Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Extract Excellence; The Extract Apocalypse 3 batches VIDEO ACTION

MA Prepping for a big brew day!
Friday night was the extract apocalypse.   The entire team was back together for an evening of brewing, revelry, and merriment.  On this evening we would be headed back to our brewing roots, we would be brewing 3 batches of extract home brew.  Three glorious, wonderful IPAs.  15 Gallons of hoppy goodness.  And we would show you, our readers, that you can make great beer at home with extract.

3 Hoppy Extract kits ready for Action
Most of us got our start in home brewing with extract kits.   Most of us began this near obsession with a box of cryptic ingredients from a home brew store.   And most of us eventually made the switch to all grain, preferring the flavors and cost savings of this method.   But most of us also have wondered "now that I know what I am doing... how awesome could I make an extract kit"  After all, we all know someone who makes award winning beers with extract.  But how awesome can we make it?

We have set out to answer that question in our recent series on extract excellence.   We were armed with 3 IPA kits from NorthernBrewer. We had the Karma Citra,  the Grapefruit Pulpin, and the Dead Ringer kits.  Northern Brewer kits are great, and we're so proud to have them as a partner here at Counterbrew.  Now most of you know who Northern Brewer is, but just in case you don't.  Northern Brewer is the largest home brew store in North America, and has one of the best websites you will experience.  They also produce brewingTV.  (Which has provided so many of us wonderful wasted hours on YouTube.) We set out to use the techniques we have learned in the Extract Excellence series.   Full volume boil, late addition of extract, pre-dissolving your extract,  rousing the yeast for full attenuation, and using yeast nutrient.

Fonzie in the rain, where's Ritchie Cunningham?
This brewing evening was a blast.  It was a stormy rainy night, and it was hot and humid in the garage.  But we didn't care.   For three of us it was back to our roots,  Jake, John and I have done many extract batches.  For Mark Anthony it was a whole new experience, he started with partial mash and brew in a bag.  So this was his first time ever making an extract batch of home brew.

Campden Tablets

The night before we brewed John treated all of the water we would need with campden tablets to purify the water and to remove chlorine and chloramine.   It is a pretty straight forward process.   we were using 19.5 gallons of water total, so it was as simple as crushing up two campden  tablets and splitting it up between the water.    Normally we would make a yeast starter as well, but John realized we were out of DME... so we decided to just re-hydrate and use a little extra.

On brew day the storms were rolling in. We decided to have each guy handle a batch of beer, with me floating between the batches.  John was using the beast 231 K BTU banjo burner.   Jake was on his old turkey fryer, and MA was on the Cajun injector.   All three systems did a great job.   But it is no surprise that John was finished first.

The first thing that we did was bring our treated water (brewing liquor) to temperature.   When you do an extract (kit or your own)  the first thing you tend to do is steep grains.   Grains steep anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes.  We put them in as the water is heating and pull them as the water approaches 170 F.  We do not want to extract tannin from the grains and we have not treated this water for pH.  So letting the water get above 170 F would be a risky move.   As they are steeping we occasionally poke at them with a spoon and stir them around.  

After the grains steeped for 20 to 30 minutes and when the water reached 170 F,  we pulled the grains and squeezed the grain bags into the wort.   It was now time to use one of our most important tricks to making great extract home brew, pre dissolving the wort.   We pre dissolve the wort in a separate pot so that we have no risk of scorching our extract in the kettles.   The next video is dark, but John gets his point across well.  We also use some of the hot water to get all of the extract out of the containers it came in.   Great tips that keep your extract from scorching or even getting too dark.  But one thing you have to accept is that extract will be darker than all grain brew.   It is just the nature of the beast.

late extract addition
After mixing up the extract off of the heat, we add one gallon of it to the boil kettle.   We save one gallon for a late boil addition.  That helps the extract keep from getting too dark.   So we add in one gallon and head to a boil.   You need some sugars and some proteins in a wort in order to get hop utilization.   So in an extract you want full volume boil, and you want some sugars so that the hop oils have something to stick to.   We do not reduce the hops when we make extract, even though we are doing full volume boil and getting good hop utilization.

