Saturday, December 9, 2017

Label Peelers Christmas Ale Kit

I've made a couple of attempts at Christmas ales that just didn't come close to what I wanted. The hops would be overwhelming everything, the spices undetectable, or the spice balance not quite what I was looking for. I decided it was time to try a kit, and the Label Peelers kit had great reviews.

It's an extract kit, which I don't typically brew, so that meant a shift from my usual process.

Ingredients

9 pounds Amber DME
1 pound Dark Candi Sugar (rocks)
1 pound Crystal 80L
8 ounces Chocolate Malt
2 tsp. Allspice
1 tsp. Cardamom Seeds
1 ounce Cinnamon Stick
1 ounce Sweet Orange Peel
0.50 ounces Ginger Root
0.25 ounces Magnum hops @ 12.3% AA (dropped from 1 ounce in the kit/recipe)
0.50 ounces Cascade hops @ 6.3% AA (dropped from 1 ounce in the kit)
0.75 ounces Cascade hops @ 6.3% AA (dropped from 1 ounce in the kit)
0.50 teaspoons Yeast Nutrient
1/2 Whirlfloc tablet
1 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm
1 packet Safbrew S-33 yeast

The kit included 3 ounces of hops, which BeerSmith indicated would make for a very hoppy brew. A hop-forward Christmas Ale might be what the recipe creator liked, but it would not suit me or most of my friends and family.  I chose a hop level that worked out to a bitterness ratio (IBU/SG) that approximated Thirsty Dog 12 Dogs of Christmas and some others I'm fond of.  If your taste differs, you may wish to include the original 3 ounces of hops.

BeerSmith reported the estimated stats for this beer at:

  • OG: 1.079
  • IBUs: 21.5
  • Color: 37.7 SRM
  • Est. ABV: 8.1%
  • Total Hops: 1.50 ounces
  • Bitterness Ratio: 0.272 IBU/SG
  • Estimated Pre-boil Gravity: 1.071 SG
  • Estimated Final Gravity: 1.018 SG
  • Batch Size: 5.1 gallons
  • Boil time: 60 minutes
  • Estimated Pre-boil Volume: 6.4 gallons
The recipe indicates that fermenter volume might be 5.25 to 5.5 gallons.

The brewing process:
  • Steep the grains for 20 minutes in 155F water
  • Add water to 6 gallons
  • Bring to a boil, turn off heat
  • Stir in the DME
  • Return to a boil, start timer
  • 60 minutes:  Add Magnum hops and first Cascade hops addition (0.5 oz.)
  • 20 minutes: Add spices
  • 10 minutes:  Add Cascade (0.75 oz.) hops, whirlfloc, yeast nutrient
  • 7 minutes: Recirculate wort through chiller to sterilize
  • 0 minutes: Turn off heat, cool chiller, pump into fermenter
After brewing, my actual results were:
  • OG: 21.1 Brix or 1.088 (vs. expected 1.079)
  • Fermenter volume: a little over 5 gallons (5.1 expected)
  • Wort temperature: 69.9F after chilling
  • Estimated ABV: 8.9%
  • Estimated IBUs: 19.9
  • Estimated Bitterness Ratio: 0.227 IBU/SG
Post-Mortem and Other Notes


This brew went pretty much as expected.  I dissolved the candi sugar rocks in boiling water before the boil began, and added that water after removing the steeping grain.  Everything else went according to the recipe provided by Label Peelers. The finished beer hit the fermenter below 70F owing to the cold ground water and counter flow chiller.

The recipe indicates that the beer should ferment at 67-71F for 7-10 days, after which it can be transferred to secondary for 3-4 weeks, then primed and bottle conditioned.  I'm planning to skip secondary with this one.  That means primary fermentation ought to complete around Tuesday, December 19.  I'm not a believer in secondary fermentation, so mostly likely I'll just bottle the beer at that time and let it bottle condition. This might have it drinkable by December 25. We'll see.  More likely it will be ready a week after.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Trappistes Rochefort 10 Clone, version 3.0

I'm a big fan of Belgian Trappist beers, and Trappistes Rochefort 10 is one of my favorites. Some time ago I came across a recipe that claimed to be "very much a Trappistes Rochefort 10 clone" and brewed it.  The creator of the recipe was correct, it was quite close to the original.

The clone seemed to be missing the head and a caramel note in the original beer, so I tweaked the recipe to include Melanoidin malt and Carapils malt, which in combination seem to me to produce a very creamy, long-lasting Belgian-like head.  Unfortunately in the second version I also added a high-alpha hop to help with head generation and that ruined the beer for me.

In this version, I'm going back to the original roots. I'm using just Styrian Goldings to bitter it and Hallertau Mittelfrueh for flavor and aroma.  I'm adding Belgian Cara 45 malt to try to capture the caramel note that was missing from the first version.  I'm also using White Labs WLP540 yeast which is purportedly the Rochefort strain.

Ingredients

10 pounds Belgian Pilsner Malt
2 pounds Belgian Caramunich Malt
2 pounds Dingeman's Cara 45 Malt
1 pound Melanoidin Malt
1 pound Special B Malt
8 ounces Carapils/Dextrine Malt
4 ounces Chocolate Malt
1 pound D-180 Candi Syrup
1 Tbsp. pH 5.2 Stabilizer
1.5 ounces Styrian Goldings hops pellets @ 6.2% AA (60 min.)
0.70 ounces Hallertau Mittelfrueh hops pellets @ 4.0% AA (20 min)
0.50 ounces Hallertau Mittlefrueh hops pellets @ 4.0% AA (5 min)
8 ounces Brewer's Crystals (added due to low gravity)
1/2 Whirlfloc tablet
1/2 tsp. Yeast Nutrient
1 packet White Labs WLP540 yeast
1 Campden Tablet in mash water

According to BeerSmith, the characteristics for this beer should be:

  • Estimated OG: 20.2 Brix
  • Estimated Pre-boil Gravity: 18.9 Brix
  • Estimated FG: 8.5 Brix
  • IBUs: 26.9
  • SRM: 39.3
  • ABV: 9.6%
  • BU:GU ratio: 0.34
  • Volume: 5.1 gallons

Actual ended up being 6.0 gallons, 20.2 Brix OG, at 69F.


Mash

Placed 6.5 gallons in The Grainfather's kettle and began heating it to 154F.  Placed 2 gallons in a separate kettle to serve as sparge water.

A step mash schedule was used:

  • Mash in at 154F
  • Mash step 1:  154F for 30 minutes
  • Mash step 2:  160F for 60 minutes
  • Mash out at 167F for 10 minutes
  • Sparge with 2 gallons of 167-170F water
This yielded approximately 7 gallons of wort at a gravity of 17.2 Brix.  This was more wort than I needed (6.6 gallons) so a longer boil was required to get the gravity closer to the intended amount.

Interestingly, the large grain bill plus the use of Carapils and Melanoidin malts generated a fair amount of foam in The Grainfather's kettle during the mash, enough so that I had to clean it up a bit after taking these shots:

Foam escaping the kettle during the mash

Another view of the escaping foam during the mash
I would guess from this that the beer will have no problem generating and holding a head later on.


