Current Update – 4/5/16

In this exciting update:

  1. Cram-Ale – From here to…
  2. Firestone Walker Venice visit
  3. MT Wit over time.
  4. WheatStout Additions.
  5. Site Update.

Also – No pictures in this one – Sorry!

CRAM-ALE – FROM HERE TO….

Well, this is exciting. The Norther-English style brown ale we brewed up for this years annual Cramfest (SEE CRAM-ALE)was entered into the Los Angeles County Fair for competition. I am happy to report that the beer placed 3rd overall – quite a feat considering all manners of ‘Brown Ale’ are under one catagory, not just North English varities. Yes, the beer, aptly titled “Fellowship Of The Cram”, placed just being ‘Black and Mild’, an English Mild, and ‘Southern Brown’, which was a – you guessed it – Southern English Brown ale. If points were given out for original naming, we certainly would have fun… if anyone knew what a Cram-fest was. And, in case you are curious, its merely an annual birthday party for a good friend who happens to be known as Crammond. And, yes, he hosts his own jubilee entitled Cram-Fest. Narcissistic? Maybe. Incredibly fun? Definitely.

On that note, I went to pour a victory glass of Fellowship from the keg upon hearing the news, and much like clockwork the keg kicked, leaving me with about 1/2 a glass of foam. Cram Ale came and went, just like Cram fest.


Firestone Walker Venice visit

My wife and I headed off to Venice beach the other day to hit up the new Firestone Walker Venice pub spot. Just like the Buellton spot, they dont brew on site at this location either. I was pleased to see that the menu choices were different though – they seemed to be more catered towards the LA crowd. Meaning, much more vegetarian and vegan friendly fair. Quite nice since I cut meat from my diet almost 8 years ago. No longer will I have to order a Margherita pizza while drinking down Easy Jack or Velvet Merlin – This time I had some cauliflower street tacos. And, there were many more options as well.

As for the beer – It was the standard runnings from Firestone. Mostly good things. They had a few limited production casks on tap. Some sours and barrel aged stuff. They did have my favorite beer of thiers on tap though, Unfiltered DBA. Its like their flagship DBA, but its much more complex in the finish. Its truly an amazing beer, but something they cant bottle for reasons unknown to me.


MT Wit over time

My buddy Conrad and I brewed a Wit beer a while back. SEE WIT-BIER

The process had a few flaws and the finished product left a lot to be desired. It happens! I kegged the beer and left it in kegerator for months. In fact, its been in there for nearly 4 months now. In May and June when I tried it, I did not like it. Same thing for July 4th. I finally tried it one last time before making the decision to bottle some of it up for Conrad to taste(I havent seen him in a while). I was pleasantly surprised at how much better it tasted! The harsh bitter bite seemed to dissappear and the coriander/grapefruit additions really started to come through. Dont get me wrong, we still had created a flawed beer – it did, afterall come out with barely half the raw wheat extracton it was supposed to have, and about 60 percent of the fermentation efficiency as a result. But, overall, its not bad. Sure, this beer should have been done in a month, not four, but I still consider it a learning experience. Go MT Wit!


WheatStout Additions. 

The Wheat Stout I brewed last month (SEE HERE) finally had fermented down enough to add the additional flavorings, or adjuncts, into it. The beer is a nice smooth 5.6% ABV. It had a nice roastyness to it but a silky smooth body from the oats and wheat. During the beginning of week two of fermentation I made up a vodka solution of Cacao nibs, raw vanilla bean, and a couple of ounces of oak barrel stave bits. I let these soak covered in juuuuust enough vodka to keep all the bad bugs at bay. When the beer hit terminal gravity I dumped the mixture right into the primary fermentation(Secondary fermentation vessels are for weenies). While the chocolate/vanilla vodka went right into the beer, I did pour the oak chips into a muslin bag before adding. After a week I’m going to give it a taste. If the oak levels are nice and what I like I’ll pull them out. If they need more time, I’ll do nothing and try again in another week.

