Saturday, July 26, 2008

A new Mash Tun, a plan, a pale ale

So I may still have no idea what's going wrong with all my brews... but I have a bit of a plan. First off though... some encouragement in the form of new equipment!

I ordered a new Mash Tun and Sparge Assembly from I got the 48-QT model, which is big enough to do 8%abv or so 10gallon beers, so it should last me basically forever (I don't see myself ever doing 20gallon batches, I like too much variety for that much of a single brew, and I don't even see me brewing more than 5-gallons of some big beers). I got this "loaded" if you will, so I had the sparge assembly installed in the lid, and I ordered the sparge faucet which I will adapt into my old Mash Tun to re-fit it as a Hot Liquor Tank. This setup should allow me to reach 75%+ efficiency, Brewd00d reports 80-85%. This will save me some money, in some cases up to $10 on grain per batch. Next thing I need to do is build a 3-tier stand for my coolers to sit on for gravity feeding!

So as far as my infection problems go... These are what I see to be the possible causes of my problem:
-Infection from the air
-Infection on the thermometer that sits in the wort post-boil
-Overall sanitization
-Infection in the Fermenter
-My Cat?

If the infection is coming from the local (as in Grand River Valley, Portland MI) air, there's not much I can do about it, except be VERY careful not to splash the wort, and keep it covered at all times after boiling, and then use an oxygen tank to oxygenate, rather than shaking for aeration.

The thermometer? I'm not so sure... it's possible though, so I will not leave the thermo sitting in the wort. I won't even read the temp for 30 minutes after boiling, I know the wort chiller takes at least that long for now. Then I'll use my small steel thermo which will have been in the sanitizer, and put it back in the san when I'm done with it.

As far as overall santization goes... I don't honestly think I've been doing anything wrong there. I've brewed a few times with other people, and so far I seem to be slightly more anal than most I've worked with. There has however been one big difference. Nobody I've brewed with has ever used Iodophor as their sanitizer! They've all used an acid-based sanitizer, Star-san or off-brand equivalent. Now there's lots of discussion on the homebrew forums about which is better, and people seem to stick with what they like with no clear indication of which is the "best". All I know is that something I am doing is not working right, so I've got a bottle of Acid-san and will try that.

An infection in the fermenter, like a scratch with some bacteria growing in it? This seems to be the most likely scenario to me, and I don't know if I think it's very likely... The only thing I can do to combat this is to clean them real good, and sanitize them real good. Theoretically chlorine is no better at sanitizing than Iodophor or Acid-san, but I think I'm going to whip up a stiff bleach/water solution to soak my fermenters, lids, airlocks etc in, after giving them a thorough cleaning.

Lastly, my cat... Now I've heard that Cats harbor all sorts of bacteria, and I wonder how much of that is present in the air in my house? I wonder if my stuff that has been sanitized is getting infected post-sanitization? Or perhaps I'm picking up the bacteria in the air during transfer? I'm not sure... but next time I think I'll sanitize my fermenter and stuff, and then let them drip outside and transfer to my fermenter outside. Then I should never have to have my beer open to the air inside my house until after alcohol forms.

So, next weekend I will put my new Mash Tun and refitted Hot Liquor Tank to use, along with new sanitization methods, to brew me up a pale ale. I've got plenty of Summit to use as my bittering hop, and I picked up a couple of ounces of Glacier for my aroma and flavor. I think I'm going to skip dry hops on this, as most of the pales and IPAs I've made have been dry hopped, and I just want to know if I notice a difference right off. Since Summit and Glacier are both low-cohumulone hops (cohumulone being the compound in hop oils that causes very coarse, resinous, harsh, and strong bitterness) they should provide nice bittering without overpowering coarseness. Because of this I've taken this recipe right to the edge of American Pale Ale IBU range, which tops out at 50. Assuming gravities hit right, this should be basically 48 IBU. I'm very curious how the flavor will turn out, as I haven't had a beer with Glacier as the main flavor hops survive yet. Glacier is reported to have peach, apricot and orange notes, and Summit should be citrusy, grapefruit and tangerine perhaps, though there's not going to be much Summit flavor in this, the Glacier should really dominate. And with Summit and Glacier hops, I'm thinking I may have to dub this Frozen Peaks or something... So here's the recipe:

Frozen Peaks Pale Ale

8lbs American 2-row $12
1lb Victory Malt $2
.5lb Crystal 40L $1
9.5lbs Grain $15

.5oz Summit 16.7% FWH $0
1oz Glacier 7.4% 15min $2.50
1oz Glacier 7.4% 0min $2.50
2.5oz Hops $5

2-packets US-05 $4

9 gallons Absopure Spring Water $11

Total cost: $35 (not including propane, maybe another $5?)

Now I should get a OG of about 1.051 with 75% efficiency, and if I do well I could end at 1.056 with 82% efficiency or so. To achieve 1.051 on my old mash tun would require an additional 3.5 lbs of base malt. Since this recipe is using the American 2-Row, it's only saving me $5.25. However, if this was Maris Otter, it would be $7 savings (and if I, for example, brew a Maris Otter based Barleywine at about 10%, this new mash tun will save me at least $13). In relation to buying beer then... I'm about breaking even on this batch. A case of Samuel Adams might run me $30, plus tax and deposit. This should be a better (read: more flavorful, more grain and hops per gallon) beer than SABL, so I might equate this closer to Sierra Nevada or Founders Pale Ale. The Founder's could run me closer to $40 a case, so I'm doing pretty good there. And, theoretically, I should end up with close to a sixer more than a case of beer in a 5 gallon batch. To cut costs, I think my next step is water filtering, and trying the tap water in Portland. Maybe I can find someone a the club who has a filter I can borrow for a trial batch.

So my future brewer expansion plans look like this:

1. Build wood stand for HLT and MT for gravity sparging, kind of like these setups. This will be made of 2x4s and maybe 4x4 legs. I'll have to decide if I want the mash tun to be high enough to drain into the kettle right on the burner, or if I can drain to a kettle on the ground and go from there. It'll depend on exactly what height I decide I want my mash tun at. I don't want to have to bend over to stir, or climb anything to fill my HLT... but I also don't want to have to pick up a nearly 55-lb full kettle if I don't have to.

2. I might try to find a decent water filtering solution after this, because I think using filtered tap water will be my next big savings. I don't know what my exact price per gallon is on my tap water, but I'm sure it's less than the $1.19 or whatever that I spend on spring water, as my water bill is only $20 a month or so for the whole house. so I figure a water filter, if the water is acceptable, should save me at least another $8 a batch.

3. I think next will be oxygenation. I can get my wort all oxygenated so the yeast start fast and fully ferment with zero risk of infection with an oxygenation system. There's a couple of options, using either an air pump and filter, disposable oxygen tanks and cheap regulator, or "normal" refillable oxygen tanks and expensive regulators. All systems use an air-stone, like in an aquarium, to deliver the O2 into the wort. I tend to think I would go with a refillable O2 tank, so that someday I can upgrade to inline oxygenation, when I got to inline cooling, without having to buy a new tank.

4. After that will be my 2nd wort chiller for my pre-chiller setup I discussed in another post.

5. Then, I will likely try to get a bigger propane tank! Heating my strike and sparge water on the stove is cool and all, but eventually I want to this be an entirely outdoors operation. So I need a bigger tank so I don't have to fill up as often.

6. Next perhaps will be a new boil kettle, one with a spigot and ball valve. This will be in preparation for future upgrades to the cooling, oxygenation and transfer systems. Once I've got spigots on my HLT, MT, and Kettle, I'm ready to add pumps, counterflow chillers, and inline oxygenation. Then my brewery will need to be put an on all inclusive cart, since I won't need gravity anymore. Sweet =)

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Worst

So I seriously must be the worst homebrewer in the world. Something is seriously wrong with my process or something... both the 2nd Colin's Colsch and my American Mild Ale have gotten infected, with the same crap as every other infected batch as far as I can tell.

I'm going to have to ask somebody to come brew a batch of beer at my place with me. I don't even know what in the hell else to do! If I continue to do this crappy, I'm going to have to quit. I simply can't afford to waste $25 on a batch of vinegar every two weeks. Not to mention investment in new equipment and such...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Quick Mild Update

I apparently didn't get this *quite* cool enough, after pitching it was at about 72F. That's a decent temp, but I prefer it a bit cooler for nice clean fermentation. She was already bubbling nicely only 4 hours in though, so perhaps the warm temp got it started faster.

To lower the temp some, I just got a towel wet and wrapped it around the bucket and put a fan on it. This very quickly brought the exterior temp of the fermenter down to 66F. I left it like this for about 6 hours, and then pulled the towel off. The exterior remained at 66F the whole time, and 4 hours later was still at 66F. Couldn't ask for much more! In the future, I may just cool to about 72F (as the last few degrees are the slowest) and then use the towel after pitching to lower it the rest of the way, this was pretty effective.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

American Mild

I brewed a Mild Ale today. I call it an American Mild because I used an American hop, Summit (16.7% Alpha Acid), US-05 American Ale Yeast, and I am over the style guidelines on gravity and bitterness... pretty typical Americanization of a classic beer style. I did, however, use Maris Otter as my base malt, as it's still my favorite. At least I think I used Maris Otter... I bought my grains after attending the Master Brewers Association of the Americas Summer Social Picnic, which featured a pig roast, and MANY, wonderful beers all free for the drinking. I had a (sober) ride home, and I don't exactly remember which base malt I told Ed at The Red Salamander to give me. Judging by the total price, it must have been Maris Otter. So here's the recipe:

9lbs Maris Otter
1lb Flaked Corn
1/2lb Roasted Barley

1/4oz Summit First Wort Hop
1/8oz Summit 60min

With my low efficiencies, this should've yielded me 1.039 and about 27 IBU. I got 1.041 or so, which means that even if my efficiency is low, I can at least reproduce it consistently.

The Summit hops are new for me. They're a high alpha acid, and low co-humulone, so they should give a nice smooth bitterness. They're supposed to have a citrusy, tangerine like character. I'm hoping that I don't get too much flavor out of these, as the style shouldn't have much, but it won't be a problem if there's some small American citrusy hop character. I got 4 ounces of these for helping out at my local brewery, these are what the Brewmaster there, Scott Isham, uses as the bittering hop in his American Pale Ale, which I'm rather fond of. So we'll see how it is in an "American Mild".

So the brewday went well. I only had one minor problem the whole day... I put the wort chiller in the boil a few minutes before it was done, and either I did it too soon, or that's just not as good an idea as it seems with my chiller. The plastic tubing got pretty warm, swollen, and started to leak. I managed to get the clamps tightened down, so it seemed to be no problem.

I hit my gravities pretty much right on. Pre-boil gravity was about 1.030, and my OG post-boil was 1.041 or so. I probably could've actually gotten a little more gravity out of this, it seems that I used too much sparge water in the my second batch sparge. So I ended up with about an extra gallon of wort. Oh well

The beer smells nice and roasty, nutty, and toasty. Tastes pretty good too, perhaps a bit too much roast, but the bitterness was nice and I think this should be pretty tasty after the yeast adds it's character.

Finally a picture of my new kettle. I like it, much sturdier than the aluminum pot. It's a bit wider around, so I have to start with more wort, but that's no big deal. It's a lot easier to prevent boilovers in this kette, and that's really the major reason I got it.

And I did something else different today. I racked my beer out of the kettle and into the fermenter, I really should've done this in conjuction with some irish moss, and then made a big whirlpool with the wort after chilling. I did manage to avoid a fair amount of the trub though, and this should theoretically help with chill haze, even though chill haze doesn't really bother me.

If this turns out good, and doesn't dissapear too fast, then I will take this to my Father's wedding in August. I think at least a few people there will want to try it. So let's hope it's good!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

What am I doing wrong?

I don't know what my problem is... but I've lost over half of the batches of beer I've ever tried to brew. Most to, I think, infection and a few with temperature problems.

I decided when I started brewing all-grain, I would kind of start my count over. But that's no good, b/c if I do that I'm at 0 for 3, counting through the first try of Colin's Colsch (I still have a chance with Colin's Colsch-2)

I never posted about this b/c I was so frustrated, upset, and embarassed by it (I don't know a single other homebrewer who has ever had as bad a record as me...), but both Repale (the River Grand Brown) and my River Rat Rye got infected or something in the keg. I hadn't had a pint off either of these in a week or two (and this has been a while now) and one day when I went to draw a pint... they both tasted like crap! Cidery, bitter (not in the good way), tart... really gross. I don't know what in the hell happened to them. My only guess at this point is that my taps were dirty/unsanitary and something was able to infect the beer from there.

So I consider those two partial losses. I made it to finished beer, and just didn't handle them right afterwards. I have a new plan for operation my kegs for at least the next couple of batches, hopefully to eliminate this problem. I bought a hand held faucet and a new section of tap line. I've filled a keg with sanitizer solution, and plan on getting a spray bottle I can fill with some kind of alcohol-based disinfectant (I think I know where I can get some 90% ethanol...). I will use this new faucet exclusively for the next couple of kegs. It will be stored disconnected, and I will flush it with sanitizer before using. I will also spray all connections with the alcohol before connecting the faucet to the beer-keg. After pouring beers, or if switching from one keg to the other, I will flush the faucet and spray the connections again. As I'm thinking about it... I'm also thinking I need to tear apart the hardware in the fridge and clean and sanitize everyhting there too. So hopefully with some more rigorous handling I can eliminate that problem.

