Category Archives: homebrew

Axe Grinder: Hoppy pale ale for the coming cool months.

 

 

IMG_1825.JPGAs the nights start to cool and I find myself shopping for the little one’s school supplies, I know that summer is ending and fall is closing in on us. Late August is hop season. This is the time of year that the hops on the farms and in the backyards of the very avid home brewer are maturing and are ready to be picked for beer. I don’t have a hop farm or even a rhizome or two in the yard (yet), but I do love hops. The fall, to me, signals the time to brew something hoppy. Though, admittedly, I am not as big of a hophead as some of people (I’m looking to you on the West Coast), but I do love that big hit of hop flavour and aroma. I love a great balance beer with big notes of citrus, pine, and even a bit dank.

So, whats left to do, but brew a hoppy pale ale.

I worked out a recipe a while back, but never got to brewing it until recently. I was looking for something that was moderate in strength (mid-5% or so) and moderate in bitterness, but big in hop flavour and aroma. I always like to try new things and my local home brew shop started to carry Falconer’s Flight, a blend of Pacific Northwest hops from Hop Union – loads of citrus, tropical fruit, and floral notes, by all accounts – so I thought that would be perfect for a pale ale.

Brew day was two weeks ago and went great, no problems or anything. The beer was fermented at 19 C and was finished up in about 10 days. I gave it a couple of extra days and then chilled to 2 C for a day or so before putting it into a keg.

Since its fresh in the keg I will give it a few days to get carbonated, but I can say that out of the fermenter it was pretty awesome. The aroma was almost pure grapefruit, so much citrus with just a touch of the grains. The favour was much as the aroma, loads of citrus – grapefruit, lemon, and some tropical hints. With a pretty solid bitterness and just enough of the malt backbone to keep things in check this beer is balanced nicely.

I can’t wait to see how it is in a few days, but I think I may have hit on my perfect “house” pale ale recipe after more than a few tries. Stay tuned for some tasting notes in the near future on this one. Click here for those who want to try it check out my recipe for the now named Axe Grinder.

-Cheers!

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Bugs In My Beer?? Adventures in Mixed Fermentation, part 1

 

IMG_1684.JPGA year-and-a-half ago, in January of 2013, I brewed an English styled Old Ale using a limited release Old Ale Blend from Wyeast – which was a yeast blend that included a culture of brettanomyces. This was my first encounter with brettanomyces, or brett (known as the king of wild yeast).

Brett is cousin of saccharomyces, which is what typical brewers yeast is (and the same as bakers yeast, just a different twig in the same branch of the family tree). Both are in the same family of fungus (yes, fungus!) and will ferment sugars into CO2 and, most importantly, alcohol. Most of the time brewers do their best to keep brett out of their beers, avoiding it like the plague for fear of contaminating their “clean” beers. Brett creates flavours that are typically referred to as “funk” and are described from “fruity” to “barnyard” and “horse blanket”. It sounds pretty bad, but is one of the main flavour contributors to Belgian and American styled sour ales, changing flavour over its long maturation period (months to years). It can be manipulated, somewhat, with the conditions set out by the brewer in the wort/beer, temperature, time, and brett strain (like yeast, they’re not all the same).

So, why would anyone want to tempt fate and contaminated beers? Flavour, experimentation, to prove you can, sheer insanity – somewhere in there.

After my initial brett beer I did nothing more in the way of “mixed” fermentations until recently when I decided that I wanted to go back down that road. (Mixed fermentation is when not just brewers yeast is added, but brett and/or bacteria cultures to sour the beer – my original brett Old Ale, for example, had brewers yeast and brett). I had been reading a lot on The Mad Fermentationist blog about his experiments with brett, as well as, lactobacillus and pediococcus bacterial fermentations as is done in traditional sour beers from Northern Europe and by newer breweries in the US. This sparked that urge in me to try it. I’ve had several sour ales before and love them, and I’m not afraid of trying new experiments (nor am I afraid of contaminating my other, clean beers – basic sanitation and common sense should help).

So, what did I do?

First thing I did was culture up the dregs from my Old Ale using first a small amount (250mL) of unhopped wort in a mason jar covered in tinfoil to see what would happen. After two weeks it was smelling and looking good, pH and gravity had dropped, so I had a taste and it was nice and fruity (cherry-like). Next, I added it to some lightly hopped wort (900mL) and put in an airlock, and this is where it sits as I’m writing, sill fermenting/aging. I hope to use this culture to ferment out an pale ale and added it to some other fermentations.

