Lithuania has one of the most interesting beer cultures on earth, but it’s a beer culture that is almost wholly unknown outside the country itself. This guide explains what is so special about Lithuanian beer and helps you choose the right places to go and the right beers to drink.
I’ve traveled to Lithuania a number of times over the last four years to learn as much as I can about Lithuanian beer, and this book summarizes what I’ve learned. It describes the various styles of beer made in Lithuania, the main breweries, and where to find the beers. It also gives some cultural, linguistic, and historical background.
Parti-Gyle brewing is a method for making more than one batch of beer from a single all grain mash. It offers tremendous flexibility since you can brew two beers of different gravities, and also add different hops and yeast to create distinct beers from one brewing session.
Parti-Gyle brewing is not a new method. The method goes back hundreds of years, and many modern sub-styles are examples of light and heavy versions made from a single mash. Examples include the various weights of English and Scotch Ale, various grades of Bock, and even variations of Trappist ales. In the 1700’s and 1800’s it was very common to create a strong beer from the first runnings of the mash and a lighter common beer from the second runnings of a mash.
The Parti-Gyle Method
The standard method for Parti-Gyle brewing is to make two beers from a single mash. Typically a fairly high gravity beer is made from the “first runnings” of the mash, and the second runnings are boiled separately to make a lighter beer. Often different hop additions, boil additions and yeast are used to create distinct styles from the two runnings depending on the brewer’s preference.
Estimating the Gravity of Each Beer
When designing a parti-gyle beer, one is usually concerned with gravity and color of the two beers being created. This is important for determining how much grain is required for each beer and also how much liquid to run through each to achieve a target boil gravity. The rule of thumb for an average mash is that 2/3 of the gravity potential is in the first 1/2 of the runnings. This is due to the fact that most of the high gravity wort comes in the first third of the lauter.
One common parti-gyle split is 1/3 volume for the first runnings and 2/3 volume for the second which results in a first batch of beer that has twice the points that the second batch will have. So for example, if the total mash had an estimated original gravity of 1.060, we would expect the first 1/3 to have a gravity of 1.090 and the second to have a gravity of half the points or 1.045.
For a 50-50 split by volume, with half of the wort in each batch we get a roughly 58% of the gravity points in the first batch. So a 1.060 overall batch OG would translate to a 1.070 first runnings and 1.050 second runnings, with both of equal size.
Estimating OG for Split Batches
To perform these calculations yourself, start with the OG estimate of the mash runnings using conventional methods. This can be done using the method described here, except you use the mash efficiency and total lauter volume instead of the overall brewhouse efficiency and overall batch volume to get your mash OG estimate.
Once you have the OG estimate for the overall batch, get the number of points by subtracting one and multiplying by 1000, so 1.060 becomes 60 points. Next we use the following to calculate the final number of points in this fraction:
So if we look at a 1.060 total gravity estimate with a 1/3-2/3 volume split which has half the points in each runnings we get 60 points, 0.5 as the points_fraction and 1/3 or 0.333 as the fractional volume:
Number_points_runnings = (60 * 0.50 / 0.333) = 90 points or a gravity of 1.090
Using the same equation, you can come up with an accurate estimate for the gravity of each of the runnings based on the original gravity of the overall batch.
It should be no surprise that the color of the two batches in a parti-gyle will be darker for the first runnings and lighter for the second in most cases. Calculating the actual color for a regular beer is described here, and is based on the Malt Color Units (MCUs) which are simply the sum of the pounds of malt times their color for all grains in a batch.
Looking at the examples above – a 50-50 volume split has about 2/3 of the gravity in the first runnings and 1/3 in the second runnings. The malt color units follow, so about 2/3 of the MCUs will be in the first running and 1/3 in the second. So if you calculate the overall Malt Color Units for the total batch (sum of the pounds of malt times color of each malt), you can multiply it by 2/3 or 1/3 for each running and then apply the Morey equation to get the color estimate for each of the runnings. Here the OG_FRACTION refers to the 2/3-1/3 OG split so you would apply 2/3 to the first runnings and 1/3 to the second:
Since the Morey equation is not linear, you will see a larger color difference for a parti-gyle beer when working with lighter beers. So for a very light beer and a 50-50 volume split, the first runnings will be almost twice as dark as the second runnings. However as the beer gets darker the difference will be smaller – to the point where the second runnings of a Stout beer might have no perceivable difference in color from the first.
After the Mash
Once you have mashed your parti-gyle beer and taken the two runnings, the rest of the brewing process is the same as with any other beer. Obviously the two runnings are boiled separately so you either need two boil pots and heat sources or a sterile way to store one of the runnings for a few hours while you boil the other.
One of the great features of part-gyle brewing is the ability to change the character of the beer in the boil and fermentation. By adding different hop additions, yeast, spices or steeping additional grains prior to the boil (much like an extract brew) you can dramatically change the character of the two beers produced. With a little imagination you really can create two distinctly different beer styles from a single brewing session.