The vodka level was so low that it should have a negligable effect on the ABV levels. We’re talking maybe 4 ounces in a 5.5 gallon batch, or merely just over a half a percent of the total volume is vodka. Cant wait to try this one in another couple weeks. Patience is a virtue.


Site Update. 

Lastly, I’ve decided to update the look of this blog. I dont actually read the Blog itself in the standard view that the rest of the world(all 3 of you) sees it. I never really realized that after the first two or three posts it ends; which leaves all the previous posts i’ve made other invisible and just a cryptic “MONTH” archive is shown, which does indeed show the months of the year but not what was made IN the months unless you click on a month, which then takes you to a page that lists that months posts. Which, depending on what is going on could be 5 things or maybe just 1 or 2. I’m going to try to change it so you can have a simple index that shows everything. I might even break it down into Brewing recipe/day posts and other goings-on situations… We’ll see what happens when creativity strikes. Anyway, until next time – brew on!

 

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What happened!?! Also, a wheat stout.

As any brewer will tell you sometimes things go unexpectantly well and other times things go expectantly bad. Somewhere in the middle of those two extremes in your average brewing experience. And, then, of course things go unexpectantly bad just as equally as they may go expectantly well.

Brucifer  was one of those beers where the brew day was pretty great. The temperatures were hit, the schedule was on time. The additions were exactly to plan and the ingredients were as fresh as I could get them. My one suspicion was that the yeast didn’t grow to the levels needed for a proper lager. I figured at the very least I would be at 90% of what Beersmith said I needed for proper fermentation. I guess I’ll never know now. The beer fermented for the better part of 4 weeks. I could tell though that it was never going to be what I needed or wanted. The gravity never dropped below 1.020. On top of that, I don’t like to play around with my beers and repitch. It would just be a result that was not repeatable. I did what I think I had to do. I dumped the batch. I also suspect that perhaps I needed to boil all that pilsner malt for a full 90 and I may have cut a corner there. Who me? Yeah… Read my book, its my M.O., as you’ll see.

Sayonara, as they say.

_____

That said, the dumped beer freed some space to brew up a Chocolate Wheat Stout. I’ve been wanting to make one of these as long as I have been brewing. I have no idea why, either. I just like the idea of wheat, chocolate, and what better beer form than in a stout?

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Here it is boiling. Its got a big grain bill. Many different things. Sure, I know that you can really gum up a beer(flavorwise) by overly complicating it, but if you do manage to pull it off you can also make something quite good and unique.

I have a lot of malts though. Pilsner base, wheat and chocolate wheat. Some british malts as well. I’ll also put this on chocolate for a week or two. Maybe some oak. I’ll decide soon enough.

As far as hops, I used a bit of Saaz(my favorite) as well as a few ounces of Centennial. If all goes well, it should be A-Ok. For yeast I went with American Ale II from Wyeast. It was between that or a German Ale yeast, but I decided to stay away from the Bock character for now.


 

CRAMFEST.

The Cram Ale, “Fellowship of the Cram”, was well recieved at Cramfest this year. Would I make it again? Maybe, if it was requested. Left to my own devices, I might attempt something a bit more suitable for the summer weather here in California. CramAle was a great success in terms of flavor and profile, but drinking a brown ale when its 90+ degrees out just isn’t the ideal situation for “relaxation.”  Until next time.

 

First Taste: Cram Ale

My good British friend Crammond is about to celebrate his birthday again. It seemed only fitting to make a Cram-Ale for his birthday celebrations. It was designed as a blend of an English Mild and a Scottish 60 Shilling. After tasting it, the final verdict is similar to a Northern English Brown ale. Imagine cracking open a traditional Newcastle. Subtract a touch of the bitterness. Add some roastyness, and toffee as well. The finish has a nice chocolate note, probably from the special roast. It really is fantastic! I’m very selective about which ones make it to competitions, but this one will. In two weeks time I’ll submit it.

