Thursday, December 29, 2016

How Long Does It Take to Make a Batch of Beer?

As a home brewer, there is one question that almost every non-brewer asks me: "How long does it take to make a batch of beer?" This question might mean any of the following, or all of them:

  • How much time and effort goes into brewing and bottling a batch of beer?
  • How long does it take to go from grain, water, yeast, and hops to a finished glass of beer?
  • How long does the brewing and bottling process take, end-to-end?
They might even be asking a combination of these questions.

The unfortunate part is that you can't give a single answer to the question. Brewing effort is affected by:

  • The brewer's experience and skill level
  • The brewer's equipment
  • Whether the recipe is an extract brew, all-grain brew, mini-mash, or extract with steeping grains
  • The temperature in the brewing area (e.g, if it's cold, it takes longer to heat water)
  • The recipe being made
  • The yeast strain being used
  • The availability of temperature control during fermentation
What I usually tell people is that "for me, for a typical beer, with a typical recipe, using my usual equipment and processes, it will take me about 5-7 hours of effort and 2-4 weeks of elapsed time to produce a 5-gallon batch of beer. This varies a bit depending on the style, the complexity of the recipe, and so on."

If you have a friend or family member who brews, they may give you a very different answer. Don't make the mistake of thinking that they are lying to you. Someone with an automated brewing system like the Picobrew Zymatic might only have a couple of hours of effort involved in a brew and be able to go from grain to bottle in 2-3 weeks. Someone else, with a heavily manual setup, a low-wattage electric heating element, and a complex all-grain recipe might tell you it's an 8-12 hour process and takes months of elapsed time to produce a single beer.

I think the fastest I've produced an unfermented beer with my current setup was about 5 hours. That beer took a week to ferment and a week to bottle condition before it was drinkable.

The slowest a batch has taken was a 6-7 hour brewing process, followed by two weeks of fermentation, a month of secondary fermentation, 90 minutes of bottling, and a full year of bottle conditioning. (That beer won't be ready until April 2017.)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Gulden Draak Clone, version 2.0

About two years ago, I decided to try my luck at brewing a Gulden Draak clone. Gulden Draak is one of my favorite Belgian beers, but its price makes it one that I don't drink nearly as often as I'd like.

To do that particular clone, I cultured up yeast from the dregs of four bottles of the real beer and tossed it in an extract beer I'd brewed based on a recipe in a book.

This time around, I wanted to do an all-grain clone and see if commercial dry yeasts would result in a beer that was close to the original.

As you can see in the image at the left, the clone came out very close in color to the original beer. Unfortunately, while there were similarities in the flavor and aroma, in those respects the clone needs more work.

The recipe below is derived from one I found somewhere... in a book or online.

The Ingredients

13 pounds Belgian 2-row Pale Malt
1 pound Caramel/Crystal 40L
1 pound WhiteSwaen Wheat Malt
8 ounces Melanoidin Malt
5 ounces Caramunich I Malt
4 ounces Biscuit Malt
2 ounces Acid Malt
1 pound Rice Syrup Solids
1 pound D-90 Candi Syrup
0.90 ounces Magnum hops pellets @ 12.3% AA
0.60 ounces Styrian Goldings hops pellets @ 6.2% AA
1 ounce Styrian Goldings hops pellets @ 1.3% AA
1/4 teaspoon Super Irish Moss
1/2 teaspoon Yeast Nutrient
1 package Safbrew T-58 dry yeast
1 package Safbrew Abbaye yeast

The original recipe called for Caramel 60L which I didn't have and listed Brewer's Gold for bittering hops. I swapped the 60L out for 40L and Magnum for Brewer's Gold (since I had a lot of Magnum and no Brewer's Gold). Since the Brewer's Gold was there only for bittering, the switch might not be detectable anyway.

Per BeerSmith, with my equipment profile, this beer is estimated to have the following characteristics:
  • Batch size: 5 gallons
  • Original Gravity: 22.7 Plato (23.6 Brix)
  • IBUs: 27.5
  • Color: 16.8 SRM
  • ABV: 10.5%
  • BU/GU ratio: 0.28
  • Pre-boil Gravity: 21.9 Plato (22.8 Brix)
  • Final Gravity: 4.4 Plato (4.6 Brix)
When I finished brewing, these were my actual results:
  • Final kettle volume: 5.8 gallons (approx.)
  • Original Gravity: 22.0 Brix (20.5 Plato)
  • Pre-boil Gravity: 18.8 Brix (before addition of rice syrup solids and D-90)
  • Fermenter volume: 5 gallons (approx. 0.6 lost to trub in the kettle)
  • Final Gravity: Refractometer reading, unadjusted, was 10.6 Brix. Adjusting for the presence of alcohol and original gravity in BeerSmith gave a final gravity of 3.07 Plato, 1.012 SG.
  • ABV: 10.65% estimated
I came out a little short on gravity, which means I need to do some adjusting in BeerSmith so I can dial in the estimates in the future. The lower gravity is possibly due to a reported reduction in The Grainfather's efficiency for grain bills over 11 pounds.

The Mash

The recipe called for a 90-minute mash at 156F. This is followed by a 10-minute mash-out at 168F.

Mash water in The Grainfather was calculated to 6.4 gallons, but I dialed it back to 6 for easier measurement.

Sparge water was calculated at 1.6 gallons, which I adjusted to 1.5 gallons.

The grains were crushed, mixed, then scooped into the 156F water and stirred to ensure they were all moistened properly. The Grainfather's recirculating pump was engaged and the wort left to mash for 90 minutes.

After the 10 minute mash-out, 1.5 gallons of 168F sparge water went over the grain to rinse out the last of the sugars.

BeerSmith estimated pre-boil volume was 6.25 gallons. My actual volume was: 6.4 gallons after adding some water.

The Boil

With the grain sparged and discarded, the wort was brought to a boil. Boil time was 90 minutes.

For the first 30 minutes of the boil, no hops were added. This was done to help clarify the wort a bit and hopefully reduce chill haze, which is something I see frequently with The Grainfather. In a beer this dark, that was probably unnecessary but I decided to do it anyway.

The last 60 minutes of the 90-minute boil went as follows:
  • 60 minutes: Add Magnum hops pellets
  • 15 minutes: Add Styrian Goldings (0.6 oz. @ 6.2%) pellets, yeast nutrient, rice syrup solids, and candi syrup
  • 10 minutes: Add rehydrated Super Irish Moss dissolved in cooled wort
  • 7 minutes: Recirculate wort through counter flow chiller to sterilize
  • 0 minutes: Add the Styrian Goldings (1 oz. @ 1.3% AA) for aroma, run cold water (but not wort) through the chiller to cool it down. With the chiller cooled, the wort was pumped into the fermenter.
Post-boil volume was 5.8 gallons at an original gravity of 22.0 Brix.


Wort was chilled to 68F via the counter flow chiller. Fermenter volume was a touch over 5 gallons. Pure oxygen was added for 60 seconds, then the yeast and White Labs Clarity Ferm were added.

The yeast was permitted to ferment at its own natural temperature with no attempt to control the temperatures. This is my standard approach for Belgian style ales. I saw a slight temperature increase in the wort about 3 hours out, and frequent airlock activity at the 7-hour check.

Update 1/16/2017: While bottling, it was clear that the fermentation was extremely vigorous. There was the usual ring of yeast on the inside of the fermenter, but it had gotten all the way to the lid of the 7.5 gallon fermenter and into the bottom of the airlock. A blow-off tube wouldn't be a bad idea in the future.

Post-Mortem and Other Notes

This brew, weighing in at over 16 pounds of grain plus two pounds of adjuncts, pushes the 20-pound grain bill limit of The Grainfather. Getting the grain stirred into the mash and the wort recirculating was a bit of a challenge, but The Grainfather handled it fine.

Something I've learned that saves me some elapsed time in brewing is to clean as I go. For instance, when I've finished sparging, I drop the grain basket into a stainless kettle that's large enough to hold it. I scoop the spent grains out, into a plastic bag inside a trash can. While I'm doing this, the wort is heating to boiling temperature. By the time the wort hits the boil, I've dealt with the spent grain and rinsed the grain basket, lid, and kettle. Once the hot break is done and the risk of a boil-over eliminated, I mix up PBW in the stainless kettle and clean the grain basket, lid/bottom, tubes, and anything else I'm finished with. Generally, by the time the boil is over, all I have left to clean is The Grainfather's kettle itself and the few plastic containers I use to measure and hold hops additions, Irish Moss, etc. The leftover PBW in the kettle is used to clean up The Grainfather itself.

