Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Packaging Day!

For every Yin there is a Yang. Bottling beer is as much a grind as making it is fun. Sanitizing bottles. Boiling dextrose. Siphoning liquids while conserving sanitizing solution. Today I had two beers to get ready for competition. All the Winter Bock went into bottles along with a 12-pack of the American Pale. The rest of the Pale went into the keg since it will be consumed quick. Much of the Bock will be around for most of next year.
The only good thing about the experience is a chance to take a gravity reading and taste the beer.
Both tasted good although it's hard to tell since they're young and un-carbonated. But the Bock was surprisingly under-attenuated. This means that the yeast was not quite finished yet when I decided to package it. I wanted to get down to 1.014 or so but 1.021 is what I got. This was also supposed to be a holiday beer with notes of nutmeg, orange peel and cinnamon.
It just tastes like a Bock.
Of course, since I just wanted to get it done, I bottled the beer anyway. I hope this beer isn't too sweet.
But the side bathroom was getting crowded with last week's IPA and Saturday's American Amber fermenting next to it so I had to move some beer to the garage to let the newly packaged beer finish.
Jennifer, I think, will be happy when the competition is finished and she can have her house back.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Bottling The Single-Wide I.P.A.

This beer is a fairly loose attempt to clone Boulevard's Single-Wide I.P.A. I had this beer at the brewery in March and loved it, recently finding it at the West Memphis Walgreens.
The Boulevard web site gave all the hop varieties, the IBU's and the gravity so I went from there using ProMash to design the recipe. Not knowing much about the grist except generalities I decided to use the grain bill from my regular I.P.A. recipe. I did not have one of the hops, Pallisade, but I went ahead anyway.
At packaging time this beer tastes good. We'll see if the judges think so too.
I decided to bottle the whole batch instead of doing a keg and a 12-pack. This way I can make good on a few beer promises I've made.
Besides, after expelling the spent hops and dead yeast, I barely would have had enough to fill a 1/6 barrel and I'm going to need a few to be packaged up for competition.
I also racked a couple of beers today.
The Winter Bock needs to warm up for a couple of days to finish, and the American Pale needs to dry hop for a week.
I'm about half-way through making the beers I want to have ready by February.
So much beer to be made, so little time to make it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Sparging Tech

Finally, I think, I have found my sparge technique. I begrudgingly admit that the long slow sparge is the right method to maximize my yield. I have never tried batch sparging. And for a long time I tried to speed things up by running all the wort into the kettle as fast as I could, thinking that since I kept the grain bed covered it did not make much difference.
It does.
For 6 consecutive brew sessions I have made sure that the sparge took at least 45 minutes and I have improved my efficiency percentage from 68 percent and below to around 74 Percent, once getting 76 percent. I think 74 to 76 percent is a reasonable goal for my system and I'm glad to be achieving this range consistently. This is important because I can now write recipes with an exact gravity in mind and actually hit the target without making adjustments like malt extract addition or an extra long boil.
The final product will be more predictable as well. Malt additions might get you to the right gravity but they mess with (sometimes badly) the flavor profile of the beer.
Yesterday's American Pale was designed to come in at 1.059. The actual gravity was 1.060.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

American Pale Brew Day

Today marks the first time I have ever simultaneously fermented 3 beers in our house. They are all at different stages but until I can move one to the closet in the bathroom and package another there will be an aesthetic problem at our place.
I've got the Winter Bock from the 13th going in the fermentation vault at 51 degrees so I can't put an ale in there with it.
The only place that's 68 to 70 degrees right now is the guest bathroom off the kitchen. With today's pale brew it's getting crowded in there.
I'm in the middle of a big push to make 9 or ten beers for Home Brew Extravaganza 2010, our local competition held here in Memphis in February.
I've already made a Steam Beer and an Oktoberfest. I need to package the Bock and the American IPA. The American Pale will be ready in two weeks. I hope to make an American Amber, an American Brown, an American Stout, an Ordinary Bitter and a Hefe by the time the beers are due. I'm not sure I'll be able to do it but it'll be fun to try.
Today's Pale went splendidly. I hit the mash temperature exactly, although I am concerned that I lost about 3 degrees during the 60 minutes and wound up with 151 at the end.
The sparge went well too. Efficiency was good and the gravity was very close to target. I'm trying very hard to duplicate the beer that went to the 2nd round of the NHC in 2008. Most of my beers are good, but that one was truly awesome.
The chill was quick. I brought the wort down below 140 degrees in about 3 minutes.
This beer looked great in the measuring tube when I checked the gravity. I chilled it to 67.5 degrees and pitched a half gallon of trub from yesterday's racking of the IPA and moved it into the bathroom. At this hour it's progressing well and I have high hopes.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lagers and Stuff

