Thursday, May 9, 2013

Encountering Old Problems (or, How I Dealt With Two Blowoffs in a Row After Nearly 3 Years Without Needing One)

It is a common occurrence for the novice homebrewer. You boil your wort, add some hops, and chill it down to a pitchable temperature, then you add your yeast and check up the next day after work, to see if the fermentation has started... only to find that the beer has fermented so aggressively that yeast and beer are literally shooting out of the airlock and all over your closet. Sometimes the ferment is so great that the airlock and rubber stopper are sitting on the floor while a bubbly mess of muddy-looking yeast is spewing out of your carboy like some horrible Irish volcano.

This is called a blowoff, and it is a relatively avoidable problem. Blowoffs are caused by an active fermentation, as the CO2 produced by the yeast attempts to come out of solution by bubbling out the fermenting beer. This foamy yeast layer on the top of the beer is called krausen, and it is normally a sign of a healthy ferment. The more sugar and protein in the wort, the bigger and foamier the krausen will be. High pitching rates, warmer fermentation temperatures and certain yeast strains have also been known to cause foamier, messier krausen. As long as you are fermenting at your desired temperature with the correct amount of the proper yeast strain, the size of the krausen will not affect the beer. The trick is keeping the beer (and accompanying yeast) in the fermenter and out of the airlock.

The first time I experienced a blowoff was when I brewed my second homebrew after having taken a year-long break from the hobby (when I lived in NYC, I didn't have the space or the proper equipment to brew anything more complicated than a french press coffee). The year was 2008, I was living alone in a new city (Portland, OR), and I was spending a lot of time on homebrewing forums like Northern Brewer's Forum because I hadn't made many friends. I read about this technique called "reusing yeast" which took the yeast from the bottom of the fermenter and used it to make a fresh batch of beer. I had no idea how much I would utilize this technique in the future, but boy did I do it wrong the first time.

I proceeded to pour the fresh 72º wort from my ~1.070 chocolate stout directly on top of the full yeast cake left by my ~1.058 Amber Ale, which had just been racked to secondary. I let that stout it ferment at ambient, which was a pretty tame 58º F. Then I went out that night (because it was Halloween), came back home and cranked the heat up to 70º (because I had guests spending the night), and checked how the beer was doing the following morning. I found the airlock on the floor, a yeasty mess on the carpet, more yeast on the walls, and a sufficiently disgusting carboy. I then decided to use a blowoff to control the mess (basically a PVC tube going from the airlock hole directly into a 750L bottle filled with sanitizer and water). The next day the bottle was overflowing and making more of a mess. I then used a big 1 gal jug, which worked just fine.

Later I learned that the only guarantee to needing a blowoff is small headspace + high gravity wort + high protein grain bill + giant yeast pitch + warm fermentation temperature. I had several more blowoffs over the years, one even occurring in secondary (I guess fermentation picked back up when I racked to secondary). I would even plan for blowoffs whenever I would brew a high-gravity beer or I would leave less than 25% of the fermenter for headspace. But once I started controlling fermentation temperatures, I noticed something. When I fermented cooler (≤62º F), I wouldn't ever need a blowoff. The ferments lasted longer, but they never got out of control. And the beers ended up cleaner, too (even with "estery" English yeasts). So I started fermenting nearly everything ~2º under the recommended minimum listed on the wyeast/white labs/fermentis/danstar website. It worked. My beers improved and the messes were minimized.

Then something else happened: I stopped brewing high-gravity and high protein beers. My DIPA's got replaced by India Session Ales and APA's. My ESB's were replaced by Best Bitters. My Porter shrunk from its original 1.066 OG to a mere 1.052. I stopped brewing witbiers and Dubbels. My stouts were no longer Imperial. And my liver was thankful. No doubt this was in response to the Imperial-everything trend, and the fact that I found a nice IPA easier and easier to buy (and a fine session ale increasingly difficult to locate). But then I started brewing with someone else, and we started to retread the old trend of bigger, bolder beers. Our first co-brew was a big West Coast IPA, followed by a Rye APA, then we went on to do a Tripel, followed by a 1.062 version of my Grey Skies Porter, and not long after that, we did an Imperial Stout.

