Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Notes to Self...

I haven't posted in a super long time, and I'm sure my loyal readers are pining away for a new entry.... wait, who am I kidding? Anyways, in keeping with part of the original purpose of this blog for tracking my progress as a brewer, here's some updates and notes on what's been going on in my beer world.

The biggest news is that I attended the NHC in Minneapolis and had an awesome time. RAZE shared a shift in the Hospitality Suite with the Cincinnati Malt Infusers right before Pro Brewer's Night on Thursday, and then we had a booth set up for Club Night on Friday. I brought a keg of Bourbon Barrel Porter and a Belgian Pale Ale, and both were kicked. I met tons of fellow beer geeks, learned a lot at the sessions I attended, and sampled many, many excellent beers. It was well worth the trip.

I haven't been brewing as much as I'd like to, but I'm generally keeping the house in beer. I have a Barley Crusher now so I can buy sacks of base malt. Back in April I bought my first sack, a 55 lb bag of Belgian Pils, and used all but 4 pounds of it on a single day. I brewed a 10 gallon batch of Saison (using an overnight mash) that I split between 3711 and Brett C, a 10 gallon batch of Patersbier that I split between the Rochefort and Chimay strains, and a 10 gallon batch of Belgian Pale Ale, a DeKoninck clone that is now gone. All of these turned out great. I also brewed a 10 gallon batch of IPA with Summit and Amarillo that is on tap now and tasting really good, despite the fact that I accidentally left out 5 lbs of base malt. The first keg of this went into my new mobile kegorator that I took camping last weekend. I don't think I'll ever camp without beer on tap again!

I'm still slowly working my way towards upgrading my brewery. I just finally ordered a weldless fitting kit for my keggle so I can install a ball valve. I still need to get another burner and another pot for strike and sparge water, but those will have to wait for now. I'm hoping that once I get these things I'll be able to cut down my brew days since I'll be able to have multiple things going at once.

Finally, I'm starting to plan out my next several brews. I'm going to work on reusing yeast from smaller beers on some bigger ones coming up. On deck for next week will be Mike McDole's Pliny Light. I'm going to reuse the yeast cake from that beer on a Barleywine and possibly a Pliny the Elder clone. The plan for the Barleywine is to make a 10 gallon batch. I'll tap the first half around Christmas and then the other half will get some oak for longterm aging and will get tapped around Christmas 2011. I'm also brewing a 10 gallon batch of a Surly Furious clone to bring to the cabin in August. On the Belgian front, I'll be brewing a 10 gallon batch of Patersbier with WY3787. I'll use the cake from that on a 10 gallon batch of Dubbel or Belgian Dark Strong, the second half of which might see some cherries and oak.

Friday, March 19, 2010


Now that I am mostly through the first keg of the last 15 gallon batch I brewed, here's a quick update. This beer is calculated around 105 IBUs, definitely Double IPA range, but at an original gravity of around 1.050, it is an American Pale. I've brewed this overly hoppy but low gravity style a few times now, and I'm jumping on the Imperial bandwagon by calling it an Imperial Pale (ImPale). Despite the high IBUs, it isn't overly bitter. A bunch of the IBUs come from the 3 ounces of first wort hops, so although they add a lot of bitterness, it is much smoother than a 60 minute addition and adds a massive amount of hop flavor. On top of that there's tons of late additions for even more flavor and aroma. Here's the hop bill:
  • FWH: 1 oz Summit (18.5% AA), 1 oz Centennial (8.7%), 1 oz Amarillo (7.5%)
  • 60 minutes: 1 oz Warrior (15.4%), .25 oz Magnum (13.5%)
  • 10 minutes: 1.5 oz Summit, 1.5 oz Centennial, 1.5 oz Amarillo
  • 5 minutes: 2 oz Simcoe (11.9%), 2 oz Columbus (14%)
  • Flameout: 2 oz Simcoe (11.9%), 2 oz Columbus (14%)
On top of this, the first keg was hopped with an ounce of Simcoe, the second keg was hopped with an ounce of Summit, and the third will be kegged with an ounce of Columbus. This is a pretty good beer, but there is a small off flavor that comes out in the aftertaste that I can't quite place. It is a bit more prevalent in the first keg (which only took 12 days from grain to glass) so it might be an age issue. I definitely get the same sensation from Dogfish Head 60 minute IPA. It's not bad, it's just there. I'm looking forward to having the club try this to see if I can get a better idea of what it is. Overall, though, I'm liking the concept of this beer as a session beer for hopheads.

