Wednesday, July 26, 2017

I think I may already own my dream brewing rig...

This is Marshal's (Brulosophy) old set up, but mine is identical.
I didn't have a picture handy, so I used his.  
If you don't read Brulosophy, well
start reading it today.
So as I have been responding to questions and comments about my recent post about using your head when brewing, it occured to me... I may already own my dream 5 to 10 gallon brewing rig.  I already know my stove top gear is ideal for 2.5 to 3 gallon batches.   This might be the perfect rig, or at least the rig that makes the most sense for me (and probably for most of you).   I have an old 48 quart cooler mash tun with a 3/8th" valve.  I have a bad ass burner (231K BTU 12" banjo) that I have had since the Clinton administration.   I have a Keggle,  and I have an electric turkey fryer. (it's getting harder and harder to find a 30 quart electric turkey fryer but you could also use a large coffee urn)   So all I really need again is a stand and some PVC tubing and some silicone for my sparge arm.  If I use my pump it will be more for vourlauf and temperature stabilization than for anything else.

PVC Sparge arm for my cooler mash tun. Pretty easy build
consistent rinsing of the grains. 
I used to own a huge gravity system we called the beast.  We made 30 gallon batches on it with out a single pump.  If our mash temp fell we didn't worry about it.  We knew another step was coming up, and that we would be adding near boiling water.  We made fantastic beer.  Balanced and malty, clear enough to read through.  And our beer had head retention and real mouth feel,  even if it was crisp and fully attenuated. I know the concept of mouth feel and crisp together is hard to explain to single mash step brewers, but think of a Pilsner Urquell.  It has mouth feel even though it is crisp and light.  You see a Pilsner Urquel doesn't ask sugars to do the job of proteins.  It is lovingly and carefully step mashed through a decoction process.  Long chain proteins are modified in this process into medium length proteins, melanoidal flavors are developed.   And that my friends you can not do with single rest mashing.   To get close you have to add more grains that are designed to mimic the taste of the authentic process.  So why not just do it right from the beginning.  In the old days if we wanted a dry ultra crisp beer like American lager or dry Irish stout we just changed our step mash in order to create a dry beer.   I still believe multiple step mashing is the control panel of wort creation.

My trusty ol Keggle and Burner
It might be time to take what I have learned over the past couple of years and apply it to my current gear.  So here is what I am thinking.  I prefer mashing in a cooler mash tun with a brew bag as a filter. I crush fine, and always get 75 to 80% efficiency.  I can get over 90% when I  slowly fly sparge.  But I want to do a kinda modified fly sparge. (basically, I am going to do a step mash but I will try to make sure I have 30% of the brewing liquor left for sparging.)  I always step mash.  (you all know my feelings on single temperature mashing). So with that in mind.  I am stealing bits and pieces of what I have learned from BIAB and 3 vessel to brew in the way that makes the most sense to me.

If you read this blog you have seen the
Cajun Injector countless times. 
So my electric turkey fryer will be my hot liquor tank.  My keggle and bad ass burner will be my... well my keggle and burner.   My old extract pot will be for decoction (the keggle is just too deep).  My trusty old blue cooler mash tun will be my mash tun.    I will be step mashing with up to 70% of the water.  To ensure that the wort temperatures even out I will be using... a spoon!  (Although the technology is unproven, I am confident that spoons for use in brewing will catch on. )  The remaining 30% of the water,  I will use for a modified fly sparge, like a sparge rinse but slower and more controlled.   I am going to try to keep my system short, even though I am 6'1" and two of the other team members are 6'4" or taller, shorter systems are easier to manage. So,  I am going to collect the wort in a graduated bucket (bottling bucket) and transfer it manually to keggle.  That way I can stop my sparge when I get to the volume i want to be at, or the exact gravity I want to be at for my boil.

We'll make the ol girl look
like this with some elbow grease!
Now, I may add some features to my brewing set up, like a thermometer for my keggle.  Just because it is cool to know where the temperatures are as you are cooling, and when you are almost to a boil. And a sight glass, to make volume determination easier. And a With this system and process I should come in around 75% to 80% every time, but this also allow me to fine tune my mash exactly how I want it.   And more importantly it gives me more connection to the brewing process.  The more hands on the better. The more focus needed the better.  That is what makes a great brewer.  Great brewers are focused and connected to the brew... every time. 

So yes, my decision is made,  unless I win the lottery,  I have what I need already.  And I'm guessing most of you have what you need as well. If you don't already have what you need, I'm guessing you can get what you need for less than $350.00 USD total.  You probably have most of what you need.  And anything and everything else you need you can get online, or at your local hardware store.  There is just no reason to spend a fortune on home brewing.  It is learning, cleaning, and actually brewing that will make you a great brewer, not equipment.   Lots of guys (and gals) have won big time awards on basic equipment.  The difference between them, and you... they really, really know what they are doing.   So, yes, I have my brewing rig already. I'm guessing you do to.   I know you probably surf the web and look at the awesome stuff that is now available.  My best advice is change how you surf.  Begin researching the awesome brewers who post their stuff to the web.  Begin learning about advanced brewing techniques, there is a reason last years brewer of the year did a ferulic acid rest... just saying.  There is a reason last years Ninkasi award winner does decoctions.    Not all of these guys would agree on everything, but by researching them you can learn what works for you.   That's all for now brew nerds...

Friday, July 14, 2017

OK Knuckleheads its time for some TRUTH again

This blog was launched years ago largely on the back of a blog post called A quick Rant.   Years later I find myself still saying and preaching the same things.  Listen to me round eye... you go brew how you want to brew.  If you want to make nothing but no boil hibiscus flower gose... then do that.   If you want to boil everthing for 90 minutes than do that.   But please use your heads about brewing.  There are some disturbing trends that I am noticing that I think need to be addressed. So, today I am addressing them... again.

1.)  It is all about the skill of the brewer not the equipment.  In the past couple of years there has been a near explosion of quality brewing equipment for home brewers.  And most if it is awesome.  Most of it will really help you make excellent wort.  But it will only help you if your recipe doesn't suck.  If you have great fresh ingredients. If you've calculated the correct amount of hops to add. If your process is solid.  If you know how to aerate.  If you can control fermentation temperatures.  If, If, If!  

This is a dream set up for almost all of us.  The electric brewery
sells everything you need to craft your own dream set up. But
remember you can make great beer with a cooler mash tun. 
If you are a brewer who prefers to step mash your beer, these systems are very appealing. I will admit that the idea of wort moving through tubes and then back into the mash tun is kinds cool.  I will admit I am still considering the purchase of one.  But, since I step mash anything and everything I brew, and I happen to own a stove and a pot and a spoon. I'm still not convinced they make much sense.  I can accomplish the same thing by adding near boiling water and stirring.  The effective cost to me...$0.  I already own a pot for boiling and a spoon for stirring.  Remember wort doesn't know it is being recirculated, enzymes couldn't care less.  You see the equipment won't do squat for you if your water profile sucks, if your grain is stale, if your hops are old, if your fermentation temperatures rage uncontrolled. And it won't save you from a lack of general skill and knowledge.  

Listen, you can probably get away with messing up one variable of your beer, and have it still be pretty darn good. (the Brulosophy guys are testing this).  But don't imagine for a minute that a fancy wort production machine will make up for abject failure in other areas of your brewing.  I've said it before, and I will say it again.  Wort production is less important than; great recipe design, water adjustment, aeration, fermentation control, and above all else cleaning.  So follow some common sense in making beer.  Your first big investment is of course your kettle, burner, and mash tun. But your second big investment should be fermentation related.  Remember, brewers make wort, yeast makes beer.  

Commit to 1 or 2 processes for the production of wort (we always step mash unless we are doing German beer, then we do a decoction step mash). Commit to a method of chilling your wort.  Commit to a method of yeast preparation (vitality starters for this guy). Commit to a method of aeration.  And finally commit to temperature controlled fermentation.  Most importantly we use quality fresh ingredients.

2.) You can not make great beer with crap ingredients.   It can not be done, do not dispute this point.  So I understand that you want to save some money and buy in bulk, and it isn't a terrible idea for your grains.  After all, grain is malted and kilned in part to preserve the grain.   But please understand that if you are entering a contest with 2 year old pilsner and you are hoping to win category 2B (Bohemian Pilsner) you're screwed if I show up.  Because I'm getting the freshest pilsner I can get.  (Probably from our amazing sponsors at Cargill) And I am lovingly, carefully performing a step mash decoction with out the aid of a recycling wort system. You'd better not try to use the remaining Saaz from the 1 lb bag you bought last year, cause I'm showing up with fresh nitrogen flushed Saaz from our friends at YCH.   And I can promise you I will get perfect fermentation with a brew-day starter of SafLager 34/70 carefully controlled in our fermentation chamber.  And forget it completely if you do not know how to adjust your water to the correct profile for a Bohemian Pilsner.

