Sunday, June 9, 2019

Bender's Olde Fortran Malt Liquor 1.0

The Matt Groening television series Futurama has long been one of my favorites.  On that show, the robot named Bender was frequently seen chugging bottles of a beer called Olde Fortran Malt Liquor.  There's no way to guess how a fictional beer on an animated television show might taste. We can guess from the label, which is a parody of Olde English Malt Liquor, that it might be something like that. The American Home Brewing Association web site listed a clone recipe for Olde English. I started there.

Since Bender belches fire after drinking Olde Fortran, I figure it has to be a strong beer. Since it's implied in several episodes that Bender has no taste buds (though this is sometimes comprehended), it's probably a cheap lowest-common-denominator kind of mash. I'm going with 6-row malt and a fair amount of flaked corn for the grist.  Since I want it to have at least some flavor, I'm going to add Mandarina Bavaria hops at the 15 and 5 minute marks to impart some mandarin orange notes.  Lastly, since we've seen Bender belching fire after every drink, I figure it must be strong. I'm going to aim for 14% ABV, which should tax the Oslo yeast pretty well.

7 pounds 6-row Malt
6 pounds Flaked Corn
1 pound Lyle's Golden Syrup
3 pounds Amber DME
Image result for futurama bender
Bender holding a bottle of Olde Fortran
0.21 ounces Summit Hops at 17.5% AA (60 min.)
0.50 ounces Mandarina Bavaria @ 9.2% AA (15 min.)
0.25 ounces Mandarina Bavaria @ 9.2% AA (5 min.)
1/8 tsp. Brewtan B (mash)
2 tsp. pH 5.2 Stabilizer (mash)
A few ml. of Glucoamylase Enzyme liquid (at mash in)
1 tsp. Yeast Nutrient
1L starter of Bootleg Biology Oslo Yeast
16.1 liters mash water (18.3 cm deep in Brewie+)
5.7 liters sparge water (6.5 cm deep in Brewie+)

BeerSmith 3 estimates the beer will have the following characteristics:
  • BJCP Category: 34.A Clone Beers
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons estimated (3.25 actual)
  • Original Gravity: 1.130 SG estimated (1.100 actual)
  • Pre-Boil Gravity: 1.093 SG estimated (1.063 actual)
  • Final Gravity: 1.035 estimated (1.007 actual)
  • IBUs: 32
  • SRM: 10
  • ABV: 8.8% estimated (13.5% actual)
  • BU/GU Ratio: 0.317
  • Boil time: 120 minutes
  • Fermenter used: Nomad
  • Bottling wand used: Stainless wand #1
  • Carbonation method: 1 Coopers carbonation drop per bottle
Mash Schedule:
  • 10 minutes mash in at 104F
  • 25 minutes beta glucan rest at 120F
  • 60 minute rest at 140F for fermentability
  • 15 minute rest at 158F for additional sachharification
  • 20 minute sparge at 168F
Boil Schedule:
  • 120 minutes:  Add DME and dissolve well
  • 60 minutes: Summit hops
  • 15 minutes: Mandarina Bavaria hops, yeast nutrient, whirlfloc
  • 5 minutes: Mandarina Bavaria hops
  • 0 minutes: Chill to 80F, oxygenate with pure O2 for 90 seconds
Fermentation Plan:
  • Hold at 85F until 67% attenuation is reached, using blow-off tube and temperature control
  • Raise to 98F until FG is reached
  • Rest at ambient temperature 1 week before bottling
Following fermentation, the plan is to bottle the beer with one Coopers carbonation drop per bottle and condition one week at 80F to ensure carbonation.

06/09/2019:  The Brewie+ loaded more water than requested. so I had to scoop out the overage to get the mash and sparge water amounts right.  I added pH 5.2 stabilizer, Brewtan B, and as much glucoamylase enzyme as a small pipette could pick up. The enzyme would help to ensure full conversion of the starches in the barley and corn. An iodine test performed well before the mash was over showed full starch conversion.
Post-Brew Notes and Observations

Image result for olde fortran
Olde Fortran on the shelf
I must have calculated mash and sparge water amounts incorrectly, as the pre-boil volume was an estimated 16.7 liters at a gravity of 1.063 SG (per adjusted refractometer reading).  To raise the gravity to where I expected it to be, I added 3 pounds of Munton's Amber DME.  This brought the gravity back up to where I needed it.

A little over an hour into the boil, the volume registered 14.5 liters and the refractometer showed the gravity at a bit more than 1.100.  I kept the lid off the Brewie to ensure that boil-off was increased to as much as 4 liters per hour, which I hoped would get the beer down to the desired gravity and volume by the end of the boil.

When the boil was over and I pumped the chilled wort into the fermenter, I was disappointed to find that I had well over 3.25 gallons at a gravity of only 1.100 SG instead of the planned 1.130.  I placed 2 liters in the flask with half of the Oslo yeast I'd grown in it, to grow more. Three gallons went into a 3.5 gallon stainless fermenter.  About a quart was dumped down the drain to leave head space in the fermenter.  The beer was oxygenated with pure oxygen for 45 seconds to help the yeast grow. The yeast was pitched, a blow-off tube was attached and the temperature control system configured to raise it from the initial 83F to 85F and hold it there.

About 2 hours after the wort was added to the 2L flask, it had a thick krausen on it and showed lots of CO2 bubbles coming up from the bottom.  The 3-gallon batch was showing signs of fermentation starting as well, with minor gravity changes appearing in the readings.

06/10/2019:  The gravity in the main fermenter has dropped from 1.100 to 1.056 (44% attenuation in under 24 hours).  I've raised the temp a little and swirled the fermenter to keep things moving.  The yeast was clearly happy in its new home.  It blew up out of the fermenter, through the blow-off tube and into the bucket under it. This occurred even with the SS Brew Tech fermenter's generously-sized blow-off tube.

The 2L sample on the stir plate blew off the cover during the night and left a bit of a mess on the surface where it was sitting, but there is plenty of indication of ongoing fermentation still.  I am a little concerned that the slightly ajar lid may have allowed wild yeast or bacteria into the fermenter. I'll have to check this before using it to ferment the next batch.

06/11/2019:  The gravity is down to 1.045 today.  I raised the fermenter temperature to 89F to encourage the yeast to keep going toward the final gravity.  It's definitely slowed down since yesterday but is still going. I'll probably keep raising it a bit each day to keep fermentation moving on.

6/13/2019:  Gravity seemed to have stalled around 1.043, so I added a couple of drops of glucoamylase enzyme to the fermenter. This kicked fermentation off again. This morning it's reading 1.017 SG which means it's about 12.1% ABV.  There are no signs as of yet that the fermentation has ended, either, so it may end up at the theoretical 14.2% ABV target.

