Monday, August 29, 2011

Conical Fermenter

Oxygen wreaks havoc on a finished beer. It will stale the beer and make it taste like wet cardboard. When using a typical carboy, bucket, or Better Bottle (PET plastic carboy), you have to rack (transfer via syphon) the beer out of the container into a new one to remove the trub (the globs of matter from the boil), hops, or yeast. Some beers need longer bulk storage to age and it is best to do this off of the yeast; once the yeast are done fermenting if they stay in the beer and under pressure at room temp they can die and autolyse spewing their innards into the beer wrecking it. It is also advantageous to remove the beer from the yeast when you Dry Hop (add hops to the fermented beer for fresh aroma); yeast still in suspension can grab some of the oils from the hops and take them out of the beer causing the Dry Hops to lose some of the desired effect on the beer, and the same goes for adding fruit or spices. Whenever you transfer the beer from one vessel to another you expose the beer to oxygen (the second container is full of it). Then, when you transfer from the secondary to a bottling bucket you expose it again.

A conical is another type of fermenting vessel that is typically used in the brewing industry for different reasons. One huge advantage of a conical is that when it is fit with a port at the bottom you can keep the fermenter as a closed system, avoiding the oxidation you just read about above. In a (sanitized) conical, you add the wort after chilling, pitch your yeast, and "seal" the vessel. During fermentation the yeast produce CO2 which escapes the system via a blow off tube or air lock, and it pushes any oxygen in the vessel out with it. Once fermentation is finished the vessel has no oxygen in it to damage the beer. To remove the trub, hops, and/or yeast, you open the port at the bottom of the vessel allowing it to flow out, and then reseal the port once it is cleared. The vessel is still oxygen free, and it is now free of the yeast and trub as well. At this point you can add your fruits, hops, spices, etc. to the vessel through an opening in the top and then reseal it; the CO2 layer on top will help to protect from too much oxygen getting in when you open it (much more than moving an entire 5 gallons into a 5 gallon container of air).

Once your beer is done and ready to package, you can drain it from the bottom of the conical into a keg, or bottling bucket, or, as I hope to do, add the priming sugar to the beer in the vessel, gently stir, and then attach a bottling wand to the port and bottle from the fermenter itself.

All this to say, I scored a conical from the home brew shop last week, and it is currently holding the Mild I brewed over the weekend. The conical was just the vessel itself, and I had to buy the fittings for it. I went to Lowes and bought a brass ball valve hose bib for $9, and then also bought a 3/4" female threaded hose end to 3/8" barb adapter so I can attach it for bottling or transferring the beer. For running off the trub and yeast the ball valve is good as it has a wider opening (1/2") so nothing will clog. But I don't want the beer flowing at that unimpeded rate (causing excessive splashing, thus defeating the purpose of avoiding oxygen), nor do I want it passing through a tube the size garden hose, which is why I have the adapter, I can now control the flow through the ball valve and the narrower tubing.

One problem I have found is that the thicker wall of the plastic conical makes it harder to know what temperature the fermenting beer is at. At this point I have been removing the airlock and inserting a thermometer a few times a day. To solve this problem I am going to drill a hole in the top of the vessel (between beers of course), insert a small rubber bung and pierce a thermometer through it into the wort so I can have a constant reading on the actual fermentation temperature. I also need to find some way to control the temp on it since I can't put it into a water bath and add ice as I could with my Better Bottle, bucket, or carboy, which may cause a few problems with this beer since it got up to 75*F and the yeast is only supposed to go to 72*F. I would also like to add a sampling port to the side of the conical so I can take taste tests or gravity readings without opening the vessel to air. I am also looking for a tallish cupboard that I can drill a hole in the top of to hold the fermenter, this will allow me to keep it higher and more stable (away from my son who would love to play with it), and to put another vessel under it if needed (bottling bucket, glass carboy for souring, bottles, etc), and if i get a double level cupboard I can attempt to temp control the fermenter.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Hop Update

After the last update on my hops and their response to the fresh manure and manure tea (Nitrogen), I added some wood ash (Phosphorus) a week ago that we got while camping and continued to give it doses of manure tea. I was showing my dad our garden while they were in town this weekend and found these while I was looking at them. The shoots with the tiny spines coming out of the blooms are called "hop burrs", and these will soon become full hop cones. It is very exciting to see not just the new vegital growth from a few weeks ago, but new hop growth as well. With the already existing cones, and these new ones, the harvest will be up to 20 cones now.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Yeast Starter w/o Yeast?

