Sunday, September 30, 2007

Workin' out the kinks . . .

I fired up my small 30,000 BTU/hr. burner this a.m. to heat my small kettle with 6 gallons of charcoal-filtered municipal water (we have great water here, I just like to get the chlorine out). The burner sits on legs, up on a table, and acts as a Hot Liquor Tank. I then run that (untreated) liquor into my mash tun (Gott cooler). The damn thing burned too rich, the thick yellow flame covering everything with black soot. What a mess! I pulled it apart, spraying water through the burner ports, even removing the propane hose and blasting it with 30 lbs. of CO2. The venturi tube area seemed clean, so there must have been some crud (dust? insect debris?) in the burner itself. Still workin' out the kinks! I have a large, 3-foot high double-burner set-up with another 30,000 BTU/hr. burner and a "blowtorch" 100,000-sized screamer. I use it for the boil with my big 10-gallon. So, I had to improvise a bit, making it a long day. I fired up the little guy again after all that cleaning and it appeared to be all fixed up--nice blue flame. In the meantime, I tried two new things today: 1) a RYE beer, which I called RYE-P.A., and 2) a "no-sparge" mash regime. I use a simple infusion and run the wort off the grist with a false bottom in the cooler and a ball-valve assembly. I did two 8-1/4 pound mashes with 12 qts of liquor each. I was only able to get about 4 gallons of wort from that. I added a gallon and a half more of liquor, and another gallon that had 1-lb. of DME dissolved in it. After 4 ozs. of Goldings hops (2 oz. for 60 mins., 1 oz. for 15 mins, and 1 oz. for 5 mins.), and a 70 minute boil, I found myself with . . . 4 gallons! However, it was 4 gallons at about 1.069 (17 deg. Plato)! So, I will have a big, unusual rye brew. Lots of work for a yield that was 20% too low--I wanted 5 gallons--but I'm not complaining. I brewed today by the "seat of my pants" and missed the target. My extract efficiency is pretty poor anyway, and the absorption by the hops (I use whole hops only) and the high boil-off rate (I've a big, wide kettle) combine to keep my yields low. And, I'm out of practice. I'll get the kinks worked out. In the meantime I'm going to have a really interesting new beer. Safale-04 was the yeast of choice today. Check in next week when I rack it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Soon to be beer

SIR Brown was refrigerated today. After 10 days at 66-70 F in the fermenting room (the hall closet), it was time. One 2.5-gal. Cornelius keg and a few gallons worth of bottles should be ready to drink in a week or two. It's almost beer!

BTW, note the new Beertown link, the home of the American Homebrewers Association and ZYMURGY magazine.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Well-stocked larder

Brewing season is nigh here at FSB. The summers are bloody hot: 90+ days, often only cooling to 60 F by midnight. That sort of climate plays hell with my "fermentation room" (the hallway closet), which can get up over 75 F unless the swamp cooler is running all day. So I get a serious case of Autumnal Anticipation during the Dog Days. This weekend is the Autumnal Equinox, and the cool mornings are announcing Fall's imminent arrival. I note that FSB's larders have over 80 lbs. of malts and 30 oz. of hops. I bought a full sack (55 lbs.) of Pale Malt from Williams's Brewing in San Leandro, a reliable outfitter, and a 15-lb. sampler (1 lb. each of 15 different grains!) from my organic brew heroes, 7 Bridges of Santa Cruz. William's charged me 16 bucks to ship the $35 sack of malt, which I thought was outrageous, but the organic malts at 7 Bridges are more than twice as expensive. I wish the organic stuff was cheaper, but I will likely buy a sack for my December break, as I like to make my annual St. Patrick's Day Stout an all-organic brew. 7 Bridges does sell full pounds of whole hops for only $15 once they are over a year old. I got some German-grown Perle this time. Last year I got a pound of Belgian-grown organic Goldings. The stuff is foil-sealed and nitrogen-flushed: the hops were beautiful and amazingly fresh and aromatic. I had fine luck with them. I keep them frozen and they last a surprisingly long time. My next brew will be a Rye-PA, and I will try the no-sparge method. It will require two mashes, increasing the length of my brew day, but I want to get rid of that slow, clumsy rinsing step, and get rid of the astringent flavors it seems to add. I'm looking for richer malt flavor and fuller body in my beers this fall.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

SIR Brown, phase II

I purged my handy-dandy little 2.5 gallon corny keg with CO2, boiled 50 grams of corn sugar in a cup of water and tossed it in, then added the beer. It still looked and smelled nice and clean. There was a trace of sludge in the lightweight, odorless, easy-to-clean carboy. (If you don't know about BetterBottle, check 'em out.) I set the lid with 10 lbs. of CO2 (and a film of Keg Lube on the flanges and gasket). It then went back in the closet at 70 deg. F. The remaining 2+ gallons (looked like a pint over, not quite a quart) I primed with 2 oz. of corn sugar in 10 fl. oz. water. My trick is to boil the water in the tea kettle first, dissolve the sugar in a quart-sized Pyrex measuring cup, then microwave the solution until it boils again (about 2 mins.). Seems to yield a nice, clean priming mixture, I have never detected off-flavors with this method and the convenience rarely tempts me to use dry malt extract (which I keep around for yeast starters). The remainder of the brew--#154, SIR Brown--was bottled in 9 brown 22-fl. oz. "Etna" bottles, 6 brown 12-fl. oz. "Anchor Steam" bottles. and 1 clear 12-fl. oz. "Newcastle" bottle. I like to have one clear vessel to watch the conditioning process. My lovely bride, SIR, runs the bottling at French Street Brewery. She stores the bottles in the kitchen, keeps them clean and handles the sanitizing. I transfer and prime the brew, then fill the bottles. She does the capping and cleanup, I mark the caps and pack the bottles in the closet with the keg. It is a lovely bit of marital cooperation! SIR Brown will go into the refrigerator next weekend, and be ready to drink the weekend after that. I broke my hydrometer (I think that is my third), so I can only guess at the gravities. Typically I get 10-11 deg. Plato (1.040-1.044) OG with 6 lbs. of extract, and it ferments out to 3 degrees or so (1.012). This one will be a mild ale with a translucent brown hue. Looking forward to having some of my own beer again

Saturday, September 8, 2007

SIR Brown

SIR Brown was racked today. I'll give it another week before kegging and bottling. It looked and smelled nice and clean. I'm back on the brew horse after a long layoff. This is my first home-cooked batch since February. I've named it in honor of my lovely bride--whose initials are SIR--and made a brown ale because she likes browns, porters and stouts. I had a 6-lb. sack of extract laying around, along with crystal and chocolate malt, and some Willamette hops. The package of Safale-04 was the last in the larder. I've had both good and bad luck with this new-generation dry yeast. The combination of cost and convenience is hard to ignore, and I think if you keep the beer below 70 deg. F. the chance of off-flavors is very low. I'll order some specialty yeasts when I stock up again, but it is nice to have a workhorse around.