Homebrew contest, Untitled Pale Ale and Blue Heron brew updates

When I brewed the Untitled Pale Ale (since titled Vienna Pale), its purpose was to be entered into the Bluff Country Co-Op’s homebrew contest. I had used a new strain of yeast, and a new style of grain bill. I probably should have done something a little more tested, since the beer hit 76 degrees at its peak Krausen, much higher than it should have. Once I noticed this, I quickly brought the carboy into the basement to cool down, but that damage was done. Once it was done, there was some bad off-flavors that I tried to mask with a couple of ounces of Citra for dry-hopping. No go. This one needed time, and after a month or so, I’d decide if it was salvageable. Needless to say I didn’t enter it.

I feel that it is just now  starting to be a drinkable beer. The off flavors are dying off, and it’s starting to be almost enjoyable. It’s about half gone, so I’ll continue to ‘sample’ it, and pawn it off to any willing testers. I am still really interested in the idea of using Vienna as a base malt, especially since I enjoy the bready, malty base that the beer has. I’ll just use a yeast I am more experienced with, and keep an eye on temperature a bit more.

The beers that Jeff and I made up at the Blue Heron a couple of weeks back are done. I haven’t checked gravities yet, but they were both pretty much settled after about 5 days. The wheat will get dry hopped a bit, and the extract pale ale may as well, depending on how I like the sample I draw. I’m excited at the thought of doing something similar like this again, and am very pleased with how things have turned out. They will be served at April’s homebrew club night, and I’ll bottle some up to give to our gracious hosts for the evening.

So the UPA was a bust, and I needed to enter something into the homebrew contest. My double IPA was a bit past its prime, the hop aroma was fading, replaced by a nice floral honey aroma. It was starting to taste a little thin, but I bottled up the last two bottles from the keg and sent them off. Also, I had batch #3 of the Rye IPA on tap, but it was a bit young, and wasn’t dry hopped, so it was missing that initial punch of Amarillo nose. But I entered it anyway. I didn’t get first place, but I got second (and third)! The double IPA placed, with the comments telling what I had known, and the Rye was right behind it in 3rd. So I got my first award, a spiffy ribbon, and a co-op gift card. Not bad! I’m proud of both beers, even if they weren’t (to me) at optimum condition at the time of entry.

Next brew will likely be the Black IPA. It’s been too long!


Double brew demo/class!

For the past year, I’ve been really fortunate to work with the good folks at Bluff Country Co-op with various homebrewing activities. Our first class was an outdoor demo brew of one of their extract kits. We attracted a good crowd, and since then we did two more informational classes. Then, to coincide with the co-op’s upcoming homebrew contest, we thought to do another brewing demonstration, except bring it up a peg. The plan was to utilize the kitchen and space at the Blue Heron, the wonderful cafe across the street, have proprietor Larry make food, we’d do two brews (one extract, one all-grain) and of course, we’d sample some brews. Needless to say, I was all over it.

My first thought was that I needed a second brewer. Jeff Williams was the obvious choice, since I knew that as long as he’d be in town, he’d be down. Once that was set, we then knocked heads on what we’d make for the all-grain batch. The thought was to do a ten gallon batch, split it, each take our half and ferment and dry-hop how we chose. Since spring is almost here, the retooled Gummy Wheat was a perfect choice. I procured the ingredients that I didn’t have on hand, and Jeff took care of sourcing the yeast. We both ended up choosing Greenbelt ale yeast, Austin Homebrew Supply’s signature house strain. For the extract beer, the initial thought was to do a kit, but Mike from the co-op suggested in an email possibly piecing together an extract recipe, and I ran with it. I wrote up the recipe, knowing that all of the stuff needed was on the shelf at the co-op. It was going to be a full-boil extract brew.