I am preparing to make a beer in 3 weeks that will not have yeast added to it for fermentation... well, not directly; I will be adding fruit directly to the unfermented wort to do what is called a Spontaneous Fermentation. Spontaneous fermentation is used in Belgium to make Lambics; the hot wort is pumped into a cool ship (a flat, shallow steel container with no lid) that sits high in a pathway for good night time breezes and awaits the breeze to bring local microflora: wild yeasts, and beer souring bacteria. After a night of cooling and being innoculated with these wild strains, it is transfered into a wooden barrel that is home to wild yeasts and bacterias, and it ferments here for years.

I will be doing something like this, but not quite. The wild yeasts and bacteria that are in the air used by Lambic brewers are mostly from fruit. Fruit have all the organisms needed to make a wild ale: Saccharomyces, Lactobiccilus, Pediococcus, and Brettanomyces. My plan is to add the fruit with these microflora on them directly to the beer and allow the resident critters to do what they naturally do. The fruits contain sugars that will be eaten and increase the alcohol in the beer as well as helping to dry it out, and they contain acids that will help add another layer of sourness to the finished product. I am going to use blackberries and peaches, the blackberries will give a nice acidic and fruitiness, and the peaches will have a large amount of Brett living on the fuzzy skins. I also will be adding French Oak cubes to primary to add some more depth, as well as any microflora living in the wood.

One huge risk I run by doing this is if there is too much oxygen, acetobacterer can grow which can turn the beer to vinegar. So to avoid a slow start to fermentation, I am taking a precaution. I am making starters from the fruit, that I will pitch along with more fruit when it comes time to ferment. So far I have made the starter wort: 200ml Simply Apple Juice and 800ml of water, to 50 grams of light DME, boiled with yeast nutrients. To this I added 15-20 fresh blackberries from my neighbor's bush. It has been 4 days, and it has hit high krausen, has a substantial amount of yeast on the bottom, and is forming a pellicle. It tastes great. Lots of fruit, light alcohol, clean sourness that is more than straight tart blackberry. Here is a progression:
12 Hours - Some signs of growth as the slurry on the bottom is larger than before.

24 hours - the blackberries are starting to float around a bit, and there is quite a bit of yeast (I assume) on the berries on the cores.

36 hours - many of them floating on top and what appears to be fermentation signs on the top. Progressing nicely.

44 hours - definite signs of a good fermentation.

48 hours - krausen has formed, and smells of fermentation.

84 hours - fermentation seems about done, there is a substantial amount of yeast on the bottom, and I see signs of a pellicle forming on top.

I will be updating again soon as I do the starter for the peaches (the Farmer's Market was sold out the other day, hoping to get some tomorrow morning), and again as I step them up, and of course, brew day!

NOTE: This beer took 1st place in Sour Beers and BEST OF SHOW in February 2014 at the KLCC BJCP comp.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Free Bag O Malt Mild

Went into my local homebrew shop today on lunch to chat it up with the guys about the progress on their brew pub opening and about my upcoming spontaneous fermentation. While I was there one of the guys was doing a little clean up in the back room and found a brown paper bag full of malt that had been sitting there. Looked inside and saw that it had 5# Weyermann Munich I, and 2# Victory in it. He kindly looked over to me and said "You want 5# of Munich I and 2# Victory malt?" I, of course, accepted. I was tossin' around ideas in my head of what to make with it. They had said it could make a porter, or an ESB (Extra Special Bitter). I did some research on the malts and what they will give to the beer, and came up with the idea of doing a Mild. I have wanted to have a Mild for a while now, but no one makes them around here, and exporting them is difficult due to the low alcohol and hops. So I looked at the BJCP guidelines for Mild, and it boils down to this:
Clear copper to dark brown (12-25 srm), offwhite head with pour retention and low carbonation. Smells of malts (caramely, grainy, toasted, nutty, chocolate, or lightly roasted) and some fruitiness, with little to no hop aromas and no diacetyl. Tastes is very malt and yeast driven (malty, sweet, caramel, toffee, toast, nutty, chocolate, coffee, roast, vinous, fruit, licorice, molasses, plum, raisin), can finish sweet or dry with enough hop bitterness to balance the malts but not overpower them, and little to no hop flavors. Mouthfeel should be light to medium body with low carbonation. A flavorful beer very driven by malts and designed to be low alcohol for continued enjoyment.
Sounds perfect. The Munich I has a very malty sweet flavor and is typically used in malt driven beers such as Bocks and Marzens. The Victory is a nutty malt, and 2# should make it quite heavy on the nuttiness. I also had some Roasted Wheat and Brown Malt that they were sampling out a few months ago still around the brew house, as well as a 4-5oz mix of C60, Special B and Pale Chocolate left over from a malted milk bread pudding I made for our anniversary. Put all that together and we have what should be a fairly flavorful malt bill: sweet malt, nutty, a little roasty, slight caramel, light dark fruits, a dash of chocolate, and a hint of biscuit. Went with some UK First Gold hops for a nice smooth bitterness with a light spiciness.

