Saturday, October 1, 2011

Recipe Recap: #21 - #25

Today's Recipe Recap will cover brews #21 through #25. There were 3 rebrews - all disappointing. There were a lot of problems and disappointments here. It almost feels like my brewing is going backward. A big part of it was using harvested yeast and having a hard time controlling fermentation quality during the summer.

#21, Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA Clone 2.0
The result was definitely better than the first. However, I got way too much ester and phenol character, and what I'm pretty sure was chlorophenols, which eventually went away. The flavor was okay, but never quite right. Carbonation was great, but the beer wasn't nearly dry enough. I was discouraged enough to never bother with this recipe again.

#22, Janet's Brown Ale 2.0
Well, this one was mistakenly made with pale chocolate malt, and that made it completely different. Without the mild roast of the chocolate, this one just didn't taste right. On top of that, it was way overcarbed, maybe due to underattenuation. No roast at all, pretty much just bready and hoppy. Disappointing. Entered this one in competition because I ran out of Sweet Stout - didn't expect it to do well and it didn't. It was slammed for too much carbonation and lack of roast, among other things.

Still, I'll probably try this again eventually.

#23, Pliny the Elder Clone 2.0
This was a huge improvement over the first attempt, but it still only sorta tasted like Pliny, and I couldn't come anywhere near the dryness of Pliny. The greater sweetness of my version blocked some of perception of bitterness, so it didn't seem that hoppy (despite the obscene amount included in the recipe). I entered one in competition, but lost a lot of points because most of hops had dropped out due to age, making it seem sweeter and revealing flaws in fermentation. It was pretty damn great early on, and has convinced me to throw my IPAs into the refrigerator as soon as they are carbed.

#24, Heretic Evil Twin Clone
An infected disaster. This infection may have continued into batch #26. First time I've feared for my health due to a bottle bomb infection. Maybe I'll try making this again someday, but I'm not really sure just yet.

#25, McQuaker's Oatmeal Stout
Pretty awesome, despite its flaws. Would've been better with fresher, healthier yeast, lower carbonation and a bit more sweetness and mouth feel. I will be rebrewing this with my own tweaks to make it my own recipe and correct its flaws.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

All Grain Recipe: #28 Jamil's Chocolate Hazelnut Porter

Another damn infection!

Okay, I wanted to create some beers for Thanksgiving. Something holiday-ish but not necessarily 'holiday' or "christmas" beers. I decided to go with a chocolate hazelnut porter and a witbier - both are spiced, but not 'holiday' spiced. The porter would be the more interesting one, while the witbier would be for family with less adventurous palates.

I retired my Mr. Beer kegs for this batch, and have moved entirely to Better Bottles. I picked up an extra one at HopTech in Dublin while mashing.

The recipe calls for baking cocoa added at the end of the boil. This turned out to be difficult, and it didn't distribute evenly until it boiled for a while (even then it was chunky). It sunk to the bottom of the fermenter. During fermentation, the cocoa all went up to the top with the krausen. It was all very strange and made me uncomfortable. If I were to make another chocolate beer, I'd stick with cocoa nibs or chocolate extract!

True to my word, I didn't repitch yeast. I used a fresh vial of WLP001, but with no starter. After a month in primary, the FG was insanely high - 1.028. Even given the amount of specialty malt, the attenuation was way too low, about 57%. Out of fear that I'd get bottle bombs, I bottled these all in 1 liter PETs, which would bend instead of exploding if fermentation started up again in the bottle.

After 3 weeks in the bottle, carbonation was perfect, but the flavor was... off. Ashy, like a freshly burned candle or incense. Unpleasant, and the hazelnut and chocolate just made it worse.

One more week, and suddenly all of my bottles were bulging. Opening the bottles led to a fountain of beer.

Okay, so I did have underattenuation, which led to fermentation in the bottle. No big deal, right? Just let off pressure until the CO2 level hits the right amount, then drink. The problem is that the flavor got worse instead of better, and no amount of pressure relief led to a proper amount of CO2. I believe there was an infection that didn't manifest itself until after the beer was bottled.

After I realized it was likely an infection, I poured everything out. Yet another failure; I'm starting to get discouraged.

Anyway, as usual the recipes are after the break.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

All Grain Recipe: #27 Mirror Pond Pale Ale Clone

For this recipe, I thought I'd make a clone of Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale, from Can You Brew It.

Another not so great brew. This time, the problem was the yeast. I created a starter from a repitch of WLP007 (instead of the WLP002 the recipe called for). The first sign of trouble came when I smelled the starter, which was way more "Belgian" than it should have been. I thought it might just be the starter, so I pitched it.

I soon discovered it wasn't just the starter. Samples taken from the fermented beer tasted more like a Saison than an APA. They weren't bad, and the flavor mellowed over time. If it was an infection, they would get worse over time. I decided to roll with it, after letting it sit for twice as long as I normally would. I dry hopped it and bottled it, and when I tried it two things jumped out at me:

1) The carbonation was correct, unlike many of my other brews which were way overcarbed.
2) It wasn't bad! The Saison with citrusy cascade hops wasn't a bad combination.

After this brew I decided I'm going to stop repitching yeast. When it works, it is great, but it is too inconsistent. Yeast can mutate too much after only a few repitches, especially if the harvesting isn't done just the right way. I suspect the lack of attenuation in many of my beers may even be caused by less healthy yeast from repitching. It will only be fresh vials from here on out.

Recipes after the break.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

All Grain Recipe: #26 Rogue Dead Guy Clone

This was an infected disaster. It was infected some time in secondary by my house wild yeast. It started fermenting again out of nowhere, and by the time I threw it out it had an astringent, Belgian-y flavor.

Let us never speak of it again.

For those curious, the recipe came from Can You Brew It, and is just after the break. I included notes I took while listening to the podcast, which is here.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Yeast: Bottle Harvesting

Bottle Harvesting: the process of bringing nearly dead yeast back from the dead. Yeast Frankenstein, if you like.

Maybe you want to brew a spot-on clone but they don't sell that particular brewery's yeast strain. Maybe you're cheap and want 'free yeast'. Or maybe you're just a homebrewer, and you don't need a goddamn reason. Here's how.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Recipe Recap: #16 - #20

Today's Recipe Recap will cover brews #16 through #20. My brewing is definitely getting better. I improved my process, lowered my efficiency, corrected my pH, cleared my beer more, carbonated properly and controlled my fermentation better.

#16, Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA Clone
First, the bad news. This didn't really taste like Union Jack at all. I bittered with Columbus hops for 60 minutes instead of Warrior for 90, giving it a much harsher bitterness. My OG was off, and it attenuated more than it should have. My high efficiency led to a lack of strong malt character, so it was hop dominated (more like my pliny clone). My lack of pH control led to a little bit of phenolic off flavor and astringency, but very very little.

Finally, the carbonation was higher than I'd like, making the beer seem harsh. Oddly enough, I have to carb around 2 - 2.2 volumes, using BeerSmith's calculator, to reach a level of carbonation that is close to what you'd get from a commercial bottle or draught. This beer was carbed to around 2.6-2.7 volumes.

Also, I tried to dry hop without a hop bag. That was a huge mistake, and I lost almost a gallon of beer to hops before all was done.

The good news is that it was a pretty good beer. It just wasn't a clone, and it wasn't perfect.

#17, Janet's Brown Ale
Holy cow, this stuff was good out of the gate. I had one after only being in the bottle less than two weeks and it was fantastic. I carbed it properly, to around 2.3 volumes. The head was thick and creamy and lasted a long time. The hop aroma was strong and pleasant. The hop flavor and subtle roastiness of the chocolate malt went hand in hand. The mouth feel was nice and thick but never sweet, and very drinkable. My best beer so far!

If there was any complaint, it might be that the specialty malt flavor wasn't as pronounced as I expected and there was a hint of phenolics in the background. I only noticed it when I compared mine to a commercial Black IPA that had a similar flavor.

I'd love to try the real thing and compare! I've also rebrewed this one with some improvements to my process. I carbed to 2.3 volumes, and will probably reduce that to 2.0 - 2.1 next time I bottle.

#18, Stone Levitation Clone
Light, dry and orange-y. Drinkable and full of flavor, though more and more I prefer beers with a very thick body. I can't detect any off flavors, though.

Carbonation is a little high at 2.5, and I would reduce that to 2.3 next time. I had to sub Mt. Hood for the Crystal, which may have had significant impact on the flavor. Aroma and flavor are definitely dominated by the orange citrus of the Amarillo. Over time, the flavors have 'melded' together into a more cohesive single flavor, where before it felt like a combination of different flavors competing for my attention. I don't know if that makes sense, but it's the only way I can describe it.

This will probably taste closer to the original if I lower my efficiency and adjust my specialty malt percentages. Of course, I haven't compared it to the original. I'll come back and update this post when I do, or create an entirely new post.

#19, JZ's American Pale Ale
Well, I'm not the biggest fan of Pale Ales in general. They're usually pretty dry and boring. For me, a glass of beer is an event, not something I drink pints and pints of. It tastes decent, though a little young, and the carbonation feels higher than it should. I think the flavors need time to merge. It currently tastes like hops and malt, instead of a single combined 'pale ale' flavor, if that makes sense.

This is my first beer made with a lower efficiency, 5.2 pH stabilizer and gelatin finings. I can definitely tell. The beer is clearer and cleaner than any before it. I detected no off flavors. Very clean and very drinkable. The flavor is similar to Levitation, probably due to using the same base malt (Great Western American Pale Ale malt, a US version of British pale malt).

