Nov 8, 2012

Quick tasting notes: Playoffs IPA 2.0, Export Stout 2.0 & Camp de Brains Saison

After another lull there's now heaps of stuff happening in my brewing world and I've got a bit of a backlog of posts to catch up on. First, the trip to Bruny Island. It was awesome as always. Relaxing, fun times catching up with mates and plenty of food and drink. The beers went down well and it was nice to be able to execute my plan and take 3 decent if not perfect beers to share.

Quick tasting notes:

The Playoffs IPA 2.0 was a bit disappointing. Not bitter enough and much darker than it should have been thanks to a shortage of light crystal malt at my local home brew shop. I also way overdid the flavour hops and they completely obscured the rye and other malt flavours. It wasn't awful to drink but it was a long way from what I wanted.

The Road Trip Export Stout was another re-brew. This time the changes I made really benefitted the beer. It was much more dry than the first one but still had heaps of body thanks to the flaked rye I used. Big and bold.

Camp de Brains Saison probably the crowd favourite. It turned out really nicely I think. It had a pleasant, soft malt flavour from the pils, wheat and rye malts to go with a smooth bitterness. A sweet malt aroma merged with something like strawberry and a little hop aroma. I'd like to try it again fermented at a higher temperature to give it a little more yeast character.

The beer was nice, the view didn't hurt either

Nov 4, 2012

First infection

This happened about a month ago but I thought I'd chuck the photo up. Just as well it was only in a starter. Also just as well that I was lazy enough to leave the starter long enough to show signs of infection. It smelled really wrong.

Sad times
I suspect the cause was that I wasn't careful enough about sanitising the stir bar. Next time I will nuke it. There's nothing like an infection to spark a bit of sanitising paranoia.

Oct 10, 2012

2012 Tas Microbrew Fest

This snuck up on me. I don't think it's been promoted very widely. Still, I can't wait. I've loved the Morrisons I've had so far and I'm hoping the Seven Sheds IPA makes the trip down, I've heard good things about it.

Sep 20, 2012

Grain mill upgrade

I got a mill for crushing barley nearly a year ago. Before that I was crushing grain for my extract brews (and one partial mash) with a bottle or rolling pin on a baking tray, not a fun way to start an afternoon's brewing. It's not the best one you can get but then it wasn't the most expensive either. It works fine but the hopper was pretty small and flimsy and it was only mounted on a narrow bit of ply.

I lent it to my brother the other day and now it looks like this:

What can I say? Simon has skills
The new hopper holds around 6kg of grain and sits nicely on a 20L bucket. It's more stable and easier to use. A win all round.

Some people get into brewing and love all the planning and building and really enjoy getting everything together. That's not me at all. I sometimes wish it was but all I really want to do is brew. It's awesome having Simon around to make this kind of stuff happen.

Sep 18, 2012

Tasting: American Brown Ale

It's well and truly gone now but I found these tasting notes from a while back (20/7/12) and thought I'd chuck them up here so I have a record of it.

Aroma: It has a gentle hop aroma. Passionfruit, citrus, pineapple are the main players. There's also some sweet caramel and coffee in the background.

Appearance: It pours clear and a medium brown colour. A sticky, tight and long lasting head. I don't think of Brown Ales as the most pretty beers but as far as they go this one isn't bad.

Flavour: A mild hop flavour, again passionfruit and citrus are the main characters I can detect. The hop flavour merges nicely with the residual sweetness. Coffee/roast flavours from the chocolate malt comes out to play and there's a firm bitterness that lingers on the palate as the flavours clear. The flavours all play really nicely together and make this beer work well.

Mouthfeel: Creamy, medium carbonation, plenty of body and a light background sweetness. It works nicely with the flavour.

Overall: The aim with this beer was to make something accessible and drinkable. It worked! I found myself running out of it pretty quickly. It was an extract beer but certainly didn't suffer for that. The body along with the roasty flavours makes it a really nice wintery beer but still has the hop notes that hold out the promise of Spring. I can't think of anything I'd change and I'd happily brew it again if I was after an easy drinking Brown Ale again. 

Sep 13, 2012

DIY wort chiller

My bro and I made ourselves wort chillers a couple of months ago:

9m of 1/2in copper tube shaped around the end of a bucket.

Finished wort chiller. I neatened up the ends a bit afterwards.
It was really easy to do. I think in the end it might have taken a lazy 20 minutes to make both of them. We also found that you can just jam on a bit of garden hose without mucking around with hose clamps or tap fittings. It's not the prettiest but it works really nicely. 23L of 100'C wort chills to 25'C in about 20 minutes.

Sep 11, 2012

Reflections on a dry month

My ongoing health issues have forced us to rethink our diet and over the last month we've been doing a particularly restrictive diet that's supposed to be helpful. As part of that month I had to forgo beer, it was painful. Now the month is up and I've happily fallen off the wagon. Here are some reflections on my dry month as I sip my brother's delicious Hefeweizen.

1. I really like beer. I know it's obvious but I really didn't realise how much I loved it until I had to avoid it. It's complex, varied, powerful and delicious. For at least part of the past 4 months or so I've had to take dairy, fructose, gluten and a few other bits and pieces out of my diet and generally I've been pretty much fine with that since it's meant more meat. Beer was by far the hardest thing to do without. I wanted malty and I wanted bitter and nothing else would do.

2. I like being able to go without for a while. When I worked as a barista I usually had 5-10 coffees a day but I usually didn't drink any coffee on the weekend. I liked not needing it. Same with beer. 

3. It's given me a greater appreciation for beer. This is related to the first two points. It's nice to have access to decent to fantastic beer at any time but I find that over time I begin to drink with less regard to what's going down my throat. I might be drinking something delicious but I don't appreciate it properly. After a month of abstinence I'm savouring every drop and enjoying the wafting aromas.

4. One of the things I really missed was the social beer. Whether it's home brew or not, it's always better when shared with friends. Sure you can drink coffee or tea with people but it's not the same.

5. Related to that, it's made me realise that I generally don't brew just for myself. I mean, I love it, it's heaps of fun to do and I obviously enjoy the results of my efforts but a brew isn't complete until it's being shared with friends.

6. A month with no drinking is a great way to build up the stocks again. My enforced winter brewing break left my cupboard pretty bare but as of today I have 4 batches bottled and in various stages of carbonation. 

7. It drove me to work on a bunch of recipes. I was dreaming of the kinds of beers I wanted to drink and trying to create recipes for those beers. If I brewed a beer a week and just used the recipes I've written so far it'd take me until December next year to brew them all. 

Sep 5, 2012

Brewday: Session Saison

Yesterday I brewed a saison, the final beer of three for an upcoming camp. I'm hoping that the low gravity and the high fermentation temperatures will get this baby done quickly so that it has time to carbonate in the bottles.

Now we wait. It hurts.
I'm a relative newcomer to saisons. The first one I had was at Fremont Brewing just over a year ago. It was memorable even among all the other great beers I had in the US. I loved the dry finish and the fruity and peppery characters that came with it. Since then I've also enjoyed the Sierra Nevada Ovila Saison and a number of others from the US, Belgium and Australia. They seem to be a beer geek favourite and I guess with good reason. It gives heaps of freedom to play with grist, mashing, hopping amounts and brett/funky bacteria.

With this one I was aiming for something pretty dry with a decent bitter bite to it. I started fermenting it at 23'C but will up that to 28 or 29'C over the next few days, I'm hoping the higher temperatures will help me get a bit more out of the WY3725 than I did last time. It'll weigh in somewhere between 4.5 and 5% ABV and should be perfect for those lovely Spring days we get in between the windy/wet ones.

The grist is pilsner malt (82%), rye malt (11%) and wheat malt (7%). Not shooting for anything spectacular with that, just light and hopefully with a little edge from the rye and wheat. I mashed at 65.5'C and was shooting for 1.043 but only got 1.040. So far for the 3 batches I've brewed in my urn I've hovered around the 70% efficiency mark, it's not exactly where I want it but at least it's relatively stable and I can build recipes around that. I haven't been doing a mashout in the urn yet and I reckon that'd help get my efficiency up a few points.

I added 26g of Aramis hops at the start of the boil, 30g Saaz @ 20 minutes and 30g Styrian Goldings at the end. It's far from a hop bomb but in a relatively little beer they should come across nicely.

Fermenter of saisony goodness
Camp de Brains Saison
OG: 1.043
FG (est): 1.005
IBU: 31
Batch size: 23L
Mash: 65.5'C for 60 minutes

Pilsner malt (82%)
Rye malt (11%)
Wheat malt (7%)

26g Aramis (8.2%aa) @ 60 min
30g Saaz (2.9%aa) @ 20 min
30g Styrian Goldings (5.4%aa) @ 0 min

Yeast: Wyeast 3725

I also bottled the IPA on Monday. I'd dry hopped it for 4 days with 40g each of Columbus, Amarillo and Simcoe and bottling it was a pleasure. The aromas were incredible. Tropical fruit punch, strawberry, coconut and lime. I'm really happy with it and can't wait to see how it drinks.

