Thursday, August 28, 2008

Super Krausen!

I racked the Strong Ale to the secondary last night and this is what I found on the underside of the primary lid - dried krausen. Evidence of the most violent fermentation that I have ever had! Due, I expect, to both the high gravity of the wort (1070) and pitching a large starter (over a cup of yeast) my six inches of headroom in the primary didn't cut it.

There was dried krausen in the blow-off tube as well - thank god I used one! An airlock would have clogged and the pressure would have blown it through the ceiling or, worse, blown the top off the primary.

This beer is going to be something - it should be close to 7% alcohol when it's all done in several weeks.
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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Kansas City

Went out to Kansas City to visit my good friend Aric and his gal Mindy. We had a blast! We did so many things, but I'll just highlight those that relate to BEER.

First, straight from the airport, we stopped at McCoy's Public House. A popular brew pub, they have a great outdoor deck, good food, and their beer is delicious. The Hog Pound Brown is clean and wonderful. As a bonus, they were actually brewing while we were there. The (bad cellphone) picture is the mash tun, door open and spent grains in view. It smelled awesome.

Next was visiting Boulevard Brewing. They are a local staple and seem to have complete penetration in the KC bars. Every single pub we visited that weekend (and there were many) had at least the Pale Ale on tap, and most had the wheat as well. Often, the Boulevard was the only alternative to A. Busch or Miller/Coors. The Pale Ale is a favorite of Aric's, so between the stock in his fridge and its ubiquity out on the town, we drank a ton of it. Whoever is doing the local marketing/selling for this company is really kicking ass. You can't go a block in KC without seeing Boulevard's name.

We took the tour and it is quite clear that the brewery expects to grow in the coming years. They just opened a second brewhouse - all completely new and very shiny. They are also installing a brand new bottling line which can handle several times the volume of their current line, nicknamed The Crusher due to its propensity to smash bottles instead of capping them.

The tour ends in the tap room of course. I tasted many of their beers and, like Flying Dog, all were good even if some were not to my exact tastes. If you're in the Midwest, look for Boulevard beer and give it a try. Their Saison grew on me big time, the wheat is clean and light, and the Pale Ale is great.

Saturday afternoon, we went to Grinders. I honestly cant put in to words how much I loved this place. If I lived in KC, I would make sure I lived within walking distance.

The mushroom pizza we had was indescribably good. We also got a big-ass basket of tater-tots covered in Cheese Whiz. CHEESE WHIZ!

And the beer. Oh the beer. Check out the beer list on their site and you can see that these people are serious. Any time I see a beer list organized by style I know I'm in for a treat. About 80 to choose from with 20 on tap. Add to that the fact that Grinders' back yard is now a concert venue and we watched The Mighty Mighty Bosstone's people setting up and sound checking for that nights show while lounging in the sun with good friends and the local dog (pictured above) curled up at our feet and the best pizza I've ever had and a very friendly waitress and F-18s flying overhead (big airshow in town - ROCK) and a beer list fit for a king... I could go on for hours. Just perfect.

Sunday Aric whipped up some homebrew! It was cool watching another person's routine. Aric has brewed hundreds of batches but, of course, he was out of beer when I visited. UNACCEPTABLE! Actually he had a batch all ready, but his tap line popped off the tap and the whole five gallon keg ended up on his basement floor about a week before I arrived. Horror of horrors!

I can't wait to go back to KC and take the whole family. It's a great town.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

So Much Beer

I just moved 25 gallons of beer around from one vessel to another. I'm exhausted! I got back from Kansas City yesterday and I'll have pics up soon. Right now, sleep.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Like Tom Petty Says...

...the waiting is the hardest part. I've got a few more weeks before I have a batch that is ready to drink - and I'm giving that one away! The horror! Shortly after that, the rest of the batches will be ready and under normal circumstances I would be backed up and able to relax on the brewing.

These are, however, not normal circumstances.

Why? Because October is coming. Or rather OKTOBER!! And the beer must flow!

Here is a list of all the Oktoberfests that Jess and I are going to try to attend and, to several, take homebrew. I'm not sure if we'll make them all, but we're going to give it our best. It's good to have goals!

9/13 - Gonzofest @ Flyingdog Brewery
9/20 - Foamstock: FOAM's annual camp out/homebrew/music extravaganza
9/27 - Wiacekhaus Oktoberfest and Homebrew Tasting
9/27-28 - Frederick Oktoberfest
10/? - Rod and Val's Oktoberfest
10/11 - Maryland Brewers Oktoberfest @ Timonium Fairgrounds
10/18 - Schifferstadt Oktoberfest: FOAM puts on the brewing demonstration at this event.

and to cap it all off...
10/25 - OUR Oktoberfest Campout!

Only the strong (brain cells) will survive the coming onslaught! Prepare yourselves! Meanwhile, I'll be jamming beer into production as fast as I can.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Everything is... fine?

