February 28, 2012

Time for brewing?

I have been MIA for a little while thanks to a very long paper I have to write this semester. Part of our graduation requirements include taking a course and writing a 20+ page paper on a novel legal issue on the course subject. Twenty pages isn't a lot to write but the problem is the novelty of one's position. Between legal publications and all the blogs out there it's hard to find a position to take that hasn't been said by anybody else but there has been enough other things said on the subject to present an opportunity to disagree with the other people and distinguish a position. I got half way through writing my paper before I realized I didn't have enough novel space to write, so I had to essentially redo everything on the fly. My first draft is due today and I will surely have tremendous amounts of work to do on it the remainder of the semester. On the upside, the semester is almost half over.

I have a black ale that has been desperate for bottling for a few weeks that needs to get bottled this weekend. I also hope to brew a dubbel with a couple helpings of homemade candy syrup (an earlier experiment with molasses and a more recent malt attempt). I'm looking forward to finding out if that beer will be good or gross.
I also recently picked up some organic pear juice at a very reasonable $12/gallon price to make something of an apfelwine-like gallon of perry. Normally pear juice is cut with apple juice but this stuff is pure pear so I think it will have a better pear flavor. I'd like to get it going soon but I don't have much in the way of small fermenters since three of the four I have are full of aging sour beers. I'm trying to use up jug wine as quick as possible to liberate another five liter carboy.

With March approaching it is quickly becoming time to rebuild my hop garden so I can directly plant my new rhizomes when they come in. I have faith that my sterling plant is still alive but I have also ordered cascade, nuggest and another attempt at mt. hood. I might have to wait until spring break.

I hope my schedule is relaxed enough this weekend to brew and take some pictures and write about the dubbel. I guess we'll see.

February 17, 2012

Still on the hunt for properly homemade candy syrup

My latest attempt did not turn out as I had hoped. I thought I was on the right track but it wasn't quite what I had hoped for. I think the idea is still at least partially correct but it needs some adjustment. I still thoroughly believe that there is no way to start with processed table sugar and reach the right flavor and color combination, although I continue to be in the minority in this way of thinking.

February 9, 2012

One gallon batches - scaling and other useful information

I've noticed a lot of talk on the homebrew boards about brewing small batches. I think there's a lot of people who would like to brew smaller batches for whatever reason (don't have enough people to share with, want to brew more often, want to experiment with lower commitment, etc.) but don't have enough information about the process. Since I primarily brew in smaller amounts (1-3 gallons) I wanted to summarize some thoughts.

Hop Utilization: Problem?
Often people have 5-10 gallon recipes they want to scale down to one gallon recipes. Common advice is to scale the recipe down by dividing the ingredients by whatever number of gallons the original recipe is by how many gallons you want in your version. What often comes up is a question about hop utilization and whether you need to increase the amount of hops due to the lower boil volume. There is division on the issue. Some people say that lower boil volume means lower utilization, therefore you need more hops to reach the same IBUs and flavor. On the other side, people say if there is a difference it is negligible and indistinguishable from the same recipe produced at five or ten gallons. My take is: it depends on many factors.

One issue is how big the original recipe is. If you are scaling a recipe from five to one, the difference is likely insignificant. However, if you are scaling from fifteen gallons to one gallon or maybe a commercial-size recipe to one gallon, the difference may be noticeable. Since the boil contents are proportionally the same, there should be no loss of flavor or aroma from the hops but when the boil volume decreases it is more likely to reduce the isomerization of hop acids which will affect the bitterness from the hops. Personally I do not concern myself with hop utilization for this reason but if you make a lot of hoppy beers this may be a concern.

Another issue is how you convert the recipe. If the recipe is a partial boil and you want to do a full boil one gallon batch, there is going to be a significant difference in hop utilization because you are changing the size of the boil to the proportion of ingredients in it, which will affect all aspects of hopping. If you are adjusting a partial boil to a full boil, you need to rebuild the boil schedule rather than just dividing by five.

Third, any flaws in your process at the one gallon level may affect hop utilization. If you have too much or too little boil volume due to trying to operate on a smaller scale can affect utilization. I'll talk about the challenges of small batches below but because the batch is smaller, the margin of error grows and this can affect your final product.

Once you have a handle on your small batch process, as long as you are scaling fairly normal recipes from regular homebrew sizes to smaller sizes, hop utilization will probably not be an issue. However, if you are highly technical about your brewing, you may want to do some math to figure out if you need to make an adjustment. I've found some of the brewing software, likely due to rounding issues, will boost hop volumes at lower batch sizes.

Challenges of the Small Batch

The Mash

Since smaller batches have smaller mash mass, you will lose heat more quickly than a large mass that can retain heat. You need to keep this in mind for your mash. You don't want to shoot for a 150F mash and end up spending half the mash time in the 140s or 130s. You may want to think about using a smaller container than your cooler mash tun or working on the stove to better control heat. The more surface area you give the mash the faster it will cool.

On the other hand, since the mash mas is lower, it is easier to overshoot temperatures and quickly overheat the mash to the point you denature the enzymes and cannot convert the starches. This is especially concerning while any direct heat source is heating the mash. If you infuse water and then heat there is a chance to overshoot as the heat source is heating the mash. If you are keeping a heat source active to try to maintain a certain temperature it's also easy for the temperature to start to climb. Unlike a ten pound mash, a two pound mash can heat very quickly while you are not looking at the thermometer. So if the heat is on, watch the thermometer closely.

Also consider how your efficiency, boil volume, etc. will change if you are using a different mash technique on smaller batches. I have a cooler I use for large mashes but for a gallon batch I go BIAB on the stove. With BIAB I get better efficiency than I do with the cooler and batch sparging even though I have the same crush using the same mill. So that's something that has to be considered in scaling the recipe up. You may find it too hard to control temperatures in a cooler (unless you have a very small one) at the one gallon level.


Adjustments to the heat source and boil kettle may be appropriate to maintain consistency. If you boil on a system set up for larger batches, such as a turkey fryer, you are going to apply a lot of heat to a small amount of liquid. You increase the chance of added carmelization due to the smaller boil volume and that can affect the flavor.Additionally, you need to contemplate changes to boil off. With a smaller volume in a pot designed for larger batches you will end up with a larger surface area than normal. This increases evaporation.


Using your regular fermenters (buckets and carboys) can leave a lot of headspace. While I believe the headspace is a non-issue if you are fermenting for a few weeks, if you move your fermenter a lot of let it sit for months the CO2 layer created by fermentation will start to let oxygen diffuse into the beer and you might get some oxidation or acetobacter growth. Consider getting some smaller fermenters. Some people have found 1-3 gallon HDPE buckets. I like to use five liter wine jugs. They are easy to work with and leave some headspace for krausen. With a gallon of beer I get a little less than a liter of headspace. Sometimes I do need a blow off tube.

February 7, 2012

An idea I had last night

I've written several times in the past about attempting to make D2-like syrups at home. I don't think any of the processed sugar-based recipes are really getting it right but I think I'm close to getting it right. I am not certain I will make this soon but I have it in mind that I will take the Old World version of the Westvleteren 12 clone recipe here with only homemade D2. The recipe is half pale malt and half pilsner malt and the rest of the fermentables is D2. No specialty malts. I will do a decoction mash.

Making the syrup is time intensive so it might take a while to put it all together. Hopefully I will get this done sometimes soon and put the recipe up here with success/failure admissions.

February 6, 2012

Lambic Solera Update 7: Finally Getting A Taste

With the Superbowl comes some good drinking so I couldn't help but crack open a bottle of our lambic along with our other homebrew and commercial beers I picked up on sale at Central Market. We opened the lambic second after a nice heavy coffee porter (Real Ale Coffee Porter) to make sure we weren't too buzzed to enjoy the flavors and the lambic would help cut the heavy sweetness from the porter. Not surprisingly, the bottle was carbonated far less than I had hoped. I added enough sugar to get to 3.0 volumes of carbonation but I only got was around 1.0, based entirely upon my guess. I didn't add any extra yeast at bottling but I know in the future I need to.

The flavor was incredible; it was exactly what I hoped for. The aroma is tart with hints of cherries. The flavor starts out for a split second like a light beer before getting washed over in acidic sourness. The sourness is strongly lactic although I can tell there is some acetic acid as well. As you swallow the funky flavors start to emerge and you're left with the funky notes as an aftertaste. It's some of the really funky lambicus flavors -- horsey, hay, leather, barnyard -- with some nice cherry undertones. There is a little complexity in the flavor so I am excited to see how this beer develops in the bottle and how future years will develop. I hope to pace myself on drinking this beer so I can appreciate the changes over the rest of the year. I want to sock away a bottle or two to compare side by side with future batches, so with only two gallons bottled, I will really have to be discerning about when I open a bottle. Fortunately I also have a gallon on raspberries that I will bottle in the early summer to extend the reserves.

Turning to the framboise fermenter, it still looks the same as it did shortly after I racked. It has a brilliant red color but no pellicle. I know there was some fermentation due to positive pressure on the airlock in the days following racking. My hope is that the layer of CO2 is just dense enough to avoid oxygen contact to warrant the pellicle.

The gallon held for gueuze is developing a white, filmy pellicle. I had hoped the sugar addition would be enough to generate a protective layer of CO2 on this fermenter as well, but that apparently was not meant to be. It is fine that the pellicle formed. Oxygen is being blocked off one way or another, and that is what matters.

The solera itself has calmed down and the souring has clearly begun. For most of January there was a constant release of small bubbles from the bottom of the fermenter. Perhaps the saccharomyces and sherry strains were trying to ferment before the ph dropped too low for them to work. Now it is still and a thin film pellicle has formed over the top of the beer. I am confident this batch will continue to progress as expected and produce another great lambic.