Aug 26, 2012

Brewday: Playoffs IPA 2.0

It's great to be getting back into the rhythm of brewing. Even though I'm in the middle of a month off drinking alcohol, I'm enjoying producing it and the anticipation for tasting these brews is high. Yesterday I brewed up a slightly modified version of the Playoffs IPA I brewed back in April. I was really happy with how it turned out the first time and I'm excited to get this version into the bottles and drinking.

I bought 1kg bags of Simcoe and Columbus hops a while back so I went a little crazy with the hop additions. Along with a dose of Amarillo they are the stars of the beer. I also reduced the pale malt percentage a little and increased the rye and crystal malts slightly. The beer is fermenting away in the fridge at a happy 18'C and it's making the whole room smell like tropical fruit punch. I'm going to dry hop it in a day or two with 40g each of Simcoe, Columbus and Amarillo.

Big bag o' hops
This was my second go at using my urn and it went better than the first time but I still missed some of my targets. I ended up with more pre-boil liquid than I was aiming for and needed a longer boil to get the gravity near what I planned. Still, I now have 18l of a 1.060 IPA (I was aiming for 1.062) doing its thing in the fermenter so things aren't too bad. Hopefully over the next couple of batches I'll get it dialled in properly.

Now the plan is to build up a starter of my saison yeast (WY 3725) and have that ready to go as soon as the IPA is done. I can't wait to get that yeast cranking in a beer at 27 or 28'C now that I have a temperature controller and see what flavours it gives.

Aug 14, 2012

Export Stout 2.0

I like Stouts but they certainly aren't my favourite style. Somehow though I seem to end up brewing them more often than anything else. This one is a second attempt at the ANZAC Day Export Stout that I was pretty pleased with and comes with the added pleasure of being intended for a gathering with some friends I studied with.

Last time around the mash temperatures were a bit high, the efficiency was a bit lower than I expected and the yeast didn't attenuate as well as it should have due to cold temperatures. Together they made the beer lower alcohol that I intended (5.9% abv instead of 7%) and left it a bit sweeter and thicker bodied than I wanted. That said, it was freaking delicious so I was keen to give it another go with some tweaks.

This time I lowered the mash temps which should take care of the residual sweetness and help attenuation. There's rolled rye in the grist which should take care of the body. I also have a proper fermentation chamber and that should give the yeast a hand too. In addition to all this, I finally got the 40l urn I bought back in March up and running so I enlarged the recipe to brew a 20l batch. I was hoping that the size of the urn would help me get better efficiency and reach the 1.070 OG I was shooting for. It didn't work though, I only ended up with 1.062 so I'm going to have to do some more work to get efficiency up.

The Spaceship complete with camping mat insulation
The recipe is nearly the same as last time, just scaled up and with Northern Brewer used solely as the bittering hop. If the tweaks turn out well, this is going to be perfect for some good times catching up with mates I haven't seen for a while. That along with an IPA and a Saison if I have the time should make for a nice selection.

Aug 3, 2012

Brewday: Kimberly, a Brown Porter

Room has been made, a fridge has been picked up and beer has been brewed. Finally! I've been desperate to brew for a couple of months and there are like 15 recipes that need to be brewed this minute.

My Brown Porter, sadly there's only room for one at a time in the fridge
Because we live in a cruel world where I can't brew 15 beers at the same time I chose to brew a Brown Porter. It gave me the chance to use the brown and crystal malts I roasted a while back. I called it Kimberly because that's the name printed on the oven I used to roast the barley. Why name an oven Kimberly? Who knows but now it's been passed on to my beer.

It was such a joy to experience the small pleasures of the brewday again. To open the bags of grain and hops and inhale the roasted goodness. The brown malt has mellowed nicely, the crystal malt smelled like fruit toast, all raisins and sweetness and roasty malt. I've never used Victory malt before and cracking the bag unleashed cookie dough upon my senses. Fuggles is nothing new to me but man it was nice to smell those delicious hops.

I also got to use my stir-plate for the first time. It stirs.
The recipe: Maris otter, brown malt, crystal malt, victory malt and chocolate malt. Fuggles hops. WY1469 West Yorkshire Ale.

It's amazing how much of a relief it is to have the fridge set up. I hadn't realised before how much I was worrying about the fermentation when it was at ambient temperature. It's so easy with the fridge. I can be confident that the yeast is getting it's best possible shot and I'm free me to brew and brew and brew. Now I'm more or less properly set up. With the stir plate and fermentation fridge I can control temperatures and treat the yeast properly so there's no excuse for not producing good beer. My aim now is to brew a stack more and try out styles I haven't tried before as well as trying to master a few.

Up next: ANZAC Day Export Stout redux, a Saison and another American IPA.

Jun 24, 2012

And we're back!

I haven't been posting because brewing has slowed to a halt. It's so cold down here that even my heating pad can't keep the beer at proper temperatures so I'm just trying to get all the ones on the go fermented out and bottled. Also, I've been busy working on a couple of other projects that will eventually (hopefully) solve my fermentation temperature control issues.

Anyway, I needed to break radio silence to say that I just cracked the first of my Belgian IPAs. It's not quite what I was aiming for but man is it good! So pumped.

There are about 4 other tastings that I still need to write up and heaps of things I want to brew as soon as I can. More and more and more.

May 29, 2012

Beer braised beef short ribs

Cooking with beer is the beautiful intersection of my interest in brewing with Bron's interest in cooking. A recipe for pomegranate and beer braised beef ribs was a great starting point that led to deliciousness.

2 onions
2 stalks of celery
3 cloves of garlic
1 chili
2 carrots
330 ml of my Imperial Stout
A splash of red wine vinegar
A splash of apple cider vinegar
A tablespoon of glucose syrup
1 cup of home made chicken stock
6 beef short ribs

We browned the meat and then fried the onions, garlic, chili and celery. The carrot went in next and then a dash of the stock to de-glaze the pan. Then the rest of the stock, the beer, vinegar and glucose syrup went into the pot and the ribs went back in. The whole lot went into the oven for 3 hours at 180'C.

Didn't get a picture of the finished product, too busy eating
After the meat was falling off the bone, it came out, we sieved the remaining liquid and simmered to thicken.

Served with veggies and the sauce drizzled over the beef. Delicious.

May 27, 2012

Making things easier

I finally got some Star San and it's such an upgrade over the sanitisers I've used in the past. Effective in 30 seconds and no rinse. It's much easier to be fussy about sanitising with something like this. I wish I'd bought it ages ago. Wow, this reads like a commercial.

Here's a podcast with Charlie Talley from Five Star Chemicals where he talks about Star San and bleach, explaining how they work.

May 25, 2012

Brewday: Belgian IPA

Belgian IPA is one of those styles, kind of cool among some beer geeks but the feedback on most Belgian IPAs is mixed at best. Recently Little Creatures released another single batch beer, Quiet American. It's hopped with big, bold American hops and uses a Belgian yeast. I haven't managed to pick one up yet but from what I've read, the main criticism is that it's cloyingly sweet, with some also saying that the yeast doesn't play nicely with the hops.

The hops, minus the first wort addition

I've been keen to have a crack at this style for a little while now and the De Ranke XX Bitter was the beer to finally push me to give it a go. These are the factors that have guided my recipe design:
  • A dry finish. This suits both Belgians and IPAs although IPAs aren't usually quite as dry. For this beer I'm aiming at a FG of about 1.008
  • Bold use of hops but not crazy American 'C' hops. I got a packet of the newish Aramis and some Saaz too, aiming for a bitter, spicy, herbal, lemony hop combination. I want to achieve an IPA level hoppiness without forcing overwhelming flavours into it.
  • Because of the high attenuation, the IBUs don't need to be as high as a classic IPA to still have the same effect as an IPA. The balance value formula was very helpful in working out how far to go with bitterness. An OG of 1.057, FG of 1.008 and IBUs of 45 give this beer a pretty classic American IPA balance.
  • I made a starter with the dregs from a bottle of XX Bitter. I liked how the De Ranke yeast was mild but still Belgian. That little touch of clove complimented the whole beer but didn't dominate the way a Belgian yeast often wants to.
  • Pale colour, light body and fairly high alcohol content. I'm borrowing pretty heavily from the Belgian Blonde Ale style here. My OG is a little low for a Blonde Ale but the attenuation will boost the alcohol percentage.

This Belgian IPA is much more about Belgium than America

Brewing was pretty straight forward. I used a slightly simplified mash schedule, 55/64/78'C for 10/60/10 minutes. I added some acidulated malt to the mash to get the pH in the right range. I ended up getting better efficiency than I expected, it ended up at 1.060 so if it attenuates well it could end up around 7% abv. The Aramis hops smelled amazing when I opened the package. Lemongrass, fruity, delicious.

I chilled the starter in the fridge, then decanted most of the liquid, gave a good shake and then pitched the slurry into the fermenter. The taste of the starter had exactly the right character from the yeast. It's sitting at 20.5'C and had visible signs of fermentation in about 10 hours.