Hop soup
We have found over the years that the hops are always a little too low on an extract kit.  Once you are to a boil, an extract batch is a lot like all grain.   Follow your hop schedule, make your fining and nutrient additions, and chill.  But for us there is one key difference,  we add the final gallon of dissolved wort with 10 minutes to go.  Yes you lose your boil for a couple of minutes.  But don't worry it will come back, just pause your timer and start again when it boils again.   Alternatively you can add some as the batch is boiling, a little here and a little there.  But you are risking making a darker beer than you had intended to make.  

Jake's odd method for checking
the OG of a beer.
Sometimes we bag the hops, sometimes we just throw them in.   There is really no right way to do hop additions.  Both ways work fine.  John chose to just add his in.   Jake and MA bagged their hops. Johns batch looked like hop soup,  It will all settle out in fermentation.   John really had no choice, since he was brewing on the keggle, and we don't have a bag big enough to reach down to the 5 gallon level in the keggle.

At the end of the boil each batch was chilled with our jaded hydra.   Ground water temps are above ale temps right now, so we could only chill to about 74 F.   But John's basement is at 66 F.   So we just set the batches in the basement to finish coming down to fermentation temperatures.   The batches were pitched the next morning after a brief aeration.

John nailed his initial gravity of 1.050 coming in at 1.048.   Jake was shooting for 1.064 and got 1.060.   Mark Anthony was shooting for 1.055 and got 1.050, but also produced an entire extra gallon of wort.  So he clearly actually got some sugars from the steeping.   The Cajun injector heats much more slowly than the other kettles.  So the steep was much longer.  What we think happened is that he actually extracted and mash converted sugars from the steeping.   Because with an extra gallon of wort his numbers should have been much lower.

Jake and John will stay on top of rousing the batches and making the nutrient additions to make sure these batches have every chance to attenuate as much as possible.  And we will of course report back to you all about how these beers turn out.    I'm looking forward to trying these.   They were darker than their all gran versions.  But not crazy dark.  I think they are going to be excellent.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Our top ten posts of all time...

One year ago today I wrote a post that would really launch this blog, a post that nearly 20,000 of you read and shared.  That is a lot for our little blog.   The home brewing landscape was different one year ago.   There was more contentiousness, more arguing,  there was a rift between the BIABers and the 3 vessel guys... and no one was even talking about extract or partial mash,  what a difference a year makes.   There are literally hundreds of new bloggers and vloggers.  The internet and youtube are full of places to turn for good if not great information on home brewing.   And the landscape has settled down quite a bit in the past year.  Home brewers now seem to realize that there is not one right way to brew.  There are no home brew police.  As long as the end result is good beer, it is all home brew.   And in that year we have made over 100 posts, we hope they were informative and entertaining.   We write this blog as much for ourselves as we do for you.   We write it to learn and to grow in this great hobby, but wow the support has been fantastic.

So today we look back on our top ten posts (actually 11), counting down from 10 to 1.  With hopes that this will be a yearly installment on Counterbrew.

10.  Mash Voodoo - A deeper look at Mashing - A look at malt and mashing techniques, kind of a precursor to our advanced mashing series.

9  . Extract Excellence Part 1 - The introduction to our current series on making beers with malt extract.  Clearly there are a lot of people interested in making extract beer, if they can make it taste as good as all grain.

8.   The actual truth about yeast volume 2 - with Kevin Lane of Fermentis - The Ale episode part of our series on beer yeast with technical sales director for Fermentis.

7.   The actual truth about yeast volume 1 - with Kevin Lane of Fermentis -

6.   The dumbest things I've read about home brew on the internet....  self explanatory.

5.   So I quit washing yeast -  cool stuff from Woodland Brewing Research and Steven Deeds.

4    End the Arguing - No more trolls -  inspired by a particularly stupid on line idiot who didn't realize he was arguing with one of our industries giants, and a great gentleman in our community.

3.  Miller the Muggle -  A lager like ale made with an amylase powder addition during fermentation, turns out very similar to a light american lager.

2a.  The actual truth about yeast - the Brett edition - with Kevin Lane of Fermentis

these two switch places in ranking all the time.

2b.  A beer geek guide to step mashing, understanding the science -  part of our series on Step mashing.

1. A quick Rant -   inspired by an knucklehead who would rather spend money on home brew than his family.  Almost 20,000 of you read this post on the interwebs.

So there they are, the top 10 (11) posts of the past year.   We thank you all for your support, and of course we want to thank our amazing sponsors.  At BSG,  Fermentis,  Cargill,  Imperial Yeast, and JaDeD home brew.   We have also had support from BrewLab Kc, Bacchus and Barleycorn, YCH Hops, and Homebrew Pro Shoppe.

Tonight is the Extract Apocalypse at Johns, 15 gallons of extract excellence. We will post all about it with videos soon to follow.  Should be a blast.  Brewing on a Friday night!  Three extract kits from Northern Brewer,  Grapefruit Sculpin,  Dead Ringer, and Kama Citra.   Can't wait.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Extract Excellence - What to do on brew day.

Everyone knows a guy, who knows a guy
who wins awards with extract home brew. Every club has a guy who knows the tricks to make an extract taste as good as an all grain brew. These home brewers have learned the little secrets that help an extract be all that it can become. And often they are pretty secretive about it. You see many extract brewers are tired of feeling like the red headed step child. They are tired of explaining why they do things the way they do things. Why the process is just a little different. But trust me these guys learn some tricks that help them make amazing extract beer. Tricks you can apply to your all grain or partial mash brewing. So today on Counterbrew we pull back the curtain and let you in on the secrets to making great extract home brew at home. And we give it to you step by step...

The Day Before Brew day:  

Clean your brew gear.   Yes the night before.   You should be focused on brewing on brew day, not on cleaning. It takes 15 to 20 minutes to clean your gear. Remember this is extract excellence...not extract acceptable or extract average

Prepare your water.   Either get 6.5 Gallons of spring water (no chlorine or chloramine) or treat 6.5 Gallons of your municipal water with ½ of a Campden tablet.   If your local water sucks then just go buy spring water. How do you know if your local water sucks? simple... does it taste good? or do you constantly go buy bottled water?.

Make a quick yeast starter a day (or two) before.  Yes, even for an extract.  We don't use a stir plate. We just manually agitate every now and then when we walk by. ( By the way, you can use a 1 gallon jug to make big starters if you need to, it's easy and works.Just don't put them on the stove ) Yeast performance has nothing to do with how you made the wort.  We will make a 2 liter starter of 1.035 wort, and pitch our dry yeast into it.   Extract is less ferment-able than all grain, so you really have to give your yeast every possible chance to succeed and attenuate all the way.   Our favorite yeast starter calculator is Brew United. Now, we like dry yeast and most dry yeast is around 6 Billion Cells per gram at packaging. So in theory you're good... right? wrong. Dry yeast is awesome and remains viable for years. It declines in viability far more slowly than liquid yeast. But it is also dry. Meaning the walls of the yeast cells are not ready for action. They have to re-hydrate. And 6.6 Billion viable cells per 11 ounces is only 72.6 Billion cells. A 5 gallon batch of 1.055 wort takes about 193 Billion cells. Now the yeast will multiply and the colony will grow. But you still want a healthy pitch. So buy two packs, or just make a starter a day or two before. It will work, and it will take off like a liquid starter.

Yeast selection is a factor with extract.  You always want to use a yeast that offers good attenuation.  We like Fermentis US 05 and Fermentis K97 for clean ales, S04 for English styles. For Belgian styles, Abbaye (BE256) and T58, and White Labs 545 (choose this for extract versions of Belgian Tripel, Golden Strong, and Blonde) We also really like White Labs 500 & 530 for Abbey Style Ales.   We like Danstar Belle Saison for saison. We have been using Imperial yeast a lot recently and have had great success. In general look for yeast that has high attenuation. And get your yeast information from the yeast company. Fermentis is especially helpful with questions. Many of the software programs are just wrong on attenuation. So double check. In general we are fans of dry yeast, and feel that the yeast from Fermentis is superior to most of the other yeasts we use, but they have also been a fantastic sponsor and they happen to manufacture the two most widely used yeasts in the world US05 and 34/70.