Friday, February 12, 2010

First 15 gallon batch

After my last brew session's insane cold temps (15 below at mash in), I haven't wanted to brew much, but I am getting sick of the Belgian Golden Strong and Smoked Brown I have on tap, plus my APA is going to blow any day now, so I need to brew. I'm hoping to squeeze in a session on Monday. Since I'm not sure when I'll get to brew next and we blow through hoppy beers pretty fast here, I am brewing up a 15 gallon batch. I've got 33 pounds of grain that will barely fit in my mashtun, but my keggle can only accommodate about 12 gallons safely, so I'm going to basically brew an IPA and then dilute it in the 3 instead of 2 fermenters that I normally use. Right now the grain bill is the only thing I've figured out:
  • 17 lbs Briess 2row
  • 15 lbs Munton's Maris Otter
  • 1.6 lbs Dingeman's Cara45 (formerly known as CaraMunich)
For hops, I'm looking at Summit and Amarillo as first wort hops, a bittering addition of Warrior, then more Summit and Amarillo late in the boil. I've got some Simcoe and Centennial that might find their way into late additions or keg hops as well.

The APA that I've got on tap right now won a 2nd at the Upper Mississippi Mashout, so I'm pretty stoked, not to mention surprised, about that. There was quite a bit of competition in that category too, unlike the apricot blonde that scored 2nd out of a handful at the State Fair. I also won a 2nd for my Smoked Brown and a 3rd for my very young Bourbon Vanilla Imperial Porter. I entered 2 more beers at the Mashout, but neither of them scored very well. I got some really good feedback though, so that will help if I brew those styles again.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Assorted Updates

The Speed Brew experiment that I last blogged about came and went. I brewed this on 12/19, and pitched US05 at 57, kept it in the low 60s for 4 days, then turned on the aquarium heater and brought the fermenter temps up to 68-70. On Sunday, December 27 I put one of the fermenters in the garage, where the beer temp dropped to 39 overnight. In the morning (9 days after pitching) I added a packet of gelatin to the fermenter. I racked this beer into a keg on top of an ounce of Columbus pellets in a nylon on Wednesday, December 30, set the gas to 10 psi (my serving pressure), and shook the crap out of the keg with the gas on for about 5 minutes. The beer was pretty much carbed and we started drinking it New Years Eve, 12 days from grain to glass.

When I tapped the keg on New Years Eve I was surprised by the clarity of this beer. Normally I would expect a US-05 fermented beer to take a couple of weeks to clear in the keg, but this only took 12 days from pitching. I am now a gelatin convert. Lots of compliments on this beer, BIG hop flavor and aroma, and I think I like the grain bill as well. There's a nice biscuity, bready flavor to it with just a bit of sweet caramel while keeping a dry finish. Definitely a nice session beer for hopheads, but it's not nearly as bitter as the 86 IBUs suggests. The first keg only lasted about 2 weeks!

I'm still working on the first keg of Belgian Golden Strong with the Unibroue strain. It took about 5 weeks in the keg to clear, the longest I've ever experienced, but now it is crystal clear. It is a nice pale golden color with a white head. The aroma is mostly of pears, apples, and a bit of spice, but there is also a bit of alcohol that comes through. The flavor is okay once it warms up a bit. I get a bit of fruit at first, then the spice comes up and the alcohol follows. This beer does not hide the alcohol as well as I hoped, which might have something to do with the fact that it is a bit over 9% ABV. I'm wondering now if I fermented a bit too high too early. At first the mouthfeel was a bit thick, but I've since switched over to the higher pressure regulator and that has helped quite a bit. I did get an amazingly dry finish on this one, but I'm hoping that the other half of the batch that has been waiting patiently will improve with some age on it. Flavor is pretty good, nice amount of fruit and spice, and it hides the alcohol well, but the mouthfeel is a little thick despite the low finishing gravity. Overall, it's not quite Duvel, but it's drinkable. Not bad for my first attempt at the style.

