Joe Postma

I am a consulting actuary with a passion for homebrewing and craft beer. I love the blend of creativity and science that it takes to make great beer.

  • Website
  • Location: Chicago
  • Favorite foods: Fresh seafood and a good grilled steak.
  • Last bite on earth: My own homebrewed Russian Imperial Stout aged on ancho chillies and organic cocoa nibs.

Latest Comments

Homebrewing: 3-Vessel Brewing

@RicoSuave I mostly copied a design from this site:

The part numbers on that site can be found at His price list is a little out dated, but it's pretty close. I went this route for now because I'm welding-impaired. This build did require the use of a good angle-grinder to cut the steel, so if you don't have experience in that area I recommend asking the help of a friend who does. He doesn't list everything on his site, so you can expect to spend a couple hundred more on a pump, hoses, quick disconnects and burners. It's a fun project though, so if you have the time and space I recommend it!

What We Learned at the 2012 National Homebrewers Conference

BigGreenFrank -

The best commercial beer for me was Black Raven Brewing Co. Pour Les Oiseaux. My top homebrews were a Flanders Red and a sour blond ale both made by the Boeing Employees Beer and Wine Makers, a Cascadian Dark Ale by the Bellingham Homebrewers Guild, Denny Conn's Rye IPA made by Denny Conn and a Patersbier made by Serious Eat's very own Jonathan Moxey (cleverly named "Pater Familias").

Homebrewing: Berliner Weisse

@cardinalsfan - that's a great question about the DMS, and one that I've never really heard a satisfying answer to. I've made a couple of these no-boil versions, I've also tasted Jonathan Moxey's version, and I've never been able to pick out a distinct DMS flavor. It's possible it just gets covered up with the tart flavors, but maybe there's a more technical answer.

Homebrewing: Introduction to Sour Ales

Hey Mad Fermentationist! Thanks for the comments. I agree there were a couple points that could use some clarifying, so I updated the article accordingly.

4 Essential Tips for Beginning Homebrewers

@rhallen - I recommend trying at least one or two extract brews before moving up to all grain, but I agree with the above posters that you can probably move to brew-in-a-bag very quickly. Brew-in-a-bag is an all grain method that doesn't require a lot of expensive equipment. The only downside is that you can't make high alcohol beers, but for many people that's not an issue. I have posted several recipes on this site that use the brew-in-a-bag method.

As far as sanitizer goes, I never recommend bleach or ammonia based sanitizers. They can potentially leave off-flavors in your brew. As far as environmentally friendly sanitizers, I think StarSan is your best bet. I don't know much about that type of chemistry, but the company claims it's biodegradable and it won't harm "helpful" bacteria in a septic system. I think if you use anything other than commonly accepted brewing sanitizers (starsan or idophor), you're opening your brew up to potentially off-flavors or infection.

Homebrewing: How to Keg Your Beer

Lorenzo - Fantastic suggestion about weighing the CO2 tanks. I've thought about this, but never implemented it. I think I might start.

rockfish - Yup, I'm going to do a couple more detailed kegging posts, to cover alternate carbonation techniques, leak detection and keg & faucet cleaning. They'll pop up from time to time in over the next few weeks. There was way too much info to fit in one post.

Makanmate - I use force carbonation because it's easy, but you can use natural carbonation if you keg as well. Just add the appropriate amount of corn sugar to the keg and keep it warm for a few weeks - exactly like bottling. The only thing you have to be careful of is make sure your keg is completely sealed or you'll lose all the carbonation. Then you can use the canned CO2 to push the beer out after it's done, and very little of the forced CO2 should dissolve into the beer.

Homebrewing: Pumpkin Ale

Lorenzo - I was convinced of the "must mash" technique for pumpkin for a long time, but talking to other brewers eventually changed my mind. After adding baked pumpkin to the boil and tasting the results, I'm not sure I'll ever add pumpkin to the mash again (even with an all-grain recipe).

Maple Pumpkin Ale (For Beginning Homebrewers)

CLcooks - Switch out the dry malt extract for 10.25 pounds of American 2-row (assuming 70% efficiency). Mash all the grains together at 154F for 60 minutes, and sparge. Everything else would be exactly the same.

Maple Pumpkin Ale (For Beginning Homebrewers)

rodisan - This is actually the first time I've used maple, and I have to say the flavor came through surprisingly well! It is definitely a better and more interesting beer with the addition. I think the trick is getting the very dark "Grade B" cooking syrup to get the biggest bang for your buck. I picked up a 14oz bottle at Whole Foods for $10 or $11.

neebington - I used to be a strong proponent of trying to get fermentable sugars out of the pumpkin, but after discussing it with both pro and home brewers I've changed my mind. I know the arguments on both sides, but adding to the boil brings out the flavor without the mess or complication of adding the pumpkin to the mash.

