Sunday, February 3, 2019

Strong's Irish Red Ale 1.0

Last year, I made an Irish Red Ale recipe of my own. Although it turned out fairly well and only a couple of bottles remain, when I saw Gordon Strong's Irish Red Ale recipe, I decided I'd like to try it to see how it compared with mine. I adjusted the recipe for a smaller volume batch and the efficiency of my brewing system, which results in the recipe you see here.


2 pounds and 6 ounces of 2-row Pale Malt (Briess)
1 pound of Vienna Malt (Weyermann, I think)
8 ounces Flaked Corn
6 ounces Caramel 40L
2 ounces Roasted Barley
2 ounces Carapils/Dextrine Malt
4 handfuls of Rice Hulls in the mash
0.38 ounces East Kent Goldings hops @ 6.1% AA (60 min.)
0.13 ounces East Kent Goldings hops @ 6.1% AA (10 min.)
1/4 tsp. Brewtan B in the mash
1.5 tsp. pH 5.2 Stabilizer in the mash
1/4 tsp. Brewtan B in the boil (15 min.)
1/8 tsp. Yeast Nutrient (15 min.)
1/8 tsp. Super Irish Moss (10 min.)
2.4 gallons of Mash Water
2.0 gallons of Sparge Water

BeerSmith 3.0 estimates the following characteristics:
  • BJCP Category: 15.A Irish Red Ale
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons (actual was approximately 3.65 gallons)
  • Original Gravity: 1.041 SG (actual was 1.030 SG)
  • Final Gravity: 1.010 SG (actual was 1.008 SG)
  • IBUs: 24
  • SRM: 14.4
  • ABV:  4.0% (actual was 2.9% as a result of dilution)
  • BU/GU Ratio: 0.51 (actual probably 0.77 given lower gravity)
Mash schedule:
  • Mash in at 104F for 15 minutes
  • Mash at 120F for 15 minutes
  • Mash at 151F for 60 minutes
  • Mash out at 168F for 10 minutes
  • Sparge with 168F water for 10 minutes
Boil schedule:
  • 90 minutes: No additions
  • 60 minutes: East Kent Goldings hops pellets (0.38 oz.)
  • 15 minutes: Yeast nutrient and Brewtan B
  • 10 minutes: Super Irish Moss and East Kent Goldings (0.13 oz.)
  • 0 minutes: Chill to 62F
Fermentation schedule:
  • Allow the yeast to free-ferment at the ambient basement temperature of 62F until fermentation is complete
  • Treat the beer with gelatin and cold-crash for clarity
  • Bottle-condition at 68F until carbonated
Post-Brew Notes and Observations

02/03/2019 3pm:  Loaded the ingredients into the Brewie+ and entered the recipe details. Brewie estimated a brewing time of approximately 6 hours.

9pm: I ended up with almost 3 gallons in the fermenter, plus over half a gallon in another (hastily sanitized) fermenter. The gravity came out at 1.030 SG instead of the expected 1.041 SG. That combination (volume and gravity) reportedly represents a 66.2% brew house efficiency per BeerSmith. Unfortunately, it drops the beer's original gravity well below the style's 1.036 SG lower limit. I probably could have resolved this by transferring the wort into another kettle and boiling it down until the desired gravity was reached, but I chose not to. It's going to give me a chance to conduct two experiments as it is. I've pitched Mangrove Jack's MI5 Empire Ale yeast into the main fermenter, and some Safale US-05 into the smaller secondary batch.  That will allow me to test two different yeast strains on the same wort.  I also extracted a sample from the secondary fermenter and pitched some MI5 yeast into it to conduct a forced fermentation test to see if the final gravity achieved in that test compares to the final gravity in the main batch when it is finished fermenting. That knowledge will be useful when I do future high gravity beers.

02/04/2019 9pm: The gravity has dropped from yesterday's 1.030 SG to 1.012 SG today.

02/05/2019 9:35pm: The gravity is currently registering 1.010 SG and the temperature is reading 61F.

02/09/2019: A refractometer measurement of beer from the fermentation test vessel registered 1.014 SG. The main fermentation vessel has finished primary fermentation (and did so fairly quickly) and is registering 1.009 SG today. Since there is some rounding and estimating that takes place in the refractometer scenario, I'm planning to drop a Tilt Hydrometer in there before tossing that beer, just to see how close the readings are with the same method.  The main batch has been reading 1.008-1.009 SG for four days now, so I am confident that primary fermentation is over and it will be time to do some fining and then bottle it.

02/12/2019: The beer is registering 1.008 SG in the primary fermenter, at a temperature of 59F, which is pretty much the ambient temperature in that part of the basement right now. A reading from the Tilt Hydrometer dropped into the wort from the fermentation test vessel also registered 1.008 SG, proving that the technique works. This will be useful when doing higher-gravity beers, by allowing me to bottle those when they're 3-4 gravity points from final gravity. 

Through a Mild Darkly

The English Dark Mild Ale is a style I first encountered several years ago at The Winking Lizard location on Bethel Road, a location that sadly is no longer open. The one I tried back then was Cain's Dark Mild, and I found it a very enjoyable beer. In 2018, I made my first attempt to brew the style. I thought it turned out well, but wanted to try again.

Jamil Zainasheff's book Brewing Classic Styles contained a recipe for a Dark Mild Ale named "Through a Mild Darkly" that was similar to my 2018 recipe but different enough that I decided to try brewing it. My first attempt was a failure, caused by an oversight on my part that resulted in the wort being ruined and discarded. Today's attempt was more successful.


