Sunday, February 18, 2018

Two Months with the PicoBrew Zymatic

I received my PicoBrew Zymatic in late December 2017.  Since then, I have brewed 12 batches of beer in it.  I've developed a reasonable understanding of its good and bad points.

On the positive side, it's insanely easy to brew with it.  Measure your ingredients, load them into the system, load the recipe, hit a button, and wait.  It's mostly a hands-off process from there.  When it's finished (and because I don't want to ferment in the corny keg), I transfer the beer to a kettle, chill it, then transfer to a fermenter. This process takes about 20-30 minutes.  Cleanup is easier than with my previous system, and parts of that are automated as well.  The Zymatic gives off a "brewery" aroma if you're within about 10-20 feet of it, but is undetectable outside that range (at least to me).  The beer coming out of the Zymatic is as good as any I've made elsewhere.

On the negative side, the machine has its limits. Compared with other brewing systems, it's not as efficient.  Depending on the recipe, grain crush, and mash profile used, I've seen brew house efficiencies as low as 55.3% and as high as 76.4%.  With The Grainfather, I don't recall ever seeing an efficiency below 70%. So you need more grain to hit a gravity target with the Zymatic than with The Grainfather. That combines with the fact that the Zymatic has a 9-pound grain limit (versus The Grainfather's 20 pound limit).  This means the bigger, higher-gravity beers aren't as easy to brew with the Zymatic.  They're possible, but you're going to be resorting to things like adding malt extract, doing reiterated mashes, or boiling down the wort to increase the gravity.

The Zymatic is also unpredictable in its finished volume amounts.  Despite specifying a 2.5 gallon volume in the recipe crafting tool, I frequently end up with 2.1 to 2.2 gallons of wort.  This isn't a big deal, but if you were planning on that extra (approximately) half gallon for some reason, you'll be frustrated.

Gravity is also somewhat unpredictable, but if you crush the grain yourself (in the 0.045 range) and measure the water carefully, you'll come out pretty close.  For my last few batches, I've seen:

  • Belgian Single:  Estimated gravity 1.047 SG, actual 1.050 SG
  • Belgian Dubbel: Estimated gravity 1.075 SG, actual 1.067 SG
  • Saison: Estimated gravity 1.055 SG, actual 1.058 SG
  • Tripel: Estimated gravity 1.085 SG, actual 1.086 SG
  • Saison 2: Estimated gravity 1.068 SG, actual 1.065 SG
With the exception of the Dubbel, those all came within 3 points of the estimated gravity. I'm not sure why the Dubbel came out so low. Maybe I didn't measure the water as carefully.

Probably the worst thing about the Zymatic is that it can overflow its grain tray during the mash if you are not staying on top of it.  A mash that brushes up against the 9 pound limit, or one that includes a significant amount of wheat or oats, or just giving it a bit too much water, can result in a real mess.  The very first batch I made, their Pico Pale Ale kit, foamed excessively out of the grain tray, overflowed the drip tray, and made a huge mess on the floor that took a while to mop up. I had only left the machine alone about 10-20 minutes.  Two other batches of the 12 I've made have had foaming or overflow problems as well.  One of those was relatively minor and resulted in a tiny puddle on the table.  The other was huge. It covered most of the table top, almost the entire shelf underneath the table top, and a path across the basement floor to the drain, where it puddled up a fair amount.  That took a while to clean up.  I've made it a habit to check on the machine about every 10 minutes during the first 30-40 minutes of mashing, just to watch for potential foaming or overflow issues.  Making sure the machine is level, that you're measuring water carefully and not getting too close to the grain limit will help.

The other frustrating thing about using the Zymatic is the recipe editor. You have two mash profiles by default - a normal single infusion mash and a high efficiency mash. The normal infusion mash is incredibly inefficient. That's the batch I had 55% efficiency on.  The high-efficiency profile delivers on its promise but can only be edited in their "advanced" mash profile editor.  That editor is easy enough to work with, but there's a catch. If you change the profile and save it, then go back to change an ingredient (e.g., to correct the alpha value of the hops), the changes in the advanced editor are discarded.  If you're not aware of this quirk, you'll find that the mash doesn't behave as you intended (it goes back to the default).  This is a huge bug that I'd think PicoBrew would fix, but they don't.

Still, I give the device credit. It's allowed me to focus on recipe development, to brew on days when I couldn't afford the time to stand over a mash and kettle, and to easily make smaller batches (and thus avoid accumulating too much homebrew). Despite its frustrations, I am overall happy with it.

2018 Saison v2.0

Probably my favorite Saison out there is Saison Dupont.  I recently read Jeff Alworth's The Secrets of the Master Brewers and reviewed his notes about how Dupont's beer is made.  I used this to inform my own Saison recipe which will hopefully come close to it.

