Archive for June, 2011

High Gravity Brewing

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Big BeerThere were several great topics covered at NHC this year. One of my favorites was “High Gravity Brewing” put on by Patrick Rue, owner of The Bruery in Orange County, Ca. For purposes of the talk, Patrick defined “high gravity” as anything around 15% ABV or higher. I’m not normally one to brew high gravity ales. This is not because I don’t like them, but rather due to the long aging time and how little you can drink before you’re on the floor. Having said that, I find big beers enjoyable especially because one can add many more unusual flavor items (think sage, basil or other big spices) along with long barrel aging that would simply overpower a session beer. Since you’re dealing with such a large alcohol content, large amounts of malt and hop additions are a must to balance the beer. Bolder flavors, bolder hop charges – it starts to feel like an expanded pallet with which to create some very interesting, and ultimately very drinkable brews.

Although you’re free to do so, one should not simply create a booze bomb that will knock your friends over inside of 16 ounces. While that’s all a bunch of giggles once, you’re going to have 5 gallons of this stuff to unload, you may as well enjoy it on a more complex level. But before we get to flavors, let’s talk about the how. You’re going to need a big yeast starter in order to get the yeast healthy enough to tackle all the fermentables. Patrick is a big fan of White Labs 570, 550 and even good ‘ol 001 for the job. WL-1388 – Belgian Strong Ale is one of my favorites for really adding some great yeast character without being dominant. For 5 gallons, you’ll probably want around a full liter of starter that has been on the stir plate for a good 4 days or so. Pitching a fat and happy colony is the only way to get this done. You may still need to pitch another round of yeast about 3/4 of the way through just to get the gravity down to where you want it. Otherwise you’ll have alcoholic pancake syrup. No kidding. Start low on the fermentation temperature (60F – 65F) until it begins to slow way down, then allow it to naturally rise to around 70F for the finish. Due to the sort time at the higher temp, the risk of too much phenol or fusel flavors is minimal. A small dose of O2 before pitching or re-pitching is also a good nudge for the yeast to get rolling. A blow-off tube is recommended over an airlock as this will get rocking.

Moving on to the grain bill, you’re going to want up to 15% of dextrin malts (crystal and caramel) to get to the desired gravity, but don’t worry too much about over sweet beer because if you managed the yeast right, you’ll burn through much of that sugar without too much issue. From there, you can go anywhere you would with a full-bodied ale, just more of it. Low mash temperature with a longer rest is another trick to maximizing your fermentable sugars (140F – 150F), remember you’re shooting for a SG of 1.100 or there about, with a FG of 1007 or so. Using mono saccharides like dextrose, honey, or agave is great, but don’t let it exceed 25% of the fermentables. Doing so can cause your yeast to bomb out early because they get used to munching down simple sugars and will no longer want to work on maltose sugars. Dough in your mash at around 1.6 to 2 quarts/lbs of grain, which is higher than usual, but you’re gunning to get much of your wort out of that first infusion (Not a bad idea to do a second runnings for a small beer off of whats left). You’re looking at a 90 minute boil to develop more malt character in the wort.

Hops should come in at no more than 50 IBUs. With the heavy grain bill, you’ll still need an extraordinary amount to get there. These beers are all about balance and character. Attempting an Imperial IPA at these levels may result in tears. Though I doubt that will stop anyone from trying it! With strong ales, you want that initial hint of sweetness to give way quickly to the spicy alcohol notes and adjuncts, then finish very dry.

Finally, these beers need age to gain their true potential. 10 to 18 months is a common range. Barrel aging provides a slight micro aeration which can be very desirable in a beer that will sit this long. Barring that, I’d say adding lots of oak chips to your aging vessel would be a nice flavor enhancement.

I’m going to try brewing up this recipe that I whipped up by cobbling together some ideas that I liked in a few strong Belgian ales that I found. I’ll post some notes when it’s finally done… many moons from now.

Back from NHC!

Monday, June 20th, 2011

Well THAT was a ton of information to process! So I was going to try to blog everything I was picking up during the conference while I was there and yeah… that did really work out. 🙂 However, I have tons of notes from many great presentations that I’m going over and will, as promised, give some (hopefully) pragmatic summaries of all that I found to be useful.

