Thursday, December 25, 2014

Brewing Again

Has it really been three years since my last post? There was an excellent batch of mead (Hafdan's Viking Mead) a couple of years ago, but nothing since then.

My wife and I brewed our first batch together about a month ago. To keep things simple, we went with "Whitey's Gone Fishin' Pale Ale" (p.171), with some substitutions on the hops. We subbed Hersbrucker for the Strisselspalt at 10 minutes, and finished with Galena instead of Sterling at the finish. I wanted a more citrusy finish, since that's what my wife prefers.

It spent two weeks in primary, and then went into the keg. The fermentation wasn't quite finished, but re-racking it would likely have stopped it at that point. The result was good, nice and drinkable, and the fermentation seems to have gone a bit further in keg.

All said, we're happy with it. I need to get a new hose for rinsing before we brew again, since the old one had since been repurposed. I'll probably want it for cleaning the keg, too; otherwise I don't have a great way to rinse it out.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Instant Classic Ale

OK, not the best name, but given that I winged it when I got to the store, "instant" isn't such a bad description. My friend Bobby helped me brew this one.

My office had a Family Day cookout today, and the boss gave me permission to bring in a keg of homebrew. It took a lot of convincing, I can tell you. On the way to the brewing store, I realized that I hadn't picked out a recipe.

I have no idea if this is essentially the same as another recipe, but here's what I threw together:

3lbs light DME
3lbs amber DME
0.5lbs #80 crystal malt
0.25lbs chocolate malt
2oz Centennial leaf hops (boil)
1oz Willamette leaf hops (flavor)
Trappist ale yeast

The flavor hops went in for the last 10 minutes of the boil. Everything else is exactly as you'd expect.

I kegged it last night—it could have used another day or two to finish fermenting, but the result was good. Everyone seemed to enjoy it. The color's basically light-amber, definitely not a pale ale, but not a deep amber by any means. The Centennial hops are reasonably high alpha, so there was a nice hoppiness to it, but not overpowering. The Willamette gave it a very nice finish. All in all, a good classic ale.

If I make this again (and I well might), I'd probably give it more hops, and maybe throw in some aroma or finishing, just to give it an even crisper taste.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

More Ginger

On July 4th, my friend Mike came over, and hung-over as I was (long story), we brewed another batch of Snapping Ginger Ale. This is destined for my deck-warming party, date TBD. Once again we tweaked the recipe. The malt and hops are as in the first batch, though we used hop pellets instead of whole-leaf. About 1.5 pounds of grated ginger went in for half an hour after the boil, as has become standard procedure.

I hadn't planned to try it before the party, but Pete was over to re-rack our batch of mead (more on that in about six months), so we decided to have basically a swift half-pint (or three-quarters). It was good—less gingery than I'd expected, but definitely tasty. The hops were still muted compared with a normal pale ale, but I think they were more evident than in the first batch, inasmuch as I can remember what that one was like. The head retention was also good, so I may have found a sweet spot. As is traditional when kegging, I chucked the first pull, though I might not have needed to. It had been re-racked from primary, and then stopped fermenting, so there wasn't really any sediment to speak of to begin with.

And yes, I usually don't bother with a secondary, unless the fermentation takes more than two weeks. I might try dry-gingering the next batch with about half a pound after the first week of fermentation, just to see what it does.

I'll update this post with any other notable reactions after the party.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Block Party, November 2010

Yesterday was block party day, so of course I brewed a keg to contribute to the festivities. Given the time of year, I decided on a dark beer, Danger Knows No Favorites Dunkel (p.204). Indian Summer was in full swing, so the weather was much warmer than I'd expected, but the dark beer was still a bit hit. The biggest challenge was finding a nice shady spot to keep it reasonably cool.

Actually, the biggest challenge was the brewing itself. I only gave myself two weeks to ferment, which for a dunkel is cutting things dangerously close. This was also the first batch that I've brewed completely on my own — no assistance on brewing day or kegging day. Brewing day was Halloween, so the lack of assistance meant I was also fighting the clock for the arrival of trick-or-treaters.

I'm going to go into more detail on the process than I usually do for this one, complete with photos. First, the substitutions. I used hop pellets instead of my usual whole-leaf. Since I don't usually adjust the quantity of hops for whole-leaf when pellets are called for (pellets have higher surface area, since the hops are powdered), this was a bit hoppier than we've made it previously. Also, the varieties called for in the recipe weren't available. I used two ounces of Mt. Hood for the bittering, and an ounce of Hallertau for the flavor and aroma. The yeast is a German lager yeast (though with only two weeks to ferment I did not lager it).

The fermentables are fairly standard for the recipe. I use a #80 crystal malt. As always, I substitute 3 pounds of DME for 3.3 of LME.

Let's look at the equipment you'll need. I like an Ale Pail as a fermenter, since it makes a number of things much easer, such as pouring and cooling the wort. Sure, glass carboys feel somewhat fancier, but ultimately convenience wins out. If the plastic bucket starts to pick up unwanted flavors, it's not that expensive to chuck it and buy a new one. The pail, and other bits, need to be sanitized before use. I use EZ Clean no-rinse sanitizer, which comes as a powder. One tablespoon of the powder per gallon of water is the ratio to use, and with 5 gallons of sanitizer, I santized the pail, its lid, the gas trap, and a hose with a funnel for filtered water. Once sanitized, these have to dry. This is my unintentional Art Shot

While sanitizing is something you want to do right at the beginning, the actual brewing process begins with your brew pot. This is a 30 quart pot (7.5 gallons). You can get away with a 20 quart pot, which is what I should have done. As it turns out, this pot, with the lid, just clears the fume hood on my stove. The rest of the equipment for the boil is shown here On the left is the sparging rig. This consists of a metal bowl, a colander, and a potato masher. The tongs are used to move the bags around. The bags are in center frame; they're very fine nylon mesh. I haven't used these before, and I have to say they're a welcome addition to my collection, as they make the grain extraction process much faster, and you don't lose heat from the mash. The probe thermometer is essential for temperature control when steeping the grain and determining when the wort is cool enough for the yeast to be pitched. The cheap vodka is food-grade rubbing alcohol for cleaning as needed, and to fill the trap.

Putting milled grain in bags has a drawback: the grain gets less contact with the water. Consequently, I split the grain between the two bags

Brewing started at 3:30. I expected trick-or-treaters to begin arriving around 5, so time was pretty tight, and I was not optimistic about finishing. I filled the pot with two gallons of water filtered through an on-tap Pur system. To do this, I use a length of hose with a funnel attached. Through what I'm going to explain away as Bernoulli's principle, the lower pressure inside the funnel causes it to hold onto the filter by suction, which is handy. At Marco's house, we tend to use bottled water. I prefer the freshly filtered water because it's cheaper, doesn't waste resources for the packaging, and is better aerated (not a concern for the boil, but it will be later). On medium heat, I brought the water up to 150 degrees, and then added the bags of milled grain. The grain steeps (I hesitate to call it "mashing", since we're not converting many starches to fermentable sugar) for half an hour between 150 and 160 degrees. I overshot by a degree or so at one point, but generally kept things well within the desired range.

After steeping comes the extraction and sparging. This is where the nylon bags proved their worth. Extraction is easy using the tongs, though there's always a little dripping. Everything's water soluable, though, so unless it's burnt clean-up is pretty easy. Applying the potato masher, and occasional filtered water, rinses the grains and captures their malty goodness in the bowl, which is then poured back into the pot.

I then added the DME and boiling hops. Since the liquid was still hot, the DME dissolved fairly rapidly. I brought the liquid to a boil over medium-high heat, to reduce the amount of malt that burns to the bottom of the pot. The rest of the boil was just stirring occasionally and adding the flavor and aroma hops at the appropriate times. When the boil was nearly over, I added about half a 7 pound bag of ice to the pail, so that when the boil finished I was able to immediatly begin transfering the wort through a large funnel with a filter. The powdered hops made this very slow going (we usually bag the hops, when we use whole-leaf). But eventually all the wort made it into the pail. More ice (most of the rest of the bag) brought the mixture down to 75 degrees, and then I added enough filtered water to reach a total volume of 5 gallons. Vigorous stirring with the paddle works oxygen into the wort, which the yeast will need in order to reproduce. Plenty of oxygen means your fermentation will start reasonably quickly.

Remarkably, no trick-or-treaters had come by yet, and it was nearly 7. In fact, at about 10 'til, I pitched the yeast into the fermenter, and just as I finished the doorbell rang for the first time. Once I'd given the first set of kids their candy, I returned to the kitchen to seal the lid on the pail and add the vodka-filled trap. There was positive pressure by the morning, and by the next evening it was bubbling happily.

Knowing that dark beers can take up to a month to ferment, I was somewhat worried about it being ready in time for the party. In fact, Saturday morning it was still bubbling, albeit infrequently. I had to get the batch into the keg, though, since the party started at noon, and I couldn't show up empty-handed. To make things more exciting, the previous evening, I discovered that my siphon was broken. It was too late to go to the store, so I had to leave bright and early Saturday (9:30, which is bright and early for a Saturday in my book) to get to the store when they opened.

