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.
I was going to write about how the 1815 Dorchester Ale had turned out. So, I thought I should pour one for myself to drink while I wrote about it. Unfortunately, for some unknown reason, I hadn’t restocked any in my refrigerator after drinking the last one.
What was in the fridge was a Black IPA that I had brewed in an experimental batch. I had brewed this as a small batch to try it out before brewing a larger batch. I brewed slightly less than 1.2 gallons, which turns into a twelve pack after it’s been bottled.
You might think that I called this an experimental batch because I did a small batch to experiment with the recipe. You would be only partially correct. There was another experiment that I was trying out.
There is a technique in brewing called dry hopping. This consists of adding extra hops to the beer as it’s fermenting. My additional experiment was to dry hop with different hop varieties. So, after I added the yeast, I split the beer into three different containers to ferment. After a week I added in the hops to each container.
You might wonder what I used for my containers as this is not a size that most home brew supply stores would sell. I used my leftover Simply OJ pulp free bottles. I drill a hole in the top and jam an airlock into the hole. These have the added advantage of fitting into my cooler. I can throw them in and use ice packs to control the temperature. Bottling is easy; I just pour the beer into each bottle (using a funnel, of course.) And instead of having to clean them out when I’m done, I can just pitch them out.
But, back to the beer. I added one variety of hops to each container. Then I added two different hop varieties to two of the containers. I had a bunch of leftover hops in my freezer, so this gave me a chance to use some of them up.
After the beer was bottled and ready to drink, I had a couple of my brewing friends over and did a taste test. Without telling them which hops had been used in which glass they were drinking we each tasted all three of the beers. We all preferred the same beer.
Now I know. I’m going to make a few minor tweaks to the recipe and brew it again at a higher volume. I’ll use the dry hop combination that produced the best beer. Hopefully, I’ll have a good beer. I’ve been enjoying drinking one while writing this, and it wasn’t even the variety we all preferred.
I have to start off with an apology. I’ve been trying to keep a schedule of posting every two weeks. But I just checked the website and found my last entry was not posted but was in as a draft. I’m posting this now and will resume my regular every other Tuesday schedule next week.
My last post was about my plans to brew a beer based on a recipe I found in a book from 1815. I’ll let you know how the brew day turned out. I had a couple friends over to help with brewing and sampling some other beers.
I had said that I was shooting for an alcohol content of 5.56% based on what I had seen in another old book. However, when I read that book a bit closer it said that the 5.56% was based on what so-and-so said and he was wrong. It didn’t give what the author thought the right number was, so I decided to stick with the wrong number.
In my earlier post I had developed a recipe based on brewing 2.5 gallons. I made some adjustments to the recipe based on comments from a friend and some further research. I also decided to brew 5 gallons. Here’s the recipe that was brewed:
5.00 lbs. Muntons Pale Ale Malt
3.75 lbs. Maris Otter Pale Malt
0.80 lbs. Caramel / Crystal 40L
0.70 lbs. CaraVienne
0.25 lbs. Caramel / Crystal 60L
2 ounces East Kent Goldings
5.6 grams freshly grated ginger
1.4 grams ground cinnamon
2 tsp. calcium
2 tsp. gypsum
1 Whirlfloc tablet
Wyeast yeast nutrient
Danstar Nottingham Ale Yeast
I was using a brewing method known as BIAB or brew in a bag. The first step is to heat the water up. When it gets hot enough we put the grains in a bag that had been put in the kettle. Think of it like steeping tea.
The heat converts the grains into sugars that the yeast can eat. When the yeast eats the sugar, it gives off alcohol as a byproduct. But, that’s jumping ahead to the fermentation process. Let’s go back to the grains steeping. The temperature is held at 148 degrees for an hour.
At that point the grains are removed, and the remaining liquid is brought to a boil. When the liquid began to boil the hops, ginger and cinnamon were added. The liquid, which at this point is called wort, is boiled for an hour.
After the boil is done, the wort needs to be cooled before yeast can be added. When it is cooled enough the yeast is put in. That’s when the wort becomes beer. It’s also when the yeast starts eating up all the sugar and converting it to alcohol.
In order to figure out the final alcohol content of the beer, you need to know how much sugar the yeast ate up. Brewers measure the sugar content of the beer before the yeast starts it’s work and then again afterwards. This measurement of the sugar in the water is knows as a gravity reading. The original gravity (before the yeast gets to work) and the final gravity (after the yeast has finished) are used to figure out how much sugar the yeast has eaten. And from that comes the calculation of the alcohol content.
We took a reading just before pitching the yeast into the wort. If we had brewed everything perfectly the reading should have been 1.057 according to the recipe. Our reading was 1.042. Much lower than expected. That would mean the beer will have a lower alcohol content. To me that’s not the end of the world; it might make a great lawnmower beer. The kind you want to drink after a hot afternoon of mowing the lawn.
But, I still need to understand why the gravity reading was low. Otherwise, I’ll end up repeating my mistakes. What happened? Partially it’s due to miscalculating the amount of water. We ended up with 5.5 gallons. By my calculation, that would have lower the gravity to 1.052. So, there is still something else wrong. My friend remembered that when we were looking at the grain, he had mentioned that it looked like it hadn’t been milled very well. So, that could cause the lower gravity if the grains weren’t crushed well they would not convert into sugars as expected. He also suggested the solution. Next time I buy grains at the local homebrew supply store, I should mill them twice.
The book from 1815 recommended a cool fermentation. So, we split the beer into two carboys. I can fit these into a pair of coolers I have. I kept them in the coolers and alternated ice packs to keep the temperatures low. I soon had a nice vigorous fermentation going as you can see from the video.
Soon, I’ll be able to bottle the beer and a few weeks after that I’ll be able to enjoy drinking a bottle.
[Update – Since, I wrote that the beer was bottled, and a final gravity reading was done. It was 1.002. This was lower than I expected. Meaning there are less sugars in the beer, so it will be dryer and not sweet. The alcohol content calculates to 5.3%]
My interest in homebrewing began after I bid on a silent auction item to see how homebrewing was done. I’ve donated the same thing to a silent auction fundraiser for the youth at my church. On the afternoon of May 20, I’ll be showing a group of people how to homebrew by brewing up a batch of beer. There are some spaces still available, if you’re interested contact me.
Tim Kane's memories, musings and updates.