When To Pick Your Grapes: The Big Compromise (Pt. 4)

Time To Harvest GrapesThis is the last part of a 4 part series on knowing when to pick your grapes. Part 1 went over the importance of knowing when to harvest. Part 2 covered how to take the readings from the grapes and what they mean. Part 3 went over what kind of readings to expect.

 

What’s One To Do?

Unless you have some high-dollar real estate in California wine country, it’s not likely you will hit the best Brix, pH and TA readings all at the same time. Some years the climate will just not cooperate, and you will most likely need to make compromises.

Of course, you can get lucky in a particular year with just the right weather at the right time, but counting on getting lucky is a fool’s bet. You must learn to make the optimal best out of the meteorological cards you are being dealt.

A good rule of thumb is to try to harvest when the ratio of Brix to TA is between 31:1 and 34:1. This will always get you a good compromise between alcohol content and tartness.

As an example, lets say you do a titration and discover that the TA is .85% – still a little high – and your refractometers Brix reading is 23. This gives you a Brix to TA ratio of about 27:1. You get this by taking the Brix and dividing it by the TA (23/.85)… not time to harvest.

Two weeks later you take another reading with your titration kit and get a TA of .73% (a little lower) and your refractometers reading says a Brix of 24 (a little higher). These readings get you a ratio of about 33:1… time to harvest.

The only exception to this general rule has to do with pH. If the pH looks like it is going to go out of ideal range, then go ahead and harvest right away. The pH getting out of range trumps the Brix to TA ratio. This means for white wines, if it looks like it’s going to go higher than of pH 3.3. then harvest. For reds, if it goes higher than 3.5, then harvest. Shop Acid Test Kit

Proper pH is more important than Brix and TA simply because you can’t directly adjust pH later on without effecting the tartness of the wine, but you can directly adjust Brix and TA without effecting the pH too much.

 

The Wine Hydrometer

In part one of this four part series I mentioned that a wine hydrometer should be purchased, just as a way of double-checking your refractometers reading before actually picking the grapes.

So it’s late in the season. You’ve been taking all your readings, and all the numbers have finely come into their best alignment, and you have come to the conclusion that its time to harvest. Stop! Now should be the time to take a reading with your hydrometer just as a means of making sure it is time to pick.

To do this you will need to crush up a couple of handfuls of grapes taken randomly throughout the vineyard and extract the juice. You need enough juice to get the hydrometer to float. A hydrometer jar is good in this regard because it is tall and slender and does not require a large amount of grape juice to get the wine hydrometer off the bottom.

Shop HydrometersIf your hydrometer’s reading taken from grapes throughout the vineyard matches your refractometer’s reading taken from one grape, then you’re ready to harvest. This is when to pick your grapes to make wine. Get to pickin’ and crushin’.

 

Read More >>

Part I: The Importance Of Timing
Part II: Taking Reading
Part III: What Readings To Expect
Part IV: The Big Compromise

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Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

6 Tips For Making Your Beer Sweeter

3 Sweeter Craft BeersThough in some instances you might appreciate a dry beer, it’s nice to mix things up once in a while and have a sweeter beer on hand. Or, when trying to dial in a beer recipe, you may find yourself wanting to increase the sweetness of the beer in order to balance out the bitterness of the hops. But you can’t just add simple sugar to a beer to make it sweet – the yeast will just consume the sugar and turn it into alcohol. So what are some ways that homebrewers can make their beer sweeter?

 