#20, Triple-X Sweet Stout
Heaven in a glass. This will be gone in no time, even though I'm only drinking on weekends on my diet. Thick but drinkable. Slight milk-like aftertaste. Creamy espresso and chocolate flavor, with a hint of alcohol. Not hot alcohols or off flavors that I can detect. This one has been in the bottles only two weeks and yet is nicely carbed, creamy and delicious. Proof that if you need to age your (lighter) beer more than a few weeks, you probably did something wrong.

I carbed to 2 volumes, and will probably reduce that to 1.8 or 1.9 next time. There *will* be a next time.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

All Grain Recipe: #25 McQuaker's Oatmeal Stout

My first oatmeal stout, based on Jamil's Brewing Classic Styles recipe.

The resulting beer was unusually acidic and overcarbonated, even though I only carbed it to 2.0 volumes with corn sugar. I suspect that it wasn't fully attenuated, and may have finished attenuating in the bottle.

My wife loved it, and it tasted pretty damn good to me, even with the flaws.

I also sent it in to the Northern California Homebrew Festival competition, where it received a 27/50, with the following taste notes:

* Med fruity esters + med phenolics gives odd aroma like cola.
* Strong pear ester, some caramel. Light a weizenbock. Roasty notes as it warms.

* Dark, dark brown in color, opaque. Tall brown head, fine bubbles. Mouss-y w good retention.
* Rocky head, creamy dark brown, clear, med persistent creamy head, low CO2 (low???? later he says lots of CO2)

* Malt sweetness, roasted notes (coffee+milk). Fruity esters, slight tartness. Low hop bitterness leaves the balance a little sweet. Roasted acid finish.
* Moderately sweet with caramel, not very roasty. Sharp fruity ester, finishes slightly dry. Slightly tart. Slightly oxidized? (no way)

* Medium body, lighter due to carbonation. Slight creaminess but comes off as watery. Higher acidity in the finish.
* Med-full body, not as creamy as expected. Medium carbonic bite, tingly. Slightly dry, not huge or chewy.

* An interesting beer that's difficult to describe. Hard to say the acidity is due to infection - it's almost like star san. My guess is that you lost temp control during fermentation, finishing and storage, which gave a bunch of esters. Maybe an older extract batch?
* It seemed like the fermentation wasn't clean enough, esters were too strong and reminiscent of wheat beers. Body was slightly low.

Recipes are after the break.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Munich Madness recipe on AHA site

The official AHA web site just posted JZ's Munich Madness recipe, which I brewed a while back (batch #15). If you want to brew this as extract and don't want to convert from my all grain recipe, check it out.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Better Bottle!

As I mentioned in my last post, one of my Mr. Beer kegs sprung a leak. I need to transfer a batch to secondary this Friday, but I no longer have an extra vessel.

I went to HopTech over in Dublin, CA to pick up a 3-gallon Better Bottle. While I was there, I also got the "breathable bung". It costs more than a standard stopper and airlock combo, but you don't have to worry about the water being pulled into the vessel, krausen overflowing up into the airlock or the airlock falling off. It also has less moving parts, and is equally useful as an airlock and a stopper. Here it is at HopTech, and it is pretty similar to this, but not quite the same.

Anyway, for the moment I only have plans to use this as a secondary. Why not primary with it? I wasn't kidding when I said the Mr. Beer kegs are great. I can't put any carboy, not even a 3-gallon one, into an ice chest. That means I have zero temperature control. It's summer, and that means I might as well not even bother unless I want an estery beer dominated by fusel alcohol and god knows what else. Not to mention the ability to easily take a sample every day. No, I won't be giving up my Mr. Beer kegs for primary until I have room for a freezer + Johnson controller for temp control.

I went with the solid version, which has no spigot or hole for a spigot. The problem is twofold - their spigot is expensive (more expensive than the bottle itself) and strangely designed. Furthermore, I don't know how I would install my own spigot, since I can't very well get my hand into the bottle to tighten the nut. This means I have to rack with my easy siphon, but oh well. Since it will be holding secondary + gelatin, there will be relatively little trub + yeast to disturb.

As my Mr. Beer kegs die, I'll be replacing them with Better Bottles. If and when I switch to 5-gallon batches (for example, if I want to get fat or I have 5 times times as many beer-drinking friends >.<), I'll definitely be using 6-gallon Better Bottles. Heck, I even heard that JZ now ferments primarily in BBs, even for Heretic pilot batches. You can't get a better endorsement than that.

Now, if only they would design a Better Bottle with a larger opening, I'd be one happy camper!

Mr Beer: Replacing Your Spigot

You've already heard me expound on the virtues of the Mr. Beer keg. It's small, it fits in your fridge or in an icebox, it has a spigot for taking samples and easy racking, it has a wide opening on top so you can fit your hand in for cleaning, it's made of PET plastic like a Better Bottle, the bottom is shaped like a reservoir for collecting yeast & trub and it has one-way vents so you don't need an airlock.

However, it has one major flaw - the spigot it comes with sucks. Really bad.

One thing you could do is pick up a locking spigot. I have two, and you can use it for racking if you attach a bottling wand and hose to it. It isn't ideal though.

There are two types of spigot. You can find the standard Italian Spigot (left) at almost any homebrew shop. Example: here. I don't really like them, but they're better than nothing. The problem is that the entire valve turns when you switch it from on to off and vice versa. Also, they look cheap.

What you really want is one of these. They're basically a ball valve-style spigot, but made of plastic. You can get them in multiple sizes, and the hose doesn't turn when you turn it on and off.

The problem with both of these is that neither fits in the tiny hole in the Mr. Beer keg! I haven't checked recently, but I believe that the hole in the keg is 3/4" while these larger spigots require a 1" hole. Supposedly, the spigot on the right comes in a 'mini' version for a 3/4" hole, but I've never seen it for sale anywhere except for a homebrew shop in Canada that doesn't have an online store!

Solution? Sharp objects.

As I'm a pretty urban guy, I don't exactly have a ton of power tools sitting around. If you have a dremel though, this is easy. Use a coarse sanding attachment to widen the hole on your Mr. Beer keg. Widen it evenly, and stop as soon as the hole is large enough to fit your new spigot. Switch to a fine sanding attachment to smooth out the rough edges. Attach the spigot with the rubber washer on the outside and you're set! Racking from your keg can now be done by simply attaching a 3/8" ID hose directly to the barbed spout.

What if you're like me and don't have a rotary tool? Errr, well, time to cross your fingers. I used a utility knife. I slowly chopped away at the edges. It wasn't pretty, but it worked. I've done it to three kegs so far, and only one of them leaked. It was a very small leak of about two drops per minute, but I threw it out. To avoid leaks, don't cut too far down, and avoid deep, angular cuts. It doesn't have to be a perfect circle, but at least try to make your opening closer to an octagon than a square or star shape. Once you attach the spigot, the washer and nut will cover your grotesque cutting job, so it really doesn't need to be pretty.

Update: while I don't have a rotary tool like a Dremel, I do have a cheapo electric screwdriver/drill. I was able to find a sanding attachment that locked right into any standard drill. I used the coarse version and got a nice round, smooth hole in less than a minute. If you have literally no power tools, go ahead and try the utility knife version, but a power drill can cost less than twenty bucks and you will definitely use it again.

An interesting bit of trivia is that the very bottom of this spigot reaches exactly to the bottom of the keg. If you set the keg on a table, the keg will lie flat, but the spout will drag on the table's surface.

Another neat bit of trivia is that Mr. Beer is currently testing a new spigot that is designed quite a bit like this one. They haven't released it yet, though, but I believe it is essentially just the "mini" version of the spigot I use.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

All Grain Recipe: #23 Pliny the Elder, v2.0

I decided to give the Pliny clone another go. The problems I had last time were these:
  • Slightly fruity; maybe even hot alcohol. Possibly high fermentation temp.
  • Bitterness was too harsh. I'm not a huge fan of Columbus for bittering. Something smoother like Warrior or Magnum would be better.
  • Not dry enough. Needed to do something to dry it out: more sugar, less crystal, lower mash temps.
  • Carbonation was too high. Reduce it to 2.2-2.3.
  • Too dark. Not really a problem, per se, but Pliny is very pale and mine was more dark bronze.
I ended up following the MoreBeer pliny clone recipe pretty closely this time, here.

The recipe can be found here, if you search for "Pliny" on the page. Note that this recipe uses dry yeast, while I recommend the WLP001 liquid + starter. The recipe is also for 5 gallons. If you brew 6 gallons to account for a gallon of losses to trub and other stuff, you'll need to scale up.

This version definitely came out better, even if it still doesn't taste like Pliny. Even with my lowered mash temp, lowered Crystal amount and increased sugar, I still ended up with something pretty thick. My version is more like a typical Imperial IPA - more of a sipper. What makes Pliny different is that it is so dry and drinkable that you have chugged 2 pints of it and didn't even notice.

On the bright side, my newest brew has no off flavors or hot alcohols, and is very good regardless. It just isn't Pliny :P

Saturday, July 23, 2011

All Grain Recipe: #22 Janet's Brown Ale, v2.0

AKA, Janet's Light Brown Ale

Janet's Brown is the next of my beer rebrews - beers that I liked, but didn't come out quite as perfect as they could have. Several process changes later and I'm ready to make them even better.

As a reminder, the main process changes involved a lower efficiency, a change in the way I scale recipes to my efficiency, racking to secondary with gelatin, the use of 5.2 pH stabilizer and yeast nutrient and lower carbonation across the board.

What I didn't intend was to use Pale Chocolate malt instead of Chocolate. It must have been a brainfart while I was measuring out ingredients at MoreBeer. I didn't even realize the mistake until I was racking into the fermentor and wondering why in the hell my beer was brown instead of black!

For all of you who are confused, let me make it clear.



You don't sub twice as much pale chocolate for chocolate, or half as much chocolate for pale chocolate. It is about more than color -- the the two malts don't even taste alike.

