Saturday, December 30, 2006

#38 and #39: Kegged and bottled

It took the Citrus Grisette 20 days to reach its final gravity. Actually it went a little past to 1.008 (1.011 estimated), so the beer should hold around 4.8% abv. The WLP400 yeast has been slow every time I have used it. The foam in the fermentation tank came rushing out on the first day, but the fermentation soon slowed down. I therefore moved the fermentation tank to the bathroom at day four, so for the last 16 days it fermented at 24C. The high temperature didn't seem to affect the flavour in any way.

I always drink the sample that I take for the hydrometer jar. The beer seemed light and quite clean with a hint of coriander and citrus. It is always a bit hard to tell exactly how it will end up as there is still some yeast floating around and next to no carbonation in the sample.

The Scottish Export 80/- had an FG of 1.012 (1.011 estimated), so it was pretty much spot on. That should result in 4.2% abv. The yeast, WLP028, is an extremely fast fermenter as the entire beer fermented out completely in about three days. I didn't bother checking the gravity, but that's when the fermentation lock activity stopped. Lazy as I am, I waited for the Grisette to finish, so that I could keg them both at the same time. I've never had any noticeable side effects from leaving the beer on the yeast cake a few more days. I'll definitely use the Edinburgh yeast again.

The flavour is slightly biscuity from the amber malt. Quite nice actually. I was a bit curious about the effects of the amber malts, and 7% of the malt bill (400 grams) seems not to be too much. I'll probably use more of it in the next beer.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The cat ate my fermentation locks...

Our cat is a notorious hunter, and interested in anything that moves. Surprised I was when I woke up one morning finding the cat on top of one of the carboys chewing on the fermentation lock. I had brewed the beers the day before. The little cat had seemingly been hunting bubbles throughout most of the morning. Fortunately, no beer was hurt.

So, this is the reason why I no longer tighten the cap on the carboys. Instead I leave the cap loose, so that the CO2 can escape without going through the liquid in the fermentation lock. Ever since I did this the cat has lost interest. So, if you have a cat: beware. You have been warned.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Taking the new kettle for a spin

I thought that using the new kettle for the two batches yesterday was a little premature as I was unsure of whether the stove could actually bring 30 liters to a boil. Instead I used my old 20 liter and 13 liter pots to boil the 28-30 liters of wort retrieved from the mash. That has worked fine on this stove and it usually takes about 15 minutes to get the big pot to a boil from mashout temperature, and about the same time to get the little one to a boil, but that one is put on the stove 15 minutes later as it contains the output of the second [batch] sparge. As I boil the beer for a total of 90 minutes this works just fine as I can have both pots ready at a full boil for the first hop infusion at 60 minutes.

In order to find out whether the stove, on which the biggest element is 2000 watts (or 1800 watts for all I know), would be good enough for the job. I started out by filling the kettle with 30 liters of 12 degrees C tap water. This took exactly 2 hours to bring to a boil, at 100C, with the lid covering the the kettle.

Sugar solutions, like wort, have a slightly higher boiling temperature, so it will in theory require a bit more energy to reach a rolling boil. The stove was able to maintain a decent rolling boil even after I removed the lid. That's pretty good, but the time it took to reach a boil was substantial.

This all means that my stove is able to heat 30 liters of water at a rate of 0.73C per minute. In theory that means that it should be able to raise the wort from a mashout temperature of 76C to 100C in 17.6 minutes -- provided that there is no temperature loss between mashout and starting to heat the kettle. In real life I would expect something like 25 minutes.

So, given this, I think I'll give the brew kettle a try for my next brew, just to see how it behaves with actual wort and in a real setting. But, there is no doubt I will need a little more power to cut down on the time and make the boil more vigorous. One alternative might be to insulate the kettle.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Brew #39: Scottish Export 80/-

Today's last brew is a Scottish Export, aka eighty shilling ale. It is a traditional Scottish session ale. The ale is somewhat dark and will hopefully have a malty and slightly nutty character balanced by crisp hops.

This is the first time I use Amber malt, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it affects the result. The yeast is a Scottish yeast strain, which is supposedly a real work-horse.

As per Charlie Papazian's recommendation I added 1/2 ts of cinnamon powder to the mash. This is done to prevent wort oxidization as cinnamon is an efficient antioxidant. I did this to the Grisette as well. The cinnamon should not have any influence on the flavour of the finished beer, at least that's what he said. We'll see. I also used 2 ts of 5.2 in the mash.

