Sunday, December 11, 2011

Precocious Pale brew day

Today I brewed up the Precocious Pale Ale recipe that I formulated in the previous post.

I thought that it might be helpful to walk through my brew day process, so that I can watch it evolve and so that others can (hopefully) take something out of it.

The first thing I did was crush my grain.  I have a 7 pound Barley Crusher, and I crushed my grain directly into my mash tun (which is a 10 gallon rubbermaid cooler I picked up from Lowes.  

Yeah, the neighborhood cats like to wander around and help me out.  What can I say, I'm a softie.

Next, it was time to heat up my mash water. I needed just a bit under 4 gallons to have my desired ratio of 1.5 quarts to 1 pound of grain.  
This is a cheap turkey fryer kit I picked up off Amazon.  I've previously drilled two holes into it - one for a brewmometer about halfway up, and a second for a spout near the bottom.  This is a 30 liter pot, and I've since upgraded to a larger pot for my actual boil, but this pot works perfectly for heating up mash/sparge water.

Today, I was heating up the mash water to 164 degrees because I wanted this pale ale to mash around 154.  As I mentioned in my previous post, this is so that I get a bit more residual sweetness in this beer than I got in the previous beer with a similar grain bill.

Once the water hit temp, I poured it directly over the top of the crushed grain and stirred thoroughly for about 3-4 minutes.  Then I threw on the lid to the cooler and walked away for about 45 minutes.

After 45 minutes, I started the sparge water heating on the burner.  I put 4 gallons back in the same pot as before, and started the process of bringing that up to 175 degrees.  Since I batch sparge, I want the second addition to bring the grain temp up to about 165 degrees.

Once the mash had been soaking for an hour, I make the assumption the conversion to extract the sugars from the grain is complete.  Because I don't have a PH meter, I can only assume that it's enough time.  However, most mashes are actually done within 30 minutes, so the hour I gave mine is almost certainly enough.

Next, it's time to vorlauf.  
This process basically consists of slowly running off the wort until it runs clear.  This allows the grains in the cooler to form a natural filter around the braid I have placed in there.  I just pour the wort in the pitcher back over the top of the grain in the cooler until it runs clear.  Normally, I only have to fill up one of these pitchers before it's clear.

Because I was curious about my mash efficiency, I took a refractometer reading at this point.  A refractometer measures the sugars in solution.  Now, this picture was extremely tough to get.  I had to get the sun to shine through the refractometer just right, and get the lens from my iPhone camera aligned perfectly, but this is what I saw when I looked through:

So, my "first runnings" had a value of 15.6 brix.  This correlates to a gravity reading of 1.064.  This is good, because I wanted my pre-boil gravity reading to be approximately 1.040.  Knowing that the first runnings make up approximately half of the wort going into the boil, I found I was on target to hit near those numbers.

Once the mash had finished running off, the sparge water was hot enough.  I threw my sparge water into the mash tun, and took my first runnings and threw it on the burner to bring it up to a boil.  Now that I have a second pot (thanks to my lovely wife!) I can do that - use one pot to collect runnings while the second pot is on the burner.  It helps make the brew day a lot shorter.

After stirring the sparge, I let it sit for about ten minutes and then repeated the vorlauf process from above until it ran clear.  Once it was clear, I started filling the pot with the sparge and took a second refractometer reading:
This one clocked in just a bit over 5, meaning the two numbers should average out to right around 10-11 brix.  Sure enough, once I collected the sparge water and added it to the boil pot, I found out I was right on target:

10 brix, which is right around a gravity of 1.040.  Perfect!

Now it was time to bring the approximately 7 gallons of wort to a boil.  I knew I had a few minutes while it came up to temp, so I started measuring my hops.
In this case, 1oz of hops which will be my 15 minute addition.  I also measured .5oz as a 90 minutes addition, and another 1oz as the 5 minute addition.

As I was measuring the hops, the pot started to boil.

Now the hard work is mostly done!  I just need to let it boil for 90 minutes, adding the first hop addition now, the second with 15 minutes left in the boil, and the last one with 5 minutes left.

Rather than showing you pictures of me waiting, here's an old silent movie style image:

Hey, it's now 90 minutes later!  Cool!  Time flies when you're not actually there...

Anyway, I threw a wort chiller into the pot and cooled it down to pitching temp, and pitched the wort directly on top of an old yeast cake I had left over from a previous brew.
You can see the oxygen tank sitting to the right of the carboy, not pictured is me oxygenating the wort for 30 seconds.  This shot of pure oxygen works as yeast fuel, and is something I just started doing this year on advice of my friend Jeremy.  (It was solid advice - my beers taste cleaner since I started the practice.)

I took an 'original gravity' reading at this point, and found that the boil had condensed the sugars down the way I wanted. 
The value of 11.8 brix here corresponds to a gravity of 1.047, which is just about perfect.

For comparison purposes, this is a screenshot of BrewPal, the iPhone app I used to formulate the recipe.  

So, it expected a pre-boil gravity of 1.038 and a post-boil gravity of 1.045, and I actually got 1.040 and 1.047, which is close enough for government work.

Total, I spent just about 5 hours from starting until I was completely cleaned up.  Got started right around noon today, and I was in the shower while the future beer was in my fermentation chamber by 5:10pm.  I feel like if I hadn't used pilsner grain (which requires a 90 minute boil), I actually could have shaved another 30 minutes off that time.  Also, if I ever get a PH Meter, I could cut down my mash times and maybe even get under 4 hours.  Still, five hours is wayyyy better than some of my early brew days, which were 7-8 hour marathons.  

Now I have to impatiently wait for this to ferment to see how the beer actually turns out.  All the techniques and numbers in the world don't mean squat if you don't have a solid recipe and combination of flavors.  

Here's hoping that what I've learned so far will lead to this being a solid beer.  Even if it's not, it's another chance to continue to learn and refine.  

I love Sunday brew days.  Watching NFL Red Zone and brewing beer is just the perfect way to spend an afternoon.

Update 12/27/11: I dry hopped this beer for 10 days from 12/17-12/27, then racked it into a keg. Final gravity was 1.011, giving me a 4.5% ABV beer, which is perfect for a sessionable pale. Tasting it on racking, it has a much stronger initial bitterness than I had figured, and a very mild nose. Still, a very pleasant flavor and much more body than I would have expected from a beer with that low of an alcohol level. Will do a final testing once it's fully carbonated.

Update 01/16/11: Having had this beer on tap for a few weeks now, I have a few observations about it that will definitely influence my next pale ale recipe.

First, there's just a bit too much 'body' to this beer.  It's a bit too thick, and it keeps me from wanting more than one.  Interestingly enough, my porter is light enough I find myself switching to that.

Second, it's just a bit too bitter for my tastes.  The hops come through decently in all phases except aroma, and the bitterness from them tastes much harsher than the expected IBU.  I would use these hops again, but mostly for flavor.  I'd use something less harsh for bitterness and something more aromatic for the finish and dry hop.

Finally, it has a bit of a haze to it.  I'm guessing this is due to the carapils, since my IPA that had pilsner malt and crystal 60 didn't have the same haze. 

These factors are making me think my next attempt at this style will be with a different hop, but also with about half the crystal malt and half the carapils.  I'm hoping that will get me something I'm more pleased with.

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