It was inevitable. I was going to brew up another blowoff. It was the Imperial Stout that did it. My kettle was filled almost to the brim with high gravity wort, and I pitched a tremendous amount of fresh yeast slurry. The blowoff started less than 8 hours after pitching the yeast. I had to build a blowoff for the first time since 2010. It was balls.

My very next brew was one I had been planning for a long time - I wanted to do a Black IPA with sinamar as the sole "roast" agent. But I ended up somehow putting nearly a gallon more wort in my fermenter than I typically do. Somehow I had boiled off 40% less than expected fascinating, I know. I proceeded to pitch about a pint of thick, hoppy slurry I got from Reuben at Triple Rock. So what happened? More blowoff. This time fermentation began within 8 hours of pitching (wort was 60º F when I pitched the yeast, and the fermentation chamber was set to 56º F). One hour after I noticed fermentation began, I found it had begun to blowoff. I quickly built a new blowoff setup and went on my merry way.

So the lesson in all of this? Yeast is alive and humans are forgetful. Try to remember that, just because you haven't had a brewing mishap for a while doesn't mean you'll never have it again.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Remembering a Lost Recipe (Old School IPA)

About a year ago, I was looking at some older (pre-2005) homebrew and craft beer IPA recipes because I remembered hating IPA so much when I was in college, and I wondered if I would like those same beers today (sure, many of them are still brewed, but the breweries were taken over by big beverage comglomerates, so the beers are of a lower quality than they once were). So I went to brew something along the lines of a 2002 American IPA, or an American IPA from the time when IPA was the next big thing and not the dominant best-selling style of craft beer (remember, this was even before "Imperial" meant anything to the average beer far we have come in ~10 years).

I noticed that many (most?) of those older recipes had 1 lb of wheat malt per 5 gal batch. Often the notes were odd, saying something like, "a little bit of wheat to make the beer clear better" or "some wheat to ensure proper carbonation," but nonetheless, the wheat was there pretty consistently. In fact, it seemed like every recipe from that time was 1.060-1.065 and had ~1 lb of wheat, ≥1 lb of carapils, and ~1 lb of other crystal malt (usually 40L or 60L). While I find that much crystal malt excessive in a standard IPA, and the hopping rates in most recipes were not what I would want, either - mostly 60-15-0 and 60-30-15-0, with dry hopping seemingly optional - I decided to take what I learned and synthesize an "Old School IPA" recipe. I actually lost that recipe when my last laptop was stolen, but I remember the basic premise well enough. 

I ended up going with a malt bill of (I think) 80% 2-row, 5% wheat malt, 5% crystal 60, 5% carapils, and 5% Munich 10L. I shot for a 1.063 OG and I believe I hit 1.062. I mashed at 150-152F (I don't recall exactly), and I employed a 90-minute boil. I used a hop schedule of 60-30-15-0-dry and I bittered with Columbus, used Centennial at 30, Cascade and Centennial at 15, and Cascade and Columbus at 0, and dry hopped with Cascade (and maybe columbus). I don't recall amounts used, but I do remember the flameout was 3 oz of hops (more than used at the time), and that the 15 min addition was just 2 oz of hops. Most of the IBU's came from the 60 min addition, and at least half of the remaining IBUs came from the 30 min addition. I bittered it to a mere 60 IBUs. The volume of dry hops was just 1 oz per 5 gal. I used WLP001 slurry.

The recipe went against a lot of my typical thinking when it comes to brewing IPA, and it came out great. It was the kind beer where I would drink 4 pints without realizing it. And despite that high volume of crystal malt, it was extremely refreshing. It wasn't the kind of "sit and think about it" IPA like Ballast Point's Sculpin or Alpine's Duet, but it also wasn't noticeably less hoppy-tasting than Racer 5 or Lagunitas IPA, and the maltiness was definitely less in-your-face than Lagunitas. The bitterness was tamer than West Coast IPA or Racer 5, but not by as much as I expected. It was a great beer for drinking, and sessionable despite its ~6.4% ABV. What I took from this brew were two things: Cascade and Columbus are incredible aroma hops (I have since used them a lot more than I did at the time), and a little wheat now goes into every hoppy beer I brew. I have since brewed similar beers with more contemporary hop profiles and less crystal malt, and I always notice the increased sessionability that I get from the the smooth texture a little wheat malt provides. And all that crystal malt made less of a difference than I expected. I think a lot of the problems people have with crystal malt in an IPA is actually a problem they have with high mash temperatures, mello bittering hops (like Magnum), poor yeast management (1 smack pack into a 1.070 IPA spells trouble) and DARK crystal malt. 

So now I add crystal malt freely if I want a caramel flavor (of late I am rather fond of Carahell for hoppy beers). I use a 2-1 ratio of easy-to-buy cascade and columbus as aroma/dry hops in anything where I am shooting for a "C Hop" aroma, and I freely bitter with Columbus in any American style of ale. Do I still love Simcoe, Amarillo and Citra in an IPA? Sure. But I am happy to spend $18 on a keg of great IPA with a "C hop" aroma and flavor than $40 on a similar IPA with a great fruity "new school" hop aroma.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Perfect BJCP Guidelines [UPDATED]

I recently had the opportunity to judge some beers at the World Cup of Beer. I judged beside David Teckam, one of the most active beer judges in California. We talked a bit about the BJCP guidelines needing a little edit in the near future, and I told him about my older post about problems I saw with the guidelines. That got me to thinking: just what do the perfect guidelines look like? So here is my take on what the BJCP style list looks like.

EDIT: I have already realized an obvious flaw in my first go at this, so I will discuss it here and edit out the problem. American Pale and Amber Ales and IPA make sense to merge together from an apples/oranges perspective, but there are just too many entries in those categories to keep them tied together. So my decision is to split them up.

Category 1: Pale Lager
1A. Global Pale Lager (this includes Classic American Pilsner in addition to Light, Standard, and Premium American Light Lagers; as well as adjunct-heavy Asian and Latin American pale lagers)
1B. European Pale Lager (think "green bottle" European beers and all-malt American pale lagers, as well as dortmunder lagers)
1C. Munich Helles
1D. Pilsner (Bohemian and German)

Category 2: Amber and Dark Lager I believe that these styles can be fairly compared against each other and so they should merge.
2A. Mexican Amber Lager (note that this replaces Vienna Lager, calling it what it is)
2B. Oktoberfest
2C. California Common Lager
2D. Munich Dunkel
2E. Schwarzbier
2F. Bohemian Dark Lager (rare that I feel the need to add a missing style, but this is just obvious)
2G. International Dark Lager (this includes American Dark Lager as well as a variety of dark lager styles from places as varied as Mexico and other parts of Europe).

Category 3: Strong Lager
3A. Traditional Bock
3B. Maibock/Helles Bock
3C. Doppelbock
3D. Eisbock
3E. Malt Liquor (yes, there is a place for it in the guidelines)
3F. Baltic Porter (finally placed where it ought to be)

Category 4: Hybrid Ale
4A. Blond Ale
4B. Cream Ale
4C. Kölsch
4D. Altbier (there is no good reason to specify N. German/Dusseldorf/Münster)

Category 5: British and Irish Pale and Amber Ale
5A. Ordinary Bitter
5B. Strong Bitter
5C. Extra Strong Bitter
5D. Irish Red Ale
5E. Scottish Ale (60/-, 70/-, and 80/-)

Category 6: American Pale and Amber Ale
6A. American Pale Ale
6B. American Amber/Red Ale
6C. American Specialty Ale (this would specify clean yeast profiles and hop-forwardness, so as to be inclusive of "hoppy beers" that have no unusual adjuncts or non-beer ingredients, like Double Red Ale, India Session Ale, and Black IPA. ≤8%)

Category 7: India Pale Ale
7A. India Pale Ale (6.0%-7.9%)
7B. Imperial IPA (8%+)

Category 8: Brown Ale
8A. Mild
8B. English Brown Ale
8C. American Brown Ale

Category 9: Porter and Stout This merge is a serious no-brainer
9A. Porter (combining robust and brown)
9B. Dry Stout
9C. Sweet Stout
9D. Oatmeal Stout
9E. Extra Stout (combining foreign extra stout and American stout)

Category 10: Wheat and Rye Beer
10A. American Wheat Beer
10B. Weissbier
10C. Dunkelweizen
10D. Weizenbock
10E. Roggenbier

Category 11: Belgian Ale
11A. Witbier
11B. Saison
11C. Belgian Blond Ale
11D. Dubbel
11E. Tripel
11F. Quadrupel (replacing dark strong ale)
11G. Belgian Specialty Ale

Category 12: Sour Ale
12A. Berliner Weisse
12B. Flanders Red Ale
12C. Flanders Brown Ale/Oud Bruin
12D. Straight (Unblended) Lambic
12E. Gueuze
12F. Fruit Lambic
12E. Specialty Sour

Category 13: Strong Ale
13A. English Barleywine
13B. American Barleywine
13C. Scottish Strong Ale
13D. Imperial Stout
13E. Specialty Strong Ale (8%+)

Category 14: Flavored Beer
14A. Fruit Beer
14B. Spice/Herb/Vegetable Beer
14C. Winter Ale
14D. Rauchbier
14E. Wood-aged Beer
14F. Specialty Flavored Beer

Category 15. Specialty Beer

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Brewing a Classic American Craft Beer Style: American Amber Ale

While the American macro-brewing tradition traces its origin to German immigrants attempting to recreate German pale lagers with domestic American ingredients, the modern American Craft Brewing tradition more closely follows the British ale-brewing tradition. Starting with New Albion, Anchor, Sierra Nevada, Portland Brewing (now owned by a large beverage conglomerate and operated by Pyramid), Roaring Rock (now Triple Rock), and the Hopland Brewery (now Mendocino Brewing Company); the first post-prohibition US craft beer styles were American takes on English pale ale (bitter) and porter.

Early on there was no distinction between Pale and Amber ales. The term "amber ale" came about to account for the difficulty found by some brewing pioneers marketing a copper-colored "pale ale" to people who were used to straw-colored beer. The breweries all had different ways of marketing their products. While some breweries (notably Anchor and New Albion) simply called their Pale Ales "Ale" with the understanding that customers would associate an ale with "pale ale" due largely to the renown of Bass Ale from England (truly a hallmark of the style for over a century until some beverage conglomerate took over and reduced the brand to its current state). "Amber" slowly came to define those beers that were deep gold and copper-colored beers, while "Red" came to define those that were between copper and light brown. An today "red" and "amber" are basically synonymous (~SRM 10-16) with "pale" usually being reserved for light or deep golden-colored beers (~SRM 4-8).

By the time I came of legal age (2004) American craft brewers settled into the divergent "pale ale" styles of American Pale Ale, American Amber/Red Ale, and American Blond Ale (which developed to account for extra pale, light-bodied ales). They were all made from mostly domestic 2-row and they were all usually hopped with the "new" American cascade hop, that came to define and influence American brewing for the next two plus decades.

Today a blond is brewed with usually 100% 2-row, or occasionally pilsner malt; a dose of wheat perhaps; and possibly a pinch of very light crystal or carapils malt. Blonds are usually low-bodied and not very hoppy. They tend to be subtle, restrained beers - owing their heritage as much to the pale lagers of Milwaukee and St. Louis as they do to the pale ales of Britain.

Pale Ales came to be defined by a medium body, made from mostly 2-row and a touch of crystal malt, generously hopped with cascade hops (later other domestic hops became associated with the style, as well). Pale Ales today are frequently dry hopped, but this was not in common practice in the halcyon 1980's when the style really came into its own.

American Amber Ales (sometimes still called "red ales") are usually maltier versions of American Pale Ales. Probably the truest to its roots as an American take on English Bitters, the best Amber Ales are balanced, with a medium body, rich malt backbone, and the unique aroma and flavor of modern American hops. Most of the originals featured cascades again, but several are made with milder more "English" domestic hops like Willamette or Glacier. Others are made with bolder contemporary American hops like Citra or Simcoe. The malt bill is typically domestic 2-row and crystal malt, but many feature some Munich Malt (usually domestic 10L), a small amount of wheat malt, and/or some dark malt to help color the beer. The beers are usually bittered for balance, with low to moderate hop aroma and flavor. Dry hopping is optional, but somewhat rare in the style.