I made a Winter Bock on Friday and everything went well with the exception of a couple of small changes to the recipe. The last time I made this beer I used 1 ounce of bitter orange peel, some cinnamon and some fresh grated ginger.
I entered it in competition in two categories, Bock (because it is the underlying style) and Winter Spice. The beer placed in Bock and got nothing as a Spice beer.
I saved money this time by using some free home harvested orange peel (not bitter orange peel) and a teaspoon of grated ginger from our spice rack (also already paid for) along with the cinnamon. I expected maybe a little spice in the un-fermented wort this time but when I took a whiff of the flow going into the carboy it smelled like a fruitcake. Also, I used a new Wyeast strain called Hellebock.
We'll see what happens.
The Oktoberfest I made 28 days ago is going to be bottled today, I hope. The family went to a birthday party for a couple of hours and I need that time to do it without interruption. And finally, I sampled the session strength American Pale I made a few weeks ago. The first cup came out overly bitter. I think this is because there were some hop bits in the bottom of the keg that did not get strained when I packeged the beer. I have experienced this phenomena before and I believe the beer will become clear and smooth by the time I pour the 3rd or 4th cup. The body is a bit thin but the taste is good otherwise. I might raise the mash temperature next time or add a 1/2 pound of Dextrine malt to give it more body.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Bosco's American Stout

Yesterday we stopped by Bosco's after church for brunch and I got a chance to try the American Stout with a Bosco's burger.
This beer is delightful. It isn't as viscous as I expected but the flavor was nice and malty with a nice roast presence. The hop flavor was nice too although I admit I couldn't tell what variety. If you expect this beer to be as heavy as other stouts you will be surprised to find that it's very drinkable.
Nice job Jimmy.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Celebration must wait

I couldn't get up this morning in time to do the decoction and still get my daughter to school and myself to work on time. My wife convinced me that Saturday would be a better day to make an Oktoberfest. But since I'm trying to have a real blog, that is, one that gets updated more frequently than once every two weeks, I still have matters to report on.
I checked the starter last night when I got home from work and did not see much activity. I had it resting at about 58 degrees since it's a Bavarian lager strain and I want the growth to be somewhat within the normal parameters. I gave it a shake and put it on the counter top in the house to wake it up a bit and this morning it looked good and ready to brew. I put it back in the fermentation vault and set the temp to 60 to let it grow slowly until Saturday.
I hope this will not be too late for an optimum ferment.

More this weekend.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Octoberfest !!

I made a yeast starter this afternoon for an Oktoberfest I'm making tomorrow. I know that this beer should be made in the Spring and consumed in the Fall but I'm making it out of season anyway.
There will be a decoction involved and a challenging wort chill as well.
I'll try to post photos and narrative tomorrow when I'm finished. But I'm covering a city election tomorrow, and just getting to work on time will be a challenge.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Let The Hop Harvest Begin!!!

And end.
It only took about a half hour to pick the hops I've been growing all Summer.
But I'm thrilled.
I got about a 1/2 a pound of fresh Cascade hops from the 5 or six bines growing up the small trellis I built in the Spring. I'm not sure if I harvested too early or too late. The cones are not as big as those I have found on-line but they look good and ready for making beer. Since I'm not ready to pay for them to be tested at a lab to determine the alpha acid content I'll estimate it at 6%. Over the years I've purchased Cascade as low as 5.3 percent and as high as 6.7 percent so 6.0 seems like a nice average.
I harvested them while enjoying a nice Ghost River Brown. I picked up a growler on Friday and it did not disappoint.
Anyhow, I put the cones on a cookie sheet and arbitrarily baked them at 170 degrees for a half hour to dry them. The resulting weight was 5 1/2 ounces. I bagged them up, squeezed out the air and put them in the freezer.
They might make a nice west coast style IPA I'm making for the late Fall.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Mike Lee's Belgian Golden Ale

Every year the Great American Beer Festival celebrates home brewers and pro brewers alike by holding a Pro Am competition. Pro brewers all over the country choose a local home brew to be represented in the event. The winning recipe is brewed in the professional brew house and taken to the GABF to be judged against the other winners nationwide.
This year's Memphis winner is Mike Lee. His "Illegally Blonde" Belgian Golden went on tap at Bosco's this weekend. The off-white head did not last long but this beer smells wonderful with lots of nice phenols. From the first sip I got a nice soft sweetness with a bit of clove and a spicy, yet restrained hop character. The beer finished nice and smooth. Our friends at Bosco's did a great job making this delicious ale.
I'm proud to be one of the Bluff City Brewers cheering for Mike and Bosco's to win this year.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Lighten up!

I enjoy my own Pale Ale. I'd drink a couple pints of it every night if I could. The problem is that I don't get home from work until about 11PM and I need to be up at 6 to take my daughter to school. If I stay up to savor that 6.3% glass of heaven I usually regret it in the morning.

So, as part of the solution to my problem, I brewed a beer using the exact same proportion of each grain and hops. But I extracted the same volume from the mash. The bitterness was also adjusted to reflect the same malt/bitterness ratio. I'm shooting for 6 gallons of 3.75 percent ABV with the same flavor and body as the 6.33 percent version.

I know the beers are not likely to be exactly the same. The lighter beer will have less body and be even less likely to have any alcohol flavor in it. That's good because the stronger version does not exhibit a strong prescence of alcohol anyway. If these are the only differences between the beers I'll consider the experiment a success.

I checked the fermentation vault this morning and the beer looks good through the glass of the carboy. I think I'll let the yeast clean up any off flavors for a couple more days before I package it.
Now if I could just somehow stop time at 11 o'clock at night to enjoy it more.

Another project is yielding some favorable results. I have several hop cones on my container grown bines. When they are harvested and how they are handled for making beer remains to be seen.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Schlafly makes the grade

While on vacation in St. Louis last weekend we decided to try out the beer and food at the Schlafly Bottleworks. I wanted to see their full line of beer before I passed judgement on them as a whole.
I have to say I was fairly impressed from the moment we arrived. The facility looked great from the outside, even as we looked for a spot in the full parking lot. The bar and gift shop had an attractive look and a comfortable feel. Lots of wood and medium lighting. They were right accross the entry way from the bottling line that is easily seen through a wall of glass both inside and out.

In the past I've not been a huge fan of Schlafly Pale Ale (one of the few Schlafly's I could get here in the South). I mean it's a well made beer and all but it just never wowed me before. To be fair, I am a bit partial to the up front bitterness and citrusy flavor of west coast style pales. But I try always to ignore this predisposition when tasting any pale.
We ordered the sampler flight and got six good beers. There was a Pilsner, a Hefeweizen, an Oatmeal Stout along with what appeared and tasted like a Dunkelwiess (they called it No.15), their flagship Pale and what they called Dry Hopped APA.
The Pale tasted better than I remember. The Dunkelwiess was really nice. My wife made me get a six pack to bring home to Memphis. The Hefe, Stout and Pilsner were all good too. But the "Dry Hopped Pale" was really nice. It had a nice aroma and came on strong from the start with what tasted like Amarillo hops and a good malt profile. The hops are up front here but not overwhelming. The beer wasn't too heavy on the alcohol either. But it goes down so easy that you could still get in trouble with it. I felt compelled to leave with a six of that beer too.

The menu was wide ranging with several selections made with beer in the recipe. The food was delicious, the service was excellent and they accomodated our 5-year-old.
When we're back in St. Louis, we'll go again.
Now, I promise to turn my attention back to Memphis beer.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

There are numerous opinions about the proper size for a yeast starter. Formulas and calculators abound. I made an American Stout last Friday and pitched a starter I'd made two days before. I intended to make the beer on Thursday but with chores to do around the house I just couldn't get it done. I put the well fermenting (and quite large) starter in the fridge until I began the mash on Friday morning. I thought 4 liters of yeast might be a bit much for a 6 gallon batch but I pitched the whole thing for 3 reasons.
First, I made it from a 3 week old yeast cake I had saved from my latest Brown Ale. I have not begun washing and culturing yeast yet so I just left the spent hops in and mixed it up with a cup and a half of boiled dry malt.
Also, I didn't get it into the wort as it was at the height of fermentation. I chilled it for a day first.
Finally, this was a 1.072 beer. I wanted to err on the side of having more healthy yeast to help with the attenuation. I'd like this beer to finish out at 1.014 or less with a fairly clean flavor. The relatively high alcohol content will work against a low finish with California Ale yeast.
I have great confidence in Jamil Zainasheff's pitching rate calculator at http://www.mrmalty.com/ but I did it this way anyway. My only concern is the gravity change that a starter this size will do to the beer.
I'll be starting my study of yeast management soon.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Hop Experiment

I'm not sure about growing hops in the south, despite the success stories I've heard from fellow members of the Bluff City Brewers. I read an article in Brew Your Own magazine about growing them in containers and I had a pitifil looking plant so I decided to give it a try. My father-in-law designed the planter (and pretty much built it), I bought some potting mix and went over to my neighbor's house to dig up the hops. The plant started out as a rizome that somebody forgot to pick up at Midsouth Malts a couple of years ago and Kevin had put it in one of his planters and forgot about it.
To my surprise the thing has been growing right up the strings I attached to a small wooden rig I built to hold up the hop bines. I even had to rig up another, taller one, because the bines got so long.
But after seeing the hops growing at Phil and Jody Kane's place a week ago, I am a little bit disappointed. Phil has some pretty good hop cones on his plants already. Mine are just forming (I hope). I have dutifully watered the box daily. I have weeded the box. I have disuaded my dog from watering the box (I think it's too tall anyway). But I see only a few sprouts where the cones should be.
It might be that I have too many bines for the root system. It could be that the Memphis summer is just too scorching for the plant despite the serious amounts of water I have given.
The problem needs more study. Because free hops could do a lot to help the home beer budget.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Clean this beer up!

The American Brown seems to be finished with the initial fermentation and is moving toward the diacetyl rest, a time where the yeast sort of cleans up some off flavors and drops out of suspension. It's important not to chill the beer for a few more days. I might rack it to a secondary fermenter tomorrow and put it back into the fermentation vault so I can harvest some yeast to make an American Stout. But after that I'll leave it alone for a while longer.

Here's a beer quote I've not seen before.
"Beer makes you feel the way you ought to feel without beer."
Henry Lawson

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Oh! delicious Brown Ale!

I made an American Brown today while I was watching my daughter and doing housework. I always start drinking the finished keg thinking, "Not bad,..." But as the beer matures I fall in love with it, eventually discovering this truth only as the vessel goes dry. The cycle starts all over when I begin planning to replicate the magic by making it again.
Today I hit all brewing parameters within a narrow, but acceptible range.
The beer seems to have come out well despite various distractions.
After all, she's five, I am her father and even beer should yield to this responsibility. There was lunch and a plan to make a fort out of nearly every pillow in the house.
I just hope that I can teach her to love art in some form. It does not have to be the brewing arts. Of course, it cannot be for many years. But I do want her to have a desire to express herself through a creative act.
I hope for her the same joy I experience when I make a delicous Brown Ale.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

American Pale 208

That's the name of the recipe I brewed 13 days ago. I kegged it up today with a 12 pack on the side and it tasted wonderful. I'm very pleased since I have recently experienced a minor level of astringent off flavor in my beer. I adjusted the sparge temperature and, based on today's tasting, believe the problem has been resolved. I can't wait until it's been carbonated and cold conditioned.
Tomorrow I'll make an American Brown.
Then we'll talk about the local beer scene here in Memphis.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Brew Day

I'm making an American Brown Ale on Friday. The recipe is not my own. But the resulting beer is usually so good that I can't think of a way to improve on it. But the recipe is only part of the magic. The process will do as much to make this beer as the ingredients will.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009