Monday, June 26, 2017

Is it worth it?

Today, home brewing felt a lot more like work than a hobby.  All told, my wife and I sanitized, filled, and capped 12 bombers and 73 standard 11-12 ounce bottles.  I labeled 129 bottles, and did the basic layout for six different labels. I cleaned six fermenters, a bottling bucket, a couple of lengths of tubing, several airlocks, and miscellaneous other items.  It took most of the day.  I have to ask myself "Is it worth it?"

What will come out of all this labor?

  • Good Beer: The large batch we bottled today promises to be a really good beer, which clones one of my favorites from BJ's Brewhouse. Assuming that beer turns out well, and taste tests to date have all been positive, I'll have this high gravity Belgian beer to enjoy for months to come. I'll also be able to share it with friends and family who enjoy less-hoppy beers like it.
  • Brewing Experience:  Any batch you brew gives you practice and often teaches you something. Depending on how you slice it, today I bottled either two batches - or six batches.  One batch was the clone beer above. The other was a low-gravity beer aimed at raising yeast from potentially-dead packages.  It was split across five small fermenters, in theory yielding five different beers.  Doing these required me to practice adjusting recipes to fit my equipment, brew house efficiency, and overall needs.
  • Knowledge: When the bottles from the five small batches finish conditioning, I will learn how these five yeasts affect the flavor of the beers they ferment. That will help me with future brewing endeavors.  I've also learned between the big batch and one of the small ones that Wyeast 3787 is an aggressive fermenter that should always have a blow-off tube available.  It made a mess with both airlocks.
  • Yeast:  In addition to knowledge and experience, the small batch beers were designed first and foremost to grow the yeast from four expired or nearly-expired packages.  Now there should be enough cells available to use in future brewing.  I'll be able to use this "home grown" yeast rather than having to buy new packages.
  • Teaching:  It's very likely that I'll share bottles from the "yeast revival" batch with friends who brew their own beer.  This will give them the chance to learn how the different yeasts affect beer flavor, meaning that my work will help other brewers, too.
  • Goodwill:  It's pretty common for me to share my home brews with co-workers, friends, and family members.  This all builds goodwill.  

Looking over all of this, I guess I would have to say it's been worth it to put in the effort. I'm learning, helping others to learn, enjoying and sharing good beer, and perhaps saving a bit of money on future brewing activities.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Starting Gun Ale - A Yeast Revival Experiment

While taking an inventory of my brewing supplies this week, I noticed that I had five packages of yeast that were older than I realized. One had no date on it at all. Another was past its "best by" date, and the last was over two years old (and I decided to throw it out).

Rather than let these yeasts go to waste, I decided I should probably grow them so they'd be usable when I am ready for them.

I could do that by mixing up a batch of "Fast Pitch" wort starter from cans and using my stir plate.  That would mean spending at least $10 on the cans of starter. I'd have nothing to show for it but the yeast, which would be OK but kind of a waste of time and materials.

A good yeast starter wort is typically said to have an Original Gravity (OG) of 1.036 to 1.040.  I decided to build a wort recipe with a gravity of 1.040 SG (10.0 Brix) to use as a yeast starter. Rather than make a disposable wort that served as a starter and was then tossed out, I decided to use it as an experiment for learning how different yeasts affect a beer's flavor. My goal is for this to turn out a drinkable (albeit weak) beer using different yeasts.  Then I'll have those yeasts available for upcoming brew sessions.

I decided to start with a mix of 2-row pale, Munich, Vienna, and Caramel malts so there would be some decent underlying malt complexity. It's loosely based on an Oktoberfest formula. That should be compatible with all the yeasts I'm using and is similar enough to the worts I'll eventually use the yeast on to ensure that the yeast can handle them. I decided to use Czech Saaz hops to bitter, flavor, and provide aroma, as they are a noble variety that's used across many beer styles.  I also wanted to try a hopping approach that I hear is becoming more popular, which is using late additions to accentuate the hop flavor without adding too much bitterness. I'm timing the hops additions so that the majority of the bitterness comes from late additions.

The Ingredients

5.25 pounds of 2-row Brewer's Malt
1.00 pounds of Munich Malt
6 ounces of Vienna Malt
6 ounces of Caramel 40L Malt
0.15 ounces of Czech Saaz @ 3.0% AA - 60 minutes
0.25 ounces of Czech Saaz @ 3.0% AA - 30 minutes
0.50 ounces of Czech Saaz @ 3.0% AA - 15 minutes
2 ounces of Czech Saaz @ 3.0% AA - 5 minutes
1/4 tsp. Yeast Nutrient
1 Whirlfloc tablet
1 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm spread across all batches.

Estimated OG: 1.040 (10 Brix)
Actual OG:  1.038 (9.5 Brix)
Bitterness: 11.4 IBUs
Color: 5.2 SRM
Estimated ABV: 4.1%
Total Grains: 7.00 pounds
Total Hops: 2.90 ounces
Estimated Pre-Boil Gravity: 1.036 SG (9 Brix)
Estimated Final Gravity: 1.009 SG
BH Efficiency: 80%
Batch Size: 5.1 gallons (estimated), actual approx 5.0 + kettle trub

The Yeasts

Using the Brewer's Friend Yeast Starter Calculator, I worked out roughly how much yeast remained alive in the containers, and settled on wort volumes that would hopefully grow that yeast to my desired amounts for future brewing.

The yeasts I'll be growing include:

  • Wyeast Denny's Favorite 50 (about 3 months old)
  • White Labs WLP028 Edinburgh Scottish Ale Yeast (past its best-by date, may be dead)
  • White Labs WLP510 Bastogne Ale Yeast (within its best-by date but I'll need a bunch for the beer I have in mind)
  • Omega OYL-028 Belgian Ale W Yeast (unknown age, no date visible in package, may be completely dead)
  • A jar of Wyeast 3787 that I grew back in March using Fast Pitch starter wort

My goal is to brew a 5.1 gallon batch (Why 5.1 and not 5.0? The Grainfather calculations always seem to end up with 5.1 gallons post-boil so I use that amount to ensure proper gravity. Your mileage may vary.) and then split the batch up into four parts:

  • 1.25 gallons for Denny's Favorite 50
  • 1.25 gallons for Bastogne
  • The rest split between Edinburgh, Omega OYL-028, and Wyeast 3787

This means that I'll effectively have six beers fermenting in my basement when I'm finished.  (I have an IPA and a Belgian Tripel in fermenters already.)  That's the most I've ever had going at once!

The Mash

I decided to do a Hochkurz Mash for this brew, so that the wort is very fermentable and the yeast has lots of sugar to grow on.  The mash schedule I'm using is;
  • 30 minutes at 145F for Alpha Amylase
  • 30 minutes at 160F for Beta Amylase
  • 10 minutes Mash Out at 167F
I'll be using 2.5 gallons of mash water treated with half a Campden Tablet to remove chlorine and chloramine and 4.75 gallons of sparge water treated with a Campden Tablet.

This should result in a 6.4 gallon pre-boil volume.

The Boil

I used a 60-minute boil schedule, with hops loaded toward the end of the boil to provide more flavor and less bitterness. The goal is a beer that is relatively balanced but not over-hopped given that it's going to be fairly low gravity.  So 11.4 IBUs might not sound like a lot to an IPA fan but in a beer with such low gravity that's a BU:GU ratio of 0.282.  It should work out to be fairly balanced unless the beer attenuates really well, in which case it'll tend toward the hoppy side.
  • 60 minutes: Add 0.15 ounces Saaz
  • 30 minutes Add 0.25 ounces Saaz
  • 15 minutes: Add 0.50 ounces Saaz, yeast nutrient, and whirlfloc
  • 7 minutes: Recirculate wort through chiller to sterilize it
  • 5 minutes: Add 2 ounces Saaz
  • 0 minutes: Turn off heat, begin cooling the chiller, and pump wort into the fermenter
I expect 5.1 gallons of wort, but will be splitting it across several vessels to allow for growing multiple varieties of yeast (as noted earlier).

The Fermentation

The plan is to let the yeast ferment without any attempt at temperature control. The low ambient temperature in my basement combined with the comparatively small volumes of wort should mean that the temperatures won't rise especially high during fermentation, but that does mean that I'm taking a risk that a given yeast won't overheat and generate off-flavors. Since this is a fairly low gravity wort, that seems unlikely to happen.

Left to right: Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity (front), Wyeast Denny's Favorite 50 (back), White Labs Edinburgh Scottish Ale (front), White Labs Bastogne Ale (back), Omega Labs OYL-028 Belgian Ale W (front)
In the above photo, you see the five fermenters and their wort. The yeasts were all within or near their "best by" dates, except possibly the Omega yeast - which had no easily identifiable date on it. (Since I don't recall when I bought it, it might have no living cells left in it.  Any worts that don't show signs of fermentation within 48-72 hours will likely have a similar fresh dry (or liquid) yeast pitched in to ensure that I don't waste the wort.

Once they're all fermented and bottle conditioned, I'm planning to do a taste test here to see how one wort with five yeasts can end up with different flavors.

Update June 17, 2017:  All yeast strains but the Scottish ale strain show activity. The Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity strain was beginning to clog its airlock, so I replaced it with a clean airlock. Within a few minutes I saw yeast accumulating in that one too, so I rigged up a blow off tube (shown below). I also put the Scottish ale yeast on a magnetic stir plate to try to revive it by introducing additional oxygen. If there is no indication of activity tomorrow, I'll consider pitching in another strain like Safale English Ale yeast.

Left is the Wyeast 3787 which needed a blow-off tube (plus I moved it to the sink in case there was any overflow). Right is the Omega Labs OYL-028 Belgian Ale W yeast which also has a thick krausen atop it.

Update June 18, 2017:  Today even the Scottish strain shows a small krausen in the fermenter. It will be interesting to see if, when that portion of wort is finished fermenting, we really have Scottish Ale yeast or something perhaps picked up out of the air.  The Wyeast 3787 is still bubbling actively and has turned the previously-clear water in the blow-off vessel a milky beige.  The Denny's Favorite 50 yeast shows signs of the yeast beginning to drop out of suspension, as does the Bastogne yeast.  The Omega yeast has about an inch and a quarter of krausen on top and seems to be working fine. All five yeasts at this point appear to be alive and well.  My plan is for all these yeasts to have at least a full week (preferably two) in the wort before I bottle the beers and harvest the yeast in the fermenters.

(Presumably) Edinburgh Ale Yeast, fermenting nicely now. If it's not Edinburgh, then it's an active wild yeast.
Wyeast 3787 (left) has blown a good bit of material into the blow-off vessel and changed the liquid from clear to milky. Omega Belgian Ale W on right still fermenting the wort.

Denny's Favorite 50 has almost lost its krausen and seems to be dropping out of suspension gradually
Bastogne appears to be finishing up and dropping out of suspension also
June 20, 2017:  The Bastogne, Denny's Favorite 50, and Edinburgh yeasts have mostly settled out of the wort. A wispy layer of foam remains atop the wort and there is no longer any visible airlock activity. The Trappist High Gravity yeast, Omega Belgian Ale W, and Edinburgh yeasts still show some signs of airlock activity. Compared with a couple of days ago, all the fermenter contents are clearer and show little or no motion.  This relative lack of activity is consistent with normal, healthy yeast activity.  While I was checking on the beer, I took the time to complete the washing of a prior batch of White Labs California Ale yeast from an IPA I made recently, and started washing the yeast I kept from an Australian Sparkling Ale.  That yeast was harvested back in April, so it will need to be revived as soon as one of these fermenters becomes available.  I anticipate being able to bottle some or all of these beers this coming weekend.

June 25, 2017:  Virtually all the beers have stopped actively (or at least visibly) fermenting. The fermenters contain very clear-looking beer with little floating on top of them, so I'm concluding that they are probably done fermenting.  I bottled all five variants today and harvested the yeast for future use.  Some of the beers had small amounts left over after bottling. I tasted those but have to say there wasn't much difference between them.  The one with Wyeast 3787 had a bit more of a Belgian flavor to it. The Denny's 50 had no discernible yeast flavors.  The Edinburgh Scottish version seemed maybe a little more malty.  But the differences are extremely subtle.  The experiment yielded 43 bottles at 12 ounces each, divided among the five yeast strains.  Yeast has been harvested and placed in cold storage.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

What I learned from my first homebrewing competitions

Although I've been brewing beer for several years now, I never entered any homebrewing competitions. At first, I didn't think my beer was that great. Then when it got better, I felt like I knew enough about what the flaws were that I didn't really need the feedback. This year, I decided to give it a shot.  I entered The Ohio State Fair Homebrewing Competition and Barley's 22nd Annual Homebrewing Competition, both held in May 2017.

