Westy Blonde Clone

Westvleteren 12 is said to be one of the best trappist beers in the world. It is produced by the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus in Vleteren, Belgium. On our last European adventure (and second adventure with Oliver), we visited the abbey-owned cafe and visitor centre called In de Vrede, which is across the street from the monastery.
We have tried all three of the beers: the blonde (5.6% ABV), the Westvleteren 8 (formerly called Extra; 8% ABV), and the Westvleteren 12 (formerly called Abc; 10.2% ABV). I personally love the Westvleteren Blonde the best. Due to my preference and because both the Westvleteren 8 and Westvleteren 12 are bottle conditioned (something we have yet to attempt), our next beer on the docket was to attempt to clone the Westvleteren Blonde.

This brew was adapted from The Mad Fermentationist and BeerSmith recipes.


Westvleteren Blonde Clone

6 lbs Belgium Pale Ale
3 lbs Weyermann Floor Malted Bohemian Pilsner Malt
½ lb Weyermann Acidulated Malt
1 oz German Northern Brewer (5.3 aa)
1 oz German Hallertau (2.7 aa)
2 oz Styrian Goldings (5.7 aa)
¾ lb granulated sugar
Yeast: Safale BE-134 Belgian (dry)
1 tablet whirlflock
Gypsum, if needed

Total grain bill: 9.5 lbs (10.25 lbs with sugar)


  1. Heat 4 gallons of water at 147°F (63.9°C)
  2. Mash for 60 minutes
  3. Check pH during mash, adjust pH to 5.2-5.5 using acidulated malt and gypsum
  4. Mashout at 165°F (73.9°C) for 20 minutes
  5. Sparge 3.5 gallons (13.25 L) to 6.5 gallons (24.6 L).
    Target SG=1.053
    If SG is a bit lower (1.047), add sugar to increase the SG.
    In our experience, 0.25 lbs of sugar increased SG by ~0.0025
  6. Boil for 75 minutes
    Hop 1 @ 60 minutes: 1 oz German Northern Brewer
    Hop 2 @ 20 minutes: 1 oz German Hallertau
    Hop 3 @ 12 minutes: 2 oz Styrian Goldings
    Target OG=1.063
  7. Rehydrate 1 sachet of yeast in 1 cup (250 mL) room temperature water
  8. Oxygenate wort in fermentation vessel as much as possible
  9. Pitch yeast at 68°F (20°C). Target volume = 5.5 gallons (20.8 L)
  10. Allow fermentation vessel to warm up to 76°F (24.4°C)
  11. Primary for 1 week, secondary for 2 weeks

BrewDay Notes:
We accidentally added 1 lb of acidulated malt to the water (good thing it was the first thing we put in the tank). We scooped out what we thought was half of the malt.
We therefore ended up with a pH of 3.2.
We sparged with 2¾ gallons (10.4 L) because we were concerned about hitting a specific SG. We sparged to 5.5 gallons (21 L) with a SG=1.054.
We transferred 4.25 gallons (17 L) of wort into the fermentation vessel with an OG=1.063.
After 5 days in fermentation vessel, we transferred beer into a corny keg and force carbonated to 7 psi. We then placed the keg into the kegerator for its secondary.

Tasting Notes:
Nose: banana, wheat, almond, hint of footy
Palate: pleasant sweetness, hint of clove, orchard fruit (apple, pear)
Finish: fairly dry, bit of “funk” though not unpleasant, no lingering flavors
7% ABV

Final Thoughts:
We love this beer. It is not exactly Westvleteren Blonde, but it is a great tribute and has a nice Belgian flavor to it. 
The ABV is a bit on the high side, but the beer is still an easy-drinker. 
We’d love another go at this. Next time, we would sparge with 3.75 gallons 

DIY Kombucha

I love kombucha. I was introduced to it (and hated it) when I was an undergrad. My friend John re-introduced me to it several years ago in graduate school. That’s when I fell in love with ‘bootch and discovered two things:
1) you can get a small discount at Whole Foods if you buy a case of it at a time and
2) I love kombucha with chia seeds floating around in it. I’m kind of a weirdo that likes that texture.
Drinking the probiotic elixir daily didn’t last long; it was an expensive habit that took up a lot of fridge space. 

