Sunday, May 13, 2018

Dragon Stout Clone v2.0

My first attempt at brewing a Dragon Stout clone resulted in a beer that initially tasted pretty good, but began to dry out and lose some of its subtle flavors and nearly all of its sweetness. When entered into competition, it scored extremely low. I might be upset about that if it wasn't for the fact that it was a published recipe, not something I'd come up with on my own.  This version is no different. It's a recipe that did not originate from me, but looked like a closer match to the real beer than the previous one.

Ingredients

5 pounds 6-row Malt
1 pound, 2 ounces Flaked Corn
8 ounces Crystal 120L
4 ounces Chocolate Malt
3 ounces Blackprinz Malt (the recipe called for Black Patent, but it wasn't available)
1 ounce Roasted Barley
4 ounces Turbinado Sugar (the recipe called for brown sugar, but I used this instead)
4 ounces Corn Sugar
0.31 ounces Magnum hops @ 12.2% AA (60 min.)
3.2 gallons of starting water, mixed with the two sugars above
1 package of Lallemand ESB Ale Yeast

Some readers may be wondering why I chose an ale yeast for this batch instead of the lager yeast I used last time.  Although the BJCP says that the style is typically made with warm-fermented lager yeast, I decided that a relatively cool fermentation with ale yeast might achieve the same flavor profile. The ESB strain often produces some fruity notes (typically apple and/or tropical fruit) for which the Tropical Stout style is known.  It may prove a poor choice in the end, but I wanted to try it out.

According to the Zymatic Recipe Crafter, the beer should have the following characteristics:
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons
  • Original Gravity: 1.075 SG (17.8 Brix actual)
  • Final Gravity: 1.021 SG (10.2 Brix or 1.019 actual)
  • IBUs: 19
  • ABV: 7.1%
  • SRM: 41
The Zymatic High Efficiency Mash Schedule was used.

The wort did foam out of the top of the step filter starting around the end of the Dough In step of the mash.  During the first step of the mash, it foamed quite a bit more, but didn't seem to flow over the lid or into the drip tray.  Foaming seemed to reduce during the second step of the mash, but never completely quit.  This seems to be just "normal operation" for the Zymatic.

After brewing, there was approximately 2.25 gallons of wort produced.  Adding sterile distilled water to this dropped the gravity down to the expected 17.8 Brix and brought the volume back up to the planned 2.5 gallon amount.

05/12/2018:  The chilled wort was poured into a sanitized fermenter into which the ESB yeast had already been added.  No temperature control will be utilized in this case, as the beer is being kept in an environment with an ambient temperature in the mid-60's Fahrenheit, and the Lallemand ESB yeast is said to work optimally in the 68-72F temperature range.

05/21/2018:  The beer was bottled with a Cooper's carbonation drop in each bottle and placed in my 76F "hot box" to carbonate.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

PicoBrew Zymatic - Five Months In

I received my PicoBrew Zymatic back in December 2017, and made my first batches right away.  It's now may 2018, and I've had about five months with it.  If you're considering purchasing one, my experiences might help you make your decision.

The Zymatic Has Made Me More Prolific

To date, I've made 22 batches with the Zymatic.  That's about half of what I made all of last year.  I've made a pale ale, two blonde ales, a malt liquor, a couple of Belgian Tripels, three Saisons, a couple of ESBs, three Belgian Dubbels, and some other styles.  Some of these were my own recipes, while others were published somewhere.  I would probably have brewed even more batches if I'd had the free time to do it.

The Zymatic Can Make Good Beer, But It Can Make Bad Beer, Too

Only a few of the beers went into competition. They've gotten scores ranging from an average of 20.6 (a Tropical Stout from a published recipe) to 36.5 (a Kentucky Common, my own recipe).  So if you're wondering whether the machine can produce good beer, the answer is yes - provided you give it a good recipe, ferment it properly, etc.  If you choose a bad recipe, have poor brewing hygiene, etc., you'll get bad beer.  The Zymatic won't make up for recipe issues or your own poor practices.

If you're a fairly new brewer, I would encourage you to use some other brewing systems that require more manual effort during the mash and boil before moving to the Zymatic.  It's important to have an understanding of how mashing, sparging, and boiling work before handing control over to the Zymatic - if you want to produce your best beer. The time I spent brewing on the kitchen stove, using the Grainfather, and cobbling together a sous vide based brewing setup were all helpful to me in understanding the brewing process. 

I had one batch (I forget which) where the Zymatic lost its WiFi connection briefly and decided to just stop running, rather than finish out the batch with the instructions it had.  I find that a bit crazy, and would warn you that if you have "wonky" WiFi or Ethernet at your place not to leave the machine completely unattended, or you could come home to a machine full of soured grain and/or wasted ingredients.

Be Careful With the Plastic Parts

In the five months I've had the Zymatic, the two major plastic parts (the step filter/tray and the sample port) both failed in warranty and had to be replaced.  The sample port cracked in the middle and began dripping wort during brewing.  The step filter developed a crack near the hole between the grain chamber and the hop chamber, which caused it to leak wort under the tray during mashing.  In both cases, PicoBrew support staff took excellent care of me and replaced the parts without hassle and at no charge.  They also provided suggestions to ensure that I wasn't doing anything to cause those parts to fail.

Both of the failed parts use clear acrylic plastic so you can see the liquid in them.  It's important to note that acrylic plastic tends to be fairly brittle and prone to cracking or breaking, so you should always treat these parts as though they could be easily damaged (though they're not truly fragile, it's a good idea to treat them like they are).  You should also never clean the Zymatic or its plastic parts with PBW (Powdered Brewer's Wash) as this will accelerate the deterioration of the plastic. Use PBW only in the metal keg and be sure to rinse it out thoroughly before reattaching it to the Zymatic.

Missing the Mark on Gravity and Volume

The online PicoBrew Recipe Crafter tool makes it fairly easy to "explain" to the Zymatic what you are brewing and how to brew it.  It provides you with calculations of the expected volume, gravity, and bitterness of the beer. 

In all of the batches I've made, the Zymatic has only once generated the exact amount of wort the recipe crafter said it would.  Typically, I will end up with anywhere from 1.8 to 2.3 gallons of wort at the end of the brewing process instead of the 2.5 gallons calculated by the recipe crafter.  The calculated gravity is generally within 10 Standard Gravity points of the calculated value, though it's rarely right on target - probably because of the volume differences.

When I finish brewing a batch, I measure the volume of wort and put a sample in my refractometer to check the gravity.  If volume is low and gravity is high, I'll add sterile distilled water to bring the gravity and volume closer to the calculated values. I do this because I want to ensure the right final flavor and bitterness profile.  If you don't dilute the beer to the intended gravity, you'll find that most of the beers you make in the Zymatic are far more bitter than they should be.  (Think of it as adding the hops needed to properly bitter a 2.5 gallon batch to a 2.0 gallon batch... that will make a fairly balanced brew turn out hop-forward. That might be fine for a Pale Ale or IPA, but it could spell competition disaster for an English, German, or Belgian style.)

Cleanup

Something that's kind of glossed over in the manuals is that you need to fully clean the keg after each brew.  That means using a wrench or socket to remove the keg posts, soak the posts and tubes in PBW, scrub and/or rinse the posts and tubes until the PBW is gone, and then reassemble the keg.  This is probably the most time-consuming part of cleanup with the Zymatic.  Getting residue off the sides of the keg usually means a long soak in hot PBW solution and some "elbow grease" with a keg brush scrubbing the sides of the keg.  This is followed by several rinses with hot water to ensure that the PBW is flushed out fully, so that it doesn't impact the step filter or sample port.  My arms are too thick to reach very far inside the keg, so hand-scrubbing generally isn't an option.

Cleaning the hop baskets is the next tricky bit. It's hard to get the hop particulate matter fully rinsed out of them.  Even then, the baskets tend to pick up some discoloration from the wort and hops. I find that soaking them in hot water and Dawn dish detergent helps reduce the discoloration in the hop baskets and even in the step filter, but completely removing it seems impossible.

Cleaning the step filter is the easy bit.  Dump or scoop out the grain, remove the metal filter screens, the "hop loaf" (as it's referred to), and dump out the leftover wort.  Rinse everything thoroughly in hot water and (after you finish your rinse and/or clean cycles for the machine itself), toss the step filter, screens, hop loaf, and hop baskets into your dishwasher with a Finish detergent tablet. 

