Saturday, September 7, 2019

Brewie and Brewie+ Internals

The last time I brewed with my Brewie+ was July 12, 2019.  The machine failed during that brew, leaving wort slowly cooling in the boil kettle.  I saved the batch by pumping it to another kettle and finishing it out there, but the Brewie itself was out of commission.  I contacted the manufacturer that evening for help. Two days later, I was told that parts were on the way to repair it.  It's now September 7, and those parts haven't arrived.

In the meantime, there are strong indications that the company making the Brewie has gone out of business.  I'm hopeful those are just rumors, but there are a number of facts that suggest otherwise. Although their web site is still active, their tech support system reports "Account suspended" if you try to post a case or ask a question.  Their support email address, if you email it, comes back as non-existent.  Right now, eBay is filled with a number of broken "customer return" systems that you can purchase inexpensive for parts. (These are the older "Brewie" model rather than the "Brewie+" but that doesn't seem like a good sign.)

I have a friend who enjoys repairing broken devices and appliances.  He wanted a crack at the Brewie+ in my basement, so last night we cracked it open and had a look.  If nothing else, when the repair parts arrive from the Brewie folks, we'd have a good idea how to install them.

Here's the bottom of the kettle, with the heating element removed:

Bottom of the boil kettle

And the heating element itself:

Close-up of the heating element connections

Evidence of burning at the heating element

So you can see that during one of the previous brew sessions, issues with the wiring attached to the heating element and the thermal cut-out switch caused the wiring to burn out at the connector end.  This happened badly enough on the side with the thermal cut-out switch that the terminal broke right off that switch.  I'm probably fortunate that there wasn't a serious fire.

For those curious about what the inside of a Brewie+ looks like, I'm sharing some other photos, taken during parts of the disassembly.

The Brewie+ partially disassembled, to allow access to the heating element

Close-up view of the plumbing - dirty because I couldn't run a cleaning cycle in it after it failed




Close-up of connections that had to be unhooked to get to the heating element

Close-up of the wiring on the boil side of the Brewie+

I bought one of the original Brewie units for sale on eBay.  It turned out to have suffered a serious drop and showed a lot of mangled metal.  The mash compartment was misshapen, the base plate was damaged, the lids no longer lined up, etc.  It also failed its power-on self-test, possibly due to a power supply issue.  Here are a few photos of that broken one:

The customer-returned broken Brewie (original)

Inside the bottom plate of the original Brewie

Power and control boards inside the original Brewie

At left, what I think is a pump with the lid broken, off, on the mash side

Close-up view of the internals on the boil side, note the plate chiller at bottom

Close up of the broken pump(?)

Two lights indicate a successful self-test, I presume one indicates only a partial success
My friend and I are still in the midst of trying to get the Brewie+ to work again.  At this point, we are waiting on the arrival of some replacement thermal cut-out switches I ordered from eBay to arrive.

The Brewie and Brewie+ share a number of internal components, which makes the older machine a good donor parts system for the new one.  I may buy another broken one on eBay and see if we can't get it working with parts from this one.


Monday, September 2, 2019

Thoughts on the Brewie+ After 8 Months

I've been brewing now for at least 7 years. Over that time, I've brewed well over 100 batches and used several different configurations of equipment. Most of the batches were brewed with iMake's The Grainfather all-in-one system. Many were brewed with PicoBrew's Zymatic.  For the last 8 months, I've brewed exclusively with the Brewie+.  For home brewers considering purchasing a Grainfather, Zymatic, or Brewie+, I thought it might be worthwhile to share some thoughts and experiences since I've been fortunate enough to use all three.

Let's start with a quick comparison of high-level features:
  • iMake's The Grainfather:
    • Uses 110 volt (for the US model) electrical outlets
    • Brews up 8 gallons in a single batch
    • Has a grain bill limit of X pounds
    • Provides good temperature control through the mash
    • With the "Connect" controller, you can control temperature and pump activation remotely with their app, provided you are in Bluetooth range
    • Handles almost all of the brewing process, from heating mash and sparge water, mashing, boiling, and chilling
    • Requires manual intervention to separate the grain from the mash water, apply sparge water, switch from RIMS mode to Chilling, pumping wort to the fermenter, and cleanup.
    • I'd estimate the amount of manual effort involved in brewing a batch to be at least 2-3 hours depending on the recipe, cleanup time, etc.
    • Tech support comes from New Zealand, by email.
  • PicoBrew Zymatic
    • Uses 110 volt standard US electrical outlets
    • Brews up to 2.5 gallons per batch, but you could brew a strong wort and dilute it to get a larger batch size
    • Has a grain bill limit of 9.5 pounds
    • Provides good temperature control through the mash
    • Connects to WiFi and allows process monitoring throughout the mash and boil, with monitoring possible anywhere you have an Internet connection
    • The mash process doesn't really include a traditional sparge step, but otherwise it handles everything from mash through boil.  Chilling is handled by manually inserting the keg into ice water and having the Zymatic circulate the wort in and out of the keg.  So chilling is at best partially automated.
    • Requires manual intervention to load grain, measure water, initiate brewing, perform chilling, and initiate pumping into the fermenter.
    • Cleaning is partially manual, partially automated.
    • I'd estimate the amount of manual effort involved in brewing a batch to be about 1-2 hours, depending on the recipe, cleanup time, and chilling time.
    • Tech support comes from the United States, but is by email only in most cases.
  • Brewie+
    • Uses 110 volt standard US electrical outlets
    • Brews up to 6 gallons per batch, and as little as 2.64 gallons
    • Has a grain bill limit of X pounds
    • Provides good temperature control through the mash and sparge
    • Provides a touch-screen interface and an app
    • Connects to WiFi and allows process monitoring through the provided phone app, but only when connected to the home network
    • The brewing process is handled start to finish, with the Brewie+ loading its own water, heating mash and sparge water, separating wort from grain, and handling hop additions.  The Brewie+ also automatically chills the wort to pitching temperature.
    • Requires manual intervention to load the grain, transfer wort into the fermenter at the end of the chill, and perform part of the cleanup process (most of which is automated).
    • I'd estimate the amount of manual effort involved in brewing a batch to be 1-2 hours, depending on recipe, cleanup time, and other details.
    • Tech support comes from Hungary, by email.
Let's now take a look at the brewing process using each system.

Comparing the Brewing Processes

Note:  Although I have not used the BrewZilla, RoboBrew, and other systems similar to The Grainfather, I would imagine the brewing process with those devices to be similar to this.  There might be differences here or there that I'm unaware of.

Grainfather Brewing Process

The Grainfather brewing process goes like this (though it could be adjusted per the brewer's needs):
  • Decide on your recipe, measure grain and hops, crush the grain if it's not already crushed, and ready any other additions you may need to make.
  • Decide how you're going to sparge. One option is to have The Grainfather heat the sparge water, then set it aside in an insulated or other container until spage time.  Another is to heat the sparge water in a separate vessel and have it ready at sparge time.  Using The Grainfather means you don't need additional equipment, but your brewing process will be longer because you are waiting on it to heat water to separate times.
  • Calculate mash and sparge water amounts, measure them, and place them in The Grainfather and/or other vessel.  (From here on, I'm going to assume you are heating sparge water in a separate vessel rather than The Grainfather.  The only difference is that you'd have to add steps of heating the sparge water to ~180F, pumping that into another vessel, and then loading mash water.)
  • Set the desired mash in temperature and wait for The Grainfather to heat the water to the desired temperature. In my experience, with the Graincoat insulation attached, The Grainfather would heat the mash water about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit per minute (but this will vary a bit depending on the amount of water, ambient temperatures, etc.  To give you an idea, assuming 70F incoming tap water, to get to a 153F mash temperature, you'd need about 55 minutes.
  • At mash temperature, begin adding and stirring in the grain.  Place the mesh mash basket top over the grain bed.  Put the glass lid on The Grainfather.  Attach the recirculation arm, then turn on the recirculation pump.
  • As appropriate for the recipe, run the pre-programmed mash process in The Grainfather's Connect app or manually adjust mash temps as needed.  
  • Set the mash out temperature and wait for it to heat. 
  • Stop the pump. Remove the recirculation arm.
  • As mash out is occurring, check the temp of the sparge water to make sure it's correct.  Adjust as needed.
  • Lift the grain basket out of The Grainfather and position it to stand on top of the machine so that the basket drains into the kettle.
  • Set The Grainfather's temperature controls to boiling.
  • Add sparge water a bit at a time until all has been added.  Wait for the draining to finish, then remove the grain basket and set it aside.
  • While waiting on The Grainfather to heat the wort to boiling, empty the grain basket, dispose of the grain, and rinse/clean the grain basket.
  • Once The Grainfather is at a boil, start a timer to know when to make additions and stop the boil.
  • Optionally add a hop spider, use hop bags, or direct kettle additions.  (To minimize the risk of clogging up The Grainfather's wort filter, I recommend a hop spider or bag, but many people do direct kettle additions. So it's really up to you.)
  • Add hops, spices, yeast nutrient, etc., as needed for your recipe, at the times you need them.
  • It's a good idea while doing the boil to prep your fermenter, cleaning and sanitizing it as needed, and having it at the ready.
  • Near the end of the boil, connect the counter flow chiller to The Grainfather.  Circulate wort through the chiller for a few minutes to sterilize it.  Then start circulating cold water through it to chill it down to ambient water temps.
  • At the end of the boil, turn on the cold water supply to the counter flow chiller.  Place the wort-out line from the chiller into the fermenter.  Turn on the pump to pump wort through the chiller into the fermenter. Wort is chilled pretty much instantly.
  • Turn off the pump and cold water line once the kettle is empty, or as empty as you can get it.
  • When the wort is pumped into the fermenter, seal the fermenter. If the desired temperature has been reached, you can also pitch the yeast, or wait until it cools to the needed temp.
  • Disconnect the counter flow chiller.
  • Dump the remaining wort and trub out of The Grainfather.  Remove and clean the wort filter at the bottom of The Grainfather.  Rinse out the Grainfather.
  • Reattach the wort filter.  Add a few gallons of hot water to The Grainfather.  Add some PBW (powdered brewer's wash).  Heat the water to around 135F.  Attach the counter flow chiller.  Place the wort-out line from the chiller back into the kettle.  Turn on the pump.
  • Recirculate the hot PBW solution for at least 10-15 minutes. This cleans out the wort lines and the counterflow chiller.  Turn off the pump. Connect the recirculation arm.  Turn on the pump
  • Recirculate the hot PBW solution for a few more minutes to clean the recirculation arm.
  • Turn off the pump. Disconnect the recirculation arm.  Dump the PBW solution.  Rinse the kettle well.
  • Load the kettle with clean hot water.  Attach the recirculation arm and run the pump for 5-10 minutes to rinse out the PBW.  
  • Turn off the pump. Remove the recirculation arm.  Attach the counterflow chiller. Place the wort-out line in the kettle.  Turn on the pump for 5-10 minutes to rinse out the PBW.
  • Turn off the punp. Disconnect the chiller.  Dump the water.  Dry out the kettle, mash basket, etc. with a clean dry towel.  When everything is dry, reassemble it so it's ready for the next use.
In my experience, this entire process takes anywhere from 5-8 hour from start to finish. The amount of hands-on time varies but I'd guess it's around 2-3 hours, some of which is just spent being nearby to make kettle additions during the boil.  Because it's mostly a manual effort, there is a lot of work involved. However, you have almost total flexibility in the grain bill, the number and amount of hop additions, etc.  Because it's a fairly simple system, breakdowns are pretty rare and repair parts seem pretty easy to come by from the same places that sell The Grainfather.

PicoBrew Zymatic Brewing Process

The brewing process for the Zymatic is simpler than The Grainfather:
  • Decide on your recipe.  Measure your ingredients.
  • Enter the recipe in the PicoBrew Zymatic web page.  Set the mash and boil schedule.  Save the recipe. Note the amount of starting water needed to brew the batch.
  • Measure the starting water and load it into the keg. Place the lid on the keg.
  • Load the plastic tray with grain and hops and place it into the machine.
  • Turn on the machine. 
  • Select the recipe you want to brew and hit the Start button.
  • The Zymatic heats the water to the necessary temperature for mash in, the floods the grain compartment in the plastic tray. The wort is recirculated automatically between the tray and the keg as needed to complete the mash.  Then wort is drained into the keg.
  • The Zymatic begins recirculating and heating the wort to approximately 207F.  Then it begins circulating the wort through the hop addition compartments in accordance with the boil schedule.
  • When the boil is over, the Zymatic beeps to let you know it's time to chill the wort.
  • Place the keg in a large container of ice water.  Hit the start button and the Zymatic recirculates the wort through the system and the ice water until it's chilled properly, then stops.
  • While this is happening, clean and sanitize a fermenter.
  • Attach a wand to the wort-out line of the Zymatic and pump the wort into your fermenter.
  • Dump the grain and hops.  Rinse the tray and hop baskets. Rinse the keg.  
  • Load a dishwasher tablet into the hop compartment.  Fill the keg with hot water.  Clean the wort filter.
  • Set the controls on the Zymatic to cleaning mode.  Wait for it to finish running the cleaning cycle and begin beeping.
  • Dump the dirty water from the keg. Rinse the plastic tray and the keg.
  • Reinsert the plastic tray.  Clean the wort filter again.
  • Attach the cleaning wands to both water in and out lines.  Set the wort-in line in a large container of hot water.  Set the wort-out line in a sink or another place it can drain safely into.
  • Set the controls on the Zymatic to a rinse cycle.  Hot water is pulled into the machine and pumped out the wort-out line into the drain or receptacle.
  • (I generally repeated the rinse a couple more times just to be sure it was as clean as it could be.)
  • Remove the tray, rinse it, dry it and do the same with the wort screens and keg.
Generally speaking, this whole process takes 5-7 hours.  Manual effort is probably in the 1-2 hour range including everything from setup to cleanup.  That makes it much less effort than The Grainfather, but there is still quite a bit of work involved.

Brewie+ Brewing Process

Note:  For the following discussion, I'm going to assume you have the Brewie+ attached to a cold water supply line (garden-hose style connection) and have a drain nearby.  If not, the process will be less automated than described here.

The brewing process for the Brewie+ is even simpler than for the PicoBrew Zymatic:
  • Determine your recipe. Gather and measure ingredients.
  • Calculate mash and sparge water amounts.
  • Optionally calibrate the Brewie+ water loading process.
  • Place the grain in a zippered filter bag and insert it into the Brewie+ mash compartment on top of the false bottom.  
  • Load hops and/or other additions into the hop baskets and insert them into the Brewie+
  • Close the lids.
  • Enter recipe information using the Brewie+ app or touch screen.
  • Place the outgoing water hoses into a sink or other safe drainage location.
  • Turn on the incoming water line if not already done.
  • Tell the Brewie+ to start the brewing process for the desired recipe.
  • The Brewie+ loads water into the boil compartment and heats it to the mash-in temp. 
  • The Brewie+ floods the grain compartment and begins recirculating the wort and keeping it at temperature.
  • The Brewie+ loads water into the boil compartment for the sparge step and begins heating it to the sparge remperature.
  • As needed, the Brewie+ executes changes in mash temperature based on the recipe you provided at the start. This all happens automatically.
  • The Brewie+ sparges the grain, then transfers the wort from the mash compartment to the boil compartment, and begins heating to a boil.
  • As the boil progresses, the Brewie+ automatically circulates wort through the hop baskets to simulate manual hop additions to the kettle (up to four total).
  • While this is happening, the brewer should clean and sanitize a fermenter.
  • When the boil finishes, the Brewie+ turns off the heating element, turns on the cold water supply, and chills the wort using its built-in counterflow chiller.  When the wort reaches the desired temperature, it shuts off the water and waits for the brewer to return.
  • The brewer tells the Brewie+ to pump the chilled wort into the fermenter. When it's finished, the wort-out line is placed back in the drain.
  • The grain bag is removed from the Brewie+, emptied, and rinsed clean. Later it can go in the washer for cleaning.
  • Dump the hop baskets and rinse well with hot water.
  • Wipe out the inside of the mash and boil containers using the provided sponge or a similar soft one until they're looking pretty clean.
  • Set the controls on the Brewie+ to full clean mode.  Wipe things out again when prompted. 
  • Add a dishwasher tablet to two of the compartments when prompted.
  • The Brewie+ finishes the cleaning cycle, rinses itself out, and lets you know when it's finished.
  • With a soft, dry towel, dry out the mash and boil compartments, the lid, etc.  Please the false bottom in the mash compartment.
In my experience, the brewing process generally takes 5-7 hours depending on the recipe and the temperature of the tap water.  The amount of manual effort involved is 1-2 hours at most.  Most of that effort is in prepping the recipe ingredients, specifying the mash and boil steps, and doing the manual steps involved in cleanup.  It's a lot less physical effort than The Grainfather, and less than the Zymatic in my opinion.