Entering the competition at the Ohio State Fair was relatively painless.  You complete an entry form for each beer you intend to submit (up to eight total), pay a $6 entry fee, and then arrange for two bottles of each entry to be delivered to the fairgrounds.  I dropped them off on a vacation day since I live in Columbus not too far from the fairgrounds.

Entering Barley's competition was also relatively easy.  Fill out a BJCP recipe form for each beer and bring three bottles of each entry to their brewpub near the Greater Columbus Convention Center the week before the judging.  Judging takes place at their annual Afternoon with the Brewers event, which was held on Sunday, June 4, this year.

My main motivation for entering was to get objective feedback on what I was doing right and wrong in my brewing.  If I won any competitions, that would be great, but it wasn't so much the goal as to get useful feedback on the recipes and processes.

In the months preceding the competitions, I brewed as often as I could. I wound up making six or seven different beers.  Two weren't ready in time for competition, so they weren't entered. One barely finished in time (and, I think, suffered in the scoring partially because of that).

The results surprise me even now.  Of the five beers I entered in competition, three of them took awards.  Two of my beers received silver medals in their respective style categories, and another (which didn't medal at the fair) took third place overall at Barley's.  That's not bad, I think, for a first-time competitor.  There is still much room for improvement, though.  Even my winning beers didn't score as high as they could have.

Reviewing the feedback for a single beer was interesting. It was clear that the judges don't all view the same beer the same way.  One beer was criticized for having "no hops flavor or aroma" by one judge, while another said it was a little too bitter for the style and recommended reducing the hops additions in a re-brew.  Like the old saying goes, "you can't please everyone".  While the judges differed on what they liked and disliked about the beer, the scores were reasonably close in all cases. I never had (for example) a 23 from one judge and a 40 from another. The scores were generally within 2-4 points of one another.

There were a few recurring themes across all the feedback that I'm taking to heart:
  • Body:  A common complaint on some of my beers was that the body was a bit too thin for the style. My Quadrupel, for example, was described as a medium body. That's a style which shouldn't be thin.  This tells me I need to raise mash temperatures.
  • Dryness or Over-attenuation:  Going kind of hand-in-hand with the comments on body and mouthfeel, the judges often commented that my beer might be over-attenuated for the style. This points to a need to choose different yeast strains and/or increase mash temperatures.
  • Hopping:  Almost every beer I made was criticized by a judge for something related to how it was hopped.  This doesn't surprise me. I am simply not a fan of beers with a strong hop presence in the flavor, and I probably under-hop beers as a result.  My tastebuds' definition of "balanced" seems to correspond with most judges' definition of "balanced too much toward malt".  So be it.  If I'm brewing beer for competition, I start increasing the hops load a bit so it scores better - but when I'm brewing for myself, I won't.
  • Oxidation:  While only the Australian Sparkling Ale got significant negative comments around oxidation, the judges mentioned "slight" or "possible" oxidation in several of the beers' notes. I'm not totally surprised by this, because I tended to transfer the competition beers from primary to secondary (something I don't often do normally) to clear them up, and again from secondary to bottling bucket. I do this through gravity feeds and plastic tubing between the vessels to reduce oxidation, but lately I've noticed that the tubing doesn't fit snugly on the valve coming from the SS Brewing Technologies fermenters, so it's probably letting in oxygen that it shouldn't be.  I've ordered tubing with a smaller inner diameter to enable a tighter fit and less oxygen intake.  I'm also going to think about other ways to reduce oxidation.

    I've actually communicated with one of the judges who described my beer as oxidized and we came to agree that the reason it got that descriptor was most likely that some of my malts are more than six months old. The judge, a professional brewer, said that although maltsters say that malt in an unopened bag is good to store for a year that his experience is that storage for more than six months is probably going to lead to oxidized malt.
On the positive side, I'd already recognized an issue with body and thinness in the last couple of high-gravity Belgian beers I'd made. They seemed a bit dry to me and thin. This tells me that my tastebuds are on the right track.  If I feel like I've fixed those problems in the future, hopefully the judges would agree.

I suspected that a slight off-flavor I've gotten in some of my beers was oxidation, but it never matched (to my tastebuds) the descriptors people have used to describe oxidation.  I've never tasted anything that to me seemed "papery" or "wet cardboard like" or "sherry like" in my beer, but I have noticed a flavor that's stronger in beers that were more churned-up during transfers and bottling. That's most likely what I'm sensing.

I will probably never agree with most judges on the hops issue. To me, many craft beers on the market are off-balance and tend toward hops.  

The judges also provided specific feedback on the beers that I'll take to heart when I re-brew those particular recipes.  On this web site, I've already updated the pages for those beers to include my plans for the next iteration of the recipes based on the feedback I received and my own tastes.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Rhinegeist Truth IPA Clone 1.0

Truth on the left, clone on the right
Some time ago I came across a post online where someone set out to clone the Rhinegeist Truth beer. They got feedback from a brewmaster at Rhinegeist about how they formulate the beer and hops additions.  Using their feedback, I created the recipe below.  Although I'm not an IPA fan, several people I know are, and it's nice to have something to offer them when they visit.  It's also appropriate to say that on those rare occasions where I do order an IPA in a bar or restaurant (often because it's all they offer, sadly), Rhinegeist Truth is one of the few I'll intentionally order.

The Ingredients

9 pounds, 3 ounces Pale Ale Malt
2 pounds, 11 ounces Golden Promise Malt
11 ounces Vienna Malt
9 ounces Flaked Rye
5 ounces Carared Malt
0.65 ounces of Bravo hops @ 16.2% AA - 60 minutes
0.35 ounces of Simcoe hops @ 13.6% AA - 20 minutes
0.70 ounces of Centennial hops @ 10.4% AA - 20 minutes
0.45 oz. Simcoe hops @ 13.6% AA - 10 minutes
0.90 oz. Centennial hops @ 10.4% AA - 10 minutes
2 oz. Centennial hops @ 10.4% AA - 0 minutes
1.5 oz. Simcoe hops @ 13.6% AA - 0 minutes
1 oz. Citra hops @ 12% AA - 0 minutes
2 oz. Amarillo hops @ 9.2% AA - dry hop 7 days
1.5 oz. Simcoe hops @ 13.0% AA - dry hop 7 days
1 oz. Citra hops @ 12% AA - dry hop 7 days
1 Whirlfloc tablet
1/2 tsp. Yeast Nutrient
1 package White Labs California Ale Yeast
1 Tbsp. pH 5.2 Stabilizer
1 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm

Per BeerSmith and my equipment profile, this beer has the following characteristics:

  • Style: American IPA
  • Bitterness: 63.3 IBUs (the actual beer is 75)
  • Color: 5.9 SRM
  • Est. ABV: 7.0%
  • Total Grains: 13.44 pounds
  • Total Hops: 12.05 ounces
  • Bitterness Ratio: 0.967
  • Estimated Pre-boil Gravity: 1.058 SG
  • Estimated Final Gravity: 1.013 SG
  • Batch Size: 6.0 gallons
  • Brewhouse Efficiency: 80.00%
  • Boil Time: 60 minutes
  • Pre-boil Volume: 7.4 gallons

It's important to note when formulating this recipe that if you want to get the hops balance the same as Rhinegeist's, you'll need to know the following about how they blend the hops:

  • The bittering addition is 30 IBUs worth of Bravo hops
  • The 20 minute addition is 20 IBUs worth of a 2:1 mix of Centennial and Simcoe. I found that the best way to calculate this in BeerSmith was to create a throwaway recipe with 13.44 pounds of grain and put a 20-minute hops addition of Centennial and Simcoe into it. Then I adjusted the amounts of the additions such that it contributed 20 IBUs and was a 2:1 ratio of the two types of hops.  
  • The 10 minute addition is 16 IBUs worth of a 2:1 mix of Centennial and Simcoe. I used the same technique as above to calculate the amounts.
  • The final addition is a mix of hops in specific volumes. The notes say to do a hop stand of 45 minutes with the heat off and without any cooling, so that's what I did.
The grain amounts above are based on the Rhinegeist brewer's stated grist percentages.

The Mash

Truth uses a simple single-step mash.  I used The Grainfather to brew this one, so I began by putting 5.5 gallons of mash water in the kettle and treating it with a Campden tablet.  This was heated to 150F and the grain added to it.  The grain was mashed for 60 minutes, then heated to a mash out temperature of 170F.  2.8 gallons of sparge water were added, and some additional water added to hit the desired pre-boil volume of 7.4 gallons.

My actual pre-boil gravity was 14.3 Brix versus an expected 14.3 Brix, so I came out right on target.

The Boil

The Grainfather was set to begin the boil as I sparged the grain, since it takes a while to heat up.  By the time the sparge was finished, the wort had reached a temp in the 196F range.  That dropped a bit when I topped it off to 7.4 gallons.

Once the beer was boiling well, I began the 60-minute countdown:
  • 60 minutes:  Add Bravo hops
  • 20 minutes: Add the Centennial/Simcoe mix
  • 15 minutes: Add Whirlfloc tablet and yeast nutrient
  • 10 minutes: Add the Centennial/Simcoe mix
  • 7 minutes: Recirculate wort through the counter flow chiller to sterilize it
  • 0 minutes; Turn off the heat, add the final hops mix that includes Centennial, Simcoe, and Citra. Leave the kettle alone for 45 minutes, heat off, no chilling.
  • "-45 minutes": Pump wort through the counter flow chiller into the sanitized fermenter
My final gravity registered 16.2 Brix versus an expected 16.1 Brix.  Final kettle volume was 6 gallons as anticipated.  Volume into the fermenter was only 5.5 gallons due to the massive amount of sediment in the kettle, probably a combination of the hops and grain sediments.  These clogged the filter and pump in The Grainfather and prevented all the wort from being sucked out. Given that much of what was left was gray sediment, I chose not to dump that into the fermenter and accepted the loss of a half gallon.

The Fermentation

The White Labs California Ale Yeast was pitched into the fermenter along with a vial of Clarity Ferm.  An airlock was inserted into the fermenter.

My temperature control system was busy handling a BJ's Millennium Ale clone brewing in another fermenter, so I let the beer sit at ambient basement temps (approximately 69F this time of year) to ferment. When the other beer is past the high stage of fermentation, I'll transfer the chiller to this beer to keep fermentation temps in check.

Update 06/14/2017:  The beer has completed primary fermentation and has spent an additional 7 days with dry hops in the fermenter. Since the real Truth is a bright beer, I wanted my clone to look just like it.  I mixed up some gelatin finings and dropped those in, noting that there is no longer a krausen or any yeast visible on top of the beer now - another indication that fermentation is over.  There was a significant hop aroma when I opened the fermenter to put the finings in, so the dry hops are doing their job.  I'm expecting to bottle it this Saturday.

Update 06/16/2017: A family member who is very familiar with the real beer (and had in fact just finished drinking one) was given a sample of the clone. He thought the aroma had been "nailed" and the flavor was a very good match. He thought the clone finished a little more cleanly but otherwise couldn't tell the difference.  It will be interesting to see what others think when it's bottle conditioned.

Post-Mortem and Other Notes

The beer is still fermenting, but I was curious to see how it's coming along. I took a small sample of it from the fermenter and compared it side by side with the real beer:

Clone sample on left, actual Rhinegeist Truth on right
The clone beer appears slightly lighter in color than the real beer, but this may be because it's a much smaller volume in the glass (so light can penetrate it more easily and make it appear lighter in color).  Given that the clone is not yet carbonated and has only had a little time with its dry hops addition, the two are very similar already. It was difficult to tell the original and clone apart by only the flavor. The clone's aroma is primarily grapefruit at this point, while the real beer's aroma is more intense and varied. This may change as the clone spends more time with its dry hops.  I'm looking forward to comparing the two when the clone is finished.

June 25, 2017:  At least three people who are familiar with the real Rhinegeist Truth IPA have weighed in on this clone. The consensus is that it hits the aroma, bitterness, and flavor notes well. The real Truth has a bit of a harshness in the finish, like an almost astringent hoppy flavor, that my clone is lacking.  My clone also finishes more cleanly than the real beer - but the two are extremely close to untrained tastebuds.  I'm sure a Rhinegeist brewmaster would identify other things wrong with it... but casual drinkers seem to enjoy it.  Yield for the batch was 46 bottles, 10 of which were 22-ounce bombers and the other 36 were 12-ounce bottles.

