Monday, March 27, 2017

Drain Pour: Invisible Hand (Scottish Heavy)

I really loved the name for this beer which makes it all the more sad that this batch was a dud. Invisible Hand was brewed to harvest fresh yeast for my club's latest barrel beer. I racked the beer to a secondary fermenter, and poured the yeast at the bottom of the fermenter into sanitized mason jars.

On bottling day the beer had an off aroma and tasted sour. My bottles were sanitized and priming sugar boiled up, so I bottled the beer anyway and hoped for the best. I remembered the 1905 Holiday Ale having a similar flavor before it mellowed over time.

Sometimes you just need to cut your losses. 

After a couple weeks in the bottle, I put one in the fridge and gave it a try. The aroma wasn't as sulfury as I remembered from bottling day, but the beer was still sour. It actually had a somewhat clean lactic acid sourness. I think it may have been cross-contaminated somehow with Dawson's Kriek. I have separate siphons and tubing for my clean and for my sour beers. I sanitized the carboy with bleach to be extra safe. Those precautions weren't enough. A lightly hopped beer like this one is more susceptible to souring.

The good news is that the beer tasted clean when I racked it. That means I didn't give the club infected yeast, and we're not brewing 55 gallons of infected beer.

I haven't gotten around to dumping all of the bottles. I may save a few and tell people it's an American Wild Ale.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Kräusening, never again! At least probably never again

There are some practices employed by commercial brewers that aren't necessarily practical for homebrewers. There are also traditional methods that were employed for various reasons that no longer make sense with modern brewing methods and ingredients. Kräusening arguably fits both.

Kräusening is the process of adding actively fermenting wort, at high kräusen, to an already fermented beer. German brewers bound by the reinheitsgebot couldn't use priming sugar to package their beer would frequently use this method. In addition to helping carbonate packaged beer, the most obvious is you can top off a batch with the fermenting wort. My original impetus to try kräusening was when my Anti-Chris and Sour-Chris both finished under five gallons.

Kräusening when the beer is conditioning in a secondary fermenter had and is said to have other benefits: the active yeast can help ensure a full attenuation and/or jumpstart a stuck fermentation, the active yeast can clean up off-flavors (which is why Budweiser is kräusened), and it can help reduce oxidation.

In a pale, dry, high gravity beer like Anti-Chris, all of these benefits are appealing. Last summer, the only beer out of the four I brewed for my US of IPA project that I racked to a secondary was Broken Fist. At Jamboree Dave from SoMe Brewing sampled Broken Fist off a keg and noticed it was oxidized. The portion of the batch that I bottled were even worse over time. The beer took on an ashy hue, while the hop flavor was flat and generally unpleasant. A big, boozy beer like Anti-Chris will need to condition in a secondary fermenter.

For a commercial brewer that brews the same beer often, kräusening can be fairly easy. It is as simple as rigging up a hose from a batch that is actively fermenting and topping off a batch in another tank. For a homebrewer it is not that simple.

The easiest way, and only way I could see myself ever kräusening again, is to boil a small amount of dry malt extract, pitching some yeast, and add to your carboy after a day or two. Another option that seems workable is to set aside a portion of wort and yeast from brew day, seal them, and then pitched the saved yeast into the same wort after you rack the main batch to a secondary, and then blend back in.

I didn't have the foresight to do the latter. Even if I did, I would be scared of contamination. Not wanting to alter my original recipe, I didn't want to go with the DME route. What I ended up doing was brewing a mini-batch of Anti-Chris, pitching yeast, and then using it to top off the other batches.

I shot for a two gallon mini-batch. Both beers I was kräusening already had ample hop bitterness. I thought it would be fairly easy to do a small BIAB mash, boil my wort for 15 minutes just to ensure it was sterile, and pitch my yeast. 

Unfortunately Anti-Chris employed a 90 minute mash, plus a 15 minute mashout. In addition to those steps, the time it took to heat my strike water, and time to cool the wort, the mini-batch took almost as long as a regular batch. While I was mashing i racked Anti-Chris to a carboy. 

I pitched my yeast and after 12 hours there were signs of active fermentation. At around 24 hours I poured the fermenting wort into the carboy of Anti-Chris to top it off. In hindsight I really should have gently racked the beer with a siphon. Pouring the beer as I did only introduced more oxygen. Hopefully the active yeast gobbles it all up. 

My initial batch was really close to 5 gallons.

After pouring there was a thick krausen at the
top of the fermenter. It quickly subsided.

After 18 hours a new layer of krausen emerged.
Hopefully it takes care of the oxygen I needlessly

Adding the wort to a carboy allowed me to monitor what was going on inside the vessel. My mini batch ended up at only 1.5 gallons. I probably blended in at most 0.25 gallons into Anti-Chris. The rest went into Sour Chris. As Sour Chris is still in a plastic bucket, I couldn't see exactly what was going on, but there was plenty of airlock activity. The mini-batch should boost the overall ABV of Sour-Chris.

We'll see in another six weeks when Anti-Chris is ready to drink if this was worth the effort. We will also see if I unnecessarily infected, oxidized, or otherwise altered the flavor of the beer. I did have a small sample before racking. It was dry, bitter, and some of the hop flavor was present. with some time to let the hop bitterness mellow it seemed like it was on its way before I dumped this extra fermenting wort in there.

While working on this, I did settled on the blend of dry hops I plan to add.  I am going to bottle the Anti-Chris and Pasteinator the weekend of April 15-16. That will give both beers three weeks to condition in the bottle before our club's competition.

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Making a wine kit at home

My Brew Year's Resolutions are going fairly well so far. I have been entering more competitions and won my first medal. I even went on to win another medal at the Ocean State Homebrew Competition in Rhode Island. I have brewed a Barleywine and American Wild Ale. One of my other resolutions was to get into other types of fermented beverages. 

I am a borderline ignoramus when it comes to wine. I have had a couple of events where at the last minute I was told that I would be pouring wine in addition to beer. Thankfully at those events I only had to pour one red and one white wine. I'd be damned if anyone asked me anything about the wine I was pouring.  

I enjoy wine, but I don't drink it that often. There have been times I have gone to wine tastings, not touched wine for another several months, and not retain anything I had learned. I decided to make a wine after reading a post on the BeerSmith blog Making Wine from Kits for Beer Brewers. Brad Smith breaks down how easy it is to make a wine from a kit, and more crucially offers advise on choosing a kit. 

I purchased a kit at Modern Homebrew Emporium. I certainly didn't want my first homemade wine to be like a cooler, so I elected to purchase a mid-range kit. I went with a white wine because it doesn't take as long as a red, a Chardonnay should be light and refreshing to enjoy during the summer, and I vaguely remembered Jennie liking Chardonnay.

The kit came with about three gallons of concentrated grape juice, yeast, and a variety of different additives. The first step was to dissolve bentonite clay in water before adding the grape juice concentrate. After adding the juice, I topped off with water to get up to six gallons of total volume. I then added two packages of oak chips and the yeast. My OG was 1.096.

After about two weeks I racked to a secondary fermenter. The wine looked like it was close to final gravity. If anything I should have racked sooner, but I did see some fermentation activity after racking. Luckily I already had a six gallon glass carboy I typically use for beer.

A week later the instructions called for adding isinglass and two other additives, and stirring or degassing the wine. From what I can tell fining a wine is far more critical than fining a beer. It sounds like particles floating in suspension can have more of a profound impact in the flavor of the wine.

The only wine-specific piece of equipment I bought was a stirrer. The stirrer attaches to a drill. The stirring degasses, or releases the CO2 disolved in the wine. It also helped to mix in the various fining agents that came with the kit.

My first batch of wine should be ready to bottle by the end of March. Having bought a corker I can also use for beer, all I need to do is buy wine bottles and wine corks. The kit should yield 30 bottles. 
I'd encourage any homebrewer to give a wine kit a go. The instructions make it very easy, and if you are a brewer you already know how fermentation works. 

When I told Jennie I bought a wine kit, her first question was, "Did you get a red."

Womp womp......

Welp, it looks like the next wine I make will have to be a red then. I might even try to make a wine directly from juice and put the rest of the recipe together. That will give me 30 bottles each of a white and a red wine. I think that will be enough to last us quite a while. 

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Monday, March 13, 2017

New Toys: Floor Corker

There is a romance to buying a Belgian or other sour beer and seeing it packaged with a cork and cage. As you unwind the wire cage, and then try to get a firm grip on the cork to remove it from the bottle, you can feel you are about to enjoy a premium product.

Beers like Dawson's Kreik and The Sour-Chris are beers worthy of being cellared. These are beers that should improve and change over time. When it came time to bottle, I didn't want to just throw them in a nondescript bottle with sharpie marks on a bottle cap. It is time to grow up and start corking some of my beer.

Image result for portuguese floor corker
This is the exact model of corker that I bought.
One small piece of equipment required to cork bottles is a device called you guessed it: a corker. Modern Homebrew Emporium rents floor corkers; the cost is only $5 for three days. My original intention was to rent a corker. Instead, I decided to bite the bullet and buy the corker outright for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I am happy I don't have to drive to Cambridge in the middle of the week to return the corker. Secondly, I see myself using it enough to justify the cost.

750 ML Belgian "bulb"-style bottle. You can see the stopper on the
corker in the background.
The Portuguese Floor Corker I bought was designed primarily for wine. A wine cork is driven all the way into the neck of the bottle. A beer cork needs to stick out like a champagne cork. To stop the corker from driving the cork in all the way, I attached a rubber stopper on to the plunger to restrict the movement of the arm. Removing the partially-corked bottles was a little awkward, but other than that corking my bottles was a breeze.

Champagne bottle, corked, caged, and labeled. 
Hooded wires or cages are needed to keep the cork in place. Otherwise the pressure from the CO2 in the bottle will dislodge the cork. After the first couple of bottles I had a good feel for how deep to push the corks, how tight to wind the wires, and how to make sure the wires are tucked under the lip of the bottle.

When it came time to bottle Dawson's Kreik, I knew I wanted to use champagne bottles. With thicker glass than a regular beer bottle, it can withstand additional pressure allowing a higher level of carbonation. After 14 months of aging, the last thing I want is a bottle bomb. Champagne bottles have the added benefit of being able to take a cap as well as a cork.

I had the shop order two cases of champagne bottles. When only one case came in, I bought a case of Belgian beer bottles. These bottles have the "bulb" type top and don't take a cap, but if I keep brewing Belgians and sours I can easily reuse and cork them.

In a lot of ways there is more to the hobby of homebrewing than just brewing beer. Coming up with creative names and packaging can also be an integral part. My corked, caged, and wired bottles look amazing.

As I fulfill one of my Brew Year's Resolutions, my new toy will be put to use again soon!

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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Brew Day: The Sour-Chris (Mixed-Fermentation Sour Beer)

Last year at HomebrewCon in Baltimore I bought two books in-part because the authors were there and I wanted to have signed: Water and American Sour Beers. I also picked these books up because they were on my wishlist and entailed topics I wanted to learn more about. After brewing the Dawson's Kreik kit, I wanted to get some ideas on brewing my own sour beers.

I am a reader, but over the last several years most of my reading seems to be random internet articles and Wikipedia. I have an embarrassing number of books that I haven't started reading or am working my way through. Last summer I did get through the first two chapters of American Sour Beers. The final section of Chapter 2 is Brewing Your First Sour Beer. From the book:
The easiest way to brew your first sour beer is to start with a favorite recipe that fits these constraints: original gravity 1.040-1.060, fewer than 20 IBUs, and minimal late boil hopping...Pitch the standard amount of whatever brewer's yeast you usually use, but also add a souring microbe blend from Wyeast or White Labs. You can also add the bottle dregs from two of you favorite unpasteurized sour beers...
Author Michael Tonsmeire suggests the reader will take more away from the book by having a batch of sour beer to observe while reading. I waited until I got around to brewing my first original sour beer before starting Chapter 3.

I really intended to have brewed my first sour beer by now. At one point I even bought extract to brew a simple batch that I could sour. I ended up using that extract in other batches. I suspected while planning The Anti-Chris Double IPA, I would be able to make a bonus beer from the second runnings. It turned out that I did! What better time to start dabbling in sour beer?

The second runnings were right in the original gravity range. Not wanting or needing to extract too much bitterness, I only boiled half an ounce of Glacier hops for 15 minutes. The hops were old and shouldn't impart too much hop flavor. The short boil provided the added bonus of not boiling off as much wort as a full 60 or 90 minute boil. After boiling and cooling, four gallons went into the fermenter.

For the souring itself, I was more interested in using bottle dregs after already using a sour blend. Any bottle conditioned beer, many commercial sour beers are bottle conditioned, will have sediment or dregs at the bottom of the bottle. Tonsmeire has a list of commercial beers that contain viable dregs on his website.


From his list I picked up a bottle of Captain Lawrence Barrel Select Gold. I also pitched dregs from Allagash Golden Brett from a bottle I had in my collection. Golden Brett was not listed on Tonsmeire's website, but Midnight Brett is. The beers are similar in name, packaging, and description. I am fairly confident it will work here. I added dregs from both of those bottles along with a sachet of Fermentis Safbrew T-58 dry ale yeast.

As I recall from the Dawson's Kreik kit was that the instructions warned against exposing the beer to oxygen in the secondary fermenter and leaving too much headspace. Since both "Chris" beers finished under five gallons, it would probably be a good idea to brew up some extra wort to top off both batches. I can make a small brew-in-a-bag wort easily enough. In hindsight I should have run off even more wort from my grains. This is something to keep in mind for my next batch in the kitchen with the mash tun.

As I learn more about brewing sour beers, I want to have at least one or two in the pipeline at all times. The past few months I have really hit my stride in brewing batches and having fresh beer to drink.  I am also making progress on my Brew Years Resolutions.

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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Brew Day: The Anti-Chris (Double IPA)

In the hobby of homebrewing, five gallons has long been the standard batch size. Some advanced brewers have equipment and brew batches anywhere from 10 gallons up to half barrel batches. On the flip side, small batch brewing has taken off. Brooklyn Brew Shop really shook things up when they came out with their one-gallon, all-grain kits. Still, the five gallon batch is the standard. Most recipe kits are five gallons, and most published recipes are five gallons.

I have been racking my brain trying to figure out ways to brew full five gallon, full-boil. all-grain recipes in my apartment. The obstacle is being able to boil enough wort on my electric stove. If I had a gas stove, I could probably boil six gallons of wort down to five gallons without any problems. On my electric stove I can get almost five gallons to a boil in my five gallon kettle. After boil-off and trub loss I usually end up with a little over three gallons of wort. When I tried boiling in my eight gallon kettle, I found that when I boiled four gallons of wort the boil was inadequately soft.

I looked into induction cooktops. Most of what I read online indicated you need a 240V outlet to generate enough power, and a 240V induction burner would be around $200. Williams Brewing and Blichmann Engineering have solutions that will work with a standard 110V outlet; either one would be a fairly big purchase. At the moment a full boil is out of the question.

Another limitation to the brew-in-a-bag batches I brew at home is the amount of grain I can mash. Once my recipe gets around 10 pounds of grain, that bag of dripping hot grain becomes quite unwieldy. Resting the wet, heavy bag on a strainer to drip can be difficult, as is making sure the heaping bag drains back into the kettle instead of all over my stove.

This batch I am experimented with brewing a five gallon, all-grain brew in my apartment with my mash tun. Last year I bought a 10 gallon mash tun, and have only used it a few times as it has mostly sat in my basement. I lugged that thing up to the third floor and used it to mash as it has the size I need to hold the grain the recipe requires.

I used my 8 gallon kettle as my hot liquor tank to heat and hold my sparge water.  I ran off my mash into the 5 gallon kettle I use to boil on my stove top.  The plan was to do a partial boil and top-off with water as I would with an extract batch. I trusted BeerSmith to adjust my recipe to make sure the gravity and bitterness were still where they needed to be.

As I put together my recipe I realized this was the first double IPA recipe I had ever done. The only double IPA I had ever brewed was a kit with Andy a couple of years ago. I took advantage of a Cyber Monday Nikobrew was running and purchased a pound each of Centennial, Cascade, Chinook, and Columbus hops. What better way to put that to use than a double IPA? As brew day got closer, I became more excited about brewing it. This is as exited as I have been about brewing a particular beer in a long time.

I solicited some advice from Eamon, my manager at Modern Homebrew Emporium who suggested to use a "hop shot" of hop extract, Malting Company of Ireland (MCI) Irish Ale malt, give the beer at least a month to condition in a secondary fermenter so the alcohol has time to mellow, that the hop flavor and aroma from the boil would be gone by the time the beer was ready to package, and that all of the flavor and aroma came from the dry hops.

Eamon suggests MCI malts to almost everyone in the shop. I also love their malts having used MCI stout malt in my first Summer Somewhere and when I brewed BeerSmith's Dry Irish Stout. I am anxious to try Endicott Red  brewed with the Irish Ale malt.

With all of the "C" hops I am using, I originally envisioned the beer as more of a West Coast-style double IPA. As such I didn't really want the beer to have too much malt or yeast character. My original plan was to stick with generic US 2-row.  While I worked on the recipe I noticed the beer was quite light in color. As a compromise and to darken the beer a little, I did use equal parts Irish Ale and Briess 2-row Brewers Malt. When that didn't make the beer quite dark enough, I added a little bit of Munich II malt to get the color exactly where I wanted. After having great luck with both batches of Broken Fist, I am going back to WLP090 San Diego Super Yeast for this recipe.

For my first time with this setup, I made sure to take meticulous measurements. My mash efficiency was only around 60%, which I probably should have expected given I only ran off 4.5 gallons of wort. I had enough fermentable sugars in my mash to run off another 4.5 gallons which I used to make another beer. Even after running off the second beer, my wort was still coming out at 7 Brix. I probably could have run off a few more gallons before running the risk of extracting tannins from the grain.

The other thing I ran into that I probably should have anticipated was trub loss. I added around three ounces of hops during the boil. As I racked to my primary fermenter, I probably lost over a half a gallon due to hop absorption. This is why Eamon also suggested using a hop shot, as the liquid hop extract would have just dissolved into the wort as opposed to leaving sludge. The only reason I didn't use the hop shot was that I had already purchased all of these bulk hops.

I am still deciding exactly how much dry hops I am going to add. I also need to try and prevent the beer from becoming oxidized during racking, bottling, and aging.

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