The next bit of experimenting came from inspiration after reading American Sour Beers by Michael Tonsmeire (also the operator/writer of The Mad Fermentationist). I made a small (300mL) lightly hopped wort (13 IBU) and added nothing but 10 or so ripe blueberries from my bush in the backyard. I have no idea what I will grow in this one, but if the test come out (pH, gravity, smell) its probably safe enough to taste and then we’ll see if it was a success (note of caution – attempting to grow something from the wild can be dangerous. There is a possibility of mold or E.coli or other nasty things growing in that wort. There are some indicators that its safe or not, but I’m no expert and I don’t advocate following my word on this). My hope is to capture some local wild yeast and souring bacteria that will make tasty beer. We’ll see how it goes, wait for a future post on this.

I have also purchased ingredients for a lambic beer, including Wyeast Lambic Blend, which is a blend of brewers yeast, brett, lactobacillus, and pediococcus. This will be a more traditional attempt at a sour ale. I also plan on a red type ale as a side experiment with the lambic blend, my house cultured brett blend, and a standard ale yeast. I will post on this once they are made.

So, as I start out down this long road to sour ales, I feel like I’m part brew master and part mad scientist. I can see the need for more airlocks and jugs of various sizes (and space for them, and understand/tolerance from my wife) in the near future. The path to great beer is always exciting, but now that I’m on this path I feel a new brewer, excited like a kid in a candy shop with cash in his hand. Look for upcoming posts as I brew and experiment.

-Cheers!

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Hops, hops, and more hops: Tricks for getting big hop flavour and aroma.

ImageHops are a backbone ingredient in beer. They are the preservative and they balance the malt sweetness. They add flavour and aroma.

Over the past decade the use of hops in may craft beers and many home brew recipes has steadily increased. Big beers with big hops have become very popular, and the trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

So, how are the hops used? How does all that wonderful hop flavour and aroma get into the beer? Anyone who is a brewer will know that hops are added into the boiling wort, but is that the only way to do it? When I first leaned to brew my own beer I learnt about three places to put hops in beer: at the start of the boil for bittering, near the end of the boil for flavour, and at the end of the boil for aroma. That was basically it. This is the way that I leaned to brew and adding hops at these times have made some great beer. But the more hoppy beers I drank and the more hops I added to my brews, the more hops I wanted and the more I wanted new ways to add them.

So, a recap on the basics. Hops added at the beginning of the boil (typically at the 60 minute remaining mark) are used for bittering because the main bittering component, alpha acid, need to be isomerized (made soluble in water) by the boil and this takes time. In this long time in the boil, most of the essential oils and other compounds that make up flavour and aroma are boiled off and lost. Hops added near the end of the boil (10 to 20 minutes remaining) will impart flavour with little bittering (short boil time means less alpha acid is isomerized). Also, with the flavour addition, many of the aroma compounds are lost, but not all. With the aroma addition in the last 5 minutes of the boil, most of the volatile aroma compounds are saved and nearly no bittering is added to the beer.

That is the traditional home brew hopping schedule. In recent times many pro brewers and home brewers have been experimenting with some new (some old and newly rediscovered) methods of adding hops to beer. Here a few processes and devices are discussed:

Dry Hopping

Dry hopping is when hops are added to the fermenter, quite often in a nylon or mesh sack for easy removal. The hops are added after the beer has finished fermenting and are kept there for 4 to 14 days. The hops being added to the cool, now alcoholic beer leach their oils and other compounds into the beer, but add no bittering. This is a method of adding hop flavour and aroma. Generally the flavour and aroma is resiny and grassy in nature (good Northwest US hop flavours and aromas). Left for too long and a vegetable-like flavour can start to creep in (7 to 10 days seems to work best for me).

First Wort Hopping (FWH)

First wort hopping is done by adding hops to the boil kettle as the wort is first running in (this is generally an all-grain method, however an extract brewer could add hops to the wort before the boil and see some affect). This is done to give the beer a smoother bitterness and enhance the aroma. There is about a 10% increase in the bittering, however, being that the bitterness is smoother, the perceived bitterness is the same or maybe a bit less.