For design purposes it is usually best to treat the two runnings as separate beers at this point, and the usual rules for estimating bitterness, final gravity and fermentation apply. The design possibilities are nearly endless. You could create a strong ale and bitter, a wheat bock and weizen, a brown and pale and many other combinations from a single mash.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s article and decide to make your own parti-gyle brew in the future. Thanks for dropping by, and please subscribe to my blog or podcast for more great articles and sessions on brewing beer.
Sahti is the traditional beer of Finland. The popularity of the drink waned after the wars, obviously the prohibition of 1919 – 1932 didn’t help. Today, sahti enjoys a small-time revival on the craft brew bandwagon, even on a commercial scale. But at its roots, sahti is a farmhouse ale, a living beer, a real ale if you will, made to be consumed within weeks from brewing. It’s also a true craft beer: handmade, no modern equipment, a wood-fired cauldron, the senses of the brewmaster our only gauge. To taste the tradition, we will join a sahti mage on a brew day in Joutsa, Eastern Häme, Finland. But first, let’s look at how it all comes together.
Sahti has a relatively short history of writing: the earliest written reference dates back to 1792 (EU). The method itself is ancient, of course, passed, like all crafts, from a master to apprentice: “the brewing instructions have probably been handed down from generation to generation for thousands of years”. More recently, sahti has been granted the TSG protection status of the European Union. Says EU:
“a traditional, slightly cloudy, strong beer produced by fermentation. It is neither pasteurized nor filtered and the fermentation is left to run its course, so it is drunk fresh. The original gravity of the wort is at least 19 °Plato and the alcohol content varies between 6 % and 12 % by volume. The pH is less than 5. The colour varies from yellow to dark brown depending on the raw materials used. Sahti is cloudy because it is unfiltered. Because of the high residual-sugar content fresh sahti is slightly sweet tasting.” (source)
Although the TSG status only covers the method of brewing, real sahti is Finnish. Farmhouse ales exist across the beer belt, of course, and cousins of sahti have survived on two islands of the Baltic Sea: dricku in Gotland, Sweden, and koduõlu in Saaremaa, Estonia.
In the Sauna
We will brew in the sauna, which has traditionally doubled as the brewhouse. In the olden times, sauna was also the malt house, the smokery for Finnish palvi meats, and a place to give birth, among other uses. After WWII, many people lived in saunas for a while as nothing else was left. We’re the lucky ones to get to only relax (and brew) in sauna.
We brew sahti with a wood-fired oven, with a wooden spatula, and a wooden trough made of juniper. Little has changed since metal vessels and store-bought yeast came into use a century ago. No scales, not a temperature gauge in sight, ominaispainomittari (a hydrometer) too difficult even to pronounce. The only nod towards the modern way of life is the electricity to power the lights.
The brewmaster will test the temperature with his finger, judge the water-to-grist ratio by the looks, decide water additions based on how the color is developing, sparge until it feels right. It’s not hard to imagine the brewmaster was a sort of a mage to people who didn’t know of saccharification; who couldn’t possibly understand micro-organism such as yeast. Persons capable of changing water to alcohol have been known to enjoy a god-like status before.
When everything was still made by hand, the brewer left a sack of cereal in a stream to germinate. The malt was dried in a riihi, the smoky drying barn. Modern malt for sahti is pale and not smoky. The homebrewer will purchase a sack of malt and supplement it with raw cereals:
“Sahti is traditionally prepared from raw materials including, in addition to malted barley, other cereal malt and cereals (rye, barley, wheat, and oats) and usually hops, fermented using baker’s yeast or harvested yeast. … It takes about 20 kg of malt and 50 g of yeast to make 50 litres of sahti.” (EU)
Depending on mash yield and yeast attenuation, this ratio will provide wort and beer strengths between 1.090 – 1.100 OG and 8 – 10 % ABV respectively. As cereals, in addition to 20 kg of malted barley, our fifty some liters of sahti included 3 kg of raw and 250 g of malted rye. Mashing usually translates as mäskäys; for sahti the process is called imellytys (making something sweet or sugary). Our wort had the OG of 1.093. The yeast will be the Finnish baker’s yeast.
Juniper twigs are added to water before being brought to a boil. The juniper water will then serve as the basis for eight-step infusion mash:
“Sahti is brewed by gradually adding water to the mixture of malt and cereals, starting at a temperature of around 40 °C, which is increased to around 100 °C by the time the last water is added.” (EU)
The traditional mashing program, therefore, starts with a protein rest well suited for less modified malts. Gradually raising the temperature will serve to give time for both alpha and beta amylase so we can expect a rather fermentable wort.
When the mash is ready, in our case after eight hours of hourly checks, it is brought to a boil before filtering.
Juniper twigs are employed for the sparging and filtering phases. Here, straws have been laid on top of juniper.
“Sahti production is a craft and has its own special equipment: the wooden trough at least is characteristic” (EU)
Wort is recycled until it runs clear. Sparge water is near boiling temperature but we’re not worried about tannins as the malt is not roasted or toasted.
A former milk collection vessel, a maitohinkki, receives the sweet liquid.
A small amount of wort is run into a smaller container and cooled. The brewer will take a small amount of yeast and mix it thoroughly with the starter – until bubbles form.
“wort, which is then fermented into sahti using baker’s or harvested yeast. Top fermentation is used. The main fermentation takes around three days at room temperature or cooler, after which the sahti is kept cool for at least one week. The alcohol comes exclusively from the sugar in the malts and other cereals.” (EU)
It’s time to pitch. Sahti will take two to three weeks to complete fermentation at a cellar temperature, perhaps one week when fermenting warmer.
The cask is made of juniper. Every once in a while, the brewer will take a sip or two to know how the current sahti is developing. Cask-conditioned real ale won’t get any more real than this!
Time to Enjoy
The hard work being done, by the brewer and the yeast, it’s time for a taste. It’s malt, to be sure, a bit sweet, maybe even thick if the fermentation isn’t complete or a large amount of rye was used; bananas and cloves not unlike a hefeweizen; a slight carbonation on the tongue; juniper lingers somewhere there as well; with a somewhat sour (lactic acid) and a definitely refreshing finish. A party on the palate. A party unparalleled, too; no wonder they still make it like they always did.
This is an introduction to ancient homebrewed farmhouse ales of northern Europe. Finnish Sahti is the best known of them, but similar beers exist in the Nordic and Baltic countries: koduõlu in Estonia, gotlandsdricke in Sweden, maltøl in Norway and kaimiškas in Lithuania.
Once upon a time there were farmers who brewed beer from their own grains. They malted the grains, picked seasonings from the nearby forest, and fermented the brew with their house yeast. These farmers were not professional brewers, but they passed on their craft, word of mouth, from generation to generation.
Today farmhouse ales are not always brewed exactly this way, and the term refers to the origin of the tradition. For many the designation brings instantly Belgium and France to mind, but it is a much more generic term. Once most beer in Europe was farmhouse ale.
What confuses people is that, unlike Belgian and French farmhouse ales, the Nordic and Baltic traditions are still largely domestic brewing practices, an ancient way of homebrewing. That’s why these traditions are unique within the beer cultures of Europe. That is also why these beers are rarely exported, can be hard to find even in their own countries, do not store well, and unlikely will become commercial hits. Admittedly, there are some commercial farmhouse breweries in the Nordics and Baltics, but basically they have just scaled up the old domestic techniques.
In this text I will concentrate mostly on the ancient ales that have survived to the present day: sahti in Finland, koduõlu in Estonia, gotlandsdricke in Sweden, maltøl in Norway and kaimiškas in Lithuania. These traditions stem from the same origin and have much in common. It is not certain when these traditions took shape, but likely they developed during the Iron Age, before the principles of modern brewing were established in the Middle Ages. See History of Farmhouse Ales for details.
In all Nordic and Baltic countries the word for beer derive from the same origin as ale: olut in Finland, õlu in Estonia, öl in Sweden, øl in Denmark and Norway, alus in Lithuania and Latvia. Hence I like to speak about ales, but I do not intend to refer to the ale-beer or ale-lager classifications.
Nordic refers to the countries of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden and Norway. Baltic countries are formed by Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. All these countries are linked by the Baltic sea, and throughout the history there has been immigration and flow of culture between these countries. Northern Germany has been influential to the history of this area as well. Finland and the Baltic states have received Finno-Ugric and Slavic influences from the east. Through the expansion of the Vikings during 750–1050 AD, the Nordic influence is seen for example in the British Isles.
Farmhouse traditions are alive also in Latvia, but Lars Garshol’s travel story Stone brewing in Latvia seems to be about the only information in English. In Denmark the traditions have faded relatively recently, and there are still people remembering the time. Some farmhouse brewing has survived in Russia as well, especially in the Chuvash republic. See also Lars Garshol’s view on Farmhouse ales of Europe.
Daily and Feast Ales
Farmhouse ales have been made in different strengths for different purposes. Low alcohol small beers have been part of the diet and drank by everyone, children included. In the feasts ale was expected to be rich in taste and strong in alcohol. For example, sahti should have at least 6 % ABV. Besides alcohol content, this division has also a distinct effect on ingredients and brewing techniques. Daily ales should be easy to brew on a weekly basis, while the feast ales should be the best the house has to offer.
There are also medium strength ales of 5–6 % ABV which put smile on lips, but do not stop the work. In Finland and Estonia traditional ales seem to be mostly either small beers or feast ales, but medium strength ales exist in Norway, Sweden and Lithuania.
The ales of alive traditions mentioned earlier are either feast or medium strenght ales. The traditions of small beers seem to be largely extinct, but there might be some well-preserved remnants in the Baltic states. Several modernized versions of traditional small beers are still brewed and sold in northern Europe, like kalja (Finland), svagdricka(Scandinavia), gira (Lithuania) and kvass (Russia). Read Small Beer Called Kalja for details on historic low alcohol farmhouse beers.
Malted and unmalted grains, juniper branches, hops, and yeast are the basic ingredients of these ales. Malted barley is the most common base, but also rye, oats, and wheat are used in both malted and unmalted forms.
