Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Belgian Strong Amber (12/19/12)

Aroma: Black pepper, clove, apple.

Taste: More clove, with notes of toasted bread and nuts in the finish.

Mouthfeel: Light in body, with lively carbonation. Very drinkable.

Overall impression: The Munich and Biscuit malts add a nice sweet maltiness to balance the classic Belgian yeast aromatics. I'm going to re-brew this beer soon. Next time I'll dial back the maltiness just a bit, lower the bitterness by ~5 IBUs to increase its crowd appeal, and add some aroma hops for complexity.

This beer is a variation of the Golden Bear, which I've brewed a couple of times before, both times being universally well-received. That beer was in the style of a Belgian golden strong ale: a pale, dry beer dominated by fruity (think apple, pear) and spicy (think black pepper) yeast flavors. I'm a big fan of the WLP570 yeast, which is from Duvel Moortgat. This time, I decided to give the beer a bit more color and malt flavor by adding some Munich and Biscuit malt.


OG: 1.071
FG: 1.006
ABV (Est): 8.5%
IBUs (Tinseth): 33

Yeast: WLP570 (Belgian golden ale)
Starter: 3 liters
Pitching temp: 66F
Max temp: 70F

Malts Mashed Amount % Max Pts.
Biscuit 0.5 4% 36.00
Munich 1.5 13% 36.00
2 Row 8 67% 36.00
Other Fermentables Amount % Max Pts.
Cane Sugar 2 17% 46.00
Hops/Additions Amount Time AA%
Saaz 3 60 3.0%

12/21/12: Added 2 lbs of sugar.

12/27/12: Gravity is 1.008.

1/1/12: Bottled at 1.006 to 2.9 volumes of CO2.

How I Store Hops

If you like to brew beers with a lot of hop aroma, hop storage is crucial. Keeping them in the freezer is good enough to slow down alpha acid loss to a crawl. (Alpha acids are the main bittering compounds in hops.) However, if you don't take measures to limit oxidation, your hops are going to lose a lot of their fresh aromatic compounds, and—God forbid—may pick up cheesy or catty aromas.

If you buy your hops by the ounce in sealed, nitrogen-flushed packages—as I did until recently—you're all set, as long as you don't try to store opened packages. But if you brew a lot of beer, buying hops by the ounce is a lot more expensive than buying by the pound. And if you buy by the pound, you need a way to store leftover hops.

There are two basic approaches to avoiding oxidation: removing the air, or replacing it with something else. To remove air, one would typically use a home vacuum sealer like a Foodsaver. Homebrewers, ever the penny-pinchers, have also used automotive brake bleeder pumps for the same purpose. However, neither of these methods can pull a very strong vacuum. For that, you'd need a chamber vacuum machine, which tend to cost thousands of dollars.

Instead, you can flush the hop container with an inert gas, like nitrogen, argon, or carbon dioxide. If you keg your beer, you already have plenty of CO2 sitting around. I don't keg, so I got myself a bottle of Bloxygen, which is pure argon. It's designed to preserve half-empty cans of wood finish, but has also become popular amongst wine drinkers for preserving opened bottles. It's $13 and should be good for about 150 uses.

After I open a new bag of hops, I put the leftovers into half-pint mason jars, open the lid just enough to slip the Bloxygen tube inside, and give it a one-second burst of argon. The argon, being heavier than air, will push the air out of the jar and protect the hops from oxidation. Then I seal the jar, throw it in the freezer, and call it a day. If you already have a vacuum sealer, you can also double up on protection and vac seal the jar after flushing.

Just be warned: once you start buying hops by the pound, you're going to need a lot of freezer space!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Not All Malts Are Created Equal

When you're a homebrewer without a grain mill, recipe formulation generally involves looking through lists of malts, whether on a spreadsheet or at the homebrew store, deciding how much of each malt you want in your beer, and then buying whatever your store has in stock. The fact that homebrew recipes and software refer to malts only by type—say, Munich, 2-row, or Crystal 60—can lead a homebrewer to believe that her work is done once she's decided the types and quantities of each malt she wants in her beer.

But brewing-grade malts—particularly the specialty malts that craft brewers prize—are not commodities. One maltster's Munich is not the same as every other maltster's. So if a brewer wants to make the best possible beer, she needs to select the best of all ingredients.