A few notes from Alworth's book, for those thinking of making a Saison:
  • Dupont uses untreated (but very hard) hard water from their well to brew the beer, and they don't consider it to be a crucial element in the beer's flavor.
  • Although Dupont uses a 90-minute boil over an open flame (to deepen the color), you should be able to use a 60-minute boil if you add a color malt to the grist.
  • Dupont's strain of yeast was the basis for Wyeast 3724 and White Labs WLP565).  This strain doesn't do well at low temperatures and needs good aeration to avoid stalling out. 
  • Dupont uses 100% pilsner malt.
  • Dupont mashes in at 113F, then raises the temperature slowly over the next 1.75 hours until it reaches 162F.  Then they boil over 90 minutes to reach the gold color they want.
  • Dupont generally hops with Belgian-grown Goldings hops but does sometimes alter this depending on the available crops.  They only use two additions, one at the start of the boil and one in the last minute of the boil.
  • Dupont uses shallow, square fermenters.
  • The Dupont yeast is pitched at 77F and reuses the yeast up to 100-150 generations.  They let it ferment at temperatures up to 102F before doing anything to lower the temperature.
  • Primary fermentation lasts 1-2 weeks.
  • A different culture is used for bottle refermentation, and conditioning takes 6-8 weeks. Bottles must be laid on their side during conditioning or the beer doesn't taste right.  
  • They don't pitch large quantities of yeast, but relatively small amounts. This, their brewmaster says, seems like a small thing but it makes a really big impact on the beer.  Underpitching the yeast stresses it and causes it to develop esters.
With all that said, here's my attempt at a Saison Dupont clone.


6 pounds Belgian Pilsner malt
0.25 pounds Cara-Pils/Dextrine malt (for head retention)
0.75 ounces Styrian Goldings hops @ 6.3% AA (60 min.)
0.10 ounces East Kent Goldings hops @ 5.2% AA (10 min.)
0.25 ounces Styrian Goldings hops @ 6.3% AA (5 min.)
3.25 gallons starting water
Yeast cake of White Labs WLP565 Saison yeast from Saison 1.0

Although I'm not a big fan of East Kent Goldings, I thought they might lend a bit of citrus to the finished beer (something missing from my previous Saison), so I mixed them in with the Styrian Goldings.

The Picobrew recipe crafter estimates that the finished beer will have these characteristics:

  • Original Gravity: 1.068 SG (actual 1.065 SG)
  • Final Gravity: 1.015 SG
  • IBUs: 28
  • SRM: 4
  • ABV: 6.9%
  • BU/GU: 0.43
  • Starting Water: 3.25 gallons
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons (actual was 2.5 gallons)

Mash schedule:
  • 20 minute dough in at 102F
  • 10 minute ferulic acid rest at 113F
  • 10 minute rest at 120F
  • 10 minute rest at 125F 
  • 10 minute rest at 130F
  • 10 minute rest at 135F
  • 10 minute rest at 140F
  • 10 minute rest at 145F
  • 10 minute rest at 150F
  • 10 minute rest at 155F
  • 10 minute rest at 160F
  • 15 minute rest at 162F
  • 10 minute mash out at 175F
This mash schedule is meant to reproduce Dupont's mash at 113F followed by a gradual increase in temperature to 162F over 105 minutes.

Mash and boil temperatures for the batch

Boil schedule:
  • 90 minutes: No hops addition
  • 60 minutes: 0.75 ounces of Styrian Goldings
  • 10 minutes: 0.10 ounces of East Kent Goldings
  • 5 minutes: 0.25 ounces of Styrian Goldings
  • 0 minutes: Chill to 77F and transfer to fermenter
This boil schedule should result in a color comparable to that of the real Dupont Saison.

After the boil was over, I transferred the wort to a kettle and used my immersion chiller to bring it down to 82F. From there, I pitched it on top of the yeast cake left over from the previous Saison batch bottled earlier in the day.  This may reduce the stress the yeast is under (since the yeast is unlikely to be underpitched this way) but hopefully that won't make a big difference.

Fermentation schedule:
  • 1 day at 80F or higher
  • 2 days at 90F or higher
  • 4-10 days at 80F or higher
This should get close to the actual Dupont Saison fermentation process.

Note:  I pitched this atop the leftover yeast from the first Saison I brewed. Unfortunately, I forgot to close the spigot on the fermenter after bottling that one, and about a bottle full of wort ended up in a big puddle on the floor. This was both humiliating and irritating at the same time, and meant a lot of extra cleanup work.

02/17/2018:  The brewing process went smoothly. and yielded 2.5 gallons of wort at what my refractometer measured at 15.5 Brix. After adjustment, this works out to a gravity of 1.065 SG, which is pretty close to the 1.068 SG the recipe crafter software predicted for the batch.  Color was a touch darker than I thought it would be, given that the recipe contained only Pilsner malt, but that was the point of a 90-minute boil in Dupont's recipe.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Tripel Karmeliet Clone 1.0

Bosteel's Tripel Karmeliet is one of the best Belgian Tripels on the market. The official web site (linked earlier) claims that what makes the beer unique is its blend of three grains, which they claim is a recipe dating back to 1679. Roel Mulder, on his Lost Beers web site, researched the original recipe and shared it with the world.  I scaled that recipe to the 2.5 gallon capacity of the Zymatic and gathered the ingredients to brew it.


6 pounds Belgian Pilsen malt
2 pounds White Wheat malt
1 pound Flaked Oats
1.5 ounces Hallertau Mittelfruh hops @ 4.0% AA (60 min.)
0.5 ounces Hallertau Mittelfruh hops @ 4.0% AA (30 min.)
3.5 gallons water
1/2 vial Clarity Ferm
1 packet Wyeast 1388 Belgian Strong Ale yeast

Note:  I have since read an unsubstantiated report that Bosteels uses a Goldings hop variety in their Tripel rather than the Hallertau Mittelfruh reported in Mulder's recipe.  This is something I'll consider doing if I brew this again.

Mash schedule
  • Dough in at 102F for 20 min.
  • Ferulic Acid Rest at 113F for 10 min.
  • Protein Rest at 120F for 10 min.
  • Mash step 1 at 145F for 20 min.
  • Mash step 2 at 157F for 46 min.
  • Mash out at 175F for 20 min.
Boil schedule
  • 60 minutes - Add 1.5 ounces Hallertau Mittelfruh
  • 30 minutes - Add 0.5 ounces Hallertau Mittelfruh
Picobrew's recipe crafter estimates that the finished beer will have these qualities:
  • Batch size: 2.5 gallons
  • Original Gravity:  1.085 SG
  • Final Gravity:  1.021 SG
  • ABV:  8.3%
  • IBUs:  34
  • SRM: 5
Actual measurements taken post-brewing were:

  • Batch size: 2.0 gallons
  • Pre-boil gravity: 18.5 Brix or 1.079 SG (after adjustment)
  • Original gravity: 20.1 Brix or 1.086 SG (after adjustment)
  • BU:GU ratio: 0.395

I loaded the water into the Zymatic's keg, the grain and hops into the step filter, and fired up the machine.

Brew Session Notes

I was surprised to see that the Zymatic had lost my Wi-Fi password during a week or so of disuse.  That had not happened before.  I thought perhaps there had been a firmware update but I saw no change in version number,

Having seen the Zymatic under-shoot volume on the last few batches, I added an extra 20 ounces of water to the keg.  This, combined with the 9 pound grain bill (including wheat and oats), appeared to cause a problem. I stayed with the device through dough-in and it all looked good.  When I came back about 30 minutes later, I had a serious mess on my hands.

The Zymatic had foamed out the top of the step filter, and leaked a lot of wort from underneath the lid. The leaked wort covered about half of the top of the table on which the Zymatic sat, covered nearly all of the shelf underneath the table top, covered about 20% of the anti-fatigue mat next to the table, and ran from the table, past the shelves where I keep the clean bottles, underneath plastic bins containing grain, underneath the shelving unit I use to store grain, and made a garbage-can-lid sized puddle around the drain in the basement floor.  It took me about 20-30 minutes to clean up this mess.  After the Zymatic completed mash out, I noticed there was still a lot of wort in it, so I paused it and made it drain a bit more.  When I went to resume the brew, it suffered a fatal error and rebooted itself.  When it came back up, I had to restart the brew and step it past the mash process.  Fortunately there were no leaks after that.

The finished wort measured only two gallons, instead of the 2.5 gallons I should have gotten.  I'm guessing the missing half gallon explained the puddles everywhere.  Gravity measured 20.1 Brix which was right on target.  I chilled the wort to 76F with my immersion chiller, pitched the entire package of yeast, and poured in half a vial of Clarity Ferm.  I don't plan to use temperature control, to give the yeast a chance to feel a little stress and generate esters/phenols.  This, combined with the ferulic acid rest, should allow the yeast to express itself.  According to Wyeast, 1388 generates a complex ester profile, finishing dry and tart, which sounds like a good description of Karmeliet's oft-cited "lemony" note.

02/13/2018:  A sample from the fermenter was cloudy.  A fruity aroma hinting at banana, clove, and bubblegum. Flavor is sweet and malty with just enough hops to balance out. Gravity registered at 1.021 SG, which is right where I expected it to finish out, so it may overshoot my target gravity. I bumped the fermentation temperature up to 76-78F.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

2018 Saison v1.0

This post starts with a shout-out to the good folks at Adventures in Homebrewing.  I recently ordered two batches worth of ingredients from them, one that became 2018 Belgian Dubbel v1.0.  The other was intended to be this beer.  Unfortunately, there was a mix-up and only about six ounces of the grain was shipped. When I contacted them to report the issue, they shipped replacement grain immediately and it arrived quickly. No hassle, no argument, nothing.  That's the way to earn customer loyalty.

