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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% (actual was 6.0%)
  • Attenuation: 81.3% (actual)
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.

I had ordered and received a Tilt Hydrometer earlier in the week. It arrived on the day I brewed the beer. I unpacked it and calibrated it with a glass of water and good thermometer. After this beer was brewed, I sanitized the Tilt Hydrometer and dropped it into the wort before fermentation began. It registered 1.056 SG, the same original gravity I had estimated with the refractometer and BeerSmith earlier, which confirmed that it was reading correctly.

05/27/2018:  I assembled a Raspberry Pi 3 B+ and loaded the Tilt Pi software onto it. The system began recording the gravity and temperature. The data is being logged to a Google Sheets spreadsheet. I'll capture that data and report it here when the fermentation is finished. I'm looking forward to using the Tilt to help determine when fermentation is complete and to identify in near-real-time when a fermentation is exceeding the intended temperature range.

05/28/2018:  According to the Tilt Hydrometer, the gravity of the beer has dropped from 1.056 SG on Saturday night to 1.020 SG today. Wort temperature has been only gradually increasing, going from 69F at the start of fermentation to 71F now. Given the expected final gravity of 1.008 SG, it seems unlikely that the beer will exceed the yeast's ideal upper limit of 77F, so temperature control (as I suspected) appears to be unnecessary.

Additional note: a small sample drawn from the spigot on the fermenter had a pleasing orange aroma and flavor. Unlike the previous batch, it appears to be well-balanced and not bitter. The tangerine note came through very clearly, too. I hope these qualities remain in the finished beer.

05/29/2018:  The Tilt Hydrometer is now registering 1.012 SG as the beer's gravity and 67F as the temperature, essentially the same as the basement's ambient temperature. As noted above, PicoBrew's recipe crafter estimates that this beer will get down to 1.008 SG as a final gravity. Throughout the day today, the gravity has ranged from 1.013 to as low as 1.008 - though it has fluctuated often. (I'm not surprised by that. Any device attempting to turn an analog reading, like the degree of tilt, into a digital numeric reading like SG, is bound to fluctuate a bit due to variations in the wort surface, yeast activity, etc. I have little doubt that in a few days the readings will level out even more and settle in somewhere in the 1.008 SG vicinity. The current readings work out to 83.3% attenuation and 6.1% ABV. Airlock activity has slowed considerably at this point but is still visible.

05/30/2018: The gravity is holding fairly consistently around 1.010 SG and the temperature has held at 67F, the ambient basement temperature. I think it's safe to say fermentation is pretty well finished.

06/01/2018: The gravity has been very steady at 1.010 SG and 67F since May 30, so it's safe to say primary fermentation is over. Now it's time to do a gelatin finings treatment.

06/02/2018: As you can see in the graph below, the beer has held at a gravity of 1.010 SG for approximately 3 days, and the temperature has been a fairly consistent 67F or 68F.

Given that fermentation is now complete, I'm ready to cold-crash and fine the beer using gelatin. I poured a half-cup of distilled water in a container and sprinkled a half-teaspoon of gelatin across the top of it. I allowed the gelatin to bloom for 20 minutes before heating the mixture to the 155F-158F range and adding it to the beer. I then moved the beer to my mini-fridge for chilling. I'll leave it there for a few days until it looks clear.

06/10/2018:  The beer was bottled today, using four small carbonation tablets per bottle (medium carbonation). At the time it was bottled, the Tilt Hydrometer registered 38F as its temperature and 1.009 SG to 1.010 SG as its gravity. This means it reached 6.0% ABV and attenuation was 81.3%.

06/14/2018: Being the impatient sort when it comes to my beer, I've placed a bottle of this in the freezer to chill before doing a taste and carbonation test. The beer was extremely clear in the bottle, which gives me hope that it will pour clear later in the glass. (UPDATE) While the flavor is good and matches that of a natural orange, the beer was still almost totally flat at this point. It will take more time, and possibly some inversion of the bottles, to get the beer carbonated.

06/19/2018:  The beer pours a very slightly hazy gold with thin white head. The flavor starts with a hoppy bitterness, followed by a brief hit of orange, then a mild maltiness. The finish is mildly bitter and lingering. It leaves behind a thin lacing in the glass. It's a bit more bitter than last year's version, but very easy to drink.

06/25/2018: The bottles were labeled tonight, which is the first step toward sharing them with friends and family.


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