6/13/2019 9pm:  Here's a testament to the power of glucoamylase. This morning, gravity was 1.017 SG. A little more than 12 hours later, the gravity is down to 1.012 SG. That represents 12.8% ABV and an apparent attenuation of 88.1% (which exceeds Bootleg Biology's upper limit of 86% for the Oslo yeast).  I suspect at this point that we'll end up down at 1.000 SG eventually - that's how effective glucoamylase is.

06/15/2019:  The gravity has held at 1.009 SG for about 24 hours now, which represents 92% attenuation and 13.3% ABV.  I'm hoping it holds here until I bottle it, as this would leave a decent amount of flavor in the beer while still allowing it to pack the kind of punch Bender would appreciate.

06/18/2019:  Gravity is down to 1.007 SG and has been there for the last 52 hours.

06/19/2019:  Gravity has held at 1.007 SG for 72 hours, so the beer is ready to bottle.  Tonight I unplugged the temperature control to allow the beer to cool down a bit prior to bottling.

06/21/2019:  The beer was bottled tonight, using one Coopers carbonation drop per bottle for priming. Yield was 23 twelve ounce bottles and 4 sixteen ounce bottles.  The beer is a deep amber color with an aroma reminiscent of orange peel. The flavor is pretty well balanced between malt and hops, perhaps being slightly sweet from the high ABV. There is a mild orange flavor from the Mandarina Bavaria hops and a clear warming note.  If it carbonates, I think it might end up being a very tasty beer.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Oslo Doppelbock 1.0

I know what you're thinking... "Oslo is in Norway. The Doppelbock style is German. What in the world is an Oslo Doppelbock?"  Am I right?  I'll assume I am.

The German Doppelbock style is one of my favorites, and I've never brewed one.  At first, that was because I didn't have the equipment to properly lager a beer.  Now, it's because it's summer in Ohio and the temperatures are way outside the range you'd want to brew a Doppelbock in.

There's been a fair amount of buzz lately about the various Kveik yeast strains. Bootleg Biology's Oslo strain is described as producing "beautifully clean, lager-like beers at temperatures as high as 98F without noticeable off flavors. At the high end, beers can finish attenuating in as little as three days! This culture's versatility and neutral flavor profile allows you to effortlessly produce most beer styles."  Now you see where Doppelbock combines with Oslo to form "Oslo Doppelbock"...

In other words, I'm attempting to produce a Doppelbock-like beer using the Bootleg Biology Oslo yeast strain, to see how it holds up against a German style where the judging criteria tell us we need a clean lager character and a very malty beer.

The BJCP tells me I'm looking for the following qualities in the finished beer:
  • Appearance:  Dark brown with ruby highlights. Good clarity. Large, creamy, and persistent head.
  • Aroma:  Strong maltiness, toasty, little to no (noble) hop aroma, moderately low dark fruit character, slight chocolate-like aroma, but no roasted or burnt aromatics.
  • Flavor:  Very rich and malty, significant Maillard products from decoction mashing, some toasty elements, a very slight chocolate flavor, moderately low dark-fruit flavor is optional, and overall it's fairly malty sweet with an impression of attenuation.
  • Mouthfeel:  Medium-full to full bodied. Moderate to low carbonation. Slight alcohol warmth.
Those are the notes I'll be trying to hit.


5 pounds Avangard Pilsner Malt
2 pounds Dark Munich Malt
14 ounces Swaen Melany (Melanoidin) Malt
10 ounces Briess Carapils/Dextrine Malt
2 ounces Carafa Special III Malt
2 ounces Dingeman's Special B Malt
0.85 ounces German Hallertau hops pellets @ 4.1% AA (60 min.)
0.05 ounces German Hallertau hops pellets @ 4.1% AA (15 min.)
1/4 tsp. Wyeast yeast nutrient (15 min.)
1/8 tsp. Brewtan B (mash)
1/4 tsp. Brewtan B (boil, 15 min.)
1/2 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm (fermenter, for gluten reduction)
1.5 tsp. pH 5.2 Mash Stabilizer
Half of a 2L starter of Bootleg Biology Oslo Kveik Yeast
12.7 liters mash water (Dublin Ohio tap) - 14.4 cm deep in Brewie+
6.7 liters sparge water (Dublin Ohio tap) - 7.6 cm deep in Brewie+

No water treatment was employed for this batch.

According to BeerSmith 3.0, this beer should have the following characteristics:
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons estimated (2.8 gallons actual)
  • Boil Time: 120 minutes
  • Brew House Efficiency: 62%
  • Original Gravity: 1.078 SG estimated (1.071 SG actual)
  • Pre-boil Gravity: 1.054 SG estimated (1.054 SG actual)
  • Final Gravity: 1.011 SG estimated (1.023 SG actual)
  • BU/GU Ratio: 0.344 estimated
  • IBUs: 27 estimated
  • Color: 21.8 SRM estimated
  • ABV: 9.0% estimated (6.4% actual - apparent attenuation 66.3%)
Other notes:
  • Fermenter used:  McCoy (3-gallon Fermonster)
  • Bottling wand used:  Stainless #2
  • Carbonation method:  1 Coopers carbonation drop per bottle
Some quick notes on the ingredients above and why I've used them:
  • I wanted some authenticity, so I used German malts as the base. Pilsner and Munich are common for Doppelbocks.
  • The Oslo yeast is a high attenuator, and could leave the beer thin.  To help add back some of the body, I've added a generous dose of Carapils and Melanoidin malts.
  • Melanoidin malt also is said to contribute flavors commonly associated with decoction mashing, which is frequently done in brewing Doppelbocks. Since I won't be decoction mashing, I'm hoping this will get the flavor closer to the ideal.
  • Carafa III is there primarily for color.
  • Dingeman's Special B is there to contribute some malt complexity and add the dark fruit notes that are prized in the darker Doppelbocks like this one is intended to be.
  • The combo of Carapils and Melanoidin should give us a nice head, at least in my experience.
  • Hallertau hops are used in Ayinger Celebrator, one of my favorite Doppelbocks. Although it's not exactly to style, I'm adding a small amount at 15 minutes to hopefully impart a little German flavor and aroma.  I am a little concerned it will take the beer off-style but then the Oslo yeast may do that anyway.
  • I figure that even if the Oslo yeast fails me, this is a chance to quickly test this particular malt/hop recipe to see how I like it (if I do).
Mash Schedule:

Since the Oslo strain is a higher attenuator than many lager yeasts, I'm trying to balance out the beer by adding more dextrinous malts in the mash (Melanoidin and Carapils) and mashing at a higher temperature to leave more long-chain sugars behind that it may not fully ferment out.  Hopefully the result will be a full-bodied but well-attenuated beer.
  • 15 minutes mash in at 104F
  • 15 minutes mash at 153F
  • 45 minutes mash at 158F
  • 20 minutes mash out and sparge at 168F
Boil schedule:

I suspect that the Brewie+ doesn't boil quite as hard as most homebrew setups. The result is that my beers are often accused of lacking malt complexity, which would kill a Doppelbock in competition. I've tried to overcome this by using a more complex malt bill, step mashing, and extending the boil. Given that a recent Dry Irish Stout took third place in its category after using these techniques, I think this is working. For that reason, I'm extending the boil on this Doppelbock to a full two hours.
  • 120 minutes:  No additions
  • 60 minutes: 0.85 ounces Hallertau hops pellets
  • 15 minutes: Brewtan B, Hallertau, and yeast nutrient
Post brew, the wort will be chilled to 80F and pumped into a 3.0 gallon PET Fermonster fermenter.

Fermentation plan:

Oslo reportedly ferments clean as high as 98F, but its optimal range is 80F to 98F.  I'm planning to configure my temperature control setup to hold the beer within the optimal range, which in theory should result in full attenuation in as little as 3 days.  We'll see.
  • For the first 7 days, the beer will be held at 80F to allow the Oslo yeast to do its thing. No cooling will be employed during fermentation, only heating to keep it at no less than 80F.
  • After 7 days, assuming the beer has reached final gravity and seems to be holding, it will be bottled. 
Conditioning plan:
  • The bottles will be held at 80F for 3-5 days, then allowed to rest at ambient temperatures for another 2-4 days.
  • If carbonation is adequate at 5-7 days and there are no off-flavors like diacetyl or off-aromas in place, the beer will be chilled to refrigerator temperatures for 1-2 weeks and a tasting against the BJCP criteria will be performed.
  • The beer will be cellared and allowed to continue bottle conditioning until the fall.  At that point, if it's any good, I'll enter it into a competition and see how it does.
Post-Brew Notes and Observations

06/08/2019:  I configured the Brewie + recipe to load 9.7 liters of mash water.  It loaded 8.5 this time, so I topped it off with Ice Mountain Spring water to the 12.7 liters of mash water I needed.  The Brewie+ was configured to load 5.7 liters of mash water, and loaded 7.9 liters. I removed some of this and got the level down to 5.7 liters.

The volume came up higher than expected at about 2.8 gallons and the gravity 1.071 SG instead of 1.078 SG, which is going to make the beer weaker and more bitter than intended. Hopefully the yeast will do its thing and still deliver a decent Doppelbock.

I split a 2L yeast starter into this batch and another 2L starter to prep for the next batch.  The Oslo strain is difficult to obtain, so I want to get as much value from it as possible.

06/09/2019:  I pitched the yeast around 10pm when the wort was approximately 76F.  Since then, the fermentation has kicked off quite well and the temperature has held at 80F.  Here's an hourly capture of gravity readings from the Tilt hydrometer:
  • 6/8/2019 10pm:  1.071 (yeast pitched)
  • 11pm: 1.070
  • 6/9/2019 12am:  1.077 (this increase usually indicates very active fermentation)
  • 1am: 1.070
  • 2am: 1.065
  • 3am: 1.065
  • 4am: 1.064
  • 5am: 1.062
  • 6am: 1.060
  • 7am: 1.058
  • 8am: 1.057
  • 9am: 1.055
  • 10am: 1.051
  • 11am: 1.048
  • 12pm:  1.046
  • 1pm: 1.045
  • 2pm: 1.042
  • 3pm: 1.041
  • 4pm: 1.042
  • 5pm: 1.039
  • 6pm: 1.038
  • 7pm: 1.037
  • 8pm: 1.037
  • 9pm: 1.036
  • 10pm: 1.034 
  • 11pm: 1.034 (That's 56% attenuation in 24 hours!)
06/10/2019: Gravity is down to 1.027 SG today, so fermentation is clearly slowing.  I raised the temperature a little and swirled the fermenter to rouse the yeast into continued activity.

06/11/2019:  Gravity is down to 1.025 SG today.  The fermenter temperature has been raised to 87F to encourage the yeast to keep going.

06/13/2019:  Gravity seems to be holding at 1.024 SG, which is at the upper range of a Doppelbock in the BJCP criteria. It doesn't look like fermentation has completely stopped yet, so the gravity may go a point or two lower before it stops.

06/15/2019:  Gravity is down to 1.023/1.024 SG today and has been holding that number for about two days now. If it holds another 24 hours, I'll bottle it.

06/19/2019: The beer was bottled tonight using one Coopers carbonation drop per bottle. A sample extracted at the start of bottling had a very clean, malty aroma. The flavor was balanced, with lots of good dark malt flavor to it. I couldn't pick out any elements from the yeast, so it seemed pretty clean to me.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Brewing High-Gravity Beers

After enjoying some of the high-gravity beers available in Ohio (and in Colorado during a visit), I began wondering how brewers were able to coax yeast beyond the range I had managed up to that point. I'd gotten a beer as high as 14% ABV without much trouble, but I'd never tried going beyond that.  I wondered how high I could get it.  I succeeded beyond my expectations, pushing the beer in question beyond 20% ABV.  That's higher than one of the professional brewers I spoke with, who regularly brews high-gravity ales and has done so for several years.

Below is a condensed series of tips I've collected. These have come from the White Labs WLP099 product listing, online forums, other articles on the Internet, and verbal conversations with other brewers.

