In Praise of Small Beer Part 2

I worked all last weekend on a freelance translation job that had me digging deep into Japanese feudal history for names, places, and obscure religious vocabulary. When I came to from the project on Sunday afternoon, the Saints had already lost to the Bengals, the Packers were about to dominate Mark Sanchez, and I was a bit of a zombie. I needed a beer. But I didn’t want some 9% whale that would set me on my ass. I needed a small beer, something that would let me unwind over the course of several bottles.

So I cracked open the Mild I’d just brewed. 1.039 OG, 1.011 FG, which works out to 3.68% ABV. I used an early recipe from Jamil Zainasheff that is a bit heavy with the caramel and dark grains compared with his example in Brewing Classic Styles. But it works.

And I even split a pair of games of Carcassonne:


I did miss the perfect opportunity to immediately score a monastery, but I probably would have missed more than that if I was drinking a big beer.

Small beers aren’t just cheap, they’re great for unwinding and for Eurogaming.

Brewing Best Practices – Add Base Malt to Increase Potency


I scored some birthday cash back in October and spent part of it on Brewing Classic Styles: 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew, a book I’ve been meaning to pick up for a while. It’s worth the price of admission. John Palmer provides some excellent insight about grain varieties in the introductory section, and throughout the recipes Jamil Zainasheff includes awesome nuggets of wisdom such as this:

Many new brewers mistakenly think it is necessary to increase the level of specialty malts when making a higher-alcohol beer. That is incorrect, and doing so will make an over-the-top version of the beer. The increased base malt will add the additional body, alcohol, and some malty flavors and aromas, so there is no need to change the specialty grain amounts, unless you are making a larger or smaller volume of beer. (125)

This is great to know…not something that I realized. I see this working really well with styles like Dubbel, Porter, Stout, Belgian Strong Ale and of course Scottish Ale, the section where this quote comes from. Basically any style that has a natural range of strengths built into it and that has a defining set of specialty grains that darken the wort.

Pick up this book ASAP. I think reading this alongside Ray Daniels’ Designing Great Beers might be the ideal way to learn how to make your own recipes.



Brewing, like many hobbies, invites obsession. There is pleasure in every aspect of the activity—not only in making and drinking the beer, but also in purchasing new equipment, new ingredients, new brewing literature, and new drinking paraphernalia.

If/when you aren’t getting as much satisfaction out of the making of the beer itself—perhaps you’ve produced a bad batch? or you feel like brewing bigger batches? or maybe you’ve run out of new styles to brew?—it can be tempting to try and buy your way either to happiness or to better beer.

Surely that digital thermometer will improve your beer. Or maybe a bigger fermentor. Or maybe you should start barrel-aging your beer. There’s no way your starters are good enough—you need that stir plate.

The problem with brewing is that the price ceiling is distinctly higher than most other hobbies/collections. If you rely on purchasing to get your kicks, it could end up costing a lot. Really the only other hobby that gets more expensive is cars.

Here is a good rule for brewing: Resist the temptation to make purchases in order to improve your beer.

Yes, you need to shell out some cash to get into the game. Goldilocks Homebrewing suggests that you probably need about $200 to get set up for all-grain homebrewing. And you might consider spending up to $300 or so to make certain upgrades if you’re sure that your in the game for the long haul.

But before you go beyond that, get some reps in first. Learn the process. Develop a palate for different grains and hops and their effects on beer. Practice treating your yeast with care.

And then go out and buy that shiny new piece of equipment. You brew the beer, not the equipment. Resist thinking otherwise.