August 27, 2010

Partigyle Experiment: Take One

Ok, so as a quick recap, I brewed Swordfight several weeks ago. Considering how thick the grain bill was, I wanted to maximize the grain bill, so I ran about three gallons of extra sparge water through the grain bed after collecting what I needed for the actual beer. I froze this wort in sterilized freezer bags, with the intent of turning it into a partigyle Belgian blonde. Mmmmmmmmmmm!

I had trouble finding a sensible (and simple) walkthrough of how to make a partigyle, so I wanted to lay out the course of making this one, if for no other reason than to record the process for next time. So I’ll try to be very pictorial about this so it makes sense for me, as well as any readers out there trying to figure out how to do this.

History/What is a partigyle?

Old school brewing was different from modern brewing. Today, we mash, sparge, and mix all our runnings to get one full batch. In the past, different runnings from the mash were not aggregated into a single beer. The first runnings -- from the mash -- would become a high alcohol beer. Then another round of water would be sent through (think of a batch sparge) which would become a medium alcohol beer, and then a third round of water would similarly be passed through, which would become a "light" beer. This was more common when resources were more scarce or a small brewery lacked the resources to be wasteful with water or grain. Other partigyle techniques exist, such as using second or third runnings as mash water for a new batch to build up the strength of the beer.

As a homebrewer, I always look to maximize efficiency and value in my brewing, so long as I produce products I'm happy with. That means I'll do a decoction mash or infusion mash when I could have done a single infusion mash if it means producing a better beer, but I'll also hand-build equipment, wash yeast, buy hops in bulk, etc. There's definitely a balance there, I won't try to minimize cost to the point that I'm getting so much efficiency I'm wasting time trying to do it. To that end, I like the idea of maximizing the value of grains on a big beer by making a partigyle, but I wouldn't do it for regular brews because I'd spend a lot of time brewing tiny batches of partigyles and the time cost would significantly outweigh the financial gains from the extra beer. Besides, I generally try to sparge a little extra to make extra wort for future starters. Ok, enough rambling. On to the brewing!

Creating the goal

Step one is always to figure out what you want. I knew I wanted a Belgian blonde, and since Swordfight is a golden strong ale, a blonde is roughly a weaker version of this beer. I want the beer to be low on IBUs, similar to Leffe, so I’ll target a lowly 18. I plan on using my seemingly endless supply of Fuggles, since English hops are style appropriate and I don’t have to buy anything extra for this beer. The alcohol will be around 4-5%.

Since I have three gallons of what I guess to be very weak wort, I will need to melt it down, take a gravity reading, and see where the gravity is. My goal is 1.035 pre-boil. I calculated this by taking a rough approximation based on rebuilding the recipe based on half the grain (see picture below). It's not an exact science -- I'm sure people with greater experience with partigyles can make it exact -- but the gravity readings will offer that exactness and I'll figure out the volume of wort and restructure the partigyle recipe from there.

I’m more concerned with making a good beer than a lot of beer, so although my goal will be to walk away with a 2-2.5 gallons, I’m comfortable getting a lot less. Fortunately with making a blonde, I have the luxury of being able to add a decent amount of sugar to the boil to increase the OG, so I can have a fairly low pre-boil OG and know the sugar is going to kick it up a bit. If my pre-boil gravity is too high, then I get to add water and increase the amount of beer. I may end up getting too high of an OG after the boil, in which case I will just add top off water.

Starting the process

I’ve taken the original recipe in beersmith and cut the grain bill in half to get a rough idea of what I’m working with. I’ve used this to add the hops and sugar to approximate the IBUs and ABV I’m shooting for. It shows 1.042 as the pre-boil gravity goal, but I adjusted it to 1.035 after I took the pic. So far this does not include the table sugar addition, which gets the ABV up to 5.23.

And here is the wort thawing in the kettle:

As you can kind of see from this terrible picture, the current pre-boil OG is 1.01. That's too low. At this point, I am retooling the recipe to aim for a lower ABV, in line with what is more common for partigyles.

So I've lowered the ABV to 4.69 and the pre-boil OG to 1.030. To get there, I'll need to boil the wort to concentrate it. That's going to reduce the overall volume of beer, but hey that's the price you pay to have something more than 3% ABV.

Boiling boiling boiling...

And boiling boiling boiling...

This part is a lengthy process since you have to heat up wort, take it off the heat, take a sample, cool it, then check the gravity, and repeat until you hit the desired gravity. The reason why I am taking it off the heat is that if I have hit the right gravity I don't want to continue to concentrate the wort while the sample cools.

After seeing how much I will have to concentrate, I'm having second thoughts. I've again lowered my pre-boil gravity to 1.017 which with the addition of sugar will get me to 3%. A light beer for sure! I've reduced the batch size to account for what I believe will be the ultimate size (2 gallons) and reduced the grain bill appropriately to change the OG to 1.022 before sugar, which by my very rough estimate gives me a pre-boil OG of 1.017. Once the boil is done I'll take a sample, figure out the actual OG and then top off if necessary.

Once I hit the right pre-boil gravity, it's time to start the boil and get all the additions going. As the boil progresses and boil off occurs, the batch is quickly getting very small. It's about 45 minutes into the 90 minute boil and the batch is about 1.5 gallons (by my guess). I guess we'll see how that looks once it cools. A really important lesson I'm learning is that you should partigyle huge beers because you're going to boil down anything else for a long time to get down to a worthwhile ABV. My three gallons are quickly diminishing...

So by the end of the boil I had somewhere around 0.5-0.75 gallons. However, an OG reading shows a whopping 1.085. Too high! (The picture shows it at about 1.078 but it's still warm so when temperature adjusted it corrects to 1.085.) I'd rather have more beer than a couple bottles of stronger beer. So I'll boil up some water and add it into the wort to get down to my now preferred 1.030 OG beer.

Ultimately I added a little over a gallon of water to get down to 1.032, so I ended up with about two gallons, as I desired. Now that it's all done, off to the fermenter it goes and I'll bottle next weekend so I can use the cake to make a fake kriek lambic.


I started brewing last July. My first brew was an extract kit of a Belgian Ale. Not knowing much about brewing – or beer – I thought I was getting something along the lines of Chimay White. I did not. Upon further research, I discovered it was supposed to be like something called “Leffe” or “Duvel”. I had no idea what those were. I later figured out that they were a Belgian blonde and a Belgian golden strong ale, respectively. It was a good choice for a first beer. It had a lot going on in the boil: DME, LME, three rounds of hops, and candi sugar. Not knowing much about the importance of fermentation temperatures, I fermented this one in the bucket, right in the middle of my kitchen in a hot Texas summer. Temperatures easily reached the 80s in the bucket. Beer came up through the airlock of the 7.9 gallon bucket. In spite of my ignorance and very amateur efforts, it came out pretty good. Not really like Leffe or Duvel, but still very tasty. I was hooked.

This summer I wanted to do some Belgian beers, so one that I really wanted to do was a sort of anniversary tribute to that first kit. So I whipped up this golden strong ale recipe and gave it the name of the original kit: Swordfight. Why the name? Well it’s very estery which gives it a fruity taste…so you either understand or you don’t. =p

Brewing in Texas heat requires one of two things: (1) a fermentation chamber capable of consistently maintaining temperatures below 70F; or (2) brewing styles (and with yeast) appropriate for the temperature. I guess if you can afford it, you can cool your entire house below 70F, but that is seriously expensive when it’s 105F out. Fortunately, most Belgian styles benefit from the esters produced at higher temperatures. So my desire to brew Belgians came at the appropriate time to brew them. Brewing a high alcohol beer in summer means it should have properly conditioned by the beginning of winter, so that will make for a nice winter warmer.

Ok, back to the beer. My vision was for something Duvel-like, but with more fruit flavor and a little less hoppy. I had read one feller’s attempt to make a Duvel clone adding pears in the secondary. I don’t think he quite hit an accurate clone, since Duvel is not brewed with fruit to my knowledge, but he was very happy with the beer. I haven’t had an opportunity to work with pears, so I wanted to add that into the mix. Ultimately I decided on this recipe:

Swordfight – 3 gallon batch
*Grain bill:
7.75lb pilsner malt
.15lb wheat malt
.10lb aromatic malt
.10lb munich malt
*Boil additions:
.5oz Styrian Goldings at 90 min
.5oz Styrian Goldings at 60 min
1lb table sugar at 15 min
.5oz Saaz at 10 min
.15tsp coriander at 5 min
Yeast nutrient in primary
*90 min boil, 4.5 gal boil volume
*Decoction mash at 95/122/148/158 and mash out at 168
*Ferment with WLP575 for 2 weeks
*Secondary with 1.5lb of pears for 4 weeks

ABV: 9.15%
SRM: 5.5
IBU: 29.2
OG: 1.089
FG: 1.019

Good stuff. I tasted it prior to secondary, and it was tasty but very hot. At bottling I also gave it a little taste, and it was still hot, but even tastier. I have very high expectations for this beer. I plan on letting it bottle condition for at least three months, possibly longer before I break one open. I considered adding fresh yeast at bottling to speed up the process, but I would rather let this one do its thing and see how it turns out.

I did wash yeasts from this batch, although it is argued that you shouldn’t wash yeast with such a high OG. I can see why. I tried to get a starter going of the washed stuff for another Belgian and faced considerable difficulty. It took two mason jars of washed yeast, twice as much wort as anticipated, four different containers, hours of aeration, and yeast nutrient before I finally found a few eager yeasts willing to multiply. I was able to grow up a very hungry group of yeasts that were seriously underpitched (I had planned to pitch containers in step in case the first one failed) but took off like a rocket on some 1.098 OG quad. Fortunately, I still have two jars of starter left, so one is getting fed slowly to preserve for a future batch and the other will go into a parti-gyle Belgian blonde I’m going to brew this week.
August 20, 2010

Piwo Kielich: Part 2 -- It's finally arrived


Seriously an amazing beer. I try to be a little more modest about my beers because I know I'm not at the level that many other people are, but I have to say this one is really great. Sorry I didn't get a picture on this first bottle, I was too excited to give it a taste.

Color: The color is typical of wheat beers: a golden brown white a very white head. Because of the high carbonation the head is more reminiscent of Duvel than a hefeweizen. It is reasonably clear, although not quite kristalweizen quality. Next time I'll try using irish moss in the boil and gelatin in the fermenter to further clarify.

Smell: It has a smokey, roasted wheat smell. Very good. There's not much of a hops aroma, due mostly to not using aroma hops...

Taste: The first thing that you taste is roasty wheat, followed quickly by the smoke. Although the beer is reasonably well hopped, the hops take a back seat in the flavor and help tie the wheat and smoke together into a very nicely blended combination of flavor. I guess the best way to describe it would be a nice wheat roll lightly buttered and toasted in a smoker and covered with a vegetable spread. I don't know that that is completely accurate, but that's as close as I can get.

Mouthfeel: Very thin for a wheat beer, but solid for an ale. Goes down smooth with nice carbonation.

All in all, I am very happy with this beer. I don't know how historically accurate it is, but it's definitely on the list of beers to repeat in the future.
August 16, 2010

Blogging on blogging about beer

I apologize that so many of my posts seem scatterbrained and at times chock full of really long discussions. My normal writing scope over the past few years has been technical discussions and schoolwork, which are highly edited and revised works, that are the product of long processes to get all the facts accurately presented and carefully constructed. I’m really rather new to the blogging experience. I don’t tweet, and I’m not very frantic about updating my facebook status.

My blogging comes more from a desire to get my thoughts down while they are fresh so I can capture my thoughts, and most importantly my excitement in the experimenting and brewing process. It’s hard to take that through the editing process because my initial reaction is to treat it technically and reduce down my thoughts and expressions, removing a lot of what I enjoy with brewing. Part of that editing process makes me inclined to remove, or at least carefully construct my brewing mistakes to downplay them. That’s unfortunate because mistakes sometimes yield positive results and I want to expose those so that people who experience the same mistakes can learn from them and figure out how to prevent or at least correct them when they happen.

The downside is that my walkthroughs on brewing and recipes come out disorganized, which is less helpful for people trying to learn from it (and I hope someday people actually do). It’s very difficult to try to produce a complete piece on a recipe because I want to publish the recipe and the process while the beer is fermenting, when I have no idea how the final product will turn out. So I hope my future posts will be a little more carefully constructed but still maintain the excitement and honesty of what went right (and wrong) in the process.

As I type this, I’m sitting at home surrounded by a recent massive purchase from AHS that will yield many gallons of beer and complete many of my projects for 2010 and into 2011, so I should have many opportunities to try to produce some better pieces.

Here’s to lots of brewing, learning, and experimenting!
August 11, 2010

Why champagne bottles

In spite of the title I actually want to talk about Belgian-style 750ml bottles. Aren't they cool? They are mysterious; they have a feel like you're about to pop open a centuries old bottle of awesome beer. And they have the impressive POP of the cork without the fuss of a corkscrew. And if that wasn't all, you can bottle pretty much any kind of beer in them because they can withstand so much carbonation pressure.

For homebrewers, they can be a disappointment. If you do a google search (and maybe that's how you found this) you'll find the question asked on every beer forum out there: "How do I cork Belgians?" Unless you have a Corona capper with the modifications to cork Belgian/champagne bottles, a champagne bottle corker, or modified a wine bottle corker, it's pretty much impossible to cork these bottles. You can't cap them. You can't trick your wing capper or agata capper into doing it. And since those bottles are not produced uniformly with the same opening, you can't trust those plastic champagne corks to do the trick. (I have heard from people that they can be used without a problem, absolutely do not fit, or only fit with a tremendous amount of pressure to force them in and pull them out, or the cork would go in but the mouth was too big so they wouldn't carb. That suggests there is substantial lack of consistency in the bottles, and I have no way of knowing which brands make bottles that are successful.)

Sure, you can find those Belgian bottles with built in flip-top Grolsch-style lids, and I've seen a Canadian shop sell flip-top lids that you can attach to your own Belgian bottles. But let's be honest, other than the need to carb your beer beyond 3 volumes the real reason people want to use these bottles is for their appearance (and size). I don't even know if those flip-top lids can support more carbonation. They look tacky and cheap, like putting platic wal-mart hubcaps on a lexus.

However, champagne bottles also offer the same volume, the same ability to withstand pressure, and the same ability to be corked. However, they are more versatile than the Belgian bottles. Obviously you can find champagne in that style of bottle, but you can also find lambics, saisons, and other western European styles in these bottles. (The only downside seems to be that most of them come in green glass, which risks skunking. However, you can find some beers in brown champagne bottles. Petrus oud bruin comes to mind.)

Not only can you cap those bottles, or cork and cap them, by replacing the bell in your capper (not wing cappers, sorry) but easiest of all you can cork and cage them with either real cork (if you have a corker) or with the plastic corks, which can be inserted, literally, by hand. While some people may think it looks cheap, you can't deny that synthetic corks are becoming more and more accepted and commonplace for both champagne and wine. So not only can you get that POP but you can reuse the corks and cages for a very long time. In that case, it's actually a very cheap bottling option.

I suspect champagne bottles will start to appear more and more as an option for bottling "upscale" beers over Belgian bottles. I suspect they are cheaper to purchase, and definitely look classy. If the world of beer continues to make inroads as a quality drink, it will make it easier for skeptics to accept a beer coming out of a fine champagne glass is something other than a lawnmower beer, and you may start to finally see a better beer selection show up in fine restaurants.

It's a win-win for homebrewers. Better beer in restaurants and easier ways to get presentable bottles with high carb capability.
August 6, 2010

Piwo Kielich -- Grätzer-style ale, Part I

Being of Polish (and German) descent, it's a little embarassing for the Polish side of the family that the only contributions to brewing we seem to have is Lublin hops. (Being part German, I have tremendous brewing history in the lineage.) I'm not one for geneology, but I am a fan of learning history, so I can't help but explore the history of beer. Germany's massive contributions to brewing tend to overshadow much of Europe in the world of beer (save Belgian and the UK and arguably the Czech Republic).

I was pleased to discover that Poland actually did have brewing traditions separate from Germany. Particularly, it developed a beer style within the town of Grodzisk. I'm not sure exactly what the original style name is, but it's known today as Grodziskie, the name the last commercial brewer sold it under when they stopped producing the style in the 1990s. Germans, in their cultural superiority, have a way of converting things into German language, and converted the name of the town Grodzisk to Gratz, and in turn refer to the style of beer as grätzer. I'll refer to the style as grätzer -- despite recognizing the style as Polish -- because it's easier to say (and type) and it is more commonly referred to with this appellation.