Comparison of Results

Using one of these systems is no guarantee of good beer.  I've made good and not-so-good batches in The Grainfather, the Zymatic, and the Brewie+.  I've won awards in competition with beers made in all three of those systems. The way I see it, while the system may help the brewer keep mash and boil schedules on track, ultimately the results depend as much on the brewer constructing a good recipe, using fresh ingredients, and making sure the machine executes on that recipe faithfully.  Despite some of the complaints I've seen brewers make online about systems like these, I've never had a judge provide feedback like "This beer clearly was brewed in one of those automated systems" so I'd be surprised if anyone could tell the difference between a beer brewed in one of these and a beer brewed on a very manual propane-based system.

That said, I have found that with both the Brewie+ and Zymatic, it has helped my competition scores to make some minor recipe changes. Specifically, I've had occasional complaints about malt complexity in some of my beers made in those systems.  By adding some mash steps and extending the boil for recipes where malt complexity is important, this has raised the scores I've gotten in competition for essentially the same recipe.

I've also seen pretty striking differences in brew house efficiency between the systems.  With The Grainfather, adjusting the crush and carefully measuring mash and sparge water got me brew house efficiency numbers in the 75-83% range depending on the batch.  I normally calculated recipes for it using 80% efficiency as my base.  Your mileage may vary, of course.  With the Brewie+, I have been generally seeing brew house efficiency numbers in the 58-62% range.  I've been trying to tweak the process in various ways to increase this, and that has helped some.  Manually measuring the mash/sparge water helped even more.  With the PicoBrew Zymatic, efficiency seemed to be wildly variable.  I often saw what I calculated to be around 50-55% efficiency, though higher for some batches and lower for a few.  Try as I might, I never seemed to be able to get consistent efficiency from it.  

Good and Bad Points

Every brewing system has its good and bad points, as much as the manufacturers might believe there are no bad points to their setup.  Following are what I like and dislike most about each of these, based on four years of Grainfather use, a year of Zymatic use, and 7 months of Brewie+ use:
  • iMake Grainfather
    • Good points:
      • You can brew almost any style you want using all grain.  Adding some malt extract would allow you to reach very high gravities.
      • Efficiency was pretty high in my experience, regularly around 80%. That means you need less grain and can brew higher-gravity batches more easily.
      • You can brew fairly large batches
      • During the four years I used it, I had comparatively few problems compared with the other two systems
      • It's a great way to learn and understand the all-grain brewing process
      • Because it can brew 2.64 to 8 gallon batches, and its efficiency is close to the standard 75% most brewing recipes are based on, it's easy to adjust recipes to work with The Grainfather.
      • Support is good and replacement parts seem pretty available
    • Bad points:
      • It requires the most manual effort of all three of the systems discussed here. A lot of that effort involves lifting the heavy grain basket and the entire Grainfather system. I found that hard on my back.
      • It's not fully automated, which is bad in that you have to babysit it more and do more by hand.  On the flip side, this teaches you more than a set-it-and-forget-it device.
      • Getting your sparge water to the right temp in precise timing with the mash out is a bit of a challenge, but doable. 
      • The biggest problem I had during my usage was early on. Residue in the bottom of the kettle would trip the thermal cut-out switch. Resetting that switch means getting underneath the machine, which is a bit dangerous when it's filled with boiling wort.  For that reason, I made a u-shaped wooden platform and ran The Grainfather on that, so I could reach underneath it as needed.
  • PicoBrew Zymatic
    • Good points:
      • You can brew many different styles automatically
      • The process is almost entirely automated, except for chilling
      • You can monitor the brewing process anywhere with an Internet connection
      • I found their support team to be responsive and helpful
      • The online interface works pretty well and it's easy enough to specify custom mash schedules with as much complexity as you need
      • The Zymatic has been on the market for a very long time, so their support staff are pretty familiar with how the device could fail and how to resolve issues.
    • Bad points:
      • Because it produces 2.5 gallon batches, you have to adjust many published recipes for both size and gravity before brewing.
      • There is a limit to four hop additions during brewing, which can be a challenge for some recipes, and manual hop additions aren't supported (at least not easily).
      • The Zymatic is relatively loud in operation.  With it running in the basement, I could easily hear it running from upstairs.
      • In one year of use, I went through four plastic trays because they always developed cracks in the bottom between the mash and boil compartments. Those cracks led to wort seeping out of the tray into the machine, into its small drip tray, and onto the table or floor.
      • In one year of use, I had three or four batches overflow the grain compartment, the drip tray, the table, and onto the floor. These led to big floor mop-up sessions which were not fun.  
      • A few months in, an issue developed with the heat exchanger where residue built up inside it that wasn't removed in the cleaning process. This residue caused the system to generate overheat errors while trying to brew. Often the batch had to be tossed when this happened.  It took almost a solid month of running various  cleaning cycles to restore it to good operation.
      • There were a number of times the ball lock connectors on the keg (or the wort filter) would clog up for unknown reasons and interfere with the brewing process.
      • The grain bill limit combined with the low efficiency and tendency to overflow unexpectedly meant that higher-gravity beers like Belgian styles were harder and somewhat riskier to make in the Zymatic.
      • The plastic trays seemed to crack often on me, and once out of warranty they would be about $150 to replace. That seemed the biggest problem with the design to me. I'd love to seem them produce a stainless tray with a plastic viewing window.
      • Brewhouse efficiency seemed variable and I rarely got the machine to hit my volume and gravity targets, which was frustrating when producing beer for competition.
  • Brewie+
    • Good points:
      • Batch sizes from 2.64 to 6 gallons can be brewed, which works well for just about any recipe you come across.
      • The grain bill limit is large enough to brew most recipes you want to brew. If not, you can dial down the recipe volume to squeeze in more grain.
      • It's almost completely automated between the loading of ingredients and pumping into the fermenter.
      • Cleaning is the easiest of all three of the systems discussed here, at least to me.
      • The touch screen makes it easy to interact with.
      • You can monitor the brewing process with their app, though the status isn't as clear as what you get from the Zymatic.
      • The Brewie+ is fairly quiet in operation.  It's not quite as quiet as The Grainfather but much quieter than the Zymatic. I could not hear it from upstairs.
      • If the device breaks down, the vendor will allow you to open it up to work on it and investigate problems, which means you won't be shipping it off for service in many cases. 
      • Supposedly, many of the pieces inside the machine are off-the-shelf electronics that can be replaced by ordering new pieces online fairly cheaply. This means that out of warranty support should be easier.
    • Bad points:
      • I had issues getting the Brewie+ to load water accurately, even with calibration. This led me to do that step manually to ensure I got consistent and predictable results.
      • Without doing something manual, there are limits on the amount and number of hop additions possible in a recipe. Since I don't tend to brew hoppy beers, this is a minor issue for me.
      • Support comes from Hungary, so there can be delays in getting responses and sometimes language issues.
      • About 7 months into my use of the Brewie+, it failed while heating wort to a boil. I ended up having to quickly clean a kettle, transfer wort into it, and bring it to a boil elsewhere... then manually add hops, etc. to finish it out.  The failure required the vendor to ship a replacement part.  It's now about six weeks later and I do not have the part or even a tracking number. From what I have seen in the forums online, this is unfortunately not a rare occurrence.
      • Common repair parts do not appear to be available from the shops that sell the Brewie+, though from what I understand in the online forums, many of the parts are common electronics that can be purchased online once you identify what has failed.
      • Since it's a relatively new product to the market, it seems to be experiencing a number of issues common to new products... failed components, manufacturing issues, and the like.
All that said, none of the three is completely trouble-free.  I had the least issues with The Grainfather of all three systems and used it the longest of all three.  I had the most issues with The Zymatic, and had to acquire replacement parts multiple times for the tray.  However, their support was very responsive and they delivered the repair parts with a minimum of hassle.  I'm still waiting for my Brewie+ part, and when it arrives, I'll need to install it myself, which might prove to be a challenge.

