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My homebrew, a year in review

I didn’t do as much homebrewing as I would of liked to do this year. In total I did40 gallons worth of homebrew. That’s eight five gallon batches. Below is a list of the beers that I brewed up this year.

  • Imperial Porter
  • SB Birthday Beer (Amber wheat)
  • Irish Red
  • Belgian Dubbel
  • Belgian Tripel
  • Pumpkin Ale
  • Winter Warmer
  • Amber IPA

Some of those beers turned out better than others. I have to say that my darker beers are my better ones. That is probably I enjoy roasty flavors and it is easier to hide other flavors with them. My Irish Red and SB Birthday beer did not come out very well at all. The Irish Red was a victim of improper hopping. I switched the hops and the bittering component came out way to strong and dry. The SB Birthday beer was the victim of sitting in a fermenter for too long and also was in the sun for a bit of it. They were both drinkable, but not up to a decent standard.

My Belgian beer experiments went pretty good. The Dubbel needed a few more darker malts and I would change the yeast in it to something that would give off a bit more plum and dry fruit esters. Overall it tastedĀ  fine, it just needed to be a bit richer tasting. The Tripel was darn good. The malts and the yeast worked perfectly. It was well balanced and a good representation of a Tripel. There were a few too many hot alcohols in it which was caused by a higher than wanted fermentation temperature.

The Pumpkin Ale was a complete disaster. The stuck spargeĀ  left a ton of extra sugars and I didn’t think it out with extra water. With a lower than normal wort level and a high sugar level the beer ended up being 15% and too highly spiced. I can see it being a really good beer, it just needed to be brewed correctly. It is still drinkable, but edges on not being so.

My Winter Warmer is still bottle conditioning but it tastes wonderful. It is a bit more bitter than I wanted and next time I would take out some more Black Patent malt, as it gives off a ton of flavor. I called the beer a Winter Warmer, but in reality it is a stout. I left the option open to put spices in it, but I did not want to since the beer before it, the pumpkin ale, had more spice than I knew what to do it. All you need to do to make it a true Winter Warmer is add in a few spices and bam, you have it.

The Amber IPA is getting bottled this week, so we will see how that turns out. My real all star for this brew year was the Imperial Porter. It came in a 8% and had everything you could want in a porter. It was well balanced and you could not even detect an alcohol on the beer. I really like it, I wish I had more.

This next brew year I’m not sure what I want to make. I think next on my list is a simple American Amber. After that I have not idea. I am still looking into the colonial beer, but that is a ways off. We will see what this year brings, but I am excited as I am really honing in on my efficiency and turning out beer very close to what I want them to taste like.

Winter Warmer

12-14-01About three weeks ago I brewed my version of a Winter Warmer. You can find the recipe here. I had a new mash tun setup going into this brew day because my last beer, Pumpkin Ale, had a stuck sparge and resulted in a bunch of other issues. While the Pumpkin Ale still turned out decent, it was not as good as it should of beer do to the loss of sugar/wort from the stuck sparge. With everything revamped in the mash tun, the Winter Warm was the first recipe to make sure everything was working properly.

I heated up my mash water and dumped the grain into the mash tun. I also had another piece of new equipment, a 3 foot metal slotted spoon, that I got for 2 bucks at a local restaurant supply store. It might not sound like a lot, but it really helps break up those dough balls and insure that I get all of the sugar I can out of the grain. Once the water hit the proper temp, I poured it in and started mixing everything together. My target mash temp was around 158, I was reading slightly above that. I waited a bit for it to cool down and added a touch of cold water, but it was still a little high. Not being an exact kind of person, I put the lid on and started the timer.

12-14-03An hour later I opened the mash tun to find a wonderful sight. Lots of light and dark colored grain laying all over the place. Equally mixed and everything. MLK would of been proud. After positioning my boil kettle, I opened the ball value leading from my mash tun to watch a thick black liquid run out. I think this is by far the darkest beer I have ever made. I couldn’t tell if it was running clear at all becasue it was so dark.

After collecting my first runnings I added the strike water for the second, let it sit in there for about 10 minutes and let it run out into the kettle as well. This round was much lighter. It was still dark by beer standards, but you could see through it and had a nice nut brown ale color to it. I also added the pound of molasses during this time, using the hot second runnings to clean out the jar for me as 12-14-04molasses is very sticky.

The wort then boiled for an hour with all of the hop additions happening when they were supposed to. I did not add any Irish Moss to this batch because the beer was so dark, and there is no chance of seeing through it as is. Once it was all cooled down and the yeast pitched, I took a gravity reading. Holy smokes! I hit it right on the head. I wanted to get a gravity of 1.075 and that is exactly what I got. Never before have I hit a target gravity. I always fall a few points below. It fermented for a week and then was racked to the secondary. I will be bottling it later this week and let it condition for a bit. It should be ready for New Years if all goes well and those carbonation problems don’t keep happening. (more…)

Homebrew carbonation problems

11-06-01I’ve brewed three batches of beer since I have been in Lubbock, Tx. Every single one of them has not had proper carbonation and it is starting to drive me nuts. The first two beers, Belgian Dubbel and Belgian Tripel, were both carbonated with carbonation drops. I put the proper amount, according to the packaging, into each bottle, but both are under-carbonated. The sad thing is that these styles of beer are supposed to be highly carbonated. They have nice flavor, just not enough of the bubbles.

For my Pumpkin Ale I went back to my old carbonation method, dry malt extract. It costs more than corn sugar and carbonation drops, and takes a bit longer, but I have always been happy with the results. As of right now it is more carbonated than the Belgian beers, but still not up to snuff.

I have been trying to think of reasons why my beers are not carbonating. I’ll say that I got a bad batch of carbonation drops or the packaging is wrong. The Dubbel is at 6% ABV and the Tripel at 9% ABV. I don’t think there is a problem with the yeast being tried and not fully carbonating. The Pumpkin Ale has its own problems which might be affecting it. Because of the stuck sparge and a few other things it is coming in at an amazing 14.5% ABV. The yeast I used is not known to be highly tolerant, so it could be stressed out or dead, thus the lack of carbonation.

Eventually I will be kegging things, but that is another year or so off. So until then I need to work on my carbonation. I never had a problem back in PA, perhaps the 3000+ feet of altitude change is part of it, I don’t know. My next homebrew is going to be lower ABV so I can get a better idea of what is going on.

Pumpkin Ale Brew Day

10-03-01I was tempted to call this post the brew day from hell because it was the most frustrating homebrew experience that I have ever had. I’ve been planning this pumpkin ale for a long time now and I was super excited to brew it. And then the brew day came. It started like a normal brew day but I was using some new ingredients that I have never used before. The first was a pound of rice hulls. I’ve never used them becasue I have never used enough of an ingredient to be cautious about a stuck sparge. For those of you who don’t know a stuck sparge is when the grains clog the openings at the bottom of the mash tun and prevent any liquid from coming out. In essence you have a bunch of wort stuck in the grain and no good way to get it out. With the addition of the pumpkin puree, also something I’ve never used before, I decided that rice hulls were a good idea.

Taking a few suggestions online I soaked them in warm water before adding them into the mash tun with the rest of my grains and pumpkin puree. The idea is to soak them first so that they absorb water and don’t steal any water from your strike water. Simple enough. The rice hulls expanded a lot more than I had expected, but that was alright because I still had plenty of room in my mash tun. Adding the rice hulls, pumpkin puree, and the grains all at one time was a bit of a challenge and I could of used a helper. Maggie the homebrew helper puppy was too busy playing with a towel to help me out this brew day.

After adding everything together I took a temperature reading and decided where my water temperature needed to be. I wanted to mash at 152. The first problem came when I realized that the pumpkin puree takes a lot more heat to warm up than the grains do. Grains instantly change temperature, pumpkin puree is much more resistant. My mash temperature came in much lower at about 142 degrees. Another problem came when I put too much water in becasue I wasn’t sure how to account for the pumpkin puree. I actually used bungee cords to keep the top of the mash tun on and prevent any extra heat escape.

10-03-02

I mashed for 60 minutes and then opened the ball valve to find a trickle of wort coming out. Crap. There was plenty of liquid in the mash tun, just not coming out of the front. I moved the grains around a bit and it started flowing a bit more. I collected about three gallons before it stopped again. I also added the 2 pounds of brown sugar when the wort started flow more to get it to dissolve better. The wort stopped flowing and I got my trusty strainer out and put it over the boil kettle. I then took a bowl and scooped out the grain and placed them in the strainer. Any liquid that was stuck in there trickled out, but I did not squeeze the grains to avoid any tannins from coming out in there. I emptied the mash tun out and captured another half gallon or so go wort.

I could not do a second runnings becasue the grains went from the stainer to the trash. I boiled what I had and added the planned hop additions anyway so I’m expecting the IBUs to be a bit higher than I wanted. I also added the same amount of spices that I had planned I use my kitchen sink to cool down my kettle since I do not own a wort chiller (yet!). My apartment has a duel sink setup that allows the water to overflow one and go into the other. It is a great solution for me to always have cold water running and the warmer water drain off. But today of all days, the apartment complex has some plumbing issues and the sinks start backing up. Not just in my sink but the 16 other apartments in the complex. I was ready to give up.

I finally got the wort down to a respectable level, 80 degrees, and put it into the fermenter. I added two different dry yeasts that have high flocculation (fall out of suspension) and high attenuation (eat a lot of sugars) characteristics. I took my gravity reading and it came in at 1.089. The ratio of brown sugar to wort drastically increased the gravity. I’m now looking a a pumpkin beer around the 9% ABV level. Could be good, could be really bad. I also tasted the wort to see what flavors were in there and man it was wonderful. Sweet, pumpkiny, and had the correct spice balance. Hopefully it comes out alright. The day after brewing the fermenter was whistling from all of the CO2 passing though the airlock. We shall see how this beer turns out but brewing it was a pain.