Brewday: Rye Witbier

June 3, 2012

As we keep getting closer to the homebrew competition, I had just one beer left to brew for it: the rye beer. The only restriction for the beer is that it has to include rye for at least 30% of the grain used. I’ve brewed a lot of rye beers over the years, and I decided that most entrants would likely use rye pale ales and rye IPAs, so it was time I tried a different approach.

Part of what makes rye so great in a beer is that it adds a bit of dry spicy character, and a bit of an earthy aroma, so I wanted to add it to a non-pale ale style that would really benefit from the heavy use of rye. I figured a witbier would be an interesting and unique experiment. I made a wit recipe with a heavy dose of rye malt replacing a lot of the wheat malt, and was ALMOST tempted to add some peppercorns, but decided against it. So the grain bill for it was:

  • 6.50 lb Pils malt
  • 3.50 lb Rye malt
  • 1.00 lb Flaked wheat

The water additions were pretty light, just 5 grams each of calcium chloride and gypsum. I mashed it on the cool side, around 147F, to try and make sure it attenuated really well. This one should have a nice dry body to accentuate the spicy rye character. Unfortunately, the lautering went really slow for the first two gallons before I realized there was a piece of grain partially clogging the ball valve in my mash tun. After blowing that out and running a vorlauf again, the runoff went as smoothly as it usually does.

The hop and spice schedule on this one was fairly light:

  • 0.75 oz Challenger (60 minutes, 5.6% Alpha Acid)
  • 0.50 oz Challenger (15 minutes)
  • 10 gm Coriander (15 minutes)
  • 0.50 oz Challenger (End of Boil)

The other odd thing about this batch was the yeast I used for it. My previous saison, the peppercorn saison I brewed for my 100th batch last month, had its saison yeast crap out halfway through fermentation. It refused to start back up and was left sitting really thick and sweet, so I made a starter of my Northwest ale yeast that was on hand and poured that in to get fermentation going again. That did the trick, but left me with a blended yeast cake to work with, so I thought that would be interesting to use for this rye witbier. These two yeasts should do pretty well at drying out the body and giving some nice character to the beer.

Also, starting gravity was 1.045, as I was aiming for a nice light session beer for the coming warm months.

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.

With the Belgian pale ale and Belgian dubbel both done fermenting and going into kegs, it was time for me to get one last batch out of this yeast. I figured that it’s been a long time since I made a big beer, so now was the time to get back into it.

Belgian quads, or dark strong ales, have been a personal favorite for a long time, but I’ve never actually brewed one. I started with aromatic malt and special b to build up the malty backbone of the beer and all of the dark fruit and caramel flavors. To keep the beer from getting too thick while increasing the alcohol, I used Turbinado sugar, which gives a hint of dry molasses to a beer (in my experience). So the whole grain bill was:

  • 15.50 lb Pilsner malt
  • 2.50 lb Munich malt
  • 1.75 lb Aromatic malt
  • 1.25 lb Special B
  • 2.00 lb Turbinado sugar

The hop schedule was light and mellow, as they’re really only there to balance some of the sweetness and add a little complexity to the aroma.

  • 1.00 oz Northern Brewer (9.6% Alpha Acid, 60 minutes)
  • 0.75 oz Northern Brewer (15 minutes)
  • 1.00 oz Spalter (5% Alpha Acid, End of Boil)

The one spice I used in the beer was 10 grams of licorice root. We use it in our Abbey Ale at work, and I really like that kind of mouthfeel it adds to a dark beer. This was added 15 minutes before the boil ended.

For such a large beer, the lauter was extremely smooth and uneventful for this batch. It took about 40 minutes to collect a bit over 8 gallons of wort. As it was really thick, I wound up under-boiling it, so I got 7 gallons post-boil and ran 5.5 gallons of that into the fermentation tank. The gravity came in a little low because of the underboil. 1.094 is still fine, and still gives me 75% efficiency with my system, which is higher than I was expecting for a high gravity beer.

