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.

Rescuing uncarbonated or undercarbonated beer - An Experiment

Recently, I brewed a batch of beer intended to replicate Dogfish Head's Palo Santo Marron.  It's always been my policy to include a bottle conditioning yeast (champagne yeast or CBC-1) whenever I bottle a beer over 10% ABV.  Recently, after bottling a 10.9% beer without any conditioning yeast, I was able to rescue it by inverting the bottles daily for a week to rouse the yeast inside.

For this beer, that trick failed me.  For three weeks, I inverted the bottles nightly and kept them in a container held at 76F, the ideal temp for the yeast in question.  There was no significant carbonation.

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 four 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!






Saturday, October 7, 2017

2017 Christmas 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.

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.

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.

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.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

How to get a sweeter, more full-bodied beer

After reviewing the judges' feedback from my homebrewing competition entries earlier this year, and combining it with my own observations, it's clear that for some styles I am not quite hitting my target for mouthfeel and (where appropriate) sweetness.

I did some research into how you can improve these qualities in your homebrew, and have uncovered the following variables which can be altered during brewing to give a beer more body and/or sweetness:

  • Add unfermentable sugars:  This can be done with sugars like lactose, which yeast won't ferment.  This will add a sweetness to a beer like a milk stout.  I've done this in the Stout Chocula beer I brewed earlier this year to good effect.  However, I don't see lactose working well in a Belgian beer. 
  • Add Calcium Chloride:  This can reportedly enhance the maltiness of a beer.  This is something I haven't tried, but will tinker with in the future.
  • Increase Caramel Malt:  Increasing the amount of caramel (a.k.a. Crystal) malt in a beer can increase residual sweetness, though if you go beyond 1-2 pounds in a 5-gallon batch you can oversweeten the beer.  I've done a little of this, but could probably do more.
  • Change the yeast strain:  Switching to a comparable but less-attenuative yeast strain can result in more residual sugar in the beer, leading to additional sweetness and body.  This is something I have considered but haven't tried yet.
  • Boil longer:  A longer boil generates more of a Maillard reaction in the beer and will increase the bready, toasty flavor of the beer.  A very intense boil will produce sweeter caramel flavors.  I will look into this for future beers.
  • Mash at a higher temperature:  Mashing in the 152-160F range will result in more long-chain sugars in the beer that yeast cannot ferment. This will increase body and residual sweetness.  I've played with this a bit, but have not yet seen significant results from it. I may need to combine the technique with others above, such as increasing caramel malt amounts and adding calcium chloride.

While most of my beers have turned out fine, my "bigger" Belgian beers and my Scottish ale both tend to ferment a little dry and thin for my taste (and the judges' also).  I'm hoping that leveraging this information will get me a better beer in the future.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Dogfish Head Chateau Jiahu Clone 1.0

A finished bottle of Chateau El Dorado
As I mentioned in yesterday's post on brewing a Ta Henket clone, another of my most-favorite Dogfish brews is Chateau Jiahu. This beer is loosely based on an ancient recipe for beer from China, uncovered by Dr. Patrick McGovern and published in his book Ancient Ales: Rediscovered and Re-Created.  I bought the ingredients I needed, thinking that I had some Simcoe hops around from a previous brew (but didn't).

Substitution Time

When it came down to brew day, I discovered that there were three things I couldn't readily get my hands on at the time:  sake yeast, white grape concentrate, and Simcoe hops.

I thought I had Simcoe in my freezer, but didn't.  I did have some El Dorado hops, which aren't a recognized substitute for Simcoe but sound like they might be interesting in this beer. I didn't have another use planned for them, so they made the ingredient list.

White grape juice concentrate was something I'd seen in local groceries in years past, but could not find in the days leading up to brew day. Research suggested that the muscat grape concentrate and the Welch's variety were both roughly 3 times stronger than natural juice. So instead of the 16 ounces of concentrate, I decided I would use 64 ounces of off-the-shelf organic white grape juice instead. This should provide the same amount of grape flavor that the concentrate would have, and presumably the same amount of fermentables.

I probably could have gotten sake yeast by mail order. But I watched the old TV series Brew Masters where we see the Dogfish Head experts having to dump an entire batch of Chateau Jiahu because the sake yeast just wouldn't cooperate.  I decided to use the book's recommended alternative of Lallemand Abbaye Yeast instead.  I like Belgian yeasts anyway, and this might (to me) improve the aroma and flavor of the beer.

