Monday, July 27, 2009


I carbed and tapped the 090701 Geordie Ale tonight. The flavor is pretty good, but I can taste the influence of that roasted barley in the brew. I'm not sure it's totally what I want in this brew but we'll see how it matures. So far it hasn't stopped me from having a few pints.

This brings me to another issue, one having to do with the sophistication of my palate. (Or lack of same.) As I was tasting this batch and trying to put my finger on what was different in my perception of it versus the previous two batches, I found it hard to pinpoint the flavor I was trying to identify. Eventually I settled on the roasted barley because frankly there's an overtone of "burnt" to it that I recall from handling that barley yesterday.

It's not a bad taste, it's just there to experience and I don't recall it being there before. I think I am going to have to get some sort of training for identifying the flavors in the various brews I'm experiencing. I believe there are some hop-tasting kits out there, maybe something like that that also provides the "malty" and "roasted" tastes as well.

Geordie-Boy: Up with the sun

On my way out the door this morning, I checked on 090702 Geordie-Boy and the krausen was in full swing, so evidently pitching onto the 090701 yeast cake is working just fine.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

"Good night, Geordie-Boy"

Today was a day of experimentation in the brewing process.

Kegged: 090701 Geordie Ale

I tried something different with the 090701 batch of Geordie Ale. Both previous batches were 7 day primary/4 day secondary (or so) with a gelatin addition at secondary for clarification. This batch went into primary back on July 11, which means it has been a 15 day primary. I decided to take it straight to keg without fining, partly because the tap is empty but also because I want to see if the gelatin makes a difference to me.

The FG came in at 1.019. That is much higher than the recipe prediction, which is 1.013. The flavor of the sample was good though, and remembering that this batch started at 1.046 instead of 1.043 as planned, I think it will be fine. I wonder if not racking to secondary contributed to a stop in fermentation. It's in the keg cooling now, and I'll carb it tomorrow and see what we have.

Brewed: 090702 Geordie-Boy Ale

While we were in Gatlinburg last weekend, there was some discussion of the F&H recipe database and what innovations might be planned as the brewery matures. Amy made an offhand comment about using unusual ingredients as a way of making Fork and Hay a little different. Somehow, that line of conversation resulted in the idea of using grits in a brew. Yes, grits.

I did a little research (read: I Googled it) and found that the idea wasn't very far-fetched at all. Early American brewers used corn grits as a grain in their beer and evidently Yuengling still does. In most homebrew recipes, grits have been replaced by flaked corn, mostly for simplicity's sake: flaked corn is already gelatinized, meaning the starches have been made available for conversion, whereas grits require cooking before they are ready for use in a mash. Some brewers recommended that it would be possible to use instant grits (as they are also gelatinized), but as I was reminded repeatedly, no self-respecting Southerner uses instant grits (even if he is a "yute.") I figured that "quick grits" would be a reasonable compromise between authenticity and convenience, since they pass the "Amy test" of grit acceptability.

The original Geordie Ale recipe calls for 1 pound of flaked corn, so I created a variant of it and substituted 1 pound of quick grits. Something about this idea reminded me of The Waltons, so I named the variant "Geordie-Boy."

I weighed them dry and then added about 6 cups of water to hydrate them. I microwaved the mix for about 6 minutes to get everything going, then added the gelatinous goop to the mash tun before the remaining grain bill:

If this works out and I decide to do it again, I need to add considerably more water to the grits when preparing them. Even after adding them to the 170 F strike water, there were pretty sizable clumps (or maybe "clods" would describe them better) that I struggled to break apart. I got them mostly separated and added the remaining grain as usual. The mash lost about 2 degrees over the hour interval, so there was no unusual thermodynamic impact from the grit usage vis-a-vis flaked corn. In fact I have to believe it was a net positive, since the dry grain went in at ambient, about 78 F, while the goop went in at about 160 F.

Once again I tried to pay more attention to water volumes. I didn't adjust the volumes suggested by BeerSmith based on the experience from my last batch though, because I wanted to see if I got the same behavior. I did. Actually I started the boil with 7 gallons, a little more than the last batch, probably because of the volume of liquid introduced by the prepared grits. I boiled in a similar manner as before, waiting until I was down to the predicted pre-boil volume before starting the clock and adding the hops.

I repeated the wort cooling experiment from the previous batch as well, with even better results. This time I went from flame-out to under 80 F in only 9 minutes. I think the difference was that I agitated the wort with the immersion chiller pretty well constantly, which served to put more wort in contact with the heat exchanger during any interval, while also aerating the wort somewhat. (I really got after it - swirling clockwise then counterclockwise, bouncing the IC up and down, etc.)

Once the wort was around the same temperature as the hose water (78 F) I dumped about a pound of ice into the large pot in which the boil pot was floating. This rapidly took the wort down to below 72 F and made it suitable for pitching. I didn't time it but it wasn't more than about 5 minutes to get there.

The other experiment for 090702 was that instead of using a new yeast smack pack, I pitched directly onto the yeast cake I had remaining from 090701. In fact, I poured the wort directly into the same carboy without washing the yeast or anything. There are conflicting opinions on the best way to reuse yeast, and the method I used is recommended if you're going to make the same recipe again or a darker beer. It's supposed to result in quicker and more vigorous fermentation so I will be keeping a close eye on things this evening.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

To Wit, or Rock Bottom Part Deux

Tonight's sponsored dinner was held at the same Rock Bottom location I ate at on Sunday. My choice of entree was made before I even set foot inside - a cheeseburger (albeit with guacamole and pico de gallo). I spent a little more time studying the beer menu and eventually selected the "nitwit" (sic), which proclaimed itself to be a witbier with lemongrass and other overtones, but no coriander.

Wow, was that good!

The witbier base was just obvious enough to make its presence known, while the additives provided some subtle flavors without being overpowering in the least. I wish I could take some of this back home and try to duplicate it using the Half Wit recipe as a starting point.

Monday, July 20, 2009

I confess...

...I like Samuel Adams Summer Ale. For the most part I haven't cared about Sam Adams all that much. I remember being really excited to get one in a hotel in DC - and it was served to me right about the time Bill Buckner let that grounder go through his legs in 1986. I haven't willingly purchased a Sam Adams product since then.

However, I have now had the opportunity to sample the Summer Ale seasonal offering twice. My conclusion is that it's pretty good - which means to the craft beer aficionado it must really suck, because it doesn't have 10 kg of hops per ounce or whatever the appropriate Dogfish Head unit of measure is. It's smooth and it has a good flavor, and that's all I ask.

Dinner tonight was a group affair sponsored by our host. We ate at Buca di Beppo, which is pretty good eatin' for a chain, and that's saying a lot because I'm not a big fan of Italian in general. I'm sure that there are lots of Italian restaurants here that are more authentic, but Buca di Beppo had two overriding advantages today: 1) it was close to the hotel and 2) I didn't have to pay.


I'm traveling this week in the Chicago area. What beer adventures may await?

090701 Geordie Ale - fermenting away

I checked on the Geordie batch before I left and it looked like the most active fermentation phase was over. Most of the krausen had fallen back into solution and there was a ring of stuff on the side of the carboy. I gave it a swirl.

Rock Bottom Brewery and Restaurant

I had supper last night at Rock Bottom Brewery and Restaurant. They are a nationwide chain of brewpubs, and they offered a pretty decent list of craft beers produced on premises. I chose the Argus, a brown India Pale Ale (if I recall correctly). It was stronger (at 8.9% ABV) than what I'm accustomed to and was a little hoppy for my normal taste, but it had a good, complex flavor and on the whole I liked it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

RIP 5 Gallon Glass Carboy ("Secondary")

The peace and tranquility of the F&H brewhouse was shattered last night by the untimely demise of Secondary Carboy in a tragic workplace accident.

Secondary, who had been with Fork and Hay since its inception, suffered multiple fractures in a fall to the floor during a facility reconfiguration and was pronounced dead at the scene. Witnesses reported that just prior to Secondary's death, the work table on which he had been leaning was moved (for purposes as yet unexplained). Secondary subsequently lost his balance and toppled off his stand to the concrete below.

"Secondary was a major contributor to Fork and Hay's success," according to brewmaster Mike DePriest. "He worked on all but one of our batches since we started up, and we were counting on him for a lot of upcoming work. It's all so senseless. I'm still not sure why the facility move was going on, but those decisions are made at a level above my pay grade. I'm sure that nobody expected such a horrible accident, of course, but I can't help but think it could all have been avoided by better communication and planning."

Secondary is survived by his brother, Primary Carboy, also employed by Fork and Hay Brewing.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

On Corny Posts

The title of this entry is is not an editorial reference to my inveterate use of the pun as a literary device. For that I am unapologetic. It is, rather, a lead-in to a discussion of the gas and liquid connections on the Cornelius ("corny") style soda kegs I'm using with my beer.

One of the things I have noticed about these corny kegs is that they do not have matched sets of posts. The posts all appear to be threaded the same, in that they screw onto the kegs uniformly. They don't share the same size nut on the outside, though, and I learned last night that they don't all use the same poppet valve on the inside.

This entry at the Homebrew Digest website has an illustrated parts breakdown and photos of the relevant post and poppet valve designs. It appears that I have both Type A and Type B posts and poppets.

The poppets are not interchangeable between Type A and Type B, and somewhere along the line I have ended up with a mismatch. I found this out when I got an OxyClean shower from the gas in post from keg I was trying to clean. I pressurized it OK, but as I removed the gas line it spewed like Old Faithful.

Looks like I'll be ordering poppets of all types next time around. Oh, the tare weight of a keg is 8.8 pounds, the 090701 Geordie Ale is krausening now, and the 090603 Half Wit is about gone.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

090701 Geordie Ale

This was an interesting brew.

Up until now, every brew I have done has been in the afternoon (and into the evening). Today, because we were going to the lake house in the afternoon, I started the batch before 0800. It sort of puts a damper on that whole "relax, don't worry, have a homebrew" thing when you're out there eating breakfast during the boil.

As I mentioned earlier, my goal this time was to keep a close eye on water volumes, and I did. In fact, I learned a lot about the water in my process during this batch. First and foremost, my calibrated spoon was useless. I measured all the water today with an old fashioned dipstick - my tape measure - and geometry. This allowed me to hit the mash and sparge water volumes dead on. I also learned that my mash tun is right at the edge of being big enough for a 9.3# grain bill. I think I am going to switch to the bigger cooler for the next batch.

I was actually 2 F over the mash temperature target. Interestingly the batch kept that 156 F temperature the whole time, without loss. That may have been because I put the water in at about 171 and let it condition the tun to the right temperature, then added the grain. Or it may have been because the brewing gods are screwing with me from batch to batch.

For this batch, I included the Roasted Barley that was called for in Biermuncher's recipe. I had omitted it in previous batches because the amount needed is less than 1 oz. However, I have noticed that there's a little bit, say, lacking in the mouthfeel for this recipe, and I thought I would give the roasted barley a shot to see if it made a difference.

Based on the BeerSmith instructions I sparged 4.86 gallons (or as close as I could get to that) with the intention of hitting a pre-boil volume of 6.41 gallons. After the sparging though I measured a volume of 6.91 gallons, or about half a gallon more than planned. Admittedly, I wrung every last drop out of the mash tun, but a half gallon overage? Somebody miscalculated the amount of water the grain would retain, I think, and it wasn't me.

Since I started with an extra half gallon, I decided to boil it off before I added the hops at the "60 minute" mark. I chose to add them at the point where I measured 6.41 gallons on the ol' Stanley tape measure (and the OpenOffice spreadsheet that does the conversions), because that's the volume that BeerSmith said I was supposed to hit. I was getting in the neighborhood of 1/2 gallon of boil-off every 25 minutes and that guided the end game for the boil.

The biggest news from this batch is the new cooling technique I employed. In every previous batch I ran the immersion chiller exhaust directly into the pool so as not to waste the water. With this batch, I was inspired by this HBT post to try something different. I didn't go all the way to the pool with the wort, but I created a little 'mini-pool' using my large 15" diameter pot.

Once the exhaust water temperature dropped to a reasonable level (which only took about 3 minutes), I put the exhaust hose from the IC into the 15" pot and started collecting the runoff. I then placed the wort pot, a 14" diameter vessel, inside the 15" pot so that the cooling water did double duty. It collected some heat from the wort as it passed through the IC coil and then, as it flooded up and out of the 15" pot, it cooled the exterior of the wort pot.

This technique made a dramatic difference in cooling time. In previous batches I was seeing 26 minutes or so between flameout and the wort getting below 80 F. This batch flamed out at 11:57 and the wort was at 80 F at 12:10, a reduction of 13 minutes over the time I saw with 090501. What's all the more remarkable is that the inlet temperature of the water is about 10 F higher in July than it was in May, so this technique is getting a lot more thermal performance with a lower overall delta-T.

I stopped the cooler at 78 F. I was in a rush at the end of the batch (Amy was ready to go to the lake) and didn't have time to cool the wort any lower, so I put it into the primary carboy and stuck it in the fermentation box without pitching the yeast. I left it there overnight. When I get home this afternoon, it should be down in the high 60's and I'll pitch the yeast.

Unlucky at cards

...lucky in beer?

Last night's debut of the F&H hospitality suite as a poker venue was a critical success, if not a financial one. Aside from the tragic unavailability of Geordie Ale due to pipelining issues, a good time was had by all. I for one lost my shirt by starting out with an ill-advised high dollar first hand, but Tommy (who was filling in for Greg thanks to Northwest Airlines) managed to squeeze out a little profit.

The big winner on the night was the 090601 Coldwater 420, which was the hit of the engagement. (I was drinking the Half Wit, which both described and explained my performance in the game.) The Half Wit has mellowed a little in the week since kegging and it's much smoother than it was over the Fourth.

There are a couple of lessons to be learned from all this. First, as the wise man once said, if you can't figure out who the sucker is at the poker table, it's you. Second, and perhaps of more relevance to the subject of this blog, the beer gets better with time. I have to recognize that while the purpose of Fork and Hay is to provide something to drink, it needs to be something worth drinking, and if that means I need to leave it to age another week or two before tapping I need to plan that into the schedule and build up a buffer of WIP inventory to suit. It could mean that I need to move on up to ten gallon batches for some formulations.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

RIP 090602 Geordie Ale

The worst sound in the world is the sound of CO2 ejecting foam from the tap instead of beer.

Looking to another brew day this weekend to replenish the Geordie pipeline. Now that I have two batches of this recipe under my belt, I think I will be better able to judge the results of managing the process more closely. The keyword this time is volume - I'm going to take special care to hit the volume targets for sparge and boil, and to keep the boil up until I am measurably near the 5 gallon mark. I want to see if there's a perceptible difference in the resulting gravity or beer quality.

Looking at the calendar, if I get this one brewed Saturday (the 11th), it will likely be in primary a long time due to upcoming travel. It could conceivably be in primary until the 25th. If so, I will probably keg it at that time without going to secondary. Depending on how tired I am when I get back on the 24th I might do some gelatin fining that night, but I'm not sure that it was required even with the last batch, which was pretty clear already when I moved it to the secondary.

