I haven’t posted about my brewing activities in a while. When I last posted I had done my first batch in my Mash & Boil. I’ve done six more batches since then.
I’ve been pleased with the Mash & Boil. The main drawback being that it takes a while to raise the temperature. So, when you’re trying to get up to a temperature to mash your grains or boil your wort it can take a while. A friend recommended using a bucket heater, which is used to heat buckets of water for livestock in the winter to keep the water from freezing. With that in place the brew day goes much quicker.
The other drawback ended up being solved. I brewed a Russian Imperial Stout that used quite a few hops. And the pump on the unit stopped working. I believe it was jammed by some hop material. Yes, I should have used some sort of hop spider or something to keep the hops contained. But I hadn’t had problems before, so I forgot that I should have done so with a heavily hopped brew. It didn’t impact the actual brew, but I did need to get the pump working again before my next brew. So, I called and then emailed the manufacturer. They emailed me back, but by then I had solved the problem by a combination of pouring cleaning solution down the outlet of the pump and turning the unit upside down a few times. Their email also suggested blowing and sucking on the outlet and then instructions on how to take the unit apart to clear the jam if that didn’t work.
So, I’m happy with the unit. I feel like overall I’m getting better quality with my brews and have a more consistent process. When the Corona virus settles down enough that homebrew competitions start again I’ll enter some brews and see how I do. That’s the true feedback. Family and friends are good, but on top of not being expert judges they’re going to be polite and not tell you if your beer is bad.
My next batch is going to be an Amber Ale. I’m monkeying around with the recipe and have most of the grains and hops that I need. And I have to decide what yeast to use. Then the tough part. I’ll have to come up with a name. I think anything with “waves of grain” has been done. At this point I’m leaning towards Zelazny’s Amber Ale and fellow science fiction nerds will know why.
I’ve had a bit of activity on the brewing front that I thought I would update you about. First off, I am no longer the reigning champion of the Nordeast Brewers Alliance Homebrew Competition. I knew that was coming. I entered some beers, but I knew that none of them were as good as my winning brew from last year.
From my last brewing post, I had entered two of the beers that I had talked about. The Toasted Oat Cream Ale had a score of 26. And my fruit beer that I had done as an experiment with some left-over beer scored 30. By comparison, my Serendipitous Stout last year scored 45.
The fun part about this year’s competition was that I volunteered and worked as a steward. That meant I was bringing the two judges the bottles they were judging and clearing them away when they were done. But, as a part of that I spent a bit of time standing next to them as they tasted and discussed the beer they were drinking. They each score the beer separately and fill out score sheets that go back to the brewer. They compare their final scores and if they are more than 5 points different, they discuss some more and adjust so that they are within 5 points. So, it’s kind of like coming to a consensus, but they don’t have to agree exactly.
In my brewing post in November, I had mentioned an experiment that I had done without telling you what I did. I had brewed an IPA that was supposed to be a clone of Bell’s Two Hearted Ale. I haven’t done a side by side comparison, but I don’t think I did it as good as the brewery. The experiment was to try two different hops as dry hops. They were both Centennial hops, but they were grown in different areas. The first one was purchased from Bell’s General Store, so it’s the same hops that Bell’s buys. They were grown the Pacific Northwest. The other ones were from Minnesota’s Mighty Axe Hops and were grown here in the state. Mighty Axe talks about the fact that there will be differences in their hops based the terroir. Fancy French word that basically means that if you grow the same thing in different areas, it will turn out different because of soil, climate etc. If you’ve ever tried to duplicate someone’s recipe in the kitchen and been unable to get it the same because your stove is different, you’ll understand the concept.
I then did some side by side taste testing with some friends. I didn’t do it to the point where it would be a valid experiment of the type that Brulosophy.com for example would do. But it had some value for me. Before I did the taste tests, I assumed that Bell’s hops would be the winners. They pick their hops to go with that recipe. Call it the home field advantage. The results were a tie with the same amount of people preferring each brand of hops. Personally, I did two blind tests and, while I could tell there was a difference from one to the other, I ended up preferring each one once. Since Bell’s had the home field advantage, I’d count this as a win for Mighty Axe. I’ll continue to use their hops in my beer.
I bought myself a Black Friday Christmas gift. I saw a Brewer’s Edge Mash and Boil unit on sale and bought it. This is an electric unit that you can use to brew with. It will allow me to brew larger batches than I could do on my stovetop and give me more control and repeatability in my processes. So, when I brew that next award-winning beer, I’ll be able to do it again. I’ve done one small test batch so far. It was a blonde ale I did with ingredients that I had left over from other batches. Should be ready to drink later this month. But I’m thinking it will be a good summer beer.
After not brewing too much over the summer, I’ve recently become more active brewing. I brewed four batches of beer this fall.
My first batch was a cream ale. I found a book of homebrew recipes on clearance at a used bookstore and bought it. Getting home and looking at it closely, I realized that the book had been published in 1994. The state of homebrewing has changed a lot in the 25 years since then. I picked out a cream ale recipe to try out. The recipe called for some of the grains to be toasted. I had picked up some malted oat samples at a meeting of my homebrew club, so I decided to use those instead. The brew day went fine and soon had some beer to drink. The first few I tasted weren’t as good as I had hoped for. But in a couple weeks the beer had aged a bit more and was better.
My next batch was an experiment. Those are bottled and waiting to age a bit. I want to test these out without giving away exactly what I did, so I won’t go into too much detail. After I had put aside enough for the experimental batches, I had some left over. So, I added some fruit juice to those to make a different beer.
The other two batches were all brewed at my church. The Associate Pastor is a homebrewer and he decided that he would put together a group at church to homebrew together. He named the group “We Brews”. In addition to describing what we would do it’s also a gender-neutral version of a book of the Bible.
We Brews did two batches in one evening. While I was the resident expert, there were other there who had also brewed. I was pleasantly surprised to find that doing two batches didn’t feel like double the work of one batch. One batch was a cream ale, a different recipe from the batch I had done earlier. The other batch was an amber ale. I had a lot of fun finding some recipes on the internet. Both batches are bottled and aging.
After I bottle beer and I have to wait before I can drink, I vary between thinking the beer is going to be really good to wondering if I might have messed something up and it’s going to be really bad. Almost always it’s been somewhere in between those two extremes. In a way it’s like being a Minnesota Vikings fan.
I’ve had a story published in a magazine. I’ve been published before, but this one is different. They asked for my social security number, so I believe I’m going to be paid. I’m losing my amateur status. I’m a professional author. Or maybe, not quite yet. When a get the check.
The magazine is Zymurgy. It’s the magazine of the American Homebrewers Association. I wrote an article about the beer I had brewed that won best of show in a competition. It’s a short one-page piece at the back of the magazine. I’d link to the article online, but you have to me a member of the American Homebrewers Association to read it online. Here’s a link to the magazine: https://www.homebrewersassociation.org/magazine/search-zymurgy-issues/
The little about the author at the end of the article. It mentions this blog. If you’re visiting after reading about this in the magazine, welcome. Even though it says I blog about beer and brewing, I also blog about many other topics. To see just the homebrew posts, scroll to the bottom of the page and click on “Details”. That will put a list of categories below the details and you can click on “Homebrewing and Beer” for those posts. Since the main audience for my blog has not been homebrewers, most of the posts will contain basic information that you already know, but that non-homebrewers would probably not know.
Update on Lucy
From my last post you might be wondering how Lucy is doing. After her recent adventures at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Clinic, Lucy has recovered. She’s back to eating as normal and seems fine.
As I had said in my Belgian Experiment #1 post, my next batch was going to be done with pilsner malt and without any of the other malts I had tried using in the other samples. That was an error. In the first experiment, the recipe also included some grain flakes. This gives the beer a better mouthfeel. For experiment #2, I used different ingredients to give the beer a better mouthfeel in conjunction with using the pilsner malt as the base.
My four variations were:
1. Oat flakes
2. Wheat flakes
3. Barley flakes
4. Carapils malt
And the results, after one tasting with three people, were similar to my first experiment. There was one that was clearly in last place with two that were favored. The barley flakes were everyone’s least favorite. Oat Flakes and Carapils were both picked as favorites.
Personally, I liked the oat flakes best. But I do agree there was some additional flavor with the carapils. I didn’t find a lot of difference between the oats and wheat, but there was enough that I picked the carapils as my second choice. The carapils was mentioned by one of us as having an additional peppery or spicy flavor.
Right now, I’m undecided on what to use for my next batch. I’ll probably have to do another tasting. (One of the benefits of experimenting.) Once I make a choice then it will be on to round #3.
My plan for the Belgian Experiment #3 is to try different hops. Hops are what adds the bitterness to beer. Belgian ales are not very bitter, and the hops are not a large component of the flavor. Typically, they have a spicy earthy flavor. I’m going to try to get some Triple Pearl hops as one of my choices. These are grown in Minnesota by Mighty Axe Hops, so I’d like to give them a try. For the others, I’ll probably pick Saaz, Styrian Goldings, and something else. Stay tuned for the results.
Back in March I wrote about my plans to experiment with Belgian Ales this year. I had brewed a test batch up using different malts. I brewed four different varieties. All four used Belgian Pilsner malt as the base malt. One of the four was just Pilsner. The other three had different malts added, Caravienne, Munich and Abbey Ale malts. I brewed a small amount of those three malts and added them to separate carboys.
Those ales were fermented, bottled and were ready to drink. I labeled each bottle according to the malt that was used. There was C for Caravienne, A for Abbey Ale, M for Munich and P for Pilsner only. Lining up the bottle I realized that I had brewed a CAMP beer.
Now it was time to taste. I have to admit that I’m no expert at tasting and being able to describe what I taste. My most frequent tasting comment is, “I like this beer.” I did a pour of all four beers and sampled each one. Using my criteria of how much I liked each beer I ranked them. My slight favorite was the beer brewed with the Abbey Ale malt. The beer brewed with the Munich malt was my bottom ranking. Not that it was bad, but in comparison it just didn’t compare. After a day and thinking back on the tastes the Pilsner alone seemed to stand out in my mind as the best.
I invited a couple of homebrew friends to taste the beer and give me their opinions. They both agreed with me that the Munich malt brew was the least favorite. Although, one of them said that if I had asked him to sample just that he would have said it was a good beer. He favored the Caravienne. My other friend favored the Pilsner alone.
We had an interesting conversation, sitting around tasting beer. But I didn’t have a clear idea of what I would brew next. After some reflection, I decided that I wanted to brew a Golden Belgian. The only one’s of the four types that would match the color profile needed for that would be either Pilsner alone or Munich malt. And it was clear the Munich malt had not been preferred. It was on to brewing a new batch with Pilsner malt alone.
That experimental batch has been bottled and is waiting to age before I taste that batch. I’ll write about it soon.
I recently read a book about brewing Belgian beers. And now, of course, I want to brew some. In my head I’ve developed a schedule for the year for experimental batches, that would help me come up with a recipe that I can use to make a big batch for sharing.
Last night I began. I figure this batch will be ready in mid to late April. I’m experimenting with different malts. Belgian beer usually uses a pilsner for the base malt and then different types of malt can be added. I brewed four beers using my OJ containers that will yield about four bottles each.
The first is uses just the pilsner base. The others use the pilsner base but added one different malt. One was Munich malt, another was Caravienne, and the last was Abbey malt. Other than that, the beers are the same, so any differences will be due to the malts. When they’re ready to drink I can do a taste test and compare. That will help me decide what malts to use. I may get fancy and mix two of the beers together to see how they taste.
After that I’ll pick my malts and brew again sometime around the beginning of May. That batch will be testing some more grains and sugars. That would mean another taste test in June.
That would be followed by brewing at the beginning of July and testing various hops. Tasting in August.
Then, at the beginning of September I would brew with different yeasts and taste test in October.
Finally, I would brew a larger batch in November.
That’s the plan. But then again, we all know how often life goes exactly according to the plans we try to make. : ) #retroemoji
I’ll keep posting about my experiments and what I come up with for a final recipe as I go along.
I did something with this blog that I haven’t done before. I went back and edited a post. I’ve gone back before and fixed grammar errors or made clarifications of what I said. But I’ve not gone back and made big changes to a post.
The post that I changed was my Serendipitous Stout post from a last month (http://www.timkwrites.com/blog/serendipitous-stout). I wrote the post and focused mostly on what I had done wrong in the brewing process. Which unfortunately is typical of everybody. We focus on our errors and not on what we’ve done right. It’s like having a popcorn kernel stuck in a tooth as soon as you notice it, you’re working on it with your tongue trying to work it loose and it becomes your focus.
We all spend too much time worried about our weaknesses instead of our strengths. It’s almost as if a concert pianist decided to not practice and work on cooking instead because she wasn’t a good cook.
So, I went back to my earlier post and added what I had done right. When I won the competition with the beer, I felt a bit as if I were a major league baseball pitcher who had just hit a home run. I know there are homebrewers out there who are more knowledgeable than me, that have better equipment, better processes and more experience. And some of them might be miffed that I won. But, as it turns out, when a pitcher hits a home run the runs scored count in the final score.
An update on my Serendipitous Stout. I entered it into another competition, The Minnesota Mashout. This is a bigger competition with more entries. My stout won first place in its category.
The American Homebrewing Association sponsors a national homebrewing competition. I signed up for that. It’s a process just to get into the contest, so we’ll see what happens. In the meantime, I’m nearly out of bottles and will need to brew another batch in case I get into the contest.
What the heck, when you’re on a roll it’s ok to swing for the fences.
I wrote an earlier post (https://www.timkwrites.com/blog/brewing-notes) about an experimental batch of Black IPA that I had brewed. I mentioned at the end of the article that I would be brewing a larger batch of that beer. I brewed that in October. You might be wondering why this post is titled as a Stout when my experimental batch was a Black IPA. I’ll explain that.
I had two new things I was going to try out. In the earlier batch I had cold steeped the black grains. This means that instead of putting all my grains together and then heating them up as I would normally do, I put the black grains in a mesh bag and soaked them in water overnight. Since the grains had been roasted previously to make them black, they didn’t need more heating. Then when I was done cold steeping that was added to the rest of the beer when it was time to boil it. I had read about this technique in the book Brewing Better Beer by Gordon Strong. Rereading it later I see that I should have put in this liquid towards the end of the boil and not at the beginning.
I decided that this time I would put the black grains on my stir plate to circulate the water while it was steeping. I had a little metal stand that came with one of my kitchen pots that I was going to use to keep the grains off the bottom of my kettle, so the stir plate would be able to keep the water moving. I put the metal stand in the kettle and then the bag of the black grain. Then I added water to cover the grain. What I didn’t realize until it was too late was that it took much more water to cover the stand and grains than I had used when I did the experimental batch.
For the other grains I was going to use my new brewing kettle that I had purchased. My selections of what I can buy are limited because I brew on my stovetop using a method call BIAB. (That stands for Brew in a Bag; you put all the grains in a bag.) The new kettle was supposed to be five gallons, but it turns out it’s really nineteen quarts. That’s a half-gallon less than the kettle I usually use. Meaning I ended up being able to use less water than planned on that.
In comparison to my experimental brew the mix for this one ended up different in two ways. First the dark roasted grains were over what they had been. Secondly the other grains ended up being less proportionally than the earlier batch.
Enough about the grains and what went wrong with those. To make beer you also need hops and yeast. I did a couple things that went right with those.
If you’ve shopped for craft beers, you may have seen Dogfish Head’s 60 Minute IPA or 90 Minute IPA. Or even their 120 Minute IPA. The times mentioned have to do with when they add hops during the boil. Typically, when you see a beer recipe the hops will be added during the boil at specific times – 60 minutes, 10 minutes, etc. The time refers to how much time is left in the boil when the hops are added. Earlier additions add more bitterness while later additions add more flavor and aroma. What Dogfish Head does is to add the hops continually for the amount of time that is the name of the beer. I had always figured that to be kind of a gimmick. But I was recently reading the book IPA Brewing Techniques, Recipes, and the Evolution of India Pale Ale by Mitch Steele, and there was a section where the founder of Dogfish Head talks about why they do that. Sam Calagione says that he was watching a cooking show and the chef said that he added the pepper the recipe called for a bit at a time instead of all at once, so it would add more nuances to the flavor. That’s why he decided to add hops a bit at a time instead of all at once.
I decided to do a version of this. I took my hop additions that were in the final part of the boil and instead of doing them every five minutes, I spread them out doing one addition every minute for five minutes.
After the boil in order to start the fermentation process you add yeast. There are many choices for the various kinds of yeast to use. Some are designed to work with a variety of beers. Others are specifically for certain styles of beer. There are dry yeasts and there are liquid yeasts. There are various manufacturers of yeast. Some breweries obtain their yeasts from the same manufacturers that homebrewers use. Some breweries have their own proprietary yeast strains. It was that last category that interested me. While you can’t buy these yeasts from the manufacturer, it is possible to get some and grow your own. Many breweries carbonate their beer by using bottle conditioning. In that process as the beer is bottled some extra sugar is added to the beer. This reawakens the yeast which eats the sugar and produces carbon dioxide. Since the bottle is sealed the beer becomes carbonated. When this is done there is yeast in the bottled beer. Some people I mention this to have given me a strange look. But it’s not a problem; if you’ve been drinking beer, you’ve been drinking yeast in many of your beers.
That yeast in the bottle can be captured and grown to the point where there is enough to pitch into homebrew for fermentation. That’s what I did with this beer. I used some yeast captured from Bell’s Two Hearted Ale. Part of the process of capturing the yeast involves drinking the beer, so it is enjoyable.
When it was all said and done, I ended up with a very dark beer that had a very roasted flavor. I had a glass of it in mid-November. I could tell it was a very good beer. However, there was a coffee flavor to it and I don’t like coffee. This wasn’t a beer I was going to personally enjoy.
Tasting the beer again later I realized my original taste was of a beer that hadn’t aged fully. The coffee flavor was muted down to just a roasted flavor. So, I didn’t make the beer I had intended to make.
On the other hand, as I said it was a good beer. I saw that a local home brew club, Nordeast Brewers Alliance, was having a home brew competition. I thought I would enter the beer. The style guidelines for a black IPA say, “flavor characteristics of an American IPA, only darker in color – but without strongly roasted or burnt flavors.” This beer definitely didn’t fit that description. Reading the guidelines, I realized that what I had brewed was an American Stout. I entered the beer in that category giving it the name Pitch Black American Stout.
This was the second time I have entered a competition. Last year I had entered an IPA in a local competition. It hadn’t placed or anything, but I got back the judge’s scoring sheets which were good to see for feedback on my beer. In addition, that competition reports their results to the Midwest Homebrewer of the Year. Even though my beer didn’t place I still end up ranked in 447th place of the standings for that; tied with over 900 other people.
The judging sessions finished on Sunday, December 9th. Awards are made for the top three in each category and from the category winners there are awards for first and second place for best of show. That evening I received a text asking me if I would like some news on my beer. I thought this was a good sign, maybe I had placed. I texted back that I would like to hear.
The text back said that my beer had won first place in its category and also it won first place for best of show.
Yay! It’s a cool feeling to win that. I’ve been having fun telling people about it. One of my friends suggested that based on how I brewed it, I should rename it Serendipitous Stout. I like that. In life we all do things that don’t go according to plan. Maybe if we step back and relabel what we were doing we’re award winners. May your life be full of serendipities, because in the end the plan that matters isn’t ours.
I’m sitting here enjoying one of my Dorchester Ales. I’m pleased with the way it turned out.
In competitions beer is judged based on aroma, appearance, flavor, mouthfeel and overall impression. I’m going to try to use those categories to give you my impressions. Aroma: Malty and there is another flavor that fades a bit as the beer warms up. Appearance: Coppery color, clear but with very little head. Flavor: Malty, not sweet, again a flavor that fades as the ale warms up. I can’t think of a description for the flavor; it’s not bad. Mouthfeel: Carbonation level feels fine, very little aftertaste. Overall Impression: I like this beer. It’s not a knock your socks off beer, but I really enjoyed the balance. This beer grew on my and I enjoyed the taste better with each tasting.
I’ll also tell you some of the feedback I’ve received from friends who’ve tasted the ale. My first tasters were a group of friends from church that I had over to show how to homebrew. They all told me it was good.
Then one of my brewing partners tasted it. His reaction was, “yeah, it’s a good summer beer.” He was a bit distracted with his poker hand, so I didn’t get his usual analysis of what flavors he tasted.
My next taster was a friend of the family who had moved to England back in the 1980’s. Jeannie was in town and we had a dinner with her and her mother. I brought some bottles over with me to share. I had not had the chance to label the bottles yet, so they were blank bottles. Jeannie took a drink of one and said, “Oh, it’s a proper British ale.” That made me feel good.
I’m glad I brewed this Maybe I'll try it again in the future.
Tim Kane's memories, musings and updates.