Friday, January 17, 2020

Mandarina Munich SMaSH 1.0

Last weekend, I brewed a SMaSH beer using only Viking Pale Ale Malt, Mandarina Bavaria hops pellets, and Safale US-05 yeast.  As part of my ongoing effort to learn what the various base malts contribute to the flavor of a beer, I'm making this one with Munich Malt.  The main challenge this time is that I'm using 5 pounds of malt instead of the 4 I used last time.  To get the gravity close to the last two batches, I'm bumping the volume up from 2.5 to 3 gallons.

Ingredients

5 pounds Avangard Munich Malt (Munich Avangard - Malz Premium 6L)
1.5 tsp. pH 5.2 Stabilizer
0.25 tsp. Brewtan B (20 min. boil)
1/4 Whirlfloc tablet
3 gallons of mash water
1.75 gallons of sparge water
1 packet Safale US-05 yeast

Brewfather estimates the beer will have the following qualities:
  • Batch size: 3 gallons (estimated and actual)
  • Original Gravity:  1.049 SG estimated (1.055 actual)
  • Pre-Boil Gravity:  1.042 SG estimated (1.039 actual, at 4.25 gallons)
  • Final Gravity:  1.011 SG estimated
  • SRM:  6.2
  • ABV:  4.9%
  • IBUs:  23
  • BU/GU Ratio:  0.47 estimated (0.42 actual)
  • Mash pH:  5.25 (read 2-3 times during the mash)
Mash Schedule:
  • Mash in at 120F
  • Mash at 120F for 15 minutes
  • Mash at 140F for 15 minutes
  • Mash at 156F for 30 minutes
  • Mash out at 168F for 10 minutes
  • Sparge with water at 170F while heating to a boil
Boil Schedule:
  • My pre-boil volume was 4.25 gallons vs. the 3.14 expected, so I boiled it down to that amount before starting my 60-minute countdown.
  • 60 Minutes: No additions
  • 20 Minutes:  Brewtan B
  • 15 Minutes:  Mandarina Bavaria 0.5 ounces plus Whirlfloc
  • 5 minutes:  Mandarina Bavaria 0.7 ounces
  • Chill to 66F
Fermentation Plan:
  • Ferment at ambient temps until finished
Post-Brew Notes and Observations

01/16/2020:  It's become clear to me lately that I need to rework my mash and sparge water calculations.  Before I began using the PicoBrew Zymatic and the Brewie+, my brews with The Grainfather were generally spot-on.  I was rarely more than a few gravity points off the estimated OG with BeerSmith and rarely had to boil longer or add water when I had the beer in the fermenter.  The last two brews have been wildly off.

The Viking Pale Ale SMaSH beer I did last weekend came up about a quart short in the fermenter, but hit my gravity target so I let that go.

This beer had a pre-boil volume of about 4.25 gallons, so I ended up boiling an extra 40 minutes or so to hit the planned pre-boil volume of 3.76 gallons.  Then, after the customary (additional) one-hour boil, I wound up about a half gallon short in the fermenter with a gravity many points higher than intended.  To dial that in a bit, I added distilled water to the fermenter up to the 3-gallon mark, which dropped gravity down to 1.055 SG (which was still six points higher than the 1.049 SG I'd estimated).

Apart from that, the brew went fine. Mash pH stayed in the 5.2-5.4 range throughout the 120F and 140F stages (I didn't measure after that).

Brew House Efficiency on this batch was a bit of a shocker, though. With The Grainfather in the past, I'd achieved a pretty consistent efficiency of 78-83%.  That would be lower on high-gravity beers with a large grain bill, but it was consistent enough that I adjusted my recipes for 80% efficiency and nearly always hit my targets.  The calculator built into Brewfather and the calculator at Brewer's Friend both say that this beer went well past that historic figure.  Brewfather reports my brewhouse efficiency for the batch at 89.12%.  Brewer's Friend calculated 89.19%.  If you think that's wrong, consider that 5 pounds of grain yielded 3 gallons of wort at a gravity of 1.055 SG.

The wort had a nice aroma to it, reminding me of sugar cookies or maybe snickerdoodles baking in the oven.  The color was a mahogany brown and the wort looked extremely clear in the kettle.

I pitched the entire packet of dry US-05 onto the wort after topping up with distilled water.  After I had finished cleaning everything, I swirled the fermenter to help get the yeast fully into suspension.  Basement temps this time of year are pretty low, so I decided not to bother with temperature control on this batch. US-05's optimal temperature range is 59-75F.  My basement's ambient temp ranges between 62F and 65F, which is toward the lower end of that range, so I can't see the beer going over 75F during fermentation.  If it gets a bit warm, I may wrap a wet towel around the fermenter (which is stainless so it should pull the heat out well).

01/17/2020 12:33pm:  There are signs of fermentation.  The gravity is down to 1.053 SG this morning, per the Tilt, and temperature is reading 64.9F.  The temp has remained consistent since yeast pitch around 9:30pm last night. 

