January 30, 2012

Stupid boil off not calculating correctly

Yesterday I brewed a one gallon batch of a black ale recipe I formulated loosely off of New Belgium's 1554. I'll hold off on posting the recipe until I decide it's something I want to admit to creating. I am getting frustrated by my inability to properly calculate boil off. It's humid in Texas and humidity lowers the amount of boil off that occurs. It seems no matter how much I reduce the boil volume going into the kettle I always end up with a sizeable amount more than I should. I end up having to boil down some of the wort to make it safely fit in the five liter fermenter without losing a lot of beer to blow off. The problem with boiling down is not only the added time to bring wort back to boil, boil, then cool, but also continuing to boil for 15-30 minutes means the flavor additions are getting pushed back.

I started off calculating one gallon per hour as most resources suggest is appropriate but that is not even close. I tried lowering it to 3/4 gallon per hour but that also seems like 1/3-1/2 gallon too much. Next time around I'll have to try calculating at 1/2 gallon per hour. The problem is that I use the stove top BIAB set up for these small batches but a turkey fryer for the large batches, so I have to be mindful in my recipes that I make adjustments for the right set up. However, even though I used the turkey fryer for the four gallon lambic batch in December it still seemed to fall far short of boiling off a gallon per hour even though it was a very dry day and the turkey fryer puts off a lot more heat.
January 27, 2012

Hefeweizen Fail

Some of my favorite beer styles continue to elude my homebrewing and hefeweizen is definitely one of those. I feel like I have a good grasp on dunkelweizen but a hefeweizen is such a basic recipe that any flaw in recipe or process is really apparent. I should probably try brewing other people's recipes to see what I am doing wrong but I'm positive I have figured out my problem, at least with the hefeweizen (I am still struggling with my dubbel recipe).

My first attempt at a hefeweizen was a clone kit from AHS for Live Oak's hefeweizen, which I regard as easily the best domestic hefeweizen and better than many German renditions I have tried. It is banana-y with a solid clove element and a fresh wheat flavor. It also has great body. I was surprised to learn they do not decoction mash the hefeweizen. Any way, the kit was a disaster. The grains were obviously put together wrong (their fault) and I fermented way too warm (my fault) so I ended up with a thin, watery, not very wheaty, bubble gum-flavored beer. I dumped most of the batch. Lesson learned: fermenting in the 70s will get bubble gum, not banana.

This second attempt was a recipe I put together that was supposed to be a watermelon wheat last summer but I didn't get around to brewing it because we were sitting on like 24 gallons of beer and the summer was so warm I didn't think I could keep the batch cool enough to get banana and clove instead of bubble gum. So I made the batch this December with half bottled straight and half on apricots, which were very hard to find in winter. Definitely nailed the fermentation temperatures. Mid-upper 60s produced a great banana nose with a good mix of banana and clove flavors. The problem is it doesn't have good body or flavor. It is sort of bland in that American "hefeweizen" way. It's not terrible but it's not great. I realized when I put the recipe together I meant to do a 60/40 mix of wheat malt/barley malt but I did it the other way around so there wasn't as much wheat as there should have been. Hence the lack of wheat flavor and body. It's too bad because it would have been a great beer. Lesson learned: more wheat malt.

Hopefully the apricot portion will be more of a success. I haven't bottled it yet; it's been on the apricots for about three weeks. I intend on bottling it this weekend or early next week and I'll give it a couple weeks to carbonate before tasting. I need to bottle it up so I can free a gallon fermenter to make a black ale I've been promising my wife for about half a year. I wanted to ferment it in the winter with kolsch yeast so it could ferment really cool but for the past month or so we've been in the 60s and 70s (even reaching 80). It's nice spring weather but I want a few good weeks of cold to forget about the scorching, endless summer of 2011.
January 22, 2012

Dogtails II Brewed

As a follow up on the last post, I brewed this beer yesterday. A few brew notes:

The sour mash/wort went as expected. It really lagged the first 12 hours or so but after that it really took off. When I tried to add the sour wort to the boil kettle it wouldn't come out because there was a big chunk of thick krausen gumming up the mouth of the growler. It ended up falling out into the boil kettle so I tried to fish out as much as I could. I'm not too worried that some of it got left behind since the boil would have killed all the bacteria off. It had that predictable rotting creamed corn smell I always get from a sour mash/wort.

I used some left over stout wort to make the starter and I couldn't help but taste it as I decanted off to get the cake ready to pitch. Although my wife kind of liked the starter taste I thought stout and rustic saison yeast did not taste well together. It reminded me of a too estery stout and it had a real slick mouthfeel that I disliked a lot. That might have been a result of uncarbonated stout (with all the flaked grains -- I think there were flaked oats, which tends to create a little slickness) or the effects of aeration. Either way, it was not good. I don't see saison stouts becoming popular in the future.

The wort ended up a little darker than I expected, which was probably the result of the caravienne. I don't mind that it's a little dark because the apricots will lend a lot of color and cover it up. I think the caravienne will still work out flavor-wise.

Rather than a 90 minute boil I had to boil an extra 30 minutes to try to get down to the right post-boil volume. I don't think I miscalculated the amounts between the sour mash and regular mash but I ended up with about four gallons rather than 3.5 and after 90 minutes of boil I still had more than three gallons left. Obviously I am over calculating boil off by a lot. The humidity here seems to reduce the boil off but I can't quite get the right numbers. I should check with some local brewers. More beer is rarely a problem but I don't want the beer to be too watery so I figured extra boil time and cutting the 20 minute hop addition would try to produce a beer as close to what I wanted.

Sadly I also broke my floating thermometer moving it from the mash to the sparge kettle (I brewed BIAB). I hit the handle on the kettle and broke the bottom. Fortunately the glass and weight beads did not get in either kettle. Fortunately I also had the thermometer that came with my turkey fryer so I was able to roughly gauge sparge temperature and cooling temperature. I know everybody breaks those thermometers so I don't feel too bad that I got 2.5 years out of it. I might replace it with an electric thermometer.

All in all not the worst brew day. I pitched last night around 68F and this morning I woke up to an airlock chugging away.
January 20, 2012

New Dogtails Brett Saison, Now With Apricots

This week I am starting up a very beloved beer in my house -- Dogtails. Dogtails is my brett saison. It develops a very clean brett flavor, not too musty or fecal-y, with a nice saison backdrop. (The original post about this beer is here.) Thanks to the brett it takes about nine months for this beer to stabilize although the brett always seems to find something new to consume in the bottle so most bottles end up with some serious carbonation. I need to let this batch age as long as it needs to so I can avoid the excess carbonation. Plus, the beer continues to get a better flavor over time.

This time I am making a two gallon batch but I'm making some tweaks to the recipe and process to make a more complex beer. A key change is that I'm going to dump this beer on some apricots during the summer to turn this batch into a nice apricot brett saison. I'm planning on adding 1-1.5 pounds per gallon. I currently have a hefeweizen on apricots that needs to get bottled soon so I'll see how prominent the half pound per gallon tastes in that and make adjustments for the saison.

There are two really big changes I'm making to this beer, inspired by the very interesting book Farmhouse Ales. First, the ABV is getting dropped from a sturdy 7.11% to a more quaffable 5%. Farmhouse Ales discusses how saisons used to be session beers and the "super saisons" we are more familiar with in the 6-9% range are less traditional. I'm not really concerned with the traditional-ness of my beer but after drinking that 4% saison at Funkwerks in Colorado I decided maybe an easier drinking saison would be worth trying. So while I realize 5% is still a touch higher than it could be I feel like this is a good transition point for this beer (although after adding fruit and brett it will probably go back towards 7%).

Second, the book discusses how saisons would likely have some sourness -- as in tart -- thanks to imperfect storage allowing lacto infections. So in order to mimic that touch of sourness I am doing a sour wort on 1/7 of the boil volume. This amounts to half a gallon, which is the easiest way for me to sour wort since I can do it in a growler and really limit oxygen exposure. Although I am sour worting a big portion of the final product I am only souring for about 24 hours so it won't have a chance to get too sour. I think this is also a great fit with a bretted saison since brett will do interesting things with the acids and other flavor components left behind by lactobacillus.

Additionally I am tweaking the grist. When I first brewed this beer it was mostly pilsner with a noticeable vienna addition and some white wheat for body, flavor and haze. The Dogtails Noel I brewed last year for a winter saison deleted the vienna for munich and dropped the pilsner for a bigger munich addition. I liked the munich for the caramel flavor that paired with the cinnamon and homemade candy syrup but I am a big vienna fan so it's coming back as a bigger percentage of grist. I dropped the wheat a little to add some caravienne for a little more flavor complexity. The grain bill (for two gallons) reads:

2.75 lb pilsner
4oz vienna
2oz white wheat
2oz caravienne

There will also be a sugar addition in the boil that makes up another 10% of the grist. Depending on how this turns out I'll contemplate another increase in vienna but this time reduce the pilsner further. I also went with a Belgian pilsner malt over the American pilsner malt I have been using. I'm curious to see how much of a difference it will make in flavor. Some people rave about Belgian and French malts, other people say there's no significant difference.

I also intend on changing up the spice additions. Instead of just coriander I am going to make a coriander addition and a black pepper addition to enhance the spiciness of the saison yeast. The fuggles used in the original recipe are getting swapped out for Kent Goldings. The previous five minute addition is getting dropped for a slightly larger bittering addition. After aging for months there's just not a lot of hop aroma to get. Plus I would rather get aroma from the fruit and spices.

So in case you want to see the full recipe it looks like this:

Two gallon batch. Scale as necessary.

2.75lb Belgian pilsner
4oz Vienna
2 oz white wheat malt
2oz caravienne

Prepare mash of 8oz of grain with a mash in the 140Fs and sparge as usual. Bring to boil, chill to 120F and add raw grain in a container with low oxygen exposure. Keep warm for 24 hours.

Mash and sparge remaining grains on brew day as usual. In boil kettle add sour wort to obtain full boil volume of 3.5 gallons. Boil 90 minutes with the following additions:

0.70oz Kent Goldings (4.5%) at 90 minutes
0.3oz Kent Goldings (4.5%) at 20 minutes
7oz table sugar at 10 minutes
1 tsp crushed coriander at 1 minute
1/2 tsp black pepper (crushed or ground) at 1 minute

Cool and pitch dogtails yeast culture (add saison strain plus brett brux). Ferment in low 70Fs. Age for nine or more months with 2-3lb apricots that have been frozen, thawed and sliced around 5-6 months. Continue aging as necessary.
January 11, 2012

Lambic Solera Update 6: Now a Tale of Four Beers

With the end of the first year/beginning of the second year I've gone from one lambic beer to four: one gallon held off for gueuze, one gallon on raspberries, two gallons in bottles and six-ish gallons in the fermenter. Each beer has behaved differently so far so there's some interesting updates to make on each. So without further introduction...


I bottled the lambic with some priming sugar to get some carbonation (even though straight lambic is typically not carbonated). Typically when I bottle I find after a few days you can shake the bottle a couple of times and see small bubbles swirling in the beer which suggests carbonation has at least started. After a few days there was nothing. I suspected carbonation would take a long time because of the acidity repressing any available saccharomyces and having to fight with brett and pedio for food. After a couple of weeks I did start to see some bottles producing some of those bubbles. Today I checked in on the bottles and all of them have a very noticeable white pellicle. Even though I added enough priming sugar to carbonate to three volumes I would not be surprised to find the beer less carbonated, which is ok. I plan on opening a small 330ml bottle towards the end of January, maybe on Super Bowl Sunday to test the flavor and carbonation.

Year One Gueuze Reserve

I also added some corn sugar to the gallon of reserve to try to get some fermentation and spit out CO2 in the event the pellicle did not form quickly. Although I never saw krausen I did see the pressure build up behind the airlock so I'm pretty sure this beer will be ok. Last week I saw the beginning of a white pellicle forming and each day it gets more noticeable. I will continue to observe the beer periodically to check for signs of an acetobacter mother, which looks like a jelly pad in the bottle on the fermenter. If I see that I'll have no choice but to bottle it up and consume quickly. I don't expect this to occur but better safe than sorry.


The sugar in the raspberry has definitely produced some fermentation because the airlock began bubbling within a day of racking on the raspberries. So far the beer has developed a brilliant deep pink color and the raspberries are turning white. I never saw a krausen on the beer but there are some bubbles around the fruit. I expect that a pellicle will form over time but there is likely a thicker layer of CO2 over this beer than on the gueuze reserve. I'll continue to observe this beer with the expectation of bottling around June but I may want to let it ride for nine to twelve months.

Solera Year Two

When I racked in the new beer the first thing I realized is that there is very little headspace as a result of the trub from the first year's fermentation. That tells me that before I can rack any more beer in next time I'll need to ditch the trub. I'll probably give the fermenter a good clean to get rid of the krausen residue. I may also try to wash some of the yeast and bacteria from the trub to make sure some of the saccharomyces that might be alive will carry over.

Initially the beer retained a very tart aroma and signs of fermentation did not appear for three or four days. Eventually the airlock started to bubble and I could see tiny bubbles rising up from the beer. The fermentation was vigorous enough that for about a week I could actually hear the bubbling within the fermenter (not the airlock). Curiously there was very little, if any, krausen. I expected fermentation would be delayed due to the low pH and age of yeast but I was still surprised by the absence of krausen. Even all brett fermentations produce krausen.

The beer seems to be in good shape regardless of the krausen situation. I expect a pellicle will form in a month or two. The aroma coming out of the airlock is more neutral, which makes sense. The aromas from anything in the fermenter are usually blown off during primary fermentation which is why fruit and spices are not added during primary when you want to keep the aromas of those post-boil additions (as you almost always do).

I'm probably most excited to actually drink my own lambic but overall I am really excited about the progress of each of these beers.
January 5, 2012

Sexless Innkeeper: Dunkel Wheat Wine

After reading Brewing With Wheat about a year ago I got hot on the idea of brewing a wheat wine. If you've read some of my blog you know I'm not a particular fan of hoppy beers and I don't like American wheats too much. That's a problem for wheat wines since they are usually beefed up American wheats with a healthy dose of hops. (Wheat wines are to wheat beers what barley wines are to English-style beers: high ABV, high IBUs, lots of flavor and aging to produce a mellow meld of flavors.)

My thought was to convert the German-style weizen beers into some sort of wheat wine. Lagunitas produces a Double Weizen beer which is something like an imperial hefeweizen. It's pretty good but it tastes like a big hefeweizen. There's not a lot of flavor depth like you get in a barley wine. That's what I wanted. So I turned to the dunkelweizen style as a way to start off with something a little more complex that could afford some depth to the malt profile. One problem with a lot of dunkelweizens is that they come across very sweet because there's a lot of crystal and/or munich malts used and that caramel sweetness can easily take the natural sweetness of wheat a step too far. So I wanted to brace myself for a big hop addition to balance out the sweetness. Not enough for the hops to have to compete with the weizen flavors but enough to avoid the beer becoming cloying. As usual with weizens, I wanted to make a big hop addition at the beginning and avoid getting much hop flavor.

To get that good weizen flavor you need weizen yeast. Fortunately, weizen yeast can survive up to 8-10% (according to Wyeast and White Labs) even though they often only enjoy beers in the 3-5% range. So that meant I could get those good weizen flavors and avoid making an American-style wheat. I wanted to promote the clove flavors and get subtle banana so a cooler ferment would be necessary.I decided an oak addition would produce a more interesting flavor and add some tannins to mellow out some of the dunkelweizen sweetness. I considered dry hopping the beer -- and I may dry hop next time -- but I didn't want too much hops in the way of those weizen flavors.

So, here's the recipe for one gallon. Scale as necessary if you decide to reproduce.

1.5lb red wheat malt
.75lb munich malt
.5lb pale malt
.4lb crystal 60

Triple decoction mash with infusion to 97F and stops at 122, 148 and 158F. 60 minute boil with .75oz addition of Fuggles (4.5%) at 60 minutes. Cooled and fermented with 3068. 0.80oz oak chips added after two weeks for seven days. Carbonated to 5 volumes.

ABV: 8.83
IBUs: 45.6
SRM: 17
OG: 1.088
FG: 1.021

When I tried this beer after about five weeks of carbonation it tasted really bad. Lots of hops flavor and woody oak flavor. I left it alone for about six months and tried it again. The hops had mellowed and the oak had settled into the back into a gentle vanilla flavor. The clove comes through with a little banana and the caramel, wheat and malty flavors are complex and balanced. It's really easy to drink at 9% because it's very smooth. Not at all cloying.

In the future I will definitely make this beer again. I would add some carapils to improve body because it's a little thin from all the alcohol and maybe do a full ounce of oak. I could see the malt bill getting more complex with some aromatic and maybe taking the C60 and mixing it up with C60 and some C80 or C120 to get more dark malt flavors. Personally I think the beer doesn't need dry hopping but some styrian goldings or amarillo might add some good flavor. The fuggles were used in the recipe because it's what I had on hand. I'd probably use a noble hop next time for a little better hop flavor. The fuggles don't come through as a flavor but maybe a little hersbrucker or styrian golding would create some hints of hop flavors, especially with a small addition at 30 minutes.

As much as it's disappointing to sit on a beer for eight months while it ages and only have a gallon or so I'm actually looking forward to getting to play around with the recipe and try a more complex grain bill. I may not get around to that until 2013 (let's see how much of my current supply of homebrew plus all the grains I bought for 2012 last) but I might have to sneak in another grain order and get that brewed so it has time to properly age.

Oh, you might be curious about the name. My wife and I like naming our beers and we take a lot of inspiration from one of our favorite shows, How I Met Your Mother. In one episode the main character (Ted) is accused of being the Sexless Innkeeper, a person who brings somebody home from the bar but doesn't get sex because the person brought home only agreed to come home to find a place to crash and passes out before anything can happen. No direct reference to the beer we just think it's a funny title.
January 3, 2012

Brewery Excursions in Colorado: Part Eight

I had intended my discussions about the Colorado breweries to be more of a discourse about what I learned and less about the beers and breweries but I don't really plot out my blog posts like I should; I just sit down and start writing. I had such a good time at each place I didn't want to overlook the great beers and hospitality. So this post will attempt to sum up what I meant to write. I think what I learned in Colorado was more about re-appreciating things I had lost along the way of the past 2.5 years of brewing.

I think for me the biggest lesson learned was to re-appreciate the brewing process and the need to have a good process to make good beer. Admittedly, I had started to get sloppy with sanitation, using the right equipment and really paying attention to the process to make the best beers possible. I was started to be disappointed by some of my beers which was probably the result of my poor attention to the process. That sort of slacking off happens to most people in most things they do so it's really good to get re-energized and restore those standards.

Another lesson I learned was to re-appreciate the session beer (not just the sessionable beer). As homebrewers we tend to be most likely to drink the crazy beers, the exotic rarities and the big beers, but we forget that most beer sold is session beer and there are some really good session beers. Personally I don't brew many session beers because with school I don't have a great amount of time to have people come over and drink beer so I brew what I want to experiment with. So I've decided I need to brew some more sessionable beers, not only for the sake of calories but also to have beer to share with people who aren't going to appreciate (or enjoy) something outlandish.

As far as Colorado goes it was enlightening to see a place where there was a lot of beer variety and people appreciated it and celebrated it. Everywhere we went (other than breweries) and talked about beer or where we had been the people were excited for us and gave us recommendations of places to go. Only one person recommended Coors in Golden. In Texas I live within driving distance of two craft breweries (Rahr and Franconia) but also the big three. Texas, especially beyond Austin, is dominated by the big three and that's what most people drink. It's telling about the culture that surrounds the two beer markets. People in Colorado seemed to care about beer and appreciated it as a food and an art. In Texas, beer is a social lubricant meant to get you drunk as quick as possible. People here would look at us funny when we talked about all the breweries we went to and the beer we drank and assumed we were constantly wasted. I don't mean to suggest that everybody in Colorado is a beer geek but there is definitely a culture of different appreciation. That culture is just starting to appear in Austin but hopefully it will come up this way.

I guess this post wasn't as long as I hoped, most of what I came back with was energy and excitement about the brewing process and I guess there's not a lot to tell about that. I didn't brew a lot the past few months so I'm looking forward to draining out some of my 2011 (and 2010) beers to make room for 2012 brews.