Thoughts and Recommendations

I love to brew new beers, tweak my recipes, and see how they turn out.  That means I tend to prefer the more-automated setups, as they make it much easier to do that with a minimum of effort.  Of all three units discussed here, the Brewie+ is still my favorite.  It's delivered consistent and predictable results, runs quietly, and produces beers that win in competition.  It requires the least effort to brew and clean.  It's almost entirely automated.  Because you have easy access to the mash compartment and kettle, you can move the grain about a little during mashing to help with efficiency, take gravity readings and pH readings, etc.  It's a nice balance between accessibility and automation.  If spare parts were readily accessible or reliability high, it would be an ideal machine for my needs.  (Naturally, that might not be true for you.)

In case it sounds like I'm trashing the Zymatic here, I'm not.  I did have the most trouble with it of the three systems. Wort overflows, cracked plastic trays, and foaming caused messes more than a few times that required manual cleanup and mopping.  Because it's a sealed device, and opening voids your warranty, when I had a problem with the heat exchanger, there was no option to open it up and clean it manually.  I just had to run nightly cleaning cycles over a period of weeks to get it to work again.  Despite this, the Zymatic had me brewing more often and flexing my recipe-design skills a bit.  I was more willing to try random recipes and styles because of the minimal effort involved.  I loved the ability to monitor a brew from anywhere.  The support folks were always great to work with, and they're located in the USA, so there were no communication barriers.

I love The Grainfather, too.  It taught me a lot about all-grain brewing because I had to be involved manually in the process, and kept me from getting discouraged by keeping wort temperatures where I needed them. I produced a few award-winning beers in it (including two state level silver medals).  I had a few minor issues (none requiring repairs) in four years of use.  It handles the entire process from mash to chill, minus heating and applying sparge water.  It's possible to disassemble and clean the system nearly completely without voiding the warranty.  Repair parts are easy to find and not terribly expensive.  My only complaints are that it requires a lot more hands-on effort to brew a batch, and this also includes a bit of heavy lifting.

As far as recommendations go, these are mine:
  • If you're new to all-grain brewing, The Grainfather and similar units are a great way to get into the process, learn it, and produce good beers.  These units are cheaper than the Zymatic and the Brewie+ so you don't need as big a cash outlay to own them.  In my experience, they were pretty efficient, too, so you needed less grain to make the same beer than you would with the Brewie+ or the Zymatic.
  • If you're experienced with all-grain brewing and lack the free time to brew as often as you like, the Brewie+ would be my recommendation.  It requires the least manual effort of the three systems to produce a batch. It's quieter, too.  You can brew standard 5-gallon batches with it.  You can control the mash and sparge water amounts. It even chills the wort for you.
  • All this said, there are plenty of used Zymatic machines on the market and plenty of Grainfather or Grainfather-like systems available new.  No so many Brewie+ machines since it's relatively new to the market.  You may be able to get the other two more cheaply, if that's a concern.  
If the Brewie+ ever fails or proves to be too unreliable, the next step for me would probably be to design and build my own automated system using as much off-the-shelf stuff as I can, so that it's much easier to clean, troubleshoot, and repair.  That's been my biggest complaint about both the Zymatic and the Brewie+.  Neither vendor publishes a lot detailed troubleshooting information so you're stuck in a support queue to get solutions or try to guess your way through a problem.  I'd love to see them produce technical manuals to help troubleshoot hardware problems and help you identify the issue and resolve it where possible.

In any case, happy brewing to all of you, no matter what system you use.

Update 09/02/2019:  Today, I became aware of the possible exit of the Brewie company from the business world.  Attempts to file tech support tickets return the error "Account suspended" although their main web site remains up.  There are many broken units available for sale on eBay, presumably from the US repair facility.  I hope what I am hearing is wrong, because with some minor tweaks this would be a great product.  We'll see.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Elderflower Mead 1.0

Way back when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were married, I read that their wedding cake was going to be a lemon and elderflower flavored one.  Having not tasted elderflower infused foods before, I wondered how that flavor might work in a beer or mead.  A good friend picked up two containers of Ikea's elderflower drink concentrate for me, so I would be able to try the flavor in both a mead and a beer.  With the Brewie+ still down for repair (almost 6 weeks now), I decided to create an elderflower mead first.

Ingredients

6 pounds of Wildflower honey
1 bottle of Ikea Elderflower drink concentrate
1 gallon bottled spring water (see note below)
1 packet Lalvin K1V 1116 wine yeast
(plus yeast nutrient mix, described next)

Note: Enough bottled spring water was added so that after the honey was dissolved and the drink concentrate added, the total volume of liquid was 1.5 gallons in the fermenter.  When this resulted in too high a starting gravity, additional water was added to hit the target.  In this case, it ended up being the entire gallon.

The following nutrient mix will be used, and split across two additions, one when the mead first enters the fermenter and another 2-3 days later:
  • Go-ferm: 6 grams
  • Fermaid O:  6 grams
  • Fermaid K:  3 grams
  • DAP: 5 grams
According to MeadMakr.com's Batch Builder tool, the batch should have these characteristics:
  • Batch Volume:  1.5 gallons (actual was approximately 1.6 gallons)
  • Yeast ABV: 18%
  • Sweetness:  Semi-sweet (FG=1.015)
  • Nitrogen Requirement: High
  • Target OG: 1.148 SG, 33.9 Brix (actual was 1.150 SG)
  • Target FG: 1.015 SG (approx. 89% apparent attenuation)
  • Honey needed: 6.34 pounds
  • Dry yeast minimum weight: 3g (one packet is 5g)
The must will be created as described below:
  • Approximately a half gallon of water, yeast nutrients, and the drink concentrate are added to the sanitized fermenter.
  • The honey is added and a degassing wand used with a cordless drill to dissolve the honey and other ingredients into the water.
  • Additional water is added until the 1.5 gallon volume is reached, and the degassing wand is used to stir and aerate the must.
  • A sanitized Tilt Hydrometer is added to measure the original gravity.  If it's below the target, additional honey is added until the target gravity is reached.  The degassing wand is used to blend the honey addition into the must.
  • Dry yeast is sprinkled atop the must.
  • The fermenter is sealed, an airlock added, and a label indicating the batch name and date created is affixed to the fermenter.
The fermentation plan is to keep the fermenter in the basement, where ambient temperatures at this time are approximately 70F.  This is in about the middle of the yeast's tolerance range, so no off flavors or harsh fusels should be created (or at least they should be minimized).

Once final gravity is reached (per the Tilt Hydrometer readings), the mead will be transferred to a clean fermenter for degassing and secondary fermentation. When the mead has cleared, it will be bottled and allowed to age for a few weeks/months until the flavor matures.

Post-Brew Notes and Observations

08/24/2019:  Created the must and pitched the dry yeast atop it.  I ended up with a higher gravity than intended, probably because I did not attempt to calculate the sugar inherent in the Elderflower drink mix.  I ended up adding the entire gallon of water and a little bit of distilled water to get within a couple of points of my gravity target.  The amounts of yeast nutrient were pretty small to measure, so I ended up adding all of it at the start. There's plenty of headspace in the 2-gallon fermenter so I'm not too worried about blow-off.

