Saturday, December 8, 2012

Impudent Whelp the Fifth

I've discovered over the past year that my true beer loves are IPAs and Stouts.  I spent a lot of time when I first started brewing exploring all the different styles that were available to be made, and making as many as I could.

I wound up with some surprisingly awesome beers, like my caramel cream ale, and some real clunkers, like the first ESB I attempted.

But I keep coming back to my house IPA recipe.  I blogged about my first attempt at this beer, almost exactly 1 year ago.

Since then I've made it four more times - 1/22/12, 5/11/12, 7/01/12, and most recently on 11/9/12, which is the subject of this post.  This is the only beer I've brewed more than twice in almost 5 years of making beer.

Each time I've brewed it I have tweaked a few things.  The yeast, the grain bill slightly, and the hop bill.  I've settled on a really solid base grain bill:
11lb 2-row
1lb Munich
.5lb Light Crystal (carapils, crystal 15, even tried CaraRed once)
mashed around 151, fermented around 64 using American ale yeast (Wyeast 1056 or Safale S-05)

The hops are a bit more fluid, but I've found that I really like the combination of Columbus, Centennial, and Citra.  This past batch I swapped out the bittering addition of Columbus for Magnum, and that was a poor choice.

For last month's attempt, I went with the following hops:
1oz Magnum @ 60
1oz Citra @ 15
1oz Chinook @ 15
1oz Centennial @ 15

1oz Citra @ 5
1oz Chinook @ 5
1oz Centennial @ 5
1oz Citra Dry Hop
1oz Centennial Dry Hop
1oz Chinook Dry Hop

As you might imagine, that makes for some sizable hop additions to the boil, especially using leaf hops.

For scale, the purple and red glasses are either 16 or 20 oz sized, so that's a lot of hops.

In fact, it was enough hops that the boil had a greenish tint to it:

There was quite a bit left over after the boil that had to be trashed.  I have to be careful with my used hops - hops are poisonous to dogs, and my wife's dogs have yet to meet something that they didn't want to eat.

There was even a green tint to the fermenter.
 It did eventually settle out - this is after six days of fermentation - ferment is complete, and the yeast and hop particles that were transferred in have settled out to the bottom.

I've had this beer on draft for a couple weeks now, and it's just now coming into its own.  I think it'll be even better in another couple weeks.

I added an extra 8oz of base grain, and had a longer boil this time to up the gravity slightly, and I think that was a mistake.  This beer has settled in at 7.6%, which is just a bit stronger than I want in a beer I'll be drinking frequently.  The higher alcohol meant it needed a bit more time for the alcohol burn to cool off, while also allowing the dry hop additions to permeate the whole keg with their contributions.

I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but my dry hop additions usually consist of adding the hops to a sanitized hop bag, weighed down with sanitized whiskey stones, and kept in the keg for the life of the beer.  I've had a lot of success with that approach, and have kept a solid fresh hop aroma for up to 4 months (the longest a beer has lasted on draft so far).

Appearance: standard IPA look and feel - lingering thick white head, clear enough to see through, light golden color.  The head fades a bit fast right now, but I expect it to last longer as the dry hops continue to contribute.
Aroma: hops, but not quite as extreme as I'd hoped.  The 1oz of centennial I used for the dry hop had been in the freezer for quite some time, and it wasn't quite as fresh as normal.  It was the last of that batch, and I've ordered fresh for the next round.  The Citra, as always, is pronounced.  The Chinook is a bit milder than I expected, and contributes an interesting counter-balance to the Citra.  If you've ever had Arrogant Bastard from Stone, that beer only uses Chinook.  I find it adds a piney, almost peanut butter influence to both the aroma and taste of the beer.
Mouthfeel: Just about right - in that nice balance between thick and thin.  Thick enough to balance the hops, while thin enough to drink easily.  It has a slickness to it - I think that comes from the Chinook.
Taste: This is why I love this beer.  It's just so damn drinkable.  Smooth with a firm bitterness, lots of floral and citrus, with some pine and a finishing bitterness that's a bit strong.  I'm not using Magnum again for bittering - it's harsher than the Columbus I normally use, and I'm going back to that. I also am not sure I'd combine with Chinook with the Citra again.  I think the Chinook is a bit overpowered, and maybe works best on its own or with a milder hop. Finally, the alcohol burn is also a bit strong.
Overall: Another IPA that I'm happy to have on draft.  It'll last 3-4 months, and I'll make another version of it, and I'm already excited about that.  Each time I brew this beer I refine my recipe a bit more, and I get excited about all the potential opportunities I still have with this beer.  Next time I'm going to switch the chinook out for something like Cascade or Centennial, and the Magnum back to Columbus, while bringing the ABV back under 7%.

This is the beer I'm proud to call my house beer, and I always love it.

It tastes even better when my lovely wife hand delivers a glass of it.

12-12-12 Bottling Day

It's been almost a year since I brewed up the 12-12-12 Wee Heavy.

It spent from 4/14/12 - 11/03/12 in an oak barrel, and then the month of November in my kegerator.

The original intent of this beer was for a bunch of us on the homebrewtalk forums to all brew a similar recipe, and then swap bottles of a beer one year later.  The ultimate goal was for all of us to share each others beers on 12-12-12, and then provide feedback.

I don't think the 12-12-12 date is going to be hit, as I just shipped out my bottles yesterday (12/07), and I don't know if my trading partners have shipped theirs yet.

But that's ok - if their beers are anything like mine, a 12% ABV beer with this much sweetness is not something I want to drink multiple glasses of in a night.

Anyway, when it came time to get the beer bottled to do a swap, I figured I might as well just bottle the entire keg, and free up the spot on my kegerator for something I'll want to drink a bit more frequently.

My bottling setup is pretty low tech.  I've got a machined metal piece that fits securely in my perlick taps, which I picked up on the forums as well.

This is then fitted tightly into a length of 1/4" food grade tubing, with a plastic racking cane at the other end.  You can see there's a rubber stopper on the racking cane - that's used to form a seal on the top of the bottle.  Assembling the piece and the cane together took some work - I had to actually boil the tubing to get it flexible enough to hold both pieces.  I wound up doing this because my initial attempt at this used 5/16" tubing, and the pieces would pop apart under pressure.

Basically, my process begins when I sanitize everything - bottles, caps, capper, the bottling wand, even the tap - and set up a station next to my kegerator.  I fill the bottles inside a large Tupperware container to handle any potential spills and to have a sanitary surface to work in.  I have a glass pitcher full of sanitizer that the wand sits in between rounds, as I only fill and cap 8 bottles as a time.  To fill a bottle, I have the tap shut off and I put the bottom of the racking cane in the bottom of the bottle.  I then slide the rubber stopper down the cane to create an airtight seal at the top of the bottle, and turn on the tap.  I burp the stopper up during the filling to release the pressure, but this process keeps the beer from foaming in the bottle, and reduces the amount of oxygen introduced while bottling.

All told, it takes about 10 minutes to sanitize 8 bottles, drain the sanitizer out, fill, cap, and set up for the next round.  I was able to get 33 bottles of the Wee Heavy bottled.  I probably drank about 6 bottles worth, lost at least half a dozen in evaporation while in the barrel, and lost a few more bottles during the numerous transfers this beer went through:
Fermenter -> Keg -> Oak Barrel -> Keg

This is a crazy beer.  The first few glasses I had, I wasn't sure I liked it.  It has a heavy sherry and boozy flavor from the barrel.  This is due to a combination of oxidation in the barrel, and the booze flavors it picked up from the barrel itself.

But the beer grew on me - it's unlike anything else I've ever had.  It finishes a bit sweeter than I'd like, and I don't think I'll ever want a full bottle just to myself.  But I'm glad I made it - it was one hell of an experiment, and I know a lot more about doing something like this if I ever choose to again.

