is 8.2% and the Specific Gravity once converted is 1.0611. A bit lower than the target, but not too bad for a fly sparging novice. Now to keep at a good temperature for fermentation without getting esters from the yeast. Updates will follow.

Surviving Friday Night

Hop cone in the Hallertau, Germany, hop yard
Hop cone in the Hallertau, Germany, hop yard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Friday night session of the 2014 Cincinnati Beer Fest is over. The plan was to be busy brewing a batch of beer and chatting with the visitors. The latter happened many times. We chatted about the Cincinnati Malt Infusers, grains, hops, what it was like to be in a club, all the usual. The former didn’t happened.

Why not?

Well, snow happened. Traffic became bad and several people were late getting to the convention center. Items were forgotten. The logistics of the location of the booth was very difficult and too crowded. No tubs for ice bath. Lack of a stand to hold the electric brew kettle. Oh my.

Many of the logistics problems are solved and should be better for the Saturday session. I did discuss the recipe with several homebrewers, including Brian Jackson who wants to make an all grain version of it. Excellent. So back the ingredients came. Yeast goes in the fridge with the hops. Try again tomorrow.

This was the first beer fest I’ve ever attended without my camera. Even the first time I went to the Jungle Jim’s beer fest around Father’s Day as a participant, I  had my camera with me to take my own pictures. Last year I took mine to the Cincinnati Beer Fest and only took a few quick ones here and there. This year, it was very odd, but in the end, I liked it. Was able to chat with some beer enthusiasts, gave out some CMI cards and told people where we meet, and made sure some homebrewers interested in AHA took a copy of Zymurgy. It was a welcome change.

The drive home in the two inches of snow was a bit fun. The roads were not clear, but passable. Most of the way home I was trying to remember when I heard Craig Johnson recount the first Columbus Winter Beer Fest story of the after party. For the life of me I cannot remember when or where the telling happened, but I know it did. It had to be at least two years ago and it was warm. That’s all I got. It was a good time, both the fest after party and the place where it was told. Perhaps I’ll remember after sleep.

Not sure if the crowd was hampered due to the snow or not. The turnout seemed good and the participants were well behaved. Coat check was in the hallway outside of the large convention rooms. That seemed to go much better and those fetching their coats were not in the way of those trying to leave. Seems to be a much better way of handling the coats. After all, it is cold outside. A very good improvement.

As always Craig and staff, excellent beer fest. Your hard work shows.

Time to rest and get at it again tomorrow. And what happens if the demonstration has to get scrapped again? No worries, the beer will get made soon. After all, no one has tasted the recipe, not even its creator.

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Demonstration Red Rye Ale – 2014

English: Malted Barley, more specifically a &q...
English: Malted Barley, more specifically a “Crystal Malt”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last year, I volunteered for the Cincy Beer Fest, not really knowing what I was going to do. I knew I would no longer be doing photographs, but I figured I could help out with beer, setup, etc. I showed up on Friday night and helped out quite a bit: set out several tables full of tasting cups, checked ids at the door, gave out beer at the Kentucky Ale booth and even snapped off a few photos.

I didn’t like it.

Afterward, I realized how much I had come to like taking pictures at the fest. Being able to walk anywhere and interacting with the people was a great draw for me. Not doing that drained me and I didn’t like it. What now?

Until a few weeks ago, I figured I would not attend. Then I was asked to do a brewing demonstration for the Cincinnati Malt Infusers, the homebrew club I joined last year. Not fully knowing what it would entail, I said yes.

The last several days have been quite hectic coming up with all the equipment required. The convention center requires the use of electrical elements to heat the water and running a 220 volt line is too expensive. Fortunately, a member of CMI has a system we can use. Nice.

Recipe time. To draw people to the table, a high aroma beer was chosen. Starting with a pale ale, a few ounces of black patent malt were added to give the beer a reddish color. Ok, a red ale. What about rye malt? Yes, aroma and spiciness. Cool. A red rye ale. As there isn’t enough time to do a full mash, this is a specialty grain steep with extracts. It is a demonstration recipe too. That makes the name Demonstration Red Rye Ale – 2014. Let’s get to the details.


