Jan 30, 2014

Wedding Beer Labels

The wedding I brewed all those beers for came and went a few weeks ago. I wasn't well enough to make it on the day but I heard it was a pretty fantastic afternoon. The weather was certainly perfect for it. I figured it was worth posting up the awesome labels designed by Shiloh, a friend since primary school and the wife of Will, one of my brewing assistants. We called the Pilsch a Kolsch on the label to avoid confusion for the guests.

Jan 28, 2014

The Hottest 100 Beers in Australia 2013

The Triple J Hottest 100 wasn't the only countdown on Australia Day. The Local Taphouse runs a Hottest 100 for Aussie craft beers each year. I've been aware of it for a few years, voted in it once before this year (2010 I think it was). This year I came across the list and I thought it was pretty interesting so I broke it down and wrote some reflections about it including 2 about Tasmania's absence from the list since this blog is Brew Tas.

1. Loads of pale, hoppy beer
There are 59 of them in total made up of 30 IPAs (including Black, Red, Rye, Farmhouse, Belgian and even some straight up ones), 18 APAs, 7 Golden Ales, 4 IIPAs. Add the other American styles that made the list and you've got 71/100. Thanks, America! Our voting beer drinkers think you've done a pretty great job.

I know some would bemoan such American influence but I think it's part of the exploration of more extreme beers and it will open the door for other interesting stuff over the coming years. Plus, I do love the hops.

Comparing to last year, there are 6 more IPAs, 3 fewer APAs, 5 more Golden Ales and three fewer IIPAs. While we're comparing, last year there were 8 lager/pilsner/bocks, this year there was only 4. There was only one Imperial Stout last year but this year there was 7. Also, Saisons were more popular last year with 3 compared to the 1 that made it this time around.

2. More IPA than APA
I was pretty surprised by the fact that there were 30 IPAs to only 18 APAs. If I'd had to guess, I'd have assumed that APAs were by far the preferred drink in Australia but at least for the kinds of people who vote in the Hottest 100 Craft Beers it looks like IPA is where it's at. I suspect there is a much greater quantity of APAs consumed thanks to Little Creatures Pale and a few other usual suspects but a larger number of good IPAs brewed. Last year the gap was more narrow but this year it's not even close. Lots of these IPAs are more restrained with the bitterness than their American equivalents but it's interesting to see a shift towards less conservative beer.

It's also interesting to me because there are no American IPAs brewed in Tasmania, at least, not part of a brewery's regular roster. There are 2 APAs although neither of them are amazing.

3. No Tasmanian beers in the top 100
I've got a review of this one coming up
I wouldn't have expected many but I thought there'd be at least a couple of them on the list. I guess it shouldn't be too surprising, the Tasmanian breweries are fairly small, our population is fairly small so there's not the distribution necessary to rate highly. The Hottest 100 is more popularity contest than definitive guide to quality. But part of me wonders how they'd rate if their distribution was wider? Could they compete? If I was a Tasmanian brewer, I'd take not being on the list as a challenge.

Are there really 100 beers in Australia better than the best Tasmanian beer? Well, some of the beers that do make the list are pretty ordinary so I'd say 'no'. I'd choose the Seven Sheds Kentish Ale and Morrison English Bitter over a bunch of the ones on the list.

4. The beers on the list are so different to Tasmanian craft beer
The other thing that really stands out to me is the difference between the kinds of beers that made the list and the ones that are brewed in Tasmania. It makes me wonder whether there's a real difference in mindset, like there is between East/Midwest/West in the USA or if it's just that Tasmanian brewers and drinkers are a bit behind the curve.

My hunch is that it's the brewers more than the drinkers. The local craft beer places in Hobart don't seem to have any problem moving the Sierra Nevada, Kooinda or Stone & Wood they have on tap. I guess with 7 microbreweries you're not necessarily going to have much diversity.

A quick whip around the brews visible on the websites of our 7 (Van Dieman, Morrison, 2 Metre Tall, Moo Brew, Wineglass Bay, Seven Sheds, Iron House. I think that's all of them) microbreweries shows:

APA: 2
Wit: 1
American Brown: 1
Hefeweizen: 2
English Pale Ale/Bitter/Amber: 9
Stout: 3
Porter: 2
Imperial Stout: 2
Irish Red Ale: 1
Pilsner: 2
Lager: 1
Belgian Pale (-ish): 2
Saison: 2
Spiced/Fruit: 2
Sour: 1

33 beers, 19 of which are based on English brewing traditions, 30 of which have their origin in Europe. American beer styles get less run than Belgian beers! No IPAs, not even a Golden Ale or Amber Ale!

I knew that our range was heavily influenced by English beer but I didn't realise that it was as much as 57% of the total. That's crazy. My hunch is that when people discovered 'craft' beer down here, they didn't discover American craft but rather found out about the good beer that's existed in Europe for hundreds of years, particularly the English ones as that's the part of Europe we look to first. I know that even in 2010, the vast majority of international craft beer available in Hobart was from Europe with a little bit from NZ and Sierra Nevada was just about the only US beer. Actually, I think there was some Rogue available too. With that kind of introduction to craft beer, I guess it's not surprising that we're more European in outlook. I could be completely wrong about that though but if I am, I would like to know what the reason is.

Obviously it's not 100% fair to compare the results of a poll where the voters self-selected with the total brewing output of one state but it is interesting that Tasmanian brewers generally aren't brewing the kinds of beers that the national craft beer consumers obsessed enough to vote rate very highly.

5. Notable Winners & Losers
The Australian craft beer royalty did about as expected: Bridge Road win with 7 beers in the top 100. Mountain Goat, Little Creatures, Feral & Holgate got 6. Personally I don't get why Holgate did so well unless they've improved dramatically recently. My best experience with their beer has been 'good', my normal experience with them has been 'meh'. Either way, not top 100 material unless I'm missing something. Stone & Wood got 5. Big wins there for Stone & Wood and Feral Brewing with better returns compared with last year's results.

It was also significant that Moondog got 3 on the board this year as they expand their reach while Temple Brewing failed to score 1 this year. Presumably because they were shut down for a fair part of the year. Also failing to register 1 beer in the top 100 was James Squire and Gage Roads Brewery, a couple of the bigger 'craft' brewers in the country and Matilda Bay only had 1 entry in the top 100 with their Fat Yak. It's interesting that these popular crafty breweries didn't make the list and is probably an indicator of the kind of people who did the voting.

There are way too many beers on the list that I haven't tried, hopefully this year I can change that.

6. Division by State
VIC: 46 (from 17 breweries)
NSW: 24 (from 14 breweries)
WA: 11 (from 3 breweries)
QLD: 10 (from 7 breweries)
SA: 9 (from 5 breweries)

Victoria was the big state winner of course. More in NSW than I expected although they're down 10 entries from last year. There were also less in Queensland than I expected. None in Tassie as I already went on about at length. South Australia did very well considering they didn't have any 'big' winners. That's probably what made Queensland's total less than I expected too, lots of love spread out between lots of breweries.

