Monday, March 30, 2009

In remembrance of beers lost AND the coolest thing on YouTube (not involving leprechauns)

Two completely unrelated topics (aside from the fact that they're both about beer) that I just had to post about...

FIRST: My buddy Kevin over at Noble Square Brewing shared a tragic story about five gallons of Bockbier which he lost while force-carbonating a keg. Turns out there was some leak in the keg, and as a result the CO2 didn't push bubbles into the beer... it pushed beer out of the keg and on to the floor. The funny (by which I mean sad) thing is that I had the same thing happen to me almost three years ago. This got me thinking... How many gallons of beer have I sacrificed on the way to becoming the brewer that I am today?

Sadly, that's a mixture of beer and Oxyclean in that there wet/dry vac.

By my count, it's fifteen gallons. Five gallons of Kölsch-style ale which died the same noble death as did Kevin's Bockbier (a bad poppet, for the record; now I always keep a cobra tap on any keg I'm carbonating). Next I lost five gallons of American Red/Amber Ale (tentatively named "Red Line Ale") that is the only batch I've lost to poor brewing technique--I believe I fermented at too high of a temperature, leaving a nasty Band-aid phenolic flavor. Finally, I lost five gallons of Irish Red Ale (something about the Reds, I suppose) in the Great Wort Chiller Incident of 2008.

Overall, I guess fifteen gallons lost out of roughly 275 gallons brewed isn't too bad. But I'll tell you what, at the time I wasn't too happy about losing any of those batches.

SECOND: Via Ron Pattinson's blog, behold the coolest non-leprechaun-related* video ever uploaded to YouTube:

*If you don't know what I mean by "non-leprechaun-related," go to this post and scroll to the bottom.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Brew day: 59° Fahrenheit Maibock

I've been wanting to brew a Maibock for at least three years. I want to say it was 2006 when I was heading to an early-season Cubs game and met some friends at the Goose Island Wrigleyville brewpub. They had an awesome Maibock on tap... nice and malty; big but drinkable; and a nice hop kick to keep it from being sweet. It was one of those brews that satisfied beer geek and novice alike. Since then, it has seemed like every spring May would roll around and I would think, "Damn! Forgot to brew that Maibock. Maybe next year..." Well, I finally remembered this time!

Most of the brew day was pretty uneventful. I wanted to get started in the morning but between sleeping in and having to run out and exchange a propane tank, I didn't end up mashing in until 12:40pm. I mashed in at 157°F, adding 3/4 tsp. acid blend. I soon realized that I measured incorrectly and had accidentally mashed in with an extra gallon of water (meaning a 1.5 instead of 1.25 qt./gal ratio). I like thicker mashes but I was only doing five gallons so mash tun space wasn't really an issue. After a 45-minute rest, I pulled a 1 1/8-gallon decoction at 1:25. I boiled it for fifteen minutes and returned it to the tun for mash-out at 1:40. Curiously, despite the fact that my mash was still at 156°F when I pulled the decoction, I only got a slight bump (~162°F) after returning the decoction. I'll chalk that one up to poor mixing when measuring the temperature.

I began to recirculate at 1:50pm and began the sparge at 2:05. I collected 6.5 gallons (or so I thought... more on that in a second) at 3:00 and reached a boil by 3:05. Given the pilsner-dominated malt base, I went with a 90-minute boil to drive off DMS, with hop additions at 20 minutes, 5 minutes and knock-out (plus Irish moss at 15 minutes).

Here's where things got weird... So my chilling set-up is as follows: a hose runs from my kettle to my March pump, which pumps through a ball valve out to the plate chiller. A final hose runs out from the chiller to my carboy, but on the end of the hose is my Thrumometer. Well, after pumping out about two gallons at around 60°F, I heard a "ker-plunk!" Yes, the Thrumometer fell off the hose and into the carboy. Guess I should use a hose clamp. I soaked it in One-Step sanitizer beforehand, so it shouldn't be a problem, but I felt pretty stupid.

Things got even weirder when my kettle ran empty with only 4.5 gallons in the carboy. What the hell? I swear I measured everything right after messing up the volume of strike water. Yeah, I did a longer-than-usual boil, and it was cold and windy (which might have contributed to a greater evaporation rate), but even at 15% per hour (the highest evaporation rate available on Beersmith) I should've ended up with 5 gallons if I collected 6.5. Well, I took a gravity reading at I was at 1085, well above my target of 1070. I did some quick math and discovered that if I diluted it with one gallon of water, I'd end up with 5.5 gallons at 1070. Perfect! So I ran out to Walgreen's, bought a gallon of water, and topped it off. I pitched a decanted 2L starter of WLP 838 South German Lager yeast (the same I used for my awesome Helles) and called it a day.

I guess all's well that ends well, right? Hopefully the fermenting Thrumometer won't be an issue and the beer will come out fine despite the dilution. If either does cause a problem, anybody within a ten-mile radius of Beverly will hear me swearing in about a month.

Oh, and a quick explanation on the name before I go. As you've probably noticed, all of our German-style beers have weather-related names. Well, I wanted something specific to May for the Maibock, but I couldn't think of any particular phenomena that I associate with late spring. So I decided to look up the average mean temperature for May in Chicago and it just happened to be 59°F (and for the record, that's average overall temperature, not average high temperature--I don't want to make Chicago sound any colder than it already is!). For any readers outside of the United States, here's a translated label:


EDIT: I guess while I'm at it, I might as well post this one too for any thermodynamicists out there:

Now that's it! I'm not making any labels in Rømer.

MORNING AFTER UPDATE: No, it's not another label. I just wanted to note that after leaving the carboy by the back door in the basement (where I'm guessing the temp was 60°F) I woke up to fermentation this morning. I subsequently moved the carboy to the chest freezer which is currently set to 55°F. I think I'll knock it down to 50°F tomorrow and bring it back up to 55° once the Kräusen starts to fall.

MORNING AFTER MORNING AFTER UPDATE: As planned, I dropped the temp down to 50°F and will keep it there until I hit a gravity of about 1035, at which point I'll bring it up to 65°F for the diacetyl rest.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Let's party like it's 1979!

That's right... it was thirty years ago this Thursday that I blessed the world with my presence. Okay, so that might be overstating things, but the simple fact is I kiss my twenties goodbye on March 26th, and it just so happens that it's also a Mug Club tapping at Rock Bottom. What does that mean? It means that if you can get your ass over to Rock Bottom on the southwest corner of State and Grand in Chicago's River North neighborhood, you can celebrate with me! And better yet, you can celebrate with me without dropping a dime, because Rock Bottom tappings are free to all Mug Club members and it doesn't cost anything to join the Mug Club. So stop by at 6pm for an hour of free Double IPA, introduce yourself if we haven't met yet, and stick around for dinner if you're really adventurous. I can't think of a better way to spend my thirtieth.

A couple random notes while I'm here... First, the photo above is courtesy of my lovely wife (and very infrequent poster here) Leah, who is currently taking an online photography course. She had to take some long-exposure pics, and looking for another subject besides Dorrie, Jonas, or Dorrie and Jonas, she turned her attention to me. I thought it would be cool to try to emulate some old-timey beer ads and show off my kegerator at the same time. The above is one of the results. Unfortunately the light was too bright (even with all the shades down in the basement) to do really long exposures, but I still thought it came out pretty cool. So anyway, kudos to Leah for being an awesome photographer.

Second, tonight I'll be making a starter for the Maibock I plan on brewing on Saturday. Probably won't be ready until very late May at the earliest, but as long as I tap it by May 31st, it still counts, right? Anyway, hope to see a few of you Thursday. Cheers!


Saturday, March 07, 2009

Brew day (from two weeks ago): Road House Red

So, having a kid didn't slow down my brewing (as I fired up the mash tun a mere two days after Jonas was born), but it has slowed down my blogging quite a bit. Excuses aside, here's a quick wrap-up of my brew day from two weeks ago (Feb. 22, to be exact)...

Overall, it was a quick brew day. I only brewed five gallons, which cut down on time waiting for things to come to a boil. I was also on top of my game as far as getting ready for the next step while waiting for said things to come to a boil. The breakdown was pretty much as such: Noon- start heating water. 12:45-mash in. 1:45- recirculate. 2:00-sparge. 2:45-begin boil. 3:45-begin to chill. 4:00-done. On the plus side, I discovered I have a lid from a stock pot that fits perfectly over my kettle, which allows me to bring water to a boil a little faster. Also on the plus side, I overshot my estimated gravity (1059 as opposed to my target of 1054), meaning I netted an 83% efficiency! (I generally assume 75% efficiency and usually fall somewhere between 75% and 80%.) On the negative side, I screwed up my mash-in temp so ended up mashing around 151°F instead of the 156°F I was shooting for (though I picked that high target gravity assuming I'd be a tad low). Also on the negative side, I couldn't find my Irish moss. Neither are huge deals, though. I pitched some dry yeast (Safale S-04 Whitbread Strain) since Irish red ales call for a fairly neutral profile and it was off and running the next morning.

Now, fast forward to today. After letting it ferment in my basement for the past two weeks, I kegged the beer tonight. It finished at 1013--a tad lower than I planned, but to be expected given my low mash temp. That gives me a whopping (by Irish red standards) 6% ABV. Looks like everybody's gonna have a rockin' St. Patty's Day! I tasted a sample and there was a slight harshness to it that I hope will go away after it chills for a week, but nothing too noticeable. It also was really light on the hops (perhaps a little more than intended) but I'm sure that's accentuated by the higher-than-intended starting gravity, and I like my Irish reds on the malty side anyway. I've got it sitting in the Wiggum keg in my chest freezer at 40 PSI (don't worry... I'll kick it back down to 14 PSI tomorrow). It should be ready to roll come Sunday's parade.

A few housekeeping notes... First, if you're in Chicago and are going to be at the South Side Irish parade, drop me a line (rchibe {at} gmail {dot} com). Our homebrew club throws a rockin' party right off the parade route and you should stop by. I'll be the guy in this shirt:

(You can get yours here.)

Second, you may have noted references to keg names in my last couple posts. For purposes of keeping track of what's in what keg and keeping track of which kegs have issues (mainly leaky poppets) I've decided to permanently name and label each keg. So far I've done this with three: Frink (which currently holds our Dunkelweizen), Wiggum (the Irish red) and Krustofski (our dedicated soda/seltzer keg). I'll name more as they're filled.

Finally, since I've had a few late nights the past couple weeks, I've been drinking a lot more coffee than usual. This led me to do some experimenting, and I've come up with a pretty good hot toddy recipe. You add one shot Kahlua, a half shot Jameson, and some hazelnut creamer to a cup of coffee. The Jameson and creamer are meant to somewhat approximate Irish cream, but I'm pretty happy with it as is. So you can keep that in mind if we get stuck with another cold day or two before spring arrives.

So that's what's up for now. In honor of St. Patrick's Day, I leave you with the following: