Spicy chili beer math

My office is about a block from Wynkoop Brewing. It’s also a block from Falling Rock and about six from Great Divide. But this story is about Wynkoop.

I went there for lunch about a month ago, and had some of their chili beer, called Patty’s Chile Beer. It’s got a great chili smell and a slight pepper taste, but almost no spice to it. It falls under how I describe most of Wynkoop’s beer: a very balanced flavor that doesn’t go far enough for my palette. I love what they do there, and what Wynkoop has done for beer in Denver, it’s just not my favorite. Or second favorite. Or.. anyway.

One day, we'll use this many ghost chilis in one batch.

A few days later, I got to try some of Nick Nunns’ chili beer. It had some zing to it. It made me realize that you can make a great beer with veggies in it. So, Kell and I set out to make our own.

I did some research on spices, looking into the Scoville Scale, and started doing math. Side note, per Nick’s suggestion, I think I’ll make a Scotch Bonnet Scotch Ale one day. Anyway, we wanted to make it spicy. Not unbearable, but not for the faint of heart either. The goal was to make a beer as spicy as a jalapeno.

I had to contact my buddy James, who’s getting a PhD in Chemistry, for the extremely complex formula to determine concentration. Super complex:

C1V1 = C2V2

C stands for concentration, V for volume. Crazy, huh? (I’m being sarcastic, fyi)

Armed with this equation, and the incredibly inexact Scoville Scale example ratings, I was ready to do math.

Initially, we took a Serrano pepper, food processed it in a pint of water, and tasted. We assumed a Serrano pepper, ground up, would equal 1 tsp. The scale suggested that Serrano peppers have a Scoville rating between 10,000 and 25,000. There are 96 teaspoons in a pint. Math:

10,000 Scoville * 1 tsp = 96 tsp * x Scoville
xlow Scoville = 10,000/96 = 104

25,000 Scoville * 1 tsp = 96 tsp * x Scoville
xhigh scoville = 25,000/96 = 260

Veggie water?

So, diluting 1 Serrano pepper into a pint of water would result in the water having a Scoville rating between 104 and 260, or the equivalent of a Peperoncini. And to test, we tasted the water. Having tasted a Serrano seed previously, which made my mouth burn a bit, this solution wasn’t very spicy. It appeared the math was correct.

Now we wanted to add peppers to the boil. At first, we were overly cautious. I didn’t trust the math, even though we’d just proven it’s reliability. We determined how many points one Serrano would add to a 5 gallon batch, using 12,000 points as an assumed rating for a Serrano. Why? No reason. There are 768 teaspoons in a gallon, or 3,840 in a 5 gallon batch.

12,000 Scoville * 1 tsp = 3,840x
x = 12,000/3,840 =  3.125

One Serrano pepper in a 5 gallon batch would increase the Scoville rating by 3 points. For some reason, we didn’t really believe this. We thought it would be much higher than that. So, we added 6 Serrano peppers and hoped it would be spicy at secondary. Mind you, that’s a total rating of almost 20. A bell pepper has that rating.

The other night, we transferred the beer to a bucket and tasted it. It had a slight chili flavor, but had no spice. Surprise! The math was correct. To get it to the spice level we wanted, assuming the math was correct, we would need about 800 more Serrano peppers. (12,000 * x = 2,500 * 3,840 )

Being cautious, intelligent men, we took the obvious next step.


We added Habanero.

Unlike the weak little Serrano, the Habanero has a Scoville range of 100,000 to 350,000. They’re also a little bigger, so we assumed an initial volume of a tablespoon. Exact science here, obviously. Therefore, each one would increase the rating of the beer by

100,000 * 3 = 3840x
xlow = (100,000 * 3 ) / 3840 = 78

350,000 * 3 = 3840x
xhigh =  (350,000 * 3 ) / 3840 = 273

We added 5 Habanero peppers, which gave us a total rating, including the 18 from the Serrano, of between 408 and 1,383. A jalapeno has a rating between 2,500 – 8,000. We’re close.

We tasted along the way, adding only one pepper at a time, and the last taste was definitely spicy, but not unreasonable. We just finished bottling it, and it has some heat. It appears the math was mostly correct, especially considering the inaccuracies of the scale and my ability to measure things. In about 10 days we’ll see how it turns out.