Still no activity in the Kolsch airlock today, so I popped the top to take a look. It had good krausen and smelled like beer. I took a gravity reading and it was fine - down from 1042 to 1012 already.

I guess the fermentation not only took off like a rocket, but died down really fast as well and I just missed the whole thing.

Still, I have never seen an airlock just sit there like that. Even the 5 week old Strawberry Blonde in the carboy has a bubble or two in the airlock. It makes me think the primary bucket is not sealed or something. I'll take a closer look once I rack the beer out of it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Batch #12 - English Bitter

Brew Date: 8/12/08
Steep -
7oz British 55 Crystal Malt
4oz Torrified Wheat
.5oz Roasted Barley

60 Minute Boil -
6# Pale LME
1oz Challenger Hops (7.0%)
.25oz East Kent Goldings Hops (5.0%) (15 Minutes)
.25oz Challenger Hops (15 Minutes)
.5oz Challenger Hops (2 Minutes)
Wyeast 1968 London ESB Activator Smack Pack (direct pitch)

OG: 1045
Target FG: 1011

Notes: This is a Bluebird Bitter clone recipe.

Final Note: Didn't take any reading or notes on this beer, but it sure was good. Went over like gangbusters at Rod's Octoberfest.

Ahhh Houston..?

We might have a problem. I poured the second batch of Kolsch on the yeast cake of the first batch and I have yet to see any real activity in the airlock. About 12 hours after after putting them together I saw some, but it has been dead ever since.

I replaced the airlock in case the first one was clogged (it was not) and peeked through the airlock hole. I thought I could see krausen, but it was hard to tell.

I'm going to give it another day and if there is still nothing happening I'll have to get a better look and maybe take a gravity reading to find out what is really going on.

On the up side, the Strong Ale is fermenting like nothing I have ever seen. I'm lucky I put a blow-off tube on it instead of an airlock otherwise I think I would have a mess on my hands.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Oh No You Didn't!

Oh yes. Yes I did.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Batch #11 - The Strong Ale Special

Brew Date: 8/10/08

Steep 45 Minutes @ 150 Degrees -
.75# Castle 2-row malt
1.25# British crystal malt (55L)
.25# Chocolate malt

Boil 90 Minutes:
1# Breiss sparkling amber DME
7# Pale LME
.75oz Cascade hops (5.9%)
.5oz Mt. Hood hops (5.2%)
1 oz UK Goldings hops (5.0% ) at flame out. These were plugs, not pellets.
Wyeast 1098 English Ale (2 qt starter)

OG: 1070
Target FG: 1018

I have big plans for this big beer, but the brew session ended on a bad note. I tried using a big paint strainer to strain the wort as I poured it into the primary bucket. This is so I could boil all the hops loose instead of containing them in bags as I do normally. I think it would have worked except the plug hops stay very leafy and they clogged up the strainer. I ended up having to wring it out by hand - not good. Made a big mess too.

8/28: 1023 (secondary)
Beer smells good. Tastes good, sweet/malty.

9/16: 1023 (Keg)
All good. Still sweet/malty.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Batch #10 - Kölsch Again

I'm going to give my first batch of Kölsch away, so I'm brewing up another.

Brew Date: 8/9/08
45 Minute Steep -
.5 lb. Breiss 2 row malt
.75 lb. carapils malt

50 Minute Boil -
4.5 lb. Pale LME
2 oz. Spalt Hops (2.0%)
1 tsp. Irish Moss (15)
1 oz. Spalt Hops (2.0%) (5)
Wyeast 1007 (Batch #9 yeast cake)

Target FG: 1.008
OG: 1.042 (assumed)

Big Ol' Starter

I'm getting ready to brew my first "big" beer. With an original gravity of 1070, the pitching rate should be around 200 billion yeast cells. The Wyeast activator smack packs give you about 100 billion, so in order to grow that I made a starter on Friday evening.

A starter is just a small batch of beer really. It gives the yeast something to eat so they can go forth and multiply. I made this starter with some old (very old) dry malt extract that came with all the brewing gear my dad gave to me.

I usually use an OJ starter just to wake up the yeast and double check their viability. This is important when I'm reusing washed/harvested yeast because I want to make sure everything is OK before I dump it into five gallons of wort. For this beer however, I need to double the number of yeast cells and the predominant school of thought says that when doing that, you want your starter to closely resemble the wort into which it will end up. It should be ready to pitch in a day or so.

I had to tape the stopper in the bottle to keep it from popping out - I guess it is a little too big. Classy looking, no?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

State of the Brewery

I've been brewing for a little over 2 months now and will be boiling up batches 10, 11, and 12 this weekend. I'm still a total noob, but I have learned some things.

The biggest, I think, is this: Beer needs time.

