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.


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+.


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.