Compared with the cleanup I've had in other brewing setups, it's much easier than most, and takes less time. This makes me more inclined to brew on days when my time may be limited.

Overall Impressions

Overall, the Zymatic has been a great purchase. I'm able to brew more often. Brew days are less work.  Cleanup is easier.  The beer produced by the machine is as good as any I've made in other systems.  It encourages me to experiment and re-do recipes.  It's allowed me to focus on recipe formulation and leave the process to the machine.

If I had it to do over again, I might buy the newer PicoBrew Z machines rather than the Zymatic, if only because that model is newer and can scale up modularly to larger batches.  The Z Series model wasn't available until after I'd purchased the Zymatic, though, so I made the best purchase I could at the time.

Apart from the foaming, gravity/volume issues, and some irritating quirks in the recipe crafter software, it's a very nice system and has made it easier to brew (and brew more often).  It won't make up for any shortcomings in the rest of your skill set or process, but if you're a competent brewer already, it will help you produce good beer more easily.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Citrus Saison 1.0

The finished beer, poured into a glass
As I noted in an earlier post, my Saison scored relatively poorly in competition, gaining an average score of 25.  I actually liked it much more than the judges did, but it inspired me to try again before the next competition.  One thing the judges commented on was that there was a mix of spice and fruit in the flavor (all, by the way, from the yeast). They suggested that I pick one flavor and go with it. I decided to focus on citrus, since the weather is finally warming up and a nice citrusy Saison sounded good to me.  What follows is my own recipe.

I decided to use Mandarina Bavaria hops, which impart a mandarin orange flavor, combined with Lemon Drop hops, which impart a lemon flavor. That, combined with the citrusy notes that should come from the Saison yeast, ought to tilt the flavor balance toward citrus.  We'll see, of course.

Ingredients

4 pounds Briess Pilsner Malt
8 ounces Dingeman's Pilsen (all I had on hand)
8 ounces Vienna Malt
4 ounces Crystal 60L
4 ounces Cara-pils/Dextrine Malt
1 ounce Mandarina Bavaria hops @ 9.2% AA (15 min.)
1 ounce Lemon Drop hops @ 5.2% AA (5 min.)
8 ounces Turbinado Sugar (added post-boil)
3 gallons, 23 ounces starting water
Zymatic High-Efficiency Mash Profile
1/2 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm
1 packet Lallemand Belle Saison yeast

According to the Picobrew recipe crafter, this beer should have the following qualities:
  • Original Gravity (OG): 1.064 SG
  • Final Gravity (FG): 1.015 SG
  • IBUs: 31
  • SRM: 7
  • ABV: 6.3%
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons
After brewing, I measured the following:
  • Original Gravity (OG): 17.8 Brix (adjusts to 1.075 SG)
  • Batch Size: 2.25 gallons
It is important to note that I did modify the mash profile to include a 15-minute Ferulic Acid rest after the Dough In step, to help the yeast express itself in the beer more.  I also modified the first mash step to run at 140F for 45 minutes, then at 157F for 45 minutes, to maximize fermentability.

The Turbinado sugar was added to dry out the Saison a little, hopefully countering a complaint that my earlier Saison was a little too sweet.  (I expected it to be. I like the sweetness to play against the Saison fruit and spice, but I guess the judges didn't.)

Post-Brew Notes

04/29/2018:  During the mash, I noticed that the beer tended to be foaming up through the step filter lid quite a bit, so I refused to walk away for a while.  When I finally did, I set two plastic bins underneath the drip tray just in case it decided to flow over the drip tray.  When I went down after the brew had finished, I was glad that I did.  I measured 20 ounces of wort had spilled out of the machine into the two plastic bins I setup under the drip tray. Had I not set those up, I'd have had a mess all over the floor!  I think this is the third or fourth time I've had that issue with the machine.