Skip ahead to the DIY Kombucha Recipe below.

Fast forward to the end of September. My in-laws were in town visiting us Oliver. And I somehow convinced my mother-in-law and one of my sister-in-laws to go to the kombucha class with me at Grain to Glass in North Kansas City. Grain to Glass is a fun little homebrew shop that has a little bit of everything: supplies for brewing (beer, cider, wine), a bar with rotating beers on tap, and a few fridges with bottled beer. It also hosts brewing competitions, beer tastings, and classes for all things related to brewing.

Both my mother-in-law and sister-in-law already make their own kombucha, but their interests were still peaked to learn more from a guy named Keith who has been making kombucha for years and teaching others to do the same. The bonus features of this class were that you had the opportunity to try his homemade kombucha, receive a SCOBY (more below on this), see his “SCOBY Hotel”, and acquire some of his kombucha knowledge. Grain to Glass also had kombucha kits available for purchase (for $12, I believe) that included everything you needed (minus the SCOBY) to get started. 

Now that I’ve successfully made three batches of kombucha at home and feel a bit more comfortable with the process, here’s some knowledge that I learned from Keith, the internet, and making my own kombucha.


What is kombucha?

Kombucha is a delicious, slightly effervescent drink that all begins as sweet tea. It can be flavored and can range from sweet to slightly tangy to overly tart – it all depends on how it was made! The tea in kombucha can be black, green, white, rooibos, or jasmine (or a mixture of any of these). Herbal and flavored teas do not work well with the fermentation process – I’m still not sure why (yet). The fermentation happens due to the presence of a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast). You might hear people refer to it as a mother or as a mushroom. Regardless of what you call it, a SCOBY is flat, beige-brown, and feels a bit rubbery. For those of you that can relate, it reminds me of a thin layer of agar or agarose. It’s shape is completely dependent on the container you use to brew kombucha. And it can have brown spot or marks on it and stringy bits hanging from it. The appearance of a SCOBY is definitely not appetizing.


Why drink kombucha?

In addition to being a tasty and slightly fizzy drink that has been made for 100s of years, kombucha is said to have a lot of beneficial properties. The SCOBY consumes sugar and produces vitamins, antioxidants, enzymes, and amino acids. Some say that all of their aches and pains go away when they drink it. Others drink it because their diet may be lacking in B vitamins. For me, it helps my digestive tract stay…regular, if you will.

I first started drinking the GT’s Guava Goddess Kombucha, which is pretty tart. I then found GT’s Synergy Raspberry Chia  and the Grape Chia flavors, which are a tiny bit more sweet. I used to drink the chia kombuchas in the lab when I was in grad school. Other grad students and postdocs would poke fun at me for my weird looking drink. I stuck up for my beloved Kombucha. Like I said above, I love the texture and the flavors. When I attended the September Grain to Glass kombucha class ran by Keith, I was surprised to learn that kombucha does not need to be tart. When you ferment kombucha at home, you get to be in control of the flavor.


Is it safe to make your own kombucha at home?

Yes! While I am a trained scientist, you don’t need laboratory equipment or fancy tools to make kombucha. You definitely do not need to be a scientist to make kombucha. The only necessity is that you need to make sure that your equipment and your hands are clean. Simple enough!


How do I know that I’ve converted tea into kombucha?

If your tea ferments even a teeny-tiny bit, then you’ve done it! You’ve turned tea into kombucha. There should be bubbles. The drink should smell vinegary. Your SCOBY will have generated a new layer. A SCOBY really is the gift that keeps on giving!
Your kombucha should NOT smell musty or moldy. If you see green or black mold growing on the surface of the SCOBY or if the tea smells anything but a bit vinegary, discard the SCOBY and the batch of kombucha. And just start over again with fresh ingredients. 


How can I flavor my kombucha?

You can use herbal teas, juice (no more than 1/5 of the total volume), fruit, fruit puree, herbs, and spices. Keith recommended the following: mint, strawberries, peaches, blackberries, pomegranate, hibiscus, ginger, turmeric, lime, lemon, basil, or combinations.


DIY Kombucha
Serves 14
1 serving of kombucha is 1 cup (~250 mL)
Write a review
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
1 hr
Total Time
1 hr 5 min
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
1 hr
Total Time
1 hr 5 min
56 calories
14 g
0 g
0 g
0 g
0 g
277 g
10 g
14 g
0 g
0 g
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size
Amount Per Serving
Calories 56
Calories from Fat 0
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 0g
Saturated Fat 0g
Trans Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Monounsaturated Fat 0g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 10mg
Total Carbohydrates 14g
Dietary Fiber 0g
Sugars 14g
Protein 0g
Vitamin A
Vitamin C
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
  1. 14 cups (3.5 L) water
  2. 1 cup (200 g) sugar
  3. 8 tea bags
  4. 1 SCOBY
  5. 1-2 cups (250-500 mL) kombucha (starter tea)
  6. Coffee filter or muslin cloth
  7. 1 thick rubber band
  8. 1 gallon glass jar (4 L glass jar)
  9. Soda straw
  10. Tongs
  11. Plate
  1. 1. Bring 2 cups (500 mL) of water to boil.
  2. 2. Remove water from heat and add sugar, stirring to dissolve.
  3. 3. Bring another 12 cups (3 L) of water to a boil. Remove from heat and add 6-8 tea bags. Allow them to steep*
  4. 4. Let the tea and sugar water to cool to room temperature (at least 1 hour, but up to overnight).
  5. 5. Add the room temperature sugar water and tea to the 1 gallon glass jar.
  6. 6. Add the 1-2 cups (250-500 mL) of kombucha (starter tea from the previous batch of finished kombucha**) to the jar.
  7. 7. Add 1 SCOBY to the jar.
  8. 8. Cover the jar with a coffee filter. Secure filter with the rubber band. Set the lid aside as it is unneeded.
  9. 9. Let the sweetened tea + SCOBY sit at room temperature in normal lighting*** for at least 5 days and up to 1 month.
  10. 10. At the 5 day point, draw up a sample of the freshly fermented kombucha using the straw. Taste for desired sweetness/tartness. Fermentation may take longer than 5 days (or up to 4 weeks), depending on desired taste. The longer you allow the tea to ferment, the more tart and tangy it becomes.
  11. 11. When brewed to you desired taste, remove the original SCOBY and the newly generated SCOBY with a pair of tongs and place them on a clean plate.
  12. 12. Check the SCOBYs for green or black mold. If you find mold, discard the SCOBY and the kombucha/tea - start over with fresh ingredients!
  13. Remember that brown or stringy bits are totally normal as are shades of brown.
  14. 13. Set aside 2 cups (500 mL) of newly finished kombucha and one SCOBY to begin you next batch of kombucha.
  15. 14. Pour the remaining kombucha into bottles. If you'd like to carbonate or flavor your kombucha, then now is the time. To flavor your kombucha, add fruit, juice, herbs, or additional tea. If you'd like to carbonate your kombucha, cap the bottles and set on the counter for 1-3 additional days.
  16. 15. Chill the bottles before opening.
  17. 16. Take care when first opening your kombucha as the contents will be under pressure.
  1. *I usually allow my tea to steep for 5-10 minutes. You can steep the tea bags overnight.
  2. **You can use unfiltered, unsweetened, commercial kombucha as the starter tea.
  3. ***Keep the solution out of direct sunlight, but don't keep in a cupboard or out of the sun.
Adapted from from Keith Krieger
Adapted from from Keith Krieger
The Adventures of El and Jen http://www.elandjen.com/

Whisky Notes: Kilkerran Glengyle

Whisky from Scotland is broken up into several regions: Speyside, Highlands, Lowlands, Islay, and Campbeltown. If you are a believer or not, there are some suggestions that “Islands” be there own region. I’ll let you decide if you want to follow classification or not.

My wife is amazing and bought me a wonderful birthday present: the Kilkerran Glenglye 12 year old whisky from the self-proclaimed “newest, old distillery in Campbeltown” with an interesting history that you can read about here. Apparently, there were only 9,000 bottles made of this stuff.

You don’t care about me telling you about the distillery. You want to know about the dram. Let’s talk whisky. The Kilkerran Glenglye 12 year old is non-chill filtered and with no added coloring. It is bottled at 46% ABV. The whisky was matured in 70% bourbon, 30% sherry casks giving it a great nose and taste. Below are my tasting notes:

Nose: brown sugar or toffee, brine (subtle), grass (subtle), dried apricots, green woodiness, oak.

Palate: sweetness resembling honey with lemon peel, possibly angel food cake, vanilla. Palate not nearly as developed as the nose.

Finish: grassy notes, lingering bitterness, slightly oily, slightly briny

This is an easy, everyday drinker with the price point is £35 per 70 cl bottle (if you were one of the lucky ones able to buy it before it sold out).

Update: The palate improved considerably after having been opened and exposed to air. It tastes much, much better and, in my opinion, definitely needed some oxygen.

Whisky Notes: Aultmore 12

Many of you know that Jen and I were on the committee (USA language: officers) of the Cambridge University Whisky Appreciation Society (CUWAS) – Jen was the Vice-President and I was the webmaster/IT guy. Let’s be honest though; work sometimes kept me away from maintaining the website, so Jen definitely stepped in to help when something needed to be done in a time-dependent manner.

If you live in the Cambridge, England area, definitely check out the society and go to one of their events. Each tasting is an opportunity to try six whiskies, generally along some sort of theme. This term’s events look really varied:
Introduction to Whisky – this event is great for those who may not know much about whisky but still great whisky for those that do
Liquid Gold – some of the “best of the best” whiskies currently available
Out of its Element – if I had to guess, this would include whiskies that don’t generally fit into their own genre: a smoky Speyside or Highland whisky or an unpeated Islay)
The well-loved Christmas tasting – whiskies that just make you want to settle in and enjoy the winter season
They also snuck in a Brandy tasting this term, which shouldn’t disappoint!

Both Jen and I receive a lot of questions on what whiskies we recommend or normally drink (or in Jen’s current state (pregnancy), what she used to drink or what she’s looking forward to drinking in 15 weeks from now). Since I have the “chore” of trying to drink all of our opened bottles of whisky in the next several month before we move again, I thought it would be fun to give you some tasting notes on what I’m drinking. I guess that’s the least I can do!

Without further ado, here is some general information on the Aultmore 12, why we have it in our possession, and my tasting notes*:
Last fall, Jen bought a couple of bottles of whisky that were released by Dewar’s as part of their The Last Great Malts series. There was some sort of online contest that required participants to purchase two bottles in the series to be registered to win all eight of the series. The series included three bottlings of Aberfeldy (12, 16, and 21 year olds), Aultmore (12 and 25 year olds), and Craigellachie (13, 17, and 23 year olds). She loves a good whisky contest and/or deal; this is the reason of why we have a bottle of the Aultmore 12 in our whisky collection.
Aultmore of the Foggie Moss, as the label reads, is non-chill filtered and has no added colorings. Hence its lovely pale caramelly-yellow color. The whisky is bottled at 46% ABV and can be found at various places for just under £45 per bottle.

Nose: Fresh grass, orange chocolate, sponge cake, aromatic and floral undertones. Jen said it smelled like salted caramel-covered apples.

Palate: Vanilla, spice-cake (possibly cinnamon notes), floral notes continue. The overall mouthfeel is spicy and warming.

Finish: Clean and inoffensive. Slightly floral notes. No lingering flavors here. This whisky has a very short finish.

At the price point, this is a very classic example of a Speyside whisky that could be a daily drinker for those who don’t particularly like peated or overly complex whiskies.

*Note: The tasting notes provided here are my own thoughts. Unfortunately, neither Jen nor I were given whisky to review.