Unfortunately, traditional home malting has mostly disappeared, and now most brewers use commercial malts. In Norway and Lithuania, some brewers still malt in the traditional way. In Finland, some farmers have revived home malting, but to my knowledge, nobody malts in the most traditional way in smoke saunas or drying barns.
Juniper is the most important brewing herb in the Nordic and Baltic farmhouse ales. Traditionally the juniper flavor comes from the branches laid on the bottom of the lauter tun filter (see image below) or from juniper infusion (branches infused in hot water). The taste of branches is needle-like and woody, somewhat different than the flavor of berries. Hops are used fairly often, but usually in minor quantities. Sahti is often unhopped.
Lithuania is a notable exception to what I just said. Their farmhouse brewers generally do not use juniper, but slightly more hops. Nevertheless, Lithuanian kaimiškas is typically malt-forward, but some versions can be even described as hoppy.
House yeasts are rare these days, but some brewers in Norway and Lithuania are still fermenting with their traditional heirloom yeasts. In the past, some houses made both bread and beer with the same yeast, and hence it is natural that many traditional brewers use now baker’s yeast, though commercial. Some use also brewer’s yeast, but in sahti, only traditional house yeast or commercial baker’s yeast are allowed. This rule is written in the EU Traditional Specialities Guaranteed appellation of sahti.
Other than aforementioned ingredients have also been used, but during the last hundred years, it has been surprisingly rare. The most notable exception is the use of honey (or nowadays sugar) in gotlandsdricke. See Lars Garshol’s take on Nordic brewing herbs.
For those unfamiliar with brewing, I review shortly the essential brewing terms. With very few exceptions, a modern brewery is operated as follows: first malts are mixed with hot water. This procedure is called mashing and the mixture mash. Then, the sweet liquid of malt sugars called wort is drained from the mash in the process of lautering. Finally, the wort is boiled with hops, cooled, fermented and packaged.
Accordingly, a modern brewery has always a big kettle for boiling the wort with hops. In the old times, farmhouse brewers could not afford big kettles, and their methods evolved around wooden brewing gear. The most traditional farmhouse setup involves two large wooden vessels: A tub for mashing, and another tub or a trough-like vessel, known as kuurna in Finland, for lautering.
Wooden vessels cannot be heated externally, and an old trick is to drop hot stones into the concoction. However, with hot stones, long boils would be awkward, and hence the ancient farmhouse brewers skipped the wort boiling step altogether.
This lack of wort boil has a tremendous effect on the beer and is one of the major traits of Nordic-Baltic farmhouse ales. A beer from a non-boiled wort has a short shelf life, but when fresh, has an exquisite taste of malt and cereals. Due to retained proteins, it also feels nutritious, smooth, and full-bodied. An ale completely devoid of boiling steps is called raw ale.
Today many farmhouse brewers use stainless steel equipment, but their brewing process is inherited from ancestors as if the brewers still had only wooden tubs and a thermometer had not been invented. Some present-day brewers boil the mash instead, which is most likely a remnant from times when the mash was heated up to a boil with hot stones. There are also farmhouse brewers who boil their wort, but the boil time can vary wildly from one minute to five hours, again something completely different to modern commercial breweries.
Typically these ales are fermented warm for a day or two and then transferred to a cool cellar. With house yeasts, the traditional fermentation temperature is milk-warm (35–40°C). Often a considerable amount of residual sweetness remains and a slow secondary fermentation keeps yeast active, protecting from staling and souring. These ales are usually served within 1–3 weeks from the brew day.
As you may have noticed from the photos, these farmhouse ales are made in surprisingly big quantities, though still homebrews. See for example the very old looking, but still actively used wooden tubs in the header image. Paavo Pruul, a fine koduõlu brewer from Hiiumaa, Estonia, inherited those tubs from his grandfather. The tubs are designed for producing 100–200 litres (26–53 US gallons) of ale, which is a fairly typical farmhouse batch size.
These ales have survived from the arrival of distilled alcohol, the onset of cheap industrial beer, the temperance movement in the Nordics, and the Soviet reign in the Baltics. Without rich and unique taste these traditions would surely be dead by now. The taste is so different from modern beers that the first-timers may have difficulties to judge if the pint is as it supposed to be. Here is a briefing what to expect.
There are some regional preferences, sort of sub-styles, but the distinction is not always very clear, as the variation from brewer to brewer is often enormous. For this reason, these traditions are not exactly defined beer styles in the modern sense. Besides, even the same ale can taste different every time, particularly due to differences in age and storage. Although these ales may go sour when they age, sahti in particular, sourness is usually considered a flaw.
The appearance is often turbid, but haziness is more related to high protein content, rather than yeastiness. Some yeast are may be suspended, but the obvious sensation of yeastiness is a flaw. Due to proteins, the mouthfeel is typically smooth, and sometimes highly viscous and milkshake-like. In the Nordics, these ales are typically served still or with slight carbonation, while in the Baltics farmhouse ales are more often served clearly carbonated. Color ranges from yellow to dark brown. In the Baltics, paler examples are more typical, but in many parts of the Nordics reddish brown color is sought-after.
