Sunday, March 30, 2008

Brew day: Hail Shaft Pilsner

Another week, another brew. Not that I plan on keeping up this pace, but it was two weekends in a row with relatively few things going on, so I figured I would take advantage of it. Today we brewed a German-style Pilsner in the hopes that nicer weather will finally arrive by the time it's ready. Here's the recap...

The plan was to use 96% German (Weyermann) pils malt and 4% Carapils malt for body/head retention. Unfortunately, my local homebrew store came up a bit short on the German malt, so I had to substitute five pounds of Dingeman's Belgian pilsner malt. No biggie, I'm assuming. Anyway, I mashed in at 150°F at 11:45am. After discussing the pros and cons of a protein rest with both the homebrew forum and Horst Dornbusch (I love how big shots in the brewing community are willing to take the time to answer emails from dorks like me), I decided to go with a simple infusion mash for now. I had a little bit of an adventure with the pH (initially it was at 5.0, and I stupidly added gypsum salt to raise it over 5.2 when gypsum, in fact, lowers the pH, which then led me to add baking soda to get it back up, but then I added too much so I had to add acid blend to get it down again... yeah, I'm a moron), but after a 75-minute mash (during which the temp dropped to 145°F--d'oh!) I was ready to sparge.

I recirculated from 1:15 to 1:30, at which point I began to sparge. Over the next 65 minutes I collected 12.5 gallons of wort. (Just for the record I took a gravity reading of my final runnings and I was at 1013.) I did a 90-minute boil to drive off all the DMS, with hop additions at 90 minutes, 45 minutes, 15 minutes and knock-out (all Hallertau hops). I chilled using my awesome plate chiller and ended up with ~11 gallons of wort at 62°F. To my surprise, my final gravity was 1059, 8 points higher than my target of 1051! I would swear I screwed up my measurement, as this gives me an efficiency of 83%. However, I took a gravity reading shortly before sparging and another right as the boil began (with part of the sample being taken from the bottom of the kettle and part from the top) and while I didn't write down the numbers, they both suggested an original gravity (after boil-off) of around 1060. So I think it might actually be right.

While filling up my carboys, I ran into one final problem. Leah had sanitized one 6-gallon carboy and two 3-gallon carboys (the easiest way to get 10 gallons into my chest freezer), and for reasons I won't get into I dumped 1 liter of my 2-liter yeast starter in the 6-gallon carboy and 1/2 liter in one of the 3-gallon carboys prior to filling them, but I kept the remaining 1/2 liter of starter in a flask. I filled up all three carboys and then, despite the fact that I had clearly marked the 3-gallon carboy that needed the remaining yeast starter, I dumped the starter into the OTHER carboy that already had yeast in it. So I ended up dumping wort back and forth between the two, hoping to get them sufficiently mixed. I guess we'll see if they start fermenting at the same time. [EDIT: I forgot to mention initially that the yeast used for this beer was WLP 800 Czech Pilsner yeast... kind of worth noting, eh?]

Well, despite a couple dumb moves on my part (and it wouldn't be a brew day if I didn't do something stupid), I think they day went extremely well. Now we play the waiting game...

Awww, the waiting game sucks! Let's play Hungry Hungry Hippos!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Next up: Hail Shaft Pilsner

So, as you might have guessed from my last post, I made a yeast starter Tuesday night (a 2-liter yeast starter, to be specific). Assuming I feel better (I caught some sort of nasty stomach virus last night), we will be brewing our first Pilsner Sunday. It's going to be a German-style Pils called Hail Shaft Pilsner. The funny thing is this brew is something like six years in the making. Before I even started homebrewing I had this idea to start a German-style brewery and our flagship beer was going to be Hail Shaft Pilsner. At this point, I don't plan on switching careers any time soon, but assuming all goes well on Sunday Hail Shaft Pilsner will finally be a reality.

In the meantime, the yeast starter seems to be fermenting just fine and should be ready to go. Look for a full report Sunday night.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Quick yeast starter post because I can never remember...

I swear I look this up every time I make a yeast starter, so I'm preserving this for posterity. When making a yeast starter, use 1g dry malt extract per 10mL water.

That is all.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Brew day: Worst Case Scenario Belgian Dark Ale

First of all, let me say that "Worst Case Scenario" is the name of the beer we brewed today, not a description of the day itself. I'll explain the name in a second, but actually today's brew day went remarkably well, particularly considering the fiasco last time I brewed.

Anyway, today we brewed a Belgian dark ale. Belgians aren't really into the whole style thing, and our beer doesn't really fit into any specific category. It all began when Leah and I volunteered to again participate in the Drinking and Writing Brewery's Beerfly Alleyfight. I'll post more about the Beerfly Alleyfight as it gets closer, but you can read about last year's here. This year they want everybody to brew a Belgian style, and they gave us 10 lbs. of pale malt, a bunch of Hallertauer hops, and a vial of White Labs WLP 550 Belgian Ale yeast. By pure coincidence, I also won a bottle of Belgian Dark Candi Syrup at the Drunk Monk Challenge (where I judged for the first time) and figured I might as well use it in this beer.

Since I wanted to use the dark candi syrup, I figured I should make a dark beer. My favorite dark Belgian ale is Chimay Blue, so I started with a clone recipe. However, since I won't have a lot of time to let the beer age (the event is in mid-May), I decided to scale back the original gravity. I also decided to add some chocolate malt to get it darker and roastier. The end recipe is basically a slightly scaled down and darker version of a Belgian Dark Strong Ale.

I then had to figure out what to call it. The only Belgian thing I really like besides beer and waffles (and I wasn't about to name my beer "Waffle Ale") is the rock band dEUS. They're not too well known this side of the pond, though they did have a video featured on Beavis and Butthead back in the day and recently had a song featured in a Pontiac commercial. Anyway, I decided to tempt fate and name the beer "Worst Case Scenario" after their excellent debut album.

The brew day went smoothly. I mashed in at 153°F at 11:40am. It was a little higher than my target of 151°F but I was planning on doing a longer mash (1.25 hrs.) and figured with the cold weather that the temp would lower significantly. I was correct and by 12:20 it was down to 148°F. One thing I'd definitely like to improve is my mash tun's ability to retain heat. By 1pm I started recirculating and by 1:15 it was running clear and I began to sparge. (One mistake... I forgot to adjust the pH of my sparge water; hopefully it wasn't a big deal given the dark malts in the grain bill.) While I had issues with my sparge rate yet again (I'm thinking I need to make some sort of grant), I was done at around 2:00 and reached boil by 2:10pm.

Once I reached boil, I added the bittering hops as well as the candi syrup. I decided to try the candi syrup and... holy crap... did it taste good! I thought it tasted like a cross between malt extract and Hershey's Syrup. Leah thought it tasted like a mocha cappuccino. Bottom line is it tasted damn good, and I hope the beer does as well. I boiled for one hour with hop additions at 15 min. and 2 min. I also added freshly ground grains of paradise at 2 min.

After I turned off the burner, the real fun began. I decided to employ my March pump and plate chiller for the first time. To my amazement, it worked! The wort was pumped into the chiller at near-boiling and came out at 64°F. The whole carboy was filled in what seemed like five minutes. I took a gravity reading and was excited to come in at 1071, two points over my target. That puts my efficiency at 72%, which I'm pretty happy with. It seems like my efficiency is best with dark beers, which leads me to wonder if I just need to keep an eye on my pH.

Anyway, I pitched the yeast (I didn't think ahead to make a starter) around 3:30. I've heard that Belgians are one category of beer where you can get away with underpitching since the strained yeast just produce more phenols and esters that we associate with Belgian ales anyway. I suppose time will tell. In the meantime, I have to make sure I keep the temperature up (I'm so used to German beers where you want to keep the temps down!).

Readers in the Chicago area can attend the Beerfly Alleyfight at the downtown Chicago Rock Bottom and sample the results! Look for more info soon. In the meantime, I'm thinking of brewing a Munich Helles next since I suddenly have a windfall of Hallertauer hops. Cheers!

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Of Bocks, stouts and porters...

A couple converging events have led me to better understand stouts and porters (as I am fairly ignorant of the styles... especially porters).

First things first... We entered our Christmas Bock in the BABBLE Brew-Off and received the results this week. It did not fare well. The problem, as I suspected, was that we entered it in the Bock category, and it's really more of a hybrid style. While nobody noted anything technically flawed (aside from one judge perceiving a smoke character that I'm not noticing... maybe a dirty bottle?), the consensus was that it was too dark and bitter to be a Bock. I think if I had hit my O.G. and gotten it to Doppelbock strength it would have been more appropriate, though still on the dark/bitter side. Anyway, I had a certified judge try the Christmas Bock at a homebrew meeting a while back and he suggested I enter it as a robust porter. Being the stubborn person I am, I chose not to, but since then I re-read the BJCP description for a robust porter and I'm thinking it works. It's a little light on the roast notes for a porter, but otherwise it works (note that fruity esters should be "moderate to none," so I think I can get away with the fact that I used a lager yeast).

Now here's the next part of my story, which seems unrelated at first... I racked the Cocoa Puffs Stout to a keg on Wednesday. I recalled that when I racked the beer to the secondary, it tasted remarkably like the Christmas Bock and seemed to be missing some stout-like quality. Now that it's been infused with Cocoa Puffs, it has a nice sweet cocoa taste up front and a bitter, dark chocolate finish (almost a little too bitter in the finish... we'll see how it finishes up). Anyway, when I was formulating the recipe, I started with the basic recipe for my None More Black stout which I aged on espresso beans to make my None More Buzzed Coffee Stout. However, at the last second I decided to substitute chocolate malt for the roast barley. My goal was to get more chocolate flavor in the beer.

Of course, at the time I wasn't thinking of the general rule that stouts have roast barley and porters have black malt. Now I realize the difference, and I also realize I made a Baltic porter, not a sweet export stout. But it's great because I feel like have an infinitely better understanding of what roast barley can bring to the party (and what its absence leaves out). I also better understand how porters relate to robust porters, how robust porters relate to Baltic porters, how Schwarzbiers relate to robust porters, and how Baltic porters relate to Bocks. I don't know if anybody else understands, but sometimes you can read something a hundred times but not really understand it until you do it yourself. That's how I feel right now. So I'm pretty excited.

Anyway, the Drunk Monk challenge is coming up. It now appears I'll be entering a robust porter and a cocoa Baltic porter, despite the fact that I've never intentionally brewed any porter whatsoever. It's funny... On one hand I feel like I should stick with more simple, traditional recipes and make small changes so as to avoid surprises like these. On the other hand, it's these surprises that can lead me to understand how these different malts work. I guess the real answer is a combination of the two. Keep things simple (like simply substituting chocolate malt for roast barley) so that you can understand where the flavors are coming from, but don't be afraid to do something a little drastic.