08/25/2019:  Fermentation started about 9 hours after yeast pitch.  It's moving pretty slowly since then, currently well below 1% attenuation.  Temperature is reading 70, which is the ambient basement temperature where the fermenter is located.  Gravity has dropped from the initial 1.150 SG down to 1.148 SG in about 22 hours since yeast pitch.

08/27/2019:  Gravity has dropped from 1.150 SG down to 1.124 SG in the last 3 days.  If this was a beer, I'd be worrying about the fermentation having stalled.  Since it's a wine yeast we're dealing with, I'm going to assume it's just moving slowly.  If it's not much below 1.124 tomorrow night, I will likely pop open the fermenter, feed it some nutrients, and aerate it with some pure oxygen.

08/28/2019:  Gravity is down to 1.113 SG today.  That's about 24.7% attenuation and 6.3% ABV.

08/29/2019:  Gravity is 1.105 SG today. That's roughly 30% attenuation and a 7.5% ABV.

08/30/2019:  Gravity is now 1.095 SG, which represents 36% attenuation and 9.1% ABV.

08/31/2019:  Gravity is now 1.090 SG, 40% attenuation, 10% ABV.  I added some Fermaid O to the fermenter and swirled it to help fermentation keep moving forward.

09/01/2019:  Gravity is now 1.083 SG, 44% attenuation, 10.97% ABV.  In the Tilt Hydrometer's Chart page, the SG plot is almost exactly following a straight line downward, so I imagine it may be weeks before this particular mead reaches its final gravity.

09/02/2019:  Gravity 1.078 SG, attenuation 48%, ABV 11.74%.

09/03/2019:  Gravity 1.073 SG.

09/04/2019:  Gravity 1.068 SG, attenuation 54.7%, ABV 13.27%.

09/05/2019:  Gravity 1.062 SG, attenuation 58.7%, ABV 14.33%.

09/06/2019:  Gravity 1.059 SG, attenuation 60.7%, ABV 14.8%.

09/07/2019:  Gravity 1.055 SG, attenuation 63.3%, ABV 15.4%.  At about 7:30, I added some yeast nutrients to the must to help it finish fermentation.

09/09/2019:  Gravity 1.052 SG, attenuation 65.3%, ABV 15.7%.

09/10/2019:  Gravity 1.050 SG, attenuation 66.7%, ABV 15.95%.

09/11/2019:  Gravity 1.049 SG.

09/12/2019:  Gravity 1.047 SG, attenuation 68.7%, ABV 16.53%.

09/13/2019:  Gravity 1.044 SG.

09/14/2019:  Gravity 1.043 SG, attenuation 71.3%, ABV 17.1%

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Lingonberry Melomel 1.0

You'll notice that I'm doing meads this summer, though it might not be for the reason you'd expect.  It's not because the warm weather impacts my fermentations or that I'm trying to avoid raising the temperature and humidity in the house.  Bottom line... my Brewie+ stopped working in July and I am (still) waiting for a repair part to arrive from... somewhere.

The inspiration for this mead was a trip to Ikea some months ago. I saw Lingonberry drink mix for sale and thought this might be interesting in a beer or mead, so I bought a bottle.  With the Brewie+ down for the count, I decided to try it in a mead.

Ingredients

40 ounces of Wildflower honey, plus enough more to raise gravity to 1.127 SG
1 bottle of Ikea Lingonberry Juice Concentrate (16.9 ounces)
4 grams Fermaid O
3 grams DAP
1 packet of Lalvin 71B yeast
Bottled spring water

Original Gravity: 1.127 SG actual
Final Gravity:  TBD (expected around 1.020 SG)
Batch Size:  Approx 1.6 gallons
ABV: 14% expected

I chose the 71B yeast because it's reported to work well with darker-colored fruits, and is said to produce a smoother mead.  It's also rated at up to 14% ABV, which means it should leave some residual sugar behind. That will help offset some of the tartness of the Lingonberry concentrate.  For those not familiar with Lingonberries, they're similar to a more-tart cranberry.

Instructions
  1. Put 40 ounces of honey in a sanitized fermenter
  2. Add enough water to reach the 3/4 gallon mark (approx.)
  3. Using a sanitized degasser and cordless drill, stir until the honey is incorporated
  4. Add the Lingonberry juice drink concentrate
  5. Add Fermaid O and DAP
  6. Stir with the degasser until well mixed
  7. Add water to the 1.5 gallon mark
  8. Take a gravity reading (I used a Tilt Hydrometer for this)
  9. If gravity is too low, add honey and stir again.  Take another gravity reading.
  10. Repeat step 9 until desired gravity (1.124 or higher) is reached
  11. Gently sprinkle the yeast on top of the must
  12. Seal the fermenter and add an airlock
Fermentation plan:
  • Fri. Aug 23:  Extract a bit of must into a container.  Add another 4g Fermaid O and 3g DAP to this and stir with a sanitized spoon until dissolved.  Add to fermenter.  If time permits, clean and sanitize the degasser and degas the must.
  • Sun. Aug. 25:  If gravity seems to be dropping as expected, do nothing.  If fermentation seems to have slowed, add 2g Fermaid O and 1g DAP to the must, the degas, and reseal the fermenter.
  • From here, wait until the yeast seems to have stopped fermenting the must.  This might take 6-8 weeks to complete.  If necessary, rouse the yeast or move the fermenter to a warmer location to get fermentation to finish, adding yeast energizer if necessary.
  • Once primary fermentation has finished, transfer the must into a clean fermenter for aging.  Leave here until any harsh flavors and aromas are gone, and the must appears to have clarified.
After secondary fermentation is finished, bottle the mead in flip-top bottles for extended aging.

Post-Brew Notes and Observations

08/21/2019:  Marked a new 2-gallon bucket fermenter with quart-level markings up to 2 gallons.  Sanitized the fermenter, the degasser, and a pitcher.  Put 80 ounces of honey, the bottle of Lingonberry concentrate, and yeast nutrients in the fermenter and stirred. Dropped in a Tilt Hydrometer once the volume was up to 1.5 gallons. Gravity read low, around 1.075 SG.  Added more honey until finally reaching the 1.127 SG gravity.  There was still maybe 10-20% of the honey left in the 5 pound container, so I'd estimate this ended up being about 4 pounds of honey.  Sprinkled on the yeast, buttoned up the fermenter, and added an airlock.

08/22/2019:  Gravity is down to 1.123 SG.  That's a little over 2% attenuation.  I've read that the 71B yeast strain ferments with moderate speed, results in a smoother flavor with darker-colored fruits, and can attenuate up to 14% ABV in a temperature range of 59-86F.  Temperature in the fermenter has been holding between 70-71F so far.

08/23/2019:  Gravity is now 1.098 SG and temperature has increased to 73F.  That's 22.8% attenuation and 3.8% ABV.

08/24/2019:  Added some DAP and Fermaid O to the must.  Swirled the fermenter a bit to get the nutrients distributed, which caused some degassing.  Gravity currently reads 1.081 SG and temperature is at 72F.  Attenuation is approximately 36% and ABV is 6%.

08/25/2019:  Gravity is reading 1.057 SG today, which represents approximately 55% attenuation and an ABV of 9.2%.  I'm expecting the final gravity to be 1.025 SG or less, which would be attenuation in the ballpark of 79%.  That means fermentation is probably 70% complete at this point (about four days from yeast pitch).

08/27/2019:  Gravity has dropped to 1.023 SG today, which represents a hair under 82% attenuation and an ABV of about 15.6%.  A sample taken from the fermenter was mildly sweet with a nice Lingonberry flavor, though very cloudy at this early stage.  Gravity still seems to be dropping.

08/28/2019:  Gravity is down to 1.014 SG, which represents about 89% attenuation and 16.8% ABV.

08/29/2019:  Gravity has dropped to 1.009 SG today, which represents about 93% attenuation and an ABV of over 17.6%.

08/30/2019:  Gravity is now 1.003 SG, which represents 98.4% attenuation and 18.4% ABV.

08/31/2019:  Gravity is now 1.000 SG, which represents 100% attenuation and 18.71% ABV.

