Monday, April 30, 2012

Brew day: Step Leader Hefeweizen

The next month is gonna be crazy busy for us. A trip to Brooklyn, Mother's Day, Beerfly Alleyfight, a wedding, Memorial Day weekend... There's not a free weekend day in sight. So with that in mind, I decided to take advantage of our last weekend staying at home for the next month by brewing up a quick batch of Hefeweizen. Now we've brewed our Step Leader Hefeweizen plenty of times. Our first beer ever was an extract batch of Hefe, and we even brewed a Hefe to hand out when our third child, Lily, was born. However, this time I was ready to take the next step and use a direct-fire mash tun to do an authentic, Bavarian-style mash schedule.

When it comes to heating mashes, there are all sorts of acronymed methods you can employ (RIMS, HERMS, etc.). However, I've read that if you're using a mash tun that can be direct-fired, you can keep your mash temperature fairly consistent by simply pumping the wort out the outlet valve and back up to the top of the mash using a hose. I decided to try this simple method and see what happens. As for the mash schedule, well it was right out of Eric Warner's Classic Beer Style series book, German Wheat Beer: mash in around 100°F, direct heat it to 122°F for a 25-minute rest, decoct roughly two gallons for a half hour, return that to get the mash up to around  147°F, let it sit there for 15 minutes, direct heat it to 160°F for 15 minutes, then direct heat it to  170°F for the mash-out.

Dorrie helps mash in...
So did everything go according to plan? Well, for the most part, yes. I mashed in at a 2.5 quarts water per pound of grain ratio (crazy high by my own experience, but fairly typical for German brewers) and quickly found that I no longer need to overestimate what Beersmith tells me for a strike temp when I'm heating the water in the actual mash tun. The pump worked fine for recirculating and I didn't notice any scorching issues with my false bottom. With my crappy old burner turned three quarters of the way open it raised the mash temps around 2°F per minute, which is recommended. I did have a little issue with getting a uniform reading even with stirring the mash fairly frequently; I'm thinking I should focus more on stirring well right before each rest. I didn't really run into issues with the temperature climbing after reaching a target temp, but that may have partly had to do with the fact that it was a very cool day.

...and Jonas helps stir the mash.
The one time I did run into a problem of overshooting my temp it was during the mash-out, when I climbed to 176°F. The lesson: pay closer attention when I'm busy setting up my hoses to sparge. Hopefully I won't notice any issues with tannins. I also ran out of sparge water a little early (collecting only 6.6 gallons instead of 7); perhaps the kettle plus the decoction meant extra evaporation. Oh, and it turns out I should still decoct around 50% more grain than Beersmith recommends even with the ability to direct-heat... When I returned my 9-quart decoction it only raised my mash temp to around 133 instead of the target of 147.

I did a 90-minute boil and ended up collecting 4.6 gallons of Hefe at 1.069 (yes, still trying to dial in my evaporation rates) which I diluted to 5.6 gallons at 1.053. I aereated and pitched a 500mL starter of WLP 380 Hefeweizen IV yeast. Unfortunately, my chest freezer had previously been set to 34°F and while I left it open for a little while it apparently was still quite cold because 18 hours later there was still no fermentation and when I took a temperature reading it was at 59°F. My plan was to start at 62°F and up it two degrees each day to 68°F.

I left the chest freezer open for most of the evening and fermentation began about 24 hours after pitching at 60°F. This morning it was up to 62°F (which the chest freezer thermostat was still set to) but now it's already up to 66°F! So much for my plan of slowly ramping up! Oh well, I guess we'll see what kind of flavor profile we get out of it. I'll do my best to post the results here down the road (yeah, I know I always say that but tend to forget to actually do it).

In the meantime, I kegged our light and dark mild ales last night and carbed them tonight. They're quite tasty, though I'm not finding that big of a difference in flavor between the light and dark milds. I'm thinking next time, instead of chocolate and carafa malts I'll go with chocolate and roast barley. Fortunately, they're both damn tasty! Cheers!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Brew day: Village Green Mild Ale/Desperate Dan Dark Mild Ale

As I've mentioned before, we have a kegerator in the basement with four taps; my general goal is to keep one light beer (by which I mean light-colored, obviously), one dark beer, and one wild card on tap at any given time. The fourth tap is reserved for a non-alcoholic selection. I'm usually pretty good about this, and while occasionally we might have one tap empty for a week or so, that's by far the exception rather than the rule.

Until last week.

As recently as three weeks ago we had our Helles Lager, our Doppelbock and our Gose on tap. When our Helles and Doppelbock kicked in short succession, I replaced the former with our Witbier but didn't have anything to replace the latter. Then we brought our Witbier to a small gathering where I thought, at most, a couple gallons would be consumed, and we ended up killing that keg. Plus, when rearranging the kegerator I noticed the Gose keg is feeling rather light. I do have 10 gallons of Altbier lagering, but one of those kegs is reserved for Beerfly Alleyfight and the other won't be ready for at least another week (preferably two).

Bottom line is I need beer, and fast. Last time I was in this situation I came up with our Village Green Mild Ale, a light mild (perhaps better categorized as an AK, an obscure sub-style of the classic British bitter). Leah loved it and has been bugging me to brew it again. But I need both a light beer and a dark beer. At the same time, I've also been itching to brew a dark mild. If only there was a way to do both...

That's when it hit me: I can do both! My light mild ale was just a traditional dark mild ale without the dark grains, and dark grains don't need to be mashed; they can be steeped. As such, since I have two brew kettles and two burners, I could simply split the wort after mashing and steep the dark grains in the kettle for the dark mild ale. And that's just what I did.

Since I have a couple 3-gallon carboys, I decided to shoot for a 6-gallon batch yielding three gallons of each beer. I did a simple infusion at 154°F (two degrees below my target) and collected 7.5 gallons over the course of about an hour. At that point I pumped half from my one kettle to the other. In my second kettle I steeped 2.5 oz. of chocolate malt and 2.5 oz. of dehusked Carafa III malt for about twenty minutes while I brought the first kettle to a boil.

Things were delayed a bit when I ran out of propane and had to run to Walgreen's (pretty much every time my buddy Mark comes over to help me brew, I have to make an emergency trip somewhere), but ultimately I boiled each for an hour, with one hop addition at 60 minutes and Irish moss added at 15 minutes. Also, I had a bit of a problem with the invert sugar Leah and I made the night before (the webpage that I used the last time I made the syrup no longer exists, and apparently the new recipe I found had some problems since I ended up with a mason jar full of a solid, sugary mass) so I just added regular ol' turbinado sugar (un-invert sugar?) at 15 minutes.

As usual, my original gravity was high but my volume was low; I started with ~2.6 gallons of 1049 wort for each batch but diluted each with 1.5 liters of water to get to roughly 3 gallons of 1040 beer (you can see the difference in color in the picture on the right).  I aerated each carboy and pitched one packet of S-04 dry yeast in each carboy. Both were fermenting away within eight hours.

The last thing for me to consider was the name of the new beer. The light mild was named "Village Green" after the most British thing I could think of: the Kinks' "The Village Green Preservation Society." For its dark counterpart, I wanted to stick with the same theme, so I turned to the second verse of the same song. And thus Desperate Dan Dark Mild Ale was born. Can't wait to try the two side-by-side and see the difference 5 oz. of dark malts can make!