6 Tips for Making Your Beer Sweeter

  1. Mash at a higher temperature – For all-grain and partial mash homebrewers, it’s possible to control beer sweetness by adjusting the mash temperature. Generally, mashes at the lower range of the acceptable range (144-148˚F) allow the enzymes to break up more of the starches into fermentable sugars, making them easier for the yeast to consume, thereby resulting in a drier beer. Conversely, a mash at the higher end of the range (152-160˚F) does not break up as many of the starches, so those sugar chains are harder for the yeast to consume and they remain in the finished beer. Mashing high also increases body and head retention.
  1. Use more caramel malt – Caramel malts are excellent for making beer sweeter. Caramel 20L and 40L offer a malty/caramel/toffee character, whereas darker caramel malts bring in flavors of raisins and burnt sugar. Caramel malts should be used sparingly to avoid over-sweetening the beer. Usually 1-2 lbs. at the most is sufficient.
  1. Boil longer – A longer boil promotes the Maillard reaction, a chemical reaction often confused with caramelization. Though the Maillard reaction will primarily promote color formation and bready, toasty flavors, an especially intense boil can produce some sweeter caramel flavors.
  1. Add unfermentable sugar – Unfermentable sugars can also be used for making your beer sweeter. Lactose sugar is one of the most popular, and it’s a key ingredient in milk stout. Use up to a pound for a milky smooth stout, or in smaller amounts to lend your beer a little extra sweetness.
  1. Use calcium chloride Shop Barley Grains– For all-grain brewers working with soft water, increasing the amount of chloride in brewing water can enhance the maltiness of a beer. As an experiment, try mixing a solution of calcium chloride in water and using a dropper to dose small amounts into a finished beer. This will give you an indication of how it affect beer flavor and mouthfeel.
  1. Use a less attenuative yeast strain – In brewing, attenuation is the degree to which yeast convert sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. A highly attenuative yeast strain will consume a large proportion of available sugar, whereas a less attenuative strain will leave some sugars in the beer. Examples of less attenuative yeast strains include many of the English strains, for example Wyeast 1084: Irish Ale, Wyeast 1099: Whitbread Ale, Wyeast 1187: Ringwood Ale, and Wyeast 1968: London ESB. That said, remember that yeast selection is only one factor that affects attenuation. Yeast health, pitch rate, mash characteristics, and fermentation temperature all come into play.

 

Do you have any tips for making a beer sweeter? Have you tried any of the above methods?

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David Ackley is a writer, brewer, and craft beer marketing consultant. He holds a General Certificate in Brewing from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and is founder of the Local Beer Blog.

A Simple Guide To Making Wine From Grapes

Hands Full Of Wine GrapesMaking wine from a grape wine kit is relatively straightforward. You have the directions and the other ingredients pre-measured. But now that you’ve grown more comfortable with making wine from these kits, you’re ready for the next level: making wine from grapes. It’s not really all that different from making wine from a wine concentrate?

Most of the process is the same. However, the first few steps is where making wine from grapes becomes more involved and just a little more complex. You can no longer rely on the wine kit producers to prep the grapes for you. It’s now up to you!

 

Choosing The Wine Grapes:

When making wine from grapes, the first thing you’ll need to determine is what variety of grape you will be using, and where you will be getting these grapes.

What it boils down to is: what kind of wine do you like to drink? Are you a big red fan?  Then maybe don’t buy Sauvignon Blanc grapes, buy Cabernet Sauvignon!  You get the idea.

Next, you’ll need to decide where you wish to purchase your wine grapes.  Are you looking for a particular style – say a Napa Cab?  Maybe you just want to find the source that’s closest to you – for example a mid-western variety such as Chambourcin or Vignoles. Depending on the time of year and place, you may only have a few varieties to choose from.

 

Inspecting The Wine Grapes:

Shop RefractometersThis is where making wine from grapes gets down and dirty.  Squeeze a couple of grapes in between your fingers and taste the juice. Fill a hydrometer jar with some of the juice, and use a gravity hydrometer to measure the sugar content of the juice. If you want to get more serious, a refractometer also works good for testing the grapes and only require a drop or two of juice to do so. Ideally, you’re looking for a reading somewhere between 22 and 24 Brix.

 

Washing and Sorting The Wine Grapes:

You will want to wash the grapes lightly to remove any dirt, debris or any other foreign matter.

