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Tripel upate #2

08-17-01On Saturday I reracked my Tripel to a carboy and also brewed the Dubbel, which was pitched onto the yeast cake of the Tripel. I’ve been getting a stuck fermentation in my mini fermenter so I got my trusty refractometer out and took a reading from the real thing. Don’t you know it, that is stuck as well. Crap.

I pondered my options while it was transfering over and decided to boil some water with some corn sugar and pitch it in. I only used 2 tablespoons worth to try and jump start fermentation. On the plus side, it is tasting excellent. I don’t think it is going to be as strong as I had hoped, but the taste is there, and that is what is more important. You can’t tell from the picture, but the beer is starting to clear nicely. I’m going to leave it sit for another few weeks and test occasionaly to see if anything else happens. If not, I’ll be looking forward to my great tasting 5% Tripel. Crap.

Belgian Tripel update

08-09-02The Belgian Tripel is fermenting away and is my most active fermentation to date. Most of my brews go crazy for a day and a half and then the bubble subside and the yeast start working on all of the tough sugars left. The Tripel on the other hand, has been bubbling like crazy for the past two days and shows no signs of stopping.

What I generally do with my brews is take a clear bottle and put a small sample of wort into it. I then seal it up with a rubble stopper and airlock. Of course all of this is sanitized. I do this for two reasons, the first of which being that I can see what is going on in the fermenter on a small scale because it is all based off of the same wort and yeast in the larger fermenter. The second is that I don’t have to waste wort getting samples out and don’t have to risk contamination in doing so. My refractomer only requires a few drops of wort, so it does not make sense to open up the whole thing to get a little bit out. You can read more about my “mini fermenter” here.

08-09-01

When I first put the wort in the mini fermenter I noticed some seperation happening towards the bottom. I believe that it was the wheat malt dropping out and some of the reminents from the hop pellets. When I check the mini fermenter today there was no sediment at the bottom. There was a very active fermentation going on, almost violent. I was and still am thrilled that the fermentation seems to getting along so well with my concerns about the yeast. As of this morning, the fermentation seems to have peeked and the bubbles as coming to a slow (but the violence happening in the bottle is the same). I still haven’t taken any gravity readings yet but that should be coming along soon. I want to wait for all of the activity on the top to subside before doing so. I’ll update in a few days on the progress of the beer.

Mini fermenter

09-03-20-01So I finally got tired of opening my buckets to take hydrometer reader (actually I use a refractormeter). I got smart and made a mini fermenter to show me what is going on in the real fermeter. The main reason I would do this is becasue I don’t want to rely on airlock activity to be a measure of my fermentation progress. I want to take gravity readings.

The first step in making on of these things is the equipment. You need a bottle, preferably clear, a drilled stopper, and an airlock. You sanitize everything the same as you would you fermenter. When your wort is put into your fermenter and combined with yeast, you take a small sample (only a few ounces) and put it into the bottle. Now you have a mini batch taken from your larger one. It is the exact same thing, and if you keep it in the same storage, it should produce the same results.

Why would you want to do this. If you are working with a plastic bucket or a carboy, it can be a pain to keep reaching into your fermenting beer to grab a sample. You run the risk of infection every time you touch it. Also, you take from the main fermenter, you can’t put your sample back into the beer. Making a small version you don’t have to worry about wasting any beer as you can use the same sample over and over since you will never be drinking it.

Another nice thing is that you can visually see what is going on; if you are not using carboy this can be a real advantage. There are a few problems with this method however. The biggest being that a small sample of liquid reacts much quicker to temperature changes then a large sample of liquid. This can increase or decrease your actual fermentation process. I think getting gravity readings this way is a good way to go and you can leave your beer alone while still knowing what’s going on inside.

Yeast

While there are literally hundreds if not thousands of different classifications for beer, they all come from one of two starting points. You either have an Ale or Lager. As a general rule, most macrobrews are lagers while microbrews are ales. We will get into why that is in just a bit.

So what is yeast?

Yeast is a single cell organism that eats sugar. When it eats (ferments) sugar it gives off three by-products; carbon dioxide (CO2), alcohol, and heat. This is why we use it for brewing, without yeast, we would have a grainy, sugary drink that didn’t make us feel very good (or as good as a drink with alcohol can).

