Thursday, March 31, 2016

The little changes..advice on refining your recipes

"Are we there yet? "
""Dad....?  are we there yet"
"how much longer"
"If you kids don't cool it, I'll turn this car around."

You have seen this scene a hundred times.   You have probably lived both sides of this scene too at some point in your life.   It is frustrating to be sure to be on a journey, to know your destination, to know what wonderful things are waiting for you, and to still be stuck on the journey.   So is the burden of travel with children, and so is the burden of home brew recipe design.

It takes time, and it takes multiple attempts.   Case in point our recent C4 hop explosion pale ale.  You remember, the attempt to make a super hoppy pale ale that is still balanced?   Well, we did it, it is awesome... almost.

Jake and MA working
on a batch of beer.
Or Jake next to a normal sized
human being
What do I mean by almost?   I mean, we are becoming fair, honest, critics of our own home brew efforts.   The C4 is outstanding.  Any of the team would proudly serve it to any of you, and we would take joy in your reaction.   I served it to the guys at the local home brew shop today.  Their reactions were gratifying, satisfying and mollifying.  They loved it, "don't change a thing", "this is excellent"  and "you did great champ!"   There is a certain pride in that, but that is not what I need.  I need a fierce critic.  Now, I am fortunate that one of my brewing partners, has an extraordinary pallet.  Now, I want to protect his privacy, so I'll just describe him for you,  he is 8' tall, and his initials are... Jake.   Jake can taste a beer and describe the flavors like an experienced sommelier describes fine wine.  I think that was a little embarrassing for him at first.  Using terms like, "fresh cut melon", and "a wine like bouquet"   But now he has embraced terms like "fresh citrus peel", and "musty earthy aroma"  I am fortunate that I am hundreds if not thousands of batches into this hobby.  So I can taste with the best of them as well.   I can work with my partners to truly identify areas for improvement. Not flaws mind you, just areas for improvement.  What do I mean by that?

You must examine the
beers that you make,
If you want to get better.
The C4 is flawless.  It wouldn't win a BJCP contest, it is way to hoppy.  But it would knock your socks off.  There is not a hint of off flavor or aroma.  It was carefully brewed, and carefully fermented in a temperature controlled environment.   We're not looking for flaws, were looking for areas of improvement. We're trying to make "ambrosia" not Amstel light.

So last night I set out to taste the C4 and be critical.  I approached it like I would a beer I was ranking on, I analyzed the beers appearance, aroma, mouth feel and taste.  Jake did the same.  And here is what we came up with, and how we will improve the beer in the next brewing.   It is our goal that C4 be the best pale ale we have ever drank.   And were almost there.

C4 Hop explosion Pale ale.  Analysis.

Appearance - Deep orange, crystal clear.  Can see my fingerprint magnified on the other side of the glass.  Small white head dissipates quickly, lacing lingers as beer is consumed.  Are we there yet?  No,  Color needs to be just a shade or two darker, this beer is a pale ale not an IPA.  Add darker malt.  4.25 / 5  Jake disagrees.  He likes the color.  So he gives it a 5 on the color. ( And after trying a couple more,  I think I now agree with Jake. It's not worth changing the malt profile to get a little more color.) 

Aroma - Strong Hop aroma, smells of pine, strongly of grapefruit, and lemons, there is a slight floral almost rose aroma. No off aromas detected at all. Are we there yet?  Yes,  Change nothing in the late hops, the aroma is outstanding.   5 / 5

Mouth feel -  moderate carbonation, should improve,  nice mouth feel, neither crisp nor viscous.  Just where you want it for a pale ale.  lingering sense of hops, almost creamy but not quite,  slight tongue sting, slight numbness from the hops.  Lots of fun. Are we there yet?  Yes, Mouth feel outstanding.  5/5 

Taste - Front end taste is bitter as you would expect, but the bitterness fades as you swallow and the beer moves to the back of your mouth/throat.  The bitterness is replaced by a gorgeous aftertaste of pine, grapefruit, citrus, a touch of spice, and floral flavors.   There is no middle pallet flavor to describe. In other words, this beer has a hole in the pallet.  No off flavors detected. Are we there yet?  No, but were damned close.   The beer needs a middle hop addition to reach its full potential.  Jake and I agree a spicy, smokey, middle hop would be most appropriate to create the correct flavors for an pale ale. We had great talks among the team last night and we all think a 20-30 minute Chinook addition would do the trick.  4.25 / 5

Overall the C4 hop explosion scored an 18.5 on my rating scale and a 19.25 on our team's overall rating scale. 19 or above we leave alone.  "Wait, what?  you have a system for analyzing your home brew?"  Sure, why? you don't? Wait a minutes, seriously, you don't have a rating scale?  Well get one.  C4 is an 19.25, it, therefore, is formally set as a team recipe, with only one change, that the entire team agrees upon.  The 20 -30 minute bittering addition.   Other than that, the recipe is ready to go.  And we will brew it over and over.

Here's the recipe:

But there is always room for self analysis, there is always room for contemplation, and there is always room for improvement.   And there is always room for stealing from a successful recipe to make a new recipe!  So here is what we came up with for next time.  We're going to make a vairant of C4 Called "red rocket"  We're going to try to get a little more roast, and a  deep read color in the red rocket.  It will not be the same beer, but it will be dang close.   Here is how we will go about it.  If it works, and we love it, then we'll re examine.
  • Appearance - Cap the mash with Carafa  3 or pale chocolate until the color we want is obtained.  Just add a little at a time until we get a slightly darker color. deeper than orange, but not brown.  If we could get brilliant red, I would certainly take it.  I know MA and Jake have the discipline to shoot for that.  I know John and I can provide the real time analysis and practical hard work to assist.
  • Taste Add a middle hop addition of 1 ounce of Chinook at 25 minutes.   We want some of the spicy, almost smokey notes that Chinook provides.  if that doesn't work we'll add some Rye malt next time.
See we're making 2 changes, not one,  And with them we are creating a variant that we can compare to C4.   I know prevailing advice is change one thing at a time. Only one.  That is what the beer cannon guys say you must do.  And that is hogwash.  If you take the time to analyze your beer carefully, you can make more than one change at a time.  But if you find you are changing a whole bunch of things at once.  It is probably time to seek advice from a more experienced home brewer, or the friendly people at your LHBS.

So taste critically,  Evaluate the brew completely.  And then make one or two changes.  If you have persistent off flavors, evaluate your process and sanitation.   And finally, and I can not stress this enough.  Take copious notes.  Comprehensive, thorough, detailed notes.  You'll learn so much from theses notes.  And always ask your self,  "are we there yet".  

Monday, March 28, 2016

10 Gallon No Sparge

Why do you sparge?  Seriously, why?  Of course you sparge to rinse sugars off the grains, and to improve efficiency, and because that is what every book says to do, so that is what you do.  But other than that, why?   And why is improving efficiency a good thing?   Have you ever thought about that? I routinely get into the high 80s and low 90s with brew in a bag step mash with a sparge.  But why is that good?  Other than the fact that is means you did a great job extracting sugars, is there any benefit to supremely high efficiency?  

The answer may surprise you.  The answer is unequivocally, no.  In fact I think you could argue quite compellingly that super high efficiency actually reduces many of the malty flavor compounds (flavinoids, melanoids like dimethyl pyrazines) that give beer balance and it's delicious grainy, bready, taste. That's right sparging may be lessening the overall taste of your beer.  And further, sparging isn't necessary.  

If BIAB has taught us anything, it has taught us that there is more than one way to skin the proverbial cat.   One of the most common methods of BIAB uses a no sparge.  All of the water, all of the grains. Perhaps a squeeze, but other than that no other method for pulling sugars out of grains.  

Built in bulk head
makes connecting a
valve really easy!
We have been looking for a better faster brewing method for some time.  A method that would allow us to do 10 gallon batches.  But we didn't want to spend a fortune.   Many of the 10 gallon systems are price prohibitive.  So we put on our thinking caps.  Here is what we came up with.

Stirring and Checking Mash
We mash (no sparge) in a 100 quart (25 gallon, 95 liter) Coleman Extreme Cooler.   The cooler has a built in hose bulkhead, and a trap door in the lid.  Both of which come in very handy.

25 Gallons of mash is actually enough for quite a bit more than 10 gallons.  I am confident we could make a 15 gallon high gravity beer, or a 20 gallon medium gravity beer in the cooler with out sparging.   In the photo on the right you can see Jake and Mark have the door open and they are able to stir the mash.  The door is crazy helpful for infusions too, we do lots of step mashing.  And it sure is nice to be able to add the boiling water with out opening the entire cooler.

We still use a bag as our filter medium. The benefits of the bag are well established.  We get about 77% efficiency on these large no sparge batches.  We're good with that.  Although we are going to try an even finer crush and see what that gets us.

But as you can see in the photo at the left, the crush is already pretty good.  By the way, John isn't talking to the mash, he's telling me the temperature.  He's not encouraging them "come on little grains, you can do it"  As you can see, that is a whole lot of grains for a 10 gallon batch. (6.5 Gallon plastic bucket. )  the temperature is important.

All grain brewer's need to take this part of mashing in more seriously.  I can't tell you how many times people send a question about missing strike temps, or post the same on a forum.   I ask them..."what was the temperature of your grains?"  And I get back, "I don't know... room temperature I guess"  "Where were the grains stored?"  "In the basement...    Uh, yeah... no wonder that your temps were low.  Your grains were probably 60 F.  (15.5 C)

We generally do step mashes with infusion.   I have mentioned infusion step mashing before on the blog.  But I've never really gotten into detail.  Basically, you add a certain amount of boiling water to the mash to raise the temperature to the next rest.  It is similar to decoction mashing in that a certain amount of boiling water can be added to the mash to heat it to a certain temperature.   "Won't the boiling water denature the enzymes?"... yes... and no.   A very small amount of the enzymes in the mash will denature when you pour in boiling water. But not enough to cause any problems with conversion.