01/20/2020 1:25am:  The gravity has dropped to 1.029.  Temperature peaked at 68F and is currently down to 66F.  I may need to heat the fermenter up a bit to get the gravity down to something closer to the expected 1.011 SG final gravity.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Viking Pale Ale Malt SMaSH 1.1

Late in 2019, I tried to brew a SMaSH beer using Viking Pale Ale malt and a sous vide setup.  The beer ended with the appearance of having kettle soured or getting infected, so I dumped it without attempting to bottle it.

I recently made some modifications to my Grainfather's wort chiller and recirculating pipe connections in the hope that this would make those connections easier to use and more reliable.  Today was my first attempt to test those out.

The goal of this brew session was twofold. First, I wanted to test the modifications to The Grainfather using a simple recipe with ingredients I had on hand in quantity, so that if something went hideously wrong I would only be losing a few bucks' worth of ingredients.  Second, I wanted to see how Viking Pale Ale Malt tasted when brewed by itself.

Ingredients

4 pounds Viking Pale Ale Malt
0.5 tsp. pH 5.2 Stabilizer (mash)
1 capful Phosphoric Acid 10% solution (mash)
0.50 ounces Mandarina Bavaria hops pellets @ 9.6% AA (15 min.)
0.70 ounces Mandarina Bavaria hops pellets @ 9.6% AA (5 min.)
1/8 tsp. Brewtan B (mash)
1/4 tsp. Brewtan B (boil - 20 min.)
1/4 tablet Whirlfloc
1 packet Safale US-05 yeast

2.5 gallons mash water (tap, filtered through whole-house carbon and Brita filters)
  • Note: I recommend using 2.75 gallons next time

1.25 gallons sparge water (filtered the same as the mash water)
  • Note:  I ended up actually using 1.0 gallons, but probably should have used 1.25 since my fermenter volume came up a little low (around 2.3 gallons)
According to the Brewfather app, the beer should have the following qualities:
  • Original Gravity: 1.046 SG estimated (1.045 SG actual)
  • Pre-boil Gravity:  1.038 SG estimated (1.039 SG actual)
  • Final Gravity: 1.009 SG estimated
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons
  • SRM: 4.3
  • IBUs:  29
  • ABV: 4.9% estimated
  • Brewhouse Efficiency: 77.5%
  • Fermenter:  Spock
  • Bottling Wand: n/a

Mash Schedule:
  • 15 minutes mash in at 120F (Beta Glucan rest)
  • 15 minutes mash at 140F (Alpha Amylase rest)
  • 30 minutes mash at 156F (Beta Amylase rest)
  • 15 minutes mash out at 168F and sparge

Boil Schedule:
  • 60 minutes:  No additions
  • 20 minutes:  Brewtan B
  • 15 minutes:  Mandarina Bavaria (0.5 oz.) and Whirlfloc
  • 5 minutes: Mandarina Bavaria (0.7 oz.)
  • 0 minutes:  Chill to 62F and transfer to fermenter
Fermentation Plan:
  • Days 1-7:  Ferment at ambient temperatures (64-69F)
  • Continue until the gravity holds for four straight days, per Tilt Hydrometer
Post-Brew Notes and Observations


01/12/2020:  I can't say the brew went flawlessly, but it was actually pretty close to textbook.  The only minor hiccup was that I didn't have quite enough mash water, so I shifted a quart from the sparge container to the mash tun and all was well.

The modifications to The Grainfather's recirculation pipe allow for considerably more wort flow than before.  The change to the counterflow chiller's input dripped once from the cooling water side, but that's all.  There appeared to be maybe a few drips from the recirculation pipe, but those could have been a spill changing from recirculation to chiller.

Checking the mash water pH during the first 30 minutes or so proved useful.  The mash was running about 5.7 pH at the start.  I added a capful of 10% Phosphoric Acid, which dropped that down to around 5.25-5.35 pH.  A half-teaspoon of pH 5.2 Stabilizer seemed to keep it close to 5.2 for remainder of the mash.

The Ohio winter weather meant that our tap water temps are pretty low. Coming straight out of the counterflow chiller, my wort was reading 62F... plenty cold enough for Safale US-05.  I pitched the yeast without hydrating it while cleaning everything up, then shook the fermenter to ensure that it all got mixed in and hydrated.

Gravity readings pre-boil and in the fermenter were within a point of the Brewfather calculated amounts so I wasn't upset about that at all.

01/14/2020:  Gravity dropped to 1.040 SG around midnight on 1/13.  As I'm writing this, it's about 11pm on 1/14.  Gravity is reading 1.019 SG and the temperature control system has been holding the temperature at 65F.  I'm expecting to hit a final gravity of around 1.009 SG, so we've fermented off around two-thirds of the sugar between the OG and the estimated FG.

01/15/2020:  Gravity is down to 1.014 SG today, and the temp is continuing to hold at 65F.  That puts me within 5 points of the estimated final gravity.

01/20/2020:  Gravity is down to 1.013 SG today and has held there for the last 2-3 days. I think we may be at the final gravity figure.  I learned that when doing smaller batches, The Grainfather boils off more like 0.67 or 0.68 gallons per hour rather than the documented 0.4.  That explains why I ended up with a lower than expected volume on this recipe.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2019 - My Year in Home Brewing

I like to take some time each year to reflect on my brewing activities for the year, identifying what I've learned, what went especially well, what didn't, and what I'd like to accomplish in the year ahead.  That's what this post is all about.

2019 Brewing, in Numbers

In 2018, I made a whopping 48 batches of home brew.  That figure dropped to 27 batches in 2019.  The drop-off was caused by a number of different factors, including:
  • 2019 saw a number of major family events, including three graduations, a wedding, and others.  Not that I regret participating in those events, but that was time I might otherwise have spent brewing, so it affected the total number of batches.
  • My Brewie+ system failed part-way through the year.  The manufacturer folded shortly afterward, so repair services pretty much died with it.  A good friend spent hours with me trying to get it working, but in the end I could not even get it to power on anymore.  
  • Before the Brewie+ died, I discovered a bacterial infection in a piece of bottling equipment that ruined the majority of batches I had brewed and bottled in 2018 and 2019.  I spent a few weekends identifying and dumping all the infected batches.
  • By about October, I'd seen the death of my brewing system, the destruction of many batches brewed during the past year (including some really good ones), and experienced some (mostly) disappointing competition results.  This made me a bit depressed, to be quite honest, and led me to wonder if I should give up the hobby... as things seemed to have taken a rather extreme and negative dive.
There were only a few really bright spots in my home brewing activity this year:
  • In March, I got to brew my 2018 winning beer "Dark Abbey" at Barley's with brewmaster Angelo Signorino and his team.  That's without a doubt the current high point in my home brewing career - seeing one of my beers brewed on a large-scale professional system and working with one of the most skilled and experienced brewmasters in town.
  • Later in the year, my first attempt at a Dry Irish Stout took third place in the British Stouts category at the 2019 Ohio State Fair.  This was the only beer I made in 2019 that had any success in competition.
  • While my brewing system was down, and before I fell into the period of depression and disenchantment, I spent some time learning to brew mead.  I read about it, watched some videos on YouTube, and then made a few.  A couple of those batches were really good.
  • On a trip to Colorado for one of those graduations I mentioned earlier, I got to meet one of the brewmasters at Avery who is responsible for their barrel-aged beers.  We talked about ways to coax yeast to produce very high-gravity beers.  I learned that I'd been doing pretty much all the same things they had, and maybe one or two more.
In terms of styles brewed in 2019, here's what came out of my home brewery:
  • American Pale Ale: 3 batches
  • American IPA: 2 batches
  • Belgian Dark Strong: 1 (2 if you count the batch at Barley's)

  • Belgian Dubbel: 2 batches
  • Belgian Tripel
  • Christmas Ale
  • Cream Ale
  • Doppelbock
  • Dry Irish Stout (took third place at the state fair)
  • English Bitter
  • English Dark Mild: 2 batches
  • German Pilsner
  • Irish Red Ale: 3 batches
  • Malt Liquor 
  • Mead - Melomel: 2 batches
  • Mead - Elderflower
  • Mint Julep Ale
  • Scottish 80 Shilling
  • Smash Beers: 2 batches
If my math is correct, that's 19 unique styles in the 27 batches I brewed during 2019.  IPAs and Pale Ales dominated the list because I was trying to brew a beer to offer guests at my step-son's wedding, but I never got one I thought would be good enough.

Things I Learned in 2019


Because I brewed a lot fewer batches in 2019 than in 2018, I don't feel that I learned as much this year as in previous years.  Still, I did learn a few things:

  • High-Gravity Brewing:  I've made beers as high as 20% ABV, and meads around 19% ABV.  This has taught me about the resiliency of yeast and how to help coax yeast through brewing high-alcohol beers.  I'm hoping to build on this knowledge in 2020.
  • Kveik Yeast:  I got to brew a couple of batches of beer using Kveik yeast.  It was fascinating to see this yeast work well in what would be insane temperatures for most normal yeast, and yet Kveik yielded no fusels or harsh flavor/aroma elements.  I look forward to doing more with it in 2020 as well.
  • Simpler May Be Better:  I've had the good fortune to have been able to brew on the kitchen stove, using iMake's The Grainfather, PicoBrew's Zymatic, and the Brewie+.  Of all these, using the Brewie was hands-down the easiest and in many ways the most enjoyable.  But the failure of that machine and its manufacturer taught me that a simpler system like The Grainfather may be better.  It's more work to brew with it, for sure, but the small number of parts results in fewer points of failure and hopefully a more reliable brewing experience.
  • Documentation is Important, and The More the Better:  I learned early on that documenting your recipes, the brewing process, fermentation details, etc., can help you reproduce a good recipe and possibly understand where a batch went wrong.  However, my documentation stopped at the point when fermentation completed.  I didn't track which fermenter I used with each batch, which bottling wand, and which priming sugar method (or amount) I used.  When it became clear that I had a problem with infection, it took a lot of time, analysis, and research to figure out where that infection came from (in this case, a bottling wand).  I'll be doing a lot more, and a lot more detailed, documentation in 2020 and beyond.
  • Rotation and Replacement are Important:  The infection issue taught me something else.  Although I own a bunch of fermenters, I was only regularly using a couple.  The same with bottling wands. I felt that my cleaning and sanitizing processes were solid and foolproof, so it didn't really matter, right?  Wrong.  Using the same equipment across lots of batches made it hard to figure out where that infection came from.  Was it one fermenter or the other, one bottling wand or the other, had the wand infected the fermenter(s)?  If it had not been for some photos I took to document a few things in some of the batches, I might not have identified the infection and had to either toss a lot of equipment to experience future infections.  That $5 bottling wand ruined literally dozens of batches and hundreds of bottles of homebrew.  If I had rotated through two or three of them, or just made it a point to replace the wand every six months or so, I might have been able to save hundreds of dollars worth of homebrew.
  • Hoppy Beers are Tougher to Make Than I Realized: If you know me, or you've been reading this blog a while, you'll know that I'm not a big fan of pale ales and IPAs.  Hop-forward styles generally don't excite me the way they do most craft beer fans and home brewers.  Despite a lot of reading and research, I didn't think there was much to brewing those styles and getting a great result.  I was wrong.  Although I made quite a few in 2019, and they were well received by hop-headed family and friends, they seemed muted and and uninteresting to me when compared to many locally-brewed commercial examples.  This is something I'll get around to mastering someday, but part of the problem may be that my heart's just not into it.  I'd rather brew beers I like to drink, or have a strong desire to try.
  • You Can't Always Believe YouTube:  Don't get me wrong, I'm not naive enough to think everything you see on the Internet is real.  But I did watch a number of YouTube videos about mead-making that contained some incredibly bad advice.  I questioned it at the time, but these videos came from channels with a lot of videos and views, so I figured it was maybe a gap in my knowledge.  It wasn't.  Here's one specific example... One video claimed that the way to get residual sweetness in your mead was to identify the alcohol tolerance of the yeast strain and include enough honey to exceed that tolerance by a certain amount.  The yeast would ferment away what it could, burn itself out, and you'd be left with a dry, semi-sweet, or sweet mead depending on the amount of honey you "over added" to the must.  Maybe I'm just really good with yeast, or maybe manufacturers are conservative in reporting alcohol tolerance, but the yeasts I used all blew right past their documented tolerance limits and kept fermenting.  Instead of getting (for example) a sweet 16% ABV mead, I would end up with a very dry 19.8% mead from a yeast rated at 16%.  This led me to learn about stabilizing the yeast and back-sweetening, which is the better way to generate a sweet mead.
  • There are Limits to a Sous Vide Setup:  I've made one-gallon batches of beer using my sous vide cooker, an induction cooktop, and a kettle.  Those have turned out pretty well.  I wondered if you could get a 2-3 gallon batch of beer mashed using a sous video cooker.  The bottom line is that while it may be possible, it's probably more trouble than it's worth.  A sous vide cooker can't circulate water through a grain bed well enough to keep it at an even temperature.  You'll see temperatures vary as much as 10-15 degrees across the grain bed.  That's enough to cause souring and result in a very dry beer.  It's an experiment I don't plan to repeat.  It may be more work to use my Grainfather for a 2.5 gallon batch than to use the sous vide, but you can't get good results with the sous vide... at least not the way I was using it.
  • Mint is Hard to Brew With:  Barley's brewmaster Angelo Signorino told me, when I suggested that I was going to try to brew a Mint Julep Ale, that beer and mint just don't work.  I'd had a chocolate mint stout and even a Mint Julep Ale at now-defunct Fate Brewing in Boulder, Colorado.  Those were good beers with a nice minty element.  But my attempt at a Mint Julep Ale just did not deliver on the mint, despite my adding a lot of mint to it.  Interestingly, a recent mint stout from WeldWerks Brewing in Greeley, Colorado, had the identical muted mint element to it that my Mint Julep Ale did... so even the pros struggle with this.  However, I've had a couple of mint stouts with a bright mint flavor to them, so I know it's doable. I just don't know how yet.
  • I like the BrewFather App:  Initially, I liked Beer Tools Pro.  Then I decided to try BeerSmith, and I liked that a lot more.  Late in 2019, I started tinkering with Brewfather and I'm finding that I like it better, mostly because it's accessible wherever I am and it integrates well with my Tilt Hydrometer.
I'm sure I learned more in 2019, but those are the biggies that stick with me.

Goals for 2020 Learning

As for 2020, I have some goals for my brewing knowledge-gathering in 2020.  These are things I would like to have better mastery of in the coming year:
  • Base Malts:  Before my Brewie died, I had planned (and even started) to brew SMaSH beers using the same hop, same yeast, and same mash schedule across a bunch of different base malts.  Those plans were ruined by the failure of that system.  I hope to restart that work in 2020 and gain a clearer understanding of base malt flavors.
  • Kveik Yeast:  In 2019, I played around with Kveik yeast and found it interesting.  I'd like to grow a bunch of the stuff this year and experiment more with it in a bunch of different styles to see if I can't find a really tasty application for it.
  • High-Gravity Brewing:  I enjoy sipping the high-gravity beers from Avery, and I'd like to come up with some similarly tasty high-gravity brews on my own.  I have in mind a way to build a custom fermenter that would aid in this.  I'd like to try prototyping that in 2020.
  • Irish Red Ale:  I seem to be cursed when it comes to brewing Irish Red Ales.  I've made at least four of them to date.  Two had to be dumped due to infection.  A third was ruined by the introduction of glucoamylase.  The last turned out OK but just didn't taste that good.  I'd like to make a good one in 2020 for once.
  • Dark Fruit Flavor:  I love beers with a pronounced dark fruit flavor.  I know that's possible, because I'd consumed quite a few of them.  I'd like to better understand how to evoke and maximize this flavor in a beer in 2020.
Once my current flu is behind me, I hope to start delivering on some of these wishes in 2020.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

La Trappe Quad Clone 2.0

One of the best batches of beer I've made in recent memory was a La Trappe Quad clone recipe.  I had a couple of ideas that I thought would improve it, so I'm re-brewing it today.

I decided to swap the corn sugar for Demerara Sugar and add a couple of ounces of Special B Malt to darken the color and punch up the dark fruit flavor a little.  I'm extending using a step mash to generate some ferulic acid to help the Belgian yeast express itself, and to improve malt complexity.  A 90-minute boil is also being used to help improve malt complexity in the finished beer.

Ingredients

5 pounds Belgian Pale Ale Malt
3 pounds Belgian Pilsen Malt
8 ounces English Medium Crystal Malt (60L)
4 ounces Acid Malt
3 ounces Belgian Biscuit Malt
2 ounces Belgian Aromatic Malt
2 ounces Belgian Special B Malt
1 pound Demerara Sugar (15 min.)
0.50 ounces Styrian Goldings 6.2% AA (60 min.)
0.30 ounces Styrian Goldings 6.2% AA (20 min.)
0.25 ounces Styrian Goldings 6.2% AA (5 min.)
1/4 tsp. Yeast Nutrient (20 min.)
1/4 tsp. Irish Moss (20 min.)
1 package Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity yeast
4 gallons mash water
1.25 gallons sparge water

Mash and sparge water were filtered through a Brita filter before mashing and sparging.

Brewfather estimates the characteristics of the brew as:
  • Batch Size: 3.0 gallons (3.5 actual)
  • Original Gravity: 1.098 SG estimated (1.088 actual)
  • Pre-boil Gravity: 1.068 SG estimated, 1.068 once boiled down to 4.2 gallons
  • Pre-boil Volume: 4.19 gallons estimated, 4.5 actual
  • Final Gravity: 1.022 SG estimated
  • SRM: 13
  • IBUs: 22
  • ABV: 11% estimated
  • Fermenter:  SS Brew Tech Small Bucket
  • Bottling Wand:  Thin plastic wand 1 (first use)
Mash schedule:
  • Mash in at 120F
  • Hold at 120F for 15 minutes (combination of Ferulic Acid, Protein, and Beta Glucan rests)
  • Mash at 145F for 30 minutes
  • Mash at 158F for 30 minutes
  • Mash at 168F for 15 minutes
Boil schedule:
  • Note:  Pre-boil volume was approximately 4.5 gallons where 4.2 was the expected amount.  Pre-hop boil time was extended until approximately 4.25 gallons was present in the kettle, at which point the 90-minute timer was started.
  • 90 minutes:  No additions
  • 60 minutes:  Styrian Goldings (0.5 oz.)
  • 20 minutes:  Styrian Goldings (0.3 oz.), yeast nutrient, Irish Moss
  • 15 minutes:  Demerara Sugar
  • 5 minutes:  Styrian Goldings (0.25 oz.)
Fermentation schedule:
  • Chill to 71F
  • Free-ferment up to 78F
The characteristics for Wyeast 3787 include:
  • Flocculation: Medium
  • Attenuation: 74-78%
  • Temperature Range: 64-78F
  • ABV: 11%
According to the official web site, this yeast "produces a nice balance of complex fruity esters and phenolics" and makes a good house strain.

Post-Brew Notes and Observations

11/24/2019:  This is the first batch I've brewed with The Grainfather for about two years.  Given that, I ran a full cleaning cycle through it yesterday and a long circulation of clean hot water to ensure that the system and the wort chiller were as clean as they could be.

The mash process went pretty well, though a fair amount of grain matter (perhaps a handful) made it out of the mash basket into the kettle.  Turning on the pump, I was able to filter out some of this, but it's clear I need to increase the grain crush gap a bit before my next brew (which I did).  I may also want to include some rice hulls to help improve flow.  We'll see about that.

Pre-boil volume registered about 4.5 gallons in the kettle. Gravity was lower than expected, so I allowed the boil to run until volume had dropped down to about around 4.25 gallons.  Gravity was at my expected target once the volume was down, so I began timing the 90-minute boil from that point. Next time around, I'd drop the sparge water volume to 1 gallon to compensate.

Following Brewfather's calculations for mash and sparge water proved to be a mistake. The pre-boil volume was low, and even after extending the boil I still had about a half gallon more wort than I intended, at a slightly lower gravity.  I'll need to adjust that for the next brew.  I will say that it was one of the best smelling worts I've made yet.

11pm:  Pitched the yeast. Put a small amount in the fermenter with the 0.75 gallons and the rest in the larger 3-gallon batch.  At that time, gravity on the Tilt Hydrometer read 1.087 SG and the temperature read 67F.  I'm concerned that the yeast didn't smell as fresh as it could have when I pitched it, but hopefullly it's OK.

