Thursday, January 26, 2012

Frühlingstraum (2012 Altbier)

Making up for missed brewing time this past fall, this is my 2nd brew of the month. I'm hoping to get one more in, but it will close. This is my 3rd attempt at brewing a Düsseldorf Altbier, a style I was turned onto by a friend whose wife hails from Düsseldorf. Since there aren't many altbiers imported to the US and since, according to my friend and his wife, there aren't really any good American-made versions of the style, I've taken it upon myself to see if I can make something that will satisfy them. The first version, while a fine beer, turned out too dark with a touch of roast character that was out of style. I used less dark malt (chocolate wheat) in last year's version, which turned out lighter, with less roast, and again was a fine beer. But I used a lot of low-alpha Tettnang for bittering and perhaps too much Hallertauer in the middle of the boil. The result was that I felt like it had too much hop flavor, detracting from the style once gain (not to mention that I strayed from using the traditional altbier hop, Spaltz).

So, I tweaked the recipe once again this time around. I cut back the chocolate wheat even more, used some high-alpha Magnum for bittering, and returned to using Spaltz hop for flavor. I also did a single decoction mash for the first time - essentially followin Kai Troester's process for his altbier, mashing in at 150°F and pulling a thin decoction after 45 minutes. I boiled the decoction for about 10 minutes before adding it back to the MLT to hit mash-out @ 168°F.

Everything else proceeded as normal for my brew process. My only concern is that I ended up having to add some baking soda to the mash to offset the amount of acid malt I thought I was going to need for this beer. Hopefully this won't negatively impact the flavor.

I started fermenting this at an ambient temp of 50°F. I was a bit nervous of going this low, but was also pretty sure that the yeast could handle it. Fermentation started no problem, though was never really vigorous. After a couple of days, a cold front swept in and I was nervous that it would drop the ambient temp too low, so I moved the carboy to the part of the cellar where the furnace is located. The ambient here (as far from the furnace as possible) was a steady 58°F. Once fermentation is complete, I'll rack it to another carboy and "lager" it for a few weeks before bottling (I'll stash it in my garage, which is normally in the 30s this time of year, but with the very warm winter we're having, it's currently only in the mid-40s). Should be ready to drink by mid-March (hence the beer's name),

Frühlingstraum Altbier
Brewed on 1/18/12

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size: 3.50 gal
Bottling Volume: 3.50 gal
Estimated Color: 10.4 SRM
Estimated IBU: 40.2 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 72.00 %
Est Mash Efficiency: 72.0 %
Boil Time: 75 Minutes
OG: 1.047
FG: 1.012
ABV: 4.6%

2 lbs Munich Malt - 32.3 %
2 lbs Pale Malt (Weyermann) - 32.3 %
2 lbs Pilsner - 32.3 %
2.0 oz Acid Malt - 2.1 % (for mash pH)
1.0 oz Chocolate Wheat (Weyermann)- 1.0 %

6 g Magnum [13.10 %] - 60.0 min
14 g Spalter [5.00 %] - 60.0 min
10 g Spalter [5.00 %] - 15.0 min

Dusseldorf Alt Yeast (White Labs #WLP036)

Mash Schedule
Single Decoction Mash, Batch sparge
  • Saccharification 150.0 F (45 min)
  • 1st Decoction 165.0 F (10 min)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Irish Red Ale - cloned?

Way back in August I brewed an Irish Red Ale, using Newport Storm's Spring Seasonal as my inspiration. I was trying to hit as close as I could to the original, given a few "constraints" - I couldn't get me hands on amber malt, so I subbed some Vienna malt in its place, and instead of Magnum hops for bittering, I used some Northdown hops that I happen to already have. And oh, I subbed some flaked barley for the Cara-pils in the original (not sure why other than I've never used Cara-pils, instead relying on wheat or flaked barley for body and head retention). I realize that these changes could have a significant impact on the resulting beer. But still, I thought I would get something close.

Gaelic Storm vs. Newport Storm's Spring Ale

Appearance - I hit the color dead-on. Both beers are a beautiful red-brown with an off-white head. Beer Smith estimates my color at 15.6 SRM, but I think both are darker than that - maybe 18ish (though definitely not the 33 SRM that Newport Storm lists on their website). Mine is more highly carbonated and has more of a frothy head. Great clarity. Really, a pretty beer.

Aroma - The aromas are noticeably different. Mine has a more "intense" hop aroma, though, to be fair, I'm judging a bottle of Newport Storm's that is almost a year old given this is their Spring seasonal. Even though they are different, there is still an obvious similarity - both have an earthy, spiciness to them, more so in mine. Much more malt/caramel aroma coming from theirs, which isn't surprising given the grist differences noted above.

Taste - Like the aroma, there is a noticeable difference in flavor. In fact, the taste differences tend to mirror the aroma differences. Bitterness seems about right - noticeable, but not overpowering. Both have a strong malt flavor - bready/toasty, with a hint of roast, but mine is less caramelly/sweet. Again, this is understandable given my substitutions. There's a major difference in hop flavor - mine is much more assertive - very earthy and spicy, perhaps too much so. I attribute this to the EKG hops. I didn't know what Newport Storm's hopping rate or schedule was, so I had to wing it. I think I used too much. I think there is also a bot of carbonic bite adding to the perception of spiciness.

Mouthfeel - Good body. Mine is more highly carbonated, but not so much as to detract from enjoying the beer.

Overall - Mine's not a clone of Newport Storm's, which I didn't really think it would be given the changes I made. Still, both are clearly related. My beer is a pretty easy drinker - malty, but not sweet. Though I think it could use a little caramel sweetness to it. I'd also rather the hop flavor were more subdued - the spiciness overpower the malt and keeps me from enjoying this beer more. Definitely a recipe that I would try again with some tweaks.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

My Brewing Process

Just thought I would share my brewing process since it is not the "standard" way of brewing and it allowed me to move to all-grain without changing much from my extract and partial mash process. I figure this might offer some tips to extract brewers who don't think they can move to all-grain just yet. It is certainly a bit more complex/complicated than necessary to brew good beer, but it works really well for me, and I don't mind the extra steps/complications. This is truly a product of a homebrew geek and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

Essentially, I brew 3.5 - 4 gallon, all-grain batches, using a split boil technique on my electric kitchen stove. With this technique, I have no need to move my operation outdoors, buy a giant brew kettle and a bigger chiller, or figure out how I will transfer large quantities of liquid (I know lots of brewers manage this, but for me, it would be a huge change in my process and equipment, so I have no desire to do so - especially since my process works so well).

When thinking about moving to all-grain, I realized that my limiting factor was how much liquid I could heat on my stove. The simplest solution I decided was to use two kettles - both for heating my strike water and for collecting the wort and brewing the beer. Filled to the brim, my kettles each hold 3 gallons. Safely, I can boil 2.5 gallons of wort in each. This is my limiting factor - I can only collect 2.5 gallons of wort in each kettle. So, my strike water volume is calculated by determining how much I will need so that I collect 2.5 gallons of first runnings. This means that my strike water volume is calculated based on how much grain I am using in my recipe.

Grain absorbs approximately 0.5 quarts of water per pound and since I want to collect 10 quarts of runnings (2.5 gallons), I calculate my strike water volume (in quarts) as 10 + 0.5*G, where "G" is equal to the total weight of my grains, in pounds. What this means of course is that my water-to-grist ratio for my mash changes batch to batch, depending on how much grain I'm using in the recipe. I'm generally between 1.5-2.0 qts/lb on most of my brews and I haven't noticed any differences:

Grain (lbs)Strike water (qts)Water-to-Grist ratio(qts/lb)

Of course, since I need to heat more than 2.5 gallons of strike water, I need to use both kettles for this as well. For more consistent results, I actually boil 2 gallons of strike water and then calculate how hot I need to heat the additional strike water. For example, for my last batch, the Belgian Tripel, I had 8 lbs of grain in the mash, so I needed 14 quarts (3.5 gallons) of strike water. I boiled 2 gallons in one kettle and heated the other 1.5 gallons to approximately 90-92°F. When combined in my mash tun the temp was 160°F. When I added the grains, the mash temp hit a perfect 148°F. Like I said, my process is a little complex, but it works.

I add any necessary mineral additions to the mash let it go for 60 minutes or so. I then lauter into one of my kettles. If it all works out, I get very close to 2.5 gallons of 1st runnings. While the mash runs, I heat 2.5 gallons of sparge water to 180°F. Once the first runnings are drained, I so a single batch sparge with the entire 2.5 gallons. Since the grain has already absorbed all the water it can, when I drain the 2nd runnings into the second kettle, I get approximately the 2.5 gallons I put in. Simple, right?

I then boil both kettles, generally starting the first runnings while sparging and collecting the 2nd runnings, so they're ~15 minutes apart. For hopping, I go back and forth on whether it is truly necessary to hop both boils. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't, but I am more and more moving towards splitting the hops - 2/3 in the 1st runnings, 1/3 in the 2nd runnings - for better utilization.

When the boils are done I chill each with my immersion chiller and then dump both into my fermenter. I then aerate, take a gravity reading, pitch the yeast, and clean up. I've found that with this technique I can get ~3.75 gallons into the fermenter. My brewhouse efficiency is 72-74%.

I know this is a complicated set-up. I really need to be on top of all my calculations and pay careful attention on brew day. Managing and monitoring two kettles instead of one also adds a little bit of stress. But, like any brew process, it just takes a little time to dial everything in and I am now very comfortable with it. And in the end, I am very happy with the results.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My First Belgian Tripel

After going 5 months without brewing anything (not counting a quick cider and small batch of blueberry wine), I kicked off the new year in style with my first ever Belgian Tripel. Now, I've never been a huge Belgian beer fan - at least not those that smell and taste like cloves and bananas, which is what I always assumed non-sour Belgian beers taste and smell like. But I've always been intrigued by the monastic brewing tradition and have really wanted to like Belgian beers, especially the Trappist and Abbey style ales - there's just something about the history of the whole thing. Then, a few weeks ago, my wife tried a Chimay White (aka Cinq Cents) and she loved it. And then, I tried a homebrewed tripel and quite enjoyed it. Add to that that I've been itching to brew and to try something new, I decided now was as good a time as any to try my hand at this style. Even though I posted a couple weeks ago that my top priority was this year's altbier, I was more excited about brewing up my first Belgian tripel so it jumped to the front of the queue.

I did a little research, wanting to make something similar to Chimay's version. I read up on JZ's recipe in Brewing Classic Styles and Randy Mosher's in Radical Brewing. I found some info online from Brew Like a Monk (I don't own a copy). I googled all combinations of "tripel", "Chimay", "Cinq Cents", "recipe", and "clone". And I read through a great piece by John White and Roger Protz about their search for Chimay's recipes. In the end, I cobbled together the recipe given below. Part of me wanted to go all pilsner malt for the base, but I am unsure about my ability to boil off all the DMS/SMS, so I went with a mix of pilsner and pale malt. I added the wheat malt since it sounds like Chimay uses some sort of wheat in theirs. I used some Munich for a little extra malty character and used the Demerara sugar based on Randy Mosher's suggestion. And since Chimay was ultimately the inspiration for this brew, I used their yeast (WLP500).

The plan is to ferment it starting in the mid-60s°F and then slowly ramp up the temp to make sure the yeast fully ferment this out and leave it nice and dry. I'll bottle condition them for a few weeks and then lager them for a few more weeks.

Cervisia Benedicta - Belgian Tripel
brewed on 1/8/12

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size: 3.75 gal
Estimated Color: 5.1 SRM
Estimated IBU: 32.6 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 72.00 %
Boil Time: 75 Minutes
OG: 1.069
FG: 1.008
ABV: 8%

4 lbs Pilsner 43.8 %
2 lbs Pale Malt 21.9 %
1 lbs Munich I 11.0 %
1 lbs Wheat Malt 11.0 %
1 lbs Demerera Sugar 11.0 %
2.1 oz Acidulated 1.4 % (for mash pH)

28 g Styrian Goldings [4.50 %] (60 min) 24.6 IBUs
2 g Magnum [13.00 %] (60 min) 5.1 IBUs
14 g Saaz [4.00 %] (15 min) 2.9 IBUs

Trappist Ale (White Labs #WLP500)

Mash Schedule
Single Infusion, 148°F, batch sparge
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