Brew Day: American Amber Lager (w/cereal-mashed grits)

January 7, 2014

I brewed on Sunday. It was the first time since a month ago when Jess and I co-brewed a 10 gallon batch of triple-decocted German Pilsner. I was supposed to brew this beer last weekend with a handful of non-brewer friends who I won’t see again until April, at which time we’d tap the kegs. Something came up and that get-together had to be canceled. The harvested yeast wasn’t getting any fresher, so I brewed.

Today’s beer was 10 gallons of an American amber lager. It’s not a BJCP-style beer, just something I wanted to brew to share with friends. Here’s my recipe:

  • 36.2% US 2-Row
  • 36.2% Munich
  • 13.6% Flaked Maize
  • 9.0% Grits
  • 2.3% C40
  • 2.3% C60
  • 21g (20.5 IBU) German Magnum 13.5% AA @ 60 min.
  • 28g (9.1 IBU) Tettnang 4.5% AA @ 60 min.
  • 14g Liberty 4.3% AA @ 15 min.
  • 14g Perle 8% AA @ 15 min.
  • 14g Liberty 4.3% AA @ 2 min.
  • 14g Perle 8% AA @ 2 min.
  • 90 minute boil
  • 1.056 Target OG
  • 35 IBU
  • 9.1 SRM
  • Step Mash: 20 min @ 125F, 60 min @ 150F, 10 min @ 168F
  • WLP830 German Lager, WLP838 Souther German Lager (split batch)

I designed the recipe with 5 lbs of flaked maize. But I accidentally only ordered 3. A friend grabbed the other two for me and was going to bring them to the brew day last week. Since I never got the corn from him, and since it was just me brewing (meaning I didn’t need to stick to a short single-infusion brew day), I improvised and grabbed some de-germinated grits at the grocery store. Minimally grits need to be boiled prior to mashing. Ideally they should be cereal-mashed. I had the time, so I went ahead and tried a cereal mash. It was straightforward, but was kind of a pain in the ass. To the 2 pounds of grits I added 5 ounces (about 15% of the grits’ weight) of crushed 2-row and mixed them in a pot with enough water to form a thin porridge. I heated it to 158, left it there for probably 15 minutes while milling my grain, etc., then raised it to a boil, where it was held for a half an hour. Like a decoction, it needed constant stirring as long as the flame was under it. I found I needed to add a cup of boiling water to the grits about four times during the boil to thin it back out. Once done, I ran about 2 quarts of the wort from the mash tun into the grits pot and stirred it in to aid in pouring the grits into the mash and avoid having grit-balls in the mash tun.

The corn-like aroma from the boiling grits hung heavy in the kitchen. It was a summertime smell, half-way between fresh corn on the cob and the “used corn” smell of a pig sty. It had a certain “country” quality to it. Hopefully this lends a prominent corn aroma & flavor to the finished beer without coming across as DMS. I think I might try the process again for a cream ale. That time I’ll skip the flaked maize altogether and go with a big batch of grits in the mash.


Whirlpool kettle allows for a nice hop cone to form in the concave bottom.

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Brew Day: Red Spruce Ales (Beers #42 & 43)

October 23, 2012

I have wanted to brew a spruce beer since I first tasted the 2011 Spring Spruce Steinbier at ECB. It’s a love-it-or-hate-it flavor that I happen to love, and I figured it would work great as a Christmas/Winter beer.

The first step in developing the recipe was to choose a type of spruce. In my back yard I had two spruce trees – a blue one and a Norway. I have read that Norway gives better results as the blue variety is too piney and resinous. But I wanted to try for myself, so I brewed a batch of each. I can say that the tips, themselves, were quite different from each other. The blue ones smelled very “sprucey” and somewhat musty, whereas the Norway ones had a bright, lemony, citrus, pine smell to them. I chewed up one of the norway ones and found it to taste the same as it smelled, but with the lemon more pronounced. It was not at all unpleasant.

Spruce tips are available in May where I live, but I wanted these beers for the holidays, so I vacuum-sealed and froze them immediately after harvesting. They sat in the freezer until this week.