On Brew day:

You must be able to boil full volume to achieve extract excellence. THERE IS NO WAY AROUND THIS. If you do not have a turkey fryer or a bad ass kitchen stove that can actually boil 6.5 gallons of water. (very rare)  Go get one, borrow one, or steal one. Jake has a gas powered turkey fryer, and I have a Cajun Injector. They both work great for extract. I have posted many videos of the Cajun injector boiling 6.5 gallons. But there is another one, at the bottom of the post. If you are primarily going to make extract beer, then this is the best investment you can make mine was under $100 on Ebay. You can brew inside year round. You can also make great partial mash and all grain BIAB in the Cajun injector.

Transfer your treated water to the kettle.   And begin heating the water. While the water is heating get your additions prepared and organized. We like dixie cups for this (the little clear plastic cups)  But we have found that coffee filters also work very well.

Your steeping grains - All extract kits come with steeping grains to give flavor and color to the beer.   Place these cracked grains in a muslin bag and add it to the water as it is heating.   Remove the grains and give them a squeeze when the temperature of the water reaches 170 F.  

Continue to let the water heat, when the water reaches 190 F.  Turn off the heat, and add ⅓ of the malt extract.  This is enough extract to allow for hop utilization.
Stir well, do not allow any of the extract to burn on the bottom of the pot or on the elements.  If you use an electric kettle you should consider removing a gallon and a half of the wort into another container, and dissolving the extract in this container.  This is what we do.  We with hold 2 gallons of the initial water in a separate pot on the kitchen stove.   We dissolve all of the malt extract in this water.   We then add 1 gallon of the dissolved extract/water when we are done steeping the grains.   The remainder we add with 10 minutes to go in the boil.   That is a large enough boil not to effect hop utilization.

Add the hops and the fining/yeast nutrient per the schedule.  We always use a bag for our hops.  We use a paint strainer bag that is large enough to allow the hops to move around in the boil.

With 10 minutes to go in the boil we add the remainder of the dissolved extract.   If you are not pre-dissolving your extract, you will need to turn off your heat and add the remainder of your extract off of the heat.   Stir well to make sure none of it is stuck to the bottom of the kettle.   Then put the kettle back on the heat and bring it back to a boil.  It is so important to stir a lot when you add the extract and boil hard now to get the extract fully integrated and into solution with the rest of the wort.  But it i also so important not to burn or caramelize the extract.   If you are concerned about that, just do what we do and dissolve your extract separately.   Just remove some wort into another pot and dissolve the extract in that pot. Then add it back. Remember extract excellence, not extract average. You will lose the boil for a couple of minutes, but relax, just re start the timer when it starts boiling. If you have a 10 m hop addition, wait for it to come back to a boil.

At 10 minutes, after we add the rest of the extract we add the Irish Moss, and the yeast nutrient. (the first yeast nutrient, there will be more added during fermentation).  We also add our immersion chiller at 10 minutes. We have a Jaded Hydra.  The Jaded Hydra will chill a 5 gallon batch in under 10 minutes, even when it is hot outside. We can get all the way to ground temps. Which are usually in ale range. If you can not get all the way to the appropriate temperature range for your yeast.  Put your wort into your sanitized fermenter, and put it covered with aluminum foil some place cool until it is at temperature.  If you have a fermentation chamber go ahead and put it in there.  

When the wort is at the right temperature, you will need to aerate it.  We have an aquarium pump that we can sanitize and aerate with, but you can also just shake the heck out of it for 10 minutes.   Make sure the lid is secure if it is a bucket and cover the hole. If it is a carboy, just sanitize some plastic wrap and cover the hole with your hand and the plastic wrap. If it is a carboy you can set it on your knee and rock it back and forth. Alternatively you can sanitize a wine whip, or a paint mixer (that you only use for beer) and aerate that way.

