Batch #1 – Drinking Day

This is the day I’ve been waiting for for five weeks now.

Mississippi Red Ale Label

Actually, I cracked the first bottle four days ago, so the title of this post should be Drinking Week. I’ve had about six bottles so far, and I’ve deemed the results to be a success. My wife even likes it, which means something because she’s not a big fan of darker beers. I can show you pictures of the beer,  but unless you stop by my house for a drink you won’t be able to actually taste this stuff. So, as a substitute here’s my description of the results. (I’m using the BJCP format here, but I in no way have any actual experience or training as a beer judge. This is really just for fun)

Aroma: Smells like beer, slight smell of hops. Nothing offensive. No strong alcohol smell

Appearance: Looks like beer. Nice clear red/amber color. I was surprised at the clarity, as it was still very cloudy when it went into the bottles. Foamy beige head that sticks around for a little while.

Flavor: Tastes like beer. Starts out with a malty taste, then a spicy, slightly evergreen hop taste (the Chinook hops). Malts are there but I was expecting more. Although the alcohol computes out to 6.53% ABV, it does not taste like an overly powerful beer. That was one of my fears as I was brewing it. I would say it’s a balanced beer. It’s not as heavy tasting as it looks, which is why my wife likes it. Maybe a little sour\tartness if you look for it.

Mouthfeel: Nice full mouth feel. No watery taste at all. Low carbonation, but definitely not flat. No fizzy soda pop carbonation here. Some astringency. Dry finish. I think if I had started with a lower OG, (as the recipe called for) it might have a little more malt oomph, and be a little less dry. I’m thinking the high alcohol content contributes to the dryness.

Overall Impression: I like it. I personally rate beers by how many glasses of it I’d like to drink. A typical mega-brewery beer – I usually drink one and don’t really care if I have another. A good craft beer – I know I’ll want another one even before I’ve finished the first. This one, I knew I’d want two after the first two sips. I also wouldn’t hesitate to share a bottle or two with anybody that stops by the house. There are definitely a few things I’d tweak, but I am pleasantly surprised at how this first batch turned out.

MississippiRed

A few things to watch out for the next batch

Five gallons in the fermenter does not mean a five gallon batch – Should go for a larger boil results in 6 to 7 gallons of wort, and an original gravity that’s closer to what the recipe calls for. It also allows for some loss from racking (and taste testing along the way, too :-).

Keep a close eye on the yeast – A slight mishap resulted in loss of some yeast. Although the primary fermentation looked vigorous, it might have affected the taste of the beer.

Keep the temperature down – My cellar is a constant 72 degrees almost year-round, and unfortunately there’s not much I can do about that. This allowed the fermenter to get up into the low 80’s at one point, which might have affected the beer. The only real solution I have for this is using some kind of refrigeration, which is out of the question for now.

The right equipment makes a difference – I now have a couple extra fermentation buckets, a real hydrometer flask, and an auto siphon. These aren’t absolutely necessary, but will make things a lot easier.

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Batch #1 – Bottling Day

Fermentation is Done

I took a hydrometer reading on Monday, and found it hadn’t changed in the last three days. That means two things.

  1. Fermentation is DONE!
  2. Bottling day is HERE!

The Final Gravity is 1.016 making ABV 6.53%. As I’ve said before, that’s too high for this style, but the taste has been improving every time I’ve tried it. It still tastes like a high octane beer, but the other flavors are definitely starting to come through. Clarity is also improving, but I think this might wind up being a cloudy beer.

Here’s a photo of the last hydrometer sample:

BeerFermented

Bottle Prep

The one thing I’ve been dreading since day one is getting the bottles ready. And now that I’ve done it, I understand why kegging is such a popular option with home brewers. This step is a PITA.

I did a little research before I dove into the bottling stage, mainly on how to get the labels off. I soaked the bottles in hot (REALLY hot) water and detergent. One trick I figured out is to fill the bottles with the hot water so they stay submerged.

