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.