Ingredients

4 pounds Extra Light DME
2 pounds Rice Syrup Solids
8 ounces Dried Hawthorn Berries
0.65 El Dorado hops @12.8% for 10 minutes
0.50 ounces Sweet Orange Peel
3 pounds Orange Blossom Honey
64 ounces of White Grape Juice
1 tablet of Whirlfloc
0.50 tsp. Yeast Nutrient
1 packet Lallemand Abbaye yeast
1 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm
1 Campden Tablet
Zest of one Clementine

According to BeerSmith, the finished beer should have these estimated characteristics:

  • Original Gravity: 1.068 SG or 16.6 Brix
  • Pre-Boil Gravity: 1.042 SG or 10.5 Brix
  • Final Gravity: 1.004 SG or 7.2 Brix (estimated and adjusted for alcohol)
  • Volume: 5.0 gallons
  • IBUs: 11.1
  • SRM:  5.0
  • ABV: 8.5%
  • BU:GU: 0.16

After brewing, the following characteristics were measured:

  • Pre-boil Gravity: 12.2 Brix (vs. 10.5 expected)
  • Original Gravity: 16.6 Brix (vs. 16.6 expected)
  • Volume in Fermenter: 6.0 gallons (vs. 5.0 gallons expected)
In the end, in order to get the original gravity where I wanted it after adding the honey and grape juice, I needed to add approximately 3 quarts of water. This yielded 6.0 gallons in the fermenter at the intended original gravity of 16.6 Brix or 1.068 SG.


Brewing

I began by putting 5 gallons of water in my Grainfather kettle and dropping in a Campden Tablet to remove any chlorine or chloramine in the water.

  • Pre-boil:  Added DME and Rice Syrup Solids, dissolving well
  • 60 minutes: No additions
  • 45 minutes:  Removed some wort, covering Hawthorn Berries with it and ran an immersion blender through it to puree the berries. The immersion blender had trouble with the berries as they are very dry and dense. If I do this recipe again, I'll use a full-size kitchen blender and maybe soak the berries in boiling water for a while instead of waiting to use wort.
  • 30 minutes: Add the pureed berries to the wort
  • 10 minutes: Added the El Dorado hops and sweet orange peel
  • 7 minutes:  Circulated boiling wort through the counter flow chiller to sterilize it
  • 0 minutes: Turned off heat, added Orange Blossom honey and white grape juice, and whirlpooled for a few minutes before pumping through chiller into fermenter
The beer was one of the nicest-smelling brews I've ever smelled coming out of the kettle.


Fermentation

The beer was pumped into the fermenter and topped off with cold water to reach the desired original gravity.

The Abbaye yeast was pitched dry onto the wort, since this method has served me well in the past.  The fermenter was left to ferment naturally with no temperature control.

Bottling

On October 7, 2017, I added 6.25 ounces of corn sugar to boiling water to prime the beer for bottling.  The beer was transferred from its fermenter into the bottling bucket atop this priming sugar.  The gravity transfer ensured that the beer swirled and mixed in the sugar as it transferred.

Since my main temperature-controlled bottle conditioning setup is busy trying to carbonate the Palo Santo Marron clone, I put as much of this batch as I could fit into a plastic storage bin with a fermwrap heater to serve as a secondary conditioning chamber.  The beer will spend two weeks in this container at 76F, after which I'll move the rest of the batch into the bin for a week.

I'm expecting to be able to do a taste test around October 22.  I'll be back to update this page then.

Post-Mortem and Other Notes

In the brewing, the hawthorn berry puree was the biggest nuisance.  The dried berries are very, very tough and hard to break up with a hand blender. Next time, I would probably use boiling water and a full-size blender. I would also let the berries soak overnight in the boiling water in a sealed container to give them a chance to rehydrate better. That might (or might not) improve the flavor of the beer.

I was impatient to try the beer, so I opened a bottle after only a week of bottle conditioning. That's the one in the picture at the top of this post.  It had a nice level of carbonation.  When first poured into the glass, it had a thin and very active head on it.  This dissipated so rapidly that it was gone by the time I photographed it.

The finished beer tastes like a mix of sake (rice wine), white wine, and beer.  I've got a bottle of the real Chateau Jiahu around here that I'll need to chill and compare to this one, but even if they don't match it's still a very enjoyable beer to drink.

If I do it again, I'll try converting the recipe from extract to all-grain to reduce the cost a bit.  There's nothing wrong with the extract version, but I'd prefer to do all-grain if I do it again.  I would also like to add some Cara-Pils malt to the mix to help it get and keep a nice head on it.  Apart from that, I'll have to do a side-by-side taste test with the real Chateau Jiahu to see what else needs to change in the recipe (if anything).

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Dogfish Head Ta Henket Clone Recipe 1.0

The finished beer
In early August, my wife and I visited Dogfish Head's brewery in Milton, Delaware.  We took their tour, which was interesting and informative, and enjoyed a few samples at the taproom afterward. The whole visit inspired me to think about brewing, and specifically about brewing clones of some of my favorite Dogfish Head beers.

If you asked most folks which Dogfish Head beer was their favorite, they would probably mention 120-Minute IPA (or 90-Minute or 60-Minute), or World Wide Stout, or maybe one of their others. The ones I really enjoy most from Dogfish Head are the Ancient Ales series. Of those, Ta Henket is probably my favorite.  Judging from the fact that they appear to have stopped making it (according to a book I'll mention in a moment), perhaps I'm one of the few "off-centered people" who liked it.