Once the boil started, I knew something was amiss.  I expected the boil to run for 45 minutes before the Zymatic added the Mandarina Bavaria hops.  Instead, it added them at the start.  Ten minutes later, it added the Lemon Drop hops. Five minutes after that, it stopped running.  I had forgotten that if you don't set a 60-minute boil addition or manually specify that you want 45 minutes of pre-hop boil time, the recipe crafter will cut the boil short. Usually I catch that before I press the button to brew, but today I didn't. I wound up with a "15-minute-boil" beer.  We'll see how that turns out.  Yes, I could have boiled it outside the Zymatic for 30 or 45 minutes, but I think that would have destroyed the hop profile I was trying to achieve.

When the boil finished, I pumped out the wort, which measure 2.25 gallons.  I decided to just ferment it "as is" and not dilute it, since I didn't have the capacity handy to determine whether the 17.8 Brix I measured was close to the expected OG or not.  As it turns out, I could have diluted the wort and probably hit my target. I may do that with distilled water at bottling. We'll see.  I may instead enter it as a super-strength Saison if it turns out OK.

The Picobrew recipe crafter claims this will be a 31 IBU Saison based on a 2.5 gallon volume. BeerSmith says it's likely to come out more like 38 IBUs at 2.25 gallons.  That will address another complaint from one or two of the judges, who felt it should be more dry and bitter.  

04/30/2018:  The airlock on the fermenter is showing significant (even a bit loud) activity, which is a good sign. I had configured the temperature control system to hold the beer at no less than 82F for the first three days, then to raise that to 90F for the remainder of fermentation to ensure that it ferments out completely.

05/08/2018: In order to have this ready in time for competition, I bottled six bottles of the beer today. It has a nice honey color and is already partially clear. I primed each bottle with a Cooper's carbonation drop plus one small Brewer's best tablet. Gravity registered 7.0 Brix on the refractometer which BeerSmith is equating to a final gravity of 0.999 SG.  I had been expecting a 9.6 Brix reading at final gravity (1.015 SG).  The beer has a nice citrus aroma and flavor, with a hint of warming alcohol.  If it's able to condition in time, it could do well in competition.

05/11/2018: I had been conditioning this at 80F in a hot box, and wondered if perhaps the yeast had roused enough to carbonate it sufficiently to take to the competition. It poured almost totally flat, as I suspected would be the case. It has a nice citrus aroma and flavor (though a buttery diacetyl one now as well, since carbonation is only starting). I'm hoping it finishes in time to get to competition.

05/15/2018: I chilled another bottle tonight. Here's how I'd score it as a judge:
  • Aroma (6/12):  A hint of diacetyl. Nice citrus notes. Mild hop note. Yeast notes subdued.
  • Appearance (2/3): Pale orange yellow. Cloudy. Thin white head with characteristic lacing. Needs more carbonation. Could be clearer.
  • Flavor (15/20):  Definite orange note comes through, along with moderate hop bitterness. Malt backdrop is subdued. Finishes clean and slightly bitter. Slight sweetness. Lacks a spicy element, but very drinkable. The diacetyl in the aroma does not appear in the flavor.
  • Mouthfeel (3/5): Medium body. Needs more carbonation.
  • Overall Impression (6/10):  It's a good Saison, but not great. Needs more of a spice element and a more expressive yeast, with a spice element. Needs more conditioning time to lose the diacetyl.  
  • Total Score: 32/50
We'll see (hopefully) in a few days how the actual judges scored it. Compared to my first two versions of a Saison, it seems closer to style. 

05/21/2018:  The rest of the beer was bottled with a Cooper's carbonation drop in each bottle and placed in my 76F "hot box" to carbonate.  The official scoresheets from the Rhinegeist competition rated the beer a 29 official score, based on individual scores of 31 and 27.  The judges comments were that the finish was off ("dry but clean"), attenuation and body were low, it finished too sweet, and one of them picked up some acetaldehyde (probably due to it being very recently bottled).  My self-score was a point higher than the highest score from the judges, and 3 points higher than the combined score, so I'm in the ballpark but a bit too kind to my own creation.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Salsbury's ESB v1.3

I entered my ESB v1.2 at Barley's and received some decent scores (28-33), but there were comments about how it was much too bitter (and one from a third judge saying it had no hops bitterness at all).  I'm inclined to agree with the judges who found it too bitter.  This time around, I want to fix that, so I can put the modified version into competition.

