Sunday, July 23, 2017

Belgian Trappist Single v2.2

Tonight I decided to run yet another test to dial in the gravity and volume calculations for my sous vide based brewing setup.  Since I had a Dubbel, Tripel, and Quad fermenting, doing a Trappist Single seemed like a good next step.

I have a Single recipe that I've been pretty happy with, but still wanted to tweak it a bit more.  This was a good chance to make those tweaks and see work on the calculations at the same time.


1 pound and 7 ounces 2-row Pilsner Malt
1 ounce Aromatic Malt
1 ounce Cara-Pils Malt
1 ounce Melanoidin Malt
0.15 oz. Styrian Goldings hops pellets @ 6.2% AA 60 min.
0.25 oz. Czech Saaz hops pellets @ 3.2% AA 15 min.
0.20 oz. Czech Saaz hops pellets @ 3.2% AA 5 min.
0.25 oz. Sweet Orange Peel
0.10 oz. Crushed Coriander
1/4 tsp. Irish Moss
Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity yeast

According to my BeerSmith calculations, this brew should have the following characteristics:
  • Style:  Trappist Single
  • Original Gravity: 1.047 SG (11.7 Brix)
  • Pre-boil Gravity: 9.0 Brix
  • Final Gravity: 6.0 Brix
  • IBU: 25.5
  • SRM: 5.0
  • ABV: 4.9%
  • Volume: 1.0 gallons
  • BU:GU Ratio: 0.55
After brewing. the actual stats on this batch were:
  • Original Gravity:  12.0 Brix (vs. 11.7 expected) or 1.048 SG
  • Pre-boil Gravity: 7.0 Brix (vs. 9.0 expected) or 1.028 SG
  • Volume: 0.92 gallons (estimated)
  • Pre-boil volume: 1.56 gallons (measured)

The mash for this batch was done in a Ziploc bag, inside a stock pot full of water, to which the sous vide cooker was attached.  The sous vide cooker's temperature seems to be about 2 degrees below what it registers (i.e., if it says 156F the actual temp is 154F).  The contents of the Ziploc tend to be 3-4 degrees below the surrounding water (i.e., if the water is 156F, the bag's contents will be 152-153F).  Using this information, I adjusted the temperature settings so that I hit my intended mash and mash out temps.

Grain mashing in a Ziploc bag with the sous vide setup
The mash was conducted for 40 minutes at 156F, followed by a 10-minute mash out at 168F.

The grain was emptied from the bag into a strainer placed over the stock pot used for boiling.  As the grain drained and was sparged, the stock pot was heated to boiling.


Because I was trying to nail down calculations, I took a moment to measure the pre-boil volume.  It came out to 1.56 gallons versus the expected 1.64 gallons.  Pre-boil gravity was 7.0 Brix versus the 9.0 Brix calculated by BeerSmith.

The setup produces a good strong boil

The following boil schedule was followed:
  • 60 minutes:  Add Styrian Goldings bittering hops
  • 15 minutes:  Add Czech Saaz flavor hops
  • 10 minutes:  Add Irish Moss
  • 5 minutes:  Add orange peel, coriander, and Czech Saaz hops
  • 0 minutes: Turn off the heat, transfer the wort to a pitcher to measure post-boil volume
I achieved a post boil volume about 8-10 ounces short of the expected 1 gallon.  I'll use this info to tweak my calculations.


Trying to keep things simple, I transferred the wort into my plastic pitcher and placed it inside the mini-fridge to chill to yeast pitching temperature.  This will likely result in a cloudy brew, but my goal here was to check the flavor of the recipe and sort out calculations - not brew the clearest beer i could.

I had harvested a bunch of Wyeast 3787 from the BJ's Grand Cru clone I did last month, so I used some of that to ferment this beer.  If you've never used this yeast before, I strongly recommend a blow-off tube.  I've experienced some amount of blow-off with it regardless of the amount of head space, volume of wort, or gravity.  I set up a blow-off tube for this beer from the start.

The goal is to ferment the beer at ambient temperature with no temperature control for the first week, after which it will be moved to an insulated and heated chamber.  In there, it will be kept at 76F for another week or two until fermentation seems to have stopped.  After that, it will be bottled.

Post-Mortem and Other Notes

After my least batch in the sous vide setup, BeerSmith calculated my efficiency at 75% for the batch.  This time around, I used 75% as my estimated Brew House efficiency.  After completing the measurements, BeerSmith says I hit 71% efficiency for this batch.

I estimated boil-off for the setup at 0.64 gallons per hour. That's exactly what I achieved on this batch, going from 1.56 gallons to 0.92 gallons after a one-hour boil.

It looks like I probably needed about another 8-10 ounces of sparge water to hit the pre-boil volume on the nose.

Given that I used 2.5 quarts of water for mashing and 4.5 quarts for sparging, that's 7.0 quarts total.  My pre-boil volume measured as 1.56 gallons or 6.25 quarts.  This means the grain soaked up approximately 0.75 quarts.  That is 0.75 quarts for 1.69 pounds of grain or 0.44 quarts per pound.  I modified my spreadsheet to calculate future sparge volume based on 0.44 quarts being absorbed for each pound of grain.

One thing I have noticed about this setup in the last few batches is that it tends to not strain out all the bits of grain.  A certain amount ends up in the boil.  This is something to be addressed in a future run with the system.

Note all the grain particles in the pot at the boil
Update 07/25/2017:  The beer has a thin krausen on it now.  I'm not sure if it's hit the height of its fermentation or not yet, but there is very visible activity in the fermenter so I am not complaining.  It's beginning to lighten in color a bit, too, which is a sure sign that fermentation is underway.

Update 08/12/2017:  The beer has been bottled using Cooper's carbonation drops and has spent two weeks conditioning at 78F in the bottle to ensure carbonation.  It pours with a light level of carbonation, consistent with the carbonation drops but of course lower than a typical Belgian beer.  It pours an amber color, with a thin head that dissipates quickly.  The aroma is mild, with hints of fruit and spice.  The hops come through pretty clearly in the flavor, which is expected for this style.  I'll need to scale the recipe up to see if I am convinced it's better than previous attempts at a Single, but so far I'm hopeful.

Update 01/01/2018:  The beer has now been in the bottle for over four months. I poured the glass pictured at the start of the article today.  It pours a nice gold color with a thick white head that lasts for about 30 seconds before reincorporating into the glass.  The aroma is fruity, herbal, and sweet.  The flavor is dry and balanced, compared to the aroma.  Hops definitely balances the malt in this one, and takes the foreground after the initial sip and into the finish.  The finish is clean but with a lingering bitterness.  Let's compare this with the BJCP style guidelines:

  • Aroma (12 points max):
    • Style Definition:  Medium Trappist yeast character showing fruity/spicy/floral notes. Low grainy-sweet malt backdrop, possibly with light honey or sugar quality. 
    • My Version: Yeast character comes through clear, definite fruity notes, with malt there if you look for it. I'd score it an 9 here.
  • Appearance (3 points max):
    • Style Definition:  Pale yellow to medium gold color. Generally good clarity, with a moderate-sized, persistent, billowy-white head with characteristic lacing.
    • My Version: Definitely on the medium gold side, maybe a touch too dark. Clarity is decent but there is a slight haze. The large white head lasted a while but is not leaving behind lacing and wasn't what I'd call "billowy". I'd score it a 2 here.
  • Flavor (20 points max): 
    • Style Definition: Fruity, hoppy, bitter, and dry. Initial malty-sweet impression with a grainy-sweet soft palate and a dry, hoppy finish. The malt may have a honeyed biscuit or cracker impression. Moderate spicy or floral hop flavor. Esters can be citrus (orange, lemon, grapefruit), pome fruit (apple, pear), or stone fruit (apricot, peach). Light to moderate spicy, peppery, or clove phenolics. Bitterness rises towards the crisp, dry finish, with an aftertaste of light malt, moderate hops, and yeast character.
    • My Version: Starts mildly sweet and citrus, then dries out and becomes bitter and clean at the finish. The aftertaste is mostly hops and a hint of yeast.  A hint of biscuit malt. Floral hops come through. I'd score this a 16.
  • Mouthfeel (5 points max):
    • Style Definition: Medium-light to medium body. Smooth. Medium-high to high carbonation, can be somewhat prickly. Should not have noticeable alcohol warmth.
    • My Version: Definitely medium-bodied.  Not heavy or thick, but not watery.  High carbonation, on the effervescent side but not what I'd call prickly. No alcohol warmth. I'd score it a 4.
  • Overall Impression (10 points max):  
    • Style Definition:  It should be a pale, bitter, dry, and well-carbonated beer with a fruity yeast character, spicy-floral hop profile and soft, supportive malt palate.
    • My Version:  It's more gold than pale, coming in around SRM 6 by my best guess, so it's a little darker than the style wants it to be.  It's mildly bitter and well-carbonated, and the fruity herbal/floral hop profile is definitely here. If I was a judge rating this for another brewer, I might score it a 7/10.
  • TOTAL SCORE: 38/50

How would I improve the score?

  • On the aroma side, maybe increase the last Saaz addition by 25% or so, or add one closer to the end of the boil so that the aroma is enhanced a little.  This would also bump the bitterness up a tiny bit, which wouldn't hurt against the style definition. 
  • On the appearance end, I'd make sure it received gelatin finings before bottling to clear it up a bit more. I'd also swap some of the Pilsner malt for some Cara-Pils to try to improve the lacing. I'd like to add more Melanoidin, but that might bump the color up too much. 
  • For mouthfeel, maybe a touch more carbonation.
  • On the flavor side, increase the hops addition a little, but not much. It definitely tends toward hops right now, but could maybe use a slight nudge to get closer to the guidelines.

Other than the above, I think I've done as well as I can with this one.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Debby's Dubbel 2.0

Back in October 2016, I brewed a Belgian Dubbel I named after my later mother.  It's one of my wife's favorite beers I've made, but sadly not one of my own.  I liked it, but I believed it could be much better.  Tonight, I tweaked the recipe a bit and brewed a one-gallon batch of it.

I used the Sous Vide cooker to handle mash and sparge water, and an induction cooktop to perform the boil.  While I'm still working out volume and efficiency calculations on the setup, I'm getting a little closer each time I do it.


1 pound, 12 ounces German Pilsner Malt
3 ounces Cara-Pils/Dextrine Malt
3 ounces Special B Malt
1 ounce Melanoidin Malt
4 ounces D-45 Candi Syrup
0.2 ounces Styrian Goldings hops pellets @ 6.4% AA 60 min
0.2 ounces Czech Saaz hops pellets @ 3.2% AA 5 min
1/8 tsp. Irish Moss
Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity Ale Yeast

For this version of the recipe, I dropped the Caramunich I malt. I switched from D-90 syrup to D-45 syrup, and increased the percentage of Special B malt.  My hope was that these changes would reduce the caramel note in the original beer and increase the dark fruit flavors.  This remains to be seen.'

BeerSmith provides the following characteristics for this brew:

  • Style: Belgian Dubbel
  • Estimated OG: 1.071 SG
  • IBUs: 23.1
  • Color: 17.0
  • Est. ABV: 7.3%
  • Total Grains: 2.44 pounds
  • Total Hops: 0.40 ounces
  • Bitterness Ratio: 0.323 IBU/SG
  • Estimated Pre-boil Gravity: 1.044 SG
  • Estimated Final Gravity: 1.016
  • BH Efficiency: 80.0%
  • Batch Size: 1.00 gallons
  • Boil Time: 60 minutes
After brewing, the actual numbers were:
  • Original Gravity: 14.0 Brix (1.057 SG)
  • BH Efficiency: 75.4%
  • Batch Size: 1.2 gallons
  • Bitterness: 21.2 IBUs
  • Color: 15.3 SRM
  • Est. ABV: 5.7%

So, unfortunately, I overshot the volume about 20% and ended up 15 SG points lower in gravity. These are things I'll need to adjust my calculations for in the future.


For this recipe, I placed approximately 3 gallons of water in a stock pot and attached a Sous Vide cooker.  I set the cooker to 156F and let it heat the water to temperature.  When it was at temperature, I measured 3.5 quarts and put that in a plastic zipped bag and placed the bag back in the stock pot, clipped to the side.  When the water in the bag reached the mash temp, I stirred in the grain.

Grain (from an earlier batch) mashing in Sous Vide setup
A 60-minute mash was performed, after which an iodine test confirmed conversion.  The cooker was set to 170F and left for 15 minutes to heat.  After 15 minutes, the wort was at a mash out temperature, so I turned off the cooker, removed the bag, and emptied it into a strainer over a 4-gallon stock pot on my induction cooktop.  While the grain drained, I turned on the cooktop.  Leftover water in the stock pot was used to sparge the grain.  By the time the grain was sparged, the wort was at boil.  Pre-boil volume was not measured, but pre-boil gravity was 9.0 Brix, lower than the 11.0 expected.

Grain in the strainer above the stock pot and induction cooktop


A 60-minute boil was performed, with the following schedule:

  • 60 minutes: Add Styrian Goldings hops pellets
  • 15 minutes: Add Irish Moss
  • 10 minutes: Add D-45 syrup
  • 5 minutes:  Add Czech Saaz hops pellets
  • 0 minutes:  Turn off the heat, whirlpool the wort, remove the hops strainer balls
When the wort had cooled down a bit, it was poured into a glass fermenter.  I measured the final wort volume at 1.2 gallons and 14.0 Brix (1.057 SG) gravity.

Wort beginning to boil


To maximize the esters and phenols associated with the Belgian yeast, I decided to let this one ferment at whatever temperature it reached. After a week, I'd place it in a warm location and keep it around 76F for another week.  

Wort in the fermenter waiting to cool down to pitching temp

Post-Mortem and Notes

Including some interruptions, I completed this batch in under four hours elapsed time.  That's much quicker than I've done a 5-gallon batch.  The time also includes cleanup.

Since I am still working out the details of the one-gallon setup, I wasn't surprised to see that I overshot the volume slightly (though much less than most of the brews I've done with it to date) and undershot the gravity.  Brew house efficiency on this batch worked out to about 75.4%.  I think I'll use 75% as my expected efficiency from here on out and see if I get closer to my goals.

Update 08/12/2017:  The finished beer is very drinkable and smooth.  However, it's a far cry from the flavor profile I wanted.  It's basically a malty, caramel-ish, very mildly sweet brew with hints of Belgian yeast attributes.  The dark fruit flavor and medium body I was looking for isn't here.  Time to go back to the drawing board and make a v3.0.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Affligem Abbey Tripel Clone 1.0

I've been trying to perfect a one-gallon brewing system that uses a Sous Vide cooker and induction cooktop to produce all-grain beer.  I've made four batches with it so far.  The first batches were all reasonably good but did not hit their gravity or volume targets.  I've been trying to dial that in for a while but haven't had much success.

Today I decided to brew a scaled-down recipe from the Candi Syrup Inc. web site.  This is their clone recipe for Affligem Abbey Tripel, with cane sugar replacing the clear candi sugar in their recipe.


2 pounds, 5 ounces Belgian Pilsner Malt
2 ounces Aromatic Malt
5 ounces Cane Sugar
0.15 ounces UK Challenger hops @ 6.8% AA 60 min.
0.20 ounces Styrian Goldings hops @ 2.8% AA 60 min.
0.20 ounces Styrian Goldings hops @ 2.8% AA 15 min.
0.15 ounces Styrian Goldings hops @ 2.8% AA 3 min.
1/8 tsp. Irish Moss
Wyeast 1762 Belgian Abbey II yeast

According to BeerSmith, the characteristics of this brew are:

  • Batch Size: 1.0 gallons
  • Estimated Pre-Boil Volume: 1.64 gallons
  • Boil Time: 60 minutes
  • Brewhouse Efficiency: 80%
  • Total Grains: 2.75 pounds
  • Total Hops; 0.70 ounces
  • Bitterness Ratio: 0.32 IBU/SG
  • Estimated Pre-boil Gravity: 1.063 SG
  • Estimated Final Gravity 1.011 SG
  • Estimated Original Gravity: 1.082 SG
  • IBUs: 26.3
  • Color: 5.4 SRM
  • Est. ABV: 9.4%
Actual post-brewing results were disappointingly different:
  • Pre-boil volume: 1.64 gallons (approx.)
  • Pre-boil gravity: 9.1 Brix or 1.036 SG
  • Post-boil gravity: 15.0 Brix or 1.061 SG
  • Post-boil volume: ?

The mash water was placed in a 2-gallon Ziploc bag and clipped to the side of a 4-gallon stock pot filled to a level within the Anova Sous Vide cooker's operating range (which took about 2.75 gallons).  This was heated to mash temp and when the water inside the bag was within a degree of the surrounding water, I added the grains.  Mash began at 149F and ended with a mash-out at 170F.

The bag was emptied over a strainer, over another 4-gallon pot.  I had a bit of an accident and scaleded myself pouring the wort out of the bag into the strainer, and ended with some wort and grain on the table around me.  Fortunately no hospital visits were involved.  This may have had some impact on efficiency this time around.  Hard to say.

Grain was sparged up to the 1.6 gallon level and the grain discarded.  1 gallon of mash water was used, and 6.8 quarts of sparge water were used (approx.).


As soon as the grain was sparged, a boil was started on the induction cooktop.  When the boil began, the following schedule was used:

  • 60 minutes:  Add 0.15 ounces of Challenger hops and 0.2 ounces of Styrian Goldings, also the cane sugar
  • 15 minutes:  Add 0.20 ounces of Styrian Goldings hops, Irish Moss, and yeast nutrient
  • 5 minutes:  Add Sweet Orange Peel, Styrian Goldings
  • 0 minutes: Turn off the heat, put on a lid, and put in mini-fridge to chill

The post-boil gravity measured 15.0 Brix or 1.061 SG, well below the expected 1.082 SG. Was that due to the spillage of grain and wort? Maybe. Either way, efficiency works out to about 56% on this batch, which is way below what I've been seeing in this setup.


I managed to squeeze in two brewing sessions today, both with disappointing results.  In both cases, my efficiency was well below what it normally is.

I could blame grain crush, since the earlier brew that hit 47% efficiency used grain I crushed myself.  But this batch used almost entirely grain crushed when purchased, and only hit 56% efficiency.  Even when I used only store-crushed grain, I never saw such low efficiency.  Something else must be at fault here but I haven't figured out what yet.

The spill of 170F wort and grain on my arms, hands, and work table was a bit of a disaster.  I'm not sure quite what went wrong there.  Maybe too much stuff in the bag?  Maybe I wasn't careful enough opening it?  Hard to say. It's something I need to figure out before I do myself some serious damage.

Update 08/12/2017:  The finished beer is actually pretty good.  I think if I scale this up to a full 5-gallon batch I might have the good "base Tripel" recipe I have been looking for.  In the next iteration, I'm thinking I'll replace some of the Belgian Pilsner malt with Cara-Pils to improve the head retention, add some sweetness, and improve the body a little.  I might also mash the grain at a slightly higher temperature the next time around, too.  Unfortunately, I haven't seen the real Affligem Tripel on store shelves in Ohio so I can't compare it to the real thing.

Gulden Draak 9000 Quadrupel Clone 1.0

The Gulden Draak and Gulden Draak 9000 Belgian beers are two of my favorites.  I've made a few unsuccessful attempts to brew Gulden Draak, but before today had never tried to brew Gulden Draak 9000.  I found the recipe on the Candi Syrup, Inc., web site and acquired the ingredients.

Earlier in the week, I began culturing up White Labs WLP510  Bastogne yeast to make sure I had enough available to brew the beer successfully, a 4L starter took care of that.


9 pounds 4.5 oz Belgian Pilsen Malt
4.5 pounds Belgian Pale Ale Malt
1.5 pounds Belgian Cara 45 Malt
1.5 pounds D-45 Candi Syrup
1 ounce Spalt hops @ 2.6% AA
0.85 ounces Northern Brewer hops @ 9.6% AA
0.85 ounces Hallertau Mittelfrueh @ 4.0% AA
1 Tbsp. pH 5.2 Stabilizer
1 Whirlfloc tablet
1/2 tsp. Yeast Nutrient
1 Campden Tablet

According to BeerSmith, this brew should hit the following numbers:

  • Batch Size: 5.1 gallons
  • Pre-Boil Volume: 6.6 gallons
  • Brew House Efficiency: 80%
  • Boil Time: 90 minutes
  • Estimated Original Gravity: 1.097
  • IBUs: 28.5
  • Color: 15.3 SRM
  • ABV: 10.1%
  • Total Grains: 16.79 pounds
  • Total Hops: 2.7 ounces
  • Bitterness Ratio: 0.293
  • Pre-Boil Gravity: 1.083 SG
  • Final Gravity: 1.022 SG
I'm not quite sure why, but I came nowhere close to some of those numbers.  The actual figures were:
  • Batch Size: 4.5 gallons in the fermenter
  • Original Gravity: 17.0 Brix or 1.070 SG
  • Pre-boil Gravity: 12.2 Brix or 1.049 SG
  • Pre-boil Volume: 5.75 gallons
Since it's pretty typical for me to hit my gravity and volume targets, being over a half a gallon off in volume and 27 gravity points low was disturbing.  I will be looking into this more.  BeerSmith says my efficiency for this batch was 47.6%, which is a new low.


The mash schedule was as follows, per Candi Syrup, Inc.'s recipe:
  • 6.0 gallons of mash water heated to 124F
  • Grain pitched along with pH 5.2 stabilizer
  • 15 minutes at 124F
  • 30 minutes at 153F
  • 15 minutes at 162F
  • 10 minute mash out at 170F
  • Sparge with 1.5 gallons of water at 170F
This yielded only 5.75 gallons of wort in the kettle, instead of the expected 6.6 gallons.  This means I need to revisit my calculations, I think.

Pre-boil gravity registered a mere 12.2 Brix instead of the expected 20.0 Brix.


A 90-minute boil was called for in the recipe, as noted below:
  • 90 minutes:  No additions
  • 60 minutes:  Add Northern Brewer hops
  • 30 minutes:  Add Spalt hops
  • 15 minutes: Add yeast nutrient
  • 10 minutes:  Add Hallertau, D-45 Syrup, and Whirlfloc tablet
  • 7 minutes: Recirculate wort through chiller to sterilize
  • 0 minutes:  Turn off heat, cool down chiller, and pump wort into fermenter
Post-boil volume was 4.9 gallons at 17.0 Brix gravity, well below the expected amount and volume.


Wort was pumped through The Grainfather's counterflow chiller into a stainless fermenter where the yeast from the 4L WLP510 starter were waiting.  Although the original recipe called for a starting fermentation temp of 62F, I couldn't get the beer below 76.4F.  

The plan is to let the beer cool down to ambient temperature, and have a controller and heating element keep it at or above the following temperature schedule:
  • Days 1-2: 62F or higher
  • Day 3: 64F or higher
  • Day 4: 66F or higher
  • Day 5: 68F or higher
  • Day 6: 70F or higher
  • Days 7+: 74F or higher
After approximately 4 weeks, the beer will be transferred to a secondary fermenter or a bottling bucket... as yet to be determined.

Update:  After roughly 3 hours in the fermenter, I'm already seeing significant activity in the airlock, so I suspect the yeast are happy in their new home.  

Post-Mortem and Notes

This was not my best brew day.  

I made my first attempt to brew using the new Grainfather Connect controller and Android app.  Importing a BeerXML file from The Grainfather recipe site resulted in the app wanting to set mash temperatures well above boiling (255F in one case).  Importing one from BeerSmith resulted in the app telling me I needed only 0.9 gallons of mash water for 15.3 pounds of grain.  Fortunately, I knew better and used the right mash water amount.  

Despite sorting out the temps and amounts, the application crashed after the first of the four mash steps.  Re-launching it didn't pick up where it left off, but wanted to start the mash over. There seemed to be no way to move to the next step of the mash (which is where I was at the time), so I ended up having to manually set mash temps from there on.  Not a big deal, but it kind of negates the value of the app.

After the mash, it became clear that something was wrong.  The kettle had little more than 4 gallons in it before the sparge, and just under 6 gallons after the sparge.  I would have added water to raise the level, but the wort was way beneath the gravity I calculated too. I decided to just brew as it was. The final gravity was still almost 27 (SG) points below my calculated amount.  Although I have often gotten 80% efficiency, today I saw a massive drop. My efficiency was well below 50% on this batch.

Going back to my mash and sparge water calculation spreadsheet, I did some re-calculation and discovered that I have been calculating sparge water amounts incorrectly.  I updated the spreadsheet and this seemed to give me numbers that matched reality.  That should help future brews hit their volume targets more consistently.

While the calculation error explains the volume discrepancy, I am still at a loss to explain the efficiency issue.  I'd been seeing 80% efficiency fairly consistently, but this batch comes in around 48%.  It's something I'll need to sort out.

Update 08/12/2017:  The beer has been bottled with corn sugar and conditioned for a couple of weeks at 78F to ensure good carbonation.  The finished beer is disappointing.  Whether this is because I failed to come close to the gravity target (which seems likely) or because it's not a good recipe, I'm not sure.  It's drinkable, recognizable as Belgian style, and looks about the right color for Gulden Draak 9000... but that's about all I can say for it.  I'm hoping maybe with some aging it will improve, but right now it's at best "OK" and definitely no Gulden Draak 9000 clone as-is.  Next time around, I think I would swap out some of the Pilsen malt for Melanoidin and Cara-Pils to improve the body and head retention.  I'd also boil longer or make other changes to get the beer closer to the target gravity before adding hops.

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Return of the Ghost of Undercarbonation

Could flipping your bottles upside down every day actually fix a lack of carbonation?

Earlier in my brewing history, I made a really nice Belgian Tripel.  It had great flavor and aroma, but came out of the bottle totally flat - not a hint of carbonation.  I tried giving it more time, but that didn't work. I tried moving it outside where temperatures were in the lower 80's.  No good.  After two months, the beer remained flat.

I reached out to a home brewing magazine for advice.  They suggested opening some of the bottles and pitching in some dry champagne yeast, then shaking the bottle gently to rehydrate the yeast.  This, combined with another month, did not solve the problem.

Eventually, I poured the flat beer into a uKeg stainless steel growler and force-carbonated it in there.

After that, I tried to live by a simple rule.  If the beer I brewed was at or below 8% ABV, I would condition it as-is.  If it was over 8%, I would pitch in some fresh yeast with the priming sugar.  Typically this would be champagne yeast (since it's cheap and generates lots of CO2) or CBC-1 bottle conditioning yeast.  This seemed to solve the problem.

Fast-forward to today.  I had a beer brewed over a month ago which, despite four weeks in a 76-78F environment, was more or less totally flat.  Open a bottle and there is no hint of a hiss.

I started doing searches and found a suggestion so simple that I wouldn't have believed it could work.  It was a no-risk suggestion, so I decided to try it.

What was it?  Every few days, turn all the bottles upside down (or if they're upside down, right-side-up).  This forces the yeast to fall through the beer, which is primed with sugar.  Some of the yeast will in theory be roused into life and do some carbonating.  Each time you flip the bottle, there should be more active yeast and more carbonating taking place.

For the past seven days, each night I have visited my bottles.  The 12-ounce bottles are inverted in their six-pack containers.  The 22-ounce bombers are picked up, inverted in my hand, shaken very gently, flipped back upright, and returned to the conditioning box.  (This is an insulated cooler with a heating element and controller that keeps the inside at 76F or a yeast-compatible temperature.)

Last night, I took a 12-ounce bottle and refrigerated it.  Popping the cap, I was immediately greeted with the hiss signifying the release of carbon dioxide.  It had carbonated at last!

If you are encountering an issue where your latest home brew hasn't carbonated properly, I would definitely recommend trying this technique.  It seemed to save the day for me.

Update 10/08/2017:  Recently I had another batch fall victim to undercarbonation.  When a bottle of the beer (11.4% ABV or better) is opened, you get the familiar hiss of carbonation. When the beer is poured, however, it's totally flat.  These bottles were kept in a 76F container and inverted daily for about three weeks, without any carbonation increase.  I then increased the temp to 80F and inverted them daily for another three weeks with no benefit.  So clearly this tip does not work in all cases.  For information on what I did next, see my post on Rescuing Undercarbonated Beer.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Beerstone Removal from Stainless Steel Fermenters

I have four stainless steel fermenters.  Three are made by SS Brewing Technologies, and have a conical bottom with a valve, dip tube, and thermowell.  The last is by Chapman and is a cylindrical shape with a tap near the bottom.  They are all good products, but I'm partial to the SS Brewing Technologies fermenters for their conical bottoms (to capture trub and yeast), stackability, and thermowells.

Although I purchased it (supposedly) new, one of my SS Brewing Technologies fermenters arrived with a rough white substance on the inside.  I suspected that this was beerstone, and was hesitant to use the fermenter for that reason.  Beerstone can create pockets for bacteria to thrive in, and it can be difficult or impossible to sanitize that surface well enough to prevent infection.  I work too hard on my brews to chance an avoidable infection.

Recently, I started reviewing how other home brewers were removing beerstone from their equipment.  The recommended solution is a two-stage cleaning with extremely hot water. The first stage uses a phosphoric/nitric acid mixture.  The second uses an alkaline cleaner.  After using the alkaline cleaner, a very thorough rinse is recommended.

Digging around online, finding the recommended acids was difficult if not impossible due to concerns over their hazardous nature.  My stand-by cleaner, PBW, is an alkaline one so I figured it might do the trick if I could find the acid mix.  Star San contains one of the acids, but not both.

I continued to research and found that a number of home brewers swear by Oxiclean.  They say that mixing Oxiclean with very hot water and letting the fermenter soak for an hour or two would loosen beerstone and make it easier to remove. I had purchased a 10-pound package of Sodium Percarbonate (one of the active ingredients in Oxiclean) from Amazon a couple of years ago.  I use a tablespoon of it in a large quantity of hot water to remove labels from bottles for home brewing, and to remove caked on yeast from the bottom of the bottle before tossing them in the dishwasher.

I figured I had little to lose, so I took a small quantity of the chemical (approximately 2 ounces) and put it in the fermenter with the beerstone problem.  I then ran the hottest tap water I could into the fermenter until it was full (or at least had a water line above the beerstone).  I put the lid on the fermenter and left it for about an hour.

When I returned, I removed some of the mixture from the fermenter until I got down to the level of the beerstone.  Sadly, I could still see it on the wall of the fermenter.  I took out a scrubbing sponge I use to clean my fermenters and scrubbed with moderate pressure.  The beerstone removed instantly.  By the time I'd scrubbed the entire inner surface of the fermenter, you could no longer see or feel any beerstone in it.

If you find beerstone caked in your stainless fermenters, you may want to give this a try.