Thursday, April 10, 2014

Methods to My Madness (Part 1)

One of the things I enjoy most about the homebrewing hobby is that there are so many different paths to getting tasty beer. Once you understand the basic brewing process, it's really easy to tweak your process to get the results you're looking for within your own particular set of constraints.

I brew indoors on my stovetop in a 5-gallon kettle. According to conventional homebrewing wisdom, this would seem to relegate me to partial-boil extract brewing land. Almost everything in homebrewing seems to be geared toward producing 5-gallon batches. And all-grain brewing requires a full-volume boil, so you can't brew 5 gallons unless you can comfortably bring 6 or 7 gallons (or more) to a boil.

Personally, I drink about 5-6 beers a week, or roughly a case a month. I also like to brew at least once or twice a month. The obvious solution is to brew smaller batches. Brewing 3-gallon batches solves pretty much all my problems. I can manage full-volume boils, which allows me to brew all-grain. I also net about a case at a time, which is perfect for me. If I brew 2 batches a month I get some extra to share, and every 3rd or 4th batch is a big beer to age in the cellar.

Once you break out of the mindset of "1 batch = 5 gallons", then a lot of doors become open. You can brew batches of any size, allowing you to test new ingredients and recipes at a smaller scale. You can also make the move to all-grain brewing while staying within the confines of a small kitchen. The one downfall is that the vast majority of kits are designed for a 5-gallon batch. So, for smaller batches you will need to be working off a recipe rather than a kit, and you'll need to be able to scale it to your particular batch size.

I realize that it may seem a bit daunting to work from a recipe rather than purchasing a pre-built kit, especially if you need to make modifications to the recipe. But it's really quite simple, especially if you're using brewing software that supports scaling recipes. I use Brewer's Friend, but most of the brewing calculators have some function that will allow you to scale a recipe up or down simply.

One thing to keep in mind when scaling a recipe is that everything will change in equal proportions except for one thing - your boiloff rate. You will end up boiling off the same amount of liquid (or a little more) for a smaller batch than you would for a larger one. For example, if you boil off 1 gallon in an hour, you will start with 6 gallons for a 5-gallon batch, and you will start with 4 gallons for a 3-gallon batch. Why do I mention that? Because, depending on how much you scale the recipe down, it could have an impact on your IBU's. The gravity of your boil affects hop utilization. Since a smaller batch starts at a lower gravity than a larger one (i.e., it is more dilute), you may find that your scaled recipe has more IBU's than the original recipe. In most cases the difference will be negligible, but in hoppier beers it may be enough where you might want to decrease your bittering addition a bit.

My specific process is a sort of a hybrid BIAB (Brew-In-A-Bag) process. I wanted to avoid the need to monitor and adjust the temperature during the mash, so I could just walk away once I mashed-in and return at the end of the mash. My solution is to mash in a 5-gallon beverage cooler that I have lined with my BIAB bag. When the mash is done, I pull the bag and run off into my kettle. While this isn't as simple (or as cheap) as the usual 1-vessel BIAB setup, having a separate mash tun is worth my while.

In part two I will go into a bit more specifics. I will also walk you through a typical all-grain brewday so that those of you who want to follow along at home can get the feel of things.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Yep, too much hops.

Here's another update from tonight's Belma IPA. I mentioned that the hot wort was the consistency of peanut butter. Well, things only went downhill as it cooled. The picture below is of the chilled wort. No, that's not a typo. This lump of green modeling clay is actually the wort in the kettle post-chilling.

I was rather surprised at how much liquid I was able to extract from this. The whole mass got dumped into my BIAB bag in a small bucket. I then wrung and squeezed the bejeezus out of the bag, and kept pouring the collected drippin's into a 1-gallon jug. I ended up with over 1/3 gallon of liquid (starting from 0.8 gallons preboil volume). We'll see what happens next...

Too much hops?