Boil

The original recipe called for a 90-minute boil, with no hop additions during the first 30 minutes. I brought the wort to a boil with the Brewcolator installed in the kettle.  After 30 minutes, the wort still had not reached the 6.4 gallon mark, so I waited another 10-20 minutes for it to get there. Then I followed the schedule below:
  • 60 minutes: Add Styrian Goldings
  • 20 minutes: Add 0.7 oz. Hallertau Mittelfrueh
  • 10 minutes: Add Whirlfloc, yeast nutrient
  • 7 minutes: Begin recirculating boiling wort through counter flow chiller to sterilize it
  • 5 minutes: Add 0.5 oz. Hallertau and candi syrup, stirring to dissolve syrup
  • 0 minutes:  Whirlpool, turn off pump, run cold water through chiller to cool it down
  • Pump wort into sanitized fermenter
Post-boil there was just a hair under 6 gallons in the kettle.  Pumped into the fermenter, it hit the six gallon mark, as very little remained in the kettle at the end.  Gravity measured 20.2 Brix and 21.2 Brix on different attempts.  I wanted to do a hydrometer reading but I had misplaced the sample tube.


Fermentation

The plan is to let this one free rise and ferment as the yeast activity dictates.  I hooked up a blow-off tube in anticipation of blow-off, since there wasn't a lot of head space in the fermenter and this is a relatively high-gravity brew.

I'm planning to give it about 2 weeks in the primary fermenter, then transfer it to another fermenter for 4 more weeks as secondary.  Then I'll bottle it, aiming for 3.0 to 3.5 volumes of CO2.

11/20/2017:  36 hours after pitching the yeast, I saw no activity through the blow-off tube. I was concerned, so I popped the lid to find a nice thick krausen. Now, there is significant activity. The tube is burping at least every second.

11/21/2017: The blow-off activity has slowed, but the water in the blow-off jug now has a pale brown color.  Tube burping has slowed to maybe once every two seconds.

12/10/2017:  Primary fermentation has finished.  I decided to skip a secondary fermentation, as I doubted this would benefit the beer... though this was only a guess.  In lieu of this, I would plan for a long bottle conditioning phase instead, and accelerate this with relatively high temperature. Based on some reading I had done since brewing the beer, I learned that many of the breweries in Belgium ferment and condition at temperatures as high as 95F.  I configured my "hot box" (insulated cooler with temperature control) to keep the beer at 85F.  I'll leave the beer in there for a month, or until I need the cooler again.

Post-Mortem and Other Notes

This batch provided another test of the Brewcolator device.  Anecdotally, it seems like batches brewed with the device cause the basement to seem more humid than batches done without it.  I haven't been diligent about measuring boil-off with and without it, to see if that can be proven scientifically.  That's something I need to do.  I do think it may be contributing to clearer beers, but again that's not scientifically proven yet either.  I do know that it tends to make drops of wort end up all around the kettle, which adds to cleanup a little.

Gravity came up low on this one relative to what I expected.  In part, I think this is due to my mash and sparge water calculations being off. I'll have to watch those on the next batch.

12/10/2017:  At the end of the brew, the fermenter registered six gallons instead of the five I expected. Today, at bottling, the number registered approximately 5.25 gallons.  I knew the markings in this particular fermenter were off, but I didn't realize they were that far off. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Grand Pumpkin Ale v1.0

Some time ago, perhaps more than a year back, I purchased a Great Pumpkin Ale kit from Adventures in Homebrewing.  The kit's been sitting in my basement in the original double-bagged container ever since.  This weekend, I decided to brew it, though I held out little hope that it will taste very good - not because I think Adventures in Homebrew didn't make a good recipe, but because it has to be at least a year old. There's a good chance the grain has oxidized and gone bad. But rather than throw it out, I decided to brew it anyway. The worst case scenario is that I'll have to dump it later.

The original recipe made for a very weak beer compared to most pumpkin ales I've had. It was estimated to have an ABV of 4.3%.  I'm not sure I've ever seen a pumpkin beer that low. I was also concerned that given the age of the grain it might not yield much sugar. I decided to put my own spin on the recipe. If it turns out to be terrible, it won't be Adventures in Homebrewing's fault.  Since I modified it significantly I decided to change the name to The Grand Pumpkin (a reference to one of the Simpsons Halloween episodes).

Below is the modified recipe as brewed.

Ingredients

12 pounds 2-row Brewer's Malt
1 pound Honey Malt
8 ounces Cara-Pils/Dextrine Malt
8 ounces Melanoidin Malt
8 ounces Caramunich Malt
8 ounces Chocolate Malt
1 can (15 oz.) Pumpkin Puree
12 ounces Turbinado Sugar
4 ounces D-45 Candi Syrup
1/2 Whirlfloc tablet
1 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm
1 small container of Pumpkin Pie Spice (31 grams)
1 package Safbrew US-05 yeast

Per BeerSmith, the beer ought to have the following characteristics:

  • Boil time: 60 min.
  • Batch size: 5.1 gallons
  • Est. OG: 1.083 SG, 20.1 Brix
  • BH Efficiency: 70%
  • Est. Pre-boil Vol.: 6.4 gallons
  • IBUs: 25.7
  • Color: 22 SRM
  • Est. ABV: 8.9%
  • Total Grains: 16 pounds
  • Total Hops: 1 ounce
  • Bitterness Ratio: 0.31 IBU/SG
  • Est. Pre-boil Gravity: 1.072 SG, 
  • Est. Final Gravity: 1.016 SG
I set the Brewhouse Efficiency low for this batch due to the age of the grains and the likelihood that the yield would be low. Plus, The Grainfather seems to drop in efficiency as the grain bill gets closer to the device's limit of 20 pounds.

Even at that, post-brew figures were:
  • Fermenter volume: 4.9 gallons (really, a hair below 5, so I'm calling it 4.9)
  • Original Gravity: 1.083 SG, 20.1 Brix
  • Pre-boil gravity: 16.1 Brix or 1.066 SG
  • Pre-boil volume: 22 Liters or 5.8 gallons
Mash

6 gallons of mash water were placed in The Grainfather. Mash water was heated to 158F and the grains stirred into it a few scoopfuls at a time until it was all added. Some additional stirring ensured that it was all wet and that there were no apparent dry spots or dough balls in it.  The top of the grain basket was put on and The Grainfather pump turned on to recirculate the wort.  After 60 minutes of mashing, an iodine test confirmed conversion.

The kit actually called for mashing at 152F.  I chose to mash at 158F because I wanted a more full-bodied beer with, hopefully, some residual unfermentable sugars to go with the spice and balance out the hops.

At about 30 minutes into the mash, I added a 15 ounce can of pumpkin puree to the top of The Grainfather's grain basket.

It slipped my mind to do the mash out. I pulled out the grain basket and poured in the sparge water (1.25 gallons) before realizing I hadn't heated the wort to 168F first.  This was past the point of no return, so I let it go. 

Pre-boil volume was expected to be 6.4 gallons, but was about 22 liters or 5.8 gallons. Gravity was below what I expected, but I ended up adding water to get it to approximately 6.4 gallons, as it heated to a boil.


Boil

A 60-minute boil was performed, using the Brewcolator device to enhance boil-off and perhaps reduce chill haze later on.  The boil schedule was:

  • 60 minutes:  Add Northern Brewer
  • 10 minutes:  Begin circulating boiling wort through chiller to sterilize it and add Whirlfloc
  • 5 minutes: Add candi syrup, turbinado, and half of the container of pumpkin spices
  • 0 minutes: Turn off heat, turn off pump, and run cold water through chiller to bring its temperature back down before pumping into fermenter.
Post-boil volume was a touch under 6 gallons.

Fermentation

Wort was pumped through the counter-flow chiller into the fermenter. Wort temperature was 72F. I pitched the dry yeast directly into the beer along with the White Labs Clarity Ferm (intended to reduce gluten so a gluten-sensitive friend could enjoy the beer). 

I configured the temperature control system to keep the beer between 68F and 72F.  

The beer is expected to ferment for at least one week in the temperature control system.  After that, I'll let it ferment at ambient temperature for another week as secondary, possibly adding the rest of the container of pumpkin pie spice - if a taste test doesn't show enough of a spice flavor or aroma.


After at least two weeks of fermentation, I'll dose the beer with gelatin and cold-crash it in the mini fridge for 3-4 days to brighten up before bottling.

Post-Mortem and Other Notes

Experienced home brewers reading this are probably asking a lot of questions.  I'm going to try to anticipate some of these and answer them here:
  • Why did you let this kit sit around so long before brewing it?  I bought the kit on sale along with a bunch of other grain and hops. I kind of forgot about it for a while, because I had so much other grain in the brewing area that it kind of got lost in the shuffle. When I finally noticed it was there, I didn't hold out much hope for it tasting good, so I was hesitant to brew it. I finally reached the conclusion that it was never going to get younger so I ought to just brew the darned thing.
  • Why did you modify the kit?  The original specifications called for the beer to be only 4.3% ABV. I've never seen a pumpkin beer that low, and none of the ones I like is that low. Plus, knowing the age of the ingredients, I was pretty sure the 4.3% wouldn't be achieved and I'd end up with a really weak beer.  I decided to add some 2-row Brewer's Malt to raise the gravity. Then I decided to add some Honey Malt to maybe sweeten it a bit. I added Cara-Pils and Melanoidin to help give it a nice whipped-cream-like head (which seemed appropriate on a pumpkin beer).  I added D-45 because I had some sitting around, and Turbinado because I'd seen another brewer add it to a pumpkin beer and it sounded good.  This also helped me get to the gravity I wanted to reach.
  • Did anything go wrong during the brew?  Yes. Something usually does. In this case, I'd had BeerSmith set to 80% brewhouse efficiency, which I get for most beers.  After the mash, the efficiency was clearly much lower, so I adjusted accordingly. That's reflected in the numbers given above.  I also had some trouble with my motorized mill. Its spider gear came apart and I had to spend a while reassembling and tightening it.  It needed an Allen wrench, which I didn't have handy and needed to search for.  Apart from those things, it turned out well.
If I had all this to do over, I'd have made the kit much sooner after I purchased it.  In that case, I probably would not have modified it, since I'd have wanted to see how Adventures in Homebrewing's kit would turn out as-is.  

11/12/2017:  It appears that fermentation has dramatically slowed or stopped on this one. A refractometer reading showed it at 10.2 Brix, which is a bit lower than the gravity I expected. I view this as a further indication that fermentation is finished. I'm planning to dose it with gelatin and a bit of fresh spice later today.  Early samples taken from the fermenter have gotten my wife's seal of approval. In fact, she asked me not to give away too much of it, she likes it so much.  High praise.

11/15/2017:  I added gelatin finings and enough pumpkin pie space shaken into the fermenter to create a thin layer across the wort (maybe a quarter of a teaspoon or so), then moved the whole thing into the mini-fridge to cold crash.

11/20/2017:  The beer is looking pretty clear and has a nice aroma, so I decided to bottle it. Yield was approximately 12 bomber (22-ounce) bottles and 30 bottles at 12 ounces.

11/21/2017:  I designed and printed the label, then removed bottles from my "hot box" long enough to get the labels on. They'll now sit in the 76F box until they carbonate, which should take 1-2 weeks.

12/04/2017:  The first couple of test bottles have been refrigerated and opened. The beer is incredibly dark for a pumpkin ale, probably due to the age of the grain.  It has a pleasant spicy aroma, not too much or too little for my taste.  The flavor is very close to my ideal pumpkin beer.  It's slightly sweet, with a clear (but not too intense) spice note, with a touch of pumpkin flavor, and enough hops to balance it but not enough to make it bitter.  I get a cola-like flavor from it, possibly due to oxidation, but it's hard to say.  Overall it's a good beer and I'd make it again with fresh ingredients.

Next Time

When I brew this one again, and I will, I plan to make the following changes:

  • Brew with fresh grain instead of the older kit I used this time
  • Ensure that I hit my gravity, boiling off or adding extract as needed to hit the target
  • Add Victory Malt (maybe 10-15%) to add a biscuit-like flavor to the beer, which I think would be reminiscent of pie crust
  • Add the pumpkin puree sooner, and perhaps double the amount, to bump that flavor up
  • Mash at 156F instead of 158F to reduce the sweetness slightly.

I think those changes would get me closer to my ideal pumpkin ale.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Ando's Cascade Pale Ale v3.0

This recipe started out as an attempt to replicate the no-longer-made Stevens Point Brewery Cascade Pale Ale. A good friend of mine was a huge fan of the beer and was disappointed when it was no longer being made.  My first attempt was a drinkable beer but bore little resemblance to the real thing. My second attempt was much better, and my friend (who may have been being nice) said he preferred it to the real beer.  Still, even that version was a little light on hop flavor and a bit darker than the actual beer.

For this version, I'm going with a plain 2-row malt base instead of a Pale Ale malt. This should lighten the color of the beer.  I'm increasing the amount of Caramel and Munich malts to get closer to the original beer's sweetness level, and adding some Cara-Pils to give it a longer-lasting head.  I'm also going to hop the beer every 5 minutes, kind of a balance between minute-by-minute continual hopping and using the typical addition timings (i.e., 60, 30, 15, 10, 5, 0). I'm hoping this will enhance the hop flavor and give a bit more bitterness too.

Ingredients

8 pounds 2-Row Brewer's Malt
12 ounces Caramel/Crystal 10L
12 ounces Munich Malt (Light)
8 ounce Cara-Pils/Dextrine Malt
2.6 ounces Cascade pellet hops @ 6.2% AA (every 5 minutes)
1 ounce Cascade pellet hops (dry-hop in secondary)
1 vial White Labs California Ale yeast
1 Tbsp. pH 5.2 Stabilizer in the mash
1 Campden Tablet in the mash water
1/4 tsp. Super Irish Moss
1 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm (to reduce gluten)

According to BeerSmith, this beer should yield the following characteristics:

  • Batch Size: 5.1 gallons
  • Boil Time: 90 minutes
  • Est. Pre-boil Volume: 6.6 gallons
  • Est. OG: 1.057
  • IBUs: 40.1
  • Color: 4.7 SRM
  • Est. ABV: 5.4%
  • BH Efficiency: 80%
  • Total Grains: 10 pounds
  • Total Hops: 3.6 oz.
  • Bitterness Ratio: 0.697
  • Est. Pre-boil Gravity: 1.049
  • Est. Final Gravity: 1.017
Post-brewing, the following actual values were recorded:
  • Pre-boil volume: 6.3 gallons
  • Fermenter volume: 4.9 gallons (est.)
  • Original Gravity: 13.1 Brix (1.053 SG)
  • Measured Efficiency: 70.9%
As you can see, I came out way below my usual efficiency on this batch. My suspicion is that this is a result of using a variety of grains I've had on hand for a while.  The Cara-Pils, Caramel 10L, Munich, and a good percentage of the 2-row malt have been in my storage area for several months.  It's possible that they couldn't deliver the yield expected from them.  Since one reason I brewed this beer was to clear out those grains, I'm disappointed but not upset about this result.

Mashing

4.25 gallons of mash water will be added to The Grainfather and treated with a Campden Tablet to ensure removal of chlorine and chloramine.  An additional 3.25 gallons of sparge water will be heated in a separate vessel while the mash takes place.

A 45-minute mash at 158F will be conducted.  The Grainfather tends to have an average internal grain bed temperature a bit lower than what is indicated on its thermometer, so I'm mashing higher than I'd normally do to see if this will improve the sweetness and body of the beer.

