Friday, August 28, 2009

FotoFriday #11

Let's just say it's good to have cabinets in my office that have doors on them (and bosses who appreciate a good beer after a hard day's work).

Monday, August 24, 2009

I'm in Cider Town!

So I've been toying with making cider again this year (in fact, right now I'm thinking of doing two beers and a cider for Novemberfest instead of the traditional three beers). The tricky thing, though, is backsweetening. See, if you just add yeast to fresh cider it'll pretty much ferment all the available sugars, leaving you with an incredibly dry cider that isn't much like the commercial ciders out there. Now, I'm not interested in making a cider as sweet as Woodchuck (especially not with that fake apple taste), but I do want a little residual sweetness. The easiest way to do this if you keg is to let it ferment out and then backsweeten with some fresh cider. If you keep your cider near freezing and/or add some sodium metabisulfite it should prevent further fermentation leaving you with the desired sweetness in your hard cider.

What further complicates this is that most hard ciders, without backsweetening, come out to starting gravity of around 1045, which if it ferments completely yields you an ABV of 5.9%. Not bad for a craft beer, and a decent amount above the Bud/Miller/Coorses of the world. However, if you backsweeten with 20% cider now you're down to 4.7%, which actually isn't that bad either (I'll be honest; this is the first time I'm actually sitting down and doing the math as I type this). So I guess you could backsweeten with 20% fresh cider and still have a normal-strength cider.

HOWEVER, let's say you want to jack it up a bit. What do you do? Add sugar to your must (unfermented cider). Then you can dilute it with fresh cider to your preferred alcohol level. The one missing variable in all this, however, is how much fresh cider is needed to get you to your desired level of sweetness. Well, the only way to figure that out is to ferment some cider and experiment, and that's just what I did. Unfortunately, I can't seem to find my record of exactly what I added, but I think I remember enough to get close to report my results.

For starters, just because we wanted to try it out, we decided to make our own cider with a juicer that Leah's mom bought us for Christmas. We only made two quarts of cider (one quart to ferment, and one to save for backsweetening) so if something went horribly wrong it wouldn't be a huge deal. Specifically I was worried because, while we added potasium metabisulfite to the resulting must to kill the wild yeast, it doesn't kill wild bacteria, and I didn't really do anything to kill the bacteria. This would create a problem later on. However, for now, what I did was make the juice, add a sugar/brown sugar mixture (about 50/50) to get the gravity up to around 1065 (yielding a potential of 8.5% ABV), throw in some sodium metabisulfite and yeast nutrient, and toss in some dry Nottingham yeast to get it going.

Tonight, after a couple weeks, I poured 400mL of fermented cider and 100mL of fresh cider into a water bottle which I then carbonated with one of those carbonation caps. Of course, before I did this I tasted the cider and it was, um, interesting. It wasn't crazy sour, and it wasn't crazy funky, but it definitely has a little of each. (Maybe I can sell this to Jolly Pumpkin!) Anyway, I'm a little worried that the sour and funk notes will make it seem less sweet than it really is, but I really thought this first try with 20% fresh cider really works. Plus, even if we decide to make a heavy-hitter like this (at 6.8% ABV), we can always add 10% at first and see how we like it. If we decide we don't want it sweeter, we'll just have a 7.7% monster on our hands!

So for now, here are my concluding remarks... As somebody who doesn't like my ciders too sweet but likes some sweetness, 20% seems to be a good percentage of fresh cider to shoot for. And unless you're comfortable that you're killing the bacteria, stick to cider bought from the professionals (though don't buy cider at the grocery store that contains preservatives! I recommend getting cider from a local mill that's been flash-pasteurized but doesn't have added preservatives). Stay tuned to hear how our actual full-scale batch of cider turns out.

Oh, and in case you don't get the reference in the title of this post:

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Brew day: F5 Altbier -or- Mama Said There'd Be Days Like This

So, we had a federal trial start on Wednesday. I got home from work some time between 9:30 and midnight each night this week (though that didn't stop me from getting a starter done at midnight on Tuesday). I'll be at work again tomorrow, and brewing this morning was supposed to be my chance to relax for the weekend. Oh, how I should know better.

The truth be told, our F5 Altbier is chilling as I type this and, looking back, things ended up just fine. However, they certainly didn't start out that way.

FIRST, I decided to bust out my brand new Barley Crusher last night. My understanding is that you should be able to use a cordless drill to power the mill. Well, I don't know if it's my cheap 9.6V Black and Decker drill or my mill, but it didn't happen. I ended up having to mill 20 lbs. of grain by hand (as you can see in the picture to the left), and when it was done it seemed much finer than the malt I would have crushed at the homebrew store.

SECOND, I woke up at 7am this morning, with the grain milled and the kettle filled so all I'd have to do is run downstairs and turn on the kettle. So I fired up the kettle at 7:11, mashed in at 7:45 (hit my target temp of 154°F) and was ready to pump my 9+ gallons of sparge water up to the hot liquor tank by around 8:30. I turn the pump on and it's working fine. However, after about two gallons nothing's coming out. I take a look at the pump and it's barely turning. Now my pump is designed to be direct-wired so I had to wire it to a transformer from RadioShack. I figured my cheap twist-and-tap method of splicing the wires was coming apart so I re-do it but no luck. I end up having to lift a cooler full of 190°F water six feet in the air (with my wife's help, which actually made me more paranoid because I certainly didn't want to spill any scalding hot water on her). And since I use the pump for running the wort through my plate chiller, I wasn't sure what I would do to cool the brew.

THIRD, after getting the hot liquor tank filled, I discover I'm pretty much out of acid blend, so I'm worried that my efficiency will suffer because my sparge pH will be too high. Whatever. After I pull a 2-gallon decoction, boil for 15 minutes and return to the mash tun for a mash-out, I begin to sparge. The sparge is kind of slow and curiously full of bits of grain. Was my concern about milling to fine coming to fruition? No, my manifold had come disconnected from my outflow hose. I had to dump the whole mash into another vessel, re-connect the manifold, dump it back in, and start recirculating all over again. By that time it was already 9:45, almost three hours after I started. So much for an efficient brew day.

Fortunately, things went pretty smoothly after that. I recirced from 9:45-10am. Leah (with help from Jonas, left) and I took turns watching the sparge from 10am to 11:30am. The beginning of the sparge was rather slow (only 3.5 gallons collected in the first 45 minutes; 5.5 gallons after an hour) but then I cranked things up somewhat down the homestretch, collecting the final two gallons over ten minutes.

We boiled from 11:35 to 12:35, adding German Magnum hops at 60 minutes and Spalt at two minutes, as well as Irish moss at 15 minutes. Also, between the beginning of the brew day and flame-out Leah and I managed to clean two kegs, rack our Oktoberfest beer*, and clean the carboys in which the Oktoberfest beer fermented. It turns out the pump even worked for chilling, though it was a little sluggish still. Of course that didn't really matter since I had to run it pretty slow to get the temp down to 67°F in the summer (even a ridiculously mild summer like this one; today's high is only 71°F!). I decanted half of each 1000mL starter and pitched the remaining 500mL of the WLP 320 American Hefe yeast in the 6.5-gallon carboy and the remianing 500mL of the WLP 036 Düsseldorf Altbier yeast in the two 3-gallon carboys.

In the end, we ended up at a gravity of 1053, four points above target (I'm assuming this is due to the finer crush). Interesting note on the hops... Last time I thought the hops were good but assertive (as an Alt should be) but many commented that it was unbalanced, so I thought I would drop the hops a tad. However, when I went back to my records I found the predicted IBU's were 40, which is actually on the low end of Beersmith's range for the style (the BJCP, by contrast, has 35 as the low end; both list 60 as the high). As such, I didn't really change the expected IBU's this time around, as I wonder if I somehow screwed up my hop addition last time. Indeed, I remember with the last batch trying a sample right after chilling and finding it jarringly bitter; this time it was not the case. Anyway, all's well that ends well, I suppose. Still, I'd like to get the grain mill and pump straightened out before I brew again.

* Speaking of Oktoberfest**, a quick update on our Hoar Frost Oktoberfest beer. It finished at 1013. I had it up to 65°F for one day, then back down to 60°F to finish off the diacetyl rest, then down 5°F each day until I hit 45°F today. As you can see with the sample to the left, it looks beautiful. It tastes just a tad harsh with the bitterness, but I'm expecting the lagering to smooth that out. I'm planning on filtering it after a couple weeks of lagering.

** Speaking of Oktoberfest, buy tickets for my homebrew club's Oktoberfest party (at which you can sample the Altbier I brewed today) here!

UPDATE: I took a look at the carboys (which had by then dropped to 59°F) before going to bed and I could already see tiny white specks on the top of the beer. By morning, each had developed a fairly thick head of Kraeuzen, though curiously the temperature was now down to 58°F. I guess that's what I get for throwing the carboys into a chest freezer that had been set at 45°F earlier in the day. Regardless, the freezer is set to 60°F and I plan on keeping the fermentation temps in the 60-62°F range.

Friday, August 21, 2009

FotoFriday #10

Happiness is filled carboys.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Time to brew the Altbier...

That's supposed to be said in monotone like "Time to make the donuts..." Get it? Wow, I'm getting old. Anyway, I grabbed a glass of water at work yesterday and the glass was small and cylindrical. As it sat on my desk I kept looking at it, thinking it looked just like an Altbier Becher ("beaker"), as seen to the right. I decided, "Screw the trial that's starting tomorrow! I'm brewing on Saturday!"

I'm really hoping I'm able to squeeze it in. I'm planning on getting as much set up Friday night as I can so I can wake up early Saturday morning, fire up the brew kettle at 6:30 or 7am, and be done by noon(ish). We'll see if it actually works that way, but for now I got the starters done tonight. Once again I'm doing a split batch for my next vintage of F5 Altbier, with five gallons being brewed with WLP 036 Düsseldorf Alt yeast and the other five with WLP 320 American Hefe yeast (now that I have a filter system I should be able to get it brilliantly clear). For now, the important thing is that I note that the American Hefe yeast starter is in the growler while the Alt yeast is in the flask. And on that note I'm going to bed.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Hot on the Gose trail

Following up on my Gose post earlier this week, I can't believe I didn't think to search Ron Pattinson's site sooner. Sure enough, here's the most comprehensive history of the style that I've found to date. Unfortunately, it doesn't answer my questions but actually raises more. Pattinson's description of the secrecy surrounding Gose explains why I can't seem to find much information. However, check out this passage:

The tricky part was getting the addition of the lactic acid bacteria right. Sometime during the boil, the precise moment was of great importance, a powder was added to the wort (according to a source of 1872).

This is quite perplexing for two reasons... First, presumably if you added some powdered form of lactobacillus (or any other souring agent) the boil would kill it. I mean, lacto bacteria is naturally found on grains, and part of the reason we boil the wort is to kill off nasties such as that. So what could they have added that would have survived the boil? Was it a bluff? Or something completely foreign to any other known method of brewing sour beers?

Second, Pattinson goes on to write:

There was no long period of lagering at the brewery. Gose was delivered, still fermenting quite vigourously, in barrels to the Schänke. It was stored in the cellar with the tap bung closed but the shive hole left open, so that the still-active yeast could escape. Only when the fermentation had slowed to a point where no yeast was emerging from the shive hole, was the Gose ready to bottle.

. . .

The minimum period for a bottle to mature was around a week. In warm weather a Gose would be considered undrinkable after about three weeks. The trick for the landlord was in serving his Gose at just the right degree of maturity. Some went so far as to have stocks of beer of different ages, so regular customers could have their beer just as they liked it.

Even if the Gose brewers were adding some sort of superlacto that could survive a boil, what kind of lacto would mature in only a week and be undrinkable in three? At first this led me to think they were indeed adding some kind of powdered lactic acid (or otherwise using acid malt) to sour the beer, but the latter comment about different stocks of beer clearly indicates some kind of live cultures. Maybe I'm just underestimating how long lacto takes to sour a beer. If I could readily get my hands on some bottles of Döllnitzer I'd love to let one sit around at room temp for a year and see what happens. Unfortunately, since I don't live near Leipzig, it's next to impossible for me to get my hands on a bottle, and when I do I'm not sacrificing it for an experiment.

So now I'm back to considering pitching lactobacillus instead of using acid malt. Of course that gets me back to the problem of final gravity... I suppose the ultimate solution would be to brew side-by-side batches, though with different grain bills that would be one long brew day. What to do, what to do...

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Speaking of Oktoberfest...

...a quick update on our Hoar Frost Oktoberfest. While in the past I had pitched warm and then cooled, this time I cooled down to 50°F before even pitching, and this meant fermentation didn't start for about three days. I also, for the first time, left a probe thermometer in the carboy so I could measure internal temperatures versus ambient temperatures. To my surprise, the internal temperature never rose more than three degrees F above the ambient temp. The temp stayed between 50°F and 53°F until Wednesday (10 days), when I took a gravity reading and found it had dropped from 1055 to 1032. At that point I kicked it up to 55°F. Now, two weeks after brewing it, we've reached 1026 so I'm kicking it up to 60° today and 65°F tomorrow for a diacetyl rest.

This fermentation is definitely going slower than my last lager brewed with the South German Lager yeast (which was done in just over a week!), and it's tasting nice and clean. It's also a nice deep golden, almost orange, color--the balance between traditional German and exported Oktoberfests that I was shooting for. I'm hoping it'll be ready to keg in about a week so it'll have a good month to lager before our church's Oktoberfest on September 27th. Yay beer!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Announcing HOPS! Oktoberfest 2009!

Yes, it's that time of year again... time for Oktoberfest! Homebrewer's Pride of the Southside (HOPS!), my homebrew club, will be hosting its annual fundraiser on Saturday, October 3, 2009, from 2-7pm at the Bridgeport VFW on the corner of 32nd and May, near U.S. Cellular Field. What goes on at Oktoberfest? I'm glad you asked. Well, we'll have tons of food. We'll have live music from the Polkaholics. And, most importantly, we'll have LOTS of beer. Last year we had over fifty kegs of homebrew (including our F5 Altbier) as well as kegs from Rock Bottom Chicago, Rock Bottom Orland Park, Flossmoor Station and Metropolitan. And if you stick around long enough, you might stumble upon some bottles of homemade wine, mead and liqueurs.

So how much will it cost you to enjoy such a feast? If I told you it was only $30 for FIVE hours of all you can eat/drink, would you believe me? Well, it is. And this year you can buy your tickets online from Brown Paper Tickets. So what are you waiting for? Tickets are limited, so buy yours now. And if you don't believe that it'll be awesome, check out Chicagoist's review of last year's rain-drenched Fest. Drop me a comment if you have any questions. Hope to see you there!

FotoFriday #9

A detail from the Bavarian flag that hangs in our garage where we brew. (The weird light pattern is the result of the glass block window behind the flag.) This particular FotoFriday is foreshadowing an announcement I'll be making here soon--perhaps later today.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Thinking Gose...

In these crazy, busy times, I find myself itching to brew another Leipziger Gose. I was incredibly happy with the last Gose we brewed, but things have changed since then. First, I went to Leipzig and tried Döllnitzer Ritterguts Gose. It's awesome, and the sourness is far more assertive than it is with Bayerischer Bahnhof's Gose, so now I'm shooting to emulate Döllnitzer's lactic bite. Second, I've gone all-grain and, as such, am motivated to authentically sour my beer, as opposed to just adding lactic acid to the secondary. The problem? I don't know what they do to authentically sour their beer!

There is very little information on Gose out there. The two recipes I've found (from Randy Mosher's Radical Brewing and BYO magazine) each call for additions of acidulated/sour malt (aka Sauermalz) rather than pitching lactobacillus. I've also seen it suggested that they couldn't have pitched lacto because it would violate the Reinheitsgebot. Of course, the additions of coriander and salt already violate the venerable German purity law. When I emailed the brewer at Bayerischer Bahnhof a few years ago, he mentioned acidulated malt, the addition of lactic acid and the use of a Wyeast lambic blend as various options for souring a Gose, so that didn't really help narrow things down. A German-trained brewer at a Danish brewpub indicated on a German-language brewing message board that Döllnitzer indeed pitches lactobacillus but I can't find his email and am still trying to track him down. And of course there's the option of souring your own mash, but I've heard that's incredibly unpredictable and is too funky for the relatively clean lactic tang you need for a Gose.

I figured it might be worthwhile to turn to Gose's sour cousin, the Berliner Weisse, for advice. Certainly there's more info out there for Berliners, but the more I read various threads about brewing one the more I realized one potential problem: Berliners are incredibly dry and crisp; often the lacto will drop the final gravity to 1.002-1.004. The Goses I'm tasted seemed more in line with a Hefe or Witbier in terms of body. I'm concerned that pitching lacto in the secondary will drop the gravity too low.

After mulling this over, I'm thinking the acid malt may actually be the way to go. Of course the question then becomes: how much acid malt? I decided to look at two Gose recipes and two Berliner Weisse recipes to see what they did. Here's how it breaks down:

BYO's Gose: 11% acidulated malt (1 lb of 9.25 lb. total grain per 5-gallon batch)

Mosher's Gose: 18% (1 lb. of 6.5 lb.)

Weyermann's Berliner Weisse: 8% (they only gave a grain bill in terms of percentages) user's Berliner Weisse: 20% (1.5 lb. of 7.5 lb.)

A couple of things to note. First, the brewer at Bayerischer Bahnhof told me the final pH should be between 3.2 and 3.6. Since theirs is less sour than Döllnitzer's, I'm thinking I'd want to shoot for 3.2. However, the poster indicated that his beer is at 3.9 but tastes tart enough to qualify as a Berliner, so I'm not sure if I should go by pH. Second, the brewer on said he's getting an apple flavor to the sourness. Not sure what that's about...

So with all this in mind I'm inclined to try the acidulated malt next. However, there are still four questions to be answered:

1.) If I'm using ~15% acid malt that's gonna drop my mash pH and I don't want my efficiency to take too big a hit. Can I/should I do anything about this?

2.) Do I mash hop? Lactobacillus is inhibited by iso-alpha acids from hops, but with the acid malt the lactic acid has already formed on the malt so I don't think it's an issue. That being said, I'm no expert so maybe I'm overlooking something.

3.) Do I boil? I'm still not entirely sure I understand why they don't boil Berliner Weisses, and without that understanding it's hard for me to conclude whether I should be boiling the Gose. I would think I'd need to boil for at least 15 minutes to get the coriander flavor extracted. Of course, if I didn't boil I'd have to mash hop, and maybe I could add the coriander then?

4.) Do I keg condition or just bottle? Like anybody who kegs (and has a four-tap kegerator in the basement) I'd prefer to do the former but many insist on the latter with Berliner Weisses. I've always been skeptical about the differences between keg conditioning and bottle conditioning (isn't a keg just a really big bottle anyway?) so I'm inclined to keg but bottling would make it easier to stash a few away to see how they develop.

So these are all random things that are bouncing around my head as I contemplate my procedure for the next Gose. If anybody has any experience with sours (or, better yet, Gose) and would like to chime in, please do so. And I'll be sure to post what I end up doing so others can learn from my success/mistake/little of both, whatever it turns out to be.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

What I Great Tasted up in Madison...

Yesterday was the Great Taste of the Midwest up in Madison, WI. For those who have never been there, it's one of the top beer festivals in the U.S. (if not the world) and while it only features breweries from the Midwest, well, we have some damn good breweries in the Midwest. I didn't take copious notes of every beer I tried or anything like that, but I had enough noteworthy brews that I figured I'd post a quick recap. Oh, and I discovered when I got up there that my old point-and-shoot camera doesn't work so sorry, no pictures.

I guess I should start out with an Altbier report because, well, if you know me then you know I love my Alts. I often complain that American brewers don't know what Altbier is supposed to taste like, but last year I was pleasantly surprised to find three good Alts at the Taste. This year, there were again three Alts in the program and I was curious to see if more American brewers were "getting" what Alt's all about. The first one I had was from the Ohio Brewing Company in Akron, which to be honest I had never heard of before. Much to my surprise, it very well might have been the best traditional Düsseldorf-style Alt I've had in the States. It had an assertive but clean bitterness with a nice malt background. Oddly enough, the pourer informed me that they stopped filtering it a while ago (and it was indeed cloudy) and they thought it really improved the flavor. Whatever they're doing, they should keep on doing it.

The next one I had was from Gordon Biersch in Bolingbrook, IL. I've talked with their brewmaster, Kevin, about Alts before and I know that he understands Altbier so it wasn't a surprise that his was excellent. Unlike the Ohio Brewing Alt, his was sort of a tweener between a traditional Alt and a Sticke (at 6% it would certainly qualify as a Sticke by German standards) so it was a little more malty with the hops being a tad less assertive. I tend to go back and forth about whether I like regular Alts or Sticke Alts better, and Kevin's Alt definitely represented a happy medium that I could drink all afternoon.

Unfortunately, I never got around to trying the third Alt, a Sticke from Destihl in Bloomington, IL. Every time I went to their booth they told me they would be tapping it soon but by 4pm they still hadn't and, well, by the end I just forgot. Fortunately, I did try one thing at Destihl that blew my mind... a blonde ale infused with fresh strawberries. Now let me first note that, if you randomly asked how interested I would be in trying a strawberry blonde ale I would answer not very. However, they had their keg hooked up to a filter housing unit filled with fresh strawberries (much like Dogfish Head's Randall, only with strawberries instead of hops). I just had to try it, and boy am I glad I did. It had tons of fresh strawberry flavor and aroma, but it wasn't remotely sweet. It was awesome. Since I recently purchased a filter system to filter my beer, I could actually just pull out the filter and use the housing unit to do the same thing with my beer. I'm thinking a strawberry Kölsch would be awesome for next summer (and since it's after the beer is brewed, it's even Reinheitsgebot-compliant!).

Overall, I skipped a lot of the bigger brewers and tried to sample a lot from smaller brewers I hadn't come across before. The one hyped-up beer that I was really excited to try--Founders' Canadian Breakfast Stout--was actually a disappointment as I didn't really pick up much maple (the whole reason I was excited about it). And while many focus on the barrel-aged, 12% ABV ales, I found a couple great session beers: Capital's Supper Club pre-prohibition pilsner and Schell's Roggenbier. I had a couple crazy things that didn't really work for me (like Short's Strawberry Shortcake and some place pouring a shandy made with a dark, smoky beer) but it's a great opportunity to try those experiments without anything to lose. Not as many beers stuck out to me as they did last year, but it was still an awesome time.

Afterwards I went out for dinner at the Great Dane with the folks from Metropolitan Brewing and Steve and Jamie from the Drinking and Writing Brewery. I had heard a lot about the Great Dane and they didn't disappoint. I had a great Pilsner and an awesome ESB, along with some great meatloaf. And, despite the fact that it was predictably crowded post-Taste, the owner or manager or brewmaster (I've already forgotten his name and what his exact title is ... hey, it was a long day of drinking at that point!) was both very hospitable AND very generous. After dinner, we headed to another bar for a nightcap (had a tasty Central Waters IPA) before heading back to the hotel. Great beer and great company... an appropriate end to an awesome day.

Friday, August 07, 2009

FotoFriday #8

So, the picture above is almost two and a half years old (here's what my daughter is looking like these days) but I thought it was appropriate for this week's FotoFriday because of a great story I have to tell...

Yesterday I was out in the backyard grilling chicken breasts for dinner, and my daughter Dorrie was goofing around in the garage. We have this old lamp in the garage that has an opening in the top of it, and Dorrie was feeding the cord through the top. I asked her, "What are you doing?" Her response?

"I'm making beer!"

"Oh, really?"

"Yeah, it's root beer!"

She then made me stay inside the garage for a few minutes to stir the "root beer." Needless to say, I was a proud homebrewing dad at that moment.

On an unrelated note, I'm heading for the Great Taste of the Midwest tomorrow morning. If you're also going and you happen to run into a guy in a Valparaiso University t-shirt, be sure to say hi!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Spending spree!

I haven't really bought much brewing equipment lately, but that all changed today. Just what did I buy, you ask? Well, first of all I finally bought something I've been mulling over for well over a year, and that would be a Barley Crusher. Given the fact that I brew fairly often AND brew ten-gallon batches AND generally use Pilsner malt as my base malt, I figured it makes sense to invest in a mill so I can start buying my grain (or base grain, at least) in bulk. My research suggested the Barley Crusher was the best value for the dollar, so I finally took the plunge today.

My second purchase involves a brief back-story. First, I often brew German-style lagers and ales that should be brilliantly clear. I tend to get good clarity through using Irish moss and cold conditioning, but it sucks if you're planning on taking the keg elsewhere because you then have to rack to another keg or else the yeast that has settled to the bottom of the keg gets disturbed and you end up with a cloudy mess. Second, I realized last night that I forgot to add Irish moss to the Oktoberfest beer I brewed on Saturday. With these facts in mind, I decided to go ahead and do something I had first contemplated at least three years ago... invest in a filter. Using the instructions found here as a starting point (and the article's 13 years old so the prices are a bit outdated), I bought a housing unit and a 0.5-micron filter which I will hook up to a couple corny kegs so I can filter my Oktoberfest as well as anything else I brew that I want clear.

I still have a couple items on my brewing wish list that I've yet to pull the trigger on (mainly a housed, insulated pre-chiller that I hope to build using a 5-gallon cooler and 50 feet of copper tubing and a grant I'd like to build from a two-gallon cooler) but these items should tide me over for now. Stay tuned to find out whether my filter actually works.

Oh, quick Oktoberfest beer update... I proved that I am the world's most paranoid brewer when I panicked this morning after noticing little white dots on top of my carboys. If it had happened to anybody else, I would've said, "relax, it's just the beginning of fermentation," but because it was my beer I started to fear it was mold. Anyway, a few hours later a nice Kräusen has developed. It took close to 36 hours to start, which I guess is the price I have to pay for pitching at 55°F and immediately dropping the temp to 50°F. Hopefully a nice, smooth lager will be the reward for my patience!

P.S. If you read this, Señor Brew™, Project Porter may be on the backburner for now, but drop me a line if you're still looking to get rid of some of that malt you bought a few months ago.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Brew day: Hoar Frost Oktoberfest

This weekend has been less than relaxing. I didn't get home from work on Friday until 12:15 (and that's AM, not PM). I spent yesterday running around doing everything from helping a friend move an elliptical machine to making a Toy Story-themed fish tank for my daughter. Even this morning was more hectic than usual, as our pastor is on vacation so I was asked to read the sermon (a wonderfully dry piece of academia seemingly written in the '60s--and it wasn't actually written by my pastor, so I think I can say that without offending anybody). So when I got home from church and fired up the brew kettle to brew our Hoar Frost Oktoberfest (and, if you're curious, that's hoar frost pictured above), I knew this was my one chance to relax this weekend. "Please, PLEASE don't let anything go wrong..." I thought.

Fortunately, things indeed went smoothly. (Maybe it was God's way of saying thanks for reading the sermon this morning? Or maybe it's just that He knows that five gallons of today's beer is going to the church's annual Oktoberfest party.) I filled the kettle with my strike water before I left for church, so as soon as we got home I fired 'er up (and cracked open a Metro Dynamo to boot). By noon I was mashing in (1.25 qt./gallon at 173°F). I added 1/2 tsp. acid blend (as I do for all my light-colored beers) and hit my target temp of 157°F right on the nose.

I began to recirculate at 12:55 and started running off at 1:05. By 2:20 I had collected 11.5 gallons, got things boiling. Given the large amount of Pils malt in this brew, I went with a 90-minute boil and, inspired by Miller Lite as we did with great success with our Helles, we went with three hop additions--at 90 minutes, 20 minutes and five minutes.

Of course, the mere mention of a smooth brew day guarantees SOMETHING must go wrong, and we did have a minor difficulty at the end of the day. My latest attempt to cobble back together our busted immersion chiller didn't work too well, so we essentially didn't have a pre-chiller for our plate chiller. This meant that I could only cool to around 72°F (and even for that I had to chill REALLY slowly) and thus I'm throwing everything in the chest freezer overnight before pitching the yeast. Oh, and we ended up with a final gravity of 1057 before adding the starter, which is three points below what we were shooting for. I sparged at a pretty much constant rate this time instead of my usual start slow and speed up during the sparge, so maybe that wasn't a good idea. Anyway, after adding the starter I should end up at 1055 for an original gravity.

On a side note, the chiller is going so slow that this is the first time I've finished my blog post before actually finishing the beer. Oh well...

EDIT: By 10pm all three carboys had dropped to 55°F so I decided to pitch with the chest freezer set at 50°F.