Saturday, May 26, 2018

Mandarina Honey Blonde Ale 1.1

Last year, I created a blonde ale recipe intended to showcase Mandarina Bavaria hops and Orange Blossom Honey. To my surprise, the finished beer took second place (silver medal) at the 2017 Ohio State Fair's homebrewing competition.  When I tried to re-brew that beer using the Picobrew Zymatic, despite their software claiming it would have a fairly low bitterness level, it actually came out so bitter that I entered it this year as a Pale Ale rather than a Blonde Ale. I decided to try again today, scaling the bitterness back to what I hope will match the original 1.0 brew, but using the Zymatic instead of The Grainfather.


3 pounds 2-row Pale Ale Malt
1.25 pounds Munich Malt
3 ounces Carapils/Dextrine Malt
1 ounce Caramel 60L Malt
0.10 ounces Mandarina Bavaria hops @ 9.2% AA (60 min.)
0.20 ounces Mandarina Bavaria hops @ 9.2% AA (15 min.)
0.50 ounces Sweet Orange Peel (10 min.)
1/2 tsp. Irish Moss (10 min.)
1/4 tsp. White Labs Yeast Nutrient (10 min.)
0.35 ounces Mandarina Bavaria hops @ 9.2% AA (5 min.)
0.50 ounces Tangerine Peel (5 min.)
12 ounces Orange Blossom Honey (added prior to chilling)
1/2 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm
1 packet Safale US-05 Yeast
3 gallons, 16 ounces starting water
Distilled water to increase volume to 2.5 gallons

The mash process follows the Zymatic High-Efficiency mash profile, with times and temperatures altered slightly. The first mash step was set to 30 minutes at 152F. The second mash step was set to 156F for 35 minutes. A step was added to the boil to include the 10-minute orange peel, Irish Moss, and yeast nutrient additions.

According to the Zymatic Recipe Crafter, the beer should have the following characteristics:
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons (estimated and actual after dilution with distilled water)
  • Original Gravity (estimated): 1.055 SG (13.5 Brix)
  • Original Gravity (measured): 13.5 Brix (1.056 SG)
  • Final Gravity (estimated): 1.008 SG
  • IBUs: 16 (see below)
  • SRM: 6.5
  • ABV: 6.1%
While Picobrew's recipe crafter reports that the finished beer should have 16 IBUs, the same recipe entered into BeerSmith predicts a 20.5 IBU value. The last brew showed 24 IBUs in the Picobrew recipe crafter, but tasted considerably more bitter than that. For that reason, I decided to go with hop addition amounts calculated by BeerSmith to see if the finished beer comes out at the right bitterness level this time around.

Another change in this version is the swapping of Bitter Orange Peel (which I was out of) with Tangerine Peel (which I had on hand). I'm hopeful that will improve the orange flavor, but we'll see.

Post-brewing, the wort is pumped to a kettle and the Orange Blossom Honey dissolved into it. Sterile steam-distilled water is added to achieve the volume and gravity targets.  The wort is then chilled to yeast-pitching temperatures and transferred to a sanitized fermenter, where Clarity Ferm and US-05 yeast are added.  The fermenter was then sealed and allowed to ferment at ambient temperatures without any temperature control.

Notes and Observations

05/26/2018:  The Dough-In Process showed a little foaming, but not enough to cause a problem. The mash process showed little foaming, too, so I was able to comfortably leave the machine to finish the brew.

Original gravity after the addition of the honey registered as 15.1 Brix on the refractometer. Volume registered approximately 2.3 gallons. After stirring in distilled water to get the volume up to 2.5 gallons, the gravity registered as 13.5 Brix, as expected.

If the BeerSmith calculation is correct and the beer ends up at 20.5 IBUs (as opposed to the Picobrew crafter calculation that says 16 IBUs), this re-brew should come out very close to the original brew in The Grainfather last year.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Dragon Stout Clone v2.0

My first attempt at brewing a Dragon Stout clone resulted in a beer that initially tasted pretty good, but began to dry out and lose some of its subtle flavors and nearly all of its sweetness. When entered into competition, it scored extremely low. I might be upset about that if it wasn't for the fact that it was a published recipe, not something I'd come up with on my own.  This version is no different. It's a recipe that did not originate from me, but looked like a closer match to the real beer than the previous one.


5 pounds 6-row Malt
1 pound, 2 ounces Flaked Corn
8 ounces Crystal 120L
4 ounces Chocolate Malt
3 ounces Blackprinz Malt (the recipe called for Black Patent, but it wasn't available)
1 ounce Roasted Barley
4 ounces Turbinado Sugar (the recipe called for brown sugar, but I used this instead)
4 ounces Corn Sugar
0.31 ounces Magnum hops @ 12.2% AA (60 min.)
3.2 gallons of starting water, mixed with the two sugars above
1 package of Lallemand ESB Ale Yeast

Some readers may be wondering why I chose an ale yeast for this batch instead of the lager yeast I used last time.  Although the BJCP says that the style is typically made with warm-fermented lager yeast, I decided that a relatively cool fermentation with ale yeast might achieve the same flavor profile. The ESB strain often produces some fruity notes (typically apple and/or tropical fruit) for which the Tropical Stout style is known.  It may prove a poor choice in the end, but I wanted to try it out.

According to the Zymatic Recipe Crafter, the beer should have the following characteristics:
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons
  • Original Gravity: 1.075 SG (17.8 Brix actual)
  • Final Gravity: 1.021 SG (10.2 Brix or 1.019 actual)
  • IBUs: 19
  • ABV: 7.1%
  • SRM: 41
The Zymatic High Efficiency Mash Schedule was used.

The wort did foam out of the top of the step filter starting around the end of the Dough In step of the mash.  During the first step of the mash, it foamed quite a bit more, but didn't seem to flow over the lid or into the drip tray.  Foaming seemed to reduce during the second step of the mash, but never completely quit.  This seems to be just "normal operation" for the Zymatic.

After brewing, there was approximately 2.25 gallons of wort produced.  Adding sterile distilled water to this dropped the gravity down to the expected 17.8 Brix and brought the volume back up to the planned 2.5 gallon amount.

05/12/2018:  The chilled wort was poured into a sanitized fermenter into which the ESB yeast had already been added.  No temperature control will be utilized in this case, as the beer is being kept in an environment with an ambient temperature in the mid-60's Fahrenheit, and the Lallemand ESB yeast is said to work optimally in the 68-72F temperature range.

05/21/2018:  The beer was bottled with a Cooper's carbonation drop in each bottle and placed in my 76F "hot box" to carbonate.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

PicoBrew Zymatic - Five Months In

I received my PicoBrew Zymatic back in December 2017, and made my first batches right away.  It's now may 2018, and I've had about five months with it.  If you're considering purchasing one, my experiences might help you make your decision.

The Zymatic Has Made Me More Prolific

To date, I've made 22 batches with the Zymatic.  That's about half of what I made all of last year.  I've made a pale ale, two blonde ales, a malt liquor, a couple of Belgian Tripels, three Saisons, a couple of ESBs, three Belgian Dubbels, and some other styles.  Some of these were my own recipes, while others were published somewhere.  I would probably have brewed even more batches if I'd had the free time to do it.

The Zymatic Can Make Good Beer, But It Can Make Bad Beer, Too

Only a few of the beers went into competition. They've gotten scores ranging from an average of 20.6 (a Tropical Stout from a published recipe) to 36.5 (a Kentucky Common, my own recipe).  So if you're wondering whether the machine can produce good beer, the answer is yes - provided you give it a good recipe, ferment it properly, etc.  If you choose a bad recipe, have poor brewing hygiene, etc., you'll get bad beer.  The Zymatic won't make up for recipe issues or your own poor practices.

If you're a fairly new brewer, I would encourage you to use some other brewing systems that require more manual effort during the mash and boil before moving to the Zymatic.  It's important to have an understanding of how mashing, sparging, and boiling work before handing control over to the Zymatic - if you want to produce your best beer. The time I spent brewing on the kitchen stove, using the Grainfather, and cobbling together a sous vide based brewing setup were all helpful to me in understanding the brewing process. 

I had one batch (I forget which) where the Zymatic lost its WiFi connection briefly and decided to just stop running, rather than finish out the batch with the instructions it had.  I find that a bit crazy, and would warn you that if you have "wonky" WiFi or Ethernet at your place not to leave the machine completely unattended, or you could come home to a machine full of soured grain and/or wasted ingredients.

Be Careful With the Plastic Parts

In the five months I've had the Zymatic, the two major plastic parts (the step filter/tray and the sample port) both failed in warranty and had to be replaced.  The sample port cracked in the middle and began dripping wort during brewing.  The step filter developed a crack near the hole between the grain chamber and the hop chamber, which caused it to leak wort under the tray during mashing.  In both cases, PicoBrew support staff took excellent care of me and replaced the parts without hassle and at no charge.  They also provided suggestions to ensure that I wasn't doing anything to cause those parts to fail.