When I first got started I came across the 1-2-3 rule. One week in the primary, 2 weeks in the secondary, and 3 weeks in the bottle. Of course there are better ways to tell when beer should go from one stage to the next and every beer is different, but this is meant as a general guideline. I followed it - kind of.

There are a couple of things about this rule that I now know:
1. These are minimums.
2. Kegging instead of bottling does not change the rule.

Let me start with item two. For whatever reason, I assumed that because I was kegging, I did not need to wait 3 weeks to drink. I thought this three weeks was for bottle conditioning to take place and carbonate the beer. Because I was force-carbing in the keg, I figured I could drink when the beer was carbed - about 2 days after kegging. I found out pretty quickly that this was not the case and set a 1 week keg rule. So instead of 1-2-3, I was practicing 1-2-1. This still had me drinking pretty green beer, although I was too inexperienced to realize it at first.

Regarding item one, this is definitely a bare minimum across the board. My batches are rarely if ever ready to secondary after 7 days, secondary can go longer if needed, and the conditioning part could be a lot longer.

So here is my new rule:
- Primary until within a few points of target final gravity
- Secondary until final gravity or 2 weeks, which ever is longer
- Keg condition at room temperature for 2 weeks
- Cold condition/carb 1 week

Certain beers can go a little quicker, like some wheat beers which are typically ready to drink faster. Others may take longer, like the high gravity Strong Ale I'm getting ready to brew. The point is - I'm done drinking green beer.

The picture is batch #5 (a wheat beer) which is still on tap and was brewed about 7 weeks ago - by far the longest a batch has ever survived around here. It's not the greatest beer in the world by any stretch, but it is the best one to ever come out of my tap. I believe this is because, by chance not design, it followed these new rules. Compare that picture to the picture from batch #1 - you can see the difference. If anything batch #1 should have been cleaner looking than batch #5 but you can see this is not the case. Far from it.

All my upcoming batches will follow these rules by design. This sucks in a way because I'm going to run out of beer again, but I would rather run out than waste soon-to-be good beer.

So until then - STEP AWAY FROM THE KEG!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


No not that kind! A few weeks ago, I stopped by The Flying Barrel in Frederick to watch an all-grain brewing demonstration. It was being given by a guy who won Best of Show at the Frederick Fair Homebrew Competition. I met a lot of people and sampled a lot of very good homebrew. Eventually I was informed that everyone I was talking to, as well as the guy giving the demonstration, were members of FOAM - Frederick's homebrew club. I was invited to attend the next meeting and join up. Based on the quality of the beers I had been tasting, the decision was a no-brainer - hanging out with these guys could only help my beer.

The meeting I attended was last night. It was a special meeting as it was judging night of the FOAM Cup - the clubs internal brewing competition. Because of this the meeting was not held at The Flying Barrel as usual, but in the Tap Room at Flying Dog Brewery. Nice! My dad attended as well and I think he enjoyed trying all the Flying Dog, Wild Goose and the FOAM Cup winning beers.

I ran into a few of the guys that I had met at the demo and a lot of new people all of whom were very nice. There seemed to be a wide range of ages and backgrounds, but everyone was borderline obsessive about beer and brewing which will be a good outlet for me - I think Jess and others are getting tired of listening to me ramble on like a crazy person about brewing.

It was also great to hang out with a few of the guys from Flying Dog who, of course, really know their shit and love to talk about it as well. They have a 20 gallon 'test system' there and they are constantly experimenting and getting their 'homebrewing' fix that way.

Here is the kicker for the evening though: They had a 50/50 raffle and I won. The money more than covered my club dues for the year and the price of the raffle tickets I bought. Sweet! The next ticket, my DAD won How To Brew by John Palmer which he gave to me. SWEEEET! The final prizes were Flying Dog posters and when the brewery guys saw them they said, "Those posters suck - we'll throw in a case of beer with each one." Really cool! I would have loved to win a case of FD, but I'm glad I didn't as it would have been a little embarassing.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Keg on Wheels

Bottling is OK when we want to take a few beers somewhere, but we needed a more drastic solution for taking a lot of beer to a party. After poking around on the inter-toobes, we found this solution:

First we modified a 60 qt. cooler by removing the lid and making a new lid out of insulation board. The old lid popped right off and will go back on if we want to use cooler normally.

We bought a shorty party tap as the one I have is several feet long and would have ended up on the ground getting dirty or stepped on.

Finally we bought a portable keg charger. This is a small device that uses food-grade CO2 cartridges to push the beer out of the keg. This allows us to leave our big heavy CO2 tank at home.

The whole system worked great. The beer was cold all night and we only used up one CO2 cartridge serving an entire keg. The cooler and new lid worked better than expected maintaining temperature - we left the rig in the back of the truck overnight and there was only about a cup of melted ice this morning. Nice!