 

Preparing The Wine Must:

Now that you have the wine grapes ready to go, it is time to de-stem, crush and press the grapes:

  • De-stemming The Wine Grapes:
    This is something that can be done by hand. It’s simply a matter of pulling the grapes from the stems. If you have a larger amount of grapes, you may find it necessary to invest in a de-stemmer. Not only does the de-stemmer remove the stems, it crushes the grape, as well. Which happens to be the next step…Shop Grape Wine Presses
  • Crushing The Wine Grapes:
    One of the most common mistakes when making wine from grapes is over-crushing the grapes. You do not want to shred or macerate the grapes. You only want them to be crushed enough to break the skin. Nothing more is necessary. Crushing the grapes beyond this can lead to a wine with excessive tannin and bitterness.Crushing can be done by hand, but again, if you have a large number of grapes, you may decide it best to invest in a crusher/de-stemmer, or at least, a grape crusher.
  • Pressing The Wine Grapes:
    Most beginning winemakers will find it surprising to discover that most of the time the grapes are not pressed until after the first 3 to 5 days of fermentation. This is almost always true for red wines and sometimes even for whites. You want the pulp in with the fermentation. This is where the wine gets most of it’s flavor and body – from the pulp and skin of the grape.With white wines the pressing usually comes first – before the fermentation has started. While you can squeeze the grapes by hand or be some other rigged means. You will most likely want to purchase a wine press. They are available in several different sizes. A press will allow you get more juice/wine from the pulp. So much so, the pulp will have a dry feel to it when you are done – something that can’t be done by hand.

 

What’s Next?

Once you have the wine must together, the method for making wine from grapes and making wine from grape juice mostly comes back into sync: ferment, rack, etc. – with the exception of pressing the grapes.

Shop Digital pH MeterEven though you tested the grapes when purchasing them, you may also want to verify with a wine hydrometer that the must has enough sugar. If not, you will need to add sugar until the potential alcohol scale on the hydrometer reads between 11% and 13%. Most of the time the wine must will already be in this range.

You may also want to check that the pH of the wine is in the correct range. The pH relates to the acidity of the wine. This can be done with either pH papers or a digital pH meter. An ideal reading would be between 3.4 and 3.8. It is important to remember that the pH scale works backwards, so adding more acid blend will lower the pH. You can read more about adjusting acidity on our website.

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Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

Homebrew Hacks: Maximizing Brew Kettle Output With High-Gravity Brewing

Man Pouring Wort Into PaleSooner or later we all reach the limit on our brewing equipment. When it comes to brew kettles, standard procedure is to start with a 5-gallon kettle for partial mash brewing, then eventually upgrade to an 8-, 10-, or 15-gallon kettle in order to advance to all-grain brewing and brew bigger batches.

But brew kettles can be a big investment. To bridge the gap between your current kettle and the next size up, you can utilize high gravity brewing to brew more beer with less space. In other words, you can brew 15 gallons of beer with your 10-gallon kettle. This will allow you to maximize your brew kettle output before moving to a larger size kettle.

So how does this work?

Think about your typical 5-gallon, partial mash recipe kit. Usually what we do is mix the ingredients into a 3- or 4-gallon boil, then add water (preferably clean, chlorine-free water) to the fermenter to bring up the volume to five gallons. This can also be done with your own homebrew recipes and on a larger scale.

 

Scaling the Beer Recipe to Maximize Brew Kettle Output

Scaling the grain and/extract side of the recipe is pretty straightforward. As a homebrewer, all you need to do is increase the malts and malt extracts in proportion to the batch size. Say for example the five-gallon recipe you usually make in your 7.5-gallon kettle uses 6.6 lbs. of malt extract. To brew a ten-gallon batch, still use the same amount of water for the boil, but double the malt extract. After diluting in the fermenter, your original gravity should be pretty close to what it is when you brew the five-gallon batch. (Things are a little more complicated when brewing all-grain, but the same principles apply.)

The tricky part with scaling recipes into high gravity versions is controlling hop bitterness. IBUs are directly influenced by hop utilization, which is a factor of boil gravity and boil time. The higher the gravity of the boil, the lower the hop utilization. To compensate for the lower hop utilization, we need to do more than double the hops to arrive at the same IBUs.