So once again, no matter what the doofuses at tell you, there are no subs. Use the right one or get out.

Of course, using a different version of chocolate malt won't ruin your beer. It will just be a different beer. Since I've brewed the original, this is a pretty good way to compare the two. The main difference I noticed is that the new version, besides being brown instead of black, has a toasted bread or cracker flavor. It still has a bit of the roasted coffee-like flavor from the regular chocolate malt, but it is much more subtle and hidden in the background. It's actually pretty damn good.

Black IPA

Black IPA, also called Cascadian Dark Ale (esp. in the pacific northwest) is called an 'emerging' west coast or northwest style. It isn't technically a style category any more than American Strong Ale is, but beers made in this 'style' are pretty distinct can't be placed in any other category.

Black IPA is like a highly hopped American Brown. It has the color and roasted dark malt flavors of a Brown and the hop bitterness, flavor and aroma of an American IPA. If you want to brew one of these for competition, your best bet is to enter it into the Specialty Beer or American Brown categories. The gravity and hopping are on or past the edge of the American Brown category, but you can probably get away with it.

The Brewer's Association has this to say about Black IPA (or as they call it, American India Black Ale) in their 2010 Beer Style Guidelines:
American-style India black ale has medium high to high hop bitterness, flavor and aroma with medium-high alcohol content, balanced with a medium body. The style is further characterized by a moderate degree of caramel malt character and medium to strong dark roasted malt flavor and aroma. High astringency and high degree of burnt roast malt character should be absent. Fruity, floral and herbal character from hops of all origins may contribute to aroma and flavor.
Original Gravity (oPlato) 1.056-1.075 (14-18.2 oPlato) ●
Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (oPlato) 1.012-1.018 (3-4.5 oPlato) ● Alcohol by Weight (Volume) 5-6% (6 -7.5%) ● Bitterness (IBU) 50-70 ● Color SRM (EBC) 25+ (50+ EBC)
Some deride the idea of a Black IPA as nothing more than an American IPA with an ounce of black patent malt for color. Some brewers probably are guilty of this and deserve the mockery, but a true Black IPA isn't so easy to categorize.

Another probably with the name "Black IPA" is that the beer style has nothing to do with India and is certainly not a "Pale Ale". I'll leave arguments over nomenclature to someone who gives a damn, though. I'm more interested in drinking the beer than naming it. Still, there is a simplicity to "Black IPA" that'll probably cause it to catch on, no matter how flawed the name is.

Why am I babbling about Black IPAs? I found that I'm recently enjoying this great combination of deep, stout-like roasted malt flavor (one of my favorite styles) and American IPA hopping (another of my favorite styles). Mike McDole has claimed that his Janet's Brown Ale is closer to a Black IPA than it is to an American Brown, despite the name, and I would agree. I recently tried the Discord Dark IPA ($8 growler, including the bottle itself, from Pyramid) and was shocked by how close it was to Janet's Brown. The main differences between the two were level of roastiness and a slight difference in hop flavor. The commercial beer was also cleaner. In comparison to the professionally brewed example, I could taste flaws, particularly phenols, that I hadn't noticed before in my own beer.

I'm currently in the process of brewing Janet's Brown Ale, v2, and have made a nice big starter. Hopefully I can control the fermentation temp a little better and make an even better beer this time!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Recipe Recap: #11 - #15

Today's Recipe Recap will cover brews #11 through #15. This was a dark time in my brewing - of recipes #9 through #15, my only success was #12. It gets better though, and I won't be discouraged!

#11, Harold-is-Weizen Hefeweizen
A disaster in a bottle. I overpitched the yeast from a previous batch. Since the yeast didn't get a chance to grow and produce the characteristic clove & banana flavors, this beer ended up tasting like nothing. Nothing except cooked corn, that is. I forgot to do a 60 minute boil. Since this has a significant amount of Pilsner malt in it, the DMS levels in the final beer were very high. To top it all off, this beer was so overcarbed that half of the bottles I opened were gushers. I eventually gave up and dumped more than half of the batch to make room for new stuff.

#12, Pliny the Elder clone
There were definitely some problems. The massive amount of dry hopping left the beer a muddy brown-green color that took weeks in the fridge to settle out. The carbonation was just a little bit higher than I'd have liked (it gushed while warm but was fine when refrigerated). The body was thicker than the original Pliny, so my next attempt will use less Crystal, more Dextrose and mash at a lower temperature. The dry hop was pretty long, so I ended up with a more 'raw' hop flavor, though it wasn't so bad as to taste vegetal or grassy. I also used Colombus as the main bittering hop, which lent a harsher, oilier bitterness that made it less drinkable.

On the bright side, this was still a tasty beer, and definitely the best I had brewed so far. I'll definitely be iterating on this one, and intend to try a more updated recipe from MoreBeer (as opposed to the 'original' old school recipe I followed). The new recipe uses less Crystal, more Dextrose, more CaraPils, mashes at a lower temperature, bitters with Warrior and has a very slightly different ordering of hop additions. It also dry hops for a shorter time. This should lead to a smoother, drier, more drinkable beer.

#13, Arrogant Bastard clone
On the bright side, this does taste pretty close to the original.

On the other hand...

I accidentally bittered with Simcoe instead of Chinook (shame, since Simcoe costs twice as much). Read the labels on your hops!! My evaporation rate ended up way off, so I finished with around a quart and a half of extra wort and missed by OG by quite a lot. Worst of all, I overcarbonated this one by a ton. There were no gushers, but the flavors came out incredibly harsh due to the level of co2. Letting the beer flatten by swirling it constantly helped the taste. There may have been some astringent qualities to it, but that may have been a sensory side effect of the carbonation.

Not terrible, but not a success either. The ones in glass bottles can't be helped, but I was able to release some of the CO2 in the plastic bottles to improve the beer.

#14, English Apple Ale
Ugh, where do I begin. Lots of problems here. Tons of astringency from the apple juice - I'll probably use filtered apple juice next time in the hopes of getting less astringency from the apple matter. "Earthy" english hop flavor in the Mr. Beer kit didn't go well with the apple (frankly, I didn't expect any hop flavor in the Mr. B kit at all). Over carbonated, just like the last several batches, which combined with the English malt and apple astringency to create a beer that is super harsh and hard to drink.

Next time, I'd use filtered apple juice, American two-row (or some neutral, light extract), a clean bittering hop with no flavor hops and a way lower carb level (2.1 - 2.3). I'm not sure whether I'd use English or American yeast on the next batch. I went too crazy on this one, and should have started with a simple, neutral beer that happened to have apple juice in it.

On the bright side, the apple flavor was noticeable and there was a good residual sweetness in the beer.

#15, Munich Madness Oktoberfest/Marzen
Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes. Sensing a pattern yet?

First off, I 'innocently' adjusted the recipe with more hops because I had leftovers. I didn't want to leave just a few grams sitting around in the freezer, so I'd have tossed them out. I used 25 gm of bittering hops instead of 20 gm, and 15 gm of flavor hops instead of 7 gm. Yes, I used more in my 3 gallon batch than the original recipe calls for in 6 gallons (14 gm).

Then, I ended up with way too much pre-boil volume because I hadn't yet figured out the impact of grain absorption. I decided to boil longer instead. I ended up with too little wort and instead of topping it off, I thought I'd just have a stronger beer.

Finally, it's slightly overcarbed but not too bad. It doesn't gush, but I'd personally prefer something around 2.4-2.5 instead of 2.8.

Tastewise, the Hallertau character is way too dominant. I'm finding more and more than I'm actually not a big fan of Hallertau, and the fact that I used more than double what the recipe called for in the flavor addition is really obvious. The beer is also too big, with an alcohol warmth due to the high ABV (6.9% instead of 5%!!). It isn't as drinkable or dry as the style calls for, it is hard to detect the 'toasty' flavors that the style is supposed to have, and there is a very strong caramel flavor that reminds me of the recipes in which I used too much Crystal 15. I'm not even sure I can taste the munich malt behind the strong crystal flavor.

This one might still turn out to be okay with some cold conditioning, so I won't call it a failure, but I also won't call it a success.

On the bright side, my beers start getting WAAAAY better at #16 and beyond...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Dieting, Oh Noes!

All of this beer drinking has been bad for my waistline. I've put on probably about 15 pounds since I started this hobby and I need to take it off. Never fear though, not only will I still be drinking on the weekends, I plan to continue brewing just as often as before. I just need to find someone to take some of this homebrew off my hands...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hops: Mash Hopping

Mash hopping: the process of adding hops, usually pelletized, directly into the mash. It supposedly contributes very little to bitterness but produces a unique type of flavor and aroma that you can't get with standard late hop additions.

Mash hopping is a confusing thing. By all logic, it shouldn't work. One would expect most of the hops to be left in the grain bed, and any hops that make it into the wort to be isomerized during the long boil that follows.

I'm not sure anyone knows why it works, and many people will tell you it *doesn't* work, but let your own experiments be the judge of that.

The following is according to Paddock Wood Brewing Co, quoted from their blog:
Based on the research of De Clerck and Fix, the theory is that the aromatic oils react in a special way with wort at a higher pH than occurs with wort during the boil (the pH falls during a boil, and reduces the utilization of the hop oils) and at a lower temperature (150F). The complex reaction between hops and the wort results in the formation of more permanent flavour and aroma chemicals remaining in the beer than is the case with traditional hopping methods such as late additions to the brew kettle. It may be important to use pelletized hops in this situation, however, as the release of aromatic oils from whole hop cones is greatly assisted by the action of the boiling wort. The pelletized hops are not transferred to the kettle but remain behind as the mash bed acts as a filter. The hop usage appears to be about 90% less than what you could expect from a start-of-boil addition, but we have not performed any technical data gathering or analysis.
I've tried it once, since it is a standard part of Janet's Brown Ale. Russian River Brewing apparently also uses it in their Pliny the Elder. Until I'm convinced, I won't be mash hopping unless a great recipe calls for it. I haven't done a side by side comparison, but some day I'd like to brew two identical batches - one that has been mash hopped and one that hasn't. I encourage any readers to try it and let me know the results.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

All Grain Recipe: #21 Union Jack IPA, v2.0

My original version of this recipe (here) had a lot of problems, but also a ton of potential. I've resolved to solve as many of those problems as possible in my first re-brew!

Recipe Recap: #1 - #10

Recipe Recap is a quick overview of where each of my recipes ended up: how they tasted, mistakes I made, how likely I am to brew it again and anything else that comes to mind.

Let's start with batches #1 through #10!

#1, Mr. Beer Classic American Blonde w/ Booster
My first beer ever. Thin, highly carbonated American-style blonde. Nothing special, but it wasn't completely terrible for a first attempt either. Chlorophenols from using unfiltered tap water and acetaldehyde (green apple flavor, due to using just one can of malt and one pouch of booster) dominated the flavor for a long time, but conditioned out. Not a terrible first try, and encouraging enough for me to continue the hobby.

#2, Mr. Beer Cowboy Honey Wheat
A much bigger, maltier beer than the Blonde, I ultimately didn't care for it. The honey left a flavor, despite what everyone claims, and the combination of high alcohol sweetness, honey flavor and the base flavor of the Cowboy Golden Lager recipe left a cloying kind of flavor that I couldn't get past. A couple months of conditioning made it decent, but further conditioning after that made it worse. I poured out half of the last PET bottle after drinking just a few sips.

#3, Mr. Beer Eye Opener Sumatra Stout
My first premium recipe and my first attempt at steeping grains. I'm not sure the half pound of crystal did anything, and I don't know what the bit of oatmeal I steeped at the last minute did. This came out as a very tart and thick beer with a nonexistent head and none of the creaminess you expect from a stout. It isn't bad, and I still drink it from time to time.

For reference, the 'tart' flavor is very much like the Alaskan Oatmeal Stout, so I don't think there was anything wrong with the recipe or process - it just isn't my style.

#4, Mr. Beer American Devil IPA
My second premium recipe, and the first time that steeping grains made a difference. In retrospect, I should have just steeped CaraPils. I didn't have an appreciation at the time for the flavor impact Crystal malt would have, even just the Crystal 15 variant. This as also my first time adding and boiling DME, and my first time using US-05.

This was my first indication that maybe the dipshits on the forums weren't quite as knowledgeable as their 3 years brewing and their matter-of-fact attitude would have you believe. Half a pound of Crystal is NOT appropriate for steeping in ANY Mr. Beer recipe, as it has a significant flavor contribution. This IPA wasn't bad - it was my favorite beer so far, and I went through it quickly. However, to this day I don't know what American Devil IPA is supposed to taste like due to the Crystal 15 I added.

As for the recipe, it was not hoppy at all, not even to me (I was not a hophead at the time). Bitterness was pretty high, but little to no hop character. A very malty, caramely beer.

#5, Mr. Beer Pilothouse Pilsner
Not a true czech pilsner, so I had no idea what to expect. My first time using CaraPils and my first time using Danstar Nottingham. I'd heard that if you fermented Nottingham cold, you'd get something close to a lager. I fermented too cold, and didn't do a diacetyl rest, and ended up with butterscotch flavored beer. It never went away. There was a slight hop bite, but not much hop flavor. Overall not great, but not terrible either.

#6, Mr. Beer Witty Monk Witbier
Unfortunately this turned out to be more Blue Moon than Hoegaarden, and more orange beer than white beer. The orange flavor was so powerful in the wort that it smelled like cough medicine. On top of that, I used  the Fermentis T-58 ale yeast, on the recommendation that it worked well with witbiers and other belgians. Perhaps that is the case with normal witbiers, but this was a Mr. Beer witbier and nothing like a real one. I can only describe the flavor as orange-y and salty, very phenolic from the yeast which clashes strongly with the sweet orange flavor of the beer. I try to pawn this off on guests but it's still not gone.

#7, Mr. Beer German Hefeweizen
Now THIS was a success. My first time boiling hops, though not exactly ambitious - it was just a quick 15 minute flavor/aroma addition of Hallertau. Also my first time using liquid yeast, and the WLP300 worked great, producing a very nice, dry, banana-flavored hefe. Very refreshing, and pretty close to what a hefe should taste like. It reminded me of Franziskaner hefe, but of course not as good. Still not bad though.

#8, Red Tail Ale Clone (aka Burnt Toast Ale)
My first all grain and half a disaster. My mash efficiency was terrible, my brewhouse efficiency was terrible and I was dumb enough to toast my own 2-row instead of just using Victory. It was also my first time using tap water in a long time, with campden, but I didn't use enough campden and ended up with lots of chlorophenols in this one. The toasted flavor was way too strong, and the ABV was about 2% lower than the real thing.

The worst part was that I used lots of Anchor bottles, and the ones that didn't outright snap at the neck or crack simply didn't seal well. At least 8 bottles of this were wasted because they weren't carbed at all. Don't use Anchor bottles. You've been warned.

On the bright side, after several months of conditioning this went from being a disappointment to being my best beer. The carbonation was medium (unlike my later brews), the head was nice and creamy and the toasted flavor mellowed out and ended up working really well. The first beer I really missed when it was gone. The best part is that the final bottle...turned out to be a dud. Au Revoir.

#9, Mr. Beer Oktoberfest Vienna Lager
Pretty meh, overall. I used 1/4 lb of Crystal 15, which I thought would've been better than 1/2 lb. Nope, shouldn't have done it. I also thought I'd use the rest of my Hallertau (left over from batch #7) as flavor and aroma hops. Nope, shouldn't have done it. At first it tasted a lot like Negra Modelo, but with a lot of chlorophenols in it. As it aged, it definitely got more caramel-y and the Hallertau character came out. It is drinkable, but not great, and I'm just trying to get rid of it at this point.

#10, Biere de L'inde English IPA
The worst yet. I was starting to get pretty discouraged at this point.

My efficiency was still terrible - turns out this was due to MoreBeer's grain mill being set so wide it did virtually nothing. I ended up extracting a buttload of tannins, and I don't know why. I followed the same process as batch #8, which had no tannins. The taste was off and worst of all, I carbonated way too high. I ended up with gushers, bottle bombs and injuries. If allowed to warm up and go flat, this becomes an okay but not great beer. It also had some chlorophenols early on, but not as bad as earlier batches.

This one is still around, but they are gushers as often as not. The liter-sized PETs can be opened to let the CO2 out, but the glass bottles are a lost cause.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

All Grain Brewing: Adjusting for Efficiency

talk about my new system (single sparge 74%), color, flavor, specialty grains, union jack rebrew experiment

I recently tried my Union Jack clone for the first time, and it is a great IPA. The problem is that it isn't Union Jack. It's close, but not quite right.

What's wrong with it? Well, not much. I don't taste any phenols or other off flavors. Hop character is good and bitterness level is also good.

First off, I subbed Columbus for Warrior. I didn't think much of it at the time, but after learning a bit more I know that isn't a great idea. Columbus gives a harsh, lingering bitterness. If you have had Green Flash West Coast IPA, you know what I'm talking about. West Coast IPA uses a lot of Columbus and it shows - it is a powerful, bitter, grassy IPA that hits you in the face and lingers long after you stop drinking. Union Jack is the opposite - smooth bitterness and citrus-resin sweetness make it seem way less bitter than its 75 IBUs advertise.

So, I'll be using Warrior next time. Magnum might also be a good sub, but I'll go with Warrior.

Second, mine turned out drier than expected. I mashed at 145-146 and used WLP002, but I got 84% attenuation instead of 80%. I also made a slightly bigger beer with an OG of 1.072 instead of 1.070. Overall, the ABV was 7.9% instead of 7.5%. I may have to mash at a higher temperature than the original recipe calls for, which is probably just some difference with my system (or my thermometer) that I can't explain.

Finally, my version lacks much of the malt sweetness. The hops are bigger and the malt is drier and more subtle. This may partly be due to the WLP002 - it may have attenuated more than expected, thus leaving less sweetness in the final beer. However, there's another big difference between my recipe and the original - efficiency. Specifically, I got an 85% brewhouse efficiency (88% mash efficiency), while the recipe was designed around 70%.

Why does this make a difference? Can't you just scale all of the grains so you end up with the same OG and that's that? Well, that's what I thought, but now that I've been thinking about it I'm not so sure.

Imagine an extreme situation where Jimmy the Noob finds a great recipe, but that recipe assumes 100% efficiency. Alas, Jimmy only get 50% efficiency in his no-sparge BIAB setup. Jimmy really wants to make this beer, though, so he says 'fuck it, I'm going to double all of my grains. What difference will it make, anyway?'.

What difference? Well, just imagine if that recipe uses black barley or black patent malt. British crystal 165. Special B. Have you figured it out yet?

Efficiency is a measure of how much starch is converted to sugar (conversion efficiency) and how much of that sugar is rinsed out of the grain and into your kettle (sparge efficiency?), minus any losses you might get (absorbed by hops, spilled, etc), which leads to your final Brewhouse Efficiency (TM). Having a higher efficiency will lead to more sugars (both fermentable sugars and dextrins) being extracted, my hypothesis is that it does not significantly affect the extraction of secondary characteristics: flavor, color and proteins (body/head retention).

In other words, it is my supposition that doubling your efficiency will double the amount of sugar present in your wort, but will not make your wort twice as dark, have twice the head head retention or have twice as much 'flavor' (whatever that means).

What does this mean in practice? Jimmy will double all of his grains, both base malts and specialty grains. His base malts already don't add much flavor, especially if he uses American 2-row, but now he is using twice as many flavorful caramel and roasted malts. He ends up with a WAY maltier/roasted/caramel/raisin/coffee/whatever flavor. He can barely taste the hops, and it turns out super sweet because of all the crystal malt. It ends up black instead of brown. The chocolate malt becomes overpowering. It is a completely different beer. Jimmy still drinks it, and doesn't care, because Jimmy is a noob.

What if Jimmy left all of his specialty grains the same, but only increased his 2-row? He more than doubles the amount of two-row so that the OG of his new recipe matches the original. His beer comes out a little better, but not quite as flavorful as he expected. He's making progress though; perhaps he isn't such a noob after all.

The problem with the opposite extreme is that your base malt is normally a clean, neutral canvas that you paint with specialty grain. American 2-row is so neutral that it doesn't really contribute much flavor on its own. Imagine if you more than doubled all of your 2-row while leaving everything else the same. Instead of an 80/10/5/5 split, you end up with an something more like a 95/3/1/1 split. Your specialty malts suddenly pale in comparison. You can't even taste the chocolate malt anymore. The small percentage of crystal means you have very little sweetness or mouth-feel. If you are using highly kilned malts like Maris Otter, the problem will be much worse.

The color is probably about right, though.

As you have probably guessed, the real answer is somewhere in between these two extremes. There might be a recipe that will convert the 100% efficiency recipe down to 50% and result in a near perfect clone. The problem is that your perception of flavor and body is inexact and/or subjective. There is no formula that will take one recipe and convert it exactly. Your recipe will be completely different from the original, and you will have to arrive at it by trial and error over perhaps dozens of batches.

The first solution is to always shoot for 65-75% efficiency, as a homebrewer. Getting a really high efficiency can lead to a lower quality of wort (I'll leave that discussion for another day), but it also means there's a large difference between the recipe you use and the one written in the book. You end up making Jimmy's beer and placing last in your local homebrew competition because you ended up making an American Stout instead of an American Brown.

The second thing to do, once you have your efficiency in the 65-75% range, is to leave all of your specialty grains in the same amount as the original recipe (scaled to your batch size, of course). Then you want to increase or decrease only your base malt (2-row, pilsener, whatever) until you match the recipe's OG. If you are within 5-10% of the original efficiency, this shouldn't require much more or less malt and the overall character should match what the recipe designer envisioned.

Let me repeat, however, that this is just a hypothesis. I plan to try this on my next brewing of my Union Jack clone. Ultimately, you have to design recipes to match your own system, even if you are following someone else's recipes, and it will take a lot of experience and trial & error to get exactly what you want.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

All Grain Recipe: #20 Triple-X Sweet Stout

I'll confess that I'm a big fan of Stouts. Maybe it's because they were among the first complex, craft beers I ever had, and maybe it's because I love coffee and chocolate and all those other flavors that define a good Stout. Or maybe it's because back before I appreciated hops, Stouts were just the kind of malt-forward, mild but interesting experience I was looking for.

Now I'm brewing my own beer and I appreciate all styles of craft beer. I love hops and bitter, extreme beers. I made a Mr. Beer Stout recipe and was really disappointed - it didn't have the flavors or drinkability I expected, and I still haven't finished the batch from over 6 months ago. Do I still like Stouts?

Well, there's more to the style than just 'Stout'. There are dry stouts like Guiness Draught, which tastes like water and stale coffee. Add a little more body and you've got Guiness Extra Stout, which I think is pretty good. Beef it up even more and you've got the Foreign Extra Stout, a Stout brewed at higher gravity specifically for import (I haven't had this). Add oatmeal for a thicker, creamier texture and you get an Oatmeal Stout, of which Sam Smith's Oatmeal Stout is far and away my favorite.

Then there's the Imperial Stout, a terrifying monstrosity that approaches or even surpasses 10% ABV and actually has late hopping. These things are thick, alcoholic and must be aged months or even years before they reach their prime.

Oatmeal stouts were my favorite. I say 'were' because I recently had a Milk Stout made by a brewery in Alaska (it might be Kenai River Brewing Co., but don't quote me on that). It was my first Sweet Stout, and it was a revelation. It combined my favorite things in the world: beer, espresso/chocolate and milk. Now, it didn't literally contain chocolate, espresso and milk, but I'll be damned if it didn't taste like having an alcoholic espresso!

In fact, the official BJCP guidelines agree:
A very dark, sweet, full-bodied, slightly roasty ale. Often tastes like sweetened espresso.
Damn right.

Sweet Stouts are actually not sweet. They are also called 'Milk Stouts' because of the use of unfermentable lactose (milk sugar). This thickens up the body and gives it a barely perceptible 'milk-like' character, especially in the finish. Lactose isn't sweet. Seriously, try some right out of the bag.

However, a Sweet Stout doesn't have to be made with lactose. It can be sweet or not. It can be astringent and start or smooth and chocolatey. The important thing is that it has a thick body, moderate alcohol, low hop bitterness, no hop flavor, is relatively clean with only a slight fruitiness and is dominated by 'roasty' flavors. Lactose just happens to be the easiest and most traditional way to get the perfect character for this style, and I wouldn't recommend doing it any other way.

If you insist on having a 'sweet' Sweet Stout, try using a yeast with low attenuation like WLP002. I used a more attenuative, less fruity strain, WLP007. If it still isn't sweet enough for you, tough luck - sweet is a relative term when it comes to beer.

Another thing about Milk Stouts: they have a nice creamy head upon pouring, but it disappears almost immediately. This is not a flaw. Bad head retention is a typical trait of commercial examples (rare as they are), no matter how good they are. You'll just have to get over it. Don't go on BeerAdvocate and ding a Milk Stout you just tried because the head was gone in five seconds!

Speaking of commercial examples, the only one I've personally found on store shelves is Young's Double Chocolate Stout. I remember it being quite good, and didn't know it was a Sweet Stout at the time. It isn't to style though, since it is made with chocolate. Some beers I'd like to try are Left Hand Milk Stout, Rogue Double Chocolate Stout (though the high ABV is suspicious) and a couple examples from Terrapin, none of which I have been able to find locally.

The recipe I used came from The Jamil Show episode on Sweet Stout. JZ gives the same recipe in his Brewing Classic Styles, where he calls it Triple-X. The name is an homage to JZ's favorite Sweet Stout, Mackeson's XXX. I can only assume that he modeled his recipe after that beer.

What will jump out at you immediately is the insane amount of Black Patent malt in this recipe. According to JZ, he prefers to use Black malt in sweet stouts and Roasted Barley in his other stouts. I was worried about this at first, especially when I tried a sample at bottling time and found it to be tart and bitter, even astringent, from the large amount of black malt.

Don't worry. Don't change the recipe. It turned out great, the best beer I've ever made. The lactose, thick body and bitter roastiness of the black malt all come together to make something you'd never expect. It is perfect, and I plan to brew this beer over and over again. In fact, this won't just be my house stout: it will be my house beer, period.

Also, the wife loves it.

Anyway, below is my recipe, followed by the 6 gallon original recipe from The Jamil Show and Brewing Classic Styles. The original recipe also includes my notes from the show, which you should definitely read.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

All Grain Recipe: #19 JZ's American Pale Ale

You know what I haven't made yet? An APA. Seriously. I've made three IPAs and a load of other stuff, but not one good old fashioned Pale Ale.

Since I've been having some process issues and have been worried that my efficiency is too high, I'm changing things up. Thus the need for a simple beer, where I can focus wholly on my process. I'm switching to a single batch sparge BIAB, which should get me mid to upper 70s efficiency. Compare this to the 90+ efficiency double batch sparge BIAB that I've been using, but I feel like has been giving me slightly grainy or astringent flavors in some of my beers (not all, just some).

I've also picked up some 5.2 pH Stabilizer from Five Star. I never picked it up because it seemed too expensive, but when you do the math it turns out to cost about 25 cents per batch. That's perfectly reasonable. I don't want to buy a pH meter or add acid or acid malt to my mash, I just want it to work, and that's what this is supposed to do. Here's hoping.

I'm also standardizing my mineral additions. Hoppy beers get 3 grams of calcium chloride in the mash and 3 grams of gypsum in the boil. The calcium chloride in the mash is to get at least 50 ppm of calcium to aid in conversion, while the gypsum is there for flavor in hop forward beers. Lighter or maltier beers (low IBUs and little to no late hopping) will get a simple 4 grams of calcium chloride in the mash. No exceptions - I don't want differences in mineral additions between batches to confuse my results.

Next, I'll be adding gelatin to the secondary to help drop out yeast. Currently, it takes 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator to get a halfway clear beer. I hope that the addition of gelatin finings will speed that up. To use gelatin, combine a half cup of distilled or RO, chlorine-free water with about 1/4 - 1/2 TSP (that's teaspoon) for a 3 gallon batch, or 1/2 to 1 TSP for a 5-6 gallon batch. Heat it slowly until nice and evenly mixed and at around 150 - 170 F. DO NOT BOIL. Pour it into secondary (make sure the gelatin is at least 100 F at this time, don't let it cool more than that) and rack your beer on top of it. Let it sit for a week on the gelatin and gently rack off for bottling.

Finally, I'm setting 2.3 volumes of CO2 as my standard. I will not go over 2.3 volumes unless the style demands it (Hefeweizens or Belgians, for example). I've found that when bottle conditioning, the carbonation I get from a calculation for 2.3 volumes is different than one would expect from kegging to the same CO2 level, so I should aim for lower carbonation rather than higher.

As for the recipe itself, I'm using JZ's American Pale Ale recipe from The Jamil Show American Pale Ale episode. I estimated 75% brewhouse efficiency. I ended up getting 78% extract efficiency and 74% brewhouse efficiency after losses to flameout hops. I also dry hopped even though the recipe didn't call for it.

Here's my recipe, followed by the original 6 gallon recipe.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Carbonation: Carbonation Levels and Priming Sugar

Lately I've been having a spate of beers that I've felt were overcarbonated. For some styles, especially American Ales, higher carbonation is okay. Too much carbonation can make other styles taste harsh and hide the malt character, especially british-style ales and ales with lots of crystal malts or malt complexity. In particular, my English IPA, Arrogant Bastard clone and English-style Apple Ale all ended up with enough carbonation to taste unpleasantly harsh. Several of my beers lately have also been gushers and require long refrigeration periods to avoid gushing.

Taste and mouth feel aren't the only problems. Last night while grabbing a few beers out of the closet I dropped one of my English IPAs. It only dropped 6 inches to the ground, but it EXPLODED. Blood and broken glass everywhere, lots of freaking out by the wife. I ended up with several small cuts on my calves and one long gash that exposed some subcutaneous tissue. Fortunately it was shallow and I closed it with some butterfly bandages and got a tetanus booster and it'll probably be okay, but it could easily have been worse.

I'm only going into disgusting details to stress the point: beer and glass is no joke! Watch your carbonation levels and be careful with your glass carboys unless you want a major hospital visit!


CO2 is measured in what is called 'volumes'. A volume is defined as a 1:1 ratio of CO2 and liquid, measured at 1 atomsphere of pressure. For example, one gallon of beer with one gallon of CO2 dissolved into it would have 1 volume of CO2 dissolved in it.

I use BeerSmith for both the priming sugar calculation and the recommended carbonation levels. Every style definition in BeerSmith has a carbonation range. For example, the English IPA style recommends 2.2 - 2.7 volumes of carbonation.

The first thing I considered was that I always calculate my priming sugar before measuring my final bottling volume. I look at the side of the keg and try to estimate how much beer is in there and I use that volume in the priming sugar calculation. The problem is that I always lose some of that to trub and yeast, so my volume is lower and my carbonation is higher than predicted.

Here's an example. With my English IPA (#10) I thought I had 11 quarts, because that's how much went into the fermentor. I used 73 gm for 11 quarts to create 2.6 volumes. The actual volume racked into the bottling bucket was 10 quarts. 73 grams of corn sugar added to 10 quarts actually creates almost 2.8 volumes, way higher than I intended!

The solution I've adopted to avoid this is to rack first, measure carefully using the markings on the bottling bucket and THEN calculate and mix the priming sugar. Problem solved, right?

Not really. 2.6 volumes is way too damn high for an English IPA to begin with. I didn't know this at the time, as I didn't realize that English IPAs have a more delicate flavor and need a lower carbonation than American IPAs to bring out that flavor. I started looking around at various resources on the web and realized that BeerSmith is full of shit!

Here are some carbonation levels for an English IPA from various sources:

In retrospect, I would probably carbonate at 2.0 volumes or less.

In summary, here are the things to watch out for when carbonating:
  • Don't use BeerSmith's carbonation recommendations, they are bullshit. Use TastyBrew or Beer Recipator. The BeerSmith sugar calculation is probably fine, though. I plan to go through and edit all of my BeerSmith style definitions to use better carbonation recommendations.
  • Don't measure your priming sugar until after you've racked to your bucket. If you are taking a hydrometer sample and drinking it or throwing it out, use the volume that's left after removing the hydrometer sample for your calculations.
  • Refrigerate your beer as long as possible. This not only gives you crystal clear beer, it ensures that the carbonation is properly dissolved in the beer.
  • Adjust your priming sugar calculation for the temperature of the beer at bottling. Fermentation produces CO2, which stays in the beer as 'residual CO2'. This is why you often see bubbles in your beer as it passes through your racking tubes. This can be close to 1 volume, so it is significant, and the amount depends on temperature. A beer bottled at 50 F will need less sugar than one bottled at 80 F, because cold liquid holds more CO2.
  • When in doubt, use less priming sugar than you think you might need, or stick to the rule of thumb '3/4 cup per 5 gallons'. This equates to 4 ounces or 113 grams of corn sugar for 5 gallons of racked beer, and will give you 2.3 volumes of CO2. This is too much for English styles and too little for some German and Belgian styles, but will work fine for most American styles.
  • If you are afraid of bottle bombs (unlikely unless you carbonated to 4 or 5 volumes, did not allow fermentation to finish or used really shitty bottles), put them all in a box or heavy duty bag. You do not want to go blind or slice open an artery. And for shit's sake, don't drop any!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Hops Smell Like Cat Piss!

Okay, so I was cleaning the litter box today and I smelled...hops. hops are all in the freezer what is going on...ooooooooh, yeah. Didn't I read somewhere that some hops smell like cat pee?

Yes, yes I did. Apparently, some call it reminiscent of 'gooseberries' or 'black currants', but cat owners just know it smells like cat piss. Some say that only certain hops have the smell, but I find that this is the main smell of most hops - some just have it worse than others. It's more of a background smell, not that main, in your face smell that makes you gag when you stick your face in a litter box.

This is a catch 22 - I either hate hops or I love cat pee. (note: in this thread, one person claims that the smell comes from a reaction during fermentation, which is most definitely bullshit: I can take my hops out of the freezer right now and they will smell like cat piss to me, no fermentation necessary).

Monday, June 13, 2011

BeerSmith 2 is out today!

Check it out,

Highlights for me are the ability to set boil volume in absolute amounts instead of percent and the ability to adjust the grain absorbtion for your system.

Also great is the idea of estimated vs measured values. BeerSmith 1 had this for OG and FG, but BeerSmith 2 lets you have measured mash efficiency vs expected, measured brewhouse efficiency vs expected, measured boil volume vs expected, measured batch volume vs expected and measured bottling volume vs expected. There's probably more, but what this means is you can use one recipe entry to hold the recipe you tried to follow as well as what actually happened. Before, I started with the recipe I had in mind and had to modify it to match what actually happened (for example, if my evaporation rate was off and I had to change the final batch volume to match). By doing so, I lost the original recipe. I like it, though it still needs to be extended to priming sugar calculations for the expected volume vs the actual volume after trub loss.

There's also a lot more data in general, with each recipe being divided into multiple tabs. While the organization within the tabs could be better and more intuitive, it's an excellent first step. The sheer amount of data that BeerSmith 2 records and calculates is mind boggling and will let OCD brewers like me really get into the guts of their recipes.

Another small but nice improvement I noticed is the ability to adjust the level of precision for your units. I was always annoyed that BeerSmith let you input values for several decimal places, but only displayed two units if you tabbed out of the field. If you wanted to input 6 ounces exactly, you had to type 0.375 into the field and immediately hit enter. If you tabbed out of the field, or if you opened the ingredient again and hit okay, it would round off to .38, which is 6.08 ounces, and then round AGAIN to 6.1 ounces. Now you can type in whatever precision you'd like, as long as you set the precision level in the units options.

The most obvious changes are the massive interface improvements, with the most notable being tabbed browsing. You can now have as many recipes, tools and other doodads open as you want. Welcome to 2011, BeerSmith.

There are tons of new features that I can't get into, but I highly recommend you upgrade to BeerSmith 2 immediately. It is more than worth the cost, and it will only get better as the developer continues to fix bugs and add features. BeerSmith 2 is by far the best brewing software there is, marred only by a few minor issues that I'd never have noticed if it wasn't so damn good otherwise.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

All Grain Recipe: #18 Stone Levitation Clone

Levitation is a 'light' session beer made by Stone Brewing Co. Like most other beers by Stone, Levitation doesn't really have a 'style'. If you had to assign a label to it, you could call it an American Amber, even though it consists of British malts, British yeast and American hops. Levitation is a pun: it is light and thus defies gravity.

Unlike Stone's other beers, Levitation bucks the 'more of everything' trend by being a 4.4% ABV session beer. It has a lot of malt flavor and a big focus on hops (45 IBU, 4 separate late hop additions), but low alcohol and a very light body. The big flavor almost clashes with the light, almost watery mouth feel of the beer, but overall it works.

Levitation is a great beer, but my main problem with it is that it costs the same as many other bigger, more impressive beers. For a session beer, that is a bad thing. Consider that you might go through a 6-pack of Levitation instead of a bomber of Arrogant Bastard. Still, sometimes that's exactly what you need: a beer that won't get you trashed when hanging out and drinking all night.

This ends up being a pretty cheap beer to clone. If you can perfect it, you can save a lot of money over the usual $10 per six pack price.

My recipe is below, followed by the original 6-gallon recipe from Can You Brew It (episode link here).

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Off Flavors: DMS

I popped open a bottle of batch #11, my all grain wheat recipe from Brewing Classic Styles. I thought this batch was a disaster, at first because I overpitched, then because I thought it overattenuated, and yet again when I thought it was infected.

Things have definitely changed. It is by far the most beautifully pale beer I've ever made. The head is huge and fluffy and lasts forever. Before stirring up the yeast, it was beautifully clear. It looks great in my hefeweizen glass. The flavors are definitely different than my first wheat; my last one tasted very much like banana. This one doesn't taste like banana at all. Instead it has a spicy flavor and something else that is slightly funky that I can't put my finger on.

And one more thing.

It tastes slightly like cooked corn.

Sure, it is subtle. But I'm pretty sure it's there. Cooked corn flavor. I looked over my records, and I only boiled 60 minutes.

Listen up kids, here's the lesson for today.

Always boil any recipe with a significant percentage of pilsner malt for a minimum of 90 minutes!!!

DMS stands for Dimethyl sulfide. It has a pretty low taste threshold and tastes like cooked corn. The more lightly kilned a malt is, the more DMS precursors it has in it. A 60-minute boil is generally enough to drive off all DMS from darker malts like 2-row. Pilsener malt, however, is as light as you can get, and thus produces a ton of DMS when boiled.

What do I mean by 'drive off'? DMS precursors turn into DMS when heated. However, this is counteracted by a 'vigorous' boil. As it is created, the DMS is circulated up to the top of the water and driven off into the air. This only works if you have a rolling boil and you do not cover your pot while you boil. If you ever wondered why all the literature tells you to have an uncovered, rolling boil, now you know. It doesn't have to be leaping up at you, but the water has to be circulating in the pot and evaporating. For a pilsener malt, it takes at least 90 minutes to get all that stuff out of your wort.

Now I have a bunch of corn hefeweizen. Oh well, I'm probably the only one who can taste it. Besides, I boil *all* my beers for 90 minutes now in order to have more water for sparging.

Note: You can supposedly get DMS from cooling to slowly. I cool via ice bath, and have never had a problem with DMS before. Also, some people practice a no-chill method of cooling wherein they leave their wort overnight in a sealed container to cool. I haven't run into DMS from using an ice bath, but be aware that it is *possible* to end up with DMS in your beer if your cooling method is too slow and you use very light malts.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

All Grain Recipe: #17 Janet's Brown Ale

Janet's Brown Ale is a hoppy American Brown Ale originally designed by famed home brewer Mike "Tasty" McDole. The story goes that this was a favorite of Mike's late wife, Janet, and he named it for her.

Mike also brewed this for the 2009 GABF ProAm and was invited as a guest brewer to Russian River Brewery in Santa Rosa, where they made a full sized batch of the stuff.

Style-wise, it is somewhere in between an American Brown and a Black IPA. Whether "Black IPA" should even be considered a style is up for debate, as some consider Black IPA to be nothing more than an American IPA with a bit of black patent thrown in. This recipe is definitely too hoppy to be a brown, and too 'roasty' to be an IPA.

I haven't had Russian River's or Mike's version of this recipe, but mine is definitely the best beer I've ever brewed. Flavor is incredibly clean with a light, roasted background flavor. The body is thick but drinkable and the bitterness is high but balances perfectly. Finally, the massive centennial flavor is presented so well here that it has now become my favorite hop. This is the first brew to make me consider 5 gallon batches, and my first beer that I think could win an award.

Below is the recipe scaled to my system, followed by the original recipe from Brewing Classic Styles.

Friday, June 3, 2011

All Grain: Grain Absorbtion

BeerSmith has incorrectly calculated my pre-boil volume for several batches now and I finally decided to figure out why.

Normally, I use the tools in the recipe screen to calculate water volume (i.e. equipment profile). I hunted around and I found the "Water Needed" tool under the Tools section. I plugged in all of my equipment profile data and saw that it was calculating grain absorbtion. Since that was the only place that water could mysteriously disappear, and I hadn't been considering it in the past, I figured that was the place to look.

According to Designing Great Beers, page 64, the amount of water trapped in the spent grain is predictable: 80% water, 20% spent grain. He says that while you can weigh your spent grain, it is safe to assume that the grain weighs 40% of its original weight after mashing and sparging. You then multiply this value by 4, since there is 4 times more water in their than grain.

Let's use a recent batch as an example. I started with 7.03 lbs. of grain. After mashing, it should weight 2.812 lbs, and have absorbed 4 times that amount in water: 11.248 lbs. Water weights 8 lbs. per gallon (also according to Designing Great Beers, page 64), so that means I lost 1.406 gallons, or 5.624 quarts. I then used the BeerSmith "Weight to Volume" tool to find that water weighs 8.35 lbs. per gallon, and confirmed that value with a google search. So the real amount lost to grain is 1.347 gallons or 5.39 quarts. he also has a table that you can refer to (Table 8.1, page 64). When you look up '7' under 'pounds of grain mashed', you get 1.5 gallons, or 6 quarts. This is even more off than the hand calculation, which itself was pretty flawed.

Now let's try BeerSmith's "Water Needed" tool. I plugged in 7.03 lbs of grain and got 3.37 quarts of water lost. According to BeerSmith, they use a static amount of water lost per pound of grain and you can't change it. This is a shame because, as we are about to see, everyone's system loses different amounts of water to grain. BIAB, in particular, loses less water.

What did I actually get in practice? Let's go over my method. I mashed in with 10 quarts of water, lifted the bag out and held it over the pot while it drained. Then I placed it over a bowl on top of a cooling rack to drain while I poured the sweet wort into a bucket. Whatever drained into the bowl (a couple of ounces) gets tossed in too before I stirred and took a gravity reading. I repeated this same thing with both sparge batches. I did not squeeze, poke or otherwise fiddle with the bag.

I started with 20.5 quarts of water. I ended up with 17.75 quarts of water in the kettle. Loss to grains was thus 2.75 quarts: significantly less than either calculation. That means I lost 0.3912 quarts per pound, while BeerSmith assumed I would lose 0.4794 quarts per pound and Mr. Daniels suggested that I would lose a whopping 0.8 quarts per pound.

The lesson here is that you should not assume your system will *ever* produce the same results as someone else's, no matter how predictable they claim the value is. Take recommendations with a grain of salt, use them as a starting point and DO YOUR OWN EXPERIMENTS.

Why is this even important? If you end up with more water in your kettle after mashing, that means you either have to leave some out, thus lowering your efficiency, or boil longer, or end up with more beer with a lower gravity. Boiling longer is the only choice if you want to try and create the same beer you were aiming for, but that can be pretty unpredictable too.

edit: My new calculation of 0.3912 quarts of grain loss per pound worked flawlessly. On the very next batch, I got the exact boil volume predicted, give or take a few ounces measurement error.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Infection False Alarm

I opened a two-week-old bottle of batch #11, my Hefeweizen, only to have it overflow all over the counter!

Yes, my first gusher. A 'gusher' is, as you probably guessed, the term used when your beer is overcarbonated and spills out when uncapped. To be a true gusher, you can't have shaken, dropped or frozen the beer beforehand, and it doesn't really count if it only lasts a couple of seconds. A real gusher will pour out what seems like an endless amount as time slows down and you think about all the beer you're losing.

What the hell went wrong? Carbonation was calculated perfectly. The beer was refrigerated. My sanitation was as good (read: paranoid) as ever.

I recalled that my refractometer measurement had put this beer's FG at 1.006 - pretty damn low, but I figured it was just a super active yeast. Furthermore, the yeast used in this batch was a repitch from a previous batch.

My thoughts went immediately to a gusher infection - wherein wild yeast invades your beer and starts to ferment the stuff that your normal yeast won't ferment. When this happens, your beer continues to ferment down to the point where it is nothing but alcohol and water, continuously producing CO2 until your bottles eventually explode from the pressure.

I started to freak, and assumed that I had gotten wild yeast in my WLP300 when I washed and bottled it. To test my hypothesis, I opened up a bottle of batch #12, the Pliny the Elder clone I brewed with a repitched WLP001: GUSHER.

At this point I'm running around like a chicken with its head cut off. I open one more bottle of pliny and two more bottles of hefeweizen, all gushers. I of course drank them, which left me in a less than clear state of mind. Did you expect me to commit alcohol abuse? I think not.

The next day, with a clear head, I start doing some experiments to find the problem. If the infection came from yeast repitching, there shouldn't be an infection in batch #15 or #13, but there would be in #14. If the infection was in the fermentor, it would be in #11 (the hefe), #12 (pliny), #14 and #15 (brewed in the same fermentors as #11 and #12). If it was in the bottling bucket, then #13 would be infection free (and thus have a normal FG) until bottled.

It was then that I discovered that my refractometer readings were off. By a lot. Normally, you can get a gravity reading of fermented wort with a refractometer if you plug it into BeerSmith along with the OG. The problem is that when double checked against a hydrometer reading, the refractometer reading was coming up 1 plato short. Consistently.

Thus it was that I thought my hefeweizen had 88% attenuation and my pliny had 93% attenuation. When I added 1 plato to their FGs and plugged in the numbers, the hefe went down to 75% and the pliny went down to 85% - both normal. Batch #13 also matched the hydrometer's reading perfectly if 1 brix was added.

Note: the refractometer reads OGs perfectly, so I'm not throwing it out. In fact, I may keep using it for FGs if it is consistently off by 1, because I can just add 1 - duh.

So, if the 'infection' didn't cause my beers to overattenuate, why did it cause gushers? Well, apparently it didn't. A pliny I put in the fridge the night before poured perfectly (and tasty, if a little grassy). A hefeweizen I poured several days later after refrigerating for a night also came out very nice (and also the palest beer I've ever managed to make!).

It turns out that because CO2 dissolves better in cold liquids, it is possible to get a gusher simply because you didn't refrigerate your beer long enough. This doesn't explain why my first bottle gushed, but it may have been inadequate mixing in the bottling bucket. I guess I'll never know.

I learned several lessons here - double check your FG with a hydrometer, even if you have a refractometer, refrigerate your beer adequately, make sure your priming sugar is 100% mixed in on bottling day, don't open your beer any earlier than two weeks bottled and RELAX. I learned these lessons the hard way so you don't have to!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

All Grain Recipe: #16 Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA

I finally tried Firestone Walker's Union Jack IPA and I was floored. It has an incredible hop character, strongly pine-y and resin-y with hints of citrus. It is balanced by just enough malt sweetness to combine with the hops to create a candy-like, vanilla, date, cake sort of flavor. However, it is dry enough to not be cloying. It has a very similar character to Lagunitas Hop Stoopid and Green Flash Imperial IPA, but way drier. Where Hop Stoopid is thick and chewy and Green Flash is sweet to the point of cloying (I could barely finish the bottle), Union Jack manages to hit the same level of complexity without becoming overpoweringly sweet.

I immediately sought out a clone recipe and found that The Brewing Network did an episode of Can You Brew It on Union Jack. Huzzah!

Episode here.

It turns out to be a pretty complicated recipe.

The flavor is primarily tons of Cascade and Centennial in the boil, followed by a whirlpool aroma steep of more Cascade and Centennial, followed by two huge dry hop additions.

The mash is done really low (145) to dry out the beer, but then they use WLP002 English Ale yeast to maintain some residual sugar. Their mash is also a double infusion, where they raise the temp for the last 10-20 minutes to make sure it is fully converted.

Even their fermentation is complicated, requiring that you pitch at a low temperature and keep it there until yeast growth is complete (a day or so), probably to minimize ester production by the english yeast, then raise the temp (but still not too high).

The main thing I learned when making this beer is to always use a hop bag and make sure it is tied off super tight so no hops come out of the top. Holy shit was it a disaster!

The centennial I got from MoreBeer was not fully pulverized. Instead of a thick hop sludge, I had a chunky mass of hop leaves. Some got out because I didn't tie off my hop bag well enough and the hops clogged my siphon. I ended up just dumping the whole pot into the fermentor because I couldn't siphon it all out.

I also had the bright idea of dry hopping without a bag (note: I used a bag for batch #12, my last dry hop experience, and it was fine). I ended up losing close to a gallon of beer due to absorption by the hops and spigot clogging. To avoid losing even more, I ended up pouring from the top of the keg through a sanitized strainer into the bottling bucket. Bottling took forever.

I will never go without a hop bag again. I don't care if you get better extraction, or more flavor, it isn't worth the hassle.

Here's my recipe, immediately followed by the original 6 gallon CYBI recipe.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Water: Chlorine, Chloramine and Chlorophenols, my nemeses

I hate chlorine, and you should too.

Most municipal water is treated with chlorine or chloramine to kill bugs. This helps to guarantee that the stuff that comes out of your tap won't kill you. The problem for brewers is twofold: deadly organisms can't survive in beer anyway, and chlorines can do bad things to the flavor of your beer.

Chlorine isn't so bad. Chlorine is volatile, and will leave your water pretty easily. You can either boil your water to remove it, or you can just let it sit out overnight. Furthermore, you can taste the chlorine in your water; no nasty surprises.

Chloramine is stealthier. You can't taste it or smell it. You won't know it's there unless you read your city's water report. You can only see if it you fill a large, white container with a very large volume of water, and even then it is  a very faint blue-green color that you might not even notice. Even worse, chloramine doesn't dissipate as easily. In fact, that's why cities are using it now: it is more likely to stay in your water, so they can use less and be sure that it keeps killing things all the way to your house. However, this means that it won't come out of your brewing water as easily as chlorine would.

Even if you don't use chlorinated brewing water, chlorine can get in your water if you sanitize with bleach and don't rinse adequately. Don't use bleach, just use a proper no rinse brewing sanitizer like Star-San.

If it is soooo hard to remove, why bother? The problem is that yeast produce special compounds called 'phenols'. Phenols are okay in certain amounts and in certain styles. They give Belgians and Hefeweizens much of their character, for example. Phenols can have a spicy, plastic-y, medicinal or clove-like flavor. You definitely don't want too much of that in most beers, *especially* the medicinal, band-aid like flavor.

The problem is that yeast eat chlorine and chloramine and produce 'chlorophenols'. These phenols have extremely low taste thresholds; you can taste them even if they exist in only a few parts per billion. Your beer will have a difficult to define 'sharp' or chemical flavor, and usually a plastic or band-aid aftertaste, like you just stuck your nose into a first-aid kit. If the amount is low enough, you might only be able to taste it when you burp.

My first batch ever used tap water. I used it as top-off to a Mr. Beer Classic American Blonde kit. After two weeks carbing, the first thing I tasted was green apple (acetaldehyde, generally a sign that you used too much simple sugar in your beer and haven't let it age long enough to compensate). The second thing I tasted was medicine.

I started using spring and distilled water, and the problem went away. Starting with my first all-grain, however, I decided to go back to using tap water. I learned that Campden tablets (sodium metabisulphite) could be added to remove chlorine and chloramine at a rate of 1 tablet per 20 gallons, so I used 1/4 to 1/2 tablet per batch. I did the same thing on all future batches: 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14. Then I cracked open batch 8, and had an unpleasant surprise. Yep, medicine burps. My friend swore he couldn't taste it, but there was no sign of the taste in batches 2-7, while batches 8-10 all have it.

Blah blah blah, TLDR, so how do you deal with it? Here are your options, in order of cost:

If you're using chlorine, put all your brewing water in a big container (bottling bucket, mash tun, whatever) and let it sit for a day or two before using it. This does NOT work with chloramine. Cost: None.

Use one campden tablet. Do not bother cutting it in quarters. They say you only need a quarter tablet for 5 gallons, but look how well that turned out for me? There is no harm in using a full tablet, and these things are dirt cheap. Let it sit for at least 5-10 minutes before brewing, or a few hours, or all night like I do. Cost: Pennies.

Buy an activated carbon filter. By all accounts, this thing is the ultimate solution. Activated carbon removes chlorine and chloramine if you run your water through it at a very slow rate, between 2 and 5 minutes per gallon. Start your water flowing at 5 minutes per gallon (experimentation and experience will let you know what that is), set a timer for half an hour or so and come back when it beeps. The guys at MoreBeer use this method on our EBMUD water with good results, and I decided to just go for it instead of worrying constantly about my water. You have to use an activated carbon filter, not a 'brita' or 'pur' filter, and you should NEVER run hot water through it. Cost: $42.95 for the first year, $8.25 for replacement filters every year after that.

Use RO water from your grocery store. I'm sure you've seen the big water vending machine inside or out in front of the grocery store. They usually charge between 30 and 50 cents per gallon and either sell RO (Reverse Osmosis) or 'spring' water. RO water is extremely pure and lacking in minerals, so if you go this route for all grain, make sure you add brewing salts to make up for it. Cost: I use about 8 gallons per batch, and brew a batch per week. If I brew around 45 batches per year and buy my water at 35 cents/gallon at Safeway, that comes out to $126 per year. I also need to buy and store a big plastic jug to carry that water in (two, technically, since they only hold 5 gallons each).

You can also install your own RO system in your kitchen. These are generally expensive, require a lot of setup, and a lot of space for the system itself and the water tank. This is probably cheaper in the long run than bottled water, and is worth it over a carbon filter if your tap water has too many minerals in it or tastes disgusting. I'm not 100% sure if RO removes chloramine.

TLDR: Remove chlorine and chloramine from any water that touches your beer or brewing equipment - that includes sanitation water, just to be safe. Dont' sanitize with bleach. Remove chloramine with 1 campden tablet per 20 gallons or (preferably) an activated carbon filter at a very slow flow rate. I use the MoreBeer filter and a tablet in every batch now. Remove chlorine by letting it sit out a day or two, or any way that works to remove chloramine.

If I can beat this chloramine problem, that's one foe down. All that will be left is temperature control, evaporation rate consistency and fermentation temperature control.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Water: Evaporation Rate Again

I've been having a really tough time getting a consistent post-boil volume on my all-grain batches. My evaporation rate is inconsistent batch to batch despite using the exact same boil time, process and equipment.

For example:

Evaporation test with water: 5.9 quarts in 90 minutes.
Batch #13: 4.1 - 4.2 quarts in 90 minutes, so I ended up with 13.75 quarts instead of 12.
Batch #14: 0.6 quarts in 15 minutes, which is about 3.6 quarts in 90 minutes.
Batch #15: 5.8 - 5.9 quarts in 97 minutes, which is 5.4 - 5.5 quarts in 90 minutes.

All done with the same Winware 5 gallon pot on the same burner of my electric stove, and even adjusted to the same location on the burner within a millimeter of error. Humidity is generally about 55% here, and the temp has been around 72 on every brew day.

The only thing I can think of that is different is boil volume. More water in the pot takes more energy to maintain a vigorous boil. Given the anemic BTUs generated by my stove, the more water there is the less vigorous the boil will be, and thus less evaporation. Let's follow this line of reasoning:

Evaporation test: 18 boil volume, 5.9 loss in 90 minutes (maybe longer, I didn't get a warning when the water hit boiling since my stupid thermometer has an auto-shutoff 'feature'). This also may have included cooling loss, though. Plugging into BeerSmith actually gives 20%/hour, 5.4 quart loss, 0.5 qt cooling loss. Doh! Real result is 18 to 5.4.

Batch #13: 18.5 boil volume, 4.15 loss in 90 minutes. This is an anomaly; it is way too low.

Batch #14: 8.2 boil volume, 3.6 loss in 90 minutes. You'd expect this to be higher, rather than lower, if the 'vigorous boil' hypothesis is correct.

Batch #15: 16.9 boil volume, 5.4 loss in 90 minutes. Consistent with the original evaporation test, but with a lower boil volume.

I'll keep taking samples until I get something that actually works. For my next batch, I'll try 17.5 quart boil volume and an assumption of 5 quarts evaporation in 90 minutes.

Batch #16: 17.75 boil volume (higher than expected due to less loss to grain than predicted by BeerSmith), 5.64 loss in 90 minutes. Will try 17.9 boil volume next time.

Batch #17: 17.88 boil volume, 5.85 loss in 90 minutes. Will try 18.2 boil volume next time.