Saturday, September 23, 2006

#36 and #37: An update

The specific gravity (SG) of the Christmas beer is down to 1.024. It has still got another 0.007 to go, so I can't keg it today. In any case I could't have done that as I haven't done a diacetyl rest[1] yet. I'm travelling the next week [to Edinburgh, Scotland], so I cannot do anything about it until I'm back. Sunday next week is the most likely option for kegging this beer.

The witbier is down to 1.012 and has reached its final gravity (FG). So this beer is done, but I didn't bother to actually keg it today, so it will have to wait another week. I don't think that will make much of a difference. I have had beers in the primary for more than three weeks before and that did not hurt them at all. People seem very afraid of yeast autolysis, but I believe that it is way exaggerated.

I tasted the samples from both. The wit seems really nice, mellow and well-balanced. The Christmas ale still have quite a bit of yeast in suspension and have a sulphur-like, perhaps it is diacetyl, aroma and flavour. I guess that will mellow out with the diacetyl rest and the lagering. This is my first lager, so I don't have much experience with how lagers behave throughout fermentation and lagering. So far things seem just fine.

[1] A diacetyl rest is to let the beer ferment at a warmer temperature so that the diacetyl build-up in the beer can be purged from the fermentation vessel. This usually take a day or so. It is only done with lagers as they are fermented at lower temperatures.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Extreme vs. wussy brewing


Oh, come on! This is the dullest decision I've seen in a long time. Why underestimate your audience...?

I've been looking forward to reading this book by Sam Calagione, of Dogfish Head fame, for a long time now [and I still do]. It should be out by November 1st 2006.

If it is so that these two books are really the same, which it looks like, I must say I'm saddened. If they've changed the contents too then I'm even more worried. Anyway, I'll stay away from the UK version.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Pictures: Beers fermenting

The Christmas beer and the wit started fermenting pretty fast. I was a bit worried about the lager yeast as it was very quiet and didn't seem to be alive, but not so. The first bubbles in the fermenation lock came after about 24 hours. So the conclusion is that the yeast spends quite a bit of time reproducing before starting off with a more active fermentation.

The wit was alive after just a few hours. As you can see from the picture below it got off to a rather violent fermentation. This happens with certain yeast strains. It keeps building up until the head reaches the top of the fermenter before it comes bursting out, either through the fermentation lock or through the cap. The fermenter is 30 liters, so the headspace is only 5 liters, not much really. I usually leave the cap open and loose, to avoid that something unfortunate should happen. I would hate to see the fermenter clog and then explode, so would my wife I think. Clogging would only happen when there are sizeable particles, like orange peel, in the fermenting beer. It is more a theoretical possibility, but I'd rather be too careful.

The two beers have now fermented for five days, but I plan to let them go on for a little while more before kegging. Usually I let them sit for anywhere between one and three weeks, depending on me being prepared to keg and whether the final gravity has been reached.

The lager is fermenting in my temperature controlled fridge which I keep at a temperature of between 9.5 and 10.5C (9.7C when the picture was taken). The white thermostat that you see to the right can be configured with a temperature range in which it keeps the fridge. From the thermostat there is a small external sensor cord that runs into the fridge.

The wit is fermenting at room temperature, which have been in the range between 20 to 21C the first five days. This is perhaps a tad too high, but the yeast specifications seems to indicate that this is just fine. We'll see. Other wits I've made have been fermenting at 19C.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Brew #37: Christmas Beer

This is an interpretation of a modern Norwegian Christmas Beer, a malty sweet dark lager with red and brown notes. The batch was brewed 2006-09-11.

Norwegian Christmas Beer
All grain, batch sparge
34 EBC (Light brown)
20 IBU
5500g Münchner malt
1000g Pilsner malt
400g Crystal malt
60g Chocolate malt
750g Dry light malt extract
68C, 60 min
76C, 10 min (mashout)
70% efficiency
30g Northern brewer pellets 10%, 60 min
20g Tettnanger pellets 2.7%, 15 min
White Labs WLP 838, 3 liter starter
90 min
OG: 1.070 FG: 1.017 (estimated)

This is actually my first ever lager beer. We'll see how that goes. I tried to make a big starter, but I'm surprised to see that the starter is not very active. I even used two vials. The yeast seem to want to stick to the bottom, so I'm not sure if it is dead or just bottom fermenting. Well, I'll know soon.

The mash efficiency was 70%, so we're back to normal. I used a tablespoon of 5.2 this time. Didn't seem to have any significant effect, but I'll try it next time as well.

Style: Norwegian Christmas Beer

The Christmas beers have a stronghold in Norway. Given the current state of affairs, that is kind of surprising. They are released the first week of November every year. There are two kinds, one at ~4.7% (class D) and one at ~6.5% (class F). It is the strongest one that is the traditional one, but it lost most of its market when strong beers where moved to Vinmonopolet, the government owned stores, about a decade ago.