I'll throw up another post in a couple weeks with a side by side tasting of mine vs. the others I traded with.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Raven's Milk Stout

One of the great things about being an avid homebrewer is having the ingredients on hand for when you feel like a sudden brew.  At the end of October I was in just such a position - I had a whole Saturday laid out in front of me where I had no plans, and it seemed like a perfect opportunity.  I had yeast, grains, hops, everything I would need.

Unfortunately, with zero plans made, I also hadn't considered what I wanted to make.  Do I need something hoppy?  No, two of the five beers on draft were hoppy.  A wheat? No, I still had some of the Orange Wheat left.

What then?  Oh, I have some roasted barley.  Oh, and some chocolate malt.  Yeah, a stout!  Let's do a stout.

Searching for inspiration, I started poking around, looking for a popular stout recipe to use as my base.

After a few minutes, I discovered Deception Cream Stout, a milk stout recipe.  Perfect!  Let's start brewing.

I run outside and get 4 gallons of water on the burner to come up to temp.  I come back inside and start examining the recipe more closely.

Hmmm... a milk stout with lactose sugar?  With the sweetness of that, I bet some flaked oats would go well in that.  So I grabbed a pound of flaked oats.  Next, I snagged my chocolate malt and started weighing it out, only to discover I only had half a pound while the recipe called for .75 pound. Ok, no problem - I had some Pale Chocolate malt, so I grabbed half a pound of that.  Then I grabbed my bag of roasted barley... only to discover I only had 3 ounces.

This was a problem I could not solve.  With the dark grains already chosen, I was committed to a dark beer.  But without the roasted barley, I couldn't make a very good stout.


I considered my options.

I swore a bit.


I shut off the burner and drove to the local homebrew store.

An hour later, armed with my newly acquired roasted barley (and Wyeast 1084 Irish Ale yeast) I set about making myself a Saturday afternoon stout.

From that point on, it was a fairly standard brew day.  The cooler weather meant that the hose water was running closer to 50 degrees, which definitely helped cool the beer quickly using my immersion chiller.  Due to that, and the fact that I had the brewing setup ready to go when I got back, I was done in about 4.5 hours, which is pretty close to optimal.  As an aside, at my absolute fastest I still need:
1. 30 minutes to set up and heat the strike water
2. 60 minutes to mash the grains
3. 10 minutes to drain the mash
4. 10 minutes to add the sparge water and let it sit
5. 10 minutes to drain the sparge water
6. 30 minutes to get the wort to boiling
7. 60 minutes to boil
8. 30 minutes to cool, get into a carboy, and clean up

So, bare minimum, I'm looking at 4 hours to brew, and I was done in 4:30.  I was pretty happy with that.

From there I fermented at 62, and kegged after a week.

I've had this beer on draft since this past weekend, and it's a gorgeous creamy stout.

Aroma:  Roasty, but not overpowering.  I feel like I get a hint of oatmeal, but it could all be mental. Still a little young (I brewed this beer 11 days ago).
Appearance: Gorgeous.  Deep brown/black, pleasant tan head.  Head retention is not very good, though.
Taste: Smooth.  Not sweet, but smooth.  Rich with a lot of flavor, but not heavy.  Nice roasty flavor up front, with a pleasant and lightly sweet aftertaste.  Leaves you wanting more.
Body: Just right.  I was worried when it finished at 1.016 that it might be a bit thick, but it works well.  Thick enough to know you are drinking a stout, without being too heavy. Extremely drinkable.
Overall:  The more I drink of this beer, the more I want.  It's a solid, solid beer.  Very glad I spent the extra money on the roasted barley and the yeast.  This one is getting made again.  I keep coming back to the word "drinkable".  At 6% and smooth, it's very easy to have a couple pints. If you like dark beers, you'll like this beer.

Final Recipe (5.5 gallons):
7.0lb 2-Row Malt
1.5lb White Wheat Malt
1.0lb Caramel 60 Malt
1.0lb Flaked Oats
0.5lb Chocolate Malt
0.5lb Pale Chocolate Malt
0.5lb Roasted Barley
0.5lb Lactose Sugar (added near the end of the boil)

1.5oz Challenger Hops (60min)

Wyeast 1084 Irish Ale yeast

Brewed: 10/27/12
Kegged: 11/03/12
Tasting: 11/08/12
OG: 1.062
FG: 1.016
ABV: 6.1%
IBU: 23.1


Apologies for the delay since my last post.  I recently switched jobs, and that has taken most of my focus until very recently.  Over the past few weeks I've been able to devote some time to my beers, and here's where things stand:

1. Keezer: The keezer itself is awesome.  The only mod I've had to do is that I switched out the large fan I had in there for a smaller computer fan, so it was quieter and drew less power.

Of the five beers I initially had in my Keezer, I only have two left.  The Chocolate IPA (see below) and the Orange blossom mead aged on vanilla beans.  My IPA kicked earlier this week, my Orange Wheat got bottled off, and my Oktoberfest donated to the office.  I've recently racked the Wee Heavy out of its oak barrel and put it on draft, and I'll get a write-up on that soon.  I also brewed a milk stout last weekend that's already on draft, and I'll have a write-up on that as well.  The IPA just kicked, and I haven't replaced that yet.

2. Competition: This week is the deadline for the FOAM Cup, Tulsa's annual homebrew competition.  I entered 3 beers last year, and my Caramel Cream ale bronze medaled.  This year I've entered five beers:
a. Impudent Whelp IPA - essentially the same beer as the link, but a more recent version dry-hopped with Citra.  This has become my house beer - I love my IPA, and it's well received by the people who try it.
b. Orange Wheat - a beer I made in June for a 4th of July party, which was a pretty standard American Wheat beer but with  Cascade hops and the zest of two whole oranges at the end of the boil.  It was a crowd pleaser, which is why I entered it even though it wasn't a very complex recipe.
c. BarleyWine - I need to get a write-up done for this beer, but it's a barleywine I made last year based on this recipe, which spent 4 months in my oak barrel.  It's a crazy beer, around 13% ABV, thick and oaky and boozy.
d. Breakfast of Champions Stout - this beer has aged very well, and I'm proud of it.  It might do very well.
e. Caramel Cream Ale - this year's version of the beer that medaled last year, with a different yeast.  I'll probably make a third version of this beer sometime in the next few months, and I'll give it the writeup it deserves at that time.

3. Beers that didn't get a full write-up that I've brewed:
a) Chocolate IPA (mentioned above): I took the recipe for The Shinning and made a few tweaks - I dropped the roasted barley, but added 8oz of Caramel 120 and 8oz of Chocolate Rye to the grain bill.  On the hop side, I used Chinook and Columbus in the boil, and dry-hopped with Simcoe.  It's a weird beer.  Just... weird.  Has a nice hop flavor combination, but it's a bit heavy, and the spicyness from the Rye just doesn't quite fit.  A fun, change of pace beer, but it's not one of my best.
b) Fresh Hop - my dad grew hops in his garden this year.  We had Cascade, Columbus, and Centennial.  I am still learning when to pick them, unfortunately.  I used them as both boil and dry hops on a beer, and it did not turn out well.  I think the dry hop is where I went really wrong - I threw whole fresh hops in the beer for two weeks (a normal dry-hopping time), but I think it was way too long as the hops were still moist from the vine.  It extracted a very vegetal asparagus-like aroma and flavor, which I hate.  I've moved this beer into an oak barrel to let it age, and I'll see if I can save it.  Unfortunately the flavor and aroma just wasn't quite right, and I wonder if it's because I included hops that may not have been quite right?  I honestly don't know.

4. Upcoming brews: I expect to brew quite a bit before it gets too cold - I've brewed the last two weekends, will definitely brew this weekend, and hope to get another couple batches in by the end of the year.  I need an IPA to replace the one that kicked recently, I want to brew up an ESB, and I'd like to lager a Marzen over the winter.