Shop Brew KettlesTo figure out how much hops to use, work backwards. Say we want the finished beer to have 40 IBUs. We’re planning to brew five gallons of a 1.080 beer, which will be 1.040 after diluting with five gallons of water. That means the IBUs of the brew pre-dilution should be 80. As an example, it may only take 1.5 oz. of hops to reach 40 IBUs when doing a full-volume boil, but it will take 4.3 oz. of the same hops added at the same time to impart the same amount of bitterness in the higher gravity brew. These calculations can be tricky – use an IBU calculator to help you sort it out. In some cases you may want to add half the malt extract at the end of the boil (a late addition) in order to maximize hop utilization.

 

Limitations of High Gravity Brewing

To simplify the calculations above, I’ve used a 1:1 ration for dilution (one gallon dilution water for every gallon of wort). In reality, this is about the upper extreme of how much you’d want to dilute a homebrew. Diluting a high gravity boil can certainly be effective, but you want to avoid creating a beer that tastes watered down. Diluting before fermentation will help to avoid this.

Have you every tried brewing high-gravity beers to maximize your brew kettle output? How did it go?

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David Ackley is a writer, brewer, and craft beer marketing consultant. He holds a General Certificate in Brewing from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and is founder of the Local Beer Blog.

What On Earth Is Bottle Shock?

Exploding Wine BottleIf you didn’t already know what this blog was about, the term bottle shock might conger up some interesting visions. I personally think of someone getting hit over the head by a bottle while in some bar fight.

 

So What Is Bottle Shock?

Bottle shock is a term used to refer to a wine that is suffering from the symptoms of getting too much air in too little time. These wines tend to be flat in their overall character. Their bouquet lacks fruitiness, and the finish can be just a tad bit off.

Bottle shock normally comes over a wine when it is being bottled. When bottling homemade wines more oxygen than normal becomes saturated into the wine. It can also happen if when the wine is being transported. The sloshing of the wine can cause this effect as will. This is why it is also sometimes referred to as travel shock.

The good news is the effects of bottle shock are temporary. In a matter of weeks after putting in the cork stoppers, or letting the bottle rest after its long journey, the lack-luster wine will blossom back into something that is usually better than what it was before.

 

Why Does Bottle Shock Happen?Shop Wine Bottles

Now that you know the answer to, “What is bottle shock?”, it’s time to get to, “Why does bottle shock happen?”

Oxygen is one of the elements that initiates the aging process. It starts a series of chain-reactions which in and of itself is the definition of aging. But, this oxygen must be introduced into the wine sloooowly so that each aging process in the chain can progress in a balanced way. It must also happen if very small amounts. Too much oxygen can be the catalyst for oxidation.

This is because some aging processes can not keep up with the higher infusion of oxygen as fast as others. As a result, the wine begins to taste out of balance until all the different aging reactions can get caught up.

This is one of the major reasons why natural cork stoppers make such great closures for wine bottles. They allows new air into the bottle but at a slow rate. Even synthetic corks are carefully designed and tested to see how much air will slip past them over a given amount of time. This is how critical the rate of oxygen is to the aging process. You need oxygen, just not much of it and not very quickly.

Once the aging catches up to the oxygen, the wine begins to come back to life. The net effect almost always results in a wine that is just as good if not better than it was before bottling.

 

The Take Away…

Shop Wine CorksWines that have been recently bottled are not capable of being at their best because of bottle shock. These wines should be allowed to rest for a few weeks before consumption. A slow infusion of oxygen over a long period of time is what wines need to age. This is why natural corks and synthetic corks make good wine bottle closures.

Hopefully, this information will help you out a little in your wine making adventures. At minimum, you’ll now know what to say if someone comes up and asks you, “what is bottle shock?”

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Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

Oak Aged Imperial IPA: No Barrel Needed!

Imperial IPA made from a homebrew beer recipeWe Americans tend to like everything bigger and better – even our beer. For those of us who enjoy big hop bombs, a regular India Pale Ale doesn’t always cut it. Let’s take it to the next level with an IMPERIAL IPA.