When the wort is aerated pitch your yeast and add your sanitized airlock.   

During Fermentation

Ok here is where extract really gets different than all grain.  Extract batches of beer are not as fermentable by their very nature as all grain batches of beer.  So it is critical that you do everything you can to ferment all of the sugar that will ferment. (On a side note extract works great for Brettanomyces sour beers, bret can eat all that stuff). Fermentation temperature is still critical.  If you do not have a fermentation chamber… you will need to make a swamp cooler, or find the coolest place in your home to ferment.

Remember if a yeast has a fermentation range of 58 to 72 F.  It does not mean the beer will be great if you make it at 72 F. It means the yeast will still grow and perform reasonably well.   At least for the first couple of days, you need to hold that temperature down to ideal temperatures.  Then you can let it rise.  Keep it at ideal temperatures with a swamp cooler. This is especially important for the first 96 hours. (this advice is for ales not lagers, don't even try a lager with out a fermentation chamber). We are lucky to have 2 fermentation chambers.

First off,  if you have followed our advice carefully, you will see fermentation activity in 12 - 24 hours.  But remember extract worts tend to be less fermentable.  Your yeast needs help to get every bit of fermentable sugars attenuated.   To do that we gently rouse the fermenter every day, until high krausen is over. We don’t worry about splashing during the Krausen phase.  After high Krausen we do not splash at all.   We just gently get the yeast up and in suspension.  

Second we make nutrient additions, like you would with a wine, or with a mead.   We like fermaid K.   Just mix with sterile water and add this at high Krausen. Or even better make it part of the sugar addition explained below. Just add it to the sugar water once it has cooled.

Third we add ½ a cup of corn sugar dissolved in 1.5 cups of boiled water (boiled and cooled) at high Krausen.   This gives the yeast the added umpf it needs to finish strong and attenuate completely. We have taken extract batches of beer from 1.081 to 1.013 using this method.  And that my friends is 83% attenuation.   And that keeps an extract from finishing too sweet.

We generally do not rack our wort to secondary.   We let it go until it is done and cleaned up.   A big beer will take 2-3 weeks.  A small beer may be ready to bottle or keg in 10 - 14 days.  We let the beer finish, and we take samples occasionally.   A wine thief and a hydrometer are necessary tools.   When you sample the beer if it is too sweet, and the gravity is still too high, you can gently rouse the beer, and add more simple sugar if you need to.  This is your best method for making the yeast attenuate out all the way.   But to be honest, we have never had to do more than the ½ cup of corn sugar and the yeast nutrient.   

After packaging

My goodness do you have a big healthy colony of yeast now.  If I was you, I would make another beer on bottling day, a bigger beer  (ie if your first beer was 1.056 go up to 1.075).  And I would pitch the slurry of this beer into the new beer.   You can do that about 3 times before you run into mutation of the yeast.  Alternatively you can just get some mason jars and wash your yeast.   

So there it is sport fans.  How we make extract with excellence.   A little different than all grain.  But a great method to follow if you need to make a bunch of beer fast, or if you just need a fast brew day. We will of course be brewing some extracts really soon. And we'll put video content in the post to make it all make sense. Give it a try, it will change your opinion on extract brewing.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Brewday HOT VIDEO ACTION - Festbier & partigyle patersbier - Single decoction & partial mash

There are a lot of pots on a
decoction brew day.
Sunday... we were up to our usual craziness again.  It was just me and Mark Anthony, and when we brew alone, we tend to do crazy, difficult, and complicated stuff.  Now, I am not necessarily advocating that for any of you.  Especially if you are new to brewing.    But, we like to push ourselves and we enjoy trying new techniques.    So we brewed 8 gallons of beer in about 5 hours.  Both beers were decocted...