So we start with a protein rest, we dough in around 140 F (60 C) , the grains drop us to 129-132 F (54.4 C).  We let it sit for 10-15 minutes then up to 146 F (63.3 C) for 35 minutes,  Then up to 156 F (68.8 C) for 30 Minutes, then up to 168 F (75.5 C) for 10 Minutes.   Yes, our mash takes longer.  yes we generally have a little bit of water left over, no problem.  We add it to the keggle  as we start the transfer.    Our mash takes longer, but we didn't sparge.   Even a batch sparge takes 30 minutes by the time you heat the water, carry the kettle, pour the water, stir and transfer.   And fly sparging adds an hour minimum to your brew day.   We skip all of that, and just transfer and boil.  

We use a 7.5 gallon kettle and jet burner to get our infusions ready.  We use the keggle to keep the water damned warm during brew day, and then to boil the wort.

That isn't protein break, it is
bitter orange peel, ginger, and
black pepper.
Although, protein break is crazy
with step mashing and the
jaded hydra.
And boy oh boy can we boil.   We boil 10 gallon batches in a 15.1 gallon keggle.  It was legally sourced from a local distributor.  I don't know why guys steal kegs.  It is a crappy thing to do to a brewery. If you ask they will probably let you have one that can't be repaired.  At a minimum, they will probably sell you one.   So just do the right thing, buy an old keg.  

We use an old Bayou Classic KAB6.  It puts out an insane amount of heat.  Something like 185,000 - 200,000 BTUs.   We can bring 13.5 gallons to a boil in about 13 Minutes.  6.75 gallons comes to a boil in just minutes.   As you can see in the photo above,  it is up on a stand which means it is high enough for transfer into fermenters after chilling.   We chill with the Jaded hydra chiller.  It is plainly put, insane.  It chilled this 10 gallon batch from 210 F (100 C)  to 72 F (22 C) in 13 minutes.  Last week Jake and I chilled a 5 gallon IPA from boiling to 65 F (18.33 C) in 5 minutes.  

We ferment in glass, if we have it available.  But in plastic if we don't have glass available.   To be honest, I don't notice much of a difference.  The plastic v. glass debate is really just another silly home brew debate.   You're not more of a brewer if you ferment in glass.  You're not less if you ferment in plastic.  Enough already.
We both have fermentation chambers.   I also have a hot box for lactic fermentation and for saisons.

The ghetto brew 1280! Our no sparge HERM System
We are going cheap on the pump, our pump is
a food grade pump for a sous vide system.  It was $30.00
We are making some improvements to the no sparge system.   We are going to add a herms coil and a pump.  Herms = Heat Exchange Recirculating Mash System. This will allow us to stabilize water temperatures more, and to do a gradual rise to mash out temperatures.    Or to do much more precise step mashes, with far greater accuracy.   That is where we are heading.

It has taken me a long time to buy into the whole recirculating mash thing.  But the fact of the mater is that it keeps temperatures better and it makes cleaner wort.  So, after considerable deliberation, I'm in.

The brew day you are seeing photo's of is a 10 gallon batch of Saison, loosely inspired by Hennepin by Ommegang.  But we do make a change.  We add crushed black pepper corns to the boil for the last 10 minutes.   How many?  Well... that depends on how it smells.  Believe me when I say, quit trying to get exact recipes.   Learn to brew, learn to taste, learn to evaluate while you are brewing.   It will change everything for you.     We split off 5 gallons of this for sour beer.   The normal saison is fermenting with Belle Saison yeast.  The sour is fermenting with Imperial Chimera yeast blend.  Which is a low attenuating belgian ale, lacto, bret l, and bret c.  If those terms mean nothing to you, that's OK.  Sours are pretty advanced stuff.  We are learning about them in the sour series.

Updates and Evaluation;

C4 Hop Explostion pale ale -  Flavor is fantastic.  Could use a little more bitterness, not much just a tiny bit, and a little more dark crystal grain.   So next time, we'll make those changes.  But it is really excellent.

La Fin du Monde clone -   I would tell you this is the best tripel I have ever tasted.   John would not agree.  He still thinks the original is better.   But we're splitting frogs hairs here people.  It is world class.  

Allegement a la Framboise -  probably the best fruit beer I have ever tried.   A belgian blond and raspberries are a perfect combination.

Tank 7 Clone -  Can't capture tank 7 exactly, Boulevard uses a proprietary yeast.  But it is an excellent saison.   It will be loved all summer long.   The color and aroma are spot on.  

