Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The hard parts and the nasty bits

I love home brewing.  And if you are reading this blog.  Chances are you also have a passion for this hobby.   But there are parts of it I'm tired of, and I think I have a right to be after 20+ years.

So here are somethings I'm tired of in home brewing.  I am posting these with the hope that you will all have some ideas for me of how to make these things easier.

1. Cleaning Carboys. - enough said.   Maybe I just have to break down and get big mouth bubblers, or get the drill driven cleaning wand.  Just look at that layer of dead krausen...

2. Bottling.   I have to get a keg system again.  It is a have to.  Does any one have experience with the Tapadraft system?  Think that's where Im going to invest my money.

3. Beer Clarity -   With out a kegging system.   I never get the clarity I want.  And even if I get it in the secondary by using gelatine as a fining agent (i have a fridge for cold crashing and laggering)  It is gone when I bottle. Has any one tried BioFine?

Any way leave a comment and let me know.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Reusing Yeast with out washing... Pitching onto an active yeast cake... Pro's and Cons

A common practice in home brewing is washing yeast.   It is a fairly easy process, and I do it.  I especially do it with expensive or interesting yeasts that I want to preserve.  The process is detailed over and over again on the interwebs.  Don Osborn has a great video of how to do it on his YouTube channel.  If you haven't discovered "Don O" yet, you should.   He is a home brewer like us.  He has a lot of knowledge to share, but he's also still learning and perfecting his beers and his processes.  When he shoots his videos, he sometimes looks at the camera and gives himeself a note... like "remember extra cara 60 next time, the color is off".  It is a lot of fun.

The basic process of yeast washing is to pour your dregs into progressively smaller containers letting them settle each time, and leaving behind the trub, adding pre boiled and cooled water as needed. You are trying to get the milky active yeast that is just above the trub.  So you carefully pour off the low yeast wort, then you carefully pour the yeasty wort into a new container, then you let it settle (cold crashing can help) and you repeat till you have about a mason jar full of clean active yeast.   It will keep in your fridge for months.  There are adequate live active cells to ferment additional batches.

But there is another way.  An easier and maybe better way.  Just pour the new wort onto the old yeast.   It will take off like crazy.  No starter, No additional packages of yeast.
    This video was shot just hours after a double brew day. These batches were pitched onto existing yeast cakes. Bonus footage of an APA that is clearing up nicely.  As you can see the fermentation is going strong.  It was so strong in fact that I had to add additional purified water to each of the fermentation locks. These were both medium gravity beers.   They finished primary in 96 hours at 64 F, falling from 1.048 and 1.062 to 1.01 and 1.013 respectively.
    It is a great way to save money and pitch onto healthy yeast, but there are a few things to remember.  
  • Always pitch onto a yeast that is appropriate for that style of beer. You don't want to try to create an Imperial American IPA on top of a Saison yeast.  You won't get the results you want.
  • A simple strategy is to always pitch the same size batch.  Dont pitch a similar OG beer that is a smaller batch.  In other words dont pitch an 1.050 2.5 gallon batch onto a 1.050 5 gallon yeast cake.  That would be an over pitch.   You may pitch a huge beer onto a smaller batch.   In other words,  If you make a 1.040 pale ale 2.5 gallons and you are now making a 1.11 Barley Wine 5 gallons batch,  you will be fine.   
  • Aerate -  There is no oxygen left in the yeast cake.   My strategy is to pour the wort onto the cake, and then pour back and forth between another fermenter a couple of times to get it aerated.  
  • Always move from lower to higher OG beers.   There is risk of over pitch.  The compounds that yeast throw off early in fermentation are more complicated than just alcohol.  But you can mitigate this risk by moving up the OG chain.   
    • My recent strategy
      • Session IPA with new US05  1.042
      • American Pale ale on the old US05  1.066
      • White Stout (high og blonde ale) on the old US05  1.080
  • Don't reuse yeast more than three or four times.
    • Yeast (like all living organisms)  mutates over time.  These changes aren't noticeable in early generations, but may be very noticeable in later generations. 
    • I know you've heard that you can use yeast over and over and over.  This is after all what commercial breweries do.  I will remind you that there are people with biology degrees working at commercial breweries, and they have expensive lab equipment to make sure everything is exactly how they want.  
It's an easy cost saving quality improving method you can follow.  Let me know what you think. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Another Cajun Injector.

