Saturday, April 30, 2011

All Grain Recipe: #12 Pliny the Elder clone

I don't know when it happened, but I'm a hophead now. Just a couple of months ago I didn't care for the overpowering hop flavors and aromas of west coast IPAs, and now I'm suddenly craving hops. I can only imagine it's a combination of drinking more craft beer and doing hop taste tests. Chewing on raw hop pellets can really desensitize you.

So of course, once I realized this I went out and picked up some Pliny the Elder from Russian River Brewery. I've had this before, but it was too much for me. Now it is like heaven in a glass. Dry and drinkable, with a very complex hop character that makes it far tastier than typical IPAs that tend to have a one-sided hop flavor. It is bursting in hop flavor and while the bitterness is high, it is a smooth bitterness that doesn't stick in your mouth unpleasantly (see Stone Ruination, Green Flash West Coast IPA for examples of IPAs that taste like you've been sucking on a grapefruit long after you've finished off the bottle).

Thus, next up is a clone of Pliny. Vinnie from Russian River has made no secret of his recipe - it is freely available, and many people clone it. You can get a clone kit from MoreBeer, or you can see this pdf of the recipe. The MoreBeer kit doesn't quite match the original PDF. Also, the recipe has changed over the years and apparently uses hop extract to achieve a higher bitterness than is possible with hop boiling alone.
edit: I tasted this recently and it is definitely extraordinarily bitter. It also didn't come out as dry as the real thing. The hop flavor profile is pretty close, though.

My goal is still to iron out the kinks in my process. However, I might as well make something delicious in the process. Plus, this recipe will teach me about dry hopping. I also plan to increase the batch size to make up for the large amount of trub I'm getting after boil. I'll be transferring the cooled wort to a sanitized bottling bucket, which will let me measure out exactly how much volume I ended up with and allow the trub to settle out before I transfer it via the bucket's spigot.

Here are some other things I'll be doing that are new with this batch:
Rinsing the grain only twice, but with a larger amount of water each time.
Using my new refractometer to get a feel for how well it works. I'll measure the efficiency after first, second and third runnings.
Repitching my WLP001 from batch #8 (my first all grain), and making a starter with it a few days before.
Preheating the oven to 200 F and turning it off in the hopes that it keeps temp better than leaving the oven on.
Using 200 F sparge water so that the grain is about 168-170.
Boiling 90 minutes.

In practice, I messed up a few times. The biggest one is that I calculated the water for a 60 minute boil, but the hops for a 90 minute boil. I had to adjust the amount of bittering hops to compensate for only boiling 60 minutes. Fortunately, there isn't much difference between 60 and 90 minutes when it comes to bitterness extraction, due to diminishing returns.

My 24x24 grain bag from MoreBeer finally gave up the ghost. I saw holes in the bottom and sides after this batch, so I tossed it out with the spent grain.

The second fuckup was underestimating the amount of trub. I made an 11 quart batch (actually ended up with 11.25 due to less evaporation than expected), but only racked about 9 quarts instead of 10.

Pitched from my starter mason jar and got a nice quick fermentation. The taste of this beer was incredible, even before finishing. A week later, I dropped hopped by putting the first dose in a sanitized & boiled hop bag and hanging it from the lid of the fermentor. I did the same thing with the second dose a little over a week later.

The main thing I've noticed about the result is that it is pretty harsh and not as dry as the original. The recipe gives 152 as the mash temp, but newer recipes use 148. I will probably adjust this to use 148 to attenuate more. I'll also give it a few weeks to age (it hasn't actually been 3 weeks bottled yet) before assessing the hops again. If the bitterness remains harsh, I will try a smoother 90 minute bittering hop like Warrior. Note: The Pliny recipe uses Warrior for the 90 minute addition.

Here's the recipe, from the PDF linked at the start of the post:
(edit: I've included the original 5 gallon recipe at the end).

Monday, April 25, 2011

Water: Evaporation Rate

Let's talk a little about evaporation rate. I'm going to define evaporation rate (or 'boil-off') as the volume of water that evaporates during a vigorous boil in a 1-hour period. This can be written as an absolute volume ('3 quarts') or as a percentage ('15%').

Why does this matter? If you are doing partial boils, it doesn't. You are going to top off your partial boil to the desired final volume anyway, so it really only affects how much you need to add. As long as you prepare more than you think you'll need (by adding gypsum, campden, pre-boiling, whatever) you'll be fine.

It matters a lot when you're doing full boils and all grain, though. If you want consistency and peace of mind, you need to figure out exactly how much water you'll be using, start to finish. BeerSmith has great tools that let you do this, but you need to give it accurate numbers first. Once you've configured BeerSmith, it will calculate exactly how much water you need to prepare, how much to mash and sparge with, how much will go into your boil kettle, and how much will come out.