Homebrewing: Pumpkin Ale

heh, woops. That first sentence should read,
"I don't think the fermentation will really increase the spice flavors."

Homebrewing: Pumpkin Ale


I don't think the fermentation won't really increase the spice flavors. If you give it a taste before bottling and you still think it needs more, just add a pinch. That gap between "just enough" and "way too much" is not very big. Even commercial breweries have a lot of problems getting it just right.

Homebrewing: Introduction to Brewing Lager

@Ghostly - My chest freezer is one of my favorite homebrew accessories. I can condition or serve 6 homebrew kegs in there or fit 4 full sized carboys. There's an 8 inch collar in the photo that you can't see that allows the higher carboys and kegs to fit. It does require a lot of space, but it's totally worth it!

Homebrewing: Introduction to Brewing Lager

@hungry - I don't see any problem with doing primary in plastic. I'll avoid plastic if I know it will be there for 6 weeks or more, but less than that I don't really worry about it. The krausen is smaller on a lager, but if you want to avoid overflow in primary by using a bucket then go for it.

@Lorenzo - I think Noonan's book is a classic and hands down still one of the more comprehensive books for lager homebrewers. It's an excellent reference.

@nataku - Nice eye! The label's a little hidden, but you can see a Rosso E Marrone on the right side as well!

Homebrewing: How to Brew with Spices

My quantity recommendation for all these spices is for a 5 gallon base recipe. You can scale up or down as needed.

@mayan - The only ginger-infused beer I've had is Left Hand's Good JuJu, which is pretty tasty. I couldn't even guess how much to use to get good balance in a pale ale. I made a non-alcoholic ginger ale once with 8oz of chopped ginger root, 1.5lbs of sugar and 1tsp cream of tarter. I boiled for 5 minutes and topped off with water to make 2 gallons total. I put it in a keg and carbonated at 30psi and 40F. The ginger flavor was extremely powerful, and I'd probably cut it in half if I was going to make it again. If I were to try to use it in 5 gallons of pale ale, I might start with 2 ounces of chopped root at flameout and experiment from there.

@nataku - Chili peppers are a great addition! I recently tried someone's pepper-infused IPA homebrew that was fantastic. I've heard of them used in the boil, secondary, and even as a tincture mixed in just before bottling. The perfect amount of chili really depends on the recipe you're making and the chili used.

English Mild Ale (For Intermediate Homebrewers)

Actually, I'll be making an American Wheat this weekend using the brew-in-a-bag method. I'll try squeezing the bag and see if it seems to extract detectable tannins or if it changes my usual efficiency. I'll report back when it's finished.

Oh, and keep an eye out for the American Wheat recipe in a few weeks. It's one of my summer favorites!

English Mild Ale (For Intermediate Homebrewers)

I have 2 things I keep in mind when I use this method. First is to make sure your "mash-out" gets the grain to as close as 170F as possible. After trying this once or twice, you might find you need to heat the second pot of water to higher than 185F to get to the proper mash-out temperature. Be careful that the mixture doesn't exceed 170F by too much, since you could extract tannins.

The second thing I do is to hold the bag above the pot until almost all the liquid runs out. It takes patience, but the more liquid you get, the more sugar you will have in the pot. The 170F temperature should ensure that the sugar is as loose as it can be to drain out. It takes patience, but getting all the liquid will get you to the correct Starting Gravity.

This recipe was written for 75% efficiency, which I hit pretty close to when I brewed it. With the right mash-out temperature and a little patience, this is the same percentage I usually get with the brew-in-a-bag method.

I don't usually squeeze the bag, so I can't really speak to whether this extracts tannins to a detectable level. I can see arguments for both sides. Maybe this would be a good experiment to test efficiency and flavor differences!

Homebrewing: How to Brew an English Mild Ale

You're correct. My intent was to say that there is really no benefit from using dry yeast as there is more than enough yeast cells in a single package of liquid yeast to ferment such a low ABV brew. For the same reason, there isn't a benefit to making a yeast starter from a liquid yeast either.

Cost is a factor, but it would be a small factor in this case. I think my total bill for this recipe came in at less than $20 for 5 gallons of beer.