Ingredients

3.5 pounds Muntons Maris Otter Malt
12 ounces Caramel 40L
8 ounces Caramel 60L
6 ounces Caramel 10L
6 ounces Victory Malt
0.4 ounces Styrian Goldings @ 6.2% AA (60 min.)
0.4 ounces Styrian Goldings @ 6.2% AA (30 min.)
0.4 ounces Styrian Goldings @ 6.2% AA (10 min.)
1 packet Lallemand ESB Yeast
1/2 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm
3 gallons plus 16 ounces starting water

According to the Picobrew recipe crafter, this beer should have the following characteristics:

  • Style: 11.C Strong Bitter
  • Original Gravity (OG): 1.057 SG
  • Final Gravity (FG): 1.017 SG
  • IBUs: 31
  • SRM: 15
  • ABV: 5.2%
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons
After brewing, I had 2.3 gallons, but once diluted to 2.5 gallons with distilled water, the gravity dropped to 1.056 SG (more or less the target).

BeerSmith estimates that this beer will clock in around 38 IBUs (where the last version calculated over 50 IBUs) so there should be a significant reduction in bitterness.

Post-Brew Notes

04/27/2018:  This recipe version increases the Caramel Malt and Victory Malt, but removes the Special B I added to version 1.2.  It also goes back to the Lallemand ESB yeast and ditches the White Labs Thames Valley yeast that didn't seem to contribute anything to the beer.  Hops quantities were dialed back from something in the vicinity of 1.7 ounces down to 1.2 ounces.  That should reduce the bitterness levels back to something more palatable to the judges (and to me, hopefully).

04/29/2018:  The airlock on the fermenter has slowed way down, and the krausen inside the fermenter seems to have mostly dropped.  A quick taste of the beer yielded mild but pleasant sweetness, not too much hop bitterness, and a nice malt backdrop.  I'm hoping the finished beer will match up to this.

05/08/2018:  To ensure that I have bottles ready for competition, I bottled six bottles today. I left the rest in the fermenter in the mini-fridge to clarify.  Each bottle was dosed with a single Coopers carbonation drop.  I didn't take a gravity reading.

05/11/2018:  Not that I expected differently, but I opened a bottle of the beer to determine if it was carbonated enough to deliver to the competition. It was not.

05/12/2018:  I bottled the remainder of the batch today, with one Coopers carbonation drop per bottle. Yield was 20 bottles (plus the 6 bottles filled on May 8).  Final gravity read 8.5 Brix, which calculates to 1.020 SG in BeerSmith, and a final ABV of 4.8% (approximately).  This has left the beer with some residual sweetness that reminds me of the Fuller's ESB. If I can get it carbonated in time, it may do well in competition.  If not, I'll take the version 1.1 beer.

05/16/2018: The beer has carbonated nicely and any trace of diacetyl has gone out of it. Below is my self-score using BJCP criteria and scoresheet format:

  • Aroma (8/12): Mild hop aroma with caramel backdrop. Slightly fruity. No diacetyl. Overall the aroma is nicely balanced.
  • Appearance (2/3): Coppery amber color with a bit more than finger-thick head. Decent clarity but there is a touch of haze to it. With a few days in a fridge, I suspect it would be brilliantly clear. The head lasts quite a while.
  • Flavor (15/20): Medium bitterness, followed by caramel and toasty notes, with a hint of fruit (a kind of berry note). Balance is slightly toward hops, but overall balanced.
  • Mouthfeel (4/5): Medium, almost creamy mouthfeel. Medium carbonation. No warming alcohol note (which is appropriate for the style.
  • Overall (7/10): With a bit more clarity, the color and long-lasting head would lend a perfect appearance. The aroma is subtle but blends hops, malt, and a touch of fruit.  The flavor blends an obvious but not overpowering hops presence with a nuanced malt backdrop. Could maybe use a touch more sweetness and perhaps a small mineral addition to the water. 
  • Total Score: 36/50

The previous version, which came out over-hopped, scored a 30.5 average at Barley's.  Most of the lost points were around the bitterness and darker color. This version is lighter in color and considerably less bitter. I've purchased ESB style beers that I liked less than this one, so I am quite happy with it. I might experiment with other English hops and minerals in a future version, but this is close to my ideal ESB.

