Are you looking for a more foam and body in your homebrew? Drinking a beer that has poor head or no head at all, or is thin and non-lasting can be a disappointment. As a homebrewing you want a beer with a foamy head that lasts and leaves behind some lace on the side of the glass.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do, like utilizing certain specialty and adjunct grains. By using these grains you will be increasing beer head retention and body.
What are specialty grains and adjunct grains?
It’s easy to get hung up on nomenclature, but it’s really quite simple. A specialty grain is anything other than the base malt used to make beer. They can contribute flavor or color to your homebrew. They are used in smaller proportions relative to the total grain bill. Examples of specialty grains include caramel malt and black malt.
Adjunct grains are a type of specialty grain, anything other that malted barley, that are used to make beer. They typically contributed additional fermentable sugar to the beer. Examples include wheat, rye, oats, spelt, corn, and rice. Specialty grains used for increasing beer head retention and body often have higher protein content than barley, which contributes to body. Specialty grains and adjunct grains are typically added to the mash or, in the case of extract beers, steeped as a specialty grain along with some base malt.
Without further delay, here are some of the most commonly used specialty grains used for increasing beer head retention and body.
- Caramel malt — Caramel malt is high in unfermentable dextrins, or complex sugars. When these sugars remain in the beer, they help contribute to a full mouthfeel. Adding caramel malt, taking note of the color and flavor contributed by the grain, is one way to enhance the body of your beer.
- Carapils — Like caramel malt, Carapils (Briess’s brand name dextrin malt) is high in dextrins, but unlike caramel malt, it is light in color, so it will do little to affect the color or flavor of your beer. Use up to about half a pound in a five-gallon batch for more body and increasing beer head retention.
- Wheat — Imagine a thick, chewy hefeweizen. That creamy body and the billowy head on top of the beer are thanks to the wheat. There are a few choices when choosing wheat: White malted wheat, red malted wheat, torrified wheat, unmalted wheat, and flaked. You can also use a Midnight Wheat in darker beers. Use about 10% wheat to add some body to a pale ale. As much as 50% or more can be used in wheat beers such as hefeweizens and berliner weisse. Malted, flaked, or torrified wheat can be added directly to the mash; raw, unmalted wheat will need to be cooked first.
- Oats — Oats are another adjunct grain used for increasing beer head retention and body. It’s most often found in beers like saisons, wits, and oatmeal stouts. Flaked oats are pressed between hot rollers to make the sugars more accessible, but if you’re not too concerned about gravity points, straight oats from the store work well too. Use at most about 25% flaked oats in a grain bill. Most beer recipes will have 5-15% oats.
- Rye — Like oats, rye can increase body, but might contribute to an oily character. People often describe rye as spicy, but there’s some debate over whether it’s mistaken for the spicy hops that are often paired with rye. Brewers can choose from flaked or malted rye – both give similar results and work wonders in a rye pale ale.
Adding specialty malts to you beer recipe is a practical and natural way for increasing beer head retention and body in your homebrewed beers. Body and head retention should always be kept in mind when creating a beer recipe, trying to brew to style, and even when trying to please your own palate.
Looking for other ways to enhance body and head retention in your homebrew? Read: How to Make a Full-Bodied Homebrew Beer.
David Ackley is a beer writer, homebrewer, and self-described “craft beer crusader.” He holds a General Certificate in Brewing from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and is founder of the Local Beer Blog.
Prized by brewers far and wide for its bittering, flavor, and aroma qualities, the hop is an integral part of beer. But what is a hop? What’s inside the hops? What’s the anatomy of a hop cone?
Hops come from a perennial plant called Humulus lupulus (lupulus as in wolf, so named for the voraciousness of the plant’s growth), which sends vines up from a rhizome in the ground. These vines (a.k.a. bines) have been known to climb to 20 feet or higher in a commercial hop field. Hops, the part of the plant used in brewing, are the flowers of the plant. It is the hop flowers’ essential oils and resins that make it so valuable as a beer brewing ingredient.
A hop flower looks like a miniature green pine cone. The resins, commonly referred to as alpha acids, are contained at the base of the hop cone in the lupulin glands. When boiled, these alpha acids are isomerized, a quick shift in molecular structure that makes them soluble in wort.
The alpha acids are what make beer bitter. A simple calculation allows brewers to figure out the IBUs (international bittering units) of their beer and compare their beer to others using a universally accepted scale. The two primary chemicals within the alpha acids are called humulone and cohumulone.
But also within the anatomy of a hop cone are other components that contribute to flavor and aroma. These characteristics are derived from hop oils. Because they’re more delicate than the alpha acids, the hop oils will evaporate if they’re boiled for too long. For this reason, they’re added to the wort late in the boil or afterwards. Commercial brewers may use a hop back, but homebrewers will usually put the hops directly in the secondary fermenter (this practice is called dry hopping).
There are several different types of essential oils within the hop cone, each contributing different flavor and aroma characteristics:
- Myrcene – floral, citrus, and piney
- Humulene – spicy, herbal, European
- Caryophyllene – herbal, European
- Farnesene & other oils
(If you’re interested, Ray Daniels’ book, Designing Great Beers, is a great source for more info on the different hop oils.)
After being harvested from the hop plant, hop cones are usually processed into pellets. Specialized machinery removes the extraneous vegetative material, preserving the resins and oils. The processing results in higher hops utilization (a measure of how many alpha acids are dissolved in the wort) and makes for easier storage. Some brewers, like Sierra Nevada, still use whole hops, but hop pellets have become the industry standard.
When buying hops for home brewing, fresher is always better (unless brewing a lambic, which is made with aged hops). It’s best to purchase your hops right before you use them. If you will be using the hops within a few days, store them sealed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Otherwise, keep them in the freezer, preferably vacuum-sealed, until you’re ready to brew.
This is the basic anatomy of a hop cone and why it is used in beer. Here’s where you can find more information about hops: (Nearly) Everything You Need To Know About Hops.
David Ackley is a beer writer, brewer, and self-described “craft beer crusader.” He is a graduate of the Oskar Blues Brew School in Brevard, NC and founder of the Local Beer Blog.
To answer the question: what is beer yeast? We must first back up and discuss what yeast is, in general. Yeast is the single-celled micro-organism responsible for turning sugar into alcohol. Yeast can be found almost anywhere, in the air, hanging out on fruit, even in this guy’s beard. Without yeast, there would be no beer! Even though yeast’s role in fermentation wasn’t discovered until the 1800s, brewers have been unknowingly using it to make beer for thousands of years.
There are hundreds of different kinds of yeasts, but when it comes to brewing beer, we’re interested in one in particular: Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, commonly referred to as brewer’s yeast or beer yeast, are further divided into two broad categories:
- Ale yeast – a top fermenting beer yeast, performing best between 55°-70°F, ferments fairly quickly
- Lager yeast – a bottom fermenting beer yeast, performs best around 45°-50°F, takes longer to ferment
(Top vs. bottom fermenting refers to where in the fermentation vessel the beer yeast is most active.)
Within each of these two categories are many beer yeast strains that produce flavor characteristics that define a particular style of beer. One of the strongest examples of this is in Bavarian wheat beers. The banana and clove character in hefeweizens comes from the yeast!
The Role of Beer Yeast in Fermentation
In brewing, there are four stages in the fermentation process:
Pitching > Respiration (lag phase) > Fermentation > Settling
In the first step, healthy, viable yeast cells are added to the wort. Next, in the respiration phase, yeast consumes dissolved oxygen in order to grow and multiply. The goal is to have a large colony of yeast cells so that they can quickly and effectively ferment your beer. (This is why you aerate your beer prior to pitching yeast.) Next comes the fermentation step. At this point, the yeast cells consume sugar and produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. Finally, when the fermentation is complete, the yeast cells settle out to the bottom of the fermentation vessel.
Liquid vs. Dry Yeast
Homebrewers have a few choices to make when selecting a beer yeast strain for their brew. Beer yeasts are available in both liquid and dry form. Dry beer yeast packets are easy to use, easy to store, relatively inexpensive and contain lots of viable cells. Many homebrewers recommend that dry yeasts be rehydrated prior to pitching; some don’t think this is necessary. Popular dry yeast producers include:
Liquid beer yeast have their own benefits. For one, they don’t need to be rehydrated, saving some time on brew day. The other benefit is that there is a greater variety of liquid yeasts than dry. The main drawback is that liquid beer yeasts tend to cost a little more than dry yeasts, but many homebrewers swear that liquid yeast cultures make better beer.
When picking a beer yeast, consider the following: First, are you brewing an ale or a lager? What style of beer are you brewing, and what strain is best for that style? Finally, would you rather use liquid or dry yeast?
In the future we’ll try to come up with a clearer answer to the question: what is beer yeast? But for now, happy brewing!
What’s your favorite homebrewing yeast strain? Share in the comments!
David Ackley is a beer writer, brewer, and self-described “craft beer crusader.” He holds a General Certificate in Brewing from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and is founder of the Local Beer Blog.