Friday, July 12, 2019

Mint Julep Ale 1.0

We have a lot of mint growing outside our house.  I always wondered if you could make a mint julep style beer with it.  I had envisioned a beer that was basically amber colored, with mint added late in the boil, and aged on some bourbon-soaked oak chips.  Then I visited the now-defunct Fate Brewing in Boulder, Colorado, and tasted their Mint Julep Ale. It was quite good, which convinced me to brew my own.  Theirs included rye malt in the grist, which worked well with the mint, but didn't feature any actual bourbon.  I decided to add rye to the recipe I'd been considering, and to soak the mint in some bourbon apart from the oak chips, then blend in the mint-soaked bourbon at bottling time. Since corn is a big part of bourbon and I happened to have 3 ounces lying around I didn't want to go bad, I added that in last-minute.

Ingredients

6 pounds 2-row Pale Ale Malt
1 pound Crystal 60L Malt
4 ounces Rye Malt
3 ounces Flaked Corn
1 ounce Acid Malt
0.42 ounces German Northern Brewer hops @ 4.8% AA (60 min.)
0.25 ounces German Perle hops @ 7.2% AA (15 min.)
0.25 ounces German Perle hops @ 7.2% AA (5 min.)
1/8 tsp. Brewtan B (mash)
2 tsp. pH 5.2 Stabilizer (mash)
1/4 tsp. Brewtan B (boil, 20 min.)
1/4 Whirlfloc tablet (boil, 15 min.)
1/2 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm (fermenter)
1 package Safale US-05 yeast (fermenter)
10 liters (2.64 gallons) mash water
6.3 liters (1.7 gallons) sparge water

According to BeerSmith, the beer has the following characteristics:
  • Batch Size: 2.64 gallons (2.5 actual)
  • BJCP Style: 34.C  Experimental Beer
  • Original Gravity: 1.064 SG estimated (1.072 actual)
  • Pre-boil Gravity: 1.049 SG estimated (1.055 actual)
  • Final Gravity: 1.012 estimated
  • IBUs: 23
  • SRM: 15.7
  • ABV: 6.9%
  • Fermenter used: Spock
  • Bottling wand used: n/a 
  • Carbonation method: n/a
  • Estimated Brew House Efficiency: 66.2% (vs. 62% expected)
Mash Schedule:
  • Load 10 liters into the Brewie+
  • Mash in at 104F for 20 minutes
  • Load 6.3 liters into the Brewie+ for sparging 
  • Mash at 120F for 20 minutes
  • Mash at 140F for 30 minutes 
  • Mash at 158F for 30 minutes 
  • Sparge at 168F for 20 minutes 
Boil Schedule:
  • 75 minutes: No additions
  • 60 minutes: German Northern Brewer
  • 20 minutes: Brewtan
  • 15 minutes: German Perle, Whirlfloc 
  • 5 minutes: German Perle 
Fermentation Plan:
  • Days 1-3: Ferment at ambient basemen temp of 69F (no temp control)
  • Days 4 through end of fermentation: 80F
  • Add bourbon soaked oak chips near 67% attenuation
  • When oak flavor reaches desired level, add mint to taste and bottle

Notes and Observations

07/12/2019:  As with other recent batches, I decided to load the water into the Brewie myself, to ensure that the exact amount was loaded.  I measured the water with an accurate scale and a plastic pitcher. It was then loaded into the Brewie and measured.

Pre-boil volume was around 13.8 cm deep, which is approximately 12.1 liters or 3.4 gallons.  Post-boil this should end up about 10.1 liters, and post-chilling it should be 9.7 liters or 2.56 gallons.  Gravity registered 13.1 Brix on the refractometer or an estimated 1.055 SG.

Tragedy struck just as the Brewie+ brought the wort to a boil. I noticed in the app (and later on the machine's control panel) that the wort was dropping in temperature... 190F... 180F... 170F... 160F...

I went down to check on it and nothing seemed amiss, so I tried shutting it down, unplugging it, waiting a bit, plugging it back in, and turning it back on. It asked if I wanted it to continue the previous brewing session. I told it to go ahead... and watched as the temperature continued to fall.

The wort boiling in my 8-gallon Mega Pot with induction cooktop
Grabbing the 8-gallon kettle from my extract brewing days, I quickly rinsed it and had the Brewie+ pump all the wort into the kettle. While it did that, I setup my induction cooktop and got it ready to go.  I shutdown the Brewie+ and unplugged it, using that plug for my cooktop. A little while later, I had the wort boiling nicely. I set a timer for 75 minutes and followed the boil schedule above.

While boiling, I cleaned up and sanitized my old immersion chiller and another kettle.  When the boil was over, I fished out the hop strainers and let them drain into the kettle.  Once they'd drained, I transferred the wort into the kettle with the immersion chiller and let it sit for a couple of minutes to further sanitize everything.  Then I kicked on the cold water and chilled the wort down to around 78F, which was as low as I figured I could get it with our summer ground water.

I transferred the wort into a sanitized fermenter, then dropped in a sanitized Tilt Hydrometer.  The gravity read a bit high, so I added distilled water to bring the volume up to 2.5 gallons and swirled it well.  When things settled, the gravity read 1.070 SG and the temperature read 77F.  That was a bit too high for my yeast, so I decided to let it chill a bit more in ambient basement temperatures.

I contacted the support folks for the Brewie+, hoping there might be an easy fix like a blown fuse or something, but it may be some time before I hear from them. They are based in Hungary.

07/13/2019:  I let the beer chill on its own from 77F to the ambient basement temperature of 69F before pitching the yeast. The yeast went in around 3pm and an airlock was placed on the lid. I'm planning to leverage the basement air to keep the fermentation within its ideal 64-82F range.

07/18/2019:  The beer is currently at a gravity of 1.023 SG, down from 1.025 yesterday.  I'd like to see it keep going a bit more but don't plan to do anything more than rousing the yeast, as glucoamylase is a bit too strong and unpredictable.

07/20/2019:  Here are the gravity readings since yeast pitch, showing the highest and lowest gravities registered each day:
  • 7/13/2019: 1.072 to 1.071
  • 7/14/2019: 1.071 to 1.056
  • 7/15/2019: 1.056 to 1.034
  • 7/16/2019: 1.034 to 1.024
  • 7/17/2019: 1.026 to 1.024
  • 7/18/2019: 1.024 to 1.023
  • 7/19/2019: 1.024 to 1.023
  • 7/20/2019: 1.024 to 1.023
It appears likely at this point that we've reached final gravity.  I had expected the gravity to be a fair amount lower, but it looks like the mash schedule may have left too many unfermentable sugars behind because US-05 is a pretty solid fermenter

One day last week I picked fresh mint, chopped it up with herb scissors, and covered it in Everclear to extract the mint flavor from it.  Within hours the Everclear had gone from clear and colorless to a dark emerald green.  I've also got some bourbon-soaked oak chips that will be dropped into the fermenter soon to pick up the bourbon and oak notes.  I'll leave those until we get the right flavor of oak and bourbon.  Right before bottling, I'll add some of the mint extract and adjust until there's a pleasant minty note.


Saturday, July 6, 2019

English Dark Mild 1.1

Although I was pretty happy with my original Dark Mild recipe, it unfortunately picked up a bacterial infection and had to be dumped.  A second Dark Mild suffered the same fate.

In my notes on the original version, I mentioned that I wanted a little more crystal malt and more body.  Toward that end, I've shifted the mash temp upward for most of the mash and added another ounce of Medium English Crystal malt. I've also added some flaked corn, which the BJCP notes is a common ingredient in the style.