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“THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE CRAM” ale.
26 IBU
4.3% ABV
OG: 1.046
FG 1.013.

Actually, this beer has a lot of things in it…
Pale Malts – 35%
Golden Promise 20%
Special Roast – 5%
Munich – 25%
The remaining 15 percent is split up between Honey Malt, Acid Malt, Black Roasted Barley, and some Cara’s. Of course, I created a 1 Liter starter of English ESB Yeast.
Traditional, all Kent Goldings hops. 2.5oz in total for a 6.5g batch.

I debated making this a traditional cask ale, but since I havent made it before I didnt want to flirt with disaster on a botched carbonation. I only had 5 weeks to make a starter, brew the beer, ferment it, carbonate it and bottle it.

Hard to beat. I think this will serve his birthday party quite well.

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The official beer bottle label in his traditional Watford colors. 

MT. Wit – First Impressions

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MT Wit in a GOT glass… I dont think this beer will last until next seasons premier, though. 

Last night I finally got to crack into our Session Wit beer, using Montana grown wheat, known as MontanaWit… or MT Wit…or “Em-Tee” Wit… like Empty Wit… because its a session Wit… get it?

The question probably being asked is: “What wit beer isnt a session anyway?”

Thats a very good question. Most wit ales are between 4.5 and 5.5 ABV. Ours accidentally happens to be about 4.1% ABV after a grain calculation error – which makes ours the most session-ist of an already entirely-session ale catagory. (excepting, of course, the terribly tasting Imperial Wit beers ive been seeing lately).

So, how does it taste? It actually isnt too bad. A tiny bit bubble gummy, lots of citrus notes on the finish and just a bit of a smooth body. Its certainly drinkable and tasty. I’d say on the next one we’ll get the grain ratio correct, and add a bit more grapefruit, lime, lemon and orange. Make it a citrus-extravaganza!

Until next time, Brew on!

The Pils = Brucifer.

Today, despite a real rough start, I was able to actually do the brew that was so brazenly declared “about to start” almost three days ago. Its a very simple grainbill. Sometimes the best things are the simplest, and who doesnt like a IMG_3595good Pilsner style lager?

It consists of:

91% Floor Malted Bohemian Pils
3% Acid Malt
3% Munich I Malt
3% Carafoam

As for Hops? A whole bunch of my favorites: Saaz.

Using a yeast I havent yet before. Wyeast Urquell Yeast. Making a few liters of it for the pitch. Woohoo! Can’t wait to try this in about 6 weeks. Wish it luck!

Brew on!

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Critical mash thinking…

Almost exactly two years ago we switched over from using an insulated mash tun to a direct-fire recirculating mash tun. I’ll admit that it has been quite the challenge. The reason for doing so was to have greater control of our finished products without doing infusion mashing, which I, personally, think is terribly inefficient. One of the problems we have encountered though falls into the realm of heat control. This is one of the topics that I have been studying for the better part of a year in an attempt to full understand.

I have noticed over some testing several different beers styles we have made that the finished product turned out a little too sweet. My first thought was perhaps there just were not alpha acids in the hops to balance out the sweet wort. This is a common problem with older hops, and I’ll be honest, sometimes running tests is the best way to clean out old ingredients.

The first batch was a simple pale ale:

5.5 Gal, 5.0% abv, Fg 1.050 – medium body.

American Ale yeast.
10 pounds of Pale Ale Malt
A few ounces of acid malt
1 oz of Mandarina Bavaria hops at 60
1 oz of Mandarina Bavario hops at 2
Fermentation 18 days, with a week in the keg at 12 psi, 44 degree serving temp.

The beer was very sweet, where as all the calculations I programmed in were supposed to lend a mildly bitter and light pale ale.Like the name implies. Carbonation turned out ok.

