Yesterday I brewed my 100th batch of homebrew. As it was a little bit of a milestone, I wanted to make something different than I normally do. With the disgusting heat of spring and summer moving in, I thought a saison would be perfect.

The saison I brew at work is lightly spiced and hopped, and isn’t nearly dry enough for me to enjoy very much. For my saison, I said “fuck yooouuuuu, Ommegang!” and went for a spicier and drier version of the style. I used Wyeast 3724 Saison yeast, and am planning to ratchet the temperature up after a couple days of fermentation to get as much attenuation as possible (and some extra spicy phenols/esters).

The grain bill was pretty simple, and geared toward attenuation with the addition of honey and a mash profile around 150F:

  • 10 lbs Pils malt
  • 1.5 lbs Wildflower Honey

For the water, I had to bump up the gypsum to make sure the pH didn’t stay too high. It wound up at 5.62, which is on the high end, but it’s still acceptable. The gypsum will also help accentuate the hop bitterness and the dryness of the beer.

  • 7 gm Gypsum (in the mash)
  • 2 gm Calcium Chloride (in the mash)
  • 2 gm Gypsum (beginning of the boil)

The hops and spices are the core of this batch. I was going for a spicy beer with some fruit undertones, so a combination of challenger (spicy) and centennial (fruity) hops seemed like a good idea. For the actual spices, a mix of coriander, grains of paradise, and green and black peppercorns rounds out the flavors and aromas I’m looking for.

  • 0.60 oz Galena (60 minutes, 11% Alpha Acid)
  • 0.75 oz Challenger (15 minutes, 5.6% Alpha Acid)
  • 10 gm Coriander (15 minutes)
  • 4 gm Grains of Paradise (15 minutes)
  • 10 Black Peppercorns (15 minutes)
  • 4 Green Peppercorns (15 minutes)
  • 0.50 oz Challenger (End of Boil)
  • 0.50 oz Centennial (End of Boil, 10.9% Alpha Acid)

All my numbers were good. Mash pH was 5.62, boil volume was 7.8 gallons, end of boil volume was 6.5 gallons, carboy volume was 5 gallons, gravity was 1.053, efficiency was 80%, wort pH was 5.32, and pitching temperature was 70F (74F as of right now, 18 hours later). That should just about cover everything. I’m really hoping I didn’t overdo anything in this one.

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A bar in downtown Troy called The Ruck is holding their first annual Extreme Homebrewing Competition in June. It’s focused on six different brews:

  • Rye: grist has to contain 30% rye at least
  • “Funky”: a significant amount of non-grain adjuncts
  • A beer with both fruit and spice
  • Platiunum: a Bud Light Platinum kind of beer with high alcohol and low body (ironically, everyone will likely have the most difficult time with this beer)
  • Black IPA
  • Ahtanum: a single-hop beer using only Ahtanum hops

The competition allows teams of up to three brewers to make the six different beers, so I’ll be working with a couple homebrewing friends in the Capital Region, Bill and Angelos. Those guys have a lot of experience experimenting with all sorts of adjuncts, fruits, and spices, so they’re taking care of the two beers requiring them (the Imperial Honey Amber from a few years ago was absolutely top notch). I’ll be doing the rye beer, given my recent heavy experimentation with those kinds of beers. The other three beers we’ll be collaborating on and brewing together.

As I like to brew four batches successively to fill my four kegs, I’m in the process of putting together the brewing schedule for these next bunch of batches. I have two yeast strains in house that I’m going to use: a Belgian saison yeast, and my standard American yeast.

The first batch with the yeast I have will be a saison with honey and rose hips, and will be my one hundredth batch of homebrew. After that, I’m thinking of doing the other three beers as different rye-based experiments as potential entries for the competition. For the second batch using the saison yeast, I’m highly tempted to my witbier recipe, replace a bunch of the wheat with rye, add peppercorn (not sure which just yet), ferment a bit warmer, and switch to some spicier hops.

With the American yeast my first thought is to go with a rye pale ale and a rye IPA, as per normal. I haven’t had anything hoppy on tap in a while, and I’ve been pretty damn happy with most of the rye pale ales I’ve made. Part of me wants to try an American rye ale, which would be a very light, dry, spicy session beer.

Those are preliminary thoughts. I’m hoping to get the saison brewed sometime this week, then I can start trying to finalize all my other recipes.

Sunday Musings

March 18, 2012

A statement that I hear from time to time that I really dislike is “I hate lagers”. The natural outgrowth of that is the plethora of polls on beer blogs asking “which do you prefer: ales or lagers?”, which is ridiculous due to the complete lack of good representations of the traditional lager styles in this country.

Now, I spent a month last year in Germany at brewing school, where I was drunk pretty regularly on great lager styles. I’m sure that the majority of average beer drinkers in this country, and many craft beer enthusiasts, don’t have much understanding of the wide range of lager styles that are out there. Unfortunately, there really isn’t much supply of good lagers in this country. Most of the lagers sold in the U.S. are of the American Lite Lager style that Bud/Miller/Coors developed over the last century. The rest are mostly imported bottles of German lagers that have spent weeks in non climate controlled containers on a ship, then a dock warehouse, then a truck, then a distribution warehouse, etc. No bottle you get in this country from Germany will do the beer justice.

Compounding this is the fact that craft breweries are routinely very small operations with little available capital and tenuous debt levels. Many of them would find it incredibly difficult to justify letting product sit in their tanks for the extra weeks necessary to make a good lager style. There are some breweries that do this, like Metro Brewing in Chicago, but they are few and far between at this point. If you have a chance, try Victory’s line of German lager styles. Their Helles is a wonderful beer.

So that statement about hating lagers does bother me, but I understand where the mentality comes from. It’s just misconceptions and lack of knowledge, which is fine. Hopefully I can get my own brewery off the ground some day and can find a way to make some of these beers profitably and represent the styles well.

Next Milestone Coming Up

March 11, 2012

With four kegs on tap, two beers fermenting, and one more waiting to be bottled, I’m not really in dire need of brewing again soon. This gives me plenty of time to consider what to do for my next batch, which will be my 100th batch of homebrew. The problem with picking a beer to make for number 100 is that I have way too many ideas that I want to try.

I’ve been thinking about making my first saison, as Spring and Summer begin to roll in. My idea here would be to use a basic recipe of pils malt with a decent amount of wildflower honey and some wheat malt. Rose hips would either go into the boil into the beer after fermentation, though I’m not entirely sure yet which way is best. The hops would be either strongly fruity or strongly floral, I haven’t quite decided. I would probably pitch the yeast around 68 degrees and slowly try to ramp it up to 85+ degrees over a few days to let the yeast really give off a lot of character.

Another beer I’ve been toying with is an imperial mint chocolate stout, which would age in bottles until this coming Winter. It’s a take on an imperial chocolate stout I brewed back in 2007 just after I had moved to Rochester. The starting gravity was 1.100, it used about 15% flaked oats in the mash, and came in over 10% ABV. That was a really nice beer and I really want to try adding mint to it cause it would go great with the chocolate flavor.

On the other hand, given my current set of beers, I could use something hoppy that isn’t quite as big as an imperial IPA. Part of me wants to try making a Belgian IPA, possibly brewing my Amarillo IPA with Belgian yeast. A Belgian RyePA could also be interesting, as the yeast esters could play really well off of the rye character.

I could also decide to go against usual convention and mark this milestone by brewing something that’s not strong or crazy. Belgian wit? American rye? I could do something simple and sessionable like those. I don’t really know what I want to do, so I’m just throwing ideas around.

