Sunday, August 10, 2014

ACES Anniversary Ales

So, at work we have this project called ACES which is a package based software implementation.  However, the client decided to hack the crap out of the package to shoehorn it into their business.  It has been going on for 7 years. We haven't implemented yet and we are on Work Pack 23 - that's 23 software releases of modifications to the base package just in the last two years.  Looks possible we will go live with it next month such as it is.  In honor of this ridiculous endeavor, I started on a recipe for an Irish Red Ale I called ACES Anniversary Ale.  Each batch took on another work pack number, starting with WP-01.  There really isn't any anniversary, but I figured I was brewing it for the go live date. 

The first batch had a bit too much crystal malts. I was shooting for an Imperial Irish Ale.  Although you could see the reddish tint when held up to a bright light, it appeared fairly dark brown.  I had dry hopped it with a quarter ounce each of Simcoe and Williamette pellets, so it had a nice bitter finish, but not too bad.  It came out pretty malty, and the ABV wasn't as high as expected.  I looked at the specs for the Irish Ale yeast and realized it only attenuates to 70%, so it left behind a lot of sugar and resulted in 5.6% ABV instead of 8%.

WP-02 was brewed about a month later and I reduced some of the crystal, but kept the flaked barley and Carared malt.  Still came out a bit dark, but the red was showing better.  ABV came out about the same.

WP-03 was very different, took out all the Munich and extra crystal, exc for the Carared.  I screwed up the mash with too high of temperature of strike water and didn't detect it soon enough.  I was doing a single infusion mash and the temperature gradients in the tun were pretty wide.  I only managed to get 3.5% out of it.  So as a hail mary, I threw in a bottle of Jameson's to get it over 5%.  I skipped the dry hopping this time.  I popped a bottle after a week and thought that if it didn't get better, I'd dump the lot.

After another week and a half, it really matured.  Over two weeks after bottling it was actually damn good enough bring it in to work to distribute.  I called it WP-03 Hot Fix as a tribute to the Jameson's fix.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Full steam ahead

Well, got the bug back, upgraded my equipment to make it easier to brew, reworked all my recipes to handle 5 gallons and take into consideration the remarks in the Southern Nevada Ale Fermenters Union (SNAFU) competition.  I built a yeast stirrer from an old PC and a couple of Radio Shack pots and resistors.  Tore up a cooler..since we had a bunch of them and put in a filter hose and a drain valve.  Found a few other shortcuts using two food buckets.  Got a Victoria mill and ground my grains to a pulp...not the best choice, but it works.  Just have to be real careful that you get enough hulls intact to ensure a non-stuck sparge.  Made a 72 bottle tree out of scrap wood and quarter round plastic molding and about 5 coats of paint to seal it well for disinfecting.

I kicked off this round of brewing with a son loves BJs Porter, but I decided on a Baltic Porter heavily laced with anice that I happened to have on hand. 

Stupid the last minute during setting up the carbonation, I decided to deviate from my carefully crafted recipe and add more honey.  Totally forgot what it would do to the carbonation...was hoping for more honey flavor...rookie mistake.  Ended up with a bunch of bottle bombs.

But once it was allowed to settle down was pretty awesome porter...if you like anise.

So next was a stout...another of my son's favorites.  Brewed a great stout, and decided to add hickory chips soaked in a bottle of Bourbon to the wort.  Ok for me, but ended up at 12.6% and a kick ass brew.  I liked it, so did  my son. But gave a bunch of it out and most people weren't prepared. That's Bailey on the label in a Tennessee hillbilly's hat.  Had one like that when I was a kid.  My mother called it a pea-picker's hat.

One guy who was a former drunk, really liked it . :-P  Maybe I should be more careful about screening those I give samples to.  Should probably create a questionnaire and see if they are qualified to drink this stuff.  If you don't like Bourbon, coffee, roasted flavors, you won't like it.  But Steve, at Vegas Home Brew thought I was on to something and told me to save some till August to let it mellow a bit.  That's going to take some willpower.  One of my Untappd friends put in a request for a couple bottles.

Just started an Imperial Red Ale today. Calling it ACES Anniversary Ale for a project going live next month at work called ACES.  Everything seemed to go to plan so we will see where we end up next month. But it's off to a good start.

And now the next day:

Love that sound!  Seems like a miracle that those tiny yeast cells can do that.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Slowly getting back to it

Been away from brewing anything since that killer stout last winter. A bit chastened by a failed dopplebock, I have spent a few months going through all my recipes and converting them to 5 gallon recipes and fine tuning the hops and grain bill calculations.