The theory is that the pH of the wort as it first runs into the kettle and the time with exposure to oxygen before the boil begins allow the compounds in the hops to oxidize to a more soluble state and are preserved in the beer throughout the boiling process. Not all the science is in on this, but experiments show that there is an enhancement to the finished beer’s aroma and the bitterness is not as sharp.

Mash Hopping

Mash hopping is when hops are added to the mash tun. This doesn’t appear to give any enhancements to bittering, flavour, or aroma and seems to be just a way to waste some hops.

Hop Stand

To do a hop stand, hops are added after the boil is complete and the wort is still hot. The hops are allowed to soak in the hot wort for an extended time – 10 to 90 minutes typically, but it could be as long as over night. The main thing that is achieved with a hop stand is the kicked up flavour and aroma. Since the wort is not boiling, but hot, the flavour and aroma compounds are able to leach out into the wort and not be driven off by the boil. Since the wort is near boiling and the hops are left for some time, there is some bitterness that is imparted into the wort – estimates are 10-15% utilization (verse 35% in a boil).

This is sometimes referred to as “Whirlpool Hopping” because some brewers add the hops as they whirlpool the wort after the boil. The idea with whirlpooling the wort is to cause the turb to collect in the centre of the kettle (as it’s heavier material) so the clean wort can be removed. The hops are added while the wort is whirlpooled and the time of the hops stand is the time it takes to whirlpooled – same theory, just with a whirlpool.

Check out this article in Brew Your Own for more information.

Hop Bursting

Hop bursting is adding just a small amount of hops for a bittering charge (maybe as little as 5 IBUs) and a massive amount of hops in the last 10 minutes. The idea with this is the majority of the bittering comes from the late hops, but it also delivers a lot of flavour and aroma in the same shot. The small amount of “bittering” hops is just used to break the surface tension and prevents foaming during the boil.  Because the bittering is coming from the late addition and not through a long boil, the bittering is softer and rounder then a traditional bittering charge. Also, some brewers report that hop bursting can increase the mouthfeel. There’s a great article on Mr. Malty about hop bursting.

Continuous Hopping

The invention of continuous hopping is attributed to Dogfish Head brewery of Milton, Delaware. This is a process of adding hops to the wort throughout the boil in a continuous manner. Dogfish Head invented a machine to aid in this process called “Sir Hops-a-Lot” and has had great success in the continuous hopped IPAs such as their flagship 90-Minute IPA (continuously hopped for the 90 minutes of the boil).

By adding hops throughout the boil, the hops bitterness, flavour, and aroma all benefit with a depth of character. This process is labour intensive without Sir Hops-a-Lot, or some similar machine, but by not just adding a few additions, the beer can get the full range of what the hops can offer.

Hopback

A hopback is a sealed contained filled with hops that is put inline with the hot wort coming out of the kettle on its way to the fermenter. Because the hops are in short contact with the hot wort and is then quickly chilled, the aromatics are preserved. This has a duel-purpose by not only adding to the hop aroma, but also acting as a filter for the wort coming out of the kettle.

This is a device that a home brewer could McGyver at home. See this design from BYO.

Randall

Created by Dogfish Head, a Randall is used as part of a draft beer system. It is a canister that is filled with hops (or spices, or anything else that you’d like to infuse into the beer). The beer runs though the hops (or whatever) on its way from the keg to the glass and is infused with the flavour and aroma.

As Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head, said about the Randall:

“Randall the Enamel Animal is the original gangster organoleptic hop transducing module. Basically, it’s a sophisticated filter system that allows the user to run draft beer through a chamber of whole leaf hops, spices, herbs, fruit, etc. so that the alcohol in the beer strips the flavour from whatever you add and puts it in the beer.”

Torpedo

A Torpedo is an invention of Sierra Nevada of Chico, California. It is a column that is filled with hops and connected to the fermenter. The fermenting beer is circulated through the Torpedo as an alternative to dry hopping the beer. By circulating the beer the brew master is better able to control the imparted flavours and aroma and better utilize the hops by ensuring proper contact with the beer.

Sierra Nevada has had great success with their Torpedo Ale, even naming their new tasting room in Berkley, California the Torpedo Room.

So, here’s to hops and the ever inventive brewer. ~ Cheers!

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Crystal vs. Caramel Malts: Are they so different?