Update from my Belma IPA experiment. One pound of pellets in 3/4 gallon of wort. Try as I might, there's no way I'm going to get a whirlpool going in this. The consistency is like peanut butter. Wish me luck getting this into the fermenter.

How much Belma does it take...

Belma is one of those hop varieties that really confirms for myself that the single-hopped test beers I have been brewing are well worth the time and effort involved. The descriptors you see online list orange, grapefruit, pineapple and strawberry (among other things) as being part of the aroma profile for Belma. If you just read those descriptions, you may end up thinking that this would be a great hop to use in an IPA. In particular, you don't find "strawberry" as a description for many hops. This would definitely be a unique note to impart to a beer via hopping.

Alas, my own experience just doesn't find this to be the case. I really found Belma to be a mild hop, without the big, fruity punch that one might expect given the description. In talking with others on some of the homebrew forums, it seems that I'm not the only one who has been a bit underwhelmed by the hop character of Belma.

Since I have just under a pound sitting in my freezer, the question becomes: "What the heck do I do with all of this Belma?". I suppose I could use it for bittering, but I have other hops that I prefer for bittering depending on the style of beer. Instead of letting them sit in my freezer forever, or just throwing them away to free up space, the time has come for a bit of experimentation.

The experiment: Is it possible to take a relatively mild hop and attain IPA-worthy hop character by using a very large amount? You night ask what constitutes a "very large amount". Well, ladies and gentlemen, I don't screw around when it comes to hops. I'm going to brew about 3/4 of a gallon of IPA and use however much Belma I have left (a bit under a pound) in it. I'm going to reserve an ounce and a half for dry hops (so somewhere in the 2oz/gallon rate for dry hops), and the rest is going in for a 1-hour hop stand. This adds up to over a pound per gallon for a total hopping rate.

My thought process is this. Different hop strains contain different concentrations of hop oils, which is where the flavor and aroma comes from. If Belma does contain the oil profile to give the citrus/melon/strawberry/etc notes that have been reported, but at a low concentration, then you could reasonably conclude that more hops will give you more oils, and at some point you will get enough into your beer to get the flavor/aroma profile you're after. Of course, hops contain a lot more than just oils. There may be a point of diminishing returns, where you start to get a significant amount of off-flavors (grassy, woody, vegetal, etc.) due to the volume of hops needed to get the oil content you want.

Once the beer is ready, I'll mainly be concerned with two things. The first is the flavors coming from the hop oils that I'm looking for. The second is whether there are any off flavors coming from the sheer volume of hop material required to get these flavors. If I get a desirable hop character, but start getting off flavors, then further experimentation may be warranted to see if you can "dial in" a hopping rate to get the hop character while minimizing off flavors. Brewday should be tonight. Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Giant Freaking Barleywine - Brewday

I thought I'd give a little update in the Barleywine from my last post. The brewday itself was one of those stories you hear about on the "Brewing Disasters" shows on the homebrew podcasts (and I may send this one in if I find the time to write up the gory details). But the results were just about what I had hoped for, so it seems like it may end up being worth the frustration.

I missed low on the temp for my initial mash (156F instead of 160F), so I held it a bit longer to be sure I got the most alpha amylase activity out of it. I pulled the first grain bag after 60 minutes, and squeezed out as much as I could from the bag. I was left with about 3.8 gallons of wort in my cooler at 152F, at a gravity of 1.063.

I added my second grain bag and the second 8 lbs of Maris Otter. This brought the temp down to 140F. I let it sit for about 15 minutes, then added back 1 quart of boiling water to bring my final rest temp to 145F. I held this temp for an hour. I ended up with a preboil gravity of 1.113. After a 90-minute boil I got about 2.8 gallons of 1.142 wort into my fermenter. I'm pretty happy with this number. Any higher and I'd be concerned whether it would ferment down as low as I wanted it. But if it was much lower, then I could have easily hit that OG with a more standard single-mash using an extended boil.

Right now we're 8 days into fermentation. The Yorkshire Square yeast is still chugging away. I have it at about 56F right now, and will hold it there until fermentation starts to slow. I have some extra yeast tucked away from an earlier batch in case I need a "rescue" starter, but I think I'm going to hold off until I can get a gravity reading.

Speaking of gravity readings - the WLP037 is one crazy yeast. It is super flocculant - way more than even WLP002/WY1968. I literally could not get a gravity sample from my thief today because the wort was so chunky.

More details to come...

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Giant Freaking Barley Wine

I keep starting to write up some posts that go into the specifics of my all-grain setup and procedures, but haven't found the time to finish them up and get them on the blog. I've gotten quite a few questions on this, so I do plan to get into the full, gory detail at some point in the near future. For the time being, let me sum it up simply. I brew 3-gallon batches using a 2-vessel system (kettle and 5-gallon cylindrical cooler), with no sparge. Essentially, I do brew-in-a-bag, but using a separate cooler for a mash tun to help hold my temps so I don't have to police the mash.

So, how does this tie into the big tease of a post title? I am going to be brewing a big barleywine that will essentially max out my mash tun capacity twice. My particular setup is very well suited to performing this kind of iterated mash. Instead of using a false bottom or bazooka screen, I simply line my cooler with a BIAB bag. This will let me pull out my grains after the initial mash, then add a fresh batch of grain back to the mash water for a second mash using the wort from the first mash as my liquor.

The goal here is two-fold. The primary goal is to achieve a pre-boil gravity that is well beyond what I could possibly produce on my system from a single mash. The second goal is to maximize fermentability by being able to perform a true reverse-step mash. So what the heck does that mean?

First, here's a quick refresher on enzymes in the mash. I'll try to keep this at "for Dummies" level. Most all-grain brewers are at least a little familiar with alpha and beta amylase. Beta amylase is most active at lower mash temperatures (140-150F), and tends to produce more simple sugars, which in turn leads to increased fermentability. Alpha amylase is most active at higher mash temperatures (162-167F), and tends to produce more dextrins, which leads to a less fermentable wort.

But here's where it gets interesting. The action of alpha amylase produces more food for beta amylase to do its thing. Even more interesting is an enzyme that we don't really target in a typical mash: limit dextrinase. Limit dextrinase is able to break down the dextrins that are left over after alpha and beta amylase have done their thing. The problem is that it is active at temperatures lower than even beta amylase (133-140F), and it is gone before alpha amylase even gets started.

In a typical mash, once you raise the temp above the point where an enzyme gets denatured, you essentially lose that enzyme from that point on. In a single mash, once you raise the mash temp to alpha-amylase's optimum range, you start to lose beta-amylase activity, and limit-dextrinase is already long gone. You can't begin a traditional mash with a high-temp alpha rest, then drop the temp to beta rest range, then drop it again to limit dextrinase range. The enzymes have already been denatured at the initial high mash temp.

If only there was a way to bring back beta amylase and limit dextrinase after your high mash rest. But wait - there is! Just add more malt. And we finally get back to what I'm trying to do here. Basically, I'm going to do a high temperature mash with 8 pounds of grain in my mash tun. Then I'm going to pull my grain out, and add another 8 pounds back in. This second mash will be held at a low enough temperature where both beta amylase and limit dextrinase will be active. Hopefully, I'll end up with a super-fermentable wort that will enable me to brew a giant beer that can still ferment down to a reasonable FG.

So without further ado - here's the recipe. I have no clue what my efficiency is going to be, so this is calculated on 60%. But I typically hit 80% or so, even on beers this big. If so, this is going to be a really big beer.

Title: Giant Freaking Barley Wine

Brew Method: BIAB
Style Name: English Barleywine
Boil Time: 90 min
Batch Size: 3 gallons (fermentor volume)
Boil Size: 3.7 gallons
Boil Gravity: 1.099
Efficiency: 60% (brew house)

Original Gravity: 1.122
Final Gravity: 1.024
ABV (standard): 12.77%
IBU (tinseth): 68.83
SRM (morey): 11.65

8 lb - United Kingdom - Maris Otter Pale (50%)
8 lb - United Kingdom - Maris Otter Pale (50%)

1 oz - Magnum, Type: Pellet, AA: 15.4, Use: Boil for 60 min, IBU: 63.04
1 oz - East Kent Goldings, Type: Pellet, AA: 7.1, Use: Boil for 5 min, IBU: 5.79

1) Infusion, Temp: 160 F, Time: 45 min, Amount: 16 qt, Mash #1
2) Infusion, Temp: 145 F, Time: 90 min, Amount: 14 qt, Mash #2

White Labs - Yorkshire Square Ale Yeast WLP037

Profile Name:
Ca2: 85
Mg2: 25
Na: 11
Cl: 78
SO4: 150
HCO3: 0
Water Notes:
2 g Gypsum
4 g Epsom Salt
2.5 g CaCl2
2 mL Lactic Acid
(All added to initial mash water)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Not all IBU's are created equal

In recent times there has been a lot of talk about the "quality" of bitterness. The oldest bit of brewing lore to this effect is the claim that hop varieties that contain higher cohumulone give a harsher bitterness to the finished beer. The flip side is that other hop varieties may give a "softer", "smoother" or "neutral" bitterness. More recently, the proponents of first-wort hopping (FWH) claim that it provides a smoother bitterness than a traditional 60-minute addition. (Count me in this group, by the way) The same claim has been made regarding whirlpool or hop-stand additions (well, I know that I claim this at least).

Just to be clear, the claim here isn't that there is a difference in utilization or IBU's using these methods. The claim is that for a given number of IBU's, certain hopping schemes will provide a harsher or smoother bitterness. For example, a 60-minute boil addition of Chinook is (supposedly) going to give a harsher bitterness than something like a FWH of Liberty, even if they measure the exact same IBU's.

So this begs the question - what the hell does this mean, and how do you quantify it? Is 20 IBU's of Chinook at 60 min the same as 40 IBU's of Liberty as FWH? 30 IBU's? 50 IBU's? Or is it something else completely? Do we need one measure of IBU's and a separate measure of harshness?

Some brewers calculate the IBU's from a FWH addition as the equivalent of a 20-minute addition. Others calculate it as 70-80 minutes. The first way tries to account for the "smoothness/harshness" effect on the quality of bitterness, but doesn't factor in the additional utilization from the longer time the hops are in contact with hot wort. The second approach probably approximates the actual measured IBU's better, but doesn't factor in that this bittering may seem smoother. Is one way better than the other? I used to be firmly in the 20-minute addition camp. Now I'm on the fence and leaning towards the 70-80 minute camp, but with a caveat.

I have recently started to gravitate to the idea that IBUs and "Bittering Quality" are not only two completely separate descriptors, but also that they need to be considered separately. I think that attempts to approximate the affect on the smoothness or harshness of a hopping regimen by adjusting IBU's are missing a big part of the picture. Dialing in a hoppy brew really requires understanding what each addition is doing.

Let me share an example before I open the floor for discussion. Last year I brewed an IPA using nothing but flameout hops with a 90-minute hop stand, and some dry hops. I used an insane amount of hops (11 oz in my hop stand and 6 oz of dry hops for a 3-gallon batch). I sent the beer out for lab analysis, and it measured at 98 IBU's. But, to my palate, it tasted like about 60 IBU's, with a pretty smooth bitterness (similar to what I'd get from FWH). It tasted like an amped-up APA more than an enamel-stripping IPA. But the first time I drank it with food, something bizarre happened. I could instantly taste all 98 of those IBU's and my palate was completely blown out for dinner (which was a shame - it was a real nice ribeye). This really cemented the whole "IBU's vs harshness" idea for me. The beer somehow managed to hide its bitterness until I forced its hand with food.

So, what do we do about this dichotomy of bitterness? Damned if I knew. But now that my eyes are opened to this, I'll be paying close attention.