BottlesInCooler

I let the bottles soak for about an hour before I tried to clean them. The longer they soaked, the easier they came off. Using a cooler keeps the water hot longer, too. I saw a YouTube video from one home brewer that used a plastic ice-cream scooper to scrape the labels off. The curve in the scooper loosely fit the curve of the bottle. Not having nor wanting to invest in a new ice-cream scooper, I searched around for a disposable flexible piece of plastic with a semi-sharp edge. I settled on a disassembled 3.5” floppy disk. That seemed to do the trick, and lasted through nearly two cases of bottles. I could bend the floppy case to fit the curve of the bottle which cut down on the number of swipes I had to make to get the label off.

BottleScraper

I found that the brand of beer makes a huge difference in how easy it is to remove the labels. I had bottles from The Boston Beer Co. (Various Samuel Adams beers), Long Trail Brewery (Long Trail Ale), and Lake Placid Craft Brewing (Ubu Ale). The Sam Adams beer bottles were by far the easiest to de-label. The Ubu Ale’s were the worst. Their labels were so hard, in fact, I’ve decided to not collect them for my home brew any more. (That doesn’t mean I’ll stop drinking it though. Of the three, it’s the tastiest beer).

I also found it’s best to attack this job in three stages. First is to soak the bottles and get the paper off without worrying about the glue. Keep the bottles in the hot soapy water for a while longer, and then go back for the glue with one of those green scrubby sponges. Once the gunk is off, you can then focus on cleaning them out with a bottle brush, and sanitizing them.

This is not a job you want to have to rush through. Believe me, you’ll just get frustrated. It took me about two hours to de-label and clean 80 bottles (That’s after the 1 hour soak and before the sanitizing). In my case, it was a beautiful fall day, so I decided to take a few hours off work, grabbed a Sammy Adams, and got to work. My friend Eli served as chief bottle inspector. He kept a close eye on my work, and made sure I didn’t goof off too much.

EliSupervisor

Bottle Fill

Once the bottles were de-labeled, cleaned, and sanitized, I moved inside and set up my bottle filling assembly line.

BottlingSetup

I mixed 5 oz. of priming sugar with 2 cups of boiled water, put that into a clean bucket, and siphoned the beer over from the secondary fermenter. I had a little trouble getting the siphon to work during the bottle filling stage for some reason, but once the tube and bottle filling wand was full, bottling went pretty quick. I lined up a dozen bottles on a cookie sheet to catch any spillage. Once these were filled, my assistant Isaac switched them out for empties, and capped the full ones.

FillUp

Bottle Conditioning

The last step in the beer making process before drinking day is called conditioning. The extra sugar mixed in with the beer before bottling will re-start yeast activity inside the bottle. Since there’s no place for the carbon dioxide to go, it gets absorbed into the beer, giving it some fizz.

The beer is now resting comfortably down in the cellar. We’ll see in two weeks whether all this effort has been worth it.

CaseAndaHalf

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Thinking about the Next Batch

bluemoonAs I’m waiting for batch #1 to finish fermenting in the secondary, I’m already planning batch #2. I wanted my first batch to be a full-bodied, dark amber colored beer. That’s why I went with the Malty Mississippi Red Ale. My wife Terry, however, is not a fan of darker beers. I wanted to make sure she enjoyed a few homebrews too, so I promised her I’d make something a little lighter for the second batch.

We were out at Destino Mexican Restaurant last week enjoying a nice Italian meal. Apparently, Wednesdays are Italian night — Who knew? They were also out of my usual Chatham Porter, so I decided to have the same as Terry – a Blue Moon draft. I had been thinking about a wheat beer for batch #2, and this brew sealed the deal for both of us. It’s light enough for my wife, but still has enough body and flavor to satisfy me.

I wanted to pick up a new bottle filler tube for batch #1 bottling day, so I drove up to The Homebrew Emporium in East Greenbush, NY. While I was there, I took a look around to see what they offered for kits. The Witbier kit by Brewer’s Best looked like it would fit the bill, so I picked one up.