Image result for cajun injector electric turkey fryerMy Brew partner is a great guy, a fantastic father, and well... he treats my sister like a man should treat his wife... with respect and honor.   Many of you have read my thread about the Cajun Injector Electric Turkey Fryer. He procured one after we researched various brewing equipment, and we decided this was the way to go.   And it has worked so well that I used contest winnings to get another one.   We are not paid spokes people for Cajun Injector.   We get no products or equipment from them. (although I will admit we are shamelessly willing to accept said products and equipment ) So this endorsement is purely based on our experience with the product.  If you are an extract brewer, a partial masher, or a BIAB brewer, you should consider this set up.   
Now that we have 2 of them, any recipe, and any process is available to us.   Even All grain, 90 minute boil with a large volume of starting wort.  So if we ever feel the need to brew up 5-10 gallons of all grain and spend 6 hours doing it... we can.
 Things you should know about the Cajun Injector.

  • It's affordable - about $100.00
  • It can handle any 5 gallon extract batch
  • It can handle any BIAB or Partial Mash batch with up to about 12 lbs of grain.  
    • We don't exceed 10-11 lbs of grain, but we are continual mash stir guys (every 5-10 minutes).  So we are concerned about splashing grains out of the bag.
    • Removing the lid is no big deal during the mash, because the unit will maintain the heat. 
  • It can and does boil 6.5 gallons of water.
    • It doesn't heat super fast so it is a good idea to do a near boiling water addition.
    • Some of you may have read on homebrewtalk that this is not the case... to that I say, remember our hobby is filled with good guys who love brewing, and who love the fact that they have learned to brew a certain way. Some of these good people believe that the way they have learned to brew is THE way to brew.  Since I started in this hobby there have been many guys who just don't want to see any change.  Unless that change is more expensive and more complicated.   
So, if you are interested in upping your game, but still being able to brew inside the house... the Cajun Injector Electric Turkey Fryer may be the best rig for you. 

Tell me what you think.  

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Advances in Partial Mash

Today, I thought I would get into some of the great advances we have seen in home brewing and specifically in Partial Mash Brewing over the past 20 or so years. For me, and maybe for you, these advances make partial mash brewing even easier, and even more fun.

When we started brewing, things were very different.  It wasn't quite the dark ages of home brewing but it was close.  Home brewers were largely divided into two camps.  I know what you're thinking I'm going to say here... Extract and All grain... right?  come on you know you were thinking it.   But really the division was more like guys who had big propane burners and brewed outside (or garage) and guys who brewed on their stove tops.   The guys who brewed on propane, tended toward all grain, because... well because they could.  And they weren't wrong when they said their beer was superior, as I discussed in earlier blog posts, extract leaved a lot to be desired back in those days.  
So if you could brew outside, and use all grain, well why not.   Especially if you already owned a turkey fryer.   Everything changed in the mid 1990s when we started hearing about Partial Mash.  Getting a portion of your sugar from a temperature controlled grain mashing, and the balance from extract. Extract has come a long way since the dark ages.  The first advancement in partial mash,  Better Extract.  You can actually make great beer from extract now.  But you are limited to the extracts that are manufactured. That is another huge advantage of partial mash.

Back then we were mashing in a mash pot, or in a cooler (I still do sometimes) and then transferring the wort to the boil kettle.  Some of us would use our boil kettle for the mash, then use a lauter tun made of 2 pvc buckets to separate the grains (think mine is somewhere in the garage...It may have Christmas lights in it right now).  Others would pour the wort and grains through a strainer. That All changed when the Aussies thought of BIAB.  You could now perform your partial mash in your brew kettle and just remove the grains by lifting the bag.   Brilliant! And by far the easiest way to BIAB.

Image result for home brew newsletterIn the dark ages our recipes came from newsletters, friends, and Magazines.  Changing a recipe had no predictable results.  You did the math... it seemed ok... you brewed the beer.  You tasted it.   If it was good you did it again.  But if it was lacking, you were doomed to try again.  In truth it was kinda fun.  But not nearly as fun as using software to create a brew before you brew it.   The advances made in brewing software are critical to partial mash.  There was a time when partial mash consisted of mashing 4 lbs of grain... no more.   just 4 lbs.  That was because 4 lbs of grain would give you roughly the same fermentable sugars as 3.3 lbs of LME.  It kept the recipes simple.  But with the advances in software we don't need to think that way any longer.  I have partial mash recipes (again posted at BrewToad) that are 75% grain.  The DME is really just there to add sugars and increase the OG.  With software you can really custom design a partial mash recipe.

One of the advantages of partial mash today, as opposed to years ago... full volume boil.  When we started brewing Turkey Fryers (even propane) were expensive.  And you probably had to get them at Bass Pro, or a similar out door store.  But as they grew in popularity, the price came down.  Now the options available to a home brewer are almost baffling.  I have, and I know you all have done this too, spent countless hours online trying to decide how to invest my limited brewing equipment funds. You can spend as much as you want to spend.  But you can also brew great beer right on your stove top, even if you don't own a high powered gas stove by using the texas two step.  Just create your wort, and boil it in two pots.  Your wort doesn't know where it is being boiled.   There are many posts about this topic online, but I will lend one or two pieces of advice,  just divide it in half.   It makes all of your math so much easier.  Your only boiling 6.5 gallons of wort, and I am here to tell you, any stove can handle this in two pots.

You don't have to wait till you can afford expensive equipment to brew great beer.  If you have a couple of pots, a brew bag,  a thermometer, and a couple of brew buckets, you're ready to step up to partial mash.  And if you're like me, you may not choose to step to BIAB or All Grain very often after you try partial mash.

Got any recipe you want me to convert?  Let me know... I'll be happy to help

Monday, April 20, 2015

Real Partial Mash Recipes at BrewToad

I have used almost all of the different brewing software over the years. Before BeerSmith came out we would fill out worksheets to make our calculations.  They looked a little like a brewing log does now, but you filled them out by hand and used a calculator to figure out where you would come out on OG and AAUs.  This was before it was universally agreed that we should call the hop bitterness IBUs.  By the time you were done farting around with a recipe the worksheet would be tattered and covered with smudged ink scribbling, but it was fun.  BJCP was in existence but not really in its full capacity.   We didn't care what the specific style guidelines were, we just got inspired by the latest BYO or Zymurgy and brewed.   I remember, now that I am reminiscing, that we were always excited when the local home brew shops "newsletter" would arrive in the mail.  And we made some pretty damned good beer.   Our white stout recipe was born one day when we forgot the darker grains. According to BJCP it is an incorrect "Blonde Ale".  But back then we called it the "stout and sultry".

A frustration I have when searching online for Partial Mash recipes is, most of the recipes are just extract recipes with additional grain.   And since the recipes are user created they can be categorized as whatever the user wants to call them.   You see some doozies on line.  I just saw a "partial mash" recipe that had  1 lbs of chocolate malt, 1.25 lbs of black malt, and .5 lbs of cara 60 lovibond.  Do you see any mash-able grains in that list? Combined with 9.9lbs of amber LME, it was supposed to be an imperial stout.  What it would actually be is an undrinkable extract batch that, I'm sure you'll agree, will taste like burnt grain.   So, rather than trying to change this, I have decided to react to it with real recipes.