Grist and Mash
  • Realize that you're probably going to get a lower brew house efficiency on these high gravity beers than you get on lower-gravity batches. You'll have to compensate for that with more grain, adjuncts, malt extract, or a longer boil in some cases.
  • Depending on your system, you may not have enough capacity for grain to reach your target gravity. You can compensate for this by:
    • Using malt extract
    • Using adjuncts like honey, maple syrup, candi sugar, corn sugar
    • Using a multi-stage brewing process, where the wort from the first batch becomes the mash and sparge water for the next
    • Boiling much longer than usual to further concentrate the wort
    • Pulling off some of the wort and boiling it much harder in another kettle
  • You want to aim for a very fermentable wort, because there is a good chance the yeast could give out before you reach your target gravity. You'll want to make it easier on them by breaking down the sugars as much as possible.
  • One way you can make the wort extremely fermentable is to use glucoamylase enzyme or papain, often used in Brut-style beers.
  • Wort pH during the mash should stay between 5.0 and 5.3
  • Aim for an original gravity of 1.106 to 1.120 initially, and add fermentables later. This will keep osmotic pressure on the yeast low.  (White Labs suggests starting with a wort that would produce a 6-8% beer and adding fermentables during the first 5 days of fermentation.)
  • As noted above, boiling longer will help concentrate a weaker wort
  • Hop utilization in high gravity brews is lower, so hop the beer more than you think you should. There is a kind of sweetness produced in the high-gravity beers, too, and the hops will help balance that out. (I've not yet worked out just how much you want to hop these beers more than normal to maintain balance.)
  • Add 2-5 times the amount of yeast nutrient you'd normally add during the boil.
  • The key here is to reduce stress on the yeast as much as possible. At a high level, this means:
    • Minimizing osmotic pressure by starting with a lower-gravity wort and adding concentrated fermentables
    • Giving the yeast a healthy environment with plenty of oxygen and nutrients
    • Inoculating the wort with a lot of yeast cells to compensate for the stress of the higher gravity wort
    • Keeping temperatures low to prevent off-flavors and ensure yeast health
    • Agitating the wort for the first several days to keep yeast in suspension
  • Pitch 3-4 times as much yeast as you would normally pitch for the size and gravity
  • Keep the fermentation temperature down to the lowest end of the yeast's optimal range. This will minimize the production of fusel alcohols and other potentially-unwanted byproducts from the yeast. It will also minimize stress on the yeast.
  • Until the yeast reaches 67% attenuation (approximately), you should do the following daily:
    • Add oxygen:  Aerate 5-10 minutes with a pump or 30 seconds with pure oxygen. Aerate about 4 times as much as you normally would.
    • Add nutrients:  Add a fresh dose of nutrient
    • Agitate:  Swirl the fermenter to get the yeast into suspension and help distribute the oxygen and nutrients
    • Add fermentables: Add sugars and/or concentrated wort daily for the first 5 days, until your target gravity is achieved.  After all fermentables have been added, keep doing the other steps above until 67% attenuation is reached.  
    • Be sure to keep detailed notes on these additions, including weighing your fermentable additions. If you wind up with a great beer, you will want to be able to reproduce it, and these notes will prove important.
  • After 67% attenuation, I recommend continuing to agitate the yeast until final gravity is reached or the yeast stalls out.
  • If fermentation seems to be slowing or stalling, add another yeast strain with higher attenuation and alcohol tolerance to help keep the process going.  
    • Champagne yeast is one option
    • CBC-1 Cask and Bottle Conditioning yeast is another
    • If it's appropriate to the style, adding Brettanomyces is another option
  • Be patient. It took about two weeks to get my one-gallon test batch to 20.7%.
  • Adding some sanitized wood chips is a way to offset some of the sweetness of the beer and introduce barrel-aged flavors.
  • The beer may show a lot of "green flavors" when it is young. The solution is to age it for a longer time, possibly even a few years, until it mellows and becomes pleasant to drink.
  • Note that hop character changes over time, so if your style is one that relies on hop flavors, you'll want to taste the beer (perhaps monthly) to figure out its optimal aging time.
  • Keep notes on what you did to brew, ferment, and age the beer so that if you decide to re-brew it you will be able to reproduce the beer as you liked it best.
  • It's difficult to create balance in a high gravity recipe. Starting with an established winning recipe could help. 
I plan to do some additional high-gravity experiments this year and talk with pro brewers when I can, and may update this post as I learn new things about the process.

Monday, May 20, 2019

1933 Lees Bitter Clone 1.0

A couple of years ago, I received Robert Pattinson's book The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer. as a gift from a family member.  The first of the recipes that caught my attention (and I really can't tell you why) was the 1933 Lees Bitter recipe.  I tried to brew it once, earlier in my brewing career, and ended up tossing it out because the caps I used didn't seal properly on the bottles. This left the beer flat and oxidized.  This is my second go at the recipe.  It is a simple recipe, the ingredients aren't too expensive, and the process straightforward.  It also sounds like a fairly easy beer to drink, a good one for the upcoming summer months.

I recently lost a whole lot of my homebrew to an infection that went undiscovered for months.  I'm fairly certain the infection came from a bottling wand used on the infected batches. I replaced it and used the new one to bottle my recent Belgian Dubbel. If that batch is clear of infection in 2-3 months, then the corresponding fermenter has a clean bill of health. If not, it gets tossed too (it's a PET one anyway, so not expensive to trash).  For this batch, I'm using a brand new fermenter. If it is cleared of any infection, then I was probably correct about the bottling wand.


5 pounds of Munton's 2-row Pale Malt
4 ounces of Lyle's Golden Syrup (for "No. 1 Invert Sugar" in the recipe)
0.35 ounces of Northern Brewer hops @ 9% AA (60 min. - sub for Brewer's Gold)
0.20 ounces of Saaz hops @ 5.4% AA (30 min.)
1.5 tsp. pH 5.2 Stabilizer (mash)
1/2 tsp. Gypsum (my choice, added to mash water)
1/8 tsp. Brewtan B (added to mash water)
1/4 tablet Whirlfloc (20 min.)
1/4 tsp. Brewtan B (added to boil, 15 min.)
1/4 tsp. Yeast Nutrient (15 min.)
1 packet of Safale S-04 English Ale Yeast (a substitute for Wyeast 1318)
7.4 liters Mash Water (8.4 cm. deep in Brewie+)
7.0 liters Sparge Water (8.0 cm. deep in Brewie+)

I didn't have Brewer's Gold but since it's only being used for brewing, I went with German Northern Brewer as a substitute.  I had some Czech Saaz hops I could have used, but I wanted to get rid of the US Saaz, so I used that instead. The amounts used in the original Lees recipe would have resulted in about 12 IBUs, so I adjusted the amounts to bring the bitterness level more in line with the style. I was afraid 12 IBUs might have been too cloying.

Additional characteristics and notes (actual values where available):
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons estimated (2.5 gallons actual)
  • BJCP Category:  11.C Strong Bitter
    (I chose that category because of the 5% ABV)
  • Original Gravity: 1.049 SG estimated (1.052 SG actual)
  • Pre-Boil Gravity: 1.036 SG estimated (11.8 Brix actual, 1.049 SG approx.)
  • Pre-Boil Volume: 13.4 liters estimated (13 cm. deep, 11.4 liters actual)
  • Final Gravity: 1.011 SG estimated (1.010 actual)
  • IBUs: 34
  • SRM: 5.0
  • ABV: 5.03% 
  • BU/GU Ratio: 0.693 estimated 
  • Fermenter Used: Spock
  • Bottling Wand Used: First stainless steel one
  • Carbonation Method: 3 Brewer's Best tablets per bottle
  • Fermentation Temperature: 68F
(For those who are wondering, measuring wort depth in the Brewie+ is a good way to estimate mash water, sparge water, pre-boil, and post-boil volume. Brewie+ support indicates that if you measure wort depth in centimeters and multiply the depth by 0.88 you'll obtain the approximate volume of liquid in liters. If your machine loads more or less water than expected, you can use this to know when to add or remove water from the kettle.  I use pounds and ounces for grain measurement because that's how most of us in the USA order it from homebrew shops.)

Mash Schedule

I decided to dissolve the Lyle's Golden Syrup in with the mash/sparge water to avoid the need to add it later in the boil. This would also allow it to caramelize during the boil with the other sugars from the grain, hopefully resulting in a greater depth of flavor.