So there you have it. Breweries brewed beer in 2013, people drank it and liked it, especially if it was hoppy and American. Victoria remains a long way ahead of the rest of the country. If you want to start a brewery in Tasmania, try brewing something that isn't English in it's origin. Not because English beer is bad but because diversity in beer as in many things is good.

Jan 27, 2014

Brewday: The Usurper Bohemian Pilsner

Pegs, an underrated piece of home brew
I've only brewed one pilsner before, it was my second extract batch and the one that really kicked my brewing off in a big way. I haven't even had many to drink so far. That's mostly a matter of opportunity rather than deliberate decision but it's fair to say that they're not in my wheelhouse. But one of my goals for this year is to get some experience brewing lagers and pilsners and Bohemian pilsner has been pretty high on the 'to brew' list for a while.

The recipe is super simple: one malt, one hop, one yeast. No fuss. Well actually some fuss it's all in the process which is aimed at getting the very best out of the simple ingredient list. I have a deep and abiding love for Saaz and I can't wait for that herbal hoppy goodness when this one is ready.

The key technical aspects to brewing this one were: a 90 minute boil to keep DMS out of the picture, a decent blast of oxygen to help the yeast flourish, high yeast pitching rates, temperature controlled cold fermentation and a diacetyl rest. No decoction mash though because I'm not set up for that yet. I'm hoping that all of those things will help it come out clean and clear with no off flavours.

The other extra step in brewing this one was to hook up an extra wort chiller in series with the one in my urn. It sat in a bucket of ice to pre-chill the water before it went through the chiller in the urn. The idea was to get the wort to chill down to pitching temp. It worked to some degree, getting the wort down to 14C but it took the chest freezer to finish the job. Next time I need more ice and a bigger bucket for the chiller.

The only thing that went wrong with the brew was that I knocked the peg that held my hop bag on the side of the urn into the hot wort just before I began chilling the beer. Hopefully it won't be a problem.

The Usurper Bohemian Pilsner (22L batch)
How clear is that hydrometer sample?!
OG: 1.048 (1.049 measured)
FG: 1.013
IBU: 43
EBC: 6.5
ABV: 4.6%

100% Weyermann Bohemian Pilsner malt

110g Saaz @ 60 minutes
30g Saaz @ 20 minutes

WY2000 Budvar Lager (estimated 404 billion cells)

  • 4ml lactic acid, 1g CaSO4 and 5g CaCl2 for pH correction and water adjustment to get calcium to minimum levels.
  • Stepped mash: 62C (40 minutes), 68C (15 minutes), 72C (10 minutes) and a mash out at 78C.

  • 90 minutes, hops @ 60 and 20 minutes
  • 1/2 whirlfloc tablet @ 15 minutes

Double the starters, double the yeast!
  • Chilled to 7C, oxygenated for 100 seconds
  • Pitched an estimated 400 billion cells of WY2000
  • It will be allowed to rise to 12C under its own steam and when fermentation is 90% finished (25/01/14) I raised it to 16C for a diacetyl rest.
  • I'll see how it goes but I'll probably lager it at 0C at least 5 weeks

15/01/14 - Brewed. Fermentation was a bit slow to kick off despite the high pitch rate and oxygenation.

26/01/14 - Raised to 16C for diacetyl rest. I took a sample after 2 days at 16C and it's coming along very nicely. No diacetyl and the touch of sulphur it had in the aroma earlier on has gone completely.

07/03/14 - Bottled with Ben

Jan 26, 2014

Tasting notes: Buck Mulligan Golden Ale

Brewed 22/11/13, bottled 07/12/13, tasting 07/01/14. No photo for this one because my brain doesn't always work and I forgot.

OG: 1.046
FG: 1.013
IBU: 25
EBC: 5.3
ABV: 4.4%

Aroma: ginger, kiwi, melon, pepper. Could be a nice aroma but it's a bit too aggressive. A victim of my rush of blood to the dry hops.
Appearance: cloudy and yellow. Pours with a sticky, dense head that lingers and laces down the glass.
Flavour: more of the ginger initially. Pleasant malt and some wheat. Light fruitiness in the finish. Overwhelmed by the hops.
Mouthfeel: probably the best part of the beer. Nice and creamy quality that I assume comes from the wheat. Carbonation just a little below average.

What I wanted with this beer was something very much in the character of Buck Mulligan, boisterous, clever and down to party. But instead I ended up with a blunt instrument of a beer. Way over-hopped and anything but clever. I guess this is what happens when you dry hop at stupid levels with a hop you haven't used before. It's not awful, just quite disappointing compared to what I had imagined.

I tasted the beer after primary fermentation was finished and there was little to no hop presence beyond a mild bitterness. I suspect the yeast stripped most of it out but it's also possible that uncarbonated, the aromas just weren't carrying. Without thinking too much about it I just chucked in a heap of hops in the hope that it would give a big, fruity aroma. What I got instead was a whole lot of spice, ginger and pepper. It settled down a bit over the month in the bottle before the wedding but it never fully recovered from my recklessness.

The malt was just right, the pilsner and wheat malts did exactly what they needed to. The creamy mouthfeel and the flavour was delicious. I think this beer could be a good version of the style with a better choice/application of hops. 

Next time: there's no need for dry hopping, just use a yeast that won't strip out the hop flavour/aroma. It could work very nicely as a vehicle for different single hops. 

Jan 25, 2014

Bottlenecks in my beer

A key moment in my brewing journey was when I drank the first bottle of my second extract brew and realised that home brew could be a drink that you might actually choose to drink because it tasted good. Since then I've worked every brew to try to identify and remove the bottlenecks: the flaws, inconsistencies and practices that limit the quality of my beer.

So since that 2nd extract brew I've: moved to all grain, sorted out fermentation temperature control, gotten access to better quality ingredients, learned about water chemistry & pH adjustment, started oxygenating the wort, began stepped mashing, made a stir plate and began growing yeast starters so I could pitch good rates of yeast. And the result is that I now feel confident with my equipment & process. I can brew with good consistency and the last 10 beers I've brewed have all been very good in terms of process and fermentation (with the exception of the cloudiness of the rushed Playoffs Rye IPA). I could upgrade my brewing equipment and go for an automated system, I could keg my beer and I probably will do that eventually but they will primarily make life easier rather than improve the beer. As far as I can see, there's not much more to improve on that front.

And as I tasted the beer I brewed for the wedding and birthday, I realised that the current bottleneck is me. The best 3 of the 7 were the Pilsch, hefeweizen and Brewdog clone, 2 recipes-by-the-numbers and a recipe created by professional brewers. It's not that my recipes are bad, some of them are of a high standard but there's a lot more variability to them than I want. Sometimes it's because of an ill-advised last minute change and other times it's just because it just needs work.

