Sunday, May 31, 2009

Honey-Brew List gravity and taste test

I just got home from my whirlwind trip to Toronto and Orange Beach. I'm still short a few hours of sleep and it probably won't get much better over the next couple of days. Anyway, upon arriving home I decided that it was time to take a gravity on the 090502 Honey-Brew List. Here's what the sample looks like - note the color, it's now much closer to the 4.0 SRM than it looks in the carboy.

The gravity came in at 1.020, which is still a little higher than the recipe says it should end up, so I gave the carboy a vigorous swirl and put it back to bed. I will have to check it on Wednesday and see if it's making progress toward the target of 1.013-1.014. I guess I could pitch some more yeast onto it if it's stalled out.

The taste was a little overpowering on the coriander/bitter orange side. However, it's not as overpowering as the wort was when I put it into fermentation, so I have hope that it will tone down somewhat as it matures. Maybe when I rack it to secondary it will mellow a little further. Also, I have to make allowance for the fact that it was at 70 F and flat.

Friday, May 29, 2009


(insert Keanu Reeves picture here)

Delta's inflight WiFi service is pretty cool. I'm currently on a plane somewhere between Buffalo and Atlanta, getting 300 down and 290 up.

Beer news - Alexander Keith's Red Ale is pretty good too. Greg provided several other suggestions that I will have to get to on another trip, but maybe with luck they will start showing up in Birmingham now that Free the Hops has passed.

Next up for Fork and Hay: Coldwater 420 - a clone of Sweetwater 420. This is a commissioned batch. Tim is a big Sweetwater fan and we're going to try this out to see how close we can get.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


I'm a long way away from the brew house at the moment, visiting our company office outside Toronto. I have sampled a couple of interesting beers while here though. Alexander Keith's IPA is quite good. It is a Nova Scotia brand that was acquired by Labatt (and hence InBev) but it's macrobrewery ownership doesn't bring it down. Last night at the Portuguese restaurant we had something called Soho, but I can't find any information on it at present. What will tonight bring?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Oh my

This hobby could be very, very bad for me.

I tapped the Fork and Hay Geordie Ale this afternoon. It is still not quite fully carbonated, and I think it could still use a little aging, but...'s really good, in my humble opinion.

I will have to do a double blind test with actual Newcastle to be sure, but I think the flavor is pretty close. I couldn't be happier with how this is turning out.

NFHR: Alabama Governor Frees the Hops

(NFHR: Not Fork and Hay Related)

Alabama governor Bob Riley signed House Bill 373 into law today. The bill, known as the "Free the Hops" bill after the grassroots organization that has been fighting for it for four years, raises the legal limit for ABV in beer sold in Alabama to a level that will permit most gourmet beers to finally be sold in the state.

Running behind

With all the events of the week I haven't been able to tap the Geordie Ale (I know that's hard to believe, that I of all people passed up beer) but I did want to mention how pleased I am with Northern Brewer's customer service.

I ordered two used ball-lock kegs from NB and they arrived last week. However, when I was cleaning them I discovered that one of the kegs had two gas (in) posts instead of one gas and one liquid (out) post.

I emailed NB to let them know and after one email to establish the correct part required, they sent me a new replacement post and poppet valve assembly. No hassle, it just showed up in my mail yesterday.

As someone who spends a lot of time trying to escalate service calls past Level 1 to get to someone that's not using a script ("please to reboot Windows by selecting Start"), it was really great to be taken at face value by the first person I contacted. Mike Z, I'm dedicating the first pint of Geordie Ale to you and the Northern Brewer crew.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Color me baffled

I printed off a couple of SRM color charts on the high-accuracy printer at work (Tasha if you're reading this feel free to dock me for the cost).

It's hard to say what the color is. Looking in the carboy and comparing it to the chart, I am getting something like 9 on the chart I linked to yesterday. I don't think that's a valid comparison though, because I believe you're supposed to look at a sample of a particular depth against white light, and the turbidity of the liquid has an effect on what you see.

At any rate it's lighter today than yesterday so maybe there's hope for it to get closer to the 2-4 that the style standard calls for. Beer Smith predicted 4.1 based on the ingredient list. We'll just have to wait and see.

