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Classic beer style #1: Kölsch gone crazy

For beer #1 in my post series on homebrewing classic beer styles, I’m brewing a Kölsch, calling it Dog Day Afternoon Kölsch. Most of my homebrews are given names related to dogs, because I like dogs, although I imagine it will be something of a struggle to think of a decent name for every one of the BJCP styles.

Kölsch is a style of pale German ale that looks and tastes more like a German lager – it’s a pale gold color with a little bit of bready German malt flavor.


I decided to start with a Kölsch because I usually brew pretty strong dark 2751199594_a4aa5de4d0beers, or very hoppy beers, but some of the people I drink with, especially my father and father-in-law, prefer light beers. Technically, a beer can only be called a Kölsch if it’s brewed in Cologne, Germany, but I’m pretty sure this only applies to commercial beers. If I’m wrong then I guess I’m brewing a “Kölsch-style beer”!

I started with a couple really basic recipes found on the reddit homebrewing sub and the homebrewtalk forums, as well as some ideas from Designing Great Beers (Daniels, 2000). Then I made a couple modifications of my own, such as using Mt. Hood and Hersbrucker for hops. I have a few pounds of Mt. Hood in my freezer that I harvested from plants in my backyard this fall, and I just really like Hersbrucker so I occasionally buy them in bulk.

So, here’s the recipe:

Grain: 10.5 lbs. Briess pilsen 2-row, 1.5 lbs. Vienna

Hops: 2 oz. Hersbrucker at 60 min., 1 oz. Mt. Hood at 60, 0.20 oz. Hersbrucker at 2 min. Most of the hops for a Kölsch should be in the bittering, not in the flavor or aroma.

Yeast: Wyeast 2565 Kölsch yeast.

Starting gravity (SG) was 1.048, with 26.8 IBUs.

This is a little more grain than one would normally use for a Kölsch, but I’m just moving into all-grain brewing from partial mashes, and for this beer my new 11 gallon pot had yet to come in, so I had to mash and boil 3 gallons, and then dilute to 5 for the full 5 gallon batch.

The 3.5 gal pot I was using – with my purple Thermopen

So, I BIAB mashed using two bags in a cooler at 152 using 3.5 gallons until I hit 1.067, which diluted to 1.048 after the boil.


After the boil, I cooled with a basic immersion chiller, diluted to 5 gallons and tossed in the yeast, which I’d built up in a 1.5 L starter from the Wyeast pack for 3 days.


I tend to just dump everything from my kettle into my fermenter based on the recommendations from Brülosopher’s Exbeeriments, so you can see the kettle trub and hops at the bottom of the carboy. For some reason though, I got some weird separation between a darker malty layer, and a lighter, yeasty-looking layer. I’m guessing I didn’t mix the diluting water and the boiled wort enough, but I’m not sure. I was pretty worried about this at first, but it seems to have turned out fine.



I fermented at 60F for one week in the basement using a makeshift swamp cooler. The fermentation kind of went nuts for some reason – I use Fermcap S when I ferment because I don’t really like having to use blow-of001f tubs, and even when brewing a big Russian imperial stout on a yeast cake froma  previous beer the Fermcap S kept me from needing to use a blow-off. But for some reason with this Kölsch yeast I needed a blow-off for nearly a whole week! So, be warned if you go to use Wyeast 2565 – it works great, but it creates a ton of krauesen, especially given how low gravity this beer was.

After a week in the swamp cooler then raised to 70F (by putting the carboy in the pantry) for a diacetyl rest. After a week at 70F I checked the FG, and finding that it was 1.010, which was my projected goal, moved the whole carboy into my fermentation chamber, and dropped it down to 50 over 4 days. Below you can see the color when I checked the gravity – might be a little darker than I was intending, but I think it’s looking good! It also tasted good, which is always a good sign so soon after a beer is brewed.

Next time I think I’ll try to drop it slower so it doesn’t go down by more than 2 degrees a day as a lot of people have recommended that this keeps the yeast healthier and less likely to go dormant.

It’s now been at 50F for almost a week. In another week or two, I’ll bottle it, and post some pictures of the bottles.

Update 1: I’ll pop pictures of bottling up soon. Up next, Belgian blonde!




Brewing all the BJCP styles

Recently I decided I’d like to brew a classic example all of the Brewing Judge Certification Program (BJCP) classic styles. The BJCP is a certification program for homebrewing judges, and they clarify style guidelines. Examples include beers like altbier, kolsch, American IPA, American wheat beer, and pretty much anything else you can think of.

I decided to do this when listening to the Brewing Network, where Jamil said that brewing award winning versions of all these styles was one of the things that helped his brewing and his understanding of historical styles the most.

The BJCP has a new style guide out for 2015, and since it sounds like most judging is focusing on these guidelines now, I’ll be focusing on this guideline. I’m not going in any particular order, but instead I’ll just brew what I feel like at a given time, checking them off the list. I’ll post about each one as I go.