It will be interesting to see how the judges react at the Rhinegeist competition, and in a few weeks at the Ohio State Fair.

05/21/2018: The scoresheets from the Rhinegeist competition were posted.  The beer scored a 32/50 from one judge and a 35/50 from the other, for a 33.5 official score.  The judges' biggest suggestions were that they'd like to see more malt aroma and flavor, more hop flavor and aroma, and more malt complexity.  My self score was about 2.5 points higher than the official score, which seems to be a trend. I appear to score myself about 3 points higher than the judges do.

Mandarina Pale Ale 1.0

A little over a year ago, I came up with a blonde ale recipe based on little more than the fact that one of the home brewing shops online had Mandarina Bavaria hops on sale. I'd never had a beer made with the hops, but their reported mandarin orange flavor sounded like it might make a great beer. I decided to pair it with some orange blossom honey I'd purchased as well as some dried orange peel. I combined all this into a blonde ale recipe and hoped it wouldn't be too much orange. It wasn't.  That beer took second place at the 2017 Ohio State Fair Home Brewing Competition in the fruit beer category.  It's been popular with friends and family, too.

I decided to brew a new batch this year, maybe for competition, or maybe for consumption only.  At brewing time, I realized I did not have Bitter Orange Peel or Orange Blossom Honey, so I substituted Sweet Orange Peel and "generic" (natural) honey.

Ingredients

3 pounds 2-row Pale Ale Malt
1 pound Munich Malt
4 ounces Vienna Malt
3 ounces Carapils/Dextrine Malt
1 ounce Crystal/Caramel 60L
12 ounces Honey (not Honey Malt) - after boil
0.20 ounces Mandarina Bavaria hops pellets @ 9.2% AA (60 min.)
0.30 ounces Mandarina Bavaria hops pellets @ 9.2% AA (15 min.)
0.45 ounces Mandarina Bavaria hops pellets @ 9.2% AA (5 min.)
0.50 ounces Sweet Orange Peel (15 min.)
0.50 ounces Sweet Orange Peel (5 min.)
Safale US-05 American Ale Yeast
1/2 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm
3 gallons plus 16 ounces of starting water
Picobrew Zymatic "High Efficiency" Mash Profile

The Zymatic recipe crafter estimated that the beer would have the following characteristics:
  • BJCP Style: 18.A Blonde Ale
  • Original Gravity (OG): 1.055 SG
  • Final Gravity (FG): 1.008 SG
  • IBUs: 24
  • SRM: 6
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons
When the brewing process ended, I pumped the wort into a kettle for cooling with my immersion chiller.  As I did so, I added the 12 ounces of honey.  While chilling, the beer was stirred constantly and this should have integrated the honey into it well.

When the brew finished, I measured the following:
  • Volume: 2.3 gallons (topped up to 2.5 using distilled water)
  • Original Gravity: 13.5 Brix (1.056 SG) after diluting with distilled water
  • Final Gravity: 6.8 Brix (1.009 SG)

Post-Brewing Notes

04/27/2018:  The beers I've made in the Zymatic to date have been somewhat inconsistent.  I went into this brew expecting less than 2.5 gallons, despite specifying that amount in the recipe crafter and even over-adding water slightly to ensure the machine didn't run too low and start sucking in air.  I ended up with 2.3 gallons at a higher gravity, but that diluted down to the target volume and gravity more or less perfectly.  I have noticed that most seem to be more bitter than I expect.  It's worth noting that the Zymatic recipe crafter estimates this beer at 24 IBUs, while BeerSmith estimates something around 32 IBUs for the same volume, gravity, and ingredients.  If this beer also comes out unusually bitter, I may use BeerSmith to calculate hop amounts in the future.

04/29/2018:  The airlock shows steady activity on this one. I haven't taken a taste sample of it yet, preferring to wait a little longer to let it finish out more of the primary fermentation.

05/08/2018:  To ensure that I have bottles ready for competition, I filled six bottles tonight. Each was dosed with four small tablets of Brewer's Best carbonation drops. This is supposed to yield a "medium" level of carbonation consistent with the style.  The refractometer registered 6.8 Brix, which BeerSmith adjusts to a final gravity of 1.009 SG (almost exactly the gravity I expected).  The beer is a bit bitter at this point, but I find that carbonation offsets that a little, so I'm hoping it will come out balanced at competition time.

05/12/2018:  After bottling my ESB v1.3, I moved this beer over to the mini-fridge to cold-crash for a few days before bottling.  I'm expecting to bottle it May 16 if it seems clear.

05/16/2018:  The beer has turned out much more like a Pale Ale than a Blonde Ale, so I'll be entering into competition and sharing it with others on that basis. I'll need to re-brew it with less hops.

05/20/2018: Here's my self-scoring on the beer relative to BJCP criteria combined for the Pale Ale and Fruit Beer categories.

  • Aroma (6/12):  Hoppy initially, giving way to citrus and malt.
  • Appearance (2/3):  Slightly hazy gold with finger-thick white head that lasts a while. 
  • Flavor (12/20): Starts bitter, then malty, with a lingering bitterness. The citrus that came through earlier seems to have disappeared.
  • Mouthfeel (4/5): Medium mouthfeel. Nice level of carbonation.
  • Overall (5/10): Relatively dry with biscuity malt flavors, plenty of hop bitterness. Orange flavors that were evident earlier appear to have vanished. Finish is bitter and lingering.
  • Total Score: 29/50
It will be interesting to compare this score with those from the judges at the Ohio State Fair.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Barley's 23rd Annual Homebrew Competition

This was my second year as a competitor in the Barley's Annual Homebrew Competition. Last year I managed to take third place, losing to the very skilled A.J. Zanyk and his very nice Baltic Porter.  It's been on my "bucket list" to see a beer of mine on tap at a brewery or bar, and winning the Barley's competition would make that happen.

I entered the following beers this year, listed below in the order I liked them, from most to least:

To get into the final round of the competition, a beer had to score 40 or better.  My Dark Abbey beer managed that (just barely) and made it into the Final Five.  From there, I'm told that it received the first perfect 50 score any final-round beer has gotten in the history of the event.  As a result of that amazing score, I won the competition this year!  (Link goes to the Akron Beacon Journal)

Holy cow!  I actually did it!

Winning this event means that a year from now I will get to brew Dark Abbey with Barley's brewmaster (and something of a hero of mine) Angelo Signorino, Jr.  A few weeks later when the event kicks off, I'll get to tap the first keg of it at the competition.  My beer will stay on tap there until it sells out.  Bucket list item checked!

I'm still reeling a bit from the win.  However, reading the scores and the judges' comments on my beer has shown me that there is clearly room for improvement.

In late December, I switched from brewing on iMake's The Grainfather RIMS system to brewing with the Picobrew Zymatic.  That change has proven to be a mistake at competition time, not because there is anything wrong with the Zymatic, but because it represented a near-total change in process right before competition.  With The Grainfather, I had been able to create a formula to ensure that I would hit my volume and gravity targets (or at least be very close).  Since switching to the Zymatic, both volume and gravity have been all over the map, but rarely what I expected.

Why does that matter?  Getting your gravity right means that your hops additions will balance nicely with the malt in the beer.  Too much gravity and the beer may become too sweet.  Too little gravity and it will seem too bitter.  Volume has a similar effect.  Too little and the beer can be intensely bitter. Too much and it can be too sweet or at least too thin.  On the list above, Tripel Turbinado and Bluegrass State were two beers where I got very close to my targets.  They're also the two highest-scoring beers made in the device.  The Tropical Stout came out 22 gravity points low, the ESB came in 9 points low and short about a quart in volume, and the Single came out a bit low on volume (and thus more bitter). It's probably not a coincidence that those are lower-scoring beers.

Another comment I've seen in multiple notes on different beers is mention of an "apple" flavor. This could just be a byproduct of the combination of ingredients used, but could also signify a problem.  Yeast health is a likely candidate, since I rarely use starters (though I do often overpitch).  I also don't tend to use temperature control on Belgian style beers, preferring (as many monks do) to let it run its natural course.  Sanitation is another potential cause, but that's something I am very meticulous about. I wash and sanitize each bottle and cap I use. I sanitize my fermenters before use, and clean them well with PBW afterward.  I try to be careful about oxygen getting into the beer, but perhaps I could do better with that also.  Still, I'll revisit my whole cleaning and sanitation effort, as I don't want this off-flavor in future brews.

