Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Yeast Won't Start

I had big plans to make a Steam Beer tonight for a church event in February.  I know it seems like a long way off but I'm making a total of 4 styles and it'll be here sooner than you think.
I want to serve well conditioned beer that is at the peak of flavor.
I think this Steam Beer recipe tastes best after about 6 weeks.
Anyway, I bought some California Lager yeast over the weekend and made a starter last night to ferment the wort I thought I'd be making tonight.
I made the starter using the same procedures I always use.  I boiled 1/2 pound of dry malt.  Chilled it. Sanitized a Ghost River growler and an airlock.  I mixed it all up and... nothing.  No bubbles even tonight after 24 hours.  I usually get activity within the first hour but as of right now... nothing.
Since I have no confidence in the yeast I'm going to postpone the brew.
I'll have to get a new pack of California Lager and start again.  I don't want to waste a good grist with unhealthy yeast.
The beer will have to be made another day.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Nice Fermentation

I made my Bitter on Saturday, as scheduled, but had a few problems.
I missed my mash-in target by a couple of degrees and wound up mashing at 153 instead of 151.  That might make this beer just a bit more viscous than planned.
Then I under shot my target volume and overshot my gravity by 7 points.  I could have fixed this with some water but decided that 1.057 wasn't too far out of the range for this beer.
In fact, the same thing happened last time I brewed it and I got 1.054 so I'm OK with it.
I pitched a liter of yeast and, so far, things are going well.
 I'm looking for 67-68 degrees to give this beer the right character.
The fridge is set to 63 degrees so that I can compensate for the heat created by such a vigorous fermentation.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Bitter, but not disagreeable

Last night after I got home from the brew club meeting I made a starter of British Ale II yeast.
I want to brew first thing in the morning and I won't have time to make it tonight.
Although I believe a good pitching window for a starter is usually 24 hours, I'll push it to Saturday, about 1PM.
I think it will be OK.
I'm trying to duplicate a Best Bitter I made for last year's competition.
Not all beers that win are delicious and not all delicious beers win, but this one did both, and I want to have some for the Winter.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


My daughter had a Fall break this weekend so my wife and I took her to see Chicago.

Everyone had a great time. Hallie got to visit the American Girl store and Jennifer and I got to visit a couple of breweries.
After a couple of beers at the top of the John Hancock Tower we stopped at Rock Bottom on Grand. It's been a while since I visited Rock Bottom in Denver so we decided to give it a try. I had an excellent Oktoberfest and a pretty decent Red Ale. The real story here was the food and service. Bar food is probably the wrong label to give this menu because this food transcends that connotation. I had a pretzel appetizer that was absolutely delicious. Hallie had fish and chips and, although it was an adult size entree, nearly cleaned her plate. I can't remember what Jenny had but she was equally impressed. I know that this location is one of many Rock Bottom Breweries around the country, thus qualifying it as a chain, but I still had a unique experience and good service.
On Saturday we headed to Revolution Brewing on Logan Square. The food and service were good here as well. The menu was a little more eclectic. A bacon fat popcorn appetizer topped with shaved parmesan and a pizza with apples, marinated pulled pork, Gorgonzola and fennel.
The beer menu was fairly wide with at least 3 Pales, a Porter, a Golden Ale, a Stout, a Strong Ale and a Mild.
I enjoyed my Pales but was struck by the wonderfully full bodied Mild that Jennifer was drinking. This was a 1.040 beer that drank like a much heavier brown. I did not meet brewer Jim Cibak but hope to on our next trip.

There were a couple of others we did not have time to visit including a place called Piece Brewing and the Goose Island location in Wrigleyville. I've been there before and really enjoyed it.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Cracked Carboy

I've been lax about blogging for a few weeks.
And there have been things to report.
The Belgian Tripel was infected. I tossed it.
I'm a bit surprised too. I mean, I've not had an infected beer for years.
So I cleaned and cleaned. Bleached my fermentation vault. Soaked my airlocks, tubing and stoppers.
Then I made a double batch of session Pale about 10 days ago with a yeast starter I was going to pitch on the ill fated IPA.
I kegged the 2nd carboy of it last night. It tasted young and, of course, not carbonated, but pretty good.
As I cleaned the carboy, though, I noticed a small crack in the middle of the bottom.
I've heard urban legends about brewers losing fingers and hands when carboys break unexpectedly so I tossed it into the dumpster. I still have my arms and fingers.
I hope this is the last setback Bluff City Brewing will have for a while.
Good Beer To You.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Pour It Out. Start Again.

I had to do a tough job today.
I had to pour well brewed wort down the drain.
I was too upset to even take a picture of it.
I mashed. I sparged. I adjusted my water with new knowledge I recently gained about ions and stuff.
Then, when I was chilling, I put my combination thermometer/hydrometer in the kettle to see how close I was getting to 68 degrees. The wort was swirling and caught the hydrometer, breaking it against the copper coil.
I shrieked. No kidding.
I couldn't believe I worked all afternoon on what I hoped would be an improved American IPA and all I could do was look at the wort and try unsuccessfully to think of a reason to transfer to the fermenter anyway.
Glass and whatever is inside a thermometer could surely not be removed with any confidence.
So I poured.
I'll start over in a week or two.

Meanwhile, the Belgian Tripel I made two weeks ago is still fermenting. I'm not sure what to think. This is the longest fermentation (except for lagers) I have ever had.
Nothing to do but wait, keg it, drink it and see what it tastes like.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Hops and a double batch of Pale

The hop experiment is apparently not going to be a success this year either, for a different reason. Maybe its the birds nesting on the trellis. Or maybe being away and not watering them during our 9 day vacation from the Memphis heat was too much for these thirsty plants.

Who knows. But the results are yellow, dry leaves that are falling on the ground and a very slow growth. Its not really a big deal since I'm not going to use these hops for any substantial addition to a beer but I would like the plant to be an attractive part of the yard.

I'm puzzled by the double batch of Pale I made yesterday. This is my table beer, a session strength ale I keep for everyday consumption. The brew went fairly well with the exception of a stuck sparge. I didn't want to transfer the beer out of the mash tun so I kept cleaning the outflow tube by forcing air back into the mash from the bottom. That was a bad experience, but the extra slow sparge did help me exceed my target gravity by 5 points, coming in at 1.046. Good thing I decided on a couple of more grams of hops at the last minute.
I had made a large yeast starter the day before, planning to split it between two carboys after I'd filled them with wort.
The 6 gallon carboy got the better part of the beer and the 6.5 gallon got the rest, about 10.5 gallons total, near as I can tell. I swirled the yeast around the jug and pitched into the wort accordingly.
Same wort. Same boil. Same yeast.
So why do they appear so different?
I do know that there was lots of break material in the second half of the transfer (on the left) so that might be it. And maybe there was trub of some sort in the starter I made from last week's American IPA.
It'll be interesting to see of there is noticeable difference in taste or appearance in the finished beer.

The Hefeweizen I made 10 days ago has been brought into the house to warm up and finish fermenting before being bottled tomorrow.

Finally, I've volunteered to chair the competition committee for Homebrew Extravaganza 2011 so there will be either (a) lots of posting about that in the coming months or (b) not much posting at all.
Peace. Love. Beer.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

New Beer Menu

I completed a small chalkboard menu for the brewery (otherwise known as the garage) last week.
It's not much more than a left over piece of plywood, some chalkboard paint, a piece of door trim and some of my kid's sidewalk chalk. A unnecessary novelty, but I like it anyway.
Other than that, there isn't much to report from Bluff City for the Spring.

But we just got back from a family vacation and brewing operations will resume this weekend since, despite having 6 kinds of beer at my house, I feel like I need to have my basic table beer on hand for the Summer. A good old American Pale. I've had the grist for weeks and have been unable to get to it. Sunday's going to be the day, though. My excuse to make beer instead of mulching the front bushes.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Hop Experiment - Year 2

Sorry about the lack of posts since HBE2010.
Lots of family events.
A 1/2 marathon for me. A 5K for Jenny.
A 1K for Hallie.
The hops started to sprout again about a week ago and so I decided to, again, attach my trellis to the fence and see what happens. I have decided to limit the root system to 4 bines this year.
Last year I had 6 or 7 and the hops did not add anything positive to the beer. In fact, the beer I made with them was so mediocre that I poured it out. In the future I'll be quite shy about using hops with unknown an alpha acid content for any beer I make. This plant might be good for beer conversation only. Anyway, I have read that 3 or four bines will be about the maximum for a good hop yeild so I'll keep the new sprouts trimmed back.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Victory !!

Well, not total and complete victory but way better than expected.
With 10 beers entered into 11 categories I came home with 7 medals.
Gold for Bavarian Wiessbeir.
Gold for American Brown Ale.
Gold for Best Bitter.
Silver for American Pale, Bock, Oktoberfest and California Common (I think,... frankly it was all a blur).
I am especially proud of the Brown and the American Pale. These two beers got the top two spots in a category that had 20 entries including a beer made by Phil Kane that got a 44.
If you don't know anything about beer judging, a 44 is an absolutely fantastic score. Phil deserves it. He's a splendid brewer.
I also won Best of Show with the Brown and 3rd Best of Show with the Best Bitter.
I only dreamed about getting BOS.
I never imagined that I'd have 2 of the 3 BOS beers.
I want to see the score sheets for the other beers I made.
I knew the Christmas beer lacked the spice character it needed (it got silver as a Bock) and the American IPA, while a great tasting Pale, was not an IPA. But I did have high hopes for the American Stout and the American Amber. Both are in tough competitive categories.
I could not be more proud to be part of the Bluff City Brewers. I won some medals so, of course, that's cool. But this competition was run first rate. The judges were trained and refreshed over a period of weeks prior to the event so that the score sheets would be accurate and useful for brewers who want to improve their beer. There were lots of sponsors and prizes so that everybody could go home with something. Mike Pierce, J.L Thompson, Ben Pugh, Doug Mengwasser and Mike Lee, to name a few, really made it happen. It was a great time all around.
Now, after taking a 1 day holiday from my lenten sacrafice, I'm going to try not to have any beer for the next 36 days. Wish me luck.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


After six months of work I finally finished brewing the last beer for competition today. An English Pale. The unavailability of certain malts and yeast changed the recipe but the session went well. I was 3 points heavy on the target gravity but efficiency was good.
My assistant brewer was not helpful.
Yesterday's Weissbeir is fermenting away in the fridge despite being set at 63.
I'm trying to follow a rule I learned from Ray Daniels' book. The sum of the yeast pitching temperature and the fermentation temperature should total 30 degrees centigrade. I could only get the wort chilled to 56 degrees F and the yeast specs say 64 is good for this strain so I'm a little long at 31 or 32C. It looks very active in the carboy. I've never really come up with a fantastic Hefe so I have high hopes.
I'll bottle the American Stout this Saturday and package the two I made this week on the 30th.
That's a total of 11 beers to enter into Homebrew Extravaganza 2010.
I want to win a few this year but we have several talented brewers in the club. The competition is going to be tough. I'm more interested in the score sheets.
My wife is pleased that I'll be concentrating on painting the bathroom and the office/playroom for the next couple of months.

Of course, there will be plenty of beer to help the projects along.