Habanero in the food processor

For the recipe, I tried to do something close to a pale ale, substituting most of the hops for peppers. I didn’t want anything too hoppy, or too anything, as the pepper was the ingredient I wanted to accentuate. And, it being a first attempt, we went with extract.

Chili beer attempt #1

  • 7 lbs Light Liquid Extract
  • 1 lb Vienna
  • 1 lb British Light
  • 1/4 lb Torrified Wheat
  • 1 oz Perle at 60 min
  • 6 Serrano peppers at 60 min
  • 1 oz Fuggle at 30 min
  • California Ale Yeast (WLP001)
  • 5 Habanero in secondary

That’s really what it comes down to. Why the hell doesn’t Mad Haven exist yet?

I’ve got a bunch of excuses, but pretty much it boils down (pun intended) to laziness and fear. Two things that I’m kicking to the curb.

Laziness. As much as I’m not built to sit behind a desk and work a scheduled life, it’s easy.. Or not easy, but stable. Consistent. Steady. It’s not that I’m afraid of working 18 hour days, shoveling mash out in the morning and then slinging the craft across town all night. It’s that it’s easier to sit on the couch or go out with friends than plan all that needs planning.

This is a terrible excuse, and I’m done with it.

Fear. It turns out, brewing is quite the endeavor. From the myriad of mistakes that can happen from the time the grain is crushed to the time the beer is packaged, so the plethora of other mishaps waiting just around the corner of every step, it’s a scary undertaking. The investment is pretty serious, at least for someone in my point in life. I’d like my rate beer rating to be the same as the fail rate in the industry (hint: somewhere in the 90% range). And when the time comes, I’ll leave the security of a salary and benefits for the adventure of a start-up.

(To those I work with, don’t worry, there are many months, if not years, before this will become a reality)

But enough whining, enough excuses, and enough babbling. There are risks in everything. The reward, the benefit, the adventure, and the beer outweigh all the little things that pop up.

I just went on a search for fun quotes about taking a risk. And this one came up. And I like it.

Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore. – André Gide

So here’s a promise. It’s not to any of you reading this, though I hope you’ll help hold me to it. It’s a promise to myself.

I’m going to see the easier way, and choose to ignore it. I’m going to see the risks, and find ways to avoid them or mitigate them to an acceptable level. I’m going to keep moving forward. I’m not going to stall any more. I’m not going to sit idly by and dream. I’m going to open a brewery. I’m going to open Mad Haven.

Let’s get to work.

Breakfast and Brewing #2

Back in January, we invited people over to eat some bacon and brew some beer. It was awesome. So we’re doing it again. 10 months later.

Last time we brewed an extract clone of Bell’s Best Brown. It turned out great. I think we might still have some to share, actually.

This time, we’ll be doing the infamous Rye Dry Stout. All grain baby. All grain.

It all happens this Saturday, 10/23. I’ll start the water boiling around 10am, and have bacon and eggs and other suchness ready to go around that time as well.

If you’d like to join, shoot me an email (pj [dot] hoberman [at] gmail [dot] com), leave a comment, text me, tweet at me, call me, smoke signals… Whatever your preferred method of contacting me might be.

See you Saturday!



Rye Dry Stout grains


This week in Mad Haven

It’s been an interesting week at Mad Haven (aka the kitchen in my apartment). One beer turned out amazingly well. One is.. scary.

We weren’t able to stick to the schedule I mentioned a few weeks ago. Surprise surprise. But we did brew a lot. It just won’t all be ready this week.

The last batch of the blonde turned out so well. It’s a little belgiany due to no temperature control – it costs a lot to run an AC 24/7. But it’s delicious. I’m going to submit it into a homebrew competition at City O’ City on Tuesday. I’ve posted the recipe before, but here it is again, in extract form:

  • 6 lbs Liquid Light Malt Extract
  • 1 lb Flaked Wheat
  • .5 lb Munich
  • 1.5 lb Vienna
  • .25 lb Crystal 15
  • 1 oz Cascade (5.5%) @ 45 min
  • 1 oz Czech Saaz (5.0%) @ 5 min
  • White Labs WLP001 California Ale

As well as that turned out, the Scotch Ale took a different approach. It appears I didn’t sanitize the oak chips well enough, and some sort of bacteria or mold got into the batch. This isn’t for the faint of heart:

Various people have suggested various things about this batch. My plan is to fill 6 bottles and try them in a few weeks, and then let the rest of it age for a few months. Unless someone reading this is a microbiologist and can see something deadly in there.