I decided to start this now because I finally have the ability to do 2 things – lager beer, keeping it at a low temperature for a long time after fermentation, and brew 100% all grain.

The graf I posted about isn’t a classic style, but for my first entry I’ve already started a post on a Kolsch beer, sub-style 5b, in the pale bitter European beer category.

How Kolsch is traditionally served.

Kolsch is technically an ale (meaning it’s fermented with a top-fermenting strain of Saccharomyces yeast at a higher temperature), but it’s very light and dry with just a little bit of bready malt flavor, more like a traditional German lager.

Top fermenting yeast

I’ll probably follow that up with a winter ale or a British style for the holidays, or something to use up the many pounds of hops I have in the freezer from the harvest.

Part of my hop harvest

The Kolsch was very fun to make. It’s lagering right now, and I’ll be posting about it very soon.

Check out the BJCP guidelines here:

New posting tactic – shorter posts!

So, I’ve found that it is often difficult to keep up on blog posts. I think I’m not the only one who has this problem. My new goal is going to be to treat my blog like a slightly longer Twitter feed. By this I mean, I will be posting thoughts, pictures, and short things I write without worrying so much about content for a while. This is not my long-term goal, but rather a tactic to get more written and posted. If anyone has thoughts on this, let me know.

I’m currently preparing for SICB 2015! The annual meeting of the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology is January 3-7, 2015. I’ll be leaving early on the third. I just got word that my poster, and that of one of my undergraduate mentees, Casey Lardner, finished printing, so everything’s ready to go! I think it will be a fun year, with a lot of great science. I will share more details about the research I am presenting soon.

To science!

Should faculty have a major role in decisions about hiring and firing?

I’ve seen a couple news stories recently about professors being fired from long-term, nontenured positions.

The stories themselves were often fairly alarmist about the state of the job market for academics, and part of the concern was that the firing decisions had been made by administrators without consulting the faculty in question. The comment sections on these stories were interesting. Although some were sympathetic, most seemed to suggest (to paraphrase) that it’s about time that these elitist, ivory tower academics got a taste of indiscriminate layoffs like the rest of us. This sounds like I’m setting up a straw man, but that was the general tone.

I’m not sure what to make of most of this. It kind of felt like everyone really hates professors for some reason. There are numerous possible topics of interest here.

One point I thought was interesting was the general feeling that it was utterly ridiculous to expect that the ’employees’ (ie. the professors at the college) be given any kind of say in the decisions that the ’employers’ (ie. the college administration) make about employment. A couple articles suggested that the administration’s failure to involve the faculty in the decision was particularly treacherous, an idea that was really derided in the comments section.

To put this in context, it might help to remember how specialized research areas can be. It is probably fairly common that people in administrative positions do not fully understand much of the research being done at their institution, nor have they taken the majority of classes offered. In fact, it is pretty unreasonable to expect that of someone who probably had to learn a lot about the practicalities of management to do their jobs. As a result, administrators often may not have a good grasp on the actual quality of individual employees, and may need to involve the employees themselves, and their peers, to fill this gap.

As a result, faculty generally play an important role in decisions about who gets hired, who gets tenure, and who gets promoted, etc.. For many people, this probably does seem ridiculous, but if it’s difficult for the employing institution to distinguish among high- and low-quality researchers and teachers, then maybe a professor’s peers are the best judges. Administrators may still be the people needing to make decisions about when hiring and firing needs to be done, but when the entire faculty is kept out of the loop, some poor decision-making could result.


First post!


I’m Eli, and I recently started a postdoc at the University of Minnesota, working with Dr. Emilie Snell-Rood.

Picture of Eli Swanson
This is me!

I finished my Ph.D. at Michigan State in the spring, started here in June, and will be working here for a few years. I liked living in Lansing, but I’m originally from Minnesota, so I’m excited to be back!

The purpose of my blog is to talk about my research and what I’m learning, discuss the research process, and share any good stories that come up along the way. The project I’m working on here is a huge change for me, because all of my previous research experience was with either frogs or mammals, and now I’m not only working with butterflies, but trying  to raise them. I will be trying out lots of new field and lab techniques for working with invertebrates (like how not to accidentally squish them!). I will also be doing a great deal of programming and evolutionary modeling whenever I can find a break from my adventures in husbandry. During my third year here I plan to teach two classes, and hopefully take a couple graduate education courses.

My research focuses on hormones, life histories, and evolution. Life histories describe aspects of an organism’s life such as how fast they grow, how big they get, how much they reproduce and when, and how long they live. Life history traits are important because they describe reproduction and survival, and therefore are the building blocks of evolution. Specifically, I’m interested in how hormones simultaneously influence multiple life history traits, and how hormones and life histories evolve together. I will get into more detail about who I am, my research, and my plans for the next couple years in future posts. I also have some alternative formats planned such as video and animation that should help people understand my research and what I’m learning in some more dynamic ways.

I’ll post again soon,