May 2009

Last night I tried sampled the Lagunitas IPA and Unpredictable JPA to see how much affect the dry hopping had after four days.

While Unpredictable tasted a little weak with its 9g of dry-hopping, Lagunitas was starting to edge towards the intense side with its 14g. Whether this can be attributed directly to the weight of hops used, I don’t know – Lagunitas is stronger but has less IBUs than Unpredictable (OG 1.079/FG 1.017/IBU 40 vs OG 1.053/FG 1.009/IBU 66). Unpredictable is also a mix of three hops, whereas Lagunitas is a mix of two.

I decided to bottle Lagunitas before the flavour becomes too intense and leave Unpredictable for another day or two. It might have been nice to bottle only half of Lagunitas and leave the rest, but really I’ve got enough bottling on my hands at the moment (as you’ll see below).

I also tried my Anchor Liberty Ale Educational Clone – the beer where I only used a single bittering addition with no flavour and aroma hops. All I can say is that I will never ever believe comments that say bittering additions impart minimal flavouring, if any at all. Whether you call it “flavouring” or “bittering characteristic of the hop”, there’s little doubt that this beer is seriously Cascade.

I bottled 10 Anchor bottles with this “bittering only” version – because actually, it tastes damn good. The rest I’ve added 4.5g of Cascade leaf AA 7.2% and I’ll leave it for 4-5 days. Will be really interesting to compare the “bittering only” and “bittering + dry hop” versions.

I’m now left with two free primaries, plus another which will become free this weekend, and another which will become free next week. Usually that would set me racing to make beer but I’m trying to hold off at the moment until I get my fermentation chamber sorted out – the thermostat failed to arrive last night (delivery company screw up) and I still need to work out how I’m going to materialise this fermentation chamber. I may bite the bullet and make a pilsner this weekend though, since I can ferment that in my fridge.

I’ve also been doing a bit of reading and it’s become clear that as well as fermentation temperature, my attitude of “it’s ok to pitch when the temp is high as long as it doesn’t kill off the yeast” is probably not helping. From How to Brew:

The third factor for a good fermentation is temperature. Yeast are greatly affected by temperature; too cold and they go dormant, too hot (more than 10°F above the nominal range) and they indulge in an orgy of fermentation that often cannot be cleaned up by conditioning. High temperatures encourage the production of fusel alcohols – heavier alcohols that can have harsh solvent-like flavors. Many of these fusels esterify during secondary fermentation, but in large amounts these esters can dominate the beer’s flavor. Excessively banana-tasting beers are one example of high esters due to high temperature fermentation.

High temperatures can also lead to excessive levels of diacetyl. A common mistake that homebrewers make is pitching the yeast when the wort has not been chilled enough, and is still relatively warm. If the wort is, e.g. 90 F, when the yeast is pitched and slowly cools to room temperature during primary fermentation, more diacetyl will be produced in the early stages than the yeast can reabsorb during the secondary stage. Furthermore, primary fermentation is an exothermic process. The internal temperature of the fermentor can be as much as 10F above ambient conditions, just due to yeast activity. This is one good reason to keep the fermentor in the proper temperature range; so that with a normal vigorous fermentation, the beer turns out as intended, even if it was warmer than the surroundings.

Brewing in the summertime is a definite problem if you don’t have a way to keep the fermentor cool. My friend Scott showed me a neat trick though, he would immerse (not completely) his fermentors in a spare bathtup during the summer. The water in the tub was slow to warm during the day even though temperatures would be in the 90’s, and at night the water would be slow to cool, even when the temperature dropped to 45 F. In this way he was able to moderate his fermentation temperature between 60-70 F, and the beer turned out great. I have used this method myself with wash tubs and had great success.

It’s the second paragraph that’s important here – I’ve included the rest for completeness.

I’m sure I read this all when I started homebrewing, but at that time it was way over my head – I was still just getting the general process. Now it’s making more sense to me and I’m going to make sure that my next beers have the yeast pitched at the right temperature even if it means I have to let them do the final cooling in the fridge.

Temperature control

Temperature control

The thermostat has been purchased and should be delivered tonight. Having spent close to 10,000yen, that means I will have a fermentation chamber – I’m just not sure how yet.

Options are:

1. Turn the kegerator into a fermentation chamber
2. Buy a chest freezer and use it as a fermentation chamber
3. Build the Alien Pod
4. Buy a mini fridge and then turn my entire shelf using into a fermentation chamber – like this (although I’ll be cooling instead of warming)

I’ll be deciding before the weekend.