ImageCrystal or Caramel malts are listed on nearly every recipe from porter to IPA, bitter to schwarzbier, all-grain and extract (with grains, of course), but why is it sometimes called crystal and sometimes caramel? Is there a difference or are these two words totally interchangeable and just up to the writer? My brew software generalizes them together and so do most websites (including this one), so whats the deal?

 

I’m sure many would just say they are the same in every way, but thats not really the truth. Sure they are similar in usages and share the same colouring levels and similar flavours, but there are real differences. 

In a nutshell, what are crystal/caramel malts? 

They’re a grain (typically barley, but might also be wheat, rye, or some other grain) that have been malted and put through a process to covert their starches into sugars, like mashing in the husk. The grain is then roasted/kilned to the desired colour. The resulting malt is ready to use and doesn’t need to be mashed (though it can be) since the starches are already converted. This makes a great grain for steeping when making beer with just extracts. It adds some fermentable sugars to the wort, but it adds a lot of longer chain sugars that help build body and good head retention. They also add some sweetness and flavour, and add colour to the beer. As you can see, this is a pretty useful malt and its no wonder why its in so many recipes. 

So, whats the difference? 

It comes down to history first and process second. Crystal malt first developed in Britain in the lat 19th century, most likely in response to the decrease in the gravity of British, and therefore malt and flavour, of beer that was being produced. These malts allowed for the lower grain bills to still produce a favourable beer.

When home brewing was first made legal (again) in the US, there was a flood of these European “crystal” malts into the US, but the domestic maltsters were already producing a similar product but calling it “caramel” malt. Much of the time it was exactly the same process, making it the same malt, but in some cases it was made differently.

For simplicity sake (and to make a distinction), I will call them “crystal” and “caramel” malts, though many times malts these names are used interchangeably by maltsters, causing more confusion. I will use the names to indicate the difference between the process, but you will have to get confirmation form your supplier (if you can) as to what process was used to produce the malt you’re buying. If you can’t get the information about the malt, if you crack a bit of it open and 90+% of the kernels are a glassy, crystallized sugars inside, then its crystal type. If its uneven and a mix of different centres to the malt, its caramel type.

The biggest differences between crystal type malts and caramel type malts comes down to the equipment used and the heat of the process. In both cases, the barley (or another grain) is malted and then this “green” malt is steam-cooked in the ‘sacch rest temperature range (60-70 C, 140-158 F) to convert the starches to sugar.

The crystal malt name refers to the “crystallization” of the sugars. In this process the malt is “cooked” in a roaster that can, if needed, achieve temperatures in excess of 700 F. The conversion process is quicker in the roaster because it can easily get to temperature while the grains remain moist. Conversion can be complete in under an hour and then the malt is roasted. The grain is heated to the point of “crystallization” of the sugars, called “hard crack”, this is above 300 degrees F (anyone who has made candy will know what this is about). This is a caramelization of the sugars and makes a toffee/caramel taste that varies with the degree to which the malt is roasted. 

Caramel malts are produced in a kiln and it is not nearly as hot as a roaster. The temperature of a kiln can’t make 300 F to produce the “hard crack” caramelization like a roaster can. This process is similar in that the malt goes in wet, but because of the limitations on the temperature, and the size and shape of the kiln, the malt starts to dry on top before the conversion is complete causing the process to be a lot longer. Also, since it can’t get as hot, to achieve the colour it takes longer, and the way the kiln works means the grains can be unevenly roasted. This longer, cooler process will produce some caramelization, but not to the degree of the roaster. The flavours produced are from Maillard reaction (a chemical reaction with sugars and amino acid: heat + amino acid + sugar = hundreds of flavour compounds and a discussion for another post) that may be similar to caramel flavours that varies with the degree the malt is kilned.Image

So, its two sides to the same coin?

Yes and no. Yes, as in it produces malts that are similar in usage and flavours. No, as in the malt produced is chemically different and will have a slightly different flavour (Maillard verse caramelization). Due to the way the colour is formed from one type to the other, a crystal malt with a Lovibond colour of 40 degrees (Crystal 40) and a caramel malt of 40 degrees (Caramel 40) probably won’t taste quite the same, but could be used interchangeably to produce a similar colour and body in a beer. Crystal malt tends to be a cleaner, more pure sweetness, while the caramel malt, though sweet, has a more bready, biscuity flavour.