Imperial IPAs are sometimes known as Double IPAs. All the word “imperial” or “double” means is that they have more of everything: more hops, more malt, and more alcohol. The color remains in the light amber to copper color range. Malt flavor should be present, but hops are the main event, usually American hop varieties. Most Imperial IPA beer recipes will have a substantial amount of late addition flavor and aroma hops, often with a decent to aggressive amount of dry hops for even more hop aroma. Alcohol content typically ranges from about 7.5-10% ABV.

The Imperial IPA beer recipe below goes one step further by incorporating oak flavor. In no way should the oak dominate the flavor of the beer. It should just be a subtle note that supports all of the other flavor elements.

Continue reading

When To Pick Your Grapes: What Readings To Expect (Pt. 3)

Evaluating Wine Grapes For HarvestThis is part 3 of a 4 part series about when to pick your grapes. Part 1 went over the importance of knowing when to harvest. Part 2 covered how to take the readings from the grapes and what they mean. 

 

Ideal Readings

Here’s a quick run-down of what would be optimum readings you would want from the grapes for producing most wines. As an amateur vintner these are the numbers you should be striving to achieve.

The refractometers sugar reading should be around 20 to 26 Brix. This will potentially produce a wine between 10% to 13% alcohol. White wines should lean more towards the 20-22 Brix range, whereas Reds should be closer to 24 to 26 Brix. Red’s have more flavor, so they can handle more alcohol and still stay in balance.

As for pH readings with a digital pH meter, you would like your whites wines to reach 3.2 to 3.3. Remember the scale is reverse. You’ll be starting out earlier in the year around 2.8. You would like Red wines to be somewhere around 3.4 to 3.5. From a preservation standpoint, Reds don’t need to be as acidic as Whites because they have more alcohol to ward off any microbial growth.

Shop Acid Test KitTitratable acidity (TA) readings, as measured by a titration kit, should be .65% to .75% for white wines and .60% to .70% for reds. Again, the difference in these two is stated in the reason above.

 

The Reality Of Readings

The above readings would be great if you could attain each of them every year, but the reality is that in most parts of the U.S. hitting all these numbers in the same year is a struggle. You can plant in good soil and cultivate with care, but all that can be for not if the climate does not cooperate.

In cooler climates the refractometers reading quite often never reaches the appropriate range before the weather becomes too cool. In other areas pH may become to high before the refractometers readings can become adequate. Or, it may rain too much right before harvest, causing the grapes to plumpen up too much. This can dilute the sugar, acid and flavor to disastrous levels.

It’s only in regions where temperatures are moderate enough to provide a long growing season with moderate rain that grape growers have very little problems achieving these numbers. Such is the case of the inner valleys of California: Napa, Sonoma, etc. These areas benefit from the even, Mediterranean climate that the Pacific winds provide.

For other regions it is usually a compromise to get these three numbers into alignment. And, that is what we will discuss in the next part of this series.

 

Read More >> Shop Digital pH Meter

Part I: The Importance Of Timing
Part II: Taking Reading
Part III: What Readings To Expect
Part IV: The Big Compromise

—————
Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

6 Ways to Recharge Your Homebrewing Mojo

Homebrewer With Mojo2I get it – we all get bogged down by the rhythms of modern life. Sometimes, it’s hard to make time for homebrewing, and before long, it’s been months since your last brew day.

That’s when you remember, “but I love brewing!” and ask yourself, “how do I get back into it?” Well, here are six ideas to get back into the swing of homebrewing:

 