Kolsch - Clean easy drinking German Kolsch.

Cream Ale - Wonderful as always. Still a touch sweet, should clear up in the bottle.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Funkadelic Mastery; Part 2 Setting up for Sour... The easy, affordable way.

Belgian brewer's, the masters of Sour Beer.
So you have decided that you want to get into sour / funky brewing.  Cool.  This is a segment of brewing that is loads of fun, educational, and delicious.   The very best brewers I know, all dabble in Sour / Funky beers.   And it is widely suspected that the very best brewers in the world, the Belgian Lambic Brewers of the "Knighthood of the Brewer's Mash Staff", brew sours exclusively. Their techniques and practices are carefully guarded secrets that are literally handed down from father to son.  

The truth about sour beer is it actually is the older, more traditional process of beer making.  Pure yeast strain brewing has only been with us for about 200 years.  Hops as the predominant flavoring and preservative agent in beer has only been with us for about 600 years.  Beer however has been with us much, much longer.  And before the development of pure yeast, and the advancement of sanitation,  many beers were sour.  Or, to be more accurate, they became sour.  

This beer is insanely good!
English Raspberry Rye
Have you heard the term young beer or fresh beer.   What about the term old ale?  These terms refer not only to the age of a beer, but also how long it had been in an oak cask.   In the oak casks the beer took on flavors from the wood, and was acted upon by microbes living in the cask.   You are probably aware of Belgium's important place in sour beer production.  You undoubtedly know that America is pioneering amazing sour beers.  But did you know England also has a rich history with Strong Sour Ales?

So getting into this realm of brewing is embracing the total history of brewing.  It makes you a better brewer because it makes you think about what the microbes are doing,  and what you want them to do.   It teaches you patience.  Some of the beer's you'll make won't be ready for years.   Yes, years.  But the reward of opening a beer you brewed 3 or 4 years ago, is unlike any other reward in home brewing.   

I ferment, and bottle right from the
same bucket.  In truth, I made my own
so that I could put the spigot higher,
and not pick up any trub at all.
OK, I'm in.  I won't brew sours all the time, but I'd like to make them occasionally.  So what do I need?  If you are a home brewer, you already have almost everything you need.  But you will need a couple more items.   You will need a dedicated fermenter / bottling bucket,  The idea that brettanomyces can not be removed and cleaned out of a fermenter is absurd.  The idea that it takes a lot more work than it is worth to go to that level of sanitation... is not absurd.   So for your 5 gallon batches go get a 6.5 gallon bottling bucket with a lid. And never scratch the inside of it or use abrasive cleaners, or cleaning gear.  The lid should have a hole and a grommet for an air lock.  You will need a length of tubing the same size as your bottling tubing, and you will need a separate bottling wand.   That is it.  That is all you need for 5 gallon batches of funky beer.

Barnyard Funkadelic
a sour mash beer.
For sour beers (not necessarily funky)  I promote the practice of mash souring, or wort souring. These beers can be fermented and packaged like any other beer.  The lactobacillus and pediococcus die in the boil. (more on that later)  But you will probably want 2 or 3  one gallon jugs for souring your wort.   

That is really everything you need.  See?  It isn't that bad.  You will also want some pH strips, or a separate pH meter for checking the wort as it sours, and/or the beer as it ferments.   Do not use your standard pH meter.   Remember the first post, treat everything in sour beer like a potential contaminate.  You never use a pH meter for sour, then clean it and reuse it for standard beer.  Why?  Because it could infect your beer.  Will it infect your beer?   Probably not, but it could.  So just don't mix the two.  Treat everything in sour brewing this way.   Everything except stainless steel equipment.  Your thermometers, your spoons can be cleaned adequately to be used across all batches.  Everything that is used in sour / funky beer production is marked with a permanent magic marker.  Everything, including the air lock.  
I generally have 1 batch of funky beer going at all times.  I even use a Mr. Beer Little Brown Keg, for small batch sours (I seal the lid). When the beer is ready to be bottled, I know it is time to make more.   I often just pitch right on top of the yeast cake.   Yes, the yeast mutates and changes faster than pure ale strains.  That is part of the fun.  The second batch will taste different than the first batch.  

In general I do not recommend kegging funky beers at home.  If you choose to keg, use the same tubing and keg every single time.  Kettle sour, mash sour, and wort sour beers that are boiled before fermentation can be kegged like any other beer.   But really,  why would you keg a sour beer at home.  Bottle it up. Age some of it, revisit it later.  Maybe even years later.  That is part of the fun.  

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Funkadelic Mastery; Getting into Sour and Funky Beers... A new feature on Counterbrew.

