Sunday, December 28, 2014

Looking Back on the News and Brews of 2014

2014 has seen more changes to my brewery and brewing practice than just about any year since I started brewing. In part, this happened because I feel comfortable enough with the hobby--and that I'll be brewing for the long-term--to invest in more equipment. This in turn was enabled by a move into a new place that had a garage with utility sink, so I was able to get the operation out of the kitchen (with its various space, sanitation, and process limitations) and into a dedicated brewing area. More space meant more equipment...which meant more options for brewing! As a result, I feel like I have really grown and improved as a brewer. This has been challenging at times--the switch to all-grain was like learning to brew all over again! But, the challenges have been mostly fun and solvable; the best kinds of challenges to have.
A handy inscription on my mash tun
Major Changes in Technique / Equipment
  • Changing from partial volume to full volume boils. This was a relatively minor change in the grand scheme of things, but it did pave the way for all-grain brewing.
  • Transitioning into all-grain brewing. This is perhaps the largest and most enjoyable change. As mentioned above, in many ways it was like learning to brew all over again. New equipment, new things to worry about (or relax about). 
  • Improved temperature control. This change has allowed me to extend my brewing season, as well as ensure happier yeast during my previous "usual" brewing season (late fall through early spring).
  • Yeast starters. Where I had been relying largely on dry yeast, I am excited to expand into some new strains in the world of liquid yeast packaging.
  • Beginning the transition into kegging. As I finish out the year, I've been building a keezer setup, with anticipated "first draft" in the first week or two of the New Year.
Favorite Brews of 2014
  • Bonedigger Brown Ale. This may be the first recipe I've ever designed that turned out perfect on first try. I chalk it up to dumb luck, and will definitely put this into regular rotation!
  • Gondwana Pale Ale. This one took two iterations, but ended up as a nice showcase for Citra hops (my new favorite hop variety--it will be tough to hold back on overusing this one!).
  • Summer Blonde Ale. This ale was my first temperature-controlled brew, and ended up as a quite drinkable warm-weather concoction. This too is going into regular rotation!
Goals for 2015
  • Experiment with new ingredients--yeast, hops, and malts. I have worked a lot with "classics" such as crystal malt, basic American and British yeasts (e.g., Nottingham, various Chico strains, etc.), and Cascade hops. In the upcoming year, I would like to expand into some untouched territory.
  • Perfect kegging and in-keg carbonation of my homebrew, along with small-scale bottling from the keg. I'm thinking about building a bottling gun, just for fun.
  • Develop an in-house white IPA recipe. While I was traveling recently, I got a chance to try an amazing Italian white IPA (Lariano Vergött), and since then have been dreaming about devising one of my own.
  • Brew and/or develop more session beer recipes. Pretty much what it says.
  • Brew a lager. Now that I have good temperature control, I can start to think about lagers and pilsners. This opens up a whole new world of styles and techniques, of course. 
Summer Blonde Ale

Homebrew Roll Call (everything I brewed in 2014)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Andy's Pumpking Ale 1.0 Update

I only recently realized that I didn't post details on the fermentation and bottling of my pumpkin ale.

After brewing on 13 October 2014, and ~2 weeks of fermentation and conditioning, I bottled on 26 October 2014. Final gravity was 1.012, down from a starting gravirty of 1.060. This works out to 6.3% abv.

I primed a mini-keg (5 L) with 1.5 tbs. of corn sugar, and filled up the keg. I had 3.5 gallons left, and wanted to aim for 2.4 volumes of CO2. Thus, I carbonated with 3 oz. of corn sugar boiled in 2 cups of water. The end yield was 18 12-oz. bottles, 5 22-oz. bottles, and 6 18-oz. bottles.

After a few weeks of conditioning, I sampled some bottles. The beer is more carbonated than I like--I suspect this may be due in part to not stirring the beer sufficiently after adding the priming sugar. I also suspect some secondary fermentation is involved, due to the high carbonation in the keg, too.

I took a bottle to my local homebrew club meeting, and the brew overall got pretty decent marks from the crew. Our club president deemed it as nicely balanced, and I would tend to agree. This is definitely a recipe I'll be trying again!

A formal tasting evaluation will follow later.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Eagle Face Oatmeal Stout

This past week, some colleagues and I named a new dinosaur - Aquilops americanus. The name Aquilops means "eagle face", in honor of the animal's eagle-like beak. So, it only seemed appropriate to name this weekend's brew session Eagle Face Oatmeal Stout.

It has been a loooooong time since I have brewed an oatmeal stout. The last effort, back in 2010 during my extract days, was not a flawless fermentation but the end result was really darned good beer (just not a lot of it). My first attempt at an all-grain oatmeal stout is thus experimental territory!

Eagle Face Oatmeal Stout

  • 8.5 lbs. 2-row pale malt
  • 1 lb. 80° L crystal malt
  • 1 lb. Victory malt
  • 1 lb. flaked oats
  • 0.75 lb. chocolate malt
  • 0.5 lb. roasted barley
  • 0.5 lb. rice hulls
  • 1.25 oz. Northern Brewer hops pellets (8.5% alpha, 4.0% beta; adjusted for aging)
  • 1 tbs. 5.2 pH stabilizer
  • 1 tsp. Irish moss
  • English Ale yeast - WLP002
  • On Thursday, December 11, I set up the yeast starter. As with my last starter, I used 172 grams of extra light dry malt extract in 1.5 L of water. This was boiled for 10 minutes, cooled, and then the yeast was pitched. True to the reputation of WLP002, it is indeed a highly floculant, fast-acting strain.
  • On brew day, Saturday, December 13, I milled all of the grains except the flaked oats and rice hulls. After milling, the oats and rice were added to the grains, which were in turn added to the mash tun.
  • I mashed in with 4.25 gallons of water at 176°. The overall mash stabilized at 156°.
  • After 60 minutes, I added 0.5 gallons of water at 180°. I let the mash settle for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected 3.25 gallons of wort.
  • I then added 3.14 gallons of 185° water; the temperature of the resulting mash was a little too hot for my tastes (~174°), so I added 0.375 gallons of tap cold water. This brought the mash down to 166° or so. As before, I waited 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and drained the tun.
  • In total, I collected 6.85 gallons of wort with a gravity of 1.048. This works out to ~74% efficiency.
  • I brought the wort to a boil, and added the hops. After 45 minutes, I added 1 tsp. of Irish moss. After 60 minutes, I turned off the heat and chilled the wort down to ~70°.
  • I transferred 5.75 gallons of wort into the fermenter, pitched the yeast, and put it in my fermentation chamber. The temperature was set to 68°. [because it is fairly cool this time of year, I have a small heating pad to help keep temperature up; what a reverse from the summer months!]
  • The starting gravity was 1.057 at 60°. The wort is sweet and quite dark--true to style!
  • When I checked on the beer nine hours after pitching the yeast, fermentation was cruising along quite nicely.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Beer Tasting: Bonedigger Brown Ale

My Bonedigger Brown Ale has turned into an absolutely delicious beer. Brown ales have a reputation as being fairly easy to brew, and I would agree overall. I am quite pleased that this has matured into one of my best all-grain beers yet (in my opinion).

  • I brewed this on 27 September 2014, bottled/kegged it on 11 October 2014, and sampled it on 3 December 2014. The sample described here was from a keg.
  • Basics
    • Starting gravity: 1.057; final gravity: 1.014; 5.7% abv
  • Aroma
    • Lightly malty; no hops detectable
  • Appearance
    • Head has good retention, fine to moderate tannish color. The beer itself is dark brown, with good clarity
  • Flavor
    • Flavor is pleasantly malty, with a slight chocolate/cocoa hint and finish; smooth and drinkable; hops are well-balanced with malt, not overly bitter.
  • Mouthfeel
    • Mouthfeel is smooth and almost creamy; body is nice--not overly thin but not overly thick, best described as medium; pretty balanced body overall; moderately carbonated as appropriate for style.
  • Would I brew this again?
    • As brown ales go, I would drink this again and brew it again in an instant! A really nice brew. I'll take this to my homebrew club meeting for their feedback, but at the moment I can't foresee changing much.
  • Overall rating
    • 9.5/10