  1. Brew your favorite beer – What’s the best beer you’ve ever tasted? How would you like to have five gallons of that beer on hand? Whether it’s a commercial beer or a homebrew, chances are you can make a clone. Create your own clone recipe or choose from some of these awesome clone recipes or clone recipe homebrew kits.
  1. Make it social – Brewing’s more fun with others. Invite some homebrewers you know over for a brew day, or maybe introduce one of your friends to the hobby. Make a party of it. Serve some food, some beer, watch the big game. More hands on deck means less work and more fun.
  1. Go to an AHA Rally – The American Homebrewers AssociationShop Steam Freak Kits has been hosting homebrew rallies at craft breweries all over the country. Take a little road trip, try some homebrews, make some friends. Want to take it a step further? Go to the National Homebrewers Conference.
  1. Try something different – If you’ve been stuck in a homebrewing rut, maybe it’s time to mix things up. If you’re an extract brewer, maybe it’s time to give all-grain a try. Or maybe experiment with brewing a lager, mead, sour beer – maybe even give winemaking a try. Try something different and you may revive that curiosity that got you into homebrewing in the first place.
  1. Get a new toy – Nothing inspires quite like a new homebrewing gadget. Maybe it’s time you got yourself a propane burner, a stir plate, or a pH meter.
  1. Enter a competition – Sometimes, the best motivation is a deadline. Search for homebrew competitions in your area and sign up. Plan out how much time you’ll need to brew, ferment, and age the beer before sending it in. Read these tips for succeeding in homebrew competitions and put that brew date on the calendar!

Shop Temp Controller

Have you ever found yourself in a homebrew funk? What did you do to get out of it?

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David Ackley is a beer writer, brewer, and self-described “craft beer crusader.” He holds a General Certificate in Brewing from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and is founder and editor of the Local Beer Blog.

Controlling Your Wine’s Alcohol

Man Affraid of Alcohol in Wine.My name is Lee and I have been making wine from your recipes for awhile. I was wondering what I could do to lower the alcohol content. If I used half the sugar the recipe called for, would that do it? If you could help I would appreciate it.

Thank You,
Lee
____
Lee,

A very short answer to your question is, “yes”, however there is a lot more to controlling the alcohol content of your wine than meets the eye.

It sounds like you understand that when a wine ferments it is turning sugar into alcohol. Less sugar in the fermentation equals less alcohol in the wine, but adding half the sugar that a wine recipe calls for does not give you half the alcohol in the wine. This is because some of the sugar is coming from the fruit itself.

An easy way to get around this difficulty is to use this wine making tip as a general rule of thumb when attempting to control the alcohol content of a wine:

“For every pound of sugar that you add to a 5 gallon wine recipe,
you will increase the wine’s potential alcohol by 1%.”

In your case, the opposite holds true as well. This is not exact, but it is extremely close.

Shop Wine Hydrometer To Help Control The Alcohol Content Of Your Wine.The biggest problem with this generality is that it does not tell you where your potential alcohol level is at, currently – before you made any adjustments. If you are following someone’s wine recipe that calls for a specific amount of sugar, this can only get you in a potential alcohol range, not an exact target. This is because the amount of sugar coming from the fruit can vary.

Because of this, the best way to adjust the beginning sugar level in your wine’s must is to use a wine hydrometer. Most gravity hydrometers have a Potential Alcohol scale that will tell you how much alcohol the sugar in your wine can potentially make. Knowing this will allow you to control your finished wine’s alcohol level with more precision.

For more information about the hydrometer, the book First Steps In Winemaking has a great section on this subject. You also might want to take a look at the article, Getting To Know Your Hydrometer listed on our website’s Resources & Guides section.

 

Keeping Your Alcoholic Aspirations In Check…

While the above information and other wine making books will allow you to control the alcohol content of your wine to any alcohol level you desire, there are limitations that can not be ignored. I would be negligent if I did not bring them up at this point.

 

  1. You would always like the alcohol level of your wine to be at least 8%. Wines with less alcohol than this do not keep well. Wine needs the alcohol to keep contaminants in check. Over time, wines that have 5%-6%-7% alcohol Shop Hydrometer Jarstend to turn brown more easily and are more susceptible to spoilage.
  1. You do not want your wine’s potential alcohol to be more than 14%. Wine yeast, the stuff that gets the wine fermenting, has limits as to how much alcohol it can tolerate. Shooting for an alcohol level that is beyond your yeast’s ability to ferment can result in either a stuck fermentation and a wine that is too sweet for your liking.

 

Having said this, trying to control the alcohol content of your wine is not always necessary. Most times, just following a sound wine recipe is all you need. Most of them are designed to make a wine that is in balance and of an alcohol level that is appropriate to the wine’s traditional style.