However... Colin's Colsch round 1 is now... crap. It seems to have gotten infected sometime prior to going into primary. Chances are that it got infected during the cooling procedure, or while pouring into the fermenter. I think my sanitization process is fine, though I could perhaps 'polish' my process a bit (I don't have a designated sanitary drying location for example...), so I'm guessing that I got the infections while it was cooling, which took a while. To combat this I need to do one or two of these: Cool faster, cool more carefully.

Cooling Carefully... well I don't know what to do there. I sanitize my wort chiller before using, though I could just stick it into the boil before it's done, I could really use a hose to get the water to my kettle then as right now I have to carry the kettle to a spigot. Actually, I think I should probably get a hose, but I think I need one on the drain side to, then I could drain into the street. Normally I leave my floating thermometer in the wort while it chills, and use that to stir the wort a bit, perhaps I need to be more careful not to splash? But this batch was no different than the Repale and River Rat...

Which brings me to cooling. Repale and River Rat both cooled faster, it was cooler outside (Repale even had snow to help). There's lots that I could do to help cooling though... with that I'm basically limited by money. There's 3 main types of wort chillers. I have a single immersion chiller. One option that I am considering is getting a 2nd chiller so I can do a pre-chiller. This is when you use 2 immersion chillers in a line, and the first chiller is in a bucket of ice-water. This pre-chills the coolant water down to around 40F or so, hopefully, translating to faster cooling. A counterflow chiller would be pretty cool, but they're a bit expensive. I've seen them and plate chillers in action, and it is awesome to see wort get chilled immediately, you just drain your beer from you kettle through them and it comes out chilled! Well it's a bit more complicated than that, but that's the basic idea. I think the pre-chiller is more cost effective though.

Something else I've considered doing is having somebody come and brew with me some day while I'm brewing. Somebody with lots of experience, who can tell me if I'm doing something wrong, risking my beer at any point. I've brewed with others before, but nobody's ever come watch me do my brew-day on my own.

It's tough though... this is something I REALLY enjoy, enough of a passion to want to make a career out of it. And yet, I fail half the time. I've sunk a lot of time, money, and effort into this, and I'm currently the most failingest homebrewer I know. This is like wanting to be a professional tennis player, but losing every single game, set, and match you've ever played! (No I don't lose every batch... but I've never met a homebrewer who's lost more!) I get so frustrating that I want to give up sometimes... it seems like if I was meant to brew, I wouldn't do so bad.

Ah well... I've got some plans on what to work on to prevent this in the future. Just the fact that I'm still willing to work on making this happen, produce new recipes, brew new beer (I'm thinking about a mild ale this weekend, real cheap and real quick) proves to myself that I've got the determination. I just need to keep brewing!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


I forgot to write down my gravity recordings for Colin's Colsch round 2. Fortunately, I think I remember them. Pre-boil I was at 1.032, and I ended the boil with 5.5 gallons of 1.044. Crappy efficiency... but the beer should be nice and light.

Sunday, July 6, 2008


There's at least one flavor that the majority of beer drinkers would, I'm sure, insist does not belong in beer. There are likely many more, but the one I speak of today is: Sour. Yup, sour. You might not think that Sour would be a very good flavor in beer, but let me tell you, there are some wonderful sour beers!

Currently, I am drinking a Rodenbach, a red ale from the Flanders region of Europe (on the boundary of France, Netherlands, and Germany). The sour in this beer is awesome, not a mouth-puckering sour, but smoothly sweet and sour. It's really a treat. Another sour beer that I have tried and REALLY enjoyed was Festina Peche from Dogfish Head. Festina Peche was a Berliner Weisse (sour, light German wheat beer) fermented with peaches.

In the Flanders region of Europe, and in Belgium, many sour beers are produced through spontaneous fermentation, in other words they let the natural yeast and bacteria in the air "infect" their beer and ferment it. In this case, the infection can come from many agents: Saccharomyces (regular beer yeast), Brettanomyces (another yeast), Lactobacillus (bacteria in Yogurt), Pediococcus (bacteria that makes Sauerkraut), and others less desireable single-celled beasties. In the production of the Lambic style of beer for example, the cooled wort it allowed to sit uncovered for a period of time to allow the infection of yeasts native to the Senne valley around Brussels.

So this led me to wonder... Are there enough native yeasts and bacteria in the Grand River Valley around Portland for me to get spontaneous fermentation? The answer is... yes. After brewing my Colin's Colsch recipe the second time last Friday, I took my gravity sample and left it outside all night, and in a window sill all day. As of this morning, something is causing some bubbles and fermentation to occur. I don't know yet what it is, it could be weeks before it even ferments out, but I'm very curious to find out what I harvested! So we'll see if that pans out and if I can brew a Wild Portland ale!

But in researching everything I could about wild ales and wild yeasts/bacteria, I found some good notes on how to make Berliner Weisse. Apparently the key is... DON'T BOIL! A guy had posted a recipe in a thread on BeerAdvocate. It was very simple. Do a step mash with lots of wheat malt... and then let it cool and ferment for 6 months. See the missing step? Straight from Mash, to chill, to ferment! And apparently what ends up fermenting the beer is Lactobacillus spores on the grain itself! The trick is (apparently) to mash up to 175F, which will kill most of the nasties but leave the Lacto to live. So, I plan on trying this in November. I will probably buy a new fermenter just for this, since it's going to take 6 months... but I would LOVE me a Berlined Weisse come next May or June!

I'll let you all know how my wild experiment turns out!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Mid-brew update

I just put the kettle on to boil about 7 minutes ago. I'm on my laptop outside drinking an IPA waiting for it to come to boil.

The mash went well. I timed it right this time, and got myself just over 7 gallons of wort, exactly what I needed! I didn't even measure the PH of anything until there were just 20 minutes left in the mash. At that point the PH was a bit high, so I added some acid to help. The enzymes that will have a tendency to produce a drier beer are more active on the lower end of the acceptable mash PH range, so I prefer to be around 5.2-5.4 in my mash.

I almost freaked out when I measured the pre-boil gravity as 1.022, that would have only gotten me a 3% ABV beer! Then I remembered you have to correct gravity readings for temp, and that sample was cloase to 160F. So I've got a second sample chilling so I can get a measure on it. I hope the efficiency was good!

Boil is rolling along, I've already averted one boil-over. Whew! I mentioned pics of my new kettle the other day... and I took some, but forgot to post them. I'll get to them sometime this week. Maybe...

Another 50 minutes of boiling, and then it's time to chill it! My yeast is re-hydrating with some boiled wort to get it started. Hopefully that'll kick-start my fermentation nicely.

Colin's Colsch... round 2

So I'm going to try and brew this beer again. This time armed with my knowledge of boil-off for my new kettle, a healthy respect for Phosphoric Acid, and more time, I hope to get closer to my target!

I did change one thing... rather than English Maris Otter pale malt, today I am going to use German Pilsner malt. Pils is lighter colored, so I should get a paler beer. Which is good, a Kolsch should be straw-golden colored at the darkest, pale yellow at the lightest.

Of course, switching grains brings in a new dynamic... Pils malt, especially German Pils apparently, is less "modified" than standard 2-Row Pale or the Maris Otter I love so much. Less modified meaning that less of the proteins and starches in the malt are broken down into smaller proteins and sugars. Generally this is dealt with by doing a "protein rest" in the mash, a half hour period at about 121F before the mash is brought to 150F for an hour. I've never done a protein rest... and I'm not sure I feel like trying today! (Perhaps I should've stuck to Maris Otter...) I've asked in the BeerAdvocate homebrewing forum... but it's early so I won't get a response for a while.

Oh well. Gonna go get some breakfast, and then get started!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


If you haven't noticed, I have a tendency to flip-flop between plans for what to brew next a LOT. I've got 100s of brews I want to try, but am limited by fermenter space, money, and sometimes equipment.

Saturday's smooth brewday has me itchin' to brew some more, and I'm also bummed about how my "Colsch" ended up not so Colschey, so I really want to brew.

I'm considering brewing it again this weekend! I've got the Hops and Yeast I need already, so it would just be a matter of getting the grain and water, 10 gallons this time. The only thing I'm unsure of is how much propane I've got left. I may have to go get it filled, as I would HATE to run out mid-boil.

I've been reading about brewing DunkelWeizen... and it's going to be a little bit more complicated than what I've done in the past. Instead of a DunkelWeizen then, I think I'll make another Brown Ale or and IPA.