Sunday, December 28, 2008

Lager season commences

I've gone on a few times about how I'm pretty much bound by the weather around here as to what I brew. With temps dropping down for the winter, it was time to brew a lager.

My dogs are friends with a number of dogs in our hood. One of them happens to belong to the head brewer for a pretty well known local brewery. I won't say who the brewery is, but you can probably guess it if your favorite movie is The Three Amigos, and your favorite band is Pink Floyd (Syd Barret version, of course). To make a long story short, he got a packet of hops a little while back that he couldn't really use. It was a little under three ounces of pellet hops. He gave them to me, with the stipulation that I'd give him a few to see what these hops were like. So, I give you: Three Dogs Lager:

Three Dogs Lager:

Pale Six Row- 7 lbs
Flaked Maize- 2 lbs
Cara Pils- 8 oz

Mt Hood- 1.5 oz- 60 minutes
GR Select Pellets- 2 oz- 15 minutes
GR Select Pellets- 1.875 oz- 5 minutes

Wyeast 2007- Pilsner- 1000 ml starter straight off the stir plate.

149 infusion

Gravity target/actual-

I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to do with this. Chris' brewery is known for some pretty hoppy beers (their mild would probably be called a IPA at some places), so I wanted to be sure that I brewed this in a way that would showcase the hops in a flavor/aroma sort of way. There aren't many commercial examples of the classic American Pilsner, so I wasn't too hemmed in by any classic guidelines. This is a style that German brewers started doing when they came to America, and as such they used the ingredients that they had on hand. They found lots of corn here, hence the flaked maize. Six row malt to help covert the corn. Cara pils to add some body and foam.

The brewing went pretty good. I missed my numbers for the first time in a while, but I am chalking that up to the maize. I hadn't used it much before, and never used six row, so I'm not too worried about it. It'll still have a decent amount of punch. The hops are all German in origin. The Mt Hood is a Hallertauer offshoot, and the GR Select is a low alpha acid Tettnanger hybrid. I threw everything I had in on the two final additions, so the hoppiness should jump out of this beer, because the grain is not malty at all.

I have to give an honorable mention to Kerry on this beer with her timely Christmas presents. gave me a really nice digital thermometer, and a refractometer. Really good equipment, easy to calibrate. It definitely made things easier today.

Not so nice was my discovery yesterday that my Altbier had an infection. Every bottle had a nice layer of scum forming on the top. This was a big bummer, as I had some high hopes for that recipe. Needless to say, it was a big time cleaning day today. Pretty much every brewing implement I own got a long soak in some hot PBW, with a long soak in sanitizer after. I tossed my old hoses, so I'm hoping this is a one time thing.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Biere de la Voie

I think that most people get the idea that the French are mostly effeminate snooty wine drinkers. I'm sure that unless you're a big beer fiend/brewer, most Americans are completely unaware that the French really have a beer style all their own. I confirmed this the other day at work, when I quizzed six dudes about French beer (one of whom used to bar tend).

Biere de Garde is a style that is a close cousin to the Belgian farmhouse Ales. In theory it's the beer of the miners, farmers and drunken cycling fans lining the cobblestone sections of the Paris-Roubaix. In brewing practice terms, it's an ale that is fermented at low ale temps, and then lagered (garde being the French counterpart for the German word lager) for a period of time. It's got a malty backbone that would be similar to some Belgian beers, or even the German Altbier, and the hoppiness should tend to be a bit more spicy as opposed to fruity. Like some French brewer found some two year old hops in his hayloft, and decided, what the hell, I'll use them anyway. So then:

Biere de la Voie-

Belgian Two Row Pale- 7 lbs
Vienna- 2 lbs
Munich Light- 1 lb
Crystal 40L- 3.5 oz- I had actually planned on 8 ounces, but this is what I had in stock. It was more of a coloring addition than for flavor, so no big deal.
Table sugar- 8 oz

Fuggle- 1.25 oz- 60 minutes
Mount Hood- 1 oz- 10 minutes

Wyeast 1007 German Ale- 1000 ml starter. This was what Wyeast recommends for Biere De Garde, and I happened to have it to hand, so it worked out nicely.

149/168- hot water infusion

Gravity target/actual-

Another ho hum brewday. Which is not to say that I didn't enjoy myself. Just that nothing went wrong. I nailed all my temps. I nailed my target gravity. I guess I'm going to have to start writing a little more about why I'm choosing what I am for ingredients, or else I'll have nothing to write about.

As far as the ingredients go, I pretty much went with a standard Biere De Garde grain bill list. Table sugar to dry it out a little. The yeast is not typically a high attenuator, but the low mash temp, along with the sugar should get me to 80%. I'm going to start doing a force fermentation from now on to figure out what my actual terminal gravity will be, but I didn't have the extra yeast to do so this time.

Speaking of the yeast. If you ever decide to use Wyeast 1007, use a blow off tube. I do not have one at the moment, and it went absolutely crazy with this beer, blowing the carboy cap off twice. I suppose I could have tried to harvest the yeast off my pantry floor, but it's probably not the most...ahem...sanitary place to get your brewing yeast. A true top fermenting yeast. On the bright side, our furnace died sometime Saturday night, and the yeast kept working even though the temps strayed down into lager territory. I haven't tasted a beer that I've made with this yet, but I like how it works in a technical sense.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Hohenoelsner Alt

It's a weird time of year for me as a beer brewer. I don't have the space/money/equipment to do very much as far as controlling fermentation temperature is concerned. Yeast, like probably all other biological life forms, have an optimum working temperature, and that differs from strain to strain. It's early November though, and while it's definitely colder now than a month ago, it's not quite cold enough for me to start doing lagers.

I started reading through yeast strain guides (I know. I'm strange. I suspect few people on CTA buses are reading the Wyeast catalog), and discovered that there are some German strains that are particularly well suited to cold ale temps, but don't quit working if it actually drops into lager temp territory. These beers (Koelsch, and Alt) are malt driven German barley ales. They have one hop addition at the beginning of the boil, which is particularly nice given how expensive hops are right now. So the first I'm doing is an Altbier.

Hohenoelsner Alt-

Belgian Pilsner- 5 lbs- the LHBS didn't have the full 7 pounds of German malt, so I had to substitute some.
German Pilsner- 2 lbs
Dark Munich- 1 lb
Black Patent- 4 ounces- this addition is mainly for coloring

Mt Hood- 2 ounces- 60 minutes

Wyeast 1007- German Ale- 1200 ml starter

128/149/170- infusions with a traditional decoction mash out

The grain bill itself is a standard looking recipe for a Duesseldorf style Altbier. The hops are decended from the German Hallertauer hop strain, so with that and the German yeast, this isn't too different than what you see in a Rheinland brewery that was brewing an Alt. It should make for a nice malty red colored ale.