First wort addition of blue spruce tips

The next step was to determine the base recipe. That steinbier at ECB was great, and I pegged it as being akin to a Vienna Lager. I want this beer to be ready in about six weeks, so I chose to go with an ale. And since it’s a holiday beer, I figured a bright red color would be approrpriate. So here’s the grist bill I came up with:

– 10 lb Muntons Maris Otter
– 6 oz Crystal 40L
– 4 oz Belgian Special B (180L)
– 2 oz English Roasted Barley (500L)

Infusion mash at 152, then batch sparge. Target OG: 1.054


Blue spruce ale, chilled

The color in the picture above is exactly what I was looking for. It does sound like an odd selection of specialty grains, but my reasoning was thus: (1) The C40 because it’s an amber ale – it has to have crystal malt. (2) The Special B provides a ruby color that you can’t get from typical crystal malts. Also, it provides a figgy, raisiny flavor that’s often present in holiday beers. I believe those bigger winter warmers get it through kettle caramelization and extended aging, but the end result is similar. (3) A wee bit of black patent makes Irish Red ales red and gives them a slightly bitter, drying finish which I think will work well in this beer. It should also give some color to the head, making it sort-of khaki instead of off-white-to-bone.


Norway spruce ale approaching boil

The “hop” schedule for this beer follows:

– 6 oz fresh (frozen) spruce tips @ FWH
– 8 g Polaris hops, 21.8% AA @ 60 min
– 3 oz fresh (frozen) spruce tips @ 20 min
– 3 oz fresh (frozen) spruce tips @ 10 min
– 10 g Polaris hops, 21.8% AA @ 10 min

Polaris is a new hop variety that a friend bought an 11 lb sack of. I bought a pound from him. They are supposedly Germany’s answer to Cascade. They have an extremely high alpha acid content, are very oily, and provide a minty “ice glacier candy” character. When selecting hops for this recipe, I dissolved a few pellets in hot water and felt they would compliment the pine flavors from the spruce well.

The two batches are currently fermenting at 67°F. I pulled a slurry of 1056 from the fridge that I harvested a month ago. I rejuvenated it in a 1.5L starter, then split the resulting yeast between the batches. yeastcalc.com said this should be enough yeast. Lag time was a little longer than I’m used to – longer than 10 hours but less than 20 hours (I was at work when it started) – so maybe it was a bit of an underpitch.

This was a fun experiment, and I can’t wait to try the results and tweak the recipe for future batches. I moved this summer, so I no longer have a blue spruce tree in my yard but I do have about 12 Norway spruces, so I’m really hoping that turns out to be the better batch!

Edit: Actually I do have a blue spruce tree in my yard. My yard is the woods, so I don’t have a good inventory of all the trees just yet. I also have several sassafras trees. Anyone have a good root beer recipe?

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Brew Day: Belgian Dark Strong (Beer #41)

October 22, 2012

About three weeks ago a couple of friends hung out in my garage and we all brewed a batch of Belgian Dark Strong Ale. The weather was beautiful and we all had a good time. More importantly, we all made a batch of what we hope will be good beer. We were aiming for a starting gravity of 1.107, but all came in at 1.115! Big-ass beer. A different yeast strain was used for each one. I used WYeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity – the Westmalle strain. Another guy used White Labs WLP530 Abbey Ale – also the Westmalle strain, but isolated at a different time so is likely somewhat different. Finally, the third dude used WLP500 Trappist Ale Yeast.

Mine fermented like mad right off the bat:

But after a few days it slowed dramatically, and after three or four days it was chugging along slow and steady but had only dropped to 1.060. Through temperature ramping and yeast rousing via stirring I was able to eek out a final gravity of 1.030. The beer has since been crash-cooled and kegged and is now lagering, which it will do throughout the winter before it sees light in time for TRASH and NHC 2013 first round. If it’s good and not overly sweet, I will enter it in those competitions.

Last I heard, the WLP500 batch finished at 1.021 and the WLP530 batch, like mine, was around 1.030. The sample I tasted as I put mine away for the winter was promising – very “Belgian,” but not too much bubblegum or banana or any of that crap. It had loads of fig an dark dried fruit flavors, plus a good touch of spicy phenols. The 12% abv was strong and hot, but not solventy. My only concern was that it was too sweet. 1.030 is a high FG. We’ll just have to see how it ages out over a few months…

Here’s the bonkers recipe we followed for five gallon batches:

– 17 lb, 10.2 oz (8 kg) Weyermann Pilsner Malt
– 1 lb, 7.5 oz (.75 kg) Aromatic Malt
– 1 lb, 7.5 oz (.75 kg) Munich Malt
– 1 lb, 7.5 oz (.75 kg) Victory Malt
– 1 lb, 7.5 oz (.75 kg) Vienna Malt
– 12.3 oz (.35 kg) Belgian Special B
– 1 lb, 6.9 oz (.65 kg) Table Sugar
– 1 lb D-180 Belgian Candi Syrup
– 84 g German Hallertau Hops (4.0% AA) @ 60 min
– 28.3g Czech Saaz Hops (4.0% AA) @ 15 min

Mash at 152. The sugars were added for the last five minutes of the 90-minute boil.

