Smokey the Beer

For my second small (two and a half gallon) batch, I decided to make a smoked beer. Getting a solid smoke flavor in an extract with specialty grain batch is tough. I steeped some smoked malt, which gave some smoke but not as much as I wanted.

I took drastic measures. I added liquid smoke. There are a lot of conflicting opinions on this option being shared on internet forums. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t do it now, but it worked well enough at the time. I’m not sure how much I added. I added a few drops at a time and sampled until I liked it just before bottling. If you’re going to use liquid smoke, this is the method I would recommend. But really, if you want to make a smoked beer, I’d recommend going all grain.

The smoke flavor in this beer, as I remember it, seemed to float on top of the beer. It didn’t necessarily taste fake, it just didn’t blend. I kept several of these bottles for a long time, to see if it would mesh better over time. I still have a couple and I haven’t tried it in forever. Tasting notes are probably immanent.

In addition to the smoked malt, I also steeped some flaked rye. I’m not sure that it added anything to the beer. Flaked rye, without being mashed just adds starch. There are some people online that disagree, but most reliable sources will tell you not to bother with any flaked grains in an extract brew.

I remember enjoying this beer, but also being glad that I didn’t have a full five gallon batch to burn through. That two and a half gallon fermenter turned out to be a good investment.
BeerLabelSmokeyTheBeer
Smokey the Beer
Style: Smoked Beer
Brew Date: January 11, 2012
Serve Date: February 2012

Fermentables:
1 lb Smoked Malt
.5 lb Flaked Rye
3 lb Light DME

Hops:
.5 oz Spalt @ 60 min
.5 oz Spalt @ 30 min

Yeast:
Nottingham Dry Yeast

Berliner Weisse #2 Brew Day

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I brewed my second batch of Berliner Weisse on Sunday, April 27. I used the same basic ideas as my first time, but there were several changes.

This was still a no boil recipe with fifty percent White Wheat Malt. Instead of German Pilsner, though I used standard American 2 Row Pale Malt to fill in the rest of the grist because I had it on hand. Last time, I brewed ten gallons, this time I was planning on seven. With this different mashing method, I also planned on, and achieved, a much higher efficiency than last time. As a result, my grist was much smaller.

I’ve done a bunch of brew in a bag batches, mainly partial mash, with extract added during the boil. My recent Table Cat beer was the first of my reentry into BIAB experiments. For that beer, I treated it as if it was a normal mash, adding one and a half quarts of water per pound of grain, then adding the rest of the boil volume after the mash. This time, after reading about other people’s BIAB methods, I decided to use the full volume of water for the whole mash.

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Plans changed as I lost a lot more heat than I planned on during the mash, though. To gain back a few degrees, after losing seven in the first forty minutes, I added half a gallon of boiling water to the mash. This raised the temperature to 147º from 144º after it had dropped from 151º.

At the end of the mash, I raised the bag of grains to allow it to drain. Normally, I would prop the grains on top of the kettle until the wort reached a boil. Since I wasn’t boiling this batch, I held it for a minute or so, then squeezed the bag gently to get the rest of the sweet liquid. I then measured the volume of the wort. It was just under eight gallons.

I originally planned on seven, but expected close to seven and a half after adding the boiling water. This being my first time doing this mash method, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect and ended up with a higher volume. I was nervous as I checked the gravity, but was pleased to find that it was 1.030, on the low end, but well within the appropriate range for the style. My efficiency, accounting for the added volume, was slightly higher than expected.

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Next I played the waiting game. I opted not to chill the wort, as it only needed to drop about twenty five degrees to be in the safe range for the lactobacillus that I was adding. With how quickly the temperature dropped during the mash, I figured it wouldn’t be long. To go from the mid one forties to under one hundred twenty degrees took a couple hours. This was longer than I was hoping, so next time I will try to figure out a way to chill it quicker. While I was waiting, I covered the pot in plastic warp. First, I put a couple sheets across the top, then I wrapped it around the perimeter to make sure it stayed in place. Once it was covered, I cut a rectangle out covered that with a sheet of aluminum foil. This way, I can access the wort, will hopefully keep outside yeast and bacteria at bay. I need to take frequent samples to determine when to pasteurize the wort.

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Once it was under one twenty, I dumped in my lacto starter. By the next morning, it had a white cover and already smelled a bit sour. Today, about forty eight hours later, I took the first sample. The aroma made me nervous. It smelled of higher alcohol, sort of like paint thinner. Not pleasant. Taking a sip, though, it seems to be on the right track. I’m hoping to pasteurize and rack the beer sometime between Thursday and Saturday, four to six days after starting it. Daily samples will be required to determine when the time is right.

I plan to again split the batch and add fruit to some, leaving the rest straight. This time, I’m going to add mango to the fruited batch. I originally planned on peach, but have been unable to find suitable peaches. Mango sounds like a good option. I will post about how much fruit and what method I use when I figure that out myself.

After pasteurizing, I am going to use Wyeast 3711: French Saison to finish the fermentation. Last time, I used a Kölsch yeast cake from a previous batch. I think this will work well because it finishes very dry and with all the character from the lacto, I don’t think it will add much flavor. I have this yeast on hand because I planned to use it for an upcoming saison, but after trying White Labs’ Saison II yeast for Table Cat, I’m excited to use it again for that batch.

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I’ve talked about malts, mash methods, yeast and even fruit but not hops. That is because there are no hops. Yes. No hops. Last time, I mash hopped. Meaning I dumped some hops into the mash with the grains. This is basically a stupid and pointless method that has almost no impact on the finished beer. Some commercial brewers do it because legally, their beer must incorporate hops. Luckily, as a homebrewer I have no such legal obligation so I decided to save my three bucks and skip the hops all together. My recipe is below, check back for an update on this beer.

Style: 17A: Berliner Weisse
Brew Date: 4/27/2014
Serve Date: 5/24/2014
OG: 1.030
Expected FG: 1.006
Approximate ABV: 3.1
IBUs: NONE

Fermentables:
50% 5 lb 2 Row Pale Malt
50% 5lb White Wheat

Hops:
NONE

Yeast:
Home cultured Lactobacillus and Wyeast 3711: French Saison

Process:
BIAB Mash.
8 gallons of water at 161º to achieve 151º mash temp.
Temp fell to 144º in about 30 minutes, added .5 gal of boiling water to bring back to about 147º

Culturing Lactobacillus from Malts

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There are a lot of options when it comes to brewing a Berliner Weisse. When I made my first one a few months ago, I did a lot of research and landed on the one that was the quickest, because, well, it was the quickest. This process also allows you some freedom to sour your beer as much or as little as you want.

The more traditional way that Berliner Weisse is fermented is with a mixed culture containing Lactobacillus and ale yeast together. The ale yeast is much more vigorous than the Lacto, though, so it takes over and does the bulk of the fermentation before getting out of the way. The Lacto then cleans up the scraps that the ale yeast isn’t interested in. This can take several months to get sour.

By pitching the Lactobacillus on it’s own first, you can not only achieve the sourness you want in only a few days, but you can also then pasteurize the wort before racking to a fermenter and pitching your ale yeast. I have mentioned this process in the post about my first Berliner Weisse, and I’ll get into it more tomorrow on my post about my second one, but today I’ll just explain how to get that Lactobacillus culture.

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You can buy commercial cultures of Lacto, but it’s very easy to culture your own. This bug lives everywhere, but one of it’s favorite places is on the husks of brewing malt. For this project, you’ll need a pint size mason jar (or something similar), a cup of uncrushed brewing malt (or, y’know… and handful), a cup of water (or just enough to fill the rest of the space in the mason jar) and some aluminum foil.

The water should be boiled, or be from a reliably sterile source. It should be warm, somewhere just north of 100ºF. When your water is ready, add the uncrushed malt to the mason jar, then fill it, with a quarter to half an inch of headspace, with the water. Cover the jar with the aluminum foil and keep the jar somewhere warm. The aluminum foil will keep dirt and insects out, but allow some air to pass, which is what you want.

Check the jar every day, preferably a couple times a day. It should start to smell sour pretty quickly. I’ve seen it described as a sour apple aroma. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but when I smelled it, I knew. You should then start to see some thick, white foam form on top. The aroma will continue to evolve and honestly, get a little unpleasant. That is okay. When it goes from strange to outright bad smelling, it is probably ready to go.

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The first time I did this was in the middle of Winter. It took a week to get a good starter. This time, it’s much warmer and I think I could have pitched it in about three days. I moved up my brew day by two days to accommodate. This is the only issue. As with yeast, the Lacto can be a bit unpredictable.

Once the starter is ready, you can just dump the whole thing into your wort. I do it in the brew pot for several reasons. My pot is stainless steel, so it’s easy to pasteurize and sanitize without infecting my fermenters. It’s also easy to get samples, it is important to monitor your sourness to get the level you want and not a big pot of vinegar. Lastly, Lactobacillus likes it warm and this way, I can leave the pot on my stove top and turn it on low once in a while to goose to the temperature.

This is a very easy way to dip your toe into the sour beer pool without any extra investments, long time commitments or threat of infection to your other beers. When you achieve the level of sourness you want, just bring the wort to a boil briefly, chill it, rack it and pitch your ale yeast, just like a normal batch.

I have only done this for my two Berliner Weisse beers, but I’m anxious to try it with other styles. I’d like to try it on a stronger wort and see what kind of results I’d get. Another idea I have is to add hops during the pasteurizing step to get some nice flavor and aroma. There are all kinds of things you can do and other ways to do them. This is what has worked for me, but I’m always happy to try something new.

Week Ten

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Week Ten! All right. I don’t have a full week worth of themed posts, but I do have a few related subjects to write about this week. This afternoon, I’ll be brewing my second batch of Berliner Weisse. This time I plan to add some mango. I promised after my first batch to post about the process of culturing a lactobacillus starter for this purpose. I’ll be posting that tomorrow. Then, I’ll post about the brew day on Tuesday. I have one more, maybe seemingly off topic post planned related to this beer. That will come later in the week.

The rest of the week, I’ll post about some more older batches and maybe one more tasting notes post. It is a bit past it’s prime, but I’d still like to do tasting notes for the Dawn of the Red because I like it, but I also think it has room for improvement. I think those are the best tasting notes.

So this week isn’t officially themed, but it will have a bit of focus on lactobacillus. Week ten? Time flies when you’re talking about beer.

Grim’s Chin Black IPA

IMG_20120203_211523At the point that I made this beer, about eight months into my homebrewing hobby, I had moved away from using kits and started making my own recipes. Some worked out great (Party On Pale Ale), some not so great (Val’s Portly Porter). With that in mind, I decided that I would start brewing some smaller batches of some weirder ideas I had.

Black IPA may not sound so weird now, and to people on the west coast, it was probably already common place in 2011 when I came up with this, but I had just heard about it. I didn’t know how other people did it. I had never even heard of Carafa. All I knew was that I wanted to make a hoppy beer that was black.

Victory Brewing, probably my favorite overall brewery, was definitely the inspiration for this beer. Their Yakima Glory, a seasonal black IPA was, I think the only one I’d tried to that point point. It was delicious. I haven’t had it in a couple years, but I remember it being intensely hoppy and bitter, leaning more towards pine than grapefruit, but with a sweet finish. I remember notes of roast, but the sweet finish kept it from coming out too much. Aside from that, though their Storm King Imperial Stout, one of my favorites, is in my mind, a forebear to black IPA

Storm King is intensely hoppy. I remember having it and Stone Imperial Russian Stout on the same night before and being blown away by how much hoppier Storm King was. I know Stone IRS is not super hoppy, but it’s Stone, I expected it to be on the hoppy end of the style.

So with Yakima Glory and Storm King in mind, and not much working knowledge of how they were made, I set out to make two and a half gallons my own Black IPA. I think at this point, the standard ingredient for giving black IPA’s their color is Carafa. The German maltster, Weyermann makes Carafa I, II and III, each getting darker. They are dehusked roasted malts.

With the husk removed, these malts still provide all the dark color of other roasted malts, but lose a lot of the bitter, astringent character. You still get some roast character, but it is much less than if they retained their husks. Since you want the bitterness in your IPA to come from the hops, they are an ideal way to make a twist on the style without pushing it into the same category as an American stout or just making them to bitter to be pleasant. Though not important in this use, it should be noted that being German in origin, these are of course malted barley, not the unmalted roast barley used in stouts, which would not comply with the Reinheitsgebot.

As I recently discovered with my Cocoa Cream Stout, another alternative would be to use chocolate wheat, or midnight wheat, as it’s sometimes called. Wheat already lacks the hull that barley has, which is why beers with a lot of wheat can often lead to stuck sparges. The hull makes a more solid grain bed that is easier to drain water from, but anyway… when roasted, it also adds a bitter, astringent flavor, which in small doses in the right beer, can be very appealing. In a hop bomb black IPA, though, is not desirable.

I learned all of this long after I brewed this first batch of Grim’s Chin Black IPA, though. Black malt is bitter? That’s perfect, I’m making a bitter IPA! I thought. Black Patent malt was the darkest malt I knew of. Every beer I knew of seemed to use some sort of Crystal malt. I wanted a dark beer, I would use Black Patent malt and a dark Crystal malt.

This was not the craziest part, though. I had just added Champagne yeast to my Imperial Stout in secondary. Champagne yeast, I’d read, was good to add to secondary on stronger beers that may not otherwise attenuate as far as you wanted. It ferments dry, has a high alcohol tolerance and a neutral character, not adding much in the way of flavor or aroma.

Well, for an American IPA, I don’t want the yeast to add much character, I just want it to turn the sugar into alcohol and get out of the way of the hops. Why not just use Champagne yeast?

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This all has disaster written all over. So I’m still surprised to report to you that it actually turned out quite well. When fresh, this beer was by far the happiest thing that I had made to this point. )I saved a few bottles, knowing it would lose the hop flavor, but curious what else would happen… and it did not age well, but fresh…!) It may seem strange that I haven’t talked about the hops yet, this far into a post about an IPA, but that is on purpose. All of those mistakes turned out to be okay because I did one thing right. I added a good mix of hops in a lot of additions towards the end of the boil.

I used Nugget hops for bittering at the beginning of a ninety minute boil. The rest of the boil I added a whole bunch of small increments of Simcoe and Chinook hops. This made a piney, resinous beer, that despite everything, had at least some characteristics similar to Yakima Glory.

My last addition was five minutes from the end of the boil, which is not ideal, but being a small batch, I got it chilled very quickly and it turned out to be okay. Another advantage this had over other batches was that the smaller size allowed for a full volume boil.

A lot of people will tell you that the best thing you can do to improve your beer early on in your homebrewing is to upgrade your kettle and, if necessary, heat source to allow for a full volume boil. This is never more true than for an IPA. You really can’t get the hop punch you need for a good IPA if you’re adding water to your beer after the boil.

I think there are a lot of lessons that could be taken from this beer. Full volume boils are important. A lot of good hops can save an otherwise disastrous IPA recipe. And, most importantly, go ahead and try your crazy idea. It may work out okay.

Grim’s Chin, by the way, is the only part of his body that is white. I’m not sure why I liked this idea for the name of a black IPA, but I did and I still really do. I hope to make another (drastically updated recipe) batch of Grim’s Chin Black IPA some day.

BeerLabelGRIMSCHIN

Grim’s Chin
Style: Black IPA
Brew Date: January 11, 2012
Serve Date: February 2012

Fermentables:
.5 lb Black Patent Malt
.5 lb 90L Crystal Malt
3 lb Dark DME
3 lb Light DME

Hops:
1 oz Nugget @ 90 min
.25 oz Chinook @ 75 min
.25 oz Chinook @ 60 min
.5 oz Simcoe @ 45 min
.25 oz Chinook @ 30 min
.5 oz Simcoe @ 15 min
.25 oz Chinook @ 5 min
1 oz Simcoe dry hop

Yeast:
Champagne Yeast (not recommended)

Imperial Stout (Midwest Kit)

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This batch was brewed from this kit with the addition of some oats in the steeping grains.

The instructions for this kit recommend leaving the beer in secondary fermentation for about a year. I gave it five or so months and was still impressed by my own patience. I honestly don’t think it would be too beneficial to bulk age it beyond that, anyway. It will keep aging in the bottle and that way you can enjoy it along the way and see what age you like it at.

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This beer was very tasty. I know I have at least one (I think only one) bottle of it left. I tried to keep more, but… well, you know how that goes. I was disappointed when I bottled it that I got less beer than normal. There was a ton of yeast left behind both times I racked this beer, from primary to secondary fermentation and then into the bottling bucket. I ended up with barely over a case and a half of finished beer.

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But it was all delicious. The recipe is below.

BeerLabelImperialStout

Imperial Stout (Midwest Kit)
Style: Imperial Stout
Brew Date: October 2011
Serve Date: March 2012

Fermentables:
8 oz Chocolate Malt
4 oz Crystal 120L
8 oz Roasted Barley
8 oz Flaked Oats
6 lb Dark LME
6 lb Amber LME

Hops:
3 oz. Glacier @ 60 min
1 oz. Willamette @ 2 min

Yeast:
S-04 English Dry Yeast (primary)
Champagne Yeast (added at the start of secondary fermentation)

Batch Update

20140423-214802.jpgBatch070 – Wyld Cyser
I haven’t actually done anything with this batch directly, but I bought the honey that I plan to use to back sweeten it. It is more Wildflower Honey from the same provider that was used for fermentation. If you’ve been following along, you know that I’m mainly waiting for wine bottles to get this out of the carboy. I got a bunch of used ones recently, but they are not in anywhere near ideal condition. They are going to require a lot of time to clean and I just haven’t had that time lately. I’m also unsure about the back sweetening, though. I’m going for an off-dry/semi-sweet mead with this, but I’ve never back sweetened mead before, so it’s going to be a lot of guesswork. I’m hoping to retain a lot of the apple cider flavor and have this ready for the fall, so there is no hurry, but I always like to have extra carboys on hand and this has been filling carboys for too long for my liking.

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Batch071 – Amy and Mitch’s Second Anniversary Mead
This is still sitting in the same carboy since it was racked off of the strawberries a couple months ago. I planned to rack it again after it cleared a bit, but there is a surprising lack of trub and it doesn’t seem necessary to rack it. It is currently in a plastic carboy and I’d like to get it under glass, but that is not currently available.

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Batch077 – Old Ale
I recently stole a small sample of this beer and was surprised by the color. It looks close to black in the carboy, which I know is not the best way to judge appearance, but I was still surprised how much lighter the sample was. Then I took a sip and was again surprised, but back in the other direction. It was roasty and delicious. I can’t wait for this beer, but I will anyway. Looking to bottle it around the middle of May and drink around the end of June.

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Batch080 – Elkland Golden Lager
I racked this out of the big bucket and into two smaller carboys on April 1 to make room for Elkland Amber Lager, which I brewed that day. I waited another week, until April 8 to add champagne yeast. One packet was dumped straight into each of the carboys after checking the gravity on one of them. On April 21, I checked the gravity of both. Before adding the champagne yeast, the carboy I checked was at 1.01. Two weeks later, they were both at 1.008. The champagne yeast may not have been necessary, I certainly don’t think it hurt anything, though. Both gravity samples tasted great. I added another gallon of filtered, boiled and chilled water to each carboy on the same day as that last sample. I now have a total of ten gallons of this beer. I could probably go ahead and bottle it, but I’m going to give it as long as I can wait to make sure that it will be ready for Memorial Day weekend.

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Batch082 – Elkland Amber Lager
I racked this beer out of the bucket and into its own carboys on April 21, as well. The gravity was at 1.01. I went ahead and added water to get the beer to 4.7% ABV, still slightly higher than originally planned, but considering the OG and tasting samples, it seems like the right balance. It was in primary for three weeks, longer than planned and there had not been any activity for quite a while so I figured it was safe to just get as much done as I could during the next beer’s long mash.

Batch083 – Green Eye Rye PA
This beer is happily fermenting. Hopefully it will finish dry in a couple more days, as I normally expect from Nottingham yeast, so I can rack it and get it in bottles quickly to retain as much hop flavor and aroma as possible.

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Batch084 – Fruity Berliner Weisse
That’s right, I’m making another fruit infused Berliner Weisse. I haven’t brewed it yet, but I made a lacto starter on April 21. I plan to give that about a week and then brew this up early next week. I’m planning for a BIAB session and with no boil, it should be a quick and easy brew day.

I also recently made a batch of ginger beer and last night I tried my hand at a lemon lime soda for the first time. I plan to do another soda next week and then when they’re all ready to drink, I’ll post more about them. I’ve done ginger beer several times and I always enjoy it. Hopefully the lemon lime soda works as well.