Monday, February 27, 2017

New Toys: Aquarium Pump

I purchased an aquarium pump with an air filter at Modern Homebrew Emporium. Yeast is a living organism. Technically it is billions of living organisms. Those billions of tiny yeast cells ferment the sugars in wort into alcohol and carbon dioxide to make beer. As with most living organisms yeast needs oxygen. A wort without sufficient oxygen will not attenuate fully.  One of the consequences of boiling wort is that most of the oxygen in solution is boiled off. 

Boiling off oxygen in extract or partial-mash brewing is a bit of a non-issue when only doing a partial-boil. The top off water should have plenty of oxygen still in solution. Aerating the wort becomes more imperative when doing a full boil. In my case that is when I brew three gallon batches at home, or when Andy and I brew five to ten gallon batches. 

The air we breath is mostly hydrogen and only around 21% oxygen. You can introduce some oxygen to your wort by agitating your fermenter, splashing the wort when you transfer it to your fermenter, running your wort thru a strainer, or otherwise agitating it. 

For awhile I used pure oxygen. I purchased an oxygen regulator, oxygen tank, and diffusion stone to oxygenate my beers.

Image result for oxygen regulator brewingImage result for oxygen regulator brewing

This setup worked decently enough. Having to go to a big box home improvement store to buy the oxygen tank was a minor inconvenience. Unfortunately by the time my tank was empty the regulator had rusted onto the empty tank. When this happened I decided to try the aquarium pump.

No tanks are needed, just plug the little guy in and let him pump away! The air filter makes sure contaminants in the air aren't pumped and diffused into your beer. As long as I take reasonable care of the thing this is a one-time purchase other than replacing the filter one a year or so. 

The main advantage to the tank is that it is pure oxygen. The tank with regulator does not take as much time to diffuse the wort as the pump. With the tank I would let it rip for anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes. The instructions that came with the pump suggested leaving it in for 30 to 120 minutes.

I used the pump for the first time the other day. I didn't mind the time it took. Once I cooled down my wort and transferred it to the fermenter, I plugged in the pump and let it do it's job while I finished cleaning

A propperly aerated wort will start fermenting more quickly than a wort that isn't. My first batch was going within 12 hours. That's even more impressive since I was using dry yeast. So far, the pump feels like a solid investment. 

See Oxygen - How to Brew

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Checking in: Thomas Brady's Ale (Specialty Wood-Aged Beer)

Thomas Brady's Ale is a barleywine inspired by the original barrel-aged beer Thomas Hardy's Ale. In the five weeks since I brewed the beer, Tom Brady only added to his legacy by leading the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. If nothing else, my choice in name has been vindicated. .

After brew day I moved the fermenter to the coolest place in my apartment and let my re-pitched 1187 Ringwood Ale yeast go to town. After ten days activity in the airlock slowed down, and I moved the fermenter to a warmer spot to give the yeast a little nudge to keep going and gobble up any diacetyl. Wyeast recommends a diacetyl rest when using Ringwood. 

Four days later I pitched a vile of WLP099 Super High Gravity yeast. When I pitched the vial my fermenter was at 68F. There was also still some krausen on top, but it had greatly receded. Within 12 hours the airlock was bubbling away again as the temperature crept up to 72F. The temperature eventually dropped back down to 68F. From the time I pitched my second yeast, I gave the beer three weeks to sit on the yeast cake to make sure the yeast had more than enough time to clean up chemical byproducts from fermentation. 

As this was an extract brew I did not take a starting gravity reading. Firstly it would not have been accurate because my partial boil was not fully dissolved with the top off water. Secondly without actually mashing grain, there is no reason my beer should have been below the 1.113 SG BeerSmith calculated.

Before I racked the beer to a carboy, I took a gravity reading:

Adjusting for temperature the gravity was down to 1.008! That means the alcohol by volume is over 14%!! Wowza!!

On White Labs' website attenuation for Super High Gravity yeast is listed at 80-100%. Somehow I achieved 92% attenuation. 

With my gravity that low my immediate concern would be that the beer would be thin. When I tasted a sample it actually wasn't. It was quite alcoholic, and had enough body that it tasted a bit like lacquer. In a beer this big, that is to be expected.The only cure is time.

I did decide to age the beer on wood. I went back to the notes and BJCP judges' feedback from the last wood-aged beer I made Pyrite Pistol. The judges liked the beer, but wanted more wood and more spirit character. For that batch I used 24 wood cubes soaked in Islay scotch, and aged the beer on the wood for eight weeks. 

This time around I used 30 cubes, 25% more than I used in Pyrite Pistol. Piggybacking on the caramel rye malt in the beer, I soaked the cubes in George Dickel Rye whisky. When I tasted some of the whisky on the rocks I was taken aback by how smooth it was. Compared to bourbon, the rye had more body and sweetness along with a low spice character I'd expect in a rye beer. It was love at first sip. I rye whisky will be a new fixture in my home. 

Right now Thomas Brady's ale is back on the landing. The chips and leftover rye whisky have been blended in. Now the plan is to forget about it for awhile. I am going to give it at least three months to age, and maybe longer. Even if I bottle it in three months, it will need more time to age. Unlike some other batches I have forgotten about, this one could use some alone time. 

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Brew Day - Pasteinator (Dopplebock)

The first ever batch where I employed a partial mash, a process that involves obtaining a percentage of your batch's fermentable sugars from mashing grains, and then topping that off with malt extract, was a beer called Bases Loaded Bock.

Image result for paste bases loaded

At that time I was still very green as a brewer. Looking back I formulated my recipes with the same skill level as a monkey on a typewriter. Somehow with this batch the monkey managed to bang out the Great American Novel. Well, that might be a bit of an overstatement, but compared to most of my early batches this beer was outstanding. 

After hoarding the beer over the years, I brought 12 bottles to Jamboree. On Friday night before the main festival, there was an Oktoberfest celebration where attendees were encouraged to bring German-styles beers. Revisiting the beer and sharing it with other brewers reaffirmed that the beer was good in its own right and not merely in comparison to my earlier batches. 

My original plan was to re-brew Bases Loaded Bock the same day as my Pulpwood Stacker Dark Lager and ferment both in Andy's shed using a heat wrap for my fermenters. To make a double brew day easier, I reformulated the recipe as an extract batch while staying as faithful to the original as possible. When I couldn't find the Vienna Malt extract my revised recipe called for I bought Vienna Malt and changed my recipe back to a partial mash. While the first batch straddled the line between a regular bock and a dopplebock, I also increased the original gravity to push it over the line. 

My planned double brew day never materialized when I didn't give myself enough time to make two large yeast starters. My ingredients for the new bock sat for around a month. Finally I decided to just use harvested yeast from Endicott Red and get it over with. After winning a medal in a lager category, and tasting other lagers brewed with WLP810 San Francisco Lager yeast, I think it should work just fine. My friend and occasional co-worker at Modern Homebrew Emporium Nate brewed a schwarzbier with this yeast and it tasted like a lager to me.

For good measure I also threw in two expired packages of Wyeast 2308 Munich Lager. This was the yeast I originally intended to use. The Munich Lager has a higher attenuation than the San Francisco Lager, and I am hoping that it will help here. It is easy for a big, malty lager like this to finish heavy and sweet.

Brew day was fairly smooth. As I added the last bit of malt extract, I noticed that my wort looked to be a little light. I forgot to add the Carafa III malt. A dobblebock doesn't have to be brown, it can be lighter. This wasn't as disastrous as forgetting to add extract.

Since both the grist, starting gravity, and yeast were all different from the original, it only made sense to rename the beer. I probably won't lager it in the traditional sense by storing it at near-freezing temperatures, but I will let it condition for eight weeks in a secondary fermenter.

Come to think of it, it should be ready for my club's competition in May. 

See the full recipe here

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Organizing a homebrew competition, I am actually organizing something

Even with the holiday season being over, I am still filling in one day a week at Modern Homebrew Emporium in Cambridge. This past week I worked my regular job, poured for Newburyport on Friday night for a couple of hours, and then worked an eight-hour shift on a Saturday at the shop.

Anyhoo, my manager at the shop remarked that whenever someone buys a five pound bag of priming sugar that the brewer is lulled into a false sense of security, and that the bag always runs out when it is least expected. Alas that has happened with my blog posts. After having several in the can, which is a bit rare for me, I haven't had any #content ready to go.

The past week or so I have been devoting most of my energy to helping to organize my homebrew club: The North Shore Brewers' competition. The club hasn't run a competition since 2011. Over the years the club had had difficulty finding a venue and recruiting judges. Danielle, our club president wanted to bring the competition back as a way to help club members get feedback on their beer, and to increase the club's profile in the beer and brewing community.

The first thing Danielle did was reach out to Chris Lohring at Notch Brewing to see if he would be willing to brew the Best of Show (BOS) at Notch. Not only did Chris agree, but he offered up the taproom as a venue for the competition. Danielle then asked me to be Competition Organizer. According to the BJCP Competition Handbook:

  • Organizer – The organizer is basically responsible for planning and running the competition, including making sure that every aspect of the competition is completed on schedule and according to the rules. Some of the duties performed may include setting the date for the competition (which may be done with staff input), securing a venue and handling all venue issues, registering the competition with the BJCP, advertising the competition, setting up competition guidelines (with input from staff, if desired), setting up and troubleshooting the on-line entry process if one is being used, ordering awards, procuring prizes if a raffle is being held, fielding questions, and overseeing task progress and completion by staff members. During the competition, the organizer oversees the competition as a whole and pitches in where needed. After the competition, the competition report must be completed filed, and scoresheets/awards sent to the entrants. Any of the above tasks can be delegated to other staff members, or additional staff may be added to complete some of the tasks. The organizer should not judge, but can help in an emergency provided that the organizer does not have knowledge of the association between entries and entrants. In any event, no additional points are awarded to the organizer for judging or performing
Holy crap, I am kind of in-charge of this thing. We set up a Slack channel for organizing the competition with me, Danielle, Danielle's husband Tim who is club Vice President, and Jason G.who volunteered to be the registrar for the competition. 

The first thing we had to do was coordinate with Notch to schedule a date/time to have the judging. Since their taproom opens to the public at 12:00 p.m., we decided to have two morning sessions on Saturday May 6 and Sunday May 7. Once we had that settled, I registered the competition with the BJCP. We got it in there just in time for it to appear in Zymurgy. 

I checked the BJCP competition calendar several times to try and ensure we wouldn't be competing with any competitions in the area. Unfortunately another local club, The Boston Wort Processors also scheduled their competition on May 6. The Wort's president politely asked if we could move the date of our competition to make sure we both have enough judges. We were too far along to even consider it.

In planning out the competition I looked at the results from the club's last competition in 2011. Firstly I had a chuckle when I saw that Paul Gentile, owner and brewer at Gentile Brewing finished third in the light lager category. Additionally Max Heinegg who went on to be co-founder of Medford Brewing Company finished second at his table having brewed a robust porer. Five years ago there were 154 entries. For our first year back we wanted to keep things manageable so we capped the competition at 150 entries. From there I broke it down accordingly:

150 entries
8-10 beers per judging flight
15-17 flights
7-9 flights per session

Not including myself, we will need to find at least 7-9 qualified judges per session. From there I can pair the experienced judges with non-BJCP judges in the club who will hopefully volunteer. Like the BJCP handbook suggests, I'll save myself as an emergency fill-in

Once we had the dates nailed down, we started reaching out to sponsors. A well-run competition has plenty of gifts and prizes for the judges, stewards, and volunteers. This is where sponsors can make or break a competition. Our first year back it is important that the judges and volunteers have a good experience so they want to volunteer again next year. 

Danielle works at a local bottle shop, so I asked if she could reach out to some of the brewery and distributor reps she works with. Beyond that I emailed every type of business I could think of: local craft beer bars and restaurants, homebrewing equipment and ingredient suppliers, distilleries, breweries and brewpubs that Danielle might not have a relationship with. The response better than I could have imagined.After a couple of weeks we already have 22 sponsors.

Working prototype of our poster. We ran out of room for sponsor's logos. 

As we were reaching out to potential sponsors, Tim updated and uploaded the competition software onto the club's website. After ironing out a couple of kinks and an ill-timed servier migration, we were able to edit all of the competition information: upload all of our sponsors, add in our drop-off locations, and other details.

The entry window has been open for three days. So far we have nine entries which isn't too shabby at all. Our competition committee will be meeting this week to go over a few things. I am also working on a special brew to enter just for this competition.

For more information on the competition, to enter your beer, or to volunteer click here

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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

I actually won something

In my recent post Making hard cider at home, I admitted that the only medal I had ever won in a competition was for a cider. I was hoping to change that last year as I vowed to enter more competitions. I didn't brew quite as much in 2016 as I had in 2015. A lot of what I brewed last year was for events like Jamboree and Ales over ALS. Entering more of my beers into competitions was one of my Brew Year's Resolutions.

I had gotten great feedback on my latest batch Pa's Lager. Before that I entered Pa's Lager and Curly's Pumpkin Milk Stout into a competition in Portland, ME: the Groundhogs Day Homebrew Competition 2017 run by the Portland Mashing Maineiacs. Additionally I volunteered to judge in the competition. I'll take a built-in excuse to visit Portland. I made time to stop by Foundation and D.L. Geary's before heading home.

The competition wasn't huge with only around 100 entries. The categories were grouped into six different "tables" from which awards were given. I judged American Ales, American Porters, and American Stouts with a brewer and judge named Doug who is from nearby Swampscott, Mass. He was also a Certified BJCP judge and additionally he is a Certified Cicerone. Our scores tended to diverge a bit, but we were able to reach easy consensuses for the winners of both flights we judged.

Of the two beers I entered I probably had higher hopes for the Pumpkin Milk Stout. I was really happy with how that beer came out, and I thought it was a more forgiving beer and would better mask any flaws or off-flavors. After Doug and I finished our flights, I was milling around and saw the table where all of the judged beers were lined up. As I looked for my entries and any hopes I had of the Pumpkin Milk Stout placing were dashed. I found the bottle of Pumpkin Milk Stout with dried foam on the outside. If my beer gushed, there was no chance it would win anything.

The steward from that table told me the beer didn't gush when opened, but it did slowly foam after opening. I took a swig from the already judged bottle. It didn't taste offensive, but it clearly had fallen off from even a month earlier.

What I didn't find was Pa's Lager. The Best-in-Show judging was being conducted in a separate room that I could see into through a large window. I saw the bottles in contention for BOS on a table and I was pretty sure I saw a bottle with a yellow cap with the top filled in with black ink. Was that Pa's Lager? It certainly looked like it.

I made sure not to let myself get too excited, but as soon as I got home I kept refreshing the competition's website waiting for the winners to be announced. Finally, late on Monday night I saw this:

Pa's Lager finished in first place at it's table! After four years of brewing I finally have brewed a beer that medaled in a competition. I woke Jennie up to tell her and she was so happy and supportive. I shared the news with my family on social media. That a beer brewed in honor of Pa Chalifour won an award meant a lot to them also. 

For me as a brewer I was happy to receive the acknowledgement. In the past I have entered beer into competitions that I had high hopes for, but the entries maybe were not at the peak of freshness like the Pumpkin Milk Stout or I had entered "bad bottles" that were infected while the rest of the batch was fine. Some of the beers I have brewed that I thought were the best were made in too small of a quantity, or were consumed at an event like Jamboree, and couldn't be entered. This time everything came together. 

This past Saturday I received my scoresheets via email. Pa's Lager was judged by two professional brewers who gave it an score of 43.5. That is by far the best score I have ever received in a competition. Curly's Pumpkin Milk Stout received a 26. The beer did gush. The judges thought the beer was thin and too spicy. That is further evidence that the bottle was infected because having designed and tasted the beer myself, the beer was neither when it was young. 

Now, was this the biggest competition? In terms of number of entries it wasn't. I am entering three different beers in the Ocean State Homebrew Competition which should have five or six times the number of entries. I also applied for three entries into the National Homebrew Competition, the largest competition in the country. 

I have several projects I am working on at the moment. A couple of them are beer-related so check this space for details. The key is balancing work, brewing, and life in general. I need to keep my pipeline of fresh beer churning if I want to keep doing well in competitions. If I want to go to the next level, a closet full of medals will only help the cause and give me credibility.

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