The Shower Beer, Day Drinking, and the Celebration of Life

El Flaco here with my long awaited inaugural post here on Big Orca, shaking off the writer’s block with a controversial topic: the shower beer.

A conversation about shower beer, however, is really a conversation about day drinking. Now as the youngest of the Big Orca clan and a recent college grad, you might think when I say day drinking I’m referring to a weekend long bender of Genny light, Jagerbombs and terrible life choices. And the jalapeno infused tequila sitting in my fridge right now might agree with you.


Like Master Gee, I'm the baby of the bunch.

Like Master Gee, I’m the baby of the bunch.

But with a full-time job and a roommate who happens to be sharing my bed as well as my apartment, Saturdays on the couch with a six pack and shameless streaming of an entire season of Friends are starting to seem too much like my definition of a perfect weekend.

So, back to daydrinking. What it means to me now is a brief window in this march towards adulthood where I get together with the best and brightest to reach towards the sun just one more time. St. Patrick’s day 2013 and 2014. The second anniversary of my 21st birthday last March. The first of many “man days” last year when five brothers donned thrift store safety vests to keep one of our nation’s greatest cities safe from ourselves.

Men keeping Baltimore safe.

Keeping Baltimore safe one vest at a time.

When three cousins decided to shed off all sense of responsibility and go on a road trip just to spend a few more hours together despite the complete waste of gas, money and time…and ended up in bed by 12:30.

Let’s face it. We have things to do the next day. Staying up until 5am on a Saturday means that you better have a three day weekend or you are in for some serious self loathing next week. Not to mention the back pain, financial woes and spousal anger you might have incurred. Before a night of debauchery, you spend the entire day thinking about what could be. My proposal to you, ladies and gentleman, is don’t waste the day. Seize it.

Wake up. Go to the fridge. Maybe have a glass of water on your way, but while you are still in the haze of slumber, reach in and grab your favorite session IPA. My personal choice is Stillwater’s Classique, because who isn’t inspired to grab life by the cojones when facing the gaze of this epic gentleman.

Classique Shoer Beer

This is not a game of what doesn’t belong, but a vision for what should.

At first, there will be judgement. But as we know, all great change faces resistance. So join me my fellow trailblazers as we crack one open in the midst of cleansing and fill our spirits with a taste that is bold but respectful that it will be the first of many on this fine morning.

Posted in Beer lifestyle | Leave a comment

Snow Party Tonight

When the weather outside is frightful,






Find somewhere delightful,






Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

snow citra

Posted in Beer Field Trip | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Multi Stage Fermentation for High ABV

xxx bottleLet’s say you want to make a high ABV brew.  Lacto B Silly told us all about it in an earlier post.  One of his key points, among other great tips, was to have enough yeast.  And that works for styles he listed.  But we want to go further, making something out of the ordinary.  A crazy idea for something huge.  Big brewing from Big Orca.  Now there are people who would call this extreme brewing, but it isn’t.  We aren’t going to be doing it on the back of a motorcycle jumping a volcano.  It’s just spending a little extra time around a burner watching wort boil, it aint extreme.

When making a big beer you can get so high on the initial gravity and so big on the yeast starter that it starts to get sketchy.  A big beer is expensive, and the last thing you want is this much wort and hop not to ferment correctly.  If your gravity is to high, your starter to small, or your temperature not perfect, you could have a very expensive failure.   Multi-stage, or step fermentation is going to get us through this by having enough yeast to fully ferment the huge amount of sugar.  I like to think of it as making a huge yeast starter, and never stopping.

For the sake of this blog post, we are going to make a big ass barley wine.  I like my barley wines hoppy, sweet and strong; like its a double IPA on roids.  So that’s how its going to start.  Brew up a kick ass double IPA.  Like any good double IPA you will need a yeast starter the night before.  For a brew this big, a starter of white labs high gravity WLP 099 is needed.  You can do a different high gravity yeast, but that’s up to you.  On brew day, you’re going to want to brew a slightly smaller batch than usual.  I have 6 gallon fermenters, and my normal batch is 5 gallons.  But for this beer, I’m gonna do a 3.5 gallon batch.  It’s not much yet, but don’t worry we’ll be adding to it.

