Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Little Wine on the Side

My brew buddy talked me into getting some wine going in the carboys I'm not currently using for beer. Since my kegerator is full, and I've got beers aging in kegs on deck I've got a few carboys sitting around collecting dust, so why not get some wine going to keep them working? I bought a Riesling Ice Wine kit from my local home brew shop. My wife really like sweet desert wines, and specifically she likes sparkling sweet desert wines. So I planned on fermenting this out, going through all the steps, and then instead of bottling I'll keg and carbonate it. Then she can serve herself from the tap instead of opening a bottle anytime she wants one. I can also bottle it in smaller beer bottles so she can have single servings anytime she wants once I need to clear the keg for beer. This kit only makes 3 gallons, but that should keep the wife happy for a while. The kit is so simple to put together. I was trying to complicate things because it looked too simple. A beer kit is 10 times more complicated than these wine kits. They come with everything you'll need except the equipment. I think the longest part was mixing in the bentonite, which I later found out is basically clay thats used to remove excess protein from the wine. It clumped together and stuck onto the bottom of my carboy like a green slug. It took me a while to find something to stick in to unstick it. After that its just a matter of pour in the juice, and sprinkling the yeast on top.

So thats it, every day when we come home from work the house smells like tart grape juice. Its bubbling away in the living room near the heater to keep the temps in the low 70's. Its such an easy thing to mix together that I think I'll start keep ing a kit in these fermenters all the time. Next time I'll get a Cabernet Sauvignon kit and let it age for a looooooooong time in my glass carboy that I hate using anymore because I'm affraid of dropping it.

Another Full Airlock

I brewed an American Pale Ale this weekend to give to my cousin when he comes home from serving in Afghanistan. After making some adjustments in the hop selection due to what I had on hand, and what the shop had in the freezer everything went pretty well. I've never brewed with Amarillo hops so I'm interested in seeing how this turns out. I also have never used Willamete hops for my flavor and aroma additions so this will be a new experience for me. The last "new" thing in the recipe was that I accidentally grabbed Organic 2-Row for my base malt. I didn't realize my mistake until I had already crushed the grains and was writing the prices on the bag. My buddy said the grains made him stronger, faster, and smarter so that should be great for a soldier.

So this is where my brewing goes off again. I've been using washed yeast from a couple May batches. I always make a half liter starter, always use a quarter teaspoon of yeast nutrient in the starter, and up until the last two times have had great starters with normal fermentation. The past two batches using the washed Wyeast Northwest Ale have produced HUGE krausens. This batch was 5.5 gallons and when I pitched the yeast on Sunday morning. By Monday morning primary fermentation had started and everything looked normal. Monday night, still happy bubbling airlock. Tuesday morning it looked like the airlock had had the Flu all night and puked yeast all over the its blanket and lid. I switched it out once again for the hose to relieve and pressure and foam. I just don't understand why this keeps happening. My gravities aren't very high, the yeast shows normal, or slightly weaker activity in the starters before pitching, and yet I get these crazy blast off fermentations. They are 8.5 gallon buckets, and I never have had this issue in the past using smack packs. The mystery continues. I'm thinking about washing this yeast again to see if this behavior continues in further generations. It may just be the genetics of the yeast that have survived the washing process and are now multiplying. I may be the grains I'm using that cause more head retention or proteins in the wort that hold foam better. The beers this washed yeast produces tastes great. I haven't picked up any off flavors in the IPA that almost blew its top. I'll send an e-mail to my friend who is the brewer for a local micro. He's a big yeast buff so he may be able to shed some light on whats happening in my brewery.

Brew Day Entertainment was provided by Ken Burns' The West. I really enjoyed this documentary series. I think I got through two or three episodes throughout the whole brew day. They are about 90 minutes per episode so it takes a bit of a commitment. I'm currently 6 episodes in since I've been watching bits and pieces after work. Its a very dark story that makes my childhood memories of cowboys and the wild west seem like fairy tales. In some instances the show makes me proud to be an American, while the majority of whats happening shows how cruel we were. I'm always fascinated by the old photos, and by the maps they show. Growing up here in Western Washington and a bit in Western and Northern Idaho I have seen a lot of the territory they cover in the film. I'm also familiar with several of the reservations and communities mentioned in the film. The only thing the west seemed to be missing in this film was good beer. They had whiskey, but not beer. I think next time I'll look into Ken Burns' Prohibition. I've heard that's a great history lesson on alcohol in the US. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Big Spill

I had a feeling it would happen.

It was probably the hops expanding as they soaked up the beer that caused it to overflow. I came home from work to find this little puppy looking pretty sad. I sanitized my auto syphon, a small piece of hose, a new airlock and stopper setup, and two 22oz bombers. Filled the bottles with beer so I'm not really wasting any of it. Stuck the new airlock setup on top and am good to go for another week and a half of dry hopping, this time with no worries from this beer. I opened my 4 lbs bag of corn sugar I hadn't gotten into since May, and put about a 1/4 teaspoon of corn sugar into each bottle to prime them. I didn't think much about correct amounts to add, I just decided to wing it. I'll have to keep a close eye on these though. I thought the hose in the neck of the bottle would act like my bottling wand and displace a bit of beer so when I pull it out there's a good half to full inch of head space. Didn't happen. One is damn near filled to the brim, and the other one has about a 1/4" from the cap. I'll watch them. They are more for fun, if they turn out then they are bonus beers. I just don't want them to turn into bottle bombs. We'll see. It seems like there's always something to do with this hobby.

Updated Temp Control

Last night I insulated my primary bucket with the towels around my brew belt. I checked this morning before riding off to work and the fermenter was sitting at 68 degrees. The brew belt alone was struggling to keep the temps at 58, so by adding the towels I was able to raise the temps that 10 degrees to keep the fermentation running strong. I pulled the towels off but left the belt on. I don't want it to get too hot. I figure it'll be about 66 when I get back from work. Another probably more visually pleasing material I could use would be a sort of neoprene material, just like a beer coozy. They make these for carboys, but I haven't seen them taylor made for buckets. I might look into buying some raw material and having my wife sew on some zippers. I'll save that for another day. Back to work!

Monday, November 7, 2011


Well, looks like winters coming early this year. The temps have been dropping down into the 30's at night here. The brewery is in an uninsulated garage so my ambient temps in the winter usually hover around the mid 40's. My wife parks her car there so the engine actually heats up the space a little in the evening when she comes home. 40 - 50 degrees is great for lager yeast brewing! Unfortunately I'm working on ales right now still.

So I need to do some work to get the temps back up without breaking the bank in utility bills. I have a few options. and I usually use a combination of these to keep my temps up when its cold. First up is to use a parabolic space heater.

I use to use this thing when I was brewing inside. I could set this up in a large closet or the pantry and it would keep the room warm, if not hot. I had to stop using this thing after I melted the chocolate chips and candy bars that were in the pantry too. Didn't bother me, but my "room mate" wasn't to thrilled. I snuck it in from time to time until I bought one of these.

This is a Brew Belt. They come in different makes and models, but they are all pretty similar. These wrap around your fermenting bucket or carboy and heat up when plugged in. The package says it will heat the beer to between 75 and 80 degrees, but I think that's under ideal conditions. I can usually get mine to heat about 10 degrees above the ambient temperature. The instructions say you can adjust heating by moving the belt higher on the fermenter for slower heating, and lower on the fermenter for higher heating. I'm not sure if that's true, I just wrap it on about midway and let it run. If its getting warm, I unplug it. Problem I'm finding with these things is that when I have temps like I do right now, in the high 40's to low 50's, I cannot keep my beer warm enough for a nice primary ferment. So, enter the third and most glamorously high tech trick in the brewery.

Towels! What can't these things do? Soak up the beer that spills on the ground, keep my hands from burning when I'm moving my keggle off the burner, keep the sunlight away from my beer so it doesn't skunk, and keep my buckets insulated! My wife tries to donate these towels when her color scheme's change, or she says the Hawaiian beach ones are ugly and she doesn't want any guests to see them. We'll take them all. I even have one that's never been welcome in the house from the Riviera in Vegas showing 8 topless showgirls in thongs! Anyway, back to the towel. I've found that if you wrap the towel around your fermenter right when you pitch it'll hold the higher 60's temp for plenty of time. The yeast will start doing their thing and they help to keep the temps up somewhat. If I were trying to cool off my beer, like I do in the summers, I take my towel and spray it down with the hose, then wrap it over the fermenter. The water evaporates off the towel and takes the heat from the beer away with it.

Now the situation I've got with this Jubelale is that I didn't cover it with the towel, and the brew belt is just barely keeping the temp at about 60. I need about 5-8 more degrees out of this thing to keep my yeast happy. So if I combine the towel and belt I should be able to make some headway on my heat.

Other products are out there to heat up the beer, but I'm not sure to what extent they work. William's Brewing has a Brew Pad which supposedly heats up to 12 degrees higher than ambient temps. Some people have dedicated fermentation chambers with temperature control sensors that will turn on a heater, or a cooler depending on whats needed. There are also built in temp control aspects to some HIGH end fermenters which feature heating coils, and glycol coils to heat or cool depending on the temps. For now, I'll stick with my brew belt and towels. The Jubel took about 24 hours to start fermenting. That's a little longer than I like to see, but I'd say it was mostly due to the cold temperature I made it sit at. Things are moving right along now though, and everything looks and smells just fine.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Multi-Task Day

Today was a busy day in the brewery. I dry hopped my IPA thats been in primary for about two weeks, and brewed another batch of Jubelale. I'll start with the IPA.

I let this go for 2 weeks. Mainly because I was in Alaska last weekend, and because I was lazy during the week when I got back. I had turned off the brew belt before I went up north so the temp dropped down into the 50's. I thought this might clear it a bit more by causing the suspended yeast to drop out but obviously it didn't. The hydrometer reading showed that this finished at 1.018 which was right where Beersmith called it. I dry hopped with an ounce of Centennial and an ounce of Columbus/Tomahawk. This is a very hop forward IPA. I forgot that I had overshot my planned volume on this beer and had collected about 6 gallons before the primary ferment. I didn't realize how much beer I had actually put into the carboy until it was filled up into the neck. You can see the beer and hops half way up the neck just below the airlock. As soon as I put the airlock on it started to bubble the lock as it degassed. I'll have to keep a close eye on this thing and rack off some if it starts to expand. So far so good, and there's a nice 1/4" layer of floculated yeast already forming on the bottom of the carboy. I'll let this sit for 14 days. I'll likely be in Alaska again for work when its time to pull this so I may shorten it to 10 days.

As I was transfering the IPA to secondary, I was also getting the mash going on my second batch of Jubelale. Here's the recipe I used today:
Amt Name Type # %/IBU
5.50 gal Seattle, WA Water 1 -
11 lbs 4.0 oz Pale Malt (2 Row) US (2.0 SRM) Grain 2 80.4 %
1 lbs 8.0 oz Caramel/Crystal Malt -120L (120.0 SRM) Grain 3 10.7 %
12.0 oz Caramel/Crystal Malt - 80L (80.0 SRM) Grain 4 5.4 %
4.0 oz Cara-Pils/Dextrine (2.0 SRM) Grain 5 1.8 %
4.0 oz Roasted Barley (300.0 SRM) Grain 6 1.8 %
1.00 oz Northern Brewer [9.10 %] - Boil 60.0 min Hop 7 26.7 IBUs
1.00 oz Willamette [5.20 %] - Boil 60.0 min Hop 8 15.3 IBUs
0.50 oz Cascade [7.10 %] - Boil 60.0 min Hop 9 10.4 IBUs
1.00 oz Tettnang [5.70 %] - Boil 30.0 min Hop 10 12.8 IBUs
1.00 Items Whirlfloc Tablet (Boil 15.0 mins) Fining 11 -
0.50 oz Goldings, East Kent [4.50 %] - Boil 0.0 min Hop 12 0.0 IBUs
2.0 pkg London ESB Ale (Wyeast Labs #1968) [4.20 oz] Yeast 13 -
1.00 oz Goldings, East Kent [4.50 %] - Dry Hop 7.0 Days Hop 14 0.0 IBUs
0.50 oz Cascade [7.10 %] - Dry Hop 7.0 Days Hop 15 0.0 IBUs

I changed a couple things on this version. I bumped up the Roasted Barley to give it more of the roasted flavor found in the commercial version. I also increased the Cara-pils to try and give it more body. The mash went great. I hit my temps right on, and lost only about half a degree in the hour. The sparge went pretty good, although I put in about a half gallon more than Beersmith called for, and still came out about a 1/4 gallon short on my pre-boil volume. I was right on for pre-boil gravity though so I went ahead and started the boil. I hopped according to plan. Chilling took a little over 30 minutes to get down to about 70. I pulled the chiller and let the hops and break material settle for another 15 minutes or so. This dropped the temp down to about 65. I use a 1/2" stainless dip tube with a stainless dish scrubber stuffed over the end. The wort came out crystal clear although It took a little while to drain it all. The hops make a great filter to keep the break material out. As happened the first time I brewed this beer I came out about a half gallon short, and somehow about 7 points low on my final gravity. I'm still trying to dial in my equipment, but I'm consistently low after the boil on gravity and on volume. That tells me my pre-boil calculations have to be off. Next I pitched and shook the heck out of the bucket for a few minutes. By this time the Idaho Vandal game was on. It helped take my anger about the Vandals playing so horribly for the first half out on the aerating wort. I set the brew belt on, and went inside to watch the Vandals beat San Jose! Hopefully this beer turns out better than the first version.

Last thing to report today is the tapping of the first keg of Jubelale clone homebrew. This stuff turned out great, although it doesn't really taste like the commercial version. This one turned out tasting more like a Cascadian Dark Ale. It is very hoppy, and light bodied;. There is a good malt backing which I think balances out the bitterness. The East Kent Goldings and Cascade dry hops really shine through with a lot of aroma. I am excited that I have a great beer to drink, but a little disappointed that the full bodied, roasty, well hopped Jubelale I was expecting didn't come through. Hopefully the new version will fix some of those problems. Until next time, thanks for visiting!