My journeys in beer brewing
Brown beer was my tinkering with a Porter. Then I came across a bottle of Ballast Point Homework Series at Costco. It was the Robust Porter Homework #6 and I thought it was a perfect situation to make a porter and see how my process by comparing it against the maker's.
The first challenge was finding Chocolate Rye. I couldn't find it at MoreBeer and anywhere I found was out in the MidWest which charged more for the shipping than the grain. After a more refined search string, I found a place in Santa Cruz that had it. They charged $5 for shipping, but I figured I’d drive over and my wife wanted a road trip. So we headed over Hwy 17 and picked it up. Friendly folk at Brew Organic, I’ll keep them in mind for future grain purchases.
The mash went well, mash tun held temperature well for the hour the recipe. But I wasn’t thinking forward enough and forgot to start heating the sparge water in time for the 1 hour mark, so it sat an extra 10 mins. I got a few points higher in OG than the recipe called for. So I was happy when the brew. The kettle looked alike a big mug of hot chocolate, which was appropriate given the Chocolate Rye and Malt. Fermentation was the longest I experienced, on day 7, the air lock was still bouncing every 4 seconds.
A future recipe I'd like to make some changes. Less Chocolate Malt to lessen the burnt flavor, maybe more Rye. Less bittering hops and maybe try to reduce the alcohol content. Perhaps raise the mash temp to 155 to give it a sweeter taste.
After about a 1/2hr of mashing, I got my sparge ready. This is where I had my second mistake, I forgot the hot liquor tank had cooled and I needed to add more. I had quickly heated it up which delayed sparging by 20 minutes. When the water was ready I remembered about prepping the grain bed, I poured a few pints back into the top of the mash tun to get the grain bed filtering clean. I poured a lot more back in than I probably needed to, thinking I wanted the wort clear instead of just free of husks and large particles. Concerned about the tun getting too cool, I started to sparge. I remembered my friend warning against over sparging and pulling out tannins, so I had that on my mind too. After the sparge was complete I wasn't sure if I left too much sugar in the mash tun as the spent grains tasted a bit sweet. Too many concerns. After the boil and cooling I took my OG and found it was 1.062, which was a 1 above the expected, I switched back to being concerned about tannins. I needed to remember the rule of "relax, drink a home-brew".
After talking to my friend, the mistakes I made and concerns I had were minor. Longer time or more water in the mash tun are not big problems and only have a marginal effect. Later I learned more about mash temperature and I suspect the lower temperature extracted more fermentable sugars.
The moment of truth came and the beer was good. I served this one and the Dark Brown and the Amber was consumed more.
After being away from brewing for the birth of my daughter, I wanted to start using the mash tun, it was time to go past the steeping tea bag style. I had my friend comeover and help me out since it was the first attempt on my tun and I felt better having backup in case I needed it. I decided I wanted to make something porter-like. What I ended up with was a dark Brown Ale. It doesn't have the consistency of a porter, but is a lot like a brown with some black patent and chocolate malt. I did a 5 gallon batch with 5.5 lbs of grains and 3 lbs of malt extract.
We got BeerTools setup for how hot the kettle needed to be, luckly my friend had the same gatorade-style plastic tun so I was able to copy his calibration details. All went well as we hit our target of 155°, stirred after 15mins, and was still within range a 1/2hr. The biggest challenge of the brewing process was making sure not to sparge too much from the mash tun. With the sparge arm, we put some aluminum foil at the bottom to spread out the water better. As the wort got lighter and lighter, we stopped and started the boil. From that point on, it was pretty uneventful. Add a light amount of Northern Brewers hops for littering and cool down.
The only part of this brew that frustrated me was that I looked at the White Labs label for the temperature to ferment. Seeing it says 70°-75° for the yeast, not realizing that was just to start fermentation. On the second day of fermentation, I had to add a blowoff tube as the yeast was going crazy. Then I realized my mistake and lowered the temperature to 66°. Never again am I going to look at that label. I was concerned I screwed it up and was going to get some off flavors. Luckily, because of it being a malty beer, there was nothing noticeable and the beer tasted really good and want I wanted.
After a few beers of it I decided to I served it along with the next beer I brewed at my daughter's baptism party. So I couldn't drink too much as I had it in a 3 gallon keg, the rest were in bottles.
The recipe, for a 3 gallon batch, added 10 grams of Simcoe and Amarillo hops each at 10 min, 5 mins, and flameout. The Northern Brewer bittering hops was lowered from 18 to 15 grams as I didn't want to overly bitter the beer. In hindsight, that was a useless change and is showing me I'm overly concerned about it.
Everything went smooth with this brew process. I had no boilover this time, agitated the steeping grain bag a bit easier but still more than C2, and chilling started right away. I took a bit extra care with the process because of my above target gravity last week. I made sure not to get overly aggressive with the chiller swirling to cool down the wort out of care for the process, not knowing the extra bitterness/DMS that was to come with the Citra APA.
The color of the beer was about the same as the Citra APA, but the gravity was 2pts (.002) above target gravity. Not as bad as the 6 from before. However the final gravity came in right at recipe target. The best I can figure is my agitations of the bag is extracting more sugars out of the steeped grains. In this case, I got more fermentable sugars, hence hitting the final gravity and higher alcohol. In the case of the Citra APA, my greater agitation must have extracted unfermentable sugars that drove the gravity higher in the final gravity.
In the end the aroma and flavor of this beer was good. There was no extra bitterness at all, so no DMS this time. Many commented it was the best one so far. The different hops gave it a different citrus and floral characteristic, which was not hard to imagine since my three previous recipes were Citra-based. But that was the point, to explore a different set of hops. What I did not achieve was a lot of hop flavor given I doubled the amount of hops. As the picture on the left shows, there was a lot of hops that made it through the strainer, far more than previous beers. But I got only a little more flavor. I either have to dump a lot more flavoring hops, or I need to start dry hopping. After the Homebrewers conference, it seemed that dry hopping is a standard practice, I guess more than I expected, so maybe I will have to explore that for my next APA/IPA recipe.
Things I should consider for my next IPA recipe are dry hopping, more bittering, and 6-row.
This began a back-to-back weekend of brewing. We had just come north from our 2+ weeks in San Diego, which included attending the Homebrewer's Conference. I had a new water pump for my chiller system and was ready to go. During the brew I had a few mistakes along the whole process.
With this batch I agitated the steeping bags a lot to make sure the grains were well soaked. In the C2 brew, I had dried the grains to give to a friend to use for bread making. I had found a few small clumps of grains and wanted to avoid a repeat. Months later with later batches, I realize that technique may be causing me problems with gravity and clarity.
I let it boil over. For whatever reason, I got distracted by pruning a plant. With only 3.5 gallons of water, it still climbed over the 8 gallon kettle. It was all foam, but it was a reminder to not get distracted. I maintained a mild boil with the lid on, much like with C1, so I felt my water level would be good with less evaporation.
The final issue was it took me a while to cool down the wort. When I tested the new pump the day before, I thought my at least as strong as my father's. But when I hooked everything up, the water could not push through as much hose with all the elevation changes. I changed the hoses configurations and did not go through the hottub for pre-cooling. That took about 10 minutes of sitting before cooling started.
The original gravity came out 6pts (0.006) above target. I scratched my head on that a lot. This might have been the result of my agitating during the steep too much, but 6pts seemed to high for just that. I have yet to find a good way to measure how much wort I have after boil, so I could only speculate that the boil over may have taken out more than I thought.
During fermentation I was treated to a enjoyable show of yeast in action. The California Ales yeast was more vigorous than then others and the currents were fascinating. Because I was brewing on back to back weekends, when I transferred to secondary, I had to leave my 3 gallon carboy outside the fermentation fridge, I tried to keep it cool in the closet, but it was probably around 72-74F. My final gravity came out to be 2pts (0.002) higher originally expected, but hitting target gravity after the original gravity adjustment.
One other thing I did was try to cold crash the beer to settle it before kegging. Here was were I ran into another problem. At the time I did not have a second airlock. So I used the old fashion blowoff tube in a bottle of alcoholic water (half water-half vodka). I moved the whole setup into the fridge to crashed it and I neglected to check my alcoholic water level. The next day I saw this layer on the top of the water and the alcoholic water cup tipped over. I thought the layer was ice, but moving the carboy showed it was liquid. My guess was during cool down it sucked the liquid into the carboy. Not knowing the water level in the cup didn't help. After some discussions with my brewing friend, I siphoned the beer below the layer into the keg and dump the rest.
The beer turned out fine with good in hop flavor. There was clearly more hop flavor in this APA than the C2 version. It could have used more, but that could be fixed by the recipe. What was unexpected was a bitter taste. I initially thought it had to do with the layer in the carboy, but my friend thought it was DMS. At this point I had already brewed my follow on batch the same way as this beer, so I was wondering if that beer would suffer the same fate. Over time the bitterness faded, pointing to a transient issue, not infection, and probably DMS. The solution to DMS was the boil without a lid. Since I had always brewed with a lid, I was unsure why I hadn't seen this before, but I guess that's why brewing is hard to repeat.
My recipe was for 3 gallons. From the start I wanted to make smaller batches so I could experiment more. I don't drink everyday and I don't want a bunch of beer lying around. What beer I do brew has encouraged more hottub parties at my house, so maybe not a bad thing for my friends.
My wife was away so I went to my friends place, kettle in-hand, to brew with him as he was doing an EPA partial mash. Side note, For my friends brew, he had a mystery grain in his cabinet so he through it into his mash tun. Turned out to be a wheat malt so n the chiller late which made me run the boil a bit longer. Probably hurting my hop flavoring a bit, but only a few minutes extra. Nevertheless, I hit the target gravity and was ready to ferment. The 3 gallons looked a bit funny in the 6 gallon carboy. Luckily the thermowell that had finally came in stock at MoreBeer. Also luckily it was long enough to reach the wort.
Even before I got home I felt it was going to be too light of hop flavor. I modified the recipe and planned to brew another batch when the fermentation fridge was empty. I named this beer C1, and the following on recipe C2.
The end result was only a hint of Citra. It was a drinkable beer, just not a lot to distinguish it.
With a brand new pot and burner, we began brewing our Amber with our brew-buddy Marvin (right). Again the winter weather of March 2015 gave us near 70°F day. Our friend wasn't there yet when we started brewing so we went off the kit instructions. As we began, I realized the instructions were different from what we did with our friend. Previously we targeted 155°F to steep the grains, but the instructions say to heat up to 170°F and let the temperature fall. I'm not sure the difference as everything I've read about enzymes and such that you want to extract from the grains that the temperature should be around 155°F
The brewing process went will, although I would later realize after bottling that it came out really dark for a Blonde when compared to one of my favorite Blonde beers, 805. Even so much that I inadvertently started calling it an Amber.
One thing I didn't like what we did at my friends house was to waste the water using the chiller. Dumping it not the lawn was not efficient. Knowing that some day soon we'd be on water rationing, I decided that this was the day we would fill our hot tub in our recently purchased house. The idea worked well as I filled about 1/3rd of the 5 person tub. From the picture (second on the right) you can see the hose ready to be deployed
One of the projects I had undertook before this brew day was the construction of a fermentations fridge. In what I can only describe as fate, a few months before this brew day a friend had asked if we wanted their wine fridge of 10 years for free. It was slightly noisy, but nothing that would keep you up at night and couldn't beat the price. When I realized I should convert the wine fridge, I started searching online. I ended up buying a two stage warm/cool temperature controller from MoreBeer. I cringed at the thought of spending a $150 for it, but I figured the fridge was free. I later realized I could have built one for a lot cheaper, but knowing me it would have been many months before I finished the project.
After hookup up the controller and putting wires through the foam, I had the perfect fermentation fridge that was less needed in March, but certainly was needed during the summer in our non-AC house.
I had taped the temperature probe to the side of the carboy because the thermowell I wanted from MoreBeer wasn't in stock. I like the one with the stopper on top, not the hood. Personal preference.
The beer in the end was ok. It had a buttery note to it and I wasn't thrilled with the color and flavor, but for my first beer, it was a success. I didn't kill it.
Our first brewing experience was a partial mash and mostly watching. Our friend, who has brewed for many years, showed us the ropes with our stout kit. It was good to see the more advanced processes because it first, gave me an idea what it takes to brew, but secondly I was able to separate the simpler processes of steeping and know what I needed to perfect before moving on the partial mash myself.
Seeing the use of the mash tun and the temperature requirement was a bit intimidating. Certainly it was very difficult to hit a target temperature from a kettle to a mash tun. But our friend showed how he used BeerTools to calculate the temperature of the kettle with the distance in tubing from the kettle to the mash tun and the temperature of the grains, to get the mash tun the right temperature. Nevertheless, I happy to wait a while before I tried a mash tun on my own.
After hitting our target temperature, we got out the sparge and got a good grain bed to make some good wort. After boiling, doing the hop schedule and chilling, we popped it into the carboy and waited for fermentation. The original gravity came out on target, but the final gravity was a bit high. Our friend has a fermentation closet, and given this was December, his closet was in the low 60's. So we let the carboy sit for two weeks. We should be thankful that 2014 was a very mild winter or else the closet may have been better for a lager.
Even with the beer a little sweet, it turned out pretty good. Nice character and enjoyable. It left a good impression in my mind and my wife and I processed to purchase a starter kit from MoreBeer. With the kit came an Amber recipe, so my first brew recipe was set.
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