Monday, December 12, 2011

Brewing Better Beer by Gordon Strong

Thought it would be a good idea to pull some of the little gems and tidbits that I am gleaning from Gordon Strong's book Brewing Better Beer.

One thing that he points out that is good to know, and I wish I had known before I brewed my massive stout a week ago, is that when brewing a beer with dark grains, they do not have to be in the mash. Dark grains are pre converted, so the sugars are easily accessible and do not require mashing to convert (crystal malts work the same way). The character is also easily imparted without mashing as well. Strong gives 4 ways to use dark and crystal grains in a beer without mashing them.
  1. Steep them in your wort after it has run off into the kettle, and then remove them and boil as normal. Doing this will still impart some of the harsh and astringent bitterness that comes from the dark grains, so this method is good for stouts.
  2. Add the grains to the mash after it is complete, and stir them in, then lauter (drain) and sparge. This will impart all of the desired character, and the harsh and astringent just like steeping (effectively this is steeping in the mash instead of in the kettle).
  3. Cold steep and short boil. With this trick you will steep the grains in cold water for 24 hours, then, after removing the grains, you will give it short boil to sanitize before adding it to the fermenter (after cooling, of course), or, if you plan ahead, you can add the cold steeped wort to the kettle the last 5 minutes of the boil and then cool and move with the rest. This will add a little bit of the harsh and astringent character, but not much since it is a very short boil.
  4. Cold steep, no boil. In this method, you cold steep the grains for 24 hours, remove the grain, and then add it to the fermenter during fermentation, relying on the pH of the fermented beer, and the alcohol to inhibit any bacterial infection.

Using these would greatly benefit my mash. In a big stout like the one I just brewed, I would need lots of kettle salts to buffer the mash and ensure the mash pH is prime for conversion. If I were to leave the dark grains (chocolate, Carafa, black patent, roast barley) out of the mash, the pH would have been perfect for conversion, then adding them in afterwards and running off, would have given me all the character I was looking for without needing to add mash salts.

Another thing that I picked up from the book is that adding rice hulls to the mash will help even out the temperature in the mash. At any given point in the mash, the temperature can range quite a bit. On this last beer I brewed (a 10.5% Imperial Stout) one corner of the mash was 151*F, while the rest of the mash ranged from 142*F to 145*F. Using rice hulls would help the temp to even out consistently around the entire MLT.

Concerning boil overs, bittering hops, and hot break, Strong recommends waiting 15 minutes after the boil starts to add the hops to help keep boil overs at bay, or adding the hops before the boil. The reason for this is that as the wort begins to boil it is releasing oxygen that is in suspension, but this will be accelerated if a large dose of hops are added causing nucleation sites. Also, the tannins in the hops can facilitate boil over.

There were many other things that were interesting and helpful for brewing. In the section on finishing beer, he talks about different ways to correct your beer if it hasn’t finished as you’d liked. For flavoring he talks extensively about blending. Using a fairly dry, clean beer in a sweet beer can help to balance it and dry it out. Using a slightly sour beer can help balance a flabby beer, as can adding lactic or phosphoric acid, but too much will make the beer watery and sour. Some things are unfixable like soured infections and oxidation. If the maltiness or bitterness do not pop as you were wanting, he also talks briefly about adding Gypsum or Calcium Chloride after the fermentation.

Another beneficial section is on balance in beer. Sweetness and bitter balance each other. Sweet and sour balance each other. Sweet and alcohol balance each other. Sour and bitterness clash, as in a local brewer who decided to try his hand at souring one of his beers but used his Winter Warmer and made a train wreck. He states that dark grains and citrus hops clash, though I am not sure I agree. I did a Black IPA with Cascade and Simcoe hops, i.e., Grapefruit & Pine Sap, and it worked great, and I have had quite a few Black IPAs that use many of the citrusy and fruity hops. In a stout or porter this may be true, but the dark grain character just doesn’t come through on a Black IPA.

All in all, some of the stuff is fairly common sense, like changing only one thing at a time when trying to dial in a recipe. Others, as I have already stated are very helpful and beneficial. He also stresses learning how to critically judge beer so that you can find issues related to style, balance, infections, off flavors, oxidation, and the like. The more I critically assess commercial beers, the more I feel comfortable assessing where I need to make changes in my own beers.

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