Sunday, May 24, 2009

Not in the clear yet... but lookin' good

I was a little worried earlier today that my Choco-Berry Brown was off to a somewhat slow start, I didn't seem to have a lot of airlock activity. So i brought the bucket upstairs and left it on the kitchen counter for a while, hoping to warm it up a bit and get some more activity.

The speed of the bubbles did increase somewhat. So just out of curiosity I cracked the lid on the bucket just a little bit, and saw that I had a glorious, fluffy brown krasen. All is well it seems! I would've taken a picture but I did not want to have the fermenter open long enough for that.

The really cool thing, though, is the smell. This beer smells like baking wheat bread right now, very strongly like baking wheat bread! It's a smell like none-other, and it ROCKS.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Most Accurate Brew Day Yet!

It's not safe yet to start calling today's brew day a success, that'll take at least a week, maybe two before I can say that, and even then I can't be sure the beer is a success! However... what I can safely say is that today was the most technically accurate and tight brewday yet. Short of some minor temperature issues, and forgetting to close a valve, NOTHING went wrong!!

For starters, timing today was just about perfect. Here's how the day broke down:
1:00 - Start gathering equipment and heating water for mash
1:50 - Mash In
2:48 - Mash Out
3:00 - Start Sparge
3:40 - Finish Sparge
4:00 - Boil
4:10 - Hot Break
5:15 - Chill
5:30 - Pitch & Seal

Three hours and 40 minute from Mash In to Pitch! That's pretty darned good! Now it took me a while to get cleaned up... but it always does, I'm normally lazy by that point.

My mash started a little low, around 145°F. I was hoping to get 154°F or so, so I added almost 2 quarts of boiling water, and got it to 150°F. Good enough... I was going to run out of sparge water if I used any more. Also, my mashout didn't seem to raise the temp of the mash at all, and I can't figure that out. I thought the mash-out water was above 180°F, so it should've raised the temp at least a little bit! I'm not sure what happened there... but I'm not too worried about it. My sparge water was hot enough and the sparge went great.

Which brings me to the absolute best part of the brewday:


Ok, to be honest, I overshot my gravity based upon my efficiency in the past, and hit my volume within about 1/16 of a gallon. But this is a pretty serious win for me, as this is the very first time I have hit 75% efficiency, which is basically the sweet spot that brewers shoot for.

I was starting to get a little frustrated by the fact that I was constantly undershooting my gravity. On the last batch, Van Den Heuv Ale, my mash Ph had been right on, and the sparge had gone very well as far as I could tell; there were no areas of sweet grain left in the grainbed, it was all very well rinsed. Ph and sparge are the two variables, not including temperature (which has never been the issue), that I have control over on brew day that will affect my efficiency. The other variable (which unfortunately is NOT easily correctable on brew day) is the crush of the grain; the more crushed it is the more sugar you will be able to extract. However, if the grain is over-crushed you can end up with basically a porridge that is impossible to sparge. Fortunately this "porridge" affect can be overcome by adding rice hulls to the mash to make it more porous. So this time around I had Brett at the Red Salamander double-crush my grain and give me some rice hulls. The end result is that I ended with around 13.5-14° Plato, at least a full degree higher than Beersmith said I should get! Awesome. And I managed to collect just under 5-gallons of wort at that gravity, so I'm feeling pretty good. Needless to say I am going to pay special attention to the crush of my grist in the future.

My only concern (besides the ever-lingering concern that I will get another infected batch...) is that the beer may be more hoppy than I would like... but this should be exactly as bitter as the first River Grand Brown Ale was, so if it's too bitter I just need to make it less bitter next time =)

I used my bottling bucket for a primary today because I am going to need my "primary" bucket for my secondary fermentation since it's such a PITA to get fruit in and out of a carboy. Unfortunately I forgot to close the valve at the bottom of the bottling bucket until after I had poured the wort in. I got it closed very quick... but I'm willing to bet that I would have had just a little over 5 gallons of wort if I had had the valve closed in the first place.

Anyway, brew day went well, and in honor of the eventual berry goodness that this beer should bring, I am currently drinking the original incarnation of Mount Pleasant Brewing Company's Coal Stoker's Blackberry Ale: 3-parts Raspberry Wheat, 1-part Steam Engine Stout. Subconsciously, this beer is probably the motivation for Choco-Berry Brown in the first place!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Choco-Berry Brown Brew Day Tomorrow

On Tuesday I stopped by the Red Salamander and picked up my grains for my Choco-Berry Brown. After getting a little advice from the guys in the homebrew forums, I decided to stick with the original brown ale recipe, so that if anything is "off" it can be attributed to the raspberries. I thought that was a good idea, so the recipe will be the same as the River Grand Brown Ale except that I will be using Mt Hood hops instead of Sterling. According to Karl at the Salamander, Mt Hood should be even more neutral than the Sterling were. I picked up 8.5 gallons of water this evening, and I *THINK* I have enough propane to do my boil. I really need to get a 2nd or bigger tank one of these days... it will make my life easier if I can heat my sparge water on the propane burner too. Gotta clean the kitchen up tonight after dinner. I've got a full growler of IPA from Mt Pleasant Brewing Co... I think my ducks are in a row!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Potential upcoming brewdays...

All right, this is all very much subject to change, but I want to get this down "on paper" so that I can see how this might all work. See I would like to brew my Raspberry Brown ale next weekend if at all possible. But I would also like to potentially brew on June 20th, 27th, or 28th as well with a co-workers husband, so I just need to make sure my fermenters will be empty by then.

May 23rd - Brown Ale into Primary in Bottling Bucket
June 6th - Brown Ale into Secondary in Std Bucket with Raspberries
June 20th - Bottle Berry Brown (using Bottling Bucket)

Ok, so that kind of precludes brewing with the guy on the 20th, that day will be full enough and I'm not keen on bottling and brewing on the same day yet.

So, I'll have to talk to my co-worker and see what day she wants to pawn her husband off on me for brewing. She will have to pay for Grain, Hops, Water, Yeast, and Bottles, and give me a six-pack for "rent" on my fermenters. He said something about a honey-wheat beer, and I'm pretty sure he had American Wheat in mind. If that's the case... here's what I see as a potential recipe:

4lbs 2-Row
3lbs White Wheat
1lb Vienna
3lbs Honey

1oz Glacier 5.5% FWH

Safale S-05 (as always... could use the English yeast for more flocculation... but since it's a wheat beer, who cares?)

Step Mash
-Protein rest, 122°F 30min
-Sacch Rest, 154°F 30min
-MashOut, 168°F 5min

This needs to be in primary a minimum of two weeks, honey is slow to ferment.

I'd like to give my co-worker a cost estimate so she can decide if this is what she is doing. Here's what it would cost if I ordered all the ingredients from

2-Row: $1.25/lb x 4lbs = $5.00
White Wheat: $1.57/lb x 3lbs = $4.71
Vienna: $2.10/lb 1lbx = $2.10
Glacier*: $3.50/2oz x 1oz = $1.75
Honey: $12.50/3lbs x 3lbs = $12.50
S-05: $2.25/pack x 2packs = $4.50
Water: $1/gallon x 9gallons = $9
Total: $39.56

* does not have Glacier in stock, so I'm using the price for Cascade. I'm pretty sure The Red Salamander has Glacier, and if not I have an extra ounce.

Now if he opted to not use real honey, and instead go with Honey malt and an all-malt beer, it would probably be about $5 cheaper. And... I still need to contact the Red Salamander and find out how much it would really cost. Or, just order it online for them.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Bottled a butter bomb

So I bottled up Van Den Heuv Ale yesterday. While I don't think the beer got infected, I'm not sure it's going to turn out ok... it was laden with diacetyl. Diacetyl is a normal by-product of yeast, but one that the yeast should re-absorb on their own. It is likely that I racked the beer to secondary too soon, resulting in the remaining yeast being unable to re-absorb the remaining diacetyl. The problems is... diacetly can also be a side affect of a Pediococcu or Lactobacillus infection. So it's entirely possible that this beer did get infected... though I have a tendency to doubt that, mainly because all of my previous infections have been very obvious in primary and resulted in very vinegary/sour flavors. At least if this was an infection, it's a different one! On the off-chance that this is infected though, I need to be very careful with the bottles, they could be "bottle-bombs" waiting to go off! I really should put them in a plastic tub...

