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On Tap at the Farmhouse

Tap 1: Habanero Porter

Tap 2: Rye pale ale

Tap 3: Free

Primary: Tripel

Secondary: BBL Imperial Stout with Raspberries, Strong Dark Sour

Aging: Brux Farmhouse, Barrel-Aged Golden Strong Ale

Upcoming: American IPA, Pilsner, Dank Rye IPA


Join us at Big Boss Brewing to raise money for ALS research!


Brew Day: Rye Pale Ale

Two things came together on this December brewday: a deep dive into water chemistry and a collaboration with two of the amazing homebrewers in our club.

I’ve complained in recent posts that our last handful of hop-forward beers lacked aromatic depth and the big, clean hop punch I love in some of my favorite commercial brews. The goal here was to take a bright beer full of American hops and dial in a water profile that roughly matches San Diego (a profile I basically cribbed from Mad Fermentationist). Given our well’s soft, bicarbonate-rich water, that means cutting our strike and sparge water with reverse-osmosis water and adding plenty of gypsum, calcium carbonate, and table salt.

We also don’t collaborate with fellow brewers often enough, and Antonia and Travis from our club are a great brewing duo we'd never brewed with one on one. Antonia mentioned wanting to brew a rye pale ale, and this seemed like the perfect pairing to the water profile experiment.

Antonia and Travis joined us on our front porch, and each pair brewed 5 gallons of the same recipe. We then racked into a single fermenter, a 15.9-gallon Speidel.

The recipe, including the water profile, follow. These kegs are already long gone because we really liked the beer, so tasting notes will follow quickly.

Target Numbers
Batch: 5 gallons
IBU: 55
SRM: 4
OG: 1.059
FG: 1.014
ABV: 5.8%

8.25 lbs. Two-row pale
2.30 lbs. Rye malt
1.00 lbs. Flaked rye
0.35 lbs. CaraPils

Wyeast 1056

Water Profile (San Diego)
Bicarbonate: 104 ppm
Calcium: 84 ppm
Chloride: 102 ppm
Magnesium: 15 ppm
Sodium: 64 ppm
Sulfate: 178 ppm

5.30 oz. Citra
4.45 oz. Centennial
3.05 oz. Chinook

Mash (60 minutes)
Saccharification: 152°F
Mash Out: 168°F
Sparge: 168°F

Boil (60 minutes)
60: 1.1 oz. Centennial
05: 1.1 oz. Centennial, 1.1 oz. Citra, 0.8 oz. Chinook
00: 1.5 oz. Citra, 0.75 oz. Chinook
Hopback: 1.0 oz. Citra, 1.0 oz. Centennial, 0.75 oz. Chinook

Primary (12 days): 68°F
Secondary (5 days): 68°F

Dry Hop
2.0 oz. Citra, 1.25 oz. Centennial, 0.75 oz. Chinook for 5 days


Tasting: Tropical DIPA

I’ll tip my hand right away: this is the beer that convinced us to be more aggressive when treating our brewing water.

The goal was to brew a brassy, tropical double IPA that was pale straw in color and jammed with fruit-forward hops---the kind of beer that basically screams summer. We got a good bit of the way there but fell clearly short aromatically. The recipe was appropriate, as were the brewing techniques, so we were left to wonder if something as simple and vital as water chemistry was holding us back.

Our standard brewing water is split evenly between the house’s bicarbonate-heavy well water and reverse-osmosis water that we buy at the store, and our water adjustments skew conservative. For some styles, this works perfectly well, but our hoppy beers have missed the mark the last few times, so clearly it’s time for a change.


Pale straw with some hop haze. A white, two-finger head that lingers in large part because of the wheat in the grain bill.


Pleasing notes of Simcoe and Citra with that fruity, grassy, rounded Mosaic character in the background. It’s the right aroma, but there’s not nearly enough of it for a double IPA. The aroma is muted, as it’s been in some of the straight-ahead IPAs we’ve brewed this year. This is the sort of beer you should be able to smell across a room. Clearly our hops aren’t bursting, even after double dry hopping, so work is needed.


And yet the flavor’s there. It’s a juicy fruit bomb full of pineapple, mango, and grapefruit with a pleasing but not overwhelming bitterness. No notable flaws aside from a possible chlorinic hint deep in there. Adding a proper aroma to this will enhance the flavor even more.


Rounded and fleshed out by wheat, and yet still dry. Carbonation is about right.


A tasty beer for sure, but I can’t help but be disappointed because of the flaccid aromatics. We’re absolutely using appropriate hop quantities, so it’s likely a matter of water chemistry holding us back. For future hop-forward beers, we’re going to more aggressively treat our water with gypsum, CaCl, and salt to see if they give the hops the extra snap they’re missing. Once we dial in the water additions, we’ll give this beer another shot. 


Tasting: Habanero Chocolate Porter

This beer exists because sometimes hot peppers show up at your homebrew club meetings, and sometimes you need to pour something aggressive at a homebrew festival. Habanero chocolate porter it is, then.

We chopped and seeded five habaneros from some friends’ garden and added them to the boil right before flameout. After primary fermentation, the habaneros were such a subtle note you’d have a hard time pulling them out during a tasting. Our friends said their habanero crop wasn’t as potent as usual, but I also suspect we used far too many in the boil.

The fix: have those friends bring a batch of cayenne peppers to the next homebrew club meeting and fashion a tincture out of them. We chopped and soaked the cayennes in vodka for a few days and added the liquid to the secondary fermentor, where the porter was sitting with some additional cocoa nibs.

That absolutely changed the character of this beer.


Deep brown with caramel hints near the edge of the glass. A slightly off-white head that hangs out at a finger and a half for a minute before slowly dissipating.


Most definitely a porter with hints of coffee, roast, and chocolate, but there’s clearly something unusual going on. If you understand you’re about to taste a pepper-infused beer, you’ll know what’s coming. There’s a fleshy fruitiness hanging behind those classic porter tones, along with something slightly stinging that promises an interesting sip.


Fleeting notes of chocolate, bread crust, and coffee before the cayenne peppers take over. What was a balanced chocolate porter is now a festival-ready pepper beer that leaves a distinct lingering heat on the tongue. You largely get that tip-of-the-tongue cayenne heat, which is a touch sharp to be really pleasing to the palate, rather than the rounded fruity intensity you might expect of a habanero. That’s just a product of how we augmented the beer, obviously, because we needed more heat and had handy source.

For me, the cayenne addition makes the pepper character a little one-note to the point where it overshadows the base beer too much. It’s certainly not bad, but I was hoping for a gentle merging of estery English-style yeast and fruity habanero heat.


On the mark for a porter: gently carbonated, a touch silky, rounded without feeling overly full. The more you drink, the more heat you absorb, so that could affect some people more than others in terms of the pleasure they have drinking this beer.


A pretty good go overall. The base beer is quite good (as originally brewed for Robust Porters Four Ways), and the right balance of pepper infusion could make for a fun pint. I don’t think the gentle habanero-meets-fiery-cayenne mix was quite that balance, but I still enjoyed it overall. Different herb or spice additions might be worth considering in a beer like this. I could be convinced to drink a “jerk” porter.



Tasting: Red IPA 2

This red IPA is identical to our previous attempt with one excpetion: we used rye instead of wheat as a backing grain. We were pleased with the original, wheat-inclusive batch but wanted to see what rye’s ruddy, grainy spice would contribute.

We worked through the keg with the help of a bunch of friends and, over the course of about 3 weeks, got to enjoy this beer fresh and slightly fading as we worked our way down to the dregs. The beer changed a good bit in that time, in ways both good and bad.


Tangerine, pine, and grapefruit dominate thanks to Summit, Chinook, and Centennial hops, but there’s a pleasant, bready maltiness behind it. I want little or no specialty malt whatsoever in most of my IPAs, but in this case it’s deliberate, and it works for me.


Amber with ruby and caramel tones. Good carbonation and a good inch of sticky, white head thanks to all the rye. Decent lacing.


As a young beer, rye pushed prominently against the hops. In addition to leading hop flavors of tangerine and pine, rye infused the beer with a rough-hewn spiciness, something surprisingly earthy and almost husky. As a darker rye IPA, it worked, but the rye honestly felt a little too pungent to me. The pure drinkability of the wheat batch was sacrificed for rye brawn.

As it aged, though, the hops and rye struck a nice balance. That raw, young flavor subsided, leaving in its wake a moderately spicy, slightly malt-forward IPA that still packed plenty of hop wallop. A few weeks old, this beer suited me much more than it did at first tapping.


Pleasantly crisp with just enough zip from the carbonation to keep the hops prominent. Final gravity was about 1.011, so the beer is by no means insubstantial or thin, but it works over the palate quickly. As it aged, it felt a lot better going down.

Overall Impression

This batch grew into its own. It just took a little time. I do enjoy the rye addition, but I still prefer the original batch that relied on wheat. The hops simply danced a bit harder without rye as competition.


Brew Day: Habanero Chocolate Porter

When a friend gives you hot peppers, you throw them into a hot kettle.

At our last homebrew club meeting, one of our members showed up with a big pile of habanero peppers from her and her husband’s garden. Lara and I had already planned to make a pepper-infused porter for the upcoming Homebrew for Hunger, so this was a true stroke of good timing.

This is actually our first pepper beer of any kind. I’ve had several good ones (Birdsong’s jalapeno pale ale comes to mind as does Hot Pistol stout from our buddies Glenn and Dave) but hadn’t felt compelled to try one until Lara suggested it recently.

There are a couple ways to prepare hot peppers for brewing: (1) simply open them up so you can seed and slice before adding them to the boil and (2) infuse a neutral spirit with the peppers and add the infused spirit to the fermentor, keg, or bottle.

We opted for the first choice this time. I removed the vast majority of seeds and gave them a rough, ½-inch chop before adding them to the last 5 minutes of the boil. The benefit here is speed and ease because preparing the peppers took very little time. The downside, though, is that you don’t really know just how hot the peppers are. They naturally vary from pepper to pepper, and habaneros range from 150,000 to 300,000 on the Scoville scale. That means one pepper can be intense but citrusy and pleasant, and another can lay you out for the day.

That’s where the second option is superior. By making an infused liquor, you can control the heat addition to the beer more precisely. You chop the peppers and remove as many seeds as you prefer, then top the peppers with enough vodka to cover them. After a week, you have an infusion that you can taste test at different volumes in a sample of the beer.

Because I chose to chop them and put them directly into the end of the boil, we won’t know until we check gravity and taste toward the end of primary exactly where this porter stands. We have a few more peppers that we can use during secondary if the heat level is too low, and we can only hope the beer isn’t already a capsaicin blowout.

Another thing I’ve read is that hot peppers can infuse bitterness if boiled for too long, so it’s best if they’re added within the last few minutes of the boil, if not simply at flameout and/or in secondary fermentation.

The base beer is our robust chocolate porter, last brewed for our 2013 Oktoberfest party.

Target Numbers
Batch: 6.0 gallons
Grains: 12.65 lb.
SRM: 23
IBU: 35.5
OG: 1.054
FG: 1.013
ABV: 5.3%

Grain Bill
9.10 lb. Maris Otter
1.20 lb. Caramunich II
0.90 lb. Flaked oats
0.58 lb. Crystal 60
0.58 lb. Chocolate malt
0.29 lb. Roasted barley

2.70 oz. Willamette (5.5% AA)
0.40 oz. Centennial (9.9% AA)

Wyeast 1275 (Thames Valley Ale)

12.5 gallons RO water and Durham well water (50% RO/50% Durham)

7 habanero peppers (5 chopped and seeded, 2 remaining for secondary fermentation)
0.5 lb. Videri cocoa nibs
0.5 lb. 1 Whirlfloc tablet

0.5 tsp. yeast nutrient
0.5 tsp. gypsum

Mash (60 minutes)
Saccharification: 155°F
Mash Out: 169°F
Fly Sparge: 169°F

Boil (60 minutes)
60: 2.20 oz. Willamette
20: 0.50 lb. cocoa nibs
05: 0.50 oz. Willamette, 0.40 oz. Centennial, 5 habanero peppers

Pitch: 69°F
Primary: 70°F
Secondary: 70°F

Once we taste the fermented beer, we’ll make a decision about adding the remaining peppers to secondary fermentation. An update will follow in a couple weeks.