A Belgian wheat ale, Witbier is Dutch for “White Beer”, and uses flavorings like coriander and orange peel in the wort. The kit I bought included the following items:

BrewersBestWibierKit

Ingredients

Malt Extract:

2 lbs. Wheat Dry Extract

3.3 lbs. Wheat Liquid Extract

Grains:

1 lbs. Crushed Pale Malt (2 Row)

8.0 oz. Oats, Flaked

8.0 oz. Wheat, Flaked (1.6 SRM)

Hops:

1.00 oz. Williamette (60 min)

1.00 oz. Sterling (10 min)

Spices:

0.50 oz. Coriander Seed

0.50 oz. Orange Peel, Bitter

Yeast:

1 Pkg. 11.5 oz. Safbrew WB-06 (Fermentis)

Miscellaneous:

5 ozs. Priming Sugar, 60 bottle caps, and a grain bag

Thoughts on the Kit

This kit looks a bit more complicated than the last one from Rebel Brewer. It includes both liquid and dry wheat malt extract. It also includes crushed pale malt grains, and flaked wheat and oats malt. These grains are not pre-converted as in the last batch. That means they will require a special steeping process that’s closer to a traditional mashing than the “tea-bag” approach I used last time.

I like the fact that every bag has full information on what’s inside. The grains, the hops, and the spices are all labeled with exact amounts of what’s in the container. That will make it easier to make adjustments to the recipe if I want to try changing some of the flavors in the future.

One downside to the kit is that it’s obviously a mass marketed item. The Rebel Brewer kit looked like it was assembled at the store. This may or may not mean it includes fresher ingredients, but I’m betting it does.

Next Steps for This Batch

Since batch # 1 will use up almost all of the empty bottles I’ve collected so far, I’ll have to start draining some new ones for batch # 2.

Drat :-)BeerBottles

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Batch #1 – Racked to Secondary

Just a short update on batch #1.

After two weeks in the primary, I racked to the secondary fermenter today. SG is now down to 1.016, which means it is still slowly fermenting. It also means it’s up to 6.53% ABV (alcohol by volume). That’s a bit stronger than I wanted. I probably should have added more water to the primary to lower the OG, but being my first batch, I didn’t think of it at the time.

Otherwise, it’s looking good. The color is right on, although still cloudy of course. It still smells and tastes strongly of alcohol, but the malt flavor is definitely starting to come through. Not much in the way of hops yet, though. The alcohol aroma is still overpowering. It tastes much smoother than it did 7 days ago.

My plan now is to keep it in the secondary for at least one more week before checking the SG again. Then I’ll check every 2-3 days until I get a consistent reading before bottling.

I had a new assistant today, My oldest daughter, Hilary. She had two comments. When I first pulled the lid off the primary, she said it smelled like a frat house. (Me: Really Hil? How would you know that?). After taking a sip, she said she’s tasted worse beer before. (Me: Again, how would you know that?).
I’ll take both of these statements as compliments.

Addendum-
Checked on it 4 hours later, and the air lock is slowly bubbling away again

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Batch # 1 Update – Malty Mississippi Red Ale

Since Brew Day

My first batch of home brew has been fermenting away in the cellar for a full 7 days now. It started bubbling almost as soon as I set it down there. The air lock was clattering away the next morning, and continued like that for about 48 hours. Then it slowed down as fast as it started, and has remained quiet since then. The air temperature stayed at a steady 72 degrees the whole time, but the fermenting wort got a little hot. The thermometer on the fermenter rose to over 80 degrees at one point on day 3, but then went down to ambient temps after that. I think the high temps might affect the taste of the final product, but only time will tell.

I peeled back the cover and took a peek on day two, and saw that the krausen had formed and looked just like the pictures in the books. Why was I surprised at that?

Where It’s At

Today I took the first hydrometer reading since brew day. Specific gravity is now 1.022, down from 1.066 on brew day. That means an ABV of 5.75% as it is right now. American Amber Ales are supposed to have a FG of 1.010 to 1.015. It looks like this batch is on target for that, however, the higher than spec OG might mean an ABV over 6.0%, which is the high end for this style. In retrospect, I probably should have added more water to the fermenter in order to get the OG down a little more. Something to remember for batch #2.

The sample was a nice amber red color, which is exactly what I was looking for. It smelled like alcohol, also exactly what I was looking for :-).

Yes, I tasted it.

It’s hard to describe what it tasted like. There was no carbonation, of course, so it was flat. It had a beer sort of taste, but the alcohol was really the dominant flavor. It gave a nice warm sensation on the way down. It was not malty or sweet, nor was it hoppy or bitter. The flavors were really very light and non-descript. I’m hoping that’s a good sign, and that the malt and hop flavors develop as it continues to ferment and condition.