The biggest problem with BeerSmith is that it treats evaporation rate as a percentage of total volume. Evaporation doesn't work that way. Evaporation depends on the heat (and thus, vigor) of the boil, atmospheric pressure and temperature, and the surface area of the water exposed to air. It does NOT depend on how much water you started with. If you boil 1 gallon of water in an hour when you start with 4 gallons, you will still boil off 1 gallon of water if you only have 1 gallon the pot to begin with.

I've made this mistake before, twice. First, I used a reasonable default of 15%, and ended up boiling much more than that. It turns out, the 15% value was for full boils of 5 gallon batches (7-8 gallon boil volume). Since my boils were actually half that, the 'percentage' was also half. This is a big clue that using a percentage makes no sense.

The second time, I calculated the evaporation rate of 3 gallons of water boiling for an hour, using my 6 gallon pot, to be about 0.9 gallons. This is 30% of the original 3 gallons. I plugged this into BeerSmith and it had me boil over 4 gallons. Unfortunately, 30% of 4-odd gallons is more than 30% of 3 gallons. I ended up still only boiling off 0.9-1 gallon, and had about a quart of extra water that never boiled off.

The best solution would be if BeerSmith stopped using percents for evaporation rate and allowed you to put in quarts/hour or gallons/hour. Until they fix that, here's what you do:

  • Fill a pot with approximately what your typical boil volume will be. It doesn't have to be exact. For example, 4 gallons for a half batch full boil.
  • Boil for an hour. Use the same heat level as you would during a real wort boil.
  • Immediately remove from heat and place the cover on the pot. Let it cool.
  • Carefully measure the remaining volume. Subtract the remaining volume from your starting volume. Call this your boil-off volume. For example, let's say you started with 4 gallons and ended up with 3 at the end. The boil off would be 1 gallon (4 quarts).
  • Open up the equipment configuration screen in BeerSmith. Find the two boxes labeled Evaporation Rate and Boil Off. You can change Evaporation Rate, but not Boil Off. 
  • Make sure you have configured your other values properly - top up water (0 for me), Final Volume (11 quarts for me) and Lost to Trub and Chiller (0 for me).
  • Type 30 into the Evaporation Rate box. Notice that the Boil Off value changes automatically, and is probably way too high. For me, it reads 4.91 quarts.
  • Keep adjusting the value in the Evaporation Rate box until it reaches exactly how much boil off you measured in your experiment. I tweaked the number down until the Evaporation Rate box read 25.86% and the Boil Off box read 4 quarts. Do this *every* time you change your final volume.
  • The Boil Volume should now read the amount of water you need at the beginning of a one-hour boil, if you have checked Calculate Boil Volume Automatically. For me, it now reads 15.46 quarts.
  • BeerSmith will now accurately tell you how much to sparge with and how much boil volume to use! Double check this volume on brew day - you may lose more or less water due to your own process, the time of year or the phases of the moon. Tweak this value up and down until you get consistent results every time. 
If you're curious, my Winco 20 quart stock pot has an evaporation rate of about 2.75 quarts in an hour or 4.14 quarts in 90 minutes.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

All Grain Recipe #11, or, How I Almost Made a Weizenbock

After creating a delicious Mr. Beer German Hefeweizen recipe, I was in the mood to repitch that WLP300 and make myself another hefeweizen, but this time from scratch and all grain. In the process, I learned a lot of hard lessons.

First off, I took what I learned from my previous two batches about grain crush and efficiency. I talked to the guys at MoreBeer about their grain mill being set too coarse and they tightened it up for me. I ran it through three times just because I'm paranoid, of course.

Second, I thought I'd see how well oven mashing would work. Basically, I heated my mash water to strike temp, doughed in my grain, set my oven to 170 and stuck the (covered) pot in there. I mashed for two hours just because I wanted to be 100% sure of conversion and because I wanted to take a trip to Starbucks for a ghetto iced latte (4 shots espresso, add my own milk from the condiment bar, half the price of a regular iced latte).

The temp tended to go up when set at 170, so next time I will try preheating the oven and turning it off.

I thought about doing a mashout, which is where you heat the mash to 168 in order to stop conversion and thin the mash to make sparging easier. The problem is that the temp went up so slowly that it would've taken forever to actually do it, so I gave up and just sparged three times with about 3.3 quarts each. The sparge water temp was about 170, but when added to the grain I only got 150 F. It turns out that you want the actual grain to be 168 F during sparging, so you need to heat up your sparge water closer to 200 F!

After doing a fine crush, mashing for two hours and sparging three times (not to mention squeezing the grain bag), I got a whopping 89% extract efficiency on a recipe I originally calculated for 65% efficiency! My hefeweizen had suddenly become a weizenbock.

To make up for it I let the trub settle out in my boil pot and didn't transfer the bottom couple of quarts. I then topped off the fermentor with a couple of quarts of distilled water and got an OG of 1.051.

I really don't like how haphazard all that was, though. From now on I'll be focusing harder on getting repeatably results. I've gotta be able to isolate variables and diagnose specific problems, or I'll just keep making mistakes. This is probably just a side effect of my anal retentive programmer background.

Anyway, I pitched my jar of harvested yeast and went on my way.

Here's the recipe, Harold-is-Weizen hefeweizen from Brewing Classic Styles.

Harold-Is-Weizen Hefeweizen (WLP300)


TypeAll Grain Date: 4/23/2011
Batch Size: 11.00 qt Boil Size: 13.83 qt
Boil Time: 60 min Equipment: Brew Pot, Full Boil All Grain (6 Gallon)

Brewhouse Efficiency: 89.00

Amount Item Type % or IBU
2 lbs 8.0 oz Pilsner (2 Row) Ger (1.6 SRM) Grain 50.00 %
2 lbs 8.0 oz White Wheat Malt (3.1 SRM) Grain 50.00 %
17.01 gm Hallertau (MoreBeer 2011) [4.30 %] (60 min) Hops 15.9 IBU
0.50 items Whirlfloc Tablet (Boil 15.0 min) Misc
5.00 items FermCap-S (Boil 0.0 min) Misc
8.00 gm Gypsum (Calcium Sulfate) (Mash 60.0 min) Misc
1 Pkgs Hefeweizen Ale (White Labs #WLP300) [Cultured] Yeast-Wheat
Beer Profile

Est Original

1.062 SG
Measured Original Gravity:
1.052 SG
Est Final Gravity: 1.015 SG Measured Final Gravity: 1.006 SG
Estimated Alcohol by Vol: 6.11 % Actual Alcohol by Vol: 5.99 %
Bitterness: 15.9 IBU Calories: 227 cal/pint
Est Color: 4.0 SRM Color:
Mash Profile

Mash Name:
BIAB Triple Sparge
Total Grain Weight:
5.00 lb
Sparge Water:
9.23 qt
Grain Temperature:
72.0 F
Sparge Temperature:
168.0 F
72.0 F
Adjust Temp for Equipment:
Mash PH:
5.4 PH

BIAB Triple Sparge
Step Time Name Description Step Temp
120 min Mash In Add 7.00 qt of water at 165.0 F 152.0 F
Mash Notes: After mash out, remove the bag and drain as much liquid from it as possible before setting it aside in a drip tray (a cooling rack placed atop the brew kettle works great, as does a pulley or hook with the bag attached). Transfer your liquor to a bucket and return the grain bag to your mash kettle. Add one third of your sparge water, stir and wait 10 minutes. Repeat two more times (drip, drain, sparge, drip, drain, sparge).
Carbonation and
Carbonation Type:
Corn Sugar
Volumes of CO2:
83.2 gm
Carbonation Used:
Keg/Bottling Temperature:
72.0 F
Age for:
28.0 days
Storage Temperature:
70.0 F

Friday, April 22, 2011

Going All Grain: What did I get myself into?

Now that I'm boiling hops and using liquid yeast, what frontiers are left to explore? I sat down and thought about my future direction.

Option 1: Make recipes with DME. DME is $3.75/lb, pretty pricey, but super easy to store and weigh so I can use exactly what I want.

Option 2: Make recipes with LME. LME only comes in 4,5,6,7 and 8 lb sizes at MoreBeer, so any recipe I make had better use exactly that much LME. Otherwise, I have to buy some DME anyway. There's no way to use just part of a package of LME, it doesn't store that well. But, it is cheap - around $2.50/lb.

Option 3: All grain brewing. At $1.30/lb, even with a moderate 70% efficiency it is cheaper than both LME and DME and I can buy exactly how much I want at a time. Besides, I had already done the full extract + steeping grains + hops thing at a friend's house, and was itching to do something crazy.

Option 3 it is!

I looked into what is called BIAB - Brew in a Bag. Specifically, I found this post on

In short, doing an all grain 2.5 gallon batch is super simple! It can all be done on a stovetop with a grain bag. It takes more time than extracts, but is more interesting to do. I invited a friend over to have a few beers and try this out for the first time.

Step 1:
Design a recipe. I wanted something simple, where I could focus on the process instead of the ingredients. I went with a Mendocino Brewing Company Red Tail Ale clone I found on the BYO web site. I'm not sure how accurate a clone it is, but it's a great session beer, and they had an all grain recipe for it. Here's what I went with:

Batch Size: 10.20 qt
Boil Size: 13.82 qt 
Estimated OG: 1.056 SG 
Estimated Color: 13.3 SRM 
Estimated IBU: 33.4 IBU 
Brewhouse Efficiency: 65.00 % 
Boil Time: 60 Minutes 
Amount Item Type % or IBU 
4 lbs 10.6 oz Pale Malt (2 Row) US (2.0 SRM) Grain 75.40 % 
11.2 oz Caramel/Crystal Malt - 60L (60.0 SRM) Grain 11.33 % 
5.1 oz Toasted Malt (27.0 SRM) Grain 5.18 % 
0.35 oz Cluster (MoreBeer 2011) [7.60 %] (60 min) Hops 19.4 IBU 
0.50 oz Cascade (MoreBeer 2011) [5.00 %] (30 min Aroma Steep) Hops
0.50 oz Cascade (MoreBeer 2011) [5.00 %] (30 min) Hops 14.0 IBU 
1 Pkgs California Ale (White Labs #WLP001) Yeast-Ale 

Mash Schedule: 
Grain Weight: 5.68 lb 
Step Time Name Description Step Temp 
90 min Infusion Mash Add 7.55 qt of water at 164.4 F 152.0 F 10 min 
Mash Out Heat to 170.0 F over 1 min 170.0 F 

Notes: ------ 
Toast the malt on a cookie sheet for 30 min. at 350° F.

Step 2: 
Efficiency: Never having done this before, I had no idea what my efficiency would be. BIAB supposedly has slightly lower efficiency, and being a noob I assumed mine would be very low. I estimated 65% for this.

Step 3:
Heat water to the 'strike temperature' that BeerSmith calculates, with the grain bag in the pot. Put all the grain in the pot, mix, and measure the temp. Now, keep the grain at your desired mash temp for 1-2 hours while the starches convert into grain via chemical reactions that are facilitated by enzymes in the grain. These enzymes work differently at different temperatures - lower temperatures, like 145 F, will lead to a dry (alcoholic, thin-bodied) beer, while higher temperatures, like 158 F, will lead to a thick, malty beer.
I tried my best to keep the temp at 152 F, but that is easier said than done on the stove.

Step 4:
Once the mash is done, pour the wort into a bucket and drain as much liquid from the grain bag as you can. Put the grain bag back in the pot and pour in the sparge water, mix it up, and wait 10 minutes. You are simulating a traditional 'sparge' so that you can rinse out as much additional sugar from the grain as you can.

Step 5: 
Combine your 'first runnings' (the liquid from the mash) and the 'second runnings' (the liquid from your ghetto sparge) into your boil pot. Measure the specific gravity of this wort and compare it to what BeerSmith expected you to get. BeerSmith has an efficiency calculator, accessed by clicking on the Brewhouse Efficiency button. 

Step 6:
Boil, just like an extract recipe.

I went for it on April 9, 2011, and it was a freaking disaster. Here's what went wrong:

1. I mixed the crystal and pale malt at the store. When I got home, I remembered that I needed to toast the pale malt. Well, I couldn't, because they were mixed together. I ended up toasting a random combination of pale and crystal malt.

2. I don't even know if I converted the grain completely. I forgot about the "iodine test". This is basically where you add a few drops of iodine to a few drops of wort. The iodine reacts to starch - the more starch left in your mash, the darker the resulting mixture. If you add iodine and the wort stays the same color, you've converted everything. I didn't do this, and have no idea if I even converted my grain properly.

3. I got horrible efficiency, 58% when I originally estimated I'd get 65% (which isn't great to begin with).
I had to add half a lb. of light DME I had in the closet to try to make up for the bad efficiency.

4. I didn't set up BeerSmith properly for my equipment. It had an extra parameter, Lauter Tun Dead Space, which didn't apply to me. This caused it to add 0.25 gallons of water I didn't need. I ended up with too much water. I decided I'd boil longer to counteract the extra water, which leads me to...

5. I underestimated the evaporation rate of my pot (6 gallon WinWare pot). I thought it would be 15% or so, instead it was closer to 30%. This is mostly an issue of the way BeerSmith handles evaporation rate. Evaporation happens at a rate dependent on pressure, humidity, temperature, and surface area of your water exposed to air. It doesn't depend on the volume, so using a percent makes NO sense. The 15% value that is commonly used by other people was for 5 gallon batches. I'm making half the beer, but boiling off the same amount! Thus, my actual percentage of evaporation was double the estimate. I ended up with less than 1 gallon of REALLY thick wort. I then had to top that off with some distilled water I had sitting around - but I didn't have enough, so I quickly added some campden tablets* to tap water and finished topping it off.

6. I didn't let the trub settle out of my wort, and ended up with all of it in my keg. God knows how much of my keg is going to be filled with trub. I can only hope I don't end up with cloudy beer. I added Whirlfloc during the boil, just in case.

7. While siphoning the wort into my keg, the hose came out of the keg and I spilled several ounces. Since my wort was super concentrated at this point, I ended up with a major loss. The gravity with half a pound of DME and 58% efficiency should have been 1.055 - instead I measured 1.050. My hair is going gray at this point and I'm ready to give up. Good thing I'm done.

* East Bay water has chloramine, so I have to treat any tap water I use with campden tablets to remove it. It is great water, though, with super low mineral content. Great for pilseners.

There was a lot to learn here. I need to measure my actual evaporation rate, and adjust the equipment profile so I can get more accurate calculations from BeerSmith. I may need to sparge more (I'll try two or three times, dividing up the water equally each time). I need to assume a low efficiency rate - better to buy too much grain and get a higher alc beer than buy too little and end up with something watery and weak. I need to properly whirlpool my cooling wort and let all the 'cold break' settle to the bottom before transferring to the keg. I need to get better at maintaining my temps while mashing, and I need a LONGER DAMN HOSE so I don't spill wort every single time.

Oh yes, there will be a next time. Just you wait.

Adding Hops - Mr. Beer German Hefeweizen

For batch #7, I wasn't quite ready to move on from Mr. Beer (I still had several cans of the stuff, after all), but I was pretty damn comfortable with steeping grains. I decided to add some hops, though to be fair they're mostly vestigial. Mr. Beer recipes are already hopped - add too few and you won't notice a difference, add too many and you completely mask the original recipe they designed.

I decided to do the Mr. Beer German Hefeweizen recipe. I had a can of Whispering Wheat sitting around, the hop schedule is super simple and it gave me a chance to try liquid yeast. Besides, I love hefeweizens!

I decided to do a 15-minute flavor boil of Hallertauer 4.3% AA and add a couple of pounds of DME to the Whispering Wheat HME can. I replaced the Wyeast with the White Labs equivalent, WLP300.

I learned two things. First, boiling hops is dead simple, and there's no reason not to do it. Second, a single vial of liquid yeast is the perfect size for a 2.5 gallon batch! A starter is only recommended when doing a 5 gallon batch of particularly high gravity beer. A single vial ($5.75 at MoreBeer, ouch) gave me an explosive fermentation in less than a day.

One last thing I tried in this batch was FermCap-S, and now I can't live without it. There was no massive boilover in the pot after adding DME when I added 5 drops to the pot, and I was able to fill the fermenter nearly to the top without the krausen overflowing. WLP300 is known as an especially active yeast, so I have no doubt that without the FermCap I would have ended up with beer covering my walls.

So, three new tools were added to my post-Mr. Beer toolset: liquid yeast, pellet hops and FermCap-S.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Guinness Chocolate Cake

My birthday cake, combining two of my favorite things: cake and beer.

Take note that my wife, knowing me as well as she does, made sure to use Guinness Extra Stout (yay) and not Guinness Draught (gag).

Upgrading from Mr. Beer

So, you have a few batches of Mr. Beer under your belt, but it just isn't enough. You're on a limited budget, with limited space, and have all this Mr. Beer equipment sitting around. What do you do?

1. Get a hydrometer. Duh. You're not a geek if you aren't taking detailed measurements of your beer's gravity and alcohol. These go for $5-$10, and you have no excuse for not having one. If you really want to go nuts, get a refractometer.

2. Get a nicer stock pot, five gallons in size. Bigger than five gallons is hard to boil on a stove-top, while smaller makes it hard or impossible to do full boils and all grain. You might already have this. Make sure it has thick walls and bottom, and is stainless steel. Get a nice, big stainless steel spoon to go with it.

3. Get a bottling bucket. As I said in my last post, you can store all your junk in there. It also lets you batch prime, which is actually less work and more sanitary. You can use it to store and treat your water with campden (if you have chloramine) and brewing salts, hold your wort while sparging in all grain and put all your crap in to sanitize.

4. Get an auto-siphon/easy-siphon, tubing and bottling wand. Moving your liquids around is suddenly trivial. I recommend 3/8" ID tubing, because it fits the bucket spigot and bottling wand, and you don't really need the fat 1/2" ID tubing when dealing with smaller batch sizes. You can rack to your bucket by attaching the wand to your Mr. Beer locking spigot and connecting the hose to that, or siphoning directly through the top. Bottle by connecting the bottle and wand to your bucket spigot. Transfer wort from the kettle to the keg with the easy siphon. Easy.

5. Upgrade your ingredients. Mr. Beer recipes really aren't bad, as long as you follow some important rules. The problem is, they are expensive and limiting. Get some DME. Get some steeping grains. Get some hops. If you do nothing else, for the love of god upgrade your yeast. You don't have to use Mr. Beer ingredients just because you're still using the keg. You'll want some mesh grain and hop bags, also. Don't forget to refer to step 10 before you go on a shopping spree.

6. Make 2.5 gallons at a time. Mr. Beer recipes are designed to make 8.5 quarts, and the kegs are marked as such. Measure out 10 quarts of water in your keg and mark the level, then design your recipes around that final volume. Be sure to pick up some FermCap-S to put in during fermentation, which will prevent the krausen from overflowing or blowing the top off of your keg. It costs about a penny per batch, there's no reason not to.

7. Get BeerSmith. It is only $22 and lets you model both your old Mr. Beer recipes and your new non-Mr. Beer recipes. You'll need it once you start designing your own recipes, and the ability to customize your own equipment and process and scale other people's recipes to your setup is invaluable. Plus, it has a Brew Log that you can sort by date, to keep a detailed record of every beer you've made (and where you fucked up).

8. Get an ice chest. It only needs to be big enough to fit your keg. A big problem with fermentation in the first few days is letting the temp get out of control (75+). This is especially true when using a full pitch of yeast on a half batch. Put your keg in there and put some ice in to keep your beer fermenting around 68, or whatever your recipe calls for.

9. Switch to full boils. Why? A full boil with a lower gravity wort increases hop utilization and reduces the amount of scorching, leading to a lighter beer. It also guarantees that any nasties left in your extracts are killed. Finally, it means you can use 100% tap water without worrying about infection because you will boil every last drop that goes into your beer. Also, why not? A full boil for a half batch is the same size as a partial boil for a 5 gallon batch.

10. Make lots of ice! With more water to cool in a full boil, you'll need to cool it down. Cooling your wort down to pitching temp asap is important because it reduces the time your wort spends in the danger zone, where your wort is the ideal temperature for bacteria to settle.

Also, when you're doing all grain you want a good 'cold break', which happens best when your wort cools fast. This allows a large amount of trub to settle out of your wort instead of transferring into your fermenter.

Because you're doing half batches, you don't need a wort chiller. A really good ice bath works just as well, and saves you $60-$100. Make ice over the course of the week before your brew day. Try to accumulate at least a gallon of ice.

11. Get a fermometer. It lets you keep an eye on your keg's temperature without opening it. Every keg should have one, no excuses.

12. Learn, learn, learn! Get some books (How To Brew, Designing Great Beers, Brewing Classic Styles). Visit some forums (, Listen to some podcasts (The Brewing Network). This step is what separates the beer geeks from the pot-bellied, neck-bearded alcoholics.

13. Have a beer and invite a friend over on your brew day. This is what separates the happy, well adjusted beer geeks from the ones that brew alone in their basement and die quietly from carbon monoxide poisoning. If you're lucky, he'll get addicted to the hobby and you'll have someone around that isn't completely annoyed by all your beer talk.

Brewing with limited space

At this point in the expansion of my home brewery, one thing has moved to the front of my mind: SPACE.

I just love buying cool new dealies and widgets and whatsits to try on my next brew. DME? Toss some in. Crazy liquid yeast? Yes please. What the hell is a refractometer anyway? Just bought one. But I've gotta figure out how to fit all of this in my little one-bedroom apartment. Though it feels sometimes like every home brewer lives out in the boonies, 2 hours from the nearest city, buying their grain in 50-lb sacks and brewing in a 20 gallon keg in their back yard, I know I can't be the only one working within these constraints. Here are some tips.

1. Brew half batches. I mentioned this already. Mr. Beer kegs are just PET plastic fermenters, just like Better Bottles but in a different shape. They fit on shelves, in your closet, in your refrigerator or in a cooler with ice when it gets too hot out for your fermentation. They are dark-colored to keep out light,and they have a spigot for easy racking and 'sample testing'. Three-gallon carboys (plastic or glass) also work, but don't get glass. You'll regret it on the way to the emergency with massive shards of glass in your testes. Standard 5-gallon batches can be cut exactly in half, either by hand or with brewing software like BeerSmith.

2. Bottle, don't keg. Every home brewer who thinks he's a homebrewer figures if he doesn't keg, he isn't a real man. Where do you plan on putting these 5-gallon cornelius kegs that you spent $100+ on (each)? Your refrigerator? I didn't think so. At this point half of the closet and cabinet space in my house is full of full or empty beer bottles, to my wife's chagrin and my delight.

3. Get a 5-gallon spigoted bottling bucket. I got one for batch priming, only to find that I could store literally all of my beer-making equipment inside the bucket, put the top on and stick it out on the balcony. Zero indoor space used. I find more uses for the thing every time I brew - batch priming, hold brew water, temporarily holding wort, sanitizing equipment and even measuring liquids.

4. Make sure you live near an LHBS. You aren't gonna be buying in bulk - you have no room to store that stuff. You also don't want to spend $5-10 shipping on every half batch when the ingredients are less than $20 in the first place. Drive out to your homebrew supply store and make a day of it. Have a chat with the guys there, buy way more neat equipment than you need, grab some craft beers, whatever. I go to MoreBeer in Concord, CA, which happens to be next door to a craft brewery (Ale Industries), two blocks from a Costco and two miles from a Fry's Electronics: it's hours before I manage to make my way home.

5. Make lots of ice and keep it in the freezer in the week leading to brew day. You're going to be cooling your boiled wort in the sink in an ice bath, so you need ice.

6. Do full boils. Why not, your full boil is the same size as the five-gallon brewer's partial boil. And while you're at it, you can switch to tap water instead of distilled water, because you're boiling it all (no worries about topping off with tap water filled with bacteria).

7. Fuck it, go all grain! An all grain half batch is nearly identical to a five-gallon brewer's partial mash. Just mash your grain in your standard five-gallon stock pot at 152 for an hour, rinse it a couple of times with hot water and dump the grain. Boil and you have beer for $10-$15 per case. Don't forget to invite someone over and have some drinks during the mash - it's pretty uneventful.

8. Don't worry about buying too many hops at once. They're cheaper if you buy 2+ ounces at once, and unlike grain, hops take up virtually no space and keep for months in the freezer. Plus, you'll almost never use an entire package of the same hops all at once when doing a half batch.

9. Get a food scale that can measure in grams. You'll be using it a lot for hops, because you can't use the entire package at once. Also useful for weighing priming sugar, water additives, etc.

10. Wash your yeast. As you get more advanced, consider re-using your yeast. This is the only place where you can't 'cut your ingredients in half'. You'll still need a full vial or packet of yeast for your half batch, so you're spending twice as much on yeast. So, re-use it.

Ditching Mr. Beer...sorta

I have to say, I love these little Mr. Beer kegs:

Isn't that thing adorable? Seriously though, I'm brewing beer in a 500 sq. ft. apartment in the SF Bay Area. I need stuff that fits on closet shelves, inside small ice chests, out on the balcony, and in the kitchen cabinets. The traditional bucket/carboy setup does NOT work for me.

So, instead of 'upgrading' to five gallon brewing, I decided to figure out how to make that humble piece of plastic work for me. I took out the pathetic spigot and put in a locking one. I removed the silly Mr. Beer sticker. I got two more. And I figured out just how I'd need to fill it to get 2.5 gallons in there. It's close, but do-able.

This way I get to brew twice as often (I love the process), try twice as many recipes, and use half the equipment. I can do crazy things like full boils and all grain brewing without buying a single new piece of kit. No converted cooler mash tuns, wort chillers, propane burners (I'm pretty sure I'd be kicked out of my apartment for that one) or 10 gallon pots to fuck around with. Just a stock pot, a bag and my ghetto kegs.

The Story So Far...

For X-Mas 2010, my wife gave me a Mr. Beer home brewery kit. That was her first mistake.

On January 6, 2011, I brewed my first beer. I brewed my first beer. It was a Classic American Blonde recipe, and it took about 30 minutes, start to finish. It was a weak, 3.7% ABV, overcarbonated, cidery mess, and I loved it.

Craving more, I brewed up Mr. Beer's Cowboy Honey Wheat recipe on February 5. This (relatively) beefy beer clocked in at 5.8% ABV. It had some fans, but tasted too much like honey for my taste. It sure did get you drunk, though.

Looking for something of higher quality, I picked up several Mr. Beer premium kits via a 4-for-3 promotion on Amazon: Sticky Wicket Oatmeal Stout, American Devil IPA, Pilothouse Pilsner and Witty Monk Witbier. I also decided to do away with the garbage Mr. Beer mystery yeast and see what I could do to pump up these recipes. The Mr. Beer forums in particular were invaluable for learning new brewing techniques.

I brewed up the Sticky Wicket with espresso and half a pound of Crystal 15 malt and the Fermentis S-04 English Ale Yeast on February 24. It was tart and chocolate-y and rich, and gets better every day it sits in the bottle.

I brewed up the American Devil IPA with some extra DME, booster, Crystal 15 malt and Fermentis US-05. It turned out to be a rich, caramel-y and bitter treat, thicker and milder than a typical West Coast IPA. It was delicious, and is nearly gone.

The Pilothouse Pilsner and Witty Monk were brewed up nearly the same way, with just a bit of CaraPils, DME and booster. The Pilothouse was made with Danstar Nottingham yeast and the Witty Monk was made with Fermentis T-58. They're still aging, so I can't comment on them.

This is about when I outgrew Mr. Beer.

Starting Out

I'm sitting here, on my birthday, having cake and Guinness. I'm bored, so what do I do? Start a blog. Why not? Might as well be about my latest passion, home brewing.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

All Grain Recipe: #10 Biere de L'Inde English IPA

This is my chance to fix some of my all grain mistakes and find out if this is going to pan out or if I should run back to extract.

First off, I corrected my BeerSmith equipment profile. I reduced the Lauter Tun Deadspace to 0, because this parameter doesn't apply to BIAB brewing. I reduced the Lost to Boil Trub and Chiller to 0.2 quarts, because I'm not really sure what to put here, but I know I don't lose half a gallon to trub. 

Finally, I measured the boil-off to be a little less than a gallon when I boiled three gallons, which came out to be about 30%. Mash Tun Volume is 24 quarts and Mash Tun Weight is 9 lbs.

Hopefully, these more accurate parameters should give me a more predictable brew day!

The recipe:

Biere de L'inde English IPA 
(from Brewing Classic Styles, scaled to 2.5 gallons)

Style: English IPA
TYPE: All Grain

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size: 11.00 qt      
Boil Size: 15.75 qt
Estimated OG: 1.063 SG
Estimated Color: 12.5 SRM
Estimated IBU: 38.3 IBU
Brewhouse Efficiency: 65.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Amount        Item                                       Type         % or IBU    
6 lbs 2.1 oz  Pale Malt, Maris Otter (2.5 SRM)           Grain        86.00 %     
4.0 oz        Biscuit Malt (19.0 SRM)                    Grain        3.51 %      
4.0 oz        Crystal/Caramel Malt -120L (120.0 SRM)     Grain        3.51 %      
4.0 oz        White Wheat Malt (3.1 SRM)                 Grain        3.51 %      
4.0 oz        Crystal/Caramel Malt - 40L (40.0 SRM)      Grain        3.48 %      
15.00 gm      Northern Brewer (MoreBeer 2011) [8.60 %]  (Hops         29.8 IBU    
19.00 gm      Goldings, East Kent (MoreBeer 2011) [7.20 %Hops          -          
20.00 gm      Fuggles (MoreBeer 2011) [5.10 %]  (10 min) Hops         8.5 IBU     
4.00 gm       Gypsum (Calcium Sulfate) (Mash 60.0 min)   Misc                     
1 Pkgs        Nottingham (Danstar #-)                    Yeast-Ale                

Mash Schedule: Single Infusion, Medium Body
Total Grain Weight: 7.13 lb
Single Infusion, Medium Body
Step Time     Name               Description                         Step Temp     
60 min        Mash In            Add 9.97 qt of water at 165.1 F     152.0 F       

Note: Add only 10 qts at first, but I add up to 2 more of hot sparge water for raising temp. Consider heating some water to boiling for this instead of using sparge temp water. Mash in 170 oven. Stir every 20 minutes. Sparge twice with about 1 gallon each time. Mash longer than 60 minutes if iodine test doesn't show full conversion. Try mashout to raise efficiency - either heat up or use hot water.
If you have very soft water, you may optionally add 7g of gypsum and 7g of chalk. (I will try just adding 4g, 1 tsp, of gypsum for now)
You may substitute Danstar Nottingham for the WLP013.
If using a yeast with lower attentuation (like WLP002) and making a high gravity IPA, dry out the beer by adding corn sugar or mashing at a lower temperature.


I subbed Nottingham for the WLP013 London Ale Yeast because I had it on hand.

The main event:

Things went bad before I even started. I checked my freshly milled sack of grain when I got home to find that it was VERY badly crushed. It consisted of 90% whole grains. 


I took a rolling pin and a 1 gallon zip lock and pounded that grain into submission, half a pound at a time. It took forever and I tore through 3-4 bags. The crush was very uneven, so I did it twice. I was sweating by the end of it. The result was an uneven grain crush with lots of flour and whole grains, but at least it was better than what I started with

To reduce the number of mash variables from last time, I mashed on the stove again. I used a ratio of 1.4 qts/lb and mashed for about two hours while I waited for my friend to get himself showered and come over. I did several iodine tests to make sure conversion was done.

An iodine test involves taking a sample of clear wort from your mash kettle and putting it on a white plate (not paper!). Add a few drops of 1-2% iodine and mix it up. If the mixture turns out very light and clear, that means the iodine didn't react with starch and you have full conversion. This is harder to do with dark beers, and you'll need to use less wort and consider placing the wort + iodine on a piece of white chalk.

Here's the thing to know about the iodine tests: it only tells you how much available starch has been converted to sugars. Thus, if you have an uncracked grain kernel, the water will not properly penetrate and convert the endosperm inside of it. If you have lots of uncracked grains, you could pass the iodine test and end up with very low efficiency anyway.

Anyway, on to the sparge. I decided to try something different this time. I split the 168 F sparge water in half and repeated the sparge process from last time twice. I measured 65% efficiency this time, which is better than last time despite the awful grain crush.

Here's a reminder of the process:
* Remove the bag and drain it with a rolling pin over the kettle, using a cooling rack or collander
* Pour the first runnings into a bucket
* Put the grain bag into the mash kettle with half of the sparge water at 168, stir it up, and wait ten minutes
* Repeat the above three steps with the other half of the sparge water
* Measure the volume using the marks on the bucket, stir up the wort very well, and take a gravity reading. Calculate your efficiency using this volume and SG measurement.

The rest of the process was pretty uneventful, except for one thing. I ended up with more water at the end than I should have. It turns out that I took the percentage of evaporation that I calculated at 3 gallons and applied it to the full batch. This actually led to BeerSmith calculating a larger eveporation rate, closer to 1.25 gallons than 1. I ended up with a higher volume beer than originally intended. Fortunately, the higher efficiency balanced out the extra water.

I rehydrated the Nottingham, pitched it and shook the crap out of the keg. Stuck it in an ice chest and that's that.