Homebrewing Year in Review

by Billy Ellison | Updated: December 27, 2012

The new year is fast approaching and a couple of big projects are on the horizon. However, I find myself looking back at a few items from this past year, reflecting on successes and failures, and building on thoughts for 2013.

Here’s some of the Successes and Failures of 2012

American Honey Wheat 2.0

I made this last year, to mediocre results and accolades. So, I went through and revamped the recipe, pretty much gutting all but the base grain bill, and reworked it. Noticeable improvements included 5.0lbs of honey and the addition of Sorachi Ace hops at flameout. The result was a much more drinkable 10gal batch of a honey wheat, done up (mildy) hoppy style!

Single Hop IPA

Originally this was my “Here come the drums…” IPA, but due to bad note taking on my part, was slightly reworked and done up with all Centennial Hops. It’s more Pale Ale backbone with a hoppier kick to it. I would consider this a wonderful summer brew, and a fantastic gateway recipe for those faint-of-heart over hops. There’s a second batch of the year sitting in primary right now.

Barleywine 0.9

Here was our major failure of the year. Meant to be a pilot batch for a much larger session, this was a ruby red hopped barleywine with a lot of potential (Think Lagunitas Gnarleywine). Unfortunately, a strain of bacteria got loose in the brewroom, and this batch went down the drain. Along with the smalls off of it. *FAIL*

Exp Saison

I wanted to test out some recipes to a new book I was exposed to. My wife really enjoys a good Saison, so I decided to brew their Saison recipe. Lots of orange zest and lemon zest, which I was okay with and had a real interesting affect even at the end of boil. However, it also called for some crushed Anise. This proved to be too experimental for any of us. Another unfortunate drain pour to make room for new brews.

Tripel One

Okay, so my brewing buddy and I got into a “Let’s do a Tripel, but let’s do it up RIGHT!” kind of discussion. The result? Two different recipes. Tripel One started with a base grain bill, throw in a banana at flameout for good measure, and distribute around a pound of Amarillo hops throughout the brewday (and also dry hop). The result was a delightfully drinkable Tripel with so much non-belgian influence. The bittering of the hops took a back seat to the malt and candi sugar, but pressed forward with a HUGE orange-y citrous flavor. I’m so crazy happy about this thing, it’s rediculous. I even have non-IPA drinkers coming back for this thing. Most Def a keeper!

Tripel Two

The other Tripel we went fall/winter seasonal. Dialed back the hops to style, and threw in a banana at flameout for good measure. Then we added fresh minced Ginger, All-Spice and this lovely herb called Seeds of Paradise. The ginger has gotten a little strong as it sat, but the flavor profile has this keg about to blow in relatively short order.

Berry Black Mamba

I’ve been wanting to brew this for about 2 years now, and finally got the opportunity. Started with a slightly modified Porter recipe. There’s no black patent, and all the dark malt is pale chocolate malt. The result is a lovely, light, slightly coffee roastiness to it. It’s quite delightful and will brew again even for just a plain porter. In any case, we didn’t stop there. For a 10gal batch, we took 6lbs of fresh blackberries (froze them to break open cell membranes) and pureed them, pasteurized over heat and threw in a pound of belgian candi sugar for good measure. Then threw that puree into secondary with the porter. I adore this beer and will be very sad to see it go!

Espresso Stout 2.0

When I was first making the jump into all-grain, I did a mini-mash of an imperial stout and threw some coffee at it on a whim. It turned into a real crowd pleaser, even for non-beer yet pro-coffee types. That batch is long since gone, so I decided to revisit in all-grain fashion. I took the base porter recipe from Berry Black Mamba and brought the base malt up to par, split it between 2-row English Pale and Maris Otter, mainly because I really like Maris.

Then I took some local roasted espresso and cold steeped for 24 hours (also called cold toddy brewing) and threw that into secondary. The result has been mixed. I took the keg to a homebrew event, and it was a real winner among those that tried it, and several of the folks that have come by the house have said nice things about it.

For me, though, I think the coffee is a little louder than the rest of the beer. I designed the recipe to allow the coffee to bring most of the bitterness, which is why there was no Black Patent in it. Having said that, I had it with brunch recently, and it was ON TIME! I guess the answer, then, is that it’s a breakfast beer. Either that or a coffee-lover’s beer.


Sometimes I get ribbed a bit for my, ahem, appreciation for British styles. An early experiment in all-grain was an English Mild that had, in my own words, no redeemable qualities what-so-ever. It was just beer. It was dialed in to style, and was actually quite good. But by IPA’s standards, it was barely more than water. With that in mind, I wanted to spin it. I wanted to put something memorable into it. So I got to thinking: In a Pub, you smell beer and smoke generally. Cigar humidors are made of spanish cedar, which has a peppery, complex aroma. So we took 2lbs of the base malt and smoked it on spanish cedar.

This is currently in primary and I need to transfer it in short order. The aroma of this beer is simply mesmerizing. We tasted the wort prior to fermentation, and it’s far better than we even thought. I just can’t wait to keg this thing.

That’s a general run down of what’s been going on. I’ve had my hands in some other beer projects too, however, these have been the recipes that I have directly been involved in and responsible for.

Other Advances

Another significant change in brewing is that we are 10gal batch minimum now. We’ve gone back and forth on this, and frankly, if we are going to sit some back or have some available for bottle-share, we need more than what is going in our 5gal kegs. It only makes sense to dial it up to 10gal.

Finally, we have really dialed in our brewing setup and getting 80%+ efficiency on our batches. This is fantastic, and we have begun fabrication of my new brewstand. I’m going for something a little different, but it’s based on the concept of a RIMS system. I will keep you up-to-date as things progress.

Looking Ahead

Looking into 2013, there’s something big on the horizon. On January 1, we are going to be brewing 60 gallons of Barleywine. Yeah, that’s a big brew day. Then we are going to fill a Buffalo Trace Bourbon Barrel with it. Winter 2013 is going to be pretty Epic, to say the least.

What memorable events do you have from 2012? What big plans do you have for 2013? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Billy (other Billy, Wd, etc.) is a transplanted Southern boy currently living in Southwest Missouri. Since being exposed to the homebrewing community, he has been building his passion for the full variety of beer styles. Not one to be tied down to one style, he continues to branch out in brewing styles, making each recipe his own, building a base of recipes for all to enjoy. Look out for building projects too, as RIMS has become a fascination of this fledgling homebrewer.