Happy Wine Making,
Ed Kraus

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Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

Homebrewing: By the Numbers

The 411 on home brewing measurements.Home brewing doesn’t require you to take a whole lot of measurement or to know a whole lot about the science side of the hobby. After all, people have been making beer for thousands of years, and it wasn’t until relatively recently that anyone really understood the role yeast played in the brewing process. But in order to make good beer predictably and consistently, knowing how to control the numbers is critical.

Below, find a breakdown of the most common home brewing measurements and figures used when making beer. Learn how to work these numbers, and your homemade beer will be all the better!

 

Common Home Brewing Measurements:

  • Volume – One of the most basic calculations you’ll need to keep track of is volume – the amount of space your beer takes up. Overshooting or undershooting your volume measurements can have a huge impact on beer color, flavor, alcohol content, mouthfeel, and more.
  • Weight – Homebrew ingredients are typically measured out by weight. A digital scale is an important tool for your home brewery.
  • Temperature – Measuring temperature comes into play in several parts of homebrewing. We often try to hit a specific temperature when steeping or mashing grains. Having good control over fermentation temperature can “make or break” your beer.Shop Accurate Scales
  • Gravity – Specific gravity is a measurement of the density of a liquid. Pure water has a specific gravity of 1.000. In brewing, gravity tells us how much dissolved solids there are in wort and in finished beer. We usually measure gravity with a hydrometer. By taking the original or starting gravity and subtracting the finished gravity, we can figure out how much sugar was consumed during the fermentation process and calculate the alcohol content of the finished beer. You’ll often hear beers called “high-gravity” or “low-gravity” (As in, “Man, I had way too many high-gravity beers last night!”). This refers to the original gravity of the beer, and by extension, the alcohol content.
  • ABV – “Alcohol by volume.” Using the gravity measurements from above, we can figure out the alcohol content of beer. Take the original gravity (let’s say 1.050) and subtract the final gravity (1.010). Take that number (0.040) and multiply by 131.25 to get the alcohol content (5.25%). There are ABV calculators that can help with the math, but I find it’s easy enough just to plug the numbers into my phone.
  • IBUs – “International Bittering Units.” In Europe, these may be listed as EBUs – they’re the same thing. IBUs are a figure that relates how much bitterness is contributed to a beer by hops. You can do IBU calculations by hand, but for these I usually use an IBU calculator. But in general, know that the more hops you use, the higher the alpha acid content of the hops, and the longer they are boiled in the wort, the higher the IBUs.
  • Alpha AcidsShop Temp Controller – Alpha acids, which are found in hops, are what make beer bitter. They’re expressed as a percentage of the total weight of the hops. For example, Cascade hops are typically 4.5-6% AA. You’ll often see recipes that call for a specific number of AAUs or HBUs. These stand for alpha acid units or homebrew bittering units. These are an easy way to develop consistency when alpha acids may change from batch to batch. To calculate AAUs or HBUs, take the weight of the hops (say, 1.5 oz.) and multiply by the alpha acid content of the hops (5%). That adds up to 7.5 AAUs.
  • SRM – SRM stands for standard reference method and is a measurement of beer color. The palest beers, like wits and pale lagers, are in the 2-5 SRM range. Anything over about 35-40 is a very dark beer. (In Europe they use the EBC scale – it’s roughly double SRM.)
  • Lovibond – Lovibond is a measurement of malt color, the main contributor to beer color. Very pale pilsner or pale ale malt is usually below 5 degrees Lovibond. Some of the mid-range malts that give beer an amber or copper range from about 20 to 100˚L. The darkest malts – the chocolate malts and heavily roasted malts – tend to be in the 300-500 range. A good recipe builder will help you with the math of predicting beer color.

 

Other Home Brewing Measurements and Calculations

These are just some of the primary figures used in homebrewing. As you advance in the hobby, you’ll also start paying more and more attention to things like efficiency, pH, pitching rates, and attenuation. But if you have firm control over the numbers above, you’re well on your well to brewing some excellent beer!

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David Ackley is a writer, brewer, and craft beer marketing consultant. He holds a General Certificate in Brewing from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and is founder of the Local Beer Blog.