Ale vs. Lager

As I said before, everything boils down to the type of yeast you use; lager or ale. An ale refers to a yeast that ferments on the top of the fermenter and will function from 60-76 degrees or so. If it gets any colder than 55 degrees, the yeast will go dormant and stop fermenting. Ales can ferment in 3-7 days depending on the sugar available. Generally ale yeast give you a higher alcohol concentration. Ales also give off a fruity ester flavor that is desirable for some types of beer.

A lager on the other hand is a bottom fermenting yeast and functions at colder temperatures (40-55 degrees). It tends to give a crisper beer, but also takes longer to complete. It can take as long as month and a half. Lagers are much lighter in body and tend to be harder to make. A lager does not give off the esters of an ale, and therefore, it can be easier to detect when something goes wrong.

My choices for homebrew

Luckily homebrew shops offer a huge variety of yeast. Some cultures are specially made to give special tastes. A hefeweizen yeast will often give a bananna flavor to the beer. The yeast also come in several different forms. The first is dry yeast. Dry yeast is freeze-dried yeast cells that are very cheap. You must rehydrate the yeast in order to give it a proper chance at life. Another problem is that it can become easily infected and cannot be used on multiple batches.

The other option is liquid yeast. These generally come in two forms, The first is a smack pack. There is a bag within the outer bag that hold yeast nutrient. When you smack the bag, you release the nutrient and the yeast start feeding and multiplying. It is an effective means of generating healthy yeast growth.

The other liquid yeast can be found in vials (pictured at the beginning of this article). It is basically a vial of dormant yeast cells that need to be grown a bit to get proper pitching rates. Liquid yeast is the way to go if you want to make several beers using the same type of yeast. It is reusable. The only real downside is the upfront cost. Dry yeast can be found for around a dollar, where liquid yeasts cost at least $6. But you get a better pitching rate and it can be used over and over again.

I’ll explain what I mean by some of these terms more indepth next week.

Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA Beer Review

I told you the beers would get better, and this review, steps it up to an unhealthy level. Unhealthy only because Dogfish Head’s 120 Minute IPA clocks in at an amazing 20% ABV. Before I go any further, let me post what the brewery has to say about their beer:

“Too extreme to be called beer? Brewed to a colossal 45-degree plato, boiled for a full 2 hours while being continuously hopped with high-alpha American hops, then dry-hopped daily in the fermenter for a month & aged for another month on whole-leaf hops!!! Our 120 Minute I.P.A. is by far the biggest I.P.A. ever brewed! At 20% ABV and 120 IBUs you can see why we call this beer THE HOLY GRAIL for hopheads!”

I’ve only ever had one bottle of this stuff, partly because it is tough to find and partly because it cost me $8.99 for a single bottle. I did recently see it at my local distributer for $160.00 a case ($6.66 a bottle). But when you think about it, the price really isn’t that bad. 20% ABV is equivalent to 4-5 “normal” beers. Aside from the price, this beer is special for other reasons.

It pours an amber/orange color and, not surprisingly, it has a strong hop aroma. The beer is very thick, and seems to pour slower than other beers (just like how an oatmeal stout pours differently from a shitty macro).

Before I tasted this I was expecting to be blown away with hop flavors. 120 IBU’s is insane. The smell was there, and with with IPAs, I was expecting the taste to be there was well.

Surprisingly, the hop flavor was smooth and not overpowering. Overall, all of the flavors were very smooth. Shocker. The first thing that hits your tongue is a bit of alcohol. This flavor quickly dissipates to a fruity, woody, slightly hoppy feel. Later in the beer the hop flavors become more noticeable. It takes you by surprise, but not in a bad way.

This beer is very well balanced. There is not a single element that overshadows another. For the new craft beer drinker this would probably not be a great beer, but I really enjoyed it. One thing you need to remember is to drink this beer slowly. I had this over the period of an hour and a half (and it doesn’t taste bad warm). If you drink this like a normal beer, you are not going to get very far. This is a great cold day beer that I will be having again very soon.