Hey Krausen! - Ohhhh, yeahhhh

The Honey-Brew List got going overnight, with a small but evident krausen when I left for work about 10 hours after putting it into the carboy. When I checked it after work it was in full bloom, as the witbier yeast had its way with all that 1.055 SG sugar goodness. I'm hoping there's enough headspace in the carboy to avoid needing the blowout tube because I'm not prepared to install it.

A serious note

My friend and coworker Greg Beresnikow suffered a tremendous loss over the weekend with the abrupt and unexpected passing of his mother. Greg, I doubt you are taking time to do any Internet browsing right now, but everyone at work is thinking about you in this trying time. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Batch 090502 - F&H Honey-Brew List

Today I brewed what I hope turns out to be a Belgian honey witbier. This brew was a little more complicated to plan because instead of a single step mash and single batch sparge, there's a mash-out step which required an additional quantity of water at a different temperature from the sparge water.

This is a thick mash, and some of the HBT online advice included the addition of a pound of rice hulls, which add little to the actual recipe from a sugar point of view but act as a "leavening" agent for the mash, to keep it from getting stuck in the sparge. I got the rice hulls when I ordered the grain, and I dutifully added a pound to the grain bill as I was weighing out. Here's a picture of the grain bill - it is larger in volume than the Geordie Ale because the rice hulls are not very dense.

I had my batch sheet printed out and was following along when it occurred to me that the rice hulls, while not adding any fermentables to the batch, would certainly soak up some of the water. By not allowing for that in the calculations I was going to end up short on water. That would be bad on two fronts: the water absorbed by the rice hulls wouldn't be available for the wort, which means I would be short on both volume and efficiency - my batch would be too small, and it wouldn't have enough sugars in it to hit the gravity I am looking for.

I ran back upstairs and entered the rice hulls into the BOM in Beer Smith and it calculated a new water size. Luckily I still had time to add the water before the mash started. The adjustments came in all three volumes - mash in, mash out, and sparge. Even after adjusting, though, I had to add additional water (at least a gallon!) to get the pre-boil volume up to what Beer Smith had predicted. Lesson learned for next time, I guess.

Here's a shot of the wort as I'm executing the 'vorlauf' - taking the initial runnings from the mash tun and returning them to the tun in order to settle the grain bed so that it is a better filter. The idea is that you continue to vorlauf until the wort is running clear of particulates. It's getting to that point in this picture, but I wanted to show off the nice light color I was seeing.

While I was heating the boil to, uh, boiling, I had to prepare the non-grain ingredients. A Belgian witbier requires coriander seed and bitter orange peel, and Biermuncher recommended that they be hydrated ahead of being added to the boil. Here's a picture of the bitter orange peel and coriander (after I crushed it with Amy's kitchen chopper) in a water infusion that I microwaved to just before it boiled.

The honey I'm using is from a batch we got from my brother-in-law Pete. It's local (well, local to Dahlonega, Georgia) honey harvested by his uncle Clem. I weighed out a pound of it from what we had left and added it to the boil with about 15 minutes left. The bitter orange peel and coriander went in with 5 minutes to go.

I had a bad boilover after the hops addition. I think I salvaged most of the hop material from where it stuck to the lid and the sides but if this batch doesn't have a lot of hop influence I'll know why.

And here's the finished wort, after I pitched the yeast and right before it went into the fermenter. It looks a little dark in this picture but I think that's a lighting issue with this one-lung camera I'm using. It's much closer to the 4.0 SRM color that Beer Smith predicted.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

It's in the keg

Tonight I put F&H Geordie Ale batch 090501 into the keg.

I have a couple of pictures but not as many as I would have liked, because I found myself about two hands short of being able to use the camera.

Here's the carboy after I pulled it out of the fermentation chamber.

Note the sediment at the bottom - this was evident less than 24 hours after I put the beer in secondary.

Using the same racking pump I'm transferring the beer into the keg. It was clean and sanitized beforehand.

And finally, the keg, connected to the CO2 tank in the kegerator-to-be. It's carbing at about 9.5 PSI.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Apparent Progress

The new temp controller and the secondary regulator were delivered today.


Actually that's good, because I needed the new temp controller for the Keg portion of the process. I now have two freezers for which I can independently control temperature. One can be a kegerator, and one can be the fermentation chamber.


The secondary regulator will allow me to force-carbonate one keg while maintaining another at serving pressure.


Thursday - going to Alabrew!

Monday, May 11, 2009


Just some random stuff for a Monday night:
  • I nabbed "" and forwarded it to the blog
  • I need to go to Alabrew this week to get a couple of essentials I neglected to order for the Honey-Brew List - bitter orange peel and some dry malt extract for the yeast starter I will need to make
  • Logo! The blog page now features the signage I'm negotiating with ALDOT for the Highway 119 exit. The image below is the template logo for labels and forms:

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Honey-Brew List

I had originally planned to follow the Geordie Ale with a batch of F&H Irish Dry Stout (a Guinness clone). Instead, I am going to lay down a Belgian witbier with a honey addition, hopefully similar to the Honey Moon seasonal variation of Blue Moon. I'm calling it F&H Honey-Brew List. Amy has endorsed the concept, as she likes the Honey Moon.

I'm basing this recipe on HBT recipe guru Biermuncher's Blue Balls Belgian Wit recipe but adding a pound of honey at the end of the boil cycle. That's a technique some other guys have used to introduce a honey flavor to other recipes like Honey Brown Ale. Some guys are also adding a half pound directly into the primary, but I'm not willing to risk the contamination to get the effect (yet).

The ingredients are ordered and I expect to start this batch toward the end of the week. It should be ready by the beginning of June.

"Rack 'em, b****"

You would think that on my own blog I wouldn't feel the need to self-censor. The phrase is one I heard many times in bars around Memphis State as I tried to make myself into a competent pool player. It was almost always directed at me, since the loser had to rack for the next game. I owe Rusty and DJ a debt of gratitude for convincing me I had no future in billiards.

Today I took batch 090501 (F&H Geordie Ale) out of primary fermentation into secondary fermentation, in a process called "racking." I measured the gravity and it was about where the recipe predicted it would be, so I decided to move to the next phase of the process.

Here's a shot of the settled yeast sediment at the bottom of the primary fermenter.

Racking is a siphoning activity. The idea is to transfer beer to another carboy and leave the spent yeast sediment in the original carboy. I have a siphon pump that I stuck into the carboy to get the flow going.

I tilted the carboy to create more depth on one side, so I could get more beer without sucking yeast off the bottom.

When the siphoning was done, I had a full carboy for secondary fermentation and a whopping big yeast cake left over. If I had planned ahead, I could have captured ("washed") that yeast and kept it for future batches, which would have saved me the $6.99 each yeast pack costs. It looks like I could have gotten 5 or 6 batches worth out of what was left over. Unfortunately, I wasn't ready to wash that yeast, so it's now seeking new life forms in the yard where I dumped it out.

The last thing I did was introduce some gelatin as a "fining" agent. It is supposed to clarify the beer by causing the remaining yeast and other stuff to fall out of suspension. We'll see. At any rate, here's the Geordie in secondary, where it will sit until Thursday or so. After this, the next stop is kegging!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The gravity of the situation

It's now five days into primary fermentation for batch 090501 and the krausen has settled. There's still bubbling in the airlock but it's slowing down, and I thought it would be a good time to take a sample and check the specific gravity. The beer mavens at HBT are adamant that watching the bubbles is not enough; the only way to tell whether fermentation has stopped is to measure the specific gravity and see if it continues to decline. (The more sugar is converted to alcohol by the yeast, the lower the gravity goes. Ergo, if the gravity flatlines, no more conversion is taking place and the yeasties have called it a day.)

The OG (the original specific gravity prior to fermentation) was measured as 1.042, which was right at where it was supposed to be based on the recipe expectations. Tonight, I measured the gravity again, and it came out as 1.0166 (actually I measured 1.016 but at 66 F, which when adjusted for temperature vs. the standard of 60 F, yields 1.0166). The target FG (final specific gravity) for northern English brown ales is in the range of 1.008-1.013, and BeerSmith is predicting that this batch will end up at 1.013, so we still have some distance to go.

The best part about this testing process is that you're not supposed to reintroduce the sample to the batch because of the contamination risk, so you have to drink it. (I guess you could pour it out, but that seems a waste.) The taste was quite good, very like a Newcastle to my taste buds, so it seems that this experiment may actually turn out well in spite of the brewer's lack of skills.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Advances in kegging

I found a 7 cu ft freezer on Craigslist for $75.00 and brought it home today. I think I can fit three kegs and the CO2 bottle inside it. I will have to measure to see if a collar is required, but the hinges are exterior mount so a collar is feasible. w00t!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

What temperature do I believe?

The delay in the onset of active fermentation made me question whether my fermenter was too cool. As I noted in previous posts the controller has a pretty wide temperature band to work with, and I worried for a while that it was too cool. Of course it started foaming yesterday so my worries were unfounded but I am still curious about the temperature.

For the purposes of studying this batch I put an additional digital thermometer (the same red one that you see stuck to the propane tank in one of the pictures below) into the chamber to measure ambient air temperature. In addition, my kit came with a stick-on "Fermometer" which has a mood-ring like ability to indicate temperature, so I applied it to the carboy as well. I also got a standard mercury thermometer in the kit, so what the hey, I tossed it in as well.

Here's what I found this morning:
  • The digital thermometer reads 73 F
  • The Fermometer reads 66 F
  • The mercury thermometer reads 66 F
  • The temperature probe reads 60 F
I expected the probe to be different because its temp changes are buffered by it being in a Mason jar full of water. The Fermometer is reading (I think) directly off the carboy, not ambient, but the mercury thermometer is reading ambient. (I discount the digital thermometer because I have decided it's too cheap to be accurate at low temperatures - it's designed for testing meat on the grill.)

Conclusion: I'm obsessing over this too much.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Fermenting away

I didn't have time to get a picture of this today but as I was leaving for work, I checked on my batch and there was a thick layer of krausen on the top and the airlock was bubbling vigorously. Depending on when that started, it would have been anywhere from 24 to 32 hours after I pitched the yeast. I think next batch, I'll make a starter to see if I can accelerate the process.

Update: here's a picture:

Sunday, May 3, 2009

090501 Photos part 2

Evidently you can only upload 5 pictures with a single post. Who knew?

The spent grains after the wort is drained from the tun.

The wort boil underway - I had just added the 60 minute hops infusion.

The boil is done (see how much it has reduced from the previous photo?) and the ugly chiller is working away.

The primary fermenter. This is about 12 hours after the yeast was pitched, and the temperature is about 64 F. Probably a little cool...

...but the airlock shows that something is going on in the carboy

090501 Photos

Here's the paperwork - every batch must have a batch record, although I'm pretty sure this one doesn't conform to GMP requirements.

The grain bill - this is about 9 1/3 pounds of grain altogether:
  • 6 lb 2 oz 2 row US pale malt
  • 1 lb flaked corn
  • 8 oz each of Cara-Pils Dextrine and 20 L, 60 L , and 80 L crystal malt
  • 4 oz chocolate malt

The mash tun with its field engineering modification - a copper wire to add shape and stiffness to the screen. Hopefully this will keep the screen from collapsing under the weight of the grain bed.

The mash is underway - I wrapped the tun in blankets to keep the heat in but I still lost 5F over an hour.

Wort after sparge and before boil.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Batch 090501 is in primary

I made a batch of F&H Geordie Ale today and it's now in the primary fermenter.

I have some pictures of the grain bill and some in-process shots that I will upload later.

I think I must have done OK - the OG I measured was 1.042, which is close to the predicted 1.043. I was a little concerned because when I went to mash out, the mash temperature was down around 150 F when it should have been up around 155 F. It was 155 F when I started the mash but the tun lost 5 F over the course of an hour even though I had it wrapped in blankets. The cooler I'm using must be lower grade than the ones that other folks are using with only 1 F drops over an hour.

Note: wort is really sticky.

I did not use the pre-cooler on the wort chilling process and it took a long time to exit the danger zone. I hope nothing got in while I was working on it!

Follow up to yesterday: the Airgas store in Pelham exchanged my cylinder for $17.50. They said they carried beer gas too, but not in small bottles. They can order it for me though, so when the time comes for F&H Irish I can get my nitrogen from them.

Friday, May 1, 2009

How cool is this?

I hope to brew my first batch on Saturday, May 2. Unbeknownst to me, the first Saturday in May is National Homebrew Day. Coincidence? I think not.

Today I'm off to get my CO2 cylinder filled at the Airgas store in Pelham. It's supposed to be a $19.95 tank exchange.