The original Lees recipe indicates an underlet mash at 156F. That's not too different from what my system does, heating both from the bottom and as wort flows around to the top of the grain bed. It will have to be good enough.
  • 10 minutes Mash In at 104F
  • 30 minutes Mash Step 1 at 152F
  • 40 minutes Mash Step 2 at 156F
  • 20 minutes Mash Out and Sparge at 168F
Post-mash and pre-boil, volume should have been 13.4 liters. It actually came out around 11.4 liters, so I added a liter of water to bring it to 12.4.  A gravity reading came up at 1.049 SG after conversion from Brix and a refractometer adjustment, so I'll likely need to dilute it more after the boil with distilled water.  I'd rather do that than over-dilute it before the boil (since it's not possible to extend a boil with the Brewie+ once the recipe program is underway).  The good news is that I discovered an error in my sparge water calculations that should resolve the issue moving forward.

Boil Schedule

The original Lees recipe used a 90-minute boil, so I am sticking with that:
  • 90 minutes: No hop additions
  • 60 minutes: Add Northern Brewer bittering hops
  • 30 minutes: Add Saaz (US) flavor hops
  • 20 minutes: Add Whirlfloc
  • 15 minutes: Add Yeast Nutrient and Brewtan B 
  • 00 minutes: Chill to 68F
Fermentation Plan

The Safale S-04 strain is known for producing a mild tartness if it is allowed to ferment at too high a temperature. The book does not advise on fermentation temperature for the recipe, so that's apparently going to be up to me.  I know from experience (and a past recipe using S-04) that fermenting near the upper end of its 64-75F range will result in a clear sourness, which I do not want in this beer. My plan is to ferment it at 64F and allow it to run longer than normal, then give it some time at 50F to "lager" a bit and mellow out before bottling.

Trying the S-04 yeast at 64F will also prove instructive for another recipe I've been trying to perfect. Some time ago, I bought a bottle of Coniston's Old Man ale, an English brown ale. The beer had a very mild tartness to it, which I had attempted to reproduce. However, I think I fermented it for too long at too high a temperature and the tartness was pronounced in my beer, versus restrained in the Coniston version. If this beer exhibits a very mild tartness, I think I will be a step closer to perfecting the Old Man Ale clone.

My plan will be to bottle it with 2 or 3 small carbonation tablets, which equates to low or very-low carbonation, consistent with an English cask-conditioned ale.

Post-Brew Notes and Observations

05/20/2019:  I have used an Excel spreadsheet to help me calculate mash and sparge water volumes. I realized today that the template I'm using contains a calculation error and this is causing me to end up with too little wort at the start of the boil.  Specifically, I was not removing grain absorption from the mash water before calculating the amount of sparge water needed to reach the target pre-boil volume.  As a result, I tended to come up 1-2 liters short at the start of the boil. While this is easy enough to correct ("just add water") I'd rather not have to manually correct it. I think I've got the spreadhseet sorted now, so that future batches should turn out OK.

The gravity post-brew came out around 1.060 SG, but the volume was below the 2.5 gallons I expected, so I added distilled water to the fermenter to bring the volume up to the desired amount. This dropped the gravity from 1.060 SG down to 1.052 SG. I considered adding more distilled water to bring the gravity down to the intended 1.049 SG but thought better of it.  The initial wort temperature was 70F, which was much higher than I wanted, so I waited for it to drop to ambient basement temperature. Then I'll pitch the yeast and let the fermentation temperature control system get it down to 64F (hopefully before the yeast really gets going).

09:00PM:  The yeast has been pitched and the fermenter sealed up in the temperature control setup, with the temp set to 64F.  The full package of S-04 was used.According to the yeast calculator on Brewer's Friend, this should be enough yeast to handle the batch with a little to spare.

05/21/2019: Gravity is down to 1.043.

05/22/2019: Gravity is down to 1.018.

05/23/2019: Gravity is down to 1.011.

05/24/2019-05/29/2019: Gravity has held at 1.010 SG, with one or two blips at 1.009 SG.  It should be ready to bottle now.

06/01/2019:  The beer was bottled today, using 3 small carbonation tablets per bottle (with some bottles being given 2 drops for comparison's sake later). Yield was 24 12-ounce bottles and one 16-ounce  bottle. The yeast was disposed of, and the fermenter left to soak for a few hours with PBW to ensure that it's as clean as possible.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

How A Bacterial Infection in Your Beer Can Ruin Your Weekend

Late last year, I started brewing various British beer styles to become familiar with them. My goal was to have a collection of beers I could enter into this year's SODZ British Beer Fest homebrew competition. I'd managed to brew an Ordinary Bitter, a Scottish 80 Shilling, Irish Red Ale, British Brown Ale, and others.  I entered four of these into the Barley's competition this year. Two came back with terrible scores because they gushed out of the bottle on the judges. 

Having brewed for several years now, and having not varied my sanitation practices much, I was in complete denial when the Barley's judges suggested that the beer had been infected. When the same thing happened with two different beers at the SODZ competition, I could no longer deny it. I had a bacterial infection somewhere. But where?

Given my brewing process, I had the following candidates:
  • Brewing System:  If the plumbing inside either the PicoBrew Zymatic or the Brewie+ became infected, specifically on the cold side, then the beer might be infected going into the fermenter. However, this seemed unlikely. I tentatively ruled it out.
  • Fermenter:  If one or more fermenters had an infection that survived a PBW clean and Star San sanitization, that could be passed on to the beer.  If this was the cause of my infection, it would impact any beer brewed in that fermenter.  A good indicator would be if I could identify infected batches vs. uninfected ones, and trace that back to a fermenter.
  • Bottling Wand:  I only owned two bottling wands. If one of those was infected, it would infect every bottle filled with that wand, but not batches filled from the other wand (unless both were infected).  
  • Carbonation Drops:  I had been picking these up by hand and placing them into the bottles with my fingers (which had been washed and spent a lot of time in Star San). There was a small chance this could have infected the tablets and then the bottle. If this was the case, every batch I bottled would be infected.
  • Bottle Caps:  This seemed unlikely. In general, my caps soak in Star San until I pull them out to put them on the bottle. I can't rule it out, but it's not a top suspect.
To start narrowing things down, I needed evidence. I began by opening a bottle from each batch I had on hand. A bottle from January 2018 was fine. A bottle from February gushed like crazy.  A bottle from a week or so later didn't.  Over the next two days, I opened at least one bottle from every batch I had made over the past year that I still had on hand. 

The result was depressing. Probably 65% of the batches showed clear signs of infection.  Some gushed beer 3-4 feet from the bottle. Others gushed only inches away.  In the end, at least 75% of the beer I had made in the past 14-16 months was infected and had to be tossed out.  About a dozen batches were fine. A few were overcarbonated but didn't appear to be infected.  I spent hours dumping entire batches of beer down the drain, rinsing the bottles clean, and removing the labels. 