Ta Henket impressed me with its Ancient Egyptian pedigree, its unusual spicy and herbal aroma (which reminds me of what I imagine the inside of a pyramid to smell like), and its unique flavor.  I always found it a very drinkable beer and very one-of-a-kind. I made it a point to buy a couple of bottles whenever I saw it.

When I recently began reading Dr. Patrick McGovern's ("Dr. Pat" around Dogfish Head) book Ancient Ales: Rediscovered and Re-Created, I decided it was time to try my hand at brewing a Ta Henket clone beer.  To get the most true reproduction of the beer possible, I decided to follow the recipe in the book as close to how it was written as possible.  In this case, that meant brewing an extract beer (as the recipes in the book are all extract recipes).

After punching the recipe into BeerSmith, something looked amiss.  The book said that only 3 pounds of light DME were needed, but BeerSmith said this would produce much lower gravity beer than the book claimed it would be.  BeerSmith suggested that doubling the DME amount would get me a beer closer to the gravity Griffith reported.

Ingredients

6 pounds Light DME
8 ounces Caramel 40L Malt
1 pound Wheat Malt
1 pound Emmer Farro grain
1 Tbsp. Gypsum
1 Tbsp. Za'Atar spice mix
0.5 ounces Chamomile flowers
0.4 ounces East Kent Goldings hops pellets @ 6.1% AA
4 ounces Dried Dates
1 tablet Whirlfloc
1 packet Safale S-33 dry yeast

Original Gravity:  1.050 SG or 12.4 Brix estimated (16 Brix post-boil, 12.4 Brix after adding water)
Pre-boil gravity:  1.048 SG or 11.9 Brix estimated (15.5 Brix actual)
IBUs:  12
SRM:  8.6
ABV: 5.0%
Volume: 5 gallons estimated (6.0 actual with addition of water to hit target gravity)
BU:GU Ratio:  0.17

Steeping

The emmer, wheat malt, and Caramel 40L were crushed and steeped for 30 minutes in 5 gallons of water at 150F, treated with the Gypsum.  The grain was removed and the water heated to boiling.  While the wort was heating, I stirred in the malt extract.

The Boil

The Grainfather took a while to bring the wort to a boil. While I was waiting, I took a pre-boil gravity reading which was 15.5 Brix, well above the expected 12.4 final gravity.  I knew I'd need to add some water to bring the gravity down to the target later.

The recipe called for a 65-minute boil as laid out below:

  • 65 minutes - No hops or other additions
  • 60 minutes - Add East Kent Goldings hops
  • 15 minutes - Extract a cup or so of wort, and pour it over the dates. Use a blender or immersion blender to puree the dates in the wort.
  • 10 minutes - Add the pureed date mixture to the kettle.
  • 7 minutes - Recirculate wort through the chiller to sterilize it
  • 5 minutes - Add Za'Atar and chamomile, in a muslin bag
  • 0 minutes - Turn off heat, whirlpool for 5 minutes, then let sit for 15 minutes
After the 15-minute rest, pumped the wort through the counter flow chiller into the fermenter. Wort temperature in the fermenter was approximately 74F.

Fermentation

A gravity reading in the fermenter showed a gravity of 16 Brix, well above what the recipe called for. I added cold water to the sanitized fermenter. By the time the fermenter was showing 6 gallons, it was reading 12.4 Brix on the refractometer.  I sprinkled the dry yeast across the wort and sealed the fermenter.  I'll need to keep an eye on it, as this didn't leave a lot of head space for high krausen.

The recipe calls for the beer to ferment until it's finished and to spend 1-2 weeks in a secondary fermenter to achieve "desired clarity".  I'm thinking that once the fermentation is finished, I'll pitch gelatin in it and give it a few days in the mini-fridge to clear up.

Update 09/23/2017: Fermentation was vigorous for the first 3-4 days after brewing, then slowed to virtually nothing for the past few days. I've decided to bottle it as-is without gelatin finings or cold crashing, since the real Ta Henket isn't particularly clear.  I'm aiming for 2.5 volumes of CO2. The beer is at about 70F and there are six gallons of it, so I'll use approximately 5.4 ounces of corn sugar dissolved in water to do it.

Bottling

Update 10/8/2017:  The beer has completed bottle conditioning now and samples were shared with several of my friends at work on Friday. I'm awaiting feedback.

Notes and Comments

It was interesting to note that for this brew, BeerSmith's estimates of gravity were way off.  I'll have to keep an eye on this as I brew other beers from the book.

Update 10/8/2017:  The beer has a good flavor to it, and reminds me of the real Dogfish Head brew.  Where it differs is in the aroma. With the S-33 yeast, the aroma is primarily the malt, spice, and chamomile.  Next time, I would use a more aromatic yeast like White Labs Bastogne ale, which gives off a distinctive aroma that might be similar to the Egyptian yeast Dogfish Head uses.