As always, I'll share more as I learn more.

Monday, April 9, 2018

2018 Dubbel 2.0

As I've mentioned before, I've been trying to perfect (to my taste, at least) recipes for the Trappist Single, Belgian Dubbel, Belgian Tripel, and Belgian Quadrupel.  The recipe I've had the most trouble with is the Belgian Dubbel.  I've made several, and they've all disappointed me, whether they were my own recipe, a published clone recipe for a commercially-available Dubbel I like, or any other.  In many cases, they come out too light in color, with little or no dark fruit flavor. In others, they come out dry or overly bitter.  My most-recent attempt before today had a practically perfect color but still missed the prune/plum flavor I've been looking for.  Today's recipe began as a BYO Magazine recipe for the Belgian Dubbel style, modified a bit.  I replaced the hops with my preferred blend and changed the candi sugar rocks out for syrup.

Ingredients

5 pounds Belgian Pilsen
1.5 pounds Belgian Pale Ale
4 ounces Belgian Caramunich
8 ounces D-90 Candi Syrup
0.45 ounces Styrian Goldings hops pellets @ 6.2% AA (60 min.)
0.45 ounces Czech Saaz hops pellets @ 3.0% AA (10 min.)
1 package Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity yeast
1/2 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm
3 gallons, 48 ounces water

Used the Zymatic High Efficiency mash profile with the two main mash step temperatures changed. The first temperature was changed to 144F, and the second to 158F.

A 90-minute boil was used, with 30 minutes of pre-hop boil time.

The D-90 syrup was added to the beer after the boil, just before the wort was cooled.

The Picobrew recipe crafter estimates that the beer will have the following characteristics:
  • Original Gravity: 1.072 SG (actual was 1.075 SG)
  • Final Gravity: 1.017 SG
  • IBUs: 17 (revised estimate 20)
  • ABV: 7.1% 
  • SRM: 18
  • Batch Size: 2.5  gallons (actual was 2.5 gallons)
After brewing, I measured the wort volume at 2.5 gallons and the gravity at 17.8 Brix, which BeerSmith adjusts to a value of 1.075 SG. That's a touch higher than the 1.072 SG I expected. Bitterness recalculates to 20.3 IBUs and Brew House efficiency to 70% for this batch.

The wort was chilled to 68F using a sanitized immersion chiller and transferred into a sanitized fermenter. When the yeast packet finally swelled, it was added to the wort along with the White Labs Clarity Ferm and the fermenter sealed.

The temperature controller was programmed to keep the wort at 71F for 3 days, then raise it to 80F for the next 10 days. That should ensure complete fermentation, with the 80F temperature providing a little stress to the yeast so that it delivers additional aromas and flavors.

I discovered a small crack in the Picobrew Zymatic's step filter, which I snapped pictures of and sent to Picobrew support.  Hopefully they'll be able to replace it, as the filter did leak during the post-brew rinse and clean.

Post-Brew Notes

04/08/2018:  The beer was brewed, yeast pitched, and temperature control configured.

04/09/2018:  Upon arrival in the basement, I noticed that the temperature controller was registering 64.5F as the wort temperature. That's much lower than the 71F I had configured. At this point I realized that was because I'd unplugged the heat wrap while configuring the controller. It had been set for a Saison that needed temps well outside this yeast's range, so I unplugged the heat wrap to prevent cooking the yeast. I just forgot to re-plug it.  I corrected that and ensured that the temperature was climbing back up to the 71F set point before going to bed.

04/14/2018:  The temperature control system has moved the temperature up to 80F to ensure that the beer finishes out its fermentation.  A sample taken from the fermenter showed that the beer is a bit sweet, which was not surprising given both the low bitterness level and the fact that the beer had not yet finished fermentation (and thus still had fermentable sugar in it).

04/21/2018:  The beer was bottled today, using 1 large Cooper's carbonation drop plus one small carbonation tablet.  Final gravity was 8.6 Brix.  Yield was 27 bottles.