I did ask for some advice regarding whether there is anything I can do to reduce or eliminate the diacetyl on It seems that if I keep the bottles in the 70°F range the yeast should be able to re-absorb some of the diacetyl while they eat up the priming sugar and carbonate, assuming the yeast is still healthy... which brings me to another point...

While I was at the Red Salamander the other day I was asking Karl how much sugar exactly to use, since it's been quite a while since I've bottled a beer. He said 5oz is the magic number for 5 gallons of beer. So I asked him, since I only had 4.5 gallons of beer, tops, should I use 4.5oz? He suggested that instead of reducing the amount of sugar, I should increase the amount of water I boil the sugar in to increase the total volume of beer... not a bad idea I thought! Well now I'm not so sure... I siphoned my beer into the bottling bucket after pouring my 3 or so quarts of boiling sugar water into the bottling bucket. Well obviously the beer was much cooler than the boiling water, and I'm afraid I may have killed off some of my yeast! I mean there were still wisps of steam coming off of the top of the beer after it had all siphoned in... By the math, my beer should have been a little less than 80°F when it was all mixed, but I'm a little worried. Oh well, not much I can do now but wait!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Raspberries, cherries, and my next recipe?

I found out that one of good buddy co-workers has many pounds of frozen raspberries in her freezer. Homegrown berry goodness! I think that this just begs for a raspberry beer... but I don't know what kind to make! I'm actually thinking about modifying my River Grand Brown Ale recipe to use the raspberries... maybe accentuate the chocolate malt flavor a little so the beer has kind of a chocolate and rapsberry thing going on... Hmm, actually, that sounds really interesting, perhaps I will do that... a name will come later, but here's a concept recipe:

9lbs Maris Otter
.5lbs Crystal 40L
.5lbs Victory
.75lbs Chocolate Malt

1oz Sterling 5%AA FWH


4lbs Frozen Raspberries in Secondary

Obviously... this is basically exactly my brown ale recipe. I hope to get a little higher ABV on this than the first go around, I think I'm getting better efficiencies now. if not by much.

I just don't know much about making raspberry beer... I'm going to have to look for some help in some forums. The raspberries will be going into secondary... but the question is, do I need to puree them? Sanitize them? (There's already alcohol by secondary... shouldn't it be ok?) Just put them in and crush them a little? Since they've been frozen... I would think they would be fairly mushy already...

And what about flavor? Hopefully I've got a good amount of berry... I don't want to overpower the malt, I'd like a balance between malt (with bitter dark chocolate being a predominant malt flavor) and tart raspberry. Will 3/4# of chocolate malt and 4# of raspberry achieve that? And the hops... Sterling are apparently a decent replacement for Saaz... is that a good choice? A rough guess on IBU is 20 for one ounce of Sterling... is that too much? Founders Cerise comes in at 15... so I would think 20 would be ok, since I'm hoping to have a beer that is less fruity than Cerise! Otherwise, I have a couple of ounces of Glacier at 7.4%AA, would be a little more IBU but Glacier is such a smooth hop...

Another co-worker has asked me to help her husband brew his very first beer... so I might be popping a guys brewing cherry! He mentioned that he might like a Honey Wheat style brew... and I've never done that exact kind of thing. I did try a honey beer with wheat in it a summer or two ago... but that's when I was having much trouble getting a decent brew... so I won't even look to that. I know honey should be added as late to the boil as possible for maximum aroma... so I'm thinking about something like this:

4# 2-row
2# White Wheat
3# honey (55 min? Add then bring to boil for 5 min?)

1oz Glacier 7.4% FWH

US-05 (Do I use anything else? Bah... no!)

I'll work more on this recipe later... totally off the top of my head with no research and no basis in anything. I'm more interested in the raspberry brew, and making sure my Pale Ale came out ok at the moment!!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Van Den Heuv Ale ok?

It's been over a week since I actually brewed this beer, and I didn't do my normal brewday summary post. Whoops.

Brewday went well overall though. Collected over 6 gallons of wort, and appear to have gotten a good gravity. I used my 5.2 ph Stabilizer for the first time, and from what I can tell it kept my mash at almost exactly 5.2. While definitely not the most scientific method for calculating mash and sparge efficiency... my spent grains were the least sweet they have ever been. I still don't think I broke the 70% efficiency mark though... so I think I'll have Karl double-grind my grains next time, and maybe I'll use some rice hulls to prevent the possibility of a stuck mash because of the extra fine grind.

Hot liquor tank was ok... it leaked a little bit, but it was passable. I think when I've got spare cash (not anytime soon...) I'll replace it with a new cooler.

Boil went great, no boil-overs and kept it rolling pretty hard the whole time.

The new wort chiller was a thing of beauty. It cooled 4.5 gallons of wort from boiling to UNDER my target temp of 65° in about 15 minutes! I actually hit close to 55°!! Absolutely spectacular, and for less than $25, AMAZING.

I did only end up with 4.5 gallons of wort after the boil... which doesn't bother me. As John Palmer says... the goal is to brew good beer, not brew 5 gallons of beer! If I get 5 gallons of good beer, all the better.... but that's secondary. Gravity into the fermenter was 14° (technically) balling, but close enough to Plato or Brix to use any of them.

Of course the real question of all questions here was... would I end up with an infected mess? And I don't think I did! I did things a little different this time... different wort chiller, poured my wort into the fermenter outside, and something appears to have made the difference. I wasn't too sure a few days ago when I checked the gravity (approximately 2.5°), as there was some definite off-flavor... but it's been a while since I've tasted such a young beer so I might have just been tasting early yeast by-products. Today it seemed better.

I racked to a glass carboy for secondary fermentation today. With the OG of 14 and FG of ~2.5, I'm looking at about 6% abv on this one, right at the top of the APA range. The bitterness, which was very strong before primary, has subdued a bit, so that I think this will make a good APA, pushing the limits on all counts but not quite an IPA.

I'm a happy guy right now. Which means I'm already planning my next beer ;-) I think I will brew River Grand Brown Ale again, it was my best, and I would love to have some more of it!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Brewday, Van Den Heuv Ale

This morning I was up early for an appointment that was actually next week... oops. Oh well! It got me going early enough that I'll be started setting up and pre-brew cleaning by noon, which is pretty decent.

I also got 8.5 gallons of Absopure Spring Water and 4 gallons of propane this morning, so I should now be all set for brewing!

Yay! It's been too long...

Monday, March 30, 2009

A new Wort Chiller, and hopefully a finished hot liquor tank

I built a new wort chiller last Saturday. It wasn't very difficult... but I'm proud because it's the first piece of equipment I've built from scratch! Here's a picture:

(seen here undergoing cold-water leak testing)

What I've got is 50ft of 1/2" soft copper, with 3/8" vinyl tube clamped on each end, about 1 foot on the inlet side and 14 feet on the outlet side and a hose bard for a garden hose on each end. It's very similar to this wort chiller from except that mine only cost me about $22!! But I have to admit... it only cost me this little because the cashier at the hardware store SCREWED UP... BIG TIME. At the store where I bought the copper, it was supposed to be $2.49 per foot. I bought a whole 50' reel, so it was still in it's cardboard box. There was a young girl working the cash register so she just scanned the barcode... and called it good. Well apparently the barcode is in their system as 1 foot... because I only got charged $2.49! I didn't even realize it in the store because I didn't know what the price was before I got to the cash register... I was just prepared to pay whatever I was told the cost. It wasn't till I got back to the homebrew store and mentioned what it cost me that the owner of the homebrew store tipped me off to how much the store got ripped of... if you haven't already done the math, that copper should have cost me $124.50!! So I got royally hooked up. I can't wait to put this new chiller to sue though, it should take my beer down to yeast pitching temp pretty darn quick!

I also got the rubber stoppers I needed so that I should be able to use my old mash tun as a got liquor tank... I just need to open the mis-drilled hole a little more to get the stopper in it. Then I have to decide if I want to use a mini stopper to plug the whole in the bigger stopper, or put a hose it in it to use as a "sight-glass"... The sight glass is probably a little silly... I can just open the lid to see how much water is less, this is only in the 5 gallon range, not the 10+ barrel range ;-)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Van Den Heuv Ale

Next Saturday is supposed to be in the low 50s and mostly sunny... a PERFECT day for brewing. And that's exactly what I intend to do.

What I've got planned is an American Pale Ale or IPA which I will dub Van Den Heuv Ale in honor of Jon Vandenheuvel and his sister Sarah, my sister-in-law, who grew 100% of the hops that will be used in this batch at their greenhouses in Zeeland. Here's my recipe:

Van Den Heuv Ale
8lbs 2-Row
2lbs White Wheat
1lb Crystal 20L
1lb Victory

1.25oz East Kent Golding - First Wort
.5oz Centennial - First Wort
.1oz Cascade - First Wort
.5oz East Kent Golding - Aroma
.5oz Cascade - Aroma

I'm using grains that I've had for a while... in fact I'm using the grains that I bought for the recipe I published on August 1st last year. But I've added 2 more pounds of 2-row, and a pound each of Crystal 20L and Victory... my standard pale ale specialty grains. A pale ale with wheat malt isn't by any means "standard", but at the most it will make the beer a little cloudy and thicken up the body and possibly add a hint of sweetness, though I doubt it will be noticed under the Victory and Crystal 20L. If I get my normal 65% efficiency, I'll be looking at an Original Gravity of close to 14° Plato*, which is right at the top of the American Pale Ale range. If I manage to get 75% out of my mash tun, then I'll be looking at 16°, which puts me right at the bottom of the American IPA range. IBUs will be in the low 40s at either 65% or 75% efficiency, which is perfect since the top of the APA range is 45, and the bottom of the IPA range is 40. So... I'll choose my style after I measure my gravity ;-)

Well I'm really hoping I don't run into my old infection issues on this one... I've got a brand new never-used bucket, and I've got a nice long tub to sanitize in, long enough that I can get my whole racking cane submerged and can get a bucket to lie down in it sideways. Also, I've bought some latex gloves... at the Mt Pleasant Brewing Company (MPBC) we wear gloves any time we touch anything that is sanitized or that will come into contact with the beer after the boil or before sanitation.

And, no more kegging... I've actually gotten rid of my tap-fridge and kegging equipment. I figure if I'm going to be brewing on a professional basis I'm not going to need to brew everyday drinking beers very often, and most of the higher-gravity specialty beers I would rather bottle anyway. I'll be putting this beer in 24-12oz botles, and 12-22oz bottles. And I'll likely give a fair amount of it to Sarah and Jon... even if they don't drink it (I don't think overtly hoppy beers are their favorite), they might want to give some away to showcase their hops!

*Up at MPBC, gravities are all measured in Plato, so I'm trying to convert myself to the Plato scale. An easy conversion rule is that one degree plato = four points of "standard gravity", so my 14° Plato wort here would have a standard gravity of about 1.056.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Back in action!

It's been a LONG time, both since I've blogged, and since I've brewed. But finally, I'm back in action! After spending nearly a week up at the Mount Pleasant Brewing Co, I've got the itch and MUST SCRATCH!

I'll get into more detail in the next couple of days, but today I got some more equipment, including a brand new 50ft wort chiller, and some ingredients, and on April 4th, I'll be brewing a batch of Pale Ale with the hops from my sister-in-laws' hop farm over in Zeeland.