As I've chewed over this stuff, I've been trying to think about how to improve. At the moment my ideas are: 1. Learn from pro recipes, 2. Learn more about hop varieties & combinations, 3. Brew, refine and re-brew.

1. Learn from pro recipes
I've never been interested in brewing clones. There's plenty of skill in being able to replicate a commercial beer but I guess my interests are more in making something new. However, I think there's probably a lot to be gained from looking at the recipes that are available from great breweries and analysing and sometimes brewing them to get a better sense of how things work. I guess that's what Designing Great Beers does and I should probably have another look at that.

2. Learn about hops
A bigger part of the challenge for me is in learning about hops/hop combinations. I'm more confident with the malt side of things, most of my best recipes are malt/yeast dominant, but I'm finding it difficult to get the hop combinations to really sing. I got For the Love of Hops for my birthday (thanks, Dad!) so hopefully that'll give me a better sense of how to approach it. I'm also going to brew more single hop beers with varieties that are new to me so I can get a feel for each one. 

3. Brew, refine, re-brew
The last and probably most important step is to brew, refine and re-brew. I've brewed a few beers 2 or 3 times but generally I've brewed new recipes. I think I need to spend some time working on a few recipes, at this stage I'm thinking they'll probably mainly be hoppy beers since hops seem to be the big issue and a saison because I've been itching to refine that recipe. I guess we'll see how this goes over the course of the year.

This stuff is in line with what I was thinking when I wrote my goals for the year but the issue is much clearer for me now. I want to end the year with a handful of recipes that are more or less perfected and with a better handle on hop combinations in particular and recipe construction in general.

Jan 23, 2014

Tasting notes: Playoffs Rye IPA

The Playoffs Rye IPA was brewed on December 28 for Jason's birthday BBQ, bottled on January 8. This tasting was on January 23.

OG: 1.062
FG: 1.012
IBU: 65
ABV: 6.6%

Aroma: Pine is the main impression then pineapple, mango, light floral notes, some sweet & creamy malt and a generic fruit aroma that's hard to pin down.
Appearance: Cloudy orange, dense white head that persists.
Flavour: fruity and sweet first up that finishes with some earthy rye flavour, some nice malt and a moderate, balanced (for an IPA) bitterness. A little yeastiness.
Mouthfeel: medium carbonation, probably a bit higher than I'd like it. A little chalky in the finish from the yeast in suspension.

I had high expectations for this beer and beneath the flaws, there's a nice IPA lurking. Unfortunately the cloudiness is a big problem. It harms the appearance firstly which is something I'd like to improve in my beers but much more importantly, it leaves a yeasty flavour and a chalky feeling in my mouth that seriously undermines the whole experience. The only bottles I have of this beer were the ones at the start and end of bottling and I'm not sure if these were particularly cloudy or if the whole batch was like this. Unfortunately, I didn't have the time to cold crash the beer to get it reasonably clear. Next time, that's a priority.

The hop aroma and flavour are good but not great. The Columbus is dominant and while I like what it brings to the table, I wanted something more from the combination. This isn't the hop profile I had the first time I brewed it and I suspect it's a matter of seasonal variation.

It does have some things going for it though. The bitterness is well balanced, the malt flavour is great although it could do with some more rye. The hop flavour is pretty good even though it's not quite right. It's a shame that the cloudiness compromised it, this beer should be so much better. If I have the time I'll brew it again for the NBA Playoffs and see if I can get it right then.

Next time: Clear the beer! Gelatine, cold crash, time, whatever. That's the big problem with the beer. I'd also increase the rye to 20%, other than that the colour and malt flavour is great. The hop combination isn't bad, it just doesn't do heaps. I think that's because the Columbus dominated the Citra and Amarillo. Next time I'd probably go for a 1:2:2 or 2:3:3 ratio.

Jan 20, 2014

Birthday Brews Recap & Photos

Jason's birthday celebration was pretty huge. 30+kg of meat was barbecued over nearly 2 full days including a brisket cooked for 18 hours. Most of the beer was knocked off and was very well received. The Brewdog Hardcore IPA was the star of the show which wasn't surprising to me, I thought it was pretty clearly the best of the bunch. It was an epic weekend, I wish I could have been there!

The following quotes are from texts send by my mates over the course of the weekend. They are way to good to me.

Nelson Sauvin Pale Ale
'It was my favourite of the bunch.'
'...a mouth full of honey and hops...'
'...basically mother's milk.'
'...this pale ale is the best beer I could possibly imagine for the occasion.'
'...perfect for the weather and the event.'

'...a real victory...'

Brewdog Hardcore IPA clone 
'...just gets better and better.'
'I can't believe how good the clone is.'
'...OH MY GOODNESS the hardcore clone is the best of the three.'

Dan and the gang of webers

A bunch of my beers plus a few extras

A couple of the more than 30kg of meat consumed over
the weekend

Glorious meat

Tent city

Jan 19, 2014

Tasting notes: Nelson Sauvin Pale Ale

This was the second beer for Jason's birthday BBQ. Brewed on December 14 and bottled on December 28. This tasting was on January 12.

Nelson Sauvin Pale Ale
OG: 1.057
FG: 1.011
IBU: 44
ABV: 6.1%

Aroma: Definite Maris Otter aroma, the 'sharpness' of white grapes/gooseberries, honey, herbal and dank.
Appearance: Gold moving into orange. Fairly hazy. Moderate head that thins out after 5 minutes but leaves some lacing all the way down the glass.
Flavour: Lightly herbal bitterness that's pretty much bang on for style and quite enjoyable. Lots of creamy malt, probably a bit much malt. It has that fruitiness that I can't describe but is very Nelson Sauvin. More malt sweetness than I'd expect for a 1.011 beer.
Mouthfeel: Low-medium carbonation and a creamy mouthfeel.

A normal beer on a kids' seat or a giant beer
on a normal seat?
As I mentioned in my post when I brewed this beer, this is a recreation of an extract brew I made several times back in 2010-2011. Jason and I both feel pretty nostalgic about it so I had high expectations of the beer and my brewing. I haven't used Nelson Sauvin much since those days, partly because I was Sauvined-out for a while and partly because I had bulk supplies of other varieties. It's nice to be reunited with the hop and they certainly provide a nice highlight to the drink but it isn't quite the beer I'd like it to be.

I like Golden Promise in an American Pale Ale, especially if the hopping rate is on the high side. However, I think Maris Otter was a mistake. It's nice but it's just a bit much in this beer. On the positive side, Nelson Sauvin can easily be a bit much all on its own but that isn't a problem in this beer. The malt definitely keeps some of the Nelson Sauvin aggression in check. Some of the rough edges of the hop emerge but not in an unpleasant way. They're flavours that are interesting and can be safely explored which might not be the case in a less malty beer.