The water additions were minor in this one. Two grams of calcium sulfate, three grams of calcium chloride, and four grams of calcium carbonate. The mash pH was 5.53 and the temperature was 149F, so perfect conditions to get a highly fermentable wort. The yeast was pitched at 68F, and I’m hoping to get it to rise up to about 75F over the next day or two to really get that yeast’s character to show through.

Now it’s on to planning my 100th batch…

In my continuing quest to improve, and become satisfied with, my mocha porter, I made a revised version of it yesterday. This was the first time I’ve made it since I got my pH meter, and all of my dark beers have been on the low side for pH, so I made some adjustments to the water chemistry.

The first two versions of this beer had a bit of a dry, bitter bite to them. That was more evident in the first, and was cut down in the second as I dropped some hops out and added the cocoa after the boil was over. This time I jacked the calcium carbonate up a bunch to help buffer the pH, and added some crystal malt to add some sweetness to balance any bitterness.

The pH of the mash came in at 5.45, which fits perfectly in my target range of 5.30-5.50. Keeping the mash pH from getting too low will help avoid extracting tannins from the grain, and it will let the enzymes work at a more optimal rate to ensure good efficiency. Of course you’ll find lots of opinions on what the optimal pH range is, but I try to keep it safe and go with 5.30-5.50. That range WILL work, so I see no need to change things.

So the grain bill changed a little bit from last time. I dropped the Munich malt down a bit and replaced what was lost with more pale malt. Some of the oats were replaced with my remaining Simpsons Golden Naked Oats, as I forgot to buy a second pound of Quaker instant oats (oops). I also decided to replace the small amount of Carafa III Special with more Carafa II Special, as the little bit of III that was in there didn’t seem like enough to make a flavor difference. It also helped simplify my grain bill, which I always like to do. The big change, though, was the addition of some 80L crystal malt. That’s a darker crystal malt that will lend some dark caramel flavors and some supporting sweetness to the beer.

  • 11.25 lb Pale Malt
  • 18 oz Flaked Oats
  • 8 oz Golden Naked Oats
  • 1.50 lb Munich Malt
  • 1.00 lb Carafa II Special
  • 0.75 lb Crystal 80L

The hops and cocoa were left pretty much unchanged

  • 1.00 oz Northern Brewer (60 minutes, 9.8% Alpha Acid)
  • 1.00 oz Northern Brewer (5 minutes)
  • 2.00 oz Challenger (End of Boil, 5.6% Alpha Acid)
  • 5.00 oz Unsweetened Baker’s Cocoa Powder (End of Boil)
  • 1.00 oz Lightly Crushed Coffee Beans (dry hop addition) [not sure yet which type of coffee I’ll use this time]

So, all the other details of this guy… I used my standard 1.25 quarts per pound ratio for the mash, and mashed at 156F for 60 minutes. Because I don’t use a mash-out procedure to denature the enzymes, I start vorlaufing 15 minutes before the mash is over. It’s been working pretty well, and speeding up the brewday somewhat, so I just keep rolling with it.

The boil volume was 8.12 gallons, which got down to 6.70 gallons. 5.20 gallons were pitched onto the yeast cake from my previous Dark Mild, which was a Wyeast 1098 British Ale yeast. I pitched it at 68F with a starting gravity of 1.069, giving me 80% efficiency. The wort pH was on the money at 5.24.

Oh, the water additions were as follows:

  • 3gm Calcium Sulfate (in the mash)
  • 4gm Calcium Chloride (in the mash)
  • 8gm Calcium Carbonate (in the mash)
  • 4gm Calcium Sulfate (in the boil)
  • 5gm Calcium Chloride (in the boil)

So yesterday before I went to work, I got back to brewing English session beers. I wanted to make another dark mild ale, as that tends to be my favorite lower alcohol beer to keep around, but I decided to use it to experiment with a couple malts I’ve been curious about.

The first malt I wanted to try out was mild ale malt. It’s an English malt that’s kilned a bit higher than pale malt, so it’s a bit darker and I wanted to see what kind of flavor difference it would give. The other malt was pale chocolate malt. I’m not really sure what kind of difference to expect, but I was hoping maybe it’ll smooth out the flavor profile a little bit.