Brewing was smooth, as it always is nowadays. I missed my gravity by .002, which I don't feel too bad about. My equipment isn't calibrated down to the quart, so it's hard to get an exact reading as to volumes in the brew kettle.

The yeast was quick to take off, and since I was using a five gallon carboy as a primary, I had to put in a blow off tube, as the starter went bucky. I've never seen so many gigantic chunks of yeast swirling around. The temperature outside dropped at just the right time, so the yeast were held perfectly at 63 degrees.

The name of the beer is named for the tiny village in Germany where I lived for a year back in 1993. It was so small that the cows would walk down the main drag when they moved from the summer pastures to the winter ones.

Monday, October 13, 2008

St Phillipe Dubbel, Part two

I was given a copy of The Brewmaster's Table recently. It's got some beautiful photography in it, but that had been about as far as I'd gotten until a week ago. We're having Thanksgiving at our house this year, and it occured to me that it would be the perfect time to start delving into food/beer pairings. And luckily for me, turkey goes best with the types of beer I've been working on brewing the most: Belgians.

My St. Phillipe Dubbel that I did a while back turned out pretty good, but needed some tinkering. I had previously said that I like the Wyeast Abbey Ale II yeast, but having brewed a few beers with it, I kind of revised my opinion. It comes from a Trappist brewery, so it's obvious that you can make good beer with it, but it seemed to bring certain flavors to the fore that I wanted in the background, and vice versa. I had said that my first Saison tasted somehow kind of thin, and I had chalked this up to the large amount of Acidulated Malt that I used, but when I did the Wedding Saison, it had that same sort of alcoholicky banana flavor right up front. They were decent, very drinkable beers, but I wanted something different.

St Phillipe, Part 2-

Belgian Pilsner Malt- 8 pounds
Vienna Malt- 1 pound
Belgian Aromatic- 8 ounces
Carapils- 8 ounces
Special B- 5 ounces
Dark Candy Sugar- 1 pound

Mt Hood- 1 ounce- 60 minutes
Crystal- 1 ounce- 15 minutes

Wyeast Trappist High Gravity- pitched right from the smack pack

128/150/167- Hot water infusions with a decoction mash out

So, the recipe itself saw some adjustments from the first St. Phillipe. The main reason was that I was able to actually procure some of the dark candy sugar as opposed to clear, so I substituted the Dark Munich malt with Vienna. The rest of the grains were pretty close, with an extra ounce of Special B. The hops were the same type, but I added an extra quarter ounce of Mt Hood at the 60 minute mark. The yeast is new, and for the first time, I didn't use any sort of starter. Mainly because I completely forgot to. I had read that some Belgian brewers underpitch on purpose, as it gives them some esters that they wouldn't get with the proper amount, so I will have to see how that goes. Again, this beer was done for Thanksgiving, so it'll be two weeks in the primary, two in the secondary, and three in the bottle to condition. It's not as long as I'd like to have it in the bottle before initial consumption, but time was short. I can't wait to see how this one ages, and be able to do a side by side tasting with the first version.

Brewing for me now is basically at the point where I don't need to spend too much time on the technical aspects of the brew day, which is nice. This one went so smoothly that I was able to paint our picnic table while I was brewing. And I still nailed my starting gravity exactly.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Bugs in the brewhouse

That's right. I've got bugs in my brewhouse. No, this isn't a sort of Monday Night Brewery standard operating procedure type infection. I brewed me up a wild beer.

My lovely wife is, both fortunately and unfortunately, not a fan of beer. She is, however, a big fan of Framboise, specifically of the Lindemann's variety. Given that my beer brewing addiction has essentially consumed my waking thoughts for over a year now, I decided to brew something that she might like as well.

The deeper I delve into Belgian brewing, the more smitten I become. I just finished reading Wild Brews by Jeff Sparrow, and it was another eye opener. As he says in the book, this sort of brewing isn't a product of a throw it in a fermenter under unsanitary conditions and let it ferment sort of idea. It's artistic, calculated, and harrowing all at the same time. Especially when you consider that it's going to be at least a year before what you brew is drinkable, and even then, you may need to blend it with a beer you are going to brew a year from now before you get a product that is good if not great. So here it is, my attempt at a Flanders Red:

Vienna Malt- 5 pounds
Flaked Maize- 2 pounds
Belgian Aromatic Malt- 8 ounces
Carahell Malt- 8 ounces
Caravienne Malt- 8 ounces
Special B- 4 ounces

Crystal- 1.25 ounces- 60 minutes

Wyeast Lambic Blend- This was a smack pack, and I pitched straight from the pack. Sparrow recommends not making a starter with yeast/Brett blends, as sometimes the quicker growing beer yeast will overwhelm the bacterias before they have a chance to get a foothold.

122/148/162/170- all hot water infusions

The grain bill was almost straight out of Wild Brews. I haven't experimented or consumed enough of this style of beer to really know my way around what to include. If anything, this will give me a good base to work off of a year from now. Doing a two hour boil should give it the classic red color. It also gave me a long time to prepare my carboy, and clean up most of the brewing equipment before I was ready to chill it.

The lag time on it was over 24 hours, which is weird if you pitch big happy starters like I usually do. I was actually starting to get little nervous when I hadn't seen any activity a full day after I brewed. The next morning though, there was a nice familiar fluff of krauesen on top. Phew!

This batch is going to get split into two when I rack to the secondary. As I stated at the beginning here, the idea was to brew something Kerry would like as well, so half of this is going to get a 2 pound charge of raspberries. The other half will get a chance to age on it's own. I'll probably bottle some of that straight up, some will be blended with other Flanders beers, and some with other sorts of beers suitable for blending.

Thanks to Ted for the inspiration to do a wild beer. I had a bottle of his Ancient Ale, and it was easily one of my favorite beers I've ever had. Also big BIG thanks to Mike for coming over to help brew. I seriously could not have managed to brew without him. Hopefully I will have a pump soon, and once my new brew setup is built, all we'll have to do is fill it full of grain and water, then sit back and watch.

As far as recent other brews go: Black Dog Stout is great. Brown Ale not so much. Seriously though, I may play with the stout a little bit, but it's delicious as is. Fresher yeast maybe. But the bitterness is just right, and the roastiness and mouthfeel are spot on. The Brown Ale needs to go back to the drawing board. Maybe a better name would improve it a bit. Age may as well. Fingers crossed.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Black Dog Stout

Stouts are a style I don't drink very often, but that I still love. It is also one I've been looking forward to brewing. My beers this summer were all light colored, but as fall approaches, I've started straying more toward the darker beers, which is going to culminate in some darker German beers that I'm going to start formulating recipes for.