There are few experiences as a beer
drinker that compare to a well made
oak aged sour beer.
Ok, first off, the title is kinda silly.  You can never really master sour and funky beers.  That is kind of the point of funky and sour beers.  They are a bit wild, and when you make a sour beer, or a funky beer you are there to serve the needs of the yeast / beer.  Think of yourself as a shepherd when you are making these beers.   Keep the flock in the pasture,  keep the flock from grazing other pastures, and give the flock what it needs to flourish.  So mastery, is kind of the wrong term.   Do not attempt to approach them with the same techniques and practices you use when brewing clean ales and lagers.

This is a radically different approach than clean ale or lager brewing.  It also produces radically different results.  And believe it or not, it actually takes more cleaning and sanitation than regular brewing.   Yes, I said it, more, not less.   I know you have all heard that before, but I want to stress the truth of it here and now.   When you deal with sour beers you need to treat them like contaminates. You need to be extra, extra careful with washing your hands, your brew gear, your brewery etc.   Even across the internet,  I hear some of you out there groaning.  Some of you experienced sour guys are rolling your eyes audibly.   Yes, I know it is just yeast and bacteria.  Yes, I know that standard sanitation practices will most likely prevent infection of future clean beers.   But remember this blog targets new and intermediate brewers.  Most of whom are still refining their cleaning and sanitation processes.   So yes, treat sour and funky beer like a contaminate.   Clean and sanitize everything the beer comes in contact with, and use separate racking and bottling gear when making a sour.

Michael Tonsmeire, a great champion of sour beers.
But don't let this scare you off.  I am going to give you four approaches to sour beer that produce great results and which, when used the way I describe,  will prevent infection of your brew gear.   1. Bottle Dregs additions (the easy way to make a sour) 2. Sour Wort procedure 3. Sour mash procedure 4. Mixed yeast (or bacteria) fermentation.   And really, other than capturing your own yeast or open fermentation, which we will do in a later post,  those are the only ways to make sour or funky beer.  We will not be getting into traditional Lambics, or traditional Gueuze.  We will not be learning about turbid mashing techniques.  If you love sours, and want to learn about those techniques I strongly suggest "American Sour Beers"  by Michael Tonsmeire.  It is, in my opinion, the definitive book on sour beers. Michaels website it the hang out spot for us sour beer nerds. .  If you've never brewed a sour, the website may be a little overwhelming at first. But you'll catch on. And feel free to ask questions. Michael actually answers them.

Blending beer is a blast!
We will eventually be getting into blending sours, and funky beers with other beers to make unique and amazing new creations.   We will be getting into fruit, and the role they play in sour beers.  So this isn't a series as much as it is a new feature.   We will also make a cheaters sour fruit beer.  Something I sometimes do to decrease the time from kettle to glass.   Every sour beer will be bottled.  Not kegged!  Bottle conditioning is important to sours, and part of the fun.   

I have told you all, for the duration of this blog that I do some more advanced brewing, Some sours, some wine blended and wine fermented beers,  some fruit sours, and some oak aged sours.  Now, I'll pull back the curtain and let you all in on how I make these mini masterpieces.   But,  and this is important, we will not be trying to clone the great sour beers you love.   I have found cloning a sour beer is like herding cats.  Frustrating, and a general waste of time.    So one philosophy I embrace about sours, is  to be inspired by a brew, but to never try to clone it exactly.

Here are the general guidelines we will follow.
  1. Sour / Funky brewing is about having fun and experiencing new and different flavors.
    1. If the extra time and effort are worth it to you, this will be a blast.  if they are not, well then... maybe you shouldn't brew sours.
    2. A batch can take 6 months to a year to be ready to bottle
      1. It may not peak in the bottle until 6 months to a year later.
  2. Sour / Funky beers require extra cleaning
    1. Before you brew or handle
    2. But especially after you brew or handle the beer.
  3. Sour / Funky beers require additional equipment.  
    1. I'm sorry but there is no way around this.   You will need at a minimum a separate bottling wand and tubing.  
    2. Ill show you how to set up a sour system for minimal expense.
  4. Sour / Funky brewing makes you a better brewer of regular beers.
  5. Sour / Funky brewing is a great tool to have in your brewing tool box.
    1. I ruined a Centennial Blonde with too high of mash temperatures last year.  Remember? I tried Amylase enzyme, and other methods to get the beer to drop beneath 1.014.  To no avail.
    2. So I transferred to my sour bucket, and  for a couple of weeks, every time I drank a Boulevard Love Child, I poured in the dregs.   The end result is an amazing golden Brettanomyces beer, that I call "vivid interlude".  

I use 1 bucket for making sours. I bottle
straight from the bucket.
In the next episode we will talk about setting up for sour.  It is easier and more affordable than you may think. All you really need is a dedicated bucket with a spigot, a dedicated wine theif, and a dedicated bottling wand.   We will also talk about the 3 main sour cultures,  Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, and Pediococcus.  We will get into our first 2 methods.  1. Bottle Dregs, and 2. Sour Wort.  And I will give you some recipe guidelines for brewing sours.  