I love creating these recipes, and I can't wait to see what I come up with next.  I hope someone out there finds this interesting as well.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Keezer Build

As a frequent homebrewer, I found that I had managed to outgrow my two-tap mini fridge kegerator in the 2 years since I built it.  Since I brew 1-2 times a month, that meant that I had to have (at least) monthly bottling sessions to bottle off what was currently on top to make room for the new stuff.  This was time consuming, and frustrating for both my friends and myself.  "Hey, where'd that good beer from last month go, and what's this crazy thing you've got on tap now?!?!"

So, with that admittedly weak justification, I set off to build myself a five tap keezer (kegerator in a freezer).

Very important first step: Get the wife's permission.  Very important.  Don't forget this step.  I found that persistence pays off, but your mileage may vary :)

Having secured that, I started by measuring deep freezers to make sure I'd have enough room for six kegs.  My goal was to have 5 on draft, and room for a sixth to lager.

I found that my pin-lock kegs have a diameter of 9", so I started looking for freezers that were at least 18" deep and 27" wide.  I found one at Lowe's, a 12.9 cu ft Frigidaire that they had on sale. I didn't care how tall it was, because I knew I'd be adding a wooden collar to it.  This wooden collar sits in between the body of the freezer and the lid.  The taps themselves are drilled through the wood, so that you don't destroy the freezer (as the freezer's cooling coils are in the front wall).

What follows is the work that I wound up doing in order to wind up with the keezer you see above.

1. Take the lid off, and remove the seal.

I put a nail into the hinges on the back of the freezer to prevent them from flying open, and used a ratchet screwdriver to take the hex screws out of both the top and the bottom of the freezer hinge on the back.  Once the lid was free, I took a screwdriver and popped off all the clips that were securing the seal to the lid, and the plastic top to the lid.  You can see here that a keg sitting on the compressor shelf is just a little bit too tall for the freezer in its original condition.
The lid's plastic underside and the seal, set to the side.

2. Paint the lid with chalkboard paint.

I knew that I wasn't going to want to invest in whiteboard or chalkboard tap handles for five taps, and I really liked the look of chalkboard paint.  A quick trip to Lowes later, and I had sandpaper, priming paint, and a quart of chalkboard paint.

Part of the problem with chalkboard paint is that it requires a smooth surface, but the freezer lid had a dimpled surface.  I started by sanding it down as best as I could with a rough grit (60), which turned out to be a very time intensive process.  Unfortunately after quite a bit of sanding, I still had not reduced the dimpling entirely down.  Still, I moved forward with primer paint.

I let that sit overnight, then applied the first coat of chalkboard paint.

This is where I made my first mistake.  I used a standard paint roller, and it left a "spackle" style surface.  You all know the type - the bumpy surface on walls in a house.  As it turns out, I needed a high density foam roller, which I eventually discovered after a significant amount of searching online.  So, yet again, it was time to sand.  This time I used a finer grit (220) in an attempt to get the surface as smooth as possible.

After another day of letting the paint dry, then sanding, I took the foam roller and applied several coats to the surface, and set it aside.  I wound up using the entire quart of the chalkboard paint just on the lid, which means I may have used too much.

3. Prepare the boards for the collar.

I wanted a dark collar, approximately 8" high, and made out of 1x8 wood.  I came to these measurements by looking at how much additional space I would need to fit kegs with clearance on top of the compressor shelf, and by the assumption that I wouldn't want 2" thickness because of the additional weight it would add.

I picked up some Aspen wood and cut it into a frame shape.

Next, I took a jigsaw and cut out a 2.5" x 2.5" inch hole in the front piece so that I could mount a digital thermometer. I then stained the wood with a dark mahogany stain.  I really like the look this gave the wood.

After letting that dry for a day, I applied polyurethane to the boards to seal them.  This is where I made my second and third mistakes.  The second mistake was that I should have sanded down the boards after I stained them, as the stain raised the grain slightly.  The other mistake was that I used too much polyurethane, and I didn't notice where it ran down to the underside of the board and pooled.

To correct both of these mistakes, I took some 220 grit (fine) sandpaper and gave the whole boards a wet sand.  I also took a razor blade and sliced off the bumps where the poly had pooled.  Once that was done, I applied a final coat of polyurethane.

Once that had dried, I took a couple pieces of paper and built a guide for where the taps would go.  I wound up placing the taps in the exact vertical center, shifted slightly to the right horizontally (to make room for the thermometer), and spaced exactly 4" apart.  Once I had measured and marked my guide, I drilled pilot holes at the center location for each spot.  I followed that by using a 7/8" hole bit, using my pilot holes as guides.  One thing I found that helped was to go about halfway through from one side, then flip the board over and meet in the middle from the other side.  This prevents it from exploding the board outward when you punch all the way through.

4. With my boards prepared, I need to frame them up.  I wound up using the base of the freezer itself to make sure I had the correct positioning.  I used a strong professional grade sealant to make the seals, and then clamped the boards together to cure overnight.  I also screwed in corner brackets in each corner to make sure the corners stayed square.

Once that had dried, I placed the collar on the underside of the freezer lid and repeated the process, gluing the plastic underside of the freezer lid to the top of the freezer and the freezer lid to the collar.  I made my next pair of mistakes here - I should have made sure the chalkboard paint had fully dried before I did this, and I also should have used bigger boards on the top side of the freezer as locations for the clamps.  What these two mistakes caused was a slight pinching of the two sides of the freezer lid together, and the chalkboard paint on the top stuck to the boards I used under the clamps, causing some imperfections on the paint when I popped the boards off.
From there, I bought foam insulation and cut it to fit the inside.  I secured the insulation in place on each side with the same glue, and clamped them into place.  I also mounted a small digital thermometer that measured temperature and humidity to the hole on the front, securing it with glue.  

You can also see here the hole in the back of the lid where the power for the fan and the probe for the temperature control will be run.

Once that had dried, and the freezer lid was secured to the collar, I ran a bead of silicon caulk around all of the seals.  This meant everything from where the foam met the wood to where the wood met the freezer lid.  As that was drying, I located the seal that I'd originally taken off the freezer lid and secured it to the underside of the collar I'd built, essentially turning the whole thing into a large freezer lid.

5. Affix the taps and run the lines.

I found that it was easier to run the lines with the lid off, as it kept me from working while upside down.  So I took the 5 Perlick 525 SS faucets and the 3.25" stainless steel shanks I bought from Farmhouse Brewing Supply and screwed them into location.  The 7/8" holes I had drilled allowed for a squeaky tight fit - I had to actually thread the shanks through to get them through the holes, and they secured tightly into place.

Next, I picked up 30 feet of 3/8" inner diameter vinyl tubing, and cut it into six foot sections.  I secured one end of each piece to the tailpiece of each shank, and held it into place with a 1/4" hose clamp that I tightly screwed down.  I ran each line across the top of the underside of the lid, and secured them to the back of the lid with a pair of O-rings and a velcro strap running between them.  Basically I created a velcro loop to hold them against the back, which keeps them out of the way when opening and closing the lid.  The other end of each of the lines was secured to a barbed pin-lock liquid post, and again secured with hose clamps.

On the gas side, I already had a 5 gallon CO2 tank and regulator, but I needed a six port manifold.  This was so that the one tank could keep all six kegs carbonated and at serving pressure.  Technically I only needed 5, but I decided to get the sixth port in case I ever wanted to add a sixth tap.

Again, Farmhouse came through for me with the necessary parts, and I hooked up the manifold to my regulator using the gas hose I bought from them at the same time.  Then I hooked five feet of gas line to each of the six barbed check valves and hooked the other end to barbed gas-in pin-lock posts.  As before, I secured both ends tightly with hose clamps.