Grätzer is a smoky, hoppy, clear wheat beer with high carbonation (up to 4 vol), which is why it was referred to as Polish champagne. I'm not sure exactly what this beer tastes like, but discriptions are fairly clear that it is smoky, wheat, clear hoppy, bitter, and highly carbed. That's good enough for me to go after giving a whirl to preserving a little Polish heritage (if even given a Germanic style appellation). The internet gives varied descriptions of recipes and fermentation, but some commonalities develop enough to offer a starting point for building a recipe:

* it is a wheat beer
* it requires smoked grain
* it is around 30-35 IBU, generally of Polish or north German hops
* it should be highly carbed
* it was mashed with an infusion mash
* isinglass was used to clarify the beer
* it is an ale, fermented with common northern German ale-style yeast, such as alt or kolsch yeast
* ABV is a sessionable volume at 3-5%

Some recipes seemed to go overboard on the hops, others were embarassingly low on the alcohol, others were in dispute over the type of hops appropriate to use, and many -- if not all that I found -- gave an alternative grain bill for the traditional bill. Although 30-35 IBU isn't considered "hoppy" compared to today's hop bombs, when compared to pilsners more common to eastern Europe (and popular beer brands), it was a hoppy beer for its time.

To build my recipe I immediately decided I would use my trusty 1338 yeast -- good for altbier and all sorts of other styles. I also wanted to use the hops that would have been traditionally available that I could obtain. I didn't have any Lublin available, but I did have some Saaz in my fridge, so I built the recipe using all Saaz. Also, I don't have isinglass, so I went with irish moss as a clarifying agent.

The traditional grain bill for grätzer is 100% smoked wheat malt. Wheat malt is easy to come by, but I've never seen smoked wheat malt for sale. Specifically, grätzer relied on wheat malt dried in a lot of smoke -- thus making it very smoky malt -- over a white oak-based fire. If I could have found a smoked wheat malt, it likely would have been smoked over beechwood or some other soft wood, as rauchmalt is. The wood is important because it contributes a flavor of its own to the smoke.

Modern interpretations suggest one can come reasonably close to the traditional bill by using 60% wheat malt and 40% rauchmalt. Although I am interested in comparing a batch brewed with this bill versus a traditional bill-brewed batch, I had to reject this path because I had very little rauchmalt at home and the local homebrew store does not sell rauchmalt.

Either way, I would have had to smoke malt (or be more patient and buy smoked malt), so I decided to go the traditional route. Having never smoked malt, or used a smoker for that matter, I set out to learn. I didn't do a great job -- not being patient in brewing leads to inferior results -- but I did learn a lot for next time. Smoking malt requires:

* soaking your grains overnight
* soaking your wood overnight
* smoking over a very cool fire

I didn't soak either very well. The purpose of soaking the wood is that it will smoke and burn slowly when wet, versus dry wood that burns hot and fast. Making the wood produce more smoke is very important when your goal is to impart smoke into the beer. Soaking the grains is necessary for two reasons. One, smoke sticks to water so it will stick to your grains. Two, it means the grains will dry out in the smoker, replicating the kiln process (which is how grains become smoky when a maltster does it), and preventing them from getting roasted, rather than smoked. The cool fire (around 120F)also makes sure that the wood burns slowly and that you don't roast the grains.

Fortunately, my dad has a smoker and oak trees, so finding fresh oak to smoke with was very easy. Unfortunately, because I didn't get to soak either, I ended up getting more roasty flavor than I would have wanted. When the grains were warm they didn't have a lot of smoky smell, but as they cooled the smoke smell became more prevelent. We smoked half the grain for one hour and half for two hours, because it wasn't getting smoky enough after one hour.

I brewed a one gallon batch with this home-smoked wheat malt. Since I was just doing one gallon I didn't do an infusion mash. I just did it BIAB-style with a step mash. The recipe below is for one gallon:

Grain bill:

1.75 lb wheat malt, home-smoked

Mash schedule:

2.2 qt at 98F for 45 min
Raise to 122F for 60 min
Raise to 158F for 60 min

Batch sparge with 7.7 qt at 174F

Boil volume: 2.2 gal
Boil time: 90 min

Boil additions:

.30 oz Saaz at 90 min
.20 oz Saaz at 20 min
.05 tsp Irish moss at 10 min

Ferment with 1338

Batch info:

32.6 IBU
4.63 ABV
3.5 SRM
1.051 SG
1.015 FG

The beer went into the fermenter about the color you would expect of a wheat beer -- kind of orange-ish -- and fermented with the usual vigor of a wheat beer. Interestingly, in spite of the hops and smoke, it doesn't have a particularly smoky smell coming out of the fermenter. Actually, it smells a lot like fresh brewed coffee. (Take that coffee stouts/porters!)

I will be bottling the beer after work tonight. Unfortunately I don't have the proper set up to carb up to 4 vol. I don't have enough thick wheat beer bottles, a corker for Belgian bottles, or an agata bench capper I could modify to cap champagne bottles. So, I am going to bottle in regular bottles at 3.5 vol. It's risky, but they will be carbed under very tight temperature controls at 74F. Actually, I'll probably bottle in whatever hefe bottles I have and other sturdier bottles just to be on the safe side.

I'm torn on whether I want to let it condition for a short period of time, as is common with wheat beers, or let it bottle condition 3-5 weeks like I normally do with beers. I'll probably crack one open in a week or two to give it a taste.

I called this beer "Piwo Kielich" which means "chalice beer" or "goblet beer" in Polish. I figure if it's Polish champagne, it should be drank out of a goblet like a fine Belgian. I refer to it as a grätzer-style ale because I can't say definitely that I captured "grätzer" but I do believe I'm in the neighborhood.

Ok, that's enough writing...part II will include final notes and pictures!
August 4, 2010

Stylez set to ridiculous

This is not brewing-related, but it is beer-related. I'm just going to ramble for a few paragraphs while I sort out notes on a new project I'm working on.

I can appreciate diversity of beer styles and the diversity of preferences (as it turns out diversity is not an old wooden ship) and that some people really enjoy beers I don't like. I get that some people like beer so high in IBUs you could mummify people in it and they would be preserved for thousands of years. I get that people like imperial beers meant to be drank slowly. I also get that people hate beers I love.

That's a good thing. We should all enjoy the things in life we find pleasurable.

However, I get sort of irritated at times by the turn everything imperial-let's make everything as high alcohol, high IBU as possible attitude. Again, I don't mind that some people enjoy an imperial pilsner. I do take issue with the attitude that if you just make something imperial it's automatically a better beer.

It's not.

It's a different beer. Yes, it takes longer to age, and yes it takes more ingredients. Ok? So what? The imperial attitude is the next generation of the just-add-hops/pale ale attitude that took off in the 90s. Then it was, "oh you have a brown beer? Check out this same brown beer, with more HOPS." Now it's, "oh you have a hoppy American brown? Check out that American brown, with more HOPS and more GRAIN! It's imperial, bitches!"

The problem with that attitude is not just that it's snobby or that it necessarily requires oneupsmanship among brewers, but once brewers have made 35% ABV 150 IBU Imperial Eisbocks, where else can you go, but find a new style to race to the top? It will only be a matter of time before Belgians -- which are very trendy -- are cannabalized to create Imperial Tripels. Ridiculous combinations of imperial trends and Belgian trends tied together to make something fans of either style can't enjoy. Trying to pair snobby with trendy never works... In the meantime, there are all sorts of imperial wheats (ready for an imperial hefeweizen?) imperial meads and all other abberations that can come.

You can already see that sours are becoming the new snobby beer style. (While I am happy to see a growth in the sour beer niche, I fear for its future.) It's harder to get right (in a sense) and takes longer to produce. It's perfect groundwork for a beer snob to take snobbery to a new level. Like the imperial style, you can make anything sour. And eventually, all beer styles will be made as sours. Then, once we've made everything sour, the two can come together. IMPERIAL SOUR! High alcohol potential fermented, then soured, then aged, then dryhopped to get max IBUs. You can even blend old Imperial sours with young imperials or young imperial sours so you can take your snobbery to a new level with blending.

The alternative to trying to race to the most X beer is just to make beers that are quality products, rather than predictable attempts to be more niche than the next.