Before I saw this interesting infection, Kell and I had tried some off the spigot. And it was absolutely delicious. So, we’ll see what happens.

Hooray Beer!

In other news, Beer Week is upon us. Let me know if you’re in Denver this week!

I Am A Craft Beer Drinker

And hopefully soon a Craft Brewer. Keep reading for that part.

Last week a friend of mine, Stephen Johnson of New Brew Thursday, released an awesome video entitled I Am A Craft Beer Drinker. It’s a short video focussing on people who go out of their way to drink the best. People who like to think about what they drink. I’m proud to say I know a half-dozen people in the video. Check it out!

This is based on a video played during Greg Koch of Stone’s keynote presentation at last year’s Craft Brewer’s Conference, entitled I Am A Craft Brewer:

Well, we haven’t been completely on the brewing schedule, but, here’s what I plan to have for GABF:

  • Black something. I have no idea what style or ingredients or whatever are in it. Roulette beer! Bet on black!
  • Pam, the “natural” blonde
  • Bitch Creek ESB clone
  • Scotch Ale w/ oak chips
  • IPA
  • Rye Dry Stout w/ Carraway seeds
  • Maybe even more of the blonde. I’ve been drinking a lot of it..

Not too shabby.

I’ve been meeting a bunch of awesome beer geeks, future beer geeks, other awesome people, and it’s been wonderful. I love having beer on hand to share. Makes the world go round.

In other news, I just wrote a big article on my other blog about other things around town during GABF. For those coming to town, or contemplating it, I hope it’s a good resource. I’m copying and pasting it. Enjoy!

When in Rome, err, Denver

According to the GABF countdown clock at Falling Rock, there’s about 22 days until the start of the Great American Beer Festival. Could be a little more or a little less. Counting is hard.

The festival is sold out, but there are always tickets for sale on Craigslist and other such sites. But whether you got tickets or not, Denver has a lot of beer to offer outside the hallowed – scratch that – beer-drenched hall that is the Festival. Why, just within a few miles of the Convention Center, there are more than a dozen beer-centric establishments.

Before I get into what those are, I want to impress upon you that Denver does in fact have more to offer than just great beer. We have whiskey too!

This town is wonderful, and I implore you to explore it, should you find the time and the sobriety. Our local Yelpers are fantastic, so trust that site if you need a quick lookup. Grab a reindeer  or wild boar hot dog, see a show or a show or a showgrab a book, or maybe even take a hike. And if you like dive bars – and I love dive bars – we have a few of those too.

But, in the end, you’re here for the beer. So let’s get to that.

I made a map on Google maps of about 15 beer places within 2-3 miles of the Convention Center. There are hundreds, if not thousands of them within 100 miles of downtown, so I decided to stick to walk-able and bike-ride-able from downtown. If you want a more complete map of the region, check outbeermapping.com. Oh, and speaking of bicycles, we have an awesome bike rental program too.

In no particular order, here are the establishments I’ve pinned on the map. If you know of another I should add, please let me know. Click on the map for addresses, directions, etc.

Falling Rock
75 taps, 120 bottles, events every day, this is generally a good place to be. Full writeup.

Great Divide
It’s no secret I love this place. I think I mention them in every single article I write. Do yourself a favor and go there.

Euclid Hall
Brand new spot in town, tons of awesome beer and food. My friend Ryan is pimping out their tap list.

Mellow Mushroom
New location right downtown. 36 beers on tap, from the cold yellow fizzy to the crazy Belgians nom noms.

Strange Brewing
They just got started a few months ago and are rocking out. Go try their brews and support new micros.

Star Bar
Old dive turned into new dive with craft beer and liquors. You didn’t have a good time if you didn’t stop here.

Breckenridge Brewpub
One of the biggest production breweries around here, and right next to Coors Field to boot!