It's a little unnerving for a new brewer to do some of these darker beers. The malts that you use to get the colors right can easily stray into something that can be undrinkable. That was on the forefront of my mind when I was putting this one together, but I think I balanced it right.

The recipe-

Organic Pale 2 Row- 8 pounds
Flaked Barley- 1 pound
Roasted Barley- 8 ounces
Black Patent Malt- 8 ounces
Faucett Crystal 40 L- 4 ounces

Nugget- .75 ounces- 60 minutes
Fuggle- 1 ounce- 13 minutes (it was supposed to be 15, but whatever)

White Labs East Coast Ale- Yeast cake from Brown Ale

153/170 mashout- Hot water infusion

Again, my main concern was going to be that I used too much of the darker malts where it could potentially be acrid, but I tried to sweeten it some with the Crystal. The flaked barley should add some nice smoothness and thicken it slightly in a similar way to using oatmeal, but without depleting our breakfast cereal. It had a nice thick look to it when I was draining it from the brew kettle. And dark dark dark.

Stouts have also had a history of having very strange ingredients on occasion. Like oysters. I considered cooking my traditional brewing lunch hot dog in the boiling wort, but elected not to considering that a vegetarian or two will probably drink some of these.

Obviously, this one is named for Patterson, the original super brew dog.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Brown Ale

Sorry about the name of this beer. I came up with this recipe over the course of about five minutes, and gave no thought to a name. I suppose I could say it has some amusing connection to The Brown Album by Primus (it does contain the song Kalamazoo), but that would be a lie. Brown Ale. Terrible.

The beer, on the other hand, should be great. I was trying to come up with a nice, low alchohol beer that I could drink during the fall gardening projects. Low on hops, nice malty flavor, and something that won't make me fall over if I drink five of them in an afternoon.

The recipe-

American 2 Row Pale- 7 lbs
Faucett Crystal 90L- 8 ounces
Faucett Crystal 40L- 4 ounces
Chocolate Malt- 4 ounces

Willamette- 1 ounce- 60 minutes
Willamette- 1 ounce- 15 minutes (it was supposed to be at 10 minutes, but I threw it in early as I was trying to brew and watch Olympic cycling at the same time)

White Labs East Coast Pale Ale- 600 ml starter

156/170 mash out- hot water infusion for both

Fairly straightforward recipe. I looked at the Brown Ale style guidelines, and went from there. The chocolate malt gave it a very satisfying dark color during the boil that was fun to watch. I went very simple with the hops, as I happened to have two ounces of Willamette on hand, and all the rest of my hops are more suited to German beers. Hence, one type. I've really liked the White Labs yeast. I've used it for all my ales so far this year, and it ferments very clear, and makes a clean tasting beer.

The brew day was as smooth as you can get. Temps were nailed, lautering was easy, and as I said, I was able to watch some of the Olympics while I was brewing. There's no way I could have done that earlier this year. Doing a beer with the simple mash schedule was great too. Heat up some water, sit back and relax. I love it. I learned a nice lautering trick as well. Maybe everyone knows this, but it had never been explained to me this way. When you first start draining the vorlauf, apparently you are supposed to not close the valve. Just put the tube in the pot and let it go. I used to stop draining and pour the vorlauf in, which apparently had a plunger effect on the grain bed, which was probably causing alot of my set mash problems.

The fermentation is going good as I write this. The closet where I ferment my beers kind of smells like spicy blueberries.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Saint Phillipe- Belgian Dubbel

As I started getting into the whole process of starting to brew at home, I had discussed it quite a bit with my dad (reformed Busch drinker...sort of). He had expressed some interest in brewing as well, so for Christmas last year, I got him an IPA kit from Northern Brewer (since he lives in the Pacific Northwest, I thought if he didn't brew something hoppy, they'd never let him brew again). He's really gotten into it, to the point that some of my rantings on the phone influenced him to try brewing a couple of Belgians. I don't know that he'd ever tried a Belgian before brewing one, but he did it any way. So in the spirit of doing things even if you don't really know what you're doing, I give you Saint Phillipe.

Saint Phillipe Dubbel-

Belgian Pilsner- 8 lbs
Dark Munich- 2 lbs
Carapils- 4 oz
Special B- 2 oz
Belgian Candi Sugar (clear)- 1 lb into the boil

Sterling- 1 oz- 60 minutes
Vanguard- 1 oz- 10 minutes

Wyeast Belgian Abbey Ale 2- 1200 ml starter

129/151/167 decoction mash out

So the recipe is pretty straightforward as far as a Dubbel goes for the grains. A nice base of the pilsner malts with some dark Munich to give it some color. Cara pils for some head retention (most Belgian beers seem to want to try to see how patient you are if you decide to wait for the head to subside), and a touch of Special B, a classic Belgian Dubbel ingredient to provide a hint of raisin flavor/aroma. I threw the sugar in right at the beginning of the boil to try and squeeze a little color out from caramelizing the sugars to counter act the fact that I only had clear instead of a darker sugar. The recipe departs from traditional Dubbels with the hops. Belgian brewers are always harping on using what you've got, and these two new style hops are what I had. I didn't set out to brew a clone, so I'm not going to worry about what a judge would say about it.

The brewing went pretty smoothly for the most part. My lautering had a few of the old problems creep up again, but I managed it, and came out with a very respectable 80% efficiency from the mash. That's the third time in a row that that has happened, so I may want to adjust my recipes a little to account for it.

I did this beer on Saturday, so fermentation is well under way. In fact, the first night, it got so violent that the carboy cap shot off. It was still pumping out CO2 at a pretty good clip on Sunday when I got around to fixing it, so I'm not terribly concerned about an infection. I guess that's what happens when you make a big beer and pitch a big starter. I guess you could say I've now tried my hand at open fermentation. If only I had done it in a bucket, I could have also tried top cropping some yeast. All I'd have left is to take vows of silence, chastity, and poverty (so far I'm only working on one out of three), and I'd be ready to move to Westmalle.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Wedding Saison

Two of Kerry’s friends (and now, by extension, also my friends) are getting married soon. Possibly this coming weekend. I should know this, but do not. John Pat and Lara are really nice people, who have also given me some nice reviews of beers I’ve made earlier. John Pat really likes Belgians, so as part of their wedding present, I made a special Saison for them.

Most of my beers so far this year have been pretty bare bones as far as the grain bill goes. The idea being to get good at doing simple beers, and let the yeast do the work. The result has been some decent, and one really good one (the Rye Ale). I think the main problem has been an overall lack of complexity. For example, my first Saison was tasty, but somehow…thin. My tendency has been to use at least a full pound of every grain that I use, as I can’t really buy less than a pound of any one thing, so it's kind of tough to get the different tastes and aspects that you look for in certain grains. The beers need a little something extra, and this special occasion calls for a beer that is a culmination of what I’ve learned in my all grain brewing up to this point.