For the second batch, same as the first, the difference being that this time I upped the hops to 1.5oz for both the bittering and the aroma. Again, the beer was a bit t0o sweet.

IMG_2395This really got me thinking… I backtracked and did discover some areas in my process where it could pay to have a bit more attention to detail.

For starters, I think I had become too dependent on my thermometers. I rely on two Thermoworks models, I use this one for stabbing the mash to get readings: Thermoworks LongStem Probe And I use this one with the waterproof probe for getting a reading at the bottom of the grain bed but on top of the false bottom: Chef Alarm.

The problem that I have with any thermometer is the calibration. The standard method for calibrating to a cold source is to take a cup, fill it comepletely with ice, pour water over it, stir it around then let it sit for 3 minutes. In theory, this will equalize at just around 32-degree F. Regarding the ChefAlarm, I’ve done that. I stuck the probe in the water, then calibrated to 32F. However, I found that if I take that same cold-calibrated probe and stick it in boiling water, it will only read 209F. I live in Los Angeles, so, elevation-wise, my boiling point should be pretty darn close to 212.0F.

My long-stem probe is not able to be calibrated, and thus I don’t really know how accurate it is or isnt. The website says it is calibrated to within 1.8 degrees +/-. Thats fine and dandy for soups but I would like a bit more for my mashes.

So, what is my conclusion here? Well, I don’t exactly know of a method to calibrate at a middle ground, somewhere around 150F. That would be ideal. My thinking is that when I am doing a mash at 150F, which should lend a medium-light body with a somewhat dry finish, I am actually closer to 154F, which might be chopping the sugars into way-too-easy-to-ferment bits, thus sweetening my beer unknowingly and unintentionally.

I’ve yet to calibrate the ChefAlarm based on boiling point mainly for one reason. I have noticed that while water boils at 212, sometimes the bottom of the pot that the probe would lay on can reach 215 degrees. If I dangle the probe just a bit above the bottom of the pot, the probe can read 210…

If i was cooking a turkey these minor variances wouldn’t mean much, but four degrees in a mash can mean the difference between a sweet wet beer and a malty dry beer.

Another problem which I have been trying to iron out since switching to the direct-firee recirculation mash-tun is where to take the temperature reading and when does the enzymatic activity take place. Like stated above, one probe is laying on the false bottom which is where I usually take my reading. This week I purchased a small device which will allow me to take a reading on the outlet valve of the recirculation.

Event though the probe might be reading 148 in the grainbed itself, perhaps the direct fire in the kettle is raising the liquid temp a few degrees before it exits for recirculation? If that is the case, does the water strip the enzyme from the grain and they interact the whole time they are recirculating, thus experiencing this temperature rise near the bottom of the tun? or does all the enzyme activity occur within the direct contact of grain-to-water above the false bottom?

Its a lot to process and I really should figure this out. Thats the experimenting that is going on here. Someone has either told me or i’ve read somewhere that it doesnt matter what the equipment says as long as you make it work for you. If thats the case, maybe I should just make mental notes that a mash at 148F is really 152F, but I don’t like that idea at all. If you start with innaccuracy you really cant blame anyone but yourself when things dont go according to plan.

If you’ve had a chance to check out my book, Decent Home Brewer, Bad Learner, which basically highlights all the problems and solutions we’ve had getting our shop up to speed, you can see why this kind of problem is a somewhat fun problem to have. Especially from an educational point of view.

Anyway, if youve got any input I would love to hear it.

Brew on!

=-Ben

 

Brewday Thursday – Witbier

A few months back my friend Conrad made a trip back to his family farm in Montana to get something for us to brew with. Fresh Unmalted Red Wheat. IMG_3267

And he brought a bunch of it, too! Being that Conrad and myself are tinkerers and would prefer to do everything from scratch our original intention was to malt it ourselves.

