Tuesday, March 25, 2008

River Rat Rye Racked

Racked my River Rat Rye into the secondary fermenter last night. This stuff seems to have turned out pretty damned good! The taste was nice and toasty with some decent sweetness, but plenty of bitterness, and I think a hint of spiciness from the rye. Gravity came out at 1.008 so I'm looking at about 5% abv. Pretty good.

Besides my efficiencies, my mashes have really done pretty well, in that I'm getting highly fermentable wort (like I like) and good tasting beer. I wish I had never used extracts!

So, this stays in secondary for at least two weeks, and then in a keg conditioning and carbonating for another two weeks. Can't wait!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

River Rat Rye summary

Brewday went pretty well. I hit my temperatures pretty much right on, 147-150 for the mash, and sparged about 165. Efficiency may have been a bit low (it sucked actually), the wort weighed in at I think about 1.032, I forgot to write it down apparently. That thickened up to 1.046 in the boil, so I could get 4.5% abv or so. PH was still a bit of a problem, it was high all around. I tried correcting the sparge, this time measuring quarter teaspoons into a pint of water and adding one cup of that at a time. I added 3/4 of a teaspoon and it was still high. I had been told on some forums that I probably just shouldn't get too worried about ph, so I just went ahead and sparged, but now I'm wondering if ph has something to do with my lack of efficiency.

I did have one "incident" where I accidentally pushed the rubber stopper that holds the steel mesh and copper pipe into my mash tun. I had about 1 gallon of 120 degree water and 1/2lb of rice hulls in there, so besides making a wet mess, there wasn't too much loss and it wasn't even sticky. I turned the mas tun so the drain side was away from me and all was fine.

This time, I went with my conceptual "compacted" brewday, where I waited to do things like get the mash tun clean until after I started heating my strike water, or waiting to make my sanitizer and sanitize my fermenter until the last 10 minutes of boil, etc. While this got me from start to yeast pitching in 4 hours, this was not such a good idea. I set up closer to the sink this time, which was handy, but it prevented me from being able to clean things as easily, and at some times I was somewhat rushed, and I couldn't watch my boil well enough, which resulted in a boilover. Next time it'll be back to having everything clean before I start, if not necessarily sanitized.

I started about 12:30, after picking up 10 gallons (again, actually the Absopure gallon + 8oz jugs) of water, and exchanging my propane tank. The mash got underway about 1:30, and I was on the burner at 2:50, boiling by 3:02, and had hot break at 3:05. I pulled it from the burner at 4:10 and pitched my yeast 20 minutes later. All in all everything worked great.

My biggest problem today were the hops and the volume. The whole leaf hops are a bit troublesome to deal with as they soak up a lot of wort (which exacerbated the volume issue) and are hard to keep out of the fermenter, unless you rack your wort into the fermenter, and I really prefer to pour mine, I think it's much easier. I don't think I took enough of my sparge water, but that's kind of a catch 22 because my gravity might have been even lower if I had taken more. I'm going to skip dry-hops on this batch because I don't want to lose any more beer to absorption.

I need to find out what to do about my efficiency. I know batch sparges are not efficient, but they should be more efficient than what I'm getting. I might need to start showing up at the Red Ledge Brewer's club meetings and ask for some input. There's tons of resources online, but I think I want to talk to some people who have experience in person. Perhaps I'll ask the person with the strongest beer

Saturday, March 15, 2008

River Rat Rye

Today I brew a Rye Pale Ale, that I'm dubbing River Rat Rye, as in Mr. Rat of the Wind In The Willows. (I played Ratty in a youth theater production once...)

River Rat Rye
7.75lbs Maris Otter
1lb Victory
2lbs Rye
1lb Flaked Rye
1/4lb Crystal 20L
1/4lb Crystal 40L
1/2lb Rice Hulls

1/2oz Cascade 7.9%AA FWH
1/2oz Nugget 9.5%AA 60min
1/2oz Nugget " " 30min
1/2oz Cascade 7.9%AA Flameout
1oz Cascade Dry Hop

Safale US-05 American Ale x2

I'm using Hops that are grown in Saranac MI for my brew, at least for the brewday hops. The Dry Hops will go into secondary when I rack, hopefully next weekend, so I'll have a chance to buy some pellet hops instead of the whole leaf that I have now. Pellets are easier to deal with in a fermenter.