Once I got home, I sanitized the keg, siphon, and tap. Once those had time to dry a little, I transfered the beer into the keg and force-pressurized it under 30psi, shaking until I couldn't hear any more CO2 going into solution. (Technically, what you hear is gas passing through the regulator.) Unfortunately, I didn't have any time to try to cool down the keg.

I was a bit worried about the beer being too sweet, since there was clearly unfermented sugar left in it. Fortunately, there was very little, and I'm very happy with how this batch turned out. Nice and malty, with a good amount of hop bitterness and a nice mild finish. My neighbors enjoyed it, though they left me at least a third of a keg to enjoy at home.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Unnamed Beer #1

Yes, it's been awhile. Marco and I brewed back in October, but didn't get around to trying it until yesterday. Why the delay? This batch was intended for a block party that never materialized. I decided to wing it on the recipe, with the expectation that the finished product would be consumed outdoors in fairly cool weather. That meant I wanted something with a robust flavor, so that when cold it would still have a noticeable taste. Here's the recipe:

3lbs amber DME
3lbs dark DME
1oz Centennial hops (boil)
0.5oz Sterling hops (boil)
1oz Sterling hops (flavor)
0.5oz Sterling hops (aroma)
Trappist ale yeast

Hops were whole-leaf. The flavor hops were added with 5 minutes left to the boil, aroma hops at one minute.

The beer's good, but I think it could be better. That's why I'm not naming it yet. Something seems to be missing. It's not terribly highly hopped, but I don't think it needs more (not that it'd hurt — the more hops the merrier). The Trappist yeast might be a bit too smooth; an English ale yeast might give it more of a bite. I think some grain would also help, perhaps half a pound of dark or chocolate malt and a quarter to half a pound of a medium to dark crystal.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

An Inaugural Batch, Part the First

Since a couple of my professors from grad school are going to be in town for the inauguration, it was time to make another batch. Since it's dark beer season, Marco and I made "Danger Knows No Favorites Dunkel" (p.204). We started the batch on Sunday the 21st (so it's also a Solstice Batch), and it's happily bubbling away now. While boiling the wort, we tapped out the keg of "Whitey's Gone Fishin' Pale Ale", which was good to the last.

Substitutions were 2oz of Mt Hood for the boil and Saaz for the flavor and aroma. We went with a #60 crystal malt. The store didn't have German Caraffe Black, so we used regular Black—not sure what the difference really is.

In our constant effort to perfect our technique, we tried something new for the grain. Previously, we've been tying the grain loosely in a cheesecloth bundle. This time we used flour sack. Now, when I picked up the package, I'd assumed it was a sack for storing, say, five pounds of flour in something that would wick away moisture. Apparently, I'm the only one who didn't know that "flour sack" actually means "flour sack cloth." Still, the mesh was finer than cheesecloth while still allowing water to flow through, and the shape was more amenable to tying into a bundle. At 22"x34", it might work better draped over the edge of the pot and clipped in place, especially with a 20qt pot (mine's a 30qt, which is a bit iffier). The truly great thing is that each new idea requires another 5 gallon batch of delicious beer to test.

UPDATED 1/15/09: After two weeks of fermenting, it was time to move the beer out of primary. I'd have prefered a secondary fermentation for at least a few days to let the particulates settle. Unfortunately, due (presumably) to temperature fluctuations the fermenter was at negative pressure, and we'd gotten at least a little suck-back (air only, I think). With fermentation complete, I was guardedly optimistic, and we kegged. After about two weeks, I finally tapped the keg to try it. After discarding the first glass, the second confirms that we have a tasty batch. All the wonderfulness typical of the dunkel is there, and if I don't start throwing up tonight I'll declare this batch fit for sharing with visitors.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Super-Massive Beer Foul

You may recall the Massive Beer Foul that coated my laundry room with a couple pints of Leap Beer. Given that event, what followed on September 4th could only be called the Super-massive Beer Foul. The following is a nearly-verbatim excerpt from an email to a friend that day.

I was getting ready for work in the morning. As I'm about to put on my shoes, I notice that the corner of my coffee table looked a bit wet. I go over and touch it, and it's sticky. That's when the puddle in the kitchen caught my eye. My keg, nearly full of batch 3 of Snapping Ginger Ale (and the best one yet), had emptied itself. The tap had popped off of its hose sometime overnight. Spraying the walls, a bit of the ceiling, the furniture in about one third of the kitchen, and of course my kitchen floor. Half an hour of cleaning up, including using my Ryobi as a wet vac for the first time, and I was ready to head off to work. That evening I had to continue cleaning, of course.

I bought some more hose clamps, so that I can tighten the seal with the taps, and hopefully this sort of thing shouldn't happen again. Really, I should be tapping the kegs more frequently, so they don't keep building up internal pressure.

So, that's the Super-massive Beer Foul.

Now we must never speak of this again.