Monday, November 30, 2015

The best way to mill grains. .. for me

It is natural for home brewers to want to put into practice the technology and processes of craft or commercial breweries.  

All too often I hear about some brewer who has created some master piece of brewing technology in his basement or garage.   And usually one of the things I hear is that he was inspired by a brewery he visited.   

I have the same inspirations. I see some complicated system and think,  "jeez I'm a
Contractor I could easily build that. "  but we here at counterbrew and the turkey creek brewing association fight to protect a different approach.  

"The less technology, pumps,  tubes, etc.  You have involved,  the less you have to clean.  Since cleaning and sanitation are the most important ingredients, we fight to keep it simple"

Which isn't too day all of these things are bad.  The brau supply ebiab seems to nearly clean it self,  and I want one.  Santa, Honey, Mom, dad,  are you reading?

To this end I present my approach to milling grains.

I use a corona mill.   I prefer corona mills because the are multi takers.  They can actually make bread flour too.   And I love to bake bread.   My corona mill is mounted to a board that sits on top of a 5 gallon bucket.   That's it. No extra bucket,  no drill (unless the batch is huge).  After milling,  every thing goes back in the bucket.   Too pour the grains,  I lift off the mill. I set the mill to get a very fine crush.  I use the edge of a credit card to set the gap. 

"Don't you want to save time on brew day? "  No,  not really.  Brewing is one of the most fun things I do.  

"Aren't you afraid of a stuck sparge? " no, no I am not.  I use a bag,  or voile cloth even when I use my gravity system. 

Mill the grains how you want,  the point is keeping things simple allows you to focus on the real task... making great beer.  Our hobby has so many aspects which can bring you joy, and a sense of accomplishment.  For me it is all about fighting to simplify, to create a perfect recipe and to be able to repeat it.  For you it may be all about the engineering of brewing.  For others, it may be all about the biology.  But what ever you find your interest focused on I hope you'll do all you can to keep things as simple as possible.   

On another note, my beers we're very well received at Thanksgiving with the family.  I brewed up a centennial blonde for the occasion.  My ciders were enjoyed as well.  Finally, I had beer at a family event that everyone enjoyed.   Guess it's my own fault, in the past I have brought esoteric beers, and looked down my beer snob nose at people who couldn't enjoy a bourbon barrel smoked Russian Imperial Stout.   This year I made something we all could enjoy.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Some days... you're not on your game

So Sunday afternoon brew session.  Shouldn't have thrown us off our game.  But it did some how.  But take heart sports fans... this is not a story of defeat,  but of triumph in the face of mediocrity.  Heck, even the great George Brett struck out some times.  But today, today was not our day to fail, just our day to stumble rounding third but still make it home safe.  (like the baseball analogy? I'm still geeked up about the Royals winning the World Series).

The brew day started  at 4 in the afternoon.  And we were admittedly rushed.  The guys were returning from watching their alma mater advance in the D2 soccer playoffs.  I, as you all know by now, am just kinda an idiot.   So unlike other days, we weren't prepared in advance.  Which I think is a key thing to note.   Our hobby takes some preparation.  But still we mashed in just fine, and used our usual methodology of tasting our mash and testing for conversion.  I think the mash was done in about 43 minutes.  We stop mashing when an iodine test confirms the mash is complete, and when we taste that nutty melanoidal flavor.  

Today, just to teach about it we focused on brewing water calculations and sparging.  Not water chemistry, that may come later.  But honestly the water at John's house rules for hoppy beers, and the water at my house rules for malty beers so... we're very lucky.    We added sparging to the mix this week.  And we learned that the total volume of water is roughly the same.  I think it is fair to say everyone prefers no sparge BIAB.   

The boil was uneventful.    The Sierra Nevada Pale ale clone was first up, and it will be spot on.  We overshot our freaking OG again.  But this time only by 2 points.   I've made that recipe many times, and it is always damn good.    We sampled our Zombie Dust side by side with the real thing... and as you might expect... our tasted better to me.   This happens a lot with super hoppy beers.  

The troubles came when we partigyled off of the main batch.  We added grains to our original grains and mashed in a beer cooler with no valve.   And that is where the fun began.  We ended up using an autosyphon to transfer out, because those things are hard to pour out of, just ask John if you don't believe me.    But after that the remainder of the brew day was just fine.   The second batch was supposed to be a red imperial ale... It ended up kinda orange.   We could adjust color at bottling, but I think we'll just let it go.  It is a partigyle batch after all.    We hit our OG of 1.090 and we pitched onto the US05 yeast cake from the Zombie Dust.  There should be more than enough yeast to handle this beer.   Plus John and MA aerated the bejeezers out of it.   

Finally, Next week the anticipation ends.  Jake will join our crew.   Hopefully, unless he has another trip to somewhere, someplace more fun than brewing... but come on, what is more fun than brewing?

Friday, November 20, 2015

Sunday... double batch Sierra Nevada Pale ale clone... and "the dankness monster"... an extra hoppy Red Ale

Well first of all thank you for all of your kind comments about mankind's email.   He was one of a kind.

Sunday we are brewing again.  It is a day on a weekend... so, yeah we're probably brewing.   On saturday I'll be bottling up the Miller the muggle.   People are starting to break into the good stuff, so I have to shield it with more muggle beer.   If you don't "get" the term muggle, it is from Harry Potter, and it means non magical people.   Miller the Muggle is a beer designed for my non craft beer drinking friends.   But I have to tell you, it is pretty darn good.  Sunday... we brew.   Wonder how we brew so much?   Simple, we brew small batch. 