Fermentables (60 min mash @ 151*F)
5.0# Munich I
2.0# Victory
7oz Roasted Wheat Malt
50z Brown Malt
2oz US Crystal 60
2oz Belgian Special B
1oz UK Pale Chocolate

1.0oz FWH UK WGV hop plugs 7.0% AA (24 IBUs)

45 minute boil

Yeast Wyeast 1968 London ESB (slurry from Ninkasi)

Kettle Additions Calcium Carbonate 2g (split)
Gypsum (C. Sulfate) 2g (split)
Baking Soda 1g (split)
Epsom Salts 1g (split)

Target OG 1.037
Target FG 1.010
Target IBU 24
Target Volume 5.5 gallons
Target SRM 26
Target ABV 3.6%

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What I'm Working On Now

Wanted to put out an update on what I have going right now. No beers fermenting. No beers in secondary. The 2 Saisons are carbing up right now, and should be ready in the next few days. I have 2 recipes written up for September, one super hopped pale ale, and one spontaneous fermentation (another blog post will be dedicated to that one soon).

At this point what I'm working on is starters/cultures. As stated in an earlier post 3 Beers, 1 Mash, I did a Berliner Weisse with the soured last runnings of a mash that made my Hefe and hoppy American Wheat, and then pitched WY 1007 German Ale, and a starter I had cultured from the dregs of Russian River Supplication into primary together. The beer is amazing, and I didn't make the same mistake with the yeast cake on that as I did with the starter of yeast I cultured for the Hefe (dumped it all). But I needed something to do with the yeast to save it. As I was brewing my Saisons 6 weeks ago, I drew off the last runnings from both mashes and boiled them with a small amount of hop pellets for about 45-60 minutes. I let them cool and then dumped it into a 3 gallon bucket. I added the entire slurry (full mason jar) to the 1.5 gallons of wort, and added about 30 used medium toast French Oak cubes I got from a buddy who goes to church with a Vintner in Lodi that had come from their barrells. The thought was to save the yeast by inoccluating the oak for future sours. I strapped the lid and air lock on and let it go.

5 weeks later as my son and I were hanging out in the brew house (garage) he was grabbing stuff that looked cool as any 16 month old does, and he pulled the airlock off the bucket. I took it and told him not to touch it like a dad should, but as I was replacing it, I gazed throught the hole and freaked out. What I saw was a giant blob of mold... or so I thought. After posting a How Do I Save It From The Mold forum on BeerAdvocate I was informed it was the pellicle (a layer of Brett that floats on top of the beer as they use the oxygen to reproduce, and also keeps oxygen out, as well as prevents mold and Acetobacteria). Having never seen one before (other than in the bottles of Berliner), I had no way to know. I also sent an email to The Mad Fermentationist who confirmed the same. After chatting it up with him over quite a few emails I decided to rack the beer into glass jars to continue as opposed to leaving them in a bucket that is permeable to oxygen and has about 1.5 gallons worth of head space. When I opened the bucket it smelled very sour, like a strong aroma from Rodenbach condensed. Almost vinegary, but not quite. I racked the beer into a 1 gallon jug and a 1/2 gallon jug, siphoned up a lot of slurry, forced as many oak cubes in as I could fit, and then added a little sugar to it to kick start a little fermentation to fill the head space with CO2. After 5 days, the beer has cleared, and a pellicle is forming on top again (see the big pic at the top of this post).