The malt bill wound up being:

  • 7.00 lb Mild Ale Malt
  • 10 oz Crystal 60L
  • 8 oz Pale Chocolate Malt
  • 6 oz Carafa II Special

The hop profile was basically the same as all the other dark milds I make:

  • 0.50 oz Northern Brewer (60 minutes, 9.6% Alpha Acid)
  • 0.50 oz Northern Brewer (15 minutes)
  • 0.50 oz Northern Brewer (End of Boil)

The mash profile was pretty standard: 2.5 gallons of mash water, 154F mash temperature for an hour, 6.75 gallons of sparge water. The water additions were: 4gm calcium sulfate, 8gm calcium chloride, and 2gm calcium carbonate. My efficiency wound up over 80%, and the original gravity was 1.040.

Overall it was a pretty smooth brewday. And the best thing is that this style is usually in a keg for me about a week after I brew it, so I’ll be able to try the experiment pretty soon.

Brewday: Belgian Dubbel

February 6, 2012

It’s been ages since I’ve brewed a Belgian dubbel, and none of my recipes have really made me happy. I went through my few previous recipes and tried to figure out what was missing while applying some of the lessons I’ve learned over the years since those batches.

One of the biggest issues from those previous batches was a lower attenuation, so they were thicker than I like for the style. This time I decided I’d bump up the sugar content and drop the dark crystal malt down a little bit. I had been thinking the flavors from the dark crystal malt were a bit much in the other batches, anyway.

Since I began brewing Belgian style beers again recently, my grain stock now includes several forms of aromatic malts, which are kilned to a degree that enhances their flavor and aroma profiles without going too far into the crystal sweetness of the caramel malts. The nice thing about working at a Brewery that does Belgian styles is I’ve seen several of these aromatic malts in action, so I had some idea what to expect from them. In this case a very light aromatic malt was used as a light backup aroma to the dark crystal malt and the dark beet sugar syrup.

So the fermentables in this batch (keeping in mind I run off 8 gallons and boil down to 6.5 gallons) came from:

  • 10.50 lb Pale Malt
  • 1.50 lb Munich Malt
  • 1.00 lb Special Aromatic (from Franco-Belges)
  • 0.50 lb Extra Special (Briess’ version of Special B)
  • 1.00 lb Dark Beet Sugar Syrup
  • 0.75 lb Turbinado Sugar

In this case I’m using the Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity yeast, which is supposed to be Westmalle’s yeast of choice. I love the malt complexity that it leaves, and the character it gives to Westmalle’s beers, so that’s what is fermenting this batch right now.

The hops in this batch were kept restrained and should play no more than a support role to the malt and yeast aromas.

  • 1.25 oz Challenger (60 minutes, 5.6% Alpha Acid)
  • 1.00 oz Hallertauer (15 minutes, 3.0% Alpha Acid)
  • 1.00 oz Hallertauer (End of Boil)

For brewing water I used 10 gallons of spring water from Hannaford. I mashed in with at my standard ratio of 1.25 qt/lb, so 4.25 gallons. The mash was held at 150F for 45 minutes then started vorlaufing to set the grain bed. I’ve started to recirculate the wort before the desired end of the mash cycle because I don’t raise the grain bed temp to stop the enzymes, so any conversion is still happening. I haven’t seen any adverse effects, and it helped me shorten my brewday.

For water chemistry I added 3g of Calcium Sulfate, 2g of Calcium Chloride, and 2g of Calcium Carbonate to the mash water, and 4g/2g/2g of them (respectively) to the wort before boil. This led to a very nice mash pH of 5.46 and a final wort pH of 5.25, both right in line with what I wanted.

The rest of the numbers looked pretty good. I ran off 8 gallons into the kettle, boiled down to 6.60 gallons, transferred 5 gallons to the fermentor (all that wort was crystal clear), and hit 1.067 (76% efficiency on the mash) for a starting gravity. I was mashed in at 2:05 and cleaned up for the day by 6:35. Booyah. 🙂

When I was brewing my Belgian pale ale last week, it slipped my mind that it was actually a milestone day. It was the sixth anniversary of the day that Dave and I brewed our first beer together in the apartment on Congress Street in Troy. I try to have a brewday on that anniversary every year, but things have been so hectic lately that I completely forgot. Fortunately it coincided with a perfect day for me to brew this year.

Six years. A lot has happened in that time, some of it good and some of it bad. I still remember that Christmas of 2005 and January of 2006 pretty clearly. My parents got me The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, the book that so many others have started with, for Christmas as my interest was piqued by some homebrewing friends in the Capital District. This was also a time when my love of good beer was taking off at a crazy rate, typically visiting Mahar’s in Albany twice a week with a bunch of friends, and dropping tons of money at the Finger Lakes Beverage Center whenever I was in Ithaca.

Before my winter vacation from RPI ended and I headed back to Troy, my dad and I took a Saturday and got everything together that I’d need to brew my first batch of beer. He runs an analytical chemistry lab at Cornell University, so we picked up almost all the equipment I needed right there. He neutralized a 6.5 gallon glass carboy that had been used to transport acid, and this turned into that first fermentor. I got an old scale for weighing hops and grain, a lot of plastic tubing, a contact thermometer for liquids, a hydrometer, an aluminum pot, etc. We went to the Ithaca Brewery, as they were the only homebrew supply point in town, and grabbed a bottling bucket, capper, caps, and ingredients for the first batch. When we talked to the guy behind the tasting bar, he was excited to hear I was getting into brewing and gave me a simple extract brown ale recipe to start with.

That first batch, brewed on 29 January 2006, was a huge learning experience for Dave and I. Even after reading obsessively and perusing homebrewing forums constantly, we still didn’t really have any idea what we were doing. Nothing really went all that wrong, now that I think about it, as the only two things we really had to figure out on the fly was cooling the wort after the boil and transferring it to the fermentor (the pot had no spigot). We wound up putting the fermentor in a large plastic bucket full of ice water and snow, then poured the wort in through a funnel by using a cooking pot as a ladle. It went pretty smoothly and the beer came out pretty good. I was completely hooked once we were finished.

Over the next six years many things happened. I acquired an Igloo cooler in the summer of ’06 and converted it to a mash tun for partial mash recipes. Grad school also ended that summer for me, so I moved out to Rochester to start my first real job. This turned out to be a great move, as it gave me a really nice income to start upgrading to an all-grain brewing system, and I met a huge and highly enthusiastic craft beer loving community. Between Kim and Lance, Jeff at Quimby’s, Seth, Jeff Wible, Jason, and others at ITT, and lots of other people too numerous to list, I know tons of great beer lovers in the Rochester area. They’re also a great group of friends that will keep me visiting Rochester for years.

I would call my time in Rochester “The Dark Years”, except that all my great beer loving friends and my obsession with homebrewing kept me sane and gave me lots of great memories. ITT laid me off in the first of four rounds of layoffs starting on 31 March 2010. I walked out of the Hawkeye building for the final time with a HUGE smile on my face as I yelled obscenities at the company. I would spend four months in a half-assed job search trying to find something in the defense industry, then I finally got a response from Custom Brewcrafters, started my unpaid internship there and met Bruce (one of the best brewers I know), and took the first step into the career path I had wanted for several years.

The really funny and unexpected thing about all of this is that, after all the hard work I put into getting involved in the brewing industry, I now work at one of my favorite craft breweries that helped spawn my initial interest in good beer. Six years after that first batch of homebrew in Troy, and I’m happy with life and living my dream right down the road from the Baseball Hall of Fame. It’s absolutely incredible how things work out sometimes.

In all this time homebrewing, I’ve produced 95 batches, a couple of which are fermenting right now. The next four are basically planned out: Belgian Dubbel, English Dark Mild, American Brown, and a revised version of the Mocha Porter. I’m planning to spend some time over the coming weeks thinking about what to do for the 100th batch. Input is always welcome.