While most breweries either had a "pale ale" style of pale ale or an "amber ale" style of pale ale, today many breweries have both. As such, the styles have further diverged and Amber Ales have taken the short end of the stick. Often they are a brewery's "girl beer" for "BMC drinkers." They are often cheap on hops, overly sweet, and clearly not brewed to "wow" any beer geeks, but to produce something palatable for guests who do not generally like beer or hop bitterness. And that's fine. Not every beer needs to be something I find delicious. My problem is that, as American brewers have stepped beyond the British origins of American craft beer with the rise of American IPA, the decline of balanced American Amber Ales, and the near-death of American Brown Ale; bars and breweries rarely have a truly balanced ale on their taplist.

Homebrewing to the rescue. A well done American Amber Ale provides a gentle hop punch, a solid (but not overwhelming) malt backbone, and a body and ABV that lends itself to easy drinking. My take on American Amber Ale features the best attributes of American Pale Ale, Düsseldorf Altbier, and English Bitter. It is clean, fairly dry, medium-bodied, with a rich malt flavor and a distinct cascade hop aroma and flavor. A while back I "settled" on a malt bill of 8% British medium crystal malt, 1% carafa special II, 20-25% Munich malt, and a base of American pale malt (2-row or pale ale); this time I decided to try adding a touch of wheat malt to add a little more body and head retention without deepening the flavor or adding any sweetness. My recipe is designed to be mashed between 150º F and 152º F, aiming for a somewhat dry finished product. I bitter the beer with the smooth (but not too smooth) super-alpha Summit, which was not available to brewers in the 1980's. And I feature cascades in the beer as first wort hops, 5 min hops, and flameout hops (a hop schedule that is itself a curious mix of 1980's and 2010's). Since I am brewing 12 gallons, I initially intended to dry hop only half of the amber ale, for the sake of comparing the two.

The brewday was distracting, to say the least. My fiancée was having a bridal shower at the same time as I was brewing, and her dad and uncle were hanging out with me during most of the brewing process. Since I made a few bonehead mistakes before mashing in that wasted over an hour, I decided to cut my usual 90 minute boil down to 60 minutes, and I didn't really compensate for the reduced evaporation (I boiled a bit more aggressively than usual, but that didn't increase the evaporation rate by enough). As a result, I ended up with a little more slightly lower-gravity beer than planned. No problem, though, because the recipe was for a beer on the big end of the style.

I pitched some second-generation BRY-97 and fermented at 62F. After 3 days, the majority of fermentation appeared complete, so I pulled the fermenters out of the fermentation freezer and let them finish up at ambient for a couple days until the majority of the yeast appeared to floc out. At that point, I put one of the buckets back into the fermentation fridge at 34º F to help the yeast floc out of suspension to aid in both harvesting the yeast for an upcoming IPA and to clear the beer for future consumption.

I was planning on drinking one of these soon and dry hopping the second, but now I am considering just dry hopping both of them, as my taps are full and there isn't a free keg to put the beer in.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Brewing Like a Belgian

Oh Belgium. Just a decade ago their beers were all but unknown to the average American drinker. Today we all know Belgium to be the Holy Grail of boundary-pushing excellence in the European brewing art. So off-kilter is Belgium's brewing tradition, and so successful, that we Americans have established defined "style guidelines" to create their micro-nation-specific styles of beer. The grandest of which are the three great Trappist styles: Dubbel (double), Tripel (triple), and Belgian Dark Strong Ale (sometimes synonymous with Quadrupel or Quadruple).

My brew-buddy Patrick and I decided to brew a Tripel. Neither of us are particularly into super-boozy giant beers, so we kept it on the small side. Our intention was to brew a 1.075 beer. However, this was our first time with a new mill and a new mash tun, and we ended up with a slightly lower efficiency than expected, and that took us to an out-of-style (by BJCP standards, not Belgian standards) 1.073 Tripel.

For the recipe, we went with a pretty standard base of Pilsner Malt (Weyermann) and pinch of Munich. We also added a touch of acid malt just to ensure a good pH. We mashed low (149º F) and we took a rather large liberty by deciding to add some late hops - Glacier (English-style US hop) and a little Cascade (the classic American "C" hop) were chosen to add a judicious dose of hoppy aroma to our Tripel.

