Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The First Four Years: a review

Today I picked up another refrigerator (courtesy of fellow HOPS! member Steve's parents). This refrigerator will live in the garage and serve as my lagering fridge, which is exciting because I will now be able to convert my current lagering fridge into a kegerator (definitely look for more posts on this subject). While sitting on the train heading out to pick up the fridge, it occurred to me that Leah and I have now been brewing for four years. A lot has happened over those four years. I graduated from law school and passed the bar exam. We got a dog (see Ogie, above, guarding our brewing equipment in our old apartment). Leah and I bought a house and had a kid. We got another dog (not pictured; sorry, Blitz!). Leah quit her job to be a full-time mom while I became a full-time lawyer. Gas prices went from under two dollars a gallon to over four. And we brewed a LOT of beer. While I'm too lazy to figure out how many gallons we've brewed to date, here's a list of every beer we've brewed (with a cider thrown in there for good measure):

Step Leader Hefeweizen
F5 Altbier
Dicke Frau German Stout
Snow Squall Christmas Ale (Spiced Belgian Ale)
North Kilttown Scottish Ale
Lake Effect Kölsch-style Ale
None More Black Stout
Cherry Caray Cherry Stout
Cocoa Puffs Stout
Cloud-to-Ground Weizenbock
F6 Sticke Alt
Hoar Frost Oktoberfest
Saison d'Etre (Belgian Saison)
Bear's Cage Schwarzbier
North Pole Export (Spiced Scottish Export)
Dry Line Berliner Weisse
Nimbostratus Munich Dunkel
Gust Front Leipzig-style Wheat (Leipziger Gose)
Snow Squall Christmas Ale (Vanilla Doppelsticke)
Lenticular Export (Dortmunder Export)
Red Line Ale (American Amber)
Paddywhacker Cider
None More Buzzed Coffee Stout
Road House Red (Irish Red Ale)
Winter Lightning Eisweizen
Polar Jet Christmas Bock
White Riot (Gluten-Free Belgian Wit)
Worst Case Scenario (Belgian Dark Ale)
Hail Shaft Pilsner
Smoke Stack Lightning Smoked Hefeweizen

Twenty-nine different beer styles in all (not counting multiple takes on the same style) and one cider. Breaking it down by country, that's fifteen German styles, four Belgian styles, two Scottish, two Irish, one British, and five American or "other" styles. Obviously you can tell where my preferences lie.

Also, while my German-style beers all have weather-related names, my non-German beers face no such restriction. Just for fun, here's a list of pop culture subjects we've referenced in our beer names: the Simpsons, the movies This is Spinal Tap and Road House, the bands the Clash and dEUS, former Chicago Cubs announcer Harry Caray, former Chicago Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz, and Chicago's elevated train system.

Anyway, I just thought it was interesting to look back on four years of brewing and see all the different things that Leah and I have tried. But enough reminiscing... What does the future hold? Well, hopefully lots more brewing! In the short term, plans include finally brewing a Dampfbier, taking a stab at a black Witbier (the joke being that "Witbier" means white beer in Flemish), and attempting another gluten-free beer (this time using Belgian candi syrup and coffee to make a stout-like creation). And of course we'll have to brew another Christmas beer soon... perhaps another stab at the Vanilla Doppelsticke?

Here's to four years down and (at least) forty years to go! Prost!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Brew day: F5 Altbier

It's been a busy week. How busy, you ask? Well, I brewed on Sunday and I'm finally blogging about it today. Thursday. During my lunch break at work. Anyway, here it goes...

Sunday I brewed my F5 Altbier. This is my first time brewing the style since visiting Düsseldorf, and I decided to scrap my old recipe all together and craft a new one that was a hybrid of two recipes found in Horst Dornbusch's Altbier book (one which Horst described as a traditional Altstadt Altbier and the other which allegedly came from the technical brewmaster at Brauerei Schumacher). I followed the mash schedule that Iain Wilson at Rock Bottom Orland Park shared with me, as I had the pleasure of trying his Alt at the Great Taste of the Midwest and it was the closest thing to a true Düsseldorf Alt that I've found in the States. I also added a single decoction to boost the malt profile a tad.

I doughed in with a 1.5 qt./lb. water-to-grain ratio at 12:15, overshooting my target protein rest of 125°F by four degrees. Ten minutes later I pulled an 11-qt. decoction from the mash. Adding 1/4 tsp. acid blend to each the mash and the decoction, I brought the decoction to a boil ten minutes later and returned the decoction to the mash after a fifteen-minute boil (so overall there was a twenty-five minute protein rest). The decoction addition brought my mash temp up to 152°F, which it rested at for an hour and ten minutes (thanks to my propane tank running low, which meant it took longer than usual for my sparge water to heat). I added the sparge water to the hot liquor tank at 172°F (lower than my usual 175-178°F).

I recirculated 1.5 gallons of wort from 2:05-2:20 and sparged from 2:20 to 3:25. I ended up collecting 12.5 gallons of wort, which after a 90-minute boil reduced to 11 gallons. I had hop additions at 60 minutes and 2 minutes, though the two minutes ended up being ten minutes after I couldn't find my ice pick to break up my block of ice that I used to pre-chill the water coming into the wort chiller. Anywho, the wort was chilled to ~70°F and added to one 6.5 gallon carboy and two 3-gallon carboys. My original gravity was a bit low (1045 instead of 1049) but I suspect that was due to my paranoia of having the sparge water be too hot after the last brew day. In the future, I think I'm going to stick with adding the sparge water to the hot liquor tank closer to 178°F, and I'll measure the temp of the sparge water as it's actually sparging to see how much heat I'm losing between pumping and sparging.

I'm doing a bit of an experiment, yeast wise. I pitched a 500mL starter of WLP029 (German Ale-Kölsch) into the two 3-gallon carboys. This is the yeast I've used in the past and the yeast Iain at Rock Bottom used, as well as Kevin Blodger, the brewmaster at Gordon Biersch in Bolingbrook who made an excellent Sticke Alt earlier this year. However, for the other carboy I pitched a 500mL starter of WLP320 (American Hefeweizen). As I explained last week, the rumor is this originally came from Uerige and I'm going to test it out, though it will require a clarifying agent in the secondary.

Anyway, I threw the carboys in the chest freezer set at 60°F, and once fermentation was started the next morning I dropped the temp to 55°F (figuring it would run a little hot). It seems to be fermenting away a few days later. If you want to try the Alt, come to Oktoberfest!

In the meantime, I had to rack my Oktoberfest beer to a keg even though it's still fermenting. The good news is the phenolics seem to be subsiding during the diacetyl rest. The bad news is I've got both kegs at room temperature and under pressure (I keep relieving the pressure every morning and night, but since it's still fermenting there's a lot of pressure!). I'm hoping it finishes fermenting in a week or so so I can drop it to lager temps and let it clean up. I really hate to do it this way, but it was either that or keep the Oktoberfest in the chest freezer and start the Altbier at room temp, and I figure there's a much greater risk of phenolics at the beginning of fermentation than at the tail end. I guess we'll find out for sure after it lagers!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Diacetyl rest started for Oktoberfest; starters started for Altbier

So I had two beer-related things on my to-do list this evening. The first was make a starter for this Saturday, when I am planning on brewing my Altbier. The second is check the gravity on the Oktoberfest, which has been in the primary for eleven days and I'm ramping up for the diacetyl rest.

The starters were pretty routine. I'm making two 500mL starters for ten gallons of Altbier. Why two starters? Well, I'm pitching five gallons with White Labs WLP029 German Ale/Kölsch yeast, which I like (I actually just had an excellent Altbier that Iain at Rock Bottom Orland Park brewed with WLP029), but it bothers me that it came from a Cologne brewery. For the other five gallons I'm pitching White Labs WLP320 American Hefeweizen yeast. Why an American Hefe yeast? Well, the rumor is that this yeast came from Uerige, the most famous Altbier brewery in Düsseldorf, by way of Widmer. The problem is the yeast doesn't flocculate well, so you need to either treat it or filter it. As such, I bought some finings to add to the secondary. Anyway, stay tuned to find out how this experiment turns out.

In the meantime, determining what to do with the Oktoberfest gave me pause. I've always waited until fermentation was pretty much done to start my diacetyl rest, but in this case it's clearly still going. There's still a nice Kräusen on the beer, and it's gravity is reading 1034. With an O.G. of 1061 and an estimated F.G. of 1018, that means I'm only 60% complete with my fermentation, and I didn't want to start my diacetyl rest until I'm at least to 67%, if not 75%. However, Richard Stueven of the Green Bay Rackers recommends starting your diacetyl rest when you get around halfway done with fermentation. And the thing is, I have one temperature-controlled chest freezer and one lagering refrigerator which doesn't have a thermostat (it's just set to the coldest setting). Right now my chest freezer is full with ten gallons of my Oktoberfest, so I can't brew the Altbier until I can keg the Oktoberfest and get it out of the chest freezer. I tasted the beer and it definitely needs some time, as it still has some harsh edges (some phenolics and possibly some DMS or diacetyl) and I don't want to rush things. But I've decided to trust my brewer to the North (hey, if Wisconsinites don't know about lagers, who does?) and have ramped up the temp to 60°F from 50°F over the past two days. We'll see what happens. I'm a little nervous but it makes sense that you want to start the rest when fermentation is still active, as that's what cleans up the diacetyl. I guess time will tell if I made the right call.

So now the only question left is whether to brew Saturday or Sunday. I suppose I'll take a gravity reading on Friday and go from there. Look for an update then. For now, time to go to bed. Guten Nacht!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

HOPS! Oktoberfest '08: Sept. 13th

I don't know if many Chicagoans read this (hell, I'm not sure if ANYBODY reads this now that I think about it) but I thought I would mention that the HOPS! Oktoberfest party is just over a month away. In case you can't read the flier above, it's Saturday, September 13 (likely from 3-8pm) and it'll be at the Bridgeport VFW, 3202 S. May in Chicago. It's only $25 to enjoy unlimited food and beer, and anyone who's attended will tell you we throw a hell of a party. I'm planning on bringing a keg of my F5 Altbier, for what it's worth. Contact me if you're interested in buying a ticket or just looking for more info. Prosit!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Brew Day: Hoar Frost Oktoberfest

As the calendar turns to August, I know Oktoberfest is right around the corner. As I mentioned in a previous post, I have two different Oktoberfest parties to brew for, as well as my own Novemberfest party. First on my to-do list was a Märzen, more commonly referred to in the U.S. as an Oktoberfest beer. (Seems appropriate, right?) So Saturday morning I decided to return to the very first lager I ever brewed, only this time it's an all-grain recipe and--for the first time in our relatively brief brewing career--a decoction.

We decided to do a simple, single decoction without a mashout. Fortunately Beersmith has a nice decoction calculator that tells you exactly how much to decoct. Per the calculator's instructions, I started out by mashing in the 24 lb. of grain with 36 qt. of water at 131°F with a target temp of 122°F. Since Beersmith always seems to underestimate the strike temp for my saccharification rests, I went with the Green Bay Rackers calculator, which recommended going three degrees above the Beersmith suggested temp of 128°F. Turns out I should've listened to Beersmith this time, as I ended up mashing in at 128°F instead of 122°F. No biggie, I'm assuming. After mashing in, I pulled 16 qt. of the mash (keeping it on the thick side) and decocted it for fifteen minutes. Since it took fifteen minutes to mash in, fifteen more to get the decoction to boil in the first place, and fifteen minutes to boil the decoction, the rest of the mash ended up having a 45 minute protein rest. The decoction itself didn't seem too difficult; there was a lot of stirring involve to prevent scorching and I had to add 1/4 tsp. acid blend to bring the pH below 5.7, but overall it was easier than I expected. I also added 1/8 tsp. acid blend to the remaining mash to drop its pH as well.

When I added the decoction back to the mash tun, I decided to listen to the Homebrew Digest advice which said don't add all the boiling mash back at once, as you'll probably overshoot your target temp of 155°F. Well, I found it was hard to mix the mash and get a consistent temperature reading at first, so I ended up doing a lot of stirring and adding, stirring and adding (all while the remaining decoction was cooling). Eventually, when I dumped everything in, I ended up between 150°F and 153°F instead of 155°F. Accordingly, I'm thinking the next time I'm just going to dump the whole thing in right away and trust Beersmith's calculation. Worst comes to worst, if I'm significantly high on my temp I'll mix it until it cools down.

Anyway, from mash-in to hitting my saccharification rest temp it only took me an hour, so I don't think my brew day was significantly longer than if I had simply done an infusion mash. After a 45-minute sacch rest, I recirculated for ten minutes and then sparged for 1:15. Due to a very full mash tun (which caused me to mash in a hair below my 1.5 qt./lb. intended ratio) and a slight problem pumping water to my hot liquor tank (a hose popped off) I lost enough sparge water to cost me roughly a gallon in collected wort. I boiled for 6o minutes (I hope that was enough to drive off all the DMS) with hop additions at 60, 45, 30 and 10 minutes. I also added Irish moss at 15 minutes.

The only significant issue I ran into was while cooling. I had some wiring issues with my pump (mainly because I'm an idiot an rely on electrical tape to keep wires together). This, plus issues with my pre-chiller (mainly because I'm an idiot and rely on duct tape to close holes in a copper immersion chiller) and 80°F+ temps meant it took roughly 45 minutes to chill the beer, and even then it was only around 75°F, far above my intended temperature. As a result, I may have shocked the decanted 1-gallon yeast starter onto which I racked. Nonetheless, 24 hours later fermentation had started.

Overall, it was a pretty great brewing day. My O.G. was a tad high (1062, as compared to my target O.G. of 1060) but my yield was also a tad low. The color looked great, and the cooled sample tasted quite smooth as far as the hops were concerned. I'm really curious to see how this turns out, particularly considering that 1.) it was my first decoction and 2.) I used all American malts (Rahr Pilsner and Briess Munich), save a pound of Belgian Caramunich (couldn't get my hands on Weyermann Caramunich, sadly). It was also a pretty efficient brew day, starting a little past 10am and finishing by 3:45pm including a longer than usual chilling time. If all goes well I just might have to decoct more often! Jawohl!