Sunday, September 30, 2012

An American Lager

   By far, the biggest question/response I get from people as soon as I tell them I brew beer is... "So can you brew a Bud Light?"  This is asked normally by people who think if it "ain't" Budweiser, Miller, Coors or similar then it "ain't" beer!  Or that it's somehow anti-american not to drink/serve the beers listed above.  Don't get me wrong - these companies are highly successful and are able to brew a consistent product very well.  The beers they produce are good in their own right.  However, these beers are highly manufactured, mass produced and are brewed with mostly profit in mind.  That said, this style is the hardest to brew at home.  It's like wearing an all-white outfit to a BBQ feast; chances are very high that your outfit will not stay all-white for long.  While it is popular among the home-brew/'beer snob' community to mock the seeming absence of flavor in these beers, it is actually quite difficult to successfully and consistently brew them.  If you're unlucky enough to end up with a defect in the final product there is very little to hide behind.
    So no... I haven't really brewed a bud light nor am I interested in brewing one.  Typically the only reason that home-brewers even attempt to brew this style is to get their stubborn palette, BMC drinking friends to drink their home-brew.
   I'm brewing an American lager style in more of a traditional way without the rice or corn.  Budweiser, Miller and Coors are all American lagers but are brewed with up to 40% rice or corn in addition to barley and hops.  This helps with two things... it lightens the malt flavor and cuts the price of brewing because rice and corn are cheaper than malted barley.  My first attempt at this recipe was fairly successful as stated by other "BMC" drinking individuals who tried it and I actually liked it myself.  So I modified the recipe for a little more body and head retention thinking I'd try to improve it even more.
Brew Day
So brew day started out well.  This was my first time to use my new burner.  
New burner and brew day prep.
Unfortunately brew day took a turn for the worst.  Turns out that my new burner had a lot more output than I thought.  The flames from the burner licked up the sides of the kettle and before I knew it had cracked and melted the sight-glass.
Melted and broken sightglass from kettle
I had 7.5-8 gals of boiling hot wort spraying out of my sight-glass while attempting to move the kettle and transfer the liquid into another spare kettle.  Ended up with a couple of burnt fingers and toes.  As a result this brew day was not very well documented.  Although, I did end up breaking my own brew day speed record with a total of 5 hours start to finish including clean up.  The new burner despite the melted sightglass cuts a little less than an hour off my brew day.    
Ended up at 1.039 at 5.5 gals. Did pitch yeast at 83*F though, but performed a D-reset before reaching finial gravity of 1.004.

New Equipment Modifications
Upgrade from 10 to 15 gal Kettle and added Sight-Glass and Ball Valve. 
Modified new burner with a heat shield to block flame/heat from reaching ball valve or sight-glass

Monday, August 13, 2012

May The Schwarz-Bier With You

Schwarz in German means "black" and bier means "beer".  So schwarzbier literally means "black beer" in German (Pronounced "shvahrts-beer").  It was only recently that I was able to sample an actual imported schwarzbier.  Turns out that the only place that I've been able to get a kostrizer in Arkansas (at least central AR) is at the flying saucer in Little Rock.  Schwarzbier is a dark beer similar to a porter or stout except that being a lager gives it a cleaner crisper finish that tends to smooth out the roast character in the beer.  Schwarbier has a very mild, almost bittersweet, notes of chocolate and coffee.  Over all a very smooth beer to drink and at around 4-5% ABV very session-able as well. So after trying kostizer I decided that I needed to try brewing this style and because of the name and the schwartz line in "Spaceballs", I decided to name it "May The Schwarz-Bier With You".

Since I've been on a diet here recently, it has been hard to brew.  So I used my vacation time to fit in a brew day along with a break from my diet.  Of course writing this while on a diet is fairly hard as well.  The roasted malts in this brew consisted of carafa III and roasted barley.  I was going to add the roasted grains late in the mash as to impart less of the roast character but the home brew supply I order from crushed all the grains together.  So I may do that next time I brew this.
Yeast Starter
I seen other recipes call for german lager yeast.  So I used whitelabs german lager (WLP830).  The use by date on the yeast was October of 2012.  I made a 1.5 quart starter and put it on the stir plate but 24 hours later I checked the gravity and even though fermentation had taken place it didn't ferment very much.  Just in case I decided to pick up another vial of WLP830 to pitch along with the starter on brew day.  
Middle of Mash
My strike temp was 165*F to hit a target temp of 153*F.  Originally I planned for 151 but decided last min to change to 153.  Very thick mash this time (right around 1qt/lb).  Smelled great!
Draining the first and second runnings from the Mash-tun
The sparge water may have ran a little hot on this one because I left one pot on the eye longer, but still should have been under 180*F.  I forgot to get the pearl bittering hops, but I did have some left over cascade from another brew.  Cascade shouldn't make alot of difference as a bittering hop for such a malt heavy brew though.  
75 Min boil
I guess I have left my propane burner (classic turkey fryer setup) out in the rain too long and I now get thick layers of soot on the bottom and sides of my brew kettle every time I boil.  After scrubbing the kettle for about an hour with oxyclean and a scrub sponge, I decided next brew I'm going to be replacing my burner with a banjo burner and start storing the burner inside. 
Ended up with 5.5 gals at 1.046.  So after fermentation that should put me around 1.012 with 4.54% ABV.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Irish Red Ale

Earlier this month I visited a lot of new breweries popping up around northwest Arkansas with some friends and had a great time sampling and talking over some good pints.  In one of the pubs I actually ran into Andy from Basic Brewing Radio and owner of "The Home Brewery" local Fayetteville home brew shop.  I  talked with him for some time about brewing in general and I came to the realization that in general I brew high gravity beers and really haven't brewed that many beers that would be considered "session" beers.  In other words a beer that is relatively low in alcohol (3.5-4.5%) in which several can be drank in a "session" and still have some hope of driving home.  I still have at least one monster brew left on my to-brew list but I need to start practicing on brewing good session beers especially if I plan on opening up my own brewery one day.  So I decided to brew a style that I haven't brewed before and shoot for a session beer in the style of a Irish Red Ale.  Killian's Irish Red is really a lager and probably not a good example of the style but it is one that is well known.  Although the original recipe was an ale and dates back to 1864, the rights to the name was purchased by Coors in the mid 80's.  Coors just slapped the name on one of their lager recipes.  To me it is a decent beer if you can find it on tap.
Grains and Pre-heating the mash-tun
    I have two cats, Ronon and Rodney.  During brew day Ronon pays no attention and generally stays out of my way.  On the other hand Rodney (in picture above) gets into everything and drives me insane because he prefers to not only get in my way but lick all my sanitized equipment forcing me to re-sanitize and lock him in a room for the remainder of the day.  
    My strike temp for the mash was 163*F to hit a mash temp of 152*F.  I over shot the strike and waited to dump the grains in till it cooled to 163.  The mash temp really hit around 154-155 but I decided not to try to cool it off.  It ended spending most of the time between 151-153 anyways.  As with my recent recipes I targeted an efficiency around 65% and that seems to be giving me plenty of grain that I come close enough to my target O.G consistently.    
Left to Right: Beginning of Mash; End of Mash
I collected 8 gals in my boil kettle from the mash and sparge runnings.  I started the boil off using a propane tank that I only used on one batch.  So my thought was that it should be close to full, but even with the gas turned all the way up the flame wasn't enough to get a very good rolling boil.  So I ended up killing the boil and making a propane run.  The new tank worked out great though.   
Since my goal was to make a session beer all I needed to shoot for was an O.G of 1.045.  I boiled for 60 mins and hit an O.G of 1.047 with 6 gals at 72% efficiency.  That should put me around 4.5% ABV.  With Arkansas temps in the upper 90's it is very hard to chill the wort below 80*F even with a counter-flow plate chiller and ice-water.  So typically for an ale in the summer I chill for 15-20 mins which usually gets me in the low 80's.
Next Day
  Recently I've been preparing my equipment/brewing methods to be able to take on my next extreme high gravity brew.  I'm planning in the future to brew a beer akin to Sam Adam's Utopias (around 28% ABV) maybe by using freeze distilling and aging for a very long time.  I have several beers lined up before I take this monster on but I'm in the planning stages now.  
Pure O2 Through a Diffusion Stone
  One of the changes I'm employing is using pure O2 to oxygenate my chilled wort before pitching the yeast.  By injecting pure O2 through the wort with a diffusion stone I reduce the amount of time it takes to oxygenate to my wort (35-45 sec blast) and add a higher level and purer quality of O2 in the wort for the yeast.  This strengthens the cell walls of the yeast and allows for healthier and better prepared yeast in a high gravity environment.         