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Brew Day: Blonde Ale and American Rye (Beers #37 & 38)

September 3, 2012

Today I knocked out my first double brew day. I started by kegging the American Amber I brewed two weeks ago and harvesting the yeast to use in today’s batches.

This was my first attempt at reusing yeast, as well. I added a quart and a half of boiled & cooled distilled water to the carboy after racking off all the beer and swirled it up to get all the yeast & trub into suspension. I divided the slurry into two sanitized quart-sized mason jars and let it stratify while I got on with the brewing. Later in the day I decanted the yeast layer from each jar into three pint-sized mason jars, leaving the trub layer behind. I ended up pitching one and a half pints of yeast slurry into each batch I brewed. Perhaps I over-pitched, but I doubt it.

As for the beers I brewed today…

I started out with the Blonde Ale recipe from Brewing Classic Styles. I didn’t have enough US 2-row, so I made it with Maris Otter. I imagine this will have a significant impact on such a simple recipe (It’s just base malt & half a pound of Crystal 20), but I think it should be delicious nonetheless.

While I was sparging the Blonde Ale I began heating strike water for the Rye Beer. I timed it so that I could clean out the mash tun and dough in the next batch as soon as all the first batch’s wort was collected.

The rye recipe is based on the one from Brewing Classic Syles, but altered significantly from the last time I brewed it. Previous recipe:

– 6 lb US 2-row
– 3 lb, 12 oz Weyermann Rye Malt
– 3 lb White Wheat Malt
– 23 IBUs Willamette at 60 min
– 9g Willamette at 0 min
– 9g Centennial at 0 min
– Wyeast 1010 American Wheat Yeast

This time around:

– 6 lb US 2-row
– 6 lb Briess Rye Malt
– 1 lb Red Wheat Malt
– 24 IBUs Willamette at 60 min
– 15g Centennial at 0 min
– 10g Willamette at 0 min
– Wyeast 1056 American Ale Yeast

The last time I made the Rye Beer I felt that it did not have enough rye flavor. I said next time I’d either switch from Weyermann to Briess rye malt or use more of it and less wheat. I decided to do both. I also upped the late hopping a bit to give the beer a bit more interest. As for the yeast change, I just didn’t feel like buying special yeast for such a simple beer. Maybe a Kolsch yeast would bring out the rye character more, but that experiment can be done some other time. I did notice a massive improvement in rye aroma over the last batch. The wort smelled like rye bread (without caraway seeds).

These are simple beers and should be ready to drink in three weeks or less. I’m looking forward to both of them.

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Brew Day: American Amber Ale (Beer #35)

September 2, 2012

As I mentioned in my last post, I was getting back to brewing after six months off with a simple American Amber Ale. This was my first time brewing on my new system – first time brewing outdoors on a propane burner.

Getting to and maintaining a boil is so much easier than on the stove top:

The only ingredient I purchased for this batch was some yeast. I had plenty of hops in the freezer and enough base malt left in my Vittles Vaults from earlier in the year. I didn’t have the right specialty grains to make the same Amber Ale recipe from BCS that won me a Gold in 2011 and a Bronze in 2012, so I adapted the grain bill to create something amber in color:

9 lbs Pale Malt (2 Row) US
1 lbs Caramel/Crystal Malt – 40L
9.2 oz Munich Malt
4.8 oz Caramel/Crystal Malt – 80L
4.0 oz Pale Chocolate Malt (200.0 SRM
2.5 oz Victory Malt (28.0 SRM)
2.0 oz Aromatic Malt (19.0 SRM)

In my estimation, this beer will have less crystal malt character and be a bit more chocolatey than the past recipes. The samples I took for reading SG confirmed this. I added 10g each of Cascade & Centennial hops as fermentation was finishing up. They were in there for about a week before I began crash-cooling on Friday night. Tomorrow morning I am going to keg the beer and rinse the yeast for use in two beers I’ll be brewing tomorrow.

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Brew Day: American IPA (Beer #34)

February 13, 2012

Vital Stats:
Target OG: 1.065 Actual OG: 1.059
Target FG: 1.012 Actual FG: 1.010
ABV: 6.4%
Color: 7.6 SRM (Calculated)
Bitterness: 66.4 IBU (Calculated)
Yeast: Wyeast 1056 American Ale

On Friday, February 2nd, 2012 I brewed the “Hoppiness is an IPA” recipe from Brewing Classic Styles. I brewed one IPA before and it was pretty good, but this recipe is rather different from that one.

This was my first time using Simcoe and Amarillo hops. I was worried the beer might come out catty, but the gravity sample I tasted wasn’t too bad. There was a bit of cat pee, but the Simcoe hops seemed to give more of the desirable mango aroma and flavor. The mango/slight cattiness balanced very well with the grapefruit notes provided by the Amarillo hops.

Unfortunately neither of those hops were available in pellet form, so I got to try out commercial whole-leaf hops for the first time. They’re fun to brew with because they look so cool, but they’re kind of a pain in the ass because they soak up so much wort and leave you with a big wad of debris to throw away after you’re done.

Like the few batches before this one, I entered the recipe into BeerSmith as the book prescribes it, the used the “scale recipe” function to scale the grist bill to my system. This worked nearly perfectly when I used it before, but this time around I came up short of my target OG. I was targeting 1.065 but ended up with 1.059. The adjusted grist bill I used was:

– 9 lb 15.2 oz US 2-row
– 1 lb Crystal 20°L (Recipe calls for C15, but I couldn’t get it)
– 12.9 oz Munich (9°L)
– 5.6 oz Crystal 40°L

Because the beer is somewhat similar to the APA recipe I used in the past and because I’ve been having some issues with diacetyl in my beers lately, I chose to ramp this beer’s temperature towards the end of fermentation for a D-rest. When activity began to slow (after three days), I increased it from 67°F to 71°F and left it there for six days before dropping the temp to 34°F for a crash cool. It will be kegged two days from now.

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Brew Day: American Pale Ale (Beer #33)

February 13, 2012

Vital Stats:
Target OG: 1.056 Actual OG: 1.058
Target FG: 1.012 Actual FG: 1.011
ABV: 6.3%
Color: 6.5 SRM (Calculated)
Bitterness: 42 IBU (Calculated)
Yeast: Wyeast 1056 American Ale

On January 27th, 2012 I brewed up a batch of American Pale Ale. This was the second time I brewed this Brewing Classic Styles recipe, but a lot is different this time around. The first time I brewed it I used my home-grown Centennial hops (and a dash of home-grown Willamette) for flavor & aroma (along with the Cascade pellets called for in the book). This time around I used all Hop Union pellets and also dry-hopped the beer. I didn’t dry-hop it last time.

The first attempt was good, but far from great. It had a lot of diacetyl that manifested as a strong butterscotch note. The aroma carried a strong washed-rind cheese smell. It wasn’t foul; it actually worked well in the beer. But it was kind of unexpected. This time I’m hoping for it to be much cleaner and more predictable.

To try to take care of the diacetyl issue, I ramped the fermentation temperature from 67°F to 69.5&def;F when fermentation began to slow (after three days) and increased it again to 72°F 24 hours later. I held it there for three days before racking to a secondary fermenter for dry-hopping. I dry-hopped with 14g (1/2 oz.) each of Cascade & Centennial for five days before crash-cooling and kegging. I kegged it yesterday. It should be ready to start tasting next weekend. I didn’t detect any diacetyl in the sample I took before kegging.

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Brew Day: American Amber Ale (Beer #32)

February 13, 2012

Vital Stats:
Target OG: 1.052 Actual OG: 1.049
Target FG: 1.013 Actual FG: 1.011
ABV: 5.0%
Color: 13.4 SRM (Calculated)
Bitterness: 37.5 IBU (Calculated)
Yeast: Wyeast 1056 American Ale

On January 20th, 2012 I brewed the American Amber recipe from Brewing Classic Styles for the second time. The first time I brewed it was almost exactly one year prior. It was my first all-grain batch and with it I scored my first medal in a competition. I’m still looking for my second.

This time around I altered several things. Changes to my process include precise fermentation temperature control, the use of a stir plate, pure O2 oxygenation, and milling my own grain. That last difference requires me to change the recipe to adjust for the increase in efficiency it brought me. The adjusted grist bill looks like this:

– 6 lb. 12.8 oz. Maris Otter
– 13.1 oz. Crystal 40°L
– 11.7 oz. Munich (9°L)
– 8.7 oz. Crystal 120°L
– 8.7 oz. Victory (28°L)

I kept the bittering, flavor, and aroma hop charges the same as the book calls for – except that I bittered with Yakima Magnum instead of Horizon, and I adjusted the amount of bittering pellets used to keep the same HBUs.

