Archive for October, 2010

“Letters to a Young Brewer” – Consistency

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

You’ve brewed a few beers and they’ve come out to your liking.  You perhaps even have a favorite beer recipe that you’ve made more than a few times now.  Your pals all love your beer, or drink it like they do, and you feel like you have this whole thing down.  But how do you know?

When I first started brewing, I was bottling my beer instead of kegging it, as I do now.  I would always keep two or three bottles of a particular brew that I liked, marked with an type/date (IPA,10/06) on the cap, hanging out in the back of the fridge.  After I would brew the same recipe again, I would take my notes from the brew day and compare them to the last brew day for this beer.  Did I hit the same (or similar) OG, did I get the same volume in the fermenter, etc.?  But the proof of consistency isn’t just in the forensics of the brew notes, but in the flavor of the beer.  So after the new batch was ready, I’d drag out one of the bottles from the old batch and one from the new and have a little tasting.  Now aged beer will have some different characters to it than new beer, but after you’re used to how a beer settles down, you’ll be able to detect those without noting them as true “differences”.  After a month, I would do another test to see if the beers were aging along the same path.  These two taste tests gave me a pretty good baseline for whether or not I had achieved consistency.

There’s nothing wrong with brewing the same recipe and having it come out a bit different each time, nor is it a sign of a bad brewer.  However, for those looking to master the process, consistency is king.  In my own brewing, my beers have become more consistent over time as my brew day process has become more consistent.  Brewing on the same gear, over and over, will get you some of the way there.  Knowing the numbers of your previous batch (OG, FG, fermentation temp, yeast type, etc.) and having some of the older brew around for comparison, will help you better understand why things could be different between brews.  When you start eliminating those differences, you gain consistency.

Sierra Nevada – Tumbler

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010
I picked up a six-pack of Tumbler out of a desire to not have to think about what beer I wanted, but still get a seasonal that I knew would probably be good. I know Sierra, I like Sierra, I bought Sierra. I’m sure you’ve done this more than once yourself. Over the past month, I’ve knocked down (with help) three six-packs of this little bad boy and in doing so, figured I really should give it a proper write-up. When I think of Brown Ale, I typically think of Newcastle (meh) and Downtown Brown (yay!), by Lost Coast Brewing. Newcastle being a thin, drinkable English Brown and Downtown being a bit more malt forward in character. Tumbler follows after the
American Brown tradition and like Downtown is a malty, but not cloying. However, being Sierra, they just can’t help themselves and they THROWINASHITTONOFHOPS WEEEEE! Now that’s not to say that it’s over hopped, or extravagantly bitter in nature, but it is just a touch “out of style” for the American Brown Ale category. It’s not really a flaw though. In fact I find that after my initial tasting, I was more than happy to dig in for more. The real test came when my wife, notorious hop hater that she is, tried it and found it quite drinkable. There’s a definite taste of “biscuity”, “roasty” flavor before the hop bombardment and that carries through after the bitterness subsides on your pallet. It makes itself very available to the non-hopheads in your life. As Fall seasonals go, I’ve yet to find another that’s quite so drinkable.

“Letters to a Young Brewer” – Managing You Brew Day

Monday, October 18th, 2010

A complaint from new brewers when asked why they don’t brew more often, is the time commitment required for the brew day.  If you’re doing all-grain brewing this can be a 4 to 5 hour exercise when setup and breakdown are taken into account.  Extract brews can probably knock off 45 minutes of that, but there’s no getting around that this is a time intensive hobby.  Here’s a few ideas to help mitigate wasted time and help your brew day move along as efficiently as possible:

  1. Get your brewing space set up and try to set up the same way each time you brew.  You’ll be amazed how much time you save when not having to fumble around for gear while you’re brewing.  This also allows you to quickly realize if you’re missing anything (spoons, hoses, thermometers, etc.) when you know where they should be.  I seem to vaguely remember running around looking for my mash paddle, ripping off a stream of obscenities,  because I had just dumped the strike water into the mash tun and the paddle was nowhere to be found.
  2. Build a brew day routine.  This will evolve over time, but if you start out with the idea to maximize the time you spend on any given task, you’ll become very good at spotting time-savers.  For example, the first things I do are set up my burner, kettle and water filter, then I can start measuring out the water needed for the mash.  Since my filter only measures out 1 gallon/minute, I have time to make my bucket of sanitizer and start to clean my mash tun, if needed.  When the water’s measured, I can immediately start the burner and heat it.  While it’s heating, I measure out my grain and mill it.  When that’s all done, I dump the grain into the mash tun and only have a few minutes until the water is at the strike temp. That gives me a time to get my hops together… You get the idea.  I figured out that managing my setup time like this saves me 20+ minutes on the day.  Every bit counts!
  3. Finally, think about your storage space for your brew gear.  Is it easy to get to?  Can you pull your stuff out as you need it, or do you have to unload half the closet/garage before you can dig out your kettle?  Are your small items organized well?  Do you know where your airlocks, stoppers are?  Can you quickly grab your sanitizer or do you have to dig through boxes?  All these little things save not only time, but frustration – the real enemy, in my opinion.

Brewing is such a rewarding hobby but I’ve seen more than my share of potential brewers dump it because there’s “just so much to think about”.  That kills me because while brewing is definitely detail-oriented, it need not be tedious.  I think of all the great beer that I’m not drinking because people who would probably make great brewers feel it’s too much effort.  Don’t deny the people your beer!

Sweet Beer Poster!

Friday, October 15th, 2010
I think I found some new art for the “Brew House”! Available from Pop Chart Lab. This will either assist me in my “what to brew next” decisions, or completely paralyze it. I might be giving a few of these out this Christmas…

Another Fermentation Oddity

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

I brewed up a pale ale last weekend.  I performed my normal brew day process, with my normal brew day sanitation and my normal brew day mash and boil.  I hit my expected OG and racked to the primary fermenters at 71 degrees – nothing odd there.  I added my yeast, this time opting for Nottingham dry yeast since it did so well for me in my Cascadian Dark Ale.  I put the fermenters in the freezer and set my temp controller to 66F.  I checked on them 24 hours later and there was some action stirring up in one fermenter, but the other seemed a bit sluggish.  No biggie.  48 hours later and fermenter #1 is bombing away as expected, but fermenter #2 is still just getting started, only a small bit of krausen starting to form.  Since I’m seeing some action in #2, I figure I’ll let it go another evening and if it’s still sluggish, I’ll add another pack of Nottingham and be done with it.  Sure enough, there’s only a bit more movement by day 3, so I head down to the homebrew shop, pick up a fresh pack of yeast (and two new airlocks, cuz I keep loosing the tops.  I don’t know why).  By the time I get back, about 2 hours later, I open the freezer and #2 has decided to kick off and go gangbusters, no additional yeast needed.  So what happend?  I have two hypotheses:

  1. I normally fill the fermenter to at least half full before adding the yeast, but this time when filling the second fermenter, I added the yeast at the same time I started adding the wort.  I had drained my Star San sanitizer out before adding anything, but there was still some residue hanging around.  I suppose it could have wiped out some of the yeast cells since the concentration was not yet diluted by the wort, thus forcing the colony to start up from a reduced cell count.
  2. Due to the 71F temperature of the wort, setting my freezer to 66F instead of doing a slower step-down of the temperature from 70, then drop to 69 an hour or two later, etc, until 66F is reached, may have shocked the yeast a bit thus explaining the slower start up.

I lean more toward #1, as that was really the only difference between the two carboys, but it could have been a combination of the factors above.  As it stands today, fermenter #1 has completed most of it’s primary fermentation and fermenter #2 is just winding down.  I’m planing to add oak chips to both this coming Thursday and let sit at 66F for 14 more days before racking to the kegs.  I’m very curious if there will be any noticeable differences between the two?  Stay tuned!

“Letters to a Young Brewer” – Calm Down

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

There’s been a rash of fermentation questions popping up on reddit/r/homebrewing lately and I thought I’d add to my earlier post about getting your fermentation set up for success.  I neglected to mention a vital process in achieving a successful fermentation and bottling – calm the %$#@! down.

“OMG – it’s been 15 hours and NO ACTIVITY in the fermenter!” – After questioning, there’s the start of the krausen forming, but the airlock’s not moving.  This is not “no activity”.   Everyone who’s been brewing for a while has had that wild batch that took off like a rocket and fermented all the way through in 3 days.  The standard is 5 to 7 for ales, so just keep an eye on it.  If you don’t see the krausen form inside 48 hours, you may consider re-pitching some fresh yeast. Until then, “relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew”.

“I waited until it looked like it was done fermenting and moved it to a secondary.  I took a reading and it’s down from 1.060 to 1.030, but not fermenting anymore!” – yeah, you took the beer away from the yeast leaving only the yeast in suspension to try to heavy-lift that bad boy all the way down to 1.012.  Not going to happen.  First, ask yourself why you are racking to a secondary?  If you’re brewing an ale, you can leave it in the primary for over 20+ days without a real danger of autolysis, even in a plastic bucket, though there is a very slight chance of oxidation due to the simi-permeable nature of the plastic.  Pulling the beer off the yeast after 7 days is not a hard and fast rule, it’s a rule of thumb.  Take your gravity readings and decide if the fermentation is complete, then make your move to bottle/keg, or if you must, a secondary.  Note: there are times when a secondary is necessary. If you’re fermenting a big barely wine or the like, you may very well want to age it at fermentation temp for over a month.   That’s a good cause for moving it to a secondary.

In brewing, as with most things in life, you shouldn’t make decisions without looking at the data.  Always take your readings before you make a decision to rack or bottle.  Keep an eye on your fermentation, but don’t freak out unless there’s cause (as indicated by the data).  If you’re in a big hurry, go buy beer at the store.  You can’t rush fermentation.  It’s done when it’s done.  If you bottle too early, you can get gushers from the excess suspended yeast going to town on your bottling sugar.  Or you can get a beer that was “half done” which won’t taste right and you’ll get discouraged.  Patience will be rewarded.  Now go brew!