Friday, January 26, 2007

A brew day

In order to give you a rough overview of what my brew day looks like I've created the schedule below that shows the order and the timing of the various steps that I go through when brewing a batch of beer.

00:00 weigh grist, heat mash water
00:15 crush grist (using barley crusher)
00:30 mash-in (add 80C water)
01:30 mash-out (add 100C water)
01:40 first batch sparge
01:55 add sparge water
02:05 second batch sparge
02:10 90 min: big kettle reaches boil, weigh hops
02:20 80 min: small kettle reaches boil (a little later as this contains the second sparge)
02:40 60 min: add bittering hops
03:25 15 min: add flavour hops, insert immersion chiller
03:30 10 min: add irish moss or whirlfloc, add yeast nutrient
03:40 0 min: add aroma hops, flame-out
03:45 start chilling (submerge small kettle in cold water. run tap water through chiller)
04:25 siphon wort into fermenter (splashing)
04:45 add yeast, oxygenate wort
05:30 done cleaning

A brewing session usually takes somewhere between 5 and 6 hours depending on how good I am at multi-tasking. I also get a couple of longer breaks, the first one throughout the 1 hour mash and the second between the addition of bittering hops and flavouring hops. I usually spend that time reviewing the recipe and the process itself.

As you can see above I mash for 60 minutes. The mash itself lasts 60 minutes, then boiling water is added to raise the mash to about 76C. I'm not always successful hitting that temperature, but that really depends a little on how much water there is in the mashtun already. Then I wait 10 minutes so that the mash can settle, making it less turbid. I then open the ball value and vorlauf about 1 liter, which I then pour on top of the mash through some aluminum foil.

I boil for a total of 90 minutes, but add the bittering hops 30 minutes into the boil. I do this to get a better hot break. The proteins coagulate more easily when there are no hops in there. This should in theory give clearer beer. The difference in bitterness extraction is minimal, so this a pretty good trade-off.

My chilling procedure is perhaps not the best one. I use a home-made immersion chiller which is decent. Since I have to boil in two pots I can only insert the chiller into the biggest one (20 liters). This means that I have to chill the small pot (12 liters) in the sink with cold water. This is not the most efficient way to chill wort, but it works. Chilling the wort as quickly possible is a good thing. The longer the aroma hops are steeped in the wort the more likely it is to extract vegetal flavours. Once I get my new kettle going I'll be able to chill all the wort in one go. I think the immersion chiller should work. If not I'll look into getting a plate chiller or a counter-flow chiller.

When transferring the chilled wort into the fermentation vessel I try to splash the wort as much as possible to get some in oxygen into it. The yeast needs lots of oxygen during the reproduction phase. Once everything is transferred I close the lid and shake it vigorously for a minute or two. Combined with lots of yeast this seems to work just fine.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

It's alive...!

Well, as you can see, the Belgian Dark Strong Ale got off to a good start. It came rushing out of the fermenter after about 18 hours. The fermenter had about 23 liters of beer in it, leaving a head space of about 5 liters. I actually had to pour out a couple of liters so that I'm able to add the remaining sugars. Even with the extra 2 liters there was still not enough room.

You can see handfuls of foam being pushed out of the fermenter as if it pulsates.

I always place my fermenters in a bucket, so that any overflow does not end up on the floor. This thing has happened before, and I've learned my lesson.

When I thought the most vigorous fermentation was over I rinsed the fermenter and the bucket. It wasn't over, so when I woke up the next morning the airlock was full of gunk. It is now in need of some serious cleaning.

The Bohemian Pilsener is also actively fermenting in the fridge, but not this vigorously. On the other hand it is emitting strong sulphur aromas (think rotten eggs), so they are both doing their best to keep my wife happy.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Brew #42: Belgian Dark Strong Ale

The last beer of the day was a strong Belgian ale. I'm a bit excited about this one as it is the biggest beer I've ever made. When it is done it should have reached 11% abv (depending on how it attenuates). That's quite something, but there's not just alcohol. It will be a complex beer with significant esters and a rich sugary malt complexity. I hope. It should end up in the vicinity of the classics Westvleteren Abt 12 and St. Bernardus Abt 12.

The malt bill is quite simple, but has been extended by dark liquid candi sugar and simple sugars. The candi sugar should add complex sugars and caramel, while the simple sugars will dry it out preventing it from being cloyingly sweet. The recipe should be quite traditional -- and straightforward.