What Now?

Now for a decision. Do I rack to a secondary fermenter, or do I let it sit in the primary for the next couple of weeks? The problem is, I only have a two bucket set-up, and the second bucket is the bottling bucket. That means I’d have to either rack it twice (once into the bottling bucket, clean out the primary, then rack back into the primary), or buy another container for the secondary fermenter. I suppose I could just use the bottling bucket as the secondary, but then what do I do on bottling day? I’ll have to think on that one. I still have some time.

Now that I think of it, I probably should have used the bottling bucket for the primary. Then I could have racked to the other bucket, and the bottling bucket would then be free for bottling day.
<BartSimpsonVoice>DOH!</BartSimpsonVoice>

Well that’s where the beer’s at. No home brew for another few weeks, at least. For now, I’ll have to settle for a Sammy Adams Summer Ale. I’m on bottle #2 as I write this.

Cheers!

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Malty Mississippi Red Ale – AKA, Brew Day #1

It’s finally here. My first day as a true home brewer.

I’ve gathered my equipment. The ingredients have arrived. My assistant is ready to help. Let’s cook!

For my first batch of home brew, I decided on a kit put together by Rebel Brewer called Malty Mississippi Red Ale. I like malty beers. I also like hoppy beers, but for me, malt is what beer is all about. I also like red ales (technically considered amber ales). Plus, the kit has a location in its name, (and the blog is called GeoBrewer :-) so Malty Mississippi Red Ale it is!

Here’s the recipe

Ingredients:
KitIngredients

Amount Item Type
1 lbs (?) Caramel/Crystal Malt – 60L
(60.0 SRM) (?)
Grain
6 lbs Extra Light Dry Extract
(3.0 SRM)
Dry Extract
0.50 oz (?) Chinook Hops
(30 min)
Pellets
0.50 oz (?) Chinook Hops
(20 min)
Pellets
0.50 oz (?) Chinook Hops
(10 min)
Pellets
0.50 oz (?) Chinook Hops
(5 min)
Pellets
1 Pkg
(11 grams)
Windsor Yeast (Lallemand) Dry, Ale

Recipe Specifications

Batch Size: 5.00 gal
Boil Time: 60 Minutes
Estimated OG: 1.057 SG
Estimated Color: 12 SRM
Estimated IBU: 24 IBU

Some notes on the kit

The hops and grain bag were not labeled with their contents or weights, so the ingredients list above is my best guess as to what’s in there. Website reviews identified the hops as Chinook. They’ve been pre-packaged into the four timed additions, but weights are not included. Both the weight and the type of the grains in the grain bag are still a mystery. I assume they are some kind of Caramel/Crystal Malt, but I have no idea what kind. I sent an email to Rebel Brewer asking for info on what’s in there and will post the answer if they reply.

This kit got all good reviews on the Rebel Brewer website.

Brewing Procedure

We’re making a 5 gallon batch of beer. There is always some loss to evaporation during the boil, and the yeast needs some water for rehydrating. So,the first thing we wanted to do was put at least 6 gallons of water on the stove to boil. This proved more difficult than I expected. Our largest pot is 4 gallons, which means it’ll hold a little more than 3 during a rolling boil. I planned on filling two or three pots, but we still had trouble finding enough pot-volume. We wound up using the three biggest pots in the  house, plus a tea kettle.

StoveTop

Clean and Sanitize

Since this is the first time the equipment’s been used in about 10 years, we spent some extra time making sure everything was clean. I scrubbed all of the equipment down with Five Star PBW, and sanitized with SaniClean.

Sanitizing

Steep the Grain

We started the brewing process with 3 gallons of 165° water in the brew kettle. The grain bag was put into the hot water to steep. Essentially, we’re making a tea with the grain, so we kept swishing it around like a huge tea bag, attempting to get as much flavor out of the grain as possible. We kept the grain steeping for 30 minutes, and kept the water temperature between 150° and 170°. After 30 minutes, we pulled the grain bag out, let the excess water drain back into the brew pot, and tossed the remnants onto the compost pile.

MakingBeerTea SteepingGrainBag

Boil the Wort

After steeping the grains, we bought the wort (it is wort now) up to boiling, and added the dry malt extract. We made sure the extract was fully dissolved, then set the timer for 60 minutes. The first picture below shows the foam forming on the boiling wort before the hot-break. After the hot break, the foam dissipates, signaling that the proteins in the wort have begun coagulating. This happened with our batch about 10 minutes into the boil

Boil HotBreak

Hydrate the Yeast

Since we’re using dry yeast, we rehydrated it with 4 oz.  boiled and cooled water according to the directions on the package. We let it rehydrate for 15 minutes before stirring it up to dissolve it into the water.

Add the Hops

The hops were added at 4 different times according to the directions that came with the kit – 30, 20, 10, and 5 minutes before the end of the boil. The hops were pre-measured and packaged into vacuum sealed bags labeled with the boil times.

Hops

Cool the Wort

We don’t have a wort cooler, so an ice bath was prepared in the kitchen sink. As soon as the boil was over, we set the brew pot into the ice water, and cooled the wort as quickly as possible. This is something else I would change for next time. We could have used a lot more ice. We managed to get the wort cooled to below 70 degrees in about 30 minutes, but the fact that we had multiple pots of water to cool, it took longer than that to get a full 5 gallons of cooled wort into the fermenter. Another option would be to boil and cool some water ahead of time. The best option would be a larger brew pot and a wort chiller, but they’re both big money. The reason you want to cool the wort quickly is to facilitate the cold break. Just like the hot break, this helps the coagulated proteins to solidify and fall out of solution.

IceWaterBath

Aerate the Wort

Yeast needs oxygen to grow, so the wort needs to be aerated. We poured the wort back and forth between the brew kettle and the fermenting bucket, sloshing it as much as possible without making too much of a mess. This is the only time we want to encourage wort/air contact.

Aeration

Measure Original Gravity

Now’s the time to take a gravity reading on the wort using a hydrometer. This tells us how much sugar is dissolved in the wort. A reading at the end of fermentation will tell us how much of that sugar has been turned into alcohol. Readings along the way can tell us how far along fermentation is, and when it’s complete. The kit instructions say we should get an original gravity (OG) of 1.057. We got a reading of 1.066. What this means is, we got a LOT more sugars out of our grains and extract than the kit expected. I’m not sure what this will mean for the finished product. My guess is, we will either get a maltier tasting, sweeter beer, or a stronger beer. Maybe a little bit of both. Time will tell.

Add the Yeast

After the wort is aerated and topped up to a full 5 gallons in the fermentation bucket, we stirred in the hydrated dry yeast. I did make a mistake during this step. Suffice it to say, I will be ordering an extra yeast packet with my next brew kit. I think I got enough yeast into the wort to get things going. As long as the airlock starts bubbling away in the next couple of days, I’ll feel OK about it.

Fermentation

Now it’s time to start treating the wort gently again. We snapped on the cover, rigged up the air lock, and carefully carried our future beer down to the cellar for fermentation. The cellar temperature is 72 degrees right now, and the wort has settled in at about 74 degrees. That’s a little warmer than the 68 degrees recommended, but there’s not much I can do about it. I have heard of brewers covering the fermenter with wet towels to keep things cooled down. If the temps get any higher than what they are, I might try it out.

Fermenting

That’s it. Now we wait to see what happens. Oh, by the way, I added three more empty clean bottles to my collection for bottling day during the brew, too :-)

Cheers!

Posted in Applications, Batch #0001 | 1 Comment

Preparing for my First Batch

Researching the Process

Being a municipal planner in my professional life, I am compelled to plan out in some detail everything I do. The first part of that process is, of course, to do some research about the project I want to work on. I looked around the internet, and found a lot of information out there HowToBrewabout the rapidly growing home brewing hobby. One example is Brew Your Own magazine’s website. There are many more, but most don’t go into the amount of detail I was looking for. I turned to print media. The best book I’ve found so far on the subject of home brewing is How to Brew by John J. Palmer. This book actually originated as a 12 page electronic-document back in 1993, before the web even existed, and it’s latest incarnation can still be found online. It has everything the new home brewer HomeBrewersAnswerBookneeds to know to get started, but also goes into enough detail about advanced brewing techniques to keep the reader interested. Another great resource I’ve found is the Home Brewer’s Answer Book by Ashton Lewis. Lewis is the answer guy, the Mister Wizard of Brew Your Own magazine mentioned above. It’s organized in a question and answer format, and goes into about the same amount of detail as How to Brew. There is a lot of overlap between the two books as far as subject matter and depth, but there are enough differences in their opinions and procedures to make owning both of them worthwhile.

