Monday, November 26, 2007

Apple Pie Imperial Stout

(Marco Cavagna, Christine Garnett, and Mike Marsh)

This beer is a sort of "work in progress." The idea was to have a strong, dark, malty beer with notes of apples and cinnamon, as a Winter seasonal. It hasn't worked out quite as we'd hoped, as of the pre-Thanksgiving tasting, but we'll be reporting on the progress as the batch ages. Note that this, as well as the Snapping Ginger Ale, are experiments. Some work better than others, but all are learning experiences.

9 lbs. amber DME
0.5 lbs. chocolate malt
0.5 lbs. roasted barley
1 lb. tart apples (cored, peeled, and chopped) — we used 6 Fujis
2 cinnamon sticks (boil)
5 cinnamon sticks (priming)
English ale yeast

Do the usual 30 minute steep of the grain between 150 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Strain and fill the pot to 2 gallons or more. Add the malt extract and 2 sticks of cinnamon, bring to a boil, and boil for an hour. Turn off the heat and let the wort cool to 180 degrees. Steep the apples between 150 and 180 degrees for 20 minutes. Strain out the apples and cinnamon, sparge and cool, and pitch when the wort is cool enough.

When fermentation is complete, boil 5 cinnamon sticks with the priming sugar for 10 minutes. Add the solution (with cinnamon) to the young beer (the alcohol will pull out a few more flavors). Bottle condition for at least two months.

There was a little (well under a pint) left after filling 17 1-liter bottles, so we tasted the primed young beer. Obviously, the priming sugar made it a little sweet, and it was room-temperature and flat. That being said, we could feel the cinnamon more than taste it, as a bit of tingling on the tongue and a bit of warmth. Because we used tart apples and no hops, rather than the bitterness to which we're accustomed, the beer was a bit sour. Based on this initial impression, we'd go with a less-tart apple next time.

The first tasting, at about 50 days in bottle, was better than the primed beer, but still disappointing. Without hops there's no head retention. The tartness is still present, and tends to overwhelm the other flavors (the cinnamon is basically undetectable). I'd describe the flavor as hard cider and weak coffee. Marco and I split a 1-liter bottle, but we ended up pouring out about half of it. We'll try it again in another month or two, but we don't expect it to ever taste the way we wanted. Cider takes awhile to develop its flavor, and this (inadvertently) is closer to cider than beer in character. The next time we'd use at least a little hops, and go with fewer of a sweeter variety of apple.

The second tasting, at 195 days in bottle, was considerably different. The sour flavors are essentially gone, leaving the cider and coffee flavors to dominate. While it would never be my regular beer, I found it quite drinkable, and consumed nearly the full 1-liter bottle myself. Marco still doesn't like it, but he seems not to like hard cider. The beer was at cellar temperature; another tasting with the beer chilled will be necessary.

Less than a week later (4/18), I chilled a couple of bottles and brought one out with me for my standard nice-weather sitting-on-porch-drinking-homebrew. The malt flavors were pretty thoroughly muted, leaving just the apple tartness. As the beer warmed, the coffee notes returned. I shared a bit with an intrepid neighbor, after warning him that it wasn't what we'd hoped for in terms of flavor, and he at least said he liked it. Apparently I'm not alone in considering this beer drinkable.

Brewed: 9/8/07
Racked: 9/22/07
Bottled: 9/30/07
First Tasting: 11/19/07
Second Tasting: 4/12/08

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Dark Beer Season Has Arrived!

As mentioned previously, Marco and I brewed a batch of "Phat Fired Weizenbock" (p.195). We used DME instead of LME (with the proper conversion), because it's not as messy to work with, even if it does take longer to dissolve. The recipe calls for 1.5 lbs of amber DME, but since we don't buy in bulk, we went with a 2 lb bag. For the crystal malt, we used a #80 roast. The store didn't have debittered black malt, so we substituted 1/8 lbs of regular black malt instead. The hop varieties called for were only available as pellets, while we prefer to use whole hops, so we substituted 2 oz of Hallertau for the boil (again, increasing to the nearest purchaseable unit), and Tettnang for the flavor and aroma. We used a Heffeweizen liquid ale yeast.