Feed it!

Feed it!

This is were the multi-stage fermentation comes in.  In a 3.5 gallon batch of double IPA wort, the WLP099 starter you made will go crazy, and you should get a very vigorous fermentation.  Keep and eye on it.  When it starts to slow, we’re gonna feed it.  Make a small, 1 gallon batch of concentrated wort.  Go huge on this, tons of hops, tons of malt. This is where the high ABV is going to come from, so don’t be shy.  You want as much dissolved sugar and hop flavor in this wort as you can handle.  Cool it down and add it to your fermenter.  You are adding this concentrated wort to what is essentially a giant 3.5 gallon starter.  The yeast is hungry, fully propagated and ready to eat.

Now we could stop there.  And maybe you should.  If you are doing this with a yeast that has a lower alcohol tolerance or your yeast is petering out, then stop.  But if it isn’t, keep feeding it.  Do another small batch of wort.  Less than a gallon this time, we don’t have much room.  If you’re lucky the yeast will play along and keep fermenting.  This is why it is multi-stage or step fermentation.  You keep stepping up the ABV by feeding it more sugar.  You can also do smaller more frequent additions of sugar instead of larger spaced out ones.  It’s up to you.  But the idea is to get a healthy fermeter full of yeast going and keep feeding it fresh sugar for as long as it wants it.

This process takes time.  When you’re done let it sit and age like any other barley wine.  What you should have is a beer that is bigger and stronger than what you could have made with only one fermentation.

So there you go, a technique for high ABV.  Lots of reasons to go big on the ABV.   You could want to make a clone of you’re favorite commercial beer.  Maybe you’re a crazy asshole who loves pounding big beers and having big hangovers.  Or maybe you had an idea for something big, something you needed to create.  This post was intended for the later, and is a guide for realizing that idea.


Posted in Home Brews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top 5 Sanitation Fixes for Better Homebrew

Ever enter a BJCP competition and receive the feedback, “watch sanitation”? Real helpful, right? Every homebrewer knows that sanitation and cleanliness are important. But after a long brew day it can be easy to overlook some of the small processes that have a huge impact on the finished beer. You can see how painstaking it can be from a previous post from El Rojo.

Don’t let a simple mistake ruin a great recipe. Get in the habit of checking these 5 issues for every batch and you’re unlikely to have an infected brew again.

1. Scratched plastic fermentation or racking equipment.

Plastic buckets are easy, inexpensive ways to ferment homebrew, but unlike glass, they can scratch. That goes for plastic tubing, too. Using a rough sponge or steel cleaning pad can create small surface scratches that may be difficult to spot. These cuts–often jagged with hidden nooks and crannies–harbor bacteria that can be impossible to disinfect. Once bacteria has found a place to live, every batch that touches the bucket or tube risks infection. It’s worth taking the time to examine all plastic equipment before brewing for scratches, and replacing anything that looks dicey.

2. Contaminated yeast.

Who would use contaminated yeast? No one, intentionally. But, for those of you who re-pitch yeast, this is a real risk. Since it can be practically impossible to tell if your stored yeast has been contaminated, infection isn’t apparent until after it’s been pitched and fermentation is well under way. Harvesting and storing yeast requires extreme care: Everything the yeast touch must be sanitary. Papazian has a great section in his book detailing proper steps and it’s definitely worth reading.

3. Porous utensils and/or unsanitized hydrometer.

Fermentation can test every homebrewer’s patience, so what better way to pass the time than sticking things in the beer?! But that wooden spoon? Use a metal one instead. Like the scratched plastic in #1, porous materials can harbor bacteria ruinous to beer. Always sanitize your hydrometer, too. Even though it’s only used for beer and is stored in a plastic tube, it can pick up bacteria when rested on a counter or if the tube isn’t sealed well.