How many times have you watched a YouTube video where the guys brewing didn't really know what they were doing, and they never mentioned how old their grain was, and they didn't utter a word about the AA% of their hops? And they are trying a brand new process they have never tried before... shockingly they miss their target OG, and then they blame the process and conclude it doesn't work.  Do yourself a favor, ignore those guy.  Remember the aspects that make quality beer, and keep your process consistent keep your ingredients fresh.   Do the same things every time, for that matter brew the same beer over and over again with great ingredients.   Commit to quality ingredients (if your LHBS doesn't have fresh hops, order them on line)

You can not make great beer if your brewery looks like this.
3.) FACT - most of the problems we face as brewers are because of a lack of cleaning,  a lack of understanding, or a lack of quality ingredients.   If you get even reasonable efficiency, your problems aren't because your wort production sucks.  It's because something else, or everything else, in your process sucks. Most common error?   Lack of sanitation.   So, best advice is slow down and clean everything.  Think carefully about every step of the process.   And again clean your stuff a lot.  I am known to grab a piece of gear and clean it while I watch TV.  My gear is pristine.

You don't have to spend a fortune on any particular step of the process to make great beer.  You do have to be clean.  You do have to think carefully about each step in the process.  Incidentally if you do want to spend a fortune, spend it on quality ingredients, temperature controlled fermentation, on water filtration, and on aeration.  Too many guys are focusing on the wrong things. Remember many of the equipment choices commercial brewers make are motivated in part by ease of cleaning.  They don't have the advantage of being able to easily carry and break down their gear.   They can't deep clean a mash tun while watching Sports Center.

4.) It's not a race.  They don't give out awards for brewing quickly. And why would you want to? Brewing is so much fun.   Just slow down and use your heads, yes I know you are busy.  Yes I know you need to carve out time to brew.  But remember there are no short. If you are serious about making world class beer, Clean, Clean, Clean.  Learn to adjust your water.  Build a mash tun and learn to do infusion step mashing.  Buy a brewbag for a filter, they are just better mash filters than false bottoms, or toilet braiding.  Those changes alone will improve your wort way more than a $2,000.00 wort machine.  (don't misunderstand me, If you are flush with cash go for it! If I win the lottery I'm buying all kinds of cool stuff from Colorado Brewing Systems and SS Brewtech )

For your German beers learn to decoct, it makes a difference.  Who cares if your mash takes 2 hours? It makes superior authentic German beer.  And please don't tell me you can make the same caliber of beer with a single sacchrification rest.   You CAN NOT so don't bring that weak sauce up in here. Only pitch healthy vital yeast.  Learn to make a starter, or at least a vitality starter.   Aerate your wort, so it can become healthy beer. And for the love of Sally control your fermentation temperatures.

Above all else have fun, RDWHAHB, and don't be a douchebag.   I have to suggest that you consider brewing beers that expose problems you are having.  Brew a basic Blonde,  brew a Cream Ale.  If you can, brew a basic lager.  And if you can't control temperatures on a lager, why are you worried about a wort production machine?   Once again for excellent brewing,  expenses related to water adjustment and temperature control should come before wort production expenses.

I write this today as much as a reminder to myself as I do a reminder to all of you.   I also see the fancy rigs on line and think how cool it would be to have one.   I also see the shiny stainless fermenters and think, "man that would be cool,a glycol controlled system in my basement."   But the truth is you don't need that to make world class beer, you can ferment in a keg, or in a stainless steel pot for much less.  You can literally purchase 4 kegs to ferment in for the price of 1 stainless fermenter, and with a keg you can ferment under pressure.   Just a reminder to all of you and to myself, stay clean & use your head.

UPDATE:  I was just thinking... Riddle me this batman, how come standard brew in a bag gets 80 -90% efficiency, and the recirculating units don't get anywhere near that.  You have to do all kinds of stuff to a Grainfather mash to ensure 75%?   Robobrew is no different.  Gash Slug reports 80% on his robo brew with no pump, and we're hearing reports much lower with the pump.   So yeah for me, I will keep my pot, and my spoon.  I will use my BrewBag and crush as fine as I can, No sparge in the cooler infusion step mash.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

5 gallon all grain on an average stove top? Concentration Cream Ale

Good ol' cream ale.
Delicious for you, and for your beer
muggle friends.
So recently I posted that I actually prefer the craft beers of my youth.  With the possible exception of my MWIPA, I prefer simple clean beers.  I prefer basic flavors.   This weekend I will be brewing a Basic Cream Ale.  Old School Style in my mash tun, with my brew bag as a filter, step mash, to full volume.  I will be draining slowly to see if that has an effect on my efficiency. Infusion step mash no sparge in my cooler is always around 72% efficiency.   I will be stirring throughout the process.   I think I prefer cream ale to American lager and American pilsner.   Something about it just really agrees with my pallet.  I think it is the corn.  So I am going back to my good ol' Cream Ale recipe.  And I will be making 5 gallons of a concentration batch.  Because... well... It's Cream Ale.  And because I don't think I've ever shown you all how to do a concentration before.

Concentration is a simple process of making a smaller higher OG (concentrated) batch of wort, and then blending it with water to get to volume.   It used to be a common practice in home brewing.  Basically you brew a high OG small batch, in our case 1.075 and then blend it with water to reach volume.   You then stir and aerate to thoroughly combine the wort and the water. I use one of my wine degassing whips attached to a drill to mix the concentration and the water, and to aerate the wort.

Say what you will, Genesee is Delicious.
And, I'm reasonably confident the Genesee River
is safe to drink out of...
This is one of the recipes I will be focusing on. I love great cream ale.  It is hot as heck in KC right now.  I don't feel like firing up the turkey fryer.  So I am going to make this on the stove top in the air conditioned comfort of my apartment.  And show you all how you can make 5 gallons of all grain beer in a 5 gallon kettle on your stove top, by only boiling 3.5 gallons. And it is delicious.  And it tastes like any other all grain brew.  If you follow close instructions, it tastes just as good as any other beer you make.

I will be making the recipe below. And don't worry I will post all about how I do it with lots of photos, so that you too can make your own concentration wort.  This is a great technique for those of you who want to keep brewing in the dead of winter, but who don't want to stand in a freezing garage.

Concentration Cream Ale - All the grains... 
OG 1.047
FG  1.008
IBU 14
ABV 5%
72.5% efficiency
SRM - 2.63 predicted - probably around 3.5

Grain Bill
5 lbs of American Pilsner.  I will be using IdaPils from Cargill
2 lbs of Flaked Corn
1 lbs of Flaked Rice
.5 lbs of White Wheat Malt - yes wheat! I'm trying to get some head on the beer by doing a protein rest and using some wheat.  Feel free to substitute CaraPilsner if you like.

Hop Bill
.8 oz. of Liberty Hops at 60 minutes Yes I realize that at 4.77% this is not 14 ibu's remember this is a partial boil brew, like an extract. You have to account for that.
.5 oz. of Liberty Hops at 15 minutes

Yeast & Extras
1 package of US05
1 whirflock tablet
1 tsp of yeast nutrient

Mash schedule
Rest at 132 F for 15 minutes - dough in with 2.64 gallons of water at 142 F
Rest at 146 F for 40 minutes - add .7 gallons of 210 F water to get to this rest (why 210 F ? Well to be truthful, 210 F, because you can not actually add boiling water to your mash tun, the minute you take the kettle off of the stove it will stop boiling, I account for that in my calculations by using 210 F)
Rest at 156 F for 15 minutes - add .7 gallons of 210 F water to get to this rest
Rest at 168 F for 10 minutes - Drain 1.3 gallons of wort from the mash and heat it to a boil, when boiling add it back into the wort to get to this rest.  This is a Schluss Mash Decoction.
Collect 3.6 gallons of wort Check gravity, it should be about 1.068
Boil and follow hop schedule
As you near the end of the boil, check your gravity, you should be around 1.072 to 1.074.
Chill the wort to near pitching temperatures
I know they call it a farmhouse ale
but they are esoteric, and much smarter
than we are.  Trust me it is a cream ale!
Blend the wort with water to get to volume
Mix it and or shake it up so it is totally combined.
Pitch your yeast

That's it.  That is all you have to do.  Yes, you can make 5 gallons of all grain beer on your stove top. And yes, you can do this with any style of beer.  And yes they will come out just fine.   For very high gravity beers, you should plan on doing a partial mash, where a portion of your sugars come from DME.