Saturday, September 26, 2009

RDWHAHB - It actually works

That's an acronym for "Relax, don't worry, have a home brew" - advice given by the voices of experience to people like me who encounter a new (to them) adversity while brewing.

When the 090901 Gayle Bait blew out while I was on the road, I sought advice from the HBT forum. The advice was, basically, RDWHAHB - the blowout wasn't going to be a problem. The reasoning was that, because the batch was inside the fermentation freezer the risk of airborne contamination was minimal, and also that the CO2 level inside both the bottle and the freezer would prevent oxidation.

This morning I racked the batch to secondary so I could put some gelatin in and get it out of that nasty bottle. The beer looked really good and there was nothing in it that didn't belong there as far as I could tell. It was already pretty clear but I'm hoping for crystal clear after the gelatin and a cold crash.

I took a gravity and it read out at 1.010, which is lower than BeerSmith predicted. I figure that's because I don't have the right attenuation modeled for the US-05 yeast, because I had to add it to the ingredient list. Edit: here's a thread on US-05 attenuation Anyway, the calculated ABV for this batch is 5.08%. I tasted the sample (of course) and it was very mild indeed. I think this will be a winner. Keg tomorrow and cold crash, carb on Monday or Tuesday.

I may try to brew a Geordie Boy later today, chores permitting. I need to get the cover on the pool before any more leaves drop in.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Blow outs revisited

This is the result of the 090901 Gayle Bait blowout. Note the crusted crud on the neck of the Better Bottle.

Here's what I did with 090902 Por Favor to prevent a similar occurrence.

Tunak Tunak Tun

Daler Mehndi I am not, but I did work on a new mash tun on Sunday in preparation for moving to 10 gallon batches.

I have a rectangular cooler whose manufacturer describes it as a "5 Day" cooler, alleging that it will keep ice frozen for five days under certain conditions. (Presumably these conditions do not include "deploy the cooler in the Arctic.") I purchased it back in March intending to use it as my mash tun but I went with the Gatorade cooler that has featured so prominently here.

I created a manifold for it using essentially the same technique I used for the original tun. The biggest difference was that with the added size of the cooler and the position of the drain hole in the center instead of the end, I used a longer braid (30") and looped it using a nylon tee:

You'll note that I had to use a portion of the braid as an extender from the nipple to the center barb of the tee. I used some copper wire as I did before to stiffen the braid, help it hold its shape, and hopefully avoid crushing. Once again I used nylon ties instead of the stainless clamps called out in the original design. I ran short of ties but I intend to use one about every 2 inches around the perimeter.

The 170 F leak test passed without a drip. However, there was a pretty dramatic temperature drop in the water after an hour or so had passed. I felt around the cooler looking for hotspots, but the only place I could feel heat was at the lid. I guess that stands to reason, as the cooler's primary job is to repel heat from the outside and heated air is not noted for moving downward. I will just have to put a blanket over the top to increase the R-value of the lid.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Rainy day brewing

Brewed: 090902 Por Favor

Today I made my first batch of a Vienna lager-type recipe as an ale that I hope turns out somewhat like Negra Modelo.

The batch came in with a higher OG than BeerSmith predicted based on the recipe (1.054 vs. 1.051). Evidently I managed to get 70% efficiency instead of the 65% I expected (and scaled the grain bill for). That may be due to a better crush than usual - I got the grain at Alabrew for this batch.

I executed the end game of this batch a little differently than I have on previous batches. At the end of the boil I used the immersion chiller to cool the wort down to below 80 F as usual. I transferred the wort to the primary carboy but I didn't immediately pitch the yeast. I put the carboy into the fermenter to cool a little more while the dry yeast was hydrating.

I used the Fermentis Safale US-05 yeast with this batch, as I did with the 090901 Gayle Bait. Having learned from 090901's blowout, I rigged a blow-off tube for this batch. I also used the 6.5 gallon glass carboy instead of a 6 gallon Better Bottle, which means I have a lot more head space available to take up the krausen. A side note: the blow-off tubing I have is not big enough to fit the opening of a Better Bottle, so I couldn't have done anything to prevent the Gayle Bait blowout in any event.

The challenge on the day was the rain. I had to rig a patio umbrella in the garage door opening to have a spot in which to brew. Luckily the rain never came down hard enough to saturate the umbrella and drip into the kettle.

