Coffee & Raisins; or, I can feel it in my Plums.

Trying to make an original beer, I thought ‘Special B’ barley would pair nicely with a Belgian yeast and home roasted coffee. Special B, described as heavy caramel and raisin-like, is delicious in Russian Imperial Stouts. I wanted that malt to shine. Next, I thought a nice subtle Belgian yeast – maybe a Belgian Strong yeast – would give sophistication, dryness, and a little spicy clove. I wasn’t going for banana, like a Trappist or Abbey. Finally, I thought coffee with play nice with the raisin and dark fruit, so I chose a bright African coffee, Ethiopian Agaro: nectarine, dark berry, plum, citrus rind. I roasted it fairly light, giving it some pop.
This post is so pretentious.

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The first draft is good, but I have a few revisions. The yeast, a dry Belgian yeast, doesn’t offer anything. Next time, I’ll use a liquid Belgian Strong. I don’t like the Maris Otter. It gives it a super malty, chewy character that tastes like an English Barleywine. It smells a little dirty and muddled. I want it to be more crisp and clean, so I’ll use 2-row or Pilsner next time. I might dial back the Special B just a bit, not sure about that. Yeah, it’s a bit too sweet. More hops might remedy that. The coffee was essentially dry hopped while cold crashing for two days. It floated, so I would put it in a muslin bag next time. Maybe a medium roast would be better, with more floral perfume notes. The hops are nonexistent; I wanted it malty, but perhaps the ounce of Columbus should be at 30 minutes instead of 15, to balance out the malty sweetness. It finished at 1.020. I’m looking forward to version 2, which is the only reason I posted this time (I’ve made several beers since last time, including another tasty Maharaja DIPA clone).

Coffee & Raisins
12 lb Maris Otter
2 lb Special B
.5 lb C-120
(30 minute mash)
2 lb Sugar
1 oz Columbus FW (15 minute)
1 oz Cascade 5m
(30 minute boil)
Safebrew T-58
Agaro coffee (dry hopped while cold crashing), City+, about 2 oz which means a little less than 4 cups on my grinder setting, coarse ground and dumped directly into beer.

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One Pot Brewing v3: Stainless Steel

So Zymurgy paid me money to write an article about One Pot Brewing. I decided to spend some of that money on…you guessed it.

With jealous eyes, I’ve touted the benefits of using an aluminum pot, rather than the standard stainless steel that homebrewers seem to love and adore. Aluminum is lighter, it gets to a boil faster, and it’s cheaper. Except check this out!

Bayoo

So I bought it, along with the other necessary attachments:

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Super big pot, fitted Brew Bag, Stainless spigot (or whatever those are called), step bit, and cutting lube, and–roughly $150 bucks later–a new and improved One Pot Brewing system was born. Although an airlock would be easy to add, I don’t see the point.

Where to put the hole for the spigot? This was something I learned from the aluminum pot set up. I decided to place the hold a little bit higher, 2 1/4 inches from the bottom, giving a solid 2 inches for gunk. I didn’t want to bother with hop sacks, or tilting the pot. This should give me plenty of room. Plus, for low hopped smaller gravity beers, I plan on doing 10 gallon batches. It’s better to place the spigot conservatively; after all, while transferring, you can always tilt the pot towards you, in order to get all the beer you can.

Cutting the hole with lube was fairly simple, even for me. youtube it.

Only problem: it barely fits in the freezer. I might have to do some cutting of plastic or something.

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Mad Boris Russian Imperial Stout (and brewday walk-through)

Although I really like the Russian Hacker Stout, which I’ve made twice now, I opted for a new recipe from Brew: the foolproof guide to making world class beer at home, by James Morton. Simplified, here’s the recipe.

Mad Boris Russian Imperial Stout
15.5 lb Maris Otter
1.5 lb Carm/Crystal 80
1 lb Amber malt
1 lb Chocolate malt
1 lb Brown malt
—————————
1 oz. Magum (FW, 30 minute boil)
1 oz. El Dorado (FW…had it lying around)
—————————————————————
US-05 (two packs, just in case)

My brewdays are usually weeknights after dinner, or after my wife and I put our 3-year-old to bed around 7pm. I start by connecting an RV filter to my garden hose (carbon filter). I fill up the pot and crank the heat while it’s filling. Putting the lid on speeds up things, a lot.

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While waiting for the water to reach 150ish, I mill the barley very fine (all 20 pounds for this beast). It falls into a plastic bucket beneath the mill.

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2 Hours to 5 gallons: One Pot Brewing featured in Zymurgy article

For anyone who reads Zymurgy, the magazine of the American Homebrewers Association, the latest issue has a section “Ultralight Homebrewing,” which includes an article written by yours truly. The article doesn’t go into a lot of detail or have contact information, and I’ve had some people track me down with questions, so I’m hoping this blog will make it easier for people to find me.

Also this issue has nice write-up on the winners of the “Best Beers in America.” I’m proud to say Kalamazoo (Bell’s) has two beers in the top 5, and Michigan has others (Founders is one of my favorite brewers, just 45 minutes north of Kalamazoo, where I live).

It also has the 2-Hearted Clone recipe, if you didn’t already have it (2-row, C-40, Centential basically).

zym

Why is my Mash pH so High?

I’ve become a believer that mash pH probably matters for healthy fermentation, hop expression, and even clarity of beer. However, the learning curve is high, it takes extra equipment, and makes brewday a bit more eventful. Because I was given a very expensive pH meter for free, I felt compelled to at least give mash pH a try. I didn’t want to mess with water reports, or add specific brewing salts based on my water, or getting BeerSmith, so instead I focused on using phosphoric to get the mash water pH down to the proper range (5.2 to 5.5, I believe), and that’s pretty much it.

mashPH

Several batches later, I cannot get the damn pH low enough, no matter how much acid I dump in the damn thing. For one IPA, for example, I added 11 tablespoons of phosphoric acid (10%)  into the mash water. And still had a pH of 5.55! That’s half a bottle, costing $4.50 per bottle. Dark beers are the same thing.

If you do brew in a bag, and begin with the full volume of water (8-10 gallons, say), this is something to consider. You will have to add much more acid to the mash than the traditional method. Further, if your tap water has a lot of “temporary hardness” (don’t ask me to explain), then you will have to add a lot of acid to get through it. Alternatively, you could use RO water from the store.

Acid malt is another option, but I think I would have to add at least two pounds, which is roughly the same cost as acid in the first place.

Next brew I plan on really dialing in the mash pH for an IPA. Stay tuned.

10 Day Pilsner (Mermaid Pilsner Clone)

For a pilsner brewed in 10 days – from grain to keg – this is a crushable little beer. It’s not the best beer I’ve made – after all, it’s a pilsner for God sakes – but it’s just fine to drink and I sort of like it. I wouldn’t dare enter this into competition, and it has flaws. If you look at the recipe, it’s more like a pale ale really; it’s hoppy and lemony, soft and creamy. My brewer friend said it had a slight DMS thing going on, which I don’t detect. I believe him. Probably the short, 30 minute boil, is to blame for that. My family liked it. My wife doesn’t. I do believe that controlling the mash pH would help this beer significantly, something I didn’t do; giving it a crispness and acidity that I like in beers. Also I would mash less (15 minutes), to allow for a slightly longer boil (40 minutes). Time is money baby.

The process was the same as always: 30 minute mash (15 maybe?), 30 minute boil, no yeast starter. Normally “lagers” are fermented at 50 for several weeks. This beer was fermented for 7 days at 66. It has a California Common character, I’ve been told, which makes sense.

Based on the recipe alone, I wouldn’t brew this beer again. Too hoppy. Before dry hopping, I actually really like the beer; it tasted like a good lager. Interestingly, the first 10 pints were hazy and cloudy. After 4 more days, it cleared up real nice:

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I got the recipe from a book (can’t remember what one).

Mermaid Pilsner Clone
brewed: ?
8.3 2-Row
1 lb Vienna
.4 lb Carapils
.6 lb Rye malt
.5 lb white wheat malt
.2 lb flaked wheat
.1 lb Carm/Crystal 10
——————————
1 oz Crystal FW (30 minute boil)
.3 oz Tettnag FW
.5 oz Amarillo FW
.5 oz Crystal FO
.5 oz Amarillo FO
.5 Crystal DH (3 days)
.5 Amarillo (3 days)
———————————
W-34/70 (dry lager yeast, sprinkled on top)

“Fermenting in my Kettle with tie it up”

A possible drawback to One Pot Brewing – using one vessel for the entire brewing process – is that you’re “one pot” will be tied up. You cannot brew several batches at once, or two batches in two days. That’s not entirely true and misses the point of the method. Why would you want to brew two batches in one day? –because you haven’t brewed in so long? Simply put, you will most definitely make more beer with One Pot Brewing because brewing is easier, faster, less cleanup, and more enjoyable.

Secondly, fermentation doesn’t take that long. 10 days tops? (I just brewed a Pilsner that took 10 days grain to glass). Let’s say 13 days at the most, including cold crashing. In those 10 days, I begin planning my next batch, looking at my recipes, and getting the ingredients ready. Honestly, how often does a person want to brew? More than twice a month? It’s all quite lean and has a nice flow. Homebrewers tend to brew in fits and starts, and it’s because the process takes a ton of work. One Pot Brewing is more like cooking – a constant thing. This is why I brew more than most homebrewers, why my fermentation chamber is rarely empty.

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However, if you really want to brew a lot, you simply ferment in a plastic bottling bucket (which also comes with a spigot attached at the right spot, above the trub line). They are very cheap. I’ve done that a few times and it works just the same. It’s simply another vessel to clean after brewday. It’s a great feeling, however, to not have anything to clean when brewing is over – not even a pot with crap in it.

Beer 40: Lemony Wheat Ale

Summer time and my first attempt at a wheat beer. Because the local homebrew shop was out of the hops I really wanted (Manderina Bavaria), I opted for some hops with lemon and tea character. And boy did I get it. This beer is surprisingly lemony, especially in the aroma, probably due to the “lemondrop” hops (duh) but also the Denali. It’s a very hoppy beer, but not like an IPA. The Pacific Jade, I believe, gives it a distinct tea-like character. Lemon and black tea dominate. In the summer, after cutting the grass, it’s really quite enjoyable. It comes off as a lemon-tea shandy type beer. I sorta like it, although the shandy aspect I do not. It’s lacking a malty beer profile, and the wheat isn’t apparent either. It’s probably a bit sweet, I would dial back the Honey malt or get rid of entirely. Again, I would rather try it with Manderina Bavaria hops to give it more of an orange character.

With a mere 15 minute mash and 20 minute boil, this was the fastest beer I’ve ever brewed. I didn’t time it, but I’m guessing brewday was completed within an hour. Pretty crazy. The grain-to-glass time was probably 8-10 days.

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Lemon Wheat Ale
7.8 lb 2-Row
3.4 lb White Wheat malt
1 lb flaked wheat
.5 lb Honey Malt
(mashed at 150 for 15 minutes)
.5 oz Magnum (FW, 20 minute boil)
2 oz Denali
1 oz Lemondrop
1 oz Pacific Jade
1 oz German Heull Melon
WB-06 (dry yeast for wheat beer)
7 tablespoons acid to mash, no salts
finished at 1.012

A Delicious NEIPA with Dry Yeast

This isn’t the best version of the New England IPA, but it was still damn good. I say “was” because the keg went pretty fast, which is usually the best indicator of how good it was. This beer was very light, straw colored/neon yellow, bright, drinkable, and hoppy in a citrus rind sort of way. It had a soft bitterness, a slight sweetness, and the lower alcohol made it very drinkable and refreshing. My main experiment was to see if I could make a NEIPA with the US-04 Dry Yeast. I don’t think it’s ideal – it lacks the juicy and cloudy element which are pretty important – but it’s still an option. I also really like the yellow color, which comes from the very light Pilsner base malt mixed with white wheat malt.

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US 04 NEIPA
7.3 lb Pilsner (just what I had on hand)
3.5 lb White Wheat
1 lb Flaked Wheat
7 tablespoons acid in the mash
15 minute mash / 45 minute boil
Galaxy, Cascade, Mosaic, Azacca (Flame out and Dry hop, use your imagination)
US-04 dry yeast
finished at 1.016

 

 

The Diacetyl Kegging connection, and a nice English Barley Wine

Looking back on over a hundred batches of homebrew, I cannot remember many examples of diacetyl or off-flavors, although I’m sure there were some. Lately, however, I’ve fell into the diacetyl blues. I distinctly recall three different IPAs having diacetyl (one was a black IPA and really buttery). I thought about giving up the hobby forever (yeah right). But seriously, nothing is more disheartening than to pour the first pint of a freshly made IPA, only to be horrified at the muted hop character and the hint of butter or honey off-flavors (diacetyl tastes like butter and fills you up, while a different chemical called pentanedione tastes like honey). These IPAs were nothing like they should taste like, and one became quite bad.

I racked my brain to figure out why. Looking at my brewing practices, the glaring difference was kegging, and I believe I have a theory as to why kegging – specifically, switching from bottling to kegging – might surprise you with diacetyl-laced batches, whereas you didn’t notice it previously. In short: ferment longer than you’re used to. Diacetyl, as we know, is a natural product of fermentation that gets “cleaned up” by the yeast after fermentation is complete. This is why brewers do a “diacetyl rest” for a couple days. With bottling, I believe skipping the diacetyl rest is not a huge problem because the beer goes into a warm environment for another week or two – that’s how it carbonates. In my bottling past, I wonder if the diacetyl was getting cleaned up while carbonating in the bottle. Kegging is totally different. As soon as you cold crash and transfer the beer, the diacetyl is there for good. No more clean up. In summary, I’m pretty sure I’ve been rushing all of my fermentation by a few days. While bottling was saving my ass, kegging is exposing my ass – either way something horrible has been happening to my ass. Having said that, I don’t use yeast starters. That could explain the diacetyl as well. This is just a theory.

In fact, although I hate to admit it, lack of yeast starter could easily be another factor. I hate yeast starters and don’t have the planning skills required to make them. My diacetyl batches just so happened to have liquid yeast, instead of dry yeast (if my memory is correct). Coincidence? probably not. Dry yeast is amazing because it doesn’t require a starter. Liquid yeast doesn’t have enough cells for higher alcohol beers (which I think is stupid). Underpitched, stressed, unhealthy fermentation could cause diacetyl.

My blog has ironically come full circle. My naivety and “this will never happen to me” has been partly exposed, qualified, and humbled.

Homebrewers love Barley Wines but never brew them, and I’m no exception to that rule. Isn’t that weird? The barley wine has a special place in my beer loving heart: it’s huge, malty, complex, and warms you up immediately while you sip it. The American variety is mostly an amped up Double IPA that I don’t like, but the English variety is refined, beautiful, and truly a special beer – it’s more like a whiskey to be honest. It tastes like a beer whiskey to me. And although this Barley Wine was “rushed” through the process – short mash, short boil, no sparge, short fermentation period, no cellaring – it’s still really good. It tastes extremely malty and has that slight alcohol warmth. I’ve read that no-sparge brewing adds to the malt quality of beer – Gordon Strong seems to think so – but I’m not sure if that’s true. This beer will improve with age (if I let it). I don’t think I would change the recipe.

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English Barley Wine
14 lb Maris Otter
3.3 lb 2-Row
.6 lb Crystal Medium (Simpsons)
.2 lb Pale Chocolate Malt
1 oz Magnum (FW) 30 minute boil
1 oz Fuggle FO
1 oz Target FO
1 oz EKG FO
US-04

started with 8 gallons of water
mashed 148ish for 30
final gravity: 1.020