Mar 19, 2012

DIY Candi Sugar

I have plans to brew (or rather, to get Bron to brew) a Belgian Dark Strong Ale this week. Chimay Blue is one of her all-time favourites so I'm hoping this one turns out ok.

With some help from instructions on another blog, we made some dark candi sugar to give the beer colour, some flavour, and a boost in alcohol and dryness.

We used:

1 cup of table sugar
1/4 cup of water
1/2 tsp DAP yeast nutrient
1/4 tsp cooking lime

First attempt

Just heat it up, add a dash of cold water if it's boiling too much and colouring too quickly and let it get to the flavour/colour you're after. We found that it turned pretty quickly from amber to black so watch out for that.

It took a few goes to get right but we eventually got it right.

Mar 17, 2012

Now smelling like grapefruit

Wild yeast update

A few days in and I've got activity in all four jars. Jars 1 and 2 look like they've just got mould but I'll let them go a bit further and see if they do anything else.

Jar 3 has a few patches of bubbles on its surface. I presume that's CO2 from some captured yeast but that's a total guess. It's obviously doing something. It has a nice, tart, lemony smell. I have hopes for this one.

Jar 4 is crazy, it developed clusters of tiny bubbles on its surface and then within a day the whole surface became covered in... stuff.  It looks like there's at least two different bugs at work here. The aroma is very similar to jar 3 but a little less fruity and tart. But there's this wispy network that covers the surface. I don't know what's going on there but it looks pretty nasty. I guess I'll have to wait for a few weeks and see what it produces.

I transferred jars 3 and 4 into a couple of erlenmeyer flasks with a bit of extra wort I cooked up. I'll let them go for a few weeks and see what we have.

Mar 15, 2012

Tasting: Export Stout

Mistakes are becoming a theme here. Last June I brewed what I intended to be an Export Stout. I later found out that I'd stuffed up a calculation in converting the recipe and instead of 6.5% abv, my stout weighed in at just over 9%.

It wasn't nearly bitter enough, it had an astringent character and the aftertaste was not pleasant. I was disappointed and pretty much wrote it off. But it sat stored away, and as it sat it quietly improved.

One of my mates really enjoyed it, so I'd given him a few bottles of the stuff from time to time. He's been drinking it, cooking with it and having a good time. Anyway, he's been talking it up so the other day I cracked one and here are my notes:

Aroma: Not much of an aroma, a little of the roast and some alcohol. Nothing from the yeast that I can detect, I used US-05 so that's not surprising.

Appearance: Utterly black with a two finger, dense, tan head.

Taste: Big, roasty, chocolate, coffee. It has a dark fruity thing going on too. It's got an obvious sweetness to it, probably too much, or rather, there's not enough bitterness to balance it properly. You wouldn't sit and drink a few of these, but that's not really what you're aiming for with something this big anyway. The astringent notes I had a problem with earlier seem to be gone and the aftertaste is good. The flavour is so big that the alcohol isn't really detectable in the flavour until it warms up to room temperature.

Mouthfeel: Syrupy and dense. The carbonation is a bit higher than I'd like but it's not too far off. Some warmth from the alcohol.

Overall: This mistake turned out pretty well. I guess it's more of a Russian Imperial Stout than an Export Stout. If I was doing it again and intentionally aiming at a RIS I'd turn the bitterness up a notch or two and the carbonation down slightly. I'd probably also use a different yeast to get some fruity esters doing their thing. It'll be nice to have this on hand over the coming winter and I'm keen to follow Luke's lead and use it in cooking.

Mar 13, 2012

Brewday - Imperial IPA

I'm still sick, still mostly stuck in bed, but still really keen to be brewing. My solution is to make someone else do the work while I get the rewards. The problem is that there are way too many beers I want to brew.

So on Friday my brother came around and was my brewing slave. I've got a 40l electric urn on its way so this is hopefully the last time I'll be brewing a half-sized batch on the stove. I was pretty keen to try out Galaxy hops for the first time and brew something big and imposing.