The boil (Oct. 13) smelled fantastic, as did the ongoing fermentation. We did, however, experience blow-off in the 6.5 gal Ale Pail. Since Marco didn't have the makings of a blow-off tube (that may change with our next shopping trip), I went over with the necessary equipment, and we got it cleaned up and safely bubbling into a bucket of santizing solution. When the blow-off ceased, Marco reinserted the normal airlock. The remainder of the fermentation was (externally) uneventful.

Yesterday we transferred it to Marco's new keg. It was still bubbling just over twice a minute, but it needed to be re-racked at that point, regardless, so we decided to let the fermentation complete in the keg. For reasons that aren't important, we didn't try it last night, so it'll most likely have another full week in keg under minimal pressure (enough to seal the keg well) to ferment.

Based on the aroma, we expect this batch to be wonderful. With a two-week turnaround (kegs are so nice), we might be making more of this soon.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Brewing Update

We do, in fact, have a batch brewing at the moment. It's "Phat Fired Weizenbock" (p.195), with slight modifications. Marco has the details, as well as a story of his own.

Email Sent to Marco on Thursday the 18th at 10:46PM

[Note: One instance of bad language appears in the following. You have been warned.]

Allow me to paint a picture.

This evening, I go downstairs to start a load of laundry. There's a faint smell of beer in the laundry room. "That doesn't seem right," I remark to myself. I look at the floor, and there's a small puddle of mostly-dry beer beside the refrigerator. I open the door, to discover that beer is slowly foaming out of the ball lock of my keg. This is the old keg -- Rocky II. I, of course, immediately begin cleaning up the spill, and get my laundry in the wash.

Now, let's elaborate on the current scene. I have two kegs. One has been in the fridge for awhile, is almost empty, and has just started (based on the amount of spilled beer and the observed rate of, shall we say, foamage) to express homebrew. The other has been at cellar temperature for a little over a month, is almost empty, and is attached to a cobra tap, the only one I have. No seepage has ensued in keg number two.

The logical course of action was to fetch a fine mug with a handle, tap a beer from keg number two, consume, and repeat. The idea was to tap out the second keg, and then move the cobra tap to the first keg. It was a fool-proof plan, and I'm fool enough to prove it.

What I had not considered was that there was more Rocky III than Rocky II. After either four or five beers (I'm not actually sure which), the laundry was done, bedtime was approaching, and I was experiencing a mild case of fuckedupitude. Nothing severe, mind you -- certainly not vomitous (nor anywhere near), but enough to expect a suppression of REM sleep.

The end result stands at: Rocky III is tantalizingly close to being tapped out. There might, in fact, be comparable amounts of both batches remaining. The cobra tap has been moved to Rocky II, and Rocky III has been placed in the container I use to hold the blow-off bucket, which is identical to the container that I use to store my brewing odds and ends. That way, if there's seepage from keg number two, it will be contained in an easily cleaned vessel. Keg number one, in turn, has the cobra tap, which should provide an extra level of protection against a repeat of the leakage that prompted this whole "drinking" exercise.

Our story concludes now. I hope that it was mostly coherent, largely correct in both spelling and grammar, and at least slightly entertaining.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Rock Party

My neighborhood had a block party yesterday, for which I provided a keg of Rocky Raccoon (p.210), prepared with help from Marco and Bobby. My neighbor Shawn, who organized the party, promised to forward me at least some of the pictures he took. If there are any good shots of people enjoying homebrew, I'll try to post them here.

I made sure to take the first cup, since I hadn't tried the batch yet, and I wasn't sure if there was anything in the lines (or just in the sediment) that would result in off flavors. It's a good thing that I did, since there was definitely something not right in my first cup. It was still drinkable, but very bitter. Subsequent servings were considerably better, but even after rinsing my mouth a couple of times, my palate was still too affected by the first drink to get a good sense of the batch quality.