Recently I have found myself using BrewToad pretty much exclusively.  It is just easy.   Easy to plan and easy to use.  The only frustration is that on the weekends the site can get overloaded.  (update, they have been fantastic in customer response, they have let me know they are adding capacity currently.)   They are working to correct this issue.  I'm not sure they understood what a great site they had created.Image result for brewtoad

I have posted 20 or so "Real Partial Mash" recipes on the site.   Just go to BrewToad and type in "( Real Partial Mash ) "  yes, include the parenthesis.  The recipes will come up.   Feel free to use them.  And if you have any recipes you want converted to Partial mash, just leave me a reply I will be happy to convert them for you.   Just leave the recipe or beer you want converted and let me know if you are a full volume boiler or if you add water and how much?  By the way, subscribe to BrewToad.  Its worth the $20 a year.

Gotta recipe for me to convert? Leave a comment I'll be happy to help.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Advantages of Partial Mash Brewing

So I've put some thought to this topic, here is what I have come up with. This list is by no means all encompassing. It is meant to share the reasons I generally brew the partial mash way.

Advantages of PM
  • More fun than extract - you still get to mash grains and sparge and the fun stuff.
    • It feels like brewing. Sometimes when I do an extract batch, it doesn't feel like brewing. I'm just heating up some stuff on the stove and throwing hops into a boil, for me mashing is the difference that feels like real brewing.
  • Better Taste than extract  - Real all grain flavor -
    • I defy anyone to tell the difference between a high percentage grain partial mash and an all grain brew. I think only industry people and BJCP judges might be able to pick out the differences.
  • More recipe options than extract, you can brew anything.
  • Less cost than extract - extract is expensive.
  • More reliable than all grain or BIAB -
    • The extract (DME) is an insurance policy that protects your needed gravity.
  • You don't have to stress over pH levels water chemistry etc…
  • Affordable equipment - electric turkey fryer is about $100.00  All in equipment is about $250.00
  • Don’t have to do a full volume boil to ensure your ferment-ability.   
    • You can, but you don't have to.  I always do full volume boils now, even on my extract batches, it makes a huge difference and is a key to great beer. But you don't have to do it.
  • Decotion and step mashing are available to you.
  • It’s reliability is repeatable you can brew the same beer with the same results more easily.
  • You control the amount and % of grain that you are using.  I have recipes that are 75% grain.   The DME is there as a buffer, an insurance policy if you will.
  • Takes way less time than all grain. It’s about the same as BIAB
Disadvantages of PM
  • Costs more than all grain
  • Decoction mashing is more difficult, possible but more difficult. (Brewing an octoberfest soon, where we will be doing decotion... I may revise this position)
  • Takes more time than Extract
So post a comment or a question, tell me what you think of my analysis. Did I miss anything?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

How and Why I brew the partial mash way... a new series of blogs and recipes

Ok,  the views and email questions have been great.  There seems to be a recent up swing in interest for Partial Mash brewing.  I think that's great.  The next several weeks will be dedicated to Partial Mash Brewing.   I'll get into the pro's and cons of partial mash, and how those pros and cons led me to choose partial mash as my primary method for brewing.   In later series I will get into counter top Brew in a Bag.  I'm not committing to only posting about Partial Mash.  I'll probably share a funny story about SWMBO, or about my adventures at the LHBS, but I here by also pledge to delve deeply into partial mash.

For our purposes Partial Mash Brewing is defined as a brewing technique where a portion of the ferment-able sugars are coming from an actual controlled temperature grain mash.

Blog Interruption for this rant...
 IT IS NOT EXTRACT WITH MORE @#$@#NG SPECIALTY GRAINS!  Please newbs hear me on this, to call a recipe a partial mash you have to actually do a controlled temperature mash of Base Malt.

I have nothing against Extract, in fact as I write this I have 15 gallons of extract in my fermentation chamber (read as master bath whirlpool tub).  I know extract brews can be great, especially if you can do a full volume boil. But when given the choice I prefer partial mash.   It's cheaper, it tastes better (truly indistinguishable from all grain in my opinion) and for me it is the most fun.

I first started hearing about Partial Mash Brewing in the mid 1990s.  I was a new brewer, and I pretty much stuck with Extract at the time.   Let me tell you, extract in the late 1980s and 1990s left something to be desired.  If you've heard the term "extract twang"  that is where it came from. At that time extracts were created by boiled evaporation.  You can imagine the effect this had on the sugars.  They were caramelized and they really did ferment out twangy.  Thankfully, the extract manufacturing has improved 100 fold since then. But at the time everyone was looking for a way to improve extract home brewing.  BIAB wasn't a glint in a drunk Aussie's eye yet,  and no one had thought of the positive effects of late addition extract.

In the very late 1990s we started hearing about partial mash, kind of like you're starting to hear about it again.  It seemed so simple, just get a picnic cooler, put some PVC pipe in the bottom, add some clear silicone tubing, and if you wanted to be really fancy a cheap plastic shut off valve.  You were ready to mash some grains.  All you had to do then was add some extract to create a very high OG wort that you could boil.  From there on it was just like extract.   This was brilliant at the time.  This was a way to get some real grain flavor with out the need for an expensive brewing system.  Suddenly a whole world of recipes opened up to us.  And exotic new grains became available too,  grains like... Maris Otter, and Vienna... It was awesome.   And in truth it still is awesome.   I advocate that for 75% of homebrewer's Partial Mash is the method they should embrace, it should be there go to brewing technique.  It would significantly improve their beer.  Guys ask me all the time " is this all grain?  how did you get that maltiness?"  They always look perplexed when I tell them it partial mash. "no way, you can't get this flavor from extract..."  "it's not extract, it's partial mash..."  "like brew in a bag?" "sure, you betcha!"

Like all "sectors" of home brewing Partial Mash is growing and changing too.   I'll also get into those changes and improvements.   Should be fun, and I know I'll learn something.  I hope everyone else does too.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

All you really need to make great beer.

Today, I will attempt to make a list of the things you really need to make great beer.  Not just OK beer.  Great Beer.  These are the things you need to make partial mash beer.  UPDATE: I HAVE 19 PARTIAL MASH RECIPES POSTED AT BREWTOAD.  JUST TYPE IN " ( REAL PARTIAL MASH ) "

  • A willingness to learn coupled with a willingness to try and fail
  • A desire to help others
  • 2 Large pots 4-5 gallons each
  • Some paint strainer bags
  • A 6.5 Gallon Fermenter or two...
    • or like most of us 6-11 fermenters
  • A colander or sieve
  • A wort chiller
    • I realize I don't always use one.  I'm not the best example to follow in that way.   But I'm a dinosaur who has been brewing since the 1st Bush Administration.
  • Some air locks
  • A hydrometer.
    • Refractometers are cool, but for my money use a hydrometer, the reading is what the reading is... no conversions, no calculations. 
  • A thermometer
  • A bottling bucket and some tubing
  • A couple of large 30 gallon buckets (think laundry tub)
    • For controlling fermentation temperatures
    • I found mine at garage sales for $1.00 each. 
You can get all of this for under $250.00.   And with it you can make great beer.  Dare I say competition quality beer.   That's it.   You don't need a $10 K  eHERMs system.   You don't need a 3 tier gravity fed  brew sculpture.  Now those things are cool.  And they make brewing easier, and in some cases more fun.   And I will admit... I may have some of those things.  But I (fingers crossed) kinda promised SWMBO that I wouldn't keep getting too much more... (sorry honey, yes I do need a sliding door refrigerator/fermentation chamber in the garage from the used Restaurant supply place if you want your whirlpool tub back)  I digress, where was I... oh yeah these things are cool...But you don't really need them.

Here are some things that are nice to have.  
  • A 5 gallon beverage cooler 
  • A ball valve for the cooler
  • A bottling wand
  • An aeration stone and an aquarium pump
  • A cheap turkey fryer with a large pot with a valve.  
    • you can do full volume boils with 2 pots on the stove, but one big pot is nice to have. 
      • I use and recommend the Cajun Injector Electric Turkey fryer.  it was about $100.00 and yes naysayers it can boil 6.5 gallons of wort.
All of these extra things cost you about $200.00.  So for $500 total you are truly set up to brew.  If you are industrious and if you are willing to go to garage sales, you can probably be set up with everything you could ever need to brew for less than $200.00 total.
This is my firm suggestion to you.   Give partial mash a try before you spend a bunch of money on a wort production system, try partial mash for a year or so.  You may find you never want to brew any other way.  Chris Colby editor of BYO and Beer and Wind Journal has written lots of great articles on partial mash, look them up.