Most examples taste sweet with rich fresh maltiness and graininess. The paler ones are more honeyish and grassy, while the darker ales express dark bread and toffee. Many Lithuanian ales have a unique hay-like taste from local malts. Taste of juniper varies from none to pronounced, more inclined to the needle-like taste of branches than berries.
Usually, these ales have expressive fruitiness and spiciness from the fermentation. Quite often sahti has a prominent banana aroma, somewhat similar to weizenbocks. However, some brewers prefer their sahti malt-forward with no signs of banana. Some Lithuanian examples may have notes of butter. The overall impression is extremely fresh, nourishing, smooth and drinkable.
In the past, these ales would have picked some smokiness from the malting process, but today smoke aroma is rare, except in parts of Norway and Gotland where brewers malt themselves.
In 2014–2015 I wrote the book Sahti: Elävä muinaisolut (in Finnish) with Johannes Silvennoinen and Hannu Nikulainen, and the bulk of my research was done during that time. We traveled 8000 km in Finland and Estonian islands, interviewing about 50 sahti and koduõlu brewers, and tasting more than one hundred examples of these ales. I also interviewed experts and scientists on malting, yeast, archaeology, botany and baker’s yeast production. I have been homebrewing sahti since 2004, receiving numerous brewing tips from true farmhouse brewers. For the book, I made several brewing tests on farmhouse ingredients, techniques and recipes.
The foundation for sahti knowledge have been laid by a Finnish ethnographer Matti Räsänen, surveys of Suomen sahtiseura (Finnish Sahti Society), and the thesis of Carl Niclas Hellenius from 1780:
Räsänen, Matti (1975). Vom Halm zum Fass: Die Volkstümlichen alkoholarmen Getreidegetränke in Finnland. Suomen Muinaismuistoyhdistys, Kansatieteellinen Arkisto.
Räsänen, Matti (1977). Ohrasta olutta, rukiista ryypättävää: Mietojen kansanomaisten viljajuomien valmistus Suomessa. Jyväskylän yliopisto, Etnologian laitos.
Asplund, Ulla (editor) (1990). Sahtikirja. Suomen Sahtiseura.
Hellenius, Carl Niclas (1780). Finska allmogens bryggnings-sätt. Doctoral thesis for the Academy of Turku. Digitized by The National Library of Finland.
These have been the most important sources on other related farmhouse ales:
Nordland, Odd (1969). Brewing And Beer Traditions In Norway: The Social Anthropological Background Of The Brewing Industry. The Norwegian Research Council For Science And The Humanities.
Salomonsson, Anders (1979). Gotlandsdricka: Traditionell kultur som regional identitetssymbol. Press’ Förlag AB.
Jakovlev, Tormis (1995). Olut Virossa. Tampereen museot.
Markowski, Phil (2004). Farmhouse Ales: Culture and Craftsmanship in the Belgian Tradition. Brewers Publications.
As a background material, I have used several books on Finnish folk culture, for example by Toivo Vuorela, Uuno Sirelius, Ilmar Talve and Satu Apo. These books are mostly written in Finnish, but one is also available in English:
Talve, Ilmar (1997). Finnish Folk Culture. Finnish Literature Society.
This story was originally published as Introduction to the Nordic and Baltic Farmhouse Ales in August 2016. This story was very long, and I completely restructured and renamed it in January 2017. The section on history was moved to History of Farmhouse Ales. The section on the availability of commercial examples was moved to Where to Find Commercial Nordic and Baltic Farmhouse Ales? I removed the section on shelf life and storage of sahti, which will be its own article later.
At a recent homebrew club meeting, one of the members asked me a brilliant question – when and how should you adjust your mash pH when all grain beer brewing? This is a devilishly complex question as you want to adjust your mash pH quickly if brewing with modern malts.
The Mash pH Conundrum
I and others have written extensively on the importance of controlling your mash pH and maintaining it in the range of 5.2-5.6 during the sugar conversion step. A proper mash pH contributes to better flavor, complete conversion, and improved long-term stability.
You can use additives like lactic acid and phosphoric acid to quickly adjust your mash pH, and I wrote an article recently on the purchase and care of a pH meter. So one might assume you can just use your pH meter to measure the mash pH after dough-in of the grains and then adjust it using lactic acid from the homebrew shop — right?
The problem is that most modern malts are very highly modified, which means they have a lot more enzymes (diastatic power) that is really needed to convert the sugars in your crushed grains into fermentable forms. Time is also working against us since it takes easily 10-15 minutes to dough in and stabilize the mash pH so it can be measured. Modern highly modified pale malts can in many cases convert the sugars within 20-30 minutes.
It could take 10-15 minutes to dough in, and another 5-10 minutes to get the mash sample down to room temperature to take a proper measurement then calculate and add the right amount of lactic acid. Which means it is possible for the majority of your conversion step to be complete before you’ve measured and adjusted your pH!
