Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dark Night

I set out this morning to brew my third (and most likely final) batch of beer to be fermented on my Bugfarm III yeast cake from Al B of the Burgundian Babblebelt forums. After doing a Flanders Red inspired brew and a Sour English Brown, I wanted to do something REALLY DARK, and REALLY STRONG. Having had crappy luck with the efficiency on my mash tun since I built it, I generally haven't set out to do anything over about 1.060. Even a couple of the 1.060 beers had to have a shot of dry extract to up the gravity a bit before I got a handle on just how poor my efficiency had been. Well, that's all changed now. I fixed my mash tun before my last brew day (under a week ago!) Nonetheless, I didn't set out to do anything super crazy like a barleywine or anything.

If I had to pick a favorite brewery out of everything I've tried from the US, it'd have to be Jolly Pumpkin, hands down. (For the record, we don't get Russian River distributed here. Nor have I gotten my hands on any Lost Abbey yet, among others. This, of course, needs to change, but that's for another day and another post. . .) I started with a recipe based off of JP's Madrugada Obscura, which is a Belgian inspired stout w/ brett clocking in at just over 8% abv. From there, I upped things a bit, shooting for closer to 10%. With all my recent mash tun issues, I wasn't holding my breath on actually hitting anywhere near the mid-1.080s.

After giving my mash a good 90 minutes, I had sparge water heating up and got ready to drain the mash tun, I opened the ball valve and. . . nothing. The grist was ground a little finer than usual, and something gummy had gotten through the false bottom and actually plugged up the ball valve. In the end it wasn't as big a deal as I was worried it'd be. With my wife's help we poured the entire mash into the kettle, unstuck and rinsed out the tun/valve, and dumped everything back in. A bit of vorlauf and everything went fine. I *did* have to heat up new sparge water since we dumped it to free up the big kettle, but it wasn't a problem. That said, I'm going to see if I can fine some appropriate screen at the hardware store to cut to match the false bottom to give it a finer mesh in the future.

Everything went smoothly from there out, although the boil was longer than usual since I used a higher water/grain ratio than usual (1.4qts/lb.) In the end, my final gravity reading really surprised me! I ended up with a 1.105 batch of beer!

I racked my Sour English Brown into a secondary carboy and pitched this new (and taste, I might add) wort onto the Bugfarm yeastcake. I've gotta admit though, I'm still debating boiling a bit more water to dilute it a bit. Between the 20+ sacch, brett, lacto, pedios, and even kombucha, I don't doubt that it has the capability to take this one down relatively low, but I'm still just floored it ended up this much higher than I expected! Jolly Pumpkin's Madrugada Obscura is 8.1% abv, I was shooting for around 10% and now my expected abv is in the 11.5-12% range! I'm going to sleep on this decision. I don't think it'll hurt it too much, should I decide to boil/add more water if I wait until tomorrow at this point. In the meantime, here's the recipe:

Dark Night

brewed on: 2/14/10
expected OG: 1.085
actual OG: 1.105
IBUs: 34
mash temp: 150F

9 lbs Belgian pilsener malt
2 lbs UK roasted barley
2 lbs US 2-row malt
1.5 lbs german Munich malt
1.25 lbs Belgian pale wheat malt
9 oz US Crystal 80L malt
5 oz debittered black malt
2oz German melanoidin malt

in boil (diluted in a bit of boiling water on stove, then added to boil):
12 oz turbinado sugar
7 oz honey
5 oz table sugar
5 oz brown sugar

0.6oz US Nugget @ 13.5%
1.5oz UK Fuggles @ 4%

Al B's Bugfarm III

Ferment at ambient temp (mid-60s F)

2/16 - Craziest primary ferment I've had. The airlock is going crazy, even in a bucket that I'm pretty sure normally has little leaks in the lid seal. The temp is 6-8F higher than the ambient room temperature in our living room as well, whereas most buckets I have going out there get maybe a couple degrees higher tops! The difference is great enough that the bucket actually feels warm to the touch.

2/17 - Temp up to 74F. Moved to basement (Ambient temp 62F.)
2/22 - SG @ 1.040. Sample has a slight sourness bordering on fruity that is offset by the flavor & mouthfeel of chocolate syrup.
3/23 - SG @ 1.32. Sample is *very* sour, but the thick body and sweetness balances it. There is an intense chocolate taste that feels completely separate from the sourness to me, but I think the added oak (later) and time will bring these competing elements together while it ages.
5/1 Topped off with a little under a gallon of wort for the 'Archaic' dark strong I brewed.
5/18 1.033 aroma: chocolate, sour, hints of roasted coffee; taste: dark fruit, tart, chocolate, roasted coffee
8/22/10 - SG: 1.017 aroma: roasted coffee. flavor: roast, tart, chocolate, coffee

add French & Hungarian oak?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Red Saison

After having to do a few extract batches, I finally fixed my mash tun yesterday. The stainless steel braid I was using was way too long and, when stirred, the mash grain would get underneath it and prop it way up on an angle so I'd get terrible efficiency. I got to go check out the new Northern Brewer store nearby in Milwaukee recently and picked up a false bottom. After being non-functional for the last week due to my eye injury I finally felt up to brewing. Although I was really hoping to do a strong dark batch to use with the 3rd generation of my Al B's Bugfarm3 yeast cake, I decided on something simpler (and cheaper) as a test run for the mash tun repairs.

What I decided on in the end was a pretty straightforward saison based on the "classic version" recipe in Farmhouse Ales. I did make a few tweaks though. For this one I used red wheat rather than a pale wheat malt for a darker color, they were out of Saaz at the local homebrew store so I replaced it with Spalt for a portion of the finishing hops, and I added 8oz of flaked barley to up the head retention. Once signs of primary fermentation are starting to die down I'll add 10oz of table sugar to help dry it out. Also, I've really been wanting to try the Wyeast French Saison yeast, so this was a great opportunity.

I started this ferment out at ambient temperature (high 60s F) in our house, but after I add the sugar I'll use the new heat belt I picked up to boost it up towards about 80F. Here's the recipe:

Red Saison

brewed on: 2/8/10
expected OG: 1.065 (actual was a few points lower)
IBUs: 24
mash temp: 152F

10 lbs Pilsener Malt
1.5 lbs Red Wheat Malt
8oz Flaked Barley

1.2 Kent Golding @ 5% - 60 minutes
.6 Kent Golding @ 5% - 15 minutes
.4 Kent Golding - 2 minutes
.4 Styrian Golding - 2 minutes
.4 Spalt - 2 minutes

Wyeast French Saison

Sugar Addition:
10oz white table sugar - after primary fermentation dies down

Ferment at ambient temp (mid-60s F)

Raise temp to 80F with heat belt and add sugar

I used a bit of rice hulls in the mash due to the wheat and flaked barley, but still got a bit of a stuck sparge. It wasn't a big deal and was easily remedied. I was a bit lower than I'd hoped on my mash temp, so I boiled up another gallon