Monday, May 31, 2010

Resisting the Urge for a Headline Pun

It's Monday, the day we observe Memorial Day in the US in honor of those who have served the cause of freedom and given all. I brewed today, exercising one of the rights that the fallen have preserved for me. It seems fitting, especially when it's time to start filling the supply pipeline for Independence Day.

Brewed: 100503 Hook Me Up

Another commissioned batch, Hook Me Up is intended to be an English extra-special bitters based on the commercial beer Red Hook ESB. I started with a base recipe from HBT's Biermuncher and manipulated it to match what I can do and what I have to work with. The original recipe called for Wyeast 1098 but I'm using Nottingham, and I made a substitution on the hop schedule, putting in Saaz instead of Tettnang.

This recipe had a new wrinkle for me - it called for some "toasted malt." Toasted malt is just regular two-row malt that is heated at 350 F for 12 to 15 minutes. It darkens the malt (from 2 SRM to 22 SRM according to BeerSmith), and it's supposed to impart a bit of flavor as well.

I spread the malt onto cookie sheets in as close to a single layer as I could manage, then popped the cookie sheets into a preheated, 350 F oven. The smell of the malt as it toasted was quite pleasant, and surprisingly strong. In fact, at one point during the first toasting go-round, I panicked because the scent was so powerful I thought I was burning it.

Here's a picture of some before and after - the malt on the trays is toasted, while the malt in the round pan is not. It's hard to see the color difference in this picture, but it was more obvious in person. I'm not sure it was 20 SRM different, though.

Other than that, and the four separate hop additions, this was a pretty standard brew session. I did it all-electric again, relying mostly on my 2000W heatstick to provide the energy. I heated the strike water in the mash tun so it was adequately pre-heated. I didn't obsess over the mash temperature this time, in fact I didn't even measure it after I hit the initial 158 F I was aiming for. With an OG of 1.052 it hit the software prediction so that's a plus given my recent problems in that regard.

RIP 100401 Honey Half-Wit

As predicted, this one went fast. It got the Brewmistress Seal of Approval, which is a first for Fork and Hay. (Could the Five Diamond award be next?) Luckily another 5 gallons is already in the pipeline, and I may go ahead and lay in a third batch before July 4th comes.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Quick notes

Just a couple of things:
  • In an attempt to cut down on the Chinese 'blog spam' that I get in comments to this page, I have turned on comment moderation. If you post a comment I will have to approve it before it shows up. 
  • All three carboys from last weekend are fermenting away in the freezer. One of the Geordie-Boy carboys was slow to take off, which I attribute to it being in actual contact with the side of the freezer, causing it to be too cool for the ale yeast. I moved it away and the next day the krausen was in full form.
  • The next 'commissioned batch' will be a Red Hook ESB clone - "Hook Me Up" - based on another well-regarded recipe by Biermuncher at HBT.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Brew morning, brew day

It's a mark of how old I am getting that I'm reduced to making bad headline puns based on song lyrics from bands I don't even like. At least it's from one of their least objectionable albums. The headline refers to this weekend's brew sessions - yes, that's a plural - wherein I laid down 15 gallons in an attempt to refill the pipeline after a long brewing drought.

Brewed: 100501 Geordie-Boy Ale

First up was a 10 gallon batch of the house favorite. I've been disappointed with the last couple of batches of this beer, so I decided to go mostly back to basics. I went back to plain tap water (unfiltered), I didn't use the hop sack, and I cut way down on the agitation of the immersion chiller.

I used the rectangular cooler mash tun, because it was the only one I have that is big enough for the grain bill for this recipe. As before, I heated the strike water in the tun, and after it got to about 140 F I added the grits to get them hydrated before the mash got started in earnest. That allowed me to keep them stirred up and loose instead of having them get all clumpy. I also stirred a lot when adding in the rest of the grain to make sure that there were no obvious dough balls or layers. I got a respectable 1.048 OG out of it, for an efficiency of 79% or so, so it must have been OK. The temperature held just fine as well, so I think the lesson to be had is don't use the big tun for a 5 gallon batch - but with a 10 gallon batch and sufficient preconditioning, it's fine.

When cooling the wort, I realized it was summertime again and my tap water wasn't as cold as it had been. I managed to get the volume down to about 78 F in 35 minutes, at which point I went ahead and put it into the carboys and put them in the cooler to ramp the rest of the way down overnight, with just some aluminum foil to seal the opening. The next morning, I added Nottingham yeast to each carboy and put on airlocks.

Brewed: 100502 Honey Half-Wit

The Honey Half-Wit is proving to be popular with more casual drinkers, so in anticipation of summer visitors I went ahead and put down another 5 gallon batch. I actually considered doing 10 gallons, but as it turns out, getting 4 carboys into the cooler is a bit of a challenge and I didn't want to mess with it. I had logistics challenges enough with this batch without the aggravation.

Alabrew moving closer to the Fork and Hay worldwide headquarters proved to be as useful as I expected it to be. When I inventoried raw materials I found I was short the yeast and all the malted wheat required for Honey Half-Wit, so I sent the Head Apprentice over to Alabrew to pick it up. I learned an important lesson - write out specific product names. It took me going over there to help straighten things out before I had 4 pounds of crushed wheat malt. On the shopping list I had written "4# wheat malt crushed." Turns out the Head Apprentice asked for "4 pounds of wheat malt," which was reasonably interpreted as a request for wheat malt extract. Unfortunately there were two problems with that: first, 4 pounds of malt extract is a lot more expensive than 4 pounds of crushed grain; and second, I probably won't use 4 pounds of wheat malt extract in the entire future of Fork and Hay. I still have an unopened one pound bag of DME I bought a year ago. In the end, Kim worked it out and I got the grain I needed to brew, along with some WLP400 Belgian Wit yeast. I have been using the Wyeast smack pack equivalent (3944) but Alabrew carries White Labs, and this table at Jamil Zainasheff's website says they're the same thing, both being derived from Hoegaarden.

The original Honey Half-Wit batch didn't have much sweet orange character after the boil, so I decided to add an additional ounce of orange zest into the carboy to see if it added some flavor tones. I also dumped the honey in before the wort in hopes that they would mix and I would get a more accurate OG reading. Either the honey didn't mix correctly or my recipe calculations are off dramatically, because I still came in at .010 lower than the prediction of 1.050. The first batch turned out OK even so, so I'm not all that worried about it - just a little puzzled.

Edit: It turns out that part of the issue was that I had the BeerSmith template set to expect 75% brewhouse efficiency. If I ramp it back to 65% the prediction becomes 1.044 which is a lot more reasonable. I calculated 58% actual efficiency for this batch so I need to figure out where I'm losing my sugar.

The first batch fermented so vigorously it blew out through the airlock, so I decided to go with a blow-off tube this time. It looks like three carboys and a blow-off bucket are about all that I can get in the fermentation cooler at a time, so now I know what the real production bottleneck is. I suppose I could bring carboys inside and do the T-shirt trick to keep them cool, so there is a workaround available if I need the throughput. I can only serve 5 at a time anyway, three on real taps and two on picnic taps, so there's an upper limit on demand for ready product.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Nose to the Grindstone

Yesterday was a big day around Fork and Hay. The eldest apprentice brewmaster graduated from college with a BS in biology and we had quite a celebration in the hospitality area of the brewery (the portion that everyone else refers to as "the house"). The apprentice will be continuing his biology studies in pursuit of a PhD, but in a career-limiting move for a brewer he is concentrating on algal phycology instead of the mycology of Saccharomyces cerevisiae. He will be spending a lot of time in the lab, though, and I hope he'll be able to culture out some commercial yeast strains for the brewery's use.

Kegged: 100401 Honey Half-Wit

Just prior to heading down to the apprentice's commencement ceremonies, I kegged the Honey Half-Wit batch I made two weeks ago. I had cold-crashed it in the carboy overnight, so the sampling and kegging took place at about 37 F. The temperature-adjusted FG for this batch came in at 1.011, which seems like a reasonable finish, but given the uncertainty of the OG reading I can't figure the exact ABV. The beer is a nice bright color and has the characteristic cloudiness of the style. The Brewmistress tasted a portion of the SG sample and gave her conditional approval (while noting that it was flat and not cold enough).

I started to carb it but I didn't quite get enough CO2 dissolved before we had to depart for the ceremony. I'll zap it again today and bring it up close to 2.4 volumes, because it's supposed to be a reasonably fizzy beer. The Brewmistress likes fizz. However, I'm going to have a bit of a serving dilemma, because I only have three taps - yes, taps - from which to serve.

Grinding teeth

I am edging ever closer to finishing the keezer after only 10 months. The three taps are installed, tested leak-free, and functioning. About all it lacks now are casters for mobility and a drip tray.

Getting the taps installed and leak-free was a challenge. As I mentioned before, I got a great deal on some Perlick 525SS stainless steel faucets. Faucets, of course, are only part of the entire tap system, and they are attached to the all-important beer line with a shank and a tail piece.

Instead of getting stainless steel shanks, I opted to save a few bucks and go with chrome plated brass ones. After all, nobody can see the shank (unlike the faucet), and while stainless is more durable and less subject to degradation through abrasion it's not like there will be a lot of abrasion in this application. I picked tail pieces with flare fittings, so they can be disconnected from the beer line for cleaning without disassembly.

In the last post I mentioned that I found some issues with this arrangement due to what appeared to be manufacturing tolerance variations among the shanks, and between the spec conformance of the shanks as compared to the faucets. Some real-life pictures would help to explain the issues, but I don't have any, so you'll have to use your imagination and look at this diagram that I shamelessly lifted from

The faucet (1) attaches to the end of the shank, where its threads are engaged by the collar (2). The faucet has an internal o-ring that is supposed to press up against the end of the shank as you tighten the collar, forming a seal.  To keep the faucet from rotating on the shank, there are some teeth (like a gear) formed on the inside of the faucet and on the outside of the shank.

It was the teeth that were creating my leak issues. I was only able to find one shank-faucet combo where the teeth mated well enough that I could get the faucet pushed onto the shank far enough to allow the seal to be formed correctly. On every other set, I could only get the faucet onto the shank a little, and no amount of tightening of the collar would drive it down to set the o-ring.

I used (and wore out) two steel brush attachments for my Dremel trying to clean up the shank teeth enough to allow the faucet to fit correctly. Eventually, I switched to a grinding stone and simply wore the teeth down to a degree that I could get the faucet connected. Once I did that I was able to get a solid seal that's leak free, and now all three taps are hooked up and freely flowing.

The problem, of course, is that I now have four active kegs. Time for a bigger keezer? Edit: it may be time for a bigger keezer but I solved the immediate problem by dumping the last gallon of 090901 Gayle Bait. It just wasn't doing it for me any more. It's nice to have Honey Half-Wit on tap, and with the right carbonation and an orange slice, it really hits the spot!