Monday, April 23, 2012

Kilt-Lifter Scottish Wee Heavy

I've brewed this wee heavy before and I thought it was good so I deiced to try my hand at this recipe again and keg it.  The term "Wee Heavy" is just another name for a Scottish Strong Ale.  This wee heavy has some peat smoked malt that imparts a subtle smokiness to the beer and stylistically has lower carbonation closer to English style beers.  Scotland, as one might imagine, has a rich brewing history. Ancient Greek explorers even commented on the fact that the inhabitants of Caledonia (Ancient Scotland) were skilled in the art of brewing a potent beverage.  The Scots had a unique way of distinguishing beer style by price.  Scottish beers were separated and named by price (shilling).  It was largely understood that:

(60/-) was under 3.5% abv
(70/-) was between 3.5% and 4.0% abv
(80/-) was between 4.0% and 5.5% abv
Wee heavy
(90/-) was over 6.0% abv
(/- is read as "shilling" or "bob" as in "a pint of eighty-bob, please")

Mash in was 170*F (Strike) to hit 154*F and kept it for 60 mins (1 qt/lb).  Mash went smooth and mostly uneventful except that the addition of 6 gals of sparge water (1.47 qt/lb) caused my 10 gal mash-tun to overflow a bit.  Evidently I need to fix that in my program (beer tools pro).  The program has seemed to stop calculating water level in containing vessel.  There was a lot of grain on this one (16.3 lbs) so that's why the sparge water was a bit over the mash-tun.  

My eff. was fairly good for such a big batch  (69%).  Was shooting for 65%.  Started at 7.9-8 gals pre-boil vol.  Boiled for about 80 mins down to around 5.25 gals.  I did end-up adding a late addition of 1.5 lbs of light DME to the boil.  That puts me at 1.091 starting gravity.  The final gravity on this beer should be higher (Maybe around 1.023).  So I figure it will weigh in around 8.7-9% ABV.

New Plate Counter Flow Chiller
My new counter-flow plate chiller worked like a charm.  Went from boiling to around 60*F with-in 20 mins.  Transferred the wort to my 6.5 gal carboy added O2 and pitched my 1.5 quart starter from my stir plate.  Ferment around 63-65*F for about 7 days.  Then I'll raise to 70*F for another 7 days and keg.  

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Rye IPA - Jack The R.I.P.A

This past week I tried my first Rye-IPA (Sierra Nevada's Ruthless Rye) and loved it.  So that became my inspiration for my next brew-day.  After finishing one glass I knew I had to brew this beer and preferably clone this brew.  The problem is that this is a relatively new beer put out by Sierra Nevada as one of their seasonal brews replacing their "Glissade Bock".  This beer is good enough that I'm sure there will be a clone recipe on it but no one has had time to write a clone recipe for it yet.  When I looked at the beer on their site it gives a rather vague ingredient list for Ruthless Rye:
          Malts - Pale, Rye, Caramel & Chocolate
          Hops - Bravo (Bittering)
                    Chinook & "Experimental Hops" (Aroma)
                    Chinook, Citra & "Experimental Hops" (Dry)
First off I have no idea what "Experimental" means and Citra & Bravo are hops that are hard to get a hold of this season.  I'm also weary of using chocolate malt in a pale ale because it's really easy to over do it.  So with that I've set out to make my own Rye IPA.

9.0 lb 2-Row Brewers Malt
3.0 lb Rye Malt
0.5 lb Barley Flaked
0.75 lb Caramel Malt 60L
1.0 lb Vienna Malt
1.0 oz Chinook (13.0%) - added first wort, boiled 90 m
0.5 oz Chinook (13.0%) -  boiled 25 m
1.0 oz Tettnanger (4.5%) - boiled 15 m
0.5 oz Centennial (10.0%) - boiled 10 m
0.5 oz Chinook (13.0%) - boiled 5 m
1.0 oz Tettnanger (4.5%) - steeped after boil
0.5 oz Centennial (10.0%) - steeped after boil
1 oz Chinook (13.0%) - added dry to secondary fermenter
1 oz Centennial (10.0%) - added dry to secondary fermenter