I also just built a yeast stir plate and replumbed my mash tun cooler. I only bought one part for the stir plate - a potentiometer to slow the fan down.  The parts used were a wooden cigar box from a friend, an old PC provided a fan, hard drive magnets, and an old cell phone..the power cord with transformer. Throw in some gorilla glue, a few wire nuts and odd screws and slap it all together.  Here it is with the fan mounted to the lid before I added the potentiometer to slow it down.

For the mash run I had been using plastic hose clamped onto the existing cooler spigot but it wasn't sturdy enough. Tore that spigot out and replaced it with a nipple, two washers and two bushings and reattached the valve to the outside bushing.

I also cut a piece of half inch tubing and pushed it onto the special tube fitting and clamped it on the braid I had before from the hose I had taken apart.

Next I want to pick up an aquarium aerator and a submersible pump to use in an ice bath to feed my wort chiller. The hose water here is too warm to chill the wort quickly or low enough.

Monday, February 25, 2013

A late Christmas gift

We don't get to see one of our besties now that she is in Arizona and we are in Vegas.  She came up to visit this weekend and we finally got to exchange Christmas presents.  She was happy that I'd taken up homebrewing so she could find something more creative to get me.  As a result, she took her first excursion into a homebrew store in Phoenix (there are 5 of them down there).  It was pretty daunting with all the food buckets, carboys, hardware, grains, etc.  So the proprietor asked her a few questions of which she could only answer that he's been homebrewing for a year or so and had no idea how.  All she did remember was that I do like dark malty brews.  The owner took her over to the kit rack and showed her what sounded like a very sizeable collection of kits.  Thankfully, he picked out the Crosby & Baker True Brew Oaked Imperial Stout.  I'd been thinking about brewing a stout and the weather is just trending right in the garage for fermentation.

The kit is very complete with two kinds of LME - hopped and unhopped dark, 2 kinds of DME - light and dark, crystal, chocolate and roasted malt grains, Nugget hops, Fermentis US-05 American Dry Ale yeast, oak powder, priming sugar and even a grain bag.

We spent dinner at the Yardhouse and there's always a great selection.  This time there was Young's Double Chocolate Stout on hand.  All I can say is OMG.  The head on this brew is so amazing, I've never tasted anything like it.  It is as thick as a chocolate milk shake.  The brew has a very distinct chocolate flavor and the aroma really kicks in once you have warmed it up and drained about half the glass.  The head remains long after the brew is gone.

I was in the midst of reading Randy Mosher's "Tasting Beer" and was on the Belgian section.  I remembered reading about Chimay and was surprised to see an abbey-brewed ale on the menu.  Obviously I should have had these in reverse order.  The Chimay was overpowered by the residual stout and the jambalaya I had. It was a nice brew, but I really could not taste its nuances even with cleansing my palate with water.  It certainly was not very hoppy, but did seem a bit citrusy.
The next night we went to Cheesecake Factory.  A fairly uninspired beer menu, especially in this case with their proximity to local breweries.  One of the few redeeming entries was the New Belgium Fat Tire red ale.  You can see the incredible color and lacing. It stood up well to whatever it was I ate, oh yeah - chicken pasta with marinara sauce.  Very much a sessionable brew, even at over 5%, quite malty with subdued hop flavors...just enough bittering hops for balance.

All in all - a pretty great weekend for beer.

Friday, January 25, 2013


Winter in Vegas and Gordon Biersch put out an amazing Winterbock.  We all liked it so much we ate dinner there several weeks in a row, bought a growler full and refilled it.  So when for Christmas, my brewery was upgraded to 5 gallon capacity - new grain mill, mash tun, lautering cooler, wort chiller, extra food bucket and a few odds and ends I picked up after, I knew what I had to do. 

Combine those two events together and I decided to make a dopplebock.  Not sure I was thinking straight, because if I'd remembered the length of time and hassle it took to lager a Munich Dunkel last year, I might have thought better of it. 

Did a bit of digging through,, Homebrew Favorites, "Designing Great Beers", and "Radical Brewing" and put together a powerful triple decoction brew with almost a 12% ABV.   That's actually when I decided to build the cooler lautering tun.  The mash tun just wouldn't hold enough grain and water to get up that high. 

I used a braided hose for the filter in the bottom of the tun instead of the usual drilled PVC pipe solution.  It ended up working very well.  I was especially concerned because the mill I'd gotten (on the right below) was a Victoria instead of a roller mill and it tended to really pulverize some of the grain.  Very slight difference between not cracking the grain and ending up with dust.

I sanitized everything in the tub with bleach.  A lot cheaper than Starsan and with a good rinsing, I've never had trouble with it.  Did manage to pull my back out taking the mash tun out of the bathtub full of water to take out to the burner.  Was fine the next day though.

