Monday, November 28, 2011

Brew Session Illustrated

This weekend, I made a batch of Imperial IPA from this recipe. Had my friends Eric and Tina over to help make the beer, and we also got to sample some homebrew. Tina made a phenomenal Irish Red that has a big hit with everyone!

So here is a pictorial of the session.

1. Add water to the HLT (Hot Liquor Tank). The amount that will be added to the mash tun will be about 1 quart per pound of grain. In this case, that works out to 17 quarts, but I round up to 5 gallons to heat (I'll only use 17 or so quarts of that for the mash).

2. Here is a picture of the water in the HLT. I put a floating thermometer in here to monitor the temperature.

3. Whenever I have a burner running, I run these fans on high. They are attached to a piece of plywood that fits into my walkout basement door frame, and push basement air out. On the other side of my basement, I have 3 windows open to supply fresh air. If you brew indoors, always keep a CO detector nearby!

 4. Here is the burner lit under the HLT, getting the water up to around 165 Fahrenheit degrees. They are simple turkey fryer burners that I modified for natural gas. Propane is delivered at high pressure, so the orifice (brass part) has a very small opening. Since natural gas is delivered at much lower pressure, I simply drilled out the orifice to allow more gas through.

5. While we wait for the water in the HLT to get up to temperature, we can crush the grain. Since 17 pounds is a lot of grain, I opt for a cordless drill running in low gear and a medium speed.

6. When the water in the HLT got to 165, we combined the crushed grain and hot water in my newly designed mash tun. Stir well to break up dough balls! I fine-tune the mash with some cold water until the mash reads about 154 on my floating thermometer. Then it sits for about 1 hour to allow the enzymes to convert starch into sugar.

7. While the mash is sitting for an hour, I add more water to the HLT and heat it to around 180. This will be used to sparge (rinse) the grain in the mash tun. The grain bed needs to be "set" in order to clear the manifold of grain husks and particles. I use my March pump to slowly reintroduce the wort back into the mash tun. It only takes a pint or so until the wort is clear (it will be foggy, but no chunks).

8. Here is a picture of the fly sparge operation. You can see the HLT on the left introducing 180 degree sparge water into the mash tun, and the March pump pushing hot wort from the mash tun to the boil pot. It is important to have the HLT water diffused so it doesn't drill a hole through the grain (see blue coffee can lid above), and drain slowly by throttling the pump output.

9. Here is what the pump discharge looks like going into the boil pot.

10. One of many hop additions. It is, after all, an IPA we're making!

11. During the boil, I like to multi-task a little. This means cleaning out the mash tun, the pump, the hoses, etc. Also, sanitize anything that will contact cooled wort. See my post on Saving Time Brewing for more ideas.

12. Then after the boil is done, I give the wort in the boil pot a good stir in one direction to "whirlpool" it. All the hop particles and the hot break forms a cone in the center, away from the output port. This means less of this will end up in the fermenter and, ultimately, the beer. Here, the counterflow chiller is attached and ready for action.

13. Run the chiller and drain the first few ounces to clear the valve. This junk gets dumped.

14. Take a gravity reading. I was little low.

15. Here is the chiller running. With nice cold NY water, it brings the wort from over 200 degrees to around 62 degrees. I can control the wort flow and the water flow to get the right temperature going into the fermenter.

16. I made a yeast starter, so it is going in now. I always add the yeast about halfway through so that I can be guaranteed that the wort is at the right temperature. For example, if it is too hot, I will crank the water flow and throttle back the wort valve. If the wort is too hot, it can kill the yeast.

17. Here is a good view of the cone I mentioned in step 12. It is pretty apparent once most of the wort has drained from the boil pot. You can see the output pipe at around the 11 o'clock position.

18. To get the most out of the boil pot, I wedge a piece of wood on the back side to tilt it forward a little.

19. Once all of the wort is out of the boil pot, it helps to aerate the beer (wort+yeast) that is in the fermenter. Some people use an oxygen stone, some use air, other like to stir a lot...I use a paint stirrer on the end of my cordless drill to whip it up.

20. Here is the fermenter, all sealed up. It started bubbling within 12 hours, thanks to a healthy starter, plenty of sugar, and a good whipping!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Saving time brewing

Interesting article on Beersmith about simple brewing. Not anything groundbreaking, but the part about overlapping tasks to save time caught my attention. I commented that I clean my mash equipment and pump as the boil is going, and also get my sanitation done near the end of the boil.

