Saturday, February 12, 2011

Brew day: F5 Altbier

Coming soon to a liquor store near you*: Ironworks Alt; and coming soon to a kegerator near you*: F5 Alt

*Headline only applicable if you happen to live in the Chicagoland area.

So I've been meaning to post about this for a while, but always seem to get distracted. Anyway, here's the big news: Metropolitan's Ironworks Alt, the Altbier I helped develop as I-Beam Alt last year, will be hitting the bars--and shelves--as a year-round release available on draft and in bottles in roughly a month! There have been a few tweaks since the first batch I helped brew back in March of 2010, so it should really be dialed in to give you the best Altbier experience you can get short of traveling to Düsseldorf! Yeah, I'm a little excited...

Of course, the release of Ironworks won't stop me from continuing my quest to perfect my personal Alt recipe, F5 Altbier. Doug and Tracy have limitations I don't (namely, the inability to decoct), plus every brewing system gives its own Hausgeschmecht, so while I'm excited to see Ironworks hit the shelves I've still got plenty of work to do back at the ranch.

The Alt I brewed back in 2008 was pretty close to what I was looking for. I did a single decoction (from a 129 F protein rest to a 152 F sacc rest) and shot for 40 IBU's and I was pretty happy with the results. While I got dinged in the CBS Spooky Review for being too hoppy, I did a side-by-side tasting with Füchschen Alt (my favorite Düsseldorf Alt) and a collaborative Alt brewed by Pete Crowley (then at Rock Bottom) and CBS and found it was only slightly more bitter than Füchshen and pretty much on par with the Rock Bottom/CBS brew. I decided all I really needed to do was bump up the mash temp a couple degrees to give it a little more malt backbone.

For the next Alt I brewed, in 2009, I indeed upped the sacc rest to 154F. I also ditched the protein rest and decoction since at that point Doug and Tracy had asked for my input on their Alt and I knew they would do a simple infusion. Much to my surprise it was way maltier and/or not as hoppy. Personally, I suspect it was the lack of hop presence that created the illusion of more malt (in other words, it was a change in balance more than a change in maltiness specifically). Of course that begged the question: why was it significantly less hoppy given that I didn't change the hop bill? I have to think I screwed up my hop addition with either the first batch or the second.

Now all that leads to today... What exactly should I do. Well, for the most part I decided to go back to my 2008 Alt and do just what I said I would do: up the sacc rest temp a couple degrees. But as for the hops, well, should I tweak today's brew assuming I added too many hops in '08 or too few in '09? Looking back on it, I recall the bitterness in the '08 Alt as being comparable to Uerige's, which is 50 IBU's, so my suspicion is the hops were wrong that time. As a bit of a compromise, I upped the IBU's to 42 and figured I'd see how it ended up.

The brew day itself seemed to go pretty well, with one minor issue. I hit my protein rest temp of 129°F right on the nose, added 1/4 tsp. acid blend, and after fifteen minutes pulled a 6-quart decoction. (As you can see to the right, Dorrie helped stir the decoction. Sorry for the crappy cell phone pic.) It was more than the 4.5 quarts Beersmith recommended, but I always seem to end up low with my rests after decoctions. I held my decoction at 154°F for fifteen minutes before bringing it to a 15-minute boil. Upping the volume of the decoction was a good idea, because after returning it to the mash I ended up at 154°F right on the nose.

After a 40-minute sacc rest I recirculated for fifteen minutes and then collected (what I thought was) six gallons over the next hour. I did a 90-minute boil with additions at 90, 60 and 45 minutes as well as at knockout. I chilled down to 60 F and while chilling I took a gravity reading. It was 1067 while my target was 1051 (anticipating that the 1/2 gallon starter I made Thursday would knock it down to 1049). Overshooting my expected gravity by 16 points??? Rut roh!
Just as I started to wonder what happen I noticed I had drained the kettle and there was what looked like less than four gallons in my carboy. While I'm still not sure how I ended up collecting a full gallon less than I was supposed to, I did some quick math and found that if I topped off with a gallon of water I'd be right where I needed to be. So that's what I did. I oxygenated and pitched at 60°F and look forward to fermentation tomorrow.

In the meantime, a couple notes on our other beers... I kegged our Nimbostratus Dunkel this past Sunday; it was at 1016 and is now lagering in the Syzlak keg. Also I kegged and primed our Gust Front Leipzig-style Wheat the week before; it finished at 1008 and now resides in the Krabappel keg. After two weeks of conditioning I threw it in the chest freezer to bring it down to serving temp. Finally, I'm carbonating some filtered water in our Hutz keg so we'll have seltzer on tap (I'm planning on making a tonic syrup soon). We've come a long way from the dark days of two months ago when we only had one beer on tap!


Blogger Brian Eichhorn said...

In my exerpience, I've found Beersmith's calculations for water temperature to be pretty worthless. I use a couple of other calculators and have gotten reasonably proficient at pulling the correct decoction volumes to hit my numbers, FWIW. Can't wait to try your alt, though!

3:10 PM, February 14, 2011  
Blogger Russ said...

Now that you mention it, I stopped using Beersmith's temperature recommendations for my strike temps a long time ago in favor of the calculator on the Green Bay Rackers' webpage. I guess that should've been my first clue that their decoction recommendations would be off as well. What calculators do you use?

3:39 PM, February 14, 2011  
Blogger Señor Brew™ said...

Aren't your IBUs going to be off again now that you added water at the end to get to the right gravity? I mean, if the reason that you ended up with a lower volume is because you boiled off more water than usual then the hops would be more concentrated, so theoretically adding the water would not only dilute the sugars, but also the isomerized hop acids, so you should be fine. However, the hops are less utilized in a higher gravity wort, so by adding water to less utilized (underutilized? hops), you're actually going to bring your IBUs lower than initially intended.

I'm guessing you considered this (you are very thorough), and decided that it was the best compromise you could make.

4:46 PM, February 19, 2011  
Blogger Russ said...

I thought about that, Señor, but my understanding is that the decrease in hop utilization isn't THAT much for partial boils (which is basically what my beer ended up being) so I figured it was definitely worth it. I also have some alpha acid extract if the bitterness needs a boost.

12:13 AM, February 25, 2011  

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