It became clear that the brewing systems most likely weren't the culprit. I had at least one batch from each of them that wasn't infected, and batches from both that were. If the system was infected, I would expect all of its batches to be infected.  That left the fermenters and bottling wands.

As I got to some of the more-recent batches, a pattern began to emerge. There were four fermenters I used most-often in 2018 and 2019. They both featured a half-inch spigot. The other two featured a 3/8" spigot. Why was that important?  It meant that I used a different bottling wand with two of the fermenters than I used with the other two. It quickly became clear that batches bottled through the half-inch wand were all showing signs of infection, while batches bottled through the 3/8" wand were just fine.  I had my smoking gun. The half-inch wand was infected (and possibly the two fermenters, but I'd start with the wand).

I tossed both bottling wands and ordered new ones. That would hopefully clear the infection. I also made some adjustments to my procedures, in the hope that this will catch any future infections more quickly so that I never have to toss as much home brew again as I did this weekend.

From here on, my bottling procedure will change to:
  • Bottles should (continue to) get a hot tap water rinse until visually clean, then run through the dishwasher without any other dishes to minimize the risk of food particles causing infection. Bottles then need to be soaked in fresh Star San for further insurance. (This has been my process all along.)
  • Where possible, soak the bottling wand in boiling or near-boiling water to clean and sanitize it, then go a step further by soaking in Star San. In theory, this would eliminate an infection in the wand going forward. (This is a change. I used to use PBW to clean and Star San to sanitize, but that's clearly not good enough, at least not all the time.)
  • Caps will be soaked in Star San before use. (I've always done this.)
  • Stainless tongs will be sanitized and used to load the carbonation drops, to ensure that no bacteria from my hands enters the bottle. The tongs may be boiled or sanitized with the wand. (This is new.)
  • When a batch is bottled, record the fermenter used, bottling wand used, carbonation drop type, and where appropriate, the number of drops per bottle.  (I have not done this in the past.)
  • After any batch has been in the bottle for 30-90 days, open a bottle to check for over-carbonation and signs of gushing. If any signs are detected, check additional bottles.  (This is something I've also not done in the past, and it really "bit me" this time.)
  • If an infection is found check bottles from any other batches that went through the same wand and/or fermenter to ensure there are no gushers in there. Stop using that fermenter and/or wand until the infection is found and removed. (This should prevent me from having to dump a huge number of batches as I did this time, and result in only losing 1-3 before the infection is found.)
I noticed, too, that you can tell the difference between a bacterial infection and simple over-carbonation, at least in this case.  Overcarbonation resulted in a slow, gradual foaming of the beer up through the neck of the bottle and down the side. Maybe a third of the beer would foam out if you let it.  The infection caused a rapid expulsion of foamy beer through the neck of the bottle, and looked more like it was boiling out of the bottle than just foaming. 

Tonight I bottled a Belgian Dubbel from one of the four fermenters I use regularly. I made sure to hit the spigot with Star San before use, and to soak the new bottling wand and connecting tubing in Star San as well.  If this batch turns up infected, I'll know it's the fermenter... though this was one of the 3/8" spigots, so I'm inclined to think it will turn out fine.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Margarita Cream Ale 1.0

The finished beer
While inventorying my home brewing supplies over the weekend, I realized I had a lot of flaked corn, which made me think a Cream Ale might be nice.  I also saw some dark agave nectar I'd bought a long time ago on clearance, which delivers a tequila-like flavor when fermented.  I figured adding some orange peel, lemon peel, lime zest, and lime juice might just bring that margarita flavor home. I could add some Hallertau hops (lemony) and Mandarina Bavaria (orange) to further enhance the flavor.

I started with a national competition-winning Cream Ale recipe from the American Homebrewing Association web site as the base, then layered on Mandarina Bavaria hops, agave nectar, lime zest and lime juice, orange and lemon peel, and set things up in the Brewie+.


2 pounds Swaen Pilsner Malt
2 pounds Briess 2-row Pale Malt
9 ounces Flaked Corn
7 ounces Corn Sugar (mash)
4 ounces Acid Malt
4.2 ounces Dark Agave Nectar (flameout)
1.5 tsp. pH 5.2 Stabilizer (mash)
1/8 tsp. Brewtan B (mash)
0.20 ounces Hallertau hops pellets @ 4.4% AA (60 min.)
0.30 ounces Hallertau hops pellets @ 4.4% AA (5 min.)
0.30 ounces Mandarina Bavaria hops pellets @ 9.2% AA (5 min.)
1 lime's worth of zest and juice (zest @ 5 min, juice at flameout)
1/4 tsp. Brewtan B (20 min.)
1/4 tsp. Yeast Nutrient (15 min.)
1/2 ounce Bitter Orange Peel (15 min.)
1/2 ounce Lemon Peel (15 min.)
1/2 tsp. Irish Moss (15 min.)
1 package WLP029 White Labs Kolsch Ale yeast
1/2 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm
4 tsp. Real Lime powder (bottling)
2 oz. Brewer's Best Lime Flavor (bottling)

11.6 liters of mash water (13.2 cm deep in the kettle)
(Note: The correct mash water should be 7.8 liters, 8.9 cm)

5.0 liters of sparge water (5.7 cm deep in the kettle)
(Note: The correct sparge water should be 7 liters, 8.0 cm)

Brewer's Friend estimates that the beer will have the following qualities:
  • BJCP Style: 6.A Cream Ale
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons (~10L) (2.64 actual)
  • Original Gravity: 1.055 SG (1.057 actual)
  • Pre-Boil Gravity: 1.045 SG/10.3 Brix (approx.)
  • Final Gravity: 1.014 SG (1.013 SG actual)
  • ABV: 5.32%
  • IBUs: 12.9
  • SRM: 3.6
  • Pre-Boil Volume: 13.2 Liters (approx.)
  • Fermenter: Pike
  • Bottling Wand: Stainless
Mash Schedule

This batch will employ a fairly simple mash schedule:
  • Mash in for 15 minutes at 135F
  • Mash at 145F for 35 minutes (Beta rest)
  • Mash at 165F for 25 minutes (Alpha rest)
  • Mash out at 172F for 5 minutes
Boil Schedule

A 60-minute boil will be used, with the following schedule:
  • 60 minutes: Hallertau
  • 20 minutes: Brewtan B
  • 15 minutes: Yeast Nutrient, Irish Moss, Orange Peel, Lemon Peel
  • 5 minutes: Lime Zest, Hallertau, Mandarina Bavaria
  • 0 minutes (whirlpool): Lime Juice
Fermentation Plan

The White Labs Kolsch Yeast I'm using here should produce a fairly clean beer if we can keep the fermentation temperature at about 65F.  My fermentation plan is:
  • Days 1-10: Ferment at 65F using temperature control
  • Days 10+: Ferment at ambient temperatures in the basement
After the final gravity is reached and held for a week, the beer will be bottle-conditioned.

