Monday, March 18, 2013

Brew day: Altostratus Franconian Dunkel and High Pressure Honey Bock

Okay, finally catching up on my brew days... When I last took chisel to stone tablet, I was writing about my partigyle brew day where I ended up with three stouts. Before that, I had done a split batch where I steeped grains in the one kettle to yield both a light beer and a dark beer out of the same mash. While the brew day is now over two months old (Jan. 13th is when we brewed), today I'm going to look at a third approach for getting multiple beers out of one brew day: what I call quasigyle.

So, partigyle is where you collect the first and second runnings into two kettles, giving yourself a big beer (in my case an imperial stout) and a small beer (an oatmeal stout). Here I was thinking of getting both a Dunkel and a Bock out of a single mash, but the difference in gravity isn't as great as a partigyle. So my thought was to do what I've decided to call a quasigyle: collect the first gallon separately, then collect the rest as normal. Then once you have the gravity measured for both, you can decide how to split them up so that you hit your desired gravities. In my case, my initial recipe had a predicted gravity of 1056 and I was planning on a Dunkel around 1052 and a Bock around 1061. I was also planning on adding a pound and a half of honey to the secondary to bump it up to 1069.

So how did it work out? Pretty well, overall. I did a double decoction, and... okay, so not everything went well. I figured out at the end of the day that my probe thermometer may have been off by as much as ten degrees, so to be honest I'm not sure what temperatures my decoction was at at any given time, but the idea was to mash in at 131°F, decoct to 158°F (allowing the decoction to rest at 148°F) and then decoct again to 168°F for mash-out. Who knows what really happened.

That being said, my quasigyle idea seemed to be a winner. My first gallon was at 1080. Due to poor record-keeping combined with my inability to get the right amount into each kettle, I'm not sure exactly how much wort I ended up with in each kettle. What I do know is that I collected roughly 11 gallons of wort overall, and the kettle that started with five gallons of the wort plus the gallon of first runnings (my honey Bock kettle) had a mixed pre-boil gravity of 1060. Doing some back-of-the-envelope calculations, I would estimate that my other kettle (the Dunkel)--and thus my total runnings after the first gallon, was at 1056 pre-boil. Since I was a little low on my volume for the Dunkel for some reason, I actually diluted with more water during the boil to keep it right around 1056. The Bock ended up at 1064. I chilled to around 60°F, let it chill further overnight, and aerated and pitched the next morning around 45°F. I let it rise to around 52°F.

I added the honey to the Bock after primary fermentation was done. The Bock is still lagering; the Dunkel is on tap. Unfortunately, I'm thinking that the thermometer malfunction messed up my mash and the Dunkel ended up somewhat underattenuated (final gravity around 1020), though the aggressive hopping plus the higher-than-expected starting gravity actually made it turn out like a pretty decent Bockbier. I hope to keg the Honey Bock soon.

So there you have it... my quasigyle method. I'm actually thinking of employing it again sometime in the next month when I want to brew both a Maibock and a Helles from a single mash, with 20% rye for kicks. Hopefully that works out just as well--though with new, functioning thermometers.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Brew day: Stout-A-Palooza

Having the capacity to brew ten gallons (as opposed to the standard 5-gallon batch) is great. The additional time and resources it takes to brew ten gallons instead of five is minimal, so for an extra hour and twenty dollars (rough estimate) you can end up with an extra keg of beer. The one problem is that, unless I'm brewing for a party or really like a beer, I'd prefer two different styles of beer out of a brew day. I have two kettles and two burners, and the ability to split the wort into two kettles naturally gives me a lot of variables to change between the two beers. 
My first experiment with split batches is what I'll dub the split-and-steep method. Back in the spring, I brewed ten gallons of light mild ale wort and then split the wort into two kettles. The one kettle I finished like normal but in the second keg I steeped some chocolate and Carafa malts for about a twenty minutes to make a dark mild ale.  The results were overall positive, though I suspect I might need to up the amount of steeped malts as compared to what I would normally use when added to the mash.

Two Saturdays ago, I decided to experiment with a more traditional method of split-batches: parti-gyle brewing. I'm no expert, so feel free to correct me in the comments if I get a detail wrong, but my understanding is that this was fairly common in the English brewing tradition, and was also practiced by Trappist brewers. The idea is pretty simple: when you first start collecting wort, it's more concentrated than at the end. So if you collect the first half of your wort (or first third, depending on how high-gravity you want your first beer to be) into a different kettle than the rest, you're left with a strong beer and a small beer. A handful of commercial brewers still practice this: Anchor brews its Small Beer from the second runnings of its Old Foghorn Barleywine, and here in Chicago, Revolution has brewed a parti-gyle version of their Eugene porter, calling the strong beer Hugene and the small beer Weegene. You can also add more specialty grains to the mash when you're done collecting the first runnings to change the character somewhat.
(On a side note, last Sunday I tried a third method that I'll call quasi-gyle; I hope to post about that soon.)
My inspiration for this parti-gyle brew day was an imperial stout competition put on by Goose Island. I've been meaning to brew another batch of my None More Buzzed coffee stout, and when I read about the impy stout competition I figured I could kill two birds with one stone. Eventually I decided to pass on the competition but the idea lingered. I've also been toying with the idea of brewing a mole stout, so I realized I could blend some of the strong beer with some of the small beer to get a third batch of beer. So that's what I did.

The Siberian weather will make the Russian imperial stout taste extra-authentic.
Yup, this is brewing in January in Chicago.

The plan was fairly straightforward: simple infusion mash at 148°F; recipe predicted an original gravity of 1069, and this calculator predicted original gravities of 1092 and 1046, respectively, for each gyle. I only ran into one issue: I suspected at some point that my digital probe thermometer was off. By the time I found an analog one, I discovered that my mash had been sitting at around 130°F for 45 minutes. D'oh! I immediately transferred the mash to a kettle and direct-heat raised it to 150°F. (The next week I discovered that the analog thermometer may have been slightly off as well, so God only knows what I actually mashed in at.) I then let it rest for about 45 minutes before recirculating and sparging, collecting roughly 5.5 gallons of each figuring on 4.5 gallons post-boil.

Don't know if the long unintentional protein rest had anything to do with it, but I ended up with really good efficiency. I ended up with 4.25 gallons of imperial stout at 1100 and 5.75 gallons of oatmeal stout at 1056 (not sure how I ended up with the volume differential; I thought I collected the same amount in each kettle). I diluted the impy stout with a half gallon of bottled water to drop it to 1089 (since I was shooting for 1092) and pitched one packet of Nottingham dry yeast in the regular stout and two packets in the impy stout.

The fermentation took off like gangbusters. In fact, as you can see on the right, it made one hell of a mess; I estimate I lost a whole half gallon from the impy stout due to blow-off. Leah racked the impy stout to another carboy and the oatmeal stout to a keg last Sunday. I just checked last Wednesday and after ten days the impy stout was down to 1024 and the regular oatmeal stout was down to 1015. 

Next up I'm going to collect one gallon of the impy stout and two gallons of the oatmeal stout into a keg which will become my Buenas Tardes Amigo mole stout. For that beer, I'm planning on steeping some vanilla beans, cacao nibs, cinnamon sticks and ancho and guajillo in tequila based on the ratios in this Mad Fermentationist post and adding that to the keg to taste. Next, I'll cold-steep whole coffee beans in the rest of the oatmeal stout to make my None More Buzzed coffee stout. Finally, I'm going to soak some vanilla beans in bourbon and add that to the impy stout, which I'm going to bottle condition, to make my Eби Путина vanilla Russian imperial stout (note on the name: according to my friend Shannon--or more specifically, her friend who's fluent in Russian--it's pronounced "Yebi Pootina" (first word-accent on "i", second word-accent on "oo")).

So yeah, I figure I'll get roughly three gallons of coffee stout, three gallons of mole stout and three gallons of vanilla imperial stout out of one brew day. Not bad, eh?

