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Salsbury's ESB version 1.1

I like a good English beer from time to time, and am fond of the Extra Special Bitter (ESB) style.  After surveying a number of recipes out there, I decided to formulate one of my own.  I made a 1-gallon test batch a few months back and it turned out great. It disappeared quickly.

One thing I didn't love about it was the flavor of the East Kent Goldings hops.  There is something in that hop variety that disagrees with my tastebuds, so I decided to shake things up a little in version 1.1.  Specifically, I am going to replace East Kent Goldings with Styrian Goldings and instead of using 60, 30, and 15 minute hop additions I will continuously hop this one.  Will it turn out like a traditional ESB or will it seem more like an "Imperial ESB" or "American ESB"... I don't know. We'll find out.


6.25 pounds Maris Otter Malt
1.25 pounds Caramel/Crystal 40L Malt
14 ounces Caramel/Crystal 60L Malt
10 ounces Caramel/Crystal 10L Malt
10 ounces Victory Malt
2.5 ounces of Styrian Goldings @ 6.2% AA (continuous)
1 Tbsp. pH 5.2 Stabilizer
2 Campden Tablets
1/4 tsp. Super Irish Moss
Danstar Lallemand ESB dry yeast
1 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm
4.1 gallons of mash water
3.25 gallons of sparge water

Per BeerSmith and my equipment profile for iMake's The Grainfather, this beer should achieve the following characteristics:
  • Volume:  5.1 gallons (actual was 5.1 gallons)
  • Pre-Boil Volume: 6.4 gallons (with water additions, actual was 6.4 gallons)
  • Mash time: 60 minutes at 154F with 10-minute mash-out
  • Boil time: 60 minutes
  • Original Gravity: 1.055 SG (13.6 Brix), actual was the same
  • Pre-Boil Gravity: 1.048 SG (11.9 Brix), actual was 11.2 Brix
  • Final Gravity: 1.015 SG
  • IBUs:  34.95
  • Color: 13.7 SRM
  • ABV: 5.3%
  • BU/GU Ratio: 0.65
  • BH Efficiency: 80%

The Mash

4.1 gallons of water were placed in The Grainfather and treated with a Campden Tablet to remove any chlorine or chloramine.  The water was heated to 154F and the grain added to the grain basket, periodically stirred during the addition to ensure there were no dough balls or dry patches.

A 60-minute mash at 154F was followed by a 10-minute mash out at 167F.

The grain was sparged with 3.25 gallons of water at 170F.  (Since there is a one-gallon dead space in the kettle used, I actually added 4.25 to the kettle and treated that with Campden as well.)

BeerSmith calculated that I would have a pre-boil volume of 6.2 gallons at 12.4 Brix.  After sparging, I had 6.0 gallons.  I added water from my sparge kettle until I hit the 6.4 gallon mark, which is the correct amount The Grainfather calculations aim for when making a 5 gallon batch. Gravity at this point read 11.2 Brix (versus the 11.9 Brix at 6.2 gallons BeerSmith calculated).  This could have been the result of picking a weak sample for the refractometer or the result of dilution.)

The Boil (and The Brewcolator)

After obtaining the 6.4-gallon pre-boil volume, I gently lowered the Brewcolator into the kettle using a silicone mitt, as I expected boiling hot wort to leak out the top as I lowered it.  That did not occur. I did note, as the photo below shows, that the sprayer was about an inch above the top of the liquid. The instructions recommend having it just above the top, so I removed it and adjusted the height down about an inch so that the set screw seen in the picture below was just under the wort level.

As the wort reached a boil, I divided the 2.5 ounces of hops into five equal-weight batches.  I labeled these for each 12-minute segment of the boil process.  I divided the first 12-minute portion up into 12 roughly-equal amounts.  This worked out to about 5-6 pellets per addition.

I dropped in the first dose at boil. Every 60 seconds after that, I dropped in another dose of hops.  If you wonder why Sam Calagione invented a device (the aptly named "Sir Hops Alot") to do timed hop additions, making this many hop additions in a single batch will make that very clear to you.  It's tedious to do manually.  You feel almost chained to the kettle.  This is probably why some recipes I've seen involving continuous hopping time their additions every 3 minutes instead of every minute.  That would probably work just as well.

As for the rest of the boil, it went like this:
  • 20 minutes:  Extracted wort and dissolved Super Irish Moss into it.
  • 10 minutes:  Added the Super Irish Moss mix into the kettle and stirred well.
  • 7 minutes: Recirculated wort through The Grainfather's counter flow chiller to sterilize it
  • 0 minutes: Turned off the heat. Lifted the hop spider up to allow the wort to drain from it. Ran cold water through the counter flow chiller to cool it down.
Post-boil volume was expected to be about 5.8 gallons.  

The Brewcolator - First Impressions

This was my first use of The Brewcolator brewing device.  Until I have the time to construct a proper review and give a buying recommendation, these first impressions will have to do.  (Note:  I did not receive a free unit, nor was I asked by the creators to talk about it here.  These will be my honest impressions based on a single use.)

According to the marketing literature, the Brewcolator:

  • Speeds evaporation time
  • Improves protein hot break
  • Saves time and fuel
  • Fits brew pots up to 14 gallons

That's it in the image below.

The Brewcolator
It's made of stainless steel, including the screws that hold it together. The screws are used to adjust the height so that The Brewcolator's "nozzle" sits just above the top of the boiling wort.  As your wort boils, it will periodically percolate up the tube and spray out the top. This spraying action prevents hot break foam from building up.

According to the creators, "Because the heat is concentrated in the center of the brew pot, less fuel is needed to bring your wort to a boil. In fact, you may find that you need to turn the heat much lower than what you're used to."

They also say that "Sometimes you don't always have the perfect set-up for making beer. It could be that you have a giant pot on a small burner, or the wind is blowing the flame away from your brew pot. With the Brewcolator in your brew pot you will always have the benefit of a good rolling boil."

While there are many things I love about The Grainfather, one thing I don't like is that it never seems to generate quite as full a boil as I'd like to see.  It is a rolling boil, but compared to what I can get from an induction cookplate or on the kitchen stove, it's weak.  Since I often see chill haze in my beers, I've wondered if a better boil would fix that.  (This is a minor nuisance, since gelatin finings will eliminate most or all chill haze given enough time in a cold location.)  I bought The Brewcolator hoping that it might help.

I decided to try the device with this batch and see if it helped with hot break or a rolling boil.  I cleaned and assembled it, then dropped it into the wort as it heated to boiling.

Brewcolator in kettle (set a bit too high in this image)

As you can see above, the nozzle is about two inches above the liquid level.  I had to remove it from the kettle, loosen one of the lower set screws, and drop the height about an inch so that only the nozzle was above the surface of the wort. (I didn't think to get a photo of that.)  Soon, as The Grainfather's temperature reading showed approximately 190F, wort would periodically spray out of The Brewcolator's nozzle across the surface of the wort.  That looked like the image below (taken before I adjusted the height).

The Brewcolator spraying wort across the liquid surface, preventing boil-over
The idea is that this periodic spraying action automatically reincorporates the hot break foam into the wort.  In practice, it worked as designed.  In addition, spraying supposedly increases the surface area for steam to evaporate from, helping to increase boil-off.

The Brewcolator deserves a review in the future, but for now here are my first impressions:
  • Temperature Oddity:  Without the Brewcolator, the temperature gauge on The Grainfather typically reads 209-212F during the boil. With the Brewcolator installed, I never saw a temperature reading over 203F.  I suspect that this means one (or perhaps both) of two things. First, the creators of The Brewcolator claim it concentrates heat into the center of the kettle. If so, that would pull it from The Grainfather temperature probe on the side of the kettle. That could cause a lower temperature reading.  Second, it could be that The Grainfather's scorch protection feature is detecting The Brewcolator as potentially-scorched wort and isn't heating the kettle as fully as it normally would, which would account for the reduced temperature reading (though it never actually triggered the scorch protection).  Either way, I hit my final gravity and volume targets on the nose, so the net effect for me was that The Brewcolator did not increase boil-off/evaporation (or it enhanced and interfered with it in equal measure, leading to no net improvement).  More experimentation and testing is needed.
  • Boil-Over Prevention and Better Hot Break:  As the wort heated up, it definitely began generating the usual hot break foam. Once the Brewcolator was inserted, it would spray wort across the top of the kettle (as seen in images in this post) every few seconds.  This had the effect of reincorporating the hot break automatically and preventing hot break foam from building up.  So in that respect, the Brewcolator delivered on its promise. With a Brewcolator installed, I would not worry about a boil-over.  If you have occasional boil-overs, I might recommend it to you simply on that basis.  Given its stainless construction, it would be a one-time purchase provided you took care of it, and provide permanent insurance against boil-over.
  • Cleanup:  Cleanup was easy enough. Pull it out of the kettle, soak it in hot PBW for a bit, then rinse with hot water.  The bottom of the underside of it needed a little wiping with a sponge to remove some residue, but that was it.  A brush is provided with it, so that you can scrub the inside of the tubing.
  • Splatter:  It's worth noting that even with a lot of head space above the Brewcolator (i.e., 5-6.4 gallons of wort in an 8+ gallon kettle) and with it adjusted (I think) correctly, there is still a bit of splatter outside the kettle from the spray.  I noticed splatters on The Grainfather control box after the brewing session was over and on nearby items. This is something to consider if you brew in your kitchen or another space where cleanup is important.
With only a single use of the device under my belt, I can't say that I definitely recommend it yet.  (On the other hand, if you want a tool to prevent boil-over, this should do that just fine.)  I've got some questions I'll want to answer for myself in future tests, such as:

  • Do I see a reduction in chill haze for beers made with The Brewcolator in The Grainfather versus beers made without it?
  • Does The Grainfather take longer to get to a boil with The Brewcolator installed versus without it installed?
  • Does The Brewcolator prevent boil-over in more-extreme cases, like beers made with a high amount of wheat, oat, Cara-Pils, and other protein rich malts?
  • If electrical usage is measured with a device like the Kill A Watt monitor, does it take less electricity to make the same recipe with The Brewcolator as without it?
  • Does the weld at the bottom of the device hold up with repeated usage? (For that matter, is the weld made of a food-safe metal?)  For what it's worth, the creators do sell the individual replacement parts at a relatively reasonable price.
  • What does iMake, the creators of The Grainfather, think about using a device like this inside The Grainfather?  Do they have concerns about it harming The Grainfather with repeated use, or do they think it would be beneficial?
Hopefully someday in the near future I can post a full review to answer these and other questions.

The Fermentation

Fermenter volume was estimated to be 5.1 gallons at 13.6 Brix by BeerSmith.  These numbers were hit on the nose, with 5.1 gallons in the fermenter and an original gravity measurement of 13.6 Brix.

The dry ESB yeast was pitched into the sanitized fermenter along with the Clarity Ferm, and the fermenter was sealed. Approximately 12 hours later, the airlock was bubbling actively.

The plan is to let this ferment until fermentation stops, 1-3 weeks from now.  I'm planning to use temperature control during the initial stages of fermentation to keep the beer in the 68-70F range.

10/14/2017:  The beer has definitely completed fermentation. I added a half-cup of water with a teaspoon of gelatin finings to it for clarification, and placed the fermenter in my mini-fridge to cold-crash.

10/22/2017:  I removed the beer from the mini-fridge today and although it's not crystal clear (and probably should not be for the style) it looks good.  I bottled a mix of 12-ounce and 22-ounce bottles.  Final yield was just under 5 gallons. I carbonated it with 4.05 ounces of corn sugar which should get me in the neighborhood of 2.2 to 2.4 volumes of CO2. That's on the high end for a British Ale but not insanely high.  I'll be back in a couple of weeks to do a photo and taste test.

10/29/2017:  At bottling, the beer seemed over-bittered to me, at least in a flat room temperature state.  That's no longer the case after carbonation and bottle conditioning for a week.  As you can see in the photos, it pours a nice reddish brown with thick head that lingers a while.  The aroma is one of malt, caramel, and noble hops. The flavor is mildly sweet, with caramel and maybe a hint of butterscotch, and just enough hops to balance the malt. It might benefit from maybe a 3-5 IBU increase in hops amount, but it's darned near exactly what I wanted it to be.  I'm very happy with it.

Post-Mortem and Other Notes

I made some equipment changes this batch which I thought might affect my efficiency. Specifically:
  • Mill:  For this batch, I used my new three-roller motorized mill from William's Brewing.  This made crushing the grain a much faster process and eliminated almost all wear-and-tear on my shoulder - which is often in extreme pain after crushing grain using my old hand-cranked mill (which didn't work with the motor kit).  My concern was that this might alter my efficiency by either more-consistently crushing the grain (thus increasing efficiency) or less-effectively crushing it (and thus reducing efficiency).  In the long run, I'm hoping the motorized mill improves consistency across batches versus the hand-cranked mill.
  • Brewcolator:  As noted above, I used The Brewcolator in this batch to see if it improved the boil, eliminated boil-over, and perhaps reduced chill haze in the final beer.  My concern was that this might increase boil-off and mess up my volume/gravity calculations.
The rest of my process was unchanged.  As it turned out, I hit my gravity and volume targets on the nose again, so these changes either offset one another or did not alter my results.  This is good, as it means I do not have to alter my calculations yet again.


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