Most of the time it will be crystal types malts that are found on the market. The majority of the European maltsters will be producing the crystal type and a good portion of the North American masters will be the same. It’s not to say one will be better for your beer than the other, but it is to know the differences, know what you want to achieve, and understand how to get there. And always, let your tastebuds lead the way and keep good notes.

For more reading on this see Terry Foster’s and Bob Hansen’s article in the November 2013 issue of Brew Your Own magazine or this article from Briess

 

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Building a Magnetic Stir-plate

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I’ve been using a magnetic stir plate for some time now. My original one was put together for no cost from spare computer parts, a power supply that was laying around, and some scraps from a plastic tub – it wasn’t pretty, but it worked okay (okay being the word). And then came the accident – an over flowing yeast starter spilled into the stir plate, spelling the end of stir plate 1.0. But, like a phenix, a new stir plate is rising from the ashes of the old.

For those who may not know what a magnetic stir plate is or why on earth would a home brewer have one, its a device used to constantly stir a liquid. If you ever saw the inside of a lab with beakers of liquid spinning a seemingly magical whirlpool inside, you’ve probably seen a magnetic stir plate in action. It works by using the power of magnetics, one magnet inside the beaker or flask and the other under the glassware spinning. The spinning magnetic underneath causes the magnet in the liquid to also spin. Magic!

Why would a home brewer ever need such a piece of equipment meant for a lab? Well, to grow yeast. When it comes to proper fermentation, the right amount of yeast is important and there is no better way to get yeast growing them to feed the sugars and oxygen. A yeast starter is made of a bit of un-hopped wort (usually made form dry malt extract) and is allowed to ferment out. The yeast will multiply and ferment, but if there is a constant injection of oxygen the yeast will keep multiplying and building strong cell walls and good reserves to fight the big fermentation when its time. A simple starter is just like (or can actually be) and small, low gravity beer – it will produce a bunch of yeast and is, well, simple. Take a bit of wort and put it on a stir plate with the constant feed of oxygen being stirred in and that smaller amount of wort can produce a lot more, healthy yeast then a simple starter.

So, getting to the building part.

Disclaimer: I am an electronics technician by trade. If you don’t know what you’re doing with electricity or are not comfortable, don’t do it yourself, get a professional to help.

I (re)build my stir-plate from a cigar box, a variable power supply (1.5-12V DC, though a 5V supply would probably work fine), a 12V DC computer fan, a couple of magnets, a toggle switch, and a 25 ohm, 3 watt potentiometer (a variable resister, the nob to control the speed). My original stir plate was the same power supply and a magnet from a computer hard drive, but I got new rare earth magnets cheap from China (thanks eBay), the other parts came from The Source (Radio Shack), and I had the cigar box from a trip to Cuba.

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The first step is to fit up the box to hold the componest. My fan fits snug inside, but I needed to drill holes to get the switch, speed control, and power wires in.

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Then to fit and attach the components.

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Putting the power switch inline with the power and the speed control, solder (or use connectors and/or electrical tape, or get someone who knows how to do it for you, this is electricity after all) from one side of the power to the power switch, to the speed control, to the fan, and back to the other side of the power (keep in mind that the negative side of the power and the negative lead on the fan should go together and the power switch should be on the positive side of the power – polarity does matter).

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Attach the fan securely into the box. Mine actually was pretty snug in there and the lid rested on it (the fan was still free spinning), so I was luck and didn’t have to worry about it. You will need the fan in the box in such a way that its really close to the edge where the flask with the starter in it will be – the magnet will need to be pretty close. The next thing is to add the magnet to the centre of the fan. I ended up using two magnets evenly off-centre with their magnet poles in such a way that they work together, this worked pretty good. They want to stick down on their own, but to keep them in place I used a bit of aluminium tape I had on hand.

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To used the stir-plate you will need a flat bottom contained, an Erlynmeyer Flask is best because it has a flat bottom, but also a narrowing neck – a 1000mL flask is good, but a 2000mL flask would be better. You will also need a magnetic stir bar, a teflon coated magnetic bar that can be sanitized and be put into the flask with the wort. These things are both available online for not too much money.

And thats it. Pretty simple to build and a very valuable piece of equipment when it comes to yeast propagation.