My dad had a similar experience between his first two servings, though his first wasn't as off as mine, and didn't seem to bias his palate as much. Everyone else who tried it had nothing but good things to say, and I hopefully have at least one new convert to homebrewing. The only disappointment was that I'd expected a block party to easily tap the entire keg. I estimate about a gallon remaining. For the sake of my ego, I'm going to attribute the "low" consumption to the cooler temperatures — yesterday's high was only 71, which isn't as conducive to drinking as the 77 degrees of just the previous day.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Snapping Ginger Ale

(Marco Cavagna and Mike Marsh)

This recipe is inspired by Carribean ginger beer, which is a non-alcoholic beverage with a very strong ginger bite. We've made an alcoholic version of this, which is based on a classic English pale ale with the hop bitterness greatly reduced. The resulting beer is light and crisp, perfect for a hot summer day.

6 lbs. extra light DME
0.5 lbs. #80 crystal malt
1 oz. Kent Golding hops (boil)
1 oz. Saaz hops (finish)
1-1.25 lb. fresh ginger
English ale yeast

Wash the ginger and trim off any bad spots, then shred in the food processor. There's no need to peel the ginger.

Steep the crystal malt for 30 minutes in a gallon to a gallon-and-a-half of water between 150 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Strain the spent grains and add the malt extract, boiling hops, and ginger. Bring to a boil and boil for an hour, adding the finishing hops for the last 10 minutes.

Strain, sparge, cool, and pitch the yeast when the temperature falls below 75 degrees. Since the ginger should dominate the flavor, this doesn't need a long bottle conditioning, and is an excellent candidate for kegging.

This first batch was good, surprisingly so for a very experimental recipe. I thought it could use more ginger (another half pound, at least), and Marco thought it could use more hops. I suspect that the amount of time for which we're boiling the ginger is muting the flavor substantially. The same amount of ginger for a much shorter time, such as the last 10 to 20 minutes of the boil, might result in a stronger flavor. In any case, this will be a fun recipe to play with in future batches.

Vicariously Pale

(Marco Cavagna and Mike Marsh)

6 pounds light DME
1/2 pound #40 crystal malt
2 oz. fuggles hops (boil)
1 oz. kent golding hops (finish)
british ale yeast

Steep crystal malt in about 1 gallon of filtered water for 30 minutes at 150-160 degrees Fahrenheit. Add DME and fuggles hops and boil for 1 hour. Add kent golding hops for last 5 minutes of the boil. Sparge and pitch yeast when temperature reaches 75 degrees.

This invention of ours took a surprisingly short time to finish bubbling, and after bottle conditioning for 2 weeks we were able to give it a try. Our initial impression was that it could use a bit more hops, both in the boil and the finish. It improved substantially after another 2 weeks in the bottle, but we still plan to use more hops for the next time we try this one. Overall, we think this was a pretty solid effort.

Incidentally, the name, "vicariously" refers to 2 weekends ago, when I was on call and couldn't drink. I brought some of this ale over to Mike's and watched him drink it while we brewed Rocky III (more on Rocky III later).

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

This is Beautiful

This has nothing to do with our homebrewing efforts, but it does have to do with homebrewing. I only saw part 1, and I don't know how long it'll be available, so check it out now.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

A Brief Update

Since our last post was in May, you might have gotten the impression that nothing has been happening, brewing-wise. While it's true that we had a bit of a hiatus, due in part to summer travel, we've been more active of late.

Marco's going to be posting the recipe and general comments for a pale ale that we started last month, and that we finally got to taste recently. We have another Super Secret batch that's going into bottles this weekend. It'll be a couple more weeks before we can try that one and reveal the recipe (possibly as a cautionary tale).

For upcoming batches, my neighborhood is having a block party in a few weeks, so we're going to make a keg of Rocky Raccoon (p.210) for that. Since I already have a partial keg of that (yes, still), that means I'll be upgrading to a second keg.

We also have a winter seasonal that we want to try. It's another experimental Super Secret batch; one that will probably want at least a couple of months of bottle conditioning. The plan is to have it ready to drink for Thanksgiving. If it turns out well, we might have to make two or three batches for next year.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

At the Mountains of Madness

We cracked the first growler of Insane Pale Ale tonight. It was a screw-cap growler, and we were pleased (and somewhat relieved) to discover that it held its seal.

The cast of characters: me, Pete, Marco, Susan, and Ranier (Susan's SO). Everyone seemed happy with the results, with the consensus being that it will really benefit from further aging. The color is more amber than pale, which isn't too surprising given the recipe.

My personal impressions were that it's distinctly hoppy, though not aggressively so. It's also strong, though not in the sharp way that some beers (or other alcoholic beverages) have that lets you know immediately that there's a lot of alcohol in the drink. In contrast, the strength becomes apparent when you're on your second glass and you notice that you're substantially buzzed. There was a lingering sweetness that indicates there's some more bottle-conditioning to be done that will increase both the carbonation (which could have been a bit more concentrated) and strength.

It's safe to say that this recipe is a success. Very tasty, and pretty much exactly what we were going for, especially with another month or so in the bottle.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Rocky II

Yesterday was brewing day for our second batch of Rocky Raccoon's Crystal Honey Lager (p.210). We modified the recipe slightly, at least in part due to ingredient availability. We used an extra half pound of DME, substituted an ounce of Northern Brewer hops in the boil, and used a Trappist Ale Yeast. That last was definitely intentional, since I tend to prefer the Trappist yeast. Here is the array of goods, which I call "Still-life with Beer Ingredients."

This time around, rather than trying to engineer a sinker for the aeration hose, we used a racking cane attached to the air hose: Marco supervised the aeration: And here I am contemplating the marvel that is aerated wort, and maybe a bit of wondering how much of a pain it's going to be to clean up the foam that's coating the outside of the carboy:

Finally, the wort was aerated, the yeast pitched, and the blow-off tube attached: That was at around a quarter past 10 last night. By this morning, there was definite positive pressure in the carboy, though it's not quite bubbling yet.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Dunkel, First Impressions (Part Two)

Welcome back, my friends, to the brew that never ends.

Marco and I brewed tonight at my place (blog entry to follow tomorrow). He brought over a couple of our 1pt EZ-Cap bottles of the Dunkel, at a more flavor-compatible temperature.

After trying the not-so-chilled Dunkel, I stand by my characterization of the beer as having a distinctly roasty-toasty character, which isn't surprising for a dunkel. This was even more apparent, and the chocolatey character of the chocolate malt also came through. I thought that it tasted somewhat creamy, in addition. The hops and alcohol are definitely there, but neither whomps you upside the head.

Needless to say (and yet I say, or rather write, it anyway), I look forward to drinking more of this, especially as bottle conditioning continues to develop its flavors.

Dunkel, First Impressions (Part One)

Last night, Marco and I tried the first bottles of our Dunkel. For a still-young beer, we were very pleased with it. The color is extremely dark, almost opaque. The taste is nice and roasty, not too dissimilar to a good strong cup of coffee.

If anything, the beer was a bit too cold for flavors other than toastiness to come through. The bottles had been chilling in the fridge for a couple of hours, and the mugs had been stashed in the freezer. We plan to consume the rest at cellar temperature, and I'll give my further impressions on trying the less-chilled beer.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Insane Pale Ale

(Pete Keleher and Mike Marsh)

9 lbs. light DME
1.5 lbs. #40 crystal malt
0.5 lbs. biscuit/chocolate malt
3 oz. Chinook hops (boil)
1 oz. Chinook hops (finish)
1 oz. Kent Golding hops (finish)
Trappist ale yeast

The method is what you'd expect: Steep the crushed crystal and chocolate malts in 2 gallons of water for 30 minutes at a temperature between 150 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Add the dry malt extract and boiling hops and boil for an hour. Add the finishing hops for the final 5 minutes of the boil. Strain, sparge, fill to 5 gallons, and cool to pitching temperature. The Trappist ale yeast will tolerate the higher alcohol concentration produced by the 1211 lbs of malt and malt extract.