4. Bottle caps that haven’t been boiled.

Bottle caps fresh out of the package look clean and sanitary, but who knows what happened before they got in there. Boil bottle caps for at least 5 minutes, and stir them frequently so that the entire surface of each cap is sanitized (they tend to stack on top of each other).

5. Dirty bottles.

Sounds obvious, right? Still, this is probably the main way many of us end up with infected beer. Like all post-boil equipment, bottles need to be clean AND sanitary. One without the other isn’t enough. That means first ensuring all debris is cleaned from bottles and then sanitizing them. Make sure to clean and sanitize around the outside of the lip, too.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In Review: Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale

We at Big Orca give it to you straight.  Our reviews don’t contain frou-frou phrases, highfalutin terms, or impossibly-specific comparisons to obscure foods.  Just an everyman’s evaluation, which we’re qualified to give.  And Lacto B Silly is a Master BJCP judge, if that matters to you.

Described by Dogfish as a hybrid IPA-Brown Ale-Scotch Ale, this beer takes an unanticipated approach.  The ruby brown color is nearly opaque, showing clarity only in direct light; it sets the expectation for any number of dark malt characteristics.  The aroma is by-the-book American Brown Ale: roasted malt, baking chocolate, resinous hops, and light molasses (in that order).  Those aromas come together very nicely and create a layered richness, which improves as it warms.  It’s surprisingly clean–no fruity esters or yeast character to speak of.  The flavor is also squeaky clean, but takes a totally different course. There is a roasted, bitter malt note, but otherwise this beer takes a cue from a distinct subclass of IPAs and presents densely packed resinous and spicy hops as the predominant flavors.  The hop flavors are so dense that it takes some time and warming for them to open up, and when they do, there’s a hint of baking chocolate (read: more bitterness).  Combined with the aggressive–sometimes rough–bitterness, the lack of any sweetness renders this beer dry as a bone. It ends with a bitter, drying finish.  Unlike many other specialty IPAs, however, this beer has substantial body that almost encases the moderately high carbonation.

This beer’s supposed resemblance to Scotch Ale isn’t apparent.  Other, much more qualified reviewers claim specifically to perceive caramelized sugars. Good for them, but I don’t.  Since that characteristic is written prominently on the bottle, I’m betting it’s just the power of suggestion.

Photo Credit:

Posted in Beer Review | Leave a comment

Brewing Sour Beers Part 3: The Wort and Fermentation

Look at that bad boy without ale yeast added.

Look at that bad boy without ale yeast added.

Here we are, the final step in creating a simple, homemade sour beer. You’ve got a funky looking lacto starter going, per Posts 1 and 2, and you need something (wort) to put it in.

When making these lacto beers, I brew the wort about 36-48 hours after creating the starter. By the time the boil is over and the wort cools, the starter is at its peak. Keep the wort very simple and low gravity. I like somewhere between a 50/50 and 70/30 pils/wheat malt bill. Original gravity might come in at about 1.035 or less, so what I’ll do is brew a 3 gallon batch of regular strength (1.050) wort and then add 2 gallons of cold distilled water after the boil to dilute it to <1.035 and chill it quickly. If you do the math, it works out to just a few pounds of each malt (under $10). Play around with it though. Add sea salt to make a Gose.

Hops should be kept to a minimum, because their antibacterial properties can inhibit lacto growth. We want lacto. So, maybe 0.5 ounces of something mild for bittering, like a noble hop. No hops for flavor or aroma.

The real debate is whether also to pitch an ale yeast with the lacto (and when). Try different combinations; there’s no right way and each with give you different levels of sourness, alcohol, and dryness.

My go-to method is to toss in the lacto starter as soon as the wort is cool, then place it in a warm spot to begin fermenting, like next to a radiator. It will bubble and develop a krausen just like a normal fermentation, but might not last very long (probably in part because the wort is so weak).

