Beer Wars — A Review

In a later post I’ll fill you all in on how the two different ciders turned out (so far, so good!), but I wanted to share a beer documentary that I watched recently while it is still fresh in my mind.

Beer Wars is a 2009 dobeerwars_poster_smallcumentary that digs into the struggle between the mainstream gigantic brewers (Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors), and the smaller craft breweries. It was written and directed by Anat Baron, who used to run Mike’s Hard Lemonade, and is framed as a David and Goliath story of good beer vs. bad, craft vs. Big Beer. I think that analogy makes sense up to a certain point, but I’ll get into more of that later.

Overall I thought the documentary wasn’t bad, especially as a first effort by someone who can’t drink alcohol. It offers a good explanation of how beer distribution works in the United States, and how its three tier system is an unwieldy and corrupted relic of the post-prohibition era. I also enjoyed some of Sam Calagione’s anecdotes from his early days of starting his Dogfish Head Brewery. Anat Baron’s narration was sometimes awkward, as well as her insertions of herself into the narrative. I appreciate that she was actually in the industry for a while, but usually documentaries work best when their creators stay on the sidelines. Otherwise you get in the dangerzone of vanity projects and untrustworthy sources.

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Hard Cider Racking and Experimenting

A carboy with an airlock

I’ve got three of these guys in my closet right now.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I started two different apple cider fermentations to try my hand at wild yeast fermentation and also to have five sure-fire gallons of hard cider for the holidays. I racked both of them last weekend after six weeks of fermenting, and am pretty pleased with the projects so far.

The gallon of wild yeast cider had fermented very nicely. I saved the yeast cake at the bottom for future hooch and to experiment with using it to make bread. The cider itself had the flavor I was hoping for. It was tangy, very dry and slightly fizzy. This more traditional style of cider is my favorite, and I like it much better than the super sweet commercial options out there now.

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Tasting the Coke Hooch

I finally got a chance to try the cook hooch experiments I started 5 weeks prior, and got some interesting results. I’ll go into more details in the chart below, but basically I wasn’t crazy about any of the combinations I tried. I taste tested them with a couple of friends and the crowd favorite was Trial C, the hooch that tasted the most like regular ole Coke. The Internet was right. Fermented coke doesn’t taste great.


I’ve been mulling over this disappointment and have decided to try another tactic: create a soda pop inspired fermented beverage that is different enough to not compete with the original. When I posted about my project on Reddit, one person pointed out their experiments using Mountain Dew as a flavoring agent for beer, which seems like a neat way to make a drinkable substance with soda. Apparently it left everyone with a nasty hangover though because of the caffeine in the beer, so beware of that.

I think my next step is to ferment a whole gallon of this stuff to get a better handle on the proportions of sugar and to be able to do a gravity reading and know how much alcohol is in the final product. I’m going to add lactose or something similar to create an alcoholic Coke float kind of beverage. I’m using Coke because I still have a lot on hand, but if the Coke float idea is decent, I’ll try it with root beer soda and see where that gets me. This experiment is not quite dead yet.

Trial A Trial B Trial C
12 ozs of Coca-Cola (One can)
1/8 teaspoon yeast nutrient
1/8 teaspoon Red Star yeast, Pasteur Red
6 ozs of Coca-Cola
6 ozs (3/4 cup) water
22.5 g turbinado sugar
(5 single serving packets)
1/8 teaspoon yeast nutrient
1/8 teaspoon Red Pasteur yeast
6 ozs of Coca-Cola
6 ozs water
22.5 g turbinado sugar
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
Mostly tasted like flat soda, but also had a rubbing alcohol flavor and smell. I detected a bit of a kombucha tangy taste to it as well. This one cleared up the most to become a light brown. It was the most sour, and had a strong komucha tang to it. It also smelled a little bit like feet. This one was super sweet with a very little bit of tang. It was the least fermented, and the clear crowd favorite.



Chemistry of Beer — a free online course

Howdy Hoochers,Glass_of_beer_small

I’m sorry for the slow down in posts, but I’ve adopted a new schedule and will be posting updates most Fridays, including this one. However, I wanted to let you all know about a new project I’ll be starting in January.

I recently learned about a free Chemistry of Beer course that looks fascinating. I’ll be taking it next spring and documenting that learning project here (both for your benefit and to keep me motivated). I don’t have a strong background in chemistry, so I’ll be boning up on that this winter. My posts will mostly be me researching the chemistry concepts behind the lectures in greater detail, as I will have a tenuous grasp on what’s going on.

I hope you’re as excited about this as I am!

Tasting our first hooch

fizzy-hoochBelieve it or not, it’s already been close 7 months since we started our experiment with an apple and pear mead with bread yeast. I thought I’d crack open a bottle to see if this project had any promise after all. Thankfully it didn’t taste terrible. In fact, our first attempt was actually pretty good. It was very, very well carbonated, to the extent that I had to let it sit for a while to let the fizz die down. When I opened the bottle, foam squirted out like champagne. I rushed it to the sink, but it would not stop bubbling over and losing our hard-earned hooch. To calm things, I re-closed the swing top cap and put it in the fridge to chill.

After about an hour, I tried to open the bottle again. The mead didn’t foam over, but the fizz was still very active and kicked up all the sediment on the bottom of the bottle. I popped it back into the fridge for another hour or so, and then decided that third time is the charm and tried it anyways. I was pleasantly surprised at how tasty it was. It was like a highly carbonated hard cider that was a little sweet and had a significant pear flavor at the end. Overall I was happy with it, especially since it was such a rough recipe. I’m looking forward to trying the other bottle after it has had even more time to age.

Hard Cider with Wild Yeast

While I’m waiting for my Coke experiments to fizzle out and ferment up, I decided to try something I’d been curious about for a while: wild yeast cider. It’s fall and I’m in apple country, so I got some local cider to experiment with. I used Lalvin wine yeast D47 for 5 gallons of hard cider I’m making for the holidays, but I set aside another gallon for the wild yeast cider.

Gustave Courbet

Apples: tasty then, tasty now

Apples naturally have yeast growing on their skins, and traditionally this is where yeast for hard cider came from . Farmers/brewers would grind up their cider apples for the year and let it sit in wooden casks left open to the air to catch wild yeasts passing by. If you’d like to read about it in detail, this is an engrossing website that goes into the history and microbiology of it all.

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Mini-Carboys and Fermenting Coca-Cola

One of my biggest, most pie-in-the-sky dreams is to one day successfully ferment Coca-Cola. In most of the research (googling) I’ve done, I’ve only found rumors of some brave souls trying it and it being nasty or just authoritative proclamations that it would never work just because “preservatives” or  “acid.”  Despite this, I never found any satisfying answers, and it seems like no one has done sustained trials to determine if this really truly is a disgusting idea. I will be that person.

The first step in the Coke Files is to make very small scale fermentation vessels. While I’m wasting my time with this, I do not want to be wasting too many resources as well. To reduce my commitment to each experimental batch, I made a few mini-carboys with mason jars. This post will explain how to make them. This is where we’re heading:

Coke Carboy

This is the mini-carboy I made specially for the Coke Files

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The End of Bottling at Work

And finally,one last post on bottling the hooch we made at work. I took a few notes, and wanted to share them with you.

Trial 2 – Pear Mead

We bottled this mead a little over two months after we first started it fermenting. It never really cleared very much, I think the pear had too much sediment and pectic haze without us using any pectic enzyme to break the fruit down. Additionally the fruit all sunk to the bottom of the jug, which it didn’t do in any of the other two trials we did at work. I’m not sure why it did that, but it was interesting.

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