Over the past month and a half I’ve brewed four beers, starting with Piper’s Irish-American Ale , and culminating with Mr. Silly IPA which is in the middle of the mash right now. We’re less than a week from when we normally get the first snowfall that lasts until spring, so this will likely be the end of my 2012 brewing effort.
My normal process is to make a yeast starter from a Wyeast smack-pack or White Labs tube, pitch that into the first batch, and a week later siphon the chilled wort of the second batch onto the yeast cake from the first.
I didn’t have time to make a starter for Piper’s, so I just smacked the pack (Wyeast 1084, Irish Ale) on brew day and assumed there’d be enough healthy yeast to make quick work of the 1.049 wort. After two days of no visible activity, I began to worry that the yeast in the pack had been killed at some point before I bought it. Finally on day three, something finally started to happen and the beer has since fermented successfully.
The second batch was a 1.077 old ale I poured into my Old Alexi solera ale keg (recipe is here). It kicked off almost immediately and was probably 90% fermented within 24 hours due to the thick, healthy yeast from fermenting Piper’s.
During both fermentations I kept track of the temperatures in the fermentation chamber (a fridge with heater on a temperature controller) and in the wort using my Arduino data logger. A graph of the two fermentations is below:
You can see the activity of the temperature controller on the temperature in the chamber (the orange line), clicking the heater on and off within 4 degrees of the set temperature. For Piper’s (the top plot) I started with the chamber at 64°F, but almost immediately bumped it up to 66°F when the wort temperature crashed. After 24 hours, something finally started happening in the wort, with a peak temperature (and fermentation) on day three. When I transferred the wort from primary to secondary on day seven, there was still active fermentation.
Compare this with the second beer. The wort started at 65°F, and immediately took off, peaking a little over 24 hours later. By day three, fermentation was over. I dropped the fermentation chamber temperature from 66°F to 64°F after the first day.
What did I learn? First: always make a yeast starter. It’s no fun waiting several days for fermentation to finally take off, and during that lull the wort is vulnerable to other infections that could damage the flavor. Second: don’t panic, especially with a yeast that has a reputation of starting slowly like Wyeast 1084. It usually works out in the end. More often than not, the Papazian “relax, enjoy a homebrew” mantra really is the way to approach brewing.
I used a starter for last week’s batch (Taiga Dog AK Mild, White Labs WLP007, Dry English Ale) and it was visibly fermenting within a day and a half. Mr. Silly will undoubtedly have a similar fermentation temperature curve like Old Alexi above after I transfer the wort onto the Taiga Dog yeast cake.
Most Fridays we get take out from our local Thai restaurant, Lemongrass, and sometimes we stop at a convenience store on the way to see if there are any interesting or new beers (and sometimes wine) available. Yesterday I saw one of these, a 24-ounce can of Genesee Beer. A couple years ago I found a six-pack of Genesee Cream Ale at Goldhill Liquor, but I haven’t seen straight-up Genesee since I left Rochester a couple decades ago. Needless to say, I bought it, and am now very much enjoying the refreshing, light taste, with just a bit more than a hint of corn in the flavor.
My favorite homebrew, Piper’s Irish-American Red Ale also has this subtle corn flavor. Corn (and later, rice) have a distinct place in American brewing history because it was a way to reduce the excess protein found in the 6-row barley that grew well in North America. By contrast, the traditional European brewing grain, 2-row barley, only has enough enzymes (protein) to convert it’s own starches to sugars, so there wasn’t a problem with excess protein in the final beer. With 6-row grain, there are enough enzymes to convert additional brewing adjuncts like corn, reducing the protein content in the final beer (and also, incidentally, making the beer cheaper to produce).
Genesee Brewing has been in continuous operation (except for during Prohibition, of course) in Rochester, New York since 1878, and is still an independently owned brewery that’s part of the North American Breweries name (along with Labatts, Pyramid, MacTarnahan’s and a few other small breweries). If you’re going to drink an American light lager, it might as well be a good one like Genesee instead of the mega-industry, foreign-owned, over-commercialized swill like Budweiser, Coors, Miller, etc.
I took Friday off from work and brewed my first batch of beer in quite a long time. It’s a brown porter named Crazy Kittens Porter. As should be obvious, it’s named after our three crazy kittens Caslon, Tallys and Jenson, pictured on the right. This time around I developed the recipe using the BrewPal iPhone app, trusting all the measurements and temperatures to the app. We’ll see how well it does. My favorite part of the app is the “style” tab, which shows you what styles your recipe conforms to and to what degree.
Normally I do everything out in the red cabin, but I had the wood stove cranking so I heated the strike and spare water on the wood stove and drained the mash in the kitchen (shown below). It was nice to be able to do that stuff in the house and to avoid burning fossil fuels for the wort production. As usual, I boiled and chilled the wort outside and set the fermenter in the old fridge out in the red cabin. It’s bubbling away now.
I plan to brew another batch of Devil Dog on top of the yeast cake from this batch. This is an excellent way to save some money on yeast, and the second batch normally gets a very explosive start from the massive population of healthy yeast.
Spent some of yesterday brewing a batch of Bavarian hefeweizen. It’s a light, easy drinking summer beer that preserves the unique flavors of the Bavarian wheat beer yeasts. Most American varieties of hefeweizen use a cleaner, less flavorful American yeast. My original version of this beer was named after the shed I build to house our water tank in the old house. Now that we’ve moved and have a new shed, the beer has been re-christened “New Shed Hefeweizen.”
The beer has six pounds of base malt—two pounds of 6-row and four pounds of 2-row organic pale malt in this case—and six pounds of malted wheat. Wheat malt contains a lot of protein, as does the 6-row malt. As I mentioned in my post about Piper’s Red Ale, protein causes haze in the final beer and can affect it’s long-term stability. In the case of a hefeweizen, the haze is a feature of the style, and because it’s a summer “session-style” beer, it’ll get consumed more quickly than a typical ale. So all the protein shouldn’t be a problem and will contribute to a nice thick head on the finished beer. You can see all the protein floating around in the wort (it’s the white stuff in the photo that looks like the eggs in egg-drop soup). Most of the big chunks get filtered out in the pot as the wort is chilled, but even with the gross removal, there’s still a lot left over in the fermenter.
My last batch of beer, Devil Dog turned into a comedy of errors. The mash and boil went perfectly, but when chilling I accidentally left the stopcock on my fermenting bucket open. Lost a couple gallons of wort into the snow. After fermentation was finished and it was in the keg, one of my new serving lines had a loose bolt on the keg connector. Not only did this cause all the remaining beer to leak out inside my kegerator (three gallons of it), but I completely drained my CO2 tank. So this time around, I paid very careful attention to everything I was doing.
The mash, boil, and chilling went well. Mashing a grain bill that’s 50% wheat is always a little nerve-wracking because wheat has no husks to help in filtration, and as anyone who had made bread by hand knows, wheat plus water equals a very sticky substance. My mill does a good job of preserving the barley husks, and I didn’t have any extraction issues when sparging. I wound up with an excess of wort, however, so I had to boil it quite a bit longer to get down to five gallons. The final beer might be a bit maltier as a result, because of the additional carmalization of the sugars in the pot. I bumped up the hops slightly in an attempt to offset this.
Chilling was a bit of an experiment. I pulled thirty gallons of water from Goldstream Creek and used that in a closed loop through my plate chiller to chill the wort. It’s in the blue barrel on the right side of the image. The temperature at the start was around 50°F, and that wasn’t quite cool enough to drain the kettle with the valve all the way open. But I got it down to a pitching temperature of 70°F, which is about right for a hefeweizen.
A true hefeweizen yeast is an interesting strain because you can control the flavors from the yeast by changing the fermentation temperature. Like Belgian beers, a Bavarian hefeweizen comes with lots of flavors that would be considered serious defects in a British (or worse, American) ale. At cooler temperatures (cooler than 65°F), you’ll get more banana flavors, and warmer fermentation encourages clove tones. I tend to prefer the banana flavor, but at lower temperatures you’re always risking a sluggish or incomplete fermentation. This time around, I’m hoping to keep fermentation closer to 68°F, which should yield a nice dry beer with a good balance of banana and clove flavors.
Assuming I don’t pump all the beer into my kegerator again, I should know how it turned out in four to six weeks.
Yesterday I brewed my ninth batch of Piper’s Irish-American Red Ale, based on a recipe from Jeff Renner posted in the Homebrew Digest. It’s an easy drinking, low alcohol (4.0—4.7%) red ale. My version isn’t a traditional Irish Red Ale because it’s got six-row malt and corn in it, but this is likely to have been the combination of grains used by early Irish immigrants to the United States. When the English first colonized North America, two-row barley for brewing was imported from Britain. Six-row barley grew much better in our climate, but it is higher in protein than two-row barley, which results in a cloudy beer, and one which spoils more readily (especially without refrigeration). The solution to this problem is to replace some of the six-row barley starches with other types of starch like corn. The high-protein barley will readily convert the starches in the corn to the simple sugars that yeast can consume, and the total amount of protein in the final product will be reduced. It was a great adaptation to the native strain of barley grown in early America.
We don’t have to worry about that now, of course, but I enjoy renewing some older brewing traditions. This batch is a little over 40% British two-row pale malt, 30% American six-row malted barley, and 20% flaked maize. There’s some flaked barley for head retention, and crystal 60 and chocolate malt to produce the malt flavor and color of a red ale.
I was trying out a new transfer pump on this batch, as my previous one was damaged by ice the last time I brewed. I’d left my water supply barrel outside overnight and when the very cold water hit the pump, it froze. The other issue with the old pump was that it would shut down when the outlet flow was constricted too much, a problem during chilling because I use a ball valve to limit the flow of cold water into the plate chiller. The new pump screamed right through the constricted flow and I got the wort from boiling to 64°F without any problems this time. I would have preferred a pitching temperature closer to 68°F, but I’d made a yeast starter, and the low wort temperature didn’t seem to slow it down at all. This morning there was a thick head of yeasty foam on the surface (as you can see in the photo).
While I was brewing, Andrea took some of the dogs to Mush for Kids where Piper was the Toothbrush Dog. She walked around with a backpack filled with toothbrushes for the kids who went to the event. Check out Andrea’s blog for more details and photos.