Tonight I’m supposed to be tasting the dry hopped Lagunitas IPA and Unpredictable JPA, hoping to catch them while the hop aroma is vibrant rather than intense. Only trouble is I have a medical booked for tomorrow and shouldn’t drink anything tonight. Doh! A couple of sips wont hurt, right?

I can’t say conclusively whether it’s more time having passed or whether it’s having tasted more “homebrew” IPAs at the weekend, but tonight Flasher tastes MUCH better – enough that it has become the favourite of all my beers.

I think there may have been a difference between my idea of an “IPA” (commercial IPAs) and those brewed by the homebrew community – the later has a much stronger hop taste which can be unnerving at first, but once you get used to it there’s no turning back. Just like when you can no longer eat food without chili.

I think I’m starting to become a hop addict. Just like I’m a chili addict.

Fermentation chamber plan

Fermentation chamber plan

Yesterday I was thinking about getting a freezer to use as a fermentation chamber, but after reading about Frankenfridge on Lost in Fermentation, and these sites, I’ve come up with a better plan. Meet: The Alien Pod fermentation chamber.

Under the top of my kegerator, there’s a tube which extends down into the fridge. The plan is to add some duct tubing with a fan in the middle to feed the fermentation chamber. The fan will be connected to a temperature controller – probably the ND-610.

Kegerator tube

Kegerator tube

I’ll run a small tube back into the side of the kegerator – again there’s conveniently a hole already there (it’s currently blocked with a rubber stopper).

If I want to ferment lager, I can use one of my fridges – I’m only interested in getting to 19 degrees to ferment ale. That should be manageable with this setup.

Now all I need to do is work out whether it is feasible to build! I don’t have any tools, and I don’t yet know whether to get the duct tube or return tube.

Freezer pr0n

Freezer pr0n

As seems to be the constant since starting brewing, my weekends have become consumed by beer.

Saturday I attended a party put on by one of the homebrewers I know in Japan. There were only six homebrewers there (plus friends and partners) but amongst us six was the winner of the Japanese homebrewer of the year (or “Grand champion sumo wrestler” as Excite translated his title) and a guy who worked in one of Japan’s craft breweries until it closed last year.

I took along three of my beers for them to try and get feedback on.

The first was my All Fuggles Bitter, the only beer than I’m proud of. Unfortunately it was cracked open after drinking a seriously hoppy IPA (similar to my Unpredicatble PA) and consumption of an awesome chili (which I completely failed to get the recipe for), so the only comments I received were “I can’t taste anything”. Bitter – real bitter, not Best or ESB – is light and consumed at room temperature and as such just couldn’t compete with those flavours. It was stupid to crack it open then. I was gutted at the reaction.

The second was Flasher. General opinion wasn’t that Simcoe is overpowering, but that fermenting at room temperature (mid 20’s) with the yeast I’m using (UK S-04) is causing the overly fruity flavour. The guys suggested better controlling fermentation temperature and/or switching to US-05.

The third beer I didn’t even open. Fuggles was supposed to show people I could make a decent beer, and it failed. Flasher clearly wasn’t up to standard, as I’m not even happy with it. And the last time I met those guys and let them taste my first three beers, they obviously were not good (being my first three beers ever). I just felt too ashamed to bring out another and subject them to my sub-standard crap, especially when there was such other great beer on offer. When no-one was looking I surreptitiously took the bottles of my third beer out of the freezer and packed them away in my bag (so no-one would drink them accidently).

It’s clear to me now that I need to focus my attentions on temperature and yeast. I need to keep a constant fermentation temperature in the right range and I need to work out which yeasts are good for me. What’s the point of my having spent a fortune on a hops, grain, a kegerator, kegs, and all that jazz if I’m not able to achieve perfection? Yeah, I like (some of) my beers but there’s only so much of watching other people desperately wishing they hadn’t poured my beer that I can take.

On the positive side, this is the kind of thing that drives me on. I’m the worst critic of myself, and despite being in this game for less than three months, I’m judging myself by the best of the best in Japan. It’s through watching and learning from masters that you succeed, so this can only help me, even though it is painful.

Sunday was bottling, kegging, and dry hopping day.

Mid way through fermentation, Orange Wheat tasted little of coriander or orange, but yesterday it tasted very strongly of orange – almost to the “feck me” level. So I decided to rack it to a keg, leaving behind all the orange peel and coriander in the process. I then boiled a teabag of 20g of cracked coriander seeds with 200ml of water, and after a few minutes boiling, added the water and teabag to the keg. That should balance out the orange taste.

