Saturday, October 7, 2017

Autumn Brown Ale v1.0

The finished Autumn Brown Ale
My wife and I enjoy the various Christmas Ales on the market.  I'm personally a fan of Hoppin' Frog's Frosted Frog, Scaldis Noel, Thirsty Dog's 12 Dogs of Christmas, and a few others.  Oddly, I've never brewed a Christmas Ale myself. I decided to give it a shot this year.

What I came up with for a recipe is a bit of a "kitchen sink" kind of beer in terms of the malt portion of the recipe.  I had a number of malts that might have been getting stale sitting on the shelf, and which also might be good in a Christmas beer, so I assembled a recipe to use them.  If I was doing this again, with an agenda that didn't include getting rid of some possibly-older malts, I'd probably have a much simpler recipe.  Regardless, below is what I wound up putting together.

Ingredients

4 pounds of Maris Otter malt
4 pounds of Belgian Pale Ale malt
1.5 pounds of Aromatic Malt
1 pound of Caramel 60L
1 pound of Caramel 80L
1 pound of Honey Malt
1 pound of Melany (Melanoidin) Malt
1 pound of Special B Malt
12 ounces of Flaked Oats
4 ounces of Caramel 40L
2 ounces of Chocolate Malt
0.5 ounces of Cascade hops pellets @ 6.2% (60 min.)
0.75 ounces of Cascade hops pellets @ 6.2% (30 min.)
1.00 ounces of Cascade hops pellets @ 6.2% (15 min.)
1.25 ounces of Cascade hops pellets @ 6.2% (5 min)
0.5 tsp. Minced Ginger
1.5 ounces of Sweet Orange Peel
0.15 ounces of Indonesian Cinnamon Stick (whole)
1 packet Wyeast 3463 Forbidden Fruit yeast
1 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm
1 Campden Tablet
1 Whirlfloc Tablet
1 Tbsp. pH 5.2 Stabilizer

BeerSmith gives the brew the following characteristics:
  • Est. Original Gravity: 1.081 SG
  • IBUs: 19.8
  • Color: 29.2 SRM
  • Est. ABV: 8.3%
  • Total Grains: 15.63 pounds
  • Total Hops: 2.5 ounces
  • Bitterness Ratio: 0.245
  • Est. Pre-Boil Gravity: 1.074 SG
  • Est. Final Gravity: 1.018 SG
  • Batch Size: 5.5 gallons
  • Est. Pre-boil Volume: 6.6 gallons
  • BH Efficiency: 80%
  • Boil Time: 90 minutes
Given that some of the grain used was possibly a year old or older, some was pre-crushed when I purchased it, etc., these targets were not met.  The actual beer came out around these numbers:
  • Original Gravity: 1.055 SG (13.6 Brix) vs. 1.081 SG or 21.6 Brix expected
  • Fermenter Volume: 5.5 gallons
  • BH Efficiency: 54.4% (vs. my usual 80%)
This, I think, shows the importance of having fresh grain on hand when brewing and not letting your grain sit around too long.  It also shows that (in my opinion/experience) The Grainfather struggles a bit with larger grain bills.  When I have tracked grain bill size vs. efficiency, I've noticed that The Grainfather tends to give me 80% efficiency up to about 11 pounds of grain. Above 11 pounds, that figure seems to drop to around 70%, and once you reach 14 pounds or more it's often 47-60%... though I did have one batch with 18 pounds that reached 79% efficiency. I can't really account for that.

Mashing

I wanted a full-bodied, slightly sweet beer.  For that reason, I chose a 10 minute mash step at 122F to work on the oats a little, followed by a mash at 156F for 45 minutes, and a 10 minute mash out at 167F.  This went well, though grain didn't so much flow through the grain bed as around it based on what I was seeing in the kettle.

My pre-boil gravity was considerably lower than I expected, but that has not been unusual when BeerSmith is estimating pre-boil gravity with The Grainfather.  It's often low for some reason, so I didn't worry too much about that. 

Boil

I decided on a 90-minute boil, as this purportedly can improve caramelization. The following boil schedule was followed:
  • 90 minutes:  No additions
  • 60 minutes: Add 0.5 oz. Cascade pellets
  • 30 minutes: Add 0.75 oz. Cascade pellets
  • 15 minutes: Add 1.0 oz. Cascade pellets and Whirlfloc tablet
  • 10 minutes: Add cinnamon stick, orange peel, and ginger to hop spider
  • 5 minutes: Recirculate wort through chiller to sterilize it
After the boil, I removed the hop spider and allowed the liquid to drain into the kettle.  When the draining stopped, I whirlpooled the contents of the kettle for a few minutes before pumping the wort into the fermenter.

Final kettle volume was approximately 6 pounds at a gravity of 13.6 Brix, which is considerably lower than the 19.6 I had been expecting.  I'm attributing this to both some inefficiency in The Grainfather when dealing with large grain bills and the fact that many of the grains used have been sitting around a while.

The Brewcolator - Second Use Notes

With this batch, I decided to make use of The Brewcolator device again.  This is a device that's designed to "percolate" your wort to prevent boil-over, enhance evaporation, drive off DMS precursors, and in theory reduce fuel consumption.  As wort in the bottom of the kettle reaches a boiling temperature, it shoots up through the center tube of the device and out through the sprayer at the top.  Wort coming out the sprayer automatically reincorporates the hot break foam and has a larger surface area, increasing evaporation.

Normally, I use a hop sock and hop spider to contain any hops, spices, orange peel, etc, that I add to the kettle during the boil. I do this to minimize the amount of sediment in the bottom of the kettle and to hopefully have a less-intense cleanup at the end of brewing.  For this batch, I was distracted a bit and dropped the first hops addition directly into the kettle without a hop sock or spider.  This proved to be a fatal mistake for The Brewcolator.  Apparently, as I discovered after brewing, the hops pellets traveled to the bottom of the kettle, were sucked into The Brewcolator, and shot up into the tube.  They clogged the nozzle at the top of the kettle, preventing The Brewcolator from doing its job and resulting in a bit of a cleanup nuisance.  I had to fully disassemble The Brewcolator and poke the hops out of the nozzle before soaking the whole contraption in PBW.  It wasn't a major cleanup mess, but did add perhaps five minutes to my cleanup time.  This hop "plug" prevented the device from doing its job on this brew.

Moral of the story:  If you're using The Brewcolator, use a hop sock, too.

Fermentation

I decided to use a Belgian yeast strain for this, in part because I had it on-hand and in part because I've wanted to use this particular yeast for a while.  I also decided I would allow fermentation temps to run wild for this batch, hoping that the stress on the yeast would make the beer a bit more flavorful (and in part because my temperature control system wouldn't work for the fermenter I was using for this batch).  

The next morning, I saw activity in the airlock, which indicated (hopefully) that the yeast was happy in its new home and busily chewing through the sugars in the wort.  This continued for at least a couple of days.  I'm planning to let the beer have a week or two in the fermenter before either bottling or moving to a clean secondary.

10/21/2017:  The beer was bottled today with 6 ounces of corn sugar to prime it.  The sample taken from the dregs of the bottling bucket was disappointingly bitter and the spice notes didn't seem to come through the bitterness much.  Perhaps with a month or two of conditioning it will be better. If it remains like this, I'll be pretty disappointed.  It's more like a Great Lakes Christmas Ale than a Hoppin' Frog or Thirsty Dog (those last two being personal favorites, and the first "not so much").  I'll be back in a couple of weeks with a photo and taste test.

Post-Mortem and Other Notes

As I mentioned above, the direct kettle hops addition messed things up for The Brewcolator this time around, so I can't comment on its performance apart from saying that I wouldn't use one if you are the type who adds things directly into your kettle.  I normally don't, but did so by accident this time.

Somehow during this brew, possibly while working to get The Brewcolator in position on the bottom of the Kettle (around The Grainfather's temperature probe and pump filter which are also located on the bottom of the kettle), I managed to dislodge the rubber end cap of the pump filter. At the end of the brew, while pumping wort into the fermenter, I noticed the stream of wort getting thinner and thinner before stopping completely.  I poured the last of the wort into the fermenter by hand, lifting the entire Grainfather and tilting it into the fermenter.  Not the ideal way to go, but I didn't want to lose a half gallon of beer to a clogged pump.

Once I'd buttoned up the fermenter, it was time to clean the device.  This, too, proved to be a pain because of the direct hop addition.  The pump had sucked up a lot of hops pellet material and become clogged.  The counter flow chiller had also.  I had to blow air through both sections of The Grainfather tubing to clear the blockage.  After that, I emptied the kettle and ran hot water through both. This was followed with hot PBW solution, then more hot water to rinse.  In all, cleanup took at least 30 minutes longer than usual.  All that from (pretty much) dropping a single hop addition into the kettle during the boil.  Lesson learned.

10/28/2017:  The beer is now carbonated and as you can see in the photo at the top.  While it's a great looking beer in the glass, it is very definitely not what I wanted from a Christmas Ale. The chocolate malt and Cascade hops dominate the flavor, making it more of a moderately hopped brown ale than the slightly sweet, spicy, fruity Christmas brew I wanted.  It's not a bad beer, and it's definitely a drinkable one, but it is miles from what I intended.  Needless to say there will be a v2.0 recipe.  That one is likely to be simpler and less hopped.  Had the beer hit its intended original gravity, I think the hops balance would be better, but at its current gravity it's a hop-forward brew.

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