After the 45-minute mash, a 10-minute mash out at 168F will be conducted.

The 3.25 gallons of sparge water will be run through the grain basket and the temperature controls on The Grainfather set to heat to boiling as the sparge water drains through the grain.

The Boil

Again, to improve caramelization and hopefully provide some unfermentable sugars to offset the increased hops load this time, a 90-minute boil will be used in this version of the recipe.

The boil schedule:
  • 90 minutes:  No hops additions
  • 60 minutes: Add 0.2 ounces of Cascade
  • 55 minutes: Add 0.2 ounces of Cascade
  • 50 minutes: Add 0.2 ounces of Cascade
  • 45 minutes: Add 0.2 ounces of Cascade
  • 40 minutes: Add 0.2 ounces of Cascade
  • 35 minutes: Add 0.2 ounces of Cascade
  • 30 minutes: Extract 4 ounces of wort for use with the Super Irish Moss and allow it to begin cooling. Add 0.2 ounces of Cascade
  • 25 minutes: Add 0.2 ounces of Cascade
  • 20 minutes: Add 0.2 ounces of Cascade
  • 15 minutes: Add 0.2 ounces of Cascade
  • 10 minutes: Add Super Irish Moss, 0.2 ounces of Cascade
  • 5 minutes: Begin circulating wort through counter flow chiller to sterilize it, and add 0.2 ounces of Cascade
  • 0 minutes: Stop circulating wort through chiller, turn off heat, add 0.2 ounces of Cascade, and begin whirlpooling.
After a few minutes of whirlpooling, transfer wort through the counter flow chiller into the fermenter.

The Brewcolator

Once again, I used The Brewcolator for this batch of beer.  This is a device intended to "percolate" the beer in the kettle to increase boil-off, drive off DMS precursors, reduce fuel consumption, and produce better beer.  My first test didn't indicate a significant difference between using the device and not using it.  The second test saw it clog with hops particulate due to an accidental direct kettle addition (instead of one in the hop spider).  This time around, the device had a much better chance to show its benefits. It was in the kettle for a 90-minute boil, hops pellets remained in the spider, and The Brewcolator was properly adjusted for height.

The net result was that I saw a significant increase in boil-off for this batch.  I've measured boil-off in the past at 0.4 gallons per hour in The Grainfather, which matches up to their specs for the device.  With the addition of The Brewcolator, I saw this increase tonight to 0.7 gallons per hour, or 1.05 gallons over a 90-minute boil.  That's a pretty significant increase.  If this holds across multiple batches, The Brewcolator may be a piece of my standard kit from here on.

Fermentation

According to White Labs, the California Ale Yeast likes a temperature in the 68-73F range. I'll set my temperature control system to 70F and have it keep the wort as close to that temp as it can.  This should yield a mostly neutral yeast flavor profile, keeping in line with the original Stevens Point beer.

I'll need to keep an eye on this batch, as the yeast I pitched was harvested from a batch of IPA I made in late June.  That makes it a bit under four months old.  My experience so far has been good with harvested yeast, but this would be the oldest harvested yeast I've used.  If I don't see airlock activity within 48 hours, I'll pitch some US-05 yeast into the fermenter to supplement it.

After 1-2 weeks in Primary, I'll add gelatin finings and transfer the beer into my mini-fridge to cold crash and clear it up.  I'll also add the dry hops at that time.  

After 3-4 days in cold crash, I'll transfer it to a bottling bucket and bottle it.

Given the relatively low alcohol content (5.4%) it should have plenty of viable yeast, even after cold crashing, so bottle conditioning yeast should be unnecessary.  

Post-Mortem and Other Notes

10/08/2017:  With version 2.0, I had a good pale ale, but one which still did not measure up to the original Stevens Point beer.  It needed more sweetness and more hops flavor, plus a touch more bitterness.  This time around, I hoped that continual hopping, increasing the mash temperature, lengthening the boil, and increasing the amount of Caramel and Munich Malts would achieve these goals.  In a few weeks, we should know the answer.

It took me 4 hours and 15 minutes to produce this beer from beginning to end using The Grainfather. That's a much shorter brew time than I normally experience, so I am happy about that.  I used hot tap water to start the mash and sparge water, cut the mash to 45 minutes instead of the usual 60, and leveraged The Brewcolator to help with the boil.  With The Brewcolator installed, I saw 4L of evaporation in a 90-minute boil.  That's 1.05 gallons, or approximately 0.7 gallons of boil-off per hour.  The Grainfather typically sees 0.4 gallons of boil-off per hour.  If this figure repeats across a number of brews, I may have to re-adjust my calculations to account for a dramatically increased boil-off amount.

10/18/2017:  A sample extracted from the fermenter showed that the color is indeed much lighter this time around.  The flavor of the sample showed a definite hops bitterness, though none of the sweetness I had been hoping to achieve.  It's still too soon to tell, but I expect we'll have a version 3.1 at least, before I nail this one to my satisfaction.

10/22/2017:  An ounce of Cascade was added to the fermenter today as dry hops to improve the aroma of the finished beer.  A teaspoon of gelatin was "bloomed" in four ounces of water and then microwaved to 160F to sanitize it before being added to the fermenter.  The dry-hopped and gelatin-fined beer was then moved into the mini-fridge for cold crashing prior to bottling.  I'm expecting to bottle it Wednesday or Thursday evening, and to test the first bottle a week later to see how it's turned out.

10/29/2017:  The beer was bottled with 5.25 ounces of corn sugar dissolved in boiled water.  Yield was roughly 4.5 gallons.  I ended up with approximately 18 22-ounce bottles, 2-3 16-ounce bottles, and 13 12-ounce bottles.  Below is an image of the bottles in the "hot box" I keep them in to ensure consistent, proper carbonation temperature.  Around November 5 I should have my first sample, and I'll start sharing with family and friends around the 12th.


11/1/2017:  An early sample bottle shows good carbonation. The aroma was mildly hoppy. Flavor had a touch of diacetyl (which is to be expected this early in bottle conditioning), a moderate amount of Cascade hops flavor, and only the slightest sweetness from the malt. Still not what I want it to be but definitely improving.

A glass poured from a bottle with only 3 days of conditioning - nice long-lasting head
11/12/2017:  Today I labeled the bottles in preparation for sharing with friends and family.  My friend for whom the beer is named sent me a text after trying his first bottle. He said that he was enjoying the beer very much..

11/21/2017:  The beer has been disappearing fast. I have about 11 small bottles left and approximately 10-12 bombers. I placed as many as I could fit in the mini-fridge to see if I can get them to clear up a bit more, as most have been fairly hazy when poured.

Rescuing uncarbonated or undercarbonated beer - An Experiment

A long time ago, I began to notice that when I brewed beers over 9-10% alcohol by volume (ABV) that they tended not to carbonate in the bottle.  It became a rule of thumb for me to always include bottle conditioning yeast (either CBC-1 or champagne yeast) any time I brewed a beer over 9%.  I forgot to do that with a beer that came out at 10.9%, and it failed to carbonate.  I learned with that beer that by inverting the bottles daily for a week to rouse the yeast inside, I could achieve carbonation.

When I brewed a batch of beer intended to replicate Dogfish Head's Palo Santo Marron, I decided to take a chance and not dose it with bottle conditioning yeast either.  After weeks in a warm location, there was virtually no carbonation, even using the bottle-inversion trick.

For another two weeks, I increased the temp to 80F and did a daily inversion of the bottles, while also rotating them around the space inside the cooler to ensure that every bottle spent time in every temperature condition in the cooler. Again, there was no significant carbonation.