Since I bought a grain mill recently, I'm buying grains in bulk now. Before I commit to buying 10 pounds of any given specialty grain, I want to make sure that it's the best I can buy. So I bought a few pounds of specialty grains I use frequently—namely Munich, crystal, and chocolate malt—from a few different maltsters. I compared Dingemans (Belgian) Munich and Global (German) Munich, Simpsons (English) medium and dark crystal, Briess (American) crystal 80, Briess organic chocolate malt, and Simpsons chocolate malt. Here's what I found.

Simpsons crystal malt is far superior to Briess. I picked Briess's Crystal 80 to compare because in previous tastings it has been my favorite of Briess's crystal malts, but Simpsons medium crystal blows it away. The medium crystal has a rich toffee-like sweetness, and lacks the coarse grainy flavor of the Briess. (Briess apparently uses 6-row barley for most of their specialty malts.) The Simpsons dark crystal was also good, but more raisiny than I like. That's just a problem I have with dark crystal malts in general—I'm sure the dark crystal would make a brilliant dubbel or old ale if that's your bag.

On the other hand, there wasn't a clear winner between the Belgian and German Munich malts. The Belgian Munich had a really nice light, honey-like maltiness, while the German Munich was richer, breadier, and more savory (in a good way). I think the Belgian Munich would work really well as an accent to an IPA or pale Belgian ale, while the German Munich would be great in a more malt-focused beer.

Since I don't much like chewing on dark-roasted grains, I made a tea out of the chocolate malts to compare them. Simpsons chocolate malt was significantly darker than the Briess, but the flavors of the two were very close. If pressed, I'd give the edge to Briess, which had a slightly rounder, sweeter flavor, but I'd be happy using either one in a dark ale. I also like the fact that the Briess is lighter, since it (presumably) means that I can make a brown ale that has a good amount of roast flavor without being black.

I think that choosing my malts more carefully is going to make a big difference in the quality of my beer. We'll see how it works out in my next batch, a smoked brown ale with rye.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

IPA Yeast Trial #1 (3/8/13)

Since I'm going to be brewing a lot of IPAs, I thought it would be worth taking the time to run some split-batch trials to decide what yeast I like best for this style. For the first trial, I'm matching up the ever-popular US05 (a dry California ale yeast) with White Labs WLP007 (Dry English Ale). US05 is very neutral, while WLP007 should produce some characteristic fruity esters and fusel alcohols. We'll see whether these yeast flavors complement or detract from the hop character. The two yeasts should reach about the same level of attenuation.

This IPA is designed to be a classic grapefruit-pine hop bomb. Centennial, Amarillo, and Chinook are all hops I'm quite fond of, and I hope the combination will live up to my expectations. I'm incorporating the results of my hop stand experiment by adding a bunch of hops at 175F for 30 minutes, but I'm really focusing my hop charge on the dry hop. This will be my first time doing a double dry hop (5 oz dry hops in total). The malt character of this beer should be quite subdued, despite its 8% ABV. Besides 2-row, there's just a bit of flaked barley for body and a pound of cane sugar (added after 48 hours) to dry it out.

I got some information on my tap water and was able to do more extensive water building for this beer. The water profile is as follows:

Calcium: 84ppm
Magnesium: 0.6ppm
Sodium: 4.0ppm
Chloride: 53ppm
Sulfate: 138ppm


ABV: 8%
OG: 1.066
FG: 1.006/1.007
IBUs (Tinseth): 80

Mash temp: 149F
Mash time: 90 minutes
Efficiency: 71%

Yeast: US05 (4.75 grams) & WLP007 (1 vial)
Pitching temp: 65F
Max temp: 71F

Malts Mashed Amount % Max Pts.
2 Row 10 83% 36.00
Barley (flaked) 1 8% 32.00
Other Fermentables Amount % Max Pts.
Cane Sugar 1 8% 46.00
Hops/Additions Amount Time AA%
Magnum 1 60 14.7%
Chinook 0.25 60 11.1%
Chinook 0.5 30 11.1%
Centennial 1 Hop stand 8.7%
Amarillo 1 Hop stand 9.3%
Chinook 0.25 Hop stand 11.1%

3/10/13: Added sugar
3/12/13: Added 1 oz Centennial, Amarillo
3/15/13: Added 1 oz Centennial, Amarillo, Chinook

Bottled 3/19/13:
#5 = WLP007
#6 = US05

US05 at 1.006; WLP007 at 1.007. WLP007 is noticeably maltier and more full-bodied. Next time I won't add any sugar, since I've been getting crazy levels of attenuation.