Once all of the details were in place, we only needed people to sign up. The decision was made to keep the sign up number to ten, and there would be a $10 fee, mainly to cover the food Larry was going to prepare. Signups were slow, but I was sure that if we kept spreading the word at beer club, facebook, word of mouth, and with the help of a couple potential last-minute stragglers, that we’d get the place filled. And we did!

So, here’s a quick run down of what happened.

Jeff and I met up with Mike and Larry at around 5:15. Shortly after, we started heating the boil water for the extract, and the strike water for the all-grain. People started showing up, and we got ingredients and equipment going. The Heron’s stove kicked out some fantastic BTU’s, which made heating water a breeze. Once people had arrived, Mike made  a quick introduction, and Jeff and I got to work brewing, explaining processes, and answering questions. Our guests were very interested, had great questions, and seemed to be enjoying themselves. The extract batch went off without a hitch and was actually done a bit earlier than I’d anticipated. We missed our mash temp by a few degrees on the all-grain brew, but we were able to quickly take care of that by getting a gallon of water to a boil to bring the temp up to 152. I was a little nervous about all the wheat causing a stuck mash, but the addition of some rice hulls gave is a nice clean wort. We drew around 14 gallons, then set my new 20 gallon pot over two burners and got it to a boil with ease. The rest of the brewing was a breeze.
While this was happening, we tasted some of Jeff’s fine homebrews, some of Mike’s delicious stout, and some Summit that Lenny brought out. Larry fired up the oven and began a steady stream of pizzas for people to munch on while we cooled the extract batch and got things ready for the end of the wheat beer boil. By this time, the 9 PM class end time had passed, and Mike told the crowd that they could stay and watch the rest if they wanted. Understandably, people started filing out, with happy bellies and hopefully some good ideas for their own brewing. At the end of the boil, a large 4 ounce hop addition gave the place a nice punch of Amarillo aroma. By 10:30, we were all packed up and ready to go. We did good on our numbers, got the volume we wanted, things went really well. We continually thanked Larry and Lenny for their time and space. Jeff and I then went to Ed’s for a celebratory pint, then we took our wort home.

Starting gravity of the extract pale ale was 1.056, and the gravity of the wheat was 1.052. Good numbers, and right in line with the bittering I planned. Now it’s the yeast’s turn to work!


I gave Jeff’s wife Katie my camera to take a few pictures.

Pouring in the extract. This stuff moves much easier if you heat it up a little bit.

Mashing the all-grain wheat. I am sure we’re coming up with some sort of plan here.

Using the refractometer to check our pre-boil gravity. Efficiency was a bit better than I planned for in the recipe.

Here’s all of the primary action. The extract pale is on the left, the wheat is in the middle, and on the right is the second batch of the solstice stout, ready for kegging.


So it was a great success. Jeff and I had a great time, and thanks again to everyone who was involved. These beers should be ready in time for tasting at April’s homebrew night!




Untitled Pale Ale

Or, UPA. Not really untitled, once you think of it.

For the first brew of 2011, I was torn on what to do. I was enjoying the session beer brewing I’d done with the last couple of batches, but I wanted to start using the mountain of leaf hops I got late last year. A hoppy pale ale was the answer, but as I was looking through the recipes, nothing caught my eye. So it was time for a new recipe.

Northern Brewer has a great deal on their stir plate, and I finally took the plunge. I used it to make a one liter starter using Midwest’s new Headwaters ale yeast. Once that was going, I went downstairs to get the recipe in order. Here‘s what I came up with. Using Vienna as a base malt was something I’ve wanted to do for a while, and honestly, the rest of it was open bags of grain I wanted to use up that happened to fit what I had in mind. For hopping, I chose a late-hop schedule of Amarillo for 30 minute bittering, Citra at 15, and Cascade at 5, then an ounce of all three at flameout. It smelled amazing and the hydrometer sample tasted not unlike pineapple-orange  juice.