For the record: the pale malt was 3700 grams Muntons Pearl Pale Malt and 800g of Castle Pale Malt as I ran out of the first. The Amber malt is from Castle Malting and the Crystal malt from Muntons.

I got terribly low mash efficiency with this beer also. Now I suspect that the crush on the malt mill is too coarse. I'll try to reduce the roller gap for the next brew.

The batch was brewed 2006-12-10.

Scottish Export 80/-
All grain, batch sparge
26 EBC (Light copper)
23 IBU
4500g Pale malt
500g Crystal malt
400g Amber malt
250g Wheat malt
67C, 60 min
76C, 10 min (mashout)
62% efficiency
40g East Kent Goldings pellets 4.9%, 60 min
40g Fuggles pellets 5.1%, 15 min
30g Cascade pellets 5.9%, 1 min
White Labs WLP 028 Edinburgh Ale, best before 2006-09-16, 1 liter starter
90 min
OG: 1.044 FG: 1.011 (estimated)

Brew #38: Citrus Grisette

This is an interpretation of an old Belgian beer style called Grisette. It is generally considered to be a low-alcohol version of a saison. In fact this one is quite similar to a witbier, as you can see from the recipe. The Grisettes generally have less wheat in them than in this recipe. All the witbiers I've made so far have had dried bitter orange peel and sweet orange peel in them. This time I wanted to experiment with zest from fresh lemon and lime.

I'm still struggling to get a proper mash efficiency when brewing witbiers. This time I mashed all the raw wheat with 1/3 pilsner malts for about 20 minutes. Then I boiled the mix for about 20 minutes to gelatinize the wheat before dumping it into the mash tun with the rest of the malts. Still, the mash efficiency of 64% is much better than the 55% got the last time when I did not boil. It does indeed look like it pays for itself to boil the mix.

The batch was brewed 2006-12-10.

All grain, batch sparge
6 EBC (Pale yellow)
14 IBU
3000g Pilsner malt
3000g Raw wheat kernels
64C, 60 min
76C, 10 min (mashout)
64% efficiency
zest from 1 lemon
zest from 1 lime
15 g coriander seeds
15 black pepper corns
50g Tettnanger pellets 2.7%, 60 min
20g Tettnanger pellets 2.7%, 15 min
White Labs WLP 400 Belgian Wit, best before 2006-09-16, 1 liter starter
90 min
OG: 1.045 FG: 1.011 (estimated)

Saturday, December 09, 2006

My new brew kettle

I got a new brew kettle in the mail today. I bought it from Brew 4 less for only USD 99. It holds 34 liters (9 gallons) and is made from type 304 stainless steel. That should be plenty of room for my 25 liter brews, but it is not big enough should I wish to step up to 40 liter batches in the future.

The kettle comes with a lid, a built-in thermometer gauge with Fahrenheit and Celsius scales and a brass ball value. Other similar kettles cost between 200 and 250 USD, so this is quite a bargain.

The thermometer is primarily useful when cooling the wort in the kettle. It will allow me to see when the wort is cold enough to transfer. The ball value has a 3/8" barb that lets me connect heat resistant silicone tubing, so that I can drain the wort directly into the fermenter.

Overall it looks quite sturdy. The only defect I've found is that one end of the lid handle had broken loose. It seemed like the glue had loosed. I've now added more glue, so we'll see if that fixes it or not. This is really a minor issue, and I'm pretty sure I'll be able to repair this.

Now the big question is whether my stove can actually bring 30 liters of wort to a boil.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Belgian Amber

In May this year I brewed a Belgian Amber (aka. #33) at 6.6% abv. I originally intended it to be a Dubbel, but it ended up a bit too light in colour, hence the Amber designation. I used the much hyped liquid dark candy sugar that you now can get in homebrew shops, particularly in the U.S., but also here in Europe. The hype started because Stan Hieronymus wrote about it in his book Brew Like a Monk and later in a blog posting. Up until then people had thought that the Belgian brewers had used [expensive] crystallized candy sugar. According to his book the real ingredient is liquid, not crystallized, dark candy sugar.

The Belgian Amber was brewed with the WLP500 yeast from White Labs. This is supposedly the Chimay strain. I've brewed with it once before and it is indeed very characteristic with a lot of banana character, even when brewed at temperatures around 19-20 degrees C. After six months the banana aromas are now gone. It was a bit disappointing at first, but the beer has finally mellowed out and become a really nice Belgian style ale. The beer itself is slightly sweet and nicely balanced by hops.

In the near future I'm planning on making a stronger and darker Belgian ale, something resembling Westvleteren Abt 12 or St. Bernardus Abt 12. More about this in a little while.