Hopefully I'll get my hands on a bottle of Quiet American and do a side by side comparison as examples of the style.

May 24, 2012

Seven Sheds - Kentish Ale

Aroma: Light hop aroma, smells like East Kent Goldings. There's also some yeast aroma. Later on there's a bit more earthy action going on.

Appearance: Slightly cloudy golden-orange, poured with a decent head that faded soon to a thin layer.

Flavour: Firm bitterness, light sweetness, pear isn't quite right but there's some kind of fruit I can't put my finger on. Earthy hop flavours. A little musty kind of flavour in the finish, but I can't tell if it's the yeast or hops. I suspect the yeast. Actually, on reflection, definitely the yeast. In any case, it diminishes as the beer nears room temperature. The malt takes the back seat a bit but there's some crystal type malt making its presence known.

Mouthfeel: It has a medium-light body with a drying, tart mouthfeel and medium carbonation. With the lingering bitterness it leaves a lovely aftertaste.

Overall: A really pleasant, drinkable beer. The kind of thing that I'd love to have on tap at my local. That funny, musty yeastiness is a bit of a barrier but over the course of the glass it becomes endearing.

May 23, 2012

Re-brewday: Accidental Imperial Stout

Of the beers I've brewed so far, Bron's favourite is the Accidental Imperial Stout. I brewed it about 11 1/2 months ago and we're down to about 8 bottles. She's been wanting me to brew it again so that the supply is maintained. Also, it's Winter and there's no better time to be drinking a Stout than in the depths of a Tasmanian Winter.

Really imperial

I've made a few changes that should make it ready to drink sooner and better:

Using the Mr Malty calculator, I've realised that I pitched only about 1/3 of the yeast I should have last time. This year, I've got plenty of yeast ready to go. This should help the fermentation to be quicker and cleaner which should mean that the beer is ready to drink much sooner than the first time when it was more than 6 months before it became a pleasant drink.

ALL the yeast

Temperature control is now in my grasp. Last year it fermented a bit cool which didn't do the poor, under-pitched yeast any favours. This year, sitting at around 20'C, it should be much happier.

I added some more hops and changed the variety from East Kent Golding to Northern Brewer. The main reason was just to give it better balance. The first version is thick and syrupy and doesn't have much bitterness. I'd like the hops to cut through that a bit with this version.

Yeast gone wild!

The recipe is big and ugly, with almost 3/4 of a kilo of roasted barley and chocolate malt together and 640g of crystal malts. On top of that there's 5kg of light dried malt extract. It is the blackness. There's also a bunch of Northern Brewer hops. I've chucked in about 22g of S-04 yeast and it's gone bezerk.

May 22, 2012

DIY roasting malts: crystal malt

I haven't managed to get hold of a coffee roaster for roasting malt yet but I thought I'd have a go at roasting some crystal malt in the oven and see how that turns out. As with last time, the info on Barleypopmaker was my guide.

I decided to use Maris Otter pale malt because I've got plans for a Best Bitter and I thought that the English MO crystal might give a nicer flavour than the ordinary crystal I use. The aim was for something reasonably dark, around the 300 EBC mark although I have no way of measuring that except by comparing it to commercial crystal malt.

I measured out 1kg of Maris Otter into a bucket and added enough filtered water to make sure the grain was totally covered. It soaked for around 4 hours.

I love the aroma of Maris Otter as it steeps
After that I mashed the grain at 65'C on the stove for an hour. This is the same as when brewing beer except that the grain isn't crushed. The enzymes are at work during this stage, converting the starches into sugar like they do in a normal mash and a fair bit of it remains trapped inside the grain. This is where crystal malt gets its sweetness from.

Into the pot
Next time a little less water so that more sugar stays in the grain
It took a bit of jiggling with the heat to keep it around 65'C

Then the grain goes into the oven at 120'C until it's dry. This part took ages for me and if I was doing it again I'd do a smaller batch so I could spread the grain out as much as possible to speed the drying up. I stirred it every now and then so that the grain dried out evenly. It tastes so sweet and soft at this stage.

Drying out took ages
Ready to go into the oven for roasting

Finally, the grain is roasted. The sugars are caramelised giving it that caramel/toffee flavour that crystal is all about. I roasted the grain at 180'C for 25 minutes at which point it was a nice, dark colour, I wouldn't have wanted to take it any darker.

The crystal malt just out of the oven

It tastes pretty good. It's quite dark and has a burnt toffee kind of flavour. There's roastiness up front and the sweetness follows on from that. There's also a deeper malt flavour to it than with the crystal malts I've used before.

Crystal and Maris Otter side by side

Overall, I'm glad I gave it a go but it did take me all day. It's the sort of thing that fits into a home day pretty well but would be a hassle to have to do very often. 1kg was really a bit ambitious with our crappy oven and that probably added a couple of hours to the whole process. Ultimately though, the finished product will determine whether this is worth doing again.

May 21, 2012


Lots of people use a fridge or chest freezer with a temperature controller to keep their beer fermenting at the right temperature. I would like to be one of those people too but I haven't been able to figure out how to fit one into our house.

However, since from May to September Tasmania is a natural fridge, all I really needed for now was a way of heating my fermenters to the right temperature, nature can take care of any cooling needs.

Temp controller at work as my 100% Brett Brown happily ferments
I managed to pick up a heating pad and a cheap but awesome temperature controller of a guy from the AHB forum, hooked it all up and now my beer is happy at around 19'C instead of the 14-15'C it would be at without heating. The temp probe is stuck to the side of the fermenter and insulated from the air with some wetsuit material.

Hopefully by September I'll be able to work something out with a chest freezer. Kids don't really need bedrooms, right? In the meantime, this is a big step up and should mean better beers.

May 20, 2012

Wild yeast update: we have pellicle

I stepped my wild yeast starter into a 2l erlenmeyer flask a while ago and since then it's grown a pellicle. A pellicle is a funky looking crust that develops on the surface of wild yeast fermentations as a defence against oxygen. I think it's a product of the bacteria pediococcus and the yeast brettanomyces. I've got a bit of juggling to do with fermenter availability but I'm hoping to brew my Tassie Wild Ale in a month or so.

The pellicle from above

May 18, 2012

Quiet pleasures: meditations on bottling home brew

I have 4 brews that need to be bottled either now or soon. I don't mind it but bottling is enough to put some people off home brewing altogether. These are some of my reflections on bottling that help keep it from becoming a burden.

1. It's much harder mentally to bottle a full 23l batch than a half batch. I would rather bottle 3 of my half sized batches than one of my full ones. The small batches give you a more manageable number of bottles to clean and sterilise, you're done before you hit the wall and it still feels like an achievement.

2. Bottling solo is a recipe for frustration. I love to get others involved when I'm brewing or bottling, whether it's Bron or some other friends. Good company makes most things bearable and if you get a good process going, you can easily have a batch bottled and ready to go in 20 minutes.

3. Bottle and brew on the same day. It keeps bottling connected with a more fun part of the process. There's also so much dead time when you brew that it's worth making the most of the time and bottle an earlier batch. I find it helpful to keep the flow going. If I don't have another brew going before I start drinking the previous batch, I'm likely to lose momentum and take longer to brew again.

4. Do something special with it. Make up a label, seal bottles with wax, use corks and cages or something like that. Perversely, making more work for yourself can actually make it easier to face if you add some fun and make it look really good.

5. Make it as easy for yourself as possible. You need to develop a process that suits your space and needs. My house doesn't have much space to accomodate my brewing activities and the bottling process can cover parts of the kitchen, bathroom and dining table. Bottling always goes best when I establish a good workflow and I've bought a good, no rinse steriliser to make my life easier.

6. Get yourself a taste of the rewards of bottling. Drink a home brewed beer while you're bottling. This is a good rule for any home brew related activity but it applies particularly to the burdensome tasks. Since there's a lag between bottling and tasting, tasting a previously bottled batch can give you the inspiration you need to get this lot into bottles.

7. A small amount of up front effort saves you down the track. Make sure you rinse and clean your bottles when you drink the beer. It makes the cleaning/sterilising step of bottling much less painful. If people give me bottles that have mould growing in the bottom, they get chucked. Cleaning mould out of bottles is the worst so it's worth the small amount of effort it takes to rinse them.

8. Give yourself enough time. A sure way to make the whole thing frustrating is by trying to squeeze it in when you don't really have time for it.

EDIT: I thought of another one this evening

9. When you're doing the work of 'collecting' bottles, leave the labels on. There's something fun in using a bottle and remembering the beer it contained, the taste, the company you drank it in, all that stuff. The bottles are gaining history and when you sanitise and fill it, that history makes the bottling more pleasant and holds out the promise of more drinks with friends.

I'd like to get a keg system set up one day, but I'll always have beers to bottle and it's worth enjoying the quiet pleasures of bottling.

May 17, 2012

Making bottle labels

I like the idea of being able to do graphic design but I'm not so good with the execution. Somehow though, doing labels for batches of home brew is fun even if they're not amazing. Actually, it's the same with naming beers, It takes me ages but I enjoy making a complete package and giving it some personality.