And that was my mistake. Thanks to a pot that was more full than usual and a gutless stovetop and really bad efficiency, we ended up with too much wort and an OG of something around 1.050. I should have known that it wouldn't work out properly with the equipment I have. Oh well, the first sample tasted delicious and it's just possible that it won't end up as nasty hop juice.

What it should have been: Recipe on Hopville
Artist's impression of the finished product
'Battlestar Galactica' 11.5l
OG: 1.081
FG:  1.016 
IBU: 128

4kg Pale malt
175g Table sugar
60g Crystal 120 ebc
40g Caramunich II

35 Galaxy @ 60 min
40 Galaxy @ 10 min
40 Galaxy @ 0 min
45 Galaxy @ Dry hop

Yeast: US-05

I took a sample yesterday and it tastes like it's going to turn into a nice Pale Ale. I don't know what happened with the bittering hops, it should be bitter enough to dissolve my tongue. But it's not, instead, it looks like it will turn into a happy mistake.

Mar 12, 2012

Capturing wild yeast

I've been really keen to try and capture some wild yeast to use in a brew since I read about it in a homebrew forum a couple of years ago. It's a romantic idea, capturing the essence of Tasmania in a beer and creating something truly unique. A Tasmanian Lambic.

The main characters at work in a sour beer are the yeasts saccharomyces and brettanomyces, and the bacteria lactobacillus and pediococcus. These are pretty much everywhere so the plan is to capture some of these wild bugs from around my place and see what kind of character they give a beer. I used 4 jars to maximise the chance of success. If more than one works out then I'll mix them together and see what happens.

I cooked up 500ml of water with 50g of dried malt extract and divided it 4 ways. I covered the jars that are going outside with some cloth to keep any marauding insects and other debris out of the starters.

Jar 1 has a few grapes from our vine. Hard to see them but they're in there.

Jar 2 on the deck

Jar 3 on the disintegrating seat

Jar 4 under a very late fruiting peach tree

I've left jars 2-4 outside overnight and I'll collect them tomorrow morning. Jar 1 is on top of the fridge and hopefully some brettanomyces yeast from the grapes is already going to town on the grape/wort stew.

It's a longish term project. These starters might be duds and even if they're all good, I don't expect to have a finished beer in less than 8 months and possibly quite a bit longer. I'll brew a simple recipe and seeing how the bugs go with it. If it turns out well, I'll save the yeast and use it again.

Mar 11, 2012

Brewing software

One of the big things that helped me understand brewing better and freed me to start designing my own recipes was discovering online recipe calculators. Free to use (for the moment at least) and running on the browser, these calculators do all the hard work and allow you to fuss and fret and research and change everything 100 times to make it perfect. I like that they're web based because it allows me to access and modify recipes anywhere.

I've been using the Beer Calculus recipe calculator provided by Hopville for a while now. I like it. I discovered it at just the right time and it gave me much more freedom in brewing. It has a decent sized and growing database of user recipes. It's got social networking capabilities that allow you to follow a brewer, favourite and share recipes. It's not as comprehensive as some brewing software but it's got plenty of features and it easy to use.

What I'd like to see from Hopville: an iphone app, scaling, options for BIAB.

More recently I discovered the Brewer's Friend recipe builder. It has more features, allows for brew in a bag (BIAB) the method I use for brewing, provides for recipe scaling, adjustment according to your equipment and adjustment of water chemistry. The UI is fairly ugly however. It might seem a bit ridiculous but it really makes me less likely to use it. Brewer's Friend also allows you to easily export and share your recipe.

What I'd like to see from Brewer's Friend: a redesign, some guidelines for water adjustments depending on beer style.

Mar 10, 2012

'Shut up about Barclay Perkins!'

My wife puts up with a lot of my enthusing about subjects that really don't interest her heaps. She loves the name of the blog Shut Up About Barclay Perkins though and that's become her line whenever I'm going on too long about anything, beer related or not. 'Shut up about Barclay Perkins!'