RIP 090801 Geordie Boy

I floated the brown ale. There's no brown ale in the pipeline, demonstrating once again that Fork and Hay's supply chain planning is terrible. Looks like I might be coming up on the first time with three active fermentations underway - I can't possibly wait more than a day or so to get another brown going.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

As Olson Johnson said to Howard...

I have encountered my first official blow out. I'm informed by the Brewmistress that the 090901 Gayle Bait's krausen slipped the surly bonds of carboy and touched the lid of the fermenter. And the walls. And the floor. And pretty much everything else in there.

Since every happening offers a potential teachable moment, let's see what we can learn from this one.

First, know your yeast! This was the first time I had used Fermentis Safale US-05, and I really had no idea how powerful it might or might not be. I should have planned safely. I really had no idea what was going to happen, and I put a regular airlock on the carboy instead of using a blow-out tube.

Second, heed the warning signs! When there was krausen in the airlock after the first 12 hours, I should have rigged a blow-out tube. Instead, I sort of thought "oh, isn't that quaint, krausen in the airlock" and went about my business. (Hell, I even squirted it with Star-San to rinse it off.)

Last, but perhaps most significantly, don't run an unknown product and then skip town assuming everything will be OK.

I have sought advice from HBT and the responses have made me cautiously optimistic that the batch is salvageable. We'll know more tomorrow, and hopefully I can post some "Signal 30" style pictures.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

090901 Gayle Bait

So far, F&H's production schedule has been more about keeping the brown ale flowing than anything else. (Since that's why I started doing this anyway, I'm not apologizing, just making an observation.) Recognizing that the fall will bring more party opportunities at home along with a group of palates more accustomed to, shall we say, "standardized" beer, I need to branch out and introduce some new recipes to the menu.

The home brewing community, like other groups of the like-minded, has a tendency to look down its nose at people who have not converted into true believers in the cause. The unfortunates who risk the ire of home brewers are those who have the temerity to express a liking for what the community disparagingly refers to as "BMC" beers (BMC being an acronym for Bud-Miller-Coors). Home brewers innately believe that every BMC drinker can be brought to the path of righteousness if only they can be introduced to the correct formulation, and that once the BMC drinkers see the light they will forsake their BMC past for more varied and intricate experiences.

It doesn't occur to many of us that the same cultural phenomenon that lets McDonald's thrive when there are better burgers available is at work here as well. Uniformity and convenience are often more important factors in choosing a product than other, more qualitative factors. The average BMC drinker just isn't that into the "beer experience" - he's just thirsty and sociable, and you can get a Miller Lite pretty much anywhere. (Except McDonald's, more's the pity.)

It's important to note that among people who have been in the home brewing world for a while, there's a great deal of respect for the industrial scale brewers like AB InBev, Diageo, and MillerCoors in terms of their ability to execute their processes and achieve the uniform product standards that their beers offer. I've seen many conversations where someone new to the craft requests a clone recipe for Bud Light and is initially hooted down by members of the community with the tired sex-in-a-canoe jokes, only to have a more senior person weigh in with the observation that Bud Light and other light lagers are incredibly difficult to make well because there's no place for an off flavor to hide. Of course the senior brewers have no desire to actually make a light lager, since it's beneath their sensory dignity, but at least they concede that the large brewers know what they are doing.

The point of bringing all this up is that even hard core home brewers know deep down that there's a segment of the population that's not interested in Belgian Dubbels or the results of their "can I get three pounds into a five gallon batch" hop experiments. As a result, there are a number of promising recipes for what are referred to as "lawnmower beers" - that is, the kind of beer you'd like to have after you get done pushing the lawnmower around on a hot day: light, fizzy, refreshing. I figure I should probably have one of these around for guests who just aren't that into beer, like for instance my mother in law.

One of the nice things about frequenting a forum like HBT over time is that one can recognize quality recipes by the number of times they are referenced. I have certainly benefited from the experiences of others and their assessments of various formulations. When I decided to make a "lawnmower beer" it was pretty obvious that HBT members liked this one: Biermuncher's Cream of Three Crops, so I decided to use it as the basis for my first batch of this kind. It's a cream ale - a style that is supposed to be very light and lager-like.


I named this recipe "Gayle Bait" in honor of my mother in law, a confirmed Miller Lite drinker.

First off, I guess it's now a Fork and Hay tradition to use grits instead of flaked corn in recipes, so I altered the base recipe accordingly. (This recipe is actually right down my philosophical alley in this regard, because it not only uses Quick Grits, it uses Minute Rice too.) I tried a different preparation method for these grits - I actually followed the label instructions and added them to boiling water instead of trying to microwave them. That created a challenge at mashing, which I'll get to later.

I have listened to several of Jamil Zainasheff's podcasts at The Brewing Network and I think I am starting to gain a more fundamental understanding of what's supposed to happen when I brew and how to influence it. One of the things I have noticed recently is that I just don't have the consistency that I want in the brown ale, and after listening to Jamil's podcasts I think it's at least partially because I'm not using enough grain and I'm oversparging. Coming into this batch I wanted to make some adjustments to help increase efficiency without sacrificing quality.

In the podcasts, Jamil is adamant that it's not worth trying to wring every point of efficiency out of the process when you can get the proper amount of fermentables from any process if you add enough grain. I am averaging between 65 and 70 percent efficiency in my mashing. The base recipe's grain bill was scaled for an efficiency of 75%, so I decided to apply Jamil's advice and scale the quantities up to provide for more potential fermentables in the hopes that even with my lower efficiency I would end up with the right gravity. After consulting with Brewmistress Dr. Math I scaled the ingredient quantities to account for a lower efficiency, while maintaining their proportions in the overall grain bill.

A long day's brewing into night

David had a game yesterday afternoon so we didn't get back to the house until close to 5:00 PM. The recipe called for a 90 minute mash and a 90 minute boil, so I knew I was looking at at least an additional hour over what I have been managing, but I figured to be done by 10:00 PM. Ha!

First problem: hot grits affect mash temperature. I was trying to hit 152 F for the mash, but after I added the strike water, the non-grits portion of the grain bill, and then the boiled grits, the mash was up around 158 F. That's too high for this style - the higher mash temperature will bring out a malty quality that doesn't really work in this beer. I added some ice to try and reduce the temperature, but went overboard and ended up having to add back some hot water to finally get to 152 F. I guess this process cost me about 20 minutes.

After 90 minutes (at 7:20 PM) the mash temperature was about 145 F, which is probably not too bad considering I didn't wrap the tun in a blanket like I normally do. I sparged slowly (another piece of podcast advice that I have been inconsistently applying). I figure the sparging took 45 minutes, and it took quite a while to get the wort up to boiling temperature.

I finally got the boil going at 8:50 PM. I had a slight boilover and in my haste to contain it I reduced the heat enough that the boil stopped. I got a fan to blow over the top of the boil to keep the boilover down and ramped the heat back up, but I probably lost 15 minutes of clock time in the process.

It was 10:25 before I hit flameout on the boil, and it took a good 20 minutes to get the wort cooled to pitching temperature. I pitched two packets of Safale-05 that I had rehydrated in sterilized water, took my gravity sample, cleaned the equipment, and finally wrapped up after 11:00 PM, which as many of you know is way, way past my bedtime.


I had a temperature and calibration adjusted OG of 1.049, which is actually higher than the BeerSmith model predicted, so the scaling definitely helped. The volume after boiling was 5.6 gallons which I think I am going to find is too much to fit in the keg, so I will probably end up leaving some out when I get to filling time. It smells good. I can't wait to see how it turns out.

Friday, September 4, 2009

If a little is good, a lot is too much

I really need to get that Workflow system set up so I don't make stupid errors of omission in the process.

Overcarbed: 090801 Geordie Boy Ale

Lesson learned: either force-carb it once or let it go slow and steady. Don't do both.

After I let the keg chill overnight I tried the 30 PSI force-carb trick that has worked for me before. (Set the pressure to 30 PSI, shake the keg for 2 minutes, shut off the gas, vent, apply serving pressure, test. Repeat as required.) After the first 2 minute iteration I thought I had gotten the right amount of CO2 into solution, but a couple of pints later it became obvious that it needed more - the beer had a watery feel that I have come to recognize as insufficient carbonation.

It was too late in the evening for me to deal with it, so I left it on 10 PSI overnight. The next evening, without testing it, I ran the CO2 pressure back up to 30 PSI and did another two minute shake. That was a mistake. It was virtually impossible to draw a pint off that keg that wasn't 95% foam.

The only cure is to cut off the gas and vent it periodically to induce the extra CO2 to come out of solution. It's working, albeit slowly. The most recent pints have only been about 50% foam.