Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dunkel Weizen Eisbock

Making an eisbock is a relatively simple procedure, and according to the German Beer Institute web site it goes a little something like this:
"Because water freezes before alcohol, the chilled brew can be drained off the ice crystals that form in the tank. During this process, the beer loses about 7 to 10% of its water content. As a result, the alcohol concentration in the beer increases, usually to about 10% by volume, about twice as much as the 4.5 to 5.5% of a regular German lager." 

I've thought about doing this for a long time now. The actual doing part didn't happen until recently because of an unfortunate blockage in my mind. Because I was focused on accomplishing the task with five gallons of beer, I just assumed that I would need to somehow get an entire corney keg in a freezer and somehow remove the ice from that container and then carbonate the remaining concentrate left in the keg for dispensing. I know it seems strange, but  it never occurred to me until the other day, that I could simply dispense a small amount from the keg and do the process on a small scale. The following is the process I used to increase the alcohol percentage of my weizenbock by extracting the frozen water content by about 50%. First let me get out of the way the fact that an eisbock is traditionally made from a lager or bock beer but in my case I will be using a dark weizenbock (dunkel weizenbock?) that has an alcohol by volume of 7%. In my case this is ale. Again, from the German Beer Institute:
"Eisbock can be made as a barley-based lager, like the Reichelbräu G'frorns, or as a wheat-based ale, called Weizeneisbock. The Weizeneisbock most readily available in North America is the Schneider Aventinus Weizeneisbock, which is brewed and then frozen to a strength of 12% alcohol by volume."

Secondly, even though this is not a distillation but rather a concentration of alcohol, it is still prohibited by law. So if you're reading this, don't tell on me. Anyway, I drank the evidence.
The following is one way to make an eisbock and how I did it this time.
I began by dispensing two litres of beer from the keg into a large pitcher and placed this container in the freezer. It took several hours for the beer temperature to drop to the point of freezing but I kept a close eye on it so that I didn't freeze the surface area too deeply. Once I saw that freezing was beginning I started the process of removing the ice crystals from the surface of the container.
The other way to do this is pouring the unfrozen portion off and placing this back in the freezer but I choose my method because it seemed easier at the time.
I used a perforated spoon to scoop out the ice and then I held the ice over the pitcher in order for the unfrozen liquid to drain before completely removing the ice. I also saved the ice as the process continued and after it melted I drank this beer because it still contained some remnants of the beer flavor and alcohol.
I repeated these steps about a dozen times and this took many hours to complete. I would recommend starting early in the morning to finish in one day. I started too late in the day and ended up placing the beer in the fridge until the following day to complete the task.

Finally, after reducing the volume of beer by 50% I stopped. I ended up with a one litre soda bottle pictured here. I placed a carbonating cap on the bottle and hooked up a co2 line from my kegerator to carbonate.
The results were great. The beer was an amped up version of its old self with intense malt character but with a smooth rich dark, dried fruit flavor. I didn't get any alcohol presence in the nose or taste like Aventinus.
Unfortunately, because it was such a small amount of beer, I didn't take a sample for a hydrometer test and so I don't know the final alcohol content.
The up side to this experiment is that it is pretty easy to do and so I'll be taking a sample of my Belgian tripel which has an 8.75%abv. (tripel bock?) and reducing it in the same manner. I'll make sure I take a reading with that one and report back here with the results. Cheers!

Friday, October 22, 2010

National Organic Brewing Competition Results

For all those interested in the results of the Organic Brew Contest here are the winners. This event was sponsored by our own local homebrew store Seven Bridges. There were 121 entries, representing at least 600 gallons of beer that were all brewed with sustainably grown, pesticide free ingredients.

Sadly, my pale ale didn't place. I haven't received the score sheet for it yet so I can't say what the judges comments were. I'm looking forward to hear what they have to say. On the bright side, a couple of my former brew school graduates Gresham Andrews and Dave Kramer-Urner took a second/third place award for their "Average White Brew" American Wheat and also a third place for their American Amber Ale. Congratulations guys!

A couple of local breweries brought home some awards. Uncommon Brewers and Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing both doing well in the contest using only organic ingredients.

Congratulations to all those that took the challenge to brew with organic ingredients and those that took home prizes for their efforts.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Brewing With Found Objects

    When I first started out brewing I bought the standard and least expensive beginners equipment set. This included a thirty quart brew pot, plastic bottling bucket and an assortment of miscellaneous bits and pieces to make and bottle a five gallon batch of extract beer. I think this is probably the way that the majority of beginners start, modest and cheap at first to make sure the hobby is going to take, before spending too much on what may turn out to be just more clutter for the garage.
    Scrap metal yard
    Here's the interesting discovery about myself as the hobby indeed did 'take' and my passion for brewing beer grew. The new upgrades that I purchased for my system were not the brand new off the shelf items from the local homebrew store but instead tended to be found items located in unusual places. I learned that I enjoyed the hunt for brew gear and began to consider it a big part the creativity of the brewing hobby. I also found that being a homebrewer brought out the cheapness in me, I didn't want to pay retail on a new item if I could find it used or find an alternative item that had a 'cool' factor to it. This satisfied my desire to hunt and to be cheap while making my favorite chilled beverage. As time went on, my attention to locating brewing stuff became a natural focus, enabling me to find obscure items from long distances, that's right, I discovered my super power. Often the best items would be found in the most unlikely places.
    For instance, while spending the day with my wife wandering the historic down town area of Anacortes Washington, we happened upon a boat supply store that carried salvage parts for resale. Off in the corner of this dusty store packed with shipyard surplus was a bin of mercury thermometers made of brass with glass covers, apparently stripped from the boiler an old tug, what a score. I picked one out and spent only a few dollars for not only a functional tool but a showpiece for my hot liquor tank. It's strange how I remember that moment so clearly, I think the sun was out the day too.
    Flea markets

    Hardware stores
    I don't think I'm speaking just about myself when I say that as a homebrewer I'm also interested in saving money and that this often comes across as cheap. Whenever I talk with other brewers this subject ranks right up there with what to call a black IPA and what's in the oak barrel. But I like to consider that this is just about the enterprising attitude that seems to go hand in hand with brewing my own beer. I sincerely hope that I'm not cheap to begin with and that's why I brew. Anyway, for me, found objects to brew with is as important as full bag grain prices and buying hops by the pound.
    I've also come across some scrapped beer kegs that I use for boil pots at the scrap metal yards along with other stainless steel items like the perforated false bottom material and beer faucets and a bunch of corney kegs. There are many unorthodox places to locate brewing equipment gems if you're willing to keep your eyes open and your mind focused.

    Here is a suggested list of other places to explore that may have the potential for great finds: 
    • Flea markets are a great source of brew stuff for example I've found carboys, kegs, tap handles and more over the years.   
    • Hardware stores with an eye for brewing equipment. I've picked up parts for braided hoses for my mash tun filter, parts to make hop bag device,etc. I also, keep my eyes open for anything plastic, stainless steel, copper, brass, or wood as any of this could be used in some fashion for brewing.
    • The local homebrew club. Other homebrewers with stuff they don't need. Make an offer, sometimes they just give it to you because they have more than enough or it's in the way. A fellow brewer gave me a great deal on a mill because he upgraded to a better style.
    • The recycle bins at the dump. I've got a couple extra 20lb. co2 tanks from there not to mention another keg.
    • Manufacturers. I noticed some nice food grade bins at a candy manufacturer recently. Although I didn't ask for one I will keep the information in my head for any future need, they could make great open fermentors.
    When I'm focused on brewing, anywhere I wander my eye will catch that chrome or stainless metal that could be a brewing related item or could be made into one. I abruptly pulled off the side of the highway recently because I saw a nice gas hose and regulator coming from the side of a propane tank. Turns out the road paving crew was currently using it but hey, can't hurt to look (I was a little embarrassed).You'll never know where you'll find the next great score, and with an intention to discover the brewing equipment you want or even don't want, it will surface when you least expect it. Cheers, and good hunting.

    Friday, October 8, 2010

    A Little Extra Beer Part - II

    I messed up a little on this project. Or was it the yeast. I don't want to blame an innocent microbe for my problems so I won't name any names wlp500 I'll just take the full brunt of this failure like a man.
    When I racked the beer from my tiny fermentor I didn't take a gravity reading until I'd filled the bottles and capped them with a priming tablet and set aside. When I did check the gravity I found that the beer was way under-attenuated (50%) even though it showed no signs of activity. My excuse -
    1. this was a new project with unusual and unfamiliar procedures so I forgot the basics of checking the gravity to confirm that it was finished
    2. in my anxious attempt to document/film the next step in this project, my focus switched to preparing an interesting blog post rather than the need to pay attention to the basics of my fermentation procedures
    3. impatience is my inner demon, bent on destroying my brewing equanimity
    4. too many beers that day  - and finally-
    5. the sun was in my eyes
    On top of the fermentation problem, I couldn't stand allowing the beer to continue conditioning in the bottles knowing it was screwed up, as if I wasn't going to eventually poured them down the drain.  So, I opened one after only a week in the bottle and tasted it. Guess what, it is extremely sweet and guess again, it's flat. Should I empty the other two now or wait for....for what? At this point, I think I'll let them set in the bottle for another week or so to see if they blow up. Bottle bombs could be the silver lining in all of this. Picture me hanging my head in shame here.

    In any case, I hope you enjoy the video as it was the one aspect that I claim to have some modest success.

    In the mean time, the two other bottles of this beer that are carbonating into what I hope will be colossal bottle bombs and timed to go off with malicious contempt, are tied up in a strong plastic bag to hopefully prevent the mess inside from ejecting onto a perfectly good carpet.

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    Bog Myrtle Beer 'Gageleer'

    Gageleer beer is an interesting take on a Belgian ale, oh, it is a Belgian ale but nothing like I've ever had before. This is an organic beer brewed with an addition of sweet gale which is also know as bog myrtle. I like the sound of bog myrtle, bog myrtle, it kind of rolls off the tongue and makes me think of an ingredient in a witches brew like eye of newt. This may not be far from the truth as the leaves of bog myrtle, with its sweet resinous scent, have been used over the ages as a traditional insect repellent. You can read about the ancient remedies of bog myrtle here at Wikipedia which covers some of the medicinal values of the herb. But what intrigued me most was the reference to the use of sweet gale as an ingredient in beer prior to the use of hops.

    The 7.5% abv. isn't evident during tasting but what does come through is a thin, watery version of sprite, a lemon/lime character but on a very subtle level. I have to say that the beer is unique in this way but not offensive and at the same time does not draw me in for another glass. Their website claims minor notes of eucalyptus but I didn't get that. It's hard to put a finger on the flavor qualities of this beer other than mild mint and sweet. Even though this is a beer from Belgium, if I brewed it for a competition I would enter it in the BJCP category 21 section (spice/herb/vegetable beer), as I doubt I would get a good score in the Belgian styles.

    Finally, I'm not a artist in any way but I could probably come up with a better design for the label, maybe add a little color or an image of some
    boggy lowland with sweet gale thrusting
    up from the nitrogen starved soil, just sayin'.
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