Friday, October 21, 2011

More Brewing Disasters

Part I
As a homebrewer, you come to expect a certain number of brewing hassles, tragedies and disasters to occur as time goes on, but when you experience a long string of successes it seems to suddenly comes as a shock when things get screwed up. Case in point for me: this whole week.

Let me start with lessons learned in brewing school. I've taught a five week course here at the local community college for a few years now and although I've dreaded the day, have never had a spoiled batch of beer come out of it all. The day finally came this last Sunday and the experience took me down a few notches. I've always stressed the importance of sanitation but also suggested that it was not at the top of my homebrewing concerns, opting instead for emphasis on several other critical elements in brewing that you can read about here. I may have to re-visit this list after discovering that the German hefeweizen came out of the fermentor with an extreme case of sour. Not just a mild, 'what's that I'm tasting in here?' off flavor, but a full on excessive lactobacillus attack, an in your face kind of taste. A blend of unsweetened lemonade and balsamic vinegar like a cross between a Berliner weisse and Flanders red except with out the dark malt character. I'm owing the vinegar quality to the acetobactor bacteria. 'Oh how I loath you new friend.'

Even with my personal brewing I've never had a infection as bad as this and standing before a class of eager students, their open and curious faces looking up at me asking "why teacher, how could this happen to us?" I had no answer. I wasn't sure how to react and finally suggested that sometimes in homebrewing it's necessary to accept a spoiled beer as a learning experience. Which sounds like a fair statement but I couldn't take my own advice and have spend the better part of two weeks feeling shame and disappointment in myself as a teacher. This is how I imagine a boat building teacher would feel as the class canoe project sunk while his students paddled out towards a setting sun. Along with those feelings I've spent many hours in my head replaying the brewing and fermenting of that beer trying to discover at what crucial point in the process that I allowed this tragedy to play out. I want to blame a contaminated or miss-labeled vial of yeast to ease the burden but I won't buy that excuse either. We still kegged the beer and I may be able to use it for something in the future, I don't know.  I wrote LACTIC on the side of the keg as a warning and I ended up discarding the plastic fermenting bucket, spigot and transfer hoses that came into contact with the beer as a precaution although I suspect that wasn't needed except to exorcise my demons. I wonder if this sour beer is a sign that it's time to move away from teaching an extensive course like this. As a side note, I personally like the flavor and bought a bottle of Beliner Weisse to compare and found that it is very similar. Oh! is that a bright side?
Berliner weisse on left and school beer on right

Part II
In the mean time back at my house I decided to brew a pale ale and got up early to start the process. In the spirit of multi-tasking I started the sparging process and after getting the proper flow thought I had time for a quick shower. When I returned to the task of brewing I found, to my dismay, I had left the valve open on the boil pot and that a couple of gallons of sweet, sweet wort had drained onto the patio and halfway down the parking lot flowing towards the storm drain. This loss was after only collecting a few gallons which meant that I'd lost the really high gravity portion of wort from this simple mistake. As a result my efficiency was naturally low and the brew required a pound and a half of cane sugar to make up for the loss.

Somewhat discouraged, I shouldered on as any proper brewer would, accepting that these things happen and soon I was preparing to chill the wort. Only now, in a fit of distress, I discovered that the property management had turned off the exterior water for landscape maintenance, consequently I had no water. For a moment I panicked and spun in circles then ran from my patio in search of the problem. Around the corner from my apartment was a maintenance worker sawing through a main water line with serious intent.
"I told you yesterday that I would need water this morning!" I exclaimed.
"Yeah, I don't remember that." was the response.
"I did!"
"Never heard it."
We went back and forth like that for awhile and I pleaded my case, he finally agreed to turn the water on but pointed out that a geyser would be spewing from his partially severed pipe for the duration. I'm not sure but I think his face had the expression of contempt.
 "I only need a few minutes." I stated before dashing back to start the chilling process.

Writing this post has been a cathartic excercise for me. Thank you for your patience.

P.S. On a completely separate subject, please help me reach 70 followers by the end of the year. If you haven't already done so, Click on the Follow button in the sidebar and if you follow on twitter and/or FB please also click on the follow button. Why? Ego really, mine needs help.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Steeping Grains Or Partial Mash

A subject came up between myself and another homebrewer regarding the difference between using steeping grains in an extract brew and the use of a partial grain or mini-mash regimen and why one is called a partial mash and one doesn't deserve that much credit. It was more like an argument not a subject, but the subject was about the definition.

I suggested that the primary difference begins with the brewers intention when using either process.
Is the intention to extract sugar from the grains? Or, is the intention to simply provide additional color and flavor to your extract brew?

If the answer is that the intention is to not only add color and flavor but sugar, then a certain percentage of base malt (2-row or 6-row) needs to be included in the grist in order to provide the diastatic power (enzymes) to convert the starches of your mix of grain to simple sugars. Thus, allowing for a measurable extraction.  On the other hand, base malt is not needed nor usually included in the mix of specialty grains when only steeping, since the purpose or intention is solely to gain flavor and color.

So, you could conclude that the addition of 2-row or 6-row malt is the distinguishing factor that defines the difference between a mini-mash and brewing an extract batch of beer including steeping grains. However, this isn't always true because (as is the case with me), adding some 2-row to the steeping grains may be included specifically to impact the color and flavor that your looking for. Consequently, an addition of sugar will be incurred because of this practice, regardless of any interest in that result. Naturally, this rules out the above idea of base malt being the critical factor.

Another element of this argument is the quantitative (measurable) factor. When using steeping grains, I don't consider the extract potential and do not factor it into my recipe formulation. Any sugar extraction is inconsequential in this brewing process. On the other hand, with a partial mash brew, I'm careful to consider the extract potential and the efficiency of my system to calculate the available sugars from the mash and how it will determine the amount of extract to be used in the recipe and ultimately the effect on the resulting original sugar gravity. Again, I believe that it comes down to the intention of the brewing that defines the difference between the two techniques.

But wait, there's more.

While I'm on the subject I thought I'd add some more opinion about partial mash brewing. Even though I teach to my students the techniques and show the equipment for doing a mini-mash, I strongly recommend that they jump right into all-grain brewing when they are ready to advance from using malt extract for brewing.

I've read in on-line forums and in brewing books that the mini-mash set up is smaller and thus more convenient for those that don't have the space for an all-grain set up. Those same voices also suggest that working under these limiting conditions may prevent you from achieving the efficiencies that are required by just using grain, but I disagree. If you live in an apartment or have to work in the kitchen or a confined space, you can just as easily use the same system you use for a mini-mash as you would for an all-grain batch of beer.

I have successfully brewed an all-grain batch with a single large boil pot and a mash tun made from a food grade plastic bucket. In fact, during the instructions for the last partial mash class I just recently taught, we were able to extract 80% of the available sugars with a plastic bucket mash tun. The same thing can be done on the stove top using all-grain to make a five gallon batch. Now, ten gallons, that may be more difficult but I'm willing to bet it can be done in the same space.

I'd be interested in hearing from anyone that does all-grain brewing on the stove, especially those that brew ten gallons that way. Cheers!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Cone Top Beer Cans - Sort Of

The interest in beer cans instead of bottles predates prohibition, but the challenge for manufacturers was finding affordable materials that could withstand the pressure of carbonated beer, not to mention concerns that the metal would negatively effect the flavor of the beer.

Ceramic 'cone top' beer can.

In 1933 the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Co. of New Jersey took the risk of packaging their beer in cans referred to as 'flat tops'. Beer in cans soon became quite popular and by 1935 Krueger was buying 180,000 cans a day from the American Can Co. At this time, Schlitz Brewing got on board with the canning craze and introduced its lager beer in cans but instead of the the 'flat top' they chose to use the unusual 'cone top' cans made by Continental Can Co.

Ceramics before painting and glaze.

By the mid 50's it became clear that the 'flat top' style of can would beat out the 'cone tops' for market share mainly because they could be filled easier and stack more economically in the store shelves and the consumers refrigerators.

Where does this all lead to here at Beer Diary...? Well, friend and ceramic artist Liz Crain has created a series of amazing replicas of the 'cone top' beer cans from that era.

Liz has been producing a variety of  stunning faux metal ceramic cans recently. The type of old rusty cans you find in your grandfathers shed out back or in his musty basement. Old oil and kerosene cans or dented linseed oil and turpentine containers. Those cool metal cans that lived during the 50's before plastic took over and left us feeling wistful for our history with steel.

Liz's take on the cone top cans is at once authentic and nostalgic and nuanced with her creative influence that moves beyond the literal. Incredible realism considering all the pieces are solely made from ceramics but artistic in the subtleties of the shapes and glaze finish. How she manages to get them to look like metal is one thing but to look like rusted metal is quite another.

Faux can on left next to the real thing.

All of her work in incredible but I particularly enjoy the beer cans for some inexplicable reason.

If you happen to be in the Santa Cruz area this weekend and next, Liz will be participating in the Open Studios tour exhibiting and selling her work and she is not to be missed. Go here for a link to her site and here for a link to the Santa Cruz Open Studios tour site.

Tell her you heard about her beautiful artwork here.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Stone's Cherry Chocolate Stout

While I was purchasing the beer at Bobby's Liquors for my recent beer tasting class at Cabrillo College I splurged by getting a bottle of something nice just for me. In this case, Stone's collaborative Cherry Chocolate Stout. The cost? $4 for a 12oz. bottle.
This is a beer that was developed with input from Jason Fields and Kevin Sheppard and brewed by Troegs Brewing with and at Stone Brewing Co. in San Diego, California. The use of  special ingredients including chocolate, cherries and vanilla beans makes this a unique and very tasty beer. From the bottle I saw that it also contains lactose sugar, reminiscent of the milk stouts of days gone by. It weights in at 7.3% abv. although I didn't detect any flavor or warmth from it but definitely got the cherries right off the bat and the chocolate has a serious impact on the flavor. The vanilla, not so much, but on the periphery I would say, along with a smokey quality. A little heavy and on the sweet side for me as I found that it became somewhat cloying nearing the end.

All in all, a very good beer and could do well to age but in my case I only had the one so no aging going on here. The truth is I can't hold on to a beer to save my life, I lack the discipline to keep beer around for more than a few days. If I suspect it's good, I want it now. Homebrewing friend L. shared a Kriek with me recently that he managed to store for 12 years! I have to assume that he just has a ton of beer laying around, how else could you keep a beer that long? Oh it was good, yes. Could it have been good at, oh say, 8 years? Who's to say.

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