Sunday, July 31, 2016

Wil Wheaton Wootstout Extract Kit - Walkthrough and Notes

I bought a Wil Wheaton Wootstout extract kit from Northern Brewer quite a while ago... so long ago, in fact, that I won't be surprised if this thing is undrinkable when it's finished.  I read the instructions and they seemed so involved at the time that I wasn't comfortable brewing it.  Well, today I had the urge to brew and not a lot of time, which is the perfect scenario to brew an extract beer.

The Recipe

1 pound Flaked Rye
10 ounces of Black Malt
10 ounces of Roasted Barley
5 ounces of Carastan Malt
5 ounces of Crystal Rye Malt
3.15 pounds of Golden Light DME
3.15 pounds of Wheat DME
1 pound of Golden Light LME
3 ounces of Target hops
6 pounds of Golden Light DME
1 pound of Simplicity Candi Syrup
8 ounces of toasted and crushed pecans
3 ounces of cacao liquor
2 ounces of medium+ toasted oak cubes
6-8 ounces of bourbon (not included in the kit)
1 teaspoon of Wyeast yeast nutrient
1 Whirlfloc tablet
1 packet of Safale US-05 yeast
1 packet of Safale S-04 yeast

I opened the kit and learned that the Simplicity Candi Syrup in the kit was one of a batch I'd read about recently that wasn't inverted properly and turned into a rock in the container. I set it aside and pulled out a fresh one from a recent purchase.

The hops, when extracted from their sealed pouches, smelled fine. No indication of spoilage or soapy aroma to them.

There's a risk that the malt extract has gone stale, but I'm going to roll the dice and make the beer anyway.  I'll be using The Grainfather for this since it's convenient and already setup in the basement.

The Steep

Since this is an extract recipe, there's a steeping step in place of the mash. I put 2.5 gallons of water in the The Grainfather's kettle, inserted the basket, and waited for it to heat to 152F. Once at temperature, I added the grain packet and turned on the recirculation pump to improve extract efficiency during the steep.  I put the pecans in a muslin bag and added them to the steep.  At the end of the steep, the grains were discarded but the pecans reserved for future use.

The Boil

Enough water was added to the kettle to achieve 4 gallons of volume.  The wort was heated to boiling and I began stirring it with a spoon. As the wort swirled around the kettle, the Golden Light DME, Wheat DME, Gold DME, and Simplicity Syrup were added and the contents of the kettle stirred for a bit longer to avoid having extract accumulate on the bottom of the kettle and trip the thermal cut-off switch.

The wort was brought back to a boil.  A 90-minute boil began, with additions at the following times:

  • 90-minutes:  Target hops added
  • 15 minutes: 6 pounds Gold LME, yeast nutrient, and Irish moss added
  • 7 minutes: Wort recirculated through counter flow chiller to sterilize it
  • 0 minutes: Cacao liquor added, pecan bag re-inserted in kettle
  • Wort was pumped through the counter flow chiller into the sanitized conical stainless fermenter
Original gravity was 26.2 Brix or 1.112 Standard Gravity, which is almost exactly what BeerSmith predicted. Final volume in the kettle was just under 5 gallons and volume in the fermenter was approximately 4.5 gallons. I decided not to let the pump suck up too much of the sediment in the kettle and lost quite a bit of wort as a result.

The Fermentation

Wort went into the fermenter at 83F.  

I pitched the packets of dry yeast into the fermenter without rehydrating since the temp was a bit high. The beer was kept in a location with a 68F ambient temperature and allowed to ferment without any temperature controls.  Yeast was pitched on July 31. Primary fermentation is expected to be complete on August 27, at which time the beer will be transferred to a secondary fermenter.  While in secondary, the oak cubes will be soaked in 6-8 ounces of bourbon for a day. The cubes and bourbon will then be added to secondary to contribute their flavor to the beer.

At bottling time the bucket contained 4.25 gallons at an unadjusted reading of 16.5 Brix. When this figure is adjusted for the presence of alcohol using BeerSmith, it works out to a final gravity of 1.040 and an alcohol by volume of 9.7% not including the bourbon added during secondary.


Final volume in the bottling bucket was about 4.3 gallons. The beer was primed with 5.1 ounces of corn sugar and rehydrated champagne yeast to ensure carbonation. After bottling, the bottles were stored for a week in an insulated cooler heat-controlled to 76F. They spent an additional week or more at ambient basement temperatures of 65-68F before serving.

BeerSmith says that based on the original gravity of 1.112 SG and the final gravity reading on the refractometer of 16 Brix, the finished beer is 10.2% alcohol by volume. That's probably slightly low given the addition of bourbon along with the oak cubes.

Tasting Notes

At left, you see a bottle of the finished beer poured into a clean glass.

The color is a pitch black with finger-thick tan head that lasted about a minute or so.

The aroma delivers oak, bourbon, chocolate, and malt.

The flavor starts with a mix of hops bitterness, bourbon, oaky vanilla, and a hint of sweetness. This is followed by more bourbon and sweet malt, with a hint of astringency I associate with the hops. I get a bit of chocolate, coffee, and a hint of the pecans as well. The finish is bitter and lingering. It's a complex and intense collection of flavors.

Family members and friends who have tasted the beer have generally liked it or loved it.

If you make this kit, I would definitely recommend using a good quality bourbon as I did. (I used locally distilled Watershed Bourbon.) The reason I say this is that if you use enough bourbon to cover the wood cubes it will definitely be prominent in the beer. If you use a cheap or nasty bourbon then your beer's going to have a cheap, nasty bourbon element to the flavor.

Post-Mortem and Notes

When I've made high-gravity beers like this, carbonation has been the biggest challenge. As the photo in this post shows, the use of fresh yeast, plenty of priming sugar, and time spent in a warm environment seems to solve that issue. Despite being over 11% alcohol by volume, this beer did carbonate well and generate a nice head.

Many would disagree but for my taste this beer is a bit too bitter. If I brew it again, I'll probably dial back the hops load a bit. I might also do something to increase the chocolate flavor and consider adding some Special B malt to give it some fruit notes to go with everything else.

Apart from this, there isn't much I'd change about it. It has a nice range of flavors and they all seem to work together.

That being said, although I like the beer I don't love it as much as some do, so I don't know that I'll make it again. We'll see.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Cloning Stevens Point Brewery Cascade Pale Ale

A good friend of mine loves Stevens Point Brewery of Wisconsin's Cascade Pale Ale.  He was dismayed to learn that it's no longer being made, and asked if I might be able to brew something like it.  Having not done many pale ales, I thought it might be an interesting challenge.

When attempting to clone a beer, the first step is to research the available data on the original beer.  Buying and trying a few is a good start, but with this beer off the store shelves that wasn't an option.


The brewery's description of the beer at some point (it's no longer listed) said:
Point Cascade Pale Ale is handcrafted combining special top-fermenting yeast and a dry hopping process to create this truly classic American Pale Ale. The intriguing character is derived from generous quantities of the choicest Yakima Valley Cascade hops and the finest crystal, 2-row pale, and Munich malts.  The result is a delicious American Pale Ale with a signature fragrant hop bouquet and soft malt palate.
The above, and other research on the Internet, tells me the following:
  • Style:  American Pale Ale (APA)
  • Grain bill:  2-row Pale Malt, Munich Malt, and Caramel/Crystal malt
  • Hops:  Cascade, both in the boil and dry-hopped during fermentation
  • Yeast: Probably an American ale strain
  • ABV: 5.4%
  • IBUs:  33
What I don't have good data for is color.  The available photos online vary from a gold color to a slightly coppery IPA-like color.  Some photos look more like an SRM color around 11-13. but most look more like 5-7.  Since many reviews describe it as a gold color, I'm going to aim for something in the ballpark of SRM 6.

Beer Advocate reviewers noted the following characteristics:
  • Golden color, or "golden honey" color
  • Thick white head that dissipates quickly but leaves behind lacing
  • Aroma is grapefruit, tangerine, pineapple, lemon zest, orange peel, pine, cracker, bread, light honey, and floral/grassy notes
  • Flavor is citrus, pine, and hops, as in the aroma
  • Some tasters noted caramel flavor from the malt, others mentioned slight sweetness and bready notes in the flavor
  • Smooth at the start, more dry at the finish
  • Carbonation is higher than most expect for a pale ale
As a long shot, I reached out to the brewery through its web site.  I told them that since they seemed to be discontinuing a good friend's favorite beer, maybe they'd be willing to share the recipe with a fellow brewer - or tell me where my "best guess" recipe is off.  If they respond, I'll be back to adjust the article and recipe accordingly.  Since BYO magazine often prints clone recipes based on data from commercial breweries, I asked them to see if they could get a recipe also.  As of this writing, the brewery has not responded and the magazine says they'll pass the request on but can't promise anything.


Based on the available data, I made a best guess at the following recipe for a 5-gallon batch:
  • 8 pounds of 2-row Pale Malt
  • 1 pound of Munich Malt (10L)
  • 4 ounces of Caramel/Crystal 60L malt
  • 0.8 ounces of Cascade hops pellets at first wort (one reviewer said that "the gritty bitterness in the finish tells me they added hops early in the boil" so first wort hops seems appropriate)
  • 0.65 ounces of Cascade hops pellets (6.8% AA) at 15 minutes for flavor
  • 1 ounce of Cascade hops pellets at 5 minutes for aroma
  • 1 ounce of Cascade for 3 days prior to bottling as dry hops
  • Whirlfloc tablet for clarity, during the boil
  • White Labs Clarity Ferm during fermentation (because I want it to be as clear as I can get it)
  • Safale US-05 yeast
My plan was to start with a protein rest at 131F to possibly clarify the beer a little, then perform the main mash at 153F for 90 minutes, followed by a 10-minute mash-out at 167F.  

According to BeerSmith, this should yield a beer with the following characteristics:
  • Estimated OG: 1.054 SG (within range for an APA)
  • Estimated IBUS:  33.2
  • Color:  5.9 SRM (in the honey/gold color range)
  • Estimated ABV:  5.4%
  • Estimated Final Gravity: 1.012 SG
This all sounds pretty close to the real beer... but only my friend will be able to say for sure.

Brew Day

July 24, 2016 was brew day.  I assembled the ingredients and crushed the grains.  I heated 4 gallons of mash water in The Grainfather to 131F, then added the grains.  After 10 minutes at 131F, I changed the mash temperature to 153F.  I left the mash recirculating longer than intended, 105 minutes in all.  Temperature seemed to vary between 151F and 158F because I didn't set The Grainfather's Mash/Normal switch to Mash.  A 30-minute mash-out at 167F was then performed.

After mash-out, the grain was sparged with 3.25 gallons of water at 168F and allowed to drain well.  As the last of the sparge water drained through the grain bed, I raised the kettle temperature to 190F.

After the sparge, the pre-boil gravity read 11.6 Brix on my refractometer and kettle volume was 6 gallons.

I added first wort hops before the kettle got to boiling.  Hops were added again at the 15-minute mark for flavor and at the 5-minute mark for aroma.  A whirlfloc tablet went in at 15 minutes.

After the boil, the hops bags for the first wort and 15-minute hops were removed.  The 5-minute addition bag was allowed to remain.

The wort was pumped into a pre-sanitized fermenter.  It reached an approximate temperature of 80.5F after passing through The Grainfather's counter flow chiller.  Between the half-gallon lost in The Grainfather to trub and the shrinkage due to cooling, fermenter volume was approximately 4.75 gallons.  Original gravity was 14 Brix or approximately 1.057 SG.  This was a little higher than my target of 1.054 but I decided to let it go.

The wort left the counter flow chiller at 80.5F.  When my cooling system got the wort down to 70F, I pitched the yeast and a vial of White Labs Clarity Ferm to further try to clarify the beer as it ferments.


I'm planning to add an ounce of Cascade for dry-hopping on August 4 and bottle on August 7 or 8.  Since this is a low-gravity beer, I'm not worried about carbonation issues due to dead yeast, so I'll only prime the batch with corn sugar (no champagne yeast as I do with higher-gravity beers).

July 28: I tasted a sample of the beer to get an idea of how it's coming along. It's light in color, lighter than I expected. It's bit thinner in body, and a bit more dry than I expected as well, possibly due to the extended mash time. The bitterness of the Cascade hops came through well, though not being an expert on the style I can't tell if I captured the flavor of Cascade well enough. Hopefully dry hopping will bring more of it out.

I'll be back to update this after I have news.

Bottling and Post-Mortem

The beer went into bottles on August 6, 2016. On August 12 and 13, I placed bottles in the refrigerator to see how the carbonation was coming along.

The beer isn't as clear as I'd hoped, despite having used Whirlfloc during the boil and White Labs Clarity Ferm during fermentation. Still, it's clearer than the photo at left would indicate.

At left, you see a glass of the actual beer. It has a nice gold color with a hint of orange. The head is foamy and lasts a little while. Aroma is a little fruity with hints of the hops, but not as hoppy as I expected for a dry-hopped ale. Next time I'll have to increase the dry hop amount to see if that helps.

The first wort hops definitely have a less intense bitterness than expected in most pale ales. I might want to do a small amount of extra hops at the start of the boil next time.

Trying to be objective here, as a first attempt at producing any pale ale, I think I did OK. It could definitely benefit from more hops in the aroma and probably a larger flavor addition. I would imagine that some pale ale fans might find this under-hopped and not like it.

Because I don't have the real beer available to compare side-by-side with this version, I can't tell you how close (or far away) this attempted clone is. My friend has offered a bottle or two of the real thing so that I can try to dial in the recipe, and I'll take him up on that soon.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Belgian Trappist Single 2.0 Recipe and Journal

One of the beers I've brewed that I enjoyed the most was an extract-based Belgian Single from a recipe on the E.C. Kraus web site.  Having made the switch to all-grain brewing, I wanted to take a stab at brewing an all-grain version of the beer.  Using the Kraus recipe and the BJCP guidelines for the Trappist Single style, here's my all-grain recipe.

The Recipe and Ingredients

8 pounds of Belgian Pilsner Malt
7 ounces of Biscuit Malt
4 ounces of Aromatic Malt
1 pound of Brewer's Crystals
1.25 ounces of Sweet Orange Peel
0.25 ounces of Indian Coriander, crushed in a mortar and pestle
0.8 ounces of Styrian Goldings hops pellets at 6.2% AA
1.25 ounces of Czech Saaz hops pellets at 3.2% AA
1 ounce of Czech Saaz hops pellets at 3.2% AA
1/2 teaspoon of Wyeast Yeast Nutrient
1 Whirlfloc tablet
1 tablespoon of pH 5.2 Stabilizer
1 package of Wyeast 1762 Belgian Abbey II Ale Yeast

90-minute mash at 152F followed by 167F mashout for 10 minutes
90-minute boil with hops additions at 65, 15, and 5 minutes
Yeast nutrient and Whirlfloc added at 15 minutes
Orange peel and coriander added at 5 minutes

Ferment at 73F for 7 days, followed by 75F for 14 days, then bottle.
Prime with corn sugar and champagne yeast.

The Targets

BeerSmith calculated the following characteristics for the beer, based on a 5.5 gallon final volume:

  • Pre-boil gravity:  1.050 SG or 12.3 Brix
  • Original Gravity:  1.052 SG or 12.8 Brix
  • Post-boil volume: 5.5 gallons
  • Estimated ABV: 5.8%
  • Estimated Color in SRM: 4.4
  • Estimated IBUs:  24.1

The Mash

I loaded 4 gallons of water into The Grainfather with a Campden Tablet, heated to 152F, and let it sit for a few hours to remove chlorine and chloramine.  In another kettle, I heated 4 gallons of water with a Campden Tablet to 170F for sparge water use.

The grain was loaded into the kettle and I made sure to mix it well.  The Grainfather's recirculating arm was attached and the pump switched on, which ensured that the wort recirculated during the mash.

After the 90-minute mash, The Grainfather temperature was raised to 167F and held there for 10 minutes for mash-out.  The grain basket was lifted out and allowed to drain before I added sparge water.  3.5 gallons of the 4 gallons of sparge water was added to the grain basket to sparge it. About 20 minutes later the sparge was finished and the grain basket set aside.

The kettle was then set to boil mode.  The post-sparge volume was 6 gallons.  I added a quart and a half of hot water to bring the volume up slightly to account for loss during the 90-minute boil.

Pre-boil gravity at this point was approximately 12 Brix (~1.049 SG), which was about what I expected.  This figure was confirmed by both refractometer and hydrometer (which seemed to be reading identically).

The Boil

The Grainfather was at a boil some time later. There was some foaming at the start of the boil, but by 5-10 minutes in, it was gone.

The 90-minute boil schedule went as follows:

  • 65 minutes:  Added Styrian Goldings hops pellets in a hop spider.
  • 15 minutes:  Added 1.25 ounces of Czech Saaz, Yeast Nutrient, and Whirlfloc tablet
  • 7 minutes:  Began recirculating wort through the wort chiller to sterilize it
  • 5 minutes:  Added 1 ounce of Czech Saaz, Sweet Orange Peel, and Coriander
  • 0 minutes:  Removed hop spider and began pumping chilled wort into fermenter
The boil process went as expected with no surprises.

Final volume in the kettle was 5.0 gallons.  The Grainfather had a fair amount of sediment in the bottom that I decided to leave in it, which cost me maybe a quart to a half-gallon of wort.

The Fermentation

The Wyeast 1762 Belgian Abbey II yeast reportedly prefers temperatures in the 65-75F range.  I've chosen to set my temperature control system to keep the beer within the 73-75F range and will leave it there for two weeks.  This should cause the yeast to generate the fruity and spicy flavors typically found in Belgian style beers. The coriander and orange peel should enhance this.

The Bottling

All of my Belgian style ales have had carbonation issues for a while.  I think the problem is some combination of flocculent yeast, tired yeast, and not enough carbonation sugar.  When I did my Belgian Quad, I primed the batch with champagne yeast and candi syrup for 2.8 volumes of CO2.  I even added extra carbonation drops to a few bottles to try to ensure that at least some had an excess of sugar in them.  The result was a beer that carbonated despite coming out at 11.3% ABV.

Hoping to replicate that success here, I've again rehydrated a packet of champagne yeast and boiled up a 5.4 ounce weight of corn sugar for priming.  I transferred about a gallon of beer into the bottling bucket, then added the yeast and sugar, stirred this with a sanitized spoon, then gravity transferred the rest of the beer into the bucket.  This should ensure an even distribution of yeast and sugar.

Yield for the batch was 24 small (12-ounce), 1 16-ounce and 11 large (22-ounce) bottles.  That works out to around 4.3 gallons.  Some amount was lost to two hydrometer tests and to the yeast and sediment in the bottom of the fermenter.

Fermentation and Other Notes

BeerSmith calculates my mash efficiency to be 88.8% and my brewhouse efficiency to be 78% overall.  That's not bad for a relatively novice all-grain brewer.

July 7, 2016:  6 days into fermentation, I took a sample from the fermenter to confirm that it's fermenting well, and to examine the color, clarity, aroma, and flavor.  The beer had a nice citrusy Belgian fruity aroma. The color was a pale yellow.  There was a fair amount of cloudiness present in the sample but it was mostly clear.  The flavor was different from the extract versions I'd brewed previously but very pleasant.  I noticed some roasty malt flavors, orange from the orange peel, and Belgian yeast fruit/spice notes.  It should be good when it's properly carbonated and chilled.  It's mostly dry with just a hint of sweetness.  There was an odd chemical-like flavor to it, though.

July 16, 2016:  Approximately two weeks of fermentation have passed. A hydrometer test revealed a final gravity of 1.019.  This is roughly where it was when I last tested it.  The refractometer registered 8 Brix uncorrected, which worked out to 1.019 after correction for fermenting wort (so I've got my calibration sorted).  This works out to an attenuation of only 63%, though, which is disappointing.  A taste test from the hydrometer tube (not letting beer go to waste) yielded a very dry beer with only a hint of coriander and orange flavor.  Not quite what I was looking for but not undrinkable at all. The odd chemical-like flavor is still present.

July 24, 2016:  Today I learned a valuable lesson.  First, to make sure I taste our tap water before brewing and (second) to verify that we're not under a water quality advisory.  After I finished brewing the beer, I poured a glass of water from the tap.  It had that chemical taste to it.  When I made a comment about it, my wife (who pays far more attention to the news than I do) noted that our area was under a water quality advisory for nitrate levels at the time.  After tasting the finished beer last night and again today, it's undrinkable.  The chemical taste is strong and unpleasant, overshadowing the beer itself.  Even if that flavor wasn't present, I don't feel comfortable giving it to others or drinking it myself.  I poured the entire batch down the drain.  While that's disappointing in the extreme, it's better than making myself or someone else sick.  Lesson learned: Taste the water before brewing and if under any kind of advisory, use distilled or spring water rather than tap.

Post-Mortem and Possible Changes

My intent for this beer was something a little sweet with a clear orange peel presence and a hint of coriander in the background.  This version came out more dry than I wanted, so in the next iteration I think I'll bump the mash temperature to 154F to see if we can bring up the sweetness a bit.  I might also bump the amount of orange peel.

Despite the fact that I made use of Whirlfloc during the boil, the yeast is a medium flocculent strain, and there's no wheat or oat malt in it, the beer seems fairly cloudy.  It's probably time to invest in a chamber that can help me cold crash the beer before bottling.  That might help with clarity.

After brewing this beer, I read an article in BYO magazine about the Belgian Trappist Single. The author of that article suggested doing a protein rest at 131F for 10 minutes, mashing at 145F to get a more dry beer, and then doing a body rest at 158F to make sure it doesn't get too thin.  I'll probably adjust the v2.1 brew to include the protein rest, but a main mash at 154F to get the sweetness I want (which is technically not per the style), and finish with the 158F body mash... just to see how it goes.

Adding corn sugar and champagne yeast has definitely solved my carbonation issues.  I noticed as I poured this batch out that it was properly carbonated in every bottle, even after only a week in conditioning.

I'll likely re-brew this beer in the next few weeks to see how it should have turned out.