They guys from Norther Brewer and Brewing TV were hilarious and great to talk to. And hats off to Justin from The Brewing Network who sure knows how to throw an after party! Thanks guys! And congratulations to all you misfits who put down The Brewing Network as your club affiliation thus propelling yourselves to Club of the Year! That was a great way to cap that amazing diner prepared by Sean Paxton, who’s mole recipe was one of the best I’ve ever had! Let’s do it all over again in Seattle next year!

NHC Here We Go!

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

I made it! I’m all settled in my room (Mrs. Brewer would be proud that I took the time to put my clothes away before rushing to the conference) and have already had a few good beers courtesy of Rogue, Widmer and QUAFF. Just walking in the door, conference goers are handed three bottles of specially beer from Stone, Port and Alesmith. I ran into some of the guys from BrewingTV, who were very cool and seem ready for the party! I think it’s going to be a good time! More to come…

iBrewMaster – My New Favorite App!

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

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I’ve been singing the praises of BrewPal since it came out some time ago. I still think for the money, it is hands down the best app you can buy for the iPhone. But now that I have an iPad, I wanted something that would take advantage of the larger screen real estate. iBrewMaster came up again and again as a favorite on some of the forums where I like to lurk, so I dropped the $9.99 and picked it up. After some initial confusion with the UI (this app does quite a bit) I became more comfortable with it. Even though I had to RTFM (google it if you don’t know) a few times before completely understanding the mash scheduler, I quickly adapted to the rich interface and began seeing the power this app hands you. I don’t think it’s too far to say that this app could easily run an actual brewery operation on the scale of say, your local brew pub.

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The first thing you notice is that all your brew day information is presented to you on a single page. It’s quick and easy to read with every bit of data you require listed right in front of your face. Unlike Brew Pal, you can manage individual batches of a brew, setting all sorts of timers for mash and boil, plus the added benefit of fermentation notifications. The grain, yeast and hop libraries are extensive and easy to quick-search, in lieu of scrolling through the entire catalog. There is also the ability to add your own entries or tweak the defaults.

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Another interesting feature is the social networking and recipe sharing aspects to the app. You can log into Facebook and it will post your brewing activities, if you really feel that your friends need that sort of information about you. But more interesting, you can upload your recipes and download recipes created by the community. This creates a very unique feature that, in time, will probably eliminate my need to scour forums looking around for clone recipes. You can also activate a clever feature that downloads all the recipes for Northern Brewer’s kits with a all-too convenient “Buy It” button attachment that goes directly to NB’s site for quick purchase of said kit.

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Finally, and this was the huge bit of functionality missing from other apps, is the ability to scale your recipes. I brew in 10 gallon batches, but everyone publishes their recipes in 5 gallon batches. Now with a click of the Scale button, you can ratchet your recipes up and down for ease of use.

Simply put, this app is an excellent step forward inthe world of brewing with the iOS framework. I can’t say enough good things about it. The authors are constantly updating the application with new features and respond quickly to inquiry and requests. If you’re looking for an iPad/iPhone brew app, I really have no issue parting with the 10 bones for this one ($6.99 for the iPhone only version). It’s well worth the cost.

Almost Time for Homebrew Conference!

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

I’ve been a bit quiet lately, but that’s not to say I’ve not been busy brewing! However, almost as important as brewing, I’ve been getting ready for my San Diego adventure at the NHC. I think I have my schedule finalized as to which seminars I’ll be attending. It was a tough call for a few slots due to the unavoidable overlap of some presentations, but such is any good conference. I’ll be blogging along with probably hundreds of other fools there, so fair warning! I hope to meet a few brewing celebs (yes they exist), but mostly I really hope to get a ton of good info to improve my process and finished beers. So look for some blogging on the following topics (hopefully I can spread some of the good info from the conference):

  • Brewing on a Budget
  • Pragmatic Brewing
  • Going Pro
  • Cooking with Beer
  • Homebrew Planet (how homebrew is done around the globe)
  • What’s Wrong with My Brew?
  • Non-Sour Barrel Aging
  • Homebrew Club Organization
  • High Gravity Brewing
  • Recipe Building and Competition Tips
  • Choosing the Right Yeast
  • Workshop on American Hops
  • … and anything else I see that’s interesting!
  • Happy brewing, everyone!