Friday, June 2, 2017

BJ's Millennium Ale Clone 1.0

BYO Magazine posted a clone recipe for BJ's Brewhouse's Millennium Ale. This is a Belgian Tripel brewed with bitter orange peel, orange blossom honey, ginger root, and coriander.  They created it to celebrate Y2K and ended up brewing it for several years afterward.  I've always tried to make it a point to get to our local BJ's when they have this, but I've missed it the last year or two, so I decided to brew my own.

The Ingredients

11 pounds, 12 ounces Dingeman's Pale Ale Malt
2 pounds orange blossom honey
1 pound Simplicity Candi Syrup
1 ounce dried ginger root
1 ounce bitter orange peel
0.5 ounces crushed coriander seed
3 ounces Hallertau Hersbrucker @ 2.0% AA
0.5 ounces Hallertau Mittlefrueh @ 4.0% AA (added because I had no more Hersbrucker)
1 tablet whirlfloc
1/4 tsp. yeast nutrient
2 vials Wyeast 3787 yeast (equivalent based on a starter)
1 Tbsp. pH 5.2 Stabilizer
1 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm

BeerSmith and Other Stats

According to BeerSmith and some of my own calculations, here are the stats around this beer:

  • Style: Belgian Tripel
  • Estimated OG: 1.090 SG or 21.6 Brix
  • Estimated Pre-Boil Gravity: 1.068 SG or 16.6 Brix
  • Estimated Final Gravity: 1.009 SG or (adjusted for alcohol and refractometer) 10.0 Brix
  • IBUs: 25
  • ABV: 10.8%
  • Color: 5.6 SRM
  • Volume: 5.00 gallons
  • Brewhouse Efficiency: 80%
  • Estimated Pre-boil Volume: 6.4 gallons
  • BU/GU Ratio: 0.28
  • Grain Bill: 11.75 pounds
  • Mash Quarts of Water per Pound: 1.70
  • Estimated post-boil volume: 5.8 gallons
  • Estimated fermenter volume: 5.1 gallons
  • Mash water needed: 5 gallons
  • Sparge water needed: 2 gallons, 38 ounces

Actual statistics around this batch were:

  • Pre-boil gravity: 14.0 Brix or 1.057 SG (vs. 1.068 expected)
  • Original Gravity: 20.2 Brix or 1.084 SG (vs. 1.090 expected)
  • Volume: 5.1 gallons (vs. 5.1 expected)

The Mash

The BYO recipe called for a 60-minute mash at 154F.  The Grainfather calculations estimated that I would need 5 gallons of mash water, so I added that to the kettle with a Campden Tablet to remove the chlorine and chloramine from the local tap water.  2 gallons plus 38 ounces of additional water would be used to sparge, and was set to heat slowly while the grain mashed.

After the 60-minute mash time, I did an iodine test which came up clean, indicating a full conversion.  I set The Grainfather controls to 170F and did a 10-minute mash out.  The sparge water was poured into the grain basket to sparge the grain, and the controls were set to boil while the sparge occurred. (I've found this reduces the total brewing time versus waiting until the sparge is complete to set the kettle to boil.)

The Boil

A 90-minute boil was called for in the recipe, with the following schedule:
  • 90 minutes:  Add hops
  • 15 minutes: Add yeast nutrient and whirlfloc, and whirlpool the beer a bit
  • 12-10 minutes: Add candi syrup, honey, spices, and orange peel
  • 7 minutes: Recirculate wort through the counter flow chiller to sterilize it
  • 0 minutes: Turn off heat, cool the chiller by running only cold water through it, then start pumping wort into the sanitized fermenter
During and after the boil, the presence of ginger root in the beer was noticeable in the aroma.

The Fermentation

The BYO recipe calls for a 68-70F fermentation until a final gravity of 1.020 SG is achieved.  I set up the temperature control system and got it ready to go.

Wort entered the fermenter at approximately 75F after leaving the chiller.

Update 06/04/2017:  When I checked on fermentation yesterday, the airlock was bubbling nicely. Today, yeast had blown up through the airlock, out the top, and across the lid of the fermenter. It took a bit to cleanup the yeast and sanitize the top of the fermenter before removing the airlock, which actually hissed when it was removed. I suspect pressure was building up inside the fermenter and could have explosively blasted the airlock out had I not checked on the beer this morning. I will check on it again in a few hours to ensure that things are back under control again.  If you make this beer in anything less than an 8-gallon vessel, I'd recommend a blow-off tube. When I checked on it again late in the day, there was a thin layer of yeast inside the replacement airlock, which had been clean beforehand.  I replaced the airlock yet again at 11pm to hopefully protect against further blow-off of yeast.

Update 06/16/2017:  Earlier in the week, I put a fermwrap heater around the fermenter and set the temperature control to 73F.  The yeast picked up its activity.  For the last couple of days there has been no airlock activity, so I suspect the beer has fermented out. I'll be putting gelatin finings in it soon and moving it to my mini-fridge when I pull the Rhinegeist Truth IPA clone out of it.

Post-Mortem and Other Notes

Although I did have to substitute some Hallertau Mittelfrueh for the Hallertau Hersbrucker the recipe called for, all the other ingredients used were exactly as the recipe called for.  My post-sparge volume was about a quart low, so I added a quart to the kettle before the boil.  

Pre-boil gravity and original gravity came up lower than expected for this batch. I'm not sure yet how to account for that.  Regardless, I think the beer will turn out well.

The yeast pitched in this batch was grown from a single package of Wyeast 3787 purchased back in March and cultivated up to approximately 3 times the original amount.  Two-thirds of the cultivation was pitched in this batch.  

Temperature control was setup to hold the beer in a 64-70F temperature range.  Given the ambient temperature of 68F, realistically it will stay within the 68-70F range called for in the BYO recipe.