3 pounds, 14 ounces of a mix of Simpsons Golden Promise, Swaen Pale Ale, and Rahr 2-row malts
4 ounces British Medium Crystal Malt
3 ounces Crystal 120L
2 ounces Pale Chocolate Malt
1 ounce Black Patent Malt
4 handfuls of Rice Hulls to ensure good flow through the grain bed
0.41 ounces East Kent Goldings hops pellets @ 6.1% AA (60 min.)
1/4 tsp. Brewtan B in mash
1.5 tsp. pH 5.2 Stabilizer in the mash
1/8 tsp. Super Irish Moss (15 min.)
1/4 tsp. Brewtan B in the boil (10 min.)
1/8 tsp. Yeast Nutrient in the boil (10 min.)
2.35 gallons of mash water
1.3 gallons of sparge water
1 package of Lallemand London ESB Yeast

According to BeerSmith 3, the beer should have the following characteristics:
  • BJCP Category: 13.A Dark Mild
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons estimated, 3.25 gallons actual
  • Original Gravity: 1.038 SG estimated, 1.039 SG actual
  • Final Gravity: 1.010 SG
  • SRM: 18.2
  • ABV: 3.6%
  • BU/GU Ratio: 0.45
The mash schedule:
  • Mash in at 104F for 10 minutes
  • Mash at 154F for 60 minutes
  • Mash out at 168F for 10 minutes
  • Sparge at 168F for 10 minutes
The boil schedule:
  • 90 minutes: No additions
  • 60 minutes: East Kent Goldings hops
  • 15 minutes: Super Irish Moss
  • 10 minutes: Yeast Nutrient and Brewtan B
  • 0 minutes: Chill to 64F
The fermentation plan is to allow the beer to free-ferment in a cool corner of the basement.

Post-Brew Notes and Observations

02/02/2019: The brew went well, without any mishaps or problems. The wort came out one SG point above the estimate. Volume came out a big above the estimate, implying a greater efficiency than I've been estimating previously. Wort temperature in the fermenter registered 74F, so I chose not to pitch the yeast right away. I placed the fermenter in a colder (approx. 62F) section of the basement overnight to cool down.

02/03/2019: The beer is now registering a temperature of 62F. This is below the yeast's recommended fermentation range (which is 65-72F), but that should be just fine.

11:45am: I pitched a full package of Lallemand ESB yeast directly onto the 62F wort. At the time the yeast was pitched, the gravity registered 1.040 SG.

02/04/2019 9pm: Gravity has dropped from 1.040 SG to 1.014 SG today. 

02/05/2019 9:38pm: Gravity has dropped as low as 1.009 SG but currently reads 1.014 SG and the temperature registers as 63F. A sample extracted from the fermenter was very dry and grainy, so the beer may be at its final gravity.

02/12/2019:  Gravity is registering 1.015 SG now, at a temperature of 59F, which is the ambient temperature in that part of the basement right now. 

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Scottish 80 Shilling Ale 4.0

I have long been a fan of the more malt-forward styles of beer, and the Scottish 80 Shilling Ale (also known as the Scottish Export Ale) is no exception. The roasty and toasty, caramel, and dark fruit flavors of the malt combine with just enough hop bitterness to bring the beer to a perfect balance. The 80 Shilling is a stronger version of the Export Ale, meant to have enough alcohol to stand transatlantic voyages.

I've made three Scottish Ale versions before this. The first version fared poorly in competition, scoring an average of 27 out of 50. The second, to me, was much better. The judges disagreed, scoring it 25.5. The third never made it to competition, so I don't know how it would have scored. To me, it was the best of the three.

This, the fourth version, is actually a recipe from Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmer's book Brewing Classic Styles. The recipe in the book scales between a 60, 70, or 80 Shilling Ale. According to the authors, the difference between a 60, 70, and 80 Shilling ale is the amount of base malt. You only change the specialty malt percentages, they say, if you're increasing or decreasing the volume of beer. It makes sense to me, but it's the first I'd heard that.


4.75 pounds of Simpsons Golden Promise Malt
0.50 pounds of Crystal 40L Malt
0.25 pounds of Weyermann Munich I Malt
0.25 pounds of Honey Malt
2 ounces of Crystal 120L Malt
1.5 ounces of Pale Chocolate Malt
0.42 ounces of East Kent Goldings hops pellets @ 6.1% AA (60 min.)
1/4 tsp. Brewtan B in the Mash
1/4 tsp. Brewtan B in the Boil (15 min.)
1/8 tsp. Super Irish Moss (15 min.)
1/4 tsp. Yeast Nutrient
1 package Mangrove Jack's MI5 Empire Ale Yeast
2.5 gallons of Mash Water
2.0 gallons of Sparge Water

According to BeerSmith 3, the beer is expected to have the following characteristics:
  • BJCP Category: 14.C Scottish Export
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons (2.7 gallons actual)
  • Original Gravity: 1.053 SG estimated (1.055 actual)
  • Final Gravity: 1.012 SG estimated
  • Brew House Efficiency: 62% estimated (69% actual)
  • IBUs: 20.3
  • SRM: 15.5
  • ABV: 5.4% estimated
The Mash Schedule for the batch was:
  • Mash in at 120F with 2.5 gallons of water for 25 minutes
  • Mash at 157F for 60 minutes
  • Mash out at 168F for 10 minutes
  • Sparge with 2 gallons of 168F water for 10 minutes
The Boil Schedule was:
  • 90 minutes: No hop addition
  • 60 minutes: Add 0.42 ounces of East Kent Goldings
  • 15 minutes: Add yeast nutrient, Super Irish Moss, and Brewtan B
After the boil, the Brewie+ was told to chill the wort to 64F.

Post-Brew Notes and Observations

01/26/2019: The Brewie performed flawlessly on this one, with no errors or other issues. The wort chilled to 64F easily.  The wort volume as delivered into the fermenter was above 2.5 gallons and the gravity came in at 1.060 SG. I added distilled water to bring that back down to 1.055 SG, which resulted in a volume of just under 2.75 gallons. Clarity Ferm and the Mangrove Jack's yeast were added, then the temperature control system was set to keep the fermentation at 69F, which is roughly the middle of the range for the yeast.  