Important Note on Safety. Here at counterbrew we do not advocate true wild fermentation. I know it is all the rage now but there are some potentially dangerous pathogens that can make you sick that just love to hang around beer. They don't generally end up in your finished beer, the acidity and alcohol kill them. But they can get on your hands and gear when you are brewing and make you sick. We believe in pitching pure cultures of the yeast or bacteria that you want in your beer. Even if you harvest the yeast yourself, you should take the time to purify the culture. We will get into that in our series on yeast wrangling, in the future (late summer and fall).

Thats all for now Beer Nerds!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Sometimes, I even have to remind myself... Hot Brew Gear Photos Inside!

Sure I like cool brewing systems,  I just don't like
the price tag or the lower efficiency.
Part of the "coolness" that is homebrewing, is looking at all of the cool gear, and cool methods of making beer.  Recently, I have been dreaming and designing my dream brewing system.  I have researched 3 vessel systems with pumps, herms coils and with gravity sparging equipment.  I have designed system after system on paper. I have watched countless hours of videos on you tube. I have considered electric systems, gas systems, and hybrid systems.  I have considered what systems would allow me to still decoct, but also make step mashing easier.  I have looked at fully automated systems, and more rudimentary systems.

Jake checking gravity with a refractometer.  You can see the
Jaded hydra chiller in the box on the table.

I have come to the inevitable, inalienable conclusion that... I need to stop.  Stop looking at other brewing systems. I need to Stop designing and re designing system.   I already have 3 (kinda 4 if you include stove top small batch)  great brewing systems.     I can brew 10 gallons no sparge, heck I can do 20 gallons if I sparge.   I have amazing wort chillers and all of the cool toys that everyone wants (Refractometers, pH meters, digital instant read thermometers)  The only thing I don't have is mash re circulation.  And that is something I can add in the future. I am now convinced that it makes controlling mash temperatures easier, and gives  a consistent temperature throughout the mash.

So here is what I am reminding myself tonight, as I fight the urge to do more research.
  1. BIAB is more efficient than 3 vessel, this is a fact. A well established fact.
  2. Pumps, Valves, and electric control panels are useful only to the extent with which they make brewing easier. 
  3. "This is a hobby, this a hobby..." there is no justification for spending thousands and thousands of dollars. Kids need to eat.    
  4. The goal is great beer, not cool brewing systems.   (although I have to wonder how many of you would look at our 10-20 gallon system and think is was pretty darn cool). 
  5. Anything hard to clean is a waste of money.  
  6. And finally,  mash doesn't know it is being mashed, recirculated, or stirred.   And brewing systems are essentially mashing or wort production systems.
This countertop eRIMS system is
my dream 5 gallon rig.
And for what it is worth,  I've been wasting time. I already know what my dream rig is, and it isn't some $7,500.00 3 vessel behemoth.  No, it's not that at all,  my dream rig (s) are the relatively straight forward and simple systems by BrauSupply and High Gravity. and Colorado Brewing Systems

So for the time being, the brew team is pretty well set up.  We have a 100 quart mash tun, a bag that fits it, a keggle, a 150000 btu burner, a jaded hydra chiller, all kinds of fermenters, and all the cool sciency gadgets.   We may add a pump for the purpose of transferring sparge water, whirl-pooling, and recirculating mash at the end of the mash cycle.   We may add a HERMS coil, because we have an extra turkey fryer, and if we can source a pump for cheap, that might make some sense, still BIAB in a cooler of course.  So were not complete, but were in good shape.  For me personally, I will keep dreaming about a system by BrauSupply or High Gravity, and looking forward to the day when I can buy one. For now, unless I win the lottery,  I plan to live by the mantra if it doesn't make better beer easier, I don't need it. "This is a hobby, this is a hobby".  So if you hear some nut case in the LHBS mumbling "this is a hobby",  say hello.   And if that nut case is buying all kinds of gear kick him in his nut case and remind him "this is a hobby".

Pictures of some of our gear.

We have a submersible digital thermometer.  We always know
our mash temperature.

a pH meter is really indispensable if you are doing all grain.

In this photo, from left to right,  The 48 quart mash tun, wort
chillers, fermenters, a dog, the stand and burner for the keggel
the small 7.5 gallon turkey fryer.
an automatic temperature adjusting refractometer is a huge
benefit on brew day.
We have a legally sourced Keggel
for big batches. with a 150,000
BTU Burner.
We have loads of brew bags, and one
big enough for a 100 quart mash tun.
It is in the 48 quart tun here!
Our grain mill is basic, but it is
drill powered and does a great job!
Not sure how many pots the team has, a lot.  I have 3 stainless
steel pots, and one enamel pot for brewing.
We use an aquarium pump and a
stainless steel stone for aeration.
We use thiefs to check gravity.  When carefully sanitized,
you can drain the beer back into the fermenter.
And of course the Cajun Injector
which gets duty as a BIAB rig, and
as a Hot Liquor Tank, when we sparge
10 gallons, which isn't often because
we can do full volume mash of 10 gallons.
We have a 100 quart cooler mash tun, this looks just like it. Love the door on top
it does double duty as a bottle cleaning and label removing station. I holds
hundreds of bottles.  It has a built in bulk head. 
So there it is.  We have a lot of cool gear as a team.  And I have plenty of cool gear for the time being.  Some day I'll get my dream rig.  But for now.  I'll just shut up and brew!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Busy Busy Busy Brew day...

