Archive for the ‘Brew Blog’ Category

“Turbo Soured” Berliner Weisse

Posted: January 16, 2015 in Brew Blog

Following hot on the heels of my buddy and fellow masher over at brewrr.com, I’ve knocked out a raspberry berliner weisse.  This is actually my second attempt at a berliner, after a less-than-stellar effort I had using a different method with version 1.  It wasn’t until after I made version 1 that I found out the method I’d used (pitching a starter of lactobacillus culture after a standard mash/boil/chill regime) can take 6 months or more to truly sour the beer.  I was trying to get it up and running for a club event in about 6 weeks, so that didn’t work.  I served it at the event regardless, using a variety of syrups/flavourings (e.g. raspberry, lime, elderflower, and even mango margarita mix) just for kicks.

Anyway, for version 2 I’d found an article that talked about kettle souring, or “turbo souring” as I’ve since heard it called.  It’s a method where you use acidulated malt and/or lactic acid post-mash, in order to bring the pH of the wort down into the mid/low 4’s.  You then keep this wort at around 40C, and pitch lacto (in my case via two handfuls of un-milled pilsner malt) into the mix, then leave it for between 8-48 hours, measuring the pH occasionally.  Once the wort drops to a pH of around 3.3, you transfer it to your kettle, start the boil and add hops.  You only need a short boil, 15 minutes or so, which is just enough time to kill off any still-living bugs, and add a few IBU’s to the beer.  I haven’t worked out yet why you can get away with such a short boil on a berliner weisse, given it’s 50% wheat, 50% pils…when “expert opinion” seems to insist any beer using a lot of pilsner malt must be boiled 90 minutes to drive away DMS.  Does sour beat creamed corn??

Here’s the fermenter, after I kegged the beer.  I left the raspberries in for a total of 8 days, 5 at fermentation temps, then 3 days during crash chilling.  I probably could have left them on for less time, it just took me that long to get around to kegging the beer.

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As you can see, there’s not a lot of colour left in the raspberries, and the beer has a ripping red hue.  I force carbed the beer in the keg (‘coz I’m an impatient bastard), and here’s the first pull, 6 hours later:

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The taste is BIG on raspberry, and the beer is certainly tart.  Not “bracingly” sour by any means, but it’s a hell of an improvement over version 1!  I’m already looking forward to version 3, where I’ll make a few more tweaks.

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A big 2014

Posted: January 8, 2015 in Brew Blog

It’s been too long, I know…but there’s just not as much to write about these days.  And it’s hard to stay motivated when you don’t even know if anyone’s reading!

It has been a big year though, I became the inaugural President of a new home brew club in my local area.  We’ve grown quickly from a dozen or so blokes to around 40 members in our first year.  We’ve brewed beer in an ex-prison during a beer festival, which went on to win an award at the Australian Home Brew Conference in Canberra.  And we’re planning to start our own annual home brew competition in mid-2015, based on the new (still in draft) BJCP IPA style guidelines.

On my own brewing front, I’m regularly making beer that I really enjoy drinking, with Citra and Centennial joining Amarillo as my hops of preference.  I’ve also started experimenting with sour beer, using (rather unsuccessfully) a commercial Lactobacillus culture for my first Berliner Weisse, and more recently the “Sour Worting” or “Turbo Sour” process for my latest version, which seems to have worked a lot better.  I’ve racked beer onto fruit, and very soon will be trying to make something remotely in the style of La Sirene’s Praline, by racking a Belgian Chocolate Ale onto organic vanilla pods, cacao nibs and hazelnuts.

I also brewed my biggest beer yet, a 9.8% abv Russian Imperial Stout.  I did this brew with a mate, and we quickly discovered just how much your efficiency suffers when trying to produce such a massive beer.  Expecting mid/high 60’s, we were surprised to have achieved more like 55%.  We had to use sugar to make up the shortfall, as it’s all we had on hand, but the result was less than spectacular, so lesson learned!

And the other “brew” I’ve been churning out regularly is my “Shagwell” ginger beer.  It’s proved to be a huge hit with my missus, her mum, and especially my own mum.  So it’s found its way into high rotation, with me having to churn out a batch every couple of months to keep up supply.  It’s nothing too fancy, just a 4%ish kit ginger beer topped up with various combinations of brown sugar, raw sugar and DME…but the ladies love it!

Who said lagers take longer?