I used a big yeast starter so it should get off to a good start, but 11% is a lot of sugar and alcohol, so it puts a big burden on the yeast. It is hard to survive in such an environment. Having thought this through a little I decided to leave out the simple sugars (~1100g). This to make it a little easier for the yeast in the beginning. The plan is to add the remaining sugars after three days when the yeast have multiplied and adjusted to the environment. This particular yeast strain is a sturdy one and known to ferment up to 15% abv.

The batch was brewed 2007-01-21.

Belgian Dark Strong Ale
All grain, batch sparge
38 EBC (Brown)
29 IBU
6500g Pale malt
1000g Pilsener malt
500g Caramünich
700g Liquid dark candi sugar
575g Demerara sugar
225g Dextrose (aka glucose)
300g Dry light malt extract
64C, 60 min
76C, 10 min (mashout)
66% efficiency
50g Northern Brewer 10.0%, 60 min
50g Tettnanger pellets 3.8%, 15 min
30g Tettnanger pellets 3.8%, 1 min
White Labs WLP 530 Abbey Ale, 2 vials, best before 2007-03-03, 3.0 liter starter
90 min
OG: 1.097 FG: 1.016 (estimated)

Brew #41: Bohemian Pilsener

This beer is my first ever pilsener, or pale lager for that matter. I used a lot of hops, so I expect it to be hoppy, quite bitter and really aromatic. It wasn't intended to be like an average commercial pilsener, but something more traditional and with a lot more punch. The beer is within the style guidelines, except perhaps for the aroma hops of which there are a lot.

In an interview with Charlie Papazian, by the generous people at Basic Brewing Radio, he said that it was possible to achieve much the same kind of malty flavour produced by traditional decoction mashing by instead adding 3-4% aromatic malt to the mash. So in this beer there is 200g of melanoidin malt. I hope that that will provide a richer malt complexity than just what pilsener malt will add.

Pale lagers are quite sensitive and not able to hide flaws very well. It is supposedly hard to make a good clean lager because of this. So from what I've gathered the devil is in the details. Here are some of the things that I tried to follow when making this pilsener:
  • Use lots of vital yeast
  • Ferment cold to get a clean fermentation profile
  • Get rid of the hops and the break material (mostly proteins)
To brew a good lager you need a lot of yeast, thus a really big yeast starter is neccessary. For my ales of medium gravity I usually make 1 liter yeast starters from a single vial. For this one I made a 3.5 liter starter from two vials. Given that the yeast was quite old I was a bit sceptical and planned to use Saflager W-34/70 as a backup if it didn't wake up. I was wrong (read: lucky). The yeast starter was surprisingly vigorous. Liquid yeast can survive a while, especially if stored properly. Having said that, I know that is always best to use fresh yeast. I need work on my yeast logistics so that the yeast is as fresh as possible.

The beer is fermenting in the fridge between 9.2 and 10.2C. I guess I would have used an even colder setting on my thermostat, but from watching how it behaves I've seen the temperature fall down to 8.0C before it gets warmer. The reason might have something to do with where the thermostat sensor is located. Anyway, this should give a pretty clean fermentation profile.

Once the wort was chilled and transferred into the fermenter I placed it in the fridge for about 6 hours (while I was brewing the next beer). I also poured out half of the yeast starter and added fresh wort on top of it. During this time the temperature had reached the target temperature and most of the hops and break material had dropped to the bottom of the fermenter. I then siphoned the clear beer into another sanitized fermenter leaving the non-desired material behind. The goal was to not let the fermenting beer pick up any off-flavours from it. I then added the now vigorous yeast starter to the fermenter. The airlock started moving within an hour. So, the fermentation got off to a good start. We'll see how it ends up. I'm optimistic.

The batch was brewed 2007-01-21.

Bohemian Pilsener
All grain, batch sparge
11 EBC (Golden)
44 IBU
6300g Pilsener malt
200g Carapils
200g Melanoidin malt
65C, 60 min
76C, 10 min (mashout)
66% efficiency
15g Warrior pellets 13.8%, 60 min
50g Liberty pellets 4.0%, 60 min
50g Saaz pellets 3.9%, 15 min
50g Liberty pellets 4.0%, 5 min
50g Saaz pellets 3.9%, 1 min
White Labs WLP 802 Czech Budejovice Lager, 2 vials, best before 2006-07-08 and 2006-10-30, 3.5 liter starter
90 min
OG: 1.053 FG: 1.013 (estimated)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Brew #40: India Pale Ale

I'm down to just two kegs with something in them, and that's the last two beers I made. That's two out of ten kegs. What a waste! I've been procrastinating for too long now, so I went head and brewed one yesterday. And I'm brewing another two this Sunday. Usually I make two at a time, but there is only time do one brew during the weekdays.