12/22/2016: Within about 7 hours the beer was fermenting well. The fermenter temperature remained pretty low for the first 12 hours, eventually climbing from 68F to around 73F. Airlock activity seemed to stop around there. Several hours later, it picked up again and the temperature seemed to climb into the 77F range. I think it's safe to say the yeast are happy.

12/23/2016: I opened an actual bottle of Gulden Draak last night and compared the color to a sample I removed from the kettle during brewing. The color of the two is very close, so I am hopeful there might be similarity in the flavor as well. Won't know for a while, of course.

Sample during the boil. Note that the D-90 and Rice Syrup Solids had not yet been added so the color is a bit light here.
01/16/2017: The beer was bottled yesterday with 5.3 ounces of corn sugar and Montrachet wine yeast for carbonation and conditioning. It's said that the actual beer is conditioned with wine yeast so that's what I chose to use here. The yield was 44 bottles varying in size between 12 ounces and 22 ounces. The bottles were moved to my "hot box" (insulated cooler with a heating element inside) where they'll stay at 76F until I'm ready to test carbonation. The beer at this point is very cloudy, and is something of a reddish brown color. It has a fruity aroma and (even while flat and warm) a decent flavor. I don't know that it tastes at all like a real Gulden Draak at this point, but that may change with conditioning, carbonation, and cooling.

A sample of the beer at bottling time, showing color and cloudiness
If I brew this again in the future:
  • I would consider adding some Special B, more D-90, and the Caramel 60L that the original recipe called for. This would darken the beer a little, like the original, and might amp up the dark fruit flavors a bit.
  • A blow-off tube on the fermenter seems a good idea. This one very nearly blew out through the airlock at the high point of fermentation, despite a lot of head space.
  • I would consider using temperature control to slowly ramp the temperature up over several days and hold it at 76F at the end to finish out. This version has a definite warming element from the high alcohol content which is mellowing out a little with conditioning, but some temperature control might have solved that.
  • I view the real Gulden Draak as a bit sweet, and this beer did not turn out that way. I'd probably mash at a higher temperature next time to increase the residual sweetness.
  • The combo of T-58 and Abbaye yeast strains seemed to work well. The beer has a great aroma, certainly reminiscent of Gulden Draak, and the fruity/spicy elements are present.
Tasting Notes and Parting Thoughts

At the right is a photo showing the clone beer on the left and the real Gulden Draak on the right. The two are very close in color.

The clone needed more carbonation and its head didn't last as long as the real beer's, as you can see in the photo. The real beer was poured first and had a head far longer. To correct that, I'd probably increase the Melanoidin Malt the next time, or swap out some of the 2-row Pale for Cara-Pils malt.

The real Gulden Draak aroma is very much sweet dark fruit, like raisins, figs, and/or plums. The clone's aroma is more caramel malt. Switching to one of the liquid yeast strains like Wyeast's Forbidden Fruit might help bring the aroma closer.

The flavor of the real Gulden Draak is sweet, loaded with dark fruit, and has the faintest warming note to it. The clone's flavor is more caramel, has a stronger warming note to it, and only a small amount of fruitiness. I think that adding some Special B malt to the mix might bring out that flavor, as well as perhaps increasing the D-90 syrup a bit. While I like the clone's flavor, it doesn't hold a candle to a real Gulden Draak.

The bitterness level was about right, so I wouldn't tweak that element of the recipe at all.

The changes I plan to make in version 3.0 are:
  • Swap out some of the Pale Ale Malt for Cara-Pils malt, maybe only 4 ounces. This would be to increase head retention.
  • Swap out some of the Pale Ale Malt for Special B malt, maybe 4-5 ounces. This would hopefully bring out the dark fruit flavors. It may darken the beer a bit, though, so it probably won't look like the real beer.
  • Consider adding 8 ounces of additional D-90 syrup, perhaps during secondary. This would also help to bring out the dark fruit flavors.
  • Consider actually adding raisins near the end of the boil, to add that flavor.
  • Swap out the dry yeasts for Wyeast Forbidden Fruit.
  • Instead of an airlock, use a blow-off tube, as the fermentation was unusually aggressive. Despite having 2 gallons of head space in the fermenter, I found yeast residue on the lid.
  • Although I usually don't use temperature control on my Belgian style beers, next time around I plan to do so. I'm thinking a ramp up of temperature from pitching temp to 76F over a 1-2 week period would work, using heating and cooling to hold the desired temp.
  • Give the beer a conditioning phase at 50F for a couple of weeks to smooth it out before bottling.
You might think, from this volume of changes, that the beer isn't very good. That's not true. It's very drinkable and enjoyable as-is, it's just not the Gulden Draak clone I was looking for.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Surly Bender Brown Ale Clone v1.0

Surly Brewing Company of Minneapolis, Minnesota, is well respected in the craft beer community for its many fine beers. None of them are available, as of this writing, in Ohio. I ran across a clone recipe on Northern Brewer, supposedly provided by the brewmasters at Surly, for their Bender brown ale. I liked the general description of the beer and its ingredient list, so I decided to brew my own version.

At left, you can see the finished beer and the Futurama-inspired label I came up with for it.

The finished beer is a dark brown color with thin beige head that doesn't last more than a few seconds. As a first attempt at a brown ale, I'm happy with it.

I've never had the actual Surly beer, so it's fair to say this is not an exact clone. It's more like my interpretation of what I imagine the real beer to be like.

The Ingredients

7.25 pounds 2-row Pale Malt
1.75 pounds Aromatic Malt
12 ounces Crystal/Caramel 60L Malt
12 ounces Belgian Special B Malt
12 ounces Flaked Oats
4 ounces Pale Chocolate Malt
0.60 ounces of whole Nugget Hops @ unknown AA %
0.40 ounces of Willamette Hops pellets @ 4.2% AA, plus 4-5 pellets of Northern Brewer @ 10.5%
1.55 ounces of Willamette Hops pellets @ 4.2% AA
1/2 tsp. yeast nutrient
1/4 tsp. Super Irish Moss, rehydrated in cooled wort
1 vial of White Labs Clarity Ferm
1 packet Safale S-04 ale yeast

If you look up the clone recipe on the web, you'll find that it calls for Columbus hops rather than Nugget, and WLP007 British Ale Yeast instead of S-04. I had used my Columbus hops in another recipe, but had just received a package of homegrown whole Nugget hops from a friend. Since Columbus is a descendent of Nugget hops, I decided to swap them out. Unfortunately I had no way to know what alpha acid percentage the homegrown hops had, so I estimated them at 14%. Given that, the BeerSmith estimates for the brew are:

  • Style: American Brown Ale
  • Estimated OG: 13.91 Plato
  • IBUs: 26.6
  • Color: 20.8 SRM
  • Estimated ABV: 5.6%
  • Bitterness Ratio: 0.469
  • Batch Size: 5.78 gallons (long story, but this odd value actually nets me 5 gallons in the fermenter at the desired gravity, given my setup and efficiency)
Following were the actual characteristics of my brew:
  • Pre-boil Gravity: 11.5 Brix (BeerSmith estimated 14.1)
  • Original Gravity: 13.9 Brix (BeerSmith estimated 14.3)
  • Volume: 6.6 gallons pre-boil, 6.2 post-boil, 5.3 in the fermenter, 0.7 gallons left in kettle (estimated)
The Mash

This was brewed using iMake's The Grainfather RIMS system. I began by calculating that 4.75 gallons of mash water were needed, along with 2.75 gallons of sparge water. I put these amounts in The Grainfather's kettle and my sparge water kettle, treating with some Campden Tablet to remove chlorine and chloramine. 

The mash water was heated to 154F. Grain was then gradually added and stirred in. The recirculation arm was setup and the pump kicked on. Mash time was 60 minutes. At the end of mashing, the wort was heated to 168F.

The 168F sparge water was gradually added after the grain basket was lifted out. I'd estimated having 6.6 gallons of wort pre-boil but actually had about 6. I added enough water to get to 6.6 gallons and set The Grainfather to boil. Pre-boil gravity was 11.5 Brix, well below the estimate of 14.1 from BeerSmith. 

The Boil

The recipe called for first wort hops using Columbus. I used the whole Nugget hops instead, adding these as I removed the grain basket and set the kettle controls to boil.

A 60 minute boil with the following schedule was used:
  • 60 minutes: Added 0.4 ounces Willamette hops pellets
  • 10 minutes: Added rehydrated Super Irish Moss and stirred kettle
  • 7 minutes: Recirculated wort through counter flow chiller to sterilize
  • 0 minutes: Added 1.55 ounces of Willamette for aroma
Post-boil volume was 6.1 gallons, a little below the estimate, but the gravity hit 13.9 Brix.