Posted: May 19, 2014 in Brew Blog

I finally got around to brewing my first lager, after all these years.  I’d done a Kolsch, which is a lager-like as any ale you’ll try, but I’d always avoided lagers.  Why?  I think it’s two things…firstly, I tend to associate lager with the horrible mega-swill rubbish I’d been forcing into myself for more than a couple of decades.  One of the first things I learned when I started researching beer brewing was that VB, Carlton Draught, Toohey’s New and Budweiser are all pale, bland lagers.  So it seemed strange to want to brew the very style of beer I’d learned to shun.  The beers that I’d occasionally gotten to enjoy, such as Coopers Pale Ale, Schofferhoffer, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and the like were of course ales.

Secondly, once I got into home brewing, I’d always read that lagers were harder to brew.  The malt is notorious for producing DMS during the boil, then they need a LOT more yeast, cooler temperatures, longer fermentation times, diacetyl rests, and can throw all sorts of horrible sulphur smells off during fermentation.  And even if you made it through all of that, you had to “lager” them for many weeks to allow the off flavours to be removed from the beer.  Who needs that trouble, when I can brew, ferment and keg a ripping hefeweizen inside of a week?

But I still have a lot of mates who enjoy their bland, megaswill lagers.  Not so much the Aussie stuff, but beers such as Stella Artois, Becks and Heineken.  It’s the main reason I brewed the Kolsch, I’ve got 3 taps so figured it would be a way to keep that lot happy.  Once the Kolsch keg blew, I figured it was time I gave lager brewing a go.  I decided on a classic Bohemian Pilsner, as I’ve had a few Pilsners in my time that I’ve enjoyed.  A pretty basic recipe, 95% German Pilsner malt, and 5% Carapils (for a bit of body and better head retention).  I figured I’d aim for 5.2% and 45 IBU.  Most recipes call for nothing but Czech Saaz hops, but due to the low alpha acids in Saaz, and the high IBU of this beer, I’d need 120 grams of it to achieve the right result.  I only had an 80gm bag, so I figured I’d cheat a bit, and bitter this with Hallertauer Mitt, of which I have plenty due to my love of weissbeir.  With a tame noble hop such as Hallertau at 60m, and then 80 grams of Saaz spread across 30m, 10m and flameout additions, I figured this should work out ok.

I decided on using Wyeast 2001 (Urquell Lager), and grabbed a pack early on so I could start working on my starter.  For my 17l planned batch, Yeastcalc told me I’d need a substantial 340 billion cells.  Of course a Wyeast pack only has 100b when it’s brand new, and it was more like 60b by the time I got it, so I knew I was in for a major starter.  In the end I did it in 2 steps, as I wanted to produce around 100b extra cells so I could store this away in my yeast bank for future use.  So with ‘intermittent shaking’ in my 4 litre plastic vege oil container, I did 2 litres for step 1, and 2.8 litres for step 2, resulting in 440b cells.

So brew day arrived, and as per popular advice I did a 90m mash and 90m boil, and chilled the wort post boil.  I planned to ferment at 10C, but it was taking the wort a long time to get down that far, and I always get nervous about leaving my cooled wort exposed to the elements, so I ended up pitching the yeast at 14C.  A few hours later it had settled down to 10C in the fermenter.  I was expecting a long lag time, but interestingly enough the next morning, around 12 hours after pitching, I could see a healthy krausen forming.  I decided to take a gravity check just to see what was happening, and sure enough the beer had already dropped from 1054 to 1050 in the first 12 hours.  Very unexpected.

I kept an eye on it over the next couple of days, and could see the colour lightening substantially as fermentation progressed.  After 4 days, the beer had already reached 1.020, which was about the point I had planned to start the D-Rest.  I also noticed that there was nothing in the way of off-aromas coming from the ferment, in fact far from the rotten egg/sulphur compounds I’d read to expect, it smelled pretty good inside my fermentation fridge.  And the gravity samples smelled fine, and even tasted pretty good considering how young the beer was.

So I dug around and did some more research on the web, and managed to find a couple of references that spoke of the ‘myths’ of lager brewing.  It seems some brewers out there believe that not all lagers will have long fermentation times and produce terrible smells, as long as you pitch the right amount of healthy, viable yeast.  And they went on to argue that a diacetyl rest is not always necessary, again depending on the pitch rate, yeast type and other factors.  But, it did seem they were doing d-rests as a matter of habit regardless, so I went back out and upped my temperature to 16C.

I left it there a couple of days, then took another gravity check.  After only 6 days in the fermenter, my lager was at my expected final gravity of 1013, and it smelled and tasted pretty bloody good.  I was stunned, this fast turnaround was completely unexpected, and where was all the butterscotch and rotten egg?  I dropped the temp back down to 10C, and left the beer another week, before I could work up the courage to start my crash-chill.  It just didn’t feel right crash-chilling a lager so soon after pitching!  I left it chilling for 3 days, then kegged the beer (onto gelatin), with a plan to lager it in my keg fridge for a few weeks.  I snuck a little taster with a mate yesterday, after only 2 days in the keg, and despite being under-carbed, it’s already clearing really well, and tasting pretty good.  We both agreed we can taste that classic Pilsner flavour, and can’t pick up anything nasty, so it will be interesting to see how this beer develops further over the coming days/weeks.  I’ll be testing it often…in the name of science of course!

Now, if you’ve made it this far, well done.  I always figure these posts will be much shorter than they turn out to be.  I will sign off by saying this is obviously my first ever lager, so maybe I just got lucky, perhaps the malt and yeast I used helped (as well as going to the trouble of pitching at the optimal rate), so I’m not naive enough to say none of the old rules apply.  But I can say that in this case, it turned out to be a hell of a lot easier than I ever thought possible.  And it won’t be long before I do another one.

Ok, I’ll apologise straight up for the blog title, but surely it’s better than “Fenomenal Fermentations”?  I suppose I could have gone with “Fabulous Fermentations”, but as an adjective it does seem to have been somewhat hijacked these days…

Perhaps as a subtitle I could use “You can ferment a lager in only 5 days!”, as that’s pretty much the driving reason behind this update.  I have been enjoying the success of my fermentations lately, probably for the last 4 months or so.  My lag times have been significantly reduced, with most of my brews showing activity and producing krausen only 6-8 hours after pitching.  And I’m reaching final gravity in 3-5 days, depending on the strain of yeast I’m using and the original gravity of the wort.

And most importantly, I believe the quality of my beer has noticeably improved as a result.  I’m convinced there’s a number of different factors at play here, each of which is playing their part in the success.  I’ll list each component in detail;

Dry v Liquid Yeast:

I’ll discuss this in more detail below, but basically dry yeast has a significantly longer lag time than liquid yeast…as long as they’re both pitched at the correct rate (again see below).

Aerating the Wort:

This is not something I did much (if any) of early on in my brewing.  I didn’t even know it was a “thing” until I’d made quite a few batches, and even once I did, all I started doing was to splash my cooled wort as much as possible when transferring it into my primary fermenter.  I’d also read that you didn’t need to aerate when using dry yeast, as they were manufactured in such a way that they had all the oxygen they needed already.  To quote Fermentis: “As the yeast is grown aerobically, the yeast is less sensitive on first pitch“.  And Danstar: ” Most commercially produced Active Dry Beer yeast actually require no O2 addition for a successful average gravity wort fermentation

But then I started to move to liquid yeast, and around the same time I started no-chilling a lot of my beers.  And I realised that I could use the no-chill cube to vigorously shake the wort (after pouring off the first few litres) and add some oxygen that way.  And then it struck me that I could also use my power drill and mash paddle to agitate the wort even further, so I started doing exactly that.  Power drill on its highest speed, mash paddle sprayed down with Starsan, and have at it!  It does a surprisingly good job of frothing everything up, and while I’m sure it’s not as effective as using an oxygen stone, it has definitely helped.

Yeast Pitch Rate:

I guess in hindsight this one should be pretty obvious, but it’s definitely something that’s hard for new brewers to get right.  Especially when using dry yeast, as nobody seems to pay much attention as to how many viable cells are contained in a pack of dry yeast…it’s rarely even written on the pack, and of course packs come in varying sizes too.  And then there’s the whole argument about hydrating yeast vs sprinkling it dry….I’ve done both and couldn’t really tell any difference in lag time or fermentation quality.

I understand that the ‘normal’ 11.5gm packs of dry yeast from places such as Fermentis and Danstar have 200b cells at the time of packaging, and if they’ve been handled correctly (i.e. refrigerated) they should have lost very little viability by the time you pitch it.  So because the “average” 19 litres of 1.048 gravity wort needs about 170b cells, pitching a pack of dry yeast on that means you should be getting it pretty right.  Of course that all changes when you decide to make 23 litres of 6.5% IPA, which would need something like 250b cells for an ‘optimal’ fermentation.  Conversely you might decide to make a small 10 litre batch of something as an experiment, it seems most brewers elect to pitch an entire pack regardless, as you can’t easily (and hygienically) measure out portions of dry yeast…and what would you do with the leftovers anyway?

This is one of the reasons I moved to liquid yeast…once I’d become more comfortable with yeast handling, after a few top cropping and yeast rinsing experiments, I realised that liquid yeast would give me the opportunity to start a bit of a yeast bank.  Despite the fact that liquid yeast is roughly twice as expensive, for half the amount ($10 for 100b liquid cells vs $5 for 200b dry cells), you can use the “yeast starter” process to grow your yeast into more than what you need for your batch, and save the extra for another brew down the track.  For example, if I need 160b cells of 3068 for a hefe, then I make a starter with my pack of 3068 that results in 260b cells, then pitch 60% of that into my hefe, and store the remaining 40% (~100b) away for next time (labelling the container with the amount and date the starter was complete).  Then I can repeat that process many more times, spreading the cost of the original packet over many batches ( I’ll probably stop after 4 or 5 batches and start again with a brand new pack).

So the use of liquid yeast now allows me to more accurately control how much yeast I’m pitching on each batch, with the help of my favourite yeast pitch rate calculator.  This is important not just for ensuring optimal fermentation, but also allows you to control the flavours driven by some yeast strains.  The perfect example is the 3068 I mentioned above, Wyeast’s “Weihenstephan Weizen“.  I have found deliberately underpitching this yeast by around 20%, in combination with fermenting at 17C, leads to the exact flavour profile I get from my favourite commercial weizens.

Fermentation Temperature:

This is one of the first things serious home brewers discover on their journey to make better beer, and I’ve discussed it on this blog before, so I won’t go into much detail.  Just a reminder that the ability to temperature control your fermentation is a critical part of the process.  An old fridge coupled with an STC-1000 and a 100w floodlight (or some other heat source) is all it takes.

Carnie Brewing update

Posted: January 9, 2014 in Brew Blog

It’s 2014 and I haven’t posted on my brewing for a while.  There’s a pretty good reason for that…my last brewing post was about my version of MG’s “Hopfweizenbock”, which I brewed back in mid-November.  Unfortunately it’s got the same harsh, raw, vegetative taste that I got in my Carnie Pale Ale #6, which was an all-Galaxy SMaSH brew.  It seems to be the Galaxy dry hopping that’s doing it…I dry hopped the weizenbock for 5 days, and I think that was a couple of days too many, as it went from tasting bloody good out of the fermenter to slap-in-the-face really quickly.  I dunno if I got a bad batch of Galaxy maybe, ‘coz others seem to have dry-hopped with it successfully.  I won’t be doing it again, that’s for sure.

Anyway, would you believe that was my last brew?  I haven’t brewed in almost two months, unless you count a Ginger Beer I’ve put together for my mum…she asked for a GB months ago and I finally got around to doing it….just in time for me to gift it to her while we’re all on holidays next week.  It was a simple kit GB, and even though I’m not a big fan of ginger, it tastes pretty good to me.  I reckon it’ll go alright next week poured over ice while we’re sweltering through the predicted 40C temperatures…

The main reason for my lack of brewing is beer stocks….I had a heap of beer and bugger all empty bottles…but I’ve mostly fixed that up over the xmas/new year break.  I’m in the early stages of planning a keg setup, so once that’s in place I’m going to need to knock out some brews real quick to fill those kegs.  I reckon a Kensington Kolsch, Frau Farbissina Hefeweizen and the latest version of my Random Task IPA are on the cards as the first three carnie brews into kegs.  Stay tuned….

A No-Chill First

Posted: November 18, 2013 in Brew Blog

I know, I know, it’s been a while since my last Brew Blog post.  Actually it’s been a while since my last “Growing Hops” post, but Melbourne’s recent return to winter seems to have put a halt to my hops…all five varieties look healthy enough, but they’ve hardly moved in two months.  And that goes for both the hops in pots, and the hops I planted in the ground (did I mention that yet?  If not I will soon, I promise!)  Given they’re all first year plants, I believe they’re busy establishing their root system, so as long as the leaves stay nice and green, I’ll leave ’em to it.

Anyway, this post isn’t about hops, it’s about my first ever “no chill” beer.  I’ve been wanting to try my version of the Mountain Goat/Brooklyn collaboration brew, their “Hopfweizenbock”.  I’ve loved that beer the few times I’ve had it, and from what I can tell, the recipe for it is pretty much exactly the same as my standard hefeweizen, only made up to ~6.5% abv, and then dry hopped with around 2gm/l of Aussie Galaxy hops.  I had kicked off a Wyeast 3068 (Weihenstephan Weizen) starter on Friday, so had planned to try and knock out the weizenbock on Tuesday night, because it’d take that long for the yeast starter to be ready (~2 days at room temp, ~2 days in the fridge).  But it hit me early yesterday (Sunday), that I could brew the beer, then transfer the hot wort into one of my 10 litre ‘cubes’ (in this case the containers I’d purchased my CBW LME in from Grain & Grape).  Only being 10 litres was fine, I have no idea what this beer will turn out like, so starting with a 10 litre batch would suit me fine.

