Limoncello and other Liqueurs

Because Christmas is right around the corner I bottled a batch of limoncello today which we will give away as gifts. Limoncello is a great Italian liqueur that is best enjoyed on a hot summer afternoon. It is also super easy. Here is the recipe:

  • 1 bottle of bottom shelf (literally!) Vodka
  • 1 bag of lemons

Zest or peel the lemons, make sure you don’t get any of that white junk that is on the other side of the peel. Pour your vodka into a mason jar or bowl you can cover and then dump all of the lemon peels in there. Let that sit for approximately 2 weeks.

Then make up some simple syrup.

  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cups white sugar

Pour the lemon vodka through a strainer to remove all of the lemon peels. Then add the (now yellow) vodka to the simple syrup. Stir to combine nd bottle! That’s it. Store it in your freezer and (I prefer) to serve it over ice.


The last time, my limoncello was more yellow in color. I’m not sure if that is due to the type of lemon or the season (it is now December) but it still tastes good.

Incidentally, that is also how you make basically every other type of liqueur. I’ve experimented with pineapples (which I didn’t really care for) but I know there are recipes for peach, cherry, walnut, apricot, and hazelnut just to name a few. All of them follow the same principle: super cheap vodka with the ingredient soaking in it for a couple of weeks, then strained and sweetened with simple syrup.


Hydrometers, Patrick Rothfuss and the Founding Fathers

A hydrometer is an important tool when it comes to homebrewing. Or so they say. The hydrometer is used to determine the alcohol level of your brew. I suppose that is actually useful if you’re interested in that sort of thing. The secondary use of a hydrometer is it can let you know when your beer is done brewing. You take a measurement at the start, just prior to pitching the yeast and it will give you the projected ABV; then when you’ve hit that mark you’ll know the yeast is done fermenting. This is useful because it prevents you from bottling your beer prematurely which will result, most likely, in bottle bombs. So, like I said, the hydrometer has its uses.

I don’t have a hydrometer. Or rather, I don’t use one. I had one when I started because it came with the kit that I purchased. But very early into my brewing experience, perhaps on the 3rd brew, I accidentally broke it while washing it. Oops. Because I was such a young buck at that time, and so eager to do what I was told, I had bought into the absolute necessity of the hydrometer hook line and sinker. So I knew it must be replaced.

The problem is I live out in the middle of rural Western Pennsylvania. I actually live near the Tri-State area: I’m about 10 minutes from the WV panhandle and 15 minutes from Ohio. Where I live there are no homebrew shops so I’m dependent on the internet for my supplies and paying the shipping for 1 hydrometer didn’t make sense. But then one day, while waiting at a light in Ohio I saw a sign for a homebrew supply shop. So I followed the sign. Then I followed another sign. Then I turned. Then I turned again. Then I followed more signs. Eventually I left the main road and ended up on side roads. Then I left those. Still the signs continued until I arrived at the “shop.” The entrance to the shop was down a….road that consisted of gravel and dirt and wound its way through trees. Actually, when I started to drive down this road (literally down it as it is a steep hill) I couldn’t see the shop. I made it through the trees and arrived. The homebrew supply store was a….shack. A shack in the woods. Literally. Some guy had purchased one of those large storage outbuildings and handmade a sign that proclaimed it was a homebrew store. I saw Deliverance when I was younger and it kind of traumatized me. I turned around and left.

But a couple of days later I started thinking about that missing piece in my homebrew kit and how badly I needed a hydrometer. So I ventured back out to the shack in the woods. The second time, I looked around and saw that the shack was actually in the backyard of a decent house. I rang the bell and the proprietor came out of the house and opened up the shack and then let me in. Inside the small space was the a counter and cash register and shelves loaded with homebrewing goodness. I asked him if he had a hydrometer and he said he thought so. He rummaged around behind the counter, stood up and said he had two different types, which one did I want?

Now here was a dilemma. My kit came with one and I had read many times about the necessity of using a hydrometer but I’d never encountered two different types! So I thought about it and then fell back on my usual decision making process and asked him which one was cheaper. So I bought the cheaper one and left, grateful that I hadn’t died and that no one had told me I got a purty mouth.

However, when I returned home I discovered my hydrometer was some sort of freakish hydrometer for monster beers. Or rather, for chemists who made moonshine. So far as I can tell, my hydrometer is for spirits, not beer. So it sits in the basement gathering dust.

Shortly after that experience I brewed some more beer and amazingly, without a hydrometer, they turned out okay! Hmm…what else might I not need I started to wonder.

Then my wife and I took a trip to Philadelphia. While there we visited City Tavern. The City Tavern focuses on recreating colonial America dishes. In their bar (where we went) they offered beers based on recipes by our Founding Fathers. I couldn’t drink the beers; they were not gluten free.

But, they had a recipe book that included the historical recipes the current ones were based upon. And in it, were beer recipes. Guess what I learned: they didn’t use hydrometers. They also didn’t use sanitizer, carboys, or really pretty much anything we use now. They also didn’t use barley, mainly molasses and corn (I’ll write more on this in another post). In fact, their recipes basically consist of throwing different sugars into a barrel, throwing yeast in, and putting a canvas tarp over the barrel for an indeterminate amount of time.

That is when the light went off: I don’t care about all of the technicalities of homebrewing, the nitty gritty details like hydrometers or zealous sanitation. Maybe I should; but I don’t. I homebrew because it is fun. I homebrew because it is a creative outlet for me and I homebrew because all of the gluten free beer available on the market isn’t worth the price they charge for it.

Then, yesterday, my friend sent me this blog post by author Patrick Rothfuss. If you aren’t familiar with him, I highly recommend his Kingkiller Chronicles. They are available on Amazon and just about everywhere else in the world. It turns out Patrick makes mead. And his approach to mead making is my approach. The post is hilarious and captures how I feel when it comes to making alcohol. I should warn you, he uses offensive language, but still read it if you want to see what I think about homebrewing.

Without further ado….

The Transfiguration IPA

I am excited about this one. Several years ago, a guy on HBT (who is also somewhat religious) got it into his head to create an IPA series known as The 12 Hopostles. There are 12 beers and each one is a single hop IPA. The hop is based on one of the 12 apostles with the characteristics of the hops being somewhat in line with the characteristics of the apostles.  When I read this I thought, “brilliant!”

Then I thought, what if I made a beer based on the Transfiguration of Jesus, using the 3 hops representing the 3 disciples who went with Jesus up the mountain? The one of the two guys who ended up making the 12 hopostles was kind enough to help me formulate the hop schedule.

I had to change my recipe the day of brewing because I used all of my brown rice syrup and forgot to tell myself that important fact. So I substituted the brown rice syrup with honey. This should be okay, maybe even an improvement. From past experiences, I have found honey goes well with Columbus hops.

The Transfiguration IPA

5 Gallon Batch

8oz of wet toasted oats steeped for approximately 30 minutes prior to boil


  1. 3lbs sorghum syrup—start of boil
  2. 1lb of honey–middle of boil (probably should have been flameout)
  3. 2lb D-45 Candi Syrup—flameout (per manufacturer’s suggestion)
  4. 8oz maltodextrine—start of boil


  1. 60 min 1/2  oz Vanguard
  2. 60 min ½ oz Zeus
  3. 30 min ½ oz Zeus
  4. 25 min ½ oz Vanguard
  5. 20 min ½ oz Cascade
  6. 5 min ½ oz Cascade
  7. 1 min ½ oz Vanguard

After 7 days, I will rack this to my bottling bucket and at that time I will dry hop for another 7 days with:

  • .5 oz Vanguard
  • .5 oz Zeus
  • .5 oz Cascade

It seems only appropriate to end with the story of the Transfiguration from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 9.28-36:

“Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray.  And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.”

Partial Grain Brewing: Photo Guide

I thought it might be helpful to see a step by step guide to partial grain brewing with pictures.

The first step, after deciding on a recipe, is to roast the grains.  For this recipe I am using oats. Usually with oats you want to wet roast them, which means get them wet first. But either way, you spread the grains out on a tray for the oven.

step 1If you are doing a dark beer, you’ll want to start on a low temperature and gradually increase the temperature. This will darken the grains as opposed to burning them.  I did these oats for 1 hour at 250 f. I wasn’t going for any darkness, just a nutty flavor.  Let these sit for a few days after roasting them.

For my oats I use Bob’s Red Mill certified gluten free oats. If you use oats, make sure they are gluten free!