Make sure to taste the fermenting wort every day to keep track of the level of sourness that develops. It may taste a bit appley or yeasty, but should have a moderate sourness (not vinegar-like, though). After 2-3 days, I add ale yeast. You could wait longer, but you’ll be risking bacterial infection and overwhelming the ale yeast. Ale yeast will help take the wort through a typical fermentation, so your beer resembles beer.

Wait a few weeks per usual, bottle it, and voila. If all goes well, you’ll have a light, dry, sour beer.

What variations do you recommend?

Posted in Home Brews | Leave a comment

Brewing Sour Beers Part 2: Starter Growth

Alright, so you’ve created your starter and put it in a warm place, per Post 1.  What should it start to look like?

sour starter 2

Ropey and ready to rock.

There’s some variation in how the starter will look, but it should start to grow in under 12 hours.  It’ll smell sharply acidic, too.  Some people get a putrid, garbage-like aroma, but I have never smelled that in any of the starters I have made.  Instead, I notice an unmistakeable, clean, lactic aroma.  Not funky, not wild.  Clean and bracing.

I notice that my wort-based starters smell cleaner and sharper than water-based starters.  Water-based generally smell fine, but not as appealing.

As for appearance, you might notice a ropey texture, or just a thick, rocky mass of growth.  Mold? Maybe.I once got a spot of green mold on a water-based starter (see the picture), which went away by the time I pitched it 1 day later (the resulting batch turned out just fine).

sour starter 2

No mold is going to take this starter down.

After a full 24 to 36 hours, the starter will look monstrous and like it’s ready to crawl right out of the jar.  I get what looks like a large bubble under the textured surface.  At this point, it’s ready to pitch.  Until you do, keep the foil on the jar and put it back in its warm place.  I wouldn’t keep a starter more than 2 days before pitching, because at that point it’s much more likely that other microbes have taken up residence, which could very well overpower your lacto.

Look out for Post 3 — pitching and fermenting.

sour starter 3

The final look of a beautiful starter.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Wet Hop Home Brewing

Nugget hops on the bine

Nugget hops on the bine

I posted a while back about my foray into the world of urban hop farming.  It was a highly successful endeavor which resulted in hop plants the size of a small house.  However, the plants were reluctant to produce actual hop cones.  But then suddenly, almost overnight, hundreds of hop cones sprouted.



So much lupulin

Lupulin Money Shot!

I was unprepared for both the substantial growth and size of the plant, as well as the prodigious hop production.  The guy at the homebrew store that I bought my rhizomes from told me not to expect much the first year.  He was apparently unaware of the potential that my tiny plot of Lancaster city soil had.



In the boil

In the boil

Unequipped to properly dry and store the hops, the only solution was to just go big on a fresh wet hopped IPA.  So that is what I did.  I brewed up a basic pale ale/IPA recipe and added half a bucket of hops in the first 30 minutes of the boil and another half bucket in the last 10 minutes of the boil.



Second harvest for hopping in the secondary

Second harvest for hopping in the secondary

I dont know what this beer will taste like, but I can tell you that fresh nugget hops smell peppery and more vibrant than any other dried hop I have ever smelled.  Im very much looking forward to sharing this beer with the rest of the Big Orca crew, and for that reason I am bottling it like Lacto B Silly suggested.

Posted in Home Brews | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Craft Beer Industry – Lifecycle Stage

I’m back with part two of my industry analysis of the craft beer industry. This was a quick analysis of what lifecycle stage the craft beer industry is currently in. Good news for everyone — it’s still growing. It’ll be interesting to see how the industry plays out over the next 10 years. If the craft beer industry can keep on taking market share from the big guys, I think it’ll be looking just fine.

Lifecycle Stage

Lifecycle stage of an industry is a key factor in determining the growth for a particular market. The craft beer industry is still firmly planted in the growth stage. Since 2010, the amount of barrels of craft beer produced has nearly doubled. The growth is not expected to stop any time soon and has opened up the opportunity for many breweries due to the increase in demand for a wider variety of craft beer. (Petrillo, 2013)

Another defining characteristic of a growth stage within an industry is the amount of competitors. Since 2010, the amount of craft breweries in the country has almost doubled from 1,624 to 3,040. (“Brewers Association Reports Sustained Growth for Craft,” n.d.) This indicates there is a huge potential for profit. The growing concern is how long can this exponential growth last? According to the Brewer’s Association quarterly email publication BA Insider, the growth in the craft beer industry is expected to increase on an annual basis till at least 2020. In addition, BA Insider anticipates craft beer to account for a 20% market share of the beer industry by 2020. They attribute this to the fact that many markets are still in the infant stage of adapting craft beer which allows for annualized growth in many regions around the country.(“BA Insider,” n.d.)


BA Insider: Growth in the Craft Beer Segment: Sky Is the Limit. (n.d.). Retrieved October 3, 2014, from

Petrillo, N. (2013). Craft Beer Production in the US (Industry Report No. OD4302). IBIS World.

Posted in Industry News | Leave a comment

El Rojo’s Take on the Craft Beer Industry

craft beer cover

So I started school. I decided to try to master technology and entrepreneurship at University of Maryland. It’s hard trying to get back into the mindset of being inundated with papers and reading while trying to work full time. BUT, I absolutely love it. One of my first big papers was to analyze an industry that I potentially wanted to start a business in. Take a wild guess what I decided on. Yep, you guess it, craft beer. This is the first post in a mini series that I’ll be writing on some interesting points I found about the craft beer industry.

To set the stage, the paper broke down the craft beer industry into the following categories: knowledge conditions, the demand conditions, the lifecycle stage, industry capital, advertising landscape, market environment, and the average size of a company in the market. The knowledge conditions described exactly what it sounds like, the knowledge it takes to enter an industry. Since this blog does a pretty good job of explaining different aspects of brewing, I’m going to skip that section since we all know it takes some creativity, intuition and a solid knowledge of chemistry to make a great brew. This post will break down the demand conditions of the craft beer industry. With so many new breweries opening up, just how high is the demand? Let’s find out…..

Demand Conditions

The demand conditions for the craft beer industry are growing at an exponential rate. Over the past five years the revenue growth has climbed to 19% and the industry has eclipsed over 4 billion in sales. The main factor influencing the high demands conditions for craft beer is the ever-growing sophisticated palate of the majority of beer drinkers across the country. The industry is comprised of eight dominant styles: India Pale Ale, seasonal, amber, lager, wheat, boch and fruit beers. This shows the growing demand for unique styles of beers. The main demand opportunity lies in being able to create unique and creative twists on traditional styles of ales and lagers. (Petrillo, 2013)

Other key drivers of the industry are demand from beer wholesalers and per capita expenditure on alcohol. The demand from beer wholesalers took a hit in 2013 but made a quick bounce back to a 2% annualized growth and expects to hold steady for the foreseeable future. Per capita expenditure on alcohol can be influenced by the economy, personal tastes and cultural preferences. These factors are forecasted to help increase the per capita expenditure on alcohol slightly through 2014. (Petrillo, 2013)

The biggest demand impact set to hit the craft brewing industry by 2020 is the changing dynamic in the adult population. By 2020, millennials are expected to grow 6%, which is the biggest increase out of the rest of the adult population segments. This is a key indicator of demand for craft beer because millennials are the highest consumers of craft beer. Not only do they love craft beer, but as they mature, the more their incomes will increase. This allows for a bigger annual expenditure on craft beer. In addition, millennials were hit hard by the recession, but as the economy begins to pick up, it will allow the per capita expenditure on craft beer to increase. (“BA Insider,” n.d.)


BA Insider: Growth in the Craft Beer Segment: Sky Is the Limit. (n.d.). Retrieved October 3, 2014, from

Petrillo, N. (2013). Craft Beer Production in the US (Industry Report No. OD4302). IBIS World.

Posted in Industry News | 2 Comments