As a reference point, I currently have on hand:

  • Mocha Porter Version 2 (keg)
  • Belgian Pale Ale (keg)
  • Belgian Dubbel (keg)
  • Dark Mild/Brown Porter (keg)
  • Mocha Porter Version 3 (fermenting)
  • Belgian Quad (fermenting)
  • Imperial IPA (ready to bottle)
  • Amber Ale (a few bottles left)
  • Mocha Porter Version 1 (a few bottles left)
  • Amarillo IPA (a few bottles left)

Since the last post I’ve managed to get two batches bottled, and brewed a new one today. It’s been six days since I bottled the mocha porter, and two days since I bottled the amber ale.  I did a carbonation test on the mocha porter earlier tonight and it was really solid (though not fully carbonated yet). It has a nice roasted coffee aroma, a sweet chocolate taste up front, and a lightly bitter coffee flavor at the end. I’m quite pleased, though I’d probably tone the coffee down just slightly next time.

The sample of the amber ale that I tried after bottling it was also quite nice. It came in at 4.2%, which is what I wanted. There’s a nice rich malty character with a balanced bitterness and a solid up front hop American hop character. This will be a full flavored session beer through and through. I like the pine aroma combined with a subdued citrus character.

Today’s brew was kind of an experiment. The only base malt I have at the moment is Munich, which is kilned higher so it’s sweeter and maltier than pale malt. I decided to make a pale ale using mostly Munich malt to see what I could get out of it. A little caramel Munich will give it a bit of body and sweetness. I used a combination of Northern Brewer and Galena hops to give it sort of a noble earthy character to go with the rich malty character from the Munich malt. I guess this could be considered an American ale version of the Munich Dunkel dark lager style from Germany. It should be a decent session beer regardless.

Pale Ale

Boil Volume: 8.33 gallons

Batch Volume: 6.50 gallons

Fermenter Volume: 5.00 gallons

Starting Gravity: 1.053

Efficiency: 80%

Malt

  • 11.00 lb Munich
  •   0.75 lb CaraMunich
Hops
  • 0.50 oz Galena (60 minutes, 11% Alpha Acid)
  • 0.50 oz N Brewer (60 minutes, 9.8% Alpha Acid)
  • 1.00 oz N Brewer (15 minutes)
  • 1.00 oz Galena (5 minutes)
  • 1.00 oz N Brewer (End of Boil)
  • 1.00 oz Galena (End of Boil)
Mash
  • Strike with 3.25 Gallons at 168F
  • Mash at 150F for 60 minutes
  • Sparge with 6.75 Gallons at 180F
Water Additions
  • 3 gm Calcium Chloride
  • 8 gm Calcium Sulfate
Yeast
Wyeast 1332 Northwest Ale Yeast

Last week Wednesday I did a whole bunch of homebrew related things but never got around to updating this site about it all. First I racked the mocha porter to a secondary fermenter. The gravity dropped from 1.066 to 1.016, giving it an ABV around 6.5%. At that point it had no coffee flavor because I was about to add the coffee beans, lightly ground, to the beer in the secondary fermenter. I prefer to cold extract the coffee in the beer instead of adding it to the boil, as I’ve always extracted a smoother flavor that way in my coffee beers. When I wake up in the morning, At this point, this beer is done and will be bottled when I wake up in the morning.

The next thing I did Wednesday was rack the amber ale to secondary so I could use its yeast cake for another brew that day. The amber’s gravity had dropped from 1.046 to 1.014, giving it around a 4.2% ABV. That’s low for a lot of amber ales available on the market, but I was really going for a session beer with lots of flavor on this one. It’s got a nice body that’s solid but not too heavy to be hard to drink, a very nice sweet malty flavor and aroma, and a firm bitterness that balances it all out in an American amber kinda way. I also added an ounce of Chinook dry hops to the beer in the secondary. There was still a small amount of fermentation activity when I did this, so I’ll be bottling this one late in the week to give it time. This recipe is solid, but probably not really anything special. Still, it’s gonna be a nice session flavorful session beer, which is what I wanted.