From looking at other recipes I decided to put just slightly over 20% rye malt in order to get a good presence of the spicy character of the rye in the finished beer.  The half pound of flaked barley should give the beer good head retention.  Both Chinook and Tettnanger are hops that add a bit of spicy character to a beer which should pair well with the spice character from the rye.  I wanted to inject a small amount of floral/citrus aroma by using a little bit of centennial hops.  I plan on mashing low and slow to make a very fermentable wort.
Mash-in was targeted at 150*F which went a little higher at first.  The first 15 mins the mash was at 153-154.  I managed to keep the mash relativity closer to 151 the rest of the time for a 90 min mash.  I went for a thin mash 1 qt/lb.
End of Mash
I almost had a stuck mash and sparge on these grains.  Draining the mash went very slow and ended up sticking before I got all the first runnings out.  If I brew this again I may think about adding rice hulls to help with the packed grain bed.
First-Wort Hop with chinook
I didn't realize how much of the first runnings I had left in the tun until I added all 7 gals of the batch sparge and so my mash-tun was up to the rim with water.  I quickly drained the second runnings in order to get a hotter water flushing the grains.  That helped the sparge not to stick but probably lost me a few efficiency points because I couldn't stir that much.
Boil over watch... Very full boil kettle
That said I did start with quite a bit of extra volume (8.9-9gals) to make up for the extended boil I had planned for this brew (90 min).  Surprisingly I get a very quick boil off rate with my setup even though I have a cheap burner.  Typically with a 90 min boil on high I can boil off around 4 gals.  I've been a little disappointed lately though because I end up close to boiling off too much volume and get a little more trub in my brew than I would like.  I think this ends up as an efficiency problem.  On my next brew I may adjust my grains to hit my numbers at 65% efficiency.  That might solve my problem.
The OG ended up at 1.060 (about 69% eff).  So I plan to be in the 6% area.  The dog biscuits that I tried making last brew where a big hit.  So during clean up I bagged off enough grains to do a couple more batches.  So 1-2 weeks primary ferment then into the secondary for dry hopping.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Oktoberfest with a Single Decoction Mash

Oktoberfest is more than just the name of a beer.  It's the name given to a 16 day festival held annually in Munich, Bavaria, Germany running from late September to the first week of October.  The festival is a German national holiday that started around 1810.  Since the 1960's it has grown to be a world-wide festival that is known for the large quantity of beer served and attire worn.  Only beer conforming to the Reinheitsgebot (old beer purity law) is allowed to be served at the festival with a minimum alcohol content of 6%.  As one might think there are many problems every year with young people underestimating the amount of "high octane" beer they can handle without passing out.  Locals have a name for these patrons "Bierleichen" (German for "beer corpses").
    So it's traditionally around that time to brew an Oktoberfest so that it will have time to lager and be ready mid to late September.  I've brewed this style one time previously, which in my opinion didn't turn out well.  It was drinkable but I tried a multi-step infusion mash and missed my numbers resulting in a light bodied beer were as this style should have a heavy body.  I decided to try a decoction mash on this brew in order to make sure I got that heavy body and malt presence I need in this beer.
Single Decoction Mash Schedule
Modern malted grains are so well modified that a decoction mash is really no longer necessary.  Thus I decided to go with a step infusion from the protein rest to the saccrification rest and then a single decoction to mash-out.  I heated 3gals to strike of 149*F and hit my target of 133*F (Hit high and came down fast though).  
Protein Rest at 133*F
My brewing software had shown to use a 1.5 gal infusion at 212*F to raise the mash temp into saccrificaiton at 155*F, but that ended up being way off and took me up to only 148.  So I quickly boiled a couple of quarts of water to add to the mash.  That took me up around 158 and fell to 155.  I'm a little nervous because I believe this is the very thing that killed the body in my last oktoberfest.  So I may need to start adding a buffer amount to my infusions and slowly add to temp (a ball valve on my liquor tank might help here).   
Removing the thick part of the decoction
I kept the mash at 155*F for 45 mins in order for conversion to take place.  About 30 mins into that process I drained off about 2 gals of the mash into a separate pot then used a strainer to gather the thick part of the decoction I needed, then proceeded to boil the decoction.  
Boiling the decoction
I kept the decoction boiling for 30mins, continually stirring, as not to scorch the grains.  The decoction then slowly got added back to the mash to hit mash-out temp of 168*F.  From there I drained the mash-tun and got my first ever stuck mash!  I got my grains from the local home-brew shop in NLR (first time to use them).  So the milling might have been a little more fine on the grains or possibly the decoction turned the grains mushy and clogged up the grain bed?
I unstuck the mash by using my paddle and gently stirring/scraping the false bottom of my mash-tun in order to minimize the small amount of grain that might get through and into the boil.  The sparge also stuck and I had to employ the same trick there as well.  For a stuck sparge and a decoction mash, I surprisingly didn't get that great eff. that I was expecting (73%).  I ended up having to increase the boil time to a little over 90 mins in order to hit the gravity numbers I wanted to hit.  So I ended up with exactly 5 gals (with trub) at 1.055 OG.    

I pitched a 2qt starter that I started 3 days earlier along with a second vile of yeast.  This may have been over kill but this is a larger lager so it needs lots of yeast.  12 hours later and we have fermentation!

Spent Grain Dog Biscuits

I don't have dogs but I have a lot of friends who do. So I decided to try out a recipe I found for making dog biscuits out of my spent grains.  For my first test batch I used the grains from this brew.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Harvest Moon IPA

This month I decided that I haven't brewed a good regular IPA in a while.  Most of the time when I brew something like an IPA I end up brewing a IIPA or a black IIPA.  So I decided that I would take my favorite pale ale recipe and flip it into an IPA by just turning up the hop profile.  This recipe features orange zest and coriander which, pairs nicely with the citrus bite from the cascade and centennial hops.  with all the hops and orange zest it does end up as a cloudy beer with a little bit of chill haze but the taste is great.  I actually have the recipe for the pale ale version of this up in the recipes section here.  Previous versions of this pale ale have been a partial mash recipe but I tweaked the recipe to all-grain for this brew.

My strike temp was 167.28F to hit a mash in at 153F.  I held the mash at that temp for 60mins while collecting and heating the sparge water.  I didn't really document a lot of pictures through this brew.

    After recirculating and collecting runoff from the mash and the sparge, I ended up with 8.25gal of wort set to boil down to 5.5-6gals.  After the boil and cool down I noticed that I forgot the last 10 min addition of orange zest and coriander.  So I quickly went to work boiling about a quart of water with some DME (in order to not drop the OG too much) and boiled the orange zest and coriander in a separate wort, cooled then added it to the rest in the fermenter.
    Turns out I had fairly lousy eff. on this batch (around 59%).  So I made a note on my recipe to up the base malt for next time.  In fact I ended up being so off on my numbers that I actually feed the fermenter a 12oz dextrose addition which adjusted my OG and made my  FG go a little lower (1.010).  I'll have to see but I think the lower FG shouldn't hurt and might give the beer a nice dry finish.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Newcastle Brown Ale Clone... (Or Something Close)

Even though Newcastle wouldn't pass the reinheitsgebot (because it is brewed with some level of the corn) it is still one of my favorite commercial brown ales.  I found a clone recipe on the forms for this beer and decided I wanted to try it out.  The real Newcastle is a blended beer crafted by brewing two different beers and combining them in a 60/40 ratio.  BierMuncher got the recipes for the two blends from an issue of BYO and blended the ingredients down to a single recipe.  From his comments, it sounds like he got close to a clone by doing this.  Since I was going to be dealing with liquid yeast on this one (Wyeast - 1099), I made a 1 quart starter.  I bought 2 smack packs and used one for the starter and pitched the other on brew day.
 My mash-in took a strike temp of 168.5*F to reach a mash-in temp of 154*F and a 1.1 qt/lb mash thickness.
I heated up my sparge water to a little over 170*F in order to heat the grain bed up to a mash-out of 170*F.  My sparge thickness was 2 qt/lb, which brought the water level to the top of the mash tun.  
After run-off from the mash and sparge, ended up collecting about 8.25 gals or wort.  Plan was to hit around 8 gals and boil down to around 5.5 gals to leave 0.5 gal of trub.
After the boil I added the last of the hops and cooled down to 70*F in 15mins.  Over all easy brew day... Hit my numbers without any road blocks or problems. I did take this opportunity to calibrate my hydrometer and the refractometer that I got from my loving wife for Christmas.  
Using distilled water I found out that my hydrometer I have been using for years is off by 4 gravity points!  While my new refractometer is spot on and thanks to some calculations I found online I can completely replace my hydrometer with my refractometer.  With the O.G. at 1.055 that should put us right around 5% ABV.  

This was one of the fastest fermentation times I have ever seen!  I brewed this on a Saturday and it was finished by Monday afternoon.  I took a gravity reading and got 1.020, which was a little high for what I wanted.  So I pitched some amylase enzyme and over the course of next few days, took it down to 1.014 which was right in line with what I wanted.