Ingredients and brew day recipe sheet with mash and boil schedules

The Fermentation

Since it's winter here in Ohio, the tap water is nice and cold. Wort pumped into the fermenter from the kettle at 68F. I added White Labs Clarity Ferm and the packet of S-04 yeast as the wort pumped into the kettle, hoping this would help to mix both in very well and aid fermentation. 

My temperature control system was set to keep the beer at 68F, cooling and heating as needed. Since the basement is around 64.5F right now, The cooling probably won't be needed much, probably only during the high-point of fermentation.

The beer was allowed to ferment until 12/31/2016 in the primary fermentation vessel.


After 12 days, the beer appeared to stop fermenting. I boiled 5 ounces of corn sugar in water to prime the beer for bottling and transferred it into the bottling bucket using gravity and a plastic hose.

I ended up with one 25-ounce bottle, 9 22-ounce bottles, 4 16-ounce bottles, and 25 12-ounce bottles plus a nice sized sample to taste. That works out to something in the 4.6-gallon range.

The yeast cake in the bottom of the fermenter was dense and had to be scooped out. There was around a 3-inch band of dead yeast around the top of the fermentation bucket, indicating a pretty healthy fermentation.

The finished beer has a great malty aroma with a touch of dark fruit from the Special B. The flavor has just a hint of sweetness to it, with a nice roasty grain backdrop. The hops presence balances the malt nicely to my taste. It may be the best brown ale I've tasted, given that it was mostly flat and warm at the time. I'm looking forward to the finished product.

I'm planning to give the beer two weeks in my 76F "hot box" to ensure carbonation, followed by at least two weeks in a refrigerator to hopefully get nice and clear. Then I'll be back to share tasting notes and thoughts for future batches of the beer.

Post-Mortem and Other Notes

The smell coming from the kettle when I brewed this one was outstanding. It had to be one of the best-smelling worts I've ever produced. I'm hopeful the yeast will like it and do its thing to turn this into a great brown ale.

Brewing with the homegrown hops was a small gamble, not knowing how bitter they actually are, but since I'd calculated my additions based on minimal bitterness for the style, I figured the worst-case scenarios were that it would be only very mildly bitter (which is fine for me) or if they were unusually bitter for Nugget hops, they would still not go beyond the style guidelines.

A taste of the unfermented wort showed a definite hops presence, but not an excessive one. The finished wort also had a raisin-like aroma to it, possibly from the Special B malt. 

The finished beer is quite good. The hops and malts appear to be in good balance, with neither really overwhelming the other. The flavor has some subtle roasty notes to it. We've found it very easy to drink and have already gone through a few bottles before cold conditioning has finished.

If I brew this again, I think I would increase the amount of Special B slightly and possibly mash at a slightly higher temperature to hopefully bump up that element of the flavor and increase the body a little. I might also add in some Cara Pils or Melanoidin malt to improve head retention. I might also bump the hops quantity up about 10-15% to give it a little more of a bite. Those of you who like hoppier brews might even want to increase them a lot more.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Belgian Tripel v6.0

Back in May, I brewed my last attempt at a Belgian Tripel. All of the attempts so far have been good beers but haven't been exactly what I wanted... sort of  cross between Unibroue's La Fin Du Monde, Tripel Karmeliet, and Victory Golden Monkey. I want a mildly sweet base with notes of spice and fruit showing through. The recipe below is a variation on a La Fin Du Monde clone recipe I found, and marks the sixth time I've tried to brew a Tripel I really loved.

The Ingredients

11 pounds of Bohemian Pilsner Malt
8 ounces of Honey Malt
4 ounces of Munich Malt
3 ounces of Cara-Pils Malt
2 ounces of Aromatic Malt
1.25 pounds of table sugar
1 pound of Golden Candi Syrup (5L)
1/2 tsp. Coriander seed, crushed
0.5 oz. Bitter Orange Peel
0.25 oz. Sweet Orange Peel
0.5 oz. Styrian Goldings @ 6.2% AA
0.35 oz. Northern Brewer @ 10.1% AA
0.3 oz. Styrian Goldings @ 6.2% AA
0.3 oz. Hallertau Mittelfrueh @ 4% AA
0.65 oz. Czech Saaz @ 3.2%
1 Campden Tablet
1 Tbsp. pH 5.2 Stabilizer
0.5 tsp. Super Irish Moss
0.5 tsp. Yeast Nutrient
1 packet White Labs Clarity Ferm
1 packet Safbrew Abbaye Yeast, BE-256

According to BeerSmith and the settings for my equipment and process, the above should yield a beer with the following characteristics:

Original Gravity (OG): 19.44 Plato (actual was 20.9 Brix)
IBU: 20.3
Color: 6.0 SRM
ABV: 9.3%
Volume: 5 gallons

The Mash

I placed 5 gallons in The Grainfather's kettle, and a net amount of 2.5 gallons in the sparge water kettle. The mash water was treated with a Campden Tablet to remove chlorine and chloramine. The mash water was heated to 150F while I measured and crushed the grain.

A 90-minute mash at 150F was followed by a 10-minute mash out at 167F.  The 2.5 gallons of sparge water were transferred onto the grain basket to sparge the grain.

Pre-boil volume hit 6.6 gallons at a gravity of 14.1 Brix prior to the addition of the sugar and syrup.

The Boil

The recipe I started with for this one included a 90-minute boil. I tacked on an additional 15 minutes. For the first 15 minutes, no hops were added. The goal was to improve clarity.

The 90-minute boil schedule was pretty simple.

90 minutes: Add table sugar, Northern Brewer, and 0.5 oz. Styrian Goldings
15 minutes Add sweet orange peel, 0.3 oz. Styrian Goldings, Hallertau, Irish Moss, Coriander
10 minutes: Begin recirculating boiling wort through the counter flow chiller to sterilize it
3 minutes: Add bitter orange peel
2 minutes: Add Saaz for aroma
0 minutes: Cool down the counter flow chiller by running cold water through

Post-boil volume was 6 gallons at a gravity of 20.9 Brix.


Thanks to the cold winter weather, tap water was around 56F today. This allowed me to instantly chill the wort to 70F as it pumped into the fermenter. I intentionally arranged the transfer tube so that it would churn the wort a bit as it pumped into the fermenter, adding some oxygen.

Owing to a lot of sediment in the kettle, I ended up with about 4.5 gallons in the fermenter. I decided not to transfer the really sediment filled wort at the bottom, so I lost about a half gallon there. Since I wanted a clear beer, I decided it was worth the trade.

The dry Safbrew Abbaye yeast was pitched on top of the wort, the fermenter sealed, and the airlock inserted. Within just a few hours, the airlock was already bubbling.

As I tend to do with Belgian style beers, I do not plan to control the fermentation temperature on this batch. I'm leaving it in the 65-68F basement over the next week or two, allowing it to ferment at whatever temperature it reaches. In my experience, I tend to get the best flavor from Belgian yeast when it's allowed to take care of itself.

After 1-2 weeks in the fermenter, I'll transfer it to my mini-fridge and get it down as close in temperature to 32F as I can. I'll leave it there for at least a week. This should drop out a lot of the haze-inducing proteins and help clear up the beer. The Clarity Ferm should help with this as well, and will remove most of the gluten.

My plan then will be to bottle it with corn sugar and rehydrated champagne yeast to carbonate, as this has been working well for me recently. The beer will spend a week at 76F, then tested to ensure it's carbonated. If so, it will be transferred to a refrigerator to spend 1-2 weeks clearing up.

Update12/28/2016: Tonight I got the beer into bottles. It had reached what my refractometer measured to be 9.1 Brix. After some calculations in BeerSmith, that worked out to a final gravity of 2.1 Plato and a final ABV estimate of 9.76%. Before brewing, BeerSmith and I had estimated a final ABV around 9.4%. The finished beer was extremely cloudy, almost as though it had been brewed with wheat and a not-so-flocculent yeast strain. That may settle out in conditioning but I'm not expecting it to at this point. The fermentation must have been quite intense. With approximately 5 gallons of wort in the fermenter, the yeast and sediment on the sides of the fermenter reached as high as the lid in the 7.5 gallon fermenter.


On December 28, the beer was gravity-transferred into a stainless bucket into which 5 ounces of corn sugar dissolved in 16 ounces of boiled water had been placed. Pre-bottling volume in the bucket was about 4.75 gallons.

A variety of 22-ounce and 12-ounce bottles were sanitized and filled. The final count was 16 of the 22-ounce bomber bottles and 15 of the 12-ounce bottles. In reality, I think a few of the bottles were 16-ounce instead of 12 and one was probably 25-ounce. Still, that's approximately the equivalent of 47 12-ounce bottles.

I placed as many of the bottles as would fit into an insulated cooler with a seedling mat heater and temperature controller. They'll be kept at approximately 76F for a week, when I'll move them out and swap in a new set of bottles. This has proven to provide good carbonation in the past.

After two weeks of bottle conditioning, I'll chill and test one of the bombers. If it's properly carbonated and tastes good, I'll move the rest into a refrigerated space to chill them. That may clear up some of the cloudiness.

Update 1/4/2017:  I chilled one of the bombers and opened it. There was a small amount of carbonation, enough to make the bottle hiss slightly but not enough to generate a head when poured into a chilled glass. I'm going to give it another week in the bottles and see how it does.

Post-Mortem and Additional Notes

As is often the case for me, I ended up substituting a couple of ingredients here. The original recipe I found called for clear candi sugar rocks and didn't include cara-pils malt. I decided the golden candi syrup would impart a nicer flavor and wanted the cara-pils to help improve head stability in the finished beer. The BeerSmith estimates provided with the recipe take these substitutions into account.

The brewing process went very smoothly this time, apart from the kettle nearly boiling over at one point while I was emptying out the grain basket. I came out a little high on gravity and low on volume in the fermenter, but these weren't entirely unexpected. I added 15 minutes to the boil (without hops) to help get some proteins out of the beer, which would have reduced the volume by perhaps a tenth of a gallon. In addition, I could have hit my fermenter volume if I'd been willing to allow the pump to suck up a lot of the sediment and protein in the bottom of the kettle. I probably lost a half-gallon to that decision.

Update 12/28/2016:  After bottling the beer, I took the last of the beer from the bottling bucket and poured it into a container I could drink from. The aroma was a combination of bubblegum, fruit, and sweet malt. The flavor at that point was extremely close to my ideal tripel. It's mildly sweet but not sugary. There is plenty of fruit and citrus from the coriander, orange peel, and yeast. If it turns out even remotely close to this initial taste test, I may have found my perfect Tripel recipe. If you like a more dry, hoppy tripel, this is not the recipe for you.

Update 02/13/2018:  I placed a bottle of the beer in the refrigerator a couple of weeks ago. Tonight I opened it.  It poured a very bright, clear gold with minimal carbonation.  The sweetness level is right about where I would want it. The fruity element is more clear, and the hops bitterness is balanced well against the sweetness.  It needs more carbonation, but is otherwise quite close to what I want.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

My Brewing Process, Part 6 - Bottling

In the previous installments, we covered recipe adjustment and ingredient prep, mashing, boiling, fermentation, and cleanup.

Continuing on in the series about my brewing process, today we'll talk about bottling the finished beer. Below is what I do to get my beer out of the fermenter, into bottles, and ready to drink.

Getting the Bottles Ready

Before you can bottle a batch of beer, you need enough bottles. I use recycled bottles almost exclusively. I use bottles from beer I purchase, from samples I receive from other home brewers, bottles friends bring me, or from previous batches of my own beer. I remove the labels from the bottles, typically by soaking them in hot water and generic, unscented Oxy Clean.

After the bottles are de-labeled, I run them through our dishwasher with detergent. This ensures that the bottles are clean and ready to use.

I typically do the above steps days or weeks before bottling.

Sanitizing Everything

Before I bottle my beer, I want to ensure that I have very clean bottles which are also free of any possible bacteria and wild yeast. I do this by soaking each bottle in Star San for two minutes, then placing it on my bottle tree to drain.

Star San has proven to be a great way to sanitize bottles. Using the product for my fermenters, bottling bucket, bottle caps, and equipment I have yet to experience any contamination that's ruined any of my beers. That, combined with its ease of use, make it my preferred solution.

I use my one-gallon pitcher to measure two and a half gallons of water. To this, I add one-half ounce of Star San and mix thoroughly (but gently). One thing you have to be careful about with Star San is that it has a tendency to generate lots of foam and bubbles which don't dissipate easily. 

I pour Star San into my bottling bucket, and take a clean cloth or paper towel to ensure that it touches every surface in the bottling bucket. Then I run it out through the spigot and into the filling tube to ensure that the bottling apparatus is sanitized fully. I also sanitize my bottle tree.

Star San can really foam up if you're not careful with it!
Next, I'll put the Star San into a plastic bin large enough to hold several 12-ounce or 22-ounce bottles. When putting bottles in the Star San bath, I try to submerge them so that about half of the neck of the bottle is above the fluid line and half is below. This helps to get the Star San into the bottle with minimal foaming. The bottles spend 120 seconds in Star San before I gently pour out the sanitizer. As when filling the bottles, I tilt them so that half of the opening is under the fluid and half is above. This ensures minimal foaming as the sanitizer pours out. The drained bottles are placed on the bottle tree to completely drain before bottling.

Bin full of bottles in Star San, getting sanitized
I usually keep the Star Stan bin nearby in case I find that I've not sanitized enough bottles, which is rare but has happened a couple of times.  I'll dump the leftover sanitizer once everything has been bottled.

Bottle tree full of sanitized bottles and wing capper
I usually fill my entire 45-bottle bottle tree with a mix of 12-ounce and 22-ounce bottles before I begin bottling. This generally ensures that I have all the bottles I need and don't have to stop the process to sanitize more.

Priming the Beer Before Bottling

I've used table sugar poured directly into bottles, name-brand carbonation drops, generic carbonation drops, candi sugar, chocolate syrup, and corn sugar to prime beer for bottling. All of these work just fine. Here are my thoughts on each:
  • Carbonation Drops/Tablets: These come in two types. One type looks something like aspirin tablets, and you place several of them in each bottle of beer. The other kind looks something like a Hall's cough drop and you place one in each 12-ounce bottle, or two in a 22-ounce bottle. The name-brand cough drop style drops are usually coated so that they don't stick together. The off-brand ones often stick together in a big clump in the container even when it's unopened. The advantage to these is that you can use them immediately (no boiling required) and you can be sure that the carbonation level should be consistent from bottle to bottle. The down-side is that they're more expensive and may not provide the precise carbonation level needed for a given style of beer. Generally speaking, I've had good results with these and they haven't caused any off-flavors in my beer. The smaller aspirin-like tablets provide a bit more control over the level of carbonation and don't clump together like the cough drop style ones do, so they're probably the better choice (but aren't as common on store shelves).
  • Candi Syrup: If you're brewing a Belgian style beer that includes candi sugar as an ingredient, this can be a good way to add a little extra flavor when you bottle. It's much like priming with corn sugar. You weigh out the appropriate amount of syrup, add some water, boil it to remove any contaminants, cool it down, and add it to the beer before bottling. Assuming you mix it well, it will carbonate just as effectively as any other method here. It can also add a little extra flavor (though not much) to the finished beer. Because you're in control of the amount of syrup you're adding to a batch, you can control carbonation levels a bit more precisely than with the drops or tablets, but if you don't mix it in well, you can have bottles which turn out under or over carbonated.
  • Corn Sugar: This is a pretty traditional method. Weigh out some corn sugar, dissolve it in water, boil the water to remove any bacteria or wild yeast, cool it down, then add it to the beer before bottling. Using corn sugar, as with candi syrup, you can more precisely control carbonation levels to match a style. You also need to ensure that it's mixed well before bottling to ensure that you don't under-prime some bottles and over-prime others. Corn sugar adds no flavor to the finished beer, so it's a safe choice for all styles.
  • Table Sugar: When I started home brewing with the Mr. Beer kit, they recommended using table sugar to prime each bottle. They even gave you a small "scoop" device that would make it easy to measure the right amount of sugar for a bottle and was designed to easily fit inside the neck of the bottle. I've heard people say that table sugar imparts flavor into beer when used to prime it. Granted I was less knowledgeable when I used table sugar than I am now, but I never detected any off-flavors caused by it. It's a method I could consider if I entered a bottling day unprepared and had no other option.
  • Chocolate Syrup:  For a chocolate stout I brewed, I thought it might be fun to carbonate the beer using Hershey's Chocolate Syrup.  This worked just fine.  I had no problems with undercarbonation, head retention, etc.  If you're looking for a little extra chocolate flavor, it's certainly an option.
There are lots of other choices for priming sugar, but these are the only ones I've used.

Adding Yeast

I'm a big fan of the higher-gravity Belgian styles like Tripels and Quadrupels. These styles often hit 9% alcohol by volume or higher by the end of fermentation. For a while, I was frustrated because some batches of beer would carbonate well and others wouldn't. It's really disappointing to spend hours brewing and bottling a beer, only to pop open a cold one and find it almost totally flat. It might taste pretty good, but it's not the same as a nice carbonated brew.

Doing some experimentation, I found that in my experience, beers that finish below 8% alcohol by volume tend to carbonate fine if I add only priming sugar and keep them in temperatures suitable for the yeast (e.g., 76 degrees Fahrenheit). The further I got above 8% alcohol, the more likely that the beer would turn out flat even with extra priming sugar added. 

For this reason, my general rule of thumb is to add yeast at bottling time in addition to priming sugar, if the beer's alcohol content is above 8%. Since making this change, I've so far had every batch come out carbonated.  If I forget, carbonation either takes much longer or sometimes fails completely.

When it's a batch I have invested a lot of money and time into, I'll use the CBC-1 cask and bottle conditioning yeast to bottle it. For most batches, I'll use champagne yeast or wine yeast. These yeasts haven't noticeably changed the flavor for me but have ensured good carbonation.

Before bottling, I'll boil water with my carbonation sugar (if I'm using anything other than the tablets and drops) and a second small batch of water to rehydrate the yeast (if I'm adding some). 

Bottling Bucket

I use a Chapman SteelTank fermenter as my bottling bucket, or an 8-gallon plastic bottling bucket I picked up from Adventures in Homebrewing.  (The 8-gallon bucket's spigot is much lower and it's semi-transparent so it works a bit better for bottling.)

I place the bottling bucket on a chair and slide it close to my brewing table. I place the fermenter on the table. I attach a length of sanitized tubing to the spigot on the fermenter. I'm then ready to transfer the beer from the fermenter to the bottling bucket. 

Getting ready to transfer beer into the bottling bucket
I know that many home brewers use glass or plastic carboys for fermentation, and use siphons to transfer the beer to a bottling bucket. I've never used a glass carboy, in part because I don't like the added weight and in part because I know I'm a big enough klutz that I'll drop one eventually. 

I'm not a fan of siphons either. I used a siphon to transfer a batch of beer from a plastic Better Bottle fermenter to the bottling bucket earlier in my brewing days and found it to be a real pain to work with. I vowed never again to do that. I ended up drilling a hole in the Better Bottle and attaching a spigot so that I could do gravity transfers.

I prefer gravity transfer because it's much easier to sanitize a length of tubing than a typical siphon. A good friend of my who home brews had a couple of batches become contaminated when bacteria built up invisibly in his siphon. He was understandably upset that two very good beers were ruined. I let his unfortunate experience become a good reason not to use a siphon again.

With my gravity transfer ready, I'll open the spigot and let beer begin transferring to my bottling bucket. When about a gallon has transferred, I'll pour in the priming sugar solution and bottle conditioning yeast (if needed). Once all the beer is into the bucket, I'll gently sir that with a sanitized stainless steel spoon to ensure a good mixture.

Gravity transfer of my Belgian Dubbel underway
I move the fermenter to the side, then place the bottling bucket on the table. Next, I insert the sanitized bottling wand into the spigot and test to ensure that it's securely in place. I open the spigot and begin filling bottles. I used to fill bottles directly from the spigot but found that this sometimes churned up the beer enough that I got flavors that I think were due to oxidation. That hasn't been the case since using the wand, so it's become a part of my process now.

Bottling and Conditioning

My wife, or a friend or family member, usually assists in bottling. My assistant will fill a bottle, then hand it to me. I take a cap out of a bowl of sanitizing solution, place it on the bottle, and crimp the cap into place using my Williams Brewing Rack and Pinion Capper.

Filling a bottle from the bottom up
Once all the bottles are filled, I'll wipe off the top of each cap and write a letter code that tells me which beer style or batch it's from. This keeps me from getting confused if I have more than one batch of bottles conditioning at the same time. It also allows me to easily pick up a bottle of the right beer from a case when I can't see the label.

Bottles inside a cooler with temperature control and a fermwrap heater
For the final step, I'll put the bottles inside a large marine cooler.  A fermwrap heater is attached to the inside of the cooler and plugged into an InkBird temperature controller.  The temperature probe is placed inside the middle of the cooler.  This combination keeps the inside of the cooler at an optimal temperature for the yeast so that carbonation is successful and quick.  I typically set the controller at 76F unless the yeast strain used isn't well suited to that temperature.  After a week or two in this "hot box" the beer is usually ready to drink.

One reason I will put the beer inside this cooler is temperature control. The other is to contain the "explosion" if any of the bottles happen to burst.  This has only happened to me once, with a bottle of apple wine, but it's happened.  It's much easier to clean broken glass and spilled liquid from the inside of a cooler than from the floor, ceiling, etc.  After a week or two in the hot box, I've yet to have a bottle burst anywhere else.


I didn't label most of my early batches. At most, I wrote a letter on the cap to tell me what they were. After a while, I had trouble remembering what the letters were. I decided it was time to step up my game and print actual labels.

One of my labels
To do this, I start by using the free open source program Inkscape to draw a grid of twelve boxes on a page. Then I create artwork for the label using clip art and text, and sometimes draw my own art. On my label, I'll usually put:
  • The name of the beer (e.g., "Dated Quad")
  • The style of beer (e.g., "Belgian Quadrupel with Date Syrup")
  • Brewing date
  • Bottling date
  • Alcohol content
  • BU/GU ratio
  • Indicators if the beer is gluten-reduced or gelatin finings were used
  • (Sometimes) The recipe and/or ingredients
I print these using a laser printer and cut them out. To glue them to the bottles, I flip them artwork-down on a piece of scrap cardboard and cover the back with glue from a glue stick (the kind children use in grade school). Then I stick the label to the bottle. The glue stick holds very well to the bottle, unless it's soaked in water or left in a cooler too long. When I've finished with the beer, I can soak the bottle in plain hot tap water to easily remove the label and re-use the bottle.

I'm fortunate to have a number of friends and family who like trying the beers I make. To make it easier on myself when I want to give people a sample pack to take home, I write a code on the bottle cap to make it easier to identify what beer is inside. For example, I might use "D" on a Dubbel, "CA" for a cream ale, or "PBS" for a Peanut Butter Stout. While standing over the cases of bottles, it's easy to see what beers I have in stock and pick out the ones someone might like.


After bottling, I've got a dirty fermenter, a dirty bottling bucket, and a few miscellaneous implements that need cleaning. I'll rinse the bottling bucket out and fill it with a few gallons of hot water from the tap. I'll add a bit of Powdered Brewer's Wash (PBW) to this and stir it to mix up the cleaner.

Using a kitchen scrubbing sponge that is only used for brewing cleanup, I clean the inside of the bottling bucket with the PBW. I start with this bucket because it's usually the cleanest and won't contaminate the PBW solution too much before I use it on the fermenter.  I'll run PBW through the spigot for a few seconds to clean inside that. Then I'll wash off the bowls and other implements I used with the PBW and rinse them. These are set aside to dry. I'll set the bottling bucket full of PBW aside and pick up the fermenter.

The fermenter is usually the toughest part of cleaning. There's usually a mass of dead yeast in a ring around the top of it, and a big blob of yeast in the bottom. I run some hot tap water inside the fermenter and use the sponge to remove as much of the dirt as I can. Then I'll dump the fermenter's contents out. 

At this point, I tip the PBW solution from the bottling bucket into the fermenter. I'll scrub it more thoroughly now to remove any sign of dirt and let it soak a bit to remove anything I might not be able to see. I'll run PBW through the spigot/valve on the fermenter for a minute or two to ensure that it gets clean as well. I'm finished with the PBW at this point and pour that down the drain. 

I rinse the fermenter and bottling bucket with hot water twice. On the second rinse, I run hot water through the spigot/valve to rinse that out as well. 

Taking a clean terry cloth towel, I'll dry the inside and outside of the fermenter and bottling bucket so they're ready to be used again. When I'm satisfied that they're fully dried, I'll snap the lid on them and put an empty airlock in the hole to keep out dust, insects, and other contaminants until the next use. 

Taste Tests

At this point, I've completed the brewing cycle. I've got a brand new beer bottled up and conditioning. I'll typically get a bottle out of the "hot box" after a week and refrigerate it overnight. The next day I'll open it and pour it into a glass. I'll check to see that I'm getting carbonation (though at one week it's not always fully carbonated, especially if I didn't add yeast at bottling), taste for any hint of bacterial or wild yeast contamination, check for off flavors, etc. If the beer seems like it's turning out OK, I'll taste it again in another week.

Share and Enjoy

When the beer is finished conditioning and I've confirmed that it tastes OK, it's time to share it with others. I'll put a few bottles in my refrigerator at home, and pack up a few to take to coworkers who enjoy craft beer (and to fellow home brewers who bring me theirs to try).

I've actually acquired enough of a following at work and at home that I give away at least a third of each batch as soon as it's ready. Over the next few weeks or months, I'll share more with family, friends, and others. I'll have a few myself, of course.

As I enjoy each bottle of my home brew, I'll typically start analyzing it. I'll ask myself questions like these:
  • Am I happy with how this beer turned out?
  • Did it carbonate well?
  • Did it generate a good head of foam, and did the foam last?
  • Do I detect any off-flavors and if so, how can I prevent those in the future?
  • Is there any change I can make in the next batch that would make it better?
  • If I've made this beer before, how does this batch compare to earlier ones?
  • If this is an attempt to clone a commercial beer, I'll open a bottle of the real beer and sip the two side by side, comparing color, clarity, head, aroma, carbonation level, and taste. If there are differences, I start thinking about how I can adjust my beer to better approximate the original. (Occasionally, I'll decide I like mine better and leave it alone.)
To contribute to the home brewing community and share what I learn, I will also put a post on this blog. I share the recipe, the brewing process, etc.  When the beer is finished, I'll add a post-mortem section with answers to the questions above. That way, if a reader of the blog decides to make one of my beers, they'll know as much as I do about it.  If the beer was entered into competition, I'll add the judges' notes and scores so that readers of the blog have a more objective view of the recipe in addition to my own.

I hope you've enjoyed this series of posts and found it useful or entertaining.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

My Brewing Process - Part 5, Cleanup

In the previous installments of this series of posts, we've looked at recipe creation and prep, mashing, boiling, and fermenting.  Now it's time to look at cleanup.

The more batches of beer I've done, the more I refine my cleaning process and activities.

I try to do cleaning when I'm not actively working on brewing the beer. For example, during the mash there are long stretches of time where you can clean or sanitize equipment. The same is true during some parts of the boil process. If you use your time effectively, you can get most of your cleanup done by the time you pump the wort into the fermenter. This will reduce your overall elapsed brewing time.

After the sparge process is finished, I lift the grain basket off the kettle and place it inside a 5-gallon stainless kettle that it fits comfortably inside.

As the wort heats to boiling in The Grainfather, I begin scooping the grain out of the basket and into a plastic bag or trash can for disposal.  (If you have cats and buy litter in those large yellow buckets, these make an excellent grain disposal vessel.) By the time the wort is boiling, I've emptied the basket of grain. I rinse the basket in the utility sink, and also rinse out the kettle.  Those items are very nearly spotless at that point (though I'll finish the job with PBW).

Next, I'll put a half-scoop of PBW into the 5-gallon kettle and fill it with the hottest water I can get from the tap. When the kettle's about half full, I drop the grain basket in and clean it up. I rinse it with fresh hot water and dry it off. By now, The Grainfather typically has the wort boiling.

As the boil reaches the 30-minute mark, I'll mix up Star San and sanitize my fermenter and carefully dry out the excess Star San with a clean paper towel.

When brewing is finished and the wort's in the fermenter, I finish the cleanup process.

At this point, final cleanup consists of these steps:
  • I dump the leftover wort and sediment from The Grainfather's kettle into the sink and rinse it down the drain.
  • I put some PBW solution from the 5-gallon kettle into The Grainfather's kettle and scrub any caked on material in the bottom of the kettle or on its sides. I dump this out and rise the kettle with hot water until I see few (or no) floaters in it.
  • I put the rest of the PBW solution into The Grainfather's kettle and pump the hot PBW through the counter flow chiller and recirculation pipe to clean those.
  • I dump all the PBW and fill the kettle with hot water. I rinse down the sides of the kettle to get any PBW off it, then start the pump. First I'll recirculate through the recirculation pipe, then through the counter flow chiller.  The chiller and pipe are now clean and rinsed, ready for my next brew session.
  • I dump the rinse water out. If there were floaters in it, I may do this a couple of times to get rid of them. 
  • I dry out The Grainfather kettle, grain basket, lid, and pipes.
  • I clean the sparge water kettle and dry it out for the next use.
  • From here, I'll wipe down the work table and perhaps mop the floor.
I've found that the combination of hot water and PBW is extremely effective at removing even the most caked-on mess at the bottom of The Grainfather's kettle. It may need to soak a while if the caked on mess is too thick, but often it comes loose easily. Rinsing with hot water gets rid of the PBW reside.

Occasionally, beerstone will appear in a fermenter or other vessel. I've found a pretty effective way to remove that (a long soak in Oxiclean with very hot water, followed by scrubbing).

Usually at this point I'm left with a few utensils and plastic bowls that need some cleanup. These I'll typically haul upstairs and wash them in the kitchen sink or dishwasher.

The last part of the process, bottling, will be covered in the final installment.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

My Brewing Process, Part 4 - Fermentation

Up to this point, I've selected a recipe, milled the grains, mashed them, completed the boil and transferred the wort to a fermenter.

Fermenter Choice

For primary fermentation, and often for secondary, I use an SS Brewing Technologies Brewmaster Bucket.

I started out with plastic bucket fermenters, which I liked because of their inability to be broken, relative lightness, and ease of cleaning relative to a glass carboy.

Then, I migrated to a plastic Better Bottle 6.5 gallon fermenter. This worked fine but had the downside of being difficult to transfer the wort to a bottling bucket. Recently, I retrofitted the Better Bottle with a spigot so that I could get wort out of it without the need for a siphon. A friend of mine had a bad experience with contamination from a siphon, and I've vowed to eliminate them from my own setup if at all possible.

Finally, I invested in the SS Brewing Technologies Brewmaster Bucket. I also invested in a Chapman SteelTank stainless fermenter.

The Chapman is a good fermenter but lacks a thermowell and can't easily be used with a blow-off tube unless you do some modification.

The SS Brewing Technologies fermenters work well with airlocks and blow-off tubes, can be stacked one on top of another, have a conical bottom, a thermowell, and a valve design that makes it easy to avoid sucking up much yeast when transferring to a bottling bucket.

I typically use the Chapman as a secondary fermenter. I also use the Better Bottle as a secondary fermenter when the stainless units are busy.

Temperature Control

I brew a lot of Belgian style ales. If you read Stan Heironymous' Brew Like a Monk, you'll find that most trappist monasteries don't rely on temperature control. They prefer to let the yeast run wild during fermentation, which helps it generate the flavors associated with trappist beers.  For that reason, I didn't invest in temperature control at first. Then I invested in the heating side, to keep my Belgian style beers high up in their temperature range. This ensured that I got the flavors I wanted and helped the yeast to finish out fermentation.

More recently, I've been branching out. My current setup includes a small Haier refrigerator that is large enough to hold a Brewmaster Bucket if needed (for lagering type temperatures) and large enough to hold a large water reservoir (for ales that need some temperature control but not complete refrigeration).

Cat litter bucket as water reservoir for cooling system
Temperature Control is provided by the Inkbird ITC-308 or ITC-310 dual-stage temperature controller. This is a pretty foolproof, inexpensive controller that has worked well for me with both heating, cooling, and combined applications. It took a little work to get the temperature probe to read correctly. Since then, it's mostly a set-it-and-forget-it operation. I tell it what the high and low temperatures are for the beer I'm making, plug the heating and cooling systems in, and put the controller's temperature probe in the thermowell. From there, the controller takes care of everything. If the beer gets too cold, it kicks on the heat wrap. If it get too hot, it kicks on the cooling system.

Heating is provided by a fermwrap fermentation heater. This costs about $24. It looks like a plastic sheet and wraps around the fermenter. I usually hold it in place with a couple of pieces of tape. When the Inkbird kicks it on, the wrap heats up and warms up the beer gradually.

Cooling is provided by the Haier refrigerator, a water reservoir made from an old (cleaned out) cat litter bucket, a submersible pump, rubber tubing, the Cool Zone Fermentation Cooling Jacket, and an Igloo Marine Cooler.  If lagering temperatures are needed, I'll move the fermenter inside the Haier refrigerator and let the Inkbird keep things at the right temperature.

Cooling system and fermentation chamber setup, but open for photo
I'd been considering building my own insulated fermentation chamber. As I started to price out the parts I was going to need, I suddenly realized that a fermentation chamber is nothing more than a beverage cooler stood on one end so that the lid becomes a door. Amazon had a used marine cooler large enough to hold the fermenter for around $54 with free Prime shipping. That meant no need to build something and a well-insulated fermentation chamber.  All it took was drilling a few holes for the cooling system hoses and wiring.

Thoughts on Primary and Secondary

There are different schools of thought on whether a secondary fermentation is actually necessary. The concept of a secondary fermentation goes back to the early home brewing days when ingredients were not as good or as fresh, yeasts not as well understood, etc. There are many who say we no longer need to do secondary fermentation in a separate vessel. Others swear by it. I'm somewhere in the middle.

For most beers I brew, I don't rack the beer off the yeast until right before bottling. This hasn't resulted in any off-flavors that I can detect, and has reduced the risk of contamination associated with transferring the beer to another vessel. I've left beers on the primary yeast for as long as two months with no ill effect. 

That being said, I do sometimes rack the beer into a secondary fermenter. I do this for high-gravity beers where a long secondary fermentation is needed, so that there is less risk of autolysis damaging the beer's flavor. I do it for any other beer that needs more than two months of secondary fermentation time for the same reason. I'll also do it sometimes if the beer seems too cloudy and I think maybe racking it off the yeast will clarify it. I will also do it for beers being entered into competition, where I want them to be as bright and clear as possible.  Still, this hasn't been something I've done more than a few times.

Getting Ready to Ferment

Once I've transferred the beer from The Grainfather's kettle into the fermenter, I insert the thermometer into the thermowell to check the beer's temperature. During winter months when our tap water is colder, the beer typically hits the fermenter ready to pitch. In the summer months, when the tap water is warmer, the beer may be as hot as 83F when I transfer it into the fermenter.

If the beer's not at pitching temperature yet, I'll wheel it over to my temperature control setup on my hand cart (to save wear and tear on my back). Once there, I'll put it in the cooler. I'll insert the Inkbird's temperature probe in place of the SS Brewing Technologies thermometer, then wrap the fermenter with the cooling jacket. I'll close the door on the cooler and let the cooling system chill the fermenter down to my yeast pitching temperature.

With the beer at yeast pitching temperature, I'll pitch the yeast. For liquid yeast or batches involving a starter, I'll pour them in. For liquid yeasts, I'll typically pitch them dry unless it's a higher-gravity wort, in which case I'll rehydrate them first.

I button up the fermenter, attach the heating and cooling wraps if not already done, insert the temperature probe for the Inkbird, set it with my desired fermentation temperature range, and let it be.
If a multi-step fermentation schedule is called for, I'll use my InkBird ITC-310 controller, which can be programmed with up to six temperature steps.  For single-step fermentations, I'll use the ITC-308, which is simpler to program.


I treat fermentation as a largely "hands off" process. I give the yeast at least a week before checking the gravity.  I'll open the valve at the bottom of the fermenter and dispense a small amount of wort into a clean plastic cup.  I'll use a pipette to put a few drops on my refractometer and get a reading.  I'll compare this to the final gravity I calculated in BeerSmith earlier.  If the gravity is close, I'll give the beer another couple of days and check the gravity the same way each day.  If it doesn't seem to change, it's time to bottle.

For beers where I feel a secondary fermentation is warranted, I'll take the fermenter out of the temperature control setup and put it on my cart.  I'll wheel it around to another part of the basement and put it up on my brewing table.  I'll sanitize the secondary fermenter and transfer tubing, then transfer the beer into the secondary fermenter.  I'll wheel this back to the temperature control system and hook it up.  The beer will stay there until it's ready for bottling.

In the next installment, we'll look at cleanup.  Bottling will be covered in the final installment.

Adventures in Homebrewing Shades of Gourd Kit

Today I brewed the "Shades of Gourd" pumpkin spice ale kit from Adventures in Homebrewing. They describe the beer as a light and elegant pumpkin ale.

The kit arrives with all the grain in a plastic bag. The hops and spices are in other bags, combined with priming sugar and/or yeast depending on how you order the kit.

The Recipe

The kit contains the following:

  • 7 pounds of 2-row Pale Malt
  • 1 pound of Honey Malt
  • 12 ounces of Crystal 60L Malt
  • 12 ounces of Crystal 10L Malt
  • 8 ounces of Carafoam Malt
  • 1 ounce of Tettnang hops pellets (marked as 2% AA in my kit)
  • 20 grams of Pumpkin Pie Spice
I added the following:
  • 1 packet of Safale US-05 yeast
  • 1/4 teaspoon of Super Irish Moss, rehydrated in water
  • 1/2 teaspoon of Wyeast Yeast Nutrient
  • Campden tablet added to mash and sparge water to remove chlorine and chloramine
The yeast matches with the Adventures in Homebrewing options, but I already had it on hand. The other two items were designed to clarify the beer and ensure yeast health during fermentation.

Despite being called "Shades of Gourd" the recipe sheet doesn't call for any pumpkin or squash. I didn't add any, either.

The recipe calls for a 152F mash, and a 168F mash-out. There is a single hops addition at 60 minutes and a spice addition at 5 minutes. 

BeerSmith estimates the following qualities for the brew:
  • Original Gravity: 12.64 Plato
  • Bitterness (IBUs): 6.2 (the AIH instructions say 19 IBUs)
  • Color: 9.6 SRM
  • Estimated ABV: 5.4% (the AIH instructions estimate 5.1%)
  • Estimated Final Gravity: 2.51 Plato
After building my usual brew day sheet, I got to work crushing the grain.

The Mash

I added 4.25 gallons of water to The Grainfather along with a Campden Tablet and began heating it to the mash temperature of 152F. Another 3.25 gallons were added to my sparge water kettle for later use, along with some Campden Tablet.

Grain was crushed using my Cereal Killer grain mill, then scooped into the kettle a few scoops at a time and stirred to ensure it all got wet.

The grain was mashed at 152F for 60 minutes, then raised to 168F for 10 minutes. While all this was going on, the sparge water was heated to 170F and removed from the heat.

The grain basket was lifted out and locked into position. When the dripping began to slow down, sparge water was gravity transferred into the grain basket to sparge it. Meanwhile, the kettle began heating the wort to mash temperature.

Pre-boil volume reached 6.4 gallons, a little shy of the 6.6 I expected, so a quart was added to hit the target volume. The wort was stirred well. A refractometer measurement of 11.2 Brix was a bit below the 12.4 I expected to see, but I continued anyway, knowing I could boil off water if need be.

The Boil

Recently, I've begun trying to improve the clarity of my finished beers. I've read that boiling the wort for 30 minutes without any hops pellets can help to improve clarity, so I've switched to 90-minute boils to see if this seems to make a difference.

Following was my boil schedule for this brew:
  • 90 minutes: Boil wort only, no hops or other ingredients
  • 60 minutes: Add the hops pellets in a muslin bag
  • 15 minutes: Add yeast nutrient
  • 10 minutes: Add rehydrated Super Irish Moss and whirlpool for a few minutes
  • 7 minutes: Recirculate wort through the counter flow chiller to sterilize it
  • 5 minutes: Add the spice mix
  • 0 minutes: Run cold water through the counter flow chiller to cool it, then begin pumping wort through it into the fermenter
The boil went smoothly, resulting in a final volume of 5.6 gallons.

The beer was pumped into the fermenter, chilled to 79F. Final volume appeared to be 5 gallons.

The fermenter was moved to my fermentation chamber and a cooling jacket wrapped around it. The temperature controller was set to keep the wort at 68F throughout fermentation. It quickly began cooling the wort as soon as it was activated. The dry yeast was pitched on top of the wort before the fermenter was fitted with the jacket.

The refractometer estimated the beer's original gravity at 13.1 Brix, a bit higher than the 12.6 Brix that BeerSmith estimated. BeerSmith says my efficiency for the batch was 83.1%.

The Fermentation

The plan is for the beer to ferment for two weeks at 68F. It will then be disconnected from the cooling system and moved into my mini-fridge, where it will be cold-crashed to 40F and held there for up to a week. As with the Super Irish Moss, this cold crashing is hoped to improve the beer's clarity. Biofine finings may also be added.  

The night before bottling, it'll be removed from the fridge and allowed to warm up.


All things considered, this beer pretty close to plan. I'd calculated that I would have 6.4 gallons of wort before the boil, at 12.4 Brix. I actually had 6.4 gallons at 11.2 Brix. It's possible the wort just wasn't stirred well enough at that point, given the finished gravity and volume.

After the boil, I expected 6 gallons at 12.6 Brix but wound up with 5.6 gallons in the kettle at 13.1 Brix and just over 5 gallons into the fermenter (with about a half-gallon left in The Grainfather's kettle).

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Cascade Pale Ale Clone, version 2.0

A good friend of mine loved Stevens Point Brewing's Cascade Pale Ale. Since the beer is no longer made, I tried to get the recipe from the brewery itself but failed. Based on the available data, I knew it had three malts in it: 2-row Pale, Munich, and Crystal.

I made a version 1.0, but was very disappointed with it. Compared with the original, it lacked much of the flavor and aroma of the Cascade hop. It was darker, and lacked the sweetness of the original beer. In short, it wasn't even in the ballpark. Time to go back to the drawing board.

Version 2.0 research had me searching various online forums for award-winning pale ale recipes by homebrewers. Specifically, I wanted to try to find a recipe that used only Pale, Munch, and Crystal malts and came out in the color and alcohol ballpark of the Stevens Point beer. I found a Lara Pale Ale recipe that used Goldings, Fuggle, Amarillo, and Cascade hops. I scaled that recipe down from 23 gallons to 5.6 (which in my system works out to ~5.0 gallons in the fermenter).

This left me with a pale ale recipe that used four hops varieties, where the Stevens Point beer used only one. I fiddled around a bit to mimic the pattern and percentage of hops additions from the original recipe, replacing the other hops varieties with Cascade. My thinking was that this would deliver the right mix of bitterness, flavor, and aroma.

The Recipe

9.25 pounds 2-row Pale Malt
13 ounces Munich Malt
3 ounces Crystal 10L Malt
0.75 ounces of Cascade hops pellets (6.8%) @ 60 minutes
0.65 ounces of Cascade hops pellets (6.8%) @ 30 minutes
0.80 ounces of Cascade hops pellets (6.8%) @ 10 minutes
0.80 ounces of Cascade hops pellets (6.8%) @ 5 minutes
0.90 ounces of Cascade hops pellets (6.8%) @ 0 minutes
1.00 ounces of Cascade hops pellets (6.8%) as dry hops for 3-4 days
1 tsp. Super Irish Moss @ 10 minutes
1 Tbsp. pH 5.2 Stabilizer during the mash
1 packet Safale US-05 dry yeast
1 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm

(The original recipe called for Crystal 15L but I didn't find that from my regular suppliers, so I went with 10L.)

Given my equipment profile, BeerSmith tells me this will generate a beer with the following characteristics:

Estimated Original Gravity: 13.1 Brix (actual was 14.5)
Estimated Final Gravity: 3.1 Brix
Estimated Bitterness: 35 IBUs
Estimated Color: 4.2 SRM
Estimated ABV: 5.4%
Estimated BU/GU Ratio: 0.658

The Mash

The plan for the mash is a 90-minute mash, with two steps. One at 153F to convert most of the starch to small sugar that will be easy for the yeast to consume, and one at 156F to yield some unfermentable sugar to sweeten the beer and add body.

4.25 gallons were added to the kettle and treated with a Campden Tablet to remove chlorine and chloramine from the tap water. An additional 3.25 gallons were added to my sparge water kettle and also treated with part of a Campden Tablet.

The Grainfather was heated to 153F and the mode switch changed to "Mash". The grains were crushed, mixed, and gently stirred into the kettle.

The first 60 minutes of mash time were spent at 153F. The last 30 minutes at 156F.

The wort was heated to 168F for mash-out. The grain basket was lifted from the kettle and locked into position. When it was mostly drained, the sparge water was added to the grain basket.

As the grain was draining and sparging, the kettle temperature was set to 200F to make it quicker to get to a boil later.

The pre-boil volume was planned to be 6.6 gallons and pre-boil gravity expected to be 12.9 Brix. Actual pre-boil volume was around 6.3 gallons at a gravity of 11.2 Brix.

The Boil

I chose to do a 90-minute boil here. For the first 30 minutes, no hops were added, to allow proteins to coagulate and fall out of the beer.

For the final 60 minutes, the schedule was:
  • 60 minutes: Add 0.75 ounces of Cascade pellets
  • 30 minutes: Add 0.65 ounces of Cascade pellets
  • 15 minutes: Add 0.80 ounces of Cascade pellets
  • 15 minutes: Add Super Irish Moss
  • 7 minutes: Begin recirculating wort through counter flow chiller to sterilize
  • 5 minutes: Add 0.80 ounces of Cascade pellets
  • 0 minutes: Turn off heat and add 0.9 ounces of Cascade pellets for aroma, stirring the wort to get a whirlpool going
At the end of the boil, the cold water side of the counter flow chiller was started to cool the chiller. When the water running out of the chiller was cool, The Grainfather pump was started to begin transferring the cooled wort into a sanitized fermenter.

Wort reached the fermenter at approximately 76F. This was good enough for the yeast, so I pitched the dry yeast and White Labs Clarity Ferm and stirred well. Then I moved the fermenter to my insulated chamber, attached my Cool Zone cooling jacket, and set the temperature controller to get the beer down to 68F and keep it within a degree above or below that.

The Fermentation

Final fermenter volume was 4.5 gallons at 14.5 Brix. That's a bit higher than the 13.1 Brix I estimated, but about a half gallon lower in volume, too.

The beer will spend 7 days in primary fermentation at 68F. Cooling would be used to keep the beer within 1 degree of that temperature. Since the ambient temperature in the area is 65-68F, no heating will be used.

After 7 says, the beer will be racked to a secondary fermenter and held at 68F for 3 days. After that, a sanitized bag of hops pellets with a stainless steel weight inside will be added to the fermenter. The beer will then be moved to a mini-fridge and controls set to keep it at 40F for 4 days. This should clarify the beer and the dry hopping should add aroma.


The beer will be removed from the mini-fridge the night before bottling and allowed to warm up to room temperature.

Water and 5 ounces of priming sugar will be boiled, then added to the bottling bucket. Since this beer will spend days at refrigerator temperatures, it may need fresh yeast to carbonate fully.  Additional water will be boiled and cooled, to rehydrate champagne yeast to be used for carbonation. I use champagne yeast because it's inexpensive, adds no flavor, and is a strong fermenter.

The beer will then be transferred from the secondary fermenter onto the sugar in the bottling bucket and gently stirred to mix it up. The rehydrated yeast will also be added during this stir.

Bottles will spend a week in a cooler with a seedling mat heater which keeps the interior temperature at a cozy 76F. This helps the yeast to condition the beer quickly and fully.

Post-Mortem and Other Observations

My goals for this version of the recipe were:
  • Lighten the color relative to v1.0
  • Sweeten the beer relative to v1.0
  • Remove the harshness of the hops flavors in 1.0 and better showcase the Cascade hops
  • Improve the beer's clarity over v1.0
We won't know for a while if I achieved any of these goals.

11/20/2016: I took a bottle of the beer, about 5 days into bottle conditioning, and refrigerated it as an early test sample. I can already say the following about version 2.0:

  • Hops bitterness is stronger, but less harsh than v1.0. It might even be slightly more bitter than the Stevens Point beer.
  • The malt backdrop is a little sweeter, but still not where the Stevens Point beer is.
  • I can't compare the clarity and color yet, as the beer is still undergoing conditioning. After I put a bottle in the fridge for a couple of weeks I should have a better idea of that.
Depending on how the beer turns out in a couple of weeks, I'm thinking that the following changes will probably be needed for version 2.1:
  • Change the mash to 30 minutes at 153F and 60 at 156F to generate more unfermentable sugars and sweeten the beer.
  • Increase the amount of Munich and/or Caramel malt to sweeten it more.
  • Use gelatin finings to clarify the beer.
My version 1.0 recipe was not a good pale ale. It had an unpleasant, almost chemical-like bitterness and no real hops flavor to complement the bitterness. It was also very dry. This made it nothing at all like the real Stevens Point Cascade Pale Ale. The new version has a better hops flavor, lacking the harshness of the 1.0 recipe and increases sweetness slightly. I'm hopeful that I can do a version 2.1 that gets even closer.

The beer has completed conditioning and made its way out into the world. A co-worker who is a big pale ale fan said that he'd rate it a 9 out of 10. Others who tried it and liked pale ales in general, also seemed to like this one. Although I'm not a pale ale fan myself, generally, I've actually enjoyed this one.

Between White Labs Clarity Ferm and weeks in a refrigerator, version 2.0 is a very clear beer. There is definitely some chill haze there, however. If you leave a glass sitting out long enough and compare it to fresh, cold pour, the warmer beer is visibly clearer.

Compared with the real Stevens Point beer, this version needs a little bit more hops bitterness. It's also still a couple of shades darker than the real beer.  In the next version, I plan to use Pilsner malt and possibly dial back the Munich malt slightly. Increasing the mash temp at the end of the mash made a big difference in sweetness, too. It's maybe a little sweeter than the real beer. Dialing back the Munich will probably help some with that.

Still, all things considered, this version turned out a massive amount better than v1.0. It's still not quite where it needs to be to become a true clone of Stevens Point, but this version is much closer than the first. People who have tried this version generally like it or love it.