Cheeky Monk
Tons of Belgian awesomeness on tap and in bottles, plus great food. Try the mussels! Full writeup.

Vine Street Pub
Part of the Mountain Sun family, this place is one of the coolest spots in Denver. Great beer and guest taps too.

Thin Man
Funky little bar with a coffee shop attached. Right next to Vine Street.

Rackhouse Pub
I go here a bit too often. Amazing beer, liquor, food, and people. Full writeup.

Colt & Gray
I told the bartender I liked scotch, whiskey, and new things, and he made me a pre-prohibition style Old Fashioned. Amazing.

Started by our current mayor in 1988 and still rocking right downtown.

Uptown Brothers Brewing
Yet another new beer place in Denver. Tons of good stuff now, brewing their own soon.

Pints Pub
Largest single malt scotch collection in.. America? At least this side of the Mississippi. They brew there as well. Full writeup.

This Friday (July 23) is the 4th annual Denver Summer Brew Fest. It’s at Mile High Station, and should be an awesome time. There’s about 35 breweries there, music, and even a VIP early entrance that includes a beer and cheese pairing.

Some other cool stuff of note.. If you ride your bike there, you get $5 off the ticket price. Of course that means buying at the door, and it could sell out. It’s limited to 1500 people.

It looks like some awesome breweries are gonna be there (see list below), including the 3 I brewed at a few weeks ago (Strange, Mountain Sun and New Belgium). There’s a bunch I’ve never heard of or haven’t had the opportunity to try, such as Abita and Anderson Valley. Most are in state, but a few have traveled (Stone) far (Alaskan) for us.

I went to the Winter Brew Fest (same group puts it on, but it’s in the winter. Crazy, I know) and it was a blast.

I’m going. See you there?

Info and stuff:

TICKETS: General Admission: $30 advance, $35 day of, VIP Tickets – $40 advance, $45 day of.  Available on www.denverbrewfest.com

WHERE: Mile High Station by Invesco Field  www.milehighstation.com

WHEN: 6-10pm VIP, 7-10pm GA on Friday, July 23rd, 2010

WHO: This is a RightOn Productions event benefiting Swallow Hill Music Association www.swallowhill.org.

Attending Breweries:

  • Abita
  • Alaskan
  • Anderson Valley
  • Asher
  • Blue Moon
  • Boulder Beer
  • Bristol
  • Colorado Native Now
  • Crabtree
  • Del Norte
  • Deschuttes
  • Grand Lake
  • Great Divide
  • Herman Joseph
  • Hops
  • Killians
  • Lefthand
  • Leinekugels
  • Mountain Sun
  • New Belgium
  • New Planet
  • Odell
  • Oskar Blues
  • Pyramid
  • Rock Bottom and Breckenridge
  • Sierra Nevada
  • Ska
  • Stone
  • Strange Brew
  • Tommyknocker
  • Trinity
  • Twisted Pine
  • Upslope
  • Wynkoop

Back to All Grain

Last week I realized how soon GABF was upon us. And soon there would be even more beer lovers in Denver. And how soon I had to have a lot of beer ready for them all to drink.

Kell and I created a brewing schedule, and decided to brew so that when everyone is in town, we can hand out tons of beer to thirsty people. That meant getting the all grain system operational again.

A few months ago, I got lazy and left  some spent grains in the mash tun, closed, outside in the sun, for a few days. Bad. Bad bad bad things. It smelled like.. well… I won’t get into details, but I decided that any container that had held that smell would not hold my ingredients anymore.

Since then, I’ve just been brewing partial mashes. But this weekend I rebuilt the all grain system. It’s pretty close to the previous one, though it took a lot more work to get right. Thank you to Ben at Beer At Home for his help getting that going.

Taking a few months off brewing all grain is like taking a few months off riding a bike. Or some other analogy. Whatever. I was rusty. I brewed a Scotch Ale on Sunday.