The yeast from the amber ale went into the batch of beer I brewed that day. I had originally intended to brew an Imperial IPA, but decided to get an extra beer out of that yeast before jumping up to a strong beer that would stress the yeast too much to reuse. That got me to brew up an American pale ale using some of the Simcoe and Columbus hops I had in the freezer. I was basically aiming for around a 5-5.5% ABV beer with a lightly malty body, a solid bitterness, and a nice citrus and pine aroma.

Pale Ale
Boil Volume: 8.06 Gallons

 

Batch Volume: 6.50 Gallons

Fermenter Volume: 5.25 Gallons

Starting Gravity: 1.053

Efficiency: 75%

Malt

  • 10.00 lb Pale Malt
  •   2.50 lb Munich
Hops

  • 1.00 oz Columbus (60 minutes, 13.2% Alpha Acid)
  • 0.50 oz Simcoe (15 minutes, 12.2% Alpha Acid)
  • 0.50 oz Columbus (15 minutes)
  • 0.50 oz Simcoe (End of Boil)
  • 0.50 oz Columbus (End of Boil)
  • Dry hops: TBD (Probably Columbus and Chinook)

Mash

  • Strike with 4 gallons at 170F
  • Mash at 152F for 60 minutes
  • Sparge with 6.4 gallons at 180F

Water Additions:

  • 2 gm Calcium Carbonate
  • 4 gm Calcium Chloride
  • 10 gm Calcium Sulfate

Yeast
Wyeast 1332 Northwest Ale Yeast

 

 

 

 

 

Over the past several weeks, things have changed a bit at the brewery. We have a new brewer that’s been training for a while, which has forced some changes in the shift schedule. I’ve was first moved to the 2pm-midnight shift, coming in for 2-4 hours on Friday afternoons to finish any cleaning and close up the place. At the beginning of this week I moved to the graveyard shift, 8pm-6am, so my week is now four days long, which is a schedule that I love. Surprisingly, I’ve adjusted to the overnight shift really easily. I get home around 6:30 and fall asleep fairly quickly, getting up around 1pm.

The best thing about moving to nights is that I no longer have someone actively training me, so no one is standing behind me watching everything I do intently. That makes even the most interesting activity stressful and obnoxious. And being told a particular way to do something, and being corrected if I try to do it a different way, is frustrating. Now I can develop my own methods that I feel comfortable with, so all is well. I’m loving this shift.

One of the unfortunate things that’s happened is that, for several reasons including an inventory backlog, we’ve dropped from twenty brews per week to eighteen. I’m told this will likely last for a while, but isn’t permanent. The big downside there is we get left with not a whole lot to do at night, especially down in the cellaring area. I’ve been able to take my sweet time running CIP cycles on tanks and hot rinsing the bottler and kegger, and still have wound up with lots of down time. Next week I get back down to the brewhouse, so things will be a little more active.

On the brewery startup front, I’m still actively thinking about it and doing some reading, but the move to a less stressful shift has reduced the urgency for me. Several articles and blogs have mentioned small ‘nanobreweries’ that people have started that have been quite successful. Some started in separated garages as side-businesses, like Blind Bat in Long Island, and some start small but full-time like Barrier Brewing. The guys at Barrier, a couple of Sixpoint veterans, are starting full-time on a 1BBL system. I’ve read about startups like that all over the country, many of which appear to be profitable (there’s a particular one I’d like to link to, but can’t remember the name of it right now). That road sounds the most interesting, honestly, but also one of the more risky ways to do it.

On the one hand, starting a full scale production brewery (or brewpub) is going to give you a serious debt load to worry about, which has killed many breweries before they even opened. The other side is starting ‘nano’, selling only on premises (where the margins are high enough to be profitable), and build on peoples’ preferences for local options and word of mouth.

Anyway, this was just a brain dump before I head out to my last shift of the week. It’s basically gonna be ten hours of cleaning the brewery and hopefully running some CIP cycles.

Also, Hess Brewing has a nice list of links to nanobrewery websites. The list was written a while ago, so I’m not sure just how updated it is currently.