We brewed a festbier.  A medium gravity lager that is served at October fest in Germany.  I have written about it before.   It is a fantastic German Lager.  We will be using the fast lager method described on brulosophy.   This beer needs to be step mashed or decocted to get the malty profile and mouth feel that you want in a festbier.   So that is exactly what we did.  But we were using grains from Cargill.  Europils, and Muesserdoerffer Vienna, so we didn't feel the need to do a tripple decoction.  We knew we would get the conversion we were looking for from a single decotion and from a good amylase rest.  We love these grains, and they convert like a mother.  The extraction is always good even in a single stage mash.

We started with a brief enzyme wash at 132 F, for 15 minutes.   That is more than enough time for the enzymes to wash into the wort.    At the end of the enzyme wash we pulled a 2/3 rds decoction and started the crazy process of decocting our mash.    The video below does a pretty good job showing you the decoction process.   Apologies in advance for bad lighting and for my rant 2/3rds of the way through.

Checking the strike temp for the
festbier.  The water is treated.
From there on the festbier was easy, two hop additions, nutrients, and Irish moss.    Neither of these beers are very hoppy, so we used the "no chill" method.   We generally prefer to chill our batches but today, time pressures of normal life meant we would just no chill.   I have never had a problem with "no chill" especially for batches that are not hoppy.    We hit our gravity and we let it chill.   Mark Anthony is taking the batch to Johns tonight to put it into the fermentation chamber for the fast lager method.

rapid boil on the cajun injector
So we had these grains, that had only been decocted once,  they are awesome grains and there was still some sugar in them, 1.013 to be precise.   That is pretty low.  But a patersbier is a low gravity Belgian beer.   If you are not familiar with patersbier, it is a low gravity beer made by the monks for daily consumption.   It is not a blonde ale, or a belgian single.  Although, recently there has been a push to call it a belgian single.   It is made with abbey yeast, not belgian ale yeast.    And most importantly it is delicious.    We knew a pound of pilsen DME and a boil would fix that.

There was a problem with our color... it looked like... ZIMA,  or for you youngsters... a mikes hard lemondade.  It was just too light in color.   Well we know how to fix that.... another decoction.   So I took the grains, put them in a pot and started a decotion.   30 minutes later we had a malty aroma and a wonderful color.   We added the grains in a bag to a bottling bucket and then we poured 4 gallons of treated water at 168 F onto the grains.    A bag and a bottling bucket might be the best way to do a partigyle.   It was so easy.   Think we'll post a video of this process next time.   The batch was brought to a boil on the stove and usual brewing practices took place.  We added Saaz hops at 60, 30, 15, and 0.  Irish Moss and yeast nutrient at 10 minutes.    The final gravity was 1.044, which is a little high for a patersbier.  But it will be delicious.

And for those of you who doubt that we can get a rigourous boil on the cajun injector, here is an older video of a 6.5 gallon wort boiling.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Belgian Dark Strong Brewday - Step Infusion & Schluss Decoction

So Saturday the team was back together in John's Garage for a Belgian Dark Strong Brew Day.  And we were joined by Mark Anthony's college friend Brian (who I refer to as Steve).  This was Brian's first brewing experience and probably not the best first brew to learn the craft.  After all we were brewing a multi step Belgian Dark Strong Ale, loosely based on Dogfishhead's Raison d'etre.

To brew this beer and to really get the maximum expression of flavors, you have to step mash.   And since we do not have a big fancy electric system capable of step mashing 10 gallons of beer at a time at full  water volume... we have to do infusion step mashing.

For those of you who are not aware, infusion step mashing is the process of adding boiling water to your mash in order to raise the temperature.   By adding a certain amount of water you can raise the temperature to your next rest.  This was a really big beer, over 27 lbs of grain in the mash.  Plus two sugar additions, Dark Candi syrup, and 2 lbs of brown sugar With a really big beer you tend to run out of water before you reach mash out temperatures.  .   But, have no fear, when this happens you can just pull a Schluss Mash Decoction and add it back in to get to mash out.   And that is what we did.  We rested at 103 F,  Then at 113 F,  134 F, 146 F, 156 F, and then we were out of water.  Now by this point we are literally 2 hours into the mash.  (Yes, two hours... and don't judge till you try it.   Nothing compares to the flavors created by a small batch step mash.)  So to get to mash out, we pulled 2.25 Gallons of wort and brought it to a boil, and then added it back into the mash.   Easy, but time consuming.  The volume was right on the money.  The gravity was a tiny bit low.   We were shooting for 1.081 we got 1.074.  Not too worried about it.  Should still be a great beer.   Don't sweat minor misses like this.   They have no impact on your beer.

Now, I am the first to admit that infusion step mash brew days are complicated.  I spend most of one of these brew days on the computer, calculating and recalculating our water additions.    I will be the first to admit that it is not always necessary.   If you are brewing anything other than a big Belgian ale, or a German lager you do not really need to step mash.  But if you want to make a world class BDSA,  you have to step mash.   And believe me,  I have had all of the worlds great BDSA/Quad/Monastery beers. Ours is as good or better.  So, is a 7 hour brew day worth it... yes for us it is.   The satisfaction that comes from having other brewers taste your beer and say, "Oh my God, how did you do this?" is all the justification you will ever need for that kind of brew day.

So my advice, learn about step mashing.  Learn the sciency stuff.   If you want to make world class Belgian beers this is the key.

UPDATE:   The BDSA is as we expected it to be.   It is delicious.  But we are getting adventurous and with 5 gallons, we are adding bourbon soaked oak chips, and bourbon soaked cherries.   That should be pretty fantastic.   We will keep you posted.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Partial Mash: The best home brew technique! for most home brewers!

Delicious Cream Ale.
What if I told you there was a method that produced beer that was nearly indistinguishable from all grain home brew.  A method that made competition worthy beer.  A method that allowed you to hit your numbers almost every single time?    What if I told you this method was easier than all grain?  The beer on the left is an amazing cream ale that we make partial mash.  It is one of my favorite beers.  Perfect for watching a football game.

Well there is.  The method is called partial mash.  And it is by far the best method for everyday brewing.   We field lots of questions and comments on this blog.  Not all of which are public.   The questions are almost always about all grain, and the comments are almost always related to efficiency, attenuation, and consistency.    We used the exact same grains, we treated the water the exact same way, we used the same hops... our numbers weren't even close.   Well yeah, there are so many factors that can effect the extraction of sugar from grains.  Factors like pH, temperature, freshness of the grains, consistency of the mash temperature, attentiveness of the brewer, mechanical manipulation of the mash... the list is long.   So long in fact that many brewers are spending thousands of dollars on all grain wort production machines.  These machines handle a lot of those factors for you.

All you need for Partial Mash!
But what if you didn't need to spend that kind of money.  What if learning some basics was all you needed to do to make great beer?   That is what partial mash does for you.  Partial mash allows you to make beer with real all grain flavor, and to make it nearly identically every time.  Understand some of the techniques associated with partial mash are different than the techniques you use with all grain. Please notice I didn't say lesser, or inferior.  Just different.

Partial mash in a nut shell:  A portion of the sugars come from a mash of grains and the other portion comes from malt extract.  It is that simple.   You perform a mash of grains, then you supplement with malt extract to achieve your final gravity. I have done up to 75% of my sugars from grain.

Now there are some challenges of working with malt extract.  First of all, the ferment-ability of malt extract wort can be lower than that of all grain wort.  This isn't a huge issue when we do partial mash, because most of our sugars 50%-75% come from the grains.  So you need to use very light colored malt extract, it is more ferment-able.  The ferment-ability has to do with the drying process, and the production of the wort.  The darker the extract the less ferment-able the wort.   And we adjust for the ferment-ability of the wort on our software by lowering the attenuation by a couple of points.  Having said that we are able to produce crisp dry lagers with partial mash.  We had a champagne lager go from 1.056 to 1.012.  That is crisp enough for me.    Second,  Malt extract wort will be darker than all grain wort.   So you need to account for that.     We never get color from malt extract (except in our BDSA where we want some sweetness).   We always try to use Pilsen, Maris Otter, or Extra Light extract.  In the recipe below you will note that there is no crystal grain at all. There is no need for it. The wort will be a point or two darker than your software indicates any way.  Again, the key is to get your color from the grains, not from the malt extract.  Finally,  freshness matters.  if you are not ordering from a very busy home brew store, you should probably use dry malt extract.  It  has a much better shelf life.