The IPAs were also affected by the cap fiasco and had to be re-capped (4/5/13).

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Hop Stand Experiment (3/5/13)

Over the past decade or so, brewers have tried to find more and more places in the brewing process to add hops. The latest innovation has been adding hops to the whirlpool. A whirlpool is a container that collects sediment in the center of a circulating vortex, allowing the brewer to remove much of the hop debris and malt proteins from her wort.

The wort is at about 200F during in the whirlpool, which typically lasts 30-90 minutes. Since commercial breweries brew on such a large scale, there is not much temperature loss over that time. Adding hops at temperatures just below boiling allows the hot wort to extract different compounds than adding dry hops (which are added to the beer when it's at room temperature). Since the wort isn't boiling in the whirlpool, there is less loss of hop aroma with whirlpool hopping compared to kettle hopping.

Few homebrewers have the equipment to perform a true whirlpool, but we can emulate the effects of whirlpool hopping by doing a hop stand. To perform a hop stand, the brewer completes her boil, then adds hops and maintains the temperature of the wort for a certain length of time—say, 30 minutes. Like whirlpool hopping, a hop stand allows the hops to steep in hot—but not boiling—wort.

Homebrewers with immersion chillers have a lot more flexibility than commercial brewers, since we can chill their beer at any point in the process. Therefore, we don't have to perform a hop stand at 200F, like a commercial whirlpool. A number of homebrewers have experimented with cooler temperatures—i.e., under 180F—and have reported good results. The idea behind this variation is that lower temperatures will volatilize less of the aromatic hop oils. On the other hand, lower temperatures will also extract these hop oils less efficiently.

I decided to test the effects of different temperature hop stands by brewing a split batch of pale ale. Half the wort was subjected to a 200F (+/- 5F) hop stand for 30 minutes, mimicking a commercial whirlpool, while the other half received a 175F (+/- 5F) hop stand for 30 minutes. The hop stand was the only hop addition, with 3 oz in each (2.5 gallon) half. In addition to testing the effect of temperature on hop aroma, this experiment will also test the effect of temperature on alpha acid isomerization (i.e., production of hop bitterness), since I will be judging the difference in perceived bitterness between the two beers.

The beer itself is a fairly standard American amber ale, besides the massive hop stand. Mostly 2 row, with some Munich for malty goodness, Crystal 75 for caramel sweetness, and some flaked barley for body and head retention. The hops themselves are two of my favorites: Amarillo and Chinook. I've never used them as the only two hops in a beer before, but it is somewhat similar to the classic Amarillo/Simcoe combination that is used to great effect in beers like Alpine Duet and Ballast Point Sculpin. The sharp grapefruit/pine of Chinook enhances and balances the softer fruity/floral aroma of


Both beers were among the best I've ever brewed. As expected, the 200 degree hopstand produced a more bitter beer. When fresh, the 200 degree half was at a similar bitterness level as, say, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. The 175 degree half was noticeably less bitter, and has been well received by both hopheads and those who don't normally drink hoppy beers. The 175 degree half also had stronger aromatics. As the beers aged, bitterness and hop aromatics both faded, and it became more difficult to tell the two apart.

As a result of this experiment, I now incorporate a big 175 degree hopstand in all of my hoppy beers. For IPAs, I also add a bunch of hops during the boil, while for pale and amber ales I stick with the no-hops-in-the-boil technique that worked so well in these beers.

Tasting Notes

Aroma: Pineapple, pear, jasmine, pine.

Taste: Toasted bread, sweet malt, more pear, grapefruit. Dry, but with significant malt flavor.

Mouthfeel: Light-to-medium bodied, medium-high carbonation.


ABV: 5.8%
OG: 1.053
FG: 1.010
IBUs: ???