Lagunitas IPA and Unpredictable JPA, I bottled 6 x 330ml of each and then dry hopped. Lagunitas OG 1.079, FG 1.017; Unpredictable OG 1.053, FG 1.009.

Lagunitas was to be dry hopped with 10.5g each of Centennial and Cascade for 3 US G. I had 2.1G left after bottling so scaled down 10.5 / 3 * 2.1 to give roughly 7g each.

JPA was due to be dry hopped with 5.5g each of Amarillo and Centennial. I screwed up and ended up dry hopping with 3g each of Cascade, Centennial, and Amarillo. Since all three hops were used for flavouring and aroma, I don’t think it’s a major disaster. Again, I had less than the full 3G left so didn’t use as much as the 11g suggested for 3G.

Conventional wisdom of homebrewers states that you should dry hop for 1-2 weeks – but I’ve recently found out that some commercial brewers, including Lagunitas, dry hop only for 4 days. I’m convinced that Flasher tasted better after half a week dry hopping than the full week, so I’ll be monitoring this dry hopping closely, probably bottling most after 4 days and a few after 5-6 days. When it’s finished, I’ll have versions of Lagunitas and JPA with and without dry hopping – it will be a great way to taste and smell the difference dry hopping makes.

Speaking of hop experiments, the Anchor Liberty Ale Educational Clone is almost done and it has a pretty strong Cascade taste, despite only having a 60m bittering addition. It just goes to show that not everything you read (I’m thinking of “doesn’t matter which hop you use for bittering since the original flavour of the hop ia almost lost” type comments) should be believed verbatim. Anchor should be done fermentation in the next few days – again I’ll be bottling some and dry hopping the rest. It tastes good so far.

Right now I’m thinking about how I’m going to achieve consistent fermentation temperatures. I know I can use my fridge to ferment at lager temperatures of 9 degrees, but that will only allow me to ferment one lager, and wont work for ales. I’m strongly considering buying the freezer I saw at the party at the weekend (currently on special at Labi) and a temperature controller and throwing it in the space the ironing board currently occupies. Total cost to wallet: 40,000 yen. Enhancement to beer making skills: priceless.

I opened a bottle of Flasher tonight, which has been carbonating for a week. When I bottled it I said:

Flasher is just over-powered by Simcoe, and for me it isn’t bitter enough. It’s better than All Centennial but it follows the same pattern – too little bitterness, overpowered too much by one hop, and a little sweet. People say that a strong IPA takes a good month to condition so maybe it’ll get better.

After a week the taste is exactly the same, but I was wrong about one thing: it IS bitter. It’s just the intensity of the Simcoe is so intense and the flavouring of the bittering isn’t crisp, from the small sample I tried at bottling I misinterpreted.

Tomorrow I’m meeting a bunch of Japanese homebrewers. I’m going to take Flasher along and see what they think about it. The rest I’ll leave – after all, a strong IPA is supposed to get better over time, right?

The yeast is active

The yeast is active

This photo was (rather badly) taken last night. On the left, the krausen has risen on the Baird Beer Rising Sun Pale Ale. This morning the krausen had fallen on that beer and risen on the Baird Beer Shimaguni Stout (right). There was about two hours time difference between bottling the Pale Ale and the Stout, hence the different fermentation times. These two beers actually use the same yeast but because I’ve harvested them from different beers, they will taste different.

In the middle is the German beer – as of this morning, nothing much is happening. It could be that the yeast was too old – or it could be just taken longer because I had less source to work with.

A couple of homebrewers have given me feedback on cultivating yeast.

From homebrewtalk, spage wrote:

I’ve always wanted to try this, however I have been hesitant because many breweries will brew with one yeast, and then bottle condition with an alternative yeast.

He also provided this link: Breweries that do and do not bottle with their primary strain

Another friend sent me this message:

My harvesting technique is often to rack the beer off the yeast I plan to re-use on brew day, during the mash or boil when I have some down time, leaving just enough beer on it to keep it liquid so I can pour it into a flask or jar.  Several hours later when the new batch of wort is in the better bottle at the right temp, I just toss it in.

Occasionally I put it in the fridge and save for use a week or two later.  Of course, if I do not re-use it the same day I usually make a starter.  I try to re-use for a similar style, or maybe one that is darker, so I don’t usually even bother to wash it. 

Before I started this experiment, I thought it would harvesting yeast would be difficult. Turns out it’s pretty easy.

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