Friday, March 27, 2009

Fermentation Friday - Spring Fever

as promised last Friday, I would take part in Bryon's Fermentation Friday (today) by answering the question:
How will you grow or change as a home brewer this spring? How will you embrace your spring fever and channel it towards your brewing?

This spring is bringing much change to me as it is. Uncle Sam has finally cut my orders and is sending me packing back to Rhode Island for a year of school, and probably off to a place where brewing isn't possible after that. While that will put a serious crimp on my brewing progress, the positive side is that I will be in an academic environment for 10 months, which will be far more conducive to developing my skills.

Since I am moving I don't plan on brewing too much ( have two batches I want to make) this spring and anything I make needs to be in the bottle (or drunk) by moving day. So my "growth" this spring will not come from brewing so much as learning and doing things to make the most of my brewing once I move in July.

I'm going to start by reading and re-reading some serious brewing books, including Principles of Brewing Science by George Fix. Pretty involved, but I know I better understand things when I can break them down to the smallest possible level.

The next thing I plan on doing is really and truly learning to "taste" beer. To tell you the truth, I still get confused by notes, esters an everything else. I can taste malt. I can taste hops. I lack the refinement to pick out the rest; obtaining that refinement is good...because it means drinking beer, among other things. I understand Randy Mosher wrote a book on tasting beer that's very good, so I'll probably add it to my reading list.

The last thing I plan to do is build a kegerator. I. Hate. Bottling. I've come into a perfectly functional dorm fridge (one of the big ones that fits a couple of corny kegs) for exactly $0.00 and I plan to take advantage of it. At first I'd thought about modifying it to make a lagering fridge but that is way more tweaking and work-shoppy stuff than I'm used to. With readily available plans, this should be a good first project for someone who hasn't really done a big brewing do-it-yourself project before.

I said I was going to talk about schedules, too. I lied. Scheduling isn't growing. It's scheduling.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

IPA Update

Yesterday ended up getting away from me, and I could not get to the brew shop to pick up the barleywine ingredients I needed to brew today. Or to BJ's to fill the gas cylinder. Or to the supermarket to get the water. Sigh...hey, sometimes there are more important things than brewing. I know, I know hard to believe but true. So I got that all together today with the intention of having an evening brew session but once everything was said and done I didn't feel the desire. It would have all been too rushed. So I'm brewing tomorrow. It should go quickly as I'm only making 3 gallons and it's an extract w/ steeped grain recipe. Plus my yeast starter can use the time to kick into higher gear.

Since I had to do something brewish yesterday I decided to bottle the IPA (finally!). So here's the final (okay, penultimate) assessment:

Color: Close to a Sierra Nevada Anniversary Ale. My to-be-carbonated "new beer" is on the left, the Sierra Nevada (which I just happened to be drinking last night) is on the right.

FG: 1.013 for an ABV of 6.96% - call it 7%

Aroma: Pleasant but not overbearing cascade aroma - floral, citrusy, just a bit spicy.

Taste: There is an assertive (but not overly so) bitterness that gives way to a mild grapefruit taste at the finish. Your taste buds are left vibrating slightly from it, but it is by no means harsh or unpleasant. I made this recipe from a similar one I tried some years back. That beer turned out way out of balance, and drinking it was akin to having your tongue flattened out by a bitter, grapefruit flavored Louisville Slugger. I was worried that this may come out the same, but it most certainly did not. I'll get a more thorough taste report when it's finally carbonated.

Overall: I love this beer. I was "eh" over the Porter, (though I've had my local homebrew shop owner confirm it was just fine), but this has (thus far) turned out better than I thought it far. Assuming it doesn't go to hell in the bottle, this one is a keeper - something to use as a standard as time goes on and watch it improve as I do.

As a note, I had a small disaster dry-hopping. The bag ruptured putting half the hops (and marbles for weighting the bag) outside the fermenter. So I didn't get as much in the fermenter as I wanted to. Turns out, it may have just been enough. We'll see. I also had a lucky break when I set my racking cane down on the ruptured bag to rack the beer to the bottling bucket, as the torn bag acted as an additional filter preventing sediment from transferring.

Since I also used gelatin as a clarifier I'm wary that there might not be a lot of yeast sediment that transferred and the beer will carbonate slowly, but I don't think that will be much of an issue. It's a nylon straining bag and not a micron filter, and I plan on letting this stuff sit several weeks before trying. I also need to think through a better mechanism for dry-hopping than filling a straining bag with whole hops and sanitized marbles and trying to force it into the carboy.

There they are...well, half of them. 12 x 22oz bottles. I also have one case of 12 oz bottles and one 16 oz swing top. Not a bad haul. I marked an "I" on the caps so they are not confused with their friends the porter bottles.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

27 March 2009 - Fermentation Friday

I just found out that next Friday is something called Fermentation Friday. The idea itself seems really cool (similar to The Session) and this month's topic is:

How will you grow or change as a homebrewer this spring?

It's a perfect topic for someone resurrecting his homebrewing hobby, so I'll be participating.

On a different note, this Saturday is another brew day - my plan (desire) is to brew three beers every two months (ambitious I know - this is something I'll address next Friday) and thus far I've done three in Jan/Feb and zero in Mar/Apr. So my Mar/Apr sked looks like this so far:

21 Mar: Barleywine

28-29 Mar: Australian Ale (Cooper's Sparkling clone)

Apr: Beer. Not sure what kind.

I'm stoked to get the barleywine going. More on that this weekend...I need to get the starter going soon...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Capture and Exploitation

If you want to compete with, or best an opponent, you need to know what you are up against. Observation can only provide so much information. Ideally you want to obtain - purchase, steal or capture - the machine of your opponent and break it apart. Open it up, get inside, put it back together, operate it, determine its limits. Then make yours BETTER. The aircraft is the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. For eighteen months it dominated the skies over the Pacific in World War II, but in fact the Zeros doom was sealed within 8 months of Pearl Harbor. Captured and exploited, the Akutan Zero enabled the generation of American naval fighters that would sweep one of the most famous and dangerous - not to mention beautiful and graceful - planes in history from the skies.

Such practices were nothing new - it is as old as competition itself. In August of 1812, England was shocked when a Royal Navy frigate lost a ship-to-ship duel for the first time in nearly 30 years.

Within 5 months, two more of England's vaunted frigates had been taken on the high seas. The stark reality had set in that the Royal Navy was facing a superior class of ships in the American "heavy frigates" and they adjusted their operations accordingly.

The Royal Navy would not capture a heavy frigate in time to exploit it before war's end, but they would capture one nonetheless, and implement some of the innovative design elements of these ingenious ships into their own fleet.

I had decided to brew an Australian-style ale for ANZAC Day. As my wife is Australian, April 25th is an important day in our house. As luck would have it, the latest issue of Brew Your Own magazine is almost completely devoted to Australian brewing styles and techniques, recipes included. The most promising is a Cooper's Sparkling Ale clone recipe that I decided to brew. I have scoped the ingredients, everything looks like it can be put in place for brewing.

There were two sticking points, however, and they are related. First, the recipe states the best way to brew it is to use yeast activated and re-pitched from an original bottle. Second, the best way to judge if your clone is true is to actually DRINK some of the beer you want to clone.

Vindication on these points came last week in my usual "haunt" (as far as liquor stores go). Coming upstairs from their basement (and restroom), I popped out near the cooler in the back and lo! Three different Cooper's beers inside! Could they? Do they? YES!!! Sparkling ale! I finally have my capture.

Needless to say, I have been doing a lot of research. The beer itself is beautiful, light bodied, and crisp. It's a highly attenuated beer, with an initial aroma of yeast and bread. A hint of malt on the tongue, followed by an assertive (but not overwhelming) bitterness from the Pride of Ringwood hops, that lingers for a second or two before a clean, dry finish. Some fruitiness (pear). Very refreshing, and it will go down great on a hot day. It is also a "fast" beer. The recipe cited 16 days from brewing to drinking - bottling it for conditioning after less than a week (6 days) in primary to ensure plenty of yeast for conditioning and high carbonation. I've enjoyed it both clear and "mit hefe" and it is fabulous both ways. I cannot wait to brew this at the end of the month, and I plan to use a different technique than I have been using recently - an "Australian" method, as it is called, in BYO.

To be continued...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Experimenting With Fruit Beer

I promised myself I wouldn't post any more "Beer Photos of the Week" until I got moving on some actual brewing posts. And as I have several to talk about, I decided to go with the fruit beer post today.

Why a fruit beer? Because fruit beer is fun, and I wanted to try something a little different. I've made beer with cherries and strawberries in the past, but wanted to try something different this time. So I chose two tropical fruits that go great together: orange and mango. I would implement them in different ways though. So, here is the recipe:

Fruit Beer - 6 gallons, mini-mash, 1.049 OG, 24 IBU

3.5 lbs Pale Ale Malt
1 lb Vienna Malt
0.5 lb Crystal 20L Malt
2.0 lbs Munton's Ultralight DME
2.0 lbs Breiss Bavarian Wheat DME
Zest of one medium blood orange - 60 min boil
0.75 oz Saaz Pellet Hops, 6.8% AA - 60 min boil
0.75 oz Hallertau Pellet Hops, 3.9% AA - 5 min flavor/aroma
8 lbs Frozen Mango Chunks, pureed (secondary)
Wyeast 1056 American Ale (harvested and re-pitched from IPA)

My goal was to have a basic ale, not too dark (recipe calculated 5.5 SRM, but I got a little darker), without a lot of bitterness or hop character, but what hop character I get should be from noble hops to complement the fruit. Best guess, the base is supposed to be kind of like a German Barley Ale (Alt or Kolsch).

I used the wort chiller for the first time. It was beautiful. 40 min of chilling and the wort was at 72°F. Opened up the lid, saw the beautiful cold break at the bottom of clear wort, and thought "Easy as pie!"

Yeah, right. Racking to primary was a different story. I simply could not prevent the break from racking into the bucket without losing waaay too much beer. I was trying to rack through the spigot at the base of my kettle instead of siphon from the top. So I ended up straining it all into the bucket and sealing it up for 2-3 hours to allow the trub to settle and then rack the beer into a glass primary before the beer could re-absorb the break.

Success! The sample is from the top of the bucket before racking, and you can clearly see the trub left over. As you can see at the top of the post the "new beer" beer is a little darker than 5 SRM, but the color is still great. OG was a touch high - 1.051. So into the primary it went, with a starter of harvested yeast thrown in...

Nearly two weeks later came secondary day - the day to put the beer on the fruit. I was worried about space - where would I put 5 gallons of beer plus 8 lbs or pureed mango? My first thought was to put it all in the bucket and do a secondary in plastic, but on the odd (or not so odd) chance I could not get back to it rapidly, I didn't want the beer spending weeks and weeks in plastic. Yech. So again, I transferred it into the bucket and sealed it HOLD while I cleaned and re-sanitized the carboy and put the pureed fruit in...

That's the harvested yeast in a flask of new wort (to wake it up) on the bucket.

SG of 1.010 equates to about 5.6% ABV. That's the only accurate measurement I'll have to go with.

The new food processor ready to go. It's wet because I sanitized it with Iodophor before commencing.

That's what 8 lbs of pureed mango looks like in a carboy. Now, to rack the beer onto the mango...

We went out to dinner, came home, and lo and behold...

Wakey, wakey! Eggs and bakey- uh, I mean...barley!!! Pitch it into the carboy, put it back in the corner, and 24 hours later...


So I'm leaving it all alone to let the yeast beasties devour the fruit sugars for a couple of weeks or so. Then I'll clarify and bottle, and hopefully when late spring/summer comes, we'll have an awesome fruit beer that will go great with Thai or Indian food...

I love this. It's so "wide-open"!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Beer Photo of the Week - Stone Ruination IPA

Yeah, I'm really not keeping this thing up if all I'm doing is going from photo to photo. I have one brewing experience to catch up on, and a schedule to promulgate. Plus all the cool gadgets and shite I want to put up here. But for now, all I got's a pic...

This is what could be called a "full bumper". What a beautiful color, and it tasted as good as it looked. Hops from the second it hits to well after it's gone down the gullet. But so well done. I truly admire this beer.

h/t my wife for the photo...