Today I decided to see if I could rescue the beer without contaminating it.

The goals of this experiment were:
  • Determine if pitching active bottle conditioning yeast into a flat bottle of beer is by itself enough to carbonate that beer.
  • Determine if pitching active bottle conditioning yeast along with additional carbonation sugar is enough to carbonate the beer.
  • If one or both of the above is true, determine the minimum amount of yeast you would need to add to a bottle to achieve carbonation.
To test the experiment, I did the following:
  • Removed exactly half the bottles from my temperature-controlled cooler and brought them to my bottling table.
  • Boiled water and rehydrated a packet of CBC-1 Cask and Bottle Conditioning Yeast along with about a tenth of a teaspoon of yeast nutrient and a tablespoon of Brewer's Crystals to ensure viable, active yeast was being used.
  • Opened a fresh package of Cooper's Carbonation Drops.
  • Sanitized enough bottle caps to re-cap the bottles used for the experiment.
Once the yeast proved to be active, I followed the process below for each bottle:
  • Uncap the bottle and drop in zero (0) to two (2) carbonation drops.
  • Using a sanitized disposable pipette, suck up a pipette full of yeast slurry and squirt it into the bottle.  I used as few as one squirt to as many as six squirts.
  • Immediately re-cap the bottle using a sanitized cap and my bench capper.
  • Dry off the cap and mark it with a Sharpie to indicate the number of carbonation drops inserted (0 to 2) and the number of yeast doses inserted (1 to 6).
  • Return the bottles to the temperature controlled cooler along with the original (control) beers.
As I write this sentence (on October 8, 2017) the experiment has just begun.  My plan from this point forward is as follows:
  • For the next two weeks, open the cooler and invert each bottle to ensure that the yeast is roused and moved through the beer. Hopefully this will give me the best chance at carbonating the beer.
  • After two weeks, take a bottle of the "most dosed" beer out of the cooler and refrigerate it overnight to chill to drinking temperature.  Open the beer, pour it into a glass, and observe its carbonation level.  Hopefully it will achieve a decent (if not overly high) level of carbonation.
  • If that "most dosed" beer still isn't carbonated, give it another week of 80F and rousing and try again.  If that doesn't work, I'll give up and force carbonate the beer a gallon at a time in my Man Can growler.
  • Assuming that this "most dosed" bottle does carbonate as I hope, chill a bottle of all the other "dosage levels" of sugar and yeast.  Open those to see what level of carbonation drops and fresh yeast achieved a nice level of carbonation in the beer.
  • Once an ideal number of carbonation drops and yeast doses is identified, remove the rest of the bottles from the cooler and dose them appropriately, following the same process of inverting daily and keeping the temp under control.
I'll be back to update this article later in the month when I have tested the first bottle.

Outcome

10/15/2017:  I removed one of the bottles from the hot box and chilled it to drinking temperature. This particular bottle had 2 carbonation drops and 4 pipette doses of yeast added before re-capping.  Prying off the cap yielded a definite release of CO2.  Pouring into a glass also yielded a thin head that dissipated quickly along with a nice amount of carbonation in the glass.  While I will want to test some of the other bottles to see if I can identify a mix of carbonation drops and yeast addition that provides my desired amount of carbonation, The experiment was a success!

Two carbonation drops and four doses of yeast, one week of conditioning

10/21/2017:  I placed a bottle of each "dosage" of yeast and sugar into the refrigerator last night to try to see what the optimal level of sugar and yeast additions would be for this beer. That will enable me to properly dose the rest of the batch (which is still flat) and achieve a desirable carbonation level.  I'll share more on this as I open and test each bottle.

10/22/2017:  Below is a photo of a 12-ounce bottle of the previously-uncarbonated beer after two weeks in an 80F box, when treated with only 3 doses of yeast and no additional sugar, and being poured hard into a glass.

No carbonation drops, but 3 doses of yeast
Zero carb drops, 3 doses of yeast, approximately 14 days of conditioning
10/28/2017:  Below is a photo of a bottle with two doses of yeast and no added sugar.  Poured hard into the glass it had some carbonation, but not as much as the previous bottle which had three doses of yeast.  So far, the three-dose version looks better to me for this beer.

Two doses of yeast, no carb drops, 20 days of conditioning

11/12/2017:  Below is a bottle dosed with one pipette of yeast and 1 carbonation drop.  While it did provide some carbonation, the level is considerably lower than the previous bottle opened, which had two doses of yeast and no additional sugar. This leads me to think that dosing the beer with fresh, active yeast is more important than adding sugar.  This bottle has had longer to condition and carbonate than any of the above, and is the flattest of them all.

1 carb drop, 1 dose of yeast, 30+ days of conditioning

11/21/2017:  I mixed up some CBC-1 yeast and got it to start actively fermenting. Once it was going well, I gathered all my remaining "un-dosed" bottles together and gave each three pipettes of yeast, which was enough in the test cases to give me a good carbonation level.  I then re-capped each bottle and returned it to the 76F "hot box" (well-insulated cooler with a fermwrap heater inside and a temperature controller) to carbonate.  Last night, after a week in the hot box, the beer was properly carbonated and ready to drink.

Conclusion

Following are my recommended guidelines regarding carbonation of bottled homebrew. As with any recommendation, you should test these and if your experience dictates differently, adjust these recommendations to meet your unique requirements as a home brewer.

  • For beers above 10% ABV, I recommend rehydrating a dry yeast like Danstar CBC-1 or a champagne yeast.  Pitch this into the bottling bucket along with your priming sugar. Bottle the beer as normal. This should ensure good carbonation.  Below 10%, you should not need to do this unless you've really stressed the yeast or it's a variety that flocculates exceedingly well.
  • If you encounter a beer below 10-12% ABV that doesn't seem to be carbonating, try rotating the bottles upside down nightly for at least one week. On night 1, sit the bottle upright as you normally would. On night 2, flip the bottle so it's sitting on its cap/crown. On night 3, return the bottle to the normal upright position - and so on for at least a week. Then chill and open a bottle to see if it has carbonated.
  • If, after 1-2 weeks of "bottle flipping" as described above, the beer is still not carbonated, dose the bottles with fresh yeast. I recommend the process below:
    • Boil 4-6 ounces of water to sterilize it. While boiling, add about a half-teaspoon of DME or Brewer's Crystals. If you don't have those, corn sugar might work OK too. Add a tiny pinch of yeast nutrient as well. I literally used what I could pinch between two fingers without going overboard.
    • Allow the above mixture to cool to 95F or whatever temperature the yeast manufacturer recommends for rehydration.
    • While this is going on, prepare your bottle capper, sanitize an appopriate number of bottle caps and a bottle opener. Have all the bottles of flat beer ready to go.
    • Add the dry yeast and leave it alone. Check it every few minutes. When you see foaming or krausening happening on top of the mix, you're ready to begin.  Stir the mixture to ensure that it's got an even mix of yeast, nutrient, and sugar
    • For each bottle, uncap it, use the pipette to squirt three shots of yeast into a bottle, then re-cap it with a sanitized cap.
    • When you've completed all the bottles, turn them upside down, then right-side-up, etc. a few times to get the yeast mixed with the beer in the bottle.
    • Each day, rotate the bottle. On one day, have the bottle on its crown/cap. The next, set the bottle upright normally. This will give you the best chance of carbonation.
    • If you get any yeast-related off-flavors after a week (and I don't think you will), leave the bottles out at room temperature for another week or two to allow those to dissipate.



Saturday, October 7, 2017

Autumn Brown Ale v1.0

The finished Autumn Brown Ale
My wife and I enjoy the various Christmas Ales on the market.  I'm personally a fan of Hoppin' Frog's Frosted Frog, Scaldis Noel, Thirsty Dog's 12 Dogs of Christmas, and a few others.  Oddly, I've never brewed a Christmas Ale myself. I decided to give it a shot this year.

What I came up with for a recipe is a bit of a "kitchen sink" kind of beer in terms of the malt portion of the recipe.  I had a number of malts that might have been getting stale sitting on the shelf, and which also might be good in a Christmas beer, so I assembled a recipe to use them.  If I was doing this again, with an agenda that didn't include getting rid of some possibly-older malts, I'd probably have a much simpler recipe.  Regardless, below is what I wound up putting together.

Ingredients

4 pounds of Maris Otter malt
4 pounds of Belgian Pale Ale malt
1.5 pounds of Aromatic Malt
1 pound of Caramel 60L
1 pound of Caramel 80L
1 pound of Honey Malt
1 pound of Melany (Melanoidin) Malt
1 pound of Special B Malt
12 ounces of Flaked Oats
4 ounces of Caramel 40L
2 ounces of Chocolate Malt
0.5 ounces of Cascade hops pellets @ 6.2% (60 min.)
0.75 ounces of Cascade hops pellets @ 6.2% (30 min.)
1.00 ounces of Cascade hops pellets @ 6.2% (15 min.)
1.25 ounces of Cascade hops pellets @ 6.2% (5 min)
0.5 tsp. Minced Ginger
1.5 ounces of Sweet Orange Peel
0.15 ounces of Indonesian Cinnamon Stick (whole)
1 packet Wyeast 3463 Forbidden Fruit yeast
1 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm
1 Campden Tablet
1 Whirlfloc Tablet
1 Tbsp. pH 5.2 Stabilizer

BeerSmith gives the brew the following characteristics:
  • Est. Original Gravity: 1.081 SG
  • IBUs: 19.8
  • Color: 29.2 SRM
  • Est. ABV: 8.3%
  • Total Grains: 15.63 pounds
  • Total Hops: 2.5 ounces
  • Bitterness Ratio: 0.245
  • Est. Pre-Boil Gravity: 1.074 SG
  • Est. Final Gravity: 1.018 SG
  • Batch Size: 5.5 gallons
  • Est. Pre-boil Volume: 6.6 gallons
  • BH Efficiency: 80%
  • Boil Time: 90 minutes
Given that some of the grain used was possibly a year old or older, some was pre-crushed when I purchased it, etc., these targets were not met.  The actual beer came out around these numbers:
  • Original Gravity: 1.055 SG (13.6 Brix) vs. 1.081 SG or 21.6 Brix expected
  • Fermenter Volume: 5.5 gallons
  • BH Efficiency: 54.4% (vs. my usual 80%)
This, I think, shows the importance of having fresh grain on hand when brewing and not letting your grain sit around too long.  It also shows that (in my opinion/experience) The Grainfather struggles a bit with larger grain bills.  When I have tracked grain bill size vs. efficiency, I've noticed that The Grainfather tends to give me 80% efficiency up to about 11 pounds of grain. Above 11 pounds, that figure seems to drop to around 70%, and once you reach 14 pounds or more it's often 47-60%... though I did have one batch with 18 pounds that reached 79% efficiency. I can't really account for that.

Mashing

I wanted a full-bodied, slightly sweet beer.  For that reason, I chose a 10 minute mash step at 122F to work on the oats a little, followed by a mash at 156F for 45 minutes, and a 10 minute mash out at 167F.  This went well, though grain didn't so much flow through the grain bed as around it based on what I was seeing in the kettle.

My pre-boil gravity was considerably lower than I expected, but that has not been unusual when BeerSmith is estimating pre-boil gravity with The Grainfather.  It's often low for some reason, so I didn't worry too much about that. 

Boil

I decided on a 90-minute boil, as this purportedly can improve caramelization. The following boil schedule was followed:
  • 90 minutes:  No additions
  • 60 minutes: Add 0.5 oz. Cascade pellets
  • 30 minutes: Add 0.75 oz. Cascade pellets
  • 15 minutes: Add 1.0 oz. Cascade pellets and Whirlfloc tablet
  • 10 minutes: Add cinnamon stick, orange peel, and ginger to hop spider
  • 5 minutes: Recirculate wort through chiller to sterilize it
After the boil, I removed the hop spider and allowed the liquid to drain into the kettle.  When the draining stopped, I whirlpooled the contents of the kettle for a few minutes before pumping the wort into the fermenter.

Final kettle volume was approximately 6 pounds at a gravity of 13.6 Brix, which is considerably lower than the 19.6 I had been expecting.  I'm attributing this to both some inefficiency in The Grainfather when dealing with large grain bills and the fact that many of the grains used have been sitting around a while.

The Brewcolator - Second Use Notes

With this batch, I decided to make use of The Brewcolator device again.  This is a device that's designed to "percolate" your wort to prevent boil-over, enhance evaporation, drive off DMS precursors, and in theory reduce fuel consumption.  As wort in the bottom of the kettle reaches a boiling temperature, it shoots up through the center tube of the device and out through the sprayer at the top.  Wort coming out the sprayer automatically reincorporates the hot break foam and has a larger surface area, increasing evaporation.

Normally, I use a hop sock and hop spider to contain any hops, spices, orange peel, etc, that I add to the kettle during the boil. I do this to minimize the amount of sediment in the bottom of the kettle and to hopefully have a less-intense cleanup at the end of brewing.  For this batch, I was distracted a bit and dropped the first hops addition directly into the kettle without a hop sock or spider.  This proved to be a fatal mistake for The Brewcolator.  Apparently, as I discovered after brewing, the hops pellets traveled to the bottom of the kettle, were sucked into The Brewcolator, and shot up into the tube.  They clogged the nozzle at the top of the kettle, preventing The Brewcolator from doing its job and resulting in a bit of a cleanup nuisance.  I had to fully disassemble The Brewcolator and poke the hops out of the nozzle before soaking the whole contraption in PBW.  It wasn't a major cleanup mess, but did add perhaps five minutes to my cleanup time.  This hop "plug" prevented the device from doing its job on this brew.

Moral of the story:  If you're using The Brewcolator, use a hop sock, too.

Fermentation

I decided to use a Belgian yeast strain for this, in part because I had it on-hand and in part because I've wanted to use this particular yeast for a while.  I also decided I would allow fermentation temps to run wild for this batch, hoping that the stress on the yeast would make the beer a bit more flavorful (and in part because my temperature control system wouldn't work for the fermenter I was using for this batch).  

The next morning, I saw activity in the airlock, which indicated (hopefully) that the yeast was happy in its new home and busily chewing through the sugars in the wort.  This continued for at least a couple of days.  I'm planning to let the beer have a week or two in the fermenter before either bottling or moving to a clean secondary.

10/21/2017:  The beer was bottled today with 6 ounces of corn sugar to prime it.  The sample taken from the dregs of the bottling bucket was disappointingly bitter and the spice notes didn't seem to come through the bitterness much.  Perhaps with a month or two of conditioning it will be better. If it remains like this, I'll be pretty disappointed.  It's more like a Great Lakes Christmas Ale than a Hoppin' Frog or Thirsty Dog (those last two being personal favorites, and the first "not so much").  I'll be back in a couple of weeks with a photo and taste test.

Post-Mortem and Other Notes

As I mentioned above, the direct kettle hops addition messed things up for The Brewcolator this time around, so I can't comment on its performance apart from saying that I wouldn't use one if you are the type who adds things directly into your kettle.  I normally don't, but did so by accident this time.

Somehow during this brew, possibly while working to get The Brewcolator in position on the bottom of the Kettle (around The Grainfather's temperature probe and pump filter which are also located on the bottom of the kettle), I managed to dislodge the rubber end cap of the pump filter. At the end of the brew, while pumping wort into the fermenter, I noticed the stream of wort getting thinner and thinner before stopping completely.  I poured the last of the wort into the fermenter by hand, lifting the entire Grainfather and tilting it into the fermenter.  Not the ideal way to go, but I didn't want to lose a half gallon of beer to a clogged pump.

Once I'd buttoned up the fermenter, it was time to clean the device.  This, too, proved to be a pain because of the direct hop addition.  The pump had sucked up a lot of hops pellet material and become clogged.  The counter flow chiller had also.  I had to blow air through both sections of The Grainfather tubing to clear the blockage.  After that, I emptied the kettle and ran hot water through both. This was followed with hot PBW solution, then more hot water to rinse.  In all, cleanup took at least 30 minutes longer than usual.  All that from (pretty much) dropping a single hop addition into the kettle during the boil.  Lesson learned.

10/28/2017:  The beer is now carbonated and as you can see in the photo at the top.  While it's a great looking beer in the glass, it is very definitely not what I wanted from a Christmas Ale. The chocolate malt and Cascade hops dominate the flavor, making it more of a moderately hopped brown ale than the slightly sweet, spicy, fruity Christmas brew I wanted.  It's not a bad beer, and it's definitely a drinkable one, but it is miles from what I intended.  Needless to say there will be a v2.0 recipe.  That one is likely to be simpler and less hopped.  Had the beer hit its intended original gravity, I think the hops balance would be better, but at its current gravity it's a hop-forward brew.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Salsbury's ESB version 1.1

I like a good English beer from time to time, and am fond of the Extra Special Bitter (ESB) style.  After surveying a number of recipes out there, I decided to formulate one of my own.  I made a 1-gallon test batch a few months back and it turned out great. It disappeared quickly.

One thing I didn't love about it was the flavor of the East Kent Goldings hops.  There is something in that hop variety that disagrees with my tastebuds, so I decided to shake things up a little in version 1.1.  Specifically, I am going to replace East Kent Goldings with Styrian Goldings and instead of using 60, 30, and 15 minute hop additions I will continuously hop this one.  Will it turn out like a traditional ESB or will it seem more like an "Imperial ESB" or "American ESB"... I don't know. We'll find out.

Ingredients

6.25 pounds Maris Otter Malt
1.25 pounds Caramel/Crystal 40L Malt
14 ounces Caramel/Crystal 60L Malt
10 ounces Caramel/Crystal 10L Malt
10 ounces Victory Malt
2.5 ounces of Styrian Goldings @ 6.2% AA (continuous)
1 Tbsp. pH 5.2 Stabilizer
2 Campden Tablets
1/4 tsp. Super Irish Moss
Danstar Lallemand ESB dry yeast
1 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm
4.1 gallons of mash water
3.25 gallons of sparge water

Per BeerSmith and my equipment profile for iMake's The Grainfather, this beer should achieve the following characteristics:
  • Volume:  5.1 gallons (actual was 5.1 gallons)
  • Pre-Boil Volume: 6.4 gallons (with water additions, actual was 6.4 gallons)
  • Mash time: 60 minutes at 154F with 10-minute mash-out
  • Boil time: 60 minutes
  • Original Gravity: 1.055 SG (13.6 Brix), actual was the same
  • Pre-Boil Gravity: 1.048 SG (11.9 Brix), actual was 11.2 Brix
  • Final Gravity: 1.015 SG
  • IBUs:  34.95
  • Color: 13.7 SRM
  • ABV: 5.3%
  • BU/GU Ratio: 0.65
  • BH Efficiency: 80%

The Mash

4.1 gallons of water were placed in The Grainfather and treated with a Campden Tablet to remove any chlorine or chloramine.  The water was heated to 154F and the grain added to the grain basket, periodically stirred during the addition to ensure there were no dough balls or dry patches.

A 60-minute mash at 154F was followed by a 10-minute mash out at 167F.

The grain was sparged with 3.25 gallons of water at 170F.  (Since there is a one-gallon dead space in the kettle used, I actually added 4.25 to the kettle and treated that with Campden as well.)

BeerSmith calculated that I would have a pre-boil volume of 6.2 gallons at 12.4 Brix.  After sparging, I had 6.0 gallons.  I added water from my sparge kettle until I hit the 6.4 gallon mark, which is the correct amount The Grainfather calculations aim for when making a 5 gallon batch. Gravity at this point read 11.2 Brix (versus the 11.9 Brix at 6.2 gallons BeerSmith calculated).  This could have been the result of picking a weak sample for the refractometer or the result of dilution.)

The Boil (and The Brewcolator)

After obtaining the 6.4-gallon pre-boil volume, I gently lowered the Brewcolator into the kettle using a silicone mitt, as I expected boiling hot wort to leak out the top as I lowered it.  That did not occur. I did note, as the photo below shows, that the sprayer was about an inch above the top of the liquid. The instructions recommend having it just above the top, so I removed it and adjusted the height down about an inch so that the set screw seen in the picture below was just under the wort level.

As the wort reached a boil, I divided the 2.5 ounces of hops into five equal-weight batches.  I labeled these for each 12-minute segment of the boil process.  I divided the first 12-minute portion up into 12 roughly-equal amounts.  This worked out to about 5-6 pellets per addition.

I dropped in the first dose at boil. Every 60 seconds after that, I dropped in another dose of hops.  If you wonder why Sam Calagione invented a device (the aptly named "Sir Hops Alot") to do timed hop additions, making this many hop additions in a single batch will make that very clear to you.  It's tedious to do manually.  You feel almost chained to the kettle.  This is probably why some recipes I've seen involving continuous hopping time their additions every 3 minutes instead of every minute.  That would probably work just as well.

As for the rest of the boil, it went like this:
  • 20 minutes:  Extracted wort and dissolved Super Irish Moss into it.
  • 10 minutes:  Added the Super Irish Moss mix into the kettle and stirred well.
  • 7 minutes: Recirculated wort through The Grainfather's counter flow chiller to sterilize it
  • 0 minutes: Turned off the heat. Lifted the hop spider up to allow the wort to drain from it. Ran cold water through the counter flow chiller to cool it down.
Post-boil volume was expected to be about 5.8 gallons.  

The Brewcolator - First Impressions

This was my first use of The Brewcolator brewing device.  Until I have the time to construct a proper review and give a buying recommendation, these first impressions will have to do.  (Note:  I did not receive a free unit, nor was I asked by the creators to talk about it here.  These will be my honest impressions based on a single use.)

According to the marketing literature, the Brewcolator:

  • Speeds evaporation time
  • Improves protein hot break
  • Saves time and fuel
  • Fits brew pots up to 14 gallons

That's it in the image below.

The Brewcolator
It's made of stainless steel, including the screws that hold it together. The screws are used to adjust the height so that The Brewcolator's "nozzle" sits just above the top of the boiling wort.  As your wort boils, it will periodically percolate up the tube and spray out the top. This spraying action prevents hot break foam from building up.

According to the creators, "Because the heat is concentrated in the center of the brew pot, less fuel is needed to bring your wort to a boil. In fact, you may find that you need to turn the heat much lower than what you're used to."

They also say that "Sometimes you don't always have the perfect set-up for making beer. It could be that you have a giant pot on a small burner, or the wind is blowing the flame away from your brew pot. With the Brewcolator in your brew pot you will always have the benefit of a good rolling boil."

While there are many things I love about The Grainfather, one thing I don't like is that it never seems to generate quite as full a boil as I'd like to see.  It is a rolling boil, but compared to what I can get from an induction cookplate or on the kitchen stove, it's weak.  Since I often see chill haze in my beers, I've wondered if a better boil would fix that.  (This is a minor nuisance, since gelatin finings will eliminate most or all chill haze given enough time in a cold location.)  I bought The Brewcolator hoping that it might help.

I decided to try the device with this batch and see if it helped with hot break or a rolling boil.  I cleaned and assembled it, then dropped it into the wort as it heated to boiling.

Brewcolator in kettle (set a bit too high in this image)

As you can see above, the nozzle is about two inches above the liquid level.  I had to remove it from the kettle, loosen one of the lower set screws, and drop the height about an inch so that only the nozzle was above the surface of the wort. (I didn't think to get a photo of that.)  Soon, as The Grainfather's temperature reading showed approximately 190F, wort would periodically spray out of The Brewcolator's nozzle across the surface of the wort.  That looked like the image below (taken before I adjusted the height).

The Brewcolator spraying wort across the liquid surface, preventing boil-over
The idea is that this periodic spraying action automatically reincorporates the hot break foam into the wort.  In practice, it worked as designed.  In addition, spraying supposedly increases the surface area for steam to evaporate from, helping to increase boil-off.

The Brewcolator deserves a review in the future, but for now here are my first impressions:
  • Temperature Oddity:  Without the Brewcolator, the temperature gauge on The Grainfather typically reads 209-212F during the boil. With the Brewcolator installed, I never saw a temperature reading over 203F.  I suspect that this means one (or perhaps both) of two things. First, the creators of The Brewcolator claim it concentrates heat into the center of the kettle. If so, that would pull it from The Grainfather temperature probe on the side of the kettle. That could cause a lower temperature reading.  Second, it could be that The Grainfather's scorch protection feature is detecting The Brewcolator as potentially-scorched wort and isn't heating the kettle as fully as it normally would, which would account for the reduced temperature reading (though it never actually triggered the scorch protection).  Either way, I hit my final gravity and volume targets on the nose, so the net effect for me was that The Brewcolator did not increase boil-off/evaporation (or it enhanced and interfered with it in equal measure, leading to no net improvement).  More experimentation and testing is needed.
  • Boil-Over Prevention and Better Hot Break:  As the wort heated up, it definitely began generating the usual hot break foam. Once the Brewcolator was inserted, it would spray wort across the top of the kettle (as seen in images in this post) every few seconds.  This had the effect of reincorporating the hot break automatically and preventing hot break foam from building up.  So in that respect, the Brewcolator delivered on its promise. With a Brewcolator installed, I would not worry about a boil-over.  If you have occasional boil-overs, I might recommend it to you simply on that basis.  Given its stainless construction, it would be a one-time purchase provided you took care of it, and provide permanent insurance against boil-over.
  • Cleanup:  Cleanup was easy enough. Pull it out of the kettle, soak it in hot PBW for a bit, then rinse with hot water.  The bottom of the underside of it needed a little wiping with a sponge to remove some residue, but that was it.  A brush is provided with it, so that you can scrub the inside of the tubing.
  • Splatter:  It's worth noting that even with a lot of head space above the Brewcolator (i.e., 5-6.4 gallons of wort in an 8+ gallon kettle) and with it adjusted (I think) correctly, there is still a bit of splatter outside the kettle from the spray.  I noticed splatters on The Grainfather control box after the brewing session was over and on nearby items. This is something to consider if you brew in your kitchen or another space where cleanup is important.
With only a single use of the device under my belt, I can't say that I definitely recommend it yet.  (On the other hand, if you want a tool to prevent boil-over, this should do that just fine.)  I've got some questions I'll want to answer for myself in future tests, such as:

  • Do I see a reduction in chill haze for beers made with The Brewcolator in The Grainfather versus beers made without it?
  • Does The Grainfather take longer to get to a boil with The Brewcolator installed versus without it installed?
  • Does The Brewcolator prevent boil-over in more-extreme cases, like beers made with a high amount of wheat, oat, Cara-Pils, and other protein rich malts?
  • If electrical usage is measured with a device like the Kill A Watt monitor, does it take less electricity to make the same recipe with The Brewcolator as without it?
  • Does the weld at the bottom of the device hold up with repeated usage? (For that matter, is the weld made of a food-safe metal?)  For what it's worth, the creators do sell the individual replacement parts at a relatively reasonable price.
  • What does iMake, the creators of The Grainfather, think about using a device like this inside The Grainfather?  Do they have concerns about it harming The Grainfather with repeated use, or do they think it would be beneficial?
Hopefully someday in the near future I can post a full review to answer these and other questions.

The Fermentation

Fermenter volume was estimated to be 5.1 gallons at 13.6 Brix by BeerSmith.  These numbers were hit on the nose, with 5.1 gallons in the fermenter and an original gravity measurement of 13.6 Brix.

The dry ESB yeast was pitched into the sanitized fermenter along with the Clarity Ferm, and the fermenter was sealed. Approximately 12 hours later, the airlock was bubbling actively.

The plan is to let this ferment until fermentation stops, 1-3 weeks from now.  I'm planning to use temperature control during the initial stages of fermentation to keep the beer in the 68-70F range.

10/14/2017:  The beer has definitely completed fermentation. I added a half-cup of water with a teaspoon of gelatin finings to it for clarification, and placed the fermenter in my mini-fridge to cold-crash.

10/22/2017:  I removed the beer from the mini-fridge today and although it's not crystal clear (and probably should not be for the style) it looks good.  I bottled a mix of 12-ounce and 22-ounce bottles.  Final yield was just under 5 gallons. I carbonated it with 4.05 ounces of corn sugar which should get me in the neighborhood of 2.2 to 2.4 volumes of CO2. That's on the high end for a British Ale but not insanely high.  I'll be back in a couple of weeks to do a photo and taste test.

10/29/2017:  At bottling, the beer seemed over-bittered to me, at least in a flat room temperature state.  That's no longer the case after carbonation and bottle conditioning for a week.  As you can see in the photos, it pours a nice reddish brown with thick head that lingers a while.  The aroma is one of malt, caramel, and noble hops. The flavor is mildly sweet, with caramel and maybe a hint of butterscotch, and just enough hops to balance the malt. It might benefit from maybe a 3-5 IBU increase in hops amount, but it's darned near exactly what I wanted it to be.  I'm very happy with it.

Post-Mortem and Other Notes

I made some equipment changes this batch which I thought might affect my efficiency. Specifically:
  • Mill:  For this batch, I used my new three-roller motorized mill from William's Brewing.  This made crushing the grain a much faster process and eliminated almost all wear-and-tear on my shoulder - which is often in extreme pain after crushing grain using my old hand-cranked mill (which didn't work with the motor kit).  My concern was that this might alter my efficiency by either more-consistently crushing the grain (thus increasing efficiency) or less-effectively crushing it (and thus reducing efficiency).  In the long run, I'm hoping the motorized mill improves consistency across batches versus the hand-cranked mill.
  • Brewcolator:  As noted above, I used The Brewcolator in this batch to see if it improved the boil, eliminated boil-over, and perhaps reduced chill haze in the final beer.  My concern was that this might increase boil-off and mess up my volume/gravity calculations.
The rest of my process was unchanged.  As it turned out, I hit my gravity and volume targets on the nose again, so these changes either offset one another or did not alter my results.  This is good, as it means I do not have to alter my calculations yet again.