Image result for sierra nevada pale aleSo here is a question... "what is the beer that got you into craft beer?"  I remember mine like it was yesterday afternoon.  It was a crisp fall day.  I had been doing some work for Dad at his home.  I was maybe 20 or 21, and I was dedicated to Miller Genuine Draft.   That is when it happened.  Dad came back from the store, he had some beer.   Some beer I had never seen before.  He put the beer in the garage fridge (a 1960s beast that was avocado green no less).  He said try one if you want.   The package said Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.  It was green.   It had magical pictures on   Pictures of a stream, and trees, and what I thought were pine cones.  "What the heck" I thought, "I'll try one".

The world changed.  Everything stopped. And that one that one crystalline moment is burned in my memory.  It was bitter, and sweet, and roasty, and citrusy, and flowery...  It was all over.   Standing in that garage with the Kansas City Chiefs on the Radio I was hooked.   Now my tastes have changed and grown over the years.   But I still love SNPA.   We'll be brewing it this weekend.   

One of my favorite things about no sparge BIAB is how easy it is to partigyle.   All you need is another pot.   So we'll be using the grains from the SNPA and some additional grains, and DME, and we'll be making an original recipe we're calling "the dankness monster"  We're basically trying to brew up a red colored citrusy pine forrest. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The absolute rules of home brewing... by Mankind... a letter from an old friend

So last week I got one of those annoying emails from an email service... "Your is about to expire"  Further, "it has been 5 years since you last logged on"  Blah Blah Blah...
The basic message was clear... save any emails you want to keep.  So like an obedient sycophant I logged on to the old account. (some of you younger brewers are in shock... they cant close your account...) well, yes...yes they can.    Anyway, I logged on and began saving 10 to 15 year old pictures of my kids.  Special emails from old friends, and that is when it happened...

Image result for old friend memeI found a folder containing emails from Mankind.  My brewing mentor.   Mankind was one of the funniest guys I ever knew.   At least weekly I think of something funny he said.  Occasionally I run into his son, and we reminisce more about his comedy than his beer.   Most of the emails therefore were jokes, or witty political satire.  But one of them in was about brewing.   I wanted to share it all with you.  Although brewing has advanced in the 12 years or so since this was written.  Much of it is still applicable. He has been gone, 10 years now.  NOTE:  You may not agree with everything he says.  I don't care.  Show respect for this great man and great brewer.  

The email transcript from Mankind.

Mankind’s Absolute Laws of Homebrewing.  As the supreme benevolent magnanimous beneficent and omnipotent ruler of my garage I hereby declare the following laws.  You may consider these canonical and encyclical.  The great and powerful wizard of Mohawk Lane has spoken.  

  1. If you don’t enjoy cleaning your gear, you don’t like brewing… you just like making wort.
  2. If you don’t control your fermentation temperature…you don’t like brewing… you just like making wort.
  3. Brewing is cooking…
    1. taste your mash and your wort
    2. when it tastes good move to the next step (hopefully consumption)
  4. It takes whatever time it takes.  
    1. Mash times,  Fermentation times, carbonation times… all take whatever time they take.  Almost always less or more than the recipe says. So following recipes is for people who don’t or won’t understand.
  5. Brewers make wort,  yeast makes beer… give the yeast what it needs. (mostly nutrients and oxygen)
    1. Yeast doesn’t want to make alcohol.   Yeast “wants” to make more yeast.   To make alcohol you have to ferment at certain temperatures.  Too high or too low… no beer.  Too high… many many bad yucky flavors.  
    2. you are screwing with yeast by making it make alcohol, you can only screw with it a couple of times then it changes and adapts to its new environment.  so don’t reuse yeast forever.
    3. Modern yeast is carefully selected to be more forgiving, but it’s not saintlike… if you hurt it… it will let you know.
  6. Lagers are for losers - in a homebrew sense. But, I could argue that Germany has a huge claim on the title “loser”.
    1. Lager yeast is nearly identical to ale yeast.  You can make a clean beer by choosing a clean ale yeast and fermenting it correctly and at a low end temperature.  
  7. Take a beer… bring a beer
    1. I’m not your mother. If my beer is missing, there had better be something good in there to replace it.  (Natural Light and Bud ICE are not good)
  8. The answer to “want to brew?” is always yes, the answer to “can you brew?” is always yes, the answer to “are you available to brew?” may or may not be yes.
    1. Addendum to law 8.  If you know the code and want to brew feel free.  If I can tell that you were there, other than by the smell of the mash and boil, your privileges are revoked and you will be placed on the flogging list.
  9. Meat does not go in beer. I don’t care what you heard, don’t ask again..
    1. Yes that includes bacon.  Acetobacter is not for breakfast.
  10. Brewing is supposed to be fun.  Don’t be a dick.  Or you go on the flogging list.

So there it is.  An email from a long lost dear friend.   At a moment when it was so good to hear from him.  Because isn't that what beer and brewing are all about?  Good times and friendship?
Mankind taught me so much,  I hope his words teach you something.  Not necessarily about brewing, but rather about being a brewer.  He used to also say, "we brew because we have joy, we make wine because we have hope."  then he would add... "we make cider... because Motts was on sale at PriceChopper". (in a Groucho Marx voice)