My first go. BR stands for Bultman's Reserve. I send out a some beers every couple of months to a group of my beer loving friends.

What I'm planning for the June release:

May 15, 2012

Tasting: Playoffs IPA

I brewed this about a month ago as my beer for the NBA playoffs. It totally does what I want it to do and I think I'm going to need to get another batch of this into the fermenter soon because this one isn't going to last long.

It weighed in at 6.5% abv.

Glass full of IPA happiness

Aroma: Citrus, mango, floral and perfume aromas. It's big and hoppy and definitely inviting. There's a malty or honey sweetness to the aroma too.

Appearance: Light orange, I love that colour in a Pale Ale/IPA. There's a bit of haze that ideally wouldn't be there and a decent head that sticks around for quite a while and leaves its mark down the glass.

Flavour: The big citrus, fruit and perfume carry over from the aroma to the flavour with some rye and malt peeking out from behind it. Maybe also a herbal thing going on there too? There's a lingering, resiny bitterness that helps give this beer a bit of character and makes it a pretty complete package. Without it I think it would be a bit too cuddly and aromatic for its own good.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied and low-medium carbonation. It should carbonate a little more as it's only been in the bottle for a couple of weeks but even now it's got a decent mouthfeel. It's just nicely dry, pretty much exactly what I like in an IPA. The bitterness isn't out of control but definitely leaves its mark on the tongue and helps the dry perception.

Overall: The hops are so inviting and the flavour is just right, smooth and fruity but the rye and bitterness give it a little kick that lingers pleasantly and then calls for more. It's dangerously drinkable. I wasn't very satisfied with my Galaxy Pale and in general my Pales and IPAs have been a bit one dimensional, lots of hops and not much else. This beer has no shortage of hops but also carries enough malt flavour to make it a more complete beer. It makes me feel like I'm back in Seattle again. I'll be interested to see how this one turns out next time with hops that are more fresh and with some attention paid to the water chemistry.

Now, back to this LAL-OKC game...

May 13, 2012

It's science: Water chemistry and brewing

Adjusting the levels of minerals in the water helps brewers achieve optimal flavour in their beer. This is my first attempt to understand how it all works. My problem is that I have difficulty when things get beyond the most basic science. At school I shunned physics for english and chemistry for history. Foolish I know. Even a basic level of chemistry would be really useful right about now.

My plan
Calcium is good for people and beer. It lowers the mash pH level, helps the enzymes do their biz in the mash, reduces colour formation during the boil, nourishes the yeast, helps the yeast flocculate and helps beer clarity and flavour stability. Calcium is pretty rocking stuff. Have you told it how much you care about it lately?

According to what I've read, somewhere in the 50-150 parts per million is the correct range for calcium. My Goodwood water report says we're only rolling 11.2 ppm deep so it looks like my beer could do with some extra calcium love.

I'm all about the calciums, baby
Bicarbonate on the other hand is good for your scones but not for your beer. It raises the pH level and makes it harder to acidify the mash, hinders alpha-amylase enzymes, slows the process of trub dropping out and increases the risk of contamination in the ferment. In hoppy beers it contributes a harsh bitterness but it reacts with dark malts to mellow out their harshness.

Word is that you want less than 15 ppm of this stuff in your water. My water report has a space where there should be a number. I've sent an email to find out what the deal is but I don't reckon there'd be heaps. We must remain vigilant however.

Is this right? I have no idea
Both calcium and bicarbonate regulate mash pH which is important because a mash that's too alkaline pretty quickly shuts the action of the enzymes down. An acid mash isn't as much of a problem but it will also reduce the effectiveness of the enzymes. The range for mashing is 5.2-5.4 pH at mash temperatures. A mash on the alkaline side also blunts malt and hop flavours.

The colour of the malts used in the mash will also change the pH level. The darker the malt, the lower the mash pH. Dark beers will sometimes require bicarbonate to get the pH back up into the right range.

If you need to add calcium, then calcium sulfate (gypsum) or calcium chloride are your friends. Which one to use depends on the style of beer and what effect you're after.

Chloride is pretty much fine in any beer. An all-rounder. It highlights bitterness, mellows the flavour and makes for a more clear beer. 1-100 ppm is normal, up to 250 ppm for British Mild Ales.

Sulfate is the player in Burton water and helps out pale hoppy beers. Gives a dry, full flavour and a cleaner bitterness. You want less than 150 ppm if it's not a bitter beer but very bitter beers will happily go 150-350 ppm. IPAs, Pale Ales, German Pilsners are the kinds of beers we're talking about. Pale, dry, crisp beers is the thing.

Magnesium and sodium can also be used but they don't seem to be as important and my attention span has expired. Magnesium is friendly with yeast and helps round out the flavours. It looks like my water is a little low on magnesium and adding a couple of grams would be a good thing.

It looks like my mash pH has probably been a little high for my pale beers. It also seems like I haven't been doing my hops any favours. Hopefully a proper dose of calcium chloride or sulfate will help my beers step up a notch.

I've plugged my Goodwood water numbers into the EZ Water Calculator (which is awesome, by the way) and it looks like I'm going to need to add some calcium chloride and sulfate to every brew but it will vary depending on what effect I'm after. I should also add a couple of grams of epsom salts to get the magnesium into the proper range regardless of what I'm brewing.

I'm also going to get around to testing the pH of my mash. Sometime. Probably.

Want to read about this with less of my nonsense? These are the main things I read to work out what I have so far. Check the links for info of varying degrees of complexity.
1. Key Concepts in Water Treatment by Tony Wheeler (This is gold and most of my summary is ripped from here)
2. Chapter 15 of How to Brew by John Palmer
3. on how pH affects brewing and mash pH control (This is gold also)

May 11, 2012

DIY stir plate

My friend Jon says that the essence of hardcore punk is 'DIY'. I love that as a definition of punk and I like the idea of being a bit handy but I don't have a great DIY track record myself. This is my attempt to build a stir plate, something that will help my yeast starters to grow big and healthy.

It took:
  • A PC fan
  • A 12v adaptor
  • A couple of crazy rare earth magnets
  • A LED dimmer (for speed control)
  • A plastic container
  • Bolts, nuts, washers, blu-tac

I drilled holes in the lid to mount the fan. 4 bolts, each with 3 nuts between the lid and fan to provide a bit of space for the magnets to sit on top of the fan. A couple more holes in the container, one on the end for the speed controller and one on the side for the power chord.

Magnets nicely balanced and spaced for my stir bar

After stripping the wires for the power supply and the fan, they were hooked up to the speed controller.

I attached the magnets to the top of the fan as in the picture. I'd read that some people had difficulty getting them balanced and others had difficulty with spacing the magnets. I wasn't confident to just glue them down and blu-tac made it easy to get it right. It also means that I can easily move the magnets if I get a longer stir bar.

DIY stir plate in action
Pretty simple and totally effective. The bar spins well and stays spinning properly even at full speed. 

Normally, I'll be putting an erlenmeyer flask of wort and a bit of yeast on the stir plate. The idea is that as the magnetic stir bar in the flask spins, it keeps the wort moving and doesn't allow the yeast to fall out of suspension. It helps the yeast to be active and also introduces oxygen into the wort. These are perfect conditions for the yeast to flourish and quickly build up numbers before pitching into a brew.

May 10, 2012

Can Beer Save America?

Interesting article on the battle between craft brewers and the major brewers in America. If people in general are willing to pay more for better quality beer, it really turns the industry on its head.

The article notes that craft beer has 5.7% of the US market by volume, 9.1% in dollars. We noticed when we were there that craft beer is way more common than in Australia. I got stuck in supermarkets because I had to inspect the whole aisle given almost entirely to craft beer.

In Australia the craft beer market is only around 1% of the total volume and our laws make it harder for craft brewers but even so, the craft industry is growing while overall beer consumption declines.

May 9, 2012

Bottle dregs

It's not normally worth saving the yeast rich dregs of a beer for later use. You can build a starter from dregs and get decent results but with easy access to healthy, fresh and pure strains of yeast, it makes more sense to buy.

The exception to that is when the bottle of beery goodness you're drinking holds a yeast that you can't buy.

De Ranke XX Bitter, I love you so much
I only recently got my hands on De Ranke's XX Bitter and it was a revelation. Every beer since, part of me has been saying 'Why are you drinking this? Get another De Ranke!' Inspired, I've been planning something in a similar style.

Part of the planning is working out what yeast to use and the internets weren't very helpful for once. Having searched, it looks like they used to use yeast from Rodenbach but since then they've changed and there doesn't seem to be any clarity about what they're using now. The yeast doesn't seem to be as bold as other Belgian beers but there is a nice clove character in there buried under the hop assault and I'd like to at least try it out so to the dregs it is.

Plenty of yeast growth
I boiled up some dried malt extract in water and poured about 150ml into a sanitised erlenmeyer flask. Once it was cool, the De Ranke dregs went in and I covered it with gladwrap. A week later I stepped it up from 180 to 800ml and now it's about ready to go into a brew.
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