The color might not generally be described as "pale," but this was definitely inspired by the India pale ale style. Think of the darker color of this pale ale as just part of the "insanity" of Insane Pale Ale.

This one's still aging, so we can't really speak to the final result. From what was left over when bottling, which was of course flat, this is going to be a good batch. My attempt to measure the starting specific gravity was an obvious failure (1.042 measured, with a large concentration of fermentable sugars), so we really have no idea how strong this will be. I'm certain that it will get the job done, which along with a pleasant taste is all I personally ask of beer.

UPDATE 4/18: I mis-read the receipt from the store. The quantity of hops was incorrect. It has been fixed. Also added recipe attribution.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Homebrew Equipment

Beer isn't the only thing we homebrew. Sometimes, we make homebrew equipment, as well. Some of this is quick jury-rigging, such as a chopstick twist-tied to an aeration hose as a sinker, or a bent wire coat hanger to fish out a chop stick that's been twist-tied to an aeration hose and promptly gotten stuck in the neck of a carboy, or the cap off a bottle of throat spray to replace a missing floater in a three-piece airlock.

Other times, a bit more thought is put into homebrewed equipment. That is, the design wasn't a last-minute emergency work-around. For example, a small funnel stuck into a length of flexible tube is an excellent way to fill gallon water jugs from an on-faucet water filter.

My latest required a bit more thought, and I'm rather proud of it. I didn't bother with a bottle washer that screws onto a faucet, since I wasn't planning to do much in the way of bottling, and carboys and kegs are a little unwieldy to hold over the standard bottle washers. What I did instead was to buy a 6' length of laundry hose, which I keep attached to my laundry sink. It's a very serviceable way of rinsing out carboys, kegs, and anything else of similar size. It's also great for filling buckets without having to lift them in and out of the sink.

Sometimes, though, you need more pressure than the faucet can generally provide, or you just need something that'll fit into a narrower opening. That's where my homebrewed nozzle comes in. The requirements were simple: It had to attach to the end of a laundry hose (which is the same threading as a garden hose), and it had to have a narrow opening to provide for a substantial pressure in the outgoing stream. This allows us to power-wash just about anything, eliminating the need for a bottle brush.

A trip to my local home-products mega-store chain (I have a gift card to use up), and I picked up the following: What we have here is a 3/4" garden hose male end to 1/2" MIP hose adapter (Watts® A-663), a 1/2" FIP to 3/8" FIP pipe reducing coupling (Watts® A-815), and a 1/4"x3/8" hose barb MIP adapter (Watts® A-193).

Put them all together, and you get a coupling that takes a 3/4" diameter hose to a 1/4" diameter stream (probably smaller, since the barb is for a 1/4" inner diameter tube). That's about a factor of nine increase in water pressure. It's truly a sight to behold when in use.

All told, this cost me about $9 in parts. I could have bought a bottle/carboy washer at my local homebrewing store for $11.50. That would attach directly to the faucet, rather than a hose, meaning more things to screw and unscrew. In any case, it would have been a lot less fun. And that's what homebrewing is about, after all.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Tapped Out

In other brewing news, I took twelve of our pint bottles home from Marco's, so that I could bring some of my "Rocky Raccoon's Crystal Honey Lager" (p.210) to my niece's first birthday party tomorrow. No, I'm not giving beer to babies, but we have some family from out of town coming in for the party who haven't had the opportunity to try it.

I'd intended to bring all twelve bottles, but there was only enough left in the keg to fill ten of them, plus a small taste (maybe 4oz) for me. Still, that's about 160oz of beer (depending on how close to one pint each is filled), compared with 144oz for a standard twelve-pack.

Incidentally, a cobra tap will work for moving beer from keg to bottle, but if you try it be prepared for a lot of filling, waiting for foam to subside, and re-filling. Growlers are much nicer in this respect, since you have a large volume to fill, and fewer bottles to mess with. Of course, if you have any suggestions for making this go more smoothly in the future, feel free to post them in the comments.

This marks a bittersweet point in my brewing. The honey lager was the first batch I brewed in my new house, and finishing it is an occasion of sorts. On the other hand, my philosophy had been, to paraphrase Gen. "Buck" Turgidson from "Dr. Strangelove": we cannot allow a homebrew gap! I haven't had the chance to start a second batch, however, so now I do, indeed, have a homebrew gap. At least, it's a gap in terms of what's available in my own home. Marco and I still have a bottle or two of non-archival Märzen, and there are the Dunkel and IPA conditioning.

Dunkel: Bottling

On Sunday, Marco and I bottled our third batch, "Danger Knows no Favorites Dunkel" (p.204). Here are some photos from the effort.

The previous two batches were conditioned in 1 pint EZ-Cap bottles (36 of them). We had been contemplating moving to kegs with this batch, but instead decided to go with twelve one-liter EZ-Cap bottles and twelve of the old pint bottles. That also gives us a surplus for overlapping batches and longer-term storage.

On the subject of the latter, we put aside six of the Märzen so we can see how it changes over the course of a few months:

Moving on to the happy work of filling our bottles with young beer, we started by sanitizing the empties and boiling the priming sugar and water. The arm you see belongs to Marco.

Now we're ready to begin siphoning! If you've ever had to deal with traditional siphons, the kind you have to fill with water, and that inevitably seem to get stuck in mid-siphon and have to be re-primed, you really need to try an auto-siphon. It has a built in pump, and before you know it the beer will be flowing: That, by the way, is me doing the siphoning.

Once siphoned, it's time to bottle. The liter bottles make this much easier, since you have considerably fewer bottles to swap. We managed to fill all twenty-four bottles with very little left in the dregs.

Here's the final result: It's been almost a week since we bottled, so by next weekend we should be able to crack open the first bottles, though of course what remains in bottle will continue to develop in character.

Subsequent posts will likely be less image-intensive. I'll try to get in shots of all the major pieces of equipment, as well as any particularly interesting stages in the process.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Photos from March 6

We started the strong IPA (which as yet remains unnamed) on March 6th. The recipe involved nine pounds of dry malt extract, which has one disadvantage when compared with liquid malt extract: It also takes awhile to dissolve:

Eventually, of course, it did dissolve. Nine pounds of malt takes a lot of water to dissolve, so the volume was enough that it wasn't ready to pitch until the next morning:

Saturday, March 31, 2007

A Homebrewer's Journal

Obligatory welcome and second-person plural salutations to all!

In these pages, over the coming months and (hopefully) years, you will find a running commentary on the progress of beer brewed by my friends and me in our homes. The plan, as of now, is to follow each batch from the boil to the bottle (or keg). This will include recipes, accounts of the steps and missteps of the process, and photos of the concoction from wort to young beer to tall glass of bubbly malty fermented goodness.

Most of our recipes will come from the 3rd edition of Charlie Papazian's The Complete Joy of Homebrewing. For reasons of copyright, the actual recipes will not appear here. Recipe names and page references will, however, as will any deviations from the basic recipe. For example, we might make "Rocky Raccoon's Crystal Honey Lager" (p.210) with a Belgian Trappist ale yeast rather than a lager yeast. Some recipes will be originals (or at least independently derived — it's nigh-impossible to guarantee originality). Original recipes will generally be listed in full.

For the record, in our current efforts (3 in total), which began last Autumn and is the first brewing that I've personally done since leaving Illinois in 1997, we have brewed or are in the process of brewing six batches. These include:

  • A weizen from a kit, I believe it was "Brewer's Best Weizenbier" (consumed)
  • "Goat Scrotum Ale", (p.200) (consumed)
  • "Winky Dink Märzen" (p.184) (bottled, aged, mostly consumed)
  • "Rocky Raccoon's Crystal Honey Lager" (p.210) (kegged, aged, partially consumed)
  • A strong IPA (strong ale/IPA hybrid) of our own devising (aging in a Party Pig and growlers)
  • "Danger Knows No Favorites Dunkel" (p.204) (fermenting, kegging imminent)