Scotch Ale almost at boil

My efficiency was crap. I had to boil off a lot of water to hit my target gravity. While it was boiling, I wrote a little calculator to help figure out how much water to boil off. You can play with it at http://pjhoberman.com/tools/volume_adjustment.html. The formula is pretty easy. You figure out total gravity:

Total Gravity = Current Gravity x Current Volume
Desired "Pre-Boil" Volume = Total Gravity / Desired Gravity

So, I had 6 gallons at 1.053, and I wanted a pre-boil gravity of 1.071. I like to call something like 1.071 just 71:

Total Gravity = 53 * 6 = 318
Desired Volume =  318 / 71 = 4.48 (or 4.5)

So I had to boil it down to about 4.5 gallons. Oops.

I messed up earlier than that, but I didn’t realize it till too late. I had to cut a braided washer hose for the mash tun. I grabbed one from my brewery box – a random collection of tools and whatnot – and it was good to go.

Until right before the boil was over, when I realized there were two in the box, and the one I cut was the connection from under my sink to my wort chiller. So I had to run to Ace and get a new one. Oops.

But, I hit my target gravity pretty closely. I got 1.069 when it was all said and done, though only about 3.5 gallons or so. It should be damn tasty though.

We also bottled three batches last week: Black something (seriously, no idea what style it actually is), a Grand Teton Bitch Creek (ESB) clone, and the Blonde. They’ll all be ready this week. Here’s the rest of the schedule:

7/23 – Soak oak chips in scotch
7/24 – Brew Rye Dry Stout
7/26 – Move Scotch Ale to secondary, add oak chips
8/3 – Move Rye Dry to secondary
8/7 – Brew something – probably the IPA or a Pale
8/8 – Brew something else
8/18ish – Move previous two batches to secondary
9/6 – Bottle Scotch Ale, Rye Drye, and whatever else we feel like
9/16 – GABF starts

There will probably be more in there, but that’s the plan for now.

And that my friends is my update. Please let me know if you’re in town for GABF, we’d love to share some beer.

My week shadowing

I brewed a lot of beer this week. Or at least saw a lot of it being brewed. About 900 barrels worth.

Pam the Dirty Blonde. First batch of the week.

Sunday, I worked at Beer at Home, and afterward I brewed Pam, the dirty blonde.

Monday, I woke up at 5 am and arrived at Strange brewing at 6. Tim, one of the co-founders, agreed to let me watch him and help out. His partner was out of town, so I ended up getting to help quite a bit. The system at Strange is a Blichmann B3, with some big 50 gallon kettles. They have a few different sized fermenting tanks, the biggest of which is 3 barrels.

The first batch we brewed was a pale ale for a pro-am competition. The am side of it was there to help out as well. We also brewed the first of three batches for Strange’s Pale Ale. While things were heating, cooling, boiling, or mashing, we got some other tasks done as well. We cleaned some tanks, filled kegs, and generally cleaned things up. The day started at 6am, and I got home at 7pm.

I didn’t have anything lined up for Tuesday, so I went back to Strange, and brought Kell with me. As we were just brewing, the day started a little later, at 7. We brewed 2 batches of the Pale Ale, cleaned some kegs, and worked on the glycol system. The day ended around 5.

Only picture I took at Strange. mmmm

Strange was a great experience. In my post about size, I was considering the small 1/2 bbl system. We worked our asses off with Tim, mashing in, cleaning tanks and tuns, getting hops in on time, transferring beer, cooling things off, etc. It’s amazing what Tim and Strange Brewing are doing over there, and it helped me understand even more why I want Mad Haven to be at least 5-7 barrels, if not bigger.

The experience was great, and I plan to help out Strange whenever I can. If you haven’t been over there yet, go check it out. Their tasting room is open 3:30ish to 8ish, Wednesday – Saturday. And they have growlers! Check them out – 1330 Zuni, Unit M – strangebrewingco.com.

Wednesday I woke up at an ungodly hour. I’ve seen 3:59 am many times, but very rarely at the start of my day.

Missile Silo. Wait... those are New Belgium's tanks.

I drove to Fort Collins to visit New Belgium Brewing. You may have heard of them.

By this point, my feet were killing me. I’ve been working a desk job for a few years now, so standing on concrete for a few days straight… ya, excuses. Anyway, I was excited for New Belgium, but my feet were not.

Good thing their system is completely automated. 99% or so. It was quite the experience.