My whole grain bill came out to 16.5 pounds of grain - Amber malt, malted wheat, Briess malt, 2 kinds of crystal malt, chocolate malt, black patent malt, Vienna and Munich malts.  Decoction is pretty tricky and depending on who you listen to, you can really go down a rat hole and waste a bunch of time.  The first two decoctions I took, I actually ran the liquid and grain decoction through the remaining temperature rests, which took a couple hours a piece.  By the time I added them back to the tun, the temperature in the tun had dropped about 10 degrees, so I ended up back where I started.  I then consulted a different source that said to just decoct the grains and boil them and add them back in.  Then I started to make some progress and get the whole tun up to the right temperatures after three more decoctions.  I spent the whole day doing this to finally get the tun up to the final temperatures.  By then it was too late to do anything else, so it sat over night.

It had an awesome smell with all those grains.  This was also during a cold snap, so it was barely 30 degrees in the garage.  Plus I had to keep the door partially open due to the propane burner running.  The vodka I was using for minor sanitation jobs came in handy.  The next day I started sparging...and sparging.  When I finished, the final gravity was 1.13 and there was plenty of color left in the runnings.  I took another batch of sparge water and added it to the grains and let it soak really well, while I started the boil on the main batch.  When I resparged the grains I ended up with another 5 gallons at a gravity of 1.03 and still a very good color.  Later I added three pounds of Briess CBW Pure Malt Extract Non Diastatic Unhopped Traditional Dark LME to boost the gravity up. 

In the main batch, I added Hallertau hops, 3/4ths for bittering and 1/4 for aroma, but this is going to be a malt heavy brew, like it should be.  With the weather so cold, the wort chiller worked like a champ and I had the brew cooled down in no time at all.  It was still too late to mess with the other batch, so I let it soak overnight.  I didn't pitch the yeast, as while the boil was going on, I prepared a starter.  This high gravity stuff needed as much yeast as I could get, so just throwing in a tubeful wasn't going to cut it.

That was all I had of Hallertau, but I had a bunch of odds and ends of hops that would work out to about the same bitterness and aroma.   Into the second running's boil, I threw Williamette 4.8% .55 oz, Kent goldings 5.7% .4oz,  fuggles 4% .2 oz for bittering, and Centennial 8.7% .65 oz for aroma and for something a bit to my taste... half an ounce of anise.

When it came to pitching, I'd followed Palmer's recommendation for creating the starter and pouring off the top portion and only pitching the bottom third.  Seemed that both batches really took off slowly...well barely.  But I am used to using glass jugs for primaries and not being able to see how the kreusen was developing was frustrating.  I picked up another vial of yeast and the LME above.  Created another starter with less DME and pitched the whole thing into the primary batch.  The LME I put into the second batch not only to increase the gravity, but also to give the yeast something more substantial to dine upon.  When I took the lids off both buckets, the kreusen was well developed in both, so I guess I needn't have worried.  I pitched the yeast anyway and within a day, the airlock was really popping. 

The weather has really been cooperating and the garage has stayed right where I need it in the mid to high 50s.  In a few weeks, I'm going to have to chill them down to the high 30s, so I'll be commandeering one of our refrigerators.  Should be a good spring, as both of these should be ready, mid April.  I think I will have to buy another bucket and brew up a quick stout so I don't die of thirst waiting.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Expansion time

After coming up with some recipes that came out really well, I rue that fact that I was only brewing two gallon batches.  Being the impatient type, I couldn't help popping bottles before their time, leaving an insufficient number to really enjoy when they were really ready or to share with the family.  So it was time to upgrade to 5 gallon brews.  Did a lot of digging around on the web for ready built systems, but the low end Braumeister pot is too small to brew really big, high ABV brews.  Blichman's and Ruby Street's set ups are really cool, but pricey. 

I happened to see a leftover turkey fryer from Thanksgiving on sale at the grocery store.  Seven gallon pot - not quite enough for a big brew, but I decided I could do decoction mashes and use a cooler.  We had a couple box coolers in the garage, so I rigged one up with a braided stainless steel hose to use for a lauter tun.  I also put a wort chiller and a Victoria hand mill on the Christmas list that finally arrived this week.  I already had a 7 gallon fermenting bucket and will pick up a six gallon carboy as a secondary fermenter.

The first recipe I have in mind is a Dopplebock, over 10% ABV.  It has been cool enough to ferment the lager yeast out in the garage.  14.5 lbs of grains and 1.25 quarts of water per pound meant that I won't have enough room in the fryer.  When I realized that, I decided to retrofit the cooler and do a double decoction mash.  I found a great calculator on this site that helped in determining the size of each decoction:

Buying the grains and refilling the propane tank next week, so I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

2012 SNAFU Las Vegas Memorial Competition Part Trois

I thought I'd have to wait until next Friday before I received the score sheets with the details of my entries.  The SNAFU club president, Matt, was nice enough to scan and email all the sheets to the entrants. I've given the scores first, then the comments.


  • Aroma:                         6/12             6/12
  • Appearance:                2/3                2/3
  • Flavor:                        11/20            9/20
  • Mouthfeel:                  3/5                3/5
  • Overall Impression:    6/10              5/10
  • Total:                         26/50            26/50
Baltic Porter -
  • Aroma                            4/12             7/12
  • Appearance:                   2/3                2/3
  • Flavor:                           5/20              4/20
  • Mouthfeel:                    2/5                 3/5
  • Overall Impression:      3/10              3/10
  • Total:                            14/50           19/50

    American Pale Ale -
  • Aroma:                           4/12                4/12          3/12
  • Appearance:                   3/3                  3/3            3/3
  • Flavor:                           10/20               5/20         5/20
  • Mouthfeel:                     2/5                   3/5            3/5
  • Overall Impression:       3/10                4/10          3/10
  • Total:                             22/50           19/50        17/50

    Munich Dunkel -
  • Aroma:                           7/12               9/12
  • Appearance:                   3/3                 2/3
  • Flavor:                           10/20           10/20
  • Mouthfeel:                     2/5                 3/5
  • Overall Impression:       5/10               8/10
  • Total:                           27/50             32/50

    Belgian Wit -
  • Aroma:                            6/12               6/12
  • Appearance:                   2/3                   2/3
  • Flavor:                            11/20            10/20
  • Mouthfeel:                     2/5                   2/5
  • Overall Impression:       6/10                5/10
  • Total:                           27/50              25/50

  • Overall I ended up with 46%; pretty average, not so bad for my first year at this.  Especially since I wasn't really targeting the styles with most of these and was brewing for my own taste.  I didn't even know about the competition till I before I started the Saison and Wit.  The judges' scoresheets were written in pencil and scanned, so there's a few cases where I'm not sure what they wrote, so I just put in ??? below.


    Saison - My comment: Added anise and I don't think people care much for anise or licorice flavors. Judges: #2 tight yeast pack on bottom of bottle, mild gushing
    • Aroma: #1 Spicy, tart, fruity esters, low sour. #2 Floral sweet nose up front with a hint of banana dn citrus. No DMS, no Diacetyl, no hop aroma detected. may sound odd, but kind of like new car.
    • Appearance: #1 Ivory lace, nice amber #2 purs light copper with moderat haze, big fluffy light tan head lingers leaving a thin layer of foam that holds indefinitely, no lacing.
    • Flavor: #1 Dry spicy very soft malt.#2 Rich malt character up front followed by a bit of sourness, citrus rind and peppery note.  Finishes a bit sweet and grainy for the style. No diacetyl, no DMS detected, Hop bitterness is light.
    • Mouthfeel: #1 Medium body, medium warmth, a little acidity  #2 light bodied, high in carbonation, finishes very dry as per style. Not much heat or creaminess, also to style.
    • Overall: #1 Tart little too much, warming, but a nice drinking beer overall.  #2 Nice light, dry easy drinker, could be a bit heavy on the phenolics, maybe start cool and ramp up w/fermentation. Showed early signs of oxidation, but not offputting. maybe try to minimize splashing and cap on foam.
    Baltic Porter - My comment: Added more licorice than prior batches and I'm sure that turned them off, but I'm one of the few black licorice afficiandoes. If I'd had one of the prior batches, I would have entered that instead as they had a better balance with the malts.
    #1 Bottle conditioned, foamed on opening. #2 Gusher with clumpy pour.
    • Aroma: #1 Yeasty smell up front with smooth roasty aromas underneath. #2 Yeasty, vinous, very slight roast, no hops.
    • Appearance: #1 Cloudy reddish-brown, low tan head that persists. #2 dark brown, good head retention.
    • Flavor: #1 Metallic, tinny, blood-like flavor overwhelms roast malt. (so much for putting my blood, sweat and tears into my brewing) #2 Dark fruit, no hop flavor, some alcohol, metallic, bloodlike.
    • Mouthfeel: #1 Light-medium bodied, medium carbonation  #2 Smooth, medium body, low carbonation, warming.
    • Overall: #1 From the chunky yeast slurry in the bottle to the metallic, blood-like flavor, this beer misses the mark. Only the color and head were appealling. Check your water mineral salts content or bronze fittings on your equipment. (I had put down the licorice as a special ingredient, but I'm sure that didn't make it to the judges.)  #2 Smooth drinking with a metallic aftertaste, alcohol warming, but not harsh.
    American Pale Ale - My comment: Not sure what would have turned them off with this; I added some coriander, but it wasn't that prominent. Dry hopped it with Cascade, but I thought it was pretty well done. Awful lot of competition in this category. However, if they allowed it to warm up too much, I'm sure it wouldn't be that good. With all the entries in this style, there is a fair chance it was sitting on the judging table for a while waiting its turn.
    • Aroma: #1 Not much hop aroma, very light grassy smell. Nice malt scent, dose have slight off aroma.  #2 First whiff - phenolic/medicine and then mellows. Expected some citrus but found none. #3 lots of yeasty phenols, no detectable hops. Light grainy character masked by off-flavors.
    • Appearance: #1 Nice amber color, off-white head, decent head retention. #2 Pale golden, clear, very good foam and bubble retention, good overall presentation. #3 Gold color, chill haze medium, foamy, white head.
    • Flavor: #1 Off tasting not very hop, but give a tart ???. #2 Tastes a bit cardboard - oxidized, not tasting citrus nor floral, very mild hops. #3 Missing the hop and malt character of a pale ale.
    • Mouthfeel: #1 Was smooth but left a wax feel in mouth. #2 good carbonation and smooth finish.  #3 CO2 level is ok, slight warmth.
    • Overall: #1 Not very good smell or taste. May need more hop at end of ???. The beer had off flavor may ?? grain or yeast.  #3 Needs improvements to process and temperature control.
    Munich Dunkel - My comment: Probably could have been a bit maltier, as I was on the low end of the ABV at 4%. Was just hoping there wouldn't be much competition, but turns out if you don't make at least a 40/50, you can't even place.
    • Aroma: #1 Malty sweetness and light roastiness. Light nuttiness and chocalately notes. No hop aroma.  #2 Nice malt aroma, slight chocolate, and rich winter dessert nose, in style. Slight roasty aroma.
    • Appearance: #1 Dark brown with ruby highlights, very clear, large tan head - good retention. #2 Rich ruby garnet, thick head, very creamy but overcarbonated.  (which it must have gotten just in the 3 weeks sitting at 80 degrees at the LHBS after I submitted it, because it sure wasn't before, but that only cost me a point).
    • Flavor: #1 Light Munich malt, no hop flavor noted, low bitterness, clean dry finish. But seems thin and lacking big malt flavor.  #2 Flavor leaves me wanting rore. lacks malt depth, but what is there is balanced. Choclate and caramel are appropriate but thin. No diacetyl. Flavor fades with head.
    • Mouthfeel: #1 Light body, hightly carbonated at first but later seems flat. #2 Medium to light mouthfeel, should be more. Astringency is appropriate and clean.
    • Overall: #1 Pretty beer, but lacks the big bready, malty aroma/flavor for this style. #2 Good beer, No great flaws, Easy drinking with balanced toasty caramel chocolate. Should be richer with stronger malt presence.
    Belgian Wit - My comment: Orange peels didn't add much flavor, maybe some off-bitterness. Probably shouldn't have used a navel orange. But I thought it came out pretty well in spite of it. Guess I need to raise my standards or use better ingredients. But will be interested in the comments on this one as well as the APA.
    •  Aroma: #1 Light sweetness with slight honey and grainy. moderate coriander with slight pepper in background. Nice low hop aroma. #2 Strong wheat aroma with hints of coriander. Belgian yeast characters. Lacks sufficient fruit, floral or sweet aromas to balance the wheat.
    • Appearance: #1 Great color, very dense mousey head, and very good head retention, ??? the ??for style. #2 Gold colar with great clarity. Huge head from pour that dissapated quickly.
    • Flavor: #1 The tartness is very forward and finish is very dry. Coriander is a little too forward. Spice flavor is more pronounced than fruitiness. #2 Spicy and tart with some typical Belgian yeast charactes. The flavor is missing a balance between the wheat and the other desired flavors. Slight hint of honey, but could use more honey flavor.
    • Mouthfeel: #1 Very light with very little creaminess, slightly ?? & thin. #2 High acidity, More body would be nice. CO2 is high (which is acceptable).
    • Overall: #1 A very refreshing beer that is slightly too tart/sour for style.  #2 Easy to drink beer that is a decent Belgian Ale but misses the style guides.
    So it looks like I have my work cut out for me, but mostly I knew going in what their flaws were.  Some just got more pronounced with sitting at the LHBS for three weeks.