Managing Mash pH Properly
Fortunately, you can estimate both your predicted mash pH and the predicted acid adjustment needed using the software. Here’s a detailed article on how to do it in BeerSmith. The only problem here is that the pH estimate is exactly that – an estimate!
So the compromise I’ve settled on is to use BeerSmith to estimate my mash pH, then use that estimated value to determine the amount of lactic acid to use. Then what I do is add about 80% of that acid up front before I mash in. This usually gets my mash pH within the acceptable 5.2-5.6 range, and then I will take a measurement with my pH meter after I dough in and make any fine adjustments needed with some additional acid based on that measurement.
The advantage of this technique is that by adding most of the acid up front, I’m assuring that the mash pH starts in the acceptable range. However, by also measuring and making a final pH adjustment I’m assuring that the pH is stable if the mash conversion takes longer but most importantly assuring the correct pH to support the long-term stability of the beer.
This is the best compromise between treating your mash based only on an estimate and treating your mash pH based on an actual pH measurement.
Gallons * Temp Rise (F)
———————————— * 1000 = Watts Required
372 * heat up time (hours)
So, for a homebrew example of 7 gallons of wort at the beginning of your boil, and desiring to reach boil in 15 minutes, and assuming your wort temperature before boil is 150 degrees F after sparge runnoff:
You’ll have to tweak the formula to account for your starting boil size, typical sparge runnoff temp, and desired time to boil. Another limiting factor is going to be your available amperage to hook up the element. Since watts = amps * voltage, a typical 15 amp household breaker running at 110V will at most power a 1650W element.
The other main concern you’ll want to watch out for is watt density of the immersion element. This is the measure of watts per square inch. Sugary water like wort tends to not conduct heat very well, so you want a low watt density to prevent the sugars from scorching. What qualifies as a ‘low enough’ watt density is something I’ve yet to figure out, but I suspect you’ll be fine with anything at 40 or less watts/sq in. Keeping the wort moving (by stirring) will also mitigate this potential problem.
Gruit is a drink from olden times, a drink much like beer, but made without the use of hops. Instead of hops, bittering herbs of different varieties were used, and there is evidence to support the idea that beer without hops is a different and livelier experience on many levels. Gruit was swept under the rug when beer purity laws ravaged the brewers of Europe in the 1500s, but is now making a revival.
Before the beer purity laws which swept Europe in the 1500s, beer was made with many different admixtures, and Gruit was one variety which was popular. Recipes for gruit were different depending on which herbs grew locally. According to GruitAle.com, gruit usually included the following herbs: Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Bog Myrtle (Myrica Gale), and Marsh Rosemary (Ledum palustre). This claim is also supported by the book Sacred & Healing Herbal Beers, by Stephen Harrod Buhner. This book contains many ancient recipes for beer, including a section on gruit. Additional herbs which have been found in gruit recipes are Juniper berries, Mugwort, Wormwood, Labrador Tea, Heather, Licorice, and some others.
There are a few factors to consider when comparing the inebriatory qualities of gruit in comparison to more commonly made beer. It is held amongst those experienced in gruit inebriation that gruit rivals hopped beer on many accounts. One factor is that hops create a sedentary spirit in the imbiber. Amongst those knowledgeable about herbs, hops tea is well known as a catalyst for dreams, and creates drowsiness for the beer drinker. Hops is also an anaphradesiacal herb – meaning that it lessens sexual desire. While the alcohol in beer can lessen inhibitions – which may result in bawdier activities in many – the anaphradesiacal effect of the hops does counter act this to some degree. Gruit, on the other hand, does not counter this effect and also has a unique inebriatory effect due to the chemical composition of the herbs involved in its manufacture. One of noticeable aspect of this chemical composition is the Thujone content.
Thujones are chemicals known as alkaloids, which cause an additional form of inebriation when imbibed in beer. According to Jonathan Ott’s book, Pharmaecotheon I, Thujones act upon some of the same receptors in the brain as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, as found in Marijuana), and are also present in the spirit known as Absinthe. Gruit and Absinthe sometimes share the same herbs in their manufacture, such as Wormwood, Anise seed, and Nutmeg, but it is the herb Yarrow (Achilles Millefolium) that contains the lion’s share of thujones in the gruit concoction.
Yarrow is an herb with many uses and plays a profound part in history and myth. According to Buhner, its use can be traced back 60,000 years. Through many different cultures, from Dakota to ancient Romans, Yarrow has been used to staunch serious wounds – it is even rumored to have been used by Achilles (hence the name Achilles Millefolium, the thousand leaved plant of Achilles). According to Buhner, the plants’ aphrodisiacal qualities are also documented in the Navaho culture. As an inebriant, it has been used in the Scandinavian countries and in North America as well.
Bog Myrtle (Myrica gale) and Wild Rosemary (Ledum glandulosum) also have many uses in the realm of herbalism, but not nearly as many as Yarrow. Both tend to have inebriation enhancing effects in beer, but also tend to cause a headache and probably a wicked hangover, if too much is drunk. The use of Bog Myrtle in ale was continued through the 1940s in Europe and the 1950s in outlying areas of England and the Scandinavian countries – Wild Rosemary probably through the 18th century.
Although some traditionally made non-hopped ales have survived the pervasiveness of hops in the world of beer, the craft of making gruit has largely been out of practice. But, in the golden age of craft ales in which we live, we can see a re-newed interest in this ancient ale and others like it. Namely, beer made without hops: Williams Brothers brewery’s Fraoch, a revival of an ancient Scottish recipe, uses heather, sweet gale, and ginger. Belgium brewery Proefbrouwerji’s Gageleer uses sweet gale. England’s Lancelot brewery has mixed styles with their Cervoise, containing heather as well as hops. I think we will see more herbal beers in the coming days that will open the world of beer to more and more unique forms of inebriation.
Discussions about water can get complicated fast, especially if you aren’t familiar with hydrology. But there are a few basics that specifically apply to the homebrewer, which can set the foundation for further exploration into the realm of brewing water.
Let’s take a look at the four key aspects of water that relate to homebrewing and how they affect the beer making (and drinking) process.
pH is the measurement of acidity in water. The amount of concentrated hydrogen ions determines where a sample of water will fall on the 0-14 pH scale. A neutral reading (seven) indicates there is an even balance of hydrogen and hydroxide ions. Anything below seven treads into acidic territory, and above seven towards the base side of the scale.
The affects of pH begin in the mash and follow through to the last sip of a pint. pH influences everything from enzymatic activity and fermentability to color and taste of beer, making it a crucial aspect of water. However, it is a common misconception that water must be a certain pH prior to brewing. While this is somewhat true, the real concern is achieving a certain pH in the mash and ultimately in the kettle. After all, mash pH directly affects kettle pH, and kettle pH ultimately impacts how the character of beer will be perceived on the palate.
Ideally, mash pH should be in the range of 5.1-5.8 (5.2-5.5 being optimal). When lautering, it is key to ensure that the pH of the runoff is not above 5.8, since this is when astringent, lip-puckering tannins can make their way into the kettle. Many brewers who have issues with runoff pH being too high will use phosphoric acid to acidify the sparge water. The final beer should be in the 4.2-4.4 pH range to achieve optimal taste and stability. Brews above 4.5 will likely exhibit heavier, harsher character with a lacking freshness. Below 4.0 can start to create a thin drinking experience and even add an unintentional tartness.
Chances are you’ve heard of “hard water” before, especially if you live in an area that has hard tap water. Hardness was originally developed to indicate how difficult it is to get soap to lather in the water sample, which is not all that useful when it comes to homebrewing beer. However, hardness can also be used as an indicator of the amount of calcium and magnesium ions in water.
Hardness is categorized as either temporary or permanent. Temporary hardness is a signifier as to how much calcium carbonate is present, which can be reduced by boiling the water and allowing the calcium carbonate to precipitate out. Permanent hardness, on the other hand, is based on the amount of sulfates and chlorides present.
While hard water might not be pleasant to drink, the calcium present is key to brewing, so it’s not typically a priority to reduce the hardness of brewing water.
Alkalinity & Residual Alkalinity
Alkalinity is a measurement of how much a water sample will resist a change in pH, otherwise known as water’s buffering capacity. Hydroxide, carbonate and bicarbonate ions primarily contribute to alkalinity, which undergoes reactions with acidic substances that increase water’s pH value. On water reports, alkalinity is often times recorded as the amount of bicarbonate or calcium carbonate.
Because much of the United States water sources have medium to high alkalinity, it can cause the mash pH to increase, which can cause mash efficiency issues and carry over into the final beer as an overall dullness and other unfavorable characteristics.
The alkalinity remaining in solution after phosphates present in malt react with the calcium and magnesium water, which precipitates out insoluble salts lowering the pH, is termed residual alkalinity. In the end, it is largely the residual alkalinity and the acidity of the malts being mashed that will determine the mash of the pH and affect the outcome of the final beer.
Sometimes called stylistic ions, flavor ions are the most important when it comes to affecting beer character. Flavor ions include sodium, chloride, and sulfate, while calcium and magnesium mainly affect hardness and carbonates and bicarbonates affect alkalinity. Together, all three groups affect pH and mash chemistry, which impact the flavor of the final beer.
Calcium is arguably the most important ion for brewing. It affects enzymatic activity in the mash, protein coagulation during the boil and benefits yeast health. Clarity, flavor, and stability of the final beer all rely on calcium. Ideally, the mash should have 50-200 ppm or calcium.
Magnesium also affects mash pH, but to a lesser extent than calcium. It mainly enhances flavors and sourness when present at lower levels. 10-30 ppm of magnesium will help this flavor accentuation and act as a yeast nutrient, but as concentrations exceed 50 ppm, an unpleasant sour-bitterness and astringency can become apparent.
Sodium also helps round out flavors, particularly accentuating malt sweetness, at an ideal concentration of 70-150 ppm. In higher concentrations (>200 ppm), sodium can add harsh salty-sour notes and potentially become toxic to the yeast.
Chloride accentuates a fuller body and sweetness in beer, particularly in malt-forward styles. In appropriate quantities, it will also improve stability and clarity, but in excess, it can cause a harsh drinking experience.
Sulfate, on the other hand,accentuates a dry crispness and hop bitterness in beer, particularly in hop-forward styles. If concentrations exceed appropriate amounts, a harsh, sulfury quality can be instilled and the hop bitterness can come across as harsh.
Bicarbonate is the primary source of alkalinity in beer. Its role affects the pH, more specifically the ability to alter the pH, of wort and ultimately the final beer.
Backsweetening is a process commonly used in mead and cider making to sweeten the finish of a fermented drink just before packaging. This is a useful technique to have in your arsenal of tricks since it is very common for meads and ciders to ferment out bone-dry, especially if they are intended to be lower in alcohol. But the process is not as simple as dumping in sugar to taste.
Yeast’s job is to convert sugar into alcohol and CO2, a sacred process better known as fermentation. Yeast are very efficient and will continue the fermentation process until all fermentable sugars are depleted, the beer passes the yeast’s alcohol tolerance threshold and/or the yeast is halted by the brewer (either intentionally or accidentally). This means, if you were to simply add in sugar to sweeten a mead or cider, it is very likely the yeast will pick up where they left off and ferment those added sugars, reducing the sweeteness and raising the ABV. This is where backsweetening comes in.
Simply put, backsweetening requires two steps: halting fermentation and adding sugar. The following steps from Ken Schramm’s The Compleat Meadmakercan be used to create a sweetened, uncarbonated mead or cider:
How to Backsweeten
Add 1/2 teaspoon of potassium sorbate per gallon of mead/cider and and stir to halt fermentation. Potassium sorbate does not kill yeast, but prevents them from converting anymore sugars into carbon dioxide and alcohol.
After at least 24 hours, additional sugar (typically honey) can be added to the mead without the risk of fermentation.
The desired sweetness will depend on your personal preference. Add the sugar* of your choosing in small increments, thoroughly stirring, and then testing until the desired sweetness is obtained.
*It is common for honey to be used in meads and apple juice concentrates for ciders, but explore the other sugar options available for something different!
Carbonation and Residual Sweetness
Things get a little trickier if you’re wanting a backsweetened and carbonated mead or cider, especially if you bottle.
The simplest method is to use a homebrew kegging system. Keg systems use tanks of CO2 to force carbonated liquid to a desired level, which does not require the yeast’s services in any way. This is good since ‘step 1’ of the backsweetening process above effectively eliminates the fermentation capabilities of the yeast.
Bottle-conditioning a backsweetened and carbonated mead or cider, on the other hand, is a tricky puzzle to solve. Bottle-conditioning is the process of allowing yeast in a sealed bottle to ferment a small amount of sugar in order to produce CO2 that will dissolve into solution and create carbonation. This means the yeast cannot be halted (as in ‘step 1’ of the process above), and in most instances the sugars added intended to sweeten the mead or cider will be fermented out completely by the yeast. If this occurs in a sealed bottle, the pressure from fermenting all the added sugar can lead to over-carbonation and bottle bombs.
There is the possibility of heat-pasteurizing sweetened, bottle-conditioned mead and ciders, but the process takes some experimentation to master. It involves fermenting some of mead or cider in a plastic bottle so you can squeeze the bottle and gauge the progression of the carbonation. Once it’s at the target level, heating the bottles in a hot water bath stops the yeast from fermentation. Results may vary at first, but you’ll get the hang of it after a few attempts.
The safest and easiest method for bottling carbonated and sweetened meads and cider is to buy or build a counter-pressure filler to fill bottles with force-carbonated mead or cider from a keg. Since the carbonation is being forcefully added from a CO2 tank, the yeast do not need to be active. It’s the best of both worlds.
Beer is fun, but it can also make you feel better. A new study from the University of Greenwich found that three or four beers can ease your pain better than some over the counter painkillers.
The study found that when a person brings their blood alcohol content to the legal limit of .08 percent, that person’s pain threshold is elevated. The researchers concluded from their study that “alcohol is an effective analgesic (pain reliever) that delivers clinically-relevant reductions in ratings of pain intensity.”
The head of the study, Dr. Trevor Thompson, told The Sun that the pain relieving power of alcohol “is more powerful than paracetamol.” Paracetamol, or acetaminophen, is found in over the counter pain and fever reducers like Tylenol.
To get to this conclusion, Thompson and his team did a meta analysis of 18 studies on PubMed, PsycINFO, and Embase dating back to April 2016. Each study looked at the dosages of alcohol on pain response. In all, 404 people were involved in the studies, with 13 of the studies comparing pain thresholds of people who drank alcohol versus those who drank no alcohol.
Yet the study focused on how alcohol in general can make you feel better, not just beer. We already know that wine is good for your brain, and that hot toddies cure the common cold. Time to add pain reliever to that list as well.
So the next time you feel a headache coming on, consider a pint or two. It’ll make you feel better.