The recipe below is from Beer & Brewing Magazine, dating back to July 2016. It's purported to be "in the style of" Saison Dupont.  I've modified the recipe slightly, both to fit the Picobrew Zymatic and to remove the East Kent Goldings hops, which I don't care for.  I recently read that Dupont most likely uses Styrian Goldings anyway, and I prefer that to East Kent Goldings.  I've also modified the mash schedule to mimic what Dupont does as well.


4.5 pounds Belgian Pilsen Malt
3 ounces Vienna Malt
2 ounces Munich Malt
4 ounces Caramunich Malt
1 pound Wheat Malt
0.50 ounces Styrian Goldings hops @ 6.3% AA (60 min.)
0.25 ounces Styrian Goldings hops @ 6.3% AA (10 min.)
1/4 packet White Labs WLP565 Dupont Saison yeast

I plan to do an all-Pilsner malt version in the future to see how it compares to this.

According to the PicoBrew recipe crafter, this beer should have the following characteristics:
  • Original Gravity:  1.055 SG (actual was 1.058 SG)
  • Final Gravity: 1.012 SG
  • IBUs: 20
  • SRM: 7
  • ABV: 5.6%
  • Starting Water Needed: 3.08 gallons (I used 3 gallons and 16 ounces)
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons (actual was 2.2 gallons, added 1 quart to dilute some)
The mash schedule will be a modified version of Picobrew's Efficient Mash process:
  • Dough In for 20 minutes at 102F
  • Ferulic Acid Rest for 20 minutes at 113F
  • Mash step 1 for 20 minutes at 135F
  • Mash step 2 for 20 minutes at 140F
  • Mash step 3 for 20 minutes at 145F
  • Mash step 4 for 20 minutes at 150F
  • Mash step 5 for 20 minutes at 155F
  • Mash step 6 for 25 minutes at 162F
  • Mash out at 175F for 20 minutes
This should mimic Dupont's mash schedule somewhat. They begin with a ferulic acid rest at 113F, then gradually raise the temperature to 162F over the next 105 minutes.  It should result in a very fermentable wort and a dry Saison.

My fermentation plan is:
  • Post boil, chill the wort to approximately 82F
  • Infuse oxygen in the beer through a vigorous pour (and the Zymatic's natural tendency to incorporate air during pumping of the wort, so this should be well-aerated)
  • Pitch a smaller amount of yeast than normal, to encourage stress on it.
  • Place the fermenter inside my insulated zipper bag, after wrapping it with a heat wrap and a thin layer of insulation.
  • Seal the bag and set the temperature control to keep it at a minimum of 82F during fermentation, allowing it to get "as high as it goes" on its own above that.  (Dupont allows the beer to get to 102F before using any kind of temperature control on it.)
  • After two weeks in the fermenter, transfer to a secondary fermenter and let it rest another week, possibly with gelatin finings added.
  • Cold crash it and then bottle it, using corn sugar, and keep the bottles on their sides during conditioning.  I'll consider adding a different yeast strain at bottling.
  • Condition this way for six weeks.
This should also mimic what Dupont does and result in a good Saison.

Post-Brewing Notes and Observations

My grain mill got stuck on some of the malt during crushing and I had to fight with it a bit to get it to finish the job.  Fortunately that happened during the last few ounces of malt.

Dough in and mash went perfectly. The grain bed got fully soaked and even had a layer of water on top of it, so I wasn't concerned about it failing to hit its gravity.  It also did not foam significantly during the mash, which allowed me to focus on bottling my tropical stout and preparing the fermentation area to keep the fermenter warm enough.

Gravity came up slightly high (1.058 vs. 1.055) and volume slightly low (2.4-ish gallons after adding some distilled water) but close enough. I setup temperature control to keep the beer at or above 82F throughout fermentation. There was plenty of aeration so I'm not worried there. I pitched about a third of a packet of White Labs WLP565 liquid yeast, which is a little low and intended to stress the yeast a bit to improve the formation of esters. The ferulic acid rest should help there, too.

02/07/2018:  Over the last three nights, I watched the temperature of the fermenter and it hasn't seemed to go beyond about 81.3F.  I saw no airlock activity for a minute or so.  Concerned that I had underpitched the yeast too much, I took the risk of opening the fermenter and was rewarded with a Saison-ish aroma and the sight of about a half-inch of krausen atop the beer.  Satisfied that fermentation is taking place, I sealed the fermenter and put the insulated bag around it to keep it warm.  I'll check again on 2/11/2018.

02/13/2018:  I raised the temperature on the fermenter to 93F to allow the fermentation to finish out. A sample taken from the fermenter measured 10 an adjusted gravity of 1.010 SG and ABV of 6.4%.  I've heard stories of the Dupont yeast stalling out at a higher gravity, but did not experience it here. The sample is cloudy, a pale gold color, with a distinctive Saison aroma that's both a little fruity and a bit funky. The flavor is dry malt, with a definite hops presence, and a hint of citrus. The finish is very dry and slightly bitter.