If you're just itching to spend money on brewing, your first priority should be a temperature controlled fermentation system.   The guys at NC home brew have a great tutorial on this.

So there you go.  This hobby doesn't have to be expensive, it does have to be fun and delicious.

    Monday, April 13, 2015

    Double Brew Sunday... All in the kitchen...

    Yesterday was a big brew Sunday at my place.   It wasn't supposed to be all Sunday.   It was supposed to be Saturday and then Sunday.  But the kitchen faucet went kaput and replacing the faucet became like the struggle to re build the bridge over the river Kwai. (on a non brewing side note... who uses construction adhesive to hold down a sink faucet? who in their right mind thinks this is a good idea?)  After my sink faucet adventure brew day became Sunday.

    First Brew a good ol extract Cream Ale.  I "mashed" corn and rice, 1 lb each, inspired by all of the recent posts regarding "Cream of Three Crops".   Brew day went smooth, till I realized my brew partner had the wort chiller.   Solution?   I went and bought some filtered ice, a 10 lb bag to be specific.   After brewing I sanitized everything, including the bag and poured the beer right on to the ice.   3 gallons of 190 F wort onto 1.18 gallons of ice.  Instant cool.   Well not instant but pretty quick.   Pitched US05 dry.  As of this am it isn't bubbling, but that is par for the course with US05.    Should be a good lawnmower beer.  I'm going to try to keep the fermentation cool, under 65.  Hoping it finishes clean and refreshing.

    Second Brew,  A real partial mash American Pale Ale.   A frustration I have with on line forums is this... there is no control over recipe posting.  As a brewer who primarily brews partial mash brews it is very frustrating to log on line, search for a recipe and find "partial mash" recipes that are really just extract recipes written by someone who doesn't understand mashing, and who thinks that throwing more specialty grains into a recipe is the key to improving a beer.   To that end I am posting all of my PM recipes at Brewtoad.  just type in Real Partial Mash.  They will come up.  I think I have 9 or so of them posted so far.

    The second brew was a blast.   I didn't want to use my big mash tun, so I went to Wallyworld and found 2, 2 gallon beverage Jugs on sale for $5.90 each.   Boom, you can mash up to 10 lbs of grain in 4 gallons.  And in reality they are a little bigger than 2 gallons, probably 2.25.  They worked like a charm, no modifications needed.  They are small enough to lift and move around, they lost no heat.   I'm not even going to add ball valves.  Although, I may add a lever lock valve to each of them.   I mashed 3.5 lbs of Maris Otter, 3.5 lbs of American 2 Row, and .5 lbs of Crystal 60.  After a 45 minute mash I vorloffed and batch sparged.  I collected about 4 gallons of wort.  Since I didn't have the wort chiller, I just did a partial boil.

    The runnings were a beautiful deep orange color.  Add 2 lbs of DME and you have a 1.046 beer.  Not bad.  After boil about 1.056.  Hopped with Warrior, Cascade and Centennial.  Cooled just like above.   Aerated and pitched US05.

    I did all of this in my kitchen.  In 6 hours, and you can too. I like all grain brewing.   I like extract brewing.   There are many many extracts that are great.   But extract always leaves me wanting more complexity in the taste, and all grain should really be called all day brewing.    I know you full time BIAB guys say that BIAB takes the same amount of time as a Partial Mash.  And I know, you're correct.  But I enjoy Partial Mash.  I know my results will be predictable.  Partial Mash rocks, and you can do it on your Countertop.

    Let me know what you think, and if you have a recipe to convert, let me know.  I'd be happy to help.