Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Small-batch Recipe: IPA

In a previous post, we discussed the equipment you'd need for small batch experiments, and with hope, you've tried a few batches already. If you're a hop head like me, you're going to have to try and brew an IPA, so today's post covers a reliable recipe for this super-hoppy beer. Enjoy!

Humulone-Head IPA

For a 3 liter extract batch (that's a 6-pack of 440ml bottles) you will need:

Water

5 liters of H2O.

Extract and Specialty Grains

485g Dried Malt Extract
32g Caramunich I (50 SRM) Malt (steep at 65-70C for 30 minutes)
21 g Carared or similar (20 SRM) Caramel malt (steep at 65-70C for 30 minutes)

Hops


3g of Apollo @ 60 minutes
3g of Warrior @ 10 minutes
4g of Cascade @ 1 minute
4g of Warrior: Dry hop for 7 days before bottling.

Yeast

A third of a packet of US-05 dried yeast (or similar American yeast)

Others

A third of a teaspoon of Irish Moss @ 10 minutes.

For a 3 liter full-grain version:

You will need:
708g of Pale 2-row Malt
69g of Caramunich I (50 SRM) Malt
45g of Carared or similar (20 SRM) Caramel malt 

Use the same hops, Irish Moss, and yeast.

Mash Schedule (using the BIAB method):

Get your water to 72 C, then add the grains to achieve 66.7 C.

Mash the grains at this temperature for 75 minutes, then mash out at 75 C for 10 minutes and lift the bag. 
Do not squeeze the bag.

Your pre-boil gravity should be close to 1.036. Boil for 60 minutes.

Fermentation & Bottling


Ferment at 16-18C for 2 weeks. 
Bottle with 18g of dextrose or keg for 2.5 vols.

Technical Notes

Pre-boil Gravity: 1.036
OG (Original Gravity): 1.060
FG (Final Gravity): 1.014
ABV (Alcohol): 6.0%
IBUs (Bitterness Units): 65

Some Experiments to Try:

Small-batch brewing can be an excellent opportunity for the homebrewer to experiment. Here are some suggestions for this recipe:
  • Hops: Substitute the Warrior with a different hop, I recommend Centennial, EKG, Amarillo, or Chinook
  • Sugars: Try adding some Maple Syrup (about 60g) in the boil for a dry finish and wooded taste.
  • Other Flavors: Try adding some honey in the primary fermentation (50g) or chuck some juniper berries into the boil at 10 minutes (a handful should do).


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Sunday, 6 April 2014

3 Beer Books for Non-Brewers

Homebrewers are a passionate lot (some would say obsessive), and often want to share our love for beer with friends and family.

So, apart from handing over your latest masterpiece in a tall pint glass, what about gifts that can be given to help others understand this wonderful hobby (i.e. obsession)?

Today's post looks at three books that homebrewers can safely hand to their non-brewing friends and loved ones without risking a puzzled look.

Brewing up a Business: Adventures in Beer


The author, Sam Calagione, is the owner and mad beer genius behind Dogfish Head Breweries, famous for their 60 minute IPA and recreating ancient brews from around the world. He's also written some kick-ass how-to books for homebrewers.

In this book, Sam takes a bit of a departure from that and talks business. More specifically, he takes the reader on an entertaining and occasionally revolutionary journey through his craft business model. 

If your non-brewing friend or significant other has an interest in business, guerrilla marketing, or just plain fascinating autobiography, this book is a great read.

The Brewmaster's Table


Garrett Oliver is the brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery in NYC, and also a leading authority on food and beer pairings. Apart from authoring this book, he's also the editor for the Oxford Companion of Beer.

The Brewmaster's Table is a fantastic read for anybody who can be described as a "foodie" or is passionate about a good meal (accompanied by good beer, of course).

I'd also recommend Oliver's book to my fellow homebrewers--He is a very, very knowledgeable brewer, and his insights into different styles of beer are incredibly useful for getting your homebrew's flavours just right.

African Brew

Lucy Corne is without a doubt one of South Africa's true craft beer heroes. In this book, she journeys across South Africa, sampling craft beer, chatting to brewers, and sharing some great beer-friendly and beer-infused recipes (sounds like hard work, that).

This is a must-have for anybody who is interested or passionate about the craft revolution currently sweeping South Africa. A solid, well written tome with lovely photography and mouthwatering food (and beer) porn. Get it.





Friday, 28 March 2014

3 Tips for Better Beer

My apologies for not posting in a while--alas, starting a craft brewery is somewhat time intensive! More on that development in future posts.

