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!