02/17/2018:  Today, my wife and I bottled the beer with 2.25 ounces of corn sugar. According to Alworth's book, Dupont bottle conditions their beer in a hot room with the bottles lying on their side. I loaded all but six of the bottles into my "hot box" on their sides, so that I could compare them with the bottles loaded upright.  The temperature of the box has set to 82F.  Following Dupont's example, I plan to condition the beer for six weeks.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

2018 Dubbel v1.0

I have made a number of Belgian Dubbel recipes over the years. All of them have been nice enough beers to drink, but none have approached what (in my mind) is a truly good Belgian Dubbel.  I've even tried my hand at a recipe or two of my own design, with a similar lack of success.  Recently, I think I figured out why.

I've been keeping my beer's color within the BJCP guidelines of 14-17 SRM.  The genuine Belgian Dubbels I've liked the most are rated with colors as dark as 41 SRM.  These Dubbels, instead of being brown with a tinge of copper, are more of a dark ruby red.  This time, I worked to get a color and grist that seemed right to me and ignored the BJCP color guideline (while staying within the others).  I'm anxious to see how this one turns out.  I'm looking for a slightly-sweet, deep ruby color, with a strong dark fruit flavor and some noble hops aroma.


3.25 pounds Belgian Pilsen Malt
2 pounds Munich Light Malt
5 ounces Carapils/Dextrine Malt
8 ounces Melanoidin Malt
5 ounces Caramunich Malt
5 ounces Aromatic Malt
2 ounces Special B Malt
2 ounces Chocolate Malt
4 ounces D-90 Candi Syrup
0.55 ounces Styrian Goldings hops @ 6.2% AA (60 min.)
0.55 ounces Czech Saaz hops @ 3.0% AA (10 min.)
1/2 tsp. Irish Moss (10 min.)
1 packet Wyeast Belgian Abbey II 1762 yeast
1/2 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm
3.25 gallons of water

The PicoBrew recipe crafter estimates the following characteristics for the finished beer:
  • Original Gravity: 1.075 SG (Actual was 1.067 SG, 16.0 Brix)
  • Final Gravity: 1.019 SG (Actual was 1.013 SG)
  • IBUs: 20
  • SRM: 28
  • ABV: 7.3% (actual is 7.1%)
  • Volume: 2.5 gallons (actual was 2.1 gallons)
  • BU:GU ratio: 0.267 (actual was 0.30)
An advanced mash profile was configured for the brew, with the following schedule:
  • Dough In at 102F for 20 minutes
  • Ferulic Acid rest for 5 minutes at 113F (this is intended to help the yeast produce flavor)
  • Mash at 152F for 20 minutes
  • Mash at 158F for 46 minutes
  • Mash out at 175F for 10 minutes
Boil Schedule will be:
  • 60 minutes:  Add Styrian Goldings hops pellets (hopper #1)
  • 10 minutes:  Add Czech Saaz hops pellets and Irish Miss (hopper #2)
  • 0 minutes: Extract wort from keg, chill to 70F, and transfer to fermenter
The plan is to let the fermentation run as the yeast see fit, not using temperature control unless it gets unreasonably high.  Primary fermentation will run for 10 days, and then I'll likely transfer the beer to a sanitized secondary fermenter and give it another 7-14 days to condition before bottling.

Post-Brewing Notes

Changing my grain mill's crush setting to (approximately) 0.045 seems to have been a smart move. The grain bed flooded completely this time, ensuring a more-complete mash. I've had other brews before the change where the grain bed did not flood completely and the gravity was incredibly low as a result.  This is the second batch I've made since the change and both have flooded completely during the Dough In and Mash phases.

Original gravity, measured with a hydrometer after chilling, was 1.067 SG.  Measured with the refractometer, it was 16.00 Brix which BeerSmith adjusts to a 1.067 SG as well.  I seem to have dialed in the refractometer's wort correction factor.  Unfortunately, the lower gravity means the beer may not have quite the flavor profile I'm hoping for. On the plus side, it had the right color.

I screwed up and placed the Saaz hops in the third hop cage in the machine before brewing. They should have gone in with the Irish Moss in the second cage. That means we'll come up a couple of IBUs short and lose the Saaz aroma I was hoping for.  Live and learn, I suppose.  Since the beer came up 8 gravity points low, maybe the missing hops will be offset by the lack of balancing sugar. We'll see.

I pitched the entire container of yeast in the beer, so there's little risk of underpitching.

01/30/2018:  Fermentation has slowed, so I took a sample from the fermenter to see how it's coming along. The aroma at this point is yeasty but has some dark fruit elements to it.  The color is still more brown than the ruby I was looking for, but closer than my last few attempts.  The flavor on this batch also seems to be getting closer to what I'm looking for.  I think this will be a decent beer, but expect that there will be a version 1.1 or 2.0 in the future.