11/26/2019 11am:  36 hours after pitching the Wyeast 1762, there is no activity visible. The top of the wort is clear of any krausen and the gravity hasn't changed.  I pitched a fresh package of White Labs 530 (which is purportedly the same strain) across both containers to ensure fermentation.

12/5/2019:  Gravity is down to 1.025 SG, just three points up from the expected FG.

1/10/2019:  The gravity dropped to 1.008-1.010 (the reading varied a bit periodically but held most often at 1.010).  I bottled the beer in 12-ounce bottles with three Brewer's Best carbonation tablets (medium carbonation) per bottle.  I don't plan to do a taste test until some time in February.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Pseudo Dubbel 1.0

After a semi-successful brew last weekend with the sous vide setup, I altered a few components to try to get a smoother and more efficient process.  Today's setup included:
  • 19 quart plastic bin
  • Anova sous vide cooker
  • 3 gallon pot
  • Instant Pot sous vide cooker
  • Mesh basket made by Arbor Fabricating for the PicoBrew Zymatic
  • 4 gallon kettle
  • Two one-gallon plastic pitchers
My goal for today's brew was to see if I could improve on the efficiency of the previous brew while also making brewing and cleanup easier.

I also wanted to see if I could create something like a Belgian style Dubbel with intense dark fruit flavors.  I'm calling it a Pseudo Dubbel because it mixes Belgian yeast, candi syrup, and Special B malt with British hops, British malt, and Viking Malt from Finland.  The Viking Pale Ale malt gives us a somewhat European base. Special B and D-90 syrup should provide some dark fruit flavor.  Caramel 120L should also provide some dark caramel and dark fruit flavors.  The Bramling Cross hops should add a blackcurrent, blackberry, and plum flavor - especially when added late in the boil.  The Wyeast 1762 yeast should help intensify those dark fruit flavors.  I'm hoping this mix of ingredients will just about max out the dark fruit flavors in the finished beer.  This remains to be seen, of course. 

Ingredients

5 pounds Viking Pale Ale Malt
3 ounces Special B Malt
4.5 ounces Caramel 120L Malt
1.5 ounces English Medium Crystal Malt
1/8 tsp. Irish Moss
1.8 gallons mash water
1.23 gallons sparge water
1 packet (Sept. 2019 dated) Wyeast 1762 Belgian yeast
3.5 ounces D-90 Candi Syrup
0.3 ounces Bramling Cross hops @ 6.5% AA (15 min.)
0.7 ounces Bramling Cross hops @ 6.5% AA (5 min.)

Brewfather estimates the brew to have the following characteristics:
  • Batch Size:  2.0 gallons (1.75 actual)
  • Original Gravity: 1.045 SG (1.067 actual)
  • Final Gravity: 1.010 SG
  • IBUs:  21
  • ABV: 7.3%
  • SRM:  17
  • Fermenter: Spock
Mash schedule:
  • 20 minutes at 120F (Beta Glucan and Protein Rest)
  • 45 minutes at 140F (Alpha Amylase Rest)
  • 45 minutes at 158F (Beta Amylase Rest)
  • 20 minutes Mash Out and Sparge at 168F
Mash going on in the back, sparge water in front

Draining the grain, and sparging (not shown)
Boil schedule:
  • 60 minutes:  No additions
  • 15 minutes:  0.3 ounces Bramling Cross hops
  • 5 minutes: 0.7 ounces Bramling Cross hops and immersion chiller
  • 0 minutes:  Remove hops and begin chilling
Post-boil, chill to 75F and transfer to fermenter.

1.75 gallons in the fermenter

Post-Brew Notes and Observations

11/16/2019:  My last run through with the sous vide setup yielded a very low efficiency (43%) and unexpectedly low original gravity.  I hoped to resolve that with this batch... or at least improve on it.

The mesh basket, plastic bin, and sous vide cooker were an OK combination for the mash process, but the sous vide cooker struggled to keep the grain bed at temp.  Temperature measurements taken at different spots in the grain bed showed as much as a 20-degree Fahrenheit difference from the sous vide setting.  To help compensate for this, I mashed longer than normal.  I also had trouble hitting the water level needed by the sous vide cooker, so I ended up adding some of the sparge water to the mash to keep things working smoothly. 

Pre-boil volume was a little low, but gravity registered about 1.060 SG, which was higher than I was hoping for.  Post-boil volume was only 1.75 gallons, but gravity registered 1.068 SG, which is right in range for a Dubbel and more than I was hoping for.  The yeast packet had swelled, so I went ahead and pitched it before going upstairs.

11/18/2019:  Gravity is down to 1.011 SG today.  That's within a point of the expected FG from the Brewfather app, so fermentation may well be done.

11/20/2019:  Gravity has held at 1.011 SG for about two days now.  That means fermentation is probably over.

12/5/2019:  Gravity has held at 1.010 SG for several days. Time to bottle.