09/01/2019:  Gravity is now 0.998 SG, which represents over 100% attenuation (which technically isn't possible so let's just call it 100%) and 18.91% ABV.  Despite, there are indications that fermentation is not completely finished yet.

09/02/2019:  Gravity 0.997 SG. ABV 19.16%, Attenuation over 102% (theoretically). Fermentation at last seems to be slowing down, but hasn't stopped.

09/03/2019:  Gravity 0.996 SG. ABV 19.29%.  Fermentation is definitely slowing down.

09/04/2019:  Gravity at 0.996 SG since about 9:45am yesterday.

09/05/2019:  Gravity has held at 0.996 SG since yesterday.

09/06/2019:  Gravity continues to hold at 0.996.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Mint Julep Ale 1.0

We have a lot of mint growing outside our house.  I always wondered if you could make a mint julep style beer with it.  I had envisioned a beer that was basically amber colored, with mint added late in the boil, and aged on some bourbon-soaked oak chips.  Then I visited the now-defunct Fate Brewing in Boulder, Colorado, and tasted their Mint Julep Ale. It was quite good, which convinced me to brew my own.  Theirs included rye malt in the grist, which worked well with the mint, but didn't feature any actual bourbon.  I decided to add rye to the recipe I'd been considering, and to soak the mint in some bourbon apart from the oak chips, then blend in the mint-soaked bourbon at bottling time. Since corn is a big part of bourbon and I happened to have 3 ounces lying around I didn't want to go bad, I added that in last-minute.

Ingredients

6 pounds 2-row Pale Ale Malt
1 pound Crystal 60L Malt
4 ounces Rye Malt
3 ounces Flaked Corn
1 ounce Acid Malt
0.42 ounces German Northern Brewer hops @ 4.8% AA (60 min.)
0.25 ounces German Perle hops @ 7.2% AA (15 min.)
0.25 ounces German Perle hops @ 7.2% AA (5 min.)
1/8 tsp. Brewtan B (mash)
2 tsp. pH 5.2 Stabilizer (mash)
1/4 tsp. Brewtan B (boil, 20 min.)
1/4 Whirlfloc tablet (boil, 15 min.)
1/2 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm (fermenter)
1 package Safale US-05 yeast (fermenter)
10 liters (2.64 gallons) mash water
6.3 liters (1.7 gallons) sparge water

According to BeerSmith, the beer has the following characteristics:
  • Batch Size: 2.64 gallons (2.5 actual)
  • BJCP Style: 34.C  Experimental Beer
  • Original Gravity: 1.064 SG estimated (1.072 actual)
  • Pre-boil Gravity: 1.049 SG estimated (1.055 actual)
  • Final Gravity: 1.012 estimated (1.018 actual)
  • IBUs: 23
  • SRM: 15.7
  • ABV: 6.9% (plus Bourbon and Everclear)
  • Fermenter used: Spock
  • Bottling wand used: Stainless 2 
  • Carbonation method: mix of Coopers and Brewer's Best drops
  • Estimated Brew House Efficiency: 66.2% (vs. 62% expected)
Mash Schedule:
  • Load 10 liters into the Brewie+
  • Mash in at 104F for 20 minutes
  • Load 6.3 liters into the Brewie+ for sparging 
  • Mash at 120F for 20 minutes
  • Mash at 140F for 30 minutes 
  • Mash at 158F for 30 minutes 
  • Sparge at 168F for 20 minutes 
Boil Schedule:
  • 75 minutes: No additions
  • 60 minutes: German Northern Brewer
  • 20 minutes: Brewtan
  • 15 minutes: German Perle, Whirlfloc 
  • 5 minutes: German Perle 
Fermentation Plan:
  • Days 1-3: Ferment at ambient basemen temp of 69F (no temp control)
  • Days 4 through end of fermentation: 80F
  • Add bourbon soaked oak chips near 67% attenuation
  • When oak flavor reaches desired level, add mint to taste and bottle

Notes and Observations

07/12/2019:  As with other recent batches, I decided to load the water into the Brewie myself, to ensure that the exact amount was loaded.  I measured the water with an accurate scale and a plastic pitcher. It was then loaded into the Brewie and measured.

Pre-boil volume was around 13.8 cm deep, which is approximately 12.1 liters or 3.4 gallons.  Post-boil this should end up about 10.1 liters, and post-chilling it should be 9.7 liters or 2.56 gallons.  Gravity registered 13.1 Brix on the refractometer or an estimated 1.055 SG.

Tragedy struck just as the Brewie+ brought the wort to a boil. I noticed in the app (and later on the machine's control panel) that the wort was dropping in temperature... 190F... 180F... 170F... 160F...

I went down to check on it and nothing seemed amiss, so I tried shutting it down, unplugging it, waiting a bit, plugging it back in, and turning it back on. It asked if I wanted it to continue the previous brewing session. I told it to go ahead... and watched as the temperature continued to fall.

The wort boiling in my 8-gallon Mega Pot with induction cooktop
Grabbing the 8-gallon kettle from my extract brewing days, I quickly rinsed it and had the Brewie+ pump all the wort into the kettle. While it did that, I setup my induction cooktop and got it ready to go.  I shutdown the Brewie+ and unplugged it, using that plug for my cooktop. A little while later, I had the wort boiling nicely. I set a timer for 75 minutes and followed the boil schedule above.

While boiling, I cleaned up and sanitized my old immersion chiller and another kettle.  When the boil was over, I fished out the hop strainers and let them drain into the kettle.  Once they'd drained, I transferred the wort into the kettle with the immersion chiller and let it sit for a couple of minutes to further sanitize everything.  Then I kicked on the cold water and chilled the wort down to around 78F, which was as low as I figured I could get it with our summer ground water.

I transferred the wort into a sanitized fermenter, then dropped in a sanitized Tilt Hydrometer.  The gravity read a bit high, so I added distilled water to bring the volume up to 2.5 gallons and swirled it well.  When things settled, the gravity read 1.070 SG and the temperature read 77F.  That was a bit too high for my yeast, so I decided to let it chill a bit more in ambient basement temperatures.

I contacted the support folks for the Brewie+, hoping there might be an easy fix like a blown fuse or something, but it may be some time before I hear from them. They are based in Hungary.

07/13/2019:  I let the beer chill on its own from 77F to the ambient basement temperature of 69F before pitching the yeast. The yeast went in around 3pm and an airlock was placed on the lid. I'm planning to leverage the basement air to keep the fermentation within its ideal 64-82F range.

07/18/2019:  The beer is currently at a gravity of 1.023 SG, down from 1.025 yesterday.  I'd like to see it keep going a bit more but don't plan to do anything more than rousing the yeast, as glucoamylase is a bit too strong and unpredictable.

07/20/2019:  Here are the gravity readings since yeast pitch, showing the highest and lowest gravities registered each day:
  • 7/13/2019: 1.072 to 1.071
  • 7/14/2019: 1.071 to 1.056
  • 7/15/2019: 1.056 to 1.034
  • 7/16/2019: 1.034 to 1.024
  • 7/17/2019: 1.026 to 1.024
  • 7/18/2019: 1.024 to 1.023
  • 7/19/2019: 1.024 to 1.023
  • 7/20/2019: 1.024 to 1.023
  • 7/21/2019: 1.024 to 1.023
  • 7/22/2019: 1.023 to 1.022 
  • 7/23/2019: 1.023 to 1.022 
  • 7/24/2019: 1.022
  • 7/25/2019: 1.022
  • 7/26/2019: 1.022 to 1.021
  • 7/27/2019: 1.022 to 1.021 
  • 7/28/2019: 1.022 to 1.021
  • 7/29/2019: 1.022 to 1.021 
  • 7/30/2019: 1.022 to 1.020 
  • 7/31/2019: 1.021 to 1.019 
  • 8/1/2019: 1.020 to 1.018 
  • 8/2/2019: 1.019 to 1.018
  • 8/3/2019:  1.019 to 1.018
It appears likely at this point that we've reached final gravity.  I had expected the gravity to be a fair amount lower, but it looks like the mash schedule may have left too many unfermentable sugars behind because US-05 is a pretty solid fermenter

One day last week I picked fresh mint, chopped it up with herb scissors, and covered it in Everclear to extract the mint flavor from it.  Within hours the Everclear had gone from clear and colorless to a dark emerald green.