02/04/2018:  Fermentation appears to have finished, so I prepared a dose of gelatin finings and poured it into the beer.  I moved the fermenter into my mini-fridge to chill the beer and help the gelatin do its job.  I'm expecting to bottle the beer next weekend.  Initial taste tests should happen 2-3 weeks from now.

02/17/2018:  The beer was removed from the mini-fridge today and bottled with 2.25 ounces of corn sugar. The final amount of beer before bottling was approximately 2.1 gallons. Color was fairly dark but did have a reddish tint to it as I hoped, though I wanted a more ruby color.  This yielded 26 twelve-ounce bottles of beer. Those were placed in a 82F "hot box" to carbonate.  In about a week it should be carbonated.  

Monday, January 8, 2018

Belgian Single v2.3

I've been tweaking my Belgian Trappist Single recipe for some time now. Each iteration has gotten me a little closer to my goal, which is a Single that I'm happy to drink and which (I hope) would do well in competition.  My last version, made in July 2017, came the closest yet.

The previous version could have used more floral/herbal notes in the aroma, so I've added a late hopping with Hallertau Mittelfruh to provide that.  I include coriander and sweet orange peel in the recipe to help provide some fruity notes, too.

I've also included a ferulic acid rest in the mash to provide the yeast with the precursors needed to increase esters and phenols.  I recently read that this is common in many Belgian breweries.  The same source also suggested a two-step mash, with the first step at 145F and the second at 162F, so I included those in the mash as well.

It wasn't as clear as it could be, so I'm treating it with White Labs Clarity Ferm in primary and plan to add gelatin finings before cold-crashing it.  Hopefully that will provide the missing clarity.

The last version could have used a touch more hops, since the style is intended to lean toward bitterness. I've increased the hops slightly in this version to add bitterness.


3.75 pounds Belgian Pilsen Malt
4 ounces Aromatic Malt
3 ounces Carapils/Dextrine Malt
3 ounces Melanoidin Malt
0.50 ounces Styrian Goldings @ 6.2%AA (60 min.)
0.50 ounces Czech Saaz @ 3.0% AA (15 min.)
0.50 ounces Czech Saaz @ 3.0% AA (5 min.)
0.35 ounces Hallertau Mittelfruh @ 4.0% AA (2 min.)
0.60 ounces Sweet Orange Peel (5 min.)
0.20 ounces Coriander (5 min.)
1/2 packet Mangrove Jack's M31 Belgian Tripel dry yeast
1/2 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm
3 gallons, 16 ounces of water

The mash schedule used begins as the High Efficiency Mash profile in the Picobrew Recipe Crafter.  It's then modified to:
  • Dough In:  102F for 10 minutes
  • Ferulic Acid Rest: 113F for 10 minutes
  • Mash at 145F for 30 minutes
  • Mash at 162F for 36 minutes
  • Mash out at 175F for 10 minutes
This is followed by a 60-minute boil with hops, citrus peel, and coriander additions as noted above.

The Picobrew recipe crafter estimates that the beer will have the following qualities:
  • Original Gravity: 1.047 SG (actual was 1.050 SG)
  • Final Gravity: 1.011 SG
  • ABV: 4.6%
  • IBU: 28
  • SRM: 5
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons
  • Starting water: 3.1 gallons
After brewing, my refractometer measured the wort's original gravity at 12.1 Brix. When the wort correction factor is applied and the measurement converted to SG, it works out to an original gravity of 1.050, just a hair above what the recipe called for.  That worked out to an efficiency of 72.4%.  The final ABV might end up being closer to 5.5% than 4.6%. That's still well within the style.


I pitched the yeast and half of a vial of White Labs Clarity Ferm to remove gluten.  I plan to treat it with gelatin in secondary to further improve clarity.

It's been my experience that you get better flavor and aroma out of a Belgian yeast by fermenting at the high end of its temperature range. I've set the temperature control on this batch to hold the beer at 77F at a minimum and to allow it to go as high as it can.  With ambient temperatures below 65F in the basement and plenty of free space in the fermenter, the beer will probably not go too far over the yeast's upper limit of 82F - but I'm fine with that if it does. It may produce some warming notes, but given the low gravity of the beer, that's unlikely.

Brewing and Tasting Notes

01/07/2018:  My last couple of Zymatic brews have failed to fill the grain compartment with water, resulting in the gravity being quite low and a fair amount of grain dry (or at best feeling slightly "steamed"). After reviewing forum posts online, I decided that the most likely cause was that my grain crush was too coarse. I had the mill set to 0.063.  Forum posts suggest that the ideal size is 0.043 to 0.045.  I had to eyeball it, but I think I got the mill setting close to that.  This time around, the grain compartment flooded as expected - though this grain bill was smaller than those.

There was a small amount of foaming in this batch, but not enough to do more than accumulate on the top of the grain compartment's filter.  I tried to reduce this by following several suggestions in the forums. I added slightly more water than the recipe crafter asked for (just 3-4 ounces).  I made sure the dip tubes inside the keg were positioned properly and the correct lengths. I tightened the posts on the keg and the lines where they go into the machine. I also wrapped the fittings with Teflon tape to (hopefully) minimize air leaks.  While I didn't completely eliminate the device's tendency to suck in air with the wort, it's been reduced somewhat.

01/14/2018:  The airlock has seemed lifeless for days, so I conclude that primary fermentation has ceased on this one. I'm going to treat it with gelatin finings and move it to lager in a cooler area of the basement for a week or two before cold-crashing it.  The Mangrove Jack's yeast definitely seems to make a cloudier brew than I'm used to seeing based on samples extracted from the fermenter for gravity testing.

01/21/2018:  I've prepared gelatin finings for the beer and dropped them into it today. I moved the beer into my mini-fridge, since the weather forecast for the next week or so has our local temps between 25F at night and 50F in the day.  The mini-fridge should keep the beer closer to 34-36F which will help the gelatin to work.  I'm expecting to bottle the beer on 1/27/2018 or 1/28/2018.

01/27/2018:  The beer has clarified some, but is still quite hazy. I decided to bottle it anyway and just give it an extended period of refrigeration once carbonated, to see if that clears it up.  I'm expecting carbonation to be complete around 2/10/2018.  The beer's flavor at bottling was a dry and bitter, which is consistent with the style description.  If it remains that way at bottling it should be good.

02/04/2018:  The beer is now nicely clear and a bit overcarbonated. I used 2.5 ounces of corn sugar to bottle it, but the beer pours more as foam than beer.  Although I will probably still enter it into a competition this year, I'm hoping to brew another batch and get the carbonation right.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Dragon Stout Clone 1.0

When I visited Jamaica several years ago, a bartender at our resort introduced me to Dragon Stout, their local beer.  I loved it.  I ended up going shopping and buying a lot of the local beers, but nothing appealed to me as much as Dragon Stout and its higher-alcohol cousin, Dragon Stout Spitfire. Truth be told, I liked Spitfire just a little more. I brought some back with me.

Having re-read a BYO Magazine article about Debittered Black Malt (note: a subscription is required to access the article), I was reminded that they had published a recipe for a Dragon Stout Clone there. As documented below, it's slightly modified from their version and is scaled for use in the Picobrew Zymatic.  I also switched out the corn sugar in their recipe for some Turbinado sugar, which I thought might lend a more brown-sugar flavor to it.


7.25 pounds 6-row Pale Malt
0.50 pounds Crystal 80L Malt
0.50 pounds Debittered Belgian Black Malt
1.00 pounds Turbinado Sugar
0.60 ounces of Magnum hops @ 12.3% AA (70 min.)
1/4 tablet Whirlfloc (10 min.)
1/8 tsp. Yeast Nutrient (10 min.)
1 packet Saflager S-23 Lager Yeast

According to the Picobrew site, the beer should reach the following characteristics:
  • Original Gravity: 1.085 SG (actual was only 1.063 SG)
  • Final Gravity: 1.011 SG (actual was too low to measure, 6.1 Brix uncorrected)
  • IBUs: 35
  • SRM: 38
  • Estimated ABV: 9.6% (coming closer to Spitfire) 
  • Actual ABV: 8.3%
  • Starting Water: 3.31 gallons
  • Batch Size: 2.2 gallons
The High Efficiency mash schedule was used, with the mash steps modified to 153F for 36 minutes and 158F for 30 minutes. I hoped this would achieve some unfermentable sugars that would give the beer its characteristic sweetness.

The recipe also called for Sinamar to be added at bottling to achieve the desired color. I'll wait and see if I think that's called for.

A 120-minute boil is called for in the recipe, with no hops additions for the first 60 minutes.  To get the bitterness right, I altered that to 50 minutes without hops and 70 minutes with Magnum.

Brewing and Related Activities

I dissolved the Turbinado in the water when adding it to the keg, to reduce the grain bill in the step filter to 8.25 pounds, which is below the Zymatic's 9-pound limit.  Even at that, there were parts of the grain compartment that did not get wet during the mash.

While the Zymatic worked on the beer, I began getting ready.  This is a huge gain you get from the machine.  It handles most of the brewing tasks, allowing you to spend your time on other things.

I sanitized my fermenter and prepped the temperature control system.  I also prepped my temperature logger, since I wanted to know if the beer stayed in the lager range throughout fermentation or if more robust temperature control will be needed in future lager brewing endeavors.