UPDATE (1/20): I currently have two concoctions steeping to add to the mole stout. One is a whole guajillo pepper and half of an ancho pepper (mostly de-seeded) steeping in three ounces of Lunazul reposado tequila. The second is 2 oz. of cacao nibs, two (old, somewhat dried out) vanilla beans and one and a half cinnamon sticks steeping in three ounces of the same tequila.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A rolling loaf gathers no Kvass*

*My apologies for the title. That might be my most tortured one yet.

So I have a few brewing updates that I need to get around to posting, but in the meantime I figured I'd post about something a little different... Kvass. What exactly is kvass? Well, Wikipedia describes it as follows: "Kvass is made by the natural fermentation of bread, such as wheat, rye, or barley, and sometimes flavoured using fruit, berries, raisins, or birch sap collected in the early spring." It's native to many parts of Eastern Europe and Russia, and while it's not really beer, it's close enough that a handful of U.S. breweries have dabbled in the style.

R.I.P. Passtimes (19??-2012)

I had vaguely heard of kvass, but the few times I came across the beverage my interest wasn't exactly piqued... that is, until I heard my friend Jenny mention she was making kvass for Christmas. Since I was working on my Christmas Gose at the time, I offered to trade her my Gose for some kvass and she gladly accepted. I don't know much about the process of making it except that it has a very short fermentation time, but after meeting Jenny and some other troublemakers at Hopleaf to swap bottles, I figured I would post some tasting notes here.

The first kvass (pictured above) was an orange and fig kvass. As you can see it pours cloudy like a turbid Hefeweizen. The nose was sweet like honey, but also with a an almost-harsh yeasty bite that I often get from homebrews which were under-pitched. I found the taste upon my first sip surprising: it was light and refreshing, similar to a fruit-flavored soda. It was not as sweet as a typical soft drink, but it also lacked the acidic bite, so it felt just as flavorful without being syrupy or overpowering. As for the flavor, I got a hint of bready sweetness, with a touch of rye spiciness, but the dominant flavor was sweet honey. There wasn't any tartness from the orange, so the soft, floral citrus notes of the orange melded with the brown sugar-like flavor of fig to taste like honey. The finish was well-balanced between tart and sweet and I did notice a rye flavor lingering in my mouth afterward. Overall it was very refreshing and something that definitely would make a nice alternative to a soft drink.

The second kvass was flavored with cranberry and sage. It was slightly more clear than the first kvass. Again, the nose reminded me of an under-pitched homebrew, though I didn't get the sweetness of the first kvass. The flavor was overall fairly similar though the honey flavor is much more subdued. It seems that the tartness of the cranberry doesn't come through the way the sweetness of the orange and fig did, though it's not necessarily a bad thing. Also, I didn't notice the sage up front, but together with the rye bread it gives a more pronounced herbal rye finish to the kvass.

I've definitely glad Leah and I got a chance to try these (thanks again, Jenny!). Overall, I found the kvass to be a very refreshing drink that could easily take the place of the overly-sweet soft drinks that are ubiquitous here in the States. Lately it seems that ethnic fermented beverages are starting to pop up more and more around Chicago (tepache and  kombucha come to mind) yet I've never had a chance to actually try any until now. And I have to say that kvass has definitely got me curious to try more of these concoctions. Though I should add one disclaimer: never try Hansa Malzbier. It's vile.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Brew day: Cloud-to-Cloud Dunkelweizen and Cousin Larry's "Wheat" Dark Wheat Ale

They say necessity is the mother of invention, and right now I need two things: beer to drink (preferably a darker style) and beer to potentially blend with our Christmas Gose which is both more sour than anticipated and somewhat underattenuated (likely due to the low pH being less than ideal for yeast). We realized we could kill two birds with one stone by brewing a Dunkelweizen. However, I don't want my Christmas Gose to have a strong Weizen taste (i.e. overwhelming banana and/or clove flavors) so I didn't want to use a Hefeweizen yeast for all ten gallons. In the meantime, I recently picked up some WLP 002 English Ale yeast so I figured if I used that for the five gallons to blend with the Gose I should get a fairly clean (though somewhat fruity) beer while at the same time making a starter for my next planned beer (a stout). Whatever I have left after blending I might dry hop with some British hops to create sort of a Weizenbock/mild ale hybrid. And thus Cousin Larry's "Wheat" was born (extra credit to those of you who get the reference, and I don't just mean the fact that Cousin Larry was a character in "Perfect Strangers").

A quick note on the recipe... I started out with a 60-40 wheat-to-Munich-malt ratio. Then I took a bit of a "clean out the cupboard" approach to the specialty malts, going with equal parts Caramunich III and pale chocolate malt because I had them on hand, and a touch of chocolate wheat malt. I also have been having issues with high final gravities lately and thus decided to go with a relatively low (by German standards) saccharification rest of 147°F to see if it would still taste malty but leave a drier finish.

Now on to the brew day... With time being a bit of an issue, I decided to skip my usual decoction schedule and instead go with a 15-minute ferulic acid rest at 108°F, the 147°F sacc rest for 40 minutes, and a mash-out at 165, using a combination of infusions and direct heat to reach each level. I boiled for 75 minutes with only one hop addition at the beginning of the boil. I was able to quickly chill the wort to around 62°F and pitched the English ale yeast into the 6.5-gallon carboy and my 850-mL starter of  WLP Hefeweizen IV yeast into the two 3-gallon carboys. (I should add that I forgot my O2 canister was empty so I had to oxygenate through the old-fashioned shake method.) My original gravity came in at 1052.

On a side note, the last time I checked my Gose it was still over 1030, though as sour as it is the sweetness actually helped to keep it balanced. Stay tuned to learn the results of my blending experiment.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Novemberfest 2012 Line-Up

We're now just under a week away from Novemberfest 2012. If you're like me, you'll be ready to celebrate the end of another dystopian presidential election cycle with a stiff drink. With that in mind, we've decided to feature two different Bocks (strong, malty German beers) as well as one lighter option for those of you who have to drive home. Here are the options you'll have to choose from (in addition to whatever surprises friends might show up with):

Hail Shaft Pilsener (4.7% ABV; 38 IBU's): Our lightest and hoppiest offering,  this Pilsener is brewed in the Franconian tradition, which means that its noble hop backbone is balanced by a subtle maltiness (more similar to a Czech-style Pilsner or Dortmunder Export, as opposed to the dry Pilseners of northern Germany). It's an easy drinker to be sure, but that doesn't mean it's a boring beer by any means.

Novemberfest Bockbier (6.3% ABV; 27 IBU's): November is Bock season in Bamberg, so just as the Bavarians have their Bock-strength Festbier for Oktoberfest, we figured we'd do the same for Novemberfest. Our Bock has the maltiness of an Oktoberfest with a touch of Schwarzbier-like roastiness. But don't let the dark color scare you... this beer's nothing like Guinness.

Cloud-to-Ground Weizenbock (7.5% ABV; 24 IBU's): We first brewed our Weizenbock for our inaugural Novemberfest back in 2005, and it was a big hit with those who could still remember drinking it the next morning. This one is a rich and complex beer... the malt gives chocolate, brown sugar and raisin notes while the yeast provides banana and clove. You can think of it as your dessert beer.

Orange Blossom Special Orange Cream Soda (0.0% ABV; 0 IBU's): For those of you who are designated drivers, pregnant, or otherwise not drinking, we'll also have our all-natural orange cream soda on tap. And if you want to booze it up a bit, you can always add a little bourbon or vanilla vodka to give it a kick.

So there you have it... Can't wait to see everybody Saturday!

Friday, November 02, 2012

Brew day: Cloud-to-Ground Weizenbock and Thunder Snow Weihnachtsgose

Gather around, my son, and I shall tell you a tale...

Okay, so it's not THAT much of a tale, but it's certainly a bit of a deviation from my usual German-style brewing which, despite long brew days with step mashes and decoctions, is fairly routine (this time there's a reason I waited over three weeks to blog about a brew day that actually took place on Oct. 13th). Our Novemberfest party is coming up in a couple weeks, and in addition to our Pilsener and Novemberfest Bock (more on that in my next blog post), I decided to go with a Weizenbock for our third offering.

Meanwhile, a few weeks ago I came across this article in Imbibe Magazine about Leipziger Gose (a style I brew and blog about regularly, if you're new to these parts). The article mentions that Cascade Brewing in Portland actually brews seasonal Goses. Now the last time I brewed a Gose I did a split-batch where I made five gallons of Gose and five gallons of Hefeweizen from the same runnings, so it suddenly occurred to me: I could do a split-batch with my Weizenbock grain bill and make five gallons of strong, dark Gose that I could spice with Christmas spices to make a Christmas beer! (And for the record, dark Gose is not without precedent... The only Gose brewer still producing Gose in its hometown of Goslar makes a dark Gose which I blogged about here).

So, I had everything all planned out. The only trick was that, when I make my Gose, I inoculate it with wort with lactobacillus for a period of time before boiling, adding the hops and pitching. I've found between three and four days to be the sweet spot for getting the sourness I prefer out of a Gose (you want a sharp tang that is cut by the mineral quality of the salt addition, but you don't want it so sour that it's not drinkable). However, I've always brewed by Gose at around 1050. Would it sour at the same rate if it were at 1080 instead of 1050? Would it take longer in the same way that it takes yeast longer to ferment a stronger beer? And would the added gravity mean that I would need more acidity to get the same perceived sourness, in the same way that a higher-gravity beer needs more IBU's to have the same perceived bitterness?

Well, I was going to be mashing on Sunday, and Wednesday was the only day where I could come straight from work and do the boil, so it was going to inoculate for three days. If it wasn't sour enough, then so be it.

For the brew day I decided on a single decoction similar to what I used for our Step Leader Hefeweizen.  I mashed in at 122°F and pulled an 18-qt. decoction which rested for 15 minutes at 160°F before boiling for a half hour. I returned it to the mash to raise it to 152°F.  After a fifteen minute rest, I raised the mash using direct heat up to 159°F for another fifteen-minute rest. I then raised it up to 170°F for the mash-out. After a sparge of roughly an hour and a half I collected 11.5 gallons at 1065. Due to the size of my mash tun, I was planning on adding 5 lbs. of wheat malt extract to the boil, and 1065 was a bit over my pre-boil gravity estimate but under the amount of volume I wanted to collect, so I added a gallon of water to the boil.

I added five pounds of wheat malt and brought the wort to a fifteen-minute boil, I collected roughly six gallons, chilling to around 100°F with my plate chiller. The remaining six or so gallons were boiled for another hour with a single hop addition at 60 minutes. I added Irish moss around 15 minutes and chilled to around 72°F. I collected a half gallon in a growler into which I pitched an Activator pack of Wyeast Weihenstephaner Weizen yeast. The rest I chilled overnight in my chest freezer to drop to around 60°F. To my surprise, I came ten gravity points above my target, hitting 1090. Yeah, that's a BIG Weizenbock. I added the active starter the next morning.

Into the other six-plus gallons I pitched a lactobacillus culture and I kept the carboy immersed in a hot water bath at between 100 and 115°F for three days. Wednesday evening I returned the wort to the brew kettle and this is where things got interesting... I took a sample to measure the acidity and my pH meter read 2.5! Now I must confess that my pH meter is rather cheap and, while I calibrated it, it's probably been six months since I've used it so the probe may be bad. However, I took pH readings of a lager I have on tap, tap water, and some fresh cider, and each reading was consistent with the range predicted by various online sources. And when I tasted it, it really seemed about as tart as lemonade.

Anyway, I added hops and 10g of various salts (grey sea salt, pink sea salt and kosher salt) and boiled for sixty minutes. After the boil, I chilled to around 72°F and ended up with about 4.5 gallons of wort at 1084. It also still had an acidity of 2.5. Concerned that yeast wouldn't actually ferment at that high of an acidity, and having a crazy high gravity, I figured I could dilute with water and Kräusen (i.e. the actively-fermenting Weizenbock), but an online calculator indicated that would only get me to 2.6 (damn logarithmic scale!). But I decided to add roughly 3/4 gallons of water and 3/4 gallons of Kräusen anyway just to give the yeast a bit of a head start. And sure enough, it was going 24 hours later.

So what's the situation now? Well, I kegged both beers this past Sunday. I took a gravity reading of each and found the Weizenbock was still around 1030 and the the Gose was closer to 1050. As such, when I kegged I left the release valves open. Sure enough, the next day Kräusen was spewing out of the release valve of the Gose keg. The Gose was also interesting because it had a strong peach-like flavor; gonna be curious to see if the acidity leads to odd flavors from the over-strained yeast. I'll check the gravity of each again in a couple days.

I guess the moral of the story for now is that yeast is pretty damn resilient. How will the Gose turn out? Not sure, but worst case scenario, if it's too sweet for my taste I'll just brew up a batch of Dunkelweizen (or possible an amber wheat with a neutral yeast strain) and blend. Either way, it should be a Christmas beer to remember.

EDIT (11/4/12): Checked the gravity of each beer last night... The Weizenbock was down to around 1028 and the Gose around 1042. I diluted the Weizenbock with a half-gallon of bottled water to drop the OG to 1080 and the FG to 1024.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

(Belated) Brew Day: Hail Shaft Pilsener

So, I just realized that I never got around to posting about my last brew day. Three weeks ago I brewed one of my favorite styles: Pilsener. Yeah, some people think Pilseners are boring. I suppose it's true that there are plenty of mediocre ones out there--and that's not even counting beers like Miller Lite that call themselves Pilseners but are anything but. Nonetheless, a well-brewed Pilsener is a thing of beauty, and if certain breweries want to dismiss it as "fizzy yellow beer" (I'm looking at you, Stone) then that just means more for me.

Anyway, I suppose one of the reasons I had forgotten to post about the brew day is that nothing too crazy happened. I did a rather simple step mash, starting at 130°F for a half hour and then using direct heat to raise the temp up to 148°F. After another half hour, I mashed out at 168°F (though I initially overshot by a few degrees; hopefully I didn't leach any tannins).

A quick note about the step mash... The last time I did direct heat to raise a mash temp, I ended up scorching the mash (which oddly enough left a smoky flavor that was actually quite similar to what you get with smoked malt). Using direct heat, you need two burners (one for your mash tun and one for your brew kettle), and that time I used my old burner which was clogged on one side, which meant all the heat was being applied to roughly a third of the bottom of the kettle. Since then I bought a new second burner and, with the heat evenly applied, I didn't have any scorching issues while raising roughly twenty pounds of grain at a rate of roughly 2°F per minute.

Usually I do a 90-minute boil for brews that are heavy on the Pilsener malt, but after talking to several brewers familiar with Best Malz Pilsener malt (including Doug Hurst of Metropolitan Brewing, who brews the excellent Flywheel Bright Lager) I decided to go with a 75-minute boil this time. I did my usual method of spreading out the bittering hop additions, adding hops at both 75 minutes and 60 minutes, as well as late hop additions at 5 minutes and flame-out. At some point I'd like to make a hopback for aroma hops, since I find that with a plate chiller I get little hop aroma even at flame-out. For now, though, I added a whole ounce of Tettnang for each of the late-hop additions so I'm curious to see how it turns out.

A couple final notes... I forgot to write down my O.G., but I seem to recall that it was within a point of my target of 1046, so I'll assume that's what it was. Also, I jokingly called it a "Chicago-style Pilsener" on Facebook, and here's why... First of all, people often fuss with their brewing water, but Pilsener is a good example of how, traditionally, the water informed the style and not the other way around. With German-style Pilseners, you get harsher, hoppier Pilseners up north because their water is harder. Unless I'm specifically trying to emulate a Czech-style Pilsener (like I did last year), I just use Chicago city water and allow that to help define the flavor profile of my beer. The second thing that makes it Chicago-style is that I was a little short on Pilsener malt, so I ended up using a grain bill that included Munich malt (10%), Carafoam (5%) and wheat malt (5%). None are completely out of place in a Pilsener (well, I suppose technically the wheat is) but it's the random inclusion of all three that leads me to declare it something other than a German-style Pils. So Chicago-style it is!

And with all that said, it's time for me to keg the Pilsener. Prost!