Overall I'm a bit disappointed with it but it's a decent beer with no production faults, just one or two recipe weaknesses. It's bigger than I was intending and the Maris Otter was a last minute inclusion to the recipe so this it's a bit different to what I had in mind. It did the job for the BBQ and the next one will be better.

Next time: use Golden Promise or an Australian pale malt. If I did that I'd probably use a gentler hop for the 60 minute addition and maybe reduce the other additions a little bit so the Nelson Sauvin doesn't overwhelm the malt completely. I don't think it'd take much effort to make this a great beer.

Jan 18, 2014

Brewday: JFK Berliner Weisse

After mash out, I covered the surface with
gladwrap to keep oxygen out
My first all grain brew was a berliner weisse. It was light, wheaty and sour and I didn't like it much at first. It took me several bottles before I got the taste for it but then I came to crave it. I've never had a commercial berliner so I have nothing to compare it to but I've enjoyed the ones I've made and it's come to be a yearly brew for me. In fact, it's the only brew that I've consistently brewed at a seasonally appropriate time over the last few years.

My process has evolved each time I've brewed it but each time I've gone with souring the wort. It makes for a good sourness and a beer that's ready to drink within 3 weeks. It's probably not the most complex sourness but I'm ok with that, the wheat and pils malt along with the sourness make it plenty interesting enough as well as light and refreshing.

I've soured the wort in an esky for 2 days, gone with a 15 minute boil before chilling and fermenting, I've used temperature control so I soured the wort at 38C in my urn and then pasteurised it at 70C for 30 minutes before chilling and fermenting, no boil. This time I'm sticking with the temp controlled souring and pasteurisation but no boil. This time though I'll add brettanomyces to some bottles for a bit of added complexity as it ages. I'm also toying with the idea of dry hopping 1/2 of it with Aramis and possibly something like ginger and lemongrass.

The great thing about this beer is that the brewing is spread over a few days so I could do the whole thing on my own. It's nice to have the freedom to brew by myself midweek.

It sat at around 40C for 46 hours. I used the
temp controller to maintain the heat.
JFK Berliner Weisse (20L batch)
OG: 1.032
FG: 1.006
EBC: 4.1
ABV: 3.4%

60% Best Malz Wheat
40% Weyermann Bohemian Pilsner

20g Aramis @ pasteurisation

US-05 yeast

Stepped mash: 68C (40 minutes), 72C (15 minutes) and a 78C mash out.

I added 2g CaSO4, 5g CaCl2 and 2g MgSO4 to the mash along with 3.5ml of lactic acid for pH correction.
Transferred to a better bottle after
pasteurising and chilling.

After the mash out I hooked up my STC-1000 and left it to cool to 40C, around 7 hours. Once it was down to 42C I chucked in a handful of grain and laid gladwrap on the surface of the wort.

There was visible activity by the time I woke up the next day and the aroma was the same as the other times I've brewed berliners.

After Added the hops and heated to 70C and held there for 20 minutes. Then cooled.

Pitched a packet of US-05 and fermented at 18C

07/01/14 - brewed

09/01/14 - pasteurised & pitched yeast

Jan 15, 2014

Tasting notes: Mr Darcy Hefeweizen

Mr Darcy is a hefeweizen I brewed for my friend Adam's wedding on December 7 and bottled on December 21. This tasting was on January 14. No photo for this one because I was too busy drinking it.

OG: 1.043
FG: 1.011
IBU: 13
ABV: 4.2%

Aroma: Banana city, y'all! Of course there's banana. There's also a hint of clove and some decent wheat notes. There's no mistaking what it is.
Appearance: A thick, creamy white head with a cloudy yellow body verging on gold where the glass is a bit thicker. Beautiful.
Flavour: The clove gets a bit more space in the flavour of the beer. Banana, wheat and pilsner malt all tied up in a delicious way. The bitterness is very light and strictly complementary.
Mouthfeel: A creamy mouthfeel that somehow exists despite a moderately high level of carbonation.

There's a divide among people who like hefeweizens. It's between those who are fans of banana and those who love the clove. This beer would make the banana fans happy but would leave the clove fanciers wanting a more. As far as I can tell, this beer has no off flavours from the fermentation, the banana is not subtle but it's not out of control and the malt flavours are delicious. Overall, it's a good version of the style without quite hitting the Platonic hefeweizen. I think I'd like a little less banana.

The thing I really like about this one is what it looks like. Some people get weak knees at the sight of a beer that's so crystal clear you can read a newspaper through it. That's fine I guess but I much prefer the texture and depth of colour of a cloudy hefeweizen. Top that with a large, dense head and that's just about perfect. Weird since hefeweizens aren't even in my top 10 favourite beer styles.

It's a little embarrassing but I have always had my temperature controller set at the temperature I wanted to ferment at. For this beer it was 17 celsius. My temperature probe is taped to the side of the fermenter and insulated with some wetsuit material. I didn't take into account the heat developed during active fermentation and I've since read that inside the fermenter is generally a 2-3C higher than outside. So I was really fermenting at 19-20C instead of 17. Clever. That's where the banana was coming from and probably meant that the extra clove I was after was suppressed. Next time, Gadget.

Next time: ferment a couple of degrees cooler to lower the banana a little and let the clove come out a bit more. I'd also like try one or two different strains since all of my wheat beers so far have been with WLP300/WY3068.

Jan 14, 2014

Birthday Beer Labels

I didn't have the time or energy to label all the beers for Jason's birthday but I wanted to give Jason a few that were nicely packaged. So I made up a template that I'll use when I want to label my brews and filled in the details. It's not especially pretty, it turns out I'm not a graphic designer, but it is neat.

Dinosaur wrapping paper. Because every
6 pack holder should have dinosaurs.

Jan 12, 2014

Tasting notes: Johnnie Rico Pilsch

This was the first beer I brewed for Adam's wedding. Brewed with Huw on November 14, bottled on November 30 and this tasting on January 10.

Johnnie Rico Pilsch
OG: 1.035
FG: 1.009
IBU: 25
ABV: 3.4%

Aroma: Lemon wafts up from the glass. A closer inspection also reveals spice, honey, pils malt.
Appearance: It pours crystal clear and a sparkling pale straw-yellow colour with a dense and sticky white head. It looks very nice.
Flavour: Very clean flavours. Light pilsner malt sweetness with spicy Saaz, lemon, hints of honey and firm but smooth bitterness. There isn't any lingering aftertaste, it fades very quickly and demands another sip.
Mouthfeel: Fairly light mouthfeel, relatively high, prickly carbonation which accentuates the bitterness.

The Pilsch also goes well with cricket
I'm delighted with how this one turned out. It's spot on. So easy to drink, light and refreshing. It's perfect Summer beer. It wouldn't do anything for a beer geek obsessed with hops and exotic ingredients but it's a really nice beer. It feels weird and wrong to talk up my own beer like this but it's delicious.