Since I still had time, I sanitized a case of bottles and bottled my 1-gallon Blonde Ale batch and 1-gallon Malt Liquor batch, rinsed and dried the bottles, then labeled them before dropping them into my "hot box" for carbonation.  Then I cleaned the bottling bucket, the two fermenters, and other items that needed a cleanup. I also rinsed my immersion chiller so it would be ready when the Dragon Stout finished brewing.

Having done pretty much everything I could, I came upstairs and monitored the Zymatic through the boil and waited for it to finish.

Chilling and Fermenting

The colder-than-usual Ohio winter has made a corner of my basement a perfect lagering temperature of about 55F. I set the fermenter up there, wrapping it with a fermwrap heater and my Cool Zone cooling jacket.  The cooling jacket was connected to a large reservoir of "basement temperature" water for cooling purposes.  I also inserted my temperature logger to record the temperatures the fermenter reached during fermentation over the next four weeks to see if it stayed in a safe range for the yeast.  It should be finished fermenting around February 3.

Post-Mortem and Other Notes

01/06/2018: The Zymatic definitely seems to have issues when brewing with large grain bills.  The last 2-3 brews I've made have pushed the 9-pound limitation (with this one weighing in at 8.25 pounds if you don't count the sugar - which was added to the mash water).  The device seems to have trouble flooding the grain compartment enough to wet all the grain. After consulting the Picobrew forums, it's suggested that a grain crush of 0.043 to 0.045 is recommended for the device. My mill was set to 1.063, which is quite a bit larger. What may be happening is that the wort is able to flow too easily through the step filter and isn't spending as much time with the grain as it should. I've adjusted the gap so that the crush will be smaller for the next batch. We'll see if it behaves better.

I've also gone through all the connections and tightened them, done a deep clean cycle on the machine, and even put Teflon tape where the wort lines come into the Zymatic to help seal them a little better.  I tightened the keg posts. In the process, I saw that one of the dip tubes was jammed into the bottom of the keg instead of floating freely near the other. I loosened the post, adjusted the tube, and re-tightened it to see if that will help as well.

A forum post suggested pausing the brew during the mash and stirring the grain bed a bit to ensure that it all gets wet. That wouldn't have helped much (I think) in this brew because there was no water in the grain bed to stir around. Everything pretty much flowed through the grain bed and out.

01/07/2018: I'm not seeing any activity from the airlock yet, so it's difficult to say that fermentation is underway. Then again, I've never brewed with a lager yeast before, so they may behave a bit differently from their ale counterparts. We'll see in a couple of days if the gravity has changed.

01/14/2018:  Despite the Ohio winter being unusually cold, keeping this beer within the yeast's tolerance was a bit tricky.  I found that once fermentation really kicked off, it quickly jumped from 54F to 61.9F.  The cooling system seemed to keep it from going over 62F (the upper limit for the yeast I am using) but only barely.  I added ice a couple of times a day to keep the temperature under control.  I won't know for sure until I look at the temperature logger in a week or two. Today, however, the beer is back down to around 58F.

01/16/2018:  A small sample was extracted from the fermenter for taste testing. The sample seemed more dry than I recall the real Dragon Stout being, and a touch chocolatey. However, it wasn't too bitter. I recall the original having a slight smokiness to it that I don't get from this version. I'm hopeful that it will seem a little sweeter when carbonated and chilled properly. If not, I'll probably need to do another batch with a higher mash temperature, maybe some Munich malt, less Turbinado sugar, and a less attenuative yeast strain.

01/21/2018:  The corner of the basement where the fermenter is sitting has remained in the mid-to-upper 50's consistently for weeks now.  The temperature recorder reads the temperature inside the fermenter at about 57F right now, which is good for the yeast strain.  I may move the beer to a secondary fermenter this week and let it continue lagering.

Fermenter temperature stayed below 62F throughout primary fermentation

02/04/2018:  The fermentation has definitely finished and the yeast has dropped out of suspension well.  I bottled the beer today in 27 twelve-ounce bottles using Coopers carbonation drops as priming sugar.  I'm expecting to be able to try the first bottle of the beer some time in the next three weeks. A small sample left in the bottling bucket tasted like I remember the real Dragon Stout tasting. It was a little sweet, not astringent, with no harsh roasted grain notes, but a hint of smokiness.  If it retains these qualities when it's carbonated, I may do a side by side comparison with my remaining bottle of real Jamaican Dragon Stout.  If that comparison is favorable, I'll enter it into competition later in the year. A gravity test using my refractometer yielded a 6.1 Brix gravity for the finished beer. After BeerSmith corrected it based on my refractometer's wort correction factor and the original gravity of the beer (measured with a hydrometer) it came out to 1.000 SG.  Since that's very unlikely, let's just say it fermented very thoroughly.

02/11/2018:  Yesterday, I chilled a bottle of the beer and poured it. It definitely reminded me of the real Dragon Stout we had in Jamaica, though it wasn't quite as sweet and the yeast wasn't as expressive.  I'm guessing a shorter mash at a higher temperature might sweeten it up a little.