Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Yikes and Away! Diving into All-Grain Brewing (with Fake Tire Amber Ale 3.0)

With a whole bunch more brew space, and over five years of solo brewing under my belt(!), I've been rapidly diversifying from the tried-and-true partial volume, extract with steeping grains, brews. The quality (in my humble opinion) on many of these beers has been pretty good (the Rainy Day IPA, Vanilla Voay Porter, and Fake Tire Amber Ale being particularly successful), but I do feel like I've gotten the handle of many aspects of extract brewing. I'm looking for a bit of a challenge and to expand my brewing skill set. The first step was full-volume boils, and the logical next step was to try all-grain. But, I had been a little intimidated by the complexity of the all-grain setups I had seen. Three-part towers, hoses everywhere, sparge arms, and the like seemed like a lot of equipment investment just to try a new technique. But then I learned about batch-sparging. Basically, all I would need was a converted cooler. Done and done!

With a converted 10 gallon cooler (ball valve and screen installed at the bottom), I was ready to go. I thought a good first beer would be to try a new iteration of my amber ale.

Fake Tire Amber Ale 3.0
  • 7.5 lbs pale malt (2 row)
  • 0.5 lbs. Victory malt
  • 0.5 lbs. Munich malt
  • 0.5 lbs. 40° crystal malt
  • 0.5 lbs. 20° crystal malt
  • 0.5 lbs. Cara-Pils malt
  • 0.25 lbs. chocolate malt
  • 1 oz. Cascade whole hops (60 minute boil)
  • 1 oz. Cascade whole hops (5 minute boil)
  • 1 tsp. Irish moss
  • 1 pkg. Safale American ale yeast US-05
  • Mash in ~13 qts. of water at 165° with malt for 1 hour. This resulted in a temperature of 154 degrees within 5 minutes, but it ended up at 145° by the end of the hour.
  • Decanted liquid, added 1 gallon of water, brought temperature up to 146°.
  • Decanted liquid, added 3 gallons water, brought temperature to 148°.
  • Decanted liquid, which had a specific gravity of 1.034 at 60 degrees. The volume in the kettle was around 5 gallons.
  • Heated to boil, added first addition of Cascade hops, boiled for 45 minutes, added Irish moss, boiled for another 10 minutes, added second addition of Cascade hops.
  • After the 60 minute boil, I turned off the flame and chilled the wort to around 70 degrees.
  • I transferred the wort to the fermenter, and pitched the yeast (which had been rehydrated in 1 cup of water). The wort fermented at ~68°.
  • The starting gravity was 1.045 at 60°, with a starting volume of 4 gallons.
This was definitely a learning experience! I had done a fair bit of reading on all of this, but even so there were a few bumps along the way. For starters, I learned that my "trusty" digital thermometer reads about 20° too low! This happened hard way when I mashed the grains to discover a ridiculously low-gravity wort--perhaps 1.020. A little investigation with other thermometers revealed that my main digital thermometer had a bad sensor (maybe from moisture?). In any case, I tossed that wort and started over. It sucks to have wasted the time and materials, but it was a useful lesson.

Even after all of that, my efficiency in sugar extraction was still not great (~50%, where I should be hitting ~70% at least). I attribute this in part to the fairly low temperatures that the mash ended at (145°, on the very lowest end of where I should be). Next time, I am going to preheat my cooler/mash tun to mitigate some cooling. I also pulled off all of the "liquor" after each water addition, which I later realized I shouldn't, I will aim for pulling off equal amounts of liquor next time, rather than draining the whole thing.

Despite all of that, I am eager to improve my technique and make the next batch. The amber ale really took off in the fermenter, and should be ready to go to the secondary very soon.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Peter's Irish Red Ale Bottled

Tonight I bottled Peter's Irish Red Ale, with a yield of nine 16 oz. bottles, nine 22 oz. bottles, and 15 12 oz. bottles. The beer had been in the secondary fermenter for about a month, and fermented down to a final gravity of 1.012. From a starting gravity of 1.037, this works out to 3.3% abv.

Laurasia IPA Updates

On February 16, I transferred the Laurasia IPA over to the secondary fermenter. At that time, the gravity was 1.029; the taste was clean, a faint fruity aroma before CO2 outgases, and a very mellow hoppiness. I was surprised at the relatively high gravity and the apparently slow fermentation--perhaps due to underoxygenation? Or maybe due to the yeast strain?

I sampled the beer again on February 25, to find the gravity at 1.020. This calculates out to 6.5% abv. In a few days, I will add the Simcoe hops for a few days of dry-hopping.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Burning Hills Cacao Stout Bottled

After 15 days in the secondary fermenter, my Burning Hills Cacao Stout was ready to bottle. Its gravity was unchanged since the transfer (1.026, from a starting gravity of 1.062), resulting in a final abv of 4.7%. The beer still has a smooth taste and mild chocolate finish (with a hint of vanilla), although the feel of the beer seems to have thinned just a touch since my last sampling. We'll see how that turns out when carbonated.

I transferred about 4.75 gallons of beer into the bottling bucket and primed the beer with 3.5 oz. (~2/3 cup) of corn sugar boiled in 2 cups of water. The yield was 43 12-oz. bottles and 3 22-oz. bottles.

One minor change with this session is that I attached the bottling wand to the bucket with a much shorter piece of tubing, rather than the 3 foot length I used previously. The result is that it is much easier to bottle, and I've eliminated the risk of accidentally getting the bottling wand on the floor.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Laurasia IPA

The new burner and kettle
The brewery has been radically reformed over the past few weeks. First was the move into a new (and expanded) brewing space. With that move pretty much completed, I decided it was time to up my brewing game and go full volume boil. Being off the kitchen stove certainly helped in this! I just acquired a new Blichmann floor standing burner--it's one of the low pressure propane burners, with a maximum output of 72,000 BTUs. Assembly was minimal and simple--perhaps 15 minutes with a wrench. To accompany that, I purchased a 10 gallon stainless steel kettle. As sold at my local homebrew shop, it didn't have any outlets. But, I was able to have them weld in a threaded coupler. I bought a ball valve and a hose barb, and the setup was complete!

As an inaugural brew, I decided to put together a fairly simple IPA recipe. This is a departure from my previous favorite, the Rainy Day IPA, particularly in having fewer steeping grains. According to some reading, I may have been using more crystal malt than is healthy for an IPA. So, I cut back on that quite a bit (only a half pound now!), and we'll see what happens.

Laurasia IPA

  • 8 oz. 40° crystal malt
  • 4 lbs. extra light liquid malt extract
  • 5 lbs. light dry malt extract
  • 3 oz. whole Cascade hops (bittering)
  • 1 oz. whole Cascade hops (aroma)
  • 2 oz. Simcoe hope pellets (dry hop)
  • 0.5 tsp. Irish moss
  • 1 pkg. BRY-97 American West Coast dry yeast (Danstar)

Boiling the Laurasia IPA

  • Steep crystal malt for 30 minutes in 1 gallon of water at 152° to 156°; sparge with 0.5 gallon of water. Top up to 6 gallons volume total.
  • Bring to a boil, turn off heat. Add malt extract and bring back to a boil. Once the wort is boiling, add 3 oz. of Cascade hops.
  • After 45 minutes, add Irish moss.
  • Boil for a total of 1 hour. At flame-out, add 1 oz. whole Cascade hops (aroma).
  • Chill using wort chiller; this took approximately 45 minutes, during which time the aroma hops were steeping. The end temperature was approximately 70°.
  • Whirlpool, let sit for 15 minutes, and transfer to the primary fermenter. Pitch the rehydrated yeast, and seal up the fermenter.
  • After evaporation loss and trub loss, the recipe resulted in nearly precisely 5 gallons. Gravity was 1.068 at 66°, which translates to 1.069 at 60°. This is nearly a perfect match for the calculations from BeerSmith (1.070)!
  • After fermenting for a week, I plan to transfer this over to the secondary fermenter. There it will sit for another week, and I'll add the Simcoe hops for a week of dry hopping prior to bottling.
Venturi pump in action
Miscellaneous Comments
Back when I was doing partial volume boils, I oxygenated my wort by splashing in the water direct from the tap, usually with a spray nozzle. That's no longer an option (because I no longer need to top up), so I needed to try something different. I wasn't quite ready to spring for a pump and/or oxygen tank, and fortunately some looking online highlighted a much cheaper (and anecdotally just as effective) solution. It gets the fancy name of a "Venturi pump", but in practice it's simply a little nylon plastic t-junction in the middle of the tubing that the cooled wort runs through. This piece cost under $3 at the hardware store. It operates on a simple physical principle...because the junction is of smaller diameter than the rest of the tubing, the pressure in the wort drops as it passes through. Air is sucked in via the protruding side of the "t", and into the wort.

Contamination was a concern, but the reports online suggest this is only a very minor consideration. I presume that because the yeast is pitched immediately, any potential problems are outcompeted. The other minor quirk is that you want to hold your finger over the opening on the "t" while starting the flow of wort. Once there is a good flow, air is sucked in; if you release too soon, you will lose a bit of wort.

All in all, I was happy with this inaugural brew day for the new equipment. The burner heated the wort to boiling quite quickly--under 20 minutes! The kettle was easy to clean, and it was nice not having to mess with adding water and the like. I am curious to see how the beer tastes!