I could then leave the wort to cool naturally over a couple of days (hence the term “no chill”), and once it’s at pitching temp and my yeast starter ready, I can transfer to my fermenter and pitch the yeast.  So I’ll do that tomorrow night.  I quite like the time no-chilling frees up…it breaks brew-day up nicely.  I adjusted my hopping schedule (a single addition of Hallertau at 60m simply became 40m) to allow for the extra bitterness you can get from no-chill…but in a ~23 IBU beer like a weizenbock I don’t think it’ll matter too much.  I did make one little blue…I thought I’d be smart and just do a 40m boil, but forgot to tell Beersmith this, so I realised half way through my boil that my post-boil gravity and wort size would be out…so I just chucked in some Munich and extra Bavarian Wheat LME I still have in stock, to get me to my post boil gravity of 1.066.  I ended up with 13 litres at the end of the boil, so filled my 10l cube, and put the rest into an old 3l juice bottle…all sanitised of course.

So, pitching day tomorrow, will let it ferment out, then dry hop it for 5 days or so with the Galaxy….will report back on results another time.

My fascination with Bavarian wheat beer styles continues, and after a few goes using Fermentis’ WB-06 dried yeast, I decided to give liquid yeast a run.  There are literally hundreds of strains of liquid yeast available to home brewers, compared to perhaps a dozen or so dry yeast strains.  The one that seems most popular for weizen brews seems to be Wyeast’s 3068 (Weihenstephan Weizen).  So this is where I started.  I was looking to produce a beer with the smooth taste you get from a commercial hefe, such as the Weihenstephan & Paulaner weizen range.  My WB-06 brews, while good, were coming out more ‘tart’ than I was expecting, even at the higher ferment temperatures.

I decided to make my first batch with liquid yeast a dunkelweizen, as my first dunkel is nearly all gone anyway.  My plan was to make two small batches of the same dunkel, changing only the fermentation temperature.  This is because I’ve read various reports on the web regarding the flavours imparted by 3068 at different temperatures.  Some swear a higher temp such as 23C will give solid banana esters, while others say 3068 is (surprisingly) best fermented at 17C.  Having now read Chris White’s “Yeast” book cover to cover, it also pointed out that under-pitching yeast into wheat beers can produce desirable results, as the stress this puts the yeast under (to reproduce quickly and significantly) can also produce these esters.

Yeastcalc showed me that the “optimal pitch rate” for 11 litres of 1.050 ale was 102 billion cells.  I decided to underpitch around 80 billion into this dunkelweizen.  My smack pack of 3068 was a couple of months old, so around 70% viability, and I was splitting the pack across the two batches, so starting with roughly 35b live cells.  Yeastcalc told me I’d need a 1.5l starter to achieve 80 billion cells.  So a couple of days before I was planning to brew, I smacked the pack and waited for it to swell, then poured it into a sanitised jar.  I boiled up 1.5 litres of starter using some DME, and after cooling, pitched it and half the yeast into a 2 litre mason jar, covering it loosely with sanitised foil (gotta love that Starsan).  I let it sit for 24 hours, swirling it occasionally.  Then I put it in the fridge for 24 hours to allow the yeast to settle out to the bottom of the jar.

On brew day, I brewed the dunkel then took out the yeast starter from the fridge.  You could see a thin white layer of yeast at the bottom of the jar.  I decanted the wort off the yeast, leaving just a little in the bottom, which I swirled to make a slurry.   Once at room temp, I pitched it into my dunkel, and put it in the brew-fridge at 23 degrees.  After a couple of days the smell was pretty impressive, plenty of banana aroma as I’d hoped.  It was similar a week or so later at bottling time, so I was looking forward to the first tasting after a couple weeks of bottle priming.

However, upon first tasting, it has a very similar tartness to my WB-06 brews!  I was surprised by this, thinking it would be a lot more like the commercial weizen beers.  The beer was good, marginally better than my first dunkel, but nothing like a Weihenstephan hefe.  I had read on the web where some brewers thought wb-06 was just a dried version of 3068, but it seemed to have been disproved.  Now I’m not so sure.  However, I will continue the experimentation and put another dunkel down soon, this time fermenting at 17C to see what, if any difference that will make.