  • 3 lbs light dry extract
  • 3.33 lbs can of amber liquid extract
  • 2 ounces Ahtanum hop pellets (5.20% alpha)
  • 1 ounce Mt. Hood hop pellets (6.10% alpha)
  • 1 lbs Crystal Malt (10L)
  • 1 lbs Rye Malt
  • 4 ounces Black Patent malt
  • 1 package American Ale II yeast (Wyeast #1272)
  • 1 teaspoon Irish Moss


  • Crack the grains and place into a grain bag large enough to hold them. Remember they will expand when wet.
  • Heat 2.5 gallons of water to 150 degrees. Place the grains in the water and steep for 20 minutes. After time, remove grain bag, allow to drain and discard.
  • Fill kettle to 6 gallons of water and turn heat to full.
  • Once wort starts to boil, place the Mt. Hood hops in. Total boil time is 60 minutes.
  • When 20 minutes to go in the boil, place 1 ounce of Ahtanum into kettle.
  • At 15 minutes to go, place 1 teaspoon of Irish Moss into kettle.
  • After 60 minutes of boil, turn heat off and allow wort to settle. Place the remaining ounce of hops into kettle.
  • Cool wort to 70 degrees and take specific gravity reading. It should be around 1.044. Rack to fermentor, aerate for 10 minutes and pitch years. Cover and place airlock. Ferment for 2 weeks and bottle or keg, as desired.

It is recommended that the boil hops are placed in a bag. Try and enjoy. See you there.

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Nut Brown Ale by Mount Carmel

A new beer review. This time, the Nut Brown Ale from Mount Carmel Brewing in, well, where else??? Mount Carmel, Ohio. Let’s get going.

The Nut Brown Ale from Mount Carmel is the first of their beers I tried. At the same time, I met Mike Dewey at the Jungle Jim’s International Beer fest. He gave me a taste of the beer of which he was the most proud and believed to be his best.

When at proper temperature, the Nut Brown delivers a good balance of malt sweetness and hop bitterness, with a hint of maple. The balance plays through to the end, living a slight lingering bitterness. The finish is very clean.

There are several ideas for food pairings, including a breakfast minded selection.

Banana and Walnut pancakes
Maple syrup (the real stuff)
Whipped Butter
Thick cut bacon

Cheddar Bacon Cheeseburger (Applewood smoked bacon and sharp cheddar)
Home fries (sea salt and spice medley)
Coleslaw (carrot over cabbage)

Replace grilled chicken with the cheeseburger

Salad with Raspberry Vinaigrette
Fresh vegetable mixture with Spinach, carrots, onion and some radish

Have you tried this beer? Have other pairing ideas? Want to see a particular beer review? Subscribe and leave comments.

Mount Carmel Brewery Website

Video review by the Cincinnati Craft Beer Examiner.

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Running Through July

Zech on the beach
Zech on the beach (Photo credit: BrainMuffin)

It can scarce be believed that July is nearly over. It seems it was starting a mere few days ago, but alas 20 of them are already gone. August will arrive within two blinks on an eye. Four blinks and it will be Christmas. Time doesn’t fly, we do.

Over the last several weeks there were many topics going through my head. I had thought to write what the race baiters Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton had taught me, but decided against. Everyday there are tragedies. Why some are glamorized for political or personal gain is something I continue to fail to understand. It is also something I wish to never comprehend. Instead of bringing communities together to heal, they tear them apart for money and power. Trayvon Martin was a troubled soul who smoked pot and was dismissed from school twice. He cannot be replaced, but his passing could be used to provide love instead of hate.

This weekend finally saw a return to brewing, albeit with extract. As a learning to move into the pro brewing arena, this recipe will be converted to all grain for a scheduled brewing in two weeks. The idea is to compare the original extract recipe with the all grain. The recipe itself will be provided in another article. Over the next several weeks, a road map will be laid out that will lead to a brewery. It will be a long and frightful journey, but the rewards will be equally as great. My passion for brewing can no longer be contained and it must be pursued.