On brew day, I always get all of my ingredients out as well as the recipe.

step 2Then fill your brew kettle with water for the steeping of the gluten free grains.  Remember, you want the water warm to hot. But holding it at a specific temperature doesn’t matter because you aren’t trying to convert the grains. These grains are not malted and not enzymes are being added.  I use paint strainer bags for my hops and grain immersions.

step 3



Notice how clear the water is at the start.

step 4

Now notice the murky color of the water. This is following a 30 minute immersion of the gluten free grains.

step 5


Then bring the water to a full boil and start adding the specific ingredients at the appropriate times.  For 5 gallon batches, I do a 3 gallon boil. This is simply because I don’t have a wort chiller and it takes 5 gallons FOREVER to cool. However, if I start with 3 gallons I usually end with 2.5 gallons and that is much easier to cool. I top it off to 5 gallons. This doesn’t impact flavor and is a common method for those who do kitchen top home brew.

This is an important and often overlooked step: drinking a prior brew while reading a good book. You have to do something while those hops impart their flavors.

step 6


This is the finished product. Hanging on the right side is my hop bag. This was an IPA so it was hop heavy. You can see little bits of hops floating around in the wort. Even using a bag they still leak out. You’ll want to strain those out.

step 7


Now that you are finished, you need to start chilling the wort. This is an important step because if the water is too hot, it will kill the yeast when you add it. And if the yeast is killed, all of that work was in vain!

I chill mine in the sink, surrounded by ice water. I’ll leave it in there for about an hour.

step 8


After the wort is cooled, I pour it through a sanitized (REMEMBER: SANITIZE EVERYTHING!) strainer and into my brewing bucket. The brewing bucket has approximately 2 gallons of ice water. This further helps cool the wort.

step 9

You can see the strainer catches a lot of hops that escaped from the bag.

Once the wort is sufficiently cooled, pitch (add) your yeast, cover and put in a controlled environment for at least 2 weeks (or longer depending on the style).

That’s it!

I’ve done quite a few of these. The total time for me from start to finish is approximately 3 1/2 hours. So when you brew be prepared to set aside a large block of time.

Numbers 28.7: “Its drink offering shall be a quarter of a hin for each lamb. In the Holy Place you shall pour out a drink offering of strong drink to the LORD.”




Dry-Hopped Cider Update

Last night I tried one of my dry-hopped ciders from the disastrous batch using Aldi brand cider. It appears that perhaps I wrote off the Aldi cider too early. The temperature for October and November was crazy, I had the brewing buckets in the basement but maybe the temperature still fluctuated too much, or even was too cold, for the yeast. (this is one of those times I wished I was more precise and used a hydrometer). All that to say perhaps the yeast wasn’t done and the residual sweetness was simply sugar the yeast hadn’t eaten as opposed to sugar the yeast couldn’t eat. Definitely some more maturation and fermentation taking place in the bottle and to my surprise, the cider wasn’t bad. It wasn’t good, but give it another month and it just might be drinkable.

The most important take away from me is I will definitely try Hallertau hops again with cider. In fact, I’ll do that this month.

Gluten Free Brewing: Three Methods

When it comes to home brewing, gluten free or gluten oppressed, there are three different methods you can use. They are: all grain, partial grain or extract.

When home brewing, the main goal is to produce sugar. The reason you need sugar is the yeast eats the sugar and produces alcohol. In traditional brewing, the sugar comes from the barley which has been (1) malted, (2) dried, (3) roasted,  (4) crushed and then (5) steeped (also known as mash) at a certain temperature. Enzymes in the water interact with the malted barley and transform the starch into sugar.  The sugar water (wort) is then brought to a boil and hops and other adjuncts are added. The process is the same for GF grains, but much harder to achieve success.

All Grain Brewing

All Grain brewing, for the gluten free brewer, is by far the most difficult one to master. All grain brewing involves malting grains (which means you begin to sprout them). This is done so that the grains, when soaked at certain temperatures will begin to convert from starch to sugar. The extent to which these grains are able to convert from a malted grain (or non-malted in some cases) to sugar is known as diastatic power and gluten free grains usually have little to no diastatic power.

Another popular method for all grain brewing, although from what I have read the success rate is low, is to buy amylase enzymes and add those to the mash. These enzymes are supposed to allow you to use non-malted GF grains and still get a conversion from starch to sugar.

