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)
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February 22, 2012

Tonight I kegged the Belgian Pale Ale I brewed at the end of January. It came to a final gravity of 1.009 and 5.6% ABV. That leaves me currently with one empty keg, a dark mild that’s ready to be kegged, and a Belgian dubbel that’s ready to be kegged/bottled (and an IIPA that still needs time). The issue with deciding on which to keg next is that I want to use the English yeast cake of the dark mild and the Belgian yeast cake of the dubbel to brew with.

So I basically have fresh and healthy English yeast and Belgian yeast I need to brew with soon, and tons of ideas for both. A new version of my mocha porter, imperial chocolate stout, Belgian IPA, Belgian quad, Belgian dubbel with licorice root and some other interesting spices, English bitter or ESB. I don’t really know what I want to make, but I’d like to figure something out to brew either tomorrow or Thursday.

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.

First Belgian Brew of 2012

January 29, 2012

It’s been a very long time since I’ve brewed a Belgian beer, which is weird considering how much I love all of those styles. As my second brew of 2012, I decided to make a batch of Belgian pale ale to replace the keg of rye pale ale that’s about to kick. As opposed to the hoppy Belgian pale ale we make at work, I wanted to go for something more balanced and floral. The pile of noble hops in the freezer were perfect for this.

The grain bill for this batch focuses on giving the beer a little sweetness to balance the hops while providing a nice aromatic malt presence. I kept it simple, like usual:

  • 8.75 lb Pale malt
  • 1.50 lb Vienna malt
  • 0.75 lb Aromatic malt (17L)
  • 0.75 lb Cara Hell (10L)

A few months ago I thought I was going to use my chest freezer to make some lagers, so I stocked up on several ounces of different noble hops. It turned out that I filled up the freezer with kegs of various ales before I got around to it, so there were plenty of noble hops available for this batch.

At work we make a Belgian pale ale that’s pretty highly hopped with generous amounts of Styrian Goldings. I wanted a more balanced pale ale with a more spicy and floral aroma, so I used some Challenger for its clean bittering and a mix of Saphir and Tettnanger to get the aroma I wanted. Saphir is a descendent of Hallertauer Miltefruh and has a clean floral aroma. Tettnanger has a smooth spicy aroma.

  • 1.50 oz Challenger (60 minutes, 5.6% Alpha Acid)
  • 1.00 oz Saphir (10 minutes, 5.6% Alpha Acid)
  • 1.00 oz Tettnanger (End of Boil, 3.5% Alpha Acid)
  • 1.00 oz Saphier (End of Boil)

The mash was done with 3.5 gallons of water at 167F and came in at 150F. The pH was 5.33. I sparged with 6.5 gallons at ~175F and wound up with 8.2 gallons in the kettle. The one thing that had me worried for a few minutes was when I took a pre-boil gravity sample from the kettle. The gravity came out higher than would be physically possible with the grain I used in the mash. Of course that was due to me taking the sample from the bottom of the kettle without having mixed up the wort, so I was grabbing mostly the dense first runnings. I gave it a good stir to mix it all together and took another sample, which came in at 1.043 (just higher than I was aiming f0r). I wound up boiling down to 6.65 gallons and got an original gravity for the beer of 1.052.

The fermentor had 5 gallons in it right when the kettle ran dry, so the volume wound up being perfect. I like to leave about 1.5 gallons in the kettle to make sure most of the trub and hot/cold break material stays behind. It’s really helped increase the clarity of my beers. The extra volume means I have to use more hops, grain, and yeast, but it’s worth it (to me) to get beer that’s crystal clear.

The yeast for this batch was Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity, and was pitched at 70F. Also, the mineral additions to the bottled water I used for the mash were minimal because I wanted to keep the hops from being brought out too much. I added 4 grams of gypsum and 2 grams of calcium chloride, so a pretty soft water profile.

Brewday: Imperial IPA

January 22, 2012

We’re most of the way through January 2012 and, as of yesterday, I hadn’t brewed any beers at home yet. With the grains, hops, and yeast I had on hand, I decided I’d step my American yeast up a couple times in some starters to build the cell count and brew an Imperial IPA.

I like to keep my IPA and Imperial IPA grain bills simple to let the hops do most of the work. For an Imperial IPA, I’ll also add sugar to bump up the alcohol a bit without increasing the body. The malt bill I used for this one was:

  • 15.00 lb Pale malt
  • 2.50 lb Munich malt
  • 1.00 lb Turbinado sugar

There were a lot of options for hops, given how full my freezer is. For a strongly bitter beer, I like using a clean bittering hop and chose Nugget (13% Alpha Acid content) for this one. I wanted an assertive citrus flavor that wasn’t overly grapefruit-like, so I used some of my Amarillo for 15 minutes in the boil. The flavor addition wasn’t at 20-30 minutes because my boils are really strong on this stove, so that would just make the beer even more bitter without adding that much flavor.

While I was choosing and measuring out my hops, I had one small issue. I was going to use Columbus and Cascade as the combination for aroma hops to give the beer a classic American grapefruit and citrus aroma. When I pulled out the Columbus hops, they were looking kinda brown and weren’t very aromatic. These were the remnants of my hop orders from this time last year, so it’s about time that the final few ounces finally went stale. I tossed out those Columbus hops and opened up my brand new bag of Centennial in its place.

So, the final decision on hop schedule was:

  • 2.00 oz Nugget (60 minutes, 13% Alpha Acid content)
  • 2.00 oz Amarillo (15 minutes, 10.1% Alpha Acid content)
  • 2.00 oz Cascade (5 minutes, 5.5% Alpha Acid content)
  • 2.00 oz Centennial (5 minutes, 10.9% Alpha Acid content)
  • 2.00 oz Cascade (End of boil)
  • 2.00 oz Centennial (End of boil)
  • 2.00 oz Cascade (Dry hops)
  • 2.00 oz Centennial (Dry hops)

The mash was pretty typical, 1.25 quarts per pound. I heated 5.25 gallons to 165F and mashed in, having the temperature equalize at 149F. The low temp was to try and maximize my attenuation so the beer isn’t too sweet at the end.

During the mash I got to try out a new toy. My dad got me a pH meter for Christmas cause I had been talking about wanting to start tracking that piece of info. So I grabbed a sample after mashing in, cooled it to room temp, and took a reading. The pH was 5.47, which is comfortably in the optimal range (though that range varies depending on who you ask). What I really can’t wait for is taking a pH reading on my darker beers, cause the dark malts really drop that pH down quite a bit. I skipped my usual addition of chalk to the water to try and avoid keeping the pH too high, and it looks like it worked.

After finishing the mash, I sparged with 5.75 gallons of water at 180F. The sparge went pretty quick, but I wound up oversparging by about 0.4 gallons. I decided not to extend the boil, so I wound up with 6.78 gallons in the end, which turned out to be perfect. After transferring 5 gallons to the fermenter, the remaining wort, trub, and hops began clogging up the drain on the kettle, so it worked out great. 5 gallons in the fermenter and 1.78 gallons of trub in the kettle. The gravity came in at 1.080, which is what I wanted to make sure to hit, so it should easily break 8% ABV.

I’m looking forward to trying this, but now it’s time to start planning the next four beers to replace the four kegs I’m drinking from right now.