Ingredients

3 pounds Munton's Pale Ale Malt
6 ounces Medium English Crystal Malt
4 ounces Flaked Corn
4 ounces Crystal 120L Malt
2 ounces English Pale Chocolate Malt
1 ounce English Black Malt
1 ounce Acid Malt
0.35 ounces East Kent Goldings hops @ 6.1% AA (60 min.)
1 large pellet East Kent Goldings hops @ 6.1% AA (15 min.)
1/8 tsp. Brewtan B in the mash
1.5 tsp. pH 5.2 Stabilizer in the mash
1/4 tsp. Brewtan B in the boil (20 min.)
1/4 tsp. Irish Moss (15 min.)
1/4 tsp. Wyeast yeast nutrient (15 min.)
1/2 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm (in fermenter for gluten reduction)
1 packet Mangrove Jack's MI5 Empire Ale Yeast
8 liters mash water
7.7 liters of sparge water

The beer is expected to have the following characteristics:
  • BJCP Style: 13.A Dark Mild
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons (2.8 gallons)
  • Original Gravity: 1.037 SG estimated (1.042 SG actual)
  • Pre-boil Gravity: 1.027 SG estimated (1.035 SG actual)
  • Final Gravity: 1.009 SG estimated
  • IBUs: 20
  • ABV: 3.8% estimated
  • SRM: 21.5
  • Fermenter used: McCoy
  • Bottling wand used: n/a
  • Carbonation method:  n/a
Mash schedule:
  • 15 minute Mash-in at 102F
  • 20 minute Protein Rest at 120F
  • 15 minute Saccharification Rest at 150F
  • 55 minute Saccharification Rest at 158F
  • 20 minute Sparge at 168F

The Protein Rest is something I've added since using the PicoBrew Zymatic and Brewie+.  In my experience, beers brewed in the all-in-one electric systems have had a tendency to develop chill haze.  Adding this rest seems to help the enzymes break up Beta Glucan and get me clearer brews.

Boil schedule:
  • 90 minutes: No additions
  • 60 minutes: East Kent Goldings
  • 20 minutes: Brewtan B
  • 15 minutes: Yeast nutrient, Irish Moss, and EKG pellet
Fermentation plan:
  • Chill to 68F or less
  • Pitch yeast
  • Hold within the 62-72F optimum range of the yeast for days 1-4 of fermentation
  • Raise temp to 72F until fermentation finishes
  • Add gelatin finings and cold crash until clear
Once fermentation is finished, the plan is to bottle the beer using 3 small Brewer's Best carbonation tablets (low carbonation) and to allow it to condition at ambient basement temperatures until carbonated.

Post-Brew Notes and Observations

07/06/2019:  I decided to manually measure the water going into this batch to ensure that it's accurately loaded into the machine.  This took a little more effort, but allowed me to be sure I had the amounts right rather than relying on the Brewie's frequently-inaccurate sensors.  I loaded 8 liters in the mash and 7.7 in the sparge.  I had an extra pellet of East Kent Goldings when I'd finished measuring everything, and I decided to add this (it weighed 0.03 ounces) to the 15-minute addition to give a hint of EKG flavor and possibly aroma... rather than tossing out the pellet.

The beer finished above both volume and gravity.  Gravity came out at 1.042 SG vs. 1.037 SG expected.  Volume came out at 2.8 gallons instead of the 2.5 gallons expected.  Normally I would dilute the beer to hit my desired target, but the fermenter was pretty full with 2.8 gallons, so I decided to leave it high.  It's only 4 points above the high-end for the style in the BJCP guidelines, not enough that it's likely to be obvious.  The ground water is warm this time of year, so it took the Brewie a while to get the temperature down to 76F.  I'll need to use my temperature control system to get this down low enough and hold it there for the recipe. My plan will be to set the temp to 64F and hold it there until the yeast is nearly finished, then ramp the temperature up gradually to 72F.

Fermenter volume, before yeast pitching

07/07/2019:
  About 4-5 hours after the yeast was pitched, gravity in the fermenter began to drop from 1.043 to 1.042.  It's about 14 hours in as I write this, and gravity is down to 1.036 SG, which represents about 18% attenuation and an ABV around 1%.  I think it's safe to say at this point that the yeast is healthy and beginning to get to work.

About 22 hours after the yeast was pitched, the gravity had dropped to 1.023 SG. That's about 39.6% attenuation and 2.68% ABV.

07/11/2019:  The gravity seemed to stall at 1.020 SG, so I added a small drop of glucoamylase, swirled the fermenter, and raised the temperature to 71F.  Today the gravity is down to 1.014 SG and may still be dropping.

07/12/2019:  The gravity has dropped to 1.011 SG.

07/13/2019:  The gravity has dropped to 1.010 SG.

07/14/2019:  The gravity has dropped to 1.009 SG and the temperature is holding at 69F.

07/18/2019:  The gravity has continued dropping. It currently registers 1.005 SG.  I'm concerned that the fermentation has already gone past the style's lower limit and could drop low enough to take the beer totally out of style.

07/20/2019:  Gravity has registered 1.005 SG or 1.006 SG since somewhere around July 18.  It's showing no indication of going below 1.0005 so far.  If this holds another day, I'll bottle it and see how it tastes some time in August.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Strawberry Mead (Melomel) 1.0

While shopping in a Wal-Mart a couple of months ago, I decided it might be fun to try making a strawberry mead.  I picked two items off the shelf to combine with water, yeast nutrient, and yeast to produce the mead. It'll be a while before I know if this worked (and I know there are reasons it might not - such as preservatives in the strawberry recipe).

Ingredients

1.5 gallons of tap water
5 pounds of Generic Honey
27 ounce jar of Welch's All-Natural Strawberry Preserves
2 tsp. DAP
2 tsp. Wyeast Yeast Nutrient
2 packages Crossmyloof Mead Yeast

Just these, water, yeast, and nutrients...

Characteristics of this batch:
  • Batch Volume:  2.1 gallons
  • BJCP Criteria:  M2C.  Berry Mead
  • Original Gravity: 1.111 SG (per Tilt Hydrometer)
  • Final Gravity: 1.008 SG estimated
  • Fermenter Used: O'Reilly
  • Bottling Wand Used: not yet bottled
  • ABV:  13% estimated
The water was brought to a boil. The honey and strawberry preserves dissolved into it, and left with a lid on it to cool to room temperature in a swamp cooler.

The strawberry preserves most likely contained some form of preservatives that would inhibit yeast growth, so I plan to overpitch the yeast and loaded it down with nutrients to help it out. I also planned to hit it with pure oxygen before pitching, to nudge it even further along.

Fermentation Plan

In Steve Platz's The Complete Guide to Making Mead, the author suggests fermenting at 62-75F, which fits in with my ambient basement temperature.  The planned schedule, per the book is:
  • Day 1 (6/30):  Brew, oxygenate, and pitch yeast.  
  • Day 2 (7/1):  Stir twice during the day, about 8-12 hours apart.
  • Day 3 (7/2):  Stir once, and add 3/4 tsp. yeast nutrient. Stir again 8-12 hours later.
  • Day 4 (7/3):  Stir twice during the day.
  • Day 5 (7/4):  Stir once, add 3/4 tsp. yeast nutrient. Stir again 8-12 hours later.
  • Day 6 (7/5):  Stir twice during the day.
  • Day 7 (7/6):  Stir once, add 3/4 tsp. yeast nutrient. Stir again 8-12 hours later.
  • Day 8 (7/7):  Stir twice during the day.
  • Days 9+:  No stirring or adding nutrients. 
  • Day 21:  Transfer to secondary fermenter and add finings, or bottle. 


Post-Brew Notes and Observations

06/30/2019:  Finished prepping at 2:15pm.  At 4pm temp was down to 134F.  At 5pm, 108F.  At 8:30pm, the temp was down to 79F and the gravity read 1.111 SG.  The must was aerated with pure oxygen for 60 seconds and two packages of yeast pitched to ensure success,

07/01/2019:  This morning I swirled the fermenter to stir up the contents.  Tonight, I sanitized a stainless steel spoon and stirred the must vigorously as indicated in the Platz book, before re-sealing the fermenter.  Gravity is down to 1.103 SG (about 7% attenuation) in about 23 hours since pitching the yeast.  The mead has a decidedly strawberry aroma, though it's an unappetizing brown color, probably because I should have waited to add the berries until it had cooled down. Lesson learned for next time.

07/02/2019:  I swirled the fermenter before leaving for work, after adding yeast nutrient, and again when I returned home.  Gravity is down to 1.096 SG now.  This represents about 14% attenuation in approximately 46 hours since the yeast was pitched, so you wouldn't exactly say this yeast is a very fast fermenter.

07/03/2019:  It's now over 72 hours since the yeast was pitched.  Gravity has dropped to 1.060 SG, which represents approximately 46% attenuation and 7.5% ABV.  Temperature crept as high as 73F but has been decreasing during the last hour.  With tomorrow being the July 4 holiday, I decided to give the yeast a dose of energizer and a good swirl before going to bed.

07/04/2019:  It's over 4 days.  Gravity is down to 1.039 SG, which represents approximately 66% attenuation and an ABV around 10.8%.  There doesn't seem to be any indication of it slowing down at this point, so it will be interesting to see where this ends up.

07/05/2019:  The mead was dosed with nutrients one final time and stirred very well with a sanitized spoon.  It's currently reading a gravity of 1.030 SG, which represents 70.3% attenuation and an ABV of 12.09%.  Temperature is 72F and the mead has held an average of 73F throughout fermentation. A sample removed using a sanitized turkey baster showed a light color, a little bit of a boozy aroma, and a flavor that is still sweet - with strawberry and honey notes, while still tasting "young" (as it should).

07/06/2019: Gravity is down to 1.012 SG today, and there is still regular airlock activity.  The temperature has dropped to 71F.  The current gravity represents 88.3% attenuation and 14.46% ABV.  I swirled the fermenter this morning and added a teaspoon of the pectic enzyme I received today to help clarify the melomel by breaking down the pectin. It should have been added earlier but I didn't have any, or really know about it at the time.

07/07/2019:  Gravity is now being reported as 1.000 SG (identical to water) by the Tilt Hydrometer and the temperature has dropped from 71F yesterday to 69F today, which is roughly the ambient basement temperature surrounding the fermenter.  I think it's safe to say that fermentation is probably complete at this point, though as always I'll adopt a "wait and see" approach.  I'll give the melomel a few more days to ensure that fermentation is indeed finished, then transfer it off the yeast cake so that it can clear up before bottling. The 1.000 SG gravity puts the mead's ABV at 16.02%.  Strong stuff...

07/11/2019:  Gravity now reads 0.995 SG, which represents an ABV of 16.66%.

07/18/2019:  The gravity held for three straight days, so I transferred the liquid off the yeast cake to ensure that it didn't pick up any autolysis flavors or aromas, and am going to let it continue resting until it gets clear, then we'll get it bottled and allow it to age.

07/20/2019:  The mead is looking clearer in the fermenter, but I suspect it will need a lot more time to get really bright and clear.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Bender's Olde Fortran Malt Liquor 1.0

The Matt Groening television series Futurama has long been one of my favorites.  On that show, the robot named Bender was frequently seen chugging bottles of a beer called Olde Fortran Malt Liquor.  There's no way to guess how a fictional beer on an animated television show might taste. We can guess from the label, which is a parody of Olde English Malt Liquor, that it might be something like that. The American Home Brewing Association web site listed a clone recipe for Olde English. I started there.

Since Bender belches fire after drinking Olde Fortran, I figure it has to be a strong beer. Since it's implied in several episodes that Bender has no taste buds (though this is sometimes comprehended), it's probably a cheap lowest-common-denominator kind of mash. I'm going with 6-row malt and a fair amount of flaked corn for the grist.  Since I want it to have at least some flavor, I'm going to add Mandarina Bavaria hops at the 15 and 5 minute marks to impart some mandarin orange notes.  Lastly, since we've seen Bender belching fire after every drink, I figure it must be strong. I'm going to aim for 14% ABV, which should tax the Oslo yeast pretty well.

Ingredients
7 pounds 6-row Malt
6 pounds Flaked Corn
1 pound Lyle's Golden Syrup
3 pounds Amber DME
Image result for futurama bender
Bender holding a bottle of Olde Fortran
0.21 ounces Summit Hops at 17.5% AA (60 min.)
0.50 ounces Mandarina Bavaria @ 9.2% AA (15 min.)
0.25 ounces Mandarina Bavaria @ 9.2% AA (5 min.)
1/8 tsp. Brewtan B (mash)
2 tsp. pH 5.2 Stabilizer (mash)
A few ml. of Glucoamylase Enzyme liquid (at mash in)
1 tsp. Yeast Nutrient
1L starter of Bootleg Biology Oslo Yeast
16.1 liters mash water (18.3 cm deep in Brewie+)
5.7 liters sparge water (6.5 cm deep in Brewie+)

BeerSmith 3 estimates the beer will have the following characteristics:
  • BJCP Category: 34.A Clone Beers
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons estimated (3.25 actual)
  • Original Gravity: 1.130 SG estimated (1.100 actual)
  • Pre-Boil Gravity: 1.093 SG estimated (1.063 actual)
  • Final Gravity: 1.035 estimated (1.007 actual)
  • IBUs: 32
  • SRM: 10
  • ABV: 8.8% estimated (13.5% actual)
  • BU/GU Ratio: 0.317
  • Boil time: 120 minutes
  • Fermenter used: Nomad
  • Bottling wand used: Stainless wand #1
  • Carbonation method: 1 Coopers carbonation drop per bottle
Mash Schedule:
  • 10 minutes mash in at 104F
  • 25 minutes beta glucan rest at 120F
  • 60 minute rest at 140F for fermentability
  • 15 minute rest at 158F for additional sachharification
  • 20 minute sparge at 168F
Boil Schedule:
  • 120 minutes:  Add DME and dissolve well
  • 60 minutes: Summit hops
  • 15 minutes: Mandarina Bavaria hops, yeast nutrient, whirlfloc
  • 5 minutes: Mandarina Bavaria hops
  • 0 minutes: Chill to 80F, oxygenate with pure O2 for 90 seconds
Fermentation Plan:
  • Hold at 85F until 67% attenuation is reached, using blow-off tube and temperature control
  • Raise to 98F until FG is reached
  • Rest at ambient temperature 1 week before bottling
Following fermentation, the plan is to bottle the beer with one Coopers carbonation drop per bottle and condition one week at 80F to ensure carbonation.

06/09/2019:  The Brewie+ loaded more water than requested. so I had to scoop out the overage to get the mash and sparge water amounts right.  I added pH 5.2 stabilizer, Brewtan B, and as much glucoamylase enzyme as a small pipette could pick up. The enzyme would help to ensure full conversion of the starches in the barley and corn. An iodine test performed well before the mash was over showed full starch conversion.
Post-Brew Notes and Observations


Image result for olde fortran
Olde Fortran on the shelf
I must have calculated mash and sparge water amounts incorrectly, as the pre-boil volume was an estimated 16.7 liters at a gravity of 1.063 SG (per adjusted refractometer reading).  To raise the gravity to where I expected it to be, I added 3 pounds of Munton's Amber DME.  This brought the gravity back up to where I needed it.

A little over an hour into the boil, the volume registered 14.5 liters and the refractometer showed the gravity at a bit more than 1.100.  I kept the lid off the Brewie to ensure that boil-off was increased to as much as 4 liters per hour, which I hoped would get the beer down to the desired gravity and volume by the end of the boil.

When the boil was over and I pumped the chilled wort into the fermenter, I was disappointed to find that I had well over 3.25 gallons at a gravity of only 1.100 SG instead of the planned 1.130.  I placed 2 liters in the flask with half of the Oslo yeast I'd grown in it, to grow more. Three gallons went into a 3.5 gallon stainless fermenter.  About a quart was dumped down the drain to leave head space in the fermenter.  The beer was oxygenated with pure oxygen for 45 seconds to help the yeast grow. The yeast was pitched, a blow-off tube was attached and the temperature control system configured to raise it from the initial 83F to 85F and hold it there.

About 2 hours after the wort was added to the 2L flask, it had a thick krausen on it and showed lots of CO2 bubbles coming up from the bottom.  The 3-gallon batch was showing signs of fermentation starting as well, with minor gravity changes appearing in the readings.

06/10/2019:  The gravity in the main fermenter has dropped from 1.100 to 1.056 (44% attenuation in under 24 hours).  I've raised the temp a little and swirled the fermenter to keep things moving.  The yeast was clearly happy in its new home.  It blew up out of the fermenter, through the blow-off tube and into the bucket under it. This occurred even with the SS Brew Tech fermenter's generously-sized blow-off tube.

The 2L sample on the stir plate blew off the cover during the night and left a bit of a mess on the surface where it was sitting, but there is plenty of indication of ongoing fermentation still.  I am a little concerned that the slightly ajar lid may have allowed wild yeast or bacteria into the fermenter. I'll have to check this before using it to ferment the next batch.

06/11/2019:  The gravity is down to 1.045 today.  I raised the fermenter temperature to 89F to encourage the yeast to keep going toward the final gravity.  It's definitely slowed down since yesterday but is still going. I'll probably keep raising it a bit each day to keep fermentation moving on.

6/13/2019:  Gravity seemed to have stalled around 1.043, so I added a couple of drops of glucoamylase enzyme to the fermenter. This kicked fermentation off again. This morning it's reading 1.017 SG which means it's about 12.1% ABV.  There are no signs as of yet that the fermentation has ended, either, so it may end up at the theoretical 14.2% ABV target.

6/13/2019 9pm:  Here's a testament to the power of glucoamylase. This morning, gravity was 1.017 SG. A little more than 12 hours later, the gravity is down to 1.012 SG. That represents 12.8% ABV and an apparent attenuation of 88.1% (which exceeds Bootleg Biology's upper limit of 86% for the Oslo yeast).  I suspect at this point that we'll end up down at 1.000 SG eventually - that's how effective glucoamylase is.

06/15/2019:  The gravity has held at 1.009 SG for about 24 hours now, which represents 92% attenuation and 13.3% ABV.  I'm hoping it holds here until I bottle it, as this would leave a decent amount of flavor in the beer while still allowing it to pack the kind of punch Bender would appreciate.

06/18/2019:  Gravity is down to 1.007 SG and has been there for the last 52 hours.

06/19/2019:  Gravity has held at 1.007 SG for 72 hours, so the beer is ready to bottle.  Tonight I unplugged the temperature control to allow the beer to cool down a bit prior to bottling.

06/21/2019:  The beer was bottled tonight, using one Coopers carbonation drop per bottle for priming. Yield was 23 twelve ounce bottles and 4 sixteen ounce bottles.  The beer is a deep amber color with an aroma reminiscent of orange peel. The flavor is pretty well balanced between malt and hops, perhaps being slightly sweet from the high ABV. There is a mild orange flavor from the Mandarina Bavaria hops and a clear warming note.  If it carbonates, I think it might end up being a very tasty beer.

06/27/2019:  Anxious to see how it turned out, I opened a bottle tonight. Unfortunately, it had very little carbonation.  Still, it has a nice flavor with a definite orange note. There is a clear warming note to it as well, though it is quite drinkable.  I labeled the bottles tonight and put them back in the 83F hot box to help encourage carbonation.

07/06/2019:  After about 15 days in the 85-90F hot box, the beer has not carbonated.  I can't say I am surprised by that, given that the fermentation probably pushed the yeast to its limit and the yeast has a tendency to fall out of suspension very well. There may not be much yeast in the bottle, and what is there might not be healthy enough to carbonate the beer.  I'm going to try two different methods to see if I can get some carbonation... One will be to flip the bottles upside down and hold them for a while, allowing the yeast to fall back through the beer toward the cap, then place them back right-side-up in the hot box. I'll do this nightly for a week with all the bottles.  The other thing I'll do is pick a subset of the bottles (about 6) and inject some rehydrated and active CBC-1 yeast in there, treated with a little fermaid, to see if that gets the carbonation I need.  CBC-1 is intended to handle up to 16% ABV, so it may be hearty enough to carbonate this beer.  We'll see.  If the "flipping over" method gets the carbonation going, I won't bother with CBC-1, but if flipping doesn't work and CBC-1 does, we'll have our answer.

07/18/2019:  It's now had almost a month to carbonate, but it's still flat. Fortunately, those who have tasted the flat version have enjoyed it anyway.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Oslo Doppelbock 1.0

Early bottle before carbonation
I know what you're thinking... "Oslo is in Norway. The Doppelbock style is German. What in the world is an Oslo Doppelbock?"  Am I right?  I'll assume I am.

The German Doppelbock style is one of my favorites, and I've never brewed one.  At first, that was because I didn't have the equipment to properly lager a beer.  Now, it's because it's summer in Ohio and the temperatures are way outside the range you'd want to brew a Doppelbock in.

There's been a fair amount of buzz lately about the various Kveik yeast strains. Bootleg Biology's Oslo strain is described as producing "beautifully clean, lager-like beers at temperatures as high as 98F without noticeable off flavors. At the high end, beers can finish attenuating in as little as three days! This culture's versatility and neutral flavor profile allows you to effortlessly produce most beer styles."  Now you see where Doppelbock combines with Oslo to form "Oslo Doppelbock"...

In other words, I'm attempting to produce a Doppelbock-like beer using the Bootleg Biology Oslo yeast strain, to see how it holds up against a German style where the judging criteria tell us we need a clean lager character and a very malty beer.

The BJCP tells me I'm looking for the following qualities in the finished beer:
  • Appearance:  Dark brown with ruby highlights. Good clarity. Large, creamy, and persistent head.
  • Aroma:  Strong maltiness, toasty, little to no (noble) hop aroma, moderately low dark fruit character, slight chocolate-like aroma, but no roasted or burnt aromatics.
  • Flavor:  Very rich and malty, significant Maillard products from decoction mashing, some toasty elements, a very slight chocolate flavor, moderately low dark-fruit flavor is optional, and overall it's fairly malty sweet with an impression of attenuation.
  • Mouthfeel:  Medium-full to full bodied. Moderate to low carbonation. Slight alcohol warmth.
Those are the notes I'll be trying to hit.

Ingredients

5 pounds Avangard Pilsner Malt
2 pounds Dark Munich Malt
14 ounces Swaen Melany (Melanoidin) Malt
10 ounces Briess Carapils/Dextrine Malt
2 ounces Carafa Special III Malt
2 ounces Dingeman's Special B Malt
0.85 ounces German Hallertau hops pellets @ 4.1% AA (60 min.)
0.05 ounces German Hallertau hops pellets @ 4.1% AA (15 min.)
1/4 tsp. Wyeast yeast nutrient (15 min.)
1/8 tsp. Brewtan B (mash)
1/4 tsp. Brewtan B (boil, 15 min.)
1/2 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm (fermenter, for gluten reduction)
1.5 tsp. pH 5.2 Mash Stabilizer
Half of a 2L starter of Bootleg Biology Oslo Kveik Yeast
12.7 liters mash water (Dublin Ohio tap) - 14.4 cm deep in Brewie+
6.7 liters sparge water (Dublin Ohio tap) - 7.6 cm deep in Brewie+

No water treatment was employed for this batch.

According to BeerSmith 3.0, this beer should have the following characteristics:
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons estimated (2.8 gallons actual)
  • Boil Time: 120 minutes
  • Brew House Efficiency: 62%
  • Original Gravity: 1.078 SG estimated (1.071 SG actual)
  • Pre-boil Gravity: 1.054 SG estimated (1.054 SG actual)
  • Final Gravity: 1.011 SG estimated (1.023 SG actual)
  • BU/GU Ratio: 0.344 estimated
  • IBUs: 27 estimated
  • Color: 21.8 SRM estimated
  • ABV: 9.0% estimated (6.4% actual - apparent attenuation 66.3%)
Other notes:
  • Fermenter used:  McCoy (3-gallon Fermonster)
  • Bottling wand used:  Stainless #2
  • Carbonation method:  1 Coopers carbonation drop per bottle
Some quick notes on the ingredients above and why I've used them:
  • I wanted some authenticity, so I used German malts as the base. Pilsner and Munich are common for Doppelbocks.
  • The Oslo yeast is a high attenuator, and could leave the beer thin.  To help add back some of the body, I've added a generous dose of Carapils and Melanoidin malts.
  • Melanoidin malt also is said to contribute flavors commonly associated with decoction mashing, which is frequently done in brewing Doppelbocks. Since I won't be decoction mashing, I'm hoping this will get the flavor closer to the ideal.
  • Carafa III is there primarily for color.
  • Dingeman's Special B is there to contribute some malt complexity and add the dark fruit notes that are prized in the darker Doppelbocks like this one is intended to be.
  • The combo of Carapils and Melanoidin should give us a nice head, at least in my experience.
  • Hallertau hops are used in Ayinger Celebrator, one of my favorite Doppelbocks. Although it's not exactly to style, I'm adding a small amount at 15 minutes to hopefully impart a little German flavor and aroma.  I am a little concerned it will take the beer off-style but then the Oslo yeast may do that anyway.
  • I figure that even if the Oslo yeast fails me, this is a chance to quickly test this particular malt/hop recipe to see how I like it (if I do).
Mash Schedule:

Since the Oslo strain is a higher attenuator than many lager yeasts, I'm trying to balance out the beer by adding more dextrinous malts in the mash (Melanoidin and Carapils) and mashing at a higher temperature to leave more long-chain sugars behind that it may not fully ferment out.  Hopefully the result will be a full-bodied but well-attenuated beer.
  • 15 minutes mash in at 104F
  • 15 minutes mash at 153F
  • 45 minutes mash at 158F
  • 20 minutes mash out and sparge at 168F
Boil schedule:

I suspect that the Brewie+ doesn't boil quite as hard as most homebrew setups. The result is that my beers are often accused of lacking malt complexity, which would kill a Doppelbock in competition. I've tried to overcome this by using a more complex malt bill, step mashing, and extending the boil. Given that a recent Dry Irish Stout took third place in its category after using these techniques, I think this is working. For that reason, I'm extending the boil on this Doppelbock to a full two hours.
  • 120 minutes:  No additions
  • 60 minutes: 0.85 ounces Hallertau hops pellets
  • 15 minutes: Brewtan B, Hallertau, and yeast nutrient
Post brew, the wort will be chilled to 80F and pumped into a 3.0 gallon PET Fermonster fermenter.

Fermentation plan:

Oslo reportedly ferments clean as high as 98F, but its optimal range is 80F to 98F.  I'm planning to configure my temperature control setup to hold the beer within the optimal range, which in theory should result in full attenuation in as little as 3 days.  We'll see.
  • For the first 7 days, the beer will be held at 80F to allow the Oslo yeast to do its thing. No cooling will be employed during fermentation, only heating to keep it at no less than 80F.
  • After 7 days, assuming the beer has reached final gravity and seems to be holding, it will be bottled. 
Conditioning plan:
  • The bottles will be held at 80F for 3-5 days, then allowed to rest at ambient temperatures for another 2-4 days.
  • If carbonation is adequate at 5-7 days and there are no off-flavors like diacetyl or off-aromas in place, the beer will be chilled to refrigerator temperatures for 1-2 weeks and a tasting against the BJCP criteria will be performed.
  • The beer will be cellared and allowed to continue bottle conditioning until the fall.  At that point, if it's any good, I'll enter it into a competition and see how it does.
Post-Brew Notes and Observations

06/08/2019:  I configured the Brewie + recipe to load 9.7 liters of mash water.  It loaded 8.5 this time, so I topped it off with Ice Mountain Spring water to the 12.7 liters of mash water I needed.  The Brewie+ was configured to load 5.7 liters of mash water, and loaded 7.9 liters. I removed some of this and got the level down to 5.7 liters.

The volume came up higher than expected at about 2.8 gallons and the gravity 1.071 SG instead of 1.078 SG, which is going to make the beer weaker and more bitter than intended. Hopefully the yeast will do its thing and still deliver a decent Doppelbock.

I split a 2L yeast starter into this batch and another 2L starter to prep for the next batch.  The Oslo strain is difficult to obtain, so I want to get as much value from it as possible.

06/09/2019:  I pitched the yeast around 10pm when the wort was approximately 76F.  Since then, the fermentation has kicked off quite well and the temperature has held at 80F.  Here's an hourly capture of gravity readings from the Tilt hydrometer:
  • 6/8/2019 10pm:  1.071 (yeast pitched)
  • 11pm: 1.070
  • 6/9/2019 12am:  1.077 (this increase usually indicates very active fermentation)
  • 1am: 1.070
  • 2am: 1.065
  • 3am: 1.065
  • 4am: 1.064
  • 5am: 1.062
  • 6am: 1.060
  • 7am: 1.058
  • 8am: 1.057
  • 9am: 1.055
  • 10am: 1.051
  • 11am: 1.048
  • 12pm:  1.046
  • 1pm: 1.045
  • 2pm: 1.042
  • 3pm: 1.041
  • 4pm: 1.042
  • 5pm: 1.039
  • 6pm: 1.038
  • 7pm: 1.037
  • 8pm: 1.037
  • 9pm: 1.036
  • 10pm: 1.034 
  • 11pm: 1.034 (That's 56% attenuation in 24 hours!)
06/10/2019: Gravity is down to 1.027 SG today, so fermentation is clearly slowing.  I raised the temperature a little and swirled the fermenter to rouse the yeast into continued activity.

06/11/2019:  Gravity is down to 1.025 SG today.  The fermenter temperature has been raised to 87F to encourage the yeast to keep going.

06/13/2019:  Gravity seems to be holding at 1.024 SG, which is at the upper range of a Doppelbock in the BJCP criteria. It doesn't look like fermentation has completely stopped yet, so the gravity may go a point or two lower before it stops.

06/15/2019:  Gravity is down to 1.023/1.024 SG today and has been holding that number for about two days now. If it holds another 24 hours, I'll bottle it.

06/19/2019: The beer was bottled tonight using one Coopers carbonation drop per bottle. A sample extracted at the start of bottling had a very clean, malty aroma. The flavor was balanced, with lots of good dark malt flavor to it. I couldn't pick out any elements from the yeast, so it seemed pretty clean to me.

06/29/2019:  I opened a bottle, but it had virtually no carbonation despite spending a week in an 83F hot box. My suspicion is that the Oslo yeast flocculates so well that there may not be much in the bottle to carbonate the beer.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Brewing High-Gravity Beers

After enjoying some of the high-gravity beers available in Ohio (and in Colorado during a visit), I began wondering how brewers were able to coax yeast beyond the range I had managed up to that point. I'd gotten a beer as high as 14% ABV without much trouble, but I'd never tried going beyond that.  I wondered how high I could get it.  I succeeded beyond my expectations, pushing the beer in question beyond 20% ABV.  That's higher than one of the professional brewers I spoke with, who regularly brews high-gravity ales and has done so for several years.

Below is a condensed series of tips I've collected. These have come from the White Labs WLP099 product listing, online forums, other articles on the Internet, and verbal conversations with other brewers.

Grist and Mash
  • Realize that you're probably going to get a lower brew house efficiency on these high gravity beers than you get on lower-gravity batches. You'll have to compensate for that with more grain, adjuncts, malt extract, or a longer boil in some cases.
  • Depending on your system, you may not have enough capacity for grain to reach your target gravity. You can compensate for this by:
    • Using malt extract
    • Using adjuncts like honey, maple syrup, candi sugar, corn sugar
    • Using a multi-stage brewing process, where the wort from the first batch becomes the mash and sparge water for the next
    • Boiling much longer than usual to further concentrate the wort
    • Pulling off some of the wort and boiling it much harder in another kettle
  • You want to aim for a very fermentable wort, because there is a good chance the yeast could give out before you reach your target gravity. You'll want to make it easier on them by breaking down the sugars as much as possible.
  • One way you can make the wort extremely fermentable is to use glucoamylase enzyme or papain, often used in Brut-style beers.
  • Wort pH during the mash should stay between 5.0 and 5.3
  • Aim for an original gravity of 1.106 to 1.120 initially, and add fermentables later. This will keep osmotic pressure on the yeast low.  (White Labs suggests starting with a wort that would produce a 6-8% beer and adding fermentables during the first 5 days of fermentation.)
Boil
  • As noted above, boiling longer will help concentrate a weaker wort
  • Hop utilization in high gravity brews is lower, so hop the beer more than you think you should. There is a kind of sweetness produced in the high-gravity beers, too, and the hops will help balance that out. (I've not yet worked out just how much you want to hop these beers more than normal to maintain balance.)
  • Add 2-5 times the amount of yeast nutrient you'd normally add during the boil.
Fermentation
  • The key here is to reduce stress on the yeast as much as possible. At a high level, this means:
    • Minimizing osmotic pressure by starting with a lower-gravity wort and adding concentrated fermentables
    • Giving the yeast a healthy environment with plenty of oxygen and nutrients
    • Inoculating the wort with a lot of yeast cells to compensate for the stress of the higher gravity wort
    • Keeping temperatures low to prevent off-flavors and ensure yeast health
    • Agitating the wort for the first several days to keep yeast in suspension
  • Pitch 3-4 times as much yeast as you would normally pitch for the size and gravity
  • Keep the fermentation temperature down to the lowest end of the yeast's optimal range. This will minimize the production of fusel alcohols and other potentially-unwanted byproducts from the yeast. It will also minimize stress on the yeast.
  • Until the yeast reaches 67% attenuation (approximately), you should do the following daily:
    • Add oxygen:  Aerate 5-10 minutes with a pump or 30 seconds with pure oxygen. Aerate about 4 times as much as you normally would.
    • Add nutrients:  Add a fresh dose of nutrient
    • Agitate:  Swirl the fermenter to get the yeast into suspension and help distribute the oxygen and nutrients
    • Add fermentables: Add sugars and/or concentrated wort daily for the first 5 days, until your target gravity is achieved.  After all fermentables have been added, keep doing the other steps above until 67% attenuation is reached.  
    • Be sure to keep detailed notes on these additions, including weighing your fermentable additions. If you wind up with a great beer, you will want to be able to reproduce it, and these notes will prove important.
  • After 67% attenuation, I recommend continuing to agitate the yeast until final gravity is reached or the yeast stalls out.
  • If fermentation seems to be slowing or stalling, add another yeast strain with higher attenuation and alcohol tolerance to help keep the process going.  
    • Champagne yeast is one option
    • CBC-1 Cask and Bottle Conditioning yeast is another
    • If it's appropriate to the style, adding Brettanomyces is another option
  • Be patient. It took about two weeks to get my one-gallon test batch to 20.7%.
  • Adding some sanitized wood chips is a way to offset some of the sweetness of the beer and introduce barrel-aged flavors.
Post-Fermentation
  • The beer may show a lot of "green flavors" when it is young. The solution is to age it for a longer time, possibly even a few years, until it mellows and becomes pleasant to drink.
  • Note that hop character changes over time, so if your style is one that relies on hop flavors, you'll want to taste the beer (perhaps monthly) to figure out its optimal aging time.
  • Keep notes on what you did to brew, ferment, and age the beer so that if you decide to re-brew it you will be able to reproduce the beer as you liked it best.
  • It's difficult to create balance in a high gravity recipe. Starting with an established winning recipe could help. 
I plan to do some additional high-gravity experiments this year and talk with pro brewers when I can, and may update this post as I learn new things about the process.

Monday, May 20, 2019

1933 Lees Bitter Clone 1.0

Finished bottle with simulated vintage label
A couple of years ago, I received Robert Pattinson's book The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer. as a gift from a family member.  The first of the recipes that caught my attention (and I really can't tell you why) was the 1933 Lees Bitter recipe.  I tried to brew it once, earlier in my brewing career, and ended up tossing it out because the caps I used didn't seal properly on the bottles. This left the beer flat and oxidized.  This is my second go at the recipe.  It is a simple recipe, the ingredients aren't too expensive, and the process straightforward.  It also sounds like a fairly easy beer to drink, a good one for the upcoming summer months.

I recently lost a whole lot of my homebrew to an infection that went undiscovered for months.  I'm fairly certain the infection came from a bottling wand used on the infected batches. I replaced it and used the new one to bottle my recent Belgian Dubbel. If that batch is clear of infection in 2-3 months, then the corresponding fermenter has a clean bill of health. If not, it gets tossed too (it's a PET one anyway, so not expensive to trash).  For this batch, I'm using a brand new fermenter. If it is cleared of any infection, then I was probably correct about the bottling wand.

Ingredients

5 pounds of Munton's 2-row Pale Malt
4 ounces of Lyle's Golden Syrup (for "No. 1 Invert Sugar" in the recipe)
0.35 ounces of Northern Brewer hops @ 9% AA (60 min. - sub for Brewer's Gold)
0.20 ounces of Saaz hops @ 5.4% AA (30 min.)
1.5 tsp. pH 5.2 Stabilizer (mash)
1/2 tsp. Gypsum (my choice, added to mash water)
1/8 tsp. Brewtan B (added to mash water)
1/4 tablet Whirlfloc (20 min.)
1/4 tsp. Brewtan B (added to boil, 15 min.)
1/4 tsp. Yeast Nutrient (15 min.)
1 packet of Safale S-04 English Ale Yeast (a substitute for Wyeast 1318)
7.4 liters Mash Water (8.4 cm. deep in Brewie+)
7.0 liters Sparge Water (8.0 cm. deep in Brewie+)

I didn't have Brewer's Gold but since it's only being used for brewing, I went with German Northern Brewer as a substitute.  I had some Czech Saaz hops I could have used, but I wanted to get rid of the US Saaz, so I used that instead. The amounts used in the original Lees recipe would have resulted in about 12 IBUs, so I adjusted the amounts to bring the bitterness level more in line with the style. I was afraid 12 IBUs might have been too cloying.

Additional characteristics and notes (actual values where available):
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons estimated (2.5 gallons actual)
  • BJCP Category:  11.C Strong Bitter
    (I chose that category because of the 5% ABV)
  • Original Gravity: 1.049 SG estimated (1.052 SG actual)
  • Pre-Boil Gravity: 1.036 SG estimated (11.8 Brix actual, 1.049 SG approx.)
  • Pre-Boil Volume: 13.4 liters estimated (13 cm. deep, 11.4 liters actual)
  • Final Gravity: 1.011 SG estimated (1.010 actual)
  • IBUs: 34
  • SRM: 5.0
  • ABV: 5.03% 
  • BU/GU Ratio: 0.693 estimated 
  • Fermenter Used: Spock
  • Bottling Wand Used: First stainless steel one
  • Carbonation Method: 3 Brewer's Best tablets per bottle
  • Fermentation Temperature: 68F
(For those who are wondering, measuring wort depth in the Brewie+ is a good way to estimate mash water, sparge water, pre-boil, and post-boil volume. Brewie+ support indicates that if you measure wort depth in centimeters and multiply the depth by 0.88 you'll obtain the approximate volume of liquid in liters. If your machine loads more or less water than expected, you can use this to know when to add or remove water from the kettle.  I use pounds and ounces for grain measurement because that's how most of us in the USA order it from homebrew shops.)

Mash Schedule

I decided to dissolve the Lyle's Golden Syrup in with the mash/sparge water to avoid the need to add it later in the boil. This would also allow it to caramelize during the boil with the other sugars from the grain, hopefully resulting in a greater depth of flavor.

The original Lees recipe indicates an underlet mash at 156F. That's not too different from what my system does, heating both from the bottom and as wort flows around to the top of the grain bed. It will have to be good enough.
  • 10 minutes Mash In at 104F
  • 30 minutes Mash Step 1 at 152F
  • 40 minutes Mash Step 2 at 156F
  • 20 minutes Mash Out and Sparge at 168F
Post-mash and pre-boil, volume should have been 13.4 liters. It actually came out around 11.4 liters, so I added a liter of water to bring it to 12.4.  A gravity reading came up at 1.049 SG after conversion from Brix and a refractometer adjustment, so I'll likely need to dilute it more after the boil with distilled water.  I'd rather do that than over-dilute it before the boil (since it's not possible to extend a boil with the Brewie+ once the recipe program is underway).  The good news is that I discovered an error in my sparge water calculations that should resolve the issue moving forward.

Boil Schedule

The original Lees recipe used a 90-minute boil, so I am sticking with that:
  • 90 minutes: No hop additions
  • 60 minutes: Add Northern Brewer bittering hops
  • 30 minutes: Add Saaz (US) flavor hops
  • 20 minutes: Add Whirlfloc
  • 15 minutes: Add Yeast Nutrient and Brewtan B 
  • 00 minutes: Chill to 68F
Fermentation Plan

The Safale S-04 strain is known for producing a mild tartness if it is allowed to ferment at too high a temperature. The book does not advise on fermentation temperature for the recipe, so that's apparently going to be up to me.  I know from experience (and a past recipe using S-04) that fermenting near the upper end of its 64-75F range will result in a clear sourness, which I do not want in this beer. My plan is to ferment it at 64F and allow it to run longer than normal, then give it some time at 50F to "lager" a bit and mellow out before bottling.

Trying the S-04 yeast at 64F will also prove instructive for another recipe I've been trying to perfect. Some time ago, I bought a bottle of Coniston's Old Man ale, an English brown ale. The beer had a very mild tartness to it, which I had attempted to reproduce. However, I think I fermented it for too long at too high a temperature and the tartness was pronounced in my beer, versus restrained in the Coniston version. If this beer exhibits a very mild tartness, I think I will be a step closer to perfecting the Old Man Ale clone.

My plan will be to bottle it with 2 or 3 small carbonation tablets, which equates to low or very-low carbonation, consistent with an English cask-conditioned ale.

Post-Brew Notes and Observations

05/20/2019:  I have used an Excel spreadsheet to help me calculate mash and sparge water volumes. I realized today that the template I'm using contains a calculation error and this is causing me to end up with too little wort at the start of the boil.  Specifically, I was not removing grain absorption from the mash water before calculating the amount of sparge water needed to reach the target pre-boil volume.  As a result, I tended to come up 1-2 liters short at the start of the boil. While this is easy enough to correct ("just add water") I'd rather not have to manually correct it. I think I've got the spreadhseet sorted now, so that future batches should turn out OK.

The gravity post-brew came out around 1.060 SG, but the volume was below the 2.5 gallons I expected, so I added distilled water to the fermenter to bring the volume up to the desired amount. This dropped the gravity from 1.060 SG down to 1.052 SG. I considered adding more distilled water to bring the gravity down to the intended 1.049 SG but thought better of it.  The initial wort temperature was 70F, which was much higher than I wanted, so I waited for it to drop to ambient basement temperature. Then I'll pitch the yeast and let the fermentation temperature control system get it down to 64F (hopefully before the yeast really gets going).

09:00PM:  The yeast has been pitched and the fermenter sealed up in the temperature control setup, with the temp set to 64F.  The full package of S-04 was used.According to the yeast calculator on Brewer's Friend, this should be enough yeast to handle the batch with a little to spare.

05/21/2019: Gravity is down to 1.043.

05/22/2019: Gravity is down to 1.018.

05/23/2019: Gravity is down to 1.011.

05/24/2019-05/29/2019: Gravity has held at 1.010 SG, with one or two blips at 1.009 SG.  It should be ready to bottle now.

06/01/2019:  The beer was bottled today, using 3 small carbonation tablets per bottle (with some bottles being given 2 drops for comparison's sake later). Yield was 24 12-ounce bottles and one 16-ounce  bottle. The yeast was disposed of, and the fermenter left to soak for a few hours with PBW to ensure that it's as clean as possible.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

How A Bacterial Infection in Your Beer Can Ruin Your Weekend

Late last year, I started brewing various British beer styles to become familiar with them. My goal was to have a collection of beers I could enter into this year's SODZ British Beer Fest homebrew competition. I'd managed to brew an Ordinary Bitter, a Scottish 80 Shilling, Irish Red Ale, British Brown Ale, and others.  I entered four of these into the Barley's competition this year. Two came back with terrible scores because they gushed out of the bottle on the judges. 

Having brewed for several years now, and having not varied my sanitation practices much, I was in complete denial when the Barley's judges suggested that the beer had been infected. When the same thing happened with two different beers at the SODZ competition, I could no longer deny it. I had a bacterial infection somewhere. But where?

Given my brewing process, I had the following candidates:
  • Brewing System:  If the plumbing inside either the PicoBrew Zymatic or the Brewie+ became infected, specifically on the cold side, then the beer might be infected going into the fermenter. However, this seemed unlikely. I tentatively ruled it out.
  • Fermenter:  If one or more fermenters had an infection that survived a PBW clean and Star San sanitization, that could be passed on to the beer.  If this was the cause of my infection, it would impact any beer brewed in that fermenter.  A good indicator would be if I could identify infected batches vs. uninfected ones, and trace that back to a fermenter.
  • Bottling Wand:  I only owned two bottling wands. If one of those was infected, it would infect every bottle filled with that wand, but not batches filled from the other wand (unless both were infected).  
  • Carbonation Drops:  I had been picking these up by hand and placing them into the bottles with my fingers (which had been washed and spent a lot of time in Star San). There was a small chance this could have infected the tablets and then the bottle. If this was the case, every batch I bottled would be infected.
  • Bottle Caps:  This seemed unlikely. In general, my caps soak in Star San until I pull them out to put them on the bottle. I can't rule it out, but it's not a top suspect.
To start narrowing things down, I needed evidence. I began by opening a bottle from each batch I had on hand. A bottle from January 2018 was fine. A bottle from February gushed like crazy.  A bottle from a week or so later didn't.  Over the next two days, I opened at least one bottle from every batch I had made over the past year that I still had on hand. 

The result was depressing. Probably 65% of the batches showed clear signs of infection.  Some gushed beer 3-4 feet from the bottle. Others gushed only inches away.  In the end, at least 75% of the beer I had made in the past 14-16 months was infected and had to be tossed out.  About a dozen batches were fine. A few were overcarbonated but didn't appear to be infected.  I spent hours dumping entire batches of beer down the drain, rinsing the bottles clean, and removing the labels. 

It became clear that the brewing systems most likely weren't the culprit. I had at least one batch from each of them that wasn't infected, and batches from both that were. If the system was infected, I would expect all of its batches to be infected.  That left the fermenters and bottling wands.

As I got to some of the more-recent batches, a pattern began to emerge. There were four fermenters I used most-often in 2018 and 2019. They both featured a half-inch spigot. The other two featured a 3/8" spigot. Why was that important?  It meant that I used a different bottling wand with two of the fermenters than I used with the other two. It quickly became clear that batches bottled through the half-inch wand were all showing signs of infection, while batches bottled through the 3/8" wand were just fine.  I had my smoking gun. The half-inch wand was infected (and possibly the two fermenters, but I'd start with the wand).

I tossed both bottling wands and ordered new ones. That would hopefully clear the infection. I also made some adjustments to my procedures, in the hope that this will catch any future infections more quickly so that I never have to toss as much home brew again as I did this weekend.

From here on, my bottling procedure will change to:
  • Bottles should (continue to) get a hot tap water rinse until visually clean, then run through the dishwasher without any other dishes to minimize the risk of food particles causing infection. Bottles then need to be soaked in fresh Star San for further insurance. (This has been my process all along.)
  • Where possible, soak the bottling wand in boiling or near-boiling water to clean and sanitize it, then go a step further by soaking in Star San. In theory, this would eliminate an infection in the wand going forward. (This is a change. I used to use PBW to clean and Star San to sanitize, but that's clearly not good enough, at least not all the time.)
  • Caps will be soaked in Star San before use. (I've always done this.)
  • Stainless tongs will be sanitized and used to load the carbonation drops, to ensure that no bacteria from my hands enters the bottle. The tongs may be boiled or sanitized with the wand. (This is new.)
  • When a batch is bottled, record the fermenter used, bottling wand used, carbonation drop type, and where appropriate, the number of drops per bottle.  (I have not done this in the past.)
  • After any batch has been in the bottle for 30-90 days, open a bottle to check for over-carbonation and signs of gushing. If any signs are detected, check additional bottles.  (This is something I've also not done in the past, and it really "bit me" this time.)
  • If an infection is found check bottles from any other batches that went through the same wand and/or fermenter to ensure there are no gushers in there. Stop using that fermenter and/or wand until the infection is found and removed. (This should prevent me from having to dump a huge number of batches as I did this time, and result in only losing 1-3 before the infection is found.)
I noticed, too, that you can tell the difference between a bacterial infection and simple over-carbonation, at least in this case.  Overcarbonation resulted in a slow, gradual foaming of the beer up through the neck of the bottle and down the side. Maybe a third of the beer would foam out if you let it.  The infection caused a rapid expulsion of foamy beer through the neck of the bottle, and looked more like it was boiling out of the bottle than just foaming. 

Tonight I bottled a Belgian Dubbel from one of the four fermenters I use regularly. I made sure to hit the spigot with Star San before use, and to soak the new bottling wand and connecting tubing in Star San as well.  If this batch turns up infected, I'll know it's the fermenter... though this was one of the 3/8" spigots, so I'm inclined to think it will turn out fine.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Margarita Cream Ale 1.0

The finished beer
While inventorying my home brewing supplies over the weekend, I realized I had a lot of flaked corn, which made me think a Cream Ale might be nice.  I also saw some dark agave nectar I'd bought a long time ago on clearance, which delivers a tequila-like flavor when fermented.  I figured adding some orange peel, lemon peel, lime zest, and lime juice might just bring that margarita flavor home. I could add some Hallertau hops (lemony) and Mandarina Bavaria (orange) to further enhance the flavor.

I started with a national competition-winning Cream Ale recipe from the American Homebrewing Association web site as the base, then layered on Mandarina Bavaria hops, agave nectar, lime zest and lime juice, orange and lemon peel, and set things up in the Brewie+.

Ingredients

2 pounds Swaen Pilsner Malt
2 pounds Briess 2-row Pale Malt
9 ounces Flaked Corn
7 ounces Corn Sugar (mash)
4 ounces Acid Malt
4.2 ounces Dark Agave Nectar (flameout)
1.5 tsp. pH 5.2 Stabilizer (mash)
1/8 tsp. Brewtan B (mash)
0.20 ounces Hallertau hops pellets @ 4.4% AA (60 min.)
0.30 ounces Hallertau hops pellets @ 4.4% AA (5 min.)
0.30 ounces Mandarina Bavaria hops pellets @ 9.2% AA (5 min.)
1 lime's worth of zest and juice (zest @ 5 min, juice at flameout)
1/4 tsp. Brewtan B (20 min.)
1/4 tsp. Yeast Nutrient (15 min.)
1/2 ounce Bitter Orange Peel (15 min.)
1/2 ounce Lemon Peel (15 min.)
1/2 tsp. Irish Moss (15 min.)
1 package WLP029 White Labs Kolsch Ale yeast
1/2 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm
4 tsp. Real Lime powder (bottling)
2 oz. Brewer's Best Lime Flavor (bottling)

11.6 liters of mash water (13.2 cm deep in the kettle)
(Note: The correct mash water should be 7.8 liters, 8.9 cm)

5.0 liters of sparge water (5.7 cm deep in the kettle)
(Note: The correct sparge water should be 7 liters, 8.0 cm)

Brewer's Friend estimates that the beer will have the following qualities:
  • BJCP Style: 6.A Cream Ale
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons (~10L) (2.64 actual)
  • Original Gravity: 1.055 SG (1.057 actual)
  • Pre-Boil Gravity: 1.045 SG/10.3 Brix (approx.)
  • Final Gravity: 1.014 SG (1.013 SG actual)
  • ABV: 5.32%
  • IBUs: 12.9
  • SRM: 3.6
  • Pre-Boil Volume: 13.2 Liters (approx.)
  • Fermenter: Pike
  • Bottling Wand: Stainless
Mash Schedule

This batch will employ a fairly simple mash schedule:
  • Mash in for 15 minutes at 135F
  • Mash at 145F for 35 minutes (Beta rest)
  • Mash at 165F for 25 minutes (Alpha rest)
  • Mash out at 172F for 5 minutes
Boil Schedule

A 60-minute boil will be used, with the following schedule:
  • 60 minutes: Hallertau
  • 20 minutes: Brewtan B
  • 15 minutes: Yeast Nutrient, Irish Moss, Orange Peel, Lemon Peel
  • 5 minutes: Lime Zest, Hallertau, Mandarina Bavaria
  • 0 minutes (whirlpool): Lime Juice
Fermentation Plan

The White Labs Kolsch Yeast I'm using here should produce a fairly clean beer if we can keep the fermentation temperature at about 65F.  My fermentation plan is:
  • Days 1-10: Ferment at 65F using temperature control
  • Days 10+: Ferment at ambient temperatures in the basement
After the final gravity is reached and held for a week, the beer will be bottle-conditioned.

Post-Brew Notes and Observations

05/05/2019:  The ingredients were gathered, measured, and loaded into the Brewie+.  The lime was zested and juiced, with the zest being added to the machine and the juice held for flameout.

I screwed up calculating the mash and sparge water. Noticing that the spreadsheet I've been using for a while doesn't incorporate the grain absorption amount into its mash water calculations, I fixed that. But in doing so, I forgot to adjust the grain volume to match the current recipe, so everything was calculated for about twice as much grain. I should have used 6.8 liters but ended up using 11.6 (which made for a very thin mash).  Later on, instead of 12.4 liters of pre-boil volume, I had 13.2 liters.

Mash pH read anywhere from 4.7 to 5.3 depending on where the meter entered the mash liquid. I may have added too much Acid malt, but that was based on the recommendation of Brewer's Friend.

Pre-boil gravity read 11 Brix (which adjusts to about 1.045 SG on my refractometer) and the volume read approximately 13.2 liters instead of the expected 12.4 liters, so I opened the lid on the Brewie to increase boil-off rate with the goal of hitting my targets.  This boiled off enough water to bring the final volume and gravity into line with the recipe targets.

During the boil, I noticed at times that the Brewie did not seem to be pushing wort through the hop cages.  There seemed to be a clog in the system that resolved itself, then reappeared, and resolved itself again. That, or a pump may be failing.  Given that it's only 5 months old, a clog seems more likely.

Post-boil, the gravity registered 1.057 SG on the Tilt Hydrometer and the temperature read 66F. I pitched the yeast and set the temperature control to hold it at 65F.  Volume read between 2.5 gallons and 2.75 gallons.

05/08/2019:  The gravity has been dropping as expected since the yeast was pitched. Below are the lowest gravities recorded for each day since the yeast was pitched:
  • 5/5/2019:  1.057 SG (65F)
  • 5/6/2018:  1.049 SG (65F)
  • 5/7/2019:  1.032 SG (65F)
  • 5/8/2019:  1.022 SG (Temp raised to 66F)
05/09/2019:  Gravity is down to 1.017 SG. Temp is holding at 66F.  I'm planning to increase it to 69F later tonight to help the yeast reach final gravity.

05/14/2019:  Gravity is down to 1.013 SG, down from 1.014 SG yesterday. Temp is holding at 65F.

05/19/2019:  Gravity has held at 1.013 SG for several days now.  Today, I added 2 teaspoons of Real Lime powder and 2 ounces of Brewer's Best Lime Flavoring to the fermenter and stirred it in.  The beer was then bottled with Brewer's Best Carbonation Tablets. It has a lime/margarita aroma and the combination of Agave, Bitter Orange Peel, and Lime gives it a nice subtle margarita flavor.  Most bottles received 3 tablets, a few received 2, 4, or 5 to gauge how different carbonation levels might affect the beer's flavor and mouthfeel.

05/29/2019:  A bottle of the beer was placed in the freezer for an hour to chill to a good drinking temperature.  This is also a check to see if any signs of a bacterial infection linger.  If so, this implicates the "Pike" fermenter as the source of infection and merits disposing of it.  It's a relatively inexpensive PET wide-mouth carboy, so I will have no problem trashing it if it's infected.

  • Appearance: Hazy yellow with thin white head
  • Aroma: The aroma is very much that of a margarita. Lime and a tequila-like agave scent dominates.  I don't think it could be much more what I wanted in this regard.
  • Mouthfeel: Medium bodied
  • Flavor: Lime hits first, then a strong agave note dominates.  Bitterness level is balanced pretty well.
  • Overall:  It's definitely margarita-like, both in flavor and aroma. However, the agave nectar comes across very strongly. It's strong enough, in fact, that it seems like a margarita that's been made with too much tequila and has been watered down a little. In the next iteration, I'd increase the amount of lime by maybe 20-30% and dial the agave nectar down by half. I'd also swap out some of the base malts for some Caramel/Crystal 10L to give it some more sweetness.  All that said, for a first attempt, I'm pretty happy with it.