I was happy to hit my projected gravity on the nose, and the yeast starter was visibly much more effective than my old method of starters (leave it on the kitchen counter and give it some stir when I am nearby). A few hours after pitching the yeast, a slight layer of krausen appeared, and by the next morning it was a full on, violent, incredibly fragrant and flocculant fermentation. A very happy fermentation.

If this one lives up to its potential, I’ll likely enter it in the Bluff Country Co-op homebrew contest. If not, I’ll just enjoy it myself. :)

New brew year!

Been a while since there was an update, so I’ll get right to it.

Current beers:
I have a bit of a glut of homebrew in the basement right now. In the kegerator right now I have batch #2 of the honey-infused Double IPA and the 3.8% Solstice Session Oatmeal Stout (more on that brew in a bit). Kegged, but sitting outside the kegerator, is the last half of the second keg of Danksgiving and the last half of what was supposed to be the final brew of 2010, Hibernation IPA, which is based on a clone of Cigar City’s excellent Jai Alai IPA that I received in a beer trade. I also have most of a one gallon batch of cider I made in the fall, which turned out quite nicely. Maybe it’s time to host a party??

With all that brew, it gave me the opportunity to show up to January’s homebrew night with four different beers, all of them I am proud of in one way or another. After I brewed the Hibernation, I thought it’d be nice to take a break from brewing all the hop monsters and high gravity beers that seem to put me down after two, and move into a more session-oriented frame of brewing. I had recently received my latest issue of Brew Your Own which highlighted stouts. I had flirted with the idea of making another batch of the Coffee Chocolate Oatmeal Stout, but I put it off after my buddy Mike wanted me to convert the recipe to a extract/partial mash for him to brew. His turned out great! So I went about creating an oatmeal stout recipe that had a bunch of flavor, was easy to drink and enjoy, and it was to be under 4% ABV. Wrote the recipe, brewed the beer, and after seven days, the fermentation was done, the krausen had dropped, and the beer was dark and clear. On the eighth day I kegged it, and I was really happy with how flavorful and drinkable it was. Not to mention the fast turn around time!

My second session brew in a week (I had a bunch of vacation to use by the end of the year) was a try at Sutor and Bryce’s Berliner Weisse. This one was interesting, in that the only ounce of hops was used in the mash, and once I collected the wort, I didn’t boil it (I did bring it up to 170 or so to kill bacteria), and I only chilled it down to around 110, then pitched a Lactobacillus starter to give it some sour. The next day I pitched the Kolsch yeast (which took off like a rocket). The beer is sitting in the basement finished, and the sample I took made me think that I need to get it kegged and cold for a few weeks and carbed up. This is kind of a test run, and if it is enjoyable, it may be something I’ll make again in the summer. With a measly 6lb. grain bill (50% pilsner, 50% wheat), the yeast and lacto were the biggest costs. I may also source some raspberry or woodruff syrup for traditional serving, too. We’ll see.

Looking forward, I’ll continue a few more session beers (I have a pack of British cask ale yeast that I think a mild would be great with), and try brewing a bit more seasonally. I’m working on some electric heat sticks for better indoor brewing, too. I also have a ton of hops to use, so the lupulin-laden IPA’s will come back soon. There’s also a cool brewing class/demo coming up that I am excited to take part in. More on that another time. :)

Building the Randall

Been a while since a last entry, so here we go.

I was able to squeeze two brew sessions into a single day last month. I’d been wanting to make a double IPA again for a while, but wasn’t really too sure how to go about it. The Dawn Spawn DIPA I made last summer was okay, but I was still pretty new at all-grain brewing, and there were a lot of things I could have done better. This time, I wanted to use something to help thin the beer out. My friend Allison offered up some honey that was sourced up in Northern Minnesota. Perfect! Two pounds of it would push the gravity to the point where we’d have a 9% DIPA, and it’d have a bit less heaviness to it, since the honey pretty much totally ferments out. The recipe took shape quickly, relying on a lot of Centennial hops.