These electronic pages have also seen mention of workouts. June and July saw big movements in the weights and an increase in eating. Through it all, I’ve been able to get to 210 and maintain it. For a brief time, the scales tipped at 212, but the retreat from there was quite quick. August will see a change toward more core focus to increase the squat. The weight of 105 pounds is a sticking point due to poor lower back and stomach muscles. The legs are willing, but the support structure is not. Research is being conducted to find the best exercises. There is no shortage of opinion on what to do.

Shoulders, on the other hand, are responding well to the 9 week course laid out in Iron Man Magazine. The front is responding best of all, though the back section is lagging a bit. The good news hear is that the shoulder supports the arms on the bench press. August will see a few attempts at maxing the bench press during workout days. The use of declined flyes and dumbbell presses is increasing the pecs quite nicely. It is time to test the waters again.



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Wit Ale By Rivertown, A Beer Review

Beer vendor
Beer vendor (Photo credit: BrainMuffin)

One of the many hats I wear is the one of Cincinnati Craft Beer Examiner. It is a heavy hat and one that falls off from time to time. As more and more breweries open in Cincinnati, and perhaps someday one run by yours truly, there is much beer to review and it is well passed due.

The full review is available on the Cincinnati Craft Beer Examiner blog: Beer Review: Wit Ale by Rivertown Brewery. So, why mention it here just to post a link back? Because, duh!

There is also a video review of the beer.

To be more informative, because being the Cincinnati Craft Beer Examiner is a part of who I am and this blog is about all the wonderful things I do and wish to share. This blog is about my opinions and observations. This blog is about coming together to walk the road to the future together. So, it’s about more than me. It’s about us.

Through the pages of the Cincinnati Craft Beer Examiner blog, one is taken on a journey through craft beer, history of Cincinnati, beer and food pairings, menu ideas, local Cincinnati beer related events and festivals. Yeah, it has all that.

Again, why all the repeat?

Because, it is necessary. Read all the stuff. Share all the stuff. And the pages will get better.

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Pushing The Reviews

Perhaps I’m learning more about Search Engine Optimization or perhaps I’m lucky. My article about former classmate Edwina Marquand is now the first link when searching for her name. In a future article I’ll be sure to do the same for another former classmate by the name of Kevin Pelch. After all, he is the one who gave me the nickname Ropeman in the 10th grade. It is a name I used proudly for years until Anne Langley gave me the one of Brainmuffin. That, however, is writings for another time.

As many readers know, I also write as the Cincinnati Craft Beer Examiner. As the Cincinnati beer scene is going crazy these days, it is quite a bit keeping up. Several breweries have opened over the last few years, including Listermann’s (yes, the home brew supply place), Mad Tree and Double Barrel. Oh, what to do.

Well, it is time to do reviews. Not of one beer from each brewery. No, that wouldn’t feed my OCD very well. It is time to review everything available. Oh great…more text to read. Yes, but also video reviews. Pictures of beer (posted to Flickr too). After all, it is time to combine all my passions into a single, directed future. It is time time to combine beer, photography and writing. After all, Charlie Papazian was the one who pushed me to start on Examiner and it is high time his recommendation was rewarded.


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The Growing Cincinnati Beer Fest

The 2013 installment of the Cincinnati Winter Beer Fest has come and gone. This year continued the tradition of growing and growing. The crowds were bigger. The events louder. The beer list, about the same.

This year saw me passing out beer and checking ids. I did take a few photos here and there, but as I was not the official photographer, there will not be much posted. There will be none of Facebook. There might be a few on Flickr. No idea.

The event has now grown to alienate many of its early supporters. The crowds are now to the point where peace and calm have to be maintained. Some puked near the Kentucky Ale booth. Someone else pulled down the Brew Monkey’s large mug display. A guy tried to pick a fight with security. All in all though, still a well behaved crowd.


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