30 October 2016

posted by benjy edwards

This week we are brewing a Citra pale ale, my favourite hop after Mosaic.  The malt bill is loosely based on our clone of the Kern River Citra double IPA, scaled down to 1.052 OG, using Great Western two-row, Munich, Vienna, carapils, aromatic, and wheat malt.  With our thirty minute mash at 151F, it should be fairly fermentable.

We were running low on propane, so rather than get more, we opted to use our electric water heater for the hot liquor and strike liquor.  It took hours and hours, but eventually it raised them to the proper temperatures.  If I can remember in the morning, it would be a good way to save propane for regular brewing.  We used the Milwaukee MW102 bench meter for the first time and discovered a half pH point discrepancy with the handheld meter, which may mean that our mash and sparge pHs have been .5 pH points too high.  We added more lactic acid than usual and the mash pH was 5.57 and the sparge liquor was 6.17.  Close enough!  I should replace the handheld meter probe and see what that gives us.

While the wort was recirculating, we kegged up the Hophead, having added a couple of ounces of Cascade to each keg.  Racking gravity was down to 1.012, so it should be right around 4.0% ABV.  It tasted great out of the fermenter, as this beer always seems to do.  It is definitely a favourite, if not the outright best one.  During the boil, Simcoe was added for bittering and then Citra at 30, 15, 10, and 5 minutes in copious quantities.  The wort was chilled to 76F, the best the groundwater could do, then cooled down to 65F for fermentation.  Another successful batch.

Next time we will likely make an IPA, if it is the last use of the yeast, or a batch of the hoppy brown or even a stout if we elect to push the yeast to a sixth pitch.  Am I feeling lucky?

23 October 2016

posted by benjy edwards

Another week, another batch!  We’re in need of more cask ale, so a British golden ale is a good follow-up to the dark mild we made last week.  The recipe is Hophead again, easily my favourite golden ale or hoppy clean bitter.  No changes to the recipe, simply Fawcett Maris Otter and Cascade hops.  Thirty minute mash rest at what ended up being higher than expected, more like 155F instead of 152F.  The mash pH was 5.3 and the hot liquor was 5.8, so pretty much ideal.

Target OG of 1.040 was hit spot-on, which was unexpected because it appeared from the pre-boil gravity that we were going to be a few points higher.  No complaints, though!  We used a pound of Cascade in all, with lots of late hops at 15, 5, and 0 minutes.  The clarity of the wort into the kettle was bad at first, but after the usual three recircs it was running clear, and after the boil it was crystal clear going into the chiller.  Our ground water has cooled down a bit, so it was in the mid-70s going into the fermenters rather than edging toward 80F.  We chilled it the rest of the way to 65F in the fridge.

During the mash and recirculation, we were able to rack the dark mild into kegs.  No dry hop of course, and the gravity was down to 1.017, so after further conditioning it should be about 3.5% ABV.  Next week will likely brew an American pale ale which we can split to serve via co2 and on handpump.  Mosaic, Citra, or Simcoe are likely candidates, or perhaps a combination of them.  The Mosaic we got last year is disappointing as a single hop, so we may be better off combining it with Citra.  We also have plans on brewing the hoppy brown again, as it is currently my favourite on tap.

16 October 2016

posted by benjy edwards

After trying out the extract kit last weekend, now it is time to do a full all-grain ten gallon batch.  Our dark mild is almost gone, so that is needed once again and is a good low-gravity beer for the yeast to grow.  The recipe is unchanged except for increasing the quantities of pale chocolate, chocolate, and brown malt in order to punch up the roastiness and chocolate character of the beer.  Hops change too, but in a mild they are just there for a background bitterness.  This time we used Bramling Cross at 45 minutes left in the hour-long boil.  We kept the mash rest down to our now-standard 30 minutes, and instead of recirculating for three times, we cut it to twice, since the wort was running clear and in a dark beer such as this, total brilliance is not really needed.  In any event, I trust the Fuller’s yeast to clear it.

The original gravity was 1.042, which is two points above target.  The ground water is still at summer temperatures, so the wort in the fermenters was in the high 70s and was chilled down to 66F in the refrigerator.  We had to split the yeast from last week into a second fermenter, which makes it difficult to divide it evenly.  By Sunday evening the original fermenter was underway, with the second carboy yet to begin active fermentation.  All in all, another successful day of wort production.  It is good to be back in the regular routine of brewing.  After taking a month or more off, it is a bit awkward to get back into the good habits of making beer in our standard process.  There are always a couple of moments during the brew day where I have to pause and recall what few things need to be happening simultaneously at that moment for things to go smoothly and nothing gets missed.

Speaking of simultaneous events, during the wort recirculation we kegged up the Stumptown Brown clone from last week.  No dry hop in the keg, and there was no leftover beer from the primary, but we were lucky to fill the keg all of the way.  The gravity was down to 1.018, so with the new yeast culture along with what I would expect to be a lot of unfermentable sugars from the vanilla almond granola we added to the steeping grains, we have a rather sweet beer.  It will likely attenuate a bit further in the keg and along with the bite of carbonation, it should be more balanced in the end.  It was force-carbonated and chilled.

The next batches, as referred to last week, will be Hophead, our hoppy brown,  then perhaps a pale ale and IPA.  However, we may switch things up and brew at least half of the pale ale for cask, since we are low on cask ale at the moment.

8 October 2016

posted by benjy edwards

After quite a long break of three months, which seems longer since we miss brewing so much, we are back at it.  Next month being our twentieth anniversary since the start, it was fitting that we went back to our roots in a way with this batch.  I felt like it was taking a step back in time to be brewing an extract batch today, something not done since the  early days of the mid-90s.  The reason is a fluke, really: I won an ingredient kit at an AHA rally earlier this year at Fish Brewing, courtesy of Homebrew Exchange.  The owner kindly offered to exchange it for something else since he’d tried my beer and knew I didn’t need an extract kit, but since his shop is in Portland and I haven’t been down there this year, I decided to just use it.  I’m glad that I did, as it was both fun and educational to try extract again after so many years of all-grain, or “full-mash” brewing as they say in England.

I had to actually read the instructions in order to figure out how to do it, but it is really simple: merely steep the pre-crushed specialty grains and dissolve the two cans of syrup in boiling water.  The brew day was less than three hours, and could have been shorter if I’d been heating the liquor while the grains steeped.  I opted to add ingredients to supplement the specialty malts, both on the malt and hop sides.  An ounce of bittering hops and half an ounce of aroma hops seemed ridiculously low, so I added two ounces of Ahtanum pellets at the start of the boil and another two ounces at the end.  For malt, I added a pound of brown malt and a quarter pound of pale chocolate, along with the weird addition of a pound and a half of granola!  This is a commercial granola that contains almonds, vanilla, and canola oil, so it will be interesting to see if the oil harms the foam and whether any flavour is contributed by the granola.

The kit specifies an OG of 1.050, and we reached 1.054 with a yield of 5.5 gallons instead of the kit’s 5 gallon target.  We chilled, racked, and oxygenated as usual, though of course for only one fermenter.  Instead of pitching the generic Munton’s dry ale yeast, I made a starter of Wyeast 1968 last night and pitched that.  Fermentation began a few hours later.  I’m keen to see how it turns out!

Since it’s been such a while since we brewed, I already have the next few batches lined up.  First we’ll brew another batch of our dark mild, then our Hophead clone, and we also need more of the hoppy brown ale.  After that it’s probably onto the usual hoppy suspects of pale ale and IPA.  That is a total of six batches, enough for this yeast pitch.

I haven’t taken the plunge yet, but be warned – I might post some information about another current obsession of wood-fired pizza.  Having bought a wood oven for our backyard last year, starting this summer we’ve been making pizza in it, and learning all about authentic Neapolitan pizza.  We’ve had ten attempts at it and have already figured out how to make a respectable margherita pizza.  Delicious!

31 July 2016

posted by benjy edwards

Last week we used the last two kegs to rack the Mosaic pale ale out of primary, but during the week we had two kegs kick, so we were able to keg the IPA and thus brew another batch to fill the fermenters again.  The recipe is a simple pale ale to test out a new hop variety, currently called Experimental Grapefruit.  Information on this hop is limited, but it may be inappropriately named, as the reports from homebrewers indicate that it has no grapefruit character.  The alpha acid level is huge, at 15.2%, so one can expect quite a lot of bitterness even if used late in the boil.  We chose to bitter with Cascade and Amarillo pellets, as we had them on hand, and then use three ounces each of the Experimental Grapefruit pellets at 30, 20, 10, and 5 minutes, leaving enough for a two-ounce dry hop for each primary or keg (we have a pound total).

The mash was fifteen pounds of Maris Otter and just under four pounds of Munich, with a 153F rest for thirty minutes.  The wort was run off and reached a boil at about half volume, but the 60 minute boil clock wasn’t started until the kettle was full.  The Amarillo and Cascade were added then, and by the end of boil we had a gravity of 1.048, higher than expected.  The goal with this mash and boil schedule was to save as much time as possible, since we didn’t start brewing until after 3 pm.  The result was an all-grain batch in under 4 hours, which I believe is a record for the brewery.  There does indeed seem to be quite a lot of scope for time savings during the mash and boil, with little or no effect on the resulting beer.  We may be able to do a 15 or 20 minute mash rest, a shorter vorlauf, and a sixty minute boil, and actually save about about an hour and a half as compared to an hour mash and 90 minute boil.

The Boathouse IPA was in the fermenter for 8 days, and in that time dropped to 1.009, which is much lower than our usual attenuation.  We did mash at 150F, which seems to make a difference.  Also, instead of using airlocks, we just had foil on the tops of the fermenters, and this small difference in pressure is reported to result in a more active fermentation.  We will ferment the Grapefruit Pale Ale in the same way, so we will be able to see what a higher mash temp (153F) does to the attenuation, which should shed light on whether the airlock v. foil makes any difference.  The IPA was dry-hopped with Citra and Simcoe and force-carbonated.

This is the fifth use of the yeast, and probably the last.  Six would likely be fine, but as we’re out of empty kegs, even getting this batch packaged could be a problem.  If we don’t collect two empties by next weekend we’ll have to leave the beer on the yeast for two weeks rather than one.

23 July 2016

posted by benjy edwards

I intended to brew this beer last weekend, but the weather turned out nice and so opted to ride my bike both days.  Today is dry but grey and with sunny weather predicted for tomorrow, it is a good day to brew.  The recipe is an IPA focused primarily on Citra, but with some Simcoe as well.  Target gravity is 1.060, so it is on the lower end of ABV for the style.  The mash is Maris Otter, Munich, a pound of oat malt, and some biscuit and carapils.  No crystal in this West-coast style IPA!

We had some Cashmere and Azacca hops left over, so those were the bittering addition, following by Simcoe and Citra at 20 minutes, then more Citra at 10 and 5 minutes.  We used the immersion chiller again, partly to help the counterflow do its job, but also because I wanted to steep some hops at a lower temperature than boiling, which will extract the hop oils without so much aroma being volatilized by a higher temperature.  Therefore, once the wort was down to 160F, the last addition of Simcoe and Citra were added, then the wort run through the counterflow to the primaries.  We’re still reusing both yeast strains, though on every beer so far I have preferred the WLP002 version over the Imperial Pub yeast.  It flocculates just as well, and except for the first batch where it attenuated more, the Pub has attenuated the same as the White Labs yeast, but the flavour is just not as good.  The beer is just a bit duller, more muddied.

On kegging the Mosaic pale ale, two weeks in the primary dropped both down to 1.012, so it’s right at 5% ABv now.  Clarity and colour are good, and it is tasting nice, with great Mosaic flavour.  Should be even better after the dry-hop and carbonation.

The next batch might be the last for the yeast, and I have no idea what to make.  A double IPA is common, since it can be dry-hopped in the primary, but we have a couple of doubles already, so perhaps an IPA instead, or crazy to contemplate, but maybe something malty?

9 July 2016

posted by benjy edwards

The recipe today is a single-hop pale ale using our favourite hop, Mosaic.  It has actually been quite a while since we’ve had a Mosaic beer on tap (last year!) so we’re overdue for this.  Thankfully we have plenty of Mosaic on hand, as it was the hop we bought most of during last year’s harvest time.  The malt bill is based on the batch of single-hop Denali we recently brewed, which turned out really well.  It is a very crisp pale ale with not much malt flavour getting in the way of the hop expression.  We did add honey malt to this mash, so the grist was Maris Otter, Vienna, oat malt, and biscuit, with a touch of aromatic malt thrown in to make up for a 6 ounce shortage of Vienna.  Besides Mosaic at 30, 15, 10, and 5 minutes, the batch was bittered with a few ounces of Nugget.

The day’s brew was straight-forward, with the only difference from our previous process being a two-stage chilling of the wort due to the warmer groundwater temperatures which have seen the counterflow chiller only being able to get the wort down to 80F.  This time we used the immersion chiller first to reduce the wort temperature from boiling down to around 150F, then started the counterflow chiller on racking to primary.  Sadly, however, the temperature going into the fermenters was still around 78, so it only made a difference of a couple of degrees, which is not worth the extra step.  Once the fermenters are in the fermentation fridge, the fridge is capable of getting the temperature down to the 64F target within a couple of hours, which is before fermentation begins anyway.  It was worth a try, but obviously not the solution.  Using ice to chill the water going through the counterflow would work, but again is probably not worth the work given the ability of the fridge to lower the temperature before fermentation.

Target gravity is 1.050, which we reached exactly, which may be due to some luck, because in addition to shortening the mash rest to 30 minutes, we’ve taken to starting the boil before the full volume has been collected, and we are starting the 90 minute boil time as soon as it first boils.  The result is that we’re not boiling all of the wort for 90 minutes, which one would expect would have an impact on the gravity.  In order to compensate, we had a stronger than usual boil, in part for increased wort concentration both for gravity but also to reduce the volume since by the time the kettle is filled there is less than 90 minutes to reduce the volume to the correct fermentation volume.  The fermenters can only safely hold around 6 gallons each without excessive blow-off, and ending up with extra wort is wasteful.

The hoppy brown ale was only in the fermenters for 5 days since last week’s batch got pushed back to the 4th of July holiday, but we racked it to kegs since we needed to repitch the yeast for today’s batch.  Perhaps because of the shortened fermentation, the gravity has only dropped to 1.019.  It started at 1.054, so it’s only 4.6% now and will be around 4.8% or 4.9% once fully conditioned.  This is similar to the last batch though, which started at 1.046 and ended at 1.013.  The kegs were dry-hopped with two ounces of Centennial each and force-carbonated.

The Bo Pils has had six weeks of lagering now, and a tap just opened up with the first keg of the Denali pale ale kicked, so soon we will be drinking the first lager from the dry yeast batches.  I hope our warmer summer weather arrives soon.  We had a nice spell in mid-June, but since then it’s been cooler overall, with quite a bit of rain, especially this week.  Next weekend will probably be time to brew an IPA, since it will be the fourth pitch of the yeast.  So far I haven’t seen the need to dump the Pub yeast in favour of splitting the WLP002 into both fermenters, as the clarity and flavour of the Imperial yeast has been comparable to the 002.  I will definitely consider using this yeast in future.

4 July 2016

posted by benjy edwards

A funny thing happened on this long holiday weekend.  I sanitized, dry-hopped, and co2-purged two corny kegs on Friday night, expecting to need them on Saturday to rack the Cashmere single-hop bitter brewed last weekend whilst brewing another batch.  On Saturday I went out for a ride, fully intending to go for two hours at most, to leave time to brew the beer.  The cloudy weather gave way to full sun, I was feeling pretty good, so I ended up riding for almost five hours instead.  I figured I would brew the next day, on Sunday.  Sunday rolls around, and I left for a ride with enough time to get an hour or an hour and a half in before starting the brew.  The same thing happened, the clouds rolled away, the weather was warm, and I rode for over four hours.

So, here it is on the Fourth of July, and I still need to brew.  I rode for just over an hour, and got started on the batch just after noon, so as to leave time for a quick trip to the Indian reservation for some cheap fireworks.  My oldest son Colin loves fireworks so much he almost considers the Fourth to be better than Christmas.  Almost.

Today’s recipe is our hoppy brown ale, which is so tasty that the February batch needs to be replaced soon.  No change to the recipe, although since we are milling our grain twice now, the increased efficiency yielded an OG of 1.054 instead of the 1.046 achieved last time, with the same malt bill.  As in the past, the debittered black malt was only added to the mash during wort collection, so as to avoid further acidification of the mash.  Despite that, the mash pH was still low, at 4.90.  This was surprising, since we used only 1 ml of lactic acid in this mash, down from 2 ml last time, and that time the pH was 5.06.

Hops are Nugget for bittering, then Cascade for flavour at 30 minutes, and equal additions of Cascade and Centennial at 10 minutes, followed by more Cascade at 5 and 0 minutes.  The chill resulted in a wort temperature of almost 80 degrees, so something is going to have to be done about the chilling process.  Perhaps the easiest technique would be to chill the wort in the kettle with the immersion chiller, knocking it down from boiling to around 160F to 170F, then running it through the counterflow.  I’m not sure if that would be enough to enable the ground water to get the wort that much colder, but it is worth trying before attempting to use ice to pre-chill the cooling water, as we needed to do back in Ohio.  It makes me miss the cold well water we had when we first moved to Olympia!  We tried slowing the rate of the wort through the chiller, but this makes only a slight difference and if the rate is slowed too much, bubbles appear in the line right from the kettle valve, and aerating the wort when it is still hot is not good.  For this batch we were able to get the wort down to 65F within a few hours, before the fermentation began, so no harm done.

The last batch was kegged up, and the difference between the yeasts was interesting.  I was surprised and pleased to see that the Imperial Pub yeast cleared just as well as the WLP002, and actually attenuated more as well: 1.010 compared to 1.013.  However, the flavour of the beer from the 002 was better in my opinion than the Pub yeast.  These samples were direct from the primary of course, so a better comparison will be when the beer is conditioned and ready to serve.  As again though, when comparing other yeasts to the English Ale from White Labs, I wonder if I prefer the White Labs because that is what I am used to, or if I really like the flavour better.  It seems to carry across styles, so what that says I’m not really sure.

As for the beer itself, I like the flavour of Cashmere, perhaps not quite as much as all-Cascade, but it is a nice hop.  I don’t think it’s quite as fruity or as bitter as Cascade, but it is enjoyable nonetheless.  As with the yeast comparison, a better assessment will be possible once conditioned and with the dry hop in effect.

The next batch is likely to be an American pale ale or IPA.  We will see what we have in the way of hops to assist in the decision.  We definitely have a lot of Simcoe, so a Simcoe IPA is certainly possible.

25 June 2016

posted by benjy edwards

The latest batch of lager has had two weeks on the yeast, so it is time to keg it.  We decided to brew again as well, so a starter was made of the WLP002 on Friday.  This is normal procedure for pitching into a full batch, and although this time it would be for only half the batch, we made a starter this time because the vial was a bit past its use date (25 May).  We are using a new yeast for the other half, the Pub strain from Imperial Organic yeast in Portland, Oregon.  Their yeast comes in small cans and is intended to be pitched directly right from refrigerated storage.

While the mash rested (more on the recipe in a moment), the lager was racked under pressure from the non-airtight Speidel fermenter into a couple of corny kegs, not dry-hopped this time.  The lager had attenuated down to 1.010 already, so it should be around 5.5% ABV after a long lagering period.  The beer tasted good, though cloudy as usual, which we hope will clear after a month or more of lagering. This is the last use of the lager yeast since the Speidel needs to be returned to Morebeer.  Thankfully, we tested the replacement and the lid seals just fine.

It’s been six weeks since we brewed the Bohemian Pilsner, so it has had a month of lagering following the two-week primary.  Almost time to serve!

For the ale brewed today, we went with a session strength bitter or pale ale to test out a new hop – Cashmere.  We used a small amount in a previous beer, and it smelled so good I wanted to test it out as a single-hop beer.  The beer is not quite a SMaSH because we supplemented Maris Otter with 25% wheat malt and a pound each of carapils and aromatic, with some rice hulls thrown in to deal with the huskless wheat.  Target gravity is 1.038 which we hit spot on.  The pH of the hot liquor was right at 5.80 and the mash pH was a tad low at 5.10.  The brew went well, with the only hitch occurring when disconnecting the water line to the HLT after it was filled, without closing the ball valve, and thus losing a pint of hot liquor.  Nothing to worry about!

The boil was 90 minutes, with a couple of ounces of Nugget for bittering at 60 minutes and then charges of Cashmere at 30, 15, 10, and 5 minutes, each 2 or 2.5 ounces at a time.  This leaves plenty of the hop left for dry hopping.  All told, the brew took just over 4 hours, very good for a full all-grain batch and kegging another.  We also had time this weekend to re-arrange the garage, moving the three fridges from the outside wall to the back wall, replacing them with the metal shelving for all of the brewing gear.  This allows for much easier access to the fridge for fermenting lagers.  It seems hard to believe, but the brewery is now set up so well that we’re running out of projects!  Even the seemingly never-ending task of getting the casters on the brewing structure to hold up seems to finally have been tackled, after adding some copper sleeves to the brackets, thus shimming the space between the corner brackets and the posts of the wheels.

The next batch is likely to be another cask, or perhaps we’ll brew the hoppy brown ale, which is definitely on the schedule for this yeast.  Right now it’s my favourite beer I have on tap, which is something I’d never thought I’d say about a beer that seems to be the only proper way of making what is now called a black IPA or Cascadian dark ale.

Pitching the White Labs starter was straightforward, and as of Sunday morning it was fermenting well.  The Imperial yeast was … interesting.  Having up-ended the can in the fridge for about 5 hours, we removed it and cracked the lid as directed, which resulted in a spray of yeast, thankfully on the brewing sink.  Pouring in the first part was fine, but swirling the mixture of solid and liquid yeast was difficult, and the last part did not want to leave the can.  By slowly crushing it we got most out, but with that trouble along with the first spray of foam, I’d guess we actually pitched about three-quarters of the total volume, which may partly explain the long 24+ hour lag to fermentation.  The proof is in the pudding of course, so we’ll see how it attenuates compared to the WLP002 (supposed to be higher) and the ultimate test of the beer flavour.  Clarity of course is also very important, with its claims of very high flocculation.

11 June 2016

posted by benjy edwards

The IPL has had two weeks in primary, so for the third use of the lager yeast we settled on another Bohemian Pilsner.  This style is just so tasty and since we brew so infrequently with lager yeast, I wanted to make another ten gallons before switching back to ales.

However, there was the small matter of having no pilsner malt, no domestic two-row, and a desire to minimize the use of our favourite malt, English Maris Otter.  This malt has just such a characteristic bold biscuity flavour that using it for most of the grist would be inappropriate for a pilsner.  The solution was to come up with a very strange grist: 30% Maris Otter, 14% each of wheat, Vienna, and flaked maize, then around 5% each of flaked barley, oat malt, and carapils, plus small quantities of aromatic and melanoidin malts.  This was supplemented by two pounds of dextrose in the boil to achieve the target gravity of 1.050, and a very pale colour of 4 SRM.

While the mash rested for 30 minutes, we prepared to keg the IPL.  Two cornies were dry-hopped with an ounce each of Citra and Centennial, and during the vorlauf we pushed the IPL into the kegs from the Speidel via co2 pressure.  This went smoothly again, and we had a gallon left over.  The beer is nicely hoppy, and although hazy, this should clear again during the lagering.

The pilsner was boiled, with Azacca for bittering and Saaz at 20, 10, and 0 minutes for a total of 50 IBU.  We were only one point short of the target OG, at 1.049.  The ground water here is already warming up, so the best we could do on the chill was to get the wort to the mid-70s.  We will have to use the fridge to get the temperature down to the 53F pitching temperature.  Note: as of late this evening, the temp was down to 64F, and in the morning it was 56F, and finally reached 53F in the early afternoon on Sunday.

This will likely be the last use of this yeast, partly because this fermenter needs to be returned to Morebeer since the lid doesn’t seal.  They already sent us a replacement, which we will use next time we brew lagers.