At 12:30pm, I added some oak chips soaked in Larceny Bourbon (a wheated Bourbon) into a stainless tea strainer ball and dropped them into the fermenter.  The chips had been soaking in Bourbon for weeks, so they should have plenty of flavor.  I saved the remaining bourbon (which had a few chips in it I couldn't easily get out) in case I needed to add a bit more flavor before bottling.  My plan will be to taste the beer every day or two until the right Bourbon flavor and oak flavor is reached. Then I'll transfer to a bottling bucket and add the mint extract until I get a good level of mint flavor, and bottle it.

07/27/2019:  I did a taste test. The rye comes through mostly as a slight sweetness. The oak chips and bourbon have made a mild flavor contribution, but I'm looking for a bit more, so I'm going to give it another few days. If it's still mild, I'll drop in more Bourbon-soaked oak chips until the flavor works, or start adding some of the bourbon the oak has been soaking in.  I don't really want to take the risk of infection associated with transferring to a secondary fermenter, but I may have to do that if it takes too much longer to impart the oak and bourbon flavors.  Gravity is currently registering at around 1.022 SG.

08/03/2019:  Another taste test revealed only a hint of oak flavor and virtually no Bourbon. I'm going to give it another week. If it hasn't picked up flavoring by then, I'll need to transfer it to a secondary fermenter to ensure that no autolysis takes place and creates off-flavors and continue aging it.  Gravity is currently reading 1.019 SG.

08/10/2019:  Today the oak flavor was solid, so I decided it was time to bottle. I transferred the beer off the yeast and into a clean fermenter for bottling.  Then I added Larceny wheated Bourbon until it suited my taste, about 3 ounces.  I ended adding all the Everclear-soaked mint to achieve a nice but subtle balance.  It was then bottled using Coopers drops in most, and 4 Brewer's Best tablets in the others.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

English Dark Mild 1.1 (Barrel Aged)

Although I was pretty happy with my original Dark Mild recipe, it unfortunately picked up a bacterial infection and had to be dumped.  A second Dark Mild suffered the same fate.

In my notes on the original version, I mentioned that I wanted a little more crystal malt and more body.  Toward that end, I've shifted the mash temp upward for most of the mash and added another ounce of Medium English Crystal malt. I've also added some flaked corn, which the BJCP notes is a common ingredient in the style.

Ingredients

3 pounds Munton's Pale Ale Malt
6 ounces Medium English Crystal Malt
4 ounces Flaked Corn
4 ounces Crystal 120L Malt
2 ounces English Pale Chocolate Malt
1 ounce English Black Malt
1 ounce Acid Malt
0.35 ounces East Kent Goldings hops @ 6.1% AA (60 min.)
1 large pellet East Kent Goldings hops @ 6.1% AA (15 min.)
1/8 tsp. Brewtan B in the mash
1.5 tsp. pH 5.2 Stabilizer in the mash
1/4 tsp. Brewtan B in the boil (20 min.)
1/4 tsp. Irish Moss (15 min.)
1/4 tsp. Wyeast yeast nutrient (15 min.)
1/2 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm (in fermenter for gluten reduction)
1 packet Mangrove Jack's MI5 Empire Ale Yeast
8 liters mash water
7.7 liters of sparge water

The beer is expected to have the following characteristics:
  • BJCP Style: 13.A Dark Mild
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons (2.8 gallons)
  • Original Gravity: 1.037 SG estimated (1.042 SG actual)
  • Pre-boil Gravity: 1.027 SG estimated (1.035 SG actual)
  • Final Gravity: 1.009 SG estimated (1.003 SG actual)
  • IBUs: 20
  • ABV: 3.8% estimated (5.1% actual)
  • SRM: 21.5
  • Fermenter used: McCoy
  • Bottling wand used: Stainless #2
  • Carbonation method:  1 Coopers carbonation drop per bottle
Mash schedule:
  • 15 minute Mash-in at 102F
  • 20 minute Protein Rest at 120F
  • 15 minute Saccharification Rest at 150F
  • 55 minute Saccharification Rest at 158F
  • 20 minute Sparge at 168F

The Protein Rest is something I've added since using the PicoBrew Zymatic and Brewie+.  In my experience, beers brewed in the all-in-one electric systems have had a tendency to develop chill haze.  Adding this rest seems to help the enzymes break up Beta Glucan and get me clearer brews.

Boil schedule:
  • 90 minutes: No additions
  • 60 minutes: East Kent Goldings
  • 20 minutes: Brewtan B
  • 15 minutes: Yeast nutrient, Irish Moss, and EKG pellet
Fermentation plan:
  • Chill to 68F or less
  • Pitch yeast
  • Hold within the 62-72F optimum range of the yeast for days 1-4 of fermentation
  • Raise temp to 72F until fermentation finishes
  • Add gelatin finings and cold crash until clear
Once fermentation is finished, the plan is to bottle the beer using 3 small Brewer's Best carbonation tablets (low carbonation) and to allow it to condition at ambient basement temperatures until carbonated.

Post-Brew Notes and Observations

07/06/2019:  I decided to manually measure the water going into this batch to ensure that it's accurately loaded into the machine.  This took a little more effort, but allowed me to be sure I had the amounts right rather than relying on the Brewie's frequently-inaccurate sensors.  I loaded 8 liters in the mash and 7.7 in the sparge.  I had an extra pellet of East Kent Goldings when I'd finished measuring everything, and I decided to add this (it weighed 0.03 ounces) to the 15-minute addition to give a hint of EKG flavor and possibly aroma... rather than tossing out the pellet.

The beer finished above both volume and gravity.  Gravity came out at 1.042 SG vs. 1.037 SG expected.  Volume came out at 2.8 gallons instead of the 2.5 gallons expected.  Normally I would dilute the beer to hit my desired target, but the fermenter was pretty full with 2.8 gallons, so I decided to leave it high.  It's only 4 points above the high-end for the style in the BJCP guidelines, not enough that it's likely to be obvious.  The ground water is warm this time of year, so it took the Brewie a while to get the temperature down to 76F.  I'll need to use my temperature control system to get this down low enough and hold it there for the recipe. My plan will be to set the temp to 64F and hold it there until the yeast is nearly finished, then ramp the temperature up gradually to 72F.

Fermenter volume, before yeast pitching

07/07/2019:
  About 4-5 hours after the yeast was pitched, gravity in the fermenter began to drop from 1.043 to 1.042.  It's about 14 hours in as I write this, and gravity is down to 1.036 SG, which represents about 18% attenuation and an ABV around 1%.  I think it's safe to say at this point that the yeast is healthy and beginning to get to work.

About 22 hours after the yeast was pitched, the gravity had dropped to 1.023 SG. That's about 39.6% attenuation and 2.68% ABV.

07/11/2019:  The gravity seemed to stall at 1.020 SG, so I added a small drop of glucoamylase, swirled the fermenter, and raised the temperature to 71F.  Today the gravity is down to 1.014 SG and may still be dropping.

07/12/2019:  The gravity has dropped to 1.011 SG.

07/13/2019:  The gravity has dropped to 1.010 SG.

07/14/2019:  The gravity has dropped to 1.009 SG and the temperature is holding at 69F.

07/18/2019:  The gravity has continued dropping. It currently registers 1.005 SG.  I'm concerned that the fermentation has already gone past the style's lower limit and could drop low enough to take the beer totally out of style.

07/20/2019:  Gravity has registered 1.005 SG or 1.006 SG since somewhere around July 18.  It's showing no indication of going below 1.0005 so far.  If this holds another day, I'll bottle it and see how it tastes some time in August.  Around 12:30pm, I mistook this fermenter for another one containing a beer I'd intended to flavor with oak and Bourbon, and dropped medium toast oak chips soaked in Bourbon into it.  Rather than try to fish out the strainer full of oak chips, I've decided to leave them in and make this a "barrel aged" beer, too.