The subtlety of this beer is what really makes it. Even though it's just using one malt (Weyermann Bohemian Pilsner) and one hop (Saaz), it's got a depth that goes far beyond that simplicity. It's a beer that rewards drinking, there's something new in each glass.

I spend an unreasonable amount of time reading about beer and brewing on the internet. I tend to read and then get excited and then write up recipes inspired by people's descriptions. The problem* is that some of these descriptions are really well written and they raise my expectations to the point where I get disappointed with the resulting beer. The Pilsch is one of those but fortunately it clears the expectations comfortably.

Next time: As far as I'm concerned this recipe is essentially spot on but it might be interesting to try it with a hop like Styrian Goldings or First Gold for an orange/mandarin dose of citrus rather than lemon.

* Using the word 'problem' quite loosely.

Jan 11, 2014

Tasting notes: The Lorax Pale Ale

This was the 3rd beer I brewed for Adam's wedding but the first I've gotten around to writing tasting notes for. It was brewed on November 30th and bottled on December 14th.

Aroma: Pine and passionfruit greet you at the door. There's a little dankness with them.
Appearance: Very nice clear gold colour with a couple of fingers of clean white head that diminishes slowly. Lots of happy little bubbles shooting to the surface.
Flavour: Nice maltiness that supports the hops but doesn't take away from them. With the hops there's a herbal quality there along with more of the same hop flavours as in the aroma.
Mouthfeel: Carbonation on the high side of medium and moderate bitterness for a pale ale.

The kind of quality photography I bring
every time

It's not high praise but this beer more or less does what it's meant to do. There are no fermentation-related off flavours or off flavours of any kind that I can detect. It's clean, the malt is good and the hops are decent. The problem is that the hops aren't exactly what I'm after. It's easy to find a good hop combination, it's much harder to find a great one. I have a hunch that the Simcoe I used was past it's prime. The overwhelming impression I get with the hop aroma and flavour is of Columbus. There's some Simcoe in there but it's not as assertive as it should have been. And the result is nice, but it's not stellar.

I'm pleased with the malt character. The Golden Promise and biscuit malt work really well together. It's not very prominent but it does let you know that it's there. I'm very happy with what Bill, my malt guy in Launceston, has produced. I hope he goes all the way and starts his own malting business one day.

It's a nice beer. A pleasant beer. At a wedding in a garden on a Summer's day, it's not far off from where it should be. But I'm drinking this in my bedroom on my own and it's a setting for a more critical assessment. If I bought this at a bottleshop I'd enjoy it but not be impressed by it.

Next time: Use hops that are absolutely fresh! Refine the combination or work out a different combination of hops in pursuit of that winning blend.

Brewday: Hansard's Delight Red IPA

My friend Luke enjoyed the Shepherd's Delight Red IPA, a Little Creatures Single Batch released sometime in 2013. He has a hunger for hoppy beers and asked me if I could brew a Red IPA. I said 'sure' and whipped up a recipe. That was at least 6 months ago and I never got around to brewing it. So I'm trying to mend my ways with my first brew for 2014.

The idea for this one is a deep red colour leaning towards black. People on the AHB forum recommend a combination of 5% CaraAroma and 1% Roast Barley to achieve a red colour so I went with that and made up the remaining 94% with Golden Promise and some munich malt. This was a chance to focus on presentation both in terms of colour and clarity so I hope it comes out with something that can be legitimately called red, not brown. The results during the brew looked promising.

For hops I went with a modest first wort hop addition and then added a heap of Galaxy and Centennial at the end of the boil for a hit of passionfruit, citrus and floral hops. Then there was another heavy dose of Centennial alongside Columbus for the dry hopping. I went for bitterness on the high end of the IPA scale (it's got an estimated 70 IBUs) to give it a decent bitter kick with the high level of malt flavour.

This was Luke's first experience of the brewing process from start to finish and it was fun to introduce him to the process behind the beer he drinks.

Hansard's Delight Red IPA (21L batch)
Luke very seriously adding the final hops
OG: 1.063 (1.061 measured)
FG: 1.011
IBU: 70 (estimated)
EBC: 34.2
ABV: 6.6%

79% Golden Promise malt
15% Best Malz Munich malt
5% Weyermann CaraAroma
1% Roast Barley

25g Columbus @ FWH min
60g Centennial @ 0 min
40g Galaxy @ 0 min
50g Centennial @ dry hop
50g Columbus @ dry hop

Starter of WLP 090, for an estimated pitch of 300 billion cells

8g CaSO4, 3g CaCl2, 3g MgSO4 went into the mash to get calcium up and raise the sulphate level to enhance the perception of the bitterness. I also added 2.5ml of lactic acid for pH correction.

Stepped mash: 64C (45 minutes), 72C (15 minutes) with a mash out at 78C

90 seconds of O2

04/01/14 - Brewed with Luke

Jan 9, 2014

Birthday Brew #3: Playoffs Rye IPA

This is the last of the 7 straight brews for the wedding and birthday! It's been a huge project for me with the planning, preparation during each week, the brewing and bottling. More than that, it's been great sharing the fun of brewing with friends and having their help with the physical side of brewing. I couldn't have done it without them.

The Playoffs Rye IPA had its beginnings in the month before the 2012 NBA playoffs when I realised that I'd need some very American beer to drink while watching basketball. There were some brilliant series along the way with LeBron James and the Miami Heat crushing OKC in the finals. The Playoffs Rye IPA was exactly what I wanted to go along with that. It was by far the best beer I'd brewed to that point and I was crushed when it ran out. I tried to brew it again later in 2012 but due to a couple of ingredient changes that were forced on me it ended up being a big disappointment. This brew is a chance for vindication and will hopefully go nicely with smokey pork ribs and pulled pork.

It's interesting to see how much has changed since I brewed this one the first time. At that stage I was brewing 1/2 size batches on the kitchen stove, I wasn't altering mash pH or water chemistry, I didn't always pitch enough yeast, I didn't have fermentation temperature control or the ability to oxygenate wort. It's great to be able to look back and see the improvements I've been able to make to my process over 18 months or so. The only recipe difference between this version and the first is that I used pilsner malt instead of Golden Promise to keep the malt flavour out of the way of the rye and hops. I debated raising the rye malt percentage to around 20% but in the end I decided to keep it the same as the first time around.

Huw and Will both came around to help me brew this one and it was awesome. They've both been around for several brews and they know the process well enough to be able to manage it on their own and help me to conserve energy. I've reached head brewer status!