This beer is an India Pale Ale with only American hops, so I guess it is fair to call it an American style IPA.

Mash-hopping is a technique that I have tried once before in a Rye IPA that had a delicious infusion of hops. I have reasons to believe that much of the hop flavours and aroma are there because of this unusual, but simple, technique. What I did was basically just throw the Warrior hops into the mash, and then stir them in. I did not add any bittering hops at 60 minutes as I believe that the mash hops do indeed cause some hop particles to end up in the wort and hence be isomerized in the boil making the beer more bitter. Not everybody agrees it seems, but we'll see how this one ends up.

My previous attempts at India Pale Ales have been quite a bit thinner and have been lacking much of the malt complexity that I've found in U.S. versions of the style. So, to make up for this I this time used quite a bit of amber malt and melanoidin malts (now that I have gotten hold of them) in addition to the caramel and crystal. The wort sure smelled nice, so I think this one might end up nice and complex.

The new mashtun did the job brilliantly. I love it. It is really nice to just open the ball value and drain the vessel that way. As an experiment I found that I should just do a single sparge to see if that worked well or not. The mashtun has a capacity of 49 liters, but remember that once the grist is in there there isn't that much room for sparge water anymore. The grains will also absorb about the same amount of water as its own weight. So, with 8 kilos of grains in there, 32 liters seems to be the maximum volume of wort that you can get out of it with just a single sparge. Also, I only got 60% mash efficiency this time, which is below average. I suspect that this was because I did just this single sparge. Next time I'll do two batch sparges.

The batch was brewed 2007-01-18.

American IPA
All grain, batch sparge
28 EBC (Light brown)
56 IBU (a rough estimate because of the mash hops)
6000g Maris Otter pale malt
1000g Amber malt
500g Carapils
400g Wheat malt
200g Crystal malt
200g Melanoidin malt
200g Dry light malt extract (to make up for the low efficiency)
66C, 60 min
76C, 10 min (mashout)
60% efficiency
75g Warrior pellets 13.8%, mash hops (last 30 min of mash)
40g Chinook pellets 12.0%, 30 min
60g Amarillo pellets 8.4%, 15 min
80g Warrior pellets 13.8% 1 min
Safale US-56, dry yeast, best before 2007-12
90 min
OG: 1.065 FG: 1.016 (estimated)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Ten beers for a beer list

Knut Albert recently started an interesting series of blog posts about what would constitute a nice pub. Today he posted his list of 10 imported bottled beers that deserve a place on a beer menu. All the beers on the list must be available on the Norwegian market, but must not be Norwegian beers (that's for another list).

This makes for an interesting subject, so I've decided to create my own list. The beers are (in alphabetical order):
Note that this list does not constitute a list of my favourite ten imported beers, but more a diverse list that could be a beer list at a pub. Those would of course not be the same, but there are overlaps.

Creating such a list is really hard given its small size. A list of 20 beers would be a lot easier. One have to make sure that there's something for everybody, so a broad selection of beer styles is needed IMO. As the Norwegian market for imported beers is very small some bland beers like Guinness Draft and Hoegaarden Witbier ended up on the list. There are certainly other beers that I would have liked to see on it, but they are not available in Norway.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

With the new Custom Domains feature in Blogger all links to this blog now resolve to
instead of The old address still works, but redirects here. This is probably not very useful to you, but now you know.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Mashtuns - new and old

New and old mashtuns together. The new mashtun will double my mash capacity. Another nice thing is that I can get away with just one sparge. With the old mashtun I had to do two batch sparges, each 15 liters, as there was not enough room for all the wort at the same time. The new one is more than big enough to hold all the wort. I'll have to do some testing to see if doing just one sparge affects the mash efficiency.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

My old mashtun

This is what my old mashtun looks like. It is a small Thermos Weekend Sky Cooler with an internal volume of 28 liters. I suspect that this also includes the space beneath the lid. With this one I've been able to mash up to 7 kilos of malt. It has been serving me well.

The cooler did not have a built-in spigot, so I had to make a manifold myself out of copper pipes. It must be left in the mashtun throughout the mash, and once the mash is done tubing can be connected to the pipe sticking out of the mash. It is then easy to start a siphon. I usually vorlauf the first liter of wort, or so, before draining everything into the kettle.

The copper manifold is made out of 4 elbows, 1 tee and about 1.5 meters of straight copper piping cut into smaller pieces. All the pieces are connected with teflon tape. I also used a hammer to tighten the connections so that they don't come loose too easily. It would suck if the manifold fell apart in the mash - fortunately that hasn't happened.