07/25/2019:  A sample of the beer was removed for tasting. There was a touch of barrel-aged flavor to it, but not as much as I'm looking for, so I'm going to give it a few more days.

07/28/2019:  Gravity is now registering 1.003 SG, which puts the beer at 5.1% ABV and 92.6% apparent attenuation. The glucoamylase, tiny amount that it was, seems to have severely over-attenuated the beer.  A taste of it yesterday showed a touch of barrel aged flavor and a thin body.

08/03/2019:  The beer was bottled today, using a Coopers carbonation drop per bottle.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Strawberry Mead (Melomel) 1.0

While shopping in a Wal-Mart a couple of months ago, I decided it might be fun to try making a strawberry mead.  I picked two items off the shelf to combine with water, yeast nutrient, and yeast to produce the mead.

After the mead finished fermenting, the strawberry flavor became minimal or non-existent. This may be in part due to the high attenuation of the yeast used, which dried the mead out completely.  If I did this again, I would use a less attenuative yeast and more of the strawberry preserves.  That is not to say this isn't a good mead. It's just dried to the point that any strawberry character is imperceptible, at least to me.  It finishes more like a dry white wine.

Ingredients

1.5 gallons of tap water
5 pounds of Generic Honey
27 ounce jar of Welch's All-Natural Strawberry Preserves
2 tsp. DAP
2 tsp. Wyeast Yeast Nutrient
2 packages Crossmyloof Mead Yeast

Just these, water, yeast, and nutrients...

Characteristics of this batch:
  • Batch Volume:  2.1 gallons
  • BJCP Criteria:  M2C.  Berry Mead
  • Original Gravity: 1.111 SG (per Tilt Hydrometer)
  • Final Gravity: 1.008 SG estimated (0.995 SG actual)
  • Fermenter Used: O'Reilly
  • Bottling Wand Used: not yet bottled
  • ABV:  13% estimated (16.67% actual)
The water was brought to a boil. The honey and strawberry preserves dissolved into it, and left with a lid on it to cool to room temperature in a swamp cooler.

The strawberry preserves most likely contained some form of preservatives that would inhibit yeast growth, so I plan to overpitch the yeast and loaded it down with nutrients to help it out. I also planned to hit it with pure oxygen before pitching, to nudge it even further along.

Fermentation Plan

In Steve Platz's The Complete Guide to Making Mead, the author suggests fermenting at 62-75F, which fits in with my ambient basement temperature.  The planned schedule, per the book is:
  • Day 1 (6/30):  Brew, oxygenate, and pitch yeast.  
  • Day 2 (7/1):  Stir twice during the day, about 8-12 hours apart.
  • Day 3 (7/2):  Stir once, and add 3/4 tsp. yeast nutrient. Stir again 8-12 hours later.
  • Day 4 (7/3):  Stir twice during the day.
  • Day 5 (7/4):  Stir once, add 3/4 tsp. yeast nutrient. Stir again 8-12 hours later.
  • Day 6 (7/5):  Stir twice during the day.
  • Day 7 (7/6):  Stir once, add 3/4 tsp. yeast nutrient. Stir again 8-12 hours later.
  • Day 8 (7/7):  Stir twice during the day.
  • Days 9+:  No stirring or adding nutrients. 
  • Day 21:  Transfer to secondary fermenter and add finings, or bottle. 


Post-Brew Notes and Observations

06/30/2019:  Finished prepping at 2:15pm.  At 4pm temp was down to 134F.  At 5pm, 108F.  At 8:30pm, the temp was down to 79F and the gravity read 1.111 SG.  The must was aerated with pure oxygen for 60 seconds and two packages of yeast pitched to ensure success,

07/01/2019:  This morning I swirled the fermenter to stir up the contents.  Tonight, I sanitized a stainless steel spoon and stirred the must vigorously as indicated in the Platz book, before re-sealing the fermenter.  Gravity is down to 1.103 SG (about 7% attenuation) in about 23 hours since pitching the yeast.  The mead has a decidedly strawberry aroma, though it's an unappetizing brown color, probably because I should have waited to add the berries until it had cooled down. Lesson learned for next time.

07/02/2019:  I swirled the fermenter before leaving for work, after adding yeast nutrient, and again when I returned home.  Gravity is down to 1.096 SG now.  This represents about 14% attenuation in approximately 46 hours since the yeast was pitched, so you wouldn't exactly say this yeast is a very fast fermenter.

07/03/2019:  It's now over 72 hours since the yeast was pitched.  Gravity has dropped to 1.060 SG, which represents approximately 46% attenuation and 7.5% ABV.  Temperature crept as high as 73F but has been decreasing during the last hour.  With tomorrow being the July 4 holiday, I decided to give the yeast a dose of energizer and a good swirl before going to bed.

07/04/2019:  It's over 4 days.  Gravity is down to 1.039 SG, which represents approximately 66% attenuation and an ABV around 10.8%.  There doesn't seem to be any indication of it slowing down at this point, so it will be interesting to see where this ends up.

07/05/2019:  The mead was dosed with nutrients one final time and stirred very well with a sanitized spoon.  It's currently reading a gravity of 1.030 SG, which represents 70.3% attenuation and an ABV of 12.09%.  Temperature is 72F and the mead has held an average of 73F throughout fermentation. A sample removed using a sanitized turkey baster showed a light color, a little bit of a boozy aroma, and a flavor that is still sweet - with strawberry and honey notes, while still tasting "young" (as it should).

07/06/2019: Gravity is down to 1.012 SG today, and there is still regular airlock activity.  The temperature has dropped to 71F.  The current gravity represents 88.3% attenuation and 14.46% ABV.  I swirled the fermenter this morning and added a teaspoon of the pectic enzyme I received today to help clarify the melomel by breaking down the pectin. It should have been added earlier but I didn't have any, or really know about it at the time.

07/07/2019:  Gravity is now being reported as 1.000 SG (identical to water) by the Tilt Hydrometer and the temperature has dropped from 71F yesterday to 69F today, which is roughly the ambient basement temperature surrounding the fermenter.  I think it's safe to say that fermentation is probably complete at this point, though as always I'll adopt a "wait and see" approach.  I'll give the melomel a few more days to ensure that fermentation is indeed finished, then transfer it off the yeast cake so that it can clear up before bottling. The 1.000 SG gravity puts the mead's ABV at 16.02%.  Strong stuff...

07/11/2019:  Gravity now reads 0.995 SG, which represents an ABV of 16.66%.

07/18/2019:  The gravity held for three straight days, so I transferred the liquid off the yeast cake to ensure that it didn't pick up any autolysis flavors or aromas, and am going to let it continue resting until it gets clear, then we'll get it bottled and allow it to age.

07/20/2019:  The mead is looking clearer in the fermenter, but I suspect it will need a lot more time to get really bright and clear.

07/28/2019:  The meat is very clear when poured into a glass. The earlier harshness in the flavor and aroma are gone. It now comes across as much like a dry white wine. The strawberry flavor is more or less gone at this point, which leads me to question possible next steps... Do I bottle as-is, since it's quite drinkable?  Do I add a sterilant to kill off the yeast and back sweeten with honey, maybe adding strawberry flavor?  Or do I add oak chips and take the flavor closer to a white wine?  Perhaps doing all three might be worthwhile... so I can effectively get three meads from a single batch.  Bottle some now, split off the rest into two containers, and treat each differently.

08/25/2019:  I bottled half the batch as it was, and racked a gallon off to another fermenter where medium-toast French Oak chips were added.  I tried adding strawberry flavoring to a sample of the mead, and it really did not sit well with me, so I abandoned that idea.  The un-oaked sample tastes quite a bit like a dry white wine.  The oaked version has picked up some nice flavors from the oak, but I'm continuing to let it age on the oak until the flavor seems optimal.

08/27/2019:  A sample of the oaked version of the mead is very reminiscent of a Chardonnay wine.  It's very clear as well.  I'm planning to bottle it this weekend and allow it to age for a few months before trying it again.