Playoffs Rye IPA (21L batch)
OG: 1.062
FG: 1.011 (1.012 measured)
IBU: 65 (estimated)
EBC: 12.1
ABV: 6.7% (6.6% measured)

82% Weyermann Bohemian Pilsner malt
14% Rye malt
4% Caramunich II

20g Columbus @ 60 minutes
30g Columbus @ 0 minutes
30g Citra @ 0 minutes
30g Amarillo @ 0 minutes
40g Columbus @ dry hop
40g Citra @ dry hop
40g Amarillo @ dry hop

Starter of WLP090 with an estimated pitch of 300 billion cells

9g CaSO4, 2g CaCl2, 3g MgSO4 for a sulphate leaning, hop bitterness enhancing brew. Also adjusted the pH with 4ml of lactic acid.

Stepped mash: 62C (45 minutes), 72C (15 minutes) and a 78C mash out

90 seconds of O2 prior to pitching yeast

28/12/13 - Brewed with Huw & Will

05/01/14 - dry hopped with 40g each of Columbus, Citra and Amarillo

08/01/14 - Bottled

Jan 8, 2014

My hop plants

I bought a couple of hop rhizomes in 2011, a Hallertau and a Saaz, and planted them in Jason's backyard. The intention was to swing by to look after them but I got sick so they've been left to their own devices for the most part. Last year I got 440g wet hops most of which were from the Hallertau.

Jason sent me some photos of their progress this summer. The Hallertau is the bushy one at the top of the wire, the Saaz is more the more weedy one on the left.

They've taken over the steel reinforcing wire

Hop flowers on the way

Some runners have made it to the other side, about 3-4m

Jan 7, 2014

Birthday Brew #2: Nelson Sauvin Pale Ale

Obligatory hydrometer shot
The original extract version of this beer was one of my early brews in 2010. At the time I didn't know that different hops could have different levels of bitterness let alone what alpha acids were. For about 7 or 8 batches I brewed the same pale ale with different varieties of hops. The first 5 or so worked well because the hops all had an AA% fairly close to the original recipe, the 2 after that I used Saaz and East Kent Golding. They didn't give anywhere near enough bitterness but it did force me to work out what was going on.

Nelson Sauvin was a revelation. That crazy fruity aroma climbed out as soon as the bottle was opened. So fresh and bold. Of course there were plenty of commercial hoppy beers around but there weren't many highly hopped beers brewed in Tasmania and the hoppy beers from outside the state tend to lack something in the freshness department. Now I take the freshness of home brew for granted but it was so exciting back then.

The spine of the recipe is essentially the same as the wedding pale ale except that the gravity was increased slightly and the Crackerjack biscuit malt in the wedding beer was replaced with Victory in this one. The hopping rate is similar to the original extract recipe with the dry hops increased a bit.

Nelson Sauvin Pale Ale (22L batch)
Jason hard at work
OG: 1.054 (1.057 measured)
FG: 1.010 (1.011 measured)
IBU: 44 (estimated)
EBC: 12
ABV: 5.8% (6.1% measured)

95% Golden Promise
5% Victory malt

10g Nelson Sauvin @ 60 minutes
20g Nelson Sauvin @ 15 minutes
40g Nelson Sauvin @ 0 minutes
60g Nelson Sauvin @ dry hop

Estimated pitch of 230 billion cells of WLP 090

I added 9g CaSO4, 3g CaCl2, 3g MgSO4 to up the calcium and lean the Cl2:SO4 ratio towards the sulphate and hoppiness. I also added 150g of acidulated malt to adjust the mash pH.

Stepped mash: 64C (45 minutes), 72C (15 minutes) and a 78C mash out.

21/12/13 - Brewed with Jason and Huw

01/01/14 - Dry hopped with 60g Nelson Sauvin

04/01/14 - Bottled

48 bottles ready for the birthday bash!

Jan 6, 2014

My 10 Home Brew Goals for 2014

If I boiled my brewing goals down to one desire it'd be this: get better. Keep learning and working on the details in pursuit of perfection. No big deal. These are the 10 things I'm hoping to achieve in 2014.

1. Consistency
I want to improve the average standard of my brews. This was one of the big things I took away from the competition results in October. At the moment, aside from the odd infection, I'd say my worst beers are around 55/100 and the best are 85/100. I'd like to narrow that gap, get the worst ones up to 75 and the best ones to 90. I think the oxygenation and better yeast practices have been a big step in the right direction. A clean fermentation should get the worst beers up to 65-70 at least. Beyond that I'll have to find other ways to improve.

2. Dial in a couple of recipes
I'd also like to lock down 2 or 3 recipes. I have a number of recipes that are more or less set now but they're for beers where creativity isn't really a factor. There are only so many choices when you brew a hefeweizen, a berliner weisse or a dry stout. I mean beers where there's more freedom or where it's harder to stand out from the crowd. I'm probably shooting for a pale ale/IPA recipe and a saison recipe.

3. Get some experience brewing lagers
I got a new fermentation chest freezer recently so now I can begin to get a handle on lagers and pilsners without tying up my fermentation fridge for 2 months or longer. The home brew that sealed my interest in brewing and got me on this path was a pilsner hopped with Citra. I had no idea what I was doing but it turned out well and the rest is history. I'd like to recreate that beer as well as brew some traditional Czech and German beers.

4. Get to know Australian hops much better
There are quite a few Australian hops but aside from Galaxy, I don't think I've used any of them more than once. I'd like to get to know the hops that are grown practically in my backyard and learn how to make the most of them. I now have 1kg of Galaxy, Summer and Ella in my freezer so that's a good start.

5. Improve presentation
I'd also like to work on the presentation of my beers. Clarity in particular is something I've only taken small and inconsistent steps towards but I'd like to make presentation a basic part of my brewing process rather than an afterthought. Head formation is normally all good but colour is something I'd also like to put a little more thought into.

6. See home brew in Tasmania develop further
It was pretty awesome to do well in the state and national home brew competitions last year and I'd like to continue to enter and do well. More than that, I'd like to encourage other Tassie guys to enter and see them win. I'm hoping that this year we'll also be able to work towards a Hobart based home brew club. It's something I've been wanting to do for a while but I haven't been well enough to put effort into. Hopefully this year I'll have the energy. In addition to that, I'd like to get on the path to BJCP certification. I'm pretty keen to get into a more structured and defined beer tasting routine and it'd be a good thing to have some certified people in a brew club.

7. More brewing with brettanomyces
I've brewed a couple of 100% brett beers in the past but didn't get around to any in 2013. I'd like to get a brett IPA going soon and try out some others recipes during the year. I also want to try bottle conditioning with brett as I've always meant to but somehow never had my act together enough when it came time to bottle.

8. More sours
The story of sours in 2013 is similar to 100% brett beers. The spirit was willing but the body was weak. I reaped the benefits of a sour I brewed in 2012, dry hopping 1/2 of it with Simcoe turning it into one of the best beers I've brewed to date. In 2014 I'd like to get a few long term sours going as well as brewing a few that'll be ready sooner.

