Monday, April 07, 2008

Racking the Belgian

So after two weeks of steady fermentation, I decided to rack the Belgian. A gravity reading yielded a gravity of 1018, almost to the final gravity of 1016. It tasted quite sweet, which surprised me. I suppose it'll be hard to get a good handle on it until it's done and carbonated... crazy Belgians.

I also took a gravity reading on the Pils, which clocked in at 1024, which is 75% towards its destination gravity of 1016. The sample I tasted came off as way sweet with nowhere near the hop bitterness I was shooting for. It could be I'm noticing the effects of overshooting my gravity (which resulted in a 1.59:1 gravity unit:bitterness unit ratio instead of the intended 1.38:1 ratio, which is the equivalent of a 32 IBU beer at the target gravity of 1051). It's also possible it's just the fact that WLP 830 is a malty yeast (as suggested on the White Labs page). There was also a slight off flavor that was either diacetyl or DMS (I'm hoping diacetyl since the rest should take care of that). Anyway, I think I'm probably reading too much into this. We'll see how it is once it reaches terminal gravity and lagers. I read somewhere that you can start the diacetyl rest when you're three quarters toward your final gravity, but I can't seem to find that source now and I've read several accounts where people did a 2-week primary with WLP 830 and then did their diacetyl rest. As such, I'll give it one more week and then jack up the temperature.

EDIT: So I've since done a little searching around and realized something... Since I'm now using the plate chiller, I don't want it to clog with pellet hops so I added the hops in a muslin bag. Apparently the rule of thumb is you lose 10% hop utilization when straining with a bag. This, plus the higher-than-planned final gravity, likely explains the sweetness of my Pils. Oh well, I'll just call it a Helles if necessary.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Hop Garden

The Hallertauer is on the right/north side, the Northern Brewer is on the left/south side.

We're growing hops this year. I'm the one in charge mostly, though I have very little gardening know-how. I've been working on learning more. Hops seem pretty fun to grow - consistent reward with how fast they grow, they're fairly hardy so as long as I water them they shouldn't die.

The main thing I'm worried about is training them to grow where I want them to. Especially since I don't really know exactly where I'm going to grow them along the garage walls and roof. Hmm. I should work on figuring that out.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Step Leader Hefeweizen: recipe + instructions

From time to time, Leah or I get asked, "What's an easy yet delicious recipe for a first-time homebrewer?" Many people start brewing with extract kits, but I say skip the kit and start with this simple but wonderful Hefeweizen recipe. It's a slight modification of the first beer we ever brewed, and everybody who's made this their first brew has reported excellent results. So without further ado, here's our recipe along with detailed instructions...


5.5 lb. Briess wheat dry malt extract
0.5 lb. German light wheat malt (crushed)
1 oz. Hallertau pellet hops (4.5% AA) (suitable substitutes include other German hops such as Tetnang, Perle or Spalt as well as American Hallertau derivatives such as Mt. Hood, Liberty or Vanguard)
1 vial White Labs Hefeweizen IV (WLP 380) yeast (you can also use White Labs Hefeweizen (WLP 300) or Wyeast Bavarian wheat (3638) yeast if you prefer more banana character)
1 cup bottling (corn) sugar
2 gallons bottled spring/drinking water
1 cheesecloth or nylon grain bag


A few hours before you brew, pull the liquid yeast out of the fridge (if using Wyeast, activate your yeast pack per instructions).

Pour crushed wheat into a cheesecloth grain bag. Fill your pot with three gallons of water and drop in the bag of grains. Heat up the water to 170°F.

As soon as you hit 170°F, remove the grain bag. Add the malt extract (the recipe calls for 5.5 lbs., but feel free to throw in all six if you want just a little extra kick to the beer!). Stir constantly while you add the dry extract to make sure the bottom of the pot doesn't scorch.

Bring the wort to a boil. As soon as it starts to boil add the hops. Boil for 45 minutes. Oh, and now's a good time to sanitize your bucket or carboy, funnel (if using a carboy), and any other equipment that will come in contact with the wort once it's cooled.

After 45 minutes, turn off your burner and cool the wort to around 130°F as fast as possible (unless your water isn't fully chilled in the refrigerator, in which case you'll want to take it down to around 90-95°F). FYI, now is when sanitizing becomes super important. If your pot is small enough I recommend putting it in your sink and filling the sink with ice and water. Once the wort is around 130, dump the wort directly into your fermentation bucket or pour the wort into your carboy using the funnel and (optional) filter (but be careful, sometimes the trub can clog up the filter!).

Next pour the two gallons of cold water into the bucket/carboy. Shake everything up to the extent that you can without spilling stuff and use a sanitized wine thief or turkey baster to stir the wort. Once it seems like it's fairly well mixed, use the wine thief/turkey baster to take a sample of the wort from the middle of the bucket/carboy. Use that to take an original gravity reading using your hydrometer (it should be around 1050). Now pour ("pitch") the yeast into the bucket/carboy and put on the lid/stopper and fermentation lock. (NOTE: as this beer generally ferments vigorously, you might want to consider jerry-rigging a blowoff tube so the lid of your bucket or stopper in your carboy doesn't blow off). You're done! Now clean up!

Until fermentation starts, you want to keep the bucket between 70-78°F. After that try and keep the bucket around 65-70°F. Fermentation should start within a day or two (look for bubbles coming out of the airlock; if you don't see bubbles, check for a frothy, bubbly kraeusen as a less-than-airtight seal may prevent bubbles from escaping through the airlock). After a couple weeks, the fermentation should have pretty much stopped. Take a gravity reading and wait two days. If the gravity is the same two days later, fermentation has stopped and you're ready to bottle! (You can find bottling instructions here.)

(NOTE: these are estimates; your numbers may be slightly different)

Original gravity: 1051 Final gravity: 1012
Alcohol by volume: 5.0% Bitterness: 14 IBU's

So there you have it! For those of you brewing for the first time, we hope this inspires you to brew again. And again. And again...

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Two quick updates...

First, Pils update:

Apparently I didn't totally mix the two 3-gallon carboys, because when I woke up Monday morning, only one was fermenting. There was also no action in the 6-gallon carboy. However, by 4pm all three were firing away. Not too bad considering I threw all three carboys right into a 55°F chest freezer right after pitching. Last night I then dropped the temp down to 50°F.

Second, Belgian update:

Fermentation was steady but somewhat sluggish for the first few days; then on Thursday it went crazy! Vigorous fermentation through the weekend, and now things seem to be settling down. May bottle this weekend...