01/27/2019: Gravity has dropped from 1.055 SG to 1.025 SG over the past 24 hours. Temperature has held at 67F. That's approximately 53% attenuation.

01/28/2019: Gravity has dropped from 1.020 SG to 1.020 SG. This is 63.6% attenuation.

01/29/2019: Gravity is holding at 1.020 SG. This is well above the expected 1.012 SG. The 63.6% attenuation is well below the yeast's reported 70-75% rating. 

02/03/2019: A half-teaspoon of gelatin was bloomed, heated to 155F, and added to the beer. The mini-fridge was busy, so I moved the beer outside. Unfortunately, current outdoor temperatures are expected to range between 15F and 60F over the next week, so I don't know how much clarity I'm going to get out of it.

02/05/2019: The beer is currently registering 1.018 SG (6 points higher than the originally-estimated final gravity from BeerSmith) and 45F. Our current outside temperature is reported to be 40F, which is almost as low as it's expected to get overnight (the forecast calls for a low of 39F).

02/09/2019: The beer has been left in an insulated container outside with a heating element to keep it from freezing (but let it get as close as possible to ensure clarity). With our warm temperatures in Central Ohio this week, the beer has been in the mid-to-upper 40F range, but today has dropped down to 23F. I've got the temperature control system holding it close to this figure to allow the gelatin to do its thing before bottling. When I bring this fermenter in for bottling, I'll take out the Irish Red or Dark Mild to allow those to clarify as well.

02/12/2019: The beer is currently registering 1.018 SG (which it has for over a week now) and a temperature of 43F (though it's been as low as 25F since it went outside). The beer was bottled with four small carbonation tablets (medium carbonation). Yield was 27 twelve-ounce bottles. A taste of the beer from the final few ounces in the fermenter was very good. I'm looking forward to tasting the finished version with some carbonation.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

2019 German Pilsner 1.0

The only lager I've ever  brewed was a Ttopical Stout. Despite my best efforts with that one, it didn't do that well in competition. Judges noted yeasty notes they did not like, despite the beer never getting above the yeast's optimum temperature range. I suspect that was due to pitching only a single packet of dry lager yeast and not a large starter.

I decided to start 2019 by brewing another lager, a traditional German style Pilsner. This time I'll be pitching both a 1 liter starter and some dry yeast, plus plenty of yeast nutrient to ensure a healthy yeast population. I'll also be using a good quality temperature control system to ensure a consistent temperature,


10 pounds Swaen Pilsner Malt (the closest I had to German Pilsner)
1 pound Briess Pilsner Malt
4 ounces Cara-pils/Dextrine Malt
0.5 ounces Magnum hops @ 12.6% AA (60 min.)
0,5 ounces Hallertau hops @ 4.5% AA (10 min.)
1.0 ounces Hallertau hops @ 2.5% AA (4 min.)
1/2 tsp. Yeast Nutrient
1 packet White Labs Pilsner yeast raised in 1 Liter starter
2 packets Saflager S-23 dry yeast pitched onto wort directly
1/4 tsp. Gypsum
1 Tbsp. pH 5.2 Stabilizer
4.2 gallons mash water (3/4 gallon distilled plus tap water)
2.9 gallons sparge water
Approximately 1 gallon of distilled water after brewing.

According to BeerSmith, the beer should have the following qualities:

  • BJCP Style: 5.D German Pils
  • Batch Size: 5 gallons (actual was 5.3 gallons after dilution)
  • Original Gravity: 1.053 SG (est. and actual)
  • Pre-boil Gravity: 1.044 SG
  • Final Gravity: 1.011 SG
  • SRM: 4.7
  • ABV: 5.5%
  • BU/GU Ratio: 0.516
  • Brew House Efficiency: 60% est. (67.2% actual)
The goal here is to brew a German Style Pilsner "to style" rather than anything fancy or unusual.

Mash Schedule

This one has a fairly simple mash schedule. Since I wasn't sure how well modified the Swaen malt would be (that's not a criticism of them, just some question on my part), I decided to include a 120F rest to break down beta glucan and ensure good conversion.
  • Mash in at 120F for 25 minutes
  • Mash at 144F for 30 minutes
  • Mash at 158F for 30 minutes
  • Mash out at 168F for 5 minutes
  • Sparge with 168F water for 10 minutes
Boil Schedule

Pilsner malt is known for high levels of DMS, so I'm employing a 90-minute boil to ensure that all DMS is boiled off. There was definitely a cooked corn smell during the early part of the boil.  Magnum hops will provide clean bittering, with Hallertau in the flavor and aroma roles. 
  • 90 minutes: No hops added
  • 60 minutes: Magnum
  • 10 minutes: Hallertau, yeast nutrient
  • 4 minutes: Hallertau
Post-boil, the wort will be chilled to 70F and pumped into a sanitized fermenter. I'll use my temperature control system to further lower that to 53F overnight before pitching the yeast.

Fermentation Schedule

The yeasts being used in this batch prefer temperatures in the 48-55F range, with a good middle ground temperature being 53F. My fermentation plan, therefore, is this:
  • 1-5 weeks, until final gravity: 53F
  • 1-2 days: Diacetyl rest at room temperature
  • 4-8 weeks: Lager in mini fridge
After the lagering phase, we'll bottle with low to medium carbonation.

Post-Brew Notes and Observations

1/1/2019: The combination of mash and sparge water led to a brew kettle being nearly full. I actually added less than the amount I calculated that would have been needed to end up with five gallons. In the end, this left me with about 4.75 gallons of wort at a higher gravity (around 1.069 SG). I diluted this down to 1.053 SG and increased the volume to 5.3 gallons (20 Liters accord to fermenter markings). Adding the distilled water dropped the temperature down from 73F to 70F. I configured the temperature control system to drop the wort to 53F. I will pitch the yeast when the temp reaches that level.

Unfortunately, the Brewie computer system hung during the boil, during the last hour. I had to power the machine off and on, at which point it picked up from where it left off. I have no idea how this will affect the finished beer. 

The longer boil did appear to be necessary, as there was a definite aroma of cooked corn during the majority of the boil.

1/3/2019: The temperature of the beer is down to 54F, so I've added two packets of Saflager yeast and the starter made with WLP800, to ensure that there is plenty of yeast available for fermentation.

1/4/2019: Gravity registered at 1.055 SG at the time I added the yeast. It's now showing 1.053 SG, so I'm hopeful that fermentation is starting.

1/6/2019: Gravity has dropped to 1.050 SG. That's 9% attenuation in three days, a much slower start than most ales, but not uncommon for lagers.

1/7/2019: Gravity is now 1.042 SG. That's 23% attenuation and 1.80% ABV.

1/8/2019: Gravity is now 1.038 SG. That's 30% attenuation and 2.35% ABV.

1/9/2019: Gravity is down to 1.032 SG, 41% attenuation, 3.16% ABV.

1/10/2019: Gravity is down to 1.027 SG, 50% attenuation, 3.68% ABV.

1/11/2019: Gravity is down to 1.024 SG, 54% attenuation, 3.94% ABV.

1/14/2019: Gravity is now 1.016 SG, 70.9% attenuation, 5.27% ABV, and only 5 points away from the expected FG of 1.011.  I swirled the fermenter a bit this afternoon to help ensure that the yeast remain in suspension for a while.

1/17/2019: Gravity is down to 1.014, which is three points away from the expected final gravity. I turned off the temperature control so that the beer would get up to ambient basement temperature, which at this time of year is 63-66F, perfect for the diacetyl rest the beer needs now. As of this writing, the temperature has only increased to 55F.

1/20/2019: The beer has undergone a diacetyl rest for the last 2-3 days. I pulled a sample from the fermenter. It was pale and cloudy, but without any hint of diacetyl or other off flavors. I added a teaspoon of gelatin finings, then moved the fermenter outside into an insulated container with a temperature controller and heat wrap. The temperature controller is set to 30F based on a thermowell inside the fermenter. Outside temperatures are expected to range between 5F and 41F over the next 10 days, for the most part staying in the 20-30F range. The heat wrap and insulated jacket should keep the beer from freezing (though I'll have to monitor that) but should keep it nice and cold for the next few weeks without my having to use much refrigeration (and hopefully not much heating).

The fermenter inside the black insulated bag with temperature controller on top
1/21/2019: Overnight, the temperature of the beer dropped to 27F, which is a couple of degrees below its freezing point. I adjusted the temperature controller and brought it back up from there to 37F. I've been working out a good temperature to allow the beer to stay in the 29-36F range without dipping below that. So far, things are looking good.

10:20pm: Despite an outside temperature under 10F, the beer has remained at a good lagering temperature. As I write this, the outdoor temperature is 3F. The temperature probe in the fermenter's thermowell is reporting 34F, and the Tilt Hydrometer floating on top of the beer is reporting 37F.

1/26/2019: The beer has been outside for the last several days. According to the Tilt Hydrometer inside it, the temperature has varied between a low of 25F on January 21 and a high of 40F on January 24 (when outside temperatures were a bit warmer). I'm planning to take a sample of beer from the fermenter today to check the clarity. If it's nice and bright, I'll be bottling it. If not, it can lager for a while longer. According to, temperatures over the next 10 days will vary between a low of -4F and a high of 44F, but for the most part in the 30's.

2/4/2019: After several days in some very cold weather, the beer was still cloudy. The weather now is much warmer, too warm for lagering, so I brought the beer in and placed it in my mini-fridge to finish out its lagering phase. As of today, the temperature is registering 42F.

2/5/2019: The beer is currently registering at 38F from inside the mini-fridge. I don't expect it to get much lower than this in the days to come, but I plan to leave it in the fridge for at least two weeks before checking clarity again.

2/9/2019: The beer is registering 35F inside the mini-fridge and has held that temperature for about two days. I'm going to check the clarity at the end of the month and see where we are. The beer was very hazy when placed in the mini-fridge so I'm not expecting much at this point.

2/12/2019: The beer continues to read 35F in the mini-fridge and the gravity has been holding steadily at 1.011 SG.

2018 - The Year in Beer

Last year, I took the time at the start of the year to review my homebrewing experiences for the prior year and reflect on what I'd like to accomplish in 2018.

What Did I Accomplish in 2018?

I brewed almost 50 batches of beer in 2017 (48 to be precise). That's up from 36 batches in 2017, 17 batches in 2016, and 15 batches in 2015. That's well above the supposed average of 8.3 batches per year of the hypothetical "average" homebrewer according to the AHA.

I brewed approximately 25 different BJCP styles during the year, including the Tropical Stout, Belgian Single/Dubbel/Tripel/Quad, Saison, Pale Ale, IPA, Scottish 80 Shilling, ESB, Blonde Ale, Australian Sparkling, Irish Red, Cream Ale, English Brown, Dark Mild, Pumpkin Ale, and others.

I entered three competitions: Rhinegeist, the Ohio State Fair, and Barley's Ale House. I didn't place at Rhinegeist. At the State Fair, I took home a fourth place ribbon for a Belgian Tripel. At Barley's Ale House, I won the entire competition.

Late in 2018, I joined the Scioto Olentangy Darby Zymurgists (SODZ) home brewing association and continued my membership in the American Homebrewing Association.

I brewed beer using three different setups during the year: the PicoBrew Zymatic, the Brewie+, and a system I've used before, an induction cooktop and steel kettle.  My Grainfather setup did not see any use in 2018.

Last year, I said that I hoped to accomplish the following in 2018:
  • Tune my BeerSmith settings to scale between Zymatic, Grainfather, and other systems more easily. While I did get better at this, I found the Zymatic nearly impossible to predict. It seemed that no matter what I did, it rarely came close to the gravity and volume I calculated.
  • Continue to fine-tune the wort correction factor for my refractometer. As it turns out, the factor I had was fairly accurate. When comparing wort using a glass hydrometer or the electronic Tilt Hydrometer, I was fairly accurate with the factor I was using.
  • Set up a permanent home for the Zymatic in the basement. I achieved this, but also "semi-retired" the Zymatic in November when I received the Brewie+.
  • Get rid of older accumulated brewing grains.  I found a home for some of these, and have not had to throw much out this year. 
  • Use the Zymatic to produce a number of self-teaching beers to learn the differences between different specialty grains, yeast strains, etc.  I did not make any real progress toward this goal.
  • Nail down my "house" recipe for the following styles:
    • Belgian Single - I only made one of these during 2018 and I didn't care for it.
    • Belgian Tripel - I've got two recipes that are approaching this goal.
    • Gulden Draak Clone - Although I've tried a few times on this, I've yet to come anywhere in the ballpark... though one attempt produced a really nice Dark Strong Ale.
    • ESB - I made three variations on this in 2018. Each one got me a bit closer to my goal, but I still can't say I have my "definitive" recipe yet.
    • Cascade Pale Ale - I "detoured" from this to try to produce a clone of Manny's Pale Ale, so I'm no closer to having this recipe done.
    • Trappistes Rochefort 10 Clone - The recipe which won for me at Barley's was one of my attempts to clone this beer. While I feel like I got a good beer, it's not by any means the equal of the true Rochefort 10 beer.
  • Accumulate notes and ideas for a book on brewing. I've yet to feel like I've got something worthwhile to write and share yet. Maybe in 2019.

I managed to accomplish the first four of these goals. I made some progress on the other three, but can't claim to have really accomplished them.

What Did I Learn in 2018?

Some of the highlights among the things I learned this year:
  • In the past I've bottled some beers before they were finished fermenting. This led to some of these brews foaming over when opened weeks or months later. Since then, I've been using the Tilt Hydrometer to better gauge when fermentation has finished. This has not totally eliminated the problem, but has reduced it considerably.
  • I've been able to create several of my own recipes "from the ground" up and turn out a good beer. Some of those have gone on to place in their categories in competition. I don't believe I've really mastered the art of recipe creation, though.
  • Often, a beer that I really like doesn't do as well in competition. I don't know if that's because I'm "over-scoring" myself when I review my beers or because the judges are looking for things (or finding flaws) that I can't detect.
  • Despite what you might hear in forums online or at your local homebrew club, it is possible to win competitions with beers brewed in automated systems like the PicoBrew Zymatic. In fact, one of the first two beers I brewed in that system is the Tripel that took fourth place at the fair.
  • Making a good Christmas Ale or Pumpkin Ale with your own recipe is harder than it seems. I made both this year and neither was especially good to me, though others seemed to like them.
  • Probably my second-proudest accomplishment (apart from winning at Barley's this year) was learning how to brew a beer that exceeded 20.5% alcohol by volume. The experience inspired me to try brewing a 16% English Old Ale a few weeks later.
  • I also learned to extend the life of a package of liquid yeast by making a starter, splitting it between a batch of beer and a "jar for later use". I got 3-4 batches from a single yeast package toward the end of the year with no negative impact on the beer (that I can see).

Those are the top-of-mind things I learned this year.

Did I Improve This Year?

It's difficult to answer this objectively.

On the one hand, I went from third place at Barley's last year to first place this year. That would appear to be improvement over 2017.  

On the other hand, although I went from having no Trappist Ales place at the Ohio State Fair last year to having one make fourth place this year, last year I took home two silver medals at the fair (versus a fourth-place ribbon). You could argue that this was a step backward. On the other hand, I'd placed two Trappist ales into the fair in the hopes of placing in that category "period"... so in that sense I did better than in 2017.

What Did I Contribute to the Hobby?

I've shared the things I've learned over the past year in this blog, which is available to any home brewer who has an interest in reading it. 

I've also helped fellow home brewers at work and elsewhere, who had questions or problems with their beers. 

What's Next?

For 2019, here are the things I hope to accomplish:
  • Attend most of the meetings of the SODZ group, with allowances for the fact that in 2019 I've got a wedding (my step-son's) to attend, a graduation party (my nephew's), a different graduation party (my step-son's and his fiancee's), and other events to attend which may take me out of town when the SODZ meetings happen.
  • Brew an IPA for my step-son's wedding, to share with guests.  This assumes we're able to get a recipe that works for my step-son and his fiancee before the end of March.
  • Get at least one medal at the Ohio State Fair's Homebrewing Competition.  I don't care which style or even whether it's a gold/silver/bronze.
  • Compete in at least two homebrew competitions.  This can include the fair, Barley's, Rhinegeist, or others.
  • Brew at least three lager style beers. Probably a Pilsner, a Doppelbock, and a Malt Liquor recipe I've been mulling over.
  • Brew my Belgian Dark Strong Ale at Barley's.  This is sort-of a given, unless you look at al the events going on this year that fall during the April to June timeframe when the Barley's competition takes place.
  • Nail down my "house recipes" for the following styles:
    • Trappist Dubbel
    • Trappist Tripel
    • ESB
    • Doppelbock
  • Brew at least 10 styles of beer I've never brewed before.  I've managed something like 35 of the approximately 118 recognized BJCP styles. I'd like to increase that number in 2019.
  • Brew at least one beer at 16% ABV or higher that (to me at least) tastes good.

I'll be back in about a year (hopefully) to tell you how all this turned out.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Experimental Dubbel 1.0

The finished beer - look at the carbonation!
A few months ago, I placed an online order for two batches of grain. One was for an English Dark Mild Ale, the other for a Bohemian Pilsner. As it turned out, I screwed up the order and ended up with a bag of mixed German and Belgian grains. After pondering what to do about this, I decided to try turning the mix into a Trappist Dubbel. The color and malt combination wasn't too far off.

I added Munich malt to sweeten it a bit, Special B to add raisin/prune/plum flavors, plus Melany (Melanoidin) and Cara-Pils for head retention. Since I had some dark candi sugar rocks I wanted to use up, I included those. I also included some chopped golden raisins and prunes to (I hoped) help punch up the dark fruit flavor - something that's been sorely lacking in my previous Dubbels.

I'm not sure this will be a true Dubbel in terms of its specifications, but I'm hopeful it will still turn out to be a tasty brew.


4.75 pounds German Pilsen Malt
2 pounds Weyermann Munich I Malt
4 ounces Special B Malt
4 ounces Swaen Melany Malt
4 ounces Dark Candi Sugar Rocks
2 ounces Pale Chocolate Malt
2 ounces Cara-Pils/Dextrine Malt
1 ounce Carafa III Special Malt
0.25 ounces Whitbread Golding Variety (WGV) 7.1% AA hops pellets (60 min.)
0.25 ounces US Saaz 5.4% AA hops pellets (15 min.)
4 ounces chopped Golden Raisins (10 min.)
6 seedless prunes, chopped into thin slices (10 min.)
0.25 tsp. Yeast Nutrient
1/2 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm (for gluten reduction)
1 packet Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity (or equivalent)
2.9 gallons mash water
2.1 gallons sparge water

Why Whitbread Golding Variety (WGV) hops?  I happened to have them on-hand and my Styrian Goldings hops were very low alpha (1.3% if you can believe that).

Why US Saaz hops and not Czech Saaz? When I opened my Czech Saaz hops package, I couldn't get past the fact that the aroma reminded me of cheese or soap, meaning they had gone bad. I tossed them and opened a fresh package of US Saaz I'd bought more recently. Those smelled fine.

Why Wyeast 3787 and not another yeast?  Honestly, I happened to have a batch of the yeast leftover from a previous starter and knew it could make a good Belgian style ale. I split half of what I had (eyeballing it) into a fresh starter to grow more, and retained half to pitch into this wort. If the wort doesn't take off, I've got a starter I can use to try again.

According to BeerSmith, the finished beer is expected to have the following qualities:
  • BJCP Style: 26.B Trappist Dubbel
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons (actual was between 2.25 and 2.5 gallons, topped off with steam-distilled water to reach a little over 2.5 gallons)
  • Original Gravity: 1.070 SG (1.074 SG before dilution, 1.070 after dilution)
  • Pre-boil Gravity: 1.055 SG (1.055 actual)
  • Final Gravity: 1.015 SG
  • IBUs: 23 (22.3 actual, estimated)
  • ABV: 7.7%
  • BU/GU Ratio: 0.32
  • Brewhouse Efficiency: 60.5%
  • SRM: 31.4 (see below)
If you've looked at the BJCP style guidelines, they'll tell you a Dubbel should not exceed 17 SRM. Most of my favorite (genuine Belgian) Dubbels have been much darker than 17 SRM. It's my belief that the BJCP guidelines are far too restrictive in terms of color for this style, so I'm choosing to ignore them.  A few genuine Belgian Dubbels are very dark brown, with a reddish hue to them. I'm aiming for a color somewhere between those very dark examples and the BJCP guidelines, as I'm hoping this will achieve the flavor I'm looking for. When I've tried brewing to the lighter color in the BJCP guidelines in the past, the beers always come out more like a bland, mild brown ale than a solid Dubbel. One of my favorite Dubbels is about 32 SRM, so this one is coming in a hair lighter at 31.4.

Mash Schedule

The following mash schedule was configured in the Brewie:
  • Mash in at 113F for 10 minutes (Ferulic Acid rest, to aid yeast in producing flavor/aroma)
  • Mash at 120F for 25 minutes (Protein and Beta Glucan rest, to ensure good clarity and conversion of the grain)
  • Mash at 157F for 60 minutes (aiming for body and residual sugar)
  • Mash out at 168F for 10 minutes, then sparge for 10 minutes with 168F water
The pH 5.2 Stabilizer and a half-teaspoon of Brewtan B were added into the grain bag at mash time.

Boil Schedule

Since the mash contains a fair amount of European Pilsner malt, I decided to boil slightly longer than usual to drive off any DMS we might get from that malt. The boil schedule was therefore:
  • 75 minutes: No hops
  • 60 minutes: Whitbread Golding Variety (WGV) hops
  • ~15 minutes: Candi Sugar, Raisins, Prunes, and Yeast Nutrient (manual additions)
  • 10 minutes: Saaz hops
  • 0 minutes: Chill
The Brewie was configured to automatically chill the wort to 68F after the boil was complete. (In practice, it came in around somewhere around 74F in the fermenter.

Fermentation Schedule

Having used Wyeast 3787 a lot lately, I'm very familiar with its need for a blow-off tube, so I'm starting on the assumption it's needed here as well.

My plan will be to ferment the beer in the middle of the yeast's optimum range (64-78F), then once fermentation starts to slow down significantly, I'll raise the temperature up to the top of the yeast's range to maximize its flavor and aroma contributions - as well as helping it reach final gravity.

I'll treat the beer with Gelatin Finings and cold-crash it for a few days before bottling.