9. Keep getting better at yeast handling
In 2013 I gained more confidence in handling yeast, plating samples and growing up starters. In 2014 I'd like to take that to the next level with doing cell and viability counting and also begin fermenting with captured and isolated wild yeast strains.

10. More brewing for events
A big part of why I brew is to share delicious beer and fun times with other people. I consume less than 10% of the beer I brew, I give lots away and share the rest with visitors. I also like the project of designing and brewing beers for a special occasion or gathering of some kind. It's nice having a project to work on given my physical limitations thanks to CFS. The wedding and birthday I brewed for at the end of 2013 haven't even happened yet but I'm planning a few potential events. In particular I'd like to brew something for the World Cup. That'll be interesting since by my calculations, most of the games will kick off between 3am-12pm our time. Breakfast beer for everyone!

Jan 5, 2014

Birthday Brew #1: Brewdog Hardcore IPA Clone

For the past 3 years my friend Jason's birthday has been an occasion to gather a bunch of beer loving friends and share some interesting commercial beers. He loves good beer and has been one of my most ardent home brew supporters. This year is his 30th and he's going all out with around 20 people coming to a 2 day event centred on camping out and slow cooking some delicious BBQ.

My part in it has been to brew 3 beers for the event. Jason and I were talking about the possibilities a couple of months ago and it was obvious that hops were going to be a big part of things. Jason wanted a version of a Nelson Sauvin single hop Pale Ale we brewed several times 3 years ago so that was easy. I'd just bought Mitch Steele's IPA book and saw the Brewdog Hardcore IPA recipe. The Hardcore IPA was one of the early Imperial IPAs was available to us and it made a big impression so that seemed like a good choice too. Finally, I'd been itching to brew my Playoffs IPA again so I took the opportunity to add that one to the list. Lots and lots of hops. Unlike the wedding, this birthday is mostly made up of people I know who are relatively educated in craft beer and Jason himself loves the hoppy beer so I didn't feel like I needed to moderate my choices like I did with the wedding.

Part of the challenge of brewing a big and hoppy beer with the BIAB method and using a 40L urn is in planning for and managing the losses. As the planned OG increases, the efficiency of converting and extracting the sugars decreases. I planned for 73% efficiency, down from the 80% which is my normal level, and ended up with 72% so I was pretty close. The good thing is that this information allows me to plan some other big beers with more confidence. Along with reduced efficiency, more hops means more wort losses at the end of the brew with the trub and hop debris left at the bottom of the urn. So factoring all of that in I was aiming for 15.5L of finished beer instead of the 19.5-21.5L I normally get.

In addition to the quantity challenges, I've also found quality a bit lacking in the higher ABV beers I've brewed. They've tended to be good but not great, often suffering from off flavours. I've managed to get off flavours through an inadequate pitch of yeast, high alcohol levels or insufficient O2 stressing the yeast and high fermentation temperatures. I've collected the whole set. So with this one I was trying to do everything I could to make sure the yeast was happy and the fermentation was clean. I oxygenated the wort for 2 minutes, twice what I do for a beer in the 1.050s and I built up a massive pitch of yeast (an estimated 330 billion cells). Everything went quite well and the only problem with it was that it didn't ferment all the way down to the 1.014 I was after. With hindsight, I think I should have picked up some yeast nutrient to give them a little extra love and perhaps mashed lower than the 65C I went with.

Brewdog Hardcore IPA Clone (17L batch)
OG: 1.083 (1.082 measured)
FG: 1.014 (1.020 measured)
IBU: 148
EBC: 21.8
ABV: 9% (8.3% measured)

90% Maris Otter
6.5% Caramalt
3.5% Simpsons light crystal

25g Columbus @ 75 minutes
25g Centennial @ 75 minutes
12g Columbus @ 60 minutes
12g Centennial @ 60 minutes
33g Columbus @ 0 minutes
33g Centennial @ 0 minutes
33g Simcoe @ 0 minutes
50g Columbus @ dry hop

Estimated pitch of 330 billion cells of WLP 090

120 seconds of oxygen

I added 200g acidulated malt to correct the mash pH and added 11g CaSO4, 2g CaCl2, 3g MgSO4 as the recipe said to burtonise the water. I wasn't keen to push the sulphate levels higher than I did although I may test the limits of that another time.

Stepped mash: 65C (45 minutes), 72C (15 minutes) and a 78C mash out.

14/12/13 - Brewed with Huw

24/12/13 - Added 50g Columbus dry hops

28/12/13 - Bottled

Tasting notes

Jan 4, 2014

Wedding Beer Catchup #4: Mr Darcy Hefeweizen

The last beer for the wedding is a hefeweizen. It's hard to argue with a hefe on a summers day. Although I guess if you're trying to argue with a beer you have other problems. Beer can't talk. I feel pretty confident with my process for hefeweizens and that kind of security is good when brewing for other people.

Yeast on a plate ready to go into a 5ml vial

Stepped up from 2ml to 20ml

The yeast was one I'd made a plate of back when I brewed the leichtes weizen. It was a simple matter to use my sterilised inoculation loop to scoop up some yeast and deposit it in the vial. Once the yeast was happily fermenting in the vial I stepped it up into a mini erlenmeyer, then into a 250ml erlenmeyer and finally into my 2L erlenmeyer. Several steps but it worked out very well and each time I do it I feel a bit more confident about my processes.

Bernie milling the grain and pulling faces

This brew is pretty similar to the leichtes weizen I brewed for the competition. I went for a 30 minute ferulic acid rest and was planning on a gravity of 1.046. My efficiency was a bit lower than I expected, something that seems to happen often when I use wheat, and I ended up with 1.043 in the fermenter. Will and Bernie helped out with this one and it all went nice and smoothly.

Mr Darcy Hefeweizen (21L batch)
Will helping Bernie mill the grain
OG: 1.043
FG: 1.011
IBU: 13
EBC: 5.7
ABV: 4.2%

60% Best Malz wheat malt
40% Weyermann Bohemian Pilsner malt

15g Aramis @ 60 minutes

1.2L starter of WLP 300 built up from a plate. Shooting for a pitch of 190 billion cells. Fermented at 17C for 5 days and then increased to 19C to finish it off.

3g CaSO4, 7g CaCl2, 3g MgSO4 to increase the calcium and keep the profile balanced

Stepped mash: 42C (30 min), 63C (raised from 42C with an infusion of boiling water, 40 min), 72C (15 minutes) and mashed out at 78C.

60 seconds of oxygen after cooling

07/12/13 - Brewed with Will & Bernie

21/12/13 - Bottled

Jan 3, 2014

Wedding Beer Catchup #3: The Lorax Pale Ale

Earlier in the year I brewed a beer with my friends Adam and Will. It was a simple extract pale ale with some Weyermann CaraAmber for a bit of interest. It was hopped with Simcoe and Columbus and turned into an easy drinking, 4.6% pale ale with a huge tropical fruit juice flavour and aroma. When Adam asked me to brew for his wedding, this was one of the beers he wanted.

Instead of doing an extract batch, I decided to translate the recipe into all grain. True to form, I ended up playing with the recipe a bit so that the similarity between this recipe and the original is mainly in the hopping. I got some biscuit malt from Bill, a great bloke up in Launceston, who's been malting and roasting barley at home. Crackerjack, his biscuit malt reminds me heaps of Sao crackers we used to have growing up. My first batch using his malt got infected so I was keen to give it a shot here. I also increased the OG a little because the other wedding beers were all planned to be between 3.5-4.5% abv.

The Lorax Pale Ale (21L batch)
There's no real connection between the two except for the colour
OG: 1.051
FG: 1.011
IBU: 38 (estimated)
EBC: 10.1
ABV: 5.3%

95% Golden Promise
5% Not For Horses Crackerjack malt

30g Simcoe @ 60 min
30g Simcoe @ 0 min
50g Simcoe @ Dry hop
50g Columbus @ Dry hop

1.5L starter of WLP 090 (estimated pitch of 230 billion cells), fermented at 18C

60 seconds of oxygen

I added 8g CaSO4, 2g CaCl2, 3g MgSO4 to the mash to raise the calcium and get the sulphate levels to enhance the hoppiness and 125g acidulated malt for mash pH correction.

Stepped mash: 66C (40 minutes), 72C (15 minutes) and a 78C mash out.

30/11/13 - Brewed with Adam and Will

8/12/13 - Added dry hops

14/12/13 - Bottled

Tasted on 11/01/14

Wedding beer catchup #2: Buck Mulligan Golden Ale

Golden Ales aren't the most exciting beer but there's something fun in working with more subtle flavours to try to create something almost endlessly drinkable. With this one I'm following the lead of some English breweries. The Internet tells me that these kinds of beers are quite popular at the moment. The general theme seems to be: pale golden colour, 3.5-4.5% ABV, an English yeast and an American or New Zealand hop variety.

This is the perfect time to try out a hop variety that's new to me: Summer. It isn’t a brand new variety, it was developed right here in Tasmania in 1997 by Hop Products Australia. For a while it was called Summer Saaz as one of its parents was Saaz but now the Saaz seems to have been dropped and we have Summer. The description says that it has a balanced, sweet and fruity aroma of melon, citrus and passionfruit. It’s a fairly low alpha acid variety, this batch clocking in around 5.5%aa. In this beer I’m shooting for around 25 IBUs, enough to be there but not to steal the show. I’m after a decent hop aroma though, something surprising to people not used to craft beer but inviting at the same time.

Buck Mulligan Golden Ale (23L batch)
OG: 1.045
FG: 1.011
IBU: ~24 (this is a bit of a guess since most of the bitterness comes from the flame-out addition)
EBC: 7.7
ABV: 4.5%

80% Weyermann Bohemian Pilsner malt
20% Best Malz wheat malt

8 IBUs of Summer @ 10 min
50g of Summer @ 0 min
50g of Summer @ dry hop

Fermented with WY1026 @ 18 celsius

Water adjusted for a balanced profile and to get the calcium to a good place. 3g CaSO4, 6g CaCl2, 3g MgSO4.

Stepped mash: 66C (40 minutes), 72C (15 minutes) and a 78C mash out

22/11/13 - brewed with Huw's help

04/12/13 - dry hopped with 100g Summer instead of 50g since the yeast had stripped out almost all the hop character

07/12/13 - bottled

Jan 2, 2014

2013 home brew review

Keeping detailed records has been invaluable in my brewing experience. For the last 2 years I've been recording the details of my brews in a spreadsheet, adding new categories as I've realised other things I should be noting. It makes it easy to look back and make connections/improvements and track things over time. So here's the summary of my beer in 2013.

This year I brewed 35 beers, not bad considering I spent ~5 months of the year stuck in bed. The beer was mainly brewed in 3 bursts in between CFS setbacks: March-May, August-September and November-December. Of those: 9 were of German origin, 12 American, 4 Belgians, 9 UK beers and 1 Australian.

I probably ended up brewing twice as many German beers and half as many Belgians as I usually would, mostly a quirk of reusing the yeast I had on hand several times. For 2014 I want to focus more on Saisons and other Belgian beers. I also didn't end up brewing any sours, mostly because I got sick each time I was planning to. I also never got around to brewing a lager. In 2014 I plan to brew several of each.

4 beers were brewed for a wedding
3 beers were brewed for a friend's birthday
5 beers were entered into competition
1 scored 132/150 in the ACT ABC and got a bronze in the nationals.

Brewing for special events and competition is fun but also a bit stressful. The stakes are a higher and there's less under my control. For all that, it's a great chance to try my beer out on a bunch of people who have little or no connection to me. That makes it a better assessment of where I'm at than my friends who like drinking free beer.

I lost 3 beers to infection, 1 was lost in moving house, 1 suffered from a burnt taste after the urn element got charred in the brewing process.

All up I brewed 707L of beer with an average OG of 1.050 and FG of 1.010 and established a fairly reliable brewhouse efficiency of 80%.

I used 16 varieties of hops and 12 strains of yeast with US-05 being the most popular, going into 10 batches.

More than statistics, I made improvements to my process that made noticeable differences to my beer. I started adjusting water chemistry and pH, something I began reading about during 2012 but only began doing in 2013. The pH helped improve my mash efficiency and I found that my beers cleared much more quickly. It seems that having a minimum of 50 ppm of calcium helps the yeast operate and flocculate more effectively.

A little more recently (November 2013) I finally got started with oxygenating wort. People who know say that depending on the strength of the beer, 8-14 ppm of dissolved oxygen is the optimum level for yeast reproduction happiness. I've tasted the first 4 beers using oxygenation and they have all been a step up from my previous brews. Cleaner and missing a slight off flavour I'd found in the majority of my beers.

Over the course of the year I also refined and gained confidence in my yeast handling practices. I've got a bank of 6 strains on plates in my fridge and enough flasks and vials to easily step up from a single colony to a pitchable amount. I have been better at making sure I was using yeast calculators (the Brewers Friend one is the best I've found) and pitching the correct amounts. This year I bought a microscope and hemocytometer but haven't had the chance to put them to use to check cell density and viability but that's the next step.

It's been a good year for brewing. My beer is better than it was last year, I'm still learning heaps as I go and as soon as I've recovered enough, I've got plenty more in depth reading waiting for me. Unfortunately it wasn't such a good year for blogging, I'd have liked to record my progress much better than I have. I'm hoping that next year will be better health-wise and that I'll be able to brew and record what I'm up to. I've got some fun things planned for 2014 but I think I'll save them for another post.
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