Mar 7, 2012

Balance Value and Real Terminal Extract

The beer scene is full of misinformation and even superstition. So many tips are passed on without giving any real reason. Tips become rules and then it's 'DO IT THIS WAY OR YOUR BEER WILL SUCK JUST AS MUCH AS YOU!'

I've had some experience in the coffee scene and found it to be the same. Knowledge can be pretty slow to make its way into the general consciousness. I think it has to do with two factors, the first is that there are huge holes in 'our' understanding. Science is pretty great stuff and there needs to be more of it done to help us understand these delicious beverages. As well as this, the scientific information that is out there can be really dense and without someone to mediate it to people like me whose scientific knowledge is roughly that of a 10 year old, that knowledge is out of reach. 

The second factor is related: the main way information is passed on is by word of mouth (or keyboard). There are so many enthusiasts and comparatively few experts. For the average person to get anywhere in either coffee or home brewing you're really dependent on a couple of things: having someone competent around you to teach you or somehow stumbling on a good book or website that leads you to go further (and that means needing to be pretty discerning and willing to experiment). I know there are some great organisations and websites/blogs offering great information but there's still a long way to go.

I haven't had anyone around me to teach me about brewing. What I have learned has come as I stumbled across things, and looking back, it's amazing that I even learned enough about extract brewing to try it. This means that I've fallen for plenty of brewing myths so far.

This is all a long introduction to what I actually want to write about: the bittering units : gravity units (BU:GU) ratio and a couple of replacement formulas that aim to give a better idea of what your beer will be like, balance value (BV) and real terminal extract (RTE). This isn't really about brewing myths or even misinformation but the other side of that coin, slow trickle of knowledge that makes those possible.

I came across the idea of BV and RTE while I was checking out this recipe (which I'd really like to try). The author mentioned it briefly. The first time I just thought, 'huh, interesting' and didn't do any more with it. I came across it again yesterday and turned up an article on it with formulas and explanations.

The basic idea is that going by the BU:GU ratio and the FG estimate isn't always a very accurate indication of the bitterness/sweetness that the finished beer will have. From the article:
The BU:GU ratio works quite nicely for beers with similar apparent attenuation ratios... Thus, the BU:GU ratio is less useful for beers which are relatively over- or under-attenuated.
The RTE formula aims to give a more accurate account of the residual sweetness of a finished beer by taking the finishing gravity (FG) into account as well as the original gravity (OG).

The formula is: RTE = 0.82 x FG + 0.18 x OG

A beer like the Berliner Weisse I brewed is on the very dry end of things with an average RTE of 9.09. A beer like a Wee Heavy is way out on the sweet extreme with an average RTE of 48.34. 

The BV formula aims to describe the balance between the malt and the hop bitterness. A balanced beer has a value of 1, a beer on the malty side of things like a Southern English Brown Ale has an average BV of 0.73 while a hop heavy beer like an American IPA has an average BV of 1.87. 

The formula is: BV = 0.8 x BU / RTE 

It seems pretty good. It seems like it does a better job of things as far as I can tell. But I do have questions about it. The reasoning behind the factor of 0.8 doesn't completely convince me.
Why the factor of 0.8? With it, the Dortmunder, a beer which belongs to a style which the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Guidelines claim is balanced, has a Balance Value of one.
Now, you can call a beer 'balanced' without intending to mean that it's perfectly balanced. Also, this was based on the 2001 BJCP style guidelines, using the current (2008) version the Dortmunder isn't a perfect 1 anymore, it's 1.08. I guess that might not be a huge deal, the scale still helps give an idea of what to expect even if '1' doesn't turn out to be perfectly balanced. I suppose I just need to try it out for a while and see how it goes.

Regardless of how ideal or not the BV and RTE formulas turn out for me, it's been great to read and think about. I remember what a revelation BU:GU was to me and how it was one of the pieces of information that gave me the ability to start making my own recipes. Hopefully this has pushed my understanding of how to fit a recipe together a bit further.
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