So today, Jake and I set out to brew the "lost IPA" recipe.  The original version of August Hyppo. The version that was so amazing over the years.  The version that I adulterated over time, tweaking this and that,  until it was no longer the same recipe, and not at all the same amazingness.  Today, Jake and I would recapture August Hyppo and begin the process of bringing this recipe back. If you missed the previous post,  I used to brew a magical aIPA.   It really was the best aIPA I ever tasted.   But overtime I messed with it.  With each new version getting further and further from the original awesomeness.   Unfortunately, I didn't save my original recipe.  So I thought I was out of luck.  But the recipe was found in a brewery cleaning of epic proportions.

It is great brewing with a team.  Dividing the labor, and the costs is a great benefit to everyone.  It also means we can brew more often than most.  We are in mid March, the NCAA men's (and women's) basketball tournament is in full swing (ROCK CHALK!), and we have already brewed nine times this year. That gives us a great variety of beers.  If you showed up right now as I am writing this I could offer you anything from a dIPA to an light lager, anything from a Bretanomyces Sour beer to an amazing BSDA.   But sharing also means that you pretty much have to bottle your beer.  And bottling can be a real chore.

Organization is the key to a busy brew/bottling day.  I have a
"Put away" box on the left,  a brew day starter and a "clean box"
on the right.  The clean box has starsan solution in it. Any thing
that needs to stay sanitary goes into the clean bucket
Bottling takes time, so I started early, so early in fact that it was yesterday. Yesterday I loaded the dishwasher with bottles (yes I am a dishwasher sanitation guy)  This morning I unloaded the dishwasher, sprayed starsan into the bottles and put them in crates for bottling.  And then I did that exact process all over again. And then one more time.  Side Note.  If you are not using your dishwasher to sanitize bottles... why not?  It is by far the easiest way to clean and sanitize bottles.   Believe me I have tried them all.   We had 15 gallons to bottle this weekend.   This morning I got up early and got 10 gallons done before Jake arrived.  The Kolsch, the Cream Ale, and the  Belgian Raspberry Blond were all bottled today.  All samples tasted amazing.  But the Belgian blond with raspberries was truly, truly phenomenal.  This beer may make the permanent rotation.   The sample was a little sweet but, that should clear up in bottle conditioning.

Fine Crush = efficiency. 
Improvements were made to the counterbrew kitchen/brewery.   The Cajun Injector Electric Turkey Fryer was Insulated with high temperature ceramic foam, and a new valve was installed.  If you choose to use foam to insulate, make sure it has a week to 10 days to cure.  The insulation dramatically improved the boil,  but really didn't do much to improve mash temperature stability, which really surprised me.  that means I'm losing lots of heat through the top.  I will have to come up with a solution for that.  I may actually use a cooler mash tun in the future.  We're having such good luck with a brew bag in a cooler, that may become the standard for the counterbrew kitchen for all grain batches.  And, I have an extra mash tun so... yeah, think Ill clean it up and get it ready for action.   I think home brewing is changing.  I recently posed about the fact that more and more people are using brew bags as lauter filters.  I certainly have embraced this trend.  But for me the most important things are making great beer and having fun.   A fluctuating mash temperature is not fun for me, so the cooler may be put back in service.   And I have to admit, that using a bag and a mash tun has been more fun for me recently than a bag in the turkey fryer.

scoop the foop, it adds nothing to your beer.
The brew day was uneventful.  We had a good time talking beer, and basketball.   Jake was a college basketball player, so he has some great insights to the game.    We did a protein rest to help ensure break down of the proteins, and boy did we break them down.   The hot break and the cold break were amazing.  We scooped the foop. The easiest way to do this is with a small metal strainer.   The wort was amazingly clear.   We did recirculate our entire wort volume after mash out.  These two simple little steps will give you brilliantly clear beer.    We had to fight boil over constantly with the kettle now insulated.