Strike temp: 162
Mash in: 152
Mash time: 90 minutes
Batch sparge: 168F
Efficiency: 65%

Yeast: US05 (half packet in each half)
Pitching temp: 65F
Max temp: 70F

Malts Mashed Amount % Max Pts.
2 row 8 71% 36.00
Munich 2 18% 36.00
Crystal 90 0.5 4% 34.00
Barley (flaked) 0.75 7% 32.00
Hops/Additions Amount Time AA%
Amarillo 4 Hop stand 9.0%
Chinook 2 Hop stand 11.0%

This was my first time using water adjustments. The mash pH was a little high, so I added some lactic acid—unfortunately a bit too much! (My water has very low alkalinity and hence doesn't have much buffering power.) So I added 1.5 grams of chalk to balance it out, and ended up with a pH of 5.3. (Ideal mash pH is 5.3 - 5.5.)

3/8/13: The 175 beer is down to 1.010, while the the 200 beer is still at 1.014. Either the extra IBUs are having a minor inhibitive effect on the yeast, or the fact that the yeast for the 200 beer sat in the rehydration water for an extra 30 minutes slowed it down. At this point, the 175 beer is more aromatic and much less bitter (maybe 25 IBUs, versus 40 IBUs for the 200 beer). If I brewed this again, I'd roll the Munich back to 10%.

3/12/13: The 175 beer is at 1.008, and the 200 beer is at 1.009. Both taste great, but the 175 beer still has better aroma and less bitterness.

Bottled 3/16/13:
#3 = 200
#4 = 175

4/2/13: Minor disaster. Accidentally bottled with fake bottle caps (no seal). Bottle primed and re-capped.

Berliner Weisse Mark II, or You Call That a Session Ale? (3/2/13)

One of the main appeals of the Berliner Weisse is that it's a sour beer you can make in a reasonable amount of time. My last batch of Berliner Weisse is, as of yet, barely tart. It may continue to sour in the bottle, but it has already been fermenting for three months, and that's a longer time-frame than I'm looking for. So for this batch I decided to try a different souring technique.

This time, instead of adding lactic acid bacteria to the fermenter with the yeast, I used a technique known as kettle souring. I mashed the grains normally and drained them into my kettle. But instead of boiling the wort, I just raised the temperature to 180F for 5 minutes to pasteurize it, then cooled it to 100F. At this point I added the lactic acid bacteria (a vial of lactobacillus delbruckii from White Labs), and kept the temperature at ~95F with a immersion heater/temperature controller setup I put together specifically for this purpose. Because the bacteria are at their optimal growth temperature (85–105F) and don't have to deal with the toxic effects of alcohol and hops, very rapid souring takes place.

Kettle souring has several advantages over sour mashing. First, you can effectively pasteurize the wort without worrying about overextracting your grains. Second, you can apply heat directly to your kettle to maintain optimal growth temperature without worrying about scorching your grains. Third, you can be fairly sure what the composition of your wort is going to be, since you're doing a normal mash.

After 48 hours, the wort had developed a noticeable sourness. I let it go for another 24 hours, then performed a normal boil. I chose to do a 90 minute boil because I used pilsner malt and I hate hate hate DMS (the cooked corn aroma often found in pale lagers). Since I soured the beer before adding hops, I was able to use a slightly higher level of IBUs (though still quite low), which should give the beer a bit more structure. After souring, the wort had developed a significant krausen, which made the boil more interesting than usual. Before the boil the krausen collapsed a bit, but there were still lots of tan bacteria bits. I skimmed off the bacteria bits, but the foam kept on coming, until I added the hops.

Batch size: 5 gallons
ABV: 2%
OG: 1.025 (after souring)
FG: 1.010
IBUs (Tinseth): 12

Strike temp: 157
Mash in: 148
Mash time: 60 minutes

Yeast: US05
Pitching temp: 65F

Malts Mashed Amount % Max Pts.
Pilsner 4 62% 36.00
White Wheat 2.5 38% 40.00
Hops/Additions Amount Time AA%
Spalt 0.75 60 4.0%.

3/9/13: Gravity is at 1.010. Nice tartness, but lacking aroma. I added the dregs of a bottle from my last batch to bring some Brett into the mix.

4/5/13: Added 10 pounds of frozen blackberries from Whole Foods.

4/7/13: Gravity is 1.012. Beer is bright pink and beautiful. Pink foam is pretty great.

Bottled 4/27/13: #9

Final thoughts: 1. Next time I'll use a different strain of Brett. Brux is just too funky for this beer. 2. Blackberries are great for color, but I think I prefer the flavor of raspberries in beer. 3. I don't like the malt character of a classic Berliner weisse. Though I'll continue brewing quick sours, I won't pursue the Berliner weisse style any further (for now).