Based on my efficiency with the last batch, I should end this one somewhere around 1.057 and get about 49 IBU. This is right on the high end of American Pale Ale, which is great. The rye should add some nice spiciness and add to the body a fair bit. The rice hulls are just there becuase rye is "sticky" and can cause flow problems in a mash tun, but I don't even know if that is an issue for batch sparge.

I'm pitching 2 packets of dry yeast today, just to be sure, and I'm going to be much more careful of my acid corrections.

And before I can do anything, I need breakfast, 10 or so gallons of water, and some more propane.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Tonight I racked my Brown Ale, transferred it into a secondary fermenter, in this case a 5-gallon glass carboy. It's been in primary now for 10 days, but only fermenting for a little over 7. I'll leave it in the secondary for a couple of weeks. I'm using the secondary as more of an aging time, but it's important to get the beer off the dead yeast cells.

The final gravity was 1.010, giving me an alcohol of about 4.7%, pretty nice. It tastes pretty great too. Simple, toasty-sweet malt up front with a bready/chocolatey lingering aftertaste. The bitterness doesn't stand out, it's just enough to be a little bit over balanced. Nice, I like it. I'm excited to taste this one after it's aged out a bit and it's been carbonated.

This weekend, I'm planning on brewing a Rye Pale Ale. I'm goin to use hops that are grown right here in Michigan too! Saranac, to be exact.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Primary Update, and a new recipe

Fermentation appears to have gone smooth. It actually went exactly how I hoped it would, slow and steady. Bubbles have never reached more than about 1.5/second, and the temp never got over 64 (on the outside) and is currently at 60. Bubbles are around 5 seconds each now. It's been going steady for about 92 hours. Looks like I'll measure my gravity either tomorrow or Monday. Then I'll measure it every 24 hours after that until it's done dropping. Then, it's time for secondary!

I've got a bit of a challenge to rise to as well. My friend Eric, who normally drinks only Michelob Light or Bud Light, has 'requested' a batch. Problem is, I've never brewed a Lager and brewing super clean, dry ales can be tricky. I suppose if I try and duplicate my mash process from the brown ale, and ferment now while the basement is still nice and chilly... Ok, so let's whip up a recipe for Erix Ale, probably to be the simplest recipe I've ever created.

Erix Ale

10lbs Maris Otter

1oz Sterling 5.3% AA FWH

US-05 yeast

Simple. Won't ever make a simpler beer I bet. Going for a blond ale, and with an Original Gravity of about 1.050, color of about 5.0 srm, and bitterness at about 20 IBU, this fits the style perfectly. This will have more flavor all around than a Macro Lager, which will satisfy me, but at the same time be (hopefully) very clean and dry so as to satisfy Eric. The first batch will just be a proof that I can do it, and I'll leave it on tap at home. The second batch I will bottle for Eric.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

It's Alive!!

Finally, nearly 40 hours after pitching my first yeast, and after pitching a total of 3 times the normal amount of yeast, I've finally got fermentation!

After moving the fermenter upstairs over Monday night, hoping that the warmer temperature would help jump-start my yeast, I still had no activity. I took a small wort sample so I could measure the ph, and found that it appeared to be in the 5.3 range, which is pretty good. So, I decided to pitch my second (and last) package of US-05 at about 6:45 am. Low and behold, about four hours later while I was at lunch, it had started! Whew, it's about time. The thermometer on the outside of the bucket say 65 degrees, which is about perfect. The fermenter is still sitting on my kitchen counter, but depending on how warm it is when I get home from work, I will either leave it there or take it back to the basement. Here's a picture of my krausen forming:

Monday, March 3, 2008

River Grand Brown Ale

Well it's not much of a name, but it's a start. I brewed River Grand Brown Ale on March 2, 2008. According to my boss' personal weather station (which is less than half a mile away) it was a little over 40 degrees when I started, and didn't get much cooler for the remainder of the brew day. That's why I picked yesterday, it was a weekend with relatively warm temps. But on to the real stuff, I'll start with the recipe:

River Grand Brown Ale

8.5lbs Maris Otter
.5lbs Crystal 40l

.5lbs Victory
.5lbs Chocolate Malt

2oz Sterling 5.3% aa FWH

White Labs California Ale WLP001

Fermentis US-05

The grains are in the paper bag, pre-ground from The Red Salamander. I've got my sanitizer (Iodophor) and my Phosphoric Acid for regulating ph and my test strips for measuring it in this
picture as well. Today's brew beer is Samuel Smith's Taddy Porter.

BeerSmith says this recipe should fall right into the American Brown Ale (ABA) category nicely. Original gravity should be right around 1.056, color of about 20.8 SRM, and 39 IBU. I've got the right yeast for an ABA... but my hopping is not going to be typical ABA. This style should have "
Moderate to high bitterness and hop aroma from American hops" (according to the BJCP Style Guidelines). I'm using American Hops, but Sterling are apparently more like the Czech Saaz than the typical Citrus-C American Hops. And, I'm only adding hops as First Wort Hops which will apparently yield a more mild bitterness and aroma than if I had added most of my hops at the beginning of the boil for bitterness and some at the end for aroma. All in all, I'm hoping for a dry-ish (to very dry) toast/chocolately brown ale that is easily drinkable with a pleasant but almost subdued hop character.

I'm going to go through the whole process real slowly on this first brewday log, for my own thorough records. After this batch, everything is else just minor tweaks on this process, so the logs will be much shorter.

I started cleaning my equipment up at around 2:30pm. This ended up being way too late to start a brewday. It took me nearly an hour to clean my equipment, partially because most of it hadn't been used in a long time and the rest was new! I'm starting to collect a fair amount of equipment...

Finally, at a little after 3:30pm I start heating my mash water. I do this on my stove to conserve my propane and reduce my time outside (it is winter after all, regardless of how warm it was). I've purchased 7 jugs of Absopure Spring Water at 1gallon 8oz per jug, for a total of just under 7-1/2 gallons, which turns out to be pretty much perfect. To start, I'm only heating 3-1/2 jugs worth, half of my water. When this reaches around 110-115 degrees, I pour about a gallon into my mash tun, to help warm the tun up, and continue to heat the rest of the water. This shortly reaches my target strike water temperature of 164 degrees. At this point, I add my grains into the small amount of water in my mash tun, in hopes to prevent "temperature shocking" of the grains. I very slowly pour the other 2-1/2 or so gallons of 164 (I think) degree water, called strike water, into the cooler with the grains, while stirring to prevent "dough balls". I must not have gotten my strike water hot enough because my mash was only at about 140 degrees at this point, and I was shooting for 150-152 degrees. No big deal, I just started heating a bit more water so I could warm it up. I ended up adding about a gallon extra at 170 degrees or so, and only managed to get my mash up to 146 degrees. Oh well, a cool mash will yield me a thinner more easily fermentable wort, in other words a dryer beer, and I like my beer dry, so I didn't sweat that too much. The mash sat for an hour after I tried to heat it up more, and man did it smell good! Smelled up the whole house like a cereal factory! I tested the ph of the mash, as I think it should be in the 5.5 area, and it was 6+. A quick couple of squirts of Phosphoric acid solved that, though I'm told it shouldn't really matter.

While the mash was sitting, I was warming up the remainder of my water for sparging (rinsing the grains). I'm also told that the ph of sparge water is somewhat important, and should also be in the 5.5 range. Well I think by the looks of the color of the test strip, it was about 3,472.5, or maybe more like 6.5. So I added one teaspoon of acid, as it's suggested to use small amounts... and that was apparently way too much, now it was off the scale in the other direction. Not knowing if this would cause a problem, and not knowing what to do, I added some pinches of baking soda to the water probably totaling about one teaspoon. This didn't seem to really make a big difference, so I decided to roll with it. Getting this water into the mash tun required a bit of shuffling though, as I had to have already drained the mash tun into the very same kettle before I could pour this water into it! So I poured this into my fermenter (5-gallon bucket) temporarily. Temperature is not especially crucial on this water, though around 170 is what I'm shooting for.

Now is time to start draining the mash. I drain a small amount into a small pot first to settle the grain bed into a filter some, and pour what I've drawn off back on top. This is called the Vorlauf. Normally you are supposed to drain until the wort runs clear, but my wort didn't really get clear even after cycling about a gallon, so I quit worrying about that. I'm guessing that my low mash temp probably got me some unconverted starch and protein that made my wort cloudy. I throw my hops into my kettle and start draining by wort on top of them. After draining all of the wort, I pour in my sparge water. This sits for a few minutes, and then I drain that into my kettle. This whole process has taken me more than 2 hours, and it's getting close to 6pm. This time of year, that's not far from dark!

I boil the beer out on the driveway. About 6:20pm I finally hit a rolling boil and I start counting down my boil hour. I've still got plenty to do fortunately, because this is otherwise the most boring part of the brew time. With some recipes I have hops to add periodically, but not this one. So instead I clean up all of the equipment I've use so far, and start a batch of sanitizer solution.

This is my cat, Maris Otter. He apparently learned that mash tuns are nice and warm, and decided to curl up next to mine for a nap after I began my boil. Fitting I suppose, since 85% of my grain bill is Maris Otter...

It was starting to get late at this point, but I had my wort chiller all ready, sitting in a frying pan in the snow by the front spigot.

As soon as the wort has boiled for one hour, I quickly cut the gas, cover the kettle, and carry it over to the chiller, drop the chiller in, crank on the water and cover it again. The combination of snow, cool air, and cold winter water made for quick chilling. I got to the mid 60s in about 25 minutes.

From this point forward, the wort is susceptible to infection from wild yeasts or airborne bacteria, so I make sure to keep it covered and everything that touches it from here forward must be sanitized.

Just my luck it started raining about 15 minutes into my chilling time. I didn't want to risk rain getting in the wort, so I had to get creative, and turned my mash tun upside down over my kettle and chiller. Worked great!

After getting my wort chilled, I carried it inside where I had a fermenter and lid, airlock, and turkey baster sanitized. I pour the wort into the fermenter, making sure that it splashes vigorously, which helps to aerate the wort.

Before putting the lid on, I use the turkey baster to take a small sample so I can measure the amount of sugar in the beer, called gravity. This wort weighs in at 1.046. A little lower than what I could've gotten from these grains, but there's nothing wrong with that. If I get a good healthy fermentation with my dry wort, I could end close to 5.0% abv.

Lastly, I need to pitch my yeast. The vial of WLP-001 has been warming up to room temperature for most of the day. So at about 7:45pm, I shake it and pour it in.

My basement is a wonderful 60-64 degrees this time of year. That's a great temperature for fermenting clean ales, which is exactly what I want. I close the lid on my fermenter and carry it to the basement and set it next to the back wall. Done! Or at least it should be...

Alas, I am cursed to never have a brewday go off trouble free. Besides my slight problems with temperature in my mash, and ph for my sparge, I haven't had any fermentation activity yet, and it's now been 27 hours since I pitched the WLP-001. Any brewers reading this may be wondering where the US-05 yeast comes in. Well, when I got out of work today and I still had not had any fermentation, I decided to run to my emergency brewing supplies store, Pauly's to buy some US-05 to pitch. I didn't want to buy the WLP-001 in the first place (US-05 is always my first choice for American Ales) but The Salamander was out of US-05. Apparently WLP-001 is much more sensitive to cold temperature than the US-05 and it seems that my wort was too cold for the yeast to start. At least that's what I'm hoping is wrong, becuase about the only other things that could keep my yeast from starting are bad/dead yeast, or a ph problem, and I could have caused a ph problem with my sparge water. I pitched the US-05 at about 5:45 pm today, so 22 hours after pitching my first yeast. It's 11pm now, so the US-05 has been in for about 5 hours, and I still have no air lock activity or Krausen forming. I'm going to move it upstairs over night, as it's still possible that the wort is too cool for the yeast to start, and being a little warmer over night might help. We shall see...

Lesson's learned? Well, make sure you strike water is hot enough and that you have more than necessary prepared. Always measure phosphoric acid in quarter-teaspoons or less.

Hopefully I'll learn more over the next couple of hours, and my yeasties will get to eating!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Brewin' in P-Town

I've been brewing for a few years now. So far, results have been marginal... I've been doing extract batches mostly, and have lost a few due to infection or fermentation temperature problems.

I live in Portland, Mi, just moved into a little duplex with my first basement which stays nice and cool, great for fermenting. The city water sucks though, so I have to buy bottled spring water.

I just recently built a mash tun, so I can now do all-grain batches. This is me doing my very first all-grain batch on my own, an American Brown Ale. The mash tun uses the steel braid from the outside of a toilet water supply hose for a "manifold," to filter the grain from the wort. That braid is clamped to a short copper pipe stuck through a rubber stopper with a piece of vinyl tube. Simple and easy, and only good for doing batch sparges, not that doing batch sparge is limiting, more info here.

I boil on a fairly cheap turkey fryer that I picked up off Ebay. It's a 7.5 gallon aluminum pot with a 50,000 btu or somethin' burner. I could really use a stainless steel pot and and a hotter burner. Maybe something like this, but then I would need something like this to heat it. Oh well, one day.

I'm not much of the creative type, so this is going to be a straight log of my brewings and related activities. I'll start tomorrow when I post a log of my first all grain brew, that Brown Ale I mentioned earlier. Man it could really use a name... I live close to the Grand River, which is always muddy brown, could be something with that.