Jaded Hydra is the very best chiller you can buy. 
Today was our first run with the Jaded Hydra.  Let me just say, that thing is amazing.  We went from 210 to 68 F in 6 Minutes, and we were not recirculating, and we were not at full blast.   Get a hydra, spend the money.  It will save you so much more than it will cost you in water savings alone.   And it is really fun to watch the dial drop.  Literally watch it drop.    I can not endorse this product highly enough.  Yes, it does cost more than other wort chillers.   So what?  If it will save you that much time and money.  It is worth it.  We will be posting a full review with videos on our up coming 10 gallon batch.  I'll say for now, we were out of isomerization temperatures in under 2 minutes.  That is amazing, and if you read the dIPA posts you know that is a key to making great hoppy beers.

At the end of the brew day we pitched US05 and set this bad boy in a dark cool place.  I'm currently reconstructing my fermentation chambers so a cool corner of the basement will have to do.  But with US05 and this ratio of hops to OG, I'm truly not worried about it.   I cant wait to try this beer.  I am hoping it is everything I remember.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The best AIPA I ever your recipes.

If you are an experienced home brewer... you have had the same thrill and frustration that I am about to describe.  If you are a beginner, consider this a warning.   Last year, in April I brewed a magical batch of beer.   It was with out a doubt the finest AIPA I have ever had anywhere.  Every friend who tried it agreed it was sensational.  Most agreed it was among the finest they had ever had too.   Since then I have been chasing that beer.   And if you had tried it you would be chasing it too.  Some how the flavors all came together with out being muddled at all.   Clearly defined pure hop excellence.

The beer in question was a beer based loosely on.... say it with me people.... pliny the elder.   But it wasn't pliny the toddler.  It was higher in ABV a respectable AIPA   And I substituted Warrior in as the bittering hop.  But like a jerk,  I tried to improve it.  To make it more mine.  I added Mosaic one time,  I substituted Nugget for Simcoe another time.  (they are nearly identical by the way)  I tried biscuit malt, aromatic malt,  I even used honey one time.   But none of these batches compared to the original.   Don't get me wrong, they were good beers... I am me after all.  I can brew some good beer.  But they didn't have that special something.

Here is the real problem.  Every time I rebrewed the beer, I got further and further away from the original.  And the recipe on my software became a bit of a "frankenbrew"  It had gotten to the point where I couldn't remember the original recipe.    I had become convinced that I needed to start at the very beginning and just change one thing at a time, brewing batch after batch of 1 gallon recipes until I got it just right.

But an amazing thing happened.   In a brewery cleaning of epic proportions,  I found the recipe.  It was exactly where I put it so i wouldn't lose it.

So this weekend.  Jake and I will be brewing this magical AIPA, which is now called August Hyppo. Clearly labled on my Brewtoad account.  And the only recipe by that name.   So I can't lose it again.   Here it is for you all.  I strongly suggest that you give it a brew.   It is really that good.    This week is a countertop brew in a bag.  With a protein rest, a 60 minute sac rest, a mash out, and a sparge rinse.  Next week the entire team will be back together again and we will be brewing the monster. HOPTONITE dIPA.  When we brew hoptonite we will be doing a no sparge brew.

For the most part I like balanced, and
malty beers.  Not so with this one.
I  like my AIPAs hoppy
The red dot, shows you where this
beer comes in on the scale.
5 Gallon - All Grain
1.047 OG
1.007 FG
60 IBUs
5.2% ABV
Balance index 1.27 (out of balance extra hoppy)
Based on 82% efficiency

6.5 # 2 Row Malt (or Pale ale malt)
.75 # Biscuit Malt
.50 # Carapils Malt
.50 # of Corn Sugar

.88 Warrior at 60  16% AA -  14.08 AAU
.6 Centennial at 10.5%  AA - 6.3 AAU
.6 Columbust at 5 15% AA -  9 AAU
.6 Cascade at 0 7% AA - 4.2 AAU
.4 Cascade 4 day dry hop  7% AA 2.8 AAU
.4 Centennial 4 day dry hop 10.5% AA - 4.2 AAU
.4 Simcoe 4 day dry hop 13%  AA - 5.2 AAU

US-05 1 Package Rehydrated.
yeast nutrient

A picture of the magical beer
without gelatin, you could darn
near watch TV through it!
Mash Schedule:
Strike grains with 3.63 gal of water at 137.7 °F. Rest for 10 then begin a rise to 152 F. Turn off heat when mash is at 150 F. It will still rise to 152-154 F. Mash at 152 °F for 60 min. Mash out with 0.46 gal of water at 212 °F. Vorlauf and lauter 3.14 gal in your first runnings. Add 3.06 gal of sparge water at 168 °F. Vorlauf and lauter 3.06 gal in your second runnings. Your combined runnings should be 6.2 gal.

Fermentation Schedule:
Set Chamber to 62 F.  for 4 days. The heat of fermentation will get the beer to 66 to 68, which is perfect for US 05  Then raise temperature of the chamber to 66 F and allow beer to finish.  The beer is fairly low OG and will be done fermenting with in 10 days.  After 10 days, dry hop.  You will be ready to package this beer after 14 days.  it will be ready to drink around day 21