The recipe does not mention dry-hopping, but I chose to do so for this batch. Last year’s judges’ notes suggested it would benefit from a touch more hop aroma. I agree. To that end I dry-hopped this batch in the primary fermenter after five days with 7g (1/4 oz.) each of Cascade & Centennial pellets. I just chucked them into the carboy. It’s a small dry-hop charge. I’m not trying to make a west-coast amber; I’m just trying to brighten up a classic American amber. I think it worked well, as I’ll post about in the tasting notes that will be coming soon. I allowed the dry hops to do their thing for six days before crash-cooling for three days then kegging it up. It’s on tap now, and I’m enjoying it.

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Brew Day: Premium English Bitter (Beer #31)

February 12, 2012

Vital Stats:
Target OG: 1.047 Actual OG: 1.047
Target FG: 1.013 Actual FG: 1.011
ABV: 4.8%
Color: 11.2 SRM (Calculated)
Bitterness: 30.8 IBU (Calculated)
Yeast: Wyeast 1968 ESB

I brewed the Northern English Brown ale on a Friday night after work. The following morning (Saturday, January 14, 2012) I got up and brewed a batch of English Premium Bitter. The recipe, as usual, came from Brewing Classic Styles. Much like the batch the night before, I used the “scale recipe” function in BeerSmith to adjust the recipe to account for my system’s efficiency. It came up with this grist bill:

– 7 lb. 4.8 oz. Munton’s Maris Otter
– 8.2 oz. Aromatic (26°L)
– 8.2 oz. Crystal 120°L
– 4.1 oz. Special Roast (50°L)

Much like the previous recipe, after scaling the recipe I hit the target pre-boil and OG values. So far so good for assuming 78% efficiency and scaling to meet it.

The beer fermented out in three days at 68°F. I let it sit for two more days, then crash-cooled the carboy in the fridge for three days, then kegged it up. After getting it carbonated I realized I had a problem: major diacetyl bomb. It was bad. I named the beer “Bitterscotch” when I took a liter of it to the T.R.A.S.H. meeting to have people taste.

The beer was overwhelmed by butterscotch flavor. I felt it ruined the beer. But there was hope. Some friends from T.R.A.S.H. suggested it could be saved by pitching in an active starter of fresh yeast. This process – called krausening – was worth a try. I moved the keg to a warm (70°F) spot in my house and waited until Batch #33 (APA) was ready to be racked to secondary for dry-hopping. I harvested the APA’s yeast (Wyeast 1056), brewed a 1 liter starter, and added a healthy cup of the washed yeast to the starter. I let it run overnight on the stir plate and build up a good krausen. In the morning I pitched the active starter right into the keg of Bitter and left it at ~70°F for a week. It’s still sitting there, but it has to be as done as it’s going to get after that much time. Soon I will rack it to a new keg (to separate it from all the American Ale yeast I pitched into it) and put it in the keezer to re-equibrilate it’s carbonation. Hopefully the diacetyl is toned down enough to make the beer decent.

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Brew Day: Northern English Brown (Beer #30)

February 12, 2012

Vital Stats:
Target OG: 1.051 Actual OG: 1.051
Target FG: 1.013 Actual FG: 1.012
ABV: 5.1%
Color: 11.9 SRM (Calculated)
Bitterness: 26.6 IBU (Calculated)
Yeast: Wyeast 1028 London Ale

To start 2012 I brewed seven batches of beer in six weeks. Keeping up with all those brews caused me to fall a little behind on this journal. It’s time to post about what I’ve brewed recently. I want to get the brew day posts out of the way so I can get on to the tasting notes…

I brewed a batch of Northern English Brown Ale on January 13th. The recipe came from Brewing Classic Styles, but for the first time I used the “scale” function in BeerSmith to adjust the recipe to match my system. I had been getting about 78% efficiency since I started crushing my own grain. BCS assumes 60-65% efficiency. BeerSmith adjusted the grist bill to look like this:

– 8 lb. 2 oz. Munton’s Maris Otter
– 10 oz. Special Roast (50°L)
– 6.7 oz. Crystal 40°L
– 6.7 oz. Victory (25°L)
– 3.3 oz. Pale Chocolate (200°L)

I hit the target pre-boil and OG with these adjustments. Fermentation went smoothly and the beer was crash-cooled after five days and kegged after three days in the fridge.

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