To be able to extract the wort I've cut small slots into the manifold with a hacksaw. There's about 1 cm between each slot. Creating a manifold like this actually quite straightforward.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

My new mashtun

The new Coleman Extreme 52 qt cooler has been retrofitted into a mashtun. It is now ready to replace my old mashtun. I bought it off eBay for USD 19.99 plus shipping. The cooler is a new-return, so it has a few scratches and a little dirt on it, but that does not really matter. The price was certainly right. This cooler is supposed to be extremely well insulated and will keep the mash temperature consistent throughout the mash.

The cooler came with a plastic spigot, but that one isn't very useful for any brewing purposes. So, I ended up getting hold of a weldless cooler conversion kit from Homebrew Heaven. The conversion kit is called Weld-B-Gone Deluxe Kettle Conversion Kit. Unfortunately the wall in this particluar cooler is about 2 cm thick, so I had to extend the nipple in the bulkhead with a longer one from Morebeer. Even this one was a tight fit.

Here you see the new converted cooler with the lid closed. The spigot can be seen on the left side. The cooler holds 52 quarts or 49.2 liters. This will allow me to do mashes of up to 15 kilos, which should be more than enough for my 25 liter batches. You'll see some big beers coming soon.

On my first attempt at installing the conversion kit I had quite a bit of problems getting everything watertight. No matter how hard I secured the spigot and the o-rings there was always some water escaping down onto the floor. Not good. The solution was to use silicone sealant. Silicone worked nicely, and on my second attempt everything was watertight. I've also used teflon tape on all threads. If you look closely at the photo above you can see the mashtun full of water. It didn't spill a drop of water. Let's hope that it continues that way when I do my first real mash.

The spigot includes a security lock that prevents it from being opened inadvertently. Click on the images to see more details.

On the inside I've connected a Bazooka Screen to the bulkhead fitting. This one works as the strainer, so that the wort can be separated from the grains. The screen is made from stainless steel and feels quite sturdy, so I think it should be able to hold a full mashtun without collapsing.

Here the Bazooka screen can be seen in more detail. There are 1/2" threads on it, so it can be screwed onto the bulkhead without problems. One of the nicer things about this cooler is that there is a lowered area at the bottom that drains the liquid down towards the spigot. This is great as the screen fits right into it. When I drained the water only 1.5 dl was left(!). That is incredibly little remaining liquid, so I can look forward to extracting pretty much all the wort in the mash tun (except the liquid absorbed by the grains, of course).

Homebrew Heaven:

1xWeld-B-Gone™ Deluxe Kettle Conversion Kit$36.95
1xThe Bazooka Screen™$16.95


1xH612 : Stainless Nipple - 1/2" x 1.5'' Threaded$3.90

Total cost: USD 57.80 (plus shipping and VAT)

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Beer and cheese - a perfect match

Wine, and not beer, has been considered the customary drink to serve with cheese. Everytime I've had cheese at a dinner it has always been with red wine. A month ago, or so, I had beer with cheese at a local restaurant here in Oslo. That was a pleasant surprise. The proposed beers were Nøgne Ø Porter and Aass Bock. I chose the bock to go with the four cheeses. This was truely a mind-opener.

On New Year's Eve we tried a beer and cheese pairing with a couple of friends. Four cheeses and four beers. This was the third dish, served just before dessert and after the main course. This is what we had:
I am a bit disappointed with Brie as it can be very dull and tasteless sometimes. Quite a few of them are produced for the mass market, much like the yellow swill you can get in bottles. This one in particular was really dull and tasted almost nothing, but it did have the texture and oiliness of the style. The spicy saison handled the oiliness wonderfully, but it would have been nice with a more characterful cheese. Try a matured Brie instead, or perhaps even a Camembert.

The Taleggio had much more character and matched the sweetness in the Belgian amber ale nicely.

It seems really hard to get hold of good Manchego cheese here in this country. Either it is too dry or too rubbery. This one was too rubbery and had almost no flavour. The weissbier was thought to be a great match with almost any kind of cheese, even this one.

All cheese plates need a blue cheese of some sort, this one included. Since I knew that at least one of the diners did not like blue cheese I settled with a mild one, a Saint Agur. A characterful cheese needs a characterful beer to balance the sharpness. The porter handled the job nicely.

Knowing which kind of cheese goes with what kind of beer is not very obvious, but after having tried this I'd say that it is really hard to go wrong. Pairing cheese and beer is fun. Give it a try.

To get you started, here are a few articles on the subject: [1], [2], [3]