Belgian Tripel (For Beginning Homebrewers)

Midwest sells a 3.3lb and a 6lb container that will get you over the 9lbs for a total of $25 plus shipping. You can get both of them from this link:

I've never used that much dry Pilsner extract in a recipe before, so I can't really say how the final product would taste. If you want to try it, let us know how it turns out! The substitution would be about 7.4lbs of dry Pilsner extract instead of the 9 lbs of liquid extract.

Homebrewing: Belgian Tripel

I would expect that any precursors to DMS (a chemical that produces cooked vegetable flavors) would be eliminated in the production of the extract, so I don't think it's something to worry about in an extract recipe.

Some people do a 90 minute boil when using a large percentage of Pilsner malt in an all grain style recipe, but cmdrico7812 has the right idea - leave you're brew kettle uncovered and make sure you have a vigorous boil.

Belgian Tripel (For Beginning Homebrewers)

@plazmaorb The link I provided above is a good source for the liquid Pilsner extract. You can buy a 6lb and a 3.3lb and that would get you over 9lbs for about $25+shipping. It is a little pricey, but I think it's worth it. Here's the link again:

You could use dry extract, but I've personally never used dry Pilsner extract in that much quantity so I can't comment on the quality or flavor of the final product. If you try it, let us know how it turns out! You would substitute about 7.4lbs of dry Pilsner extract in for the liquid extract

Homebrewing: How to Dry Hop Your Beer

The hops in the photograph are as fresh as they come. I buy all my hops in bulk from and I store them vacuum sealed and in the freezer until use. This particular variety is Willamette and it's from the 2010 crop.

Fresh dried leaf hop color can range anywhere from the moss green in the photograph to almost-neon bright green. It mostly depends on the variety. Avoid hops that are brown like old oak leaves. If you're unsure about the quality of your hops, the smell test works every time. Old hops have a distinct cheesy smell to them and shouldn't be used.

I used these Willamette hops in a Saison I brewed last weekend, and the aroma was a beautifully spicy and earthy. I will be dry hopping this beer with the same variety.

Homebrewing: Robust Porter Brew-Along Day 11

With this beer, I'll just be doing a single stage fermentation. If I make a beer that I know I'll be bottling or kegging within a month, I usually don't transfer to a secondary carboy. If it's going to sit for than a month, I will transfer to a secondary vessel for conditioning.

Homebrew Troubleshooting: Head Retention and Carbonation

mr guy - joshcalvi is exactly right. It sounds to me like the fermentation was not complete when you bottled. Fermentation continued in the bottles and the bottle couldn't contain the CO2 that was produced. With higher alcohol beer, the time for complete fermentation increases substantially. I haven't talked about beer above 8% yet, but my method is to allow the beer to ferment for about 3 or 4 weeks, then transfer the beer to a secondary fermenter and let it sit for another couple weeks. This helps ensure that fermentation is really complete.

Also, just because the airlock isn't bubbling doesn't mean that the fermentation was done. The only way to be certain that fermentation is done is to take gravity readings on two different days and make sure they are exactly the same.

The exploding bottles are called "bottle bombs". I had a really bad experience with them once when I did about the same thing you did - Make a 9% beer, ferment for 2 weeks, then bottle. They're like glass hand grenades and they scared the crap out of me. I put on a helmet to protect my face and opened all the surviving bottles in the bathtub. That's a lesson you only have to learn once... Always allow time for complete fermentation and check your gravity with a hydrometer before you bottle.

Homebrewing: Robust Porter Brew-Along Day 3

Yup, there is a lot of very healthy yeast in the krausen, and it does get lost if you use a blow-off tube. At this stage of fermentation there is so much yeast that it won't cause any flavor problems with your beer, so it's not anything to worry about.

I don't have a link right now, but there are some homebrewing techniques out there that allow you to collect the krausen in a sanitary way and save the healthy yeast from it to be used in future batches of beer. The method is called "top cropping". I've never actually done it myself, but I know if you do it in a sanitary way it's a great method to reuse your yeast.

Robust Porter (For Beginning Homebrewers)

I agree that you can absolutely do this beer as a full boil. If you own an 8 gallon pot, the recipe can be performed as-is starting with 6 gallons instead of 3. Then there would be no topping off at the end. Technically, there would also be a slight adjustment to the hop schedule, but it's not significant enough in this recipe to address. The point mayan makes is valid, the hop utilization is not quite the same with a concentrated batch like this, but this is a great way to start for a new brewer. This recipe will make a great porter whether you do a 6 gallon boil or a 3 gallon boil.

I have never actually had an issue with topping-off using unboiled tap water. I understand the issues with sanitation, but municipal water generally is sanitary straight out of the tap. If there is a concern that your tap water might be contaminated, then it would be best to pre-boil it.