Designing Great Beer Part 3: Managing Fermentation

Some people wax philosophic about brewer's yeast. Something living turns your carefully-designed wort into beer. More than any other part of the process, the yeast can make your homebrew taste like fine craft beer or "homebrew." That is to say that 90% of homebrew off flavors I encounter come from improper fermentation management. What do I mean? Let's look at what yeast needs to give you the best beer possible.

Choose the Right Yeast Strain
Want to make a great Belgian Dubbel? Use a Belgian yeast recommended for Dubbels. There are several choices and Wyeast and White Labs both have pages on their website that will help you pick the correct strain for your recipe. This isn't brain surgery, though. Many strains are very versatile. Nearly every style of lager can be effectively brewed with Wyeast 2124 or White Labs 830. Any American-style ale can be made with the renowned "Chico" strain that almost every brand of brewer's yeast produces: White Labs 001, Wyeast 1056, Safale US-05, and Danstar BRY-97. And one "trick" that I have learned is to use a clean English Ale yeast like WLP002 to make American Ales - that's what Deschute's and Ninkasi use and they are both known for producing fine American-style ales.

Pitch Enough Healthy Yeast
Another common problem people run into is pitching too little yeast and/or pitching unhealthy yeast. Despite what Wyeast and White Labs will have you believe, one "smack pack" or vial of yeast is not the ideal amount to ferment 5-6 gallons of beer. Most of the time you should ideally pitch 2-3 times as much yeast. This doesn't mean you need to buy 2-3 smack packs for every brew because you can either use a pack of dry yeast (Safale and Danstar yeast sachets really do contain enough yeast for 5-6 gal of beer up to 1.060), or you can make a yeast starter to build up more healthy yeast to pitch into your beer. Another option is to save the yeast slurry sitting on the bottom of your last batch of homebrew. The yeast you have on the bottom of your homebrew fermenter is usually healthy and there is a ton of it. Some people recommend that you only reuse yeast from beers under 1.060 OG that aren't hoppy, but, in my experience, anything under 1.070 OG can be reused just fine, hoppy or not. This is standard practice in the brewing industry. And while I avoid going more than 6 generations with my yeast, most pro brewries go 20+ generations before they start fresh. I just saved you $8 per batch of homebrew. Pitching rates (the amount of yeast you need for the beer you are producing) can be looked up in your homebrew software or at Mr. Malty.

Oxygenate Your Wort
Yeast need Oxygen to be happy. This can be achieved by adding O2 directly to your wort, or by stirring or otherwise aggressively aerating your wort to make sure their is enough oxygen in the wort to provide an ideal environment for the yeast to feast.

Pitch and Ferment at the Correct Temperature
After you made your wort, aerated id, and you are ready to pitch plenty of healthy yeast into the beer, you can still ruin your beer by fermenting at the incorrect temperature. This is the single most common brewing mishap. 9/10 homebrews I taste that I do not like were fermented too warm. Fermenting too warm can lead to the yeast producing various esters, phenols, and other off flavors, often "fruity" or "spicy," these off flavors make the beer taste unpolished, unprofessional, and like "homebrew" instead of craft beer. Yes the yeast companies tell you 65-72º F is the ideal temperature for most strains, but that is the fermentation temperature, not the ambient temperature outside the fermenter that they are describing, and they are considering fermentation in MUCH larger vessels. Larger fermenters, like a standard 10 bbl/310 gallon conical fermenter at a craft brewery, will permit higher fermentation temperatures with fewer yeast-derived off flavors. In your 5 gal carboy or 12 gallon plastic fermenter, you need to keep the temperature a few degrees cooler than that to get the cleanest flavor from most yeast strains. This often depends on the yeast strain, but I shoot for the low end of the "recommended" temperature range provided by the yeast manufacturer. How do I keep my fermentation so cool when my apartment is usually warmer than my ideal fermentation environment? I have a chest freezer with an external temperature control that I use to keep the temperature at a steady whatever-I-want-it-to-be. It looks like this (when it was in my old Portland apartment).
There are other ways of keeping your beer fermenting at the right temperature, and you can google "son of fermentation" and "homebrew swamp cooler" to find some of them.