Now that I had the gas and liquid lines ran, I re-attached the lid to the freezer itself.  Essentially I just flipped it over to be upright, set it on the freezer, and re-attached the hinges.  The weight of the lid was holding the seal onto the freezer body appropriately, and it all aligned flush.

6. Finish up.

I mounted a temperature controller to the side of the collar, and ran the probe through the hole in the back.  I also ran power in through this hole to a fan, designed to keep the air flowing throughout the freezer (keep a consistent temperature between top and bottom).  I mounted the fan to the rear of the collar using a L-shaped shelving bracket, so that it was suspended out and pointed down.

I also taped the probe from the temperature controller to a bottle of water. This was so that the temperature controller wouldn't cycle as frequently.  I wanted to make sure the compressor didn't burn out, and the water bottle would allow the controller to not read temperature changes quite as quickly - thus not turn on and off as much.

Next, I took some heavy duty double-sided adhesive tape and mounted three more mounting brackets to the front of the freezer, under the taps.  Part of the reason I only spaced the taps 4" apart originally was so that the total width was 16", and would be compressed together enough that I could use my existing 19" drip tray under them.  I secured the drip tray to the shelving brackets using velcro on both side.

While this was going on, I took a keg and filled it with sanitizer.  I then ran sanitizer through each of the taps, running out anything that would have gotten into the lines.

Finally, I took a piece of chalk and "seasoned" the chalkboard paint by running the chalk across all of the paint.  I let that sit for a few minutes, then took the eraser and erased as much as I could.  This also served to give the top an even appearance, and have the chalk dust compress into some of the crevices caused by my imperfect paint job.

7.  Enjoy.

I had a keg cold from my old kegerator, so I moved it over, hooked it up, and poured myself a beer to celebrate.  I'd earned it.

Lessons learned (things I could have done better):
1. Take your time.  I tried to get everything done in one week, and I really should have given the paint and polyurethane more time to dry.  Due to my impatience, I wound up with some imperfections.
2. The right tool for the job is very important.  I wound up cutting the wood for the collar with a jigsaw, because that's all I had.  This caused very uneven cuts, and I had to spend a lot of time sanding it down.
3. Don't buy a thermometer sight unseen.  What I really should have done is gotten one with a temperature probe that was separate.  This one is all one piece, with vents on the inside that I assumed would read the internal temperature.  But, where it's mounted reads about 10 degrees too warm.  I'm guessing this is due to the ambient room temperature where it's exposed to the monitor face, even though there's no air vent on that side.
4. Give plenty of thought to where you're going to mount everything before it's too late.  The kegerator is now completed, and foam sealed all the way around, but I didn't make a spot to attach the CO2 manifold and I did a poor job of mounting the fan - it should be more centered to help with airflow.
5. Read the right way to do it BEFORE you do it.  I should have done a better job reading about staining and polyurethaning.  With that said - I was able to find a ton of tutorials online that helped me clean up my mistakes.

Even with these minor issues, I'm proud of what I built.  The wife was even impressed.  I believe her exact comment was "Wow!  It even looks professional!"  A buddy of mine came over, not knowing I'd built it, and stopped talking in mid-sentence to just stare at it.  That was a pretty cool feeling.

I spent a chunk of change on this build, but I firmly believe the enjoyment and educational value I've already gotten out of it was well worth it.  The techniques and tools I learned while making this will pay off in a number of other projects around the house.  Plus, I feel I should be able to more than recoup my investment if I ever decide to sell it.  This is by far the biggest project I've ever undertaken around the house, and it took a good 30+ hours of manual labor to see it through (not to mention the 10+ hours tracking down parts, techniques, and figuring out my design).

Worth it.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Breakfast Stout

This post is a little late.  I'd saved the revision instead of posting it, so apologies for posting it a month late.

Every now and then I decide to make a batch that isn't my own recipe.  I do this because I want to see if I can, or because I can't get that beer here, or even simply to save money.

I've been craving a nice stout, and I hear all the time about how awesome Founder's Breakfast Stout is as a beer.  Unfortunately, we don't get Founders distributed in Oklahoma.  But something about the flavor combination from oatmeal, chocolate, and coffee sounded amazing to me, and it sounded like an excellent recipe to try and build from.

First thing I did was track down a clone recipe.  Once again, HBT came to the rescue. (I love that site).

Starting from there, I wound up getting quite a bit of interest in this beer from a coworker of mine, Andrew.  A fellow brewer, he volunteered to split it with me.  We agreed to meet up at my house and give it a shot.

Now, logistically, this beer posed more problems than any batch I had previously done.  Per the recipe, it's supposed to be well over 8% ABV - a big beer by any definition.  That would be fine if I was doing a 5 gallon batch - I've made bigger beers than that using my 10 gallon mast tun.  But, in order to split the batch with Andrew, we quickly determined we would need two mash vessels.  So, I MacGuyvered the hell out of that and used my hot lauter tun (7 gallon pot) as a second mash tun:

Here you can see the 10 gallon rubbermaid completely full, as well as the 7 gallon HLT being sparged.

This, quite frankly, was a nightmare.  Trying to shuffle the times so that we could be mashing one while sparging the other, and splitting the grain semi-equally between the two, all while trying to get a high efficiency?  It was a real pain.  Not something I want to try to do again.

On top of that, we tried to speed through this batch due to some prior commitments, and thus we had to cap the boil at 90 minutes.  I really wanted to boil longer, and so I collected a bit too much from the second runnings, which diluted the gravity even further.  Why'd I do this?  Because, as always, I'm a moron.  Not to mention that there's a chance I was drinking while brewing.  Hypothetically.

Still, a crazy interesting beer.  There was a large number of boil additions, seen here:

That's 8oz of hops, 4oz of ground coffee, and 8oz of Cocoa Powder.

Yeah, that's how I roll.

Due to the inefficiencies I introduced in my split mash, we wound up with a significantly lower original gravity than I'd hoped for: 1.073, as opposed to somewhere in the 80s.  In addition, I wound up collecting close to 6 gallons of wort for my half of the batch, which was about .5gal more than I really had a use for.

With a beer this big, yeast is key.  Knowing this, we approached it two ways.  For Andrew's batch, he pitched two 11.5g packets of S-04, an English ale dry yeast.  On my side, I pitched directly on top of a yeast cake of Wyeast 1728 Scottish ale yeast.  In both cases, we wanted to make absolutely sure we had a large population of viable cells.

With the amount I collected, as well as the high OG, I set up a blowoff tube to make sure I didn't have any issues during fermentation:
As it turned out, this wasn't a necessary step.  Potentially due to the oils in the cocoa powder, I never had a very high krausen, and so the tube went unused except for C02.  Still, better safe than sorry.

After 3 weeks in primary, I racked to a 5 gallon corny keg.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get all of the beer out, and wound up leaving somewhere around .5 gallons behind, even after completely filling the corny.

You can see the large amount of trub on the bottom of the carboy.  This is a combination of the large yeast cake, as well as some of the grounds from the coffee and cocoa powder making it through my boil filter.

Having recently put this on draft, I have to say I'm thrilled with how it turned out.  It has an amazing coffee nose, but a sweet and smooth taste.  Very little alcohol burn, which is awesome for a 7.7% ABV beer.

This isn't Founder's breakfast stout, that's for sure.  This is due to a lower OG, a lower FG, the use of cocoa powder instead of what I suspect to be the use of nibs on their side, and the profound coffee in mine.  I have to believe mine has significantly stronger coffee aroma, due most likely to the 1lb addition of Belgian Kiln Coffee malt, as well as potentially due to the brand I used.

But that's just fine.  This is a beer I'm proud to have on draft.  Any dark beer fan will like this one, and that's all that I care about.

Appearance: Black as night.  Evocative of motor oil.  Thick, pleasant head.
Aroma: Coffee, with a hint of chocolate.  Very complex, roasty, intense.
Mouthfeel: Thick, but not heavy.  Surprisingly balanced.  The oats give it a nice creaminess.
Taste: There's hop bitterness, but it balances the sweetness of the beer very well.  Coffee is very strong, and I can't really get the chocolate.  Very much a COFFEE stout, but it hits all the standard stout flavor notes.
Overall:  Love this beer.  I'll make it again, but will cut down on the coffee.  I'm also toying with adding some vanilla beans instead of the chocolate.  For a bit, strong, beer, it's very drinkable.

Final recipe (11.5 gallons):
30lb 2-row
3lb flaked oats
2lb chocolate malt
1.5lb roasted barly
1.13lb black patent malt
1lb belgian kiln coffee malt
1lb caramel 120 malt

4oz Nugget (12%) @ 60min
2oz Willamette (4.7%) @ 30min
1oz Willamette (4.7%) @ 1min
1oz Fuggles (4.0%) @1min

8oz cocoa powder (15min)
4oz Ground Philz Ether coffee (5min)

OG: 1.073
FG: 1.015
ABV: 7.7%
IBU: 69.5

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Trying to save a poorly pitched beer

Even though I've only been brewing for a few years, I like to think I'm pretty good at this.

That's what makes nights like this so humbling.

Story time!

I made an Oktoberfest back in April.  It spent about 2 weeks in primary before I transferred it to a keg for lagering, on April 28th.  I left the yeast cake in the carboy, and stashed in a dark closet.

3 weeks later, this past Sunday, I brewed up an interesting beer that I thought would go well on top of that lager yeast cake, and I pitched it directly on top of it.  I gave it a shot of oxygen, cooled it down into the lower 50s, and threw it in my fermentation chamber.

This was 4 days ago, on Sunday.

After two days without any signs of fermentation, I started to get a bit nervous.  I've only made a few lagers, but I usually at least see a couple bubbles from the airlock, or the beginning of a krausen layer on the top.  But I wasn't seeing anything at all.  I ramped the temp up a few degrees into the mid-50s and waited another day.

Yesterday, I still wasn't seeing any signs of fermentation, so I dropped my hydrometer directly into the carboy just to see if the yeast was working, but working surreptitiously.  No such luck - the hydrometer sat right at 1.060, which was exactly what the original gravity was when I pitched four days ago.  I ramped up the temp a few more degrees, shook the carboy to try and get some yeast into suspension, and let it sit one more day, until today.

Tonight I came home, and still no signs of fermentation.  The hydrometer is still sitting right at 1.060.  I pulled a sample, and sure enough, it's still just sugar water.

So - here's where I have to have faith in my sanitation techniques.  After four days, without a yeast colony eating the sugars and creating alcohol, it's an environment that's been ripe for bacteria and wild yeast.

I didn't want to write the batch off entirely.  But I have to believe that 3 weeks at room temperature killed my lager yeast cake, based on the fact that it doesn't appear to be making beer.  Filing that information away as an important safety tip (thanks Egon!), I decided to try and rack the wort off the lager yeast and onto some ale yeast.  It just so happens that I have a yeast cake of S-05 ale yeast that I'd used for an IPA recently sitting around, so I racked on top of that.

I tried to leave as much of the lager yeast in the original carboy as possible, and tried to just bring over the wort, but I know I wasn't 100% successful.  So I'm trying to ferment this bad boy as close to 60 degrees as I can.  That'll be on the low end of the tolerable range of the ale yeast, but won't be significantly out of the range of the lager yeast.  The goal here is that if any of the lager yeast did survive, I don't want them reproducing and creating off flavors in this beer.

To be frank, I did several things wrong here.  The first was letting the lager cake sit at room temperature for three weeks without feeding it any fresh wort to keep it viable.  The second was not having spare lager yeast on hand to pitch on top when I first started to suspect I had a problem two days ago.  The third was using a yeast cake in the first place - you bring along whatever extra trub was left over from previous batches, as well as what's usually too much (or in this case, too little) yeast.

But, it's a hobby.  If this batch goes kaput, I'm only out about $20, plus the time it took to make it.  I can live with that.

Still.  I really hope I can salvage this batch.  At this point, my primary concerns are that something got into it and it's already too late, or that the lager yeast that got racked over will contribute off flavors.

I'll probably know more in a week or two.  Until then, wish me luck.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Bulk costs, cheap homebrew, and getting started

At this point, one of the biggest expenditures I have for my homebrew is yeast.  It costs me about $6 per Wyeast smack pack, which is what I use for most of my batches.  But when I can reuse that yeast, it makes homebrew pretty darn cheap.

For example, a blog post from 3/2 talked about how I wanted to split a batch and propagate two different yeast varieties from this batch.

Looking at the costs of that batch:
10lb Maris Otter malt, at $1.19/lb shipped from 50 pound sack: $11.90
1lb Melanoidin malt, at $1.39/lb from farmhouse: $1.39
5oz Roasted Barley, at $2.20/lb from my LHBS: $0.69
.5oz Challenger hops, at $3.56 / 4 oz from farmhouse: $0.45
1oz Glacier hops, at $1.65/oz from my LHBS: $1.65
1 pack Wyeast 1728: $6
1 pack Wyeast 2206: $6

I wound up with almost 6 gallons of beer for a total cost of $28.08 - and that could have been $16.08 if I'd been reusing yeast.

But - since I reused this yeast from this batch in two other batches, I can check the costs of one of those batches.

Reusing the lager yeast for an Oktoberfest that I made in April:
8lb Munich malt, at 10.29/10lb at farmhouse: $8.24
2.75lb Pilsner malt, at 1.19/lb from 50 pound sack: 3.28
.5lb Melanoidin malt, at $1.39/lb from farmhouse: $0.70
.12lb Chocolate malt, at $2.20 from the LHBS: $0.27
2oz Mount Hood, at $1.55/oz from the LHBS:  $3.10
Reused yeast: free

Total cost for 5 gallons of Oktoberfest: $15.59

Now, granted, there is some fuzzy math here.  I'm still out labor costs, water costs, and propane costs.

For the propane, I tend to average around 5 batches for each tank fill, which costs about $15.  So, lets tack on $3 a batch there.

The water costs are negligible, but lets pretend it costs $1 for the 10 gallons of water used for mash/sparge, as well as the 10 gallons (approx) that I run through the wort chiller to cool down the wort post-boil.

That's about $4 per batch in propane/water, and since I'm doing this for fun, I'll claim the labor costs are free.  Because I can.

So, reusing my yeast on a batch that has $15.59 in ingredient costs, and $4 in water/propane, I still wind up with 5 gallons of beer for under $20.  Pretty good stuff.  That's $4 a gallon, or approximately $2 a six-pack.

I'll admit there's a bit of bait and switch here.  In order to do all of this, I needed the following equipment:
Grain mill for the grain: $100
Drill to run the mill: $40
Airtight container to store the unmilled grain: $25
10 gallon rubbermaid cooler to hold the mash: $50
Propane Burner: $80
15 gallon pot with spout: $100
6.5 gallon glass carboy for fermentation: $30
Airlock: $2
Fridge for the fermentation chamber: $100
Temperature controller for the fridge: $60
Keg for the homebrew: $25
Fridge for the kegerator: $100
CO2 tank, tower for kegerator: $100

So... yeah.  It's easy to see how I'd need to make a LOT of beer to recoup that kind of investment.  But not everyone needs a kegerator.  Before I bought mine in 2010 I used to just bottle, which required a $15 bottling bucket, some sugar, some used beer bottles I cleaned, and $5 worth of bottle caps.  Easy to save several hundred right there.

Also, my initial burner and pot cost a total of $60 on amazon as part of a turkey fryer kit.  I ordered a stainless still filter and valve off eBay for under $40, and I used the pot as my mash tun initially.  I'd heat the water in the pot, add the grains to the pot, stir, cover, and let sit.  Then all I needed was a bucket to drain the wort out of the pot into, to clean the pot, and then boil the wort in the same pot.  Granted, that got annoying quick, and the second pot was one of my first investments.  I would then just ferment in a closet, without any sort of temperature control.  So, my initial investment was a $30 carboy, $2 airlock, $15 bottling bucket, $60 turkey fryer kit, $40 for valve/spout/filter, $20 bottle capper, $5 bottle lids, and the cost of the batch, which I'd let the homebrew store mill for me.  So, my first batch was under $200 total, and then each batch after that was only the ingredient costs.

The moral of the story is that once you get past your initial equipment costs, you can make cheap beer that can be better than most beer you buy in the store.

The second moral of the story is that if you're going to seriously get into the hobby, don't skimp on your initial setup.  An extra $100 up front would have gotten me a better burner, better pot, and the cooler, all of which make my brew day go a lot smoother.  I am able to re-use my initial pot, but I have an old propane burner just gathering dust in my garage.

Hopefully this is helpful if any of you out there are thinking about getting into the hobby.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Irish Red tasting and conclusions

So, as you may recall from this post, I tried an experiment where I took the same batch of beer and fermented most of it with an ale yeast (Wyeast 1728 Scottish Ale) and a gallon of it with a lager yeast (Wyeast 2206 Bavarian Lager).

It's now about a month after I kegged the ale version and two weeks after I bottled the lager version,  I'm definitely surprised by how totally different the beers became.  I wanted to write this up earlier, but the lager version was still not quite ready (green apple-y) until about two weeks ago.

I fermented the two of them together at 56 degrees in my 'fermentation chamber' (mini-fridge).  In the foreground is the ale version, the lager in the background.

It was a pretty standard ferment, after 10 days I slowly ramped the temp up into the 60s for a diacetyl rest for the lager, and then cold-crashed them both.  I kept the lager version on the yeast for about 6 weeks, and then force carbonated.  The ale version spent about 3 weeks on the yeast before being force carbonated.

I met up with a couple buddies for a side by side tasting.

The lager version is in the left front, and the ale version in the back right.  A slightly better shot of the disparity:
(Yes, we are playing D&D.  Homebrew and D&D, can't beat it.)

So, clearly, the lager version is a darker, clearer beer.  The ale version is very cloudy- after being cold-crashed for a month, I don't THINK that's still yeast in suspension, but I honestly don't know.  I can't think of what else it would be.
Head retention on both beers is pretty poor, I'm not sure why.  They are both malt BOMBS.  Not much of any hop presence.  Aroma is pure malt on both beers.

The difference between the two beers is mostly on appearance (obviously), and mouthfeel.  The lager version is just... lighter.  It's easier drinking, smoother.  The ale version is just like being punched in the mouth by malt.  Honestly, I really prefer the lager version, and I think it could do with even more aging.

Final stats on both beers:
  • OG: 1.057
  • FG: 1.012
  • ABV: 6%
  • OG: 1.057
  • FG: 1.014
  • ABV: 5.7%
Overall thoughts: This wasn't a perfect beer to begin with.  I think I overdid it with the melanoidin malt as a whole - it's just such a malt bomb, I feel like it's out of balance.  But the lager version seemed to deal with that better, as it just seemed smoother.  The ale version seemed heavy to me.  The lager was also a much prettier beer - it pours clear, with a definite reddish hue.  The ale version, even after a month on keg, continues to be a cloudy beer.  It appears brown, not red.  

So, I've learned a few things from this experiment, at least with these two yeasts.
1. Ale yeast helps emphasize flavors - including maltiness.  Lager yeast seems to help mellow it out.
2. This particular beer really fits better as a lager.  Which honestly seems counter-intuitive.  Most Irish Red recipes are for ales.  But this beer, at least my take on it, seems more like an Oktoberfest, and really benefits from the smoothness of the lager yeast and some aging.

With that said, I have no idea why the ale version is so cloudy.  I did some research on the flocculation levels of Wyeast 1728 yeasts, and I couldn't find anyone else complaining about cloudy beer.  I also don't remember it being quite this cloudy in other beers I've made with this yeast.  One of life's great mysteries, I suppose.

All in all - not a beer I'd made again without significant changes.  I'd scale back the melanoidin malt and probably even pull back the base malt to cut the ABV as well.  I'd definitely go with a lager yeast, or a different ale yeast, as I just didn't get what I wanted out of the 1728 yeast on this beer.  I don't think that's the fault of the yeast, and it may be simply a process issue on my end.

Overall - a worthy experiment, and my friends who like malty beers enjoyed it, so it's not like it's a total loss.  It's a solid beer, both versions, just not one of my personal favorites.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Update on the double Irish Red batch

I'll have a full post coming within the next week or so, but the split batch of the Irish Red was definitely a success.  I've just yesterday racked the ale version to a keg and put it on draft, need to give it a couple days to carbonate.  The lager version is still lagering in the fridge, it tasted a little green when I tried it last week.

I'll do a full writeup on the ale version shortly, and check in on the lager version while I'm at it.

Mr. T Chocolate Wheat

Ahh, Spring.  The time when a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of refreshing beers on a beautiful day.

That's how that goes, right?

Sure.  I'm going with it.

Anyway, in February I found myself craving a nice light wheat beer that would be perfect for springtime.  I knew going in that I wanted to hit some specific notes:
1. 5-6% alcohol, a nice sessionable beer
2. Citrus - lemony in particular
3. Wheat, because I hadn't made a wheat beer in a long time
4. Clean American yeast, because I'm not a fan of the banana/clove flavors that hefeweizen yeasts can provide

With those goals in mind, I started with my base American wheat beer recipe that I've used a few times before:
5 pounds wheat
5 pounds 2-row
Wyeast 1056

I then started tweaking it.  Thanks to the nice folks over at Farmhouse brewing supply, I had half a pound of Briess Midnight Wheat malt on my hands.  According to the spec sheet for this malt, it's designed to provide purely color, without a lot of flavor impact.  Since I was wanting a purely fun spring beer, I thought why not, and threw the whole half-pound in there.  Since this was about 5% of the grist, I knew that it should provide a deep dark color, and hopefully very light flavor notes.

Next, I wanted to add a bit more body to this beer.  I didn't want it to be heavy, but I wanted to balance the darker color and very basic grain bill with a bit of residual sweetness.  Toward this end, I threw in half a pound of Caramel 60 malt.

Finally, I needed to decide what hops to go with.  I had some Citra on hand, and I thought very seriously about using that.  But I realized that Citra can be an overpowering hop, and I really wanted something more delicate but still able to provide that citrusy/lemony flavor.  Checking my supplies, I found that I had 2oz of whole leaf Sorachi Ace hops.  This is a hop from Japan that is known for providing a lemony flavor, and I thought that would be perfect.  To take it up one more notch, I decided to zest a lemon in the hop bag and really emphasize that lemony aroma and flavor.

So, the final recipe:
4.5lb Wheat Malt
4.5lb 2-row Malt
.5lb Midnight Wheat
.5lb Caramel 60
.5oz Sorachi Ace (60 min)
.5oz Sorachi Ace (15min)
.5oz Sorachi Ace (5min)
Zest of 1 lemon (5min)
Wyeast 1056 yeast cake

I brewed this beer on 2/22, and my friends and I quickly settled on a name for this beer.  We have a habit of tasting the first runnings from the mash as it's the sweetest part of the wort.  It's before we start the boil and add the hops, and it can provide a good clue toward what kind of flavors you're likely to get in the finished beer.  This is something that has helped me adjust the recipe in the past, when I've realized a dominant flavor is present in the wort that I want to either emphasize or balance using the hops.

When we pulled a couple ounces of the first runnings to taste, we realized it had a chocolate tea sort of taste.  Pretty quickly, we started riffing on the idea of tea in the name, and wound up with the name Mr. T's Chocolate Wheat. I pity the fool that doesn't have some of this beer.

Other than that, brew day was pretty uneventful.  I'd never zested a lemon before, but it turned out to be a pretty straightforward process.  I took a small cheese grater and grated the outside of a cleaned lemon until the yellow peel was scraped off, leaving the white under-peel (I feel there's a word for this that I just don't know).  The peel that I grated went directly into the last hop bag.  That certainly made the brew area smell pretty awesomely of lemon.

I collected a about 5.5 gallons of 1.049 wort, which was right in the ballpark I was shooting for.  I pitched it on top of a yeast cake of Wyeast 1056, which turned out to be a very bad idea.

See, one of things I've always read when re-using a yeast cake is to only pitch beers that are stronger than the previous beer.  In other words, if you have a yeast cake from an 80 schilling, pitch a Wee Heavy on it.  Don't pitch a lighter, weaker beer on it.

But I ignored this. Mostly because I was drinking beer with my friends, and it seemed like a good idea at the time.  So I threw this 1.049 wort directly onto the yeast cake of the 7.6% IPA that had just finished fermenting in this vessel.  You can see the ring at the top where the previous krausen had dried, as well as the yeast cake at the bottom.

I came to realize my mistake two days later, when I blew the airlock clean off the top of the carboy, making quite a mess.

 But hey, I have aluminum foil, I can fix this!

See, all better.

Or so I thought.  I let it sit like that for a day, then I sanitized the airlock and re-capped it.

Only to have it blow off again the next day.


I've never seen that before in my life.  I've had explosive fermentations previously - that can happen any time you have a large volume of yeast with a large volume of available sugars for them to eat.  But I've never had a ferment that slowed down after a blow-off, but then ramped up and had the same problem again.  That was new to me.  Especially in a temperature controlled environment, like you see above.  It should never have gotten above 65 degrees.

Of course, I immediately got scared - if it blew off a second time, it may have done so because something else was eating available sugars.  Could I have gotten an infection when the airlock was blown off the initial time?

However, I believe my fears were unfounded.  When fermentation was complete a week later, I racked it into a keg - just about completely filling my 5 gallon corny keg. (Perfect!)  I had my first pull of this beer on 3/3/12, and I don't taste any off flavors.

Overall, I'm a fan of this beer, but I definitely have learned my lesson about over-pitching yeast.  I feel like the over-pitching introduced a risk of infection due to the blowoff, but it also has 'scrubbed' the beer a bit too much.  Over-pitching is known to cause thinner beer, and can muddle flavors.  In this case, I think the over-pitch took a lot of the chocolate flavor out of the beer.

Aroma: Faint citrus.  Light malt.

Appearance: Almost like a porter.  Very dark, with a bit of light able to shine through the thinnest part of the glass.  Excellent head retention.

Taste: All citrus and wheat and carbonation bite, but very balanced and mild.  Faintest hint of chocolate initially, but gets a bit more prominent as it warms. Again, a very mild beer, not at all as dominant flavor-wise as the appearance would have you believe.

Body: It has a medium body, so it's not too heavy but fairly well balanced.

Final stats:
Brewed: 2/22/12
Kegged: 3/1/12
Tasting: 3/5/12
ABV: 5.4% (1.049/1.008)
IBU: 27.4
Overall Impressions:  Solid beer, but overpitched yeast.  If I did it again, I'd add a bit more lemon, a bit less midnight wheat malt, and definitely less yeast.  I'd also hit a lower mash temp. Very appropriate spring beer, right in the sessionable range, but just a bit too heavy.  Pleasant mouth-feel, mild yet distinct flavors, well balanced. Great for pairing with a meal.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Impudent Whelp 2: The Whelpening

After my first attempt at an IPA was extremely successful, I've focused my efforts on dialing in a recipe that will truly be a 'great' beer.  In addition, minor tweaks to the recipe will help me continue to learn the effects that various recipe changes have on the beer.  As you can see from the original post, my first attempt at the recipe consisted of primarily Pilsner malt,a pound of Caramel 60, and a mixture of CTZ, Cascade, and Centennial hops.

While I LOVED that beer, I wanted to make a few changes and see how things turned out.

First and foremost, I changed the pilsner malt to standard 2-row.  I did this because 2-row is cheaper, and because I was curious how much impact the base malt would have.  As it turns out, this was a minor, yet significant, change.  More on that later.

Next, I wanted to emphasize the citrus notes even more, so I swapped out the Centennial hops for an Amarillo variety.  Amarillo is known for its grapefruit notes, which I thought would pair very will with the Cascade.

I settled on this recipe:
12lb 2-row
.5lb Caramel 60
.5lb Carapils - I swapped out half a pound of the caramel 60 for this so that I could still get the body and residual sweetness, but without the darkened color.

1oz CTZ (60 min)
1oz CTZ (15 min)
1oz Amarillo (15 min)
1oz Cascade (15 min)
1oz CTZ (5 min)
1oz Amarillo (5 min)
1oz Cascade (5 min)
1oz Amarillo (dry hop)
1oz Cascade (dry hop)

I mashed at 151 degrees, as I wanted it to be somewhat dry, but with a hint of residual sweetness to balance out the bitterness of 113 IBUs worth of hops.

Brew day was a success - I brewed this on 1/22/12 - and only had one minor hiccup. I boiled down a bit too far and wound up with an OG of 1.064 when I was shooting for 1.059 or less.  As you can see from this picture, I collected just under 5 gallons of wort and trub.  
That's not a yeast cake at the bottom, that's purely hops that carried over from the kettle.  I'm thinking I need a better filtration system :)

After 2 weeks of fermentation using Wyeast 1056 (same yeast as last time) I wound up with a pretty - if cloudy - IPA:

Having recently put this beer on draft, I can say that there are few pleasures in the world quite like a fresh IPA on draft.  I love this beer.  It's extremely close to my first pass at it, but I've learned a few more things.

1. If I'm going to use Wyeast 1056, I need to mash warmer.  This fermented all the way down to a FG of 1.008, giving me a 7.6% beer.  Normally I don't mind that, but I was specifically trying to make it weaker than my first attempt, and I actually wound up with a beer that was stronger.  Oops.

2. 2-row just doesn't have the same complexity as pilsner malt.  The balance is off on this beer, and the hops are largely the same.  It's not something that's easily noticed unless you try the beers side by side, but this attempt at it is just a shade too bitter and is missing that complementary sweetness on the finish.

3. Amarillo and Cascade is an excellent mix.  The citrusy and grapefruit aroma is amazing, and there's just a hint of 'dank' hop aroma from the CTZ hops.

So, I think I'm close to happy with my hop bill, but the malt bill needs work.  I'm thinking about 10 pounds of pilsner malt, along with .5lb each of Caramel 60 and Carapils is where I want to go, and maybe scale back the 15 minute addition of the hops to compensate for the 2 pounds of grain I'm removing.

Either way, I'm happy with this beer.  I served it recently at a friend's baby shower, and I think it convinced one person to take up homebrewing.  That's a pretty good feeling, to know that I was able to share my passion with someone else and have it make an impact on them.  I'm going to be very happy to have this on draft for the next month or two.

I just can't resist the temptation that I know, deep down, I can make it even better!

Aroma: Grapefruit, citrus, hops and more hops.  Over the top hops.  No malt smell at all while it's this young.  But, my first attempt at this IPA has developed a very malty nose as it aged past 3 months.

Appearance: Golden, not as hazy as it appears in the picture above.  A pretty beer, with good head retention.

Taste: Smacks you in the mouth with bitterness, but quickly fades into a bouquet of hops.  Very hoppy, very IPA-ish.  Out of balance, as referenced above.  It's tough to pick out individual flavors, as it's just so... much.  I like that in an IPA, personally, but it's not for everyone.

Body: Dry, which is appropriate for an IPA.  You want to be thirsty almost immediately after you finish drinking it, which this does perfectly.  Still, it needs just a BIT more malt backbone.

Final stats:
Brewed: 1/22/12
Kegged: 2/7/12
Tasting: 3/1/12
ABV: 7.5% (1.064 / 1.008)
IBU: 113.3
Overall impressions:  Solid beer, slightly out of balance on the hoppy side, needs to be a bit weaker ABV-wise and have a bit stronger malt presence.  With that said - extremely drinkable, and won't last long on draft.  I just have to be careful drinking more than one of these on a work night.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Irish Red Experiment - Ale and Lager

I'm wanting to try an experiment.

It being March, I feel it's time to brew up a nice bock/Oktoberfest for the fall.  I'm a big fan of letting a lager condition for many months before drinking it.

The trick with lagers is that I need to propagate my yeast.  In other words, I need more yeast than a standard smack pack will give me at pitching time in order to brew the best possible beer.

Toward that end, I'm wanting to create something small that I can use to grow my yeast.

Something I've never had the chance to do is split a batch of beer and ferment it with two different yeasts.  I'm wondering if I can't take this opportunity to do just that - ferment 4-5 gallons of a batch with an ale yeast, while splitting off a gallon to step up my lager yeast.

First thing I need to is find a lager yeast and an ale yeast that can ferment at the same temperature, ideally somewhere in the 50's.  This is because I only have a single mini-fridge that can be devoted to fermentation, so both vessels will need to sit side-by-side at the same temperature.

I'm leaning toward Wyeast 2206 (Bavarian Lager) as my lager yeast, as it's safe up to 58 degrees, but I could easily use Wyeast Oktoberfest 2633 again - it worked very well for an Oktoberfest last year.

On the ale yeast side I have a bit of flexibility, but I'm leaning toward Wyeast 1728 Scottish ale yeast.  I've used this strain before with great success, and it ferments as low as 55 degrees cleanly.

Now that I've got that sorted out, I need to pick a recipe that will work well both as a lager and an ale.  To be honest, I don't really care if the lager portion turns out as well, since it'll be less than a gallon and primarily just as a yeast starter.  Still - if I'm going to make the effort, I might as well give it my best shot.  No point in wasting good potential beer!

My initial thoughts are to brew something that is European, with English hops and clean, crisp flavors.  I think that is a nice safe range that would really help accentuate the differences between the yeasts.  This will be hard on me, since my favorite beers usually have big, bold flavors, but I'm willing to sacrifice in the name of science.  Science!

I'm thinking an Irish style red is probably my best bet here.  Malty, lightly roasty, very little hop bitterness - a very clean beer.

A base malt of Maris Otter will give me a little malt backbone.  Some roasted barley for color and roastiness, and I'm thinking a little melanoidin malt to really emphasize the maltiness would work well.  I'm thoroughly tempted to throw in a bit of the Belgian Kiln Coffee malt I have on hand, but I'm going to save that for a darker beer.

So, the recipe I'm going with (for a 6 gallon batch):
10lb Maris Otter
1lb German Melanoidin Malt
.25lb Roasted Barley
.5oz Challenger Hops (60 min) - 10 IBU
1oz Glacier Hops (15 min) - 9.2IBU
mash temp around 155 to keep some malt backbone and sweetness

The goal is to wind up with a beer around 5% alcohol and about 20IBU with a light roasty taste, red color, moderate to low bitterness and, with luck, a very light minty/English note from the Glacier hops at the end.  I haven't had the chance to brew with Glacier hops before, but they're described as a nice middle ground between Fuggle and Willamette.  Those are both traditional English hops that would be appropriate for this style, so I'm feeling pretty safe with my choice.  Challenger is a standard English bittering hop that should provide pure bitterness and not much else.

Having spent the past hour typing this up and finalizing the recipe in my head, I have to say, I'm pretty excited about this.  I could have this turned around and drinkable by April, and this sure sounds like a nice springtime beer.  I'll update once I've had a chance to brew it.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Hoppy beers and age

I had the chance recently to do an IPA tasting with a few of my drinking buddies.  I claimed this IPA tasting to be the best ever done in Oklahoma, and I feel that I might actually be able to make a case around that point.

I only need one piece of evidence:

From left to right:
Pliny The Elder - Russian River Brewing Company (California)
Hello, My Name is IPA - my Dogfish Head 90 minute clone from last January
Ruination IPA - Stone (California)
Myrcenary IPA - ODell (Colorado)
Inversion IPA - Deschutes (Oregon)
90 Minute IPA - Dogfish Head (Delaware)
Furious - Surly (Minnesota)

The lessons learned from sampling all these beers were pretty simple.

1. Fresh is better.  The 90 minute itself had aged reasonably well, but with it being well over a year old it was just syrupy sweet.  My 90 minute clone suffered from the same problem, but to a greater extreme.  There was little hop flavor or aroma left.  Conversely, the Pliny had been bottled in mid-December, and it was an amazing hoppy experience.

2. Lighter and dryer finishes are better - in our opinion.  When working through all these beers in a night, we didn't want to feel full or bloated, and the dryer finishing beers (pliny, ruination) were much more well received.  It just was a more pleasant DRINKING experience, as opposed to a 'sipping' experience.  This may have been tied to mood, or quantity, but it's something that I feel generally holds true.  I tend to reach for a barleywine or imperial stout when I'm in the mood for a sipper.

3. Roastiness just isn't a flavor we want in an IPA.  We found the roastiness in the Surly Furious to be an interesting taste, but not one that we wanted to go back to.  This could be tied to age somewhat - this particular can was probably about six months old, and the balance may have faded.

4. Bitter isn't a flavor - it's a complement.   This is directed at the Ruination.  I have had a number of Ruinations, and loved every single one.  But when it's stacked up against some of the other beers above, you lose the taste of the hops due to the overwhelming bitterness.  The Ruination name is appropriate - it really does ruin your palate.  After drinking that beer we all agreed we still love it, it just wasn't as well balanced as some of the others due to the extreme bitterness.

5.  There's a reason why Pliny the Elder is held in such high regard by the beer community.  It really is just. that. good.  The piney aromas and the well-balanced flavors and bitterness made this beer the head of the pack. 

6.  Unfortunately, the bottle of Inversion I procured appeared to have gotten infected.  It was the last of the six pack and I don't remember off flavors in any of the other bottles.  But this one definitely had some funk in it, perhaps a strain of Brett. It was a shame that we couldn't line it up against the others appropriately.

Trying to apply these lessons to my beer is easier said than done.  I already have a pretty solid base IPA, and I would like to keep it from going too extreme in any direction.  The trade-off is, most great beers are GREAT due to their uniqueness. I need to spend some time thinking what notes, if any, I would want to emphasize.

Still, there's a couple obvious lessons:  First, I should probably focus on making my beer just a bit lighter.  The pound of Caramel 60 I had used in it wound up giving it a darker color than I intended, and I feel it may have offset the hops just a bit too much.  I may switch to a pound of Caramel 40, or a blend of Carapils and Caramel 60.

Second, fresher is truly better.  I need to make sure I'm kegging/bottling my IPAs while they are at their strongest - about a month after brewing, in my opinion.  I'm also not sure I will keep as much stashed back of my future batch IPAs as I do with other beers, as the age factor renders it a far less interesting beer.

Finally, I'm thinking I need to up my late hop additions.  I'm sure I've experienced the lupulin shift at this point (where your palate gets accustomed to hops and wants more and more), but I like the big, bright hop flavors and aromas in an IPA.  I may up the bitterness to balance it and allow it hold a bit longer, but only slightly.  I want to avoid going down the road of the Ruination.

I'm glad we took the time do something like this.  The learning experience from sampling these beers side by side has taught me a lot.  Building a great IPA is definitely a challenge, and one I'm glad I've accepted.