Do you overlap tasks like this, or find yourself scrambling more? I know I used to scramble, and then found "peace" in prepping. Once you get into a rhythm, the pace is more regular and relaxing. At least that's my opinion!

Learn to Homebrew Day?

Saw this interesting post in another blog about Learn to Homebrew Day. A couple weeks old, but got me thinking: do you like to teach people how to homebrew? I know I enjoy making beer, and try to find people to join me in a brew session. I'm not an expert (I tell them that) and also mention that there are MANY ways to make way is just one!

So do you like to teach people how to brew beer?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Some early brewery pictures

Welded and ready for some paint
Painted, and some high temp paint where the kettles will sit
Detail of HLT burner with natural gas feed
Early immersion chiller

Ventilation to remove heat, moisture, and CO
Full setup, L to R: HLT, mash tun, boil pot w/chiller
Copper manifold detail, soldered and cut w/sawzall
Mash tun with slotted copper manifold

Homebrewing video available

A little self-promotion...
I created a couple homebrewing videos, and I hope you take a few minutes to view them. It does a pretty good job explaining how all grain brewing is done (or at least how I do it). Feel free to comment and let me know of others that have helped you.

My Story (Long)

When I started out brewing, one of my first questions to experienced homebrewers was, "How did you get started?" This post will help the reader understand how I got exposed to brewing, and a lot of the steps I took. It's kind of long, so grab a cold one, sit back, and enjoy.

The Introduction: 1993
It pretty much started in 1993 when I sampled a bottle of homebrew a friend brought to a party. It was a raspberry-flavored amber, and it tasted great! I remember thinking that it was unbelievable that anyone could create something so tasty; I was under the impression that beermaking was some coveted secret held solely by massive breweries such as Budweiser and Coors. After convincing me that he did indeed make it, I remember my exact words: "You've gotta teach me how to do this!"

A couple weeks later, we went to a homebrew supply shop across town (I never knew such places existed!) and bought the typical beginner extract kit. It consisted of 2 plastic fermenter pails with lids, a rubber stopper, an airlock, a hydrometer, a capper, some caps, and a racking cane. I think it came to $40 or so. I also purchased a pale ale extract kit which consisted of a can of hopped malt extract, corn sugar, and some dry yeast.

The first batch was very difficult for me. I remember being stumped and asking my friend questions that seem elementary to me now: Why do we have to boil a few gallons on the stove? Why do we have to mix it with cold water in the fermenter? Why can't we just dump the dry yeast in? Why are we using clorox to clean things? What's that stench?

When fermentation was done, I tasted the cloudy product and I didn't think it tasted much like beer. My only benchmarks to date (with the exception of my first sample of homebrew a month ago) were Canadian lagers and some domestic macrobrew swill. I remember being disappointed, but held faith in the potential for things to get better once bottled, carbonated, and chilled.

After purchasing some 12 oz bottles from Beers of the World, we teamed up to sanitize, fill and cap. Between the siphoning, filling, spilling and capping, it was a grueling experience. I let it sit a couple weeks and tasted it... Yuck! It was way over-carbonated, and the head accounted for twice the height of the beer once the gushing bottle was poured into a chilled glass. The color was almost orange, the flavor was kind of sweet, and it was seriously difficult to drink. Needless to say, I was bummed...but still managed to choke down the whole lot.

That batch didn't get much better, so I tried a few other recipes from Papazian's "The New Complete Joy of Homebrewing." I also found an FTP site with a postscript recipe book which was named The Cat's Meow (remember this was 1993, before the web as we know it now). I tried a bunch of recipes from there and some actually turned out pretty good, although a majority were sad excuses for beer. My hardware grew slightly with the purchase of 4 carboys, a thermometer, and a stirrer.

The Upgrades: 1997

Some time around 1996, my housemate acquired for me 3 pin-lock kegs. When I contrasted the labor involved in bottling with the idea of pouring a cold beer from a tap, I decided that kegging would be the way to go. I purchased a kegging setup which consisted of a 5lb CO2 bottle, a dual guage regulator, some pin-lock fittings, and a picnic (cobra) tap. Before I could even keg one batch, I met my wife-to-be, and brewing took a back seat. It would be years before I picked up the hobby again.

Summary: While I did manage to make some decent beers, the quality isn't what I expected, and with new duties in my marriage, it was a convenient time to put the hobby on hold for a long while.

The Vino Years: 1998
This same friend who introduced me to homebrewing also was involved in winemaking. Since I already had all the equipment necessary to pull this off, I thought I'd give it a try.

Although people gripe about the weather in upstate NY, there is a silver lining: we live near the heart of some of the best grapes in the United States: the Finger Lakes Region. I found a vineyard that sold many varieties of raw grape juice, and acquired 5 gallons. Some of it turned out good, but since the skins weren't included in the must, it lacked the tannins and body I enjoy (I'm a huge shiraz fan).

We bottled about 7 different wines over the next few years, and threw out 2! The problem with wine, compared with beer, is you don't know if you have a good batch until minimally after about 3 months, but usually a year or more! I lacked the patience and gave up on this.

My kids came along, and I had even less time to pursue these foolish attempts.

The Revelation: 1999
For some reason, I could not let go of my homebrewing mis-experience. I don't give up easily, and the desire to get it right was haunting me.

After talking with a friend at work (this was about 1999), he introduced me to the concept of all-grain brewing. He claimed that I'd have much more control over the process, and could fine-tune the wort even more. I read the Advanced section of Papazian's "The New Complete Joy of Homebrewing" and was starting to understand some of the processes that are involved in the mashing process. Since I didn't take biology in high school -- I was a physics and calculus guy -- the concepts took literally months to sink in.

Going all-grain would be a big step for me. I wrestled with all these thoughts: I'd have to buy and build some new equipment. Would I bottle or keg? If I kegged, I'd have to buy a kegerator. I want it to turn out good, so I probably shouldn't skimp on equipment, so I'd have to get it right the first time. What would I do if the beer turned out crappy? Would I give up? How could I convince my wife I know what I'm doing? Do I know what I'm doing? Am I ready to commit to it?

Just then, we decided to move. The all-grain dream would have to wait, and my hobby sat on the shelf again.

The Commitment: 2002
Being in the software development industry, I was well aware of the importance of early and thorough requirements gathering and design based upon those requirements. The costs of correcting a poor or missing requirement is costly in software, and it would be in my all-grain setup as well.

Around January 2002, I started looking through all kinds of web sites to get an understanding of how people carry out the all-grain processes. While looking online through all types of brew racks that ranged from fully automated to downright ghetto, I knew I'd have to define my scope. Too advanced and it would cost too much and likely be too complicated. Too ghetto and I might end up frustrated with the limitations. So I sat down and designed my all-grain brewing system. Here were the initial requirements:

    Two-tier steel rack.
    Natural gas burners (it would live in my basement).
    Ventilation system to remove products of combustion, moisture, odor.
    Half-kegs as brew pots.
    Immersion chiller.
    Mash tun using a cylinderical drink cooler with slotted filter in bottom.
    Dedicated kegerator.

My brother-in-law happens to be a welder by trade, and offered his services. He had a stack of 1.5" square tubular steel in his garage, which I used when drafting the plan on paper. After my plan was complete, we met and discussed a strategy for cutting and welding. With his guidance, and over a period of 2 months in his frozen garage we cut, welded, and grinded the rack. After obtaining some scrap half kegs, we cut the tops off and made keg seats above where the burners would go.

Fully assembled, it weighed around 100 lbs and was very sturdy. We transported it to my house where I sanded and painted it blue, and used heat-resistant paint on the keg cross-members where the burners would eventually go.

I found a couple turkey fryer burners online, and converted the orifices to work with natural gas. This simply involves drilling the orifice hole to 7/64" because natural gas is delivered at a lower pressure. Using black pipe and fittings from a veriety of hardware stores, I assembled a branch off my household gas supply and piped the rack. It worked great!

The mash tun was assembled using an Igloo brand cooler like this one along with a filter assembly I made out of copper pipe. The slits were made using a sawzall.

I made a ventilation system out of a sheet of plywood that fits in the walkout door of our basement. The fans were about $8 each at Target (believe it or not fans are very difficult to find in the winter up here...they're considered seasonal merchandise just like short sleeved shirts). Fan-shaped holes were made using a reciprocating saw and the fans were mounted using angle clips. When the windows are opened at the opposite end of the basement, a mild breeze flows across the space.

Finally, the chiller was made from 25 feet of copper tubing. I wrapped it around a corny keg and soldered a handle to it, which simplifies adding and removing it, and also keeps the coils spaced well. A couple brass compression fittings and some garden hose completed the chiller.

I tested the setup my running a mock session without grains. This consisted of heating the strike water in the top keg, dispensing to the mash tun, transferring to the boil pot, boiling the fake wort, chilling the boiled wort, and then transferring to a keg.

The operation went smoothly, and I was able to gather some timing numbers for heating and cooling. This was important because I was curious how long these processes took.