The brew session took place at Ed’s as part of our monthly homebrew club meeting. We started earlier than usual, and I started mashing in before people arrived, since that’s really no fun to watch (but it smells great!). The local paper was there, asking us many questions and taking photos of the process. They were nice, and seemed to enjoy what was going on. We ended up being on the front page, which was cool. I’ve since had many people come up and ask me about it. So next week’s meeting should be interesting, I am curious to see if we have some new folks coming. The more the merrier!

Anyway, so the brew went along fine, and I added the honey at the end of the boil, partially to sterilize it, but mainly to try and preserve some of the amazing flavor and aroma that it had. I missed my gravity by a few points, but the beer finished out a bit drier than anticipated, so it sits at 9.1% ABV. A pretty hefty IPA. It fermented out in a couple of weeks, and It’s been double dry-hopped. The flavor seemed nice enough to me, but I wish it had more aroma, something I notice in a lot of big IPAs. The solution? Build a Randall! The idea came from the wizards at Dogfish Head, and the thought behind it is simple, and brilliant. Between the keg and the tap, put a device, filled with hops for the beer to flow through. The alcohol in the beer will attach to the hops, taking to the glass some of the aromatic and flavorful oils, giving the beer one last happy blast of hoppiness before it’s served.

I was amazed at how simple and easy this thing was to build. I’d need a few things:

- A whole-house water sediment filter
- 3/4 to 1/2 inch reduction fittings, then 1/2 inch to 1/4 flare fittings
- A tube for the middle to act as a filter (it’s widely suggested to use a stainless steel tube, but I used a 10.5″ length of 1″ blowoff tube). I drilled about 20 holes in the bottom 1/4 of it to force the beer down through the hops.
- about 10 feet of beverage line and some clamps, and a picnic tap (I used 1/4 inch beer line)
- a few ounces of hops.

Here are the parts laid out (sorry for the dark background). I’ve already assembled the brass fittings to the filter inlet and outlet. I chose a picnic tap, because while I am testing it out, I’ll have it set up on its own, not hooked up to the kegerator (this will also make comparison easier, hopped vs. unhopped).

Here’s the Randall cleaned, sanitized and assembled.

I threw a couple of ounces of Centennial in for testing. I could have fit another ounce or two at least.

So far, so good! Now I need to introduce pressure and beer! I had a small leak at first that was easily fixed. I assumed the beer would foam up pretty good, and it did. The filter did a pretty good job of keeping particles out, although there were a few in the glass, mainly from hop leaves that dropped into the tube while filling it. I did notice a nice kick in aroma and flavor, but I decided that I am going to use a different hop.

Here’s a shot of the glass!

All in all, it was a success! It only took about an hour to build, and was around $20 in parts. I think keeping it separate from the kegerator was a nice idea, since now it’s kind of portable. I don’t know how often I’ll use this, but it’s here, and I think it’s kind of cool! Now I just need to read up on keeping the foam down so I can fill a growler with it!

Anniversary IPA (and a little something extra)

In honor of our 8 year wedding anniversary (and an extra day off due to Memorial Day), I thought it fit to brew an Anniversary IPA. The recipe can be found over on the right. I wanted a straight up, no excuses tongue bruiser of an IPA with some malt behind it. I think I definitely have that coming to me. I was a few points low on my gravity (it ended up at 1.070), but I am not concerned. I was able to get some decent extra runnings, about two gallons worth. Instead of letting it go to waste, I decided to put it on the stove and make a second batch of small beer. I used some German Hallertau hops and Nottingham yeast to make a simple mellow pale. The SG on that was 1.038, and I should get a gallon and a half of beer out of it. Whether it’s palatable or not remains to be seen! :D

Here’s the finished wort, along with it’s smaller sibling. All that stuff settled nicely after a couple of hours, and it was rapidly bubbling away this morning with a healthy krausen.