Update 06/25/2017: The beer was dosed with gelatin finings on 6/21/2017 and has spent four days in my mini-fridge getting clear.  I settled on a carbonation level of 3.4-3.4 volumes of CO2, which BeerSmith calculated to require about 6.25 ounces by weight of corn sugar. While I sanitized bottles, the bottling bucket, etc., my wife boiled a half cup of water and dissolved the sugar into it.  I sanitized a dozen bomber-sized bottles and filled the rest of my bottle tree with 12-ounce bottles.  I placed the bottles in my "hot box" with the thermostat set to 74F, and moved the last batch of bottles out of it.  Around the fourth of July, we'll see how the beer turned out.  Bottling yielded 12 bomber sized (22 ounce) bottles and 28 smaller 12-ounce bottles.

Things I would do differently brewing this beer again:
  • Blow-off tube:  Despite at least a gallon and a half of head space in the fermenter, the yeast was able to blow out through (and fill) the airlock and then coat about half the lid of the fermenter. Next time it would be smarter to use a blow-off tube and avoid the risk of contamination or an explosive blow-out of the airlock and the mess associated with it. I've found that Wyeast 3787 is a pretty aggressive fermenter, even with temperature control.
A few samples taken from the fermenter for gravity checks had a nice flavor, so I'm hopeful this will turn out well and be a beer I brew again in the future.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Stout Chocula version 1.0

Some time ago, I read about Black Bottle Brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado. They brewed a beer called Cerealiciously which included Count Chocula breakfast cereal in the mash and possibly secondary.  When I visited Fort Collins, I didn't have the opportunity to try the beer because they were out of it. I decided that someday I would brew one like it for myself at home. This past Saturday was that day...

I began by researching recipes for sweet stouts and milk stouts. I thought these, combined with the General Mills Count Chocula breakfast cereal, would make a nice combo. The chocolate and sweetness of the stout should mingle with the same flavors in the cereal, but with enough roasty grain flavors to keep it from being a chocolate bar in a glass. The recipe presented here is my own, based on a couple of sweet stout recipes I found.

The Recipe

4 pounds 2-row Brewer's Malt (because I ran out of 2-row Pale Malt)
2 pounds 2-row Pale Malt
1 pound Cara-Pils/Dextrine Malt (to improve head retention)
1 pound Caramel/Crystal 60L Malt
1 pound Pale Chocolate Malt
12 ounces Munich Malt
4 ounces Roasted Barley
8 ounces Flaked Oats (for mouth feel and head retention)
8 ounces of Count Chocula Cereal (in the mash)
8 ounces of Count Chocula Cereal (in secondary prior to bottling)
4 ounces of Raw Cacao Nibs, crushed and added in the mash
1 Tbsp. pH 5.2 Stabilizer

0.6 ounces of Magnum hops pellets @ 12.2% AA (65 min.)
1 ounce of Styrian Celeia hops pellets @ 2.8% AA (10 min.)
1 pound Lactose/Milk Sugar
1 vial of White Labs Clarity Ferm
1 Whirlfloc tablet
1 packet US-05 Ale Yeast and an expired packet of Denny's Favorite 50

Some relevant figures, per BeerSmith:
  • Batch Size: 5.5 gallons
  • BH Efficiency: 80%
  • Boil time: 60 minutes
  • Est. Original Gravity: 1.059 SG or 14.5 Brix
  • IBUs: 25.0
  • Color: 31.1 SRM
  • Est. ABV: 5.4% (not including the breakfast cereal)
  • Estimated Final Gravity: 1.015 SG or 8.5 Brix (adjusted)
  • BU:GU Ratio: 0.421
  • Style: Sweet Stout
Since the cereal is mostly corn and corn syrup (per the ingredient box), I treated it as flaked corn in the BeerSmith data. This must have been about right, as the original gravity I achieved matched up perfectly with BeerSmith.

Mash Schedule

I included the breakfast cereal and the cacao nibs in the mash. The cacao nibs were crushed and mashed with the grain. The cereal was added whole into the mash after the grain had settled in. I wanted it on top of the grain bed out of concern that it might generate a lot of trub. I figured the grain bed might hold it in rather than letting it fall onto the bottom of the kettle and the heating element.

Count Chocula Cereal in the Mash
Since the recipe includes oats, it seemed prudent to do a protein rest. Then, I decided to do a Hochkurz Mash after that, to maximize the beta amylase and alpha amylase activity. I hoped this would help convert more of the starches to sugars and that the extended alpha rest would yield a more full-bodied beer.
  • 20 minute protein rest at 126F
  • 30 minute beta amylase rest at 145F
  • 40 minute alpha amylase rest at 162F
  • 10 minute mash out at 168F
After the sparge, the kettle contained less than the expected 6.6 gallons. I added a half gallon to reach the target volume. I suspect this wort shortfall was due to not counting the cereal in the grain bill.  Refractometer readings were 11.4, 12.1, and 13.3 Brix before the boil. This was lower than I expected, but the lactose had not been added. I suspect BeerSmith might have included that in its calculations.

It was interesting to note that the breakfast cereal "vanished" during the mash. I could not see a single recognizable piece of cereal or a marshmallow in the grain basket. 

The wort seemed to have a nice chocolate aroma, with an unexpected hint of cinnamon to it. My guess is that the spice aroma might have come from the hops.

It did take an unusually long time to complete the sparge. This was probably due to the use of the oats and the breakfast cereal without any rice hulls to help with drainage. If I make this (or a similar recipe) in the future, I'll include some rice hulls.

Boil Schedule

I decided on a 75-minute boil:
  • 75 minutes: Boil without any hops
  • 60 minutes: Add Magnum hops pellets
  • 15 minutes: Add lactose, yeast nutrient, and whirlfloc tablet
  • 10 minutes: Add Styrian Celeia hops
  • 7 minutes: Recirculate wort through counter flow chiller to sterilize it
  • 0 minutes: Run cold water through the chiller to cool it down, then pump the wort into the fermenter. Pitched yeast, Clarity Ferm, and sealed it up.
Post boil I found 5.5 gallons in the fermenter with a 15.4 Brix gravity, exactly as calculated. There was a small amount of wort left in the kettle and a fair amount of sediment.

Stout Chocula in the fermenter


Given that the ambient temperature in my basement is currently 69F, I decided to rely on ambient cooling for this one. I also decided not to use a fermentation wrap to keep it warm, as I don't think that will be necessary.

My plan is to ferment this one at whatever temperature it reaches during the first week, then transfer it to a secondary fermenter along with some cacao nibs and more breakfast cereal. I'm hoping it will pick up the cereal's aroma prior to bottling so that it will be possible for people to detect the cereal in the beer. I'm also planning to prime the beer with Hershey's syrup instead of corn sugar. My goal is for the beer to have as strong a chocolate note to it as the cereal itself.

