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.

Ingredients

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.

Ingredients

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.)

Cleanup

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.