They are all lagers, which I believe is a direct consequence of all the Norwegian breweries being lager breweries. Recently microbreweries have started making Christmas beers too, but they do not typically fall into this beer style.

If you've never tried one then expect something in-between a Münchener dunkel and a Doppelbock.

Norbrygg, the Norwegian Homebrewers Association, defines the style as follows:

Alcohol by volume:
20-30 IBU
20-50 EBC
Bitterness, aroma:
Low to medium hop aroma, and a small fruity note. Malty rich aroma.
The colour spans from copper to dark brown.
The traditional Christmas beer is a lager with a prominent malt flavour and a medium bitterness and next to none hop flavour. A little fruitiness may be found.
Medium- to full-bodied.
Commercial examples:
Aass juleøl, Ringnes juleøl.

For those of you who understand Norwegian I recommend this article.

Brew #36: Witbier

This is a straightforward Belgian Witbier, a wheat beer with coriander and orange peel. The batch was brewed 2006-09-11.

All grain, batch sparge
9 EBC (Golden)
23 IBU
3300g Pilsner malt
3300g Raw wheat
60C, 35 min
70C, 35 min
55% efficiency
35g Perle pellets 6.6%, 60 min
5g Perle pellets 6.6%, 15 min
15g Saaz pellets 3.3%, 15 min
15g Coriander seeds, 5 min
6g Dried bitter orange peel, 5 min
White Labs WLP 400, 1 liter starter
90 min
OG: 1.050 FG: 1.012 (estimated)

Lessons learned:
  • I tried to do the mash without gelatinizing/preboiling the raw wheat. I have always done this in the past. It looks like it was a bad decision. The mash efficiency was extremely low at 55% (I usually get 68%), so I had to add 500g of dry wheat extract to hit an OG of 1.050. This time I had a new malt mill, a Barley Crusher, so I would really expect a higher efficiency. So, next time I will gelatinize.
  • Remember to buy enough coriander. I intended to add 15g coriander seeds, but had only 6g left. I guess that's fine as this beer is intended to be a straightforward wit anyway.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Brewing again

I've had a small brewing hiatus this summer. The weather has just been too nice, and there's just been too many other things to do. A third reason is that I had to drink up some of the beers I had already made.

The last time I brewed was June 6th, i.e. more than three months ago. I then made a Rye IPA and an Amarillo IPA. Now it is time to get started again. I have several beer recipes lined up and the required ingredients have been collected.

When I brew I usually make two beers at a time. This is mainly to save some time. The thing is that when brewing more than one beer I can cut some corners, multi-task and do some things once instead of twice. An example is cleaning the brewing gear. I only need to clean it properly when the second beer is done. When making a single beer the brewing session usually take six hours, a two-beer session takes between ten and eleven hours. That's between one and two hours saved.

Anyway, my next two beers are:
  • a modern Norwegian christmas beer
  • a witbier
I'll post the recipes next.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Just released: Rogue Pacman Ale Yeast

Wow! Wyeast has just released the legendary Pacman yeast from Rogue Ales as part of its Very Special Strain program. This is a seasonal strain available from September to December, so you'll have to move fast. Here's a quote from the announcement:
Rogue Pacman Ale Yeast™
Available to Homebrewers for the First Time!

John Maier, Brewmaster at Rogue Ales has generously agreed to release his proprietary Pacman Ale Yeast™ to the homebrewing public.

"Pacman is really great yeast; everything about it is good. Pacman attenuates well, is alcohol tolerant, and it produces beers with no diacetyl if the beer is well made. It's very flocculent, which makes it a great choice for bottle conditioning. I ferment almost all my beers at 60deg.F; once in a while for certain styles I'll ferment as high as 70deg.F, but never higher. Use lots of oxygen, and a high pitch rate. I never repitch past the 6th generation, and I always use Wyeast Yeast Nutrient."

- John Maier, Brewmaster, Rogue Ales

I love Rogue's beers and I'm really looking forward to trying out this strain in my own beers.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Podcast: Basic Brewing Radio

There are a lot of resources about beer brewing on the Internet. A recent trend is that people make podcast which are audio and video streams that you can download and listen to whenever you feel like. I listen to a few of these regularly, and I'll present each of them here.

The first one out is Basic Brewing Radio and its sibling Basic Brewing Video. This podcast is lead by James Spencer and his co-host Steve Wilkes. Once a week they post a new audio programme between 30 to 70 minutes long. They talk about all aspects of brewing and do interviews with other homebrewers and professionals. What I like about it is that it is posted regularly and that it is not too long and that it is very much to the point. The video programme is more sporadic, and shorter, and typically helps fill in the gaps of the audio podcast. It is a great resource for home brewers. Check them out, I very much recommend listening to their podcasts.

They have also produced two DVDs, Basic Brewing: Introduction to Extract Home Brewing and Basic Brewing: Stepping into All Grain, which I'm sure is a great way to get introduced to extract and all-grain brewing.

Interestingly their latest video podcast is about brewing a harvest ale with homegrown fresh hops.