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.