Let It Finish
Your beer will tell you when it has finished fermenting. Krausen will fall, the airlock will stop bubbling, and you can check the gravity to make sure it stops dropping (checking once every 2 days after fermentation looks complete is a good method). Once the beer is finished, let it sit at a warm indoor temperature (~68-72º F) for a few days to make sure it cleans itself up and settles. If you can, after the beer has sat at a warmer temperature for some time, try to cool the whole fermenter down to 34º F or so. Spending a couple days at that cold temperature will help the yeast fall out of suspension and compact on the bottom of the fermenter. This makes it easier to rack the beer off of the yeast with minimal yeast tranfer (so your beer will be clearer), and the remaining yeast cake is easier to harvest for use in your next batch.

Take Care to Bottle or Keg Properly
I keg my beers and have a pretty good technique of force carbonating. But be weary of the kegs. Sometimes they can look fine, but not be perfectly sealed, causing your beer to oxygenate or spoil. You don't want this to happen, so don't let it happen. Once it is kegged or bottled and carbonated, give it a couple days cold before you pour off that first pint. Once you do, you will get a lot of the remaining suspended yeast out in the initial 4-8 oz. After that you beer will pour clearer and clearer every day. Try not to knock the keg around so you can keep it all nice and settled and the yeast doesn't get back into suspension.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Brewing Great Beer Part 2: Brewday Decisions

My friend Patrick and I brewed the Rye Pale Ale last weekend. The brewday went pretty well, but for the fact that I was horribly undercaffeinated early in the brewday. I made a "gameday decision" to add what I thought was 2 oz of whole amarillo hops to the flameout addition of the batch. I packed the 2 oz of amarillo into a hop bag with the chinook/columbus blend that Patrick had contributed. Except that I added 4 oz of amarillo, not 2. Later in the day (post coffee), I realized my mistake and decided to drop the 2 oz Cascade flameout hops, since it was already such a big dose of amarillo, columbus, and chinook. I also decided to push the crystal hops to 5 min to see if 5 min hop additions (something I used to use a lot, but haven't tried for quite some time). As a result of the swap, I decided to punch up the bittering addition a bit. And, as the beer became less cascade-centric and amarillo took on a leading role, I decided to add a touch of amarillo to the dry hop mix and to embolden the beer with a larger-than-standard dry hop dose.

The brewday went pretty well. We again had a fairly serious problem with wort being trapped in the mash tun and not draining fully out (this mash tun badly needs to be replaced). But since the recipe was planned with a lower efficiency in mind, we still hit our ideal gravity of 1.051-1.053.

I sprinkled the BRY-97 dry yeast directly onto the wort, as that is what I generally do with US-05 and I wanted to see if I encountered any real problem in doing so. I pitched at 62F and I left the fermentation chamber at 56F, which is ideal for fermenting at 62F. The yeast lagged a bit, and didn't really "take off" until I raised the ambient temperature in the fermentation chamber to 58F (thus promoting a fermentation temperature of 64F). Even still, krausen grew slower and worked slower than US-05 would, even at a much cooler fermentation temperature (I have fermented at 56F without issue on numerous occasions with a similar-gravity beer). This leads me to believe either that Danstar yeasts are much less amenable to being sprinkled directly onto the wort without proper rehydration or that US-05 is much more cold-tolerant than BRY-97.

Time will tell.

Here is the updated recipe:

Monday, January 7, 2013

Brewing Great Beer Part 1: Designing a Great Recipe

The very first step in designing any great beer is determining what kind of beer you want it to be on a very basic level. Rich? Easy-drinking? Simple? Hearty? Robust? Then you decide from there which (if any) of the beer styles best fit what you want to drink.

A while back, my brew-buddy Pat and I decided we wanted something somewhat hoppy and pale to brew next. We knew we wanted something easy and approachable and that we wanted it to be out-of-style slightly. Additionally, Pat wanted to do something with rye malt. What would be hoppy, pale, approachable, and feature rye malt? An extra-hoppy Rye Blonde Ale? A Rye ESB? A Rye Pale Ale? We decided to brew a Rye American Pale Ale. It suited our tastes, and it was the perfect beer to use up my hefty supply of 2011 Cascade hops.

