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.