On one hand, this violates the "only change one thing at a time" principle, but on the other hand, I should have been watching the water volume close already, so it's not like that in itself is a process change. The real change will be the 14 day primary only ferment and the omission of the gelatin. I have come to appreciate the one step force carb approach and the way it shaves a week off the schedule.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

NFHR: Next year, one for the thumb

Amy won the Indian Springs Village dessert contest again today, for her fourth consecutive victory. She retired the Key Lime Torte this year in favor of a new cake, a piƱa colada flavored cake she dubbed the "Lotta Colada." She really expected Scotty to win with his Banana Pudding Cake (which I agree was really good, and which was in fact the first dessert eradicated by the good citizens of ISV), but somehow she was selected first place once again. My speculation is that she has attained "Robert Trent Jones" status, in that when her name goes on something it's an automatic contender regardless of quality. (No slight intended to Robert Trent Jones, of course.)

Friday, July 3, 2009

Kegerator, Revision 0

Yesterday I turned the ad-hoc arrangement in the keg chiller into the first step toward a real kegerator by installing the collar I have been building this week.

People build "collars" to extend the interior depth of a chest freezer and to provide a convenient place to mount taps and other hardware without drilling holes in the freezer body or lid. There are lots of examples of kegerator collar projects available. I drew inspiration from many of them, but I won't note any by name because I don't want to tarnish their reputations by associating them with this hack job.

The collar is made of 2x6's which I miter-cut at the corners. Needless to say I did this poorly, but I was mostly able to fill the resulting gaps with wood putty so it's less obvious. I used screws and glue at the corners and also installed some corner braces on the inside, so it's pretty rigid structurally. I painted it with two coats of Kilz primer (I like white, you know) and I applied some foam weatherstripping to the bottom to insulate the connection between the wood and the freezer.

I removed the lid from the freezer body and attached it to the collar. I removed the hinges from both the lid and the body, but I realized afterward that there was no reason to disconnect them from the lid, since they go right back on in the same place. Nota bene: one of those hinges has a spring. You should put a nail in the holes on either side of the joint to keep the spring from violently retracting when you undo the mounting screws. It hurts. Also, it's a bit of a challenge to get the hinge straightened out again to remount it.

I was concerned about how to attach the collar to the freezer body. As it turned out, I needn't have been. The thing weighs a lot and the friction it applies through the foam weatherstripping is more than enough to hold it in place, even when the lid springs open.

I drilled a hole in the back for the gas line to the primary regulator and the CO2 tank. I lacked the appropriately sized spade bit, of course, so I used the closest one I had and then iteratively widened the hole diameter with my Dremel until it was just big enough for the hose to get through. At least I don't have to worry about insulating it.

In the interior I mounted a cleat and attached to it the secondary regulator of recent blog notoriety. Note the unusual orientation of the Y adapter. This was what I was trying to avoid when I built the jinky manifold (also of recent blog notoriety). Oh well, this rig holds pressure and lets me have two kegs on one pressure and another on a different pressure if needed.

Having the regulator mounted cleaned up the interior a lot, but the serving equipment was still an issue. I plan to put in real Perlick beverage taps on the front of the collar eventually, but for now I'm stuck with the picnic taps. To get them up out of the mess, I just tacked some brackets to the front of the collar, only on one side, and used them as low-tech hangars for the taps.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

090603 Half Wit - Kegged

I neglected to mention that I kegged the Half Wit batch last night after 14 days in primary only. The FG measured was a temperature-adjusted 1.011, which means that the ABV will be about 4.3%. I really need to get control over the water volume issue. I actually overflowed the keg while filling it because I had more beer than I anticipated, and I can't help but wonder if the low OG versus the prediction was due to over-sparging, leading to having too much wort even after the boil. Oh well, it still tasted pretty good so I'll try the force carbing process this evening.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Force at home

Yuri_Rage's force carbing technique worked like a charm on the 090602 Geordie Ale. I gassed it at 30 PSI, shook it for a couple of minutes, bled it and tasted it. It was flat, so I did it again. Second test was good, so I reduced the pressure to serving level and enjoyed a pint!

So far, so good

Looks like all the seals are intact. I need to remember my mantra ("buy don't build" - nothing related to Faxanadu). I'm going to order a manifold from MicroMatic or somewhere.