Post-Brew Notes and Observations

12/31/2018 1:30am: The beer came in closer to 2.5 gallons in volume than any previous batch. I'd have to say it was in the vicinity of 2.4 gallons. Gravity originally read as 1.074 SG using the Tilt Hydrometer. I diluted the wort to 2.5 gallons, at which point the gravity read somewhere in the 1.072-1.073 range. With a bit more water, I got it to hit my 1.070 SG target and come in a little over 2.5 gallons in volume. I need to tweak my spreadsheet a bit more, probably adding another tenth of a gallon or so. Then again, I did run most of the boil on this batch with the Brewie's lid open to encourage boil-off, as it looked like I might have had too much wort after the sparge. It's possible the calculations are on-target now.

Into the wort, I pitched about half of my reserved Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity yeast from a previous 1L starter (used for the Barrel Aged La Trappe Quad Clone earlier). The other half was pitched into a new starter wort to grow into more yeast for future use. If this beer doesn't start showing signs of fermentation in about 18 hours, I'll pull some of that starter to "perk things up" in the fermentation.

The beer was 73F at the time I pitched the yeast slurry into it, which is just above the midpoint of the yeast's optimum range (71F is the approximate midpoint). With the ambient basement temperature this time of year in the 63-65F range and a stainless fermenter being used, I'm expecting the temperature to decline quite a bit before the yeast really kicks into high gear in 12-24 hours. If that proves to be wrong, I'll use my temperature control setup to cool things down as needed.

1/3/2019: The gravity now reads 1.024 SG, which makes the beer 6.4% ABV, right in range for a Belgian Dubbel. If it holds at this gravity for another day or two, it will be ready to bottle.

1/4/2019: Gravity is down to 1.022 SG today. which represents an ABV of 6.7%.

1/6/2019: Gravity is down to 1.021 SG today, which represents 69% attenuation and an ABV of 6.8%. I decided to go ahead and bottle it. A taste test at bottling showed a nearly cloying sweetness and a rather interesting flavor. We'll see where things are in a week or so.

1/12/2019: I opened a bottle of the beer tonight (photo at top of post). It was so carbonated that it pretty much foamed over the top before I poured it. It pours a nearly opaque reddish brown with huge head that lasts quite a while (thanks to the Cara-Pils and Melanoidin). Aroma is noble hops and malt. The flavor is intense and complex, far more than I expected. It starts intensely malty and sweet, maybe even a bit too sweet. Right behind the malt, we get the prune and raisin, and a nice hit of dark chocolate, with a touch of roasty malt slipping in. It's good, but next time I'd let it ferment out more before bottling so that it would dry out some and not be quite so carbonated. I would also dial back the Munich, maybe by half.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Amped-Up Old Ale 1.0

Having seen the success of my high-gravity ale experiment, I decided to take the process to another level. This time around, the goal is to produce a relatively authentic British Old Ale in terms of its grist, but dial the alcohol content up considerably. The goal here is a 16% ABV and retention of the basic flavors of an Old Ale.


6.6 pounds Maris Otter Liquid Malt Extract
4.0 pounds Briess 2-row Pale Ale Malt
1 ounce Black Patent Malt
1 ounce Extra Special Malt
1.5 ounces English Medium Crystal Malt
8 ounces Treacle
0.72 ounces Magnum hops @ 12.3% AA (60 min.)
1/2 tsp. Yeast Nutrient
1/2 tsp. Irish Moss
1/2 tsp. Brewtan B in the mash water
1/2 tsp. Brewtan B in the boil
1/2 (approx.) of a 1-liter starter of White Labs WLP099 Super High Gravity Yeast
1 Tbsp. pH 5.2 Stabilizer
1.9 gallons mash water
1.9 gallons sparge water

According to BeerSmith, the beer should have the following qualities:
  • BJCP 2015 Style: 17.B Old Ale
  • Original Gravity: 1.135 SG estimated (actual was 1.135 SG)
  • Pre-Boil Gravity: 1.108 SG
  • Final Gravity: 1.018 SG (actual 1.023 SG)
  • IBUs: 40
  • Color: 22.3 SRM
  • ABV: 16.0% (actual 17.2%)
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons (actual was approximately 2.38 gallons)
  • Brewhouse Efficiency: 60% (actual is estimated to be 49.4%)
  • BU/GU Ratio: 0.294
I'm well aware that an ABV over 9% puts this beer way outside the upper end of the Old Ale qualities in the BJCP criteria. My goal wasn't to produce a beer for competition but to try to produce a very high gravity version of an Old Ale for personal enjoyment and learning.

Mash Schedule

The Brewie+ was configured to provide 1.9 gallons of water for mashing and 1.9 for sparging. Half the malt extract was dissolved in the mash water, and half in the sparge water while the water heated. The treacle was also dissolved into the mash water for simplicity's sake. From there, the mash schedule was:
  • Mash in at 120F for 20 minutes
  • Mash at 150F for 60 minutes
  • Mash out at 168F for 10 minutes
  • Sparge at 168F for 10 minutes
The boil would begin immediately following the sparge.

Boil Schedule

A 60-minute boil was scheduled, as described below:
  • 60 minutes: Add Magnum hops
  • 15 minutes: Add yeast nutrient, Irish Moss, and Brewtan B
After the boil, the Brewie was instructed to chill the wort to 68F before pumping it into the fermenter.

Fermentation Schedule

Based on my past experience with the 20% experimental beer, I planned to follow a similar schedule with this beer. That means holding the beer at 65F until it's finished or seems to be stalled, then increasing to 69F until it finishes out.

Post-Brew Notes and Observations

12/28/2018: I decided to raise a nice starter of WLP099 before pitching into the beer. After brewing, it registered 1.135 SG (exactly on target) but the volume came in a bit below the intended 2.5 gallons. Since the gravity target was hit, I decided not to dilute the beer but to leave it as-is for fermentation. Although the yeast starter (begun around the same time as the beer) already shows activity, I'm not willing to pitch it into the wort yet. I'll do that in the morning when the wort has cooled down from its current 73F to something in the yeast's 65-69F range.

12/29/2018 11am: Added half the yeast slurry from the starter into the beer. I was in a bit of a hurry at the time and did not let the yeast settle out.  This was a mistake, as it dropped the gravity from 1.136 down to 1.113. That will knock the ABV down to perhaps 12.9%. I'll probably make that up with some honey when the gravity has dropped far enough.

12/30/2018: Added some yeast nutrient and glucoamylase to the beer to help encourage the yeast to finish out the beer. For a while, and as I've seen in other big beers, gravity showed a big increase on the Tilt Hydrometer for a while, then started to drop back down. For a time, it went from 1.095 up to 1.109 and began going back down. It's currently reading 1.100.

(Between 12/30/2018 and 1/3/2019 I added a quarter teaspoon of yeast nutrient and some glucoamylase enzyme to keep fermentation going, also periodically rocking or swirling the fermenter to keep the yeast in suspension and active.)

1/3/2019: The gravity has since dropped to 1.039 SG (around 65% attenuated from the original 1.113 SG). I added enough honey to raise the gravity back up to 1.061 SG, adding approximately 22 SG points' worth (about 1.3 pounds). This makes the original gravity "effectively" 1.135 SG (my intended original gravity) for the purpose of calculating ABV after fermentation. In addition to the honey, I also added 30 seconds of pure oxygen and some yeast nutrient, stirring the wort hard to mix in the new sugar. The temperature has been increased to 67F to help encourage the yeast to finish up. There was a nice thick krausen on the wort when I sealed the fermenter back up, so I'm hopeful it will finish up fine. If it hits the estimated 1.018 SG final gravity, I'll have the 16% ABV beer I was aiming for.

1/4/2019: The gravity has dropped from 1.061 SG yesterday to 1.052 SG today. That works out to a current ABV of 13.07% on the Brewer's Friend ABV calculator, with the alternate formula.

1/5/2019: Gravity is now showing as 1.046 SG. I've added yeast nutrient and some glucoamylase enzyme, then swirled the fermenter to rouse the yeast. The blow-off tube is still "burping" regularly so the yeast are still happy and healthy. ABV now calculates as 13.94%. I raised the temp up to 68F to help keep the yeast going.

1/6/2019: Gravity has dropped to 1.043 SG today. That's 66% attenuation and 14.51% ABV. The temperature is holding at 68F. I learned with my previous high gravity batch that adding a second yeast strain late in fermentation helped the beer finish fermenting. Today I rehydrated some Montrachet wine yeast, added yeast nutrient to that, and added it to the fermenter.

1/8/2019: Gravity has dropped to 1.036 SG today. That's 71% attenuation and 15.36% ABV. I added some yeast nutrient dissolved in a tiny amount of distilled water and swirled the fermenter to keep the yeast suspended in the beer until (hopefully) the final gravity of 1.018 SG is reached. 

1/9/2019: Gravity is now 1.032 SG, which is 15.91% ABV (just shy of my original goal of 16%) and represents an attenuation of 74%. The beer is now 14 SG points short of the expected final gravity. If it reaches that, we'll have 17.83% ABV. If it reaches 1.022 SG and still seems to be fermenting, I may bottle it to see if it will finish out and naturally carbonate in the bottle.

1/10/2019: Gravity is now 1.029 SG, which is 16.33% ABV and 77% attenuation.

1/11/2019: Gravity is now 1.027 SG, which is 16.6% ABV and 78% attenuation.

1/12/2019: Gravity is now 1.026 SG, which is 16.74% ABV and 80% attenuation. According to White Labs, WLP099 can attenuate 80-100%, so the yeast is likely to start slowing down soon. Attenuation isn't available for the Montrachet yeast, so it's hard to know how it might affect attenuation. I do have some concern that Montrachet is known to produce a lot of sulfur (something I didn't know when I pitched it). Hopefully this will dissipate and not end up in the bottle.

1/14/2019: Gravity is down to 1.024 SG, which is 17.02% ABV and 81% attenuation. This is only 6 points from the expected final gravity of 1.018.

1/17/2019: The gravity was down to 1.023 SG (17.15% ABV). I swirled the beer around this morning to help keep the yeast in suspension. The blow-off container had begun to grow mold, so I emptied that and replaced it with a clean container.

1/26/2019:  The beer was transferred into a sanitized 2.5 gallon corny keg and pressurized to 15 psi. The keg was moved and rolled around until the bubbling sounds stopped. It's now in the mini-fridge where the temperature should reach approximately 36F and the pressure was reduced to 10 psi. This should get me a carbonation level around 2.3 to 2.5 volumes of CO2 in about a week. At that point I'll see about bottling it for long-term storage. A sample of the beer from the last part of it in the fermenter after the transfer to the keg had an aroma that reminded me of Acai juice, which also seemed to come through in the flavor, along with the dark malt and treacle. It had a nice complexity to it, and I'm looking forward to seeing what it's like carbonated (and with 6-12 months of aging).

2/2/2019: The beer spent a week absorbing CO2 in the keg. Today, I attached a tap to the keg and dispensed a sample of the beer. It had a nice low-to-medium level of carbonation. I then used a growler filler to transfer the now-carbonated brew into 23 twelve-ounce bottles and 1 16-ounce bottle. Each bottle was immediately capped as it was filled to help preserve the carbonation. I plan to allow these to age for several months before serving.

2/3/2019: I poured a bottle tonight to take the picture at the top of this post. The aroma is fruity and boozy, with a wine-like note to it - most likely from the White Labs WLP099 yeast (which White Labs says will generate a vinous note above 16% ABV). The flavor is malty, reminiscent of a white wine, with a balancing amount of hops bitterness. The finish mixes malt, treacle, and wine in a way that resembles a mixed drink to me.  The carbonation isn't as obvious or good as it seemed before I bottled it, so I'm wondering if I should have used a second CO2 cartridge on it... something to consider for next time I brew one of these bigger beers.