Both of the failed parts use clear acrylic plastic so you can see the liquid in them.  It's important to note that acrylic plastic tends to be fairly brittle and prone to cracking or breaking, so you should always treat these parts as though they could be easily damaged (though they're not truly fragile, it's a good idea to treat them like they are).  You should also never clean the Zymatic or its plastic parts with PBW (Powdered Brewer's Wash) as this will accelerate the deterioration of the plastic. Use PBW only in the metal keg and be sure to rinse it out thoroughly before reattaching it to the Zymatic.

Missing the Mark on Gravity and Volume

The online PicoBrew Recipe Crafter tool makes it fairly easy to "explain" to the Zymatic what you are brewing and how to brew it.  It provides you with calculations of the expected volume, gravity, and bitterness of the beer. 

In all of the batches I've made, the Zymatic has only once generated the exact amount of wort the recipe crafter said it would.  Typically, I will end up with anywhere from 1.8 to 2.3 gallons of wort at the end of the brewing process instead of the 2.5 gallons calculated by the recipe crafter.  The calculated gravity is generally within 10 Standard Gravity points of the calculated value, though it's rarely right on target - probably because of the volume differences.

When I finish brewing a batch, I measure the volume of wort and put a sample in my refractometer to check the gravity.  If volume is low and gravity is high, I'll add sterile distilled water to bring the gravity and volume closer to the calculated values. I do this because I want to ensure the right final flavor and bitterness profile.  If you don't dilute the beer to the intended gravity, you'll find that most of the beers you make in the Zymatic are far more bitter than they should be.  (Think of it as adding the hops needed to properly bitter a 2.5 gallon batch to a 2.0 gallon batch... that will make a fairly balanced brew turn out hop-forward. That might be fine for a Pale Ale or IPA, but it could spell competition disaster for an English, German, or Belgian style.)


Something that's kind of glossed over in the manuals is that you need to fully clean the keg after each brew.  That means using a wrench or socket to remove the keg posts, soak the posts and tubes in PBW, scrub and/or rinse the posts and tubes until the PBW is gone, and then reassemble the keg.  This is probably the most time-consuming part of cleanup with the Zymatic.  Getting residue off the sides of the keg usually means a long soak in hot PBW solution and some "elbow grease" with a keg brush scrubbing the sides of the keg.  This is followed by several rinses with hot water to ensure that the PBW is flushed out fully, so that it doesn't impact the step filter or sample port.  My arms are too thick to reach very far inside the keg, so hand-scrubbing generally isn't an option.

Cleaning the hop baskets is the next tricky bit. It's hard to get the hop particulate matter fully rinsed out of them.  Even then, the baskets tend to pick up some discoloration from the wort and hops. I find that soaking them in hot water and Dawn dish detergent helps reduce the discoloration in the hop baskets and even in the step filter, but completely removing it seems impossible.

Cleaning the step filter is the easy bit.  Dump or scoop out the grain, remove the metal filter screens, the "hop loaf" (as it's referred to), and dump out the leftover wort.  Rinse everything thoroughly in hot water and (after you finish your rinse and/or clean cycles for the machine itself), toss the step filter, screens, hop loaf, and hop baskets into your dishwasher with a Finish detergent tablet. 

Compared with the cleanup I've had in other brewing setups, it's much easier than most, and takes less time. This makes me more inclined to brew on days when my time may be limited.

Overall Impressions

Overall, the Zymatic has been a great purchase. I'm able to brew more often. Brew days are less work.  Cleanup is easier.  The beer produced by the machine is as good as any I've made in other systems.  It encourages me to experiment and re-do recipes.  It's allowed me to focus on recipe formulation and leave the process to the machine.

If I had it to do over again, I might buy the newer PicoBrew Z machines rather than the Zymatic, if only because that model is newer and can scale up modularly to larger batches.  The Z Series model wasn't available until after I'd purchased the Zymatic, though, so I made the best purchase I could at the time.

Apart from the foaming, gravity/volume issues, and some irritating quirks in the recipe crafter software, it's a very nice system and has made it easier to brew (and brew more often).  It won't make up for any shortcomings in the rest of your skill set or process, but if you're a competent brewer already, it will help you produce good beer more easily.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Citrus Saison 1.0

The finished beer, poured into a glass
As I noted in an earlier post, my Saison scored relatively poorly in competition, gaining an average score of 25.  I actually liked it much more than the judges did, but it inspired me to try again before the next competition.  One thing the judges commented on was that there was a mix of spice and fruit in the flavor (all, by the way, from the yeast). They suggested that I pick one flavor and go with it. I decided to focus on citrus, since the weather is finally warming up and a nice citrusy Saison sounded good to me.  What follows is my own recipe.

I decided to use Mandarina Bavaria hops, which impart a mandarin orange flavor, combined with Lemon Drop hops, which impart a lemon flavor. That, combined with the citrusy notes that should come from the Saison yeast, ought to tilt the flavor balance toward citrus.  We'll see, of course.


4 pounds Briess Pilsner Malt
8 ounces Dingeman's Pilsen (all I had on hand)
8 ounces Vienna Malt
4 ounces Crystal 60L
4 ounces Cara-pils/Dextrine Malt
1 ounce Mandarina Bavaria hops @ 9.2% AA (15 min.)
1 ounce Lemon Drop hops @ 5.2% AA (5 min.)
8 ounces Turbinado Sugar (added post-boil)
3 gallons, 23 ounces starting water
Zymatic High-Efficiency Mash Profile
1/2 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm
1 packet Lallemand Belle Saison yeast

According to the Picobrew recipe crafter, this beer should have the following qualities:
  • Original Gravity (OG): 1.064 SG
  • Final Gravity (FG): 1.015 SG
  • IBUs: 31
  • SRM: 7
  • ABV: 6.3%
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons
After brewing, I measured the following:
  • Original Gravity (OG): 17.8 Brix (adjusts to 1.075 SG)
  • Batch Size: 2.25 gallons
It is important to note that I did modify the mash profile to include a 15-minute Ferulic Acid rest after the Dough In step, to help the yeast express itself in the beer more.  I also modified the first mash step to run at 140F for 45 minutes, then at 157F for 45 minutes, to maximize fermentability.

The Turbinado sugar was added to dry out the Saison a little, hopefully countering a complaint that my earlier Saison was a little too sweet.  (I expected it to be. I like the sweetness to play against the Saison fruit and spice, but I guess the judges didn't.)

Post-Brew Notes

04/29/2018:  During the mash, I noticed that the beer tended to be foaming up through the step filter lid quite a bit, so I refused to walk away for a while.  When I finally did, I set two plastic bins underneath the drip tray just in case it decided to flow over the drip tray.  When I went down after the brew had finished, I was glad that I did.  I measured 20 ounces of wort had spilled out of the machine into the two plastic bins I setup under the drip tray. Had I not set those up, I'd have had a mess all over the floor!  I think this is the third or fourth time I've had that issue with the machine.

Once the boil started, I knew something was amiss.  I expected the boil to run for 45 minutes before the Zymatic added the Mandarina Bavaria hops.  Instead, it added them at the start.  Ten minutes later, it added the Lemon Drop hops. Five minutes after that, it stopped running.  I had forgotten that if you don't set a 60-minute boil addition or manually specify that you want 45 minutes of pre-hop boil time, the recipe crafter will cut the boil short. Usually I catch that before I press the button to brew, but today I didn't. I wound up with a "15-minute-boil" beer.  We'll see how that turns out.  Yes, I could have boiled it outside the Zymatic for 30 or 45 minutes, but I think that would have destroyed the hop profile I was trying to achieve.

When the boil finished, I pumped out the wort, which measure 2.25 gallons.  I decided to just ferment it "as is" and not dilute it, since I didn't have the capacity handy to determine whether the 17.8 Brix I measured was close to the expected OG or not.  As it turns out, I could have diluted the wort and probably hit my target. I may do that with distilled water at bottling. We'll see.  I may instead enter it as a super-strength Saison if it turns out OK.

The Picobrew recipe crafter claims this will be a 31 IBU Saison based on a 2.5 gallon volume. BeerSmith says it's likely to come out more like 38 IBUs at 2.25 gallons.  That will address another complaint from one or two of the judges, who felt it should be more dry and bitter.  

04/30/2018:  The airlock on the fermenter is showing significant (even a bit loud) activity, which is a good sign. I had configured the temperature control system to hold the beer at no less than 82F for the first three days, then to raise that to 90F for the remainder of fermentation to ensure that it ferments out completely.

05/08/2018: In order to have this ready in time for competition, I bottled six bottles of the beer today. It has a nice honey color and is already partially clear. I primed each bottle with a Cooper's carbonation drop plus one small Brewer's best tablet. Gravity registered 7.0 Brix on the refractometer which BeerSmith is equating to a final gravity of 0.999 SG.  I had been expecting a 9.6 Brix reading at final gravity (1.015 SG).  The beer has a nice citrus aroma and flavor, with a hint of warming alcohol.  If it's able to condition in time, it could do well in competition.

05/11/2018: I had been conditioning this at 80F in a hot box, and wondered if perhaps the yeast had roused enough to carbonate it sufficiently to take to the competition. It poured almost totally flat, as I suspected would be the case. It has a nice citrus aroma and flavor (though a buttery diacetyl one now as well, since carbonation is only starting). I'm hoping it finishes in time to get to competition.

05/15/2018: I chilled another bottle tonight. Here's how I'd score it as a judge:
  • Aroma (6/12):  A hint of diacetyl. Nice citrus notes. Mild hop note. Yeast notes subdued.
  • Appearance (2/3): Pale orange yellow. Cloudy. Thin white head with characteristic lacing. Needs more carbonation. Could be clearer.
  • Flavor (15/20):  Definite orange note comes through, along with moderate hop bitterness. Malt backdrop is subdued. Finishes clean and slightly bitter. Slight sweetness. Lacks a spicy element, but very drinkable. The diacetyl in the aroma does not appear in the flavor.
  • Mouthfeel (3/5): Medium body. Needs more carbonation.
  • Overall Impression (6/10):  It's a good Saison, but not great. Needs more of a spice element and a more expressive yeast, with a spice element. Needs more conditioning time to lose the diacetyl.  
  • Total Score: 32/50
We'll see (hopefully) in a few days how the actual judges scored it. Compared to my first two versions of a Saison, it seems closer to style. 

05/21/2018:  The rest of the beer was bottled with a Cooper's carbonation drop in each bottle and placed in my 76F "hot box" to carbonate.  The official scoresheets from the Rhinegeist competition rated the beer a 29 official score, based on individual scores of 31 and 27.  The judges comments were that the finish was off ("dry but clean"), attenuation and body were low, it finished too sweet, and one of them picked up some acetaldehyde (probably due to it being very recently bottled).  My self-score was a point higher than the highest score from the judges, and 3 points higher than the combined score, so I'm in the ballpark but a bit too kind to my own creation.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Salsbury's ESB v1.3

I entered my ESB v1.2 at Barley's and received some decent scores (28-33), but there were comments about how it was much too bitter (and one from a third judge saying it had no hops bitterness at all).  I'm inclined to agree with the judges who found it too bitter.  This time around, I want to fix that, so I can put the modified version into competition.


3.5 pounds Muntons Maris Otter Malt
12 ounces Caramel 40L
8 ounces Caramel 60L
6 ounces Caramel 10L
6 ounces Victory Malt
0.4 ounces Styrian Goldings @ 6.2% AA (60 min.)
0.4 ounces Styrian Goldings @ 6.2% AA (30 min.)
0.4 ounces Styrian Goldings @ 6.2% AA (10 min.)
1 packet Lallemand ESB Yeast
1/2 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm
3 gallons plus 16 ounces starting water

According to the Picobrew recipe crafter, this beer should have the following characteristics:

  • Style: 11.C Strong Bitter
  • Original Gravity (OG): 1.057 SG
  • Final Gravity (FG): 1.017 SG
  • IBUs: 31
  • SRM: 15
  • ABV: 5.2%
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons
After brewing, I had 2.3 gallons, but once diluted to 2.5 gallons with distilled water, the gravity dropped to 1.056 SG (more or less the target).

BeerSmith estimates that this beer will clock in around 38 IBUs (where the last version calculated over 50 IBUs) so there should be a significant reduction in bitterness.

Post-Brew Notes

04/27/2018:  This recipe version increases the Caramel Malt and Victory Malt, but removes the Special B I added to version 1.2.  It also goes back to the Lallemand ESB yeast and ditches the White Labs Thames Valley yeast that didn't seem to contribute anything to the beer.  Hops quantities were dialed back from something in the vicinity of 1.7 ounces down to 1.2 ounces.  That should reduce the bitterness levels back to something more palatable to the judges (and to me, hopefully).

04/29/2018:  The airlock on the fermenter has slowed way down, and the krausen inside the fermenter seems to have mostly dropped.  A quick taste of the beer yielded mild but pleasant sweetness, not too much hop bitterness, and a nice malt backdrop.  I'm hoping the finished beer will match up to this.

05/08/2018:  To ensure that I have bottles ready for competition, I bottled six bottles today. I left the rest in the fermenter in the mini-fridge to clarify.  Each bottle was dosed with a single Coopers carbonation drop.  I didn't take a gravity reading.

05/11/2018:  Not that I expected differently, but I opened a bottle of the beer to determine if it was carbonated enough to deliver to the competition. It was not.

05/12/2018:  I bottled the remainder of the batch today, with one Coopers carbonation drop per bottle. Yield was 20 bottles (plus the 6 bottles filled on May 8).  Final gravity read 8.5 Brix, which calculates to 1.020 SG in BeerSmith, and a final ABV of 4.8% (approximately).  This has left the beer with some residual sweetness that reminds me of the Fuller's ESB. If I can get it carbonated in time, it may do well in competition.  If not, I'll take the version 1.1 beer.

05/16/2018: The beer has carbonated nicely and any trace of diacetyl has gone out of it. Below is my self-score using BJCP criteria and scoresheet format:

  • Aroma (8/12): Mild hop aroma with caramel backdrop. Slightly fruity. No diacetyl. Overall the aroma is nicely balanced.
  • Appearance (2/3): Coppery amber color with a bit more than finger-thick head. Decent clarity but there is a touch of haze to it. With a few days in a fridge, I suspect it would be brilliantly clear. The head lasts quite a while.
  • Flavor (15/20): Medium bitterness, followed by caramel and toasty notes, with a hint of fruit (a kind of berry note). Balance is slightly toward hops, but overall balanced.
  • Mouthfeel (4/5): Medium, almost creamy mouthfeel. Medium carbonation. No warming alcohol note (which is appropriate for the style.
  • Overall (7/10): With a bit more clarity, the color and long-lasting head would lend a perfect appearance. The aroma is subtle but blends hops, malt, and a touch of fruit.  The flavor blends an obvious but not overpowering hops presence with a nuanced malt backdrop. Could maybe use a touch more sweetness and perhaps a small mineral addition to the water. 
  • Total Score: 36/50

The previous version, which came out over-hopped, scored a 30.5 average at Barley's.  Most of the lost points were around the bitterness and darker color. This version is lighter in color and considerably less bitter. I've purchased ESB style beers that I liked less than this one, so I am quite happy with it. I might experiment with other English hops and minerals in a future version, but this is close to my ideal ESB.

It will be interesting to see how the judges react at the Rhinegeist competition, and in a few weeks at the Ohio State Fair.

05/21/2018: The scoresheets from the Rhinegeist competition were posted.  The beer scored a 32/50 from one judge and a 35/50 from the other, for a 33.5 official score.  The judges' biggest suggestions were that they'd like to see more malt aroma and flavor, more hop flavor and aroma, and more malt complexity.  My self score was about 2.5 points higher than the official score, which seems to be a trend. I appear to score myself about 3 points higher than the judges do.

Mandarina Pale Ale 1.0

A little over a year ago, I came up with a blonde ale recipe based on little more than the fact that one of the home brewing shops online had Mandarina Bavaria hops on sale. I'd never had a beer made with the hops, but their reported mandarin orange flavor sounded like it might make a great beer. I decided to pair it with some orange blossom honey I'd purchased as well as some dried orange peel. I combined all this into a blonde ale recipe and hoped it wouldn't be too much orange. It wasn't.  That beer took second place at the 2017 Ohio State Fair Home Brewing Competition in the fruit beer category.  It's been popular with friends and family, too.

I decided to brew a new batch this year, maybe for competition, or maybe for consumption only.  At brewing time, I realized I did not have Bitter Orange Peel or Orange Blossom Honey, so I substituted Sweet Orange Peel and "generic" (natural) honey.


3 pounds 2-row Pale Ale Malt
1 pound Munich Malt
4 ounces Vienna Malt
3 ounces Carapils/Dextrine Malt
1 ounce Crystal/Caramel 60L
12 ounces Honey (not Honey Malt) - after boil
0.20 ounces Mandarina Bavaria hops pellets @ 9.2% AA (60 min.)
0.30 ounces Mandarina Bavaria hops pellets @ 9.2% AA (15 min.)
0.45 ounces Mandarina Bavaria hops pellets @ 9.2% AA (5 min.)
0.50 ounces Sweet Orange Peel (15 min.)
0.50 ounces Sweet Orange Peel (5 min.)
Safale US-05 American Ale Yeast
1/2 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm
3 gallons plus 16 ounces of starting water
Picobrew Zymatic "High Efficiency" Mash Profile

The Zymatic recipe crafter estimated that the beer would have the following characteristics:
  • BJCP Style: 18.A Blonde Ale
  • Original Gravity (OG): 1.055 SG
  • Final Gravity (FG): 1.008 SG
  • IBUs: 24
  • SRM: 6
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons
When the brewing process ended, I pumped the wort into a kettle for cooling with my immersion chiller.  As I did so, I added the 12 ounces of honey.  While chilling, the beer was stirred constantly and this should have integrated the honey into it well.

When the brew finished, I measured the following:
  • Volume: 2.3 gallons (topped up to 2.5 using distilled water)
  • Original Gravity: 13.5 Brix (1.056 SG) after diluting with distilled water
  • Final Gravity: 6.8 Brix (1.009 SG)

Post-Brewing Notes

04/27/2018:  The beers I've made in the Zymatic to date have been somewhat inconsistent.  I went into this brew expecting less than 2.5 gallons, despite specifying that amount in the recipe crafter and even over-adding water slightly to ensure the machine didn't run too low and start sucking in air.  I ended up with 2.3 gallons at a higher gravity, but that diluted down to the target volume and gravity more or less perfectly.  I have noticed that most seem to be more bitter than I expect.  It's worth noting that the Zymatic recipe crafter estimates this beer at 24 IBUs, while BeerSmith estimates something around 32 IBUs for the same volume, gravity, and ingredients.  If this beer also comes out unusually bitter, I may use BeerSmith to calculate hop amounts in the future.

04/29/2018:  The airlock shows steady activity on this one. I haven't taken a taste sample of it yet, preferring to wait a little longer to let it finish out more of the primary fermentation.

05/08/2018:  To ensure that I have bottles ready for competition, I filled six bottles tonight. Each was dosed with four small tablets of Brewer's Best carbonation drops. This is supposed to yield a "medium" level of carbonation consistent with the style.  The refractometer registered 6.8 Brix, which BeerSmith adjusts to a final gravity of 1.009 SG (almost exactly the gravity I expected).  The beer is a bit bitter at this point, but I find that carbonation offsets that a little, so I'm hoping it will come out balanced at competition time.

05/12/2018:  After bottling my ESB v1.3, I moved this beer over to the mini-fridge to cold-crash for a few days before bottling.  I'm expecting to bottle it May 16 if it seems clear.

05/16/2018:  The beer has turned out much more like a Pale Ale than a Blonde Ale, so I'll be entering into competition and sharing it with others on that basis. I'll need to re-brew it with less hops.

05/20/2018: Here's my self-scoring on the beer relative to BJCP criteria combined for the Pale Ale and Fruit Beer categories.

  • Aroma (6/12):  Hoppy initially, giving way to citrus and malt.
  • Appearance (2/3):  Slightly hazy gold with finger-thick white head that lasts a while. 
  • Flavor (12/20): Starts bitter, then malty, with a lingering bitterness. The citrus that came through earlier seems to have disappeared.
  • Mouthfeel (4/5): Medium mouthfeel. Nice level of carbonation.
  • Overall (5/10): Relatively dry with biscuity malt flavors, plenty of hop bitterness. Orange flavors that were evident earlier appear to have vanished. Finish is bitter and lingering.
  • Total Score: 29/50
It will be interesting to compare this score with those from the judges at the Ohio State Fair.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Barley's 23rd Annual Homebrew Competition

This was my second year as a competitor in the Barley's Annual Homebrew Competition. Last year I managed to take third place, losing to the very skilled A.J. Zanyk and his very nice Baltic Porter.  It's been on my "bucket list" to see a beer of mine on tap at a brewery or bar, and winning the Barley's competition would make that happen.

I entered the following beers this year, listed below in the order I liked them, from most to least:

To get into the final round of the competition, a beer had to score 40 or better.  My Dark Abbey beer managed that (just barely) and made it into the Final Five.  From there, I'm told that it received the first perfect 50 score any final-round beer has gotten in the history of the event.  As a result of that amazing score, I won the competition this year!  (Link goes to the Akron Beacon Journal)

Holy cow!  I actually did it!

Winning this event means that a year from now I will get to brew Dark Abbey with Barley's brewmaster (and something of a hero of mine) Angelo Signorino, Jr.  A few weeks later when the event kicks off, I'll get to tap the first keg of it at the competition.  My beer will stay on tap there until it sells out.  Bucket list item checked!

I'm still reeling a bit from the win.  However, reading the scores and the judges' comments on my beer has shown me that there is clearly room for improvement.

In late December, I switched from brewing on iMake's The Grainfather RIMS system to brewing with the Picobrew Zymatic.  That change has proven to be a mistake at competition time, not because there is anything wrong with the Zymatic, but because it represented a near-total change in process right before competition.  With The Grainfather, I had been able to create a formula to ensure that I would hit my volume and gravity targets (or at least be very close).  Since switching to the Zymatic, both volume and gravity have been all over the map, but rarely what I expected.

Why does that matter?  Getting your gravity right means that your hops additions will balance nicely with the malt in the beer.  Too much gravity and the beer may become too sweet.  Too little gravity and it will seem too bitter.  Volume has a similar effect.  Too little and the beer can be intensely bitter. Too much and it can be too sweet or at least too thin.  On the list above, Tripel Turbinado and Bluegrass State were two beers where I got very close to my targets.  They're also the two highest-scoring beers made in the device.  The Tropical Stout came out 22 gravity points low, the ESB came in 9 points low and short about a quart in volume, and the Single came out a bit low on volume (and thus more bitter). It's probably not a coincidence that those are lower-scoring beers.

Another comment I've seen in multiple notes on different beers is mention of an "apple" flavor. This could just be a byproduct of the combination of ingredients used, but could also signify a problem.  Yeast health is a likely candidate, since I rarely use starters (though I do often overpitch).  I also don't tend to use temperature control on Belgian style beers, preferring (as many monks do) to let it run its natural course.  Sanitation is another potential cause, but that's something I am very meticulous about. I wash and sanitize each bottle and cap I use. I sanitize my fermenters before use, and clean them well with PBW afterward.  I try to be careful about oxygen getting into the beer, but perhaps I could do better with that also.  Still, I'll revisit my whole cleaning and sanitation effort, as I don't want this off-flavor in future brews.

As always, I'll share more as I learn more.

Monday, April 9, 2018

2018 Dubbel 2.0

As I've mentioned before, I've been trying to perfect (to my taste, at least) recipes for the Trappist Single, Belgian Dubbel, Belgian Tripel, and Belgian Quadrupel.  The recipe I've had the most trouble with is the Belgian Dubbel.  I've made several, and they've all disappointed me, whether they were my own recipe, a published clone recipe for a commercially-available Dubbel I like, or any other.  In many cases, they come out too light in color, with little or no dark fruit flavor. In others, they come out dry or overly bitter.  My most-recent attempt before today had a practically perfect color but still missed the prune/plum flavor I've been looking for.  Today's recipe began as a BYO Magazine recipe for the Belgian Dubbel style, modified a bit.  I replaced the hops with my preferred blend and changed the candi sugar rocks out for syrup.


5 pounds Belgian Pilsen
1.5 pounds Belgian Pale Ale
4 ounces Belgian Caramunich
8 ounces D-90 Candi Syrup
0.45 ounces Styrian Goldings hops pellets @ 6.2% AA (60 min.)
0.45 ounces Czech Saaz hops pellets @ 3.0% AA (10 min.)
1 package Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity yeast
1/2 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm
3 gallons, 48 ounces water

Used the Zymatic High Efficiency mash profile with the two main mash step temperatures changed. The first temperature was changed to 144F, and the second to 158F.

A 90-minute boil was used, with 30 minutes of pre-hop boil time.

The D-90 syrup was added to the beer after the boil, just before the wort was cooled.

The Picobrew recipe crafter estimates that the beer will have the following characteristics:
  • Original Gravity: 1.072 SG (actual was 1.075 SG)
  • Final Gravity: 1.017 SG
  • IBUs: 17 (revised estimate 20)
  • ABV: 7.1% 
  • SRM: 18
  • Batch Size: 2.5  gallons (actual was 2.5 gallons)
After brewing, I measured the wort volume at 2.5 gallons and the gravity at 17.8 Brix, which BeerSmith adjusts to a value of 1.075 SG. That's a touch higher than the 1.072 SG I expected. Bitterness recalculates to 20.3 IBUs and Brew House efficiency to 70% for this batch.

The wort was chilled to 68F using a sanitized immersion chiller and transferred into a sanitized fermenter. When the yeast packet finally swelled, it was added to the wort along with the White Labs Clarity Ferm and the fermenter sealed.

The temperature controller was programmed to keep the wort at 71F for 3 days, then raise it to 80F for the next 10 days. That should ensure complete fermentation, with the 80F temperature providing a little stress to the yeast so that it delivers additional aromas and flavors.

I discovered a small crack in the Picobrew Zymatic's step filter, which I snapped pictures of and sent to Picobrew support.  Hopefully they'll be able to replace it, as the filter did leak during the post-brew rinse and clean.

Post-Brew Notes

04/08/2018:  The beer was brewed, yeast pitched, and temperature control configured.

04/09/2018:  Upon arrival in the basement, I noticed that the temperature controller was registering 64.5F as the wort temperature. That's much lower than the 71F I had configured. At this point I realized that was because I'd unplugged the heat wrap while configuring the controller. It had been set for a Saison that needed temps well outside this yeast's range, so I unplugged the heat wrap to prevent cooking the yeast. I just forgot to re-plug it.  I corrected that and ensured that the temperature was climbing back up to the 71F set point before going to bed.

04/14/2018:  The temperature control system has moved the temperature up to 80F to ensure that the beer finishes out its fermentation.  A sample taken from the fermenter showed that the beer is a bit sweet, which was not surprising given both the low bitterness level and the fact that the beer had not yet finished fermentation (and thus still had fermentable sugar in it).

04/21/2018:  The beer was bottled today, using 1 large Cooper's carbonation drop plus one small carbonation tablet.  Final gravity was 8.6 Brix.  Yield was 27 bottles.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Scottish 80 Shilling Revisited (v2.0)

Last year, I brewed my first Scottish 80 Shilling Ale, right before competition time. I thought it was a decent beer, though by far not the best I'd ever had, but it did poorly in competition.

This year, I am hoping to redeem myself with a new recipe.  I'm looking to hit all the BJCP flavor and aroma notes.  It should be a malt-forward beer with minimal esters. Hops should be present enough to balance the malt.  The malt itself can be rich, toasty, and caramelly.  Aroma should have low to medium maltiness, low to medium caramel, and some butterscotch is allowed. The best examples have a light fruitiness. They may have a low hop aroma, with English-style earthy, floral, citrus, and spice to it.  It should be clear, with a low to moderate creamy off-white head. The color should be pale copper to medium dark brown.


5 pounds Maris Otter Malt
2 ounces English Crystal Malt (60-75L)
2 ounces Roasted Barley
2 ounces Avangard Caramel Light Malt (8L)
2 ounces Melanoidin Malt
2 ounces (Quaker) Flaked Oats
0.3 ounces Horizon hops pellets @ 8.2% AA (60 min.)
0.5 ounces Bramling Cross hops pellets @ 6.5% AA (10 min.)
1 packet White Labs WLP028 Edinburgh Yeast
1/2 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm (primarily to remove gluten)
3 gallons, plus 16 ounces, of Starting Water

According to the PicoBrew Recipe Crafter, the beer should have these characteristics:
  • Original Gravity: 1.061 SG (14.4 Brix)
  • Final Gravity:  1.017 SG (8.5 Brix)
  • IBUs: 21
  • SRM: 18
  • Volume: 2.5 gallons
  • ABV: 5.7%
  • BU/GU: 0.33
After brewing, the actual measurements were:
  • Original Gravity: 1.059 SG (14.2 Brix)
  • Final Gravity: 1.014 SG (7.9 Brix)
  • ABV: 5.7%
  • Volume-Adjusted IBUs: 30
  • Volume: 2.0 gallons
At the end of brewing, the keg held less than 2 gallons of wort at 17 Brix (which with my refractometer adjusts to about 1.072 SG). I diluted this with distilled water to get down to the intended range, but overdid it slightly. I ended up with an original gravity of 14.2 Brix or 1.059 SG. That's close enough for now.

The Edinburgh yeast likes a fermentation temperature range of 65-70F, so I configured the InkBird controller to hold 65F for three days, then 70F for ten days to ensure it finishes out. Given the large fermenter, cold ambient basement temperature, and small recipe volume, I don't think I will need cooling on this one. If it does get a bit hot, that may contribute some esters that could enhance the beer if not overdone.

Post-Brew Notes

I'm concerned that the roasted barley in the recipe could add a roasty note to the beer that takes it outside the style definition, but we'll have to see.  The mix of Crystal/Caramel and Melanoidin malts should deliver some malt complexity.  Hopefully the 10-minute addition of Bramling Cross contributes good flavors and not too much bitterness.  I'm hopeful that the oats will deliver a bit of body and mouth feel, since it always seems like my beers in this gravity range are thinner or better-attenuated than they should be.

During the brew, the Zymatic did generate a fair amount of foam, enough that there was a significant puddle on top of the tray but no significant spillage.

03/27/2018:  It's roughly 24 hours after brewing and I'm seeing no activity in the airlock. Then again, there is a lot of headspace, so there may not be much airlock activity to see.

04/7/2018:  Despite a lack of visible airlock activity, the beer appears to have finished fermentation. I now need to treat it with gelatin and then get it bottled. Final gravity is registering as 7.9 Brix, which BeerSmith is calculating (after adjustment for my refractometer) to be 1.014 SG and an ABV of 5.7%.  In 3-4 days I plan to bottle with carbonation drops.

04/11/2018:  The beer is looking nicely clear, so I decided to bottle it.  I ended up with about 14.5 bottles (12-ounce variety) of this one.  I harvested the yeast for future re-use.  The aroma has a hint of butterscotch to it, and the flavor seems pretty good, too.  There is a nice malty backdrop with just enough hops to balance it, but it's not hop forward. The bottles were placed in a 76F "hot box" to condition.  In about ten days, I hope to try the first sample.

Bottle from which notes below were drawn

04/14/2018:  Having not paid attention to the bottling date for this beer, I opened a bottle today to check on it.  It wasn't very carbonated yet, which makes sense with only three days in the bottle.  Ignoring the relative lack of carbonation, here's how I'd score it if I were a BJCP judge:
  • Aroma (7/12):  Caramel, butterscotch, and malt come through. The fruity and hoppy aromas present in some 80 Shilling ales aren't visible here.
  • Appearance (3/3):  Assuming it carbonates well later, it has a nice coppery color with a beige head. It's fairly clear but not crystal clear.  It looks like I expect a good 80 Shilling to look.
  • Flavor (15/20):  It has a good combination of caramel and roasted malts, balanced against the hops, which provide a subtle fruity note to it as well. 
  • Mouthfeel (4/5):  It's medium bodied, with a really silky texture from the oats. In fact, the oats might make it seem to have a bit more body than it should.
  • Overall Impression (8/10):  In terms of appearance, flavor, and mouthfeel, this beer hits most of the notes we'd expect it to.  Aroma could be improved, perhaps with a more expressive yeast. Body could perhaps be a little thinner, by reducing the oats. Still, though, it's a good representation of the style.
  • Total Score:  37/50 (Very Good)
This beer is much better than last year's version, though I do see room for improvement. I'm thinking next time around I will dial back the oats and try using Lallemand ESB yeast, which worked well in an earlier version of my ESB. The yeast gave it the fruity note in the aroma that this beer lacks. I might also try putting a small amount of Bramling Cross at the end of the boil to give it a little of the aroma from that hop variety.

04/21/2018:  Now that the beer has finished carbonation and bottle conditioning, it's gotten much clearer.  It's now a brilliantly clear ruby brown.  Carbonation is still fairly low, which is in line with the style.  Butterscotch and fruit come through in the aroma. The flavor is malty, caramel, lightly toasty, with a touch of butterscotch and dark fruit. Finish is malty and lingering.

04/24/2018:  The more I think about this beer and look at it, the more I think this might be the perfect base for the Belgian Dubbel recipe I've been trying to create.  I'm going to have to try re-brewing it with Belgian yeast and hops, and see what I get.

05/06/2018: A few weeks after bottling, the beer has changed considerably. The buttery or butterscotch note I detected earlier is gone.  The malt comes through much clearer, but is balanced well against the hops bitterness.  It's very easy to drink. I'm not sure I'll change this one.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Cloning Georgetown Manny's Pale Ale - Part 2

My first attempt to clone this beer was a dismal failure.  For this version, I decided to dig through the clone recipes I could find online. As with many clone recipes you encounter, most of them contained no images of the finished beer, no indication of whether the beer had ever been brewed, and no reviews indicating how it compared to the original.

I finally settled on a recipe on one of the home brew forums which did actually have tasting notes under it, from someone who had reportedly done a side-by-side test against the real beer.  I had all the ingredients on hand and put them to work last night.


4 pounds 2-row Pale Malt (75% of the grist)
12 ounces of Crystal 40L Malt (14% of the grist)
2 ounces of Crystal 60L Malt (2%, because I had some lying around to use up)
7 ounces Cara-pils/Dextrine Malt (8% of the grist)
0.3 ounces of Summit hops @ 16.7% AA (60 min.)
0.25 ounces of Cascade hops @ 6.9% AA (15 min.)
0.45 ounces of Cascade hops @ 6.9% AA (5 min.)
1 ounce of Cascade hops (dry hop, 5 days)
3 gallons, 16 ounces of starting water
Wyeast 1275 Thames Valley Ale yeast (from a previous batch)

PicoBrew's recipe crafter says this will yield a beer with the following qualities:
  • Estimated Original Gravity: 1.056 SG
  • Estimated Final Gravity: 1.015 SG
  • IBUs: 38
  • ABV: 5.4%
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons
After brewing, the characteristics were:
  • Actual Original Gravity: 13.1 Brix or 1.054 SG after wort correction factor
  • Batch Size: 2.3 gallons
I used the High-Efficiency Mash profile with the Zymatic, and a 60-minute boil.

While adding the hops to the hops baskets, I added three pellets of Summit to the two late additions to help increase the Summit flavor contribution and increase the bitterness a little.

After the beer finished brewing, it was chilled rapidly with an immersion chiller and pitched into a sanitized stainless fermenter.  A while later, some yeast left from a previous batch was pitched into the fermenter and it was sealed shut.

Brewing Notes

03/16/2018:  Apart from slightly undershooting gravity and volume, the brew went as planned. The color seemed like it might be a little dark in the fermenter perhaps due to the 60L, but that can change after yeast activity consumes some of the sugars.  I'll be back in a few days to report anything worth sharing.

03/19/2018:  Tonight I pulled a sample from the fermenter for a gravity test. It registered 6.3 Brix, which is roughly half the original gravity. Since it's likely that this means we're near the end of primary fermentation, I added a generous dry-hopping of Cascade hops to the fermenter. There was still some krausen visible inside, so I think I chose the right time to dry-hop it. The sample tasted much more like a pale ale than v1.0 did.

03/24/2018:  I bottled the beer today, directly from the fermenter. Yield was 23.5 bottles of the 12-ounce size. The rest of the fermenter was a solid cake of yeast and trub. A sample taken before bottling registered 6.3 Brix as it did five days ago. The hop aroma was noticeable, a mix of pine and grapefruit, as we'd expect for Cascade dry hops.  I primed each bottle with a Coopers Carbonation Drop and two small carbonation tablets.  I placed the bottles in a 76F "hot box" to complete carbonation.  It should be ready to taste on Easter day.

03/29/2018:  I decided to chill a bottle and see how it's coming along.  Below are two images. The image with the bottle and the extra-thick head is my brew. The bottom image in the Manny's Pale Ale glass is the real beer. There's perhaps a little more reddish color to the real beer, but they aren't too far off.  Having not had the real beer, all I can really tell you is how this one is.  The color is a hazy reddish amber with thick beige head that lasts a while. The aroma is a mix of grapefruit, orange, and pine.  The flavor starts moderately bitter, with a bit of malt behind it and hints of orange and other citrus.

Image borrowed from since I can't get the beer locally

04/03/2018:  The family member who loved Manny's Pale Ale said that he liked this one a lot, but that he felt it was "malty".  I take this to mean that either I need to lower the mash temperature a bit (to reduce sweetness) or reduce the amount of caramel malt used.  He also felt it was overcarbonated, and it probably is.  Next time around, I'll drop the Caramel 60L and reduce the 40L by a couple of ounces. I'll also drop the mash temperature by a degree or two, and perhaps dry-hop with some Summit as well.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Kentucky Common 1.0 (Bluegrass State of Mind)

My first Kentucky Common Ale
I read about the Kentucky Common ale style, and saw a presentation from the American Homebrewing Association about it online.  This is a pre-Prohibition era beer predominantly made in the Louisville, Kentucky, area.  It featured a significant amount of corn in the grist, along with six-row pale malt, and just enough specialty malts to darken to an amber or brown color. It used a mix of American and European hops, and a clean fermenting yeast.  Traditionally, it was served fresh and not stored long enough for refrigeration to be an issue.

I crafted my own recipe for it based on the guidelines referenced by the Beer Judge Certification Program and the American Homebrewing Association and brewed it today.


4 pounds six-row Pale Malt
2.5 pounds Flaked Corn
1 ounce Black Prinz malt
2 ounces Caramel/Crystal 80L malt
0.30 ounces Horizon hops @ 8.2% AA (60 min.)
0.50 ounces Cluster hops @ 7.2% AA (15 min.)
0.50 ounces Czech Saaz hops @ 3.0% AA (5 min.)
1 packet Fermentis Safale US-05 ale yeast
1/8 tsp. yeast nutrient
1/8 tsp. Super Irish Moss
1/2 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm
Starting water: 3 gallons, 22 ounces

According to the PicoBrew recipe crafter, the beer should have the following characteristics:
  • Original Gravity: 1.070 SG (but I planned to dilute it to 1.055 SG)
  • Final Gravity: 1.010 SG
  • IBUs: 24
  • SRM: 12
  • ABV: 7.8%
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons
This is well outside the alcohol level for the style (5.5% max), so I planned to dilute it after brewing to be within the guidelines and increase the batch size. My target for the batch was an original gravity of 13.2 Brix or 1.055 SG, within the Kentucky Common guidelines.

My actual gravity was 13.2 Brix (which for my refractometer's setting is 1.055 SG) and my volume was approximately 3.4 gallons once diluted with sterile distilled water.  

Brew Notes

03/04/2018:  I had rinsed the Zymatic the day before, after brewing and later deep-cleaning it.  I performed multiple rinses and had forgotten to remove the final rise water from the step filter before brewing. Because of this, the mash water volume pretty much hit the maximum amount the step filter could hold without overflowing.  Despite that, the beer's gravity after brewing hit the 1.070 SG target expected by the recipe crafter software.  Diluting that down to 13.2 Brix or about 1.055 SG took most of a gallon of sterile, distilled water.

I chilled the wort down to 68F and pitched the dry US-05 yeast on top of it.  I sealed the fermenter and left it to its own.  Given the small amount of wort and the ambient basement temperatures this time of year, temperature control shouldn't be necessary.  Worst case, moving the beer to a cooler corner of the basement should provide enough cooling (I proved that with an earlier lager brew).

03/11/2018:  The fermentation appears to be over, so I treated the beer with gelatin and moved it to a secure outdoor location so that the "near refrigeration" outdoor temperatures could help clear up the beer, as I am hoping to enter it into competition soon.  With 3-6 days in the cold, the gelatin should brighten it up nicely.

03/16/2018:  I brought the beer back indoors to warm up a bit before bottling.  Took a final gravity reading, which the refractometer measured as 6.9 Brix.  After conversion to SG and adjustment for the wort correction factor, that's 1.010 SG, meaning that the beer reached an ABV of 5.9%.

03/17/2018:  The beer has been bottled, using carbonation drops for priming. The BJCP notes for the style indicate that this is a "highly carbonated" beer, so for the first half of the batch I used a large Coopers carbonation drop and two smaller carbonation tablets.  After noticing a lot of foaming in the bottle for that first half, I was concerned that the residual carbonation in the beer might be higher than expected (resulting in bottle bombs), so I bottled the second half with only a single large carbonation drop. I marked the batch with the extra small tablets to identify those bottles later.

03/28/2018:  I opened a chilled bottle tonight. As you can see in the photo at the start of this post, the beer is a deep coppery brown color with a finger-thick head that lasts a while and leaves behind rings of beige lacing.  The aroma is definitely malt-forward with a clear sweetness.  The color may be a little too dark for the style.  It's slightly hazy, but almost clear enough to read through.  The flavor is malty, slightly sweet, but with enough hops to keep it from being cloying. The finish is clean and malty. It's definitely in the medium-body category, too.  All of this, except perhaps the darker color, is in line with the BJCP guidelines.  It's a very easy to drink beer.  I'm definitely planning to enter it into competition.

This makes the beer look much darker than it is

04/09/2018:  Three bottles of the beer were left at Barley's Ale House for their annual home brewing competition. I should have the results in a couple of weeks.

04/24/2018:  Although I was very happy with this beer as it turned out, the judges at Barley's were a little mixed on it.  The final scores were 36, 34, 35, and 41.  I've noticed when you brew these less-common styles that it's tough for some of the judges to score it. After all, you can't really buy many Kentucky Commons at your local beer store.  Still, I'm pretty happy with the overall scores.  Here are the individual component scores and notes:

  • Aroma (scores 9, 8, 6, and 8)
    • Corn, nice and clean, cream, pale crystal malt
    • Corn first, followed by caramel and roast/toast. No pick up on hops.
    • DMS and corn aromas are too much. Should be noticeable but not overpowering.
    • Corn, malty sweetness, light caramel, slight biscuit. No hop aroma. No DMS. No diacetyl.
  • Appearance (scores of 3 across the board)
    • Beautiful!
    • Bright and amber, looks great
    • Good color and clarity. Nice lacing.
    • Deep copper with a thick creamy head that lingers. Brilliant clarity!
  • Flavor (scores of 12, 17, 15, and 14)
    • Corn sweetness. Roasted malt. Some dark fruit (raisin). Earthy hop flavor and a balanced bitterness. Caramel.
    • Light cocoa dust, noble hop, faint red apple-skin, hop-spice, toast.
    • Good taste and complexity. Corn, then caramel, then toast. A pleasure.
    • Pale malt and corn. Slight apple character. Could use more caramel sweetness.
  • Mouthfeel (scores of 4, 3, 4, and 4)
    • Medium bodied. Dry lingering finish. Should have more creamy character.
    • Medium carbonation with a dry finish. No astringency.
    • Great. A teeny-tiny bit sweet at the very end.
    • Light body with high carbonation.
  • Overall Impression (scores of 7, 9, 8, and 8)
    • A little too much corn character with little focus on caramel malt.
    • This beer hits the nail on the head. Corn flavor is present but not overbearing. Roasted malt character adds complexity. Great job!
    • Very well done. Clean, excellent clarity of flavor. Could be a touch drier on finish, but that's a quibble.

Given that the style is supposed to be somewhat "corn-forward" I did fairly well there for a "version 1.0" recipe.  Next time around, I think I'll drop the corn down to 2 pounds instead of 2.5.  To replace that, I'll drop in some Caramel 40L to try to add a little more caramel and complexity.  I may also increase the aroma hop addition to dial up that part of the aroma, too.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Cloning Coniston's Old Man Ale v1.0

Much darker than the real beer, below
While out to dinner at a local tavern, I had the opportunity to try Coniston's Old Man Ale.  I found it to be an enjoyable and slightly tart brown ale.

Looking online, I couldn't find a clone recipe, so I decided to see if I could create my own.

The brewery's web site gives the following clues:
  • Malt:  Roasted Barley, Crystal, and Pale Ale Malts
  • Hops: Challenger and Mount Hood
  • ABV: 4.2%
  • Description:  "A radically different beer... it has roast barley added to the pale and crystal malts. It has a deep burnished copper color, a rich port wine aroma, a big chocolate and creamy malt palate and a dry, grainy, roasty finish balanced by hop bitterness and tart fruit. It is a remarkably complex beer that deepens and changes as you sup it."
The Beer of the Month Club says that you should drink it at 58F or you miss a lot of the nuance.  They describe it as "extremely toasty, crackery, with fruity notes favoring orange tones, but grounded in a robust earthiness."  Another web site suggested that the "Pale Ale Malt" referenced on Coniston's site was actually Maris Otter, so I may try that in a future version if this doesn't work out.

With all of this in mind, I came up with the following first crack at a recipe and brewed it today.


3.75 pounds Two-row Pale Malt
1 ounce Roasted Barley Malt
12 ounces Crystal 80L
0.30 ounces Challenger hops @ 6.8% AA (60 min.)
0.20 ounces Mount Hood hops @ 5.6% AA (15 min.)
0.20 ounces Challenger hops @ 6.8% AA (15 min.)
0.40 ounces Challenger hops @6.8% AA (5 min.)
0.35 ounces Mount Hood hops @ 5.6% AA (5 min.)
1 packet White Labs WLP023 Burton Ale yeast
1/2 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm
3 gallons plus 16 ounces starting water in Zymatic keg

The Picobrew recipe crafter estimates the following characteristics:

  • Estimated Original Gravity: 1.049 SG (actual was 1.052 SG or 12.5 Brix)
  • Estimated Final Gravity: 1.014 SG
  • IBUs: 26
  • ABV: 4.6%
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons (2.5 gallons actual)
  • 60-minute boil
  • High-efficiency mash profile
Actual measurements post-brewing were:

  • Actual Original Gravity: 1.052 SG or 12.5 Brix
  • Actual Final Gravity: 1.010 SG
  • ABV: 5.5%

In retrospect, I probably should have gone with Maris Otter for the Pale Malt, but that didn't occur to me at the time.  If I re-brew this, I'll go that route.  I chose Crystal 80L because it fits in somewhere between British Medium and Dark Crystal malts. Since one of the descriptions I read said that Crystal was added for color, a darker malt seemed more appropriate.

Challenger is a dual-purpose hop, used for both bittering and aroma, so I decided to leverage it throughout the boil.  Mount Hood is more an aroma hop, so I added it nearer the end of the boil to allow it to serve that purpose.  It wasn't a particularly bitter beer, so I went for enough hops to fit into the middle of the English Brown Ale BJCP range, but no more.

Brewing Notes

3/1/2018:  I loaded the Zymatic step filter and keg, then started it brewing.  There was a bit of foaming on top of the step filter lid, but no wort made it into the drip tray or onto the table.  

The brew yielded about 2.3 gallons of beer at a much higher gravity than the recipe crafter estimated, so I added some distilled water to bring it to the full 2.5 gallon batch size. Even at that, the gravity was higher than expected.

I pitched the wort, the full packet of yeast, and Clarity Ferm into a sanitized fermenter and sealed it up. I then went about cleaning the Zymatic, including running a deep clean session.  During the rinse cycle, it became clear that one of the hoses is dripping.  I've reached out to Picobrew for assistance as the hose clamps used are an unfamiliar type that requires a crimping tool I don't own - so tightening them is probably not an option.

3/2/2018:  About 26 hours after pitching the yeast, airlock activity was taking place. The thermometer showed that the beer was below the yeast's ideal fermentation range, so I attached temperature control to keep it at or above the low end of the range for days 1-3, then push it toward the upper end after that to ensure it finishes out completely.

3/11/2018:  Today, my wife and I bottled the beer directly from the fermenter, priming each bottle with a Cooper's Carbonation Drop to ensure a consistent and mild level of carbonation. Yield was 24 bottles. The room temperature, uncarbonated beer seems well-balanced, with a hint of roasty grain and chocolate to it. I'm hopeful that it will be even better carbonated.  It should be ready to do a taste test on March 18.

3/17/2018:  I opened a bottle today to sample. The carbonation seemed a bit low, which was disappointing. The flavor, however, was excellent. It reminds me more of a Foreign Extra Stout than the Old Man Ale I was aiming for.  While being reminiscent of the Coniston beer, it was not tart as I recall that beer being.  This one is also considerably darker in color than the actual Coniston beer.  That said, although it's not a very good clone of Old Man Ale, it's actually a very tasty beer and one I'll likely brew again.

Actual bottle of Coniston's Old Man Ale (note reddish brown color)

To get the beer closer to the original, my plan for next time is to replace the Pale Malt with Maris Otter, switch to a lighter Crystal malt, and see if I can get the color down into the SRM 12-14 range to get closer to the actual beer's color.  I'm currently thinking something like 3 pounds and 2 ounces of Maris Otter, 6 ounces of Light Crystal (or Crystal 60L if I can't get that), and the ounce of roasted barley.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Salsbury's ESB v1.2

Looks a bit darker here than it really is
My last Extra Special Bitter (ESB) used continual hopping with Styrian Goldings. This version abandons that (primarily because the Zymatic can't simulate it) in favor of four hop additions.  This version also includes an ounce of Special B to bump up the malt complexity slightly. I'll also use Wyeast Thames Valley Ale Yeast this time around because I'm already using half the package for the Manny's Pale Ale clone I'm brewing and it'll shave a little off the cost of this batch. According to Wyeast's web site, this is an appropriate ESB yeast.  I've also decided to add a few pellets of East Kent Goldings to bring a little bit of a familiar flavor to the beer without overwhelming it.


3.5 pounds Maris Otter Malt
10 ounces Crystal 40L
7 ounces Crystal 60L
5 ounces Crystal 10L
5 ounces Victory malt
1 ounce Special B
0.30 ounces Styrian Goldings @ 6.3% AA (60 min.)
2 pellets East Kent Goldings @ 5.3% AA (60 min.)
0.30 ounces Styrian Goldings @ 6.3% AA (30 min.)
3 pellets East Kent Goldings (30 min.)
0.55 ounces Styrian Goldings @ 6.3% AA (15 min.)
5-6 pellets East Kent Goldings (15 min.)
0.55 ounces Styrian Goldings @ 6.3% AA (5 min.)
5-6 pellets East Kent Goldings (5 min.)
1/2 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm
1/2 packet White Labs Thames Valley Ale 1275 yeast

The PicoBrew recipe crafter suggests that the beer will have the following characteristics:
  • Estimated Original Gravity: 1.055 SG
  • Estimated Final Gravity: 1.015 SG
  • IBUs: 33
  • SRM: 17
  • ABV: 5.1%
  • Starting Water: 3.12 gallons
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons
Actual results post-brewing were:
  • Actual Original Gravity: 11.1 Brix (adjusts to 1.046 SG, 9 points below expected gravity)
  • Actual Final Gravity: 1.002 SG
  • Batch Size: 2.3 to 2.4 gallons
  • ABV: 5.1%
Brewing Notes

The brew went according to plan, though the grain bed did not get completely soaked. The edges in the front and back on the left-hand side remained dry. Despite that, gravity came out fairly close to the expected number and the volume was closer than I've often been with the Zymatic.

I pitched half of the yeast in the Pale Ale and the other half in the ESB.  I also pitched half of a vial of Clarity Ferm into each beer, to remove the gluten and help reduce chill haze.

After brewing this batch, I re-read the Zymatic manual on the subject of cleaning. I ran two full rinse cycles through the machine, washed the step filter, and re-read the manual on the subject of cleaning. I removed the posts from the keg to find that they were badly soiled. I removed them, disassembled them, and cleaned them well with PBW. After rinsing them, I reassembled them and the were good as new.  The dip tubes were also cleaned.  I'm ashamed to admit that I missed that part of the cleaning process in the manual.  That explains some of the trouble the system seemed to be having flowing wort in and out during the brew.

02/28/2018:  After a couple of evenings of the airlock on the fermenter appearing totally still, tonight there is some bubbling from the airlock.  When you place just over 2 gallons in a 7.5 gallon fermenter, it takes a while for the yeast to generate enough CO2 to cause airlock activity.

03/02/2018:  I've kept the beer in a cooler part of the basement in lieu of temperature control. The thermometer has shown it staying down in the lower 60's despite airlock activity being visible now. A sample pulled from the fermenter was a little sulfury by not very sugary, indicating that fermentation is moving along nicely.

03/05/2018:  The airlock activity has been non-existent for a couple of days, so I have dosed the beer with gelatin finings and moved it into my mini-fridge to cold crash for a few days before bottling.

03/10/2018:  The beer was bottled today, using 1.5 ounces of corn sugar. Yield was 24 twelve-ounce bottles. The bottles were placed in a 72F "hot box" for conditioning.  Final gravity registered 4.75 Brix on my refractometer. Given the OG, BeerSmith calculates that the beer finished at 5.7% ABV and claims the FG is 1.002 SG.  It should be ready to taste test on March 18.

03/17/2018:  I poured a bottle of the beer to try it out. There was a strong diacetyl aroma to it, but the flavor was otherwise fine. I will need to give this beer more time to condition, so that (hopefully) the yeast will clean up this buttery aroma.

03/29/2018:  I opened another bottle tonight. It poured a nice deep copper color with finger-thick beige head that lasted quite a while and left some spotty lacing in the glass. The aroma is primarily malty with a touch of herbal hops.  The flavor starts with a mild hop bitterness, which gives way to a malt-filled middle that mixes hints of biscuit, slightly toasty, and a hint of caramel and plum. The mouthfeel is medium bodied.  For my taste, it's a touch too dry and bitter, but not extremely so. The diacetyl I detected in the earlier tasting is gone now. I need to do a side-by-side with v1.1 to see whether I want to take v1.1 or v1.2 into competition.

04/07/2018:  It occurred to me why the beer seems too bitter. The hopping was based on a final volume of 2.5 gallons, but the Zymatic rarely produces a batch that high. When you recalculate the IBUs based on the actual yield of 2.3 to 2.4 gallons, the bitterness rises from 33 IBUs to over 47 IBUS. This is still within the BJCP guidelines for the style, but only barely.  This implies that I need to revamp my hopping in future to assume a 2.3 gallon batch in order to avoid over-bittering.

04/09/2018:  Three bottles of the beer were left at Barley's Ale House for their annual home brewing competition. I should have the results in a couple of weeks.

04/23/2018:  The results from Barley's Homebrewing Competition are in.  This beer received 28, 30, and 33 total scores from three separate judges.  Below are some of their comments:

  • Aroma (scores 5, 6, and 8)
    • Dark malt in aroma
    • Caramel note, grassy
    • Fruity aroma, apple
  • Appearance (scores 1, 3, and 3)
    • Golden brown, good clarity, light head retention
    • Rich rusty color, clear, good foam lacing
    • Dark red color is perhaps a bit dark for style, good clarity
  • Flavor (scores 10, 14, and 12)
    • Bitter, almost astringent and lingering. Doesn't beg for another sip. Not good malt balance.
    • Bready, strong notes of British malt bill, caramel/vienna?, herby bitterness, borders on astringent finish
    • Very malty, but dry. Biscuity, toasty. Nice malt flavor but really lacking hop flavor and bitterness.
  • Mouthfeel (scores 3, 3, and 5)
    • Carbonated well, a little light
    • A little thin, but drinkable
    • Medium body is good. Good carbonation
  • Overall impression (5, and 7)
    • Needs better balance and lighter color. Back off some of the darker malts and replace with lighter caramel.
    • Solid take on style. Hops seem slightly overbearing on the end.
    • Flavor is nice and clean, but almost totally lacking in hop character that you would expect for this style.
Note that each bullet above represents the comments of one specific judge.  While the scores were within a 5-point range, the judges' comments were interesting.  One judge described it as lacking hop character and bitterness, while the other two felt (as I do) that it was a bit too bitter.  My own quick score for the beer was a 35, which is a bit higher than the Barley's judges, but close enough.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Cloning Georgetown Manny's Pale Ale

The real Manny's Pale Ale from
Georgetown Brewing in Seattle
One of my relatives spent time in Seattle and fell in love with Georgetown Brewing's Manny's Pale Ale. Now that he is here in Central Ohio, he can't get the beer anymore. I thought it would be nice to try to brew a clone of the beer for him.

I started with a visit to the Georgetown web site, which yielded the following information:
  • 2-row Pale malt and Caramel malt are used
  • Summit and Cascade hops are used
  • Original gravity is 1.051 SG
  • Final gravity is 1.009 SG
  • ABV is 5.4%
  • IBU rating is: 38
  • English Ale yeast is used
For the next step, I formulated a tentative recipe based on the image of the beer on their web site and the above information. I asked the brewery by email if the brewers would offer any advice.  All I learned was that they recommended using the Wyeast 1275 Thames Valley ale yeast.

Searching on the web, there are various forum posts out there that suggest possible clone recipes which include:
  • 80% 2-row Pale, 10% Caramel 60L, and 10% Cara-Pils - with a 20% hopping of Summit at 25 minutes, 40% Cascade at 10 minutes, 40% Cascade at 0 min, and dry hopping with Cascade
  • 76% 2-row Pale, 8% Cara-pils, 8% Caramel 40L, and 8% Caramel 20L - with all hopping in the last 20 minutes of the boil
  • 75% 2-row Pale, 17% Caramel 40L, 8% Cara-Pils - with Summit used as a first wort hop and Cascade added at 15, 5, and 2 minutes
  • 86% 2-row Pale, 5% Cara-pils, 10% Caramel 60L - with Summit at 60 minutes and Cascade at 15 and 5 minutes, plus Cascade as a dry hop
  • 85% 2-row Pale, 9% British Crystal 55L, 6% Cara-pils - with Magnum at 60 minutes, Cascade at 15 minutes and 1 minute, plus Cascade as a dry hop
  • 91% 2-row, 7% Caramel 40L, and 2% Cara-pils - with Cascade hops at 15 and 5 minutes
Assuming that these are in the ballpark of the actual recipe, we get a grain bill something like this:
  • 75-91% 2-row Pale Malt
  • 7-16% Caramel Malt, some combination of 20L, 40L, 55L, and/or 60L
  • 2-10% Cara-Pils (although it looks like Georgetown may have used this in the past, they probably do not today since it's not listed as an ingredient now)
On the hops side, the consensus seems to be that Summit or Magnum hops was either used at the start of the boil or at the 25 minute mark, with Cascade used later in the boil and for dry-hopping.

With this analysis as the basis, I formulated my first-guess recipe.


4.5 pounds of 2-row Pale Ale Malt (86% of the grist)
12 ounces of Caramel 60L Malt (14% of the grist)
0.45 ounces of Summit @ 16.7% AA (25 minutes)
0.30 ounces of Cascade @ 5.3% AA (15 minutes)
0.30 ounces of Cascade @ 5.3% AA (5 minutes)
1.00 ounces of Cascade dry-hopping for 3-4 days
1 packet of Wyeast 1275 Thames Valley yeast
3 gallons plus 16 ounces of starting water
1/2 tsp. Gypsum in the starting water

The Zymatic recipe crafter suggests that the finished beer will have these qualities:
  • Original gravity: 1.056 SG (vs. 1.051 for the real beer)
  • Final gravity: 1.015 SG (vs. 1.009 for the real beer)
  • SRM: 12 (slightly outside the BJCP guidelines of 7-10 SRM)
  • ABV: 5.4% (same as the real beer)
  • IBUs: 38 (same as the real beer)
  • Volume: 2.5 gallons
  • High efficiency mash profile
I decided to add the Summit late in the boil so that I could increase its flavor contribution without overshooting the target bitterness level.  Adding gypsum should also help to punch up the hops flavor.  

Brew Day Notes

I measured the ingredients and loaded them into the Zymatic, then powered it on and got it started brewing. About 5 minutes into the process, our Internet connection inexplicably dropped. When it did, the Zymatic shut down and waited for me to tell it that the Internet was back.  I found this rather annoying. It should have downloaded and held the brewing program, so it should have been able to tolerate a missing Internet connection for a few minutes. I would have been fine with losing the temperature data and status information it collects - but not so happy losing a batch of ingredients.

After resolving the Internet connection and restarting the brew process on the Zymatic, it continued with the Dough In process.

Near the end of the boil, the machine made some slurping noises that seemed to indicate a clog. I ran several rinse cycles after the brew, which pushed out bits of "gunk" that probably were associated with the clog. After that, it seemed to behave fine.

The original gravity measured 13.0 Brix, which (after adjustment) works out to 1.054 SG. That's within two points of the estimated 1.056 SG that the recipe software predicted.  The wort was chilled to yeast-safe temps, treated with Clarity Ferm, and the yeast pitched into it.  Since there was enough yeast to consider doing a second beer, I brewed my ESB after that so I could split the yeast between the two beers.

02/28/2018:  After a couple of evenings of the airlock on the fermenter appearing totally still, tonight there is some bubbling from the airlock.  When you place just over 2 gallons in a 7.5 gallon fermenter, it takes a while for the yeast to generate enough CO2 to cause airlock activity.

03/02/2018:  I've kept the beer in a cooler part of the basement in lieu of temperature control. The thermometer has shown it staying down in the lower 60's despite airlock activity being visible now. A sample pulled from the fermenter was a little sulfury and a bit sweet, implying that the yeast still has a bit of work to do.

03/11/2018:  Today, my wife and I bottled the beer using Cooper's Carbonation Drops for priming sugar to ensure a consistent level of carbonation across the batch. The beer already has a decent flavor, though if I had dry-hopped it as I originally intended, I think it could be better still.  Unfortunately, life got in the way and I didn't have a chance to drop in the dry hops until fermentation had finished - which runs the risk of oxidation.  The refractometer registered a final gravity of 6.1 Brix, which BeerSmith says is a final gravity of 1.005 SG and an alcohol content of 5.7%.  The beer should be ready for taste testing on March 18.

03/15/2018:  Taking a bottle of the beer out of the hot box and chilling it, I was disappointed to discover that despite the recipe creator showing a color comparable to pictures of the real Manny's Pale Ale, this beer is considerably darker - a deep brown in fact. It's nothing like a pale ale.  Although drinkable and pleasant, I consider the recipe a failure and will be brewing a 2.0 version ASAP.

As you can see below, it's almost a dark copper color. Flavor is fairly caramel-forward with hops in the background - nothing like a pale ale should be.  It's a drinkable beer, for sure, but not a good one.

This is definitely NOT a pale ale