Archive for the 'Homebrew' Category

May 26 2008

California Common – Batch 3

Published by under Amber Hybrid Beer,Homebrew

Note: It has been some time since I have logged a brew session. Have been able to brew approximately once a month, however have not been able to organize a post out of them. I’m going to back date these entries to when I brewed them.

California Common Beer or also known as the trademarked Steam Beer, is a semi-historic semi-native beer style to the West Coast and particularly San Francisco. Way back when I was in school I remember reading the novel McTeague, where in the first chapter the protagonist is described drinking a pitch of “Steam Beer”. McTeague was first published in 1899. California Common ale is somewhat related to a German style of beer called altbier or “old” beer, that utilizes a special strain of lager yeast that can tolerate high temperatures, without producing sulfury off-flavors. California Common is also distinctive in the use of a particular hop variety, Northern Brewer that has a somewhat woody character.

Follows is our recipe for 10 gallons of finished beer:

whirlpooling california common brew16.00 lb. American Two-row Pale Malt
2.00 lb. American Crystal 40L Malt
1.00 lb. American Victory Malt
0.25 lb. Special B Malt
0.25 lb. CaraFoam Malt
(SRM ~ 11, target gravity 1.053)

1.50 oz. Mt. Hood 5.1% AA, 60 min.
2.00 oz. Northern Brewer 8.1% AA, 15 min.
2.00 oz. Northern Brewer 8.1% AA, 5 min.
(IBU ~ 36.5)

2 vile WLP810 San Francisco Lager yeast, 2000 ml. starter 48 hours on the stir plate, in the keg-o-rator at around 50° F

Mash and Boil:

alpha rest, target 153° F / recorded 153° F, 60 min.

The Mt. Hood hops here I think were rather old, and should impart only a light bitterness. I wanted the emphasis to be mainly on the Northern Brewers as flavor hops. Which turned out to be the case, yet still with a pleasant bitterness. A bit strong and to really be to style, one might want to reduce the hop additions a bit.


The brew session went fairly smooth up until the cold crash. This is where the wort is dropped to the appropriate fermentation temperature (as quickly as possible) before pitching (adding) the yeast. I use a counter-flow wort chiller, that circulates cold tap water around a copper tube that the hot wort travel through to the fermentor. Was only able to bring the wort down to 77° F, and so had to let the wort sit for several hours (refrigerated) till it dropped down to 66° F, then pitch.

calif common brew fermenting

Let primary fermentation go for 13 days at around 55° F. I used my keg-o-rator which has a dial setting for temperature. Not the most accurate, but seemed relatively constant. Then racked the beer into kegs and lagered the beer for 27 days at around 34° F, the coldest setting.

Unfortunately, this batch suffered from some diacetyl, a not so pleasant butterscotch flavor. This may have something to do with the pour performance of the wort chiller. I have read that some people preform a diacetyl rest, in which they raise the fermentation temperature up to room temp. before lagering. The diacetyl dissipated eventually.

Orig. Specific Gravity 1.052
Final Specific Gravity 1.012
Alcohol by Volume ~5.2 %

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Apr 11 2008

American Amber Ale – Batch 2

Published by under American Ale,Homebrew

American Amber or Red Ale is definitely a West Coast classic, yet has a very wide interpretation. There are many commercial examples. Some that I think are similar to an ESB (or even called such), some with very complex malt profiles, and yet others that are closer to a somewhat darker interpretation of an IPA. Here is an attempt at not too complex of a grain bill, with perhaps a somewhat unique hop schedule. Will also attempt to reduce the attenuation (as compared to the Pale Ale) to balance out the slightly higher IBUs and accentuate the malt a bit more.

Follows is our recipe for 13.5 gallons of finished beer:

22.00 lb. American Two-row Pale Malt
2.50 lb. American Crystal 60L Malt
1.00 lb. American Victory Malt
0.50 lb. American Crystal 120L Malt
0.25 lb. American Chocolate Malt
(SRM ~ 14, target gravity 1.055)

1.00 oz. Newport 11.1% AA, 60 min.
2.00 oz. Amarillo 8.2% AA, 10 min.
2.00 oz. Columbus 12.0% AA, 5 min.
1.00 oz. Nugget (whole/leaf) 12.0% AA, Hop-back
1.00 oz. Amarillo (whole/leaf) 8.4% AA, Hop-back
1.00 oz. Nugget (whole/leaf) 12.0% AA, Dry hopped
1.00 oz. Amarillo (whole/leaf) 8.4% AA, Dry hopped
(IBU ~ 31)

2 vile WLP001 California ale yeast, 2000 ml. starter 24 hours on the stir plate

Straight forward single infusion mash:

alpha rest, target 155° F / recorded 156° F, 75 min.

The mash temperature is intentionally higher then Max Spargethe Pale Ale, to increase body and leave a little more residual (unfermented) sugar. The sweater finished beer should balance out the more aggressive hop schedule.

Do to the larger batch size and target gravity, batch sparging kind of pushed the limits of the mash tun. However, was able to collect about 15 gallons of sweat wort at around 1.053 Specific Gravity. This boiled down some during the 65 min. boil, and some lose in the hop back / crash cycle, was left with (again roughly) 13.5 gallons at an Original Specific Gravity of 1.058


Crashed the wort down to 72° F and pitched. There were some temperature control issues with this batch. The 10 day primary fermentation (reportedly) peaked out at 78° F, which may result in stronger (maybe fruity, or alcohol) flavors. Ready to RackThe two weeks of secondary conditioning were at a much more suitable 68° F. The dry hops being added in the last week / week and half. Final gravity coming down to 1.0145 Specific Gravity.

Racking beer off of free floating hops can be tricky, and has giving me a lot of trouble in the past. I need to post a picture, but I’ve found that one can slip the mesh lint traps found at your local home improvement stores (super cheap) over the business end of the racking cane. This strains the wort really great, with a very minimal amount of hop matter getting through to the keg.

Orig. Specific Gravity 1.058
Final Specific Gravity 1.015
Alcohol by Volume ~5.5 %

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Mar 01 2008

American Pale Ale – Batch 1

Published by under American Ale,Homebrew

Here is an attempt at not only a homebrewing standard, but a staple of American Micro Brews. The American Pale Ale, perhaps of the hoppier West Coast verity. It is a little funny to think that I have rarely (if ever) taken a stab at this style of beer, taking into consideration how much I enjoy drinking it. Will employ my homemade “hop-back” in an attempt to capture as much hop aroma as possible. Perhaps dry hop as well, but undecided at the formulation stage.

Follows is our recipe for 10 gallons of finished beer:

16.00 lb. American Two-row Pale Malt
1.50 lb. American Victory Malt
1.00 lb. American Crystal 40L Malt
0.25 lb. CaraPils Malt
(SRM ~ 7, target gravity 1.052)

0.50 oz. Cascade 6.3% AA, 60 min.
1.00 oz. Amarillo 8.2 % AA, 15 min.
1.00 oz. Cascade 6.3% AA, 15 min.
1.00 oz. Amarillo 8.2 % AA, 5 min.
1.00 oz. Cascade 6.3% AA, 5 min.
2.00 oz. Amarillo (whole/leaf) 8.4 % AA, Hop-back
(IBU ~ 29)

2 vile WLP001 California ale yeast, 1800 ml. starter two days on the stir plate

Straight forward single infusion mash:

alpha rest, target 153° F / recorded 153° F, 70 min.

Shooting for a somewhat lower temp. to promote fermentability, and hopefully a drier finish. Batch sparged, collecting about 12 gallons of sweet wort of 1.045 specific gravity. The mash started to stick a little on the last (third) draw. Starting to consider adding a small percentage of rice hulls to every mash from now on. Better safe then sorry I think.

The new improved hop-back:

The boil went pretty much as planned. Allowed about 10 minutes of rolling boil before starting the hop additions, for a total boil time of around 70 minutes. I don’t believe we had a boil over this session. Does that even count as a proper brew session then? Or, maybe we are starting to get a little better?


Anyway, here you can see the improved hop-back in action. A hop-back is a vessel that allows hot wort to come in contact with hops right before cold crashing, imparting mostly the aroma of hops. My previous design was more or less what you see in the picture, but the top was simply the original top of the mason jar, with the plumbing sort of glued in place. This was a compromise, for at the time of original construction was unable to locate a sheet of copper and rubber to fabricate a better lid and gasket. By chance, ran across a plumbing supply house in the city, and found every thing I needed. With the in and out pipes sweated in place this is a much more stable, sanitary, and air tight set up. It is so air tight in fact I think now I’ll need to add some kind of bleeder valve. For as you can see in the picture the wort never completely fills the jar, but only rises to the level of the output.


Had a little bit of an equipment failure (the kettle manifold fell off) so employed a bit less then perfectly sanitary procedure to collect the final gallon or so of wort (Orig. Specific Gravity 1.052). Also, pitched at what seems a rather low temperature, ~64° F. Though, good activity was observed after about a six or eight hour lag time. The temperature naturally rose and peaked at ~68° F. Racked to secondary after 1 week. Activity still seemed solid, and did not want the beer to dry out completely. Specific Gravity at 1.011. A little taste, seems more bitter then I expected and the “biscuity” flavor of the Victory malt too strong. The beer has some ways to go, but already thinking about adjustments for batch 2.

Orig. Specific Gravity 1.052
Final Specific Gravity 1.011
Alcohol by Volume ~5.3 %

2 responses so far

Feb 21 2008

a bit of venting, or: how i learned to relax, don’t worry, and have a blowoff tube

Published by under Homebrew

i meant to write this up last night, when i thought the matter was settled. the matter was not settled.

on monday i brewed up a 4.75G batch (a bit of a volume screwup, as usual) of 1070 pale ale. into it i pitched a healthy looking 500ml starter of WLP001. i filled my 3 piece airlock with vodka and stuck the carboy in the closet.

by the next morning, the beer had sucked half of the vodka into itself, and the airlock was bubbling, but not especially frantically. i thought nothing of either matter; i’d had vodka loss before, and maybe the yeast was just a little slow starting (though I didn’t quite believe that, considering what a monster WLP001 is, but I had no other explanation for the lackadaisical airlock).

yesterday evening when i arrived home from work, i was very surprised to find the kreusen had risen all the way to the neck of my 6.5G carboy — recall that I had only 4.75G of beer! this was a first for me.

i had dinner and then went back to check on the beer again. by now, the yeast was actually in the neck of the airlock, and i could see it pumping up and down, prepping for a jump into my precious bodily fluids — er, vodka. i grabbed a couple paper towels and my trusty bottle of vodka, doused the towels in the least interesting of all spirits (sorry, comrade!), yanked the airlock out of the bung, and capped the bung with my vodkatowel. there was an audible “poot” as i removed the airlock. huh.

a tragedy narrowly avoided, i sat back and thunk. perhaps the pressure is enough to lift the plastic piece through vodka but not enough to lift it through air. so what was needed was… more vodka. i wiped the airlock down as best i could and added more cheap vodka inside it, and stuck it back on. it appeared to work, as it began bubbling furiously. at the same time, the kreusen retreated some. i got back on the computer and made some jokes to my buddy about kreusen retreating in the face of vodka. har!

i relaxed for a little bit and commenced not worrying, but i did not have a homebrew. that was a mistake. when i was ready for bed, i checked the airlock “one last time”. it was full of yeastgoo. d’oh! i did the thing with the paper towel again, yanked the airlock, but this time, i replaced it with an S-type bubbler airlock. that has a longer neck for the gunk to climb, and i figured it would be easier to blow off gas because there’s no plastic to lift.

half a minute after i had attached it, it was bubbling so violently that it was shooting vodka out of the top (i had not overfilled it). a couple minutes later, the yeast was in the airlock. nuts!

so i gave up and decided to use a blowoff tube. i’ve never used one before and i have high hopes for this beer, so i worried a little, and became a little un-relaxed, and i still was not drinking a homebrew. i was doing everything wrong!

if there’s one thing i have in abundance, it’s tubing. someone once said about homebrewing, “how did i ever get involved in a hobby that involves so much plumbing?” i’m with you buddy, plumbing and tubing. and i’m just scratching the surface, so far.

i selected a tube, cleaned it up a little, swabbed the business end with the remainder of my bottle of rotgut, and jammed it right through my carboy hood. the other end went into the rest of the vodka, poured into a saucepan sitting in a large mixing bowl.

i dunno the ID of the tube, i think it’s 5/16″ or something. pretty small. probably not great for a blowoff tube, but it certainly worked. immediately, in fact. it sounded like a really bad case of the runs, bloorp bloorp bloorp bloorp. the bubbles came fast and furious, and quite loud i might add. before long, some yeast junk came shooting through the 4 foot tube. i went to bed, satisfied that i had protected my beer *and* my brewing closet.

i sleep with earplugs. even with my earplugs in, i could hear the intermittent blurp blorp blarp! of the blowoff. i had to put the bowl into the closet (no small feat — it’s a small closet) and close the bedroom door. even then, i could still hear it. i relaxed, don’t worry-ed, and had a nice sleep (but alas, still no homebrew).

this morning, the blowoff bowl was pasty with yeast junk. but it was still bubbling and there was no mess on my carpet. success!

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