Formulating the Plan

Every plan is composed of three essential elements: A starting point, and end point, and a path that leads from the start to the end. My desired end point is to become an excellent home brewer. I want to be able to brew many different styles of beer, and to have them come out the way I intended. I want my friends to talk about my beer making abilities behind my back — in a good way :-) My starting point is as a complete novice. I know how to drink beer. I know how to make it. What I lack is any experience at all in the making part. So, the path I intend to take starts with as simple a setup as possible. I’ll add equipment and more sophisticated techniques as I gain experience.

The beer making process follows this basic flowchart:

Grain > Malt > Wort+Hops > Ferment > Bottle > Condition > Drink

There’s a lot going on inside most of these steps, but the process itself is really very simple. In fact, the most complicated steps, turning the grain into malt, and then malt into wort, can be simplified even further by using malt extract. That’s where most home brewers start, and I intend to do the same. What I’ve gathered from the aforementioned texts is, the two most important aspects of making quality beer are cleanliness and fresh ingredients. The cleanliness part requires more than just properly cleaning and sanitizing the equipment. It requires strict adherence to procedures and proper handling of the ingredients throughout the brewing process. That’s why I plan on starting simple, gaining experience in the basic procedures, and to only try new techniques after I’ve got the basics down pat.

Assembling the Materials

I’m starting out with a hand-me-down beer kit given to me by my brother in-law. He used it only once, about 10 years ago. It was missing a few parts, and I wanted to upgrade a couple of items, so they’re on order from an online home brew supplier. Here’s a picture of the kit and a list of what I need for my first batch:

BeerKitFor Brew Day

  • Stainless steel brew pot
  • Fermenter with lid
  • Airlock
  • Thermometer
  • Hydrometer
  • Stirring spoon – large stainless steel
  • Measuring cup – Pyrex
  • Yeast starter jar – 12 oz glass
  • Can opener
  • Ordinary table spoon
  • Plastic wrap or foil
  • Cleanser
  • Sanitizer

The hydrometer was missing from the kit and I bought a better thermometer. My wife does some canning, so I’ll be borrowing her big stainless steel pot for the brew pot. Same goes for the spoons and measuring cups. I also ordered some special cleanser and sanitizer because I know cleanliness is so important.

For Bottling Day

  • Bottling Bucket with spigot
  • Racking tube
  • Bottle filler
  • Siphoning tube
  • Bottles
  • Capper
  • Caps
  • Bottle brush
  • Cleanser
  • Sanitizer
  • Priming sugar

The only thing I had to add here were the bottles. It takes about two cases of bottles (48) for a 5 gallon batch. I’ve “collected” about 60. I also ordered extra caps and priming sugar, even though they come with the ingredients kit I ordered. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to have extra, and they’re both cheap.

There are a few things I intend to add once I get a batch or two under my belt. A glass carboy for the fermentation vessel, and a wort chiller to cool the wort quickly before pitching (adding) the yeast.

The Ingredients

For my first batch, I’m going with a pre-assembled extract kit. Buying separate extract, hops, and yeast gives a home brewer more flexibility, but I wanted to keep things simple the first time. I ordered a Malty Mississippi Red Ale kit from Rebel Brewer. I considered buying from a more local source, but with my kids getting ready to go back to college and high school, things are a little hectic at home. Online just seemed to make things a little simpler this time. I made sure the kit I ordered had decent reviews, so I’m hoping it won’t be something that’s been sitting on the shelf for a long time. If anything in the kit looks old, the local supplier is just a half hour drive away.

So, that’s it. Ingredients are on their way. Expected delivery day is Saturday. I am ready to cook me some beer!

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