The race to the top between the Cascades and the Centennials was easily won by the Cascades. However, the Centennials are inching their way to the top of the birdhouse. Should be a nice yield this year. I am excited for a harvest ale. I also planted three more Columbus rhizomes I found in the crisper (oops).

Provided that Baby Beatrice doesn’t show up early, I’ll be leading up a homebrew demonstration at the Bluff Country Co-Op on June 12. I’ll be doing one of their extract pale ale kits. I have one finished in the basement, and I will clear and keg it this week and get it ready for sampling. Should be fun. Stop out if you can!

Amarillo Rye Pale Ale

I LOVE Founders Red’s Rye PA. It’s a strong, hoppy, spicy ale that has tons of flavor and aroma from a combination of a complex grain bill and a ton of Amarillo hops. Last year, I found a clone recipe and made it. It turned out great (after about 4 months of aging in the keg), but at 7%, it was pretty deceptively easy to put away, and put me down for the night pretty early.
With summer coming, and a bunch of rye to use, I thought of scaling the recipe down to about a 5-5.5% ‘session’ rye pale ale. The initial recipe (on the right) used Cascade and Amarillo, and came out at around 85 IBUs. This new recipe (also over there on the right) uses all Amarill0 hops, and the grain bill is scaled back and changed a bit.
No photos of the brew session, though I will say it went smoothly. It was only a five gallon batch, since I still haven’t put the keggle back together yet. I was planning on using a smack pack of Denny’s Favorite yeast, but the pack wasn’t inflating as much as I’d liked, so earlier in the day I rehydrated two packs of US-05 instead. When I went to bed last night it was bubbling almost non-stop, and had a nice krausen on top of it. I plan on dry hopping this in the keg with another ounce or two of Amarillo.

The ten gallon batch of Cascadian Dark Ale I brewed last weekend is done. I plan on kegging half of it (with an ounce or two of Cascade in the keg), and dry-hopping, then bottling the other half. Final gravity was around 1.018, and it had a nice hoppy bite to it, with just a hint of the dark malt roast flavor. It’s a different flavor that I’ve really come to enjoy.

National Homebrew Day!

Saturday was National Homebrew Day, with hundreds of sites all over hosting group brews. Ed Hoffman was kind enough to offer his bar patio to the cause. Our friend Jason brought his equipment down and set up to brew a Red Ale kit from the co-op, and I brought down enough equipment to brew 10 gallons of the Cascadian Dark Ale. It was a sunny, breezy afternoon. I showed up around noon and set some gear out:

The last time I used to keggle, I had issues with leaving wort behind. I took care of this issue by installing a dip tube that reaches down to the outside bottom of the kettle, leaving a quart of wort and hop material behind. This, coupled with the paint strainer hop stopper thingy I made should make for easier draining. Of course, when you load up the hop stopper with 11 ounces of hops, things happen. Let’s just say I’ve learned a new trick. Also, I need to rebuild the bulkhead and valve seal, since I tweaked it a bit installing the dip tube, but it was only a very minor inconvenience. Here’s the tube in place.

So for the brew data. I misplaced my pound of Cascade pellets (??!) so I switched up the hop schedule a little bit and did the following: 1.5 oz Columbus first wort hop, 2 oz Columbus at 30 minutes, 4 oz Cascade at 10 minutes, and 4 ounces Cascade at 5 minutes. After drawing wort, I added a few pounds of liquid extract to bolster the gravity to near the previous batch, since my mash tun was maxed out at 26 pounds of grain. A larger mash tun will be the next upgrade, but I am in no hurry. After a couple of minor boilovers, I ended up with around 9 gallons of wort, measuring a gravity of 1.074. I was only looking for 1.067, so I topped each carboy off with a quart or two of water to get the gravity in line with the previous batch. I pitched 1.5  packs of Pacman yeast per carboy. Color was not as black as last time, but plenty dark for me.

Here’s what they were doing this morning.

All in all, a very pleasant and successful brew day. Thanks to everyone who came out to check it out, thanks to Ed and Rebecca for hosting and grilling. We’re already talking about doing another brew there this summer.

After the last batch of rain and sun, my hops are doing fabulous! This was taken last night. That birdhouse is around 12 feet up.

I’m going to try and get at least one more 10 gallon brew in before the new baby girl arrives. Also, I’ll be brewing a kit from the local co-op in preparation for a homebrew demo in June I’ve been asked to do. More on that soon.

Ten Gallon EPA, update.

Last weekend I did the ten gallon batch of Extra Pale Ale, and pitched different yeast strains in each carboy. I thought I’d throw out an update to that brew day, since I kegged it all last night. The strains I used, Pacman, and Wyeast 1056 American Ale, aren’t really all that different, in fact I’ve read that Pacman (which is a proprietary yeast of Rogue) is a mutated strain of 1056. So I wasn’t really expecting too many differences between the two. What came to be was somewhat surprising and expected.

Due to the loss of wort in the kettle (which I have now solved with a pickup tube bought from bargainfittings.com), I only ended up with around 8 gallons. The 1056 American Ale yeast came from a Propagator smack pack, and pitched into a 750ml yeast starter. The Pacman came straight from the Activator smack pack, no starter. I thought I’d throw the Pacman yeast into the carboy with less wort in it, since the 1056 starter had a pretty healthy supply of yeast at the bottom of the flask, and would be better suited for the full 5 gallon carboy. I pitched both in the afternoon, and by bedtime, there was some bubbling in both airlocks. By noon the next day, a low, thick krausen. By Wednesday evening, both beers were finished fermenting, and by Friday, all krausen was gone. Consecutive gravity reading showed fermentation was done, so last night I racked them both into kegs.

The initial gravity reading before fermentation was 1.045. The beers then took a similar, yet slightly different path. The Pacman finished out at 1.012 (4.3% ABV), and the 1056 finished at 1.010 (4.6% ABV). Now, the 1056 had a starter, and more yeast, but it also had more volume. The Pacman  finished faster, but the attenuation wasn’t as high. Also, the Pacman beer seemed a slight bit darker. The taste? They both tasted the same to me. Light, crisp, and very hoppy. Both batches were racked to a keg for some conditioning and clearing. Should be interesting.

Here’s a side by side comparison of the two. On the left is the beer fermented with the Pacman yeast, on the right, the 1056. The one on the left seems a tad darker and clearer.

Ten gallon brew day

The first batch of Extra Pale Ale turned out well…..so well, that the keg had an abnormally short lifespan. While I enjoy making mouth-puckering hop monsters that tend to be (by design) unbalanced and a little on the thin side, a nice, easy drinking pale ale is something I always like having around. With my family out of town, I decided to take advantage of the beautiful spring day and push my honey-do list back a day and break out the ten gallon equipment and do a double batch. I basically doubled the malt bill and and hops, and added a little more for good measure.

I’ve had the pump and the plate chiller for a while, but I’ve only used the chiller a couple of times, by gravity only. I finally got around to getting some hi-temp tubing and fittings so I can pump the wort from the kettle, through the pump, into the plate chiller, and then cooled to around 68 degrees into the fermenters. It worked pretty well, although the valve on the kettle is a little high, so I need to work out a way to not lose so much wort….or I could just up the batch by a gallon.

I ended up with around 8 gallons total (due to the above mentioned valve, and a little extra boiloff), so I filled one carboy and put what I could into the other. The main idea behind doing 10 gallons this time was to use two fermenters, each with a different strain of yeast. So I have one fermenting away with a 1L starter of 1056 American Ale yeast, and the smaller batch has a smack pack of Rogue’s Pacman yeast. I’m interested and excited to see how each strain will affect the flavor and character of the beer.

Here’s a photo of the whole setup.

This year’s order of hop rhizomes are in, and I plan on getting those in the ground soon. The 4 I planted last year all have shoots coming out already. Should be a good year for hops!