Monday, August 31, 2009

The road less traveled... not the road I have been on. It's late and I want to catch up on a few things, but first let me put in a plug for something that helped me as we drove back and forth to the coast for David's game this weekend: The Brewing Network and its podcasts. I highly recommend The Brewing Network both as entertainment and as a way of learning more about both the depth and variety of the craft of homebrewing and about the similarities among what appear to be vastly different brews.

One segment in particular I really liked was the one on Vienna-style lagers. This style is the one for which Dos Equis Amber and Negra Modelo are examples (at extreme ends of the scale). I got to wondering whether I could take the grain bill for a darker Viennese lager and ferment it with an ale yeast and get a Negra Modelo type ale that acts like a lager, much in the way that Biermuncher's Cream of Three Crops acts like a lager while really being a cream ale. I predict an experiment soon.

RIP 090601 Coldwater 420

After having been gone for two weeks, I got home from work today knowing my Geordie Boy was probably ready to keg and that I wasn't in the mood for any of the Honey-Brew List and its spice tones. I went to the trusty right-hand cobra tap where the Coldwater 420 has been patiently waiting for attention, and the first pint I drew was really exquisite. It had all the flavor that the beer had offered when it was originally tapped, but the hoppiness had mellowed to a very drinkable point. I looked eagerly to the next pint, but lo and behold halfway through drawing it - PFFT!SPLAT!PSST! - the !^%!@%^@$^! thing floated on me! Just my luck.

I will definitely brew this recipe again, but I think I'm going to run the local variant of Cream of Three Crops first, to make something more, shall we say, accessible for guests.

Kegged: 090801 Geordie Boy Ale

Did I really only brew once in August? Wow.

Anyway, I kegged it. It finished around 1.014 for an ABV of 3.9%, which is under the style guideline probably because the OG was a little low. We'll see how it tastes tomorrow.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


I was traveling all last week and didn't really accomplish anything. (For Fork and Hay, that is.) I didn't even go on much of a beer walkabout. However, I did sample (and enjoy) some Magic Hat #9 for the first time, and I stopped at Home Brewing Supplies in Lilburn, GA as I passed through on my way back home from North Carolina. I got what I considered to be a pretty good deal on a case of blue glass flip-top bottles.

When I got home I started to fill some of the bottles using the approach recommended in this HBT thread. It worked OK, but the drilled stopper I was using wasn't small enough to fit into the neck of the bottles. I wasn't able to get as secure a seal during the process as I think it really needs for long term storage. However, since I was just bottling some samples to carry to a party Saturday it worked OK, and when the bottles were opened the carbonation was fine.

In bottling, I floated the 090702 Geordie Boy Ale. In fact, I was only able to get a bottle and a half before it started spewing. I filled another bottle with 090502 Honey-Brew List. I obviously could have filled several from that nearly full keg but the purpose was sampling, not storage.

At the moment I'm in the Birmingham airport on my way back out of town. The 090801 Geordie Boy fermenting at home had hit about 1.019 when I tested it Friday afternoon, after only being in the fermenter since Sunday evening. I think it will be ready to go when I get home after next weekend.

The brewmistress and I had a lengthy discussion about the kegerator during our drive to and from David's game in Montgomery today. She thinks that the taps need to be upstairs, and I don't disagree. After discussing the pros and cons of various alternatives, including getting another fridge and making a built-in kegerator in the wet bar area off the living room, running beer lines up into the bar from downstairs, and moving the current box into the closet off the kitchen, we decided to simply put some casters on the existing box and move it upstairs. We're going to put it into the little alcove just in front of the door to the screened-in porch. That will be a project for a couple of weeks from now, because between business travel and soccer travel there won't be a lot of time to brew or build for the near future.

Monday, August 17, 2009

There might be something to this yeast washing thing

On my way out the door this morning I saw the beginnings of fermentation in the 090801 Geordie Boy Ale, which (I suppose) demonstrates the efficacy of the yeast I reused from the 090702 batch. I'm traveling, but I got a report from the brewmistress that there was a foamy krausen layer on top of the brew tonight. I guess I'll wash this cake as well. Need to get some more quart jars and a gallon jug.

Weekend worrier

This weekend we sat out in midday sun and watched David's first game, then packed up Tommy and put him in his dorm at UAB. It was an interesting exercise in sunburn, traffic management and stair climbing. I sure enjoyed having a keg to come home to after all that hot work.

090801 Geordie Boy

I laid down another batch of the grits recipe for northern brown ale on Sunday. I found I was out of chocolate malt (well, I had 1 oz and needed 4) but I compensated with a little extra roasted barley and some 80L crystal malt. I hope it works. The pre-boil volume was higher than planned but not dramatically so, coming in at 7 gallons, so the pre-hop boil-down wasn't too long. The gravity was right on target this time at 1.044. I pitched one of the two containers of washed yeast from 090702 into it, we'll see how it goes. It's in one of the new Better Bottle primaries.

Tapped: 090502 Honey-Brew List

This beer actually turned out all right. It still has a noticeable spice aftertaste but it is so far toned down from the original it's like an extra-strong Blue Moon. It's drinkable but I can see that this would be really good with a smaller coriander addition. I don't think it will ever be my favorite but it's a nice change of pace from brown ale for a pint or two.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Getting the wash done

Two things of significance yesterday:

First, I carbed and tapped 090702 Geordie Boy Ale, my first batch that used grits instead of flaked corn in the brown ale recipe, as well as the first batch with which I reused a yeast cake. This batch is smoother than the 090701 Geordie Ale with much less of the roasted barley overtone. I'd say that the grits and the yeast reuse are here to stay.

So, obviously I had a yeast cake left over after I kegged ol' Geordie Boy. I wasn't ready to start a new batch but I didn't want to waste the yeast, so I undertook to preserve it through a "washing" process. I followed the pictorial tutorial by Bernie Brewer at HBT, more or less. Not having the right number and size of Mason jars and the like, I did the best I could, and ended up with two 20 oz jars full of yeast solution, with most of the trub left behind to be dumped.

The obvious next question is, do I use this as is, or do I make a starter? I need to brew this weekend. If I'm going to use a starter, I need to make it tomorrow night.

Monday, August 10, 2009

And just like that, an opening appears

In the last post I was lamenting the lack of space for the 090502 Honey-Brew List in the kegerator...

RIP 090603 Half Wit

...then I went down and got a pint of Half Wit and it expired on me. This batch was definitely better the longer it sat in the keg. It had a watery tone to it that I now in retrospect attribute to an overabundance of water. (The blindingly obvious comes, just slowly.) It was the filling of this keg that clued me into the fact that my water volume control was lacking, particularly the part where the fill overflowed the keg.

I'm not sure I'll make this one again this year. My next lighter recipe will probably be a variation on Biermuncher's Cream of Three Crops. I need to get the materials ordered for this and get it going.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Long work weekend == batch beer update

I had some network reconfiguration to do at work this week and it carried into the weekend. Here's what happened in the meantime:

RIP 090701 Geordie Ale

I killed this batch sometime during the week but I don't remember exactly when. (That's not a commentary on my sobriety, it's more of an observation on how much external crap I was working on this week.) Luckily, my new production planning process led me to having a batch of brown ale ready to take its place, leading to the next note, namely...

Kegged: 090702 Geordie Boy Ale

I kegged this on Sunday. The FG on this batch was a temperature adjusted 1.011, which when combined with the high OG of 1.048, makes this come in at 4.82% ABV. This is the first of the brown ales that has come in at that low of an FG and I have to think it's because I pitched it onto the cake from the previous batch and had a ton of yeast available to convert all that sugar.

I wasn't ready to start another batch from this cake but I'm (hopefully) going to wash it tonight and save the yeast for the next batch.

Is there hope for 090502 Honey-Brew List?

While I was cleaning up this afternoon, on a whim I plucked the pressure relief on the 090502 Honey-Brew List I have stored in the fermentation chamber to see what was going on. Imagine my surprise when it outgassed rather strongly. What I think we have here is a cask-conditioning experiment going on. As you may recall I have not been terribly optimistic about this batch from the beginning, but maybe patience wins out. The aroma from the venting was quite mild, as if the extra spices have been mellowed or converted by the yeast as it's been carbonating the keg. All that stands in the way of tapping it is a spot in the kegerator...but maybe I should let it age some more...

Monday, August 3, 2009

A slow week

Last week was a little lazy down at Fork and Hay. Here's a quick update on what little actually went on:

090701 Geordie Ale

The Geordie Ale continues to be quality-assured. The roast taste is either tempering down daily or I'm getting used to it. Either way, I'm committed to it for another batch because I used the same grain in the 090702 Geordie Boy. I think next batch, I'll cut that in half and see what if any difference it makes.

Arduino controller repurposing

On the Arduino front: Chuck Toth (co-worker and proprietor of Triple Mutt Brewery) was kind enough to solder my temperature probes together for me. I just can't see that level of detail now without a giant magnifying glass or reading glasses, which I am too cheap and too vain to purchase respectively. In case I missed documenting it, these probes use the Dallas Semiconductor One-Wire DS18B20 digital thermometer IC in parasite mode, and Chuck wired them to a 1/8" phono plug cable so they can easily be attached and detached from the controller.

I have spent many hours working on the control program for this device, and I will be posting the code for reference (and comic relief) at some point. However, the full-featured version of what I wrote in all likelihood won't actually be put into production. Fork and Hay Brewing is going to enter into a partnership with my employer to produce some marketing material that shows off the impressive capabilities of GE Fanuc's Proficy Workflow in an interesting and entertaining manner. (At least we hope it will be interesting and entertaining.)

Proficy Workflow is capable of many things, including sequence control and event based activity management. As a result, I don't need those capabilities in the control program for the Arduino, so I'm shifting its focus to more of a PLC orientation, where it just handles the I/O for the temperature probes and the SSRs to control the fermenter and kegerator. That simplifies the code dramatically and will hopefully alleviate some of the issues I have seen with overrunning the stack and getting lost in interrupt handling.