The Wedding Saison-

Belgian Pilsner- 8 lbs
Cara Pils- 4 oz
Vienna Malt- 8 oz
Faucetts Crystal 40- 4 oz

New Zealand Hallertau- 1.25 oz- 60 min
Kent Goldings (US)- 1 oz- 10 minutes (actually 9:30, but that’s nitpicking)

Wyeast Belgian Abbey Ale II- 600 ml starter

130/148/168- decoction for the mash out

I think this could well be my best beer yet. The grains are all among the sort that would easily be procured by classic brewers of the style. I’ve switched up a few times in the past to the detriment of my brews. The hops are not Belgian per se, but they are acceptable substitutes, given the current hop purchasing situation. The yeast is the same one I’ve used for my previous Belgian efforts.

I brewed this on Friday, and as I write this, the primary fermentation has basically finished. I would say the brew day itself was probably the smoothest I’ve ever had. I’ve basically solved my stuck sparge problems, I hit all my temps nicely, and basically after dough in, it was all very methodical. It was also the first time that my target gravity in the fermenter was exactly what I was aiming for, a solid 1.047.

Big thanks to my brewing assistant, Kathy McGraw (Kerry’s mom). She was in town for the 4th, and was very interested in how you turn a sack of grain into beer. Curiously, she was nowhere to be seen when it was time to clean up (joking), but I was grateful for the help.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Stonebridge Ale Part 2

One of the owners of the company I work for has a cabin in the waythehellfargone north woods of Wisconsin. Like, once you get to Green Bay, you drive north for 3 more hours. Last year on the way up, I started fiddling with the radio dial. I was trying to see if I could get any Russian radio stations in.

We go up there once a year in a sort of corporate retreat. I say sort of, because most corporate retreats probably do not involove all of the following: fireworks, canoeing, a strip club, Playstation 3, and copious amounts of alcholic beverages.

I'm not really the power bender kind of guy, so I'm more about the canoeing and making sure we always have a roaring fire. This year though, will be extra nice, as I will be drinking my own beer. That was what I brewed on Sunday.

The recipe was about as simple as you can get. The idea was to make something that had a nice balanced taste, somewhat hoppy flavored, but with enough malt to make me feel like I'd eaten something nutritious if that's all I happen to consume that day.

The recipe-
2 row pale ale- 8 pounds
Victory malt- 1 pound

Hallertauer New Zealand- 1 oz- 60 minutes
Mt Hood- 1/2 oz- 10 minutes
Mt Hood- 1/4 oz- Knockout

White Labs East Coast Ale- pitched directly on to the yeast cake from last weekends Rye beer

153/Mashout- 2 water infusions

This is different simplified Pale Ale to what I brewed a while back. The idea is to come up with a nice base recipe for Pale Ales that I can refine. I think the hops schedule was pretty close to what I did with the Rupert Lager, and that turned out to be the best tasting of my lagers, so it should be yummy. I may try a different yeast next time, but I do like the White Labs one that I used. Having pitched it on to the yeast cake, I had bubbling in the airlock 20 minutes after I was done, and by the 24 hour mark, it had settled into the conditioning phase already. The temperature was a little high for fermentation, but hopefully that will just add a little estery complexity to the brew. The room I do the fermenting in was already warm, so I think the yeast were pretty acclimated to the conditions.

The brewing itself was the smoothest brew day I have had yet. The lautering had no sticking problems, although my starting volume was a little high, so the gravity ended up a couple of points low. I'll be making a dipstick for my kettle that should help me avoid that problem again. All in all a very good brew day.

We're not going until the middle of July, so this one will have over six full weeks to come into it's own. Then I shall drink it. All of it.

Thanks to the
Ted- for convincing me to only use one pound of Victory. Two would have just been weird.
Mike Jones- for stopping by right as the boil was starting. It was looking like a potential boilover, but ol' Mike Jones made sure that didn't happen.
Kerry- for getting me some lunch.
Bill McGill- for eating all the barley I spilled on the kitchen floor. If that's not a helpful brew dog, I don't know what is.

Last but not least- some people say brewing is an expensive hobby. I say nuts to that. Here's an example. I had a couple of beers with one of my coworkers Friday on State Street. After tip, my tab was $28 for four beers ($7 per beer). The grain for this batch cost $13.29 at Brew and Grow. The hops cost a total of $3.75 (purchased before the rise in prices). I won't count the yeast cost, as I've used it for 2 other batches already. Total bill- $17.04, or a whopping 34 cents per beer.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Rye Ale

This past Saturday saw the latest stop of the Simple Recipes 08 tour. This one was a Rye Ale.

The recipe:

2 row pale ale- 6 pounds
Rye malt- 3 pounds

Sterling- 1 oz.- 60 minutes
Vanguard- 1/2 oz.- 15 minutes
Vanguard- 1/2 oz.- 5 minutes

White Labs East Coast Ale- This was yeast that I had saved after I transferred my Stonebridge Ale. I made a 600 ml starter Friday night, and pitched the whole thing into finished wort.

125/152/170- all hot water infusions

I would say that for the most part, I've gotten most of the technical aspects of brewing all grain down pat. I don't even need a checklist to remember all the crap I need to do. The exception to this is my lautering process. My stuck sparge issues have been well documented on this blog, and this weekend was no exception. The rye malt would explain some of it, as it has no husk, but I still ended up having to start the process over again. One of the main points about the lautering process is to try and not expose the grain to oxygen to prevent off flavors. I'd imagine I'll have a few on this beer. I think the problem boils down to how quickly I'm draining. The general rule is no more than 1 quart per minute, or you compact the grain bed. I'm pretty sure that's what happened here. Next time, I'll have to sit there with a measuring cup and a stopwatch while I'm vorlaufing.

I'm still excited to see how this one turns out. I had Founders Red Rye Ale a few times recently at Handlebar, and it became one of my favorites right out of the gate. This isn't a clone per se, as it's just pale malt and rye (it should end up yellow as opposed to red), but that was the inspiration behind using the rye anyway. I'm also interested to see what comes of the Sterling and Vanguard hops, as these are, I believe, somewhat new varieties.

As far as other recent beers go, I'm totally fired up about the Saison. The temperature of the ferment never really got above 72, but I pitched a good amount of yeast, and that coupled with the lower sacch rest temperature made it end up at about 85% attenuation, which was basically how I planned it. The sample I tried when I racked it was very tasty. It was kind of peppery/spicy with no hint of sourness from the Sauer Malt. I cannot wait to get that bottled and drinkable. I kind of got the feeling that I had my first good recipe that I can really start refining.


