Friday, March 25, 2011

Dry Stout Recipe

As is the way with most homebrewers I am constantly trying to perfect my favorite recipes and Dry Stout is definitely one of my favorites. I have to say though, at this point I believe I have achieved perfection with this beer. I've brewed this in the past with flaked barley and a pinch of Carafa II but this version was brewed with simplicity in mind. I was trying to get the roasted grains to provide that coffee/chocolate flavor with a clean dry finish. Here is what I did this time around.

Eff. 90%
attenuation 80%
abv 5.5%
Ibu's 35
O.G. 1.050
F.G. 1.010

16 lbs 2-row
.5 lbs Cry#40
.75 lbs chocolate
.5 lbs roasted
.25 lbs blk patent

60min mash with 5.5gal h2o at 154f.
Boil for 60 min. with 1 tsp. MoreBeers Burton salts and 1 tsp. gypsum

60 min.  with 1.25 oz. chinook (11% aa)
20 min. with 1.5 oz. Saphir (4% aa)
10 min. with 1 oz. Saphir (4% aa)

chill and oxygenate with o2 for 3 mins.

Pitch salvaged US05 yeast (3rd generation)

Ferment for 7 days at 70f.
Kegged, forced carbonated and conditioned for additional 2 weeks at 50f.

The Saphir is a new hop for me that has a very subtle flavor profile. This beer is dry but full bodied with plenty of roast character and easy to drink.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Top Three Priorities For Homebrew Success

From the very first day that I took my initial tentative steps down the homebrewing path I've been cautioned repeatedly about the importance of sanitation. Whether it came from the opening chapters of brew books, leaders in the homebrewing association or from well intentioned homebrewers, the message has always been the same, "be very afraid of infection". Sure, relax and don't worry except when it comes to sanitation. This fear runs deep in the homebrewing community and definitely deserves serious consideration especially if you're in the habit of producing spoiled beer, but I'm not that concerned about it and because of my take it with a pinch of salt attitude, I feel that my enjoyment of the hobby is that much more satisfying.

For the sake of all those just beginning their personal home brewing journey, I'm here to help take the edge off of your sanitation fears. I have discovered through the course of many years of homebrewing experience that when it comes to matters of critical importance in my brewing regimen and brewing quality beers I would place sanitation down at  number three on my list.

That's right, number three.
Don't get me wrong, I clean and sanitize my post boil equipment with each brew session but I don't give it the attention that is stressed in homebrewing. For instance, I swirl a couple of quarts of diluted StarSan around inside my fermentor and run some out the ball valve, now it's ready to receive the wort. I pump Iodophor solution through my transfer pump, hoses, plate chiller and back into a bucket of the same. With this done, I can transfer the wort through a sanitized system into a sanitized fermentor which I then cover with a bag to keep dust out. When the brew session is over I flush out the transfer equipment and chiller with a garden hose and set aside until the next time. I never boil or bake my chiller.

Before kegging I splash sanitizer around the inside of the kegs and place a transfer hose in a bucket of sanitizer for a few minutes then transfer to the kegs, force carbonate and set aside to chill. If I bottle the beer I don't boil or soak bottle caps in sanitizer but use them directly from the package. My point here is that I don't like to brew scared.

So if sanitation is not at the top of my list then what is? Here is my top three in order of importance.

  • Number One: Pitch a large healthy quantity of yeast into a well aerated wort to get the fermentation process up and going quickly.
Don't give any wild yeast or microbes an advantage over your choice of yeast. Your yeast should be the predominant factor in this equation and it serves you best that they are a force to be reckoned with. If using Whitelabs or Wyeasts liquid yeast, I will always make a starter and step that up at least twice but more likely three times to insure a large colony. This is done for a five or ten gallon batch. If using packages of dry yeast I will normally pitch two packages for a five gallon batch and three packages for a ten gallon batch. The dry yeast is relatively inexpensive so I feel free to pitch a fist full.

  • Number Two: Ferment ales at cool temperatures.

I make sure that the wort has been chilled to 65f. to begin with and I do my best to maintain a temperature of 65f-70f. during the entire fermentation period. This time of year (Winter/Spring) the night time temperatures are quite low. I can raise the temperature in my fermentation chamber using a heat lamp. The lower fermentation temperatures insure less harsh fusel alcohol is produced and also minimizes the esters and phenolic characteristics that may suggest spoilage. Cool temperatures mean a clean, smooth quality to the flavor profile I am trying to achieve with my grain bill. 
  • Number Three:  Sanitation of post boil equipment.
Finally, for number three I use a generic brand of Oxy-Clean for cleaning my equipment. It cleans as well as powder brewery wash (PBW) and rinses easily and at a fraction of the cost of PBW. For sanitizing, I use an acid based type called StarSan disinfectant which is quick and easy to use. I have fermented in my plastic fermentor after just misting the surface of the vessel with StarSan using a spray bottle. I also use Iodophor (iodine) when I need a bucket full to soak equipment in or as mentioned above, to circulate through pump, hoses and chiller.

Over the years I guesstimate that I have brewed close to 2,000 gallons of beer and in that time I have not had an infected beer. When I started brewing I was extremely careful about sanitation and would have considered it the number one most important aspect of successful brewing but over time have come to realize that pitching plenty of yeast and fermenting cool are paramount to producing high quality beers.  

One final suggestion.  If I ever have a concern about a new batch of my beer being infected, I drink it fast as possible before it gets any worse.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Beer Diary... Radio Interview

Click on the link below to listen to the radio interview I did last week with Your California host Randy White. We discuss the origins of teaching homebrewing at Cabrillo College. He gets to the actual interview about five minutes into the show, be patient.

I recommend using the Firefox browser as I couldn't get IE to work with the Quicktime player.

Your California Radio Show

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Pannepeut Belgian Ale

I came across this beer in the grocery store awhile back and only bought it because it was three years old (2007) at the time. I saw that it was 10% alcohol by volume and so made the assumption that it was still good and most likely even better with age. I considered saving it to share with good company at the right time but the bottle is only 11.2oz., clearly too small to share, so I poured myself a glass today to selfishly enjoy alone.

Another Belgian Ale

This beer is brewed in woesten-Vleteren, Belgium by DeStruise Brouwers and was originally meant as a tribute and thank you to the Danish beer lovers who supported their products. It is the same as another beer they brew called Pannepot; however, they use cane sugar instead of dark candi sugar along with different yeast strains, and some of the malts are different. It is brown in color, not as dense and uses different spices.
So, not really the same at all.

A pronounced alcohol presence comes across immediately in the nose and taste and leaves a minor burn in the back of the throat after you swallow. Then intense flavors of dark fruit like raisin and prune plus caramelized malt and vanilla. These are big flavors, like an amped up Belgian dubbel. I noticed just a hint of oxidation and metal. Curiously (and I'm a little disappointed), there is not a hint of the use of bacteria used in the fermentation. Not that it should be or that there's anything wrong with that, it's just that I guess I've developed a desire for that quality of tart acidity to contrast the sweet fruitiness.

Note to self: discover the flavor of more dried fruits besides prune and raisin.

As I drink this beer during the writing of the post I can feel the alcohol warmth coursing through my body and a tingling sensation in my scalp. Evidently, 11.2oz. is enough to share. Too late.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Brewing During The Economic Collapse

Having a homebrew usually takes the edge off of most of my worries and I've got a lot of worries. But there is one concern I have that is so large that it can't be reduced with a delicious home made malt beverage. I'm talking about the current financial crisis that looms menacingly just beyond the horizon making advancing strides to crush what's left of the American dream.

Now, I don't harbor a lot of American dreams, just the right to brew my own beer and I'm getting this horrific feeling that the economy may impede my efforts to have my dream and drink it too. Every day I listen to the news of the economy and my mind jumps from the current fiscal meltdown to the inevitable related consequences which then leads me to fear this will end up limiting my access to homebrewing. For instance, the revolt in Libya leads to oil shortages which leads to increased costs of gas which means higher grain prices because of higher production and transportation cost which then trickles down to grain shortages and the retail price of malted barley being prohibitively expensive. Or, the U.S. dollar loses it's promonence as the high standard of currency in the world and soon becomes worthless, requiring wheelbarow loads of it to buy a loaf of bread which leads to local families shuffling jobless through the dusty potholed streets of Santa Cruz like those skinny 1930's depression era Okee's in Life magazine. Bleek.

My mind runs these same kind of scenarios regarding hops, yeast and even heat sources. I consider the cost of propane doubling or tripling and even the rent on my apartment could become so high that I end up living in my van. A van with an empty gas tank I might add. How do I brew my beer then? The point is, it could be a pretty grim and difficult future very soon and so I spend untold amounts of time in my head devising strategies and plans for brewing after the introduction of American austerity measures take place. Paranoid? Maybe, but it makes me feel better playing out the mental preperations so that if it came down to it, I could brew a batch of something with little to nothing and still call it beer.

As an apartment dweller, is growing my own even an option? I have a large tub on the patio with a rhizome in it as I write this. It looks weak and meager with little sign of growth. This is the first time I've tried growing hops. They've been so inexpensive recently, why grow my own? But now may be the time, if for nothing other than to ease my mind.  I understand it takes a couple of years of continuous growing and dying off before it produces flowers, and I worry that this depression may expand too quickly for my hops to take hold in time. I might become homeless just as my plant comes to fruition. Through my van winshield I squint through my tears to see the new tenant that just moved into my appartment ignorantly hacking back the vine I'd placed such hope in. I could increase my odds of success by not keeping my rhizome in one basket so to speak. Recently, fellow homebrewer Shane mentioned guerrilla hop planting which I thought was a very good idea. Sneaking about in the middle of the night discretely planting rhizomes in not so obvious places in peoples yards or on the freeway meridians or public parks. Dangerous yes, although the real risky business would be later during guerrilla hop harvesting.

Because I'm cheap, I already salvage and reuse my yeast and am pretty familiar with washing yeast but I'm beginning to believe that a full-on lab is in order. The cost associated with purchasing yeast may be minimally effected by the economy but not having access would obviously stop the brewing all together. It's best to act with prudent caution. I think creating a small lab equiped with a few critical tools used in isolating specific wild yeast strains that fall from the sky would be wise. Perfect for small batch testing of new wild yeast strains and if proven tasty, for propagating into pitchable quantities. Being able to produce a yeast colony from nothing is important. At the same time, it wouldn't hurt to stockpile a large quantity of US05 dry yeast packets, say, two hundred or so.

The next challenge is actually brewing the beer. Let's say propane and natural gas are too expensive or supplies are rationed? How about wood fire as a heat source. It has been employed for thousands of years maybe it's time to revisit the days or yore. There are techniques for boiling wort with heated stones too.

It may be time to learn from history and rediscover how beer was brewed before the advent of propane and electricity and refrigeration.
Without propane or natural gas and maybe electricty blackouts, it could be that an old fasioned wood fired kiln is in order. Collecting firewood would be a pain for someone with my bad back but the fence around my patio looks inviting. Seriously though, a brick enclosure that could contain a burning fire below and support a keggle on top would work pretty well. The other option is preheating stones in a fire and periodically adding those to the wort has been shown to bring it to a boil and proven to produce some quality beers in the past. Right now, propane is a lot more expensive then natural gas. Unfortunately, my apartment doesn't have any outside propane. Although, this brilliant idea just occured to me; adapt the gas log lighter in my fireplace to accept a fitting that could be attached to a very long hose, one long enough to snake out through the back patio door to reach my brew rig. I'll have to give this some more thought.

Malted Grain.
This is the tough one. The hops and yeast part of the equation are solved in my mind but again it comes back to malted barley. I haven't been able to come up with a creative solution for a shortage of malt. My best bet is to find a farmer that grows barley that would be willing to trade or sell it cheap. Raw barley is pretty cheap to begin with but malting (and I have some experience here) is a labor intensive and a high energy enterprise to say the least. If push came to shove I'd do it but I wouldn't like it. In the mean time, I've started making connections with some of the vendors at the local farmers market in order to trade homebrew for fish, meat, and eggs. Honey and fruit are possibilities to augment a short supply of barley and these are also at the market that can be bartered for, but I haven't come across anyone selling grain. When the dollar is weak, bartering one real thing for another makes good sense, and beer is of serious value.

There are a lot of people at this very moment stock piling food and water in their basements or wherever to last a couple of years. Taking a point from them, creating a survival stash of beer may be in order. Based on my current consumption of homebrew I would need... oh let's say, four hundred gallons to get me through a couple of survival years. Possibly three hundred gallons if I ration or then again five hundred may be needed if the future environment is particularly bleak.

I don't think I'm alone here. If you have survival brewing ideas to share with the Beer Diary.... readers, please leave them in the comment section. Thanks and good luck.

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