So what is a Rye Pale Ale? There are a few interpretations - you can add some flaked rye or you can feature a rye crystal malt, but the most common way to brew a "Rye" version of a classic style features Rye Malt to augment the flavor and mouthfeel of the base malt. Basically, my take on Rye Pale Ale is an American Pale Ale with some portion of the base malt replaced with rye malt.

Now, this means the base malt will not be 100% pale ale malt, but some portion rye malt, as well. Given my experience brewing different homebrew recipes, like Denny's Conn's famous Wrye Smile IPA, I decided to go for total grist to be about 15% rye malt (meaning rye will be about 20% of the base malt, with an additional 10% specialty grains). That makes the base 5 parts pale ale malt and 1 part rye malt. Trust me, I am good at math.

Now, a little trick to brewing a happy rye beer is using some rice hulls as a portion of the grain bill. Rice hulls will "thin out" the grain bill, helping "sticky" malts like rye and wheat from gumming up the lautering and keeping the wort from running off easily.

The Malt Bill

American pale ales typically have some portion of crystal malt in the gist, contributing a fullness of flavor, a balancing sweetness with some caramel quality, and a richer viscosity (mouthfeel). While this usually means some carapils, a dose of light/medium crystal, and the rest pale ale malt or basic 2-row; I decided to ditch the carapils (a malt that contributes chiefly body with little to no color or sweetness) since the large portion of rye malt will be contributing a great deal of body as is. So the malt bill I settled on was just pale ale malt, a generous dose of carahell (a light German crystal malt), rye malt, and some rice hulls to ease the lautering.

The Hops

The star of most American Pale Ales is the cascade hop. But this is a rye pale ale, so balance is of the utmost importance if I want to make sure the rye malt's flavor still comes through. So instead of stacking bold hops on bold hops, I am combining a generous dose of cascade with the more neutral crystal hops, providing a balanced "hoppy" quality that won't be overly dank or fruity, but will be bold enough to balance the malt. I decided to bitter with a the original super alpha variety (columbus) for its consistency and sharp bittering quality, as well as its citrusy-spicy aromatic qualities.

This is the recipe I came up with:

Recipe: CRye Baby Pale Ale
Style: 10A-American Ale-American Pale Ale

Recipe Overview

Wort Volume Before Boil: 60.00 l
Wort Volume After Boil: 50.00 l
Volume Transferred: 46.00 l
Water Added: 0.00 l
Volume At Pitching: 46.00 l
Final Batch Volume: 44.00 l
Expected Pre-Boil Gravity: 1.045 SG
Expected OG: 1.053 SG
Expected FG: 1.010 SG
Expected ABV: 5.8 %
Expected ABW: 4.5 %
Expected IBU (using Tinseth): 39.7
Expected Color: 7.1 SRM
Apparent Attenuation: 80.5 %
Mash Efficiency: 75.0 %
Boil Duration: 90.0 mins
Fermentation Temperature: 64 degF

US Pale Ale Malt 20lb 0oz (74.1 %) In Mash/Steeped
US Rye Malt 4lb 0oz (14.8 %) In Mash/Steeped
German CaraHell 2lb 0oz (7.4 %) In Mash/Steeped
US Rice Hulls 1lb 0oz (3.7 %) In Mash/Steeped

US Cascade (5.0 % alpha) 120 g Bagged Whole Hops used First Wort Hopped
US Columbus(Tomahawk) (12.0 % alpha) 30 g Bagged Pellet Hops used 60 Min From End
US Crystal (2.9 % alpha) 120 g Bagged Whole Hops used 10 Min From End
US Cascade (5.0 % alpha) 60 g Bagged Whole Hops used At turn off
US Columbus(Tomahawk) (12.0 % alpha) 28 g Bagged Pellet Hops used At turn off
US Chinook (10.5 % alpha) 28 g Bagged Pellet Hops used At turn off
US Cascade (5.0 % alpha) 30 g Loose Whole Hops used Dry-Hopped
US Columbus(Tomahawk) (12.0 % alpha) 30 g Loose Pellet Hops used Dry-Hopped

Yeast: White Labs WLP001-California Ale or similar

Mash at 150 degF for 60 mins