1/10/2020:  The beer has been bottled for a couple of weeks but I've yet to chill and taste test it.  The sample from the fermenter at bottling had a decent flavor but was more dry than I wanted.  If I brew this again, I'll need to use The Grainfather and a higher mash temp to keep more residual sugars.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Viking Pale Ale SMASH 1.0

With the demise of the Brewie, I wanted an easy enough alternative for producing small pilot batches of beer (2.5 gallons or less) with as little hands on effort necessary as possible with maintaining what will hopefully be some reliability (and easy repair/replacement upon failure).  Toward that end, today I decided to try brewing a SMASH beer using the following setup:
  • Anova Sous Vide Recirculating Heater
  • 3 gallon sous vide plastic container with lid
  • Grain bag from the Brewie+ system
  • 4 gallon induction-ready kettle
  • 1800W Induction cooktop
  • Stainless steel immersion chiller
Since I couldn't be sure this combination would work (though, from what I've seen published online, I wouldn't be the first to attempt something similar), I decided to do a SMASH beer (single malt and single hop) to keep things simple and inexpensive.

Ingredients

5 pounds Viking Pale Ale malt
0.45 ounces Mandarina Bavaria Hops pellets @ 9.6% AA (15 min.)
0.55 ounces Mandarina Bavaria Hops pellets @ 9.6% AA (5 min.)
1.62 gallons of mash water
1.32 gallons of sparge water
1 packet Safale S-04 yeast

Having not brewed with this setup before, I took a guess that it would be very inefficient, estimating a mash efficiency of 65%.  With that in mind the recipe characteristics in Brewfather were:
  • Batch Size: 2.0 gallons (1.9 gallons actual)
  • ABV: 4.1% revised estimate
  • Original Gravity: 1.060 SG estimated (1.040 actual)
  • Final Gravity: 1.009 SG estimated
  • SRM: 4.6 estimated
  • IBUs: 37 estimated
  • Mash Efficiency:  65% estimated (43% actual, this batch)
Mash Schedule

The grain was measured, crushed, and placed inside the Brewie+ mesh bag.  I chose to use that simply for convenience's sake.  I knew it would work for mashing and would fit in my sous vide plastic container.  From there, the plan was:
  • 5 minute mash in at 104F
  • 15 minutes mash at 120F
  • 15 minutes mash at 148F
  • 30 minutes mash at 157F
  • 10 minutes mash out at 167F
  • Sparge with 162F water
I chose this mash schedule to somewhat mimic the last SMASH beer I did in the Brewie+.

Mashing the grain
Draining, sparging, and heating to boil
Unfortunately, the mash water plus the grain bill was too much volume for the sous vide container. I had to quickly transfer the water and immersion heater over to the 4-gallon kettle and perform the mash in that.

While the grain mashed, I brought the sparge water to a boil and turned off the heat. I had hoped it would retain enough heat to be useful for sparging, but it did not.  I had to scramble to use the sous vide cooker to heat it up to 162F to sparge while the grain bag was draining.  Not an ideal mash and sparge but it seemed to work.

My experience was that the Anova recirculator heated the mash water approximately 2.4 degrees Fahrenheit per minute.

Mash efficiency on this batch was a pretty dismal 43%, rather than the 65% I was hoping for. I think if I can find a better mash container into which I can fit one of my two mesh baskets, I would be able to stir the malt a bit during mashing to even out the temperature and increase efficiency.  We'll see.

Boil Schedule

I planned for a 60 minute boil, with the time beginning when the wort reached at least 207F.  From that point:
  • 60 minutes: No hop addition
  • 15 minutes: 0.45 ounces Mandarina Bavaria hops
  • 5 minutes: 0.55 ounces Mandarina Bavaria hops
  • 0 minutes:  Chill to 75F or less using immersion chiller
At the start of the boil, the gravity registered 1.036 SG.  Volume was 13.5 cm deep in the kettle before the boil (I don't yet know what that equates to in gallons/ounces but plan to figure it out).

Boiling the wort
Stainless immersion chiller, late in the boil
Just before the last hop addition, I inserted the stainless immersion chiller into the boiling wort to sterilize it.  As soon as the boil was finished, I turned off the induction cooktop and turned on the cold water supply. Given the cold outdoor temps and the small size of the batch relative to the immersion chiller, I got the wort down from boiling to 75F in under ten minutes.

Fermentation Plan

The plan is to pitch the dry yeast directly into the wort and use the temperature control system to keep the fermenting wort at 62F until fermentation is finished. This is toward the low end of the yeast's optimum range (59-68F) so it should allow a reasonable fermentation with minimal flavor contribution from the yeast.  Once final gravity is reached, per the Tilt Hydrometer, the temperature control system would be turned off.  Gelatin finings will then be added and the beer allowed to chill in my mini-fridge for a week before bottling.

Just under 2 gallons of wort in the fermenter
Post-Brew Notes and Observations

11/09/2019:  My goals with this brew were not to necessarily hit my targets or make something that had a chance at winning any awards.  My goals were:
  • Prove that this setup could produce a drinkable, decent beer.
  • Dial in the mash, boil off, and efficiency figures in the Brewfather app
  • Consider ways to make this setup work better in subsequent brewing sessions
  • Produce a SMASH beer that's similar to the Pilsner SMASH I did a while back in the Brewie+
  • Determine how long cleanup would take with this setup
While the jury is still out on whether this will be decent or drinkable, signs point in that direction.

I ended up with 1.9 gallons (approximately) in the fermenter, so the Brewfather data is pretty close in terms of calculating mash and sparge water amounts.  Close enough that I'm satisfied there.

The 43% actual efficiency on this batch was horrible, though.  I think there are several reasons for this. One of these is that the Brewie+ bags don't make it easy or feasible to stir the grain during the mash to ensure that it all gets wet. The 4-gallon kettle was also not really large enough to allow the sous vide heater to circulate hot water through the bag well.  Next time around, I plan to use a different container for the grain (a fine stainless mesh box I used with another brewing system) which will allow me to make sure the grain is all wet and occasionally stirred.  That should help with the efficiency.

I'd also like to add a second sous vide circulator to my setup, to allow the sparge water to be at the desired temperature when the mash finishes.  Making that happen in this configuration was a challenge I would like to eliminate going forward.

Apart from those things, the setup seemed to work fine.  The challenge from here on is to try to increase the efficiency and dial things in using the Brewfather app.

Before I came upstairs, the wort temperature was 73F. I pitched the S-04 yeast and set the temperature contol to 62F.

11/10/2019:  The gravity has dropped to 1.027 SG, which represents roughly 32% attenuation and an ABV of 1.6%.  The temperature had been unintentionally set to 61F. I raised it to 62F earlier in the day and plan to keep it there until primary fermentation is over.

11/11/2019:  Gravity is down to 1.007 SG, which represents approximately 82.5% attenuation and a 4.5% ABV.

11/12/2019:  Gravity is holding 1.006-1.008 SG.

11/13/2019:  Gravity is down to 1.006 SG and holding.

11/14/2019:  Gravity is continuing to read 1.006 SG, which represents 85% attenuation and 4.5% ABV.  The beer should be ready to bottle Saturday at this rate, though I may add gelatin finings and try to brighten it up.

11/17/2019:  Gravity is reading 1.004/1.005 SG today.

11/18/2019:  Gravity is holding at 1.004 SG today.  That represents 90% attenuation and 4.7% ABV.

12/5/2019:  Gravity is holding at 1.004 SG.  Time to bottle this one.

12/17/2019:  I've decided to dump this one.  When I removed the airlock from the fermenter, I detected the smell of vinegar.  This suggested the possibility of bacterial infection.  However, the sous vide setup didn't hold the grain in the intended temperature range, which means that kettle souring is a definite possibility.  To take things a step further, the S-04 yeast will also give off a clear tartness when it's fermented at too high a temperature.  Regardless, the beer has a tartness in the flavor and a somewhat vinegary aroma that I don't care for, so I am going to toss the batch and the fermenter to ensure that if this is an infection it doesn't transfer to a future batch.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Acerglyn 1.0

I've never encountered an acerglyn at local bars, beer stores, or anywhere else.  After reading about this style of mead, I decided I would like to try making some.  I looked at a few recipes and built my own based on them.

Ingredients

7 ounces of Grade B Dark Maple Syrup
2 pounds of Wildflower Honey
1 packet of Lalvin 1116 yeast
1/2 tsp. Fermaid K
Enough bottled spring water to reach 1.75 gallons of volume

Original Gravity: 1.082 SG actual
Final Gravity: 0.995 SG estimated (0.994 actual)
ABV: 12% estimated (12.1% actual)
Bottling Wand:  Stainless #1

Combined some water, the honey, the maple syrup, and Fermaid into a 2-gallon fermenter. Using a drill and a wine degasser, combined the ingredients and aerated the wort. Dropped in a sanitized Tilt Hydrometer which read the gravity at 1.082 SG.  Pitched the yeast, sealed the fermenter, and added a sanitized airlock. Placed the fermenter in the coolest corner of the basement.

Notes and Observations

10/05/2019:  The must went together easily enough and there were no real issues.  It will be interesting to see how this one turns out.

10/06/2019:  Gravity is down to 1.076 SG today, with the temperature at 71F.  That's 6% apparent attenuation and 0.7% ABV in around 24 hours.

10/07/2019:  Gravity is 1.065 today.  Temperature is 70F.  That's 20.7% attenuation and 2.5% ABV.

10/08/2019:  Gravity is 1.060 today, temperature 68F, 26.8% attenuation, and 3.22% ABV.   I'll probably dose the must with some nutrients today to help the yeast along, as it seems to be moving a bit slowly - slower than the Cyser I created a few minutes before it.

10/09/2019:  Gravity is 1.054 today, temperature 68F, 34.2% attenuation, and 4.1% ABV.

10/13/2019:  Gravity is down to 1.021 today, temperature 67F, 74.4% attenuation, and 8.6% ABV.

10/14/2019:  Gravity is down to 1.013 today, temperature 68F, 84,2% attenuation, and 9.7% ABV.

11/03/2019:  The acerglyn was bottled today.  Most of the bottles were not primed for carbonation, but I did prime a few of them with 2-4 carbonation drops to see if the carbonation improves the acerglyn or not. If it's a big improvement, I could uncap, prime, and re-cap the remaining bottles if I wanted to, at some point in the future.

11/24/2019:  Today I chilled a bottle of the acerglyn, and tonight I opened it.  It reminds me of a sweet Riesling. Despite its 12.1% ABV, it's incredibly easy to drink and has only a slight warming note. I am really happy with how this turned out.