Friday, June 29, 2012

Homebrewing As Religion

Homebrewing can be like an ancient religion, a cauldron full of dogmatic traditions and rituals. There are a lot of practices going on that are based on general assumptions that continue to be passed on year after year from brewer to brewer.

One case in point - a mash tun insulation jacket. It looks technical, fits in with the consensus that it's stabilizing and prolongs mash temperatures (a good thing for sure) and creates the warm fuzzy sensation that all is right in the world while you're brewing your best bitter. But do you really need it?

I'm not going to launch into my history of the "don't ask just do it, mind set". I've covered that sad tale Here. I just want to get to the bones about being able to brew a decent batch of beer. That skill doesn't necessarily require some of the practices that we use as homebrewers today. There are a few things I know from personal experience that have convince me that many things we do as homebrewers is purely based on accepted practices that warrant a little investigation.

Put on a jacket - it's cold out there!

For instance, I don't care much for carboys. At this point in my homebrewing career I don't see the value of their popularity.  Consequently, I've spent some entertaining time questioning my fellow homebrewers regarding the idea of using them. The fact is, in my past, I've done my fair share of genuflections and prayer in front of them asking a higher power for a successful ferment but for the most part, the best I can get back from the loyalists I talk to is that they like to watch them and they're necessary for hygienic qualities. But is it true? Does using a carboy with an airlock really benefit the beer or the brewer? Is the beer safer and more protected in a carboy, allowing it to mature into a healthy beer. Or is it just what we do because that's what we've been taught over the years and that's what Charlie said to do in his book?

There's plenty of history, ancient and current that points to the contrary. Look no further than Anchor Brewing with their open fermentors. My experience with open fermentation tells me that the carboy is highly over rated and unnecessary,  passe' at best, a pain to clean and a health hazard at worst. Can I defend the carboy? Sure, aging beer in a carboy for long periods may be of value but still even that defense deserves some investigation. Maybe a secondary fermentation in a carboy with additional sugars deserves some thought. Still, using carboys instead of easier and qualitatively equal methods (open) leaves me thinking that ritual, paranoia and superstition may be behind the resistance to let go of an idea.
 
This brings me back to the mash jacket insulation technique that I witness at this years Big Brew event at Seabright Brewery in Santa Cruz, California. Friends and fellow Zymurgeek brewers Winslow and Dave were using their three tiered, gravity fed brew sculpture to brew a batch that day. Their mash tun was decorated with what appeared to be Liberache's sequined vest,  a metallic bubble wrap jacket held securely in place with tape at the seam. I asked about the value of this insulation wrap and suggested that it may not be warranted. They naturally defended it's proper place in their arsenal of equipment and so I challenged them to an experiment. We would brew two identical batches of beer. One to be mashed with said Liberache's mash tun jacket and the other without, and so I soon found myself in their yard a couple weeks later brewing up a pair of blond style ales and the experiment was on. The following are the results from samples that Winslow took during the course of the mashes.

Treatment 1: Mash Tun with reflex insulation (sample taken by recirculating 30 oz of wort and then sampling 10 oz in a mug, Ambient temperature ~63f. degrees, overcast)
Time Temp
10:20(Mash In)= 152.7
10:35= 148.0
11:00= 145.9
11:15= 144.0
11:25= 146.6 (this sample was taken by placing the thermometer in the stream from Mash Tun to Boil Kettle)
OG: 1.048
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Treatment 2: Mash Tun w/o reflex ( sample taken by recirculating 2 gallons of wort and then sampling 10 oz in a mug, Ambient temperature ~75, direct sun)
12:50(Mash In)= 152.5
13:05= 148.6
13:20= 146.0
13:35= 144.6
13:50= 146.0 (this sample was taken by placing the thermometer in the stream from Mash Tun to Boil Kettle)

As you can see from the test results, the mash without the insulation was at the end of the mash schedule only 4/10th of one degree Fahrenheit lower than the mash that was sporting the insulation jacket. Conclusive proof in an off handed way that the jacket was not needed. Let's also not forget that most of the enzymatic action is taking place within the first 20 minutes of the mash time and that the thermal mass is the main source of maintaining the temperature during this time period. There is some data to show this truth.

But in the end, my opinion, like so much silly science is no good. Like so many brewers caught in the idea, the actual results made no difference as I found out later that Winslow and Dave still use the bubble wrap insulated jacket with complete abandon, despite the results of our trials. The idea behind the insulation may be more valuable then the reality. Thus my contention that homebrewing could be very much like the beliefs of those that brewed before the invention of the thermometer or the discovery of micro-biology. Let the dogma bark my friends, or as Dr. House would say "...with the absence of rational comes ritual."
My insulated mash tun just had a baby! It's a blond.

    Wednesday, June 20, 2012

    Schooner's Grille And Brewery

    This guest post is by Brady Umfleet

    I have been looking forward to visiting Schooner's Grille and Brewery for a few years now. I did try several of their beers at a local beer festival and wanted to make it to the source, but had no real reason to make it up north until I needed to pick my wife up from a conference in Pittsburg.

    Schooners Grille and Brewery is located in Antioch, CA east of Pittsburg on the way to Stockton. Their website doesn’t provide details as to when this brewery opened up, but it seems to have been about 10 years ago. The brewery is in the parking lot of a few big box stores. When I pulled up I noticed a farmer picking up spent grain from behind the brewery which I hoped was a good sign.


    Walking into the establishment you will find the host station in a vestibule. Interesting really, since it seems out of place. Near the host station is a cold case with 12 ounce bottles of their pale ale. As I normally do, I scanned the area for business cards, coasters, etc. for my collection, which drives my wife out of her mind. The bar is located to the left and the dinning area to the front and right as you enter the main area from the host station. I was expecting there to be a nautical theme of some sort since schooners is a nautical term. However, the theme appeared to be 90's California grill. Bummer really, I could have added this to the other nautical themed breweries I have visited; Sea Dog, Diamond Knot, etc. It appears the name schooners may come from the other definition of schooner, according to Wiki “A schooner is a type of glass used for serving German wheat beer. In Australia, it is a name for a particular glass size, used for any type of beer. In the United States, "schooner" refers to the shape of the glass, rather than the capacity. It can range from 18 oz. to 32 oz.”
    The bar wasn’t very long but did have three TVs. All but one of the bar stools was filled with professionals having a cold one at about 12:30pm on a Friday.

    Cream Ale


    On tap were an American Cream Ale, Pale Ale (35 IBUs, 5.5% Alcohol), IPA (65 IBUs, 7.0% Alcohol), Oatmeal Stout (37 IBUs, 4.8%), Irish Red Ale (26 IBUs, 5.0% Alcohol), Peach Wheat, and Old Diablo Barley Wine. There were also 6 guest taps including Sierra Nevada's Summerfest, and a handful of bottled beer.

    The stand outs were the American Cream Ale (2011-North American Beer Award, Gold Medal), pictured here. This Cream Ale was smooth, very little hop character as to be expected with a slightly sweet finish from the corn, and the oats giving the beer a little oily smoothness. This is an appropriate beer in 100 degree weather. I ended up ordering a pint of this. According to their website “we use flaked corn (7%) to add a touch of sweetness and rolled oats (3.5%) to accentuate the creamy mouth feel. Herbrucker hops are used mostly for bittering, but also provide a light contribution to the aroma.”

     A mixed bag of glassware for the sampler 
    The other brew that I thought rose above the rest was the Oatmeal Stout, again from their website: “Deep in color, flavor and complexity. Generous use of roasted malts provide the base, while subtle use of chocolate, crystal and Belgian specialty grains add to the complexity. Traditional English hops round out the recipe.” The chocolate and crystal malts shine through in this beer, the smooth finish of an oatmeal stout is present as is a touch of roasted barley to give it a slight roasted finish. The hops used aren’t stated, but I suspect Fuggles and Goldings. This is a decent beer to have a few, when you are having a few.

    I can’t say I would make an effort to stop at this brewery unless I was very near by. It seemed to be stuck in the late 90s beer rut, which in Nor Cal doesn’t stand out, and in fact your best bet is to back track to Pittsburg and visit E.J Phair.

    Thursday, June 14, 2012

    Affligem Belgian Ales

    I don't normally pimp myself out for reviews but I also don't rule out the opportunities for free beer either, especially when the beer is really good like this one.

    Affligem Blond
    Affligem's blond ale is a soft delicious beer with plenty of easy drinking qualities like fruitiness, and spice that work so well in Belgian styles of beer. A full rounded malt presence and low bitterness make for a very enjoyable drinking experience. But it is 7% abv. so that's something to keep in mind.

    I received a promotional package in the mail that included a bottle of the blond(e), a shattered drinking glass (insert sad face and a bit of whimpering here) and a small yeast taster glass. I don't know if there's a name for the small yeast glass but it's tiny and cute and I doubt I'll ever use it for anything other than the video I made to show how to use it. My video (which you can see here) is nothing like the slick promo (featured at bottom of page) that came loaded on a real wood encased thumb drive. I just thought you'd like to see how your average homebrew guy would demonstrate it's use. And of course in my video, the awesome Affligem beer glass is missing. If you're reading this Affligem, it'd be real nice to get a replacement. In any case, to those that watch my version, feel free to give feed back on my smooth technique.


    Also, I knew that there are only seven classified Trappist breweries (Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, Westvleteren and Koningshoeven) but I didn't know that 'Abbey Ale' is also a certified designation and Affligem is one of only twenty two in the world?


    Oh, and one other thing. Through a partnership with Draft Magazine and the Flanders Tourism Board, Affligem is hosting a contest with the hope of sharing the "perfect pouring ritual" experience with it's consumers and awarding 200 people with the yeast tray kit and one grand prize winner a trip for two to Belgium including a visit to the Affligem Brewery and the Belgian Beer Festival. Go to Draft Magazine to enter the contest.




    Affligem - The Perfect Pouring Ritual


    Remember, I'm still working to make the Beer School project a reality. Go here to find out more.

    Saturday, June 9, 2012

    Lowering Gravity With Brett

    It's true, good things do come to those who wait, at least this time, and here's why. I took an under-attenuated beer that I thought was destined for that long slow pour down the drain and instead, created something wonderful.

    First, a little background history. Back in November of 2011, I was getting ready for my return to San Miguel for the Winter and so was brewing a series of lagers that would age in cold storage here in Santa Cruz for the 5 months that I would be gone. My plan was to come back to a set of delicious beers including a schwarzbier, bock, dopplebock and a Munich dunkel. All went well with the exception of the dunkel which simply would not ferment lower than 55% of it's original gravity. (I discovered much later that I may have mashed at a higher then presumed temperature because my thermometer was out of calibration. While it read 152f. the actual temperature was in all likelihood 158f.)
    Unfermentables or long chains of sugar molecules left in solution due to a high mash temperature I believe was the problem although I suspect that a low pitch amount was also a contributing factor. I only stepped my WLP833 yeast up once for an expected cell count of approximately 150 billion. Too low for ten gallons of beer fermenting in the low 50's.

    Label your beer - it's the law!

    I left this sad sweet dunkel to age with the other beers with the idea that I would deal with it when I returned. When I say deal with it I mean dump it. But, once back here in Santa Cruz it dawned on me that there may be another solution. What if I introduced some bacteria and wild yeast to consume the remainder of the sugars and at the same time create a sort of mock Flanders brown style of beer. I checked with a few trusty homebrewers who although had no personal experience with a scheme like this, still thought it seemed like a reasonable idea. I then shot an email over to Mike at The Mad Fermentationist for advice, someone I've come to respect regarding sour beers and more importantly brewing outside the box. He wrote back regarding my question about what I could expect from re-pitching:

    All strains of Brett can deal with chains at least 9 glucose molecules long, so it will certainly dry the beer out given time. Lacto/Pedio are much more variable, but with the queuze dregs something should sour it. Should be good, I've gotten stone fruit aromatics from my few lager fermented sours. New Belgium uses a lager primary for all of their sours.
    Good luck! I look forward to reading about your results.
    -Mike

    With this new encouragement I prepared two different doses of yeast/bacteria, one dose for each Corney keg. The first received a smack pack of Wyeast Rosealare blend and the other the dregs from a bottle of gueuze that I stepped up twice. I kept the kegs at room temperature while I waited for a build up of Co2 to let me know that fermentation was going on. After a few weeks, nothing. I continued to wait, becoming concerned with the inactivity. All of a sudden after six weeks the gravities started to drop and I was venting co2 from the kegs often. It took awhile to get going but when it did, the gravity in both kegs began to go down quickly dropping from 1.026 down to 1.014 in a matter of a couple of weeks.
    Dunkel With Bugs
    I pulled off a sample and the flavors are good and unique for each keg and I expect the gravity to continue to drop a couple more points before I force carbonate and refrigerate. While writing this I'm sampling the beer with the Roeselare blend and it has a prominent vinegar acidity from acetobactor that plays well with the caramel maltiness from the Munich malt in the grain bill. After that comes tart/sour cherry and green cantaloupe finally ending with mild barn like qualities of brettanomyces. Tasty, thirst quenching and very drinkable. I'm happy and excited with the way this experiment turned out and would recommend it as an option for certain beers that stall out during primary.

    Here's the recipe (10gal.) and statistics:
    Mash at 158f (?) for 60 minutes 4 lbs. 2-row, 16 lbs. Munich 35, 10 oz. carafa II
    Boil 60 minutes with 9/10th oz. Galaxy 12% and 20 min. with 1 oz. cascade 5% (24 IBU's)
    Pitch WLP833 stepped up yeast culture
    Eff. 90%
    O.G. 1.058
    F.G. 1.026 Attenuation * 55% (*after re-pitch F.G. 1.014 Attenuation 76% as of 6/6/12)

    Finally, I took the opportunity to bottle some of this beer while it was still losing gravity points. My expectation is that as the beer continues to ferment I will achieve some nice natural carbonation and conditioning in the bottle without having to add additional sugar. I borrowed my friend Mark C's corker to get the job done. This is a great machine for corking Belgian style ales and wine. I've included a short video HERE to show the proper use while I bottled my Flanders Oud Dunkelbruin. Cheers!





    Oh! Let's not forget that I'm right in the middle of my Kickstarter campaign to raise money to start a Beer School. Please contribute as much and as often as you can. Tell your rich friends, it's a good cause.

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