I also have a starter from a bottle of Orval I have built up that I used some of in bottling one of my Saisons. It should give me some nice Brett character here in the coming months, and taste great next summer. I also enjoyed a RR Consecration a few weeks ago and have built up a starter of the dregs from that as well. It has a very soft powdery coating on top with a layer of slime underneath, and some white, slimy looking flat things floating here and there... sounds like it is working, this is what pedio is supposed to do... right!?! My hope is to get them built up for future sours/wilds, including an all Brett beer fermented with only wild yeast.

I will continue to post updates from time to time as things progress, and new experiments pop up.

First Year Growing Hops

I planted a single rhizome of Chinook hops this spring. The soil in the backyard of our rented duplex is about 3" deep of straight hard, dry dirt, and compact rock for feet under it, so the hops are, at this point, in a 20 gallon Rubbermaid plastic storage bin. Planted it in brand new Nitrogen rich soil, veggie boost compost and such from Lane Forest Products. The shoots came up and I trained them onto coconut twine headed up to the peak of the roof and a screw in the wall along the south wall in the back yard. They get great sun. One bine took off like a rocket ship, and the other three have stopped around the 3' mark. I began watering well in June as the heat kicked up and the rain stopped. After a while the plant stopped growing, the leaves were a pale yellowish green, and the bines were a magenta hue. Having never grown hops, nor seen them, I didn't realize that these were all signs of Nitrogen deficiency, that is until I got the book The Homebrewer's Garden. After figuring out I need Nitrogen in the soil, I went back to Lane Forest and got the manure mix. I worked some of it into the top layer of soil, piled more on top and gave it a good watering. I also placed about 5" of manure into a 2.5 gallon bucket and let it "ferment" for a few days in the sun. I have been feeding the soil with this for a few days now, and the hops look great.

The bines are a nice green color, though there are some red streaks going through the big one. The leaves are a deep green again. There are even signs of new growth as new lateral growth beginning. So far I have about 17-22 hop cones, and it looks like I might have more on the way, but I’m not sure since, again, this is my first year so I have no clue what I am looking at. A buddy at Valley Vintner & Brewer, my local homebrew shop said that with the growth of the hops, I should be adding phosphorus as well, so I will be getting my hands on some wood ash soon. I will of course update more as I go.

3 Beers, 1 Mash

Back at the very end of August I had a difficult brew day, difficult because of what I had planned. I originally had set out to brew 2 beers with wheat. I wanted to do a Bavarian Hefeweisse and an American Wheat w/ fruit for my wife. So I set out to brew them both from 1 mash. I had been tossing around the idea of how I was going to do the American Wheat: blackberry, strawberry, blueberry, all 3, something completely different. This was also the same time that Falconer's Flight proprietary hop blend came out. As I was doing some research on them I thought, "ooh, lots of tropical notes, pineapple, some pine and grapefruit, sounds like a 'fruity' beer to me!", so I approached my wife about doing a hoppy wheat beer that would taste tropical and she loved it (except for the hoppy part). So the plan was set, 1 Bavarian Hefe that I would culture the yeast from Sierra Nevada Kellerweisse to brew, and a hoppy American Wheat with 7oz of hops and a whole pineapple (as if the hops weren't enough). Then, about a week before brew day, I got a wild hair, literally: Berliner Weisse! Berliner Weisse is a very low gravity, low alcohol, super dry, sour German wheat beer with a slight Brett funk, and I could do it from the left over runnings from the other 2 beers. What began as 2 beers became 3!

Here is the grain bill:
7# Pilsner Malt (37%)
10# Wheat Malt (53%)
1# German Dark Wheat Malt (5%)
1# Flaked Wheat (5%)

This was my first attempt at a lot of things, seeing as it was my 6th batch of homebrew, and 3rd all-grain, this was a feat in itself. It was the first attempt at culturing yeast from a bottle. First attempt at doing a double sized mash. First time using wheat (and 63% at that). First attempt at step mashing. First sour mash. First sour. First open fermentation. First time using fruit.

The mash started off difficult, I had to fit 19# of malt into my mash tun, and do a step mash (which requires infusing extra water to take the temperature up to the next level). I started out by doing an acid rest @ 113 to create the precursors for 4 vinyl guaiacol (the clove flavor in Hefe). Then I scrambled to get enough boiling water ready to get it up to 120 for a protien rest. After that I scrambled again to get enough boiling water to get it up to the sacc rest @ 152. Got it to 148... NO! Had to add some more boiling water (wasn't ready) which put it to the brim of my cooler mash tun, and barely hit 152. I thought I would have to do my first decoction mash to get it right, but it worked. Mashed for an hour, then started to vorlauf. I took the first runnings into the kettle to measure, then hit the MLT (mash-lauter tun) with the sparge water. I drained this into a 15 gallon rubbermaid storage container (I had to have all 13 gallons in 1 master volume and then split it for the beers to be equal gravity), as I siphoned the 6.5 gallon from the kettle into it as well and stirred. Mean while I hit the grain bed with more water and added some more pils and some acid malt, and let it rest for a couple hours.

I syphoned 6.5 gallons into the kettle, added .25oz of Simcoe hops, and brought it to a boil for 90 minutes, cooled, topped off with water because I was short on volume, and then syphoned it into my 6.5 gallon fermenting bucket. I added the yeast I had cultured from the SN Kellerweisse, and put one of my large mesh sacks over top and taped it off... that's right, no lid, open fermentation. As you can see in the picture, the krausen got huge, no restraint or stress on those yeasties!

I then added the remaining 6.5 gallons of wort to the kettle and comenced the boiling sequence for it, adding quite a lot of hops as the boil came to a close. I cooled it, syphoned into the Better Bottle, and attached the blow off tube after adding a slurry of 1056 from Oakshire Brewing and aeration.

Now back to the MLT. I added enough cool water to drop the temp to 118 F and fill the MLT to the brim. I didn't put saran wrap or foil on top (to protect from oxygen which feeds the wrong bacteria) like I should have, but it turned out good in the end. I placed it inside an old sleeping bag and put it inside over night. 22 hours later I took it out and popped the top to the most horrid smell ever; like death climbed into my MLT and used it as a jacuzzi. I got it outside and ran off 6.5 gallons, and started the boil with aged hops that made it smell worse. I topped it off as it boiled with more runnings as it boiled for 2.25 hours. Finally I cooled it and racked it into my glass carboy. I added a smack pack of WY 1007 German Ale, and a 2L starter of built up dregs from RR Supplication (Lacto, Pedio, Brett). Sour mash, and souring bugs in primary... what did I get myself into! That thing continued to reek through fermentation.

After a few days I scooped off the krausen from the Hefe and put a lid on it just to ensure that nothing got into it (especially since I had a wild 4 feet away). Then after 2 weeks I racked the hoppy wheat into a 5 gallon bucket and added an entire pineapple that I had cored and chopped up. The next day I added 2 oz of dry hops. After another week, we bottled both "Cavendish and Cloves Collide" and "Harmonious Convergence" (named such as it was a harmonious convergence of my wife's desire for a fruity wheat, and my desire for a hoppy one). "Left Out Left Overs", the Berliner Weisse stayed in primary another 4 weeks. At a total of 7 weeks we bottled "Left Out Left Overs" and let it carb for 2 weeks in the warm garage inside rubbermaid storage containers with lids just in case of bottle bombs (when an over carbonated bottle explodes due to pressure), but none hit. I put one case into the fridge after the 2 weeks, and left another out for 6. They went into the fridge @ 1.007, but after the 6th week bottled, I degassed 2 beers (one of the 2 week crew, and one of the 6 week) to compare gravities. Both clocked in @ 1.004! They dropped another 3 points after bottling; that is amazing they didn't blow.

They all taste great. The Hefe has a lot of over-ripe banana, vanilla, and a clove kick on the back end, very smooth and creamy, superb head and lacing, but they have gone almost crystal clear in just over a month. The hoppy wheat is nice and tropical, lots of pineapple, grapefruit, a little pine, tart wheat, smooth, dry finish, lots of haze, great head retention, and a nice bitter bite. The Berliner is quite sour, smells of ripe fruit, greek yogurt, and funk, with a dry, fizzy, sour punch in the throat; lots of white bubbly head that quickly disipates. Very impressed with all three, but will probably never do the entire thing over again.