But today, we're going to cover three very important things to keep in mind when making your own beer. They all improve flavour, stability, and the general health of you homebrew--enjoy!

Tip #1: Full Volume Boil.


I've mentioned this step in previous posts, but it bears repeating: unless you boil the full volume of wort you will not gain the advantages that it brings.
A full, rolling boil

And the advantages are many:
  • Full volume, rolling boils utilize hops more fully, and ensures a nice, rounded hop flavour
  • Full volume boils ensure that proteins responsible for haze are fully broken up, resulting in nice, clear beer
  • The full volume boil is essential for blowing off compounds naturally found in malt that produce off-flavours, like DMS.
  • A rolling boil ensures that no oxygen can enter the beer at this stage, helping with flavour profile and stability

Tip #2: Re-hydrate Dry Yeast


Properly re-hydrated yeast
Dried yeast is a popular choice with homebrewers--it’s easy to handle, lasts for a long time, and is relatively cheap. But dried yeast is not as lively as its liquid cousin. To help it along, and ensure that your yeast starts to replicate quickly, you should re-hydrate it.

It’s simple and will ensure that you have a good, strong fermentation that out-competes any potential nasties that may have crept into the brew:

  • Take the yeast out of the fridge and allow it to get to room temperature
  • Measure your room temperature by putting a thermometer in a glass of tap water
  • Clean and santitise a mason jar. Clean and santise the outside of the yeast packet and the scissors you’ll be using to open the packet.
  • Pitch the yeast into 150ml of sanitised water (I use a freshly opened bottle of mineral water)
  • Close the mason jar with a clean and sanitised lid
  • Let the yeast diffuse naturally for about 20 minutes
  • Then, swirl the jar gently every five minutes or so for another 20 minutes. The re-hydrated yeast will now be a nice, even-coloured cream, ready to pitch.
  • Make sure that you pitch the yeast into the wort when the wort has chilled to within 5 degrees Celsius of the yeast (the re-hydrated yeast will be at room temperature—which you measured earlier). Rather pitch into a warmer temperature, so if your yeast is at 20 degrees, then pitch into wort that is at 25 degrees, to avoid yeast shock.

Tip #3: Fermentation Control

The Fermenter: Strange things are happening inside

The fermentation phase of brewing is often perceived as a hands-off process by most homebrewers. Once you’ve pitched your yeast and placed your fermenter in a suitable spot, it’s all up to time and the gods. But this is where most of the flavours (and off-flavours) of beer are produced. So some careful control is necessary.

The main contributor to the flavour profile of your beer during fermentation will come from three things: Oxygen, competition, and temperature:

  • Oxygen: Yeast needs oxygen to function properly, so make sure that you’ve introduced enough of the gas into your wort before pitching (either by shaking the fermenter, whisking it, or using an aeration stone).


    • Once fermentation is going, you want to keep oxygen away from the developing beer—this is usually not a problem during primary fermentation, but if you’re going to rack your beer into another vessel for secondary fermentation, oxygenation is a real risk. My recommendation: don’t bother with secondary fermentation in another vessel—just use the one your beer is already in. If you are going to use another fermenter, fill it with CO2 first, or lacking that, fill from the bottom up. Slowly.

  • Competition: Yeast has evolved, through natural and artificial selection, to be very adept at fermenting out wort. But there are bacteria and wild strains of yeast that are also pretty good at working within the fermentation cycle. First off, you need to try and limit the unformed beer’s exposure to these harmful critters, and you do that by following the basics of good sanitisation (see my article on it here). Here are some additional points to keep in mind:

    • Make sure the fermenter does not have deep scratches inside where bugs can hide. If it does, you need to invest in a new one
    • Ditto for rubber grommets, gaskets, and airlocks in your fermenter lid. Check them periodically for tears, gouges, and places that can harbour nasties. Rather spend a few bucks buying new ones than stubbornly ruining your beer by being a cheap skate.
    • Make sure that you fill the airlock with sterile liquid. I prefer vodka, because unlike sterilisers, it doesn’t lose its potency, and if some of it ends up in the beer, it won’t affect its flavour

  • Temperature: Controlling the temperature of the fermentation is always a challenge for homebrewers, and unfortunately, it’s also one of the most important factors influencing the final product. This is a very wide generalisation, but most ales ferment really well at around 16-18 degrees Celcius. This temperature, depending on the yeast used, tends to produce minimal off-flavours while still allowing the tasty esters ales are known for to develop. There are exceptions though:

    • For Saisson yeasts, ferment at higher temperatures, from 22 C to 27 C works well
    • For Belgian ale yeasts, higher temperatures from 25 – 30 C work well.
    • For lager yeasts, your fermentation temp will be far lower, from 11-15 C.