Fresh Light LME is highly
But what extract should I choose.   The answer is always the same.  If you can get fresh LME (truly actually fresh) then it is more ferment-able than dry malt extract.  But in 27 years of brewing I have seen truly fresh malt extract at a LHBS maybe 2 or three times.  So I usually use extra light DME.  Listen to me on this point it is very important you will hear people say that malt extract leaves your beer sweet... and ... wait for it... they are right and wrong.   Modern extracts are from 65% to 75% ferment-able.  They should not really be the sole source of sugars in your beer.   The production and manufacturing process does leave some un-ferment-able sugars in the wort.  But so does your current process.  If you can get to 80% fermentation with an all grain (no additional sugar) wort, you are a true hero.   Most of you don't get that close.  Most of you don't take a truly representative gravity reading before pitching yeast.

I know this because I have fielded this question at least a dozen times. We undershot our gravity but we still didn't get truly great attenuation.  The yeast manufacturer sad we should be at 75% and we only got to 70%, what can we do?  Uh, well you can transfer prior to taking a gravity reading to make sure that your wort is homogeneous.  You can take samples at different depths in your boil kettle.  And or you can accept that to make a truly ferment-able all grain wort you need to really learn to pay attention to your mash.  Or, you can just learn to use partial mash.

So how do I make clean well attenuated crisp beers with partial mash?   It is simple really.  I use a lot of grain, I use some extra light DME and then a portion of my ferment-ables comes from sugar.  Every time?  you use sugar every time?  Yes, just about every time there is a sugar addition at high krausen in order to get the yeast rocking again and to make them finish strong.  Yes this is different than all grain.  Usually in all grain I set it and forget it.  But hey, you should be watching your fermentation like a hawk anyway.

Here is an example. (by the way for fun, add 1 # of wheat, change to Pilsen DME and use Saison yeast sometime with this recipe, trust me you will thank me when you try it)

Wheeler Street Cream Ale!
Wheeler Street Cream Ale
Classic American Cream Ale
5 Gallon
Partial Mash
1.048 OG
1.007 FG
17-19 IBUs

5.0 # Pale Ale Malt
1.5 # Flaked Corn
2.0 # Extra Light DME added in last 10 minutes pre dissolved in other water
0.5 # of Corn Sugar added at high Krausen dissolved in a quart of preboiled water.
.2 oz of Magnum - at 60 minutes or any neutral bittering hop to give 2.6 AAUs to the boil
.5 oz of Liberty - at 30 minutes
1 tsp of yeast nutrient at 10 minutes
1 tsp of Irish Moss at 10 minutes
.5 oz of Liberty at 5 minutes

US 05 yeast.

In a brew bag, mash your grains in 3.75 gallons of water at 150 F for 60 minutes. (I use 5.2 stabilizer when I brew partial mash.  In another pots, dissolve the DME in 1.7 gallons of water. And very slowly bring it to 190 F.   In yet another heat 1.75 gallons of water to 168 F,  this is your sparge water.

At the end of your mash pull the grains and set them on a rack or a colander above the kettle.  Add the dissolved DME to the kettle.  Sparge the grains with the 168 F water until you reach pre boil volume.  From here on it is just like any other batch of beer.

Other recipes that work great with partial mash... any dark semi sweet beer.   BDSA, sweet stout, bock, dopple bock, porter, RIS, barley wine...  Any beer really, just another learning curve.   But a process that is faster and more consistent than all grain brewing.

So there it is again a defense of partial mash.