Post-Mortem and Other Notes

The use of the breakfast cereal was a bit of a wild card in this brew. I did not know how to account for it in the BeerSmith figures, but after seeing that it was mostly made of corn and corn sugar, I decided to treat it as flaked corn in the mash. This seemed to be a decent approach, as I hit the original gravity I calculated in BeerSmith.

The cereal did not appear to increase the "mess" in the kettle after the boil. I saw more or less the same amount I've seen from other brews that did not include breakfast cereal. What mess was in the kettle after the boil scrubbed off within seconds. For this reason, I wouldn't hesitate to brew other beers with breakfast cereal, though I will see how this one turns out before I do. I've wondered what effect a cereal like Fruit Loops or Fruity Pebbles would have on a cream ale or kolsch style beer.

This is all the "mess" the cereal left - not much.

Cleanup was no problem. It practically wiped off!
Approximately 24 hours after pitching the yeast, the airlock showed slow but steady activity, indicating that the yeast seemed to like its new home. I'll be keeping an eye on it to see how well and how quickly it ferments, but so far so good.

Update 05/10/2017:  Fermentation appears to have stopped or at least significantly slowed with this one. I haven't seen airlock activity in days and the gravity of samples taken through the valve on the fermenter has not changed, measuring 10 Brix.  According to BeerSmith, it's reached an estimated 5% ABV at this point. The samples I have extracted have contained a good bit of sediment, probably from the cereal and cacao nibs, but it's hard to say for sure. I decided to transfer the beer to a secondary fermenter to get it off the yeast and sediment. The empty fermenter had a nice chocolatey aroma before I cleaned it, as does the beer itself. The beer has a nice base stout flavor, with a very mild sweetness, plenty of chocolate flavor, and a subtle aroma of Count Chocula from the cereal added during the end of primary. If it continues to taste and smell this well from the bottle, I'll be quite happy with it.

Update 05/22/2017:  The beer is now bottled and has gone through about a week of carbonation time in the bottle. A bottle opened over the weekend was only mildly carbonated. A hard pour was necessary to get much of a head on it. The beer has a nice chocolate and malt aroma. The flavor is mildly sweet with definite chocolate notes and just enough hops bitterness to balance it out. It reminds me of a slightly more chocolatey Left Hand Milk Stout.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Scottish 80 Shilling Ale 1.0

Photo of the bourbon-oaked version
Unlike a lot of craft brew fans, I'm not terribly fond of hop-forward styles. I'd much rather have a Belgian Trappist ale or a good German lager than an IPA, American Pale Ale, or "Imperial" something-or-other. One of the beer styles I really enjoy is the Scottish Ale, though until today I hadn't brewed one.

I began by searching out a recipe that had won an award at the national level. Then, I considered that recipe in terms of my own tastes and the ingredients I had on hand. For example, I had only an ounce of East Kent Goldings (EKG) hops pellets on hand. This wasn't enough to bitter the beer, so I investigated other hops varieties that are suited to Scottish Ales and went with Magnum hops for bittering. I would use the EKG for flavor and aroma so that the beer would remain true to style. I also wanted some Cara-Pils in there for a nice head. Here's how that brewing session went...


9 pounds Maris Otter Malt
10 ounces Munich (Light) Malt
10 ounces Cara-Pils Malt
9 ounces Honey Malt
5 ounces Roasted Barley
0.50 ounces Magnum hops pellets @ 12.7% AA
1.00 ounces East Kent Goldings pellets @ 5.7% AA
1 Whirlfloc tablet
1/2 tsp. Yeast Nutrient
1 packet White Labs Edinburgh Scottish Ale Yeast
1 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm
2 Campden Tablets

I had originally estimated this to be a 5.9 gallon batch at 80% Brew House Efficiency in BeerSmith. My actual volume came out at 5.9 gallons but my efficiency was actually 87.7% for this batch, so the figures below represent the finished beer rather than the original estimate:

  • Batch Size: 5.9 gallons
  • Brew House Efficency: 87.7%
  • Boil time: 60 minutes
  • Estimated pre-boil volume: 7.3 gallons
  • Estimated Mash Efficiency: 87.1%
  • Estimated Original Gravity: 1.059 SG or 14.5 Brix
  • IBUs: 24.3
  • Color: 16.3 SRM
  • Estimated ABV: 5.3%
  • Total Grains: 11.13 pounds
  • Total Hops: 1.5 ounces
  • Bitterness Ratio: 0.411 IBU/SG
  • Estimated Pre-boil Gravity: 1.052 SG or 12.9 Brix (actual was 13.3 Brix)

All the grain, whether pre-crushed or not, was run through my Cereal Killer mill to ensure a proper and somewhat consistent crush.

The Mash

Per the formula for The Grainfather and my own experience with the system, I calculated that I would need 4.5 gallons of mash water and 3.75 gallons of sparge water to produce a 6-galllon finished volume of beer. I put 4.5 gallons in The Grainfather kettle and dropped in a Campden Tablet to remove chlorine and chloramine. I also put one in the sparge water kettle and filled it.

A 90-minute mash at 157F was performed with the grain bill, followed by a 10-minute mash out at 167F. The sparge water was heated to 167F and the grain batch sparged into the kettle.

Post-sparge the the kettle contained just over 7 gallons of wort. I added some water to top it off at the needed 7.3 gallon mark my calculations called for. 

The color looks good to me. I wanted a slight reddish hue
I stirred the wort well and took two or three gravity readings with a refractometer. All three readings came up at 13.1 Brix, versus the expected 11.7 Brix. Clearly I've become more efficient at mashing than I've been in the past.

The Boil

A 60-minute boil began. Due to the large wort volume, it took The Grainfather quite a while to get up to the boil. Once there, I stirred it to keep ahead of the foam until the foaming stopped. I then began the 60-minute countdown.
  • 60 minutes: Add Magnum hops pellets
  • 15 minutes: Add Whirlfloc tablet and whirlpool the kettle for a couple of minutes
  • 10 minutes: Add the East Kent Goldings and Yeast Nutrient. Start recirculating wort through the counter flow chiller to sterilize it.
  • 0 minutes: Switch off the heat, switch off the pump, and run cold water through the counter flow chiller to cool it down. Then move the output hose to the sanitized fermenter and pump the wort into the fermenter.
Owing to the efficiency of the chiller and the temperature of our cold water supply, wort entered the fermenter at 64.9F, right at the low end of the yeast's optimal range. I pitched the yeast and a vial of White Labs Clarity Ferm and sealed the fermenter.

Fermenter Volume a little below 6 gallons

The Fermentation

Using my Inkbird temperature controller, I programmed the following temperature settings:
  • Days 1-2: 66F
  • Days 3-4: 67F
  • Days 5-6: 68F
  • Days 7-8: 69F
  • Days 9+: 70F
This gradual climb should allow the yeast to finish out fermentation well without stressing it unnecessarily. I attached a fermwrap fermentation heater to the fermenter and plugged it into the Inkbird controller's heat port.

After primary fermentation is complete, I plan to transfer the beer to a clean and sanitized secondary fermenter and pitch in some gelatin to clarify the beer some more. I'm hoping to enter this brew in a competition and want it to look and taste its best.

Post-Mortem and Other Notes

Lately, I've noticed that my brewhouse efficiency has been pretty inconsistent. FOr my last four brews, it's been:
  • Boardwalk Belgian Quad 2.0: 74..7%
  • Mandarina Blonde Ale 1.0: 83.0%
  • Australian Sparkling Ale 1.0: 80.0%
  • Scottish 80 Shilling Ale (this brew): 87.7%
I'm still tracking down the issue, but I have a few "suspects" to consider:
  • Grain Crush - For the Quad, the grain bill consisted mostly of a malt I crushed myself. Later, I discoverer that my mill had a larger gap between the rollers than it should have had, so I adjusted that for the other three batches and efficiency improved.
  • Mash Thickness - The Quad had a thicker mash and the largest grain bill of all. 
  • Grainfather Efficiency - I've heard that The Grainfather delivers greater efficiency for grain bills of a certain size, and lower efficiency above and below that. 
Lately I've been keeping stats on the grain bill in pounds, the brew house efficiency of the finished wort as calculated by BeerSmith, mash time, and mash thickness. There hasn't been much correlation so far, but I'm hoping to find out what's causing it in time. My primary suspect at this point is the grain crush. The batches I've made since adjusting the mill have been more efficient.

April 24: The ale has been fermenting now for approximately nine days. The airlock activity has been relatively mild and slow compared to other yeasts I've used. Despite the fermenter being more full than I often have it, there has been no blow-off through the airlock and no unexpected mess as there was with the Australian ale yeast I recently used. The temperature control system has not needed to cool the beer at all, Although I am very interested to see how this one is coming along, I've resisted the urge so far. Given how "slow and steady" this fermentation has been, I am hesitant to do anything to interrupt or interfere with it.

May 10:  The beer has been moved to two secondary fermenters. One is being treated with oak chips soaked in bourbon, to give me about 2.5 gallons of a bourbon barrel Scottish Ale. The other half is untreated and being allowed to brighten up a bit before bottling. When I tasted some of the bourbon barrel portion last night, it had a nice bourbon flavor but had not picked up much of the oak flavor yet. My plan is to taste a small sample each night until I'm happy with the oaky notes.  Then I'll bottle the beer.  The untreated beer will probably be bottled first.

May 12: The 2.4 gallons treated with oak and bourbon achieved the subtle flavor I was hoping for, so I bottled that portion of the batch with carbonation drops since I was in a hurry.

May 13: The 3 gallons not treated with oak and bourbon were bottled with corn sugar today. Both versions were labeled and placed in my 76F "hot box" to accelerate carbonation. I should have tasting information as soon as next weekend.

May 22:  The beer has been bottled for about a week now. It's very mildly carbonated at this point. If poured hard enough, it generates a nice beige head that lasts a little while. The aroma is a nice balance of malt and hops, as is the flavor.  The BJCP style guidelines say the aroma should be one of low to medium maltiness, with earthy hops aroma, which I get from it.  Hops flavor is low, as the guidelines suggest, and there is a malty flavor to the beer.  It seems like a good representative of the style.

June 10:  I received the comments from the judges at the state fair today. They weren't too impressed with it, which was disappointing, but did provide good feedback.

The first judge's comments were:

  • Aroma: Hop floral aroma with buttery diacetyl and biscuits. Score: 8/12
  • Appearance: Light orange yellow, dense and sturdy white-tan head. Score: 2/3
  • Flavor: Unidimensional malt finishes dry with biscuit crispness. No hop flavor or bitterness perceived. Score 11/20
  • Mouthfeel: Moderate body and moderate carbonation. Smooth, easy drinking, and grainy. Score: 4/5
  • Overall Impression: Very good beer. Seems to lack complexity with malt profile. Consider adding some crystal malts to add more malt dimension. Score: 6/10
  • Total: 31/50
The second judge's comments:
  • Aroma: English hop aroma that is floral. Some fruity esters. Caramel malt. No Yeast. No grain. Score 5/12
  • Apperance: Very clear amber with oily dark ?? head and continuing bubbles in cup. Score: 3/3
  • Flavor: Metallic/vegetal flavor, malt that is neutral, malt flavor is one-dimensional, hop bitterness balances the malt. Score: 8/20
  • Mouthfeel: Medium body, medium carbonation. Finish is thin malt (not bitter). Score: 3/5
  • Overall Impression: Very nice looking beer with good aroma and no faults. Style requires much more malt presence and complexity. May be over attenuated or mash was not at high enough temp. Try other yeast to reduce attenuation. Score: 4/10
  • Total: 23/50
Seeing that this was the first time I've ever tried to brew a Scottish Ale, I'm not surprised that the comments and ratings were relatively low.

Next Time

The next time I brew this beer, I plan to make the following changes:

  • Add a grain that intensifies the malt aroma
  • Add 1-2 Caramel/Crystal malt varieties to improve malt flavor and complexity, possibly some Caramel 40L, switching to Munich Dark instead of light, and a touch of chocolate malt
  • Shift the hops additions more toward the bittering addition and less toward flavor/aroma, to shift the aroma and flavor back more toward the malt
  • Increase the mash temperature to add body
  • Change to a less attenuative yeast

This would address the comments I received from the judges as best I can.