  • As for controlling the temperature, the best possible option is to get an old fridge or freezer and bypass the thermostat with an external thermostat (digital or analog). You can get these from most homebrew supply shops. Put your fermenter in the fridge, adjust the temp to the desired range, and Bob’s your uncle!

    • Another option is to measure the ambient temperature in various rooms in your house, as well as in cupboards, etc. Make notes and track seasonal changes. That way, you’ll know which places are more suitable than others for different fermentation schedules.
    • In summer, you can cool down your fermenter by placing it in a large container with water, and periodically placing frozen bottles of water in the container
    • In winter, you can warm up a fermentation by using a heater in the room (costly), or wrapping the fermenter in a blanket or thermal cover (cheaper)

Hope you enjoyed the tips! Let me know about your homebrew experiences by posting a comment or question below, or connect with me via Facebook. I always answer any question, even if it takes a while. Happy brewing!



Monday, 27 January 2014

What is Craft Beer?

Yep, I’ve decided to tackle this hairy subject. It seems that sooner or later, every craft beer enthusiast, every beer geek, will have to come up with a good answer to this question. Usually it’s the first thing that friends and family ask you when you shove an IPA into their hands and tell them to try “craft beer.”

Pictured: something slightly less
elusive than the definition of craft beer
The problem is, nobody seems to agree on what we mean by “craft beer.” Many have tried, and some have even argued that there is no good definition, that even attempting to find one is less likely to succeed than those crazies who stalk Big Foot (you know who you are). 

And it’s certainly true that one can lump a lot of inappropriate things under the banner of “craft”. For an excellent treatment of that subject, please read Lucy Corne’s article here.
  
But I think that there are at least a few reasons why finding a workable definition for craft beer is important (and not just so that you have an answer for your buddy who is trying that IPA):

  1. It’s a fledgling industry. For craft brewers out there, especially in South Africa, the craft beer industry is still very young. Yes, it is reaching the eyes and ears of more people every day, but it is still very, very tiny in relation to other markets. Unlike the States, we don’t even have reliable data on who craft beer drinkers are, or how many of them are out there. So, having a proper definition helps in defining markets and helps brewers make better business decisions, which in turn will help grow the market and ensure survival of artisan brewers.

  2. It helps to define standards and identify pretenders. Craft brewers (and roasters, and bakers) are often mavericks, people who like to swim against the stream. But it’s not long before that disruption becomes yet another marketing gimmick. So, having a definition that distinguishes craft brewing (baking, roasting, etc) from other, more mass-produced endeavors is useful if only to create a shared consciousness among craftspeople about what we are willing to fight for. It also helps call out businesses that are trying to capitalize on the good will craft creates without wanting to actually contribute to the craft movement.

So here goes: I think that craft, and more specifically, craft beer, is distinguished by these key factors:

1. Artisan brewers are fanatical about quality of beer and will often do commercially “stupid” things to ensure this quality. This is because they are producing art, not product.


Yes, I know that there are brilliant, really nice people working at the big commercial brewers. They are not horrible to old people, and don’t eat little fluffy bunnies in their spare time (although…). 
Your average SABMiller brewer is fanatical about quality and consistency of product as well, but what distinguishes craft brewers is that second part of the definition. 

The part about being stupid.

A case study in this theme is Sam Callegione’s story about Dogfish Head’s take on making a craft version of cheap malt liquor (you can read about it in Sam’s book, Brewing up a Business). In their quest to make the ultimate craft malt liquor, they spent a lot of money on premium, rare ingredients, roped in highly-paid staff members (including Sam and the COO) to bottle the product by hand, and sold the beer at way more than malt liquor is ever sold at.

None of these decisions made any sense from an accountant’s high profit, low cost perspective.

Fact is, commercial brewers at big corporate brewers will never be allowed to make beer like this, unless there is a huge market and unless the profits can compete with their other, main-stream lines (both very unlikely).

But this sort of financial “stupidity” is exactly what distinguishes craft brewers from commercial ones. Craft brewers would rather pay premium prices for a rare or special ingredient than source the cheapest, most mass-produced ingredients simply to ensure a large profit margin.

It makes for risky business models, but fortunately, craft brewers keep operating costs small and don’t employ thousands of people, so a living can be made.

The approach has limitations built in—given the high costs of producing some beers, plus the logical limit of what you can charge for a bottle of beer, craft brewers are sometimes limited in the volumes they can produce (some would argue that this adds to the charm of craft beer, however).

I often find that people simply don’t understand this characteristic of craft beer. Maybe it’s because as a society we’ve lost a lot of traditional artisanship, and because the predominant models are those handed down by the big corporate success stories like Coke and P&G. 

Massive global food and beverage companies are massive because, in part, they've found the right balance between cheap ingredients, mass appeal, and large distribution networks.

Craft brewers however, are not aiming for this endpoint. What they want to achieve is, for want of a better word, art. And art can be mighty stubborn about profit margins and such..

2. Craft does not aim at mass appeal. It is often disruptive of mass appeal.


Again, when we look at big business, we look at the success of mass appeal. Why is Coke so successful? Because almost everybody likes (to some extent) Coke. MacDonalds? Same thing. A Mickey Dees burger is not gourmet food, but it is also not absolutely horrible either. So billions of people will eat a couple of them, at least once a year.

Mass produced beer is similar. SABMiller’s Castle is a good American premium lager. It does not offend too many taste buds, and it is quite refreshing on a hot day. It has mass appeal. Craft beer does not aim for mass appeal. 

Craft brewers like to play with definitions of what beer should taste like, they like producing obscure styles like Saissons and Imperial Ales that have not found their way into the lexicon of beer drinkers. Also, they like poking fun at the boring, re-tread ways of their more commercially-minded cousins (although that’s not a requirement, it is fun).

In many ways craft beer is the rebellious off-shoot of mass produced beer that says: “I don’t care if only a few hundred people appreciate this weird taste. As long as they’re fanatical about it and I enjoy making it, that’s okay.”

Mass market brewers do not have that luxury, and nor should they, really.

And Finally..


There are other ways of defining craft, but I think these two above do the job pretty well. It allows us to have meaningful discussions about the craft beer industry without it devolving into silly “chemical beer” debates, and what I especially like about it is that it opens to scrutiny brewers, large and small, who claim the “craft” title.

For instance, it allows us to call bullshit on mass-production brewers who think that they are making craft beer by producing slightly altered, smaller quantities of their commercial brands and labeling these ‘craft.'

It also asks some searching questions of existing “craft” brewers who seem content to produce beers that offer little differentiation in terms of taste from existing mass brands, contain only the cheapest ingredients, but are sold at high “craft” prices.

Your thoughts? Am I up a tree or is this some brilliant revelation (probably not..)?


Monday, 2 December 2013

Fixing Things: Low Mash Efficiency

If you've recently started all-grain brewing, you may well be using the Brew-in-a-Bag method as I’ve described elsewhere. Even if you’re not going the BIAB route, one persistent challenge for the all-grain homebrewer is mash efficiency.
That wonderful mash

Simply put, mash efficiency is the amount of actual sugars extracted compared to the total possible sugars that can be extracted from the recipe's grain bill. For many homebrewers, efficiency of between 60-70% is quite common.

On one level, achieving lower levels of efficiency (e.g 50%) is not a disaster. Homebrewing is not a mashing competition, after all. What is far more important is to know the average efficiency of your homebrewery.

Why? Because it affects recipe formulation. If you know that you tend to consistently hit 60%, or 70% or whatever percentage efficiency (as calculated by hand or software), you can modify your recipes accordingly.

To illustrate:

Let’s say you’re brewing an ale recipe with a simple grain bill of 4.5 kgs of Pale Malt, a target OG of 1.050, and a pre-boil gravity target of 1.044.

If you’re brewery efficiency is 60%, you’ll need 5.2 kgs of malt to reach the above targets. But if you’re working at 80% efficiency, you’ll need only 3.9 kgs of malt to reach the same targets. 

So you can see that knowing your efficiency is key to recipes that work out the way they're supposed to.

But what if you want to improve the mash efficiency in your homebrewery?

Here are three tips for getting the most out of your mash!

1. Get the Basics Right.


The alchemy of enzymatic action is waaaay beyond the scope of this post, but suffice it to say that if you want the various amylases to work properly and convert grain starch into sugar, you need to create the correct environment.

So, check that you’re hitting that golden temperature zone of 67 degrees C. Then, make sure that you’re holding it there for at least 60 minutes (preferably 75 minutes for BIAB).

Finally, check that your mash PH is at or around 5.3 – 5.7.

2. Stir the Mash.


Enzymes like beta and alpha amylase need contact with the starch in grains to do their job. Stirring the mash helps with this, and will almost always benefit your efficiency.

Don't whisk the Mash!
Just be cautious: don’t whisk your mash! That can cause so-called hot-side aeration, that affects taste down the line.

A gentle stir, say every 10 minutes or so, should help a lot with efficiency—remember to use a heated spoon to avoid chilling your mash every time you stir.

3. Mashing Out.


So, you’ve done the basics right and you’ve stirred (gently) the mash. 

But your work is not yet done. Especially when using the BIAB method, you can help the washing of sugars from the grain bed by mashing out. To mash out, raise the temperature of the mash to around 75 C and hold for 10 minutes.

This will accomplish two things: first, it stops further enzymatic conversion. Second (and this is the important bit related to our current quest of better efficiency) it makes the wort less viscous and aids in draining sugars from the grain bed.  

That's it: good luck with your mash--but don't forget, this is not a competition folks!

For more tips on fixing things, check out my previous posts on:
Next time, I'll be writing my final (or next-to-final) post for this year, before disappearing into a cloud of Christmas-flavored beer. See you later.




Sunday, 3 November 2013

Fixing Things: Avoiding Hazy Beer

While taste and aroma are arguably the more important components of the beer experience (along with the buzz), appearance makes for the third element of a really good beer. It is a joy to behold the rich red colour of amber ales, the warm gold of pale ale and the cola-like darkness of a brown porter.

So it’s understandable that homebrewers aspire to showing off these colours by making clear, bright brews rather than hazy, opaque ones that resemble dirty dish water.

In today’s post, I’ll be discussing several steps that you can take to ensure that your homebrew comes out clear and haze-free.

Step 1. Full volume boils.

Boil. Or else.
In previous posts I've discussed the importance of a full volume boil for enhancing hop flavour and blowing off the dreaded DMS. A full volume, vigorous (rolling) boil also helps with the clarity of the final product.

The physical and chemical agitation that a rolling boil creates also helps in breaking up compounds and larger proteins that contribute to hazy beer. So boil vigorously for 60-90 minutes.


If done properly, you should observe occasional “sheathes” of protein material bob to the surface of the wort: this is known as the hot break.

Step 2. Use Irish Moss at 15 minutes.

Irish Moss
Irish Moss is my placeholder name for a variety of finings that can be added during the boil to help clarify beer.

Mostly derived from types of algae, these compounds bind with larger protein molecules and help to drop these haze-forming troublemakers out of suspension where they collect at the bottom of the kettle.

Step 3. Create a whirlpool.

At the end of the boil, you should stir the wort for a few minutes, creating a whirlpool—yep just like the one that forms in a bathtub when you pull the plug. Maintain the whirpool for a few minutes, being careful not to disturb the center of the kettle as you stir.
Whirlpools: Groovy


What is happening when you do this is that all the solids, leftover hops and stray grain husks collect in a little pile at the center of the kettle. This makes it easier for you to pour off the clear wort and leave this stuff (referred to as trub), behind.

Step 4. Chill rapidly.

Apart from the haze created by actual trub in the beer, another form of haze is a result of proteins and tannins appearing at low temperatures—so-called chill haze.

Chill haze only becomes evident once you’ve cooled down your beer after bottling, so it can be quite frustrating when you think you made clear beer, only to pour a hazy brew when serving it to your friends!

You can help in reducing this problem by chilling your beer rapidly after the end of the boil. If you can take the beer down to pitching temperature (25-27C) in under 30 minutes, you should be good.

A sign of a quickly chilled beer is another “sheath” of protein bobbing to the surface—this is called the cold break.

Step 5. Pour carefully and use a sieve

When it’s time to pour the chilled wort into the fermenter, don’t forget the trouble you've gone to in creating the whirlpool! Be gentle with the kettle and try not to disturb the mound of trub in its center.

Pour the wort into the fermenter through a sterile sieve (this is optional and I’m not always sure it really helps all that much). When you get to the really dark grey-green trub, stop pouring!

Don’t be greedy—it really doesn't make sense to put too much trub in the fermenter only to harvest a few more milliliters of actual wort—that way leads to hazy beer!

Step 6. Cold Condition before bottling.

The last step in creating super-clear homebrew is to put the death knell to chill haze by cold conditioning your beer. At the end of secondary fermentation (about 2 weeks from start), chill down the beer to 1-5 C and keep it at that temperature for up to 1-2 weeks.

This conditioning phase will further help with flavour integration and stability, and importantly, prevent chill haze from forming in the finished beer.

And that’s it! Some brewers do add finings like Isinglass and Polyvinylpolypyrrolidone (PVPP) to beer at bottling, but in my experience, if you follow the preceding six steps, this won’t be necessary. Here’s to some clear beer!

If you'd like to see some more ideas on how to fix things, check out the previous post.

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{Picture credit: whirlpool by Gordon Wrigley}

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Fixing Things: A Stuck Fermentation

Sometime, despite our best efforts to be kind to beer, it's not kind to us. If you brew beer, you will (I promise) come up against some of the more vexing issues that plague brewers the world over. In the next few weeks, I'll be covering some tactics you can employ to help your homebrew along when things go awry.

A Stuck Fermentation

It makes cold shivers of terror flow through the spines of most brewers: a fermentation that. Just. Stops. 

You’ve measured your fermenting beer as instructed , and for some reason, the SG refuses to dip below 1.020 (Of course we’re assuming that you’re not brewing a monster beer with a OG of more than 1.080, in which case it may not ever go below 1.020). 

Also, remember to give things time—beer can take up to a week to complete primary fermentation, and for big beers, this can be even longer.

But assuming that it’s a week down the line and you’re not brewing the world’s strongest beer, then yep, you’re in 1.020 limbo hell. Sorry. But is all lost? Not necessarily. It’s time to apply some emergency procedures. Here are some moves to make:

Step 1. Check your measurements.


It may seem obvious, but perhaps there is nothing wrong with your fermentation. You may have just measured wrong.  Of course, if you haven’t measured at all, and you think that you've got a stuck fermentation because there is no more bubbling coming from the airlock—shame on you. You HAVE TO measure your gravity! Eyeballing the airlock is not a recognised scientific measure of fermentation activity. Ever.
You may have gotten the math wrong..

If you used a hydrometer, measure the temperature of the wort and compare it with the temperature the hydrometer is calibrated to (that will usually appear along the side of the hydrometer itself). If there’s a difference between wort temperature and hydrometer temperature, you may need to adjust the reading (I don’t need to remind you to take sanitary precautions, right?). Click here for a handy calculator that can help with that.

If you’re using a refractometer, measure again—sometimes you don’t have enough liquid on the face plate. Then adjust the reading for fermenting wort. You can do this in Beersmith, or click here for a handy calculator. If you’re measurement is still correct after this, it’s time to move on to..

Step 2. Check the fermentation temperature.


Since you’ve checked the wort temperature in Step 1, you should now know what the fermentation temperature is. For ales, it should be around 16-23 C. For lagers, it should be around 14-17 C. 

Chilly temperatures: Yeast doesn't like that.
One common cause for a stuck fermentation is too chilly an ambient temperature. The yeast will then go back into a state of suspended animation and drop out to the bottom of the fermenter.

If this is your problem, there’s a relatively easy solution—heat up the fermenter by putting it in a warmer room in your house, or wrap an electric blanky around the fermenter—but be careful—you don’t want to overheat the brew: that can cause additional problems down the line.



Step 3. Shake your money-maker.


Yeast. It likes to go to sleep (sometimes).
 No—not your booty (although, then again…). If your temperature is fine, it might just be that you’ve started with old or tired yeast. 

What is needed is to “rouse” the yeast from its slumber at the bottom of that fermenter. Gently (and I mean gently) shake the fermenter a bit to put some yeast back into suspension. You can repeat a few times per hour for 2-3 hours if you like. Just don’t shake so violently that you introduce oxygen into your beer—that will be a BAD THING, and will make the finished beer taste like cardboard.

Once you've shaken the fermenter, let it rest and measure again after a couple of days to see if there’s a difference

Step 4. More yeast. 


If you’ve gone through all the preceding maneuvers and things are still not looking up, then it’s time to break out the final, last ditch, we’re-not-kidding-anymore solution: re-pitching yeast. 

Make sure that you’re pitching fresh, viable yeast. For dry yeast, just pitch another packet. For liquid yeast, pour the vial directly into the fermenter. Wait a few days. Pray to the big beer pixie in the sky. And then measure again.

If you've faithfully followed all the steps in this toolkit and there’s still no change, it may be time to throw in the bar towel. I know it sucks. But you’ll just have to dump the batch, go over your brew notes, and try to figure out what went wrong. 

Here are some likely suspects:

  • Old yeast: expired yeast ain’t going to get you far
  • Under-pitching yeast: for dry yeasts, this is seldom a problem, but for liquid yeasts, it could be. Check out this link to calculate your correct pitching rate.
  • Yeast shock: pitching yeast into wort that is more than 10C colder than the yeast itself is a bad idea and can cause yeast shock, and in turn, yeast slumber.
  • Pitching at too high a temp. Yeast is resilient, but it won’t survive you pitching it into wort that is hotter than 40-50C.
  • Sanitation. Often, when brewers follow poor sanitary practices, yeast can be outperformed by bacteria. This can cause a stuck fermentation, and incredibly bad tasting beer.

Next time, I'll be tackling the thorny issue of hazy homebrew. Click here for the next installment of fixing things.

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{Picture Credits: Equations by Robert Scarth; Ponds on the Ocean by NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre; Sleep by Agus Munoraharjo; }

Friday, 27 September 2013

2 Calculations to Improve your Homebrew

Most home brewers I know find brewing beer at home to be one of the most relaxing hobbies out there. The world disappears and work-related stress blow off along with the DMS wafting away from a good, rolling boil.

So if math feels like work to you, introducing calculations into homebrewing can seem like a pain. But have no fear--the following two calculations are simple and best of all--will help you to improve your brews and gain greater control over the final product!
Time to Calculate!

Calculation #1: Attenuation

Attenuation is the percentage of fermentables that were converted due to fermentation. Confused yet?

No need to be: It's actually quite simple. After you've pitched yeast into your wort, these marvelous little organisms start to convert simple sugars like maltose and dextrose into alcohol and CO2, neither of which are sweet to the taste.

More complex sugars like lactose are not converted in this way, and contribute their sweetness directly to the final beer. Also, not all the fermentable sugars are converted, thus contributing their sweetness to the final beer as well. Attenuation is determined by a number of factors, chief amongst these being the strain of yeast you used and the composition of your wort. 

Some yeast strains, like certain Saisson yeasts, have very high attenuating properties, which means that they will aggressively convert fermentable sugars until almost none are left. This results in a less sweet, drier mouthfeel in the final product. Other strains, like those used in traditional British Ales, are less attenuating, and will leave far more sugars unconverted, resulting in a full bodied, sweeter mouthfeel.

Of course, the actual percentage of fermentable sugars in your wort also plays an important role in attenuation, and that's why all grain brewers are often concerned about their mash temperatures, since these influence the percentage of fermentable sugars created during the mash.

Calculating attenuation is an after-the-fact deal. Once you've measured your Original Gravity and Final Gravity, you can calculate the Attenuation, thus:


So, as an example, if your beer had an OG of 1.050 and a FG of 1.011, your calculation will be:
(50-11) / 50 = 0.78, or 78% attenuation

Becoming familiar with the different attenuation rates of different strains of yeast, as moderated by your beer recipe and things like mash temperatures, is a good way of becoming a more consistent homebrewer!

Calculation #2: Bitterness Ratio

I can't over-emphasize the utility of calculating bitterness ratios. Once you start targeting specific bitterness
ratios with your brewing, you'll really get to grips with producing a wide variety of taste profiles in your homebrew, as well as mastering the multitude of beer styles available to the home brewer.

Bitterness Ratio: It's about Balance
Bitterness Ratio is a two-step calculation, as follows:

Step 1

First, divide the total IBU of the beer by the Original Gravity:

Step 2

Then, plug that result, which we'll call BR1, into this calculation:


So, let's imagine that our previous example beer (the one we calculated the attenuation for), has a total of 30 IBUs. It's OG is 1.050 and FG is 1.011. We've already calculated the attenuation, and that's come to 0.78.

Now let's calculate BR1: 30/50 = 0.600. (Note that for this calculation, we use only the numbers after the decimal for OG and FG).

We are now ready to calculate the Bitterness Ratio of this beer:
0.600 x (1 + (0.78 - 0.7655) = 0.608, which is the Bitterness Ratio of this beer.

If you use a software package like Beersmith, you'll soon realize that different beer styles have different bitterness ratio ranges, and so if you really want to nail a particular style of beer, knowing how to calculate bitterness ratios is a must!

For more details on Bitterness Ratio, I recommend the excellent Mad Alchemist beer blog. 

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{Picture credit: abacus by Anssi Koskinen}

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Small-batch Recipe: Amber Ale

In the last post, we discussed the equipment you'd need for small batch experiments. Today's post covers a versatile, yet reliable recipe for an Amber Ale that you can use for the basis for multiple brewing experiments. Let the mad scientist in you loose!

Amber Alert Ale

For a 3 liter extract batch (that's a 6-pack of 440ml bottles) you will need:

Water

4.5 liters of H2O.

Extract and Specialty Grains

405g Dried Malt Extract
55 g Carared or similar Caramel malt (steep at 65-70C for 30 minutes)
11g Roasted Barley (steep at 65-70C for 30 minutes)

Hops


5g of Cascade @ 45 minutes
3g of Cascade @ 16 minutes
3g of Cascade @ flameout

Yeast

A third of a packet of US-05 dried yeast (or similar American yeast)

Others

A third of a teaspoon of Irish Moss @ 10 minutes.

For a 3 liter full-grain version:

You will need:
590g of Pale 2-row Malt
80g of Carared or similar Caramel Malt
16g of Roasted Barley

Use the same hops, Irish Moss, and yeast.

Mash Schedule (using the BIAB method):

Get your water to 74 C, then add the grains to achieve 66.7 C.

Mash the grains at this temperature for 75 minutes, then mash out at 75 C for 10 minutes and lift the bag. 
Do not squeeze the bag.

Your pre-boil gravity should be close to 1.038. Boil for 60 minutes.

Fermentation & Bottling


Ferment at 16-18C for 2 weeks. 
Bottle with 18g of dextrose or keg for 2.3 vols.

Technical Notes

Pre-boil Gravity: 1.038
OG (Original Gravity): 1.050
FG (Final Gravity): 1.011
ABV (Alcohol): 5.1%
IBUs (Bitterness Units): 32

Some Experiments to Try:

As I've mentioned before, small-batch brewing can be an excellent opportunity for the homebrewer to experiment. Here are some suggestions for this recipe:
  • Hops: Substitute the Cascade with a different hop, I recommend Centennial, Simcoe, or Fuggles
  • Sugars: Try adding small (about 50-60g) amounts of speciality sugars, such as Lyle's Golden Syrup, Brown Sugar, or Maple Syrup to the recipe at either 10 minutes, or into the primary fermenter after about three days.
  • Other Flavors: Go wild! Try unconventional flavors like herbs, spices, or fruit. For instance, you can try to add a small pinch of cinnamon at around 5 minutes.


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Monday, 22 July 2013

Experimenting with Small-Batch Brewing: Equipment

If there is one aspect of homebrewing that is less than ideal, it's the time factor. As in the time it takes to brew a full batch of beer. Since it can often take four to five hours, brewing is for most of us, a weekend hobby. But what if you don't have the time? Or, you want to brew more frequently, and so would like to get your brew on during the week?
Pictured: What most homebrewers don't have enough of

Small-batch brewing is the answer. I like to think of small batch brewing as experimental: it's quick and small enough to allow you to experiment (even wildly) without too much risk if things go wrong. While you might think twice about sticking those lavender stalks into your 19 liter batch in case it goes south, doing so with a 3 liter batch seems a far safer bet!

Another advantage of small-batch experimentation is that it allows you to brew several quick batches with slight variations to really get to grips with your ingredients and brewing skills. And you might recall from previous posts, that brewing the same recipe, but with small tweaks, is one of the ways to rapidly improve your homebrewing kung-fu.

Small-batch brewing is also relatively light on equipment needs, but there are a few odds and ends that will make brewing small batches of beer far easier, so here they are:

The Brew Kettle


Small-batch brewing is stove-top brewing, and since your average batch size is around 3-5 liters (that's a six-pack of 500ml bottles), your brew pot needn't be that big. 

If you've got a stock pot in the kitchen that is between 5-10 liters capacity, you're golden.

The Fermenter


Again, since your batch sizes are so much tinier, you can get really creative with fermenters. 5 Litre plastic buckets are good for 3-4 liter batches; Really big glass jars, or 9 liter corny kegs are also viable alternatives. 

As long as it's food grade and can be sealed with a stopper and an airlock, you can use it!

A Good Scale


This is not the scale you're looking for
You're going to be working with tiny quantities of ingredients when brewing small batches of beer. That means you'll need an accurate, reliable way of measuring those ingredients. 

So, if you haven't yet invested in a good electronic scale, now is the time to get one.

Second prize is a scale that is sensitive to 1 gram. 

First prize is one that can measure in increments/fractions of a gram, similar to those used by certain entrepreneurs in the informal pharmaceutical industry..

Nice-To-Have: Refractometer


Refractometers:
only homebrew Jedis
 can construct their own..
There is one distinct disadvantage to small-batch brewing: Measuring the specific gravity of your brew with a hydrometer becomes difficult and potentially counterproductive if you're sampling 50-100 mls of beer from a 3 liter batch. 

That's a significant portion of your total batch size, especially after 2-3 samples! 

And not measuring is not an option. The alternative? Invest in a refractometer. This nifty device (that looks sort of like a light saber, don't you think?) can measure the gravity of your beer with minute samples (a few drops actually). 

Now if that doesn't make your beer geek heart skip a beat, you're a little dead inside.

Next Time: We'll be looking at some small-batch recipes that are guaranteed to make your experiments with beer all the more exciting and satisfying. Until then!





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{Picture credit: Time by Toni Verdu}
{Picture credit: Scale by Alex Proimos}
{Picture credit: Refractometer by Pawtucket Patriot}

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