Monday, May 5, 2008


I have spoken before of my admiration for the brewing ways of the Belgians. Saturday, I brewed up a version of probably one of the most diverse styles of beer, the Saison.

The Saison is a type of Belgian farmhouse ale. They were originally brewed by farm owners to give to the field hands throughout the summer as a refreshing sort of beer. In the last hundred years, they've morphed into something a bit stronger, but a fun one to brew. There are style guidelines when brewing for competitions, but it's generally accepted that no one really knows what the quintessential Saison is. Since every town had their own version, and even sometimes multiple versions at that, there aren't many rules regarding ingredients and brewing techniques.

My version:

Belgian Pilsner Malt- 9 pounds
Sauer malt- 1 pound

Hallertauer New Zealand (I think it's an organic hop)- .75 oz- 60 minutes
Kent Goldings- 1 oz.- 15 minutes

Wyeast- 1762 Belgian Abbey Ale II- Pitched the yeast cake from the 1 gallon Golden Strong Ale I brewed two weeks ago

131/148/165-decoction mash out

The brew day went pretty good. I had another stuck sparge, but it wasn't too devastating. More of a pain than anything. I changed my mash tun around a little so that grain wouldn't get under the false bottom. I think I achieved that, but a new problem immerged. During the sparge process, the grist basically turned into one huge dough ball. I'm not sure if that was a result of not enough stirring or what, but not a big problem. I managed to basically nail every rest temp and gravity target that I had set for myself, so it is truly the beer I was aiming for (my brewhouse efficiency came in somewhere around 80%)

The recipe itself should make for an interesting beer. I added the acidulated malt to give it a slightly sour flavor, without getting into dealing with any lambic type bacteria. The yeast cake that I pitched in turned out to be on the very expressive side (the sample of my Golden Strong Ale I tasted had a strong hint of banana with a peppery aftertaste). I'm hoping that those things coupled with the lower mash temperature to help dry it out a little will make for a refreshing complex taste.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Golden Belgian Strong Ale-Very Strong

I am a great admirer of Ted's brewing abilities, and as his was probably the first beer blog that I started reading regularly, his techniques and approaches inform my brewing a good deal. Which is to say, I rip off his ideas on a regular basis.

Yesterday's batch is a good example. I've talked in the past about my love of doing yeast starters, but I feel Ted does it one better. He brews an experimental batch of about one gallon in volume. It gives a nice amount of viable yeast, you get some beer out of it, and it's easy to try something you haven't yet. If you get stuck with ten beers that are undrinkable, it's a lot less devastating than pitching a full five gallon batch.

So I (with the help of Mike and the beer he brought over) brewed a one gallon Belgian Strong Ale, sort of a Duvel type deal. More accurately, we brewed about 3/4 of a gallon of Belgian Strong Ale (did I mention I learn a ton every time I brew?).

The recipe:

Belgian Pilsner Malt- 2 lbs.
Dextrose- .75 lbs (it was supposed to be .6, but I only noticed this just now)

Crystal- .25 oz.- 60 minutes
Crystal- .25 oz.- 15 minutes
Crystal- .25 oz.- 5 minutes

Wyeast- 1762 Belgian Abbey Ale II

I tried malt into water this time, and we more or less hit all our temperatures, which was nice. I had a revisitation of the false bottom popping up during the sparging process, which sucked, but sucked way less with a small batch than a big one. I am going to make a change to it which should solve that problem once and for all. We also hit our efficiency targets, which was a first for me.

The weirdness began at boiling time. We ended up with a little more wort than I was expecting, so I decided to boil 15 minutes longer than I had originally planned to. You know, for a little extra evaporation. I hadn't taken into consideration that I was using a kettle that was probably too big. That wasn't a problem per se, but the shallower wort + longer boil basically meant that the amount we evaporated was way more than I had planned for. This accomplished two things. One: we ended up with only 3/4 of a gallon of finished beer. Two: the gravity reading in the fermenter was 1.102 instead of 1.089 (see also the extra sugar I used). Not exactly session like.

Thankfully, I picked (read: it was the only one from my list that Brew and Grow had in stock) a yeast that is very tolerant to high amounts of alcohol, so I think this should end up tasting pretty good, without messing up my yeast for the next batch.

Thanks again to Mike for the help with brewing, as well as the excellent Weissbier from Piece. Yummy stuff.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Stonebridge Pale Ale

Today was my first ale of the year.

It was a royal pain in the ass.

That said, it was good to get back in the saddle. I also made some adjustments that did make a few things easier. As I recently said, I'm trying to do some simple recipes this spring and summer. Here was today's:

8 lbs. Pale Malt (2 row)
2 lbs. Crystal Malt (60L)

1 oz Sterling 7.0 60 min.
.5 oz. Kent Goldings (US) 4.2 15 min.
.5 oz. Kent Goldings (US) 4.2 5 min.

White labs- East Coast Ale- I secretly picked a White Labs yeast, because if you send in your used flasks, they'll send you a t-shirt or something. I figure I could used the t-shirt to keep light off the carboy when I'm racking.

Ted recently posted some stuff about how to hit your mash temps properly. I impudently said I hadn't had any issues to date by adding water to the grain, as opposed to the other way around. That sealed my fate. An analogy: the mash was supposed to be kind of like how a person at McDonalds would pour your drink for you. All ice, a little bit of pop. Mine was like they handed me the cup and I poured my Dr. Pepper myself, a little ice, and mostly pop. Which is to say, I missed my mash temp, corrected (which is to say, over-corrected), corrected again, and ended up with a pretty thin mash instead of a thick one. As I said, a royal pain in the ass. I'm sure the farting around cost me big when it came to my gravity. If I was a jerk, I'd say I planned it that way, and was shooting for a more dextrinous wort. Instead, I should be writing the follow up to Brew Like a Monk. Only mine would be Brew Like a Polack.

The rest of the day went great. I installed a bazooka screen in my kettle, and draining versus pouring not only kept a lot of my beer off my back porch, but was ridiculously easy. Also, no boil overs, and thanks to my starter, I had about a two hour lag time. I love that shit.

I certainly have some areas I need to improve on. My efficiency was atrocious. I'm not going to post it, because it's embarrassing. Needless to say, I think my mash temperature problems meant that I brewed something closer to a bitter than a pale ale. I'll drink it, but it was a little irritating. I think that, by and large, I need to be a bit more scientific as to how I'm doing things (hitting temp and gravity targets, and calibrating all my vessels so I've got a much clearer picture of what the numbers actually mean). Up until now, especially when it comes to hitting my targets, it's been kind of a shoot for volume and wait and see what happens. That's alright on my first couple of all grain brews, as I was just trying to get some of the mechanics figured out, but I should be beyond that. I guess it's just sort of a desire to brew the beer I envisioned in the first place. This is something I'll be ruminating on the the coming days. I'm going to brew this one again at least two more times this summer. It will be interesting to see what I can come up with.

