Sunday, January 28, 2018

2018 Dubbel v1.0

The finished beer, poured into a glass
I have made a number of Belgian Dubbel recipes over the years. All of them have been nice enough beers to drink, but none have approached what (in my mind) is a truly good Belgian Dubbel.  I've even tried my hand at a recipe or two of my own design, with a similar lack of success.  Recently, I think I figured out why.

I've been keeping my beer's color within the BJCP guidelines of 14-17 SRM.  The genuine Belgian Dubbels I've liked the most are rated with colors as dark as 41 SRM.  These Dubbels, instead of being brown with a tinge of copper, are more of a dark ruby red.  This time, I worked to get a color and grist that seemed right to me and ignored the BJCP color guideline (while staying within the others).  I'm anxious to see how this one turns out.  I'm looking for a slightly-sweet, deep ruby color, with a strong dark fruit flavor and some noble hops aroma.


3.25 pounds Belgian Pilsen Malt
2 pounds Munich Light Malt
5 ounces Carapils/Dextrine Malt
8 ounces Melanoidin Malt
5 ounces Caramunich Malt
5 ounces Aromatic Malt
2 ounces Special B Malt
2 ounces Chocolate Malt
4 ounces D-90 Candi Syrup
0.55 ounces Styrian Goldings hops @ 6.2% AA (60 min.)
0.55 ounces Czech Saaz hops @ 3.0% AA (10 min.)
1/2 tsp. Irish Moss (10 min.)
1 packet Wyeast Belgian Abbey II 1762 yeast
1/2 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm
3.25 gallons of water

The PicoBrew recipe crafter estimates the following characteristics for the finished beer:
  • Original Gravity: 1.075 SG (Actual was 1.067 SG, 16.0 Brix)
  • Final Gravity: 1.019 SG (Actual was 1.013 SG)
  • IBUs: 20
  • SRM: 28
  • ABV: 7.3% (actual is 7.1%)
  • Volume: 2.5 gallons (actual was 2.1 gallons)
  • BU:GU ratio: 0.267 (actual was 0.30)
An advanced mash profile was configured for the brew, with the following schedule:
  • Dough In at 102F for 20 minutes
  • Ferulic Acid rest for 5 minutes at 113F (this is intended to help the yeast produce flavor)
  • Mash at 152F for 20 minutes
  • Mash at 158F for 46 minutes
  • Mash out at 175F for 10 minutes
Boil Schedule will be:
  • 60 minutes:  Add Styrian Goldings hops pellets (hopper #1)
  • 10 minutes:  Add Czech Saaz hops pellets and Irish Miss (hopper #2)
  • 0 minutes: Extract wort from keg, chill to 70F, and transfer to fermenter
The plan is to let the fermentation run as the yeast see fit, not using temperature control unless it gets unreasonably high.  Primary fermentation will run for 10 days, and then I'll likely transfer the beer to a sanitized secondary fermenter and give it another 7-14 days to condition before bottling.

Post-Brewing Notes

Changing my grain mill's crush setting to (approximately) 0.045 seems to have been a smart move. The grain bed flooded completely this time, ensuring a more-complete mash. I've had other brews before the change where the grain bed did not flood completely and the gravity was incredibly low as a result.  This is the second batch I've made since the change and both have flooded completely during the Dough In and Mash phases.

Original gravity, measured with a hydrometer after chilling, was 1.067 SG.  Measured with the refractometer, it was 16.00 Brix which BeerSmith adjusts to a 1.067 SG as well.  I seem to have dialed in the refractometer's wort correction factor.  Unfortunately, the lower gravity means the beer may not have quite the flavor profile I'm hoping for. On the plus side, it had the right color.

I screwed up and placed the Saaz hops in the third hop cage in the machine before brewing. They should have gone in with the Irish Moss in the second cage. That means we'll come up a couple of IBUs short and lose the Saaz aroma I was hoping for.  Live and learn, I suppose.  Since the beer came up 8 gravity points low, maybe the missing hops will be offset by the lack of balancing sugar. We'll see.

I pitched the entire container of yeast in the beer, so there's little risk of underpitching.

01/30/2018:  Fermentation has slowed, so I took a sample from the fermenter to see how it's coming along. The aroma at this point is yeasty but has some dark fruit elements to it.  The color is still more brown than the ruby I was looking for, but closer than my last few attempts.  The flavor on this batch also seems to be getting closer to what I'm looking for.  I think this will be a decent beer, but expect that there will be a version 1.1 or 2.0 in the future.

02/04/2018:  Fermentation appears to have finished, so I prepared a dose of gelatin finings and poured it into the beer.  I moved the fermenter into my mini-fridge to chill the beer and help the gelatin do its job.  I'm expecting to bottle the beer next weekend.  Initial taste tests should happen 2-3 weeks from now.

02/17/2018:  The beer was removed from the mini-fridge today and bottled with 2.25 ounces of corn sugar. The final amount of beer before bottling was approximately 2.1 gallons. Color was fairly dark but did have a reddish tint to it as I hoped, though I wanted a more ruby color.  This yielded 26 twelve-ounce bottles of beer. Those were placed in a 82F "hot box" to carbonate.  In about a week it should be carbonated. 

04/15/2018:  I chilled a bottle and poured it into a glass for the photo at the top of this post.  Although it looks black in the photo, the real color is more a dark brown with a very deep ruby element to it. I don't plan to enter this one into competition, but here's my take on it based on the BJCP criteria, and my score if I was judging it:

  • Aroma (8/12):  Aroma is malty with definite dark fruit notes, with a slight perfume element. Hops elements are absent, as they should be.  Could maybe use some spice elements.
  • Appearance (2/3): It's dark, even for the style, looking more dark brown with ruby notes than the "deep reddish copper" color called for in the guidelines. The head on this one was comparatively thin, though it did last a while.
  • Flavor (16/20): Sweet malt with plum notes to it, and a clean but sweet finish. Malt takes the foreground, and hops bitterness is restrained as it should be.  It's definitely gotten better with age, because I don't remember it being this good earlier. 
  • Mouthfeel (3/5): Medium body, with medium carbonation. Carbonation may be a little low for the style, in fact. No alcohol warmth. Very smooth and easy to drink.
  • Overall Impression (7/10):  With a lighter color and more carbonation, it would be a much closer match for the style than it is now.  The flavor is actually very close to what it should be, without too much hops bitterness or too much malty sweetness.  Dark fruit flavor comes through clearly without being overwhelming.  
  • Total Score: (36/50 Very Good)

Monday, January 8, 2018

Belgian Single v2.3 (Lonely Monk)

The Finished Belgian Single
I've been tweaking my Belgian Trappist Single recipe for some time now. Each iteration has gotten me a little closer to my goal, which is a Single that I'm happy to drink and which (I hope) would do well in competition.  My last version, made in July 2017, came the closest yet.

The previous version could have used more floral/herbal notes in the aroma, so I've added a late hopping with Hallertau Mittelfruh to provide that.  I include coriander and sweet orange peel in the recipe to help provide some fruity notes, too.

I've also included a ferulic acid rest in the mash to provide the yeast with the precursors needed to increase esters and phenols.  I recently read that this is common in many Belgian breweries.  The same source also suggested a two-step mash, with the first step at 145F and the second at 162F, so I included those in the mash as well.

It wasn't as clear as it could be, so I'm treating it with White Labs Clarity Ferm in primary and plan to add gelatin finings before cold-crashing it.  Hopefully that will provide the missing clarity.

The last version could have used a touch more hops, since the style is intended to lean toward bitterness. I've increased the hops slightly in this version to add bitterness.


3.75 pounds Belgian Pilsen Malt
4 ounces Aromatic Malt
3 ounces Carapils/Dextrine Malt
3 ounces Melanoidin Malt
0.50 ounces Styrian Goldings @ 6.2%AA (60 min.)
0.50 ounces Czech Saaz @ 3.0% AA (15 min.)
0.50 ounces Czech Saaz @ 3.0% AA (5 min.)
0.35 ounces Hallertau Mittelfruh @ 4.0% AA (2 min.)
0.60 ounces Sweet Orange Peel (5 min.)
0.20 ounces Coriander (5 min.)
1/2 packet Mangrove Jack's M31 Belgian Tripel dry yeast
1/2 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm
3 gallons, 16 ounces of water

The mash schedule used begins as the High Efficiency Mash profile in the Picobrew Recipe Crafter.  It's then modified to:
  • Dough In:  102F for 10 minutes
  • Ferulic Acid Rest: 113F for 10 minutes
  • Mash at 145F for 30 minutes
  • Mash at 162F for 36 minutes
  • Mash out at 175F for 10 minutes
This is followed by a 60-minute boil with hops, citrus peel, and coriander additions as noted above.

The Picobrew recipe crafter estimates that the beer will have the following qualities:
  • Original Gravity: 1.047 SG (actual was 1.050 SG)
  • Final Gravity: 1.011 SG
  • ABV: 4.6%
  • IBU: 28
  • SRM: 5
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons
  • Starting water: 3.1 gallons
After brewing, my refractometer measured the wort's original gravity at 12.1 Brix. When the wort correction factor is applied and the measurement converted to SG, it works out to an original gravity of 1.050, just a hair above what the recipe called for.  That worked out to an efficiency of 72.4%.  The final ABV might end up being closer to 5.5% than 4.6%. That's still well within the style.


I pitched the yeast and half of a vial of White Labs Clarity Ferm to remove gluten.  I plan to treat it with gelatin in secondary to further improve clarity.

It's been my experience that you get better flavor and aroma out of a Belgian yeast by fermenting at the high end of its temperature range. I've set the temperature control on this batch to hold the beer at 77F at a minimum and to allow it to go as high as it can.  With ambient temperatures below 65F in the basement and plenty of free space in the fermenter, the beer will probably not go too far over the yeast's upper limit of 82F - but I'm fine with that if it does. It may produce some warming notes, but given the low gravity of the beer, that's unlikely.

Brewing and Tasting Notes

01/07/2018:  My last couple of Zymatic brews have failed to fill the grain compartment with water, resulting in the gravity being quite low and a fair amount of grain dry (or at best feeling slightly "steamed"). After reviewing forum posts online, I decided that the most likely cause was that my grain crush was too coarse. I had the mill set to 0.063.  Forum posts suggest that the ideal size is 0.043 to 0.045.  I had to eyeball it, but I think I got the mill setting close to that.  This time around, the grain compartment flooded as expected - though this grain bill was smaller than those.

There was a small amount of foaming in this batch, but not enough to do more than accumulate on the top of the grain compartment's filter.  I tried to reduce this by following several suggestions in the forums. I added slightly more water than the recipe crafter asked for (just 3-4 ounces).  I made sure the dip tubes inside the keg were positioned properly and the correct lengths. I tightened the posts on the keg and the lines where they go into the machine. I also wrapped the fittings with Teflon tape to (hopefully) minimize air leaks.  While I didn't completely eliminate the device's tendency to suck in air with the wort, it's been reduced somewhat.

01/14/2018:  The airlock has seemed lifeless for days, so I conclude that primary fermentation has ceased on this one. I'm going to treat it with gelatin finings and move it to lager in a cooler area of the basement for a week or two before cold-crashing it.  The Mangrove Jack's yeast definitely seems to make a cloudier brew than I'm used to seeing based on samples extracted from the fermenter for gravity testing.

01/21/2018:  I've prepared gelatin finings for the beer and dropped them into it today. I moved the beer into my mini-fridge, since the weather forecast for the next week or so has our local temps between 25F at night and 50F in the day.  The mini-fridge should keep the beer closer to 34-36F which will help the gelatin to work.  I'm expecting to bottle the beer on 1/27/2018 or 1/28/2018.

01/27/2018:  The beer has clarified some, but is still quite hazy. I decided to bottle it anyway and just give it an extended period of refrigeration once carbonated, to see if that clears it up.  I'm expecting carbonation to be complete around 2/10/2018.  The beer's flavor at bottling was a dry and bitter, which is consistent with the style description.  If it remains that way at bottling it should be good.

02/04/2018:  The beer is now nicely clear and a bit overcarbonated. I used 2.5 ounces of corn sugar to bottle it, but the beer pours more as foam than beer.  Although I will probably still enter it into a competition this year, I'm hoping to brew another batch and get the carbonation right.

04/07/2018:  Opened a bottle today for the photo at the top of the post.  It pours a deep amber color with thin white head that dissipates at a modest pace and leaves behind rings of lacing. The aroma is a bit spicy with a hint of citrus (more lemony than orange). The flavor starts with a strong hops bitterness which remains throughout and into the finish. The middle gives way to malt and orange briefly. In terms of the BJCP criteria for the style, it's a bit too dark to be considered pale.  The flavor is definitely bitter and hoppy, with high attenuation and a modest malt backing.  I'm planning to enter it into competition though I'm not sure how well it's going to do.

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:  Before I go through the judges' notes on this one, my thoughts are that this is way too hoppy for what I wanted from it, though probably not for the style. Because it came out too hoppy, the bitterness overshadowed the coriander and orange peel that normally come through.  The yeast I used on this one didn't seem as expressive, either.  If I was scoring it for someone else I would probably give it something in the upper 20's or lower 30's.

The Barley's judges gave this beer total scores of 27, 25, and 29. That's in line with my own take.  Their individual comments and scores were:

  • Aroma (scores 6, 6, and 4)
    • Subtle grainy dryness, odd fruit (some spoiled apples?). Hint of citrus, touch of pears, slight hint of hop spice, herbaceousness
    • Good, spicy, not a strong yeast smell
    • (??) malt, even through head. No off notes but no depth or complexity once head fell.
  • Appearance (scores 2, 3, and 2)
    • Large head (fluffy white), bubble curtain, slight haze
    • Great head, color
    • Tall, dense head. Beyond style. Steady microbubbles. Light gold. Light haze. Lace - I think. Head doesn't leave much cup to judge.
  • Flavor (scores 6, 12, and 9)
    • Malt forward but neutral (or ?? by age). Light oxidation. Hop contribution there but muted. Alcohol. Lacks malt complexity and a clear hop (??) of style.
    • Bitter (slightly astringent), slight fruit presence, flavors remain subdued. Flavors push beneath bitterness.
    • Not strong fruit flavor. Not strong Trappist yeast overtones overall.
  • Mouthfeel (scores 2, 2, and 3)
    • Carbonic! Thin soft clean finish. Alcohol hidden. Builds to heat suggestive of fusel.
    • Thin, bubbles help but it becomes watery at end of drink
    • Overcarbonation, the champagne of beers, good finish
  • Overall Impression (scores 5, 5, and 4)
    • I think this is a good beer past its prime.The flavor seems to have gone to CO2 and alcohol.
    • Everything is there, but bitterness is a bit too much. Overpowers delicate flavors. Some oxidation in bottle could have hindered.
    • Drinkable but didn't get a lot of Trappist flavor

The judges' scores were close to my own estimate for the beer.  It was definitely overcarbonated, and that impacted the scores.  When I make this again (and I've had good batches in the past so I will make it again), I'll dial the hops back quite a bit. I'll also dial back the carbonation sugar.  I will also use a better yeast strain - the Mangrove Jack yeast didn't express like a good Belgian yeast should. 

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Dragon Stout Clone 1.0 (Jamaican Me Thirsty)

When I visited Jamaica several years ago, a bartender at our resort introduced me to Dragon Stout, their local beer.  I loved it.  I ended up going shopping and buying a lot of the local beers, but nothing appealed to me as much as Dragon Stout and its higher-alcohol cousin, Dragon Stout Spitfire. Truth be told, I liked Spitfire just a little more. I brought some back with me.

Having re-read a BYO Magazine article about Debittered Black Malt (note: a subscription is required to access the article), I was reminded that they had published a recipe for a Dragon Stout Clone there. As documented below, it's slightly modified from their version and is scaled for use in the Picobrew Zymatic.  I also switched out the corn sugar in their recipe for some Turbinado sugar, which I thought might lend a more brown-sugar flavor to it.


7.25 pounds 6-row Pale Malt
0.50 pounds Crystal 80L Malt
0.50 pounds Debittered Belgian Black Malt
1.00 pounds Turbinado Sugar
0.60 ounces of Magnum hops @ 12.3% AA (70 min.)
1/4 tablet Whirlfloc (10 min.)
1/8 tsp. Yeast Nutrient (10 min.)
1 packet Saflager S-23 Lager Yeast

According to the Picobrew site, the beer should reach the following characteristics:
  • Original Gravity: 1.085 SG (actual was only 1.063 SG)
  • Final Gravity: 1.011 SG (actual was too low to measure, 6.1 Brix uncorrected)
  • IBUs: 35
  • SRM: 38
  • Estimated ABV: 9.6% (coming closer to Spitfire) 
  • Actual ABV: 8.3%
  • Starting Water: 3.31 gallons
  • Batch Size: 2.2 gallons
The High Efficiency mash schedule was used, with the mash steps modified to 153F for 36 minutes and 158F for 30 minutes. I hoped this would achieve some unfermentable sugars that would give the beer its characteristic sweetness.

The recipe also called for Sinamar to be added at bottling to achieve the desired color. I'll wait and see if I think that's called for.

A 120-minute boil is called for in the recipe, with no hops additions for the first 60 minutes.  To get the bitterness right, I altered that to 50 minutes without hops and 70 minutes with Magnum.

Brewing and Related Activities

I dissolved the Turbinado in the water when adding it to the keg, to reduce the grain bill in the step filter to 8.25 pounds, which is below the Zymatic's 9-pound limit.  Even at that, there were parts of the grain compartment that did not get wet during the mash.

While the Zymatic worked on the beer, I began getting ready.  This is a huge gain you get from the machine.  It handles most of the brewing tasks, allowing you to spend your time on other things.

I sanitized my fermenter and prepped the temperature control system.  I also prepped my temperature logger, since I wanted to know if the beer stayed in the lager range throughout fermentation or if more robust temperature control will be needed in future lager brewing endeavors.

Since I still had time, I sanitized a case of bottles and bottled my 1-gallon Blonde Ale batch and 1-gallon Malt Liquor batch, rinsed and dried the bottles, then labeled them before dropping them into my "hot box" for carbonation.  Then I cleaned the bottling bucket, the two fermenters, and other items that needed a cleanup. I also rinsed my immersion chiller so it would be ready when the Dragon Stout finished brewing.

Having done pretty much everything I could, I came upstairs and monitored the Zymatic through the boil and waited for it to finish.

Chilling and Fermenting

The colder-than-usual Ohio winter has made a corner of my basement a perfect lagering temperature of about 55F. I set the fermenter up there, wrapping it with a fermwrap heater and my Cool Zone cooling jacket.  The cooling jacket was connected to a large reservoir of "basement temperature" water for cooling purposes.  I also inserted my temperature logger to record the temperatures the fermenter reached during fermentation over the next four weeks to see if it stayed in a safe range for the yeast.  It should be finished fermenting around February 3.

Post-Mortem and Other Notes

01/06/2018: The Zymatic definitely seems to have issues when brewing with large grain bills.  The last 2-3 brews I've made have pushed the 9-pound limitation (with this one weighing in at 8.25 pounds if you don't count the sugar - which was added to the mash water).  The device seems to have trouble flooding the grain compartment enough to wet all the grain. After consulting the Picobrew forums, it's suggested that a grain crush of 0.043 to 0.045 is recommended for the device. My mill was set to 1.063, which is quite a bit larger. What may be happening is that the wort is able to flow too easily through the step filter and isn't spending as much time with the grain as it should. I've adjusted the gap so that the crush will be smaller for the next batch. We'll see if it behaves better.

I've also gone through all the connections and tightened them, done a deep clean cycle on the machine, and even put Teflon tape where the wort lines come into the Zymatic to help seal them a little better.  I tightened the keg posts. In the process, I saw that one of the dip tubes was jammed into the bottom of the keg instead of floating freely near the other. I loosened the post, adjusted the tube, and re-tightened it to see if that will help as well.

A forum post suggested pausing the brew during the mash and stirring the grain bed a bit to ensure that it all gets wet. That wouldn't have helped much (I think) in this brew because there was no water in the grain bed to stir around. Everything pretty much flowed through the grain bed and out.

01/07/2018: I'm not seeing any activity from the airlock yet, so it's difficult to say that fermentation is underway. Then again, I've never brewed with a lager yeast before, so they may behave a bit differently from their ale counterparts. We'll see in a couple of days if the gravity has changed.

01/14/2018:  Despite the Ohio winter being unusually cold, keeping this beer within the yeast's tolerance was a bit tricky.  I found that once fermentation really kicked off, it quickly jumped from 54F to 61.9F.  The cooling system seemed to keep it from going over 62F (the upper limit for the yeast I am using) but only barely.  I added ice a couple of times a day to keep the temperature under control.  I won't know for sure until I look at the temperature logger in a week or two. Today, however, the beer is back down to around 58F.

01/16/2018:  A small sample was extracted from the fermenter for taste testing. The sample seemed more dry than I recall the real Dragon Stout being, and a touch chocolatey. However, it wasn't too bitter. I recall the original having a slight smokiness to it that I don't get from this version. I'm hopeful that it will seem a little sweeter when carbonated and chilled properly. If not, I'll probably need to do another batch with a higher mash temperature, maybe some Munich malt, less Turbinado sugar, and a less attenuative yeast strain.

01/21/2018:  The corner of the basement where the fermenter is sitting has remained in the mid-to-upper 50's consistently for weeks now.  The temperature recorder reads the temperature inside the fermenter at about 57F right now, which is good for the yeast strain.  I may move the beer to a secondary fermenter this week and let it continue lagering.

Fermenter temperature stayed below 62F throughout primary fermentation

02/04/2018:  The fermentation has definitely finished and the yeast has dropped out of suspension well.  I bottled the beer today in 27 twelve-ounce bottles using Coopers carbonation drops as priming sugar.  I'm expecting to be able to try the first bottle of the beer some time in the next three weeks. A small sample left in the bottling bucket tasted like I remember the real Dragon Stout tasting. It was a little sweet, not astringent, with no harsh roasted grain notes, but a hint of smokiness.  If it retains these qualities when it's carbonated, I may do a side by side comparison with my remaining bottle of real Jamaican Dragon Stout.  If that comparison is favorable, I'll enter it into competition later in the year. A gravity test using my refractometer yielded a 6.1 Brix gravity for the finished beer. After BeerSmith corrected it based on my refractometer's wort correction factor and the original gravity of the beer (measured with a hydrometer) it came out to 1.000 SG.  Since that's very unlikely, let's just say it fermented very thoroughly.

02/11/2018:  Yesterday, I chilled a bottle of the beer and poured it. It definitely reminded me of the real Dragon Stout we had in Jamaica, though it wasn't quite as sweet and the yeast wasn't as expressive.  I'm guessing a shorter mash at a higher temperature might sweeten it up a little.

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 are in from the judges at Barley's.  The beer received total scores of 19, 20, and 23.  The judges' comments and individual scores appear below:
  • Aroma (scores 5, 6, 5, and 5):
    • Faint cocoa, some banana, light cola, needs more maltiness
    • Fruity yeast esters dominate the aroma, followed by some malty sweetness and roast. Slight chocolate. No diacetyl. No DMS. No hop aroma. Acetaldehyde on the nose.
    • Slight yeast aroma followed by roast. Light hop.
    • Fruity and estery. No DMS or diacetyl. Dark fruits. No grain or roast aroma.
  • Appearance (scores 2, 2, 3, and 2)
    • Good color, some haze, short-lived head
    • Deep brown with creamy tan head
    • Dark brown with light brown head, good clarity
    • Deep red, light on head retention
  • Flavor (scores 7, 9, 5, and 10)
    • Inappropriate tanginess, lacking smooth malt roast, over-carbonation comes through as cola, too estery relative to the lack of dark malt sweetness
    • Roast character along with fruity yeast esters, has a sweetness to it. The bitterness is low for the style, both from roast and hops. Not enough dark fruit character. The flavor is balanced toward sweetness. No alcohol heat.
    • Moderate roast with slight sweetness. Yeasty.
    • Light roasty character, pleasant fruity hop character
  • Mouthfeel (scores 1, 2, 2, and 2)
    • Over carbonated, thin bodied, noticeable tang
    • Creamy mouthfeel, slightly overcarbonated, the high carbonation helped balance the sweetness
    • Carbonation is good, body is light
    • Good carbonation, medium bodied, too dry
  • Overall Impression (scores 4, 4, 5, and 6)
    • Over carbonated and too dry, lends to a thin mouthfeel and an off-putting tang
    • The beer has no production flaws. It misses the mark on yeast character and malt flavors. The bitterness was a little light. The ?? and dark fruit character that are represented in this style are missing. I would dial up the hops and select a different yeast strain.
    • Drinkable beer but the aroma is too yeasty and light body.
    • Pleasant to drink. Would like a little more roast character.
If you look at my comments from the taste test on February 11, I mentioned that it wasn't as sweet and the yeast wasn't as expressive.  I would have also added that it missed the dark fruit element as well.  The judges noted that it was overcarbonated, which may be true. I haven't opened a bottle in a while. Judges commented on the yeasty aroma, which I didn't detect in my original tasting.  

Ultimately, my take-away from this is that in the next iteration I will need to do the following:
  • Switch from Crystal 80L down to 60L, and a bit more of that. This may bring up the dark fruit element that is missing from it.
  • Add some oats to the mash to improve the body.
  • Increase the amount of malt used to get to the correct gravity.
  • Add some roasted barley (just a small amount) and/or darker malt to offset some of the sweetness from the 60L.
  • Correct the carbonation sugar amount since it appeared to have been high for this batch.
  • Consider adding a flavor hop addition of some kind, and possibly aroma hops.  
  • Swap out the Turbinado sugar for corn sugar to possibly eliminate the "tang" that the one judge picked up on.
  • Consider a different yeast strain that's less expressive, though this was done with a lager yeast that (when I tasted it two months ago) didn't seem to provide any aroma.

Monday, January 1, 2018

2017 The Year in Beer

With 2018 staring me in the face, it seemed like a good time to take a look back at 2017 from the perspective of my home brewing activities.  What did I accomplish?  What did I learn?  Did I improve?  Did I contribute anything to the hobby?  What's next for me?

What Did I Accomplish?

I read that the average home brewer makes 8.3 batches per year. This year, I made 35 unique batches representing 20 different styles, which I guess places me well above the average.

The styles I made most often were Belgian Strong Dark, Belgian Dubbel, and Extra Special Bitter (ESB).  I've been trying to master the Belgian styles and come up with recipes that will be my "go to" versions of the styles.

I managed to make beer using three different equipment configurations this year.  I made most using the iMake Grainfather RIMS system.  Several were made using a setup cobbled together from a sous vide cooker, induction cooktop, kettle, strainer, and Ziploc bag.  (One of those batches became my "house" ESB recipe and was scaled up for The Grainfather.)

What Did I Learn?

I actually learned quite a bit this year. Some of the highlights:
  • How to scale a beer from a 1-gallon sous vide setup to a 5-gallon Grainfather batch (maintaining gravity, color, and flavor), and have started working on doing the same with the PicoBrew Zymatic and its 2.5 gallon batches.
  • If I do the right calculations on a recipe for a commercial beer, I can brew a beer that is extremely close to that commercial beer.
  • It's possible to brew a beer with breakfast cereal, have it turn out well, and surprise others with just how good it can be.
  • I learned a little about how BJCP judged events work, and gained valuable feedback from the judges on ingredient freshness and the subjectivity that can enter the judging process.
  • My recipe instincts are decent, though I'm still not quite at the point where the recipes I create entirely by myself are always what I want. Roughly half of my "created from the ground up" recipes were objectively considered good (with one of them getting a silver medal at the Ohio State Fair) and the rest no better than mediocre. This is something to work on in 2018.
  • I learned to make mead, though my first two attempts were not so good. Since there is a good meadery here in Columbus, I may just stick to beer.
There is probably more, but that's what comes to mind.

Did I Improve This Year?

This is not an easy question to answer.

On the purely objective side, I have been able to brew beers that come very close in gravity, color, and volume to the recipe numbers.  This was not the case in prior years, so that must be improvement.

My recipe instincts, both looking at a published recipe and deciding if I'll like the finished beer and creating/modifying recipes, are probably improving. I've only recently started tracking feedback from people who try my beers, but the feedback I get is generally getting more positive. Many more people are telling me I should do this for a living than ever before.  I take that to mean people are seeing improvement and like what I'm doing.

I've been able to shave time off the brewing process using both the sous vide and Grainfather setups. I've been able to reduce the elapsed time and hands-on time commitment through use of the Zymatic, so I have been able to devote more time to other things without sacrificing the quality of my beer. I consider that an improvement, even if only a "quality of life" kind of thing.

What Did I Contribute to the Hobby?

An article I read in one of the home brewing magazines suggested that the "stars" in the home brewing community are people who not only brew great beer and expand their knowledge, but also give something back to the hobby. 

I've kept in touch with several home brewing friends throughout the year. I've shared little tips and tricks I learned, but with them and here on this blog.  Hopefully people have found this information valuable and useful.

I've shared all of the recipes I brewed throughout the year, combined with photos of the brewing process, photos of the beer, tasting notes, and thoughts for improvement.  Hopefully others who are looking to brew similar beers find these posts helpful.

On the other hand, I've not joined a homebrew club, done any formal presentations at conferences, written any books (yet), or done anything with a group of people. I have some ideas about that, but I haven't acted on them so far.

What's Next?

In no particular order, here are things I'd like to accomplish in 2018 with regard to homebrewing:

  • Tune my Beersmith settings to make it easier to scale recipes between the Zymatic, Grainfather, and other systems.  This means getting a decent Zymatic profile sorted out in BeerSmith.
  • Continue to fine-tune the wort correction factor for my refractometer through comparison measurements using the refractometer and hydrometer.
  • Set up a permanent "home" in my basement for the Zymatic to avoid some logistical problems associated with having it setup on my brewing work table.
  • Continue to get rid of older accumulated brewing grains, then better plan my brewing so that I don't accumulate much in the future.
  • Use the Zymatic to produce a number of "self-teaching" beers to help me learn the differences imparted by specialty grains, yeast strains, mash schedules, etc., to better inform recipe changes.
  • Nail down my "house" recipes for at least the following styles:
    • Belgian Single - this is pretty close and needs only minor tweaks
    • Belgian Tripel - I've yet to make one I'm totally happy with
    • Gulden Draak clone - I've already begun work on this
    • Trappistes Rochefort 10 clone - I'm pretty close on this
    • Extra Special Bitter (ESB) - I think I have this, but need to make one more batch
    • Cascade Pale Ale - I've tried a bunch of things with this one but haven't quite hit it
  • Accumulate notes and ideas for a book on brewing.

Tune in about twelve months from now to see how this all turned out...

Chasing a Golden Dragon - version 1.0

Image from Brewery Web Site
The beer that really opened my eyes to the wonder of Belgian ales was Gulden Draak from Van Steenberge in Belgium. This is described by the brewery as a "Dark Tripel" rather than a Quadrupel or Dark Strong Ale.  It's a sweet, but not cloying, reddish dark brown ale with a strong dark fruit presence.  It gets a thick tan head that lasts a while. The aroma is sweet and fruity, with some perfume-like hops.  There are hints of chocolate in the flavor, but mostly dark fruit and caramel malt. The finish is sweet.  It's not a beer you would drink as a session ale, since it's a bit on the sweeter, stronger side.

The official web site describes the beer as having a "complex taste with hints of caramel, roasted malt and coffee in combination with the creamy hazel head."  Wine yeast is used in secondary fermentation. They also list the following details:
  • 10.5% alcohol
  • 23 degrees Plato (which works out to a gravity of 1.096 SG)
In Draft magazine, I found that the IBU rating for Gulden Draak is reported to be 18 IBUs.

I've seen lots of recipes online for clones of it, and have made some of them. None have really come close to the real thing.  I've decided to try my hand at it, after noticing that a recent Belgian Dark Strong Ale I brewed tasted a fair amount like it, just at a weaker level.

The beer I brewed that contained the flavor which reminded me of Gulden Draak (a Trappistes Rochefort 10 clone attempt) contained:
  • Belgian Pilsen Malt
  • Belgian Caramunich Malt
  • Melanoidin Malt
  • Special B Malt
  • Carapils/Dextrine Malt
  • Chocolate Malt
  • D-180 Candi Syrup
The other beer had hints of a Gulden Draak flavor in the background, with a dark chocolate note up front that I don't get from Gulden Draak. I decided that I would start my clone attempt by using that Trappistes Rochefort 10 clone recipe, dropping the Chocolate malt entirely, increasing the Special B malt, and adding more candi syrup. These changes, I hoped, would mostly eliminate the chocolate flavor and radically dial up the prune/raisin/plum flavors.


6.75 pounds Belgian Pilsen Malt
0.75 pounds Belgian Cara 45 Malt
0.50 pounds Melanoidin Malt
0.75 pounds Special B Malt
0.25 pounds Carapils/Dextrine Malt
2.00 pounds D-180 Candi Syrup
1.00 pounds D-90 Candi Syrup
0.50 ounces Styrian Goldings hops @ 6.3% AA (60 min.)
0.70 ounces Hallertau Mittelfruh @ 4.0% AA (10 min.)
0.70 ounces Czech Saaz @ 3.0% AA (5 min.)
0.25 teaspoons Yeast Nutrient
0.25 tablets Whirlfloc
Mangrove Jack's Belgian Strong Dark Ale Yeast

Everything but the yeast and candi syrup went into the Zymatic.

Grain and hops loaded into the Zymatic step filter
The Picobrew crafter says that this should produce a wort which has these characteristics (without the Candi Syrup, which will be added post-boil):
  • Original Gravity: 1.089 SG
  • Final Gravity: 1.022 SG
  • SRM: 31
  • ABV: 8.6%
  • IBU: 24
  • Starting Water: 3.36 gallons (I used 3 gallons, 1 quart, plus a half quart)
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons
  • High Efficiency Step Mash used, unmodified
With the candi syrup added, the numbers changed to:
  • Original Gravity: 1.107 SG
  • Final Gravity: 1.027 SG
  • IBU: 21
  • SRM: 89
  • ABV: 10.4%
Since this recipe stretched the 9 pound grain limit of the Zymatic, I chose not to add the candi syrup during the brew.  I was also concerned that if the syrup was present from mash through the entire boil step, it might alter or diminish the flavors provided by the syrup.

The brew went more or less perfectly other than the fact that parts of the grain bed seemed merely steamed rather than mashed. I suppose that's what happens when you tax the Zymatic's grain limit.

When I extracted the finished wort to chill it with my immersion chiller, I first stirred in the syrup. Then I used the immersion chiller to finish cooling it off.  After that, the gravity registered 25 Brix or 1.109 SG (after adjustment) instead of the gravity I expected, 1.107 SG.  The color of the beer also got dramatically darker, more of a black than a reddish brown.


The beer was poured forcefully into an SS Brewing Technologies Brewmaster Bucket to add oxygen. The yeast packet was opened and (given the gravity of the brew) the entire packet sprinkled atop the wort. The fermenter was sealed shut and I began cleaning everything. The fermenter registered a temp of 66F at the start of fermentation.

Given ambient basement temperatures this time of year, cooling should not be necessary (though heating might be). The Tripel I'd made the day before had never gone above 67F during the height of fermentation.

Post-Mortem and Other Notes

The Zymatic has already allowed me to brew more often than I had been able to at any time during the past.  Since bringing the device online on December 20, 2017, I have made six batches in it.  Of those, two have had foaming issues where some amount of wort was lost.  The rest have gone smoothly and (we'll see in a few weeks) seemingly produced good looking and smelling wort.  The Zymatic is easy to use, easy to clean, and so far "just works" like you hope it would.  It's required a few minimal changes to my brewing process. I have to use their recipe crafter, cleanup is a bit different (but easier), and I have to be sure to load enough water into it. From there, it's mostly set-it-and-forget-it brewing.

I started with the Trappistes Rochefort 10 clone recipe.  That beer had a hint of Gulden Draak flavor to it, but was thinner, drier, and had a strong chocolate note. I removed the chocolate malt from it, tripled the dark candi sugar, and increased the Special B malt. All of these should amp up the dark fruit flavor. I won't know, of course, until the yeast finishes its job.  That may take a few weeks.

Thus concludes my last brew of 2017.

01/02/2018:  The beer has been fermenting nicely. It pretty much started several hours after the yeast was pitched. The ambient basement temperature was keeping it on the low side, so I wrapped the fermenter with a heat wrap and some foam insulation to bump up the temperature, which accelerated the fermentation somewhat.  It will probably finish primary fermentation around Monday 1/8.

01/04/2018:  The airlock isn't showing active fermentation at this point, so it must be approaching the end of primary fermentation. A sample pulled from the fermenter had a reddish brown color similar to a real Gulden Draak ale. It's still pretty sweet at this point, which isn't surprising - given both the original beer's sweetness and the fact that the yeast may still have work to do.

01/27/2018:  I bottled the beer today using 3 ounces of corn sugar.  Yield was roughly 27 bottles. It has a good aroma and flavor, even warm and flat, so I'm hopeful it will be a good beer when it's finished carbonating - whether it clones Gulden Draak or not.  I expect to do my first taste test around 02/10/2018.

02/08/2018:  The beer is finished now. It pours a very dark brown, almost black, with thick light brown head that lingers a bit.  The aroma is a mix of dark fruit and chocolate.  The flavor starts with a mix of dark malt, prune, and a warming alcohol presence. Finish is malty and slightly bitter.  This is a good example of a Belgian Dark Strong Ale, but not much of a Gulden Draak clone. Time to consider v2.0.