Post-Brew Notes and Observations

05/05/2019:  The ingredients were gathered, measured, and loaded into the Brewie+.  The lime was zested and juiced, with the zest being added to the machine and the juice held for flameout.

I screwed up calculating the mash and sparge water. Noticing that the spreadsheet I've been using for a while doesn't incorporate the grain absorption amount into its mash water calculations, I fixed that. But in doing so, I forgot to adjust the grain volume to match the current recipe, so everything was calculated for about twice as much grain. I should have used 6.8 liters but ended up using 11.6 (which made for a very thin mash).  Later on, instead of 12.4 liters of pre-boil volume, I had 13.2 liters.

Mash pH read anywhere from 4.7 to 5.3 depending on where the meter entered the mash liquid. I may have added too much Acid malt, but that was based on the recommendation of Brewer's Friend.

Pre-boil gravity read 11 Brix (which adjusts to about 1.045 SG on my refractometer) and the volume read approximately 13.2 liters instead of the expected 12.4 liters, so I opened the lid on the Brewie to increase boil-off rate with the goal of hitting my targets.  This boiled off enough water to bring the final volume and gravity into line with the recipe targets.

During the boil, I noticed at times that the Brewie did not seem to be pushing wort through the hop cages.  There seemed to be a clog in the system that resolved itself, then reappeared, and resolved itself again. That, or a pump may be failing.  Given that it's only 5 months old, a clog seems more likely.

Post-boil, the gravity registered 1.057 SG on the Tilt Hydrometer and the temperature read 66F. I pitched the yeast and set the temperature control to hold it at 65F.  Volume read between 2.5 gallons and 2.75 gallons.

05/08/2019:  The gravity has been dropping as expected since the yeast was pitched. Below are the lowest gravities recorded for each day since the yeast was pitched:
  • 5/5/2019:  1.057 SG (65F)
  • 5/6/2018:  1.049 SG (65F)
  • 5/7/2019:  1.032 SG (65F)
  • 5/8/2019:  1.022 SG (Temp raised to 66F)
05/09/2019:  Gravity is down to 1.017 SG. Temp is holding at 66F.  I'm planning to increase it to 69F later tonight to help the yeast reach final gravity.

05/14/2019:  Gravity is down to 1.013 SG, down from 1.014 SG yesterday. Temp is holding at 65F.

05/19/2019:  Gravity has held at 1.013 SG for several days now.  Today, I added 2 teaspoons of Real Lime powder and 2 ounces of Brewer's Best Lime Flavoring to the fermenter and stirred it in.  The beer was then bottled with Brewer's Best Carbonation Tablets. It has a lime/margarita aroma and the combination of Agave, Bitter Orange Peel, and Lime gives it a nice subtle margarita flavor.  Most bottles received 3 tablets, a few received 2, 4, or 5 to gauge how different carbonation levels might affect the beer's flavor and mouthfeel.

05/29/2019:  A bottle of the beer was placed in the freezer for an hour to chill to a good drinking temperature.  This is also a check to see if any signs of a bacterial infection linger.  If so, this implicates the "Pike" fermenter as the source of infection and merits disposing of it.  It's a relatively inexpensive PET wide-mouth carboy, so I will have no problem trashing it if it's infected.

  • Appearance: Hazy yellow with thin white head
  • Aroma: The aroma is very much that of a margarita. Lime and a tequila-like agave scent dominates.  I don't think it could be much more what I wanted in this regard.
  • Mouthfeel: Medium bodied
  • Flavor: Lime hits first, then a strong agave note dominates.  Bitterness level is balanced pretty well.
  • Overall:  It's definitely margarita-like, both in flavor and aroma. However, the agave nectar comes across very strongly. It's strong enough, in fact, that it seems like a margarita that's been made with too much tequila and has been watered down a little. In the next iteration, I'd increase the amount of lime by maybe 20-30% and dial the agave nectar down by half. I'd also swap out some of the base malts for some Caramel/Crystal 10L to give it some more sweetness.  All that said, for a first attempt, I'm pretty happy with it.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

In Search of... Malt Complexity

I've placed a lot of malt-forward styles into competition in the last two years. These are styles that tend to appeal to me, such as the Dark Mild, Scottish Export, Extra Strong Bitter, and Dry Irish Stout. To be fair, I had brewed many of these styles for the very first time, and from recipes found on the Internet (which probably had good pedigrees, but who's to say). The fact that they did not do well may have boiled down to them being mediocre recipes to start with, or a lack of experience on my part brewing the styles, or the fact that I've changed brewing systems twice in the last two years. Regardless, a common comment from judges over the last three years of my brewing competition experience has been that some of my beers (not all, or even most) lacked malt complexity.

The first time I got that comment, I assumed that the judge meant that I hadn't used a good balance of specialty malts. When I tweaked the grist on one of those recipes and entered the next competition, the scores did improve a little. The comment cropped up more often this year, which convinced me that I needed to do a deeper dive into the subject.  If you're running into this same comment, what I'm about to share may help you, too.

Malt complexity can be impacted at each stage of the brewing process:
  • Recipe creation:  Choosing the right types of barley (and other grains) for the grist is important. Studying the BJCP criteria's list of ingredients and reviewing winning recipes for the style you're brewing can help here.
  • Mashing:  The mash process is all about breaking down proteins, starches, and sugars with enzymes present in the grain. Adding different mash rests rather than doing a single temperature rest can help alter the body, mouthfeel, and malt flavor complexity.
  • Boiling:  A rolling boil is important to kettle caramelization and driving off unwanted flavors like DMS. Lengthening the boil can help increase caramelization and deepen malt flavors, resulting in improved complexity.  It can also help to pull off a portion of the wort and boil it down very rapidly, then return it to the brew kettle.
  • Fermentation:  Choosing a yeast strain that accentuates malt flavors rather than hops can also improve the malt complexity of the finished beer. Depending on the style of beer you're making, there are usually several yeast strains available, each with differing impacts on the finished beer. You'll want to choose one that delivers what you're looking for.
I'm going to dive a little deeper into each of these areas.