If you are going to go all grain and be gluten free, your best bet is to use malted millet. The number one supplier for that is the Colorado Malting Company. Alternatively, you can malt your own GF grains. Whether you buy malted grains or malt your own, you will probably have to use a decoction mash schedule, which is very laborious. 

One of the fun things about gluten free brewing is you get to experiment. Someone, somehow, discovered chestnut chips make excellent beer. So you can always go that route since chestnuts are supposed to create the most barley like flavors for a good, gluten free beer. But if you think the price for GF grains is expensive, just wait for the sticker shock that comes with chestnuts. If I lived in Oregon, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t homebrew GF because Harvester Brewing is supposed to be the best GF brewer around. Their base is chestnut chips.

While I have read quite extensively on the subject, I have never done an all grain brew.  My lifestyle and profession don’t allow for the time and cost involved.

Partial Grain Brewing

The next type of brewing is called partial grain brewing and involves the use of grains and extracts.  In this method you take roasted grains (usually not malted) and steep them prior to bringing the wort to a boil. The reason you do this is because grains, whether they are malted or not, can add a lot to a beer. They can add flavor and color and contribute to the mouth feel of the brew. A common grain to use for this method is wet toasted oats. Take some certified gluten free oats, soak them briefly in water and then, while still damp, put them on a baking tray and roast long and low.

When doing a partial grain you usually steep the grains for 30-45 minutes prior to the boil. The water should be warm, but this isn’t a mash so a specific temperature doesn’t really matter. You aren’t trying to convert the starches in the grain, just get some goodness out of the grains for your beer.

When it comes to gluten free brewing, if you want to make a beer that is dark and thus, more “malty” in flavor, I really recommend steeping some dark roasted grains. An extract only dark gluten free beer just doesn’t taste right.

Here is a step-by-step photo guide to partial grain brewing.

Extract Only Brewing

This is the method I prefer to use. It is cheaper and quicker and lends itself well to gluten free brewing since I probably won’t bother with all grain for years– if ever.  Extract only brewing would traditionally use a malt extract from barley, pour that into the water, bring it to a boil and add hops and adjuncts.

The only problem is there really isn’t any such thing as a malt extract for the gluten free brewer. The most common base is syrup–sorghum syrup, tapioca syrup, brown rice syrup being the main three. These three syrups provide enough nutrients and sugar for the yeast to think they are in barley and also enough body to give you a beer. Bard’s Tale Beer is the only GF beer on the market, so far as I’m aware, that uses malted sorghum syrup. You can purchase their malted sorghum syrup in a homebrew kit. Every other sorghum extract available is actually just sorghum syrup.

Perhaps there is another syrup out there (aside from the 3 listed above) that one can use, but if so, I’m unaware of it. Please feel free to let me know in the comments!

Extract gluten free brewing needs a lot of help–but it is possible! However, those details I will provide in another post devoted exclusively to extract brewing.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.~1st Corinthians 10.31

Gluten-Free Thanksgiving

I realize it is a bit late but I thought I would share our menu for this past Thanksgiving.  It really isn’t hard to celebrate it if you follow a gluten free diet.

  • Turkey (growing up, we never had stuffing where you stuffed the bird) so our bird really isn’t stuffed (apart from butter!)
  • Garlic Mashed Potatoes (potatoes, lots of garlic, half & half, butter, salt)
  • Green Beans (cooked with bacon and onions)
  • Cranberry Relish (family recipe)
  • Pie

Now, pie gets a bit tricky. But I really haven’t found a bad GF pie crust mix. The one I usually use is Gluten Free Pantry Pie Crust mix (mainly because people keep giving them to us as a gift–thanks for that!)

The pies we had were Caramel Apple (using homemade caramel sauce) and Pecan Pie.  Neither of these recipes required any special adaptation to be gluten free.

To drink during the day we had mulled cider (naturally gluten free) and chex mix.  When I make chex mix I use corn and rice chex and then mixed nuts. I season it the same way (butter, worcestshire, garlic powder, salt, pepper) and bake it in the oven per the usual instructions.

Voila! Gluten Free Thanksgiving.

The best part of course is the leftovers. Our bird was 22lbs. My wife used the carcass to make 16 quarts of Turkey broth. She then turned 8 quarts of it into Turkey soup to freeze and we’ll freeze the rest of the broth. It is the gift that keeps on giving. 

Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. For the LORD is the great God, the great King above all gods. Psalm 95:2-3