By the time the system was fully assembled, it was just after Christmas 2003. Yes, it took that long to have everything fall into place. It was time for my first all-grain attempt!

I ordered an Irish Red all-grain kit, complete with crushed grain, yeast, and hops. In the first week in January 2004, I took it for a ride. The system worked very well, and I kept very close records of the mashing progress/temperatures, as well as heating and cooling rates. While I don't do this any more, it was important for me to understand how it all comes together.

While it was fermenting, I readied my kegerator. This was a salvaged fridge that I was able to get into working condition. I drilled a hole in the side and snaked in the CO2 line. A sample taken toward the end of fermentation was very promising! When the beer was done fermenting, I transferred it to a sanitized keg, put it in the fridge, and applied pressure. A day later, I turned down the pressure and poured my first glass...

AMAZING! This was easily the best beer I've ever made, and could probably rate pretty well with those who drink craft beer or even macrobrew swill. I was very happy, and served it during a superbowl party we hosted at the end of January. Sure, it was a little early to serve, but people were very satisifed.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Designing and brewing a beer

This post describes the process I went through designing and brewing my first batch from scratch.

If you've never thought about crafting your own beer, think again. I had made all-grain beers from kits for about a year when I decided to make one from scratch. The fact that Santa got me a BarleyCrusher, accurate scale and the book Designing Great Beers (Ray Daniels), I knew it was time. The gift certificate to my LHBS helped as well.

I decided to design a british bitter ale because I enjoy lighter body beers.

Grain Bill Calculation
Step 1: Determine malt ratios, based loosely on style
85% Pale ale malt
8% Crystal malt
5% Wheat
2% Cara-pils dextrin

Step 2: Determine target gravity units for 5 gals
target = 1.035 = 35 GU's
35 GU's * 5.5 gals = 193

Step 3: How many GU's will each grain source contribute?
Pale = 0.85 * 193 = 164
Crystal = 0.08 * 193 = 15.44
Wheat = 0.05 * 193 = 9.65
Cara-pils = 0.02 * 193 = 3.86

Step 4: Determine weights of each grain
Assumes a 68% efficiency.
Max potential per grain is the second number in the formulas.
Pale = 164/36*0.68 = 164/24.48 = 6.7 lbs
Crystal = 15.44/34*0.68 = 15.44/23.12 = 0.67 lbs
Wheat = 9.65/38*0.68 = 9.65/25.84 = 0.37 lbs
Cara-pils = 3.86/36*0.68 = 3.86/24.48 = 0.15 lbs

Other ingredients and process
Boil hops: 1 oz 5.5A UK Kent Goldings pellets
Flavor hops: 0.5 oz 5.1A Fuggle
No aroma hops, I didn't want to assault the nose.
Yeast: Wyeast 1098 british ale, 30 oz starter.
Water salts:Used 1 oz CaCl + MgS04 in chlorinated water that had sat out overnight.
Mash: 90 minutes @ 153df.
Sparge: Fly sparge with 175df water, with a stir/recirc halfway through.

Efficiency Calculation
The efficiency tells you how good your system is at extracting sugars from the grain. An efficiency of 100% is perfect, but impossible. Most brewers shoot for around 70%. My calculations were based upon 68% as mentioned above. I wanted to see how well my system performed for future calculations.

Boil gravity (after last sparge) = 1.032 = 32 GU's (make sure you chill before hydro)

Boil volume = 7.5 gal

E = GU's * Vol / max potential

Max potential = (6.7 * 36) + (0.67 * 34) + (0.37 * 38) + (0.15 * 36) = 283.44

E = 7.5 * 32 / 283.44 = 84.67%

Important note (lessons learned)!
My OG was 1.040 instead of 1.035. This was due to the fact that my grain bill was based upon a 68% efficiency, and my system performed better. Had I known I would have reached 85% efficiency, this would have resulted in a smaller grain bill, and my OG would be much closer to target. So the resulting beer was pushing the style a little and approaches a special bitter due to alcohol and body.

Think of it as miles per gallon in a car. If you're shooting for 300 miles, and your car gets 30 MPG and has a 17 gallon tank, you should fill the tank with 10 gallons. When it runs out, you should be around 300 miles. But your car actually got 32 MPG, so you overshot the finish line by 20 miles. You could have gotten away with less fuel.

I made a beer nobody else has ever made. The only way someone could make this same beer would be to use the grain and ratios I used, along with the same hops, yeast, water, and techniques. The end product was absolutely delicious, and I will make it again.

If you made the move from extract or partial mash to all grain, it definitely doesn't end there. I highly suggest reading Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels.