Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tasting: English Ales

I have been trying to find good Ales to taste, and found two English Ales at BrewPort's Carlsbad beer shop that I haven't had before.

Fullers 1845 is based on an old recipe, hence the name. It pours dark and tastes just like the label says it has "a full body and a rich, dried fruit aroma". It is bottle conditioned but I did not notice any yeast runoff. It was not too sweet or too fruity. One of the best I have had.

I wanted to try a Bitter, and so when I saw Coniston Brewing's Bluebird Bitter I was excited to give it a try. It had a mild, balanced flavor with hops and malt both apparent. According to the label they use Marris Otter malt and English Challenger Hops. For those who haven't had one before I would say it is almost an Ale version of a light beer, but fuller and tastier.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Brewery Equipment: Wort Ciller

My brew-partner Brad was not able to join me this last weekend on the Disaster Porter, and I forgot to ask him for his Wort Chiller, so I decided to make my own. Later when we start doing 10 gallon batches, it will be useful to have 2 chillers, one we can put in a bucket of ice, the other in the wort.

I purchased all the components for around $60 at Lowes/Home depot and soldered it up with silver solder. I then cleaned all the flux residue off with a bleach solution (which didn't work) and gasoline (which did work). It sticks well off to the side of the brew keg, and well out of it too.

It didn't leak, and I love that it has a ball-valve on it to control the rate of flow without walking back to the spigot. It took 9 minutes to drop the wort from boiling to 100 degrees (f), then another 6 minutes or so to drop to 80 (f).

Brew #5: Disaster Porter

I spent Saturday attempting to create a Porter similar to the Black Butte Porter:

9 lbs 2-row malt
8 oz chocolate malt
4 oz black patent malt
8 oz honey malt
4 oz Victory Malt (subs. for Roasted Barley)
4 oz rice hulls for sparging

1 oz Galena Hops, pellets (60 min)
2 oz Cascade Hops, whole (30 min)
1 oz Tettnager hops, pellets (2 min)

Wyeast #1338 European Ale Yeast (from starter 30 hours old)

Final volume was 5 gallons, my final gravity was 1.055. In the image, the porter is on the right.

I wanted to do a step mash in 3 steps: 125 Protein rest, 154 Sach. Rest, 158 mash out.

It was a disaster. I was working alone and watching my youngest daughter at the same time. I could not hit the temperatures. I shot past all of them and had to add water to cool down and I think I ended up passing the 180degree point while trying to mash out because the wort has a bitter taste that arrives well after swallowing and remains on the palette for a long time.

I am going to let it ferment and taste it at racking, but I am pretty sure the batch is spoiled and I will need to toss it.

In the future I will not be doing step mashes.

In addition to the temp. problems, I dropped the lid in the brew pot and had to stop the boil to retrieve it and ran out of sparge water before reaching my target volume.

My volume at the start of boiling was 7.2 gallons, and I ended up with just shy of 5 gallons in the fermenter. I HATE WHOLE HOPS!!!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Tasting: Briefs

I have been tasting more beers than I can take time to write as I taste, but I want to take notes on them otherwise I will forget.

Young's London Ale: I had the misfortune to eat some cheese before tasting this beer and it messed with my palette so I had my wife taste it, and her evaluation was "very easy to drink". It tasted overly yeasty and sweet to me, but I blame the cheese.

Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale: This is classified as a strong ale on Ratebeer.com, but it isn't as strong as some. Very tasty, hoppy, malty beer.

Coronado Golden Ale: This beer was a mess to pour, 1 inch of beer and 6 inches of foam. I ended up dumping 1/3 of it as I poured off the foam. A bunch of sediment poured into the glass then distributed into a haze. Tasted sweet and yeasty, maybe I got a bad batch?

Stone IPA: Another winner from Stone. The hops are offset by a subtle sweetness, medium/heavy body. Very, very good.

It is amazing how good the beer from Stone and PortBrewing are. I have another dozen or so beers to taste before I will have been through the regular bottled beers from the major San Diego Breweries, but I haven't had a bad Stone or PortBrewing beer yet.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Brewery Equipment: Mash/Lauter Tun Insulation

Since our efficiency was so low on the first all-grain brew, I did some research to see how we could improve our efficiency and also how to reduce the sweetness in the finished beer. After reading the How to Brew website, The Complete Joy of Homebrewing book and a couple articles I read on the web, I have decided that on our next brew we will allow the mash to rest at 3 temperatures; 30 min at 122, 20 min at 150 and 15 min at 158.

I would rather not have to apply heat during the rests since it makes the time too busy, and it is hard to keep the mash within a few degrees of the target temperature. I noticed on the Texan Brew site that they insulated some of their kegs so I decided to insulate our mash keg. I found some duct insulation at home depot that is coated with aluminum and rated at 3R. After installing the insulation and taping it up I did an experiment to determine 3 things:
  1. Would the insulation burst into flames?
  2. Would it keep the water at temperature for 30 minutes?
  3. Did the insulation make any difference?
To answer those questions I filled the insulated mash keg and the uninsulated brew keg up with ~3 gallons of water and brought them up to 122 degrees. I kept them both covered, and opened them up every 5 minutes and stirred them with the mash paddle (recommended for step mashes) and then took the water temperature with the following results:

I charted the results after correcting the data to the same start temperature, in the actual experiment the uninsulated keg started 4 degrees higher. Some interesting observations:
  1. The temperature rose after removing heat for about 5 minutes then began to drop off.
  2. The uninsulated keg temperature dropped twice as fast from peak temperature as the insulated keg.
  3. The insulated keg was able to maintain temp. to within 3 degrees(F) for 30 minutes.
  4. The "metallic" tape I purchased melted off the bottom of the insulation, I replaced it with aluminum.
After seeing the tape melt off, I decided to test the insulation to see if it was flammable. It was. I experimented and determined that it would not ignite from the heat of the keg, but it could begin to burn if directly exposed to gases that were hot enough. Flame on the aluminum shield did not cause it to ignite however.

When installing the insulation, I left 1 inch between the bottom of the insulation and the start of the ring surrounding the bottom of the keg so the insulation that was in contact with the keg wasn't going to get hotter than the mash, but the hot gases rushing up the side could ignite the exposed bottom portion. To provide a shield against the gases, I cut some excess insulation into a 3 inch strip and removed the insulation, leaving only the aluminum with some remaining glue. I installed it in place of the melted tape around the bottom of the keg.

Overall I think this will make step-mashing quite a bit easier, and will reduce the use of the propane as well. I will wait to see if it performs well for the next few brews before I insulate the Brew Keg and the HLT though.

Update: Nov, 2009 - I now use this as my brew kettle, and use a 10 gallon rubbermaid cooler as my mash tun. It holds heat much better and holds up to 20 lbs of grist. To increase temperatures in step mashes, I draw off 5 quarts of liquor, bring it to a boil in a 6 quart pot and return it to the mash.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Tasting: Otter Creek Pale Ale

Tasting: Chilled to ~40 degrees (f) from a pint glass.

Appearance: 3/3 nice golden color, clear.
Head: 2/3 thin head.
Aroma: 2/3 Citrusy, hoppy smell, almost lemony.
Flavor: 3/3 Hoppy smooth flavor, not too bitter on the tongue.
Mouth feel: 3/3 Medium/light carbonation, medium body, hoppy almost resinous aftertaste.
Overall: 2/3 This beer is quite drinkable, but not balanced. I think it would go well with a strongly flavored dish or heavy food, but not as enjoyable (to me) on it's own. It seemed more like a IPA to me than a Pale Ale.
Buzz: 3/3 Mild buzz after 1 glass.

I wanted to enjoy this beer since I had 4 12oz bottles in the beer club shipment, and since I heard of the brand from Andrew but alas, it wasn't for me.

Tasting: Left Hand Deep Cover Brown Ale

Tasting: Chilled to ~50 degrees (f) from a pint glass.

Appearance: 3/3 beautiful brown/red color, clear with tiny bubbles that keep rising well after the pour.
Head: 3/3 fluffy, tan light head that drops off but lasts for the whole glass.
Aroma: 3/3 Pleasant toasted malt aroma, with some hops.
Flavor: 2/3 Slightly nutty, malt flavors, hops provide some bitterness, but their taste is too subtle for me to discern.
Mouth feel: 2/3 Medium carbonation, medium/light body, smooth, aftertaste is of toasted malt that fades to smoke.
Overall: 2/3 Very pleasant beer, and especially tasty with food, but I didn't like the smoky aftertaste.
Buzz: 3/3 Mild buzz after 1 glass.

This beer came with my beer-of-the-month club and on first tasting I didn't really enjoy it. It was good, but nothing special. Then I had it with a meal and that is where it really shined. It is is versatile with food, and not overpowering.

4th Brew: All-grain American Ale

On Monday night (Feb 4th) we completed our first all-grain brew. It is the same basic recipe as our first extract brew:

11lbs 2-row
8oz - Caramel 60L
1 oz Cascade Hops @60 min
1/3 oz Cascade Hops @15 min
1/3 oz Cascade Hops @10 min
1/3 oz Cascade Hops @5 min
1/3 oz Cascade Hops @0 min
California Ale Yeast (White Labs WLP001)
4 oz of Rice hulls to aid in sparging

The entire process took 6 hours, as follows:
  • 4pm-5:30pm Setup - I sanitized everything with a mild bleach solution and rinsed, set up the brewery, and measured 3 gallons into the Mash Keg and 5 gallons into the Hot Liquor Tank (HLT)., This was our first time working with our new brewery, in the future it should only take ~30 minutes
  • 5:30~6:15pm - Mash in and 20 minute rest @153 degrees(f). Our temperature drop was about 13 degrees(f), and we only expected a 10degree drop so we had to apply heat to bring the mash back up to temperature.
  • 6:15 ~ 6:30pm - Recirculate, we added 1/2 gallon since it was kind of a thick mash. It took 1 gallon for the run-off to clear.
  • 6:30 ~ 7:30pm - Sparge using 4.5 gallons at 170 degrees (f). Since the mash keg was a little low, we had to do the last gallon by draining to a 1 qt measuring cup, then pouring through a filter into the brew kettle.
  • 7:30 ~ 7:45pm - Finish Sparge, and move Brew Keg to the burner.
  • 7:45 ~ 8:45pm - Boil the Wort. We added 1 oz of hops, boiled for 50 minutes, added 1/2 oz hops, boiled for 5 minutes, inserted the Wort Chiller, boiled for 5 minutes, added 1/2 oz hops, and started chilling
  • 9:00 ~ 9:30pm - Chill the wort and sanitize the fermenter and shiphon equipment.
  • 9:30 ~ 9:45pm - Siphon the wort into the Fermenter and pitch the yeast starter.
  • 9:45 ~ 10:45pm - Cleanup.
Our Original Gravity reading was 1.056, our yield was 4.5 gallons (partially because we used whole hops since that is all that is left for Cascade). Our efficiency was ~65% which was not very good.

Changes I will make for next time:

  1. Use 5.5 gallons of Sparge Water
  2. Wrap the mash keg (a few inches above the bottom) in Reflextix or some other durable insulation so it can hold temperature longer without external heat.
  3. Use Irish Moss - This should help during fermentation.
  4. Do a step mash, This should help increase our efficiency, and hopefully give us beer that isn't quite as sweet. We can also do an iodine test on the mash liquid to see if the starches have converted.
  • Protein Rest: 122 degrees (f) for 30 min, this will break up the proteins
  • Beta Rest: 150 degrees (f) for 20 min, this will allow most of the dextrins to convert to fermentable sugars.
  • Alpha Rest: 158 degrees (f) for 15 min, this will complete the mash.
As I write this, the fermenter is bubbling away downstairs, the krausen (the foam on top of the beer) has not cleared yet, so I need to wait another couple days before I rack it to the secondary fermenter.

Update:I have brewed this same basic recipe 3 more times, trying to find a better blend of hops and sweetness, with my last effort yielding the best results.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Brewery Equipment: Completed Brewery

On Monday night we planned our first all-grain brew (which I will write about in another post) so I spent Sunday making sure everything was ready to go. I created measuring sticks for the mash/lauter keg, and the brew keg so I could figure out how much water was in them, and I got all the pieces together and tried to figure out how to get the gravity flow working since I don't have a pump (and am about tapped out of cash for a while).

We only have 2 burners, so during sparging we would not be able to heat the brew keg since both burners would either be in use or have full vessels on them. I have a wooden bench and a freezer that I could use to raise the hot liquor tank (HLT) above the brew keg, but neither of them are very mobile and the bench is flammable so that didn't seem like a good choice. I was looking around the garage and spotted my roll away toolbox base and it turned out to be almost the perfect height.

We boosted the mash/lauter keg up 6 inches (although we should have done 8") and it worked quite well.

My heat exchanger also worked well, it raised the temperature of the incoming water from ~50 degrees (F) to ~100 degrees (F), but I couldn't use it to fill the HLT like I planned since I forgot to create a measuring stick for it. So I made the mistake of shutting off the water without removing the hose and it melted the hose and blew a hole in it. My friend Ted noticed the problem before it blew, but it was too late. In the future I will be careful to remove the hose if the water isn't running.

The flow from the HLT to the Mash Keg was perfect, but I needed another 2 inches of drop from the Mask Keg to the Brew Keg. Next time I will add 4 more bricks.

The lack of a 3rd burner isn't that big a problem for 5 gallon batches since the brew kettle comes up to temperature so quickly. If we were doing a 10 gallon batch, we would need to raise everything up another 8 inches or so or, more realistically, get a pump to move wort into the brew keg.

We may also need a larger HLT if we go to 10 gallon batches, since we would need 10 gallons of sparge water and it can only handle 8, but we could also use the burner to maintain the temperature as we add more water during sparge so we may be okay as-is.

I am very happy with the brewery overall and I like that it tears down and fits on my bench so it doesn't take up too much space in my garage.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Brewery Equipment: Brew Keg

The final piece of the puzzle fell into my lap after I met a guy from my church who works for one of the large distributors in the county and told him about my brewery project. He said he has an extra keg I could have for free, so I hustled over and picked it up.

I learned a couple lessons from the first keg:
  1. Cut the hole in the top 12" in diameter so you can use a standard pot cover.
  2. Don't drill holes in a vessel if you don't truly need them, they are likely to leak.
  3. It takes forever to cut into a keg with a dremel tool.
With those lessons in mind, I used a clear pot cover from our kitchen to trace a circle just a bit smaller than the cover onto the top of the keg. I started the cut with a dremel tool just to get a grove going in the top, then switched to a 4 1/2" DeWalt grinder and finished it in about 5 minutes.

I also decided not to drill a valve into the kettle both so I wouldn't have to worry about leaks, and because I would feel safer cranking the heat up since I wouldn't worry about damaging the o-rings or valve.

The brew kettle is awesome, it heats up very quickly, the cover fits almost perfectly and it can handle up to 12 gallons of wort if I ever start doing 10 gallon batches.

Brewery Equipment: Mash/Lauter Tun

After we had completed a couple extract brews, I started looking around for some Kegs. I called Stone Brewery but their warehouse guy was out. I called Bevmo and they suggested I call one of the Distributors in the area. So I called Mesa Distributors and the guy there was very cool and said I could purchase a used Keg for $50. I read on someone's site that the best way to cut a keg open was with a dremel tool and a reinforced cutting disc, both of which I have so I drew a circle on the top of the keg and started cutting. 45 minutes and 7 discs later the top was open.

I ordered a false bottom kit from an online homebrew supply store in Colorado for $75, purchased a 7/8 drill bit from sears for $25, drilled a hole near the bottom and tried it out.

I leaked quite a bit, so I worked the valve a bit more and got the leak down to less than 4 ounces per hour and called it good. I may have someone weld a fixture on at some point in the future.

While I was doing a test run boil, I noticed that the bottom flange was glowing red hot and decided to make a little heat exchanger. I purchased 25ft of copper tubing, soldered a hose fitting on one end and a ball valve spigot on the other and now when I am filling the mash tun or the hot liquor tank while the burner is going it raises the water temperature ~70 degrees, which shortens the time it takes to boil significantly.

I created the sparge coil out of that same copper by sealing one end and drilling 1/16" holes in the bottom. The center of the coil is a bit lower than the edge to encourage the water to travel the entire distance of the coil so I can get an even distribution of water dripping onto the mash while sparging. Because copper is so expensive, the cost of the sparge coil and the heat exchanger with all the fittings came to $110.

I created the mash paddle out of oak since I couldn't find any maple at my local Home Depot and I was too lazy to try to find a hardwood supplier. I drilled 5 2" holes in it with a forstner bit, cut a handle into it with my skilsaw and then rounded it off all the edges with my router.

I picked up the burner from Northern Brewer for $90. The burners I have seen elsewhere don't have a large enough platform for a keg. Hydrowbrew sells a burner table for $150 that would work better, it has 2 heads and is just the right height, but I found that out after I had already purchased this one. It puts out a lot of heat over a large area and brings the heat up quickly.

I noticed from my page tracker that this is the most popular page, so I thought I would update it a bit. I cut open another keg for a boil kettle, and found a much faster way to open it. Have a look for some tips.

The heat exchanger was not a good idea. It is too easy to forget to dis-connect the hose during a busy brew, resulting in a blown hose from the expansion caused by the heat. I don't use it any more.

I insulated the keg a couple weeks later with great results.

Finally, I have read elsewhere that some kegs don't have drain holes drilled in the bottom flange. Several people have had the flange explode! So if your flange doesn't have a few small holes in it, drill them or you may have some shrapnel to deal with!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Brewery Equipment: Brewpot/Hot Liquor Tank.

We have been working hard (and spending too much money at homebrew shops and websites) since November, and our brewery is finally complete and capable of brewing 5 gallon all-grain batches.

We purchased the first components back in November. In addition to an advanced homebrew kit, we purchased an 8 gallon brewpot and burner. The pot cost ~$150 from Northern Brewer and the burner was $37 from Home Depot as part of a turkey fryer kit. If I had it to do over I would have purchased a 12-15 gallon pot instead, but I didn't know any better at the time.

It works very well for extract brews, although it will boil over on full-wort boils when the bittering hops are added.

Since it is almost too small for full-wort boils, and is too small for a 12 lb mash when brewing all-grain it serves as our hot liquor tank when we do all-grain brews.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Tasting: Ayinger Altbairisch Dunkel

I picked this beer up last week since I wanted to try more lager varieties. I had this during the superbowl, so I didn't take time to photograph the beer in a glass.

Tasting: Chilled to ~50 degrees (f) from a pint glass.

Appearance: 3/3 beautiful deep red/brown color, clear.
Head: 3/3 fluffy, light head that lasts for the whole glass.
Aroma: 3/3 Pleasant toasted malt aroma.
Flavor: 3/3 Rich, slightly sweet toasted malt,.
Mouth feel: 3/3 Medium carbonation, medium body, smooth, aftertaste is a mildly sweet, faintly nutty.
Overall: 3/3 Very pleasant dark lager, a toasted Oktoberfest.
Buzz: 3/3 Mild buzz after 1 glass.

Another Munich-style lager that tastes great. Munich is on the list for a future trip to Europe!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Tasting: Anchor Liberty Ale

PortBrewing Carlsbad has a few coolers in their brewery with around 400 different bottled beers available for purchase. One beer I had been looking for that they have was Anchor Pale Ale. It is referenced a few times in Ray Daniels book: Designing Great Beers as a prototype for American or California Ales so I wanted to give it a try.

Tasting: Chilled to ~55 degrees (f) from a pint glass.

Appearance: 2/3 Nice orange color somewhat hazy .
Head: 3/3 Thick, thick light head that foams up quick and lasts, nice lace down the glass.
Aroma: 3/3 Nice hop aroma with some esters from the yeast.
Flavor: 3/3 Great blend of hops and malty sweetness.
Mouth feel: 3/3 Medium carbonation, medium body, hoppy finish.
Overall: 3/3 Great ale, subtle and balanced.
Buzz:2/3 Nice buzz after a 12oz bottle.

Tasting: Green Flash Barleywine

This month, beer bloggers are tasting a Barleywine and blogging about it in The Session #12:Barleywine so this week I went looking for a local Barleywine.

Green Flash is a package brewery, not a brewpub. I had first tasted their beer a couple years ago when they had a rep. in the local Costco. I think they could have picked a better name, it sounds like a super-hero, but it is actually named after a phenomenon that can occur at sunset where the sun appears green.

Tasting: Chilled to ~55 degrees (f) from a pint glass.

Appearance: 3/3 beautiful mahogany color.
Head: 3/3 light head that lasts for the whole glass.
Aroma: 3/3 Strong hops aroma (Cascade?) with a bit of yeast.
Flavor: 2/3 Hops, Hops, Hops.
Mouth feel: 2/3 Low carbonation, medium body, hoppy finish.
Overall: 3/3 This is the first barleywine I have had and I was surprised by the style. It is closer to an amber ale than a stout and very drinkable. I enjoyed the emphasis on hops that this beer had too.
Buzz: Are you kidding, its a barleywine at 10% alcohol!