Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Brewing Tools

Problem solving during the brew day leads to innovative ideas that can be utilized on a regular basis. For the longest time I've struggled with how to proceed with the introduction of hops at zero minutes or the so called "flame out" addition. These are hops that are added so late in the boil that they impart a lot of flavor to the beer without much in the way of international bittering units (ibu's). Typically this is done for American style pale ales, IPA's and imperial IPA's like Hammer Head, Pliney The Elder and Hopstoopid giving them that huge hop character.

Floss to the rescue

I haven't come across any clear consensus in the homebrewing community as to what the exposure time should be after adding at flame out. Do you dip them in and immediately remove? Leave them in until the wort is chilled by an immersion chiller? Maybe, experiment with different times over a number of batches until the perfect amount of time is discovered.

Wire hook

 In my particular case, its been a dilemma for me because I've been concerned with the heavy bag of hops dropping down to the bottom of my brew kettle during the chill down/transfer phase, and blocking the pickup tube. With my brew system, after the boil I pump the boiling hot wort through a plate chiller then a post chiller that is submerged in an ice bucket and finally the wort is directed into my fermentor. While this process is going on I can't attend to bags of hops in the boil kettle since I'm busy with the transfer. So, to prevent hop bags from clogging things up, I've been removing them after about five minutes of steeping. This seemed like a waste of expensive hops as I figured that I probably wasn't getting the exposure time I needed to impart the hop flavor/aroma I desired. For that matter, the late addition hops, those that I add at one, two or five minutes seem to fall into the same category. Am I really getting the full impact I deserve?

Floss hanging on hook

Well, a solution finally came along during my last brew session. Kind of a Macgyver idea but it worked so well that I'll plan to use the technique from now on. Here's how I solved my problem.

Hop bag hanging near bottom

Using a short length of copper wire that I salvaged from a piece of 12 ga. Romex, I created a hook that I then attached to the handle of my keggle. With this in place I can hang the hop bags into the boil using lengths of dental floss tied to the bags laces. The floss is long enough so that the bags hand loosely in the wort but not long enough to allow the bags to reach the bottom of the kettle when it is fully drained. In this way I can leave all of the hop bags in place and attend to the transfer care free. Naturally, any string can be used in this application, I used the floss because it was nearby and comes in a handy dispensable spool. This technique is also good when using an immersion chiller in that it helps prevent the chiller from trapping the hop bags down at the bottom of the kettle.

But waits there's more... this same wire hook works great for hanging the large spoon that I use in brewing, preventing it from falling into the boiling wort.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Oerbier Belgian Strong Dark Ale

I thoroughly enjoyed this beer! I'm not that familiar with the Belgian Strong style category but plan to look for other brewers that produce a Belgian strong dark in the future.

Oebier is a complex beer with a lot going on in terms of aroma and flavor but halfway through it occurred to me that the reason I liked it so much is that it reminded me of a good Oud Bruin like Petrus or the classic Flanders red "Duchesse" but with all the characteristics amplified to the nth degree.

The beer is a beautiful rich mahogany color with ruby highlights and a full lingering tan head from the carbonation. The aroma is what first led me to the comparison to the Flanders beers as the acidic dark fruit smell rose with some hint of alcohol.

The flavor is big and bold at first, mostly from the fig, raisin and caramelized malt but this overshadows the wood and pepper notes that come out as the beer warms bringing with it the phenol's of black pepper and clove. This beer is tart and has a vinous quality that insists on a slow appreciation allowing the beer to release even more subtle flavors like chocolate and earth.

If pushed to look for detractors the only thing I can find are a very subtle metallic flinty aftertaste.
I would highly recommend this beer and the only thing that stops me from buying a lot more is the price. This 10.5oz(?) bottle  from 41st liquors ran $5.40 which is hard for me to justify even though I truly enjoyed it.
I guess it's time to figure out how to brew it myself.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Thrumometer Upgrade

I've been wanting to add this tool to my arsenal of brewing gadgets for a long time. In the past, in order to monitor the temperature of the wort going into the fermentor, I've been sticking a thermometer in the stream of the wort as it runs out the end of the transfer line. Depending on the temperature I would slow down or speed up the pump that pushed the hot wort though the plate chiller and my post chiller chilling coil. (Go here to see the post chiller set-up I use that gets the wort down to lager temps). This has worked fine but is awkward to handle and a possible source of bacterial contamination. With this new in-line thermometer I can relax a little more during this crucial stage of the brewing process.

Notice that the Thrumometer's lowest temperature is 58f.

Naturally, I had to make a minor modification to the Blichmann's Thrumometer because of a serious limitation. The manufacturer of this fine tool did not provide the temperature reading range needed to register temperatures down in the lager range (46f.-58f) which could be easily Incorporated during manufacturing. And because now is the time of year for brewing lagers, I need to insure that the wort temperature is going to be in the low 50's. What to do?

Using scissors, cut out the section that contains the lager temps.

The solution: simply applying the lager portion of the Fermometer to the opposite side of the instrument using it's self adhesive backing. For those unfamiliar with the Fermometer, this is a self adhesive liquid crystal display thermometer that is typically adhered to the side of a carboy or similar fermentor and measures temperature by contact with the vessel.
The adhesive backing is strong and initially it seems to be adequate to hold the new thermometer strip in place but I'm concerned that over the course of several brewing sessions and in contact with the wet environment that the glue will fail. I don't show it here but I plan to cover the new thermometer with a layer of strong, clear tape to insure that it stays put for awhile.

Using the self adhesive backing, adhere fermometer to the device

Once the new correction was in place I inserted the Thrumometer in-line in the transfer hose and will put it to the test tomorrow when I brew my pale ale. I'm also going to forward this post to the good people at Blichmann engineering to suggest this valuable upgrade idea.

Modified Thrumometer in line

Does anyone else use this device, what's your experience and have you had to modify it like I did here?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Brewing in Santa Cruz This Winter

The pull to return to San Miguel De Allende is strong but this year the plan is to stay in California. One of the reasons is to avoid the hardship of giving up a great rental in one of the most difficult places in the world to find affordable decent living space. It is very distressing to come back to Santa Cruz and find a nice place to live that is affordable because of the shortage of housing and the high demand put on the market by all of the University students. In addition to this stress, the effort of packing all of our belongings into storage takes its toll. So, this year I'll stay and work to save for next year.

In the mean time, I'm taking advantage of the cool Winter season to get some lagers brewed and in storage for a couple months of lagering. The overnight temperatures are now in the 40'sF. and with the fermentation chamber I've built in my storage unit (equipped with a thermostat and heat source) I can keep the fermentor at 50f., perfect for the beers I'm brewing. I wanted to save on the cost of yeast, so I'm re-using the wlp840 yeast cake to ferment three beers, a standard American lager, a Munich dunkel and this weekend a doppel bock. The wlp840 is specifically meant for light American lagers but I'll be using it for the German lagers and hope for the best. Can't hurt. I may brew more with another yeast later. At the same time I've got to get some ales brewed quickly as my provisions are running low. Currently I've got a strange pale ale and a amber ale in the kegerator, but that's it. It worries me when I've only got a couple of kegs of ale left.

Kegs at the ready

In addition to making some money and getting some beer brewed I'll be teaching a five week homebrewing course at Cabrillo College beginning in March. I usually don't teach the spring class because of my schedule in Mexico. If you're local and want to attend the classes, click on the link on the side bar and register on-line at the Cabrillo site or go here for a little info on the class and another link to the school site.

 Now that I'm in the midst of the season of long nights I'm contemplating my future and thinking ahead to next fall. Will I return to Mexico? It may have to be a shorter stint, maybe a month so that we don't have to move out of our current place, just keep the place rented allowing an easy return to the states. If I do, where will we go? As much as I enjoy San Miguel, maybe it's time to spend the winter in another part of the country. I think the coast would make a nice change, we'll see.

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