Archive for the 'Homebrew' Category

Feb 02 2008

brew: fifth commandment belgian stout

Published by under Homebrew,Stout

Not long ago, I was digging around in the back of my fridge and came upon a bottle of beer #4. The records from those days are sketchy, you know, on account of The Incident. It appears that #4 was bottled on May 6, 2006. It was a partial boil extract batch, since that’s what I did back then, with the following recipe:

.5lb carafoam
1.0lb chocolate malt
.25# munich malt
.25# honey malt
.5# special B
3lb light DME
6lb dark malt extract syrup
1oz kent goldings (6.2% AA) (45)
1oz kent goldings (6.2% AA) (5)

I am kind of proud of this one, it’s the first recipe I formulated on my own. Back then I thought that “stout” meant “having an OG of not less than 1.080”, and the records show that this one had an OG of 1.094. The yeast is a Belgian strain: I was attempting to make something fruity and estery, but also more brooding and chocolatey than a dubbel. I called it a “Belgian Stout,” and it’s a concept I tried again later (to limited success).

Anyhow, I was sitting there drinking #4, and enjoying tremendously the raisiny, heavy chocolate notes, and thinking to myself, “self, why don’t we make another one of these?” And I said to myself, I said, “self, that’s a fantastic idea. also, for some reason, i’m feeling sentimental right now, so why don’t we dedicate it to our parents?” We both agreed that this was a great idea, and then hit upon a swell witticism, because every batch of beer needs a witticism (in case the beer comes out poorly, it can at least have a funny name or story behind it). The witticism (term used with permission) was this: beer #4 got better and better with age, so in honor of my folks, I’d make a reproduction of #4, intending to age it, and advertise widely that it, like my parents, gets better with age.

Get it?

Anyhow, it’s called Fifth Commandment Belgian Stout, it’s number 18, and here’s the final recipe:

Grain : rice hulls 1 lbs
Grain : dark munich malt 6 lbs
Grain : roast barley 0.5 lbs
Grain : special b 1 lbs
Grain : chocolate malt 1.5 lbs
Grain : belgian pale malt 10 lbs
Grain : carapils 0.5 lbs
Grain : carafoam 0.5 lbs
Grain : honey malt 1 lbs
Hop : willamette 2 oz whole
Hop : amarillo 2 oz pellet
Yeast : Wyeast 1214

Mash was 90 minutes at 155F, 1.25qt/lb.

There are several things of interest to note. First, it’s all-grain. I’ve sunk so much cash into my all-grain setup that I can’t ever go back to extract, except for the batch I’m going to do real soon with the cluster hops I got. Also, since brewing #4, I’ve decided that I really don’t much care for the English hops, which turns out to be a good thing these days since they’re damned hard to get. In any case, the recipe calls for boiling the heck out of the hops, then aging the beer for a year, so after all that, it almost does not matter what hops you use. Almost: since #4, I’ve decided I like a hoppier beer, so I upped the hopbill for this one (also because I have a freezerful of the green buggers, thanks to my stockpiling nature).

I wish I could say the brewday went uneventfully. You’d think that I’d have it down by now, being on #18, but every brew provides me with a new learning experience. Last time, the learning experience was “don’t dry-hop with unbagged pellets”. This time, it was… well, read on.

My on-again off-again brew assistant, ChefJef, dropped by for the assist on this one. This is especially appropriate, as ChefJef is my brother, and this beer is dedicated to our folks. It was his third brew assist.

The mash and batch sparge went stunningly well, with no stress despite the massive 22lb mash. I had calculated that with 65% efficiency, I’d hit about 1.080 OG, but I achieved more like 75% efficiency (note: of my last 4 brews, two have been 75% efficiency, and two have been 65% efficiency. the 75-ers were made with crushed grains from Fermentation Frenzy, the 65-ers were from Williams. I suspect that the crush/freshness has as much to do with the extract as my technique.) which calculated out to a whopping 1.094 after the boil. Right on target for a faithful reproduction of #4!

After the sparge, we had 8.5G of wort. Now for the first mistake: I didn’t boil it long enough. I wanted to do a 90 minute boil, and that’s what I did. At the end of 90 minutes I had 6 gallons at 1.080 instead of 5 at 1.090. Lesson #1: boil for gravity, not volume. Lesson #1 is minor, because now I’m going to have 6 gallons of kickass 1.080 stout instead of 5 gallons of stunningly kickass 1.090 stout. I can live with that.

Yes, boilovers. I had 8.5G in my 9G brewpot. Part of the reason it didn’t boil down was that I simply couldn’t boil it vigorously enough without a wort eruption. They say there are two types of brewers: those who have had a boilover, and those who are about to. I am now quite firmly in the first camp.

The other problem: see those whole hops in the recipe? I dumped them in the boil, unbagged. No, I don’t have a false bottom, why do you ask? My wort chiller? Yes, it’s a Therminator plate chiller, why?

That’s right: I clogged the hell out of my wort chiller. We drizzled out about 1.5G before it stopped. Now, that was some ice-cold 1.5G. My last batch, I chilled 5G to under 70F in 11 minutes. I had my system down. That batch did not have unbagged whole hops. This one did.

After the wort stopped, my assistant fetched a stainless slotted spoon, and we sanitized it, and I kajiggled the pot and put the slotted spoon against the out hole. It did not work. After much despair, I began slotted-spooning out the whole hops and dumping them in a pot. This was futile, because as everyone knows, whole hops multiply, infinitely, when exposed to boiling wort. What had begun as 2oz of hops now amounted to 18 bushels, and nobody can remove 18 bushels of hops with a slotted spoon. Nobody. By the time we gave up on the futzing approach, we had maybe 2 gallons of 60F wort in the carboy. I looked at the carboy. I looked at the boil pot. I made an executive decision. I unscrewed the tube from the wort chiller and dumped the hottish (it was freezing cold outside (well, for the bay area… it was 50F or so) so the wort had chilled somewhat on its own) wort directly into the carboy. Five minutes later, I had 6 gallons of wort at 95F.

I shook it like a mofo who is too cheap to buy an oxygenator, grabbed my somewhat anemic starter, and dumped it in.

Now, many of you are saying 95F! Please, Mister Toad, that is too hot for yeast! To you I say: nuts! Yeah, I wanted to pitch at 70F, but you know? 95F is right about where I used to pitch before I had a fancy-pants chiller that can’t handle whole hops in the wort, back when I made… beer #4. That’s right, I pitched at 95F for authenticity. It was my plan all along. SUCCESS!

I bit my nails in anticipation of my success for nearly two days as I waited confidently (biting my nails) for the yeast to show some sign of having enjoyed the 95F pitch. After 2 days, I was rewarded with a massive kraeusen, perhaps the biggest ever, prompting me to fear a clogged airlock + explosion. It’s calmed down by now, all appears good, and though we may have oxidated and infected our hot wort with all that slotted spoon nonsense, there will be at least some alcohol in there — the yeast is alive!

Now I just have to wait another week to rack it, then a year to find out if it’s any good. By exercising such patience, I reckon I honor my parents even more. Cheers!

2 responses so far

Jan 25 2008

Tripel – Batch 2 ½

Published by under Belgian Strong Ale,Homebrew

This is really only my second serious attempt at a Belgian Tripel. I put the half there for I have brewed a couple of Belgian-y Golden Strong Ales (or something perhaps like a Golden Strong), with the intention of making a Tripel. This is before reading Brew Like a Monk. A really good read I think for anyone interested in brewing strong Belgian-style ales. Possibly even for those simply interested in learning more about the Trappist beers of Belgium. For there is a lot of discussion not only on technique but also history and tradition. My subsequent attempts at brewing Trappist-like beers have been mainly influences by this book.

Follows is my recipe for 5 gallons of finished beer:

12.00 lb. Belgian Pilsner Malt (Castle)
0.75lb. CaraPils
2.00 lb. homemade invert sugar
(SRM ~ 5, target gravity 1.080)

2.00 oz. Tettnager 4.1% AA (reduced a bit, for these are 2006), 60 min.
2.00 oz. Saaz 3.6 % AA, 10 min.
(IBU ~ 36)

1 vile WLP530 Abbey ale yeast, 1500 ml. starter two days on the stir plate

A few notes on the recipe. I have begun to notice (and am quite sure now actually) that my system’s mash efficiency drops to around 70% when I do smaller batches (5 gallons viruses 13). And, I’ll end up doing a 100 minute boil here, so there will be a bit of a gain do to evaporation. The IBU’s may be a little high for some, but I found that with my last attempt there was a really pleasant “herbal” quality. Which I attributed to an interaction of the hop flavors and the complex phenols etc. / flavors produced by the yeast.

To make the invert sugar:

Invert sugar is basically table sugar (sucrose) that has been broken down into the simpler (shorter) sugar chains glucose and fructose. This is done by heating the sugar in a slightly acidic solution. Brought to simmer two pounds of table sugar in 1 cup of water. Then added 1 teaspoon of Cream of Tartar, and simmered for approximately 10 ~ 15 min. For the Tripel didn’t want the sugar to contribute any color to the beer, however the syrup can be cooked longer to caramelize if so desired. I found this page to be a pretty good read on sugar (in a brewing context). Franklin Brew

Conducted a pretty simplified step infusion mash:

beta rest, target 145° F / recorded 145° F, 30 min.
alpha rest, target 154° F / recorded 152° F, 45 min.

Batch sparged again, collecting about 7 gallons of sweet wort of 1.044 specific gravity. Which I guess works out to around a 70% brew house efficiency.

The boil went pretty much as planned:

Added the invert sugar syrup (which had cooled significantly) to the boil around the 60 minute mark. Near the end of the boil (thinking the gravity might come in a little low) I added an additional 0.25 pounds of table sugar, and extended the boil by 10 min. Originally, I was only planning on a 90 minute boil. In hindsight, this was probably not necessary. Will want to come up with a better system for taking gravity readings on the fly. Crashed the wort down to round 69° F and pitched. The original specific gravity coming in right at 1.080.

Primary Fermentation:

This yeast seems pretty health, for there was vigorous activity early that evening (maybe 4 to 6 hour lag time). Over the first two days allowed the temperature to naturally raise to 75° F. For the next couple of days, the activity and temperature began to tapper off (70°~69° F). After 8 days for fermentation racked the beer to a carboy, and stuck it in the fridge for cold conditioning. At the time of racking there was still some activity and the beer had a healthy kräusen still present. Checking on the gravity, it seems that I may have allowed the yeast to go too far, specific gravity of 1.012. My previous Triple (that I was very pleased with) had a higher specific gravity when I racked it for cold conditioning, ~1.016. So this is a little bit of a concern. I have a refractometer (that I hardly ever use), and thought I might double check my observation. Unfortunately, this has lead only to more confusion. The refractometer reports 8.5 Brix, which I think works out to a specific gravity of ~1.034. This is a pretty big freakin’ discrepancy! Now I am not sure which measurement to rely on. I suppose there may be factors distorting the observation. The only thing I can think, is there was a pretty large amount of yeast still in suspension. Though have to admit this is pure speculation, for I am not certain on what needs to be considered for either instrument?

Secondary Fermentation / Bottle Re-Fermentation:

OK, with a tip from a fellow brewer, turns out I was off base in my mis-conception that one could use a refractometer to measure specific gravity of fermenting / fermented wort. Presumable the “refraction” is distorted by the alcohol in solution. And, further more refractometers are measureing sucrose in solution, not maltose. He claimed that there is a conversion chart somewhere out on the net, that takes original specific gravity and a Brix reading, and estimates current specific gravity. I have not found this, but did find this BYO article on refractometers that is pretty interesting. There is a lot to consider (calculate) when using a refractometer.

Once racked to secondary, I cold condition the beer in my refrigerator (set on the highest / warmest setting). The beer remains there from about two weeks at around ~42° F. Two weeks and a day in this case. Even though I am a total convert to kegging homebrew, for this style I prefer bottle conditioning. Follow a pretty standard bottling procedure, adding 4 oz. of sucrose (in a simple syrup) to the beer. However perhaps a bit more unorthodox, I add a small amount of bottling yeast to each bottle. This is to insure a high level carbonation, in such a strong beer. In this case I drop one or two “grains” of dried safbrew S-33 into each bottle prior to capping. Also, I store the bottle in a warm place (with a heating pad) at around 70° F for about two weeks, again to insure high carbonation.

Orig. Specific Gravity 1.080
Final Specific Gravity 1.012
Alcohol by Volume ~8.8 %

2 responses so far

Dec 31 2007

Dunkelweizen – Batch 1

First brew of 2008, or perhaps last of 2007 depending on how one chooses to look at it. Brewing for the first time a style I really don’t know a lot about, Dunkelweizen. Having only really tasted one or two examples (some time ago). But, is an old time favorite of one of my brewing partners and we’re giving it a shot.

Looking over the BJCP style guidelines and a few of the online recipe databases for direction. In short, Dunkelweizen is a dark German wheat beer; the predominate flavors produced by a Hefeweizen strain of yeast (banana and clove), balanced with some caramelized maltiness (Munich and / or Vienna), and low hop character. It is also suggested that a decoction mash method be employed to increase body.

So here is the recipe (for approx. 13~14 gallons of finished beer):

13.00 lb. Wheat Malt (could only find domestic)
3.00 lb. Belgian Two-Row (Pale)
2.50 lb. German Munich
2.50 lb. German Vienna
0.75 lb. German Carafa Type III
(SRM ~ 18, target gravity 1.052)

1.5 oz. Hallertau (could only find domestic), 3.0 % AA, 60 min.
1.0 oz. Hersbrucker, 3.3 % AA, 30 min.
(IBU ~ 12)

2 viles WLP300 hefewezien ale yeast, 2000 ml. starter on a stir plate for two days

Our attempt at a stepped infusion / decoction mash went fairly well.

Over shot the first “Protease” or protean rest by a few degrees, but I think over all this will not have much effect.

protean rest, target 135° F / recorded 140° F, 15~20 min.
beta rest, target 145° F / recorded 145° F, 30 min.


At this point we removed approximately one third of the gris from the mash tun, and raised the temperature (over direct heat) to 155° F. Note that this should be done very carefully / gradually, for the mash can very easily stick to the pot. Over shot the target here a little, and got some sticking. Held the decoction at temperature for about 20 min., then gradually (lesson learned) rose to a boil for about 5 or 10 min. The decoction is then returned to the mash tun, for the final rest.

alpha rest, target 155° F / recorded 156° F, 45 min.


Have recently become a convert to the batch sparge method. Started by topping off the mash (lauter) tun with sparge water, to collect about 15 gallons of sweet wort (in three batches). Unfortunately, we only collected a cup or two before a stuck sparge! Ugg, underestimated (forgot) how thick that much wheat can get. A quick run to Fermentation Solutions (brewing in the South Bay, and thanks so much for being open on a Sunday!), for 2 lb. of rice hulls. Mixed the hulls thoroughly into the mash and we were back in business. From this point the brew session went more uneventfully.

Finishing a hour boil, crashed the wort into the fermentor. Pitched the yeast into 14 gallons of wort with a specific gravity of 1.052, right on target.


Fermentation – Primary and Secondary:

Our dunkelweizen underwent a pretty standard 1 week / 2 week, primary / conditioning fermentation schedule (perhaps a little elongated). Brian reported that there was healthy activity within a couple hours of pitching. If anyone out there has not figured it out yet, make a starter.

Ten days in Primary, temp. peaking at 68° F Fourteen days in Secondary, temp. at 63° F

Not being all that well acquainted with the weizen strains of yeast, and I suppose also wanting to take advantage of the cooler Winter temperatures, the fermentation temps. are a little restrained. Sneaking a taste while racking to keg, the expected clove and banana esters seem subdued. But then again, admittedly I am not a weizen expert. Should be a very drinkable beer, none the less.

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

2 responses so far

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