Side note: lunch today consisted of beans and franks. Somehow, I feel like if you're brewing and you do not dine upon encased meats, that is an opportunity missed.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Spring and Summer Brews

I haven't brewed in a few weeks now, but it feels like an age. My Blue Blood lager is in the bottle (to be opened for the first time this weekend), and my Red Pheasant Pilsner will be in the bottle soon. It is high time to plan some brews.

Many of you are aware of the hop shortage, and that is something that has been weighing on my mind as I was planning recently. I have a fair bit of hops left over from the winter brewing, and I've actually laid my hands on another ten ounces of several different varieties, so I should be okay for a while.

But hops are only a small part of the picture. Two pieces that I have recently read have sort of changed some of the plans that I was making for my upcoming beers. The first is the book Brew Like a Monk. Having cut my beer drinking teeth on German beer, I felt a small bit of disdain for Belgian beers. Reading that book completely changed how I look at beer, think about beer, and has caused me to revise some of my goals for brewing beer. The Belgians make some amazing beers, and there are quite a few of them who use one grain and one type of hops in their beer. They use the yeast to drive the taste.

The other was an article in Brew Your Own magazine. There was a column in this month's issue where a guy was complaining to the columnist about how his pale ale basically always sucked. One of the key things the writer said in his answer was to try and keep things simple at the beginning. I look at homebrew forums alot, and there are tons of dudes with a post title like: First AG-Double Imperial IPA. Their grain bill looks like a laundry list, and they're using four different types of hops. That's all well and good, but what if it doesn't taste right? How do you decide that it was the 1/2 pound of CaraPils that was too much versus dry hopping with three different varieties? It's very easy to go from a complex taste to something that is just weird.

That kind of brings this post full circle. Up to this point I've paid attention to yeast, but only insofar as I was interested in pitching the proper amounts. My recipes have not been needlessly complex, but I would like to get a little more acquainted with individual ingredients, to know when I can push the envelope a little or when to back off.

To that end, my beers for the spring and summer are going to be very simple recipes. One or two grains. One or two hops. I'm going to try and limit myself to two different kinds of yeast (an American ale yeast, and a Belgian ale yeast). I think if I can make consistently good beers within those narrow parameters, I'll feel better about adding ingredients in future brewing seasons.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Rupert Lager

On this Sunday, we shall hear a reading from the prophet Patterson. "Thus sayeth the dog: his single decoction mashout skills shall be the envy of the near west side, and the back porch shall not be sullied by gigantic boilovers and moronic lautering."

The last few brew days, and their aftermaths, have been full of issues. To say the least. I felt like I had learned a lot during my previous batches, but that learning had yet to translate into a smooth brew day. I have proved that an old dog can learn new tricks.

The recipe:
7.00 lbs. Pale Malt(2-row)
1.00 lbs. Munich Malt(2-row)
1.00 lbs. Victory Malt
1.00 lbs. Crystal 60L

0.50 oz. Hallertau 8.50 60 min.
0.50 oz. Crystal 3.25 15 min.
0.50 oz. Crystal 3.25 0 min.

Wyeast 2206 Bavarian Lager- I made a starter of this from yeast that I harvest from the bottom of my two previous batches. It fermented those out extremely well, despite my lack of temperature control.

SG- 1.046
IBU- 20.9
SRM- 11.9

I mashed in at 152 degrees, and then did a decoction to get my mash out temp. In retrospect, I would have bought a 10 gallon cooler instead of a 5 gallon to give some flexibility on how I mash, but it's probably fine as it's caused me to try decoctions and fly sparging, which I think I would have put off otherwise. My brewhouse efficiency seems to be sticking at about 71%. I chalk this up to the fact that I'm using a bottling bucket as my hot liquor tank. It doesn't hold water temperature very well, so my sparge starts out with 175 degree water, and finishes with 165. It will be interesting to see if that efficiency stays the same when the weather is nicer and that water temp is a little more constant.

There isn't much to tell about the brewing itself. I feel like I'm starting to get my setup pretty dialed in, and the execution gets smoother with practice. In fact it went so well, that I was able to make myself some lunch during the boil. And by "make myself some lunch," I mean that I was able to burn a grilled cheese sandwich to a cinder.

A note on the name of the beer: Rupert was one of Kerry's rabbits. He was known for his big nose, and his hijinks. He liked to, on occasion, have Kerry's other rabbit run a diversion so that he could steal a sandwich or a bag of corn chips. That dude deserves a beer named after him.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sherlock Kevin and the case of the frozen Vienna

I just wanted to give everyone who reads my blog a little fun update as to my doings as it relates to the fermentation of the beers I recently brewed.

The primary fermentation of the Blue Blood Lager went well, considering that I felt I had under pitched my yeast. Then I read today that some Belgian brewers purposely under pitch to promote esters. Not really what I'm looking for in a Vienna lager, but whatever. I racked it, and set the secondary fermenter in a closet in my laundry room. The idea being that the laundry room is poorly insulated, and would make a great place to lager a lager. I also took the liberty of tasting a sample. Wow. My extract beers never really tasted like beer until I cracked open a fully fermented and carbonated bottle. They always tasted a little green. But this was a revelation. I could taste the grains. I could taste and smell the hops. If this is how all grain works, I'm somehow even more hooked than I was before.

I came home two days later to find that my beer was lagering very nicely. In this particular case though, when I say lagering nicely, I mean almost frozen through. Not exactly what I had planned. Luckily I had read John Palmer's How to Brew where he relates a similar story. With a Vienna no less. The difference was, I don't force carbonate my beer. Frozen yeast tend to stop working, and when you bottle condition like me, that's a problem.

Fortune was smiling on me that day, my friends. Rather than tossing my yeast from the Blue Blood down the drain after I racked, I had pitched my next batch of wort right on the yeast cake. About the time I discovered that my beer had frozen, that batch was at full krauesen. I sanitized some equipment, and cropped some yeast off the bottom of the Pilsner, and made a sort of mini starter with it. After the Blue Blood had thawed completely, I repitched.

This should be plenty sufficient to carbonate the Blue Blood when I bottle it in a couple weeks. This is, however, where the one part of homebrewing that I don't enjoy comes into play. I won't really know if it worked for about 5 more weeks.

There is three pieces of good news in this though. The first is that neither batch is showing any signs of infection, meaning my sanitation practices are good. The second is that I was able to successfully harvest yeast from a fermenting batch. Meaning I can fix mistakes, and reduce my homebrewing costs by reusing yeast. The third thing is that the mini starter I made from harvesting the yeast from my pilsner had settled out after 24 hours, and it was really pretty. An absolutely perfect hay color yellow. I am really looking forward to cracking the first bottle of that.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Red Pheasant Pilsner

When I was 17, I spent a year living in Germany. What followed was one of those classic stories. Boy discovers beer. Boy drinks beer. And so on. Basically, I fell in love with German Pilsners. When I first thought about brewing, a German style Pilsner was what I thought about first. Those straw colored beers are the images that pop in my head when you say the word beer.

Which is to say, the beer I brewed yesterday is the first incarnation of what will hopefully become sort of my "haus bier." It is my homage to all the delicious Warsteiners, Radebergers and Hasseroeders that I consumed back in the good old days.

The recipe:

8 pounds German Pilsner
1 pound Munich

1/2 oz. Hallertauer Hersbrucker- 60 minutes
1/2 oz. Hallertauer Hersbrucker- 45 minutes
1/2 oz. Mt. Hood- 15 minutes
1/2 oz. Mt. Hood- Knockout

This batch was pitched directly on to the yeast cake from the batch of Blue Blood Lager. I literally racked the Blue Blood, and poured this batch on top.

Final stats:
OG- 1.048
SRM- 3.5 or 4. It could end up slightly darker than I was hoping. TBD.
FG- TBD. Having pitched on to the yeast starter from Blue Blood, I had about a 3 hour lag time. This one should ferment nicely. Hopefully making up for all the other stuff that went haywire.

I tried to stay a bit closer to the "guidelines" that the style calls for than I did with the Blue Blood a few weeks ago. I was looking for a particular flavor this time. I also elected to do a step mash, due to the less modified European malts. I doughed in at 125 degrees for a 20 minute protein rest, infused hot water to bring it up to 152 for 40 minutes, and then did a decoction to get to the mash out temp. I nailed the protein rest and saccharification temperatures. The decoction worked nicely, but I missed the mash out temp by at least 8 degrees. I attribute that more to not pulling the correct amount as opposed to poor execution. It was on to the sparge.

What followed was the mother of all plugged sparges. I vorlaufed 8 quarts, and it just didn't seem to clear properly. I guess I should have known something was wrong, but I don't think there was anything I could have done about it at that point. The damage was done. I blew back up the hose like a good brewer does. Nothing. Blew again. Still nothing. And again. And again. And again. No flow.

I was basically at the point where temps were dropping in the mash tun and the hot liquor tank, and something was going to have to happen, or I was going to be dumping the entire mash into the composter. And then drinking every drop of alcohol in the house. Luckily, I remembered a post from The Daily Ikura where he had a similar problem. I took his lead and basically transferred the entire mash from the cooler to a bucket. Sure enough, about half a pound of grist had gotten underneath the false bottom, plugging it all up. Thing is, the more I think about it, the more I feel like my blowing in the hose lifted the false bottom and made it worse.

Whatever the case, I managed to get it all relatively straightened out. I'm sure things got screwed up a bit as far as efficiency is concerned, but somehow I managed to actually hit the starting gravity I had planned for to get in the fermenter. From this I think it is safe to assume that I planned on brewing like a moron.

I was much more careful about the boil this week, and brought it up to 212 slowly, thereby avoiding the wort launch that I got with the Blue Blood. The rest of the day went pretty quietly. Again, chilling in 32 degree weather is a breeze. Especially when the cold water coming out of the tap is only 40 degrees or so.

I got another education about brewing today. The decoction was much easier than I thought, although I will be more careful in the future about calculating and then pulling the right amount. I will also be adding a port to the side of my brew kettle next time. Poor Kerry nearly froze helping me pour. Also, I spilled some. There is a better way, and I'm convinced that that way is draining as opposed to pouring a heavy-ass pot into a funnel.

The main thing I learned is that this is going to take time to get working right. I have read four or five books, and blogs and forums beyond count about brewing. But there is nothing like giving something a try, keeping good notes on it, and learning from it. Technique cannot be picked up in a book.

Small bit of housekeeping: I have to give props to Brian from The Daily Ikura. If I hadn't read that post of his about transferring the mash, I don't know that I would have come up with a solution in time to save this batch. Prost, Brian!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Daddy's Little Girl Ain't a Girl No More

AKA: My first All Grain Batch
AKA: The little starters that couldn't

Saturday was a day of firsts. First all grain. First completely original beer recipe. First time the starter wouldn't really start. First boil over. First time with a chiller. First time brewing with someone (the illustrious Mike Jones). First time throwing myself down my basement stairs while holding a ring burner. But first a word about the beer.

The beer was, as I said, my first original recipe. It will be henceforth known as Blue Blood Lager. The name is a reference to Vienna (and this was a Vienna lager), home of the Hapsburgs. The Hapsburgs, among other things, were known for having big noses. Also for ruling large parts of Europe, but mostly for big noses. And as I have a bit of a schnoz myself, and admire people with large noses, it seemed apropos. In a further connection, a well known commercial example of the Vienna lager is Negra Modelo, and as the Hapsburgs were also Emperors of Mexico from 1864-1867, the connection is complete.


8 lbs- Pale 2 Row
1 lb- Carapils
1 lb- Crystal Malt 80

1 oz Hallertauer Hersbrucker- 4.75 Alpha- 60 Minutes
.5 oz Crystal- 3.25 Alpha- 15 minutes
.5 oz Crystal- 3.25 Alpha- 5 minutes

Wyeast 2206- Bavarian Lager- pitched from a 600 ml sort of starter

Final stats:
OG- 1.043
SRM- 10 (or so)
IBU- 24
FG- Check back on this. We'll see, as I think I under pitched.
Volume- hard to tell given the boil over. I'll be making a "volume stick" this weekend to help with that in the future. This will be an exciting technological development by the LaVoy Boys Brewing Company, so stay tuned!

The mash went off fairly well, but not without a hitch. I wasn't paying attention to the strike water, and overshot the temperature by 5 degrees, so we had to wait a few minutes for it to cool down. We were still over on our temperature at dough in, but well within the acceptable range, so I left it alone. I didn't want to get into a vicious cycle of adding hot/cold water to get to the exact temperature I was trying for. The mash tun (a converted 5 gallon cooler with a false bottom) held up nicely temp-wise and without any leaks. We added a gallon of mash out water, as the mash tun didn't appear that it would take another drop. The fly sparge went as planned on my rigged three tier gravity system (a rickety ladder, plastic picnic table, and burner), and the $2 sparge arm setup (a spihon sprayer, and a couple of 2x4's cut up, screwed together, and drilled in such a way as to sit on top of the cooler with the hose through the middle) worked like a dream. We able to nail the water flow out of the HLT (my bottling bucket) and the mash tun, so the whole lauter/sparge process took no more than twenty minutes. We were a little short on the gravity, but on a first all grain, I think that's probably to be expected. We ended up with 71% efficiency. That left us a little low for a Vienna lager, but I'm not going to quibble about style rules just yet.

We then got the mixture on to the burner, got the flame going, and promptly had a boil over of epic proportions. I'm guessing we lost a good 3/4's of a gallon of wort, which resulted in a smaller amount of liquid into the fermenter than I was hoping for. A 10 gallon brew pot is in my future. I was disappointed that we had lost so much brew. Mike was disappointed that he didn't have the camera ready to take a picture of my face as the kettle turned into a wort launching cannon. After we got things back under control, everything ended up pretty normal for the rest of the boil. The wort chiller was great, and we were able to go from knock out to 75 degrees in about 20 minutes. Mike was pretty impressed that something so ugly actually worked. I also managed to drain the water out right on to the stairs leading down to the basement. Which turned it into a skating rink. Which I threw myself down during the cleanup process while holding the ring burner. Somehow I didn't mess my back up, which, as it is already messed up pretty good, is no small thing.

Where was I? Oh right. Yeast pitching. I had made my starter the night before. I figured that 20 hours on the stir plate would give me a nice big slurry to pitch on to my first lager. Except that the starter never really started. It would foam up a little, and then go back to looking dead. We ended up making a trip to Brew and Grow, and bought a different yeast (also not perfect for the Vienna style, but given the fact that the selection was pretty limited and the Brew and Grow dude was unhelpful, it'll work). I tossed the first starter down the drain, and made a fresh one. It hadn't really gone much by late that night either, but I wasn't willing to risk letting my wort sit there overnight, so I pitched the yeast. After about a 20 hour lag time, some krauesen started showing, and I've got it at a good temperature.

All in all, not a bad day. My ingredients and gravity are a little off of the Vienna style, but I'm not going to worry about it too much. Part of that had to do with availability. I learned a ton about my setup, all grain brewing, and being patient with the yeast. Special thanks go out to Mike for helping me brew. My setup is low tech enough that brewing on that by myself would have been damn near impossible. Which means Kerry would have been pressed into service, and I don't think she would have thanked me for that. Kerry deserves thanks as well, as she dealt with a completely destroyed kitchen for most of the day. And also bought me most of the equipment I used for Christmas. If only she liked beer, she could have a proper reward. She'll have to make do with smooches.

Quote of the day: "I took a picture of your ass over the kettle. That way if the beer doesn't turn out, we can show people that picture and just say it was Shit Beer." Mike Jones

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Yeast Redux, Brew Day update

So the yeast starter post yielded quite a range of comments. From "gee, I should probably use them" to "I've been brewing for an age and never had a problem" to an anti The Big Lebowski diatribe from my younger brother (I only beat him several times, and not very badly. What can I say. He's a sad strange little man).

Whatever your feelings about yeast starters, this is my point: use 'em if you want to. Don't if you don't. I've used them in each of my brews thus far, and been very happy with the results. That said, I will be trying some new yeast methods in the future. My next batch will utilize a starter, but the one after that I'll be pitching to the cake from the first batch. And then I'll attempt to harvest the yeast of that batch (there is a great picture tutorial of that on the Homebrewtalk forums). We'll see how that all works. I may have to keep a Saflager in stock to bail me out if those go sideways.

In sadder news, I will not be brewing this weekend. I am an outdoor brewer, and the weather is supposed to be even colder than it is generally this time of year in Atlanta. Something like 4 degrees on Saturday, and 8 on Sunday. Not that that would be a problem for me personally. But I was planning on fly sparging with my bottling bucket as my HLT, and keeping water in a plastic bucket at a constant temperature in 5 degrees was more than I think should be attempted on the first all grain batch. The highly anticipated Blue Blood Lager will have to wait another week. Which is a bummer. I was actually looking to see how fast I could chill 5 gallons that way.

In the end, that is okay. It will give me more time to finish constructing the most ghetto looking immersion chiller ever built. Seriously. It looks like it was "coiled" by a drunken Polack. Which, basically, it was. I'll share some pictures because I'm cool like that, and basically have no shame.

Confidential to "Freak:" No teabagging, sorry to disappoint. It would have been weird since there was a dog there. Also, she's a real lesbian, and I'm not a woman. Also, this is my beer blog. My bachelor adventures are all posted here.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Yeast Starters

My buddy Ed has been brewing for years, and was definitely part of the inspiration for me to start brewing myself. He also has a way with words.

Before my first batch, I had asked him a bunch of questions about things that I thought were important, but were really just stupidly obvious that I hadn't brewed a batch yet questions. One of the things that I hadn't given any thought to at that point was pitching yeast. Everything I've read has stated that homebrewers are notoriously bad about pitching the proper amount of yeast. Indeed, some of the homebrew forums I've read have had "experienced" brewers telling newbies that it's fine to spend four hours brewing and then sprinkle a god-knows-how-old packet of dry yeast on their precious brew. Invariably, there are questions by the newbies a few days later about their "stuck" fermentation. Really, it's not stuck. They just pitched some crappy yeast. I'll let Ed take it from here:

"OK, first things first. The most important thing about getting the results you want from the beer making process is the health of your yeast. NOTHING is as important as the health of your yeast. All of my brewing has led me to become some sort of demented mother hen for a bunch of bacteria. Every thing you do in the primary brewing process should be thought of in terms of how productive a yeast colony you can.

First off, I love starters. I tell everyone to use a starter. If you transition from brewing without a starter (as I did) to using one religiously (the ONLY way I brew now), you will weep tears of joy at the reduction in frequency of bad batches and loss of time, effort, and expensive ingredients. If right off the bat you brew with starters, I dunno, you'll think this hobby is too easy or something! The starter is going to be sort of like a nice little kiddie pool for your yeast to get their shit sorted out before you dump them in to the ocean that is 5 gallons of beer."

As Ed went on to say the last time we hung out: brewing, even if you're doing extract brewing, is a lot of work. It also costs money. If you're going to do all that work, and you can do something that is only slightly more work that causes you to increase your chances of success, why not do it?

Make a starter. All the cool kids are doing it.

In brewing news: next weekend will be exciting. Assuming all my stuff arrives on time, I (along with my new brew assistants Mike and Babak) will be brewing my first all grain batch. We'll be doing a Vienna lager. WOO HOO!