Recipe Creation

There are a number of ways your recipe can impact the malt complexity and body:
  • There is a good list of barley variations and their impact on the beer here:
  • Base Malts: These form the background flavor of the beer.
    • Pilsner:  pale color and delicate flavor, perfect for lagers and pale ales
    • Pale Malts:  light color with biscuit and honey flavors
      • British pale malt tends to be darker but more flavorful
      • American two-row is between a pilsner and a British pale with honey and grain flavor
      • American six-row is great for starch conversion but less flavorful than two-row
    • Pale Ale Malts:  developed specifically for English-style Pale Ales. They are darker in color than pale malts
    • Vienna and Munich Malts: These are a foundation for beers that require sweet caramel flavors without dark colors
    • Extra-pale malts may display herbal notes and grassy or hay-like flavors and aromas
    • English pale ale malts like Maris Otter and Golden Promise develop a sharp, biscuity character that suits bitters and pale ales
    • North American "lager" malts often are very neutral and lack the character needed for some styles
    • Vienna malt brings out sweet, caramelly notes recognizable in a Vienna lager or Marzen
    • Munich malt brings sweet, toasty, cookie type flavors
  • Specialty Malts:  Depending on the style, you can add specialty malts, increase or decrease the amount of specialty malts, or choose malts from a different supplier to increase complexity.
    • Carapils/Dextrine malt will add body and head retention. Use as 5-20% of the grist in darker beers and 5-10% in lighter ones.
    • Some North American pale malts can give edgy or phenolic astringency
    • European malts often show more character and aroma
    • Pale malts in the 10 Lovibond range contribute sweet caramel, cotton candy, and honey notes
    • Malts in the 20 Lovibond range contribute some golden raisin flavors
    • Pale Ales and IPAs are often accented with some raisiny caramel malt, often with a mix of lager and pale malts, possibly with Vienna or Caramel 10L for sweetness
    • Lighter caramel malts tend to provide a beer's main flavor while darker varieties plan a supporting role. Dark crystal malts can overwhelm a beer's flavor.
    • Biscuit malt adds nutty, toasted biscuit flavors, like a more-intense Vienna malt
    • Amber malt is similar to biscuit, but has more complex flavors like toffee, nuts, and baked bread, and more bitterness
    • Brown malt has toffee, bready, nutty flavors but can dry out a beer if overused. It's best used in moderation to add complexity.
    • Chocolate malt offers a slight burnt flavor, coffee and chocolate aroma/flavor, and astringency
    • Black malt gives a deep color addition, but can add astringency unless it's huskless
    • Roasted barley isn't really malted, but adds roasted flavor
    • Acidulated (Acid) malt adds sour flavors, and a little can add sharpness and reduce mash pH.
    • Smoked malt is useful in some styles but can be overwhelming depending on the degree of smoke flavor
    • Peated malt is smoked using peat instead of wood. It's more for whiskey than beer, and some say it can make a beer taste like a Band-Aid bandage.
    • Wheat malt has a high protein content and can add a thicker, long-lasting head along with bready flavors
    • Rye malt adds a spicy flavor and works well with hops
    • Oat malt can fill out a beer's flavor and gives it a smooth mouthfeel. 
  • Maltodextrin can be added to enhance body
  • Lactose can add sweetness, body, and mouthfeel
  • Flaked Barley and oats should be less than 15% of your grist in most cases
  • If you're using a more-attenuating yeast strain, add proteins/dextrins to fill in the body
Mash Schedule Impacts

The mash schedule you follow for a brew can also impact the malt complexity:
  • Proteins break down in the 113-131F range at a pH between 5.1 and 5.3. Breaking these down will lighten the body of the beer and may impact head retention.
  • Starches break down into sugars best in the 150-162F range at a pH of 5.3 to 5.7.
  • According to one source, a few degrees Fahrenheit and a tenth of a pH point can make a world of difference in creating complex malt flavor.
  • Having at least two temperature rests in the saccharification range will make for a more complex beer.
  • If brewing with wheat, add a rest at 113F (ferulic acid rest) to bring out clove characteristics associated with wheat beers, and a saccharification rest in the mid-150F range.
  • If you're using a lot of specialty malts, mashing in at 140F and stepping into the mid-150's will facilitate fermentability while retaining body.
Boil Schedule Factors

Activity during the boil also impacts malt complexity:
  • Pilsners and wheat beers are generally boiled 60 minutes or less to maintain the light color
  • Scottish ales, porters, stouts, and other darker styles can be boiled up to 2 hours in order to get enough kettle caramelization, color, and complexity.
  • Varying your boil time as little as 15 minutes can make a difference, especially if you're maintaining a rolling boil. Try a two-hour boil to start, dialing it back if the effect is too intense. Some styles, like barleywines, may even boil up to 5 hours.
  • In general, the longer you boil, the more caramelization you'll have in the kettle and the more intense the malt flavors will be.
  • Use kettle caramelization for the right styles and dial in the right boil length for your setup.
  • You can concentrate a portion of the wort (improving caramelization and complexity) by pulling off a bit of it, boiling that down very hard (reducing volume by half) and adding it back to the kettle. This works well in styles like:
    • Bock
    • Doppelbock
    • Wee Heavy
    • Old Ale
    • Barleywine
    • Imperial Stout
    • Belgian Dark Strong Ale
Fermentation Factors

By the time you've reached the point of fermenting the beer, nearly all the heavy-lifting in terms of developing malt complexity has probably been achieved. Still you can tweak things further:
  • A less-attenuating yeast strain will leave behind malt sugars and increase the body of the finished beer.
  • Some strains emphasize malt flavors (like Scottish Ale strains) while others will bring out the hop flavors. Choosing a different strain can impact malt aroma and flavor.
  • Some fining agents reportedly lighten the body of the beer, so take care when using those. (I didn't find much specific detail on which fining agents do this.)
Incorporating this Information in Your Brewing

Learning and reading all this won't help much if I don't put some of it into practice to improve my brewing. Here's how I intend to start playing around with these suggestions to improve my beer:
  • Grain Bill:  For styles that need more body, I'll be looking to add oats, maltodextrin, Carapils/Dextrine malt, and/or Melanoidin, and mash at higher temperatures.
  • Mash: The Brewie+ and the PicoBrew Zymatic I used before that both make it fairly easy to implement multi-step mashes and keep them on track. I'll continue to play around with adding steps, lengthening or shortening some, etc., to try to improve body and complexity.  I think these automated systems seem to have trouble delivering a full-bodied beer, so I may need to compensate for this in the grain bill.
  • Boil:  The Brewie+ and the Zymatic both tend to boil below the 212F "true boil" temperature.  I regularly see the Brewie+ boiling in the 205-209F range. You would definitely not call it a rolling boil compared to some propane-fueled kettles (or even some stove tops) but there is a decent amount of roll to it.  Still, I'm considering drawing off and concentrating a portion of the wort on the kitchen stove as a way of boosting caramelization and possibly the body of the finished beer.  I'm also going to start lengthening the boil times on the theory that the lower boil temperature of the Brewie+ delivers less or "slower" caramelization in the kettle, and that extending the boil length will increase the caramelization overall.
  • Fermentation:  If all the above isn't getting me the results I want, I'll have to start experimenting with less-attenuating yeast strains to see if that helps.
As with many things in brewing, research and experimentation should help improve the beer.

I hope you've found this post useful and/or interesting.