About three weeks ago I finally got around to brewing Denny Conn's infamous Bourbon Vanilla Imperial Porter. It was -15 when I started heating the strike water, and despite brewing on my new stainless steel brew cart, I think I'm going to wait until it warms up to brew again, that was just too damn cold. I was surprised though that after 60 minutes my mash tun didn't lose a single degree of temperature. I'll take some pics next brew session to show off my new ghetto fabulous rig. This was the first batch I brewed after taking apart my burner and dremeling out all the rust and wort that had accumulated after 2 or 3 years, and I'm happy to report that there was not a single bit of soot on the BK when I finished.

I pitched US05 with this one and kept the temps in the low 60s the whole time. I added 2 fat vanilla beans from Penzeys directly to primary 1 on January 12, 9 days after fermentation started. Took a sample after 10 days and then cold crashed in the garage for a day and kegged on January 26. I added 300 mL of Elijah Craig directly to the keg. The samples at all the stages tasted incredibly smooth. I think the brown malt is the key ingredient here, it gives a really smooth chocolate and coffee flavor that ties everything together but doesn't stand out. Now that it's carbed up, this is an amazing beer, probably the best I have ever brewed.

Finally, I've got 3 beers entered in the Upper Mississippi Mash Out, which is being held this Saturday. I entered my Smoked Brown, the Speed Brew APA, and the Belgian Golden Strong. I'm very curious to see what the judges say about these beers. None of them are perfect and they are the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th all grain batches I've brewed, so I can't wait for the feedback. This is a really big comp, so I'm hoping that I get some good feedback. Also on Saturday, RAZE is holding our first competition, Winter Darkness. I'm entering my Smoked Brown and BVIP and also judging, so it should be a fun day. I think we'll have around 20 entries, so it'll be small, but Ryan managed to score tons of sponsors so we have tons of free schwag to give to the winners.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Speed Brew

Kristen made plans for New Years and I'm running low on hoppy session beer so I am going to run a quick experiment on speed brewing this Saturday. I'm still working out the hop schedule, but I'm basically going to brew a similar beer to the SMaSH APA that I'm drinking right now. Kristen loves this beer, but I don't have any more Summit hops on hand so what I think I'm going to do for this 10 gallon batch is either use an all Munich or all Maris Otter base to get me around 1.045, first wort hop with either Cascade or Centennial, a small 60 minute addition of Magnum or Columbus, load up at 10 minutes and flameout with Cascade and Centennial (I'm thinking 3 ounces at each time?), then keg hop with Columbus.

The catch is that this needs to be in the keg ready to drink on New Years Eve, so if I brew on Saturday I've got 12 days from grain to glass. The current plan is to mash around 148 and pitch US-05 at around 62 degrees. I'll keep it cool for the first 24-48 hours to keep it clean, then slowly raise the temp so that I hit 68 or 70 by the 5th or 6th day. I'll probably keep it warm for a few days to make sure the yeast clean up after themselves, then cold crash it in the garage for a couple more days, possibly with gelatin, then keg and force carb on the 30th.

What could possibly go wrong?

In other news, the keg of Belgian Golden Strong that I fermented with the Unibroue strain is still not clear! Starting to get frustrated.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Belgian Golden Strong Update

I finally got around to sampling the progress of my 10 gallon batch of Belgian Golden Strong last night. Here was the recipe:

25 lbs Castle Pils
5 lbs table sugar
5 oz Czech Saaz @ 90

The OG came in at 1.076 (low efficiency still) and around 30 IBUs, I'll have to check BeerSmith for the exact number. I split the batch between two fermenters and fermented both with Wyeast VSS strains from earlier in the year. I pitched WY3739 Flanders Golden Ale (rumored to be the Gulden Draak strain) in one and WY3864 Canadian/Belgian Ale (the Unibroue strain) in the other. I pitched big starters of both at 64, where it stayed for a day or so before active fermentation began, then I let the temp free rise over the next few days to the low 70s, then turned on the aquarium heaters and slowly ramped up until the heaters were maxed out at around 80. I kept them there for the next 2 weeks or so (about 3 weeks at high temps total), then turned the heaters off and let them rest for another week at cellar temp, which is around 63 right now.

The Flanders Golden finished at 1.002, making the ABV 9.6%. It tasted dry (duh), but the alcohol was very obvious. I tasted and smelled some of the fruity esters and a bit of spicy phenols, but because the sample was warm and uncarbonated, this tasted more like a white wine than a beer. The alcohol, although it's not hot fusel alcohols, is too much in the front, so I decided that this one is going to stay in secondary at cellar temps for a while to round out a bit.

The Unibroue finished at 1.005, making the ABV 9.3% The sample was delicious already. Pear and apple aroma and flavor, a little bitterness to back it up, a little bready malt, delicious. Alcohol is present, which I expect in a 9% beer, but the other stuff isn't overwhelmed. This is getting kegged up in the next couple of days. Hopefully I've got enough tubing and fittings laying around so that I can use my other regulator and carb this up higher than my other beers.

I'm also thinking about entering some comps in the next few months. I'm really happy with my APA and Smoked Brown and want to get some feedback on my beers now that I'm building my water, controlling fermentation, and have gone AG. I'm looking at these comps in particular:

Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines Festival

Upper Mississippi Mash Out

Great Northern BrewHaha

Durango, CO Ska Brewing Pro/AM

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Finally Made the Jump to All Grain!

The title says it all. I went with a cooler mash tun for batch sparging ala Denny Conn. I used a 70 quart Coleman Xtreme cooler, stainless braid, and ball valve for a 10 gallon setup. Pics are at the bottom. The first brew on my ghetto-fabulous rig was a Single Malt and Single Hop IPA (SMaSH). Here's the recipe:

24 lbs Weyermann Munich
1 oz Summit FWH
1 oz Summit @ 60 min
2 oz Summit @ 15 min
2 oz Summit @ flameout
1 oz Summit keghop (per keg)
US-05 yeast

Mashed at 150 for 60 minutes. I was shooting for an OG of 1.066 and 91 IBUs but ended up with only 1.048, putting my efficiency in the high 50s, not too good. Despite the low efficiency, the beer turned out really good! I think once I get a Barley Crusher and dial in my system I will rebrew this as a low gravity, highly hopped session beer. It's got tons of citrus (tangerine and grapefruit) hop flavor and aroma but thanks to the Munich base there's a solid malt background that still finishes dry. I really like this beer.

My second batch was another attempt at the smoked brown ale I brewed last November that was inspired by Red Hook Late Harvest. Although I got a different result with that brew, I ended up liking it a lot so I just modified the grain bill a bit (more rauchmalt, less roasted barley) and converted it to an AG recipe that looks like this:

20 lbs Rahr 2 row
3 lbs Weyermann Rauchmalt (beechwood smoked)
1 lb C60
.5 lb C120
.5 lb pale chocolate
.25 lb roasted barley
1.5 oz Magnum @ 60
2 oz Czech Saaz @ 15
US-05 yeast

I mashed this one at 150 as well. I was shooting for 1.068 on this but ended up with 1.056, so I did improve my efficiency slightly to 62%. I am really liking this beer as well. There's a hint of chocolate and coffee in there and the smoke is noticeable without being overwhelming, and there is just enough hop presence to balance everything out. I am quite happy with this beer as well.

Finally, I brewed a 10 gallon batch of Belgian Golden Strong. I mashed this one at 148 for 90 minutes and then did a 90 minute boil to drive off DMS because of the Belgian Pils malt. I split this batch between Wyeast 3864 (Unibroue) and Wyeast 3739 (Flanders Golden). Both of these strains were part of the VSS series. I pitched at 64 degrees and then ramped up over the next few days to about 80 degrees, which is where they sit right now. It's only been 2 weeks so I haven't taken a reading on these yet. Here's the recipe:

25 lbs Castle Pils
5 lbs table sugar
5 oz Czech Saaz @ 90

Pretty simple recipe! The actual OG on this one was 1.076 versus my target of 1.082, but my efficiency dropped back to the high 50s since I calculated this at 65%. Not sure what the deal is, since I double crushed the grain and thought I did a fairly good job measuring my volumes.

In other brewing news, I attended the AHA Rally at Surly Brewing with a couple of guys from RAZE back on October 10. Surly brewed what they called an Imperial Brown for the occasion and distributed 5 gallons of wort to over 300 homebrewers. In addition, we had the opportunity to drink free beer from Surly, including their freshly tapped Surly Wet, a wet-hopped IPA. I got to meet a bunch of guys from the Northern Brewer forum too which was icing on the cake. I just kegged this beer and so far it is tasting great. It was a big beer (OG 1.081) that I fermented with Wyeast 1214 Belgian Abbey yeast. I taste some dark fruit, alcohol warmth, and a little coffee and molasses. It will definitely get better with age.

Here's a few pics of the new AG setup: