Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Out With the Old...

In with the New Year! We've got some people coming over tonight and we'll be tapping the very first all-grain batch - the Hefeweizen. It is a *bit* young (I had a sample last night), but it will have to do.

The whole all-grain endeavor is moving along nicely. The big problem right now is scheduling. We have to make sure we have the right vessels (primaries, secondaries, kegs) when we need them. We screwed up a bit recently when we brewed two 10 gallon batches only 7 days apart and now we'll be forced to move one of the batches to kegs earlier than normal. This is not a big deal, but I don't know what I was thinking when we brewed that second batch...

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Last of the Extracts

Last night we killed off the last of the Strawberry Blonde (which was great) and the last of the extract Hefe (not so great - I'm starting to suspect a problem with keg #4).

These kegs were the final extract batches that I brewed. Extract brewing was the right way for me to start brewing beer. It let me refine many parts of the brewing process without the extra complication of mashing grains, etc.

From now on (actually from Batch #18 on), everything will be all-grain brewed. I put the first all-grain brewed beer in the fridge to cool down and carb up last night, so in a few days we'll be able to taste the fruits of our labor.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Fermentation Temperature Control

Controlling the temperature of fermenting beer is key. Remember my swamp cooler? We're not going to need that anymore...
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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Chiller / Lid Mod

Shawn did an amazing job altering his wort chiller so that it is much easier to use. The connections are now outside the pot making leaks inconsequential. We altered the lid as well and simply left the chiller in the pot for the entire boil.
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Monday, December 22, 2008

Awesome Thermometer

Shawn installed this awesome thermometer on our HLT/Keggle. Nothing is as cool as a big-ass analog dial!
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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Batch #21 - Our First Lager

Shawn and I brewed up 10 gallons of Pilsener on Friday afternoon. The brew day started off rough with traffic accidents closing Route 70 between our houses and our normal homebrew store being completely out of any lager yeasts. We overcame though and the actual brew session was the smoothest one yet.
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Monday, December 15, 2008

Shawn's Kegerator

Shawn picked up this old kegerator along with a CO2 tank and an empty 1/2 keg (now our keggle) the other day. It's big enough to hold 3 corny kegs. He has big plans for it including a 3 tap system and off-road tires. Imagine being at a party and seeing that roll up on a trailer! I know a lot of people who wont have to imagine for long...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Brew Day Report

Saturday was another big brew day as Shawn and I brewed up 10 gallons of Belgian White.

Shawn brought up his newly converted "Keggle" and propane burner and we used them for a Hot Liqueur Tank setup.

We again had issues hitting our Mash Temps, but we kept at it and finally prevailed. I blame the freezing ambient temperatures for most of our problems.

We used the large Mash/Lauter Tun for the first time as well and it performed as expected.

Jess was a big part of the team as well helping out and she even surprised us with a 'tank-o-bloody marys'!

We used our existing lid for the boil although Shawn is working on a new version that will be even better. The biggest foul-up of the day was mine. When I wrote my shopping list for ingredients I had to double the recipe since we were brewing a 10 gallon batch and I forgot to double the hops and spices. DOH! This is the first time I have ever screwed up a recipe, but I think the beer will be fine. It will just be sweeter than intended.

Overall it was a great day. Shawn finally got a brew session under his belt and we've got a total 25 gallons of All Grain beer fermenting in the basement. We have a long way to go with regards to working efficiently (something over which Shawn and I both obsess) but we're on the path.

One of the big thrills if the day was seeing and tasting the Hefewiezen that I brewed 2 weeks ago. The color is amazing (see the carboys in the picture) and it tastes fantastic - totally different from the extract version.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Craft Brew's Mad Genius

I have gained a new respect for Dogfish Head after reading this New Yorker article. Ty sent it to me a while ago, but I finally got around to finishing it (long article is loooong). It is a fascinating look at a man who has refused the conventional notions of what beer should be.

I've tried a lot of DFH beers and have yet to find one that I would drink again if given a choice. Clearly I'm not ready for 'extreme' beers. But after reading this article, I can see why DFH is a hero to many beer lovers and most home brewers.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Batch #19 - Whitetail Holiday Ale

Brew Date: 12/6/08
Recipe: See Brew Sheet

I brewed up five gallons of this holiday ale for a friend's snow-tubing party that takes place in February.

This, my second all grain batch, went much more smoothly than my first attempt. My new thermometer worked well and I generally fumbled around less.

Shawn had built a top for our kettle (with an adjustable steam port) out of lexan which worked great. It took much less energy to keep the boil going and we didn't loose so much wort to boil-off. The only problem: the lexan started to loose rigidity due to the heat, sagging almost an inch. We'll have to start over with another material.

The big lesson I learned was this: I get tired by the end of a 7 hour brew day and start making mistakes. More experience will help but having a brewing partner on Saturday for the next batch will be great.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Brew Day!

What a day it was. Overall it was an exciting experience and went OK, but it had its moments of panic for sure.

First of all everyone in the house was sick. I was just feeling run down, but Jess and Mia were both down for the count. In addition my brew-partner Shawn was also sick and could not make it. I was on my own and dragging ass. It was also freezing out and raining.

Near Major Disaster #1 - My digital thermometer is full of hate and lies. It nearly had me attempting to mash at 110 instead of 152 degrees. New thermometers are a must-buy before the next session. Update: Done!

Near Major Disaster #2 - Stuck Lauter. I'm not sure what happened, but I think our braided wire filter in the mash/lauter tun collapsed. Or floated to the top. Or both. I don't know. I got the wort out eventually after much shenanigans. We'll try the big MLT next time and see if that works better. Update: The FOAM guys say that when mashing a recipe that includes wheat malt, rice hulls should be added to the MLT to help prevent stuck mashes. We will try this on the next batch.

Near Major Disaster #3 - Too much boil-off. Even with my awesome homemade lid (tin foil over plywood, yeah!) we lost too much wort during the hour boil I suppose due to the massive surface area of the liquid. Need a better lid and probably need to adjust recipes to allow for more boil-off. Update: Shawn is working on an awesome lid!

Near Major Disaster #4 - Wort chiller full of water when I dropped it into the boiling wort to sanitize it. It was full of cold water so it instantly stopped the boil. Oops. I cranked up the heat and recovered in about 8 minutes.

Near Major Disaster #5 - Not using a hop-bag when planning to siphon out of a very wide pot. I lost at least a gallon of wort and got tons of hop matter in my primary buckets. Hops in the primary is not a big deal but loosing a gallon of beer is.

I ended up with about 8 gallons of wort split between two primaries instead of the planned 10. Possible major disaster #6 - the airlocks are not bubbling yet... Update: Everything is fine!

On the upside our mash efficiency was above 80% which is awesome.

Also Shawn's wort chiller was incredible taking about 9 gallons of boiling wort to 80 degrees in 12 minutes and down to 65 in 20 minutes. The thing is a monster!

I'm not going to bother posting a brew sheet for this batch. Even if the beer comes out great I could never reproduce the parade of missteps that made it happen.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

More Gear

All the new gear is coming together in preparation for the first All Grain batch on Sunday. You can tell by looking around my basement that we crossed the line from hobby to obsession at some point. Hooray Beer!

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Secret Recipe Is...

British East India Trading CompanyUncle Tyler's
Reddy's I.P.A.

This recipe belongs to my Uncle Ty who, years ago, gave a copy to my mother in a letter (yes - a snail mail letter). She held on to the letter for a long time and recently passed it on to me.

This is a true India Pale Ale that is both hoppy and malty. In the early 1800s, I.P.A.s were 'amped up' pale ales that contained more alcohol and hops (both natural preservatives) so that the beer could survive the long trips by ship from England to the colonies in India.

Highlights of this recipe include over 4 ounces of hops (in a 5 gallon batch) and Oak wood chips in the primary and secondary to impart that barrel-aged taste.

Ty's letter to my mother states that this recipe was originally brewed on March 3, 1989 - almost 20 years ago! It was brewed for a friend named Reddy who was from India and missed the strong beers from home. These were the days before the microbrewery explosion in the U.S. and finding anything other than Bud/Miller/Coors was nearly impossible, so Ty created this beer to fill the gap.

I will see my Uncle Ty over Thanksgiving weekend and I hope this batch of beer will be a nice surprise for him.

Mother of All Chillers

Built by Shawn, our Immersion Chiller is 50 feet of 1/2" copper constructed in two nesting coils that can be used separately or together in series or in parallel. Shawn designed it to work specifically with our huge (and wide) boil kettle but still be useful in other situations.

Like everything else the scale of it makes me smile every time I see it. Bring on the hot wort!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hop Harvest Update

Ralph Olsen of Hopunion left an encouraging post over on ProBrewer regarding this year's hop harvest. I'm not getting the feeling that prices are going to come down, but maybe we'll be able to find the hops we need in the coming year. This is good because out of the 17 batches I have brewed so far, I've had to substitute hop varieties in about half of them due to the shortages.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Don't Panic!

Yes, we are running out of beer. The last of the extract brews will be making their way in to our glasses over the next few weeks.

But the All Grain brews are coming and once we do a 5 gallon test batch this Sunday, we'll be doing several 10-15 gallon batches in fairly quick succession to build the supply back up.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

LIFO - Clone War Results

As in Last In First Out. The Alt recipe wins the Clone Wars hands down. Crisp and clean and clear - we can't stop drinking it. The keg is almost gone and we are sad to see it go.

It could be that the season has influenced our results, but here they are:

1. Alt
2. Strawberry Blonde
3. UFO Hefe Clone

The rest we could take or leave.

These will be the recipes that Shawn and I start with when we begin all grain brewing, which may be as soon as this weekend! We'll probably start with the Hefe since a wheat beer will be ready to drink sooner than the others.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hi, I'm a Mash Tun

Shawn built me. I will also be used as a hot liqueur tank sometimes, depending on what kind and the quanity of beer being brewed. I am super awesome, but I'm going to have a big brother that is even awesomer. He is not this super cool yellow color though.
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Monday, November 17, 2008

Hello, I'm a 6.5 Gallon Carboy

I was bought on Craig's List for $10. I'm worth four times that. I may be sold for a profit in the near future as I am not expressly needed for this operation, but was to good a deal to pass up. I have two 5 gallon little brothers that were also bought for $10 each which will NOT be going anywhere.
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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Epic Pot is Epic

We've been looking for a big boil pot for a while now. We were looking for a keg to convert and when that didn't pan out, we started looking at large brew or cooking kettles. The problem was that they are extremely expensive (hundreds of dollars) and we never budgeted for that.

Then we found The Pot on Craig's List. The woman we bought it from said it was her father's who has passed on, but used to be a cook in the service - Navy I believe. It is stainless steel and the bottom has been replaced. All of these facts point to the pot being quite old and I like to imagine it might have served time on a battleship at some point - possibly during WWII.

She was selling it as a keg tub, or huge ice bin for parties. When she found out we were actually going to by using it for its intended purpose (kinda) she seemed quite pleased. I'm going to send her a picture from our first all grain brew day so she can see the pot in action.

How big is my pot you ask? THIRTY GALLONS. That is a huge amount of pot. A lot of pot. Way more pot than anyone else I know has. It is probably the best pot for miles around. I have a large volume of pot in my basement. Ha ha ha, drug jokes.

We can easily do 20 gallon batches in this bad boy and I'm sure we will eventually.

The kicker: we bought it for $20.
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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Moving Towards All Grain

Not much action here as we are still collecting the equipment needed to brew All Grain batches.

The SECRET RECIPE batch has been kegged and will be ready to sample around Thanksgiving.

I finally actually dumped the bad batch of Kolsch. It was sad, but it still tasted very bad and I needed the keg.

I'll have some equipment updates and pics soon.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Not A Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

I entered my Old Ale in the FOAM Cup tonight and came in fourth place (no, not "out of four" you vicious person) which is pretty good considering that first through third were taken by some of the club's well known top brewers.

The better news is that I found out later that I came very close to placing in the top 3 and might have if different people had been judging the contest.

The resident BJCP judge (quite prominent in the area) suggested that I enter the beer in other contests because, in his words, "this is very good and I wouldn't change much." I'm not sure if I'll bother doing that, but it was nice to hear.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

News Round Up

There has been so much going on around here that I am behind in all things beer related, but I have great news.

First, the Strong Ale (specifically an Old Ale - BJCP Style 19A) is delicious. I gave it a test taste (pictured) this morning and was astounded at how good it was especially for not being a huge fan of the style - at least I thought I wasn't. I'm going to find out exactly how it measures up when I enter it in the FOAM Cup homebrewing competition on Monday night. I'm hoping to get some valuable feedback that, hopefully, I can apply across the board to my brewing endeavors.

Next I wanted to thank everyone for coming to our Octoberfest party. Although the rain forced us inside and killed the camp-out, everyone seemed to have a great time. There was lots of great beer around, from Dogfish Head to local beer from Growlers in Gaithersburg and my Saison (although it hardly tasted like a Saison - not sure what happened there) seemed to go over pretty well. The biggest issue with the Saison was that, due to its high alcohol content, people were having to switch off to something more tame lest they pass out in the bathroom adorned with a lampshade. Still, as predicted, the keg did not survive the evening. I applaud the effort from everyone and appreciate the kind comments.

Finally, the big news. With help from good friend Shawn, we are going All-Grain - just like a real brewery. If you don't know, the difference between All-Grain brewing and what I have done until now it is the equivalent of baking an entire pie from scratch vs. baking a pie in a pre-made crust. More control, but more things that can go wrong.

Shawn has never home brewed before, but has been following my exploits and has enjoyed much of the resulting product. We are putting together the equipment now that will allow us not only to brew All-Grain batches, but to brew 10 gallon batches - twice as much as before. And that, as Martha would say, is a Good Thing.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Batch #17 - Strawberry Blonde

Brew Date: 10/19/2008
Recipe: See Brew Sheet

I'm starting a new method of keeping notes for the recipes that we like and will reuse. I want to keep all the notes from various batches of the same recipe in the same document.

Also, I bought and used fresh leaf hops for the first time for this batch. They smelled great!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Serious Times Call for Serious Beers

This is no time to be drinking light lagers, Obama. No, now is the time for beers with some fortitude, some 'umph'. A drink with real substance and a big taste that can warm your heart even as you watch the least-common-denominator pander-fest that is our presidential election. A satisfying malt shoulder to lean on while the world economy attempts to China Syndrome us all into amateur fur traders and dirt farmers.

So stop panic-sloshing your Miller Light on your 401k statement and come down to my beer fridge where I have 10 gallons of Serious Beer chilling.

Serious Beer #1: The Saison
Oh yes. A clone of Brewery Ommegang's Hennepin - possibly the best beer in the world in my opinion. One usually things of strong beers as being dark in color, but this is not the case with the Saison. Originally brewed in farmhouse attics in Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium, it is a gold/amber color. This beer is bound for consumption at our Octoberfest party and I don't expect it to survive the night. The recipe includes rock candy to pump up the ABV and at 7.2% this beer is serious business.

Serious Beer #2: The Strong Ale
This one is dark. Real dark. Brewed in traditional English Old Ale style and I even got a hold of some plug hops for the aroma. Bigger than a porter, but not as rich as a barleywine, it is sweet, malty, and at 6.9% ABV a serious beer.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I just can't do it!

I still haven't dumped the Kolsch. I just can't bring myself to do it. I suppose I'll hang on to it until I absolutely need the keg and hope some magic happens.

The worst side effect of not being able to drink the Kolsch is that I have no homebrew to drink at the moment. Again. I'm thinking of starting a petition to have myself removed as brewmaster. I clearly lack the level of responsibility that I demand from myself. How can I be trusted when I have failed so many times in the short period that I have been responsible for making beer for me? Ridiculous.

The English Bitter was great. Lots of people liked it and it went over well at Rod's Octoberfest. It's not going to win the Clone Wars, but we'll probably make it again.

The SUPER SECRET RECIPE is coming along. It is in secondary in the carboy and I just dry-hopped it today. I tasted it when I moved it to the carboy and it is wonderful so far. I can't wait for it to be ready.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Time Heals All Wounds?

I have had only one bad batch of beer since I started brewing way way back in May of 2008. It was batch #3 and my understanding of what the problem could be was tenuous at best. The beer tasted like chemicals and was completely un-drinkable (despite the fact that we drank it). I bottled some of that batch for a couple of reasons. I wanted to see if, over time, the beer "fixed itself" and I wanted to have some more knowledgeable people try it and tell me what the problem was.

I did have some beer guru types try it and the problem they identified was in-step with my main suspicion - chemicals in the beer (duh). At the time this would have been Oxy-Clean or One-Step that did not get rinsed thoroughly from some vessel that the beer spent time in during its birth.

I changed my cleaning ritual and eliminated the One-Step, replacing it with StarSan. I also made sure that I rinsed a few more times than I thought was necessary just to be sure. I have not had a problem since.

Until batch #10. Same exact problem. In fact, it is even worse than batch #3. It's like drinking industrial strength glue. I'm not sure what happened, but now I'm sure that what I am tasting is Oxy-Clean. I'm guessing that I was tired during one of the transfers and racked the batch into a keg that I had not rinsed very well. But there is light at the end of this tunnel, right?

Today, with hope in my heart, I grabbed one of the bottles from batch #3. It has been a few months and if the beer could fix itself, it should have by now. I knew that if the beer in the bottle was good, I could just take the batch #10 keg and store it for a few months and it would be fine. No harm done.

But no. The bottled beer, although clear and gorgeous, tasted the same - bad.

So this weekend I will be doing something I have never done - dumping a full keg of beer. I can't even bring myself to con my friends into drinking this stuff - it is just hideous.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Big Tap

Jess and I sent our friends Aric & Mindy this cool tap handle from their awesome local brewery to thank them for putting up with me last month. Included in the picture is a pint of the English Brown Ale (right?) that Aric brewed while I was there and I hear it is tasty.

I can't wait to get out there again!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Batch #16 - UFO Hefe Again

Brew Date: 9/28/08
Recipe: Same as before.
Yeast is washed 3333 from batch #8.

OG: 1045 <-- low. I may not have mixed the wort and water thoroughly before taking a sample.

Notes: Yum.

11/2/08: 1015 (keg)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Last of the Strawberry Blonde

I bottled the last of the Strawberry Blonde keg this morning yielding 10 bottles which are now stashed in the beer fridge. This recipe was a big hit and we will definitely make it again. The beer was a bit cloudy, even after being in the fridge for a couple of weeks. I'm not sure why - perhaps it needs to sit in secondary even longer or could really benefit from a good cold-break after the boil.

A note about the Kolsch: We killed the first batch at Foamstock. Neither of us were a big fan of it even though there was nothing wrong with it. The second batch is in the fridge now and although it has a better initial taste, the aftertaste is crappy - very green tasting or possibly some other issue. I'm going to let it sit another week and try it again. Even at its best, this recipe just isn't clicking and I don't plan on making it again.

If you want to try the Strawberry Blonde you better stop by soon - I don't see those 10 bottles surviving long around here.

Batch #15 - Super Secret Recipe

Brew Date: 9/27/08

OG: 1072

That's all I'm saying for now.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What's Happening?

We've been doing so much stuff lately and I have slacked on updates.

We attempted to attend Gonzofest, but when we pulled up there were hundreds of people in line. We were on a bit if schedule so we decided to skip it this year. We went to Brewer's Alley in Frederick instead and had some good beer there.

FOAMStock was last weekend. The three of us had a great time trying lots of different homebrews, watching the bands, and camping out. I got pretty good feedback on my Kolsch and we met lots of cool people.

I was supposed to brew this week but I've been under the weather. As soon as I catch up on all my other chores I'll be brewing up a super-secret recipe and shortly after that another UFO clone.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Begun the Clone Wars Have

All the beers in the stash right now are clone recipes, or at least started out that way, but batch #14 will be the last new one for a while.

It is time to let these batches duke it out for supremacy.

For the next few months, I'll be re-brewing the clone recipes that we liked, tweaking them, making them my own until they are made of only Awesome and Win.

The first re-brew will be the Harpoon UFO Hefewiezen clone. This beer was delicious and I have no plans to change the recipe right now. I just want to see if I can actually reproduce it or if it was some kind of fluke (please no). The beer was so good, it drove a friend of mine insane and he is going to start homebrewing so he can make it for himself. Although it is a shame that he has lost his mind, it is awesome because more beer is always awesome.

Batch #14 - Alt Style Amber Ale

Brew Date: 9/9/2008
Steep -
1# Pilsner Malt
1# Munich Malt

Boil -
6# Light LME (90)
1oz Mt. Hood Hops (5.6% 90)
2oz Spalt Hops (2% 15)
Irish Moss (15)

Wyeast 1007 (starter)

Target FG: 1015

Note: Alaskan Amber clone.

9/27: 1014 (secondary)
10/15: Bad hydro reading (1017 wtf?) (keg) - Tastes good.
11/19: Beer is AWESOME. Great recipe!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Keep On Brewin'

The UFO Clone was so delicious and I squeezed the last of the keg into two bottles this morning. It didn't last long as everyone that tried it really liked it. Right now that recipe has a high probability of winning the Clone Wars and becoming a regular on tap here. Of course, its just the first one...

The Kolsch is good too, but still a little green. I rushed it so that I could give it away for a friend's party today. However, we might get lucky and get it back. Due to the tropical storm that is pounding our area right now, I am hearing the party has low attendance and that keg might make its way back to the fridge. I have my fingers crossed. In another week that beer will be really good I think.

The Strawberry Blonde hit the fridge today and I'll start carbing it up tomorrow. We are very excited and can't wait for next weekend to come so we can get in to it.

I have a couple of batches to brew early this week, so I'm getting starters and stuff going this weekend. Busy busy busy.

Update: We got the whole keg of homebrew back. Although we tried our best (we ended up attending the party in question), we could not kill the half keg of Miller Light that blocked our path to the Kolsch so it is back in our fridge.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Let's Make A Starter

There is a lot of conflicting information on the Toobs about starters and when/if you need them. I use them when I have a wort with a gravity over 1050 because all the pitching rate charts say you should pitch more than an activator pack provides.

Here is how I make a starter:

Smack that pack!

Boil 2 cups of water and 1/2 cup of light DME for 10 minutes.

Chill. Keep it covered because your fridge really needs to be cleaned out.

Clean and sanitize all your junk. #2 stopper, thermometer, funnel, scissors, airlock, that bottle you got from your Uncle Rod.

Drink a Flying Dog while continuing to chill.

When the starter wort is chilled to 75 degrees or so, pour it in that bottle you got from your Uncle Rod.

Pitch the yeast into the starter wort.

Shake shake shake your booty.

Airlock and let it ferment for a day or so. Krausen can come and go fast, so you might miss it.

When fermentation slows, or the morning of brew day, throw the starter in the fridge.

Mow the grass, do all your chores, and then brew up your batch.

When you are ready to pitch, you should see a nice big yeast cake at the bottom of that bottle your Uncle Rod gave you. Decant most of the evil starter beer off the cake, shake up what is left and pitch it into your wort.

Enjoy fermentation fireworks.