I met Bo outside at 6am, and he gave me the best tour of New Belgium ever. Over the next 8 hours, I saw just about every valve in the place. And there are a lot of them. Bo said they have about 8 miles of stainless steel pipes there.

Super Sack of grains. About a ton.

What an impressive place. The system itself was pretty much not applicable at all to my plans. I don’t know if Mad Haven will ever be in the same order of magnitude as New Belgium, at least in terms of scale. I don’t know if I want it to be. But it was cool to see. They have a computer system that manages every action in the brewing process. From blowing in the grain to cooling down the wort, there’s a screen and a button, and a brewer to push it. They were brewing about 900 barrels of Hoptober on Wednesday. I got there as the first batch was just about done, and left as the 8th batch was being blown in. Ridiculously efficient. 8 hours, and we touched 8 batches.

Their equipment helps with this. They have a Merlin kettle. It has an upside cone shape at the bottom of the kettle. Wort is pushed in at the top, and it slides all around the cone. It is flash boiled there, coming to boil on contact. Imagine boiling a quart of water vs. just the water on the bottom of the pot. It’s like that. But hotter. It’s so hot and such a violent boil, they don’t even have to boil for an hour. The hops release their oil faster at those temperatures.

I can’t get into everything I saw there. There was just so much going on. I got some great ideas for when we brew more than one batch in a row though. Like using leftover mash liquid to sparge the next batch. And some insight into hop utilization across batches. Very cool stuff.

Bo was great. He’s got an impressive resume, including brewing school in England, brewing at Arcadia, and brewing at New Belgium for 7 years. He gave me some great advice for Mad Haven. He’ll be sitting at the bar when we open.

One of the coolest parts of my day there didn’t exactly involve brewing. He might get in trouble for this, and if so, sorry Bo. But, we toured the entire place, and one stop was the barrel aging room. I may or may not have sipped some La Folie out of a massive barrel. Let’s go with “may not have” to protect the innocent.

Other cool stuff happened. I met some great people, and saw some amazing things. Definitely a great experience.

Thursday I went to Boulder to help out at Mountain Sun. Mountain Sun makes some of the best beer I’ve had, and their pub model is fantastic. I definitely spend too much cash (no credit cards accepted) at their pubs.

Mountain Sun's brew house

Jason met me at 7 am, and we got to work. We brewed some Redemption Red, which everyone there was super excited about. They’re trying some new malts out, and it’s possible that the one I helped brew will get submitted to GABF.

This was exactly the experience I was looking for this week. Mountain Sun brews on a 6 barrel “Frankenstein” of a system. It’s amazing. It’s barely changed in the past 20 years, because it works. Everything there just works.

Jason put me to work. I got to pour in the grains and mix them into the water. If you’ve never done this before, imagine paddling a canoe through oatmeal. Hot oatmeal. I also got to clean out the mash tun, which is warm work. It was great, and I’m not being sarcastic. It really was an awesome opportunity. I helped Jason with the rest of the process too, from weighing out hops to cleaning the floors, from measuring gravity to some quality control. PS quality control is a necessary, important, and awesome activity.

Mountain Sun - all mashed in

Mountain Sun was definitely the most applicable day. Brewing with Tim at Strange was great, as he does everything from run the books to clean the floors. But Mountain Sun brews on a system that I envision brewing on. It was great to work side by side Jason and really feel what my days are going to entail. It was sort of like Goldilocks. Not too big. Not too small. Just right.

Overall, I learned a lot this week. From how to clamp a tri-clamp to how to stay safe, and many things in between. I made some friends and saw the extreme scales of brewing.

And my fire for Mad Haven is reignited. I can’t wait to get it going.

Adding hops at Mountain Sun

Brewing Schedule

I have been getting a great response from brewers about shadowing this week. I even had to turn one down due to a scheduling conflict. It’s been amazing to see how supportive the local breweries are of a potential competitor!

Side note, I don’t have a computer while between jobs, so this post is from my phone.

Here’s my schedule so far:

Monday – Strange Brewed – Denver
Tuesday – open, maybe another day at Strange
Wednesday – New Belgium – Fort Collins
Thursday – Mountain Sun – Boulder
Friday – open

And the weekend is in the air.

I’ll report back on these awesome oportunities as the week goes on.