I’ll make bread and pizza and ice cream from scratch. I’ve even made ramen noodles from scratch. Belgian style fries that I’ve cultivated the potatoes to make. But, the more I read about malting, I decided this might not be something that was actually feasible to do in my small area and with the limited time and attention I was willing to devote to this.

So, what else can you do with raw wheat?

Belgian Witbier is one such thing you can make with it. So, I purchased a few additional ingredients to supplement what I already had and I did some research to develop a recipe that would fit our system, timeline, and ingredients on hand.

I opted to use up some Belgian Pale 2-Row Malt I had sitting around instead of using the more common Pilsner Malt. That was 65% of the grain bill. I then ground up the raw wheat pretty finely and used 32 perfect of wheat. And, for good measure we put in 3% acid malt to assist with mash ph.

Our hop schedule was pretty standard for this type of beer. Low AA hops. We used a combinaton of Saaz and Tettnangs, both at 2.6AA. We put half the amount of both at 45mins and half at 5 minutes, hoping to end up with 16 IBU’s. Our additions were interesting. We put in 3/4oz of Coriander, 1-oz of Orange zest and 1-oz of Grapefruit zest at 10 minutes. When the boil finished, we gravity fed the beer through the plate chiller, which cooled it to about 68 degrees.
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For the yeast, I had made a 1.8L Starter of Wyeast 3944, Belgian Witbier yeast. I was going to decant my yeast beer off the slurry, but i decided to just add it in there, as our yield wasn’t as good this time around. Most likely because the unmalted wheat absorbed more water than anticipated.  In 20 days this beer should be done.

 

Our OG was 1.046 Hoping to get it down to 1.010…

Crossing fingers, only time will tell.

 

420 = Pot Day. Brew Pots, that is.

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Sue me. I’m 3 days late for 420, but the truth is I did want to talk about Pots today. Both Mash Tuns and Brew Kettles.

“DONT WORRY, IT WONT SURVIVE THE BOIL.”

I’ve read a lot of things recently that people are saying about not needing to worry about cleaning their mashtuns because everything is pre-boil. They also say the same about brew kettles because, they too, will be boiled.

From a purely bacterial standpoint, they would be correct in that most(though, not all) bacteria cannot survive boiling temps. But, I think an equally important consideration is what potential off-flavors from left behind stuff is now being imparted into your future brew?   Even the thinnest of crusts baked on a kettle or the smallest amount of four-brew-old chaff wedged into your false bottom can have a noticeable effect on your beer. These left-behinds can affect color, or perhaps an unintended caramelization leading to characteristics not planned in your beer. All this will effect repeatability. These are things to consider.

Please, wash your kettles out, wipe away the crusts and the nasties in the mash tun. A simple hosing down wont do it most of the time. Besides, it takes 10 minutes at most.

Remember, YOU wanted to be the homebrewer, who would, in turn, pass homebrews to your friends and tell them you know what you are doing. Grab a blue Scotch-Pad and use the soft side on plastic Igloo-Type mash tuns. For stainless steel, flip that pad over and use the harder blue bristle side. Speaking of steel, what about passivation?

Passivation is just as important as cleaning your kettles.  

Laymens Terms: Passivation is the process of creating/maintaining the invisible layer of protective coating on stainless steel that helps prevent corrosion. If your kettle were a sculpture in a yard, you probably wouldnt have to worry about this so much, but since we are using these kettles like they are workhorses, things can and do happen that can stress out and strip away this protective coating. Big metal spoons clanging around when we stir our wort. Portions of these kettles are subjected to 1000+ degrees F. You get the point.

So, how do we passivate?

Bar Keepers Friend. The best $4 you can spend on maintaining your kettle.
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Again, here is the Cliff Notes version that may or may not be as accurate as I would like it to be: Mix the powder into a thick slurry, rub it all on your kettles with a blue scotch pad. BKF will strip away the worn out old invisible coating I mentioned earlier. Wash the stuff out with a hose or in the sink then wipe it dry. Through a certain type of metallurgic science-y process, as the product dries this invisible coating is reformed because of the magical ingredients in BKF. Instantaneous, too. Here is the simple test to see if its worked, pour some water on the recently passivated part, it should bead up and drip off in sheets, almost like water on a newly waxed car, leaving a nearly dry surface beneath.  I shall demonstrate how GREAT this product is at cleaning up a messed up kettle subjected to a badly designed product, the DARKSTAR 1.0 Burner.

 

See what an amazing cleaning job this stuff does? You’ll also notice I am clearly using a green/yellow abrasive pad in those photos. That is bad practice. ALWAYS use the blue as it is gentler on plastics and metals. Especially if it comes to cleaning fermentation vessels.

Also, I just want to point out, the DarkStar 2.0 Burner(Below and right) is really a great product and SUCH an improvement over the first one. Pictured to the left.

The Darkstar 1 has that crappy economy burner that is prone to create ridiculous amounts of soot, as seen in the first picture above. This was my first time using Darkstar 2 to keep warm a recirculating 10 gallon mash. It didnt leave any mark. Daddy like.

IMG_0015So, if you are in the market for a budget burner, I would gladly endorse the Darkstar 2 for heating lauter tuns and mash tuns. I don’t know if it has the bolas to power a 10 or much less 5-gallon boil and I don’t really want to waste the time and potential resources finding out. Let me know if you find out though!

Thats pretty much all I’ve got today. Just in case anyone was curious what I might have been brewing.

A Muenchner Helles, which colloquially means: “Munich Light-Colored Beer” Don’t be afraid by the Light term, its purely for color of beer in this case.

If you havent had a Helles, I definitely recommend it. Closely related to a Pilsner but more malty and less hoppy(though with todays IPA’s, would people consider Pils hoppy anymore?).

My recipe is basic:

95 percent Pilsner malt,
2.5 percent Melanoidin Malt
2.5 percent Munich Light Malt. Very small amounts of German Nobel Hops. Hallertau Mittelfruhs. This thing must ferment at 48 for a while, then a small raise and then a Lager period for 8 weeks.

Brew day went well, now its up the yeast and the Johnson Fridge Controller.

Two new beers: The sampling.

It is definitely with good news that I can report that our two newest beers, our belgian pale ale and our 100% wheat ale, have finished primary fermentation within a few points of their final gravity.

Our mash efficiency has been floating a few points above our software predictions over the past 10 batches, and rather then update the system a set figure we are averaging out the differences in order to hopefully have a more accurate system overall. Point being, we are still at a point in the process where our gravity differential still is creating beer that is slightly more alcoholic then anticipated.

Onto the interesting stuff here though, the tasting.

Our Belgian Pale Ale turned our exceptionally well. It fermented for exactly 20 days. After 5 days of force carbonating, it is easy to detect the final product. The home-made belgian candi provides a nice dry caramel flavor. The Belgian Ardennes yeast bring out a nice sweet flavor that works with the malt to create something similar to Delirium Tremens but not as alcoholic. Our beer ends up at 5.4%, where as a Tremens, definitely an inspiration for this beer, finished somewhere in the 8 percent range if memory serves me.

Moving onto the elephant in the room, the 100% Wheat beer. It is still fermenting. 10 days in the chamber now at 64%. I will let it ride out one more week in there. In two more days I will dry hop it with some El Dorado hops for a few days. I did however rack a sample out big enough to try a bit and, of course, do a gravity read. The gravity has hit within its point range.

How does it look? Hazy; to be expected. There were no fining agents in this beer.
How does it taste? Phenolic. It is all wheat and our yeast, Forbidden Fruit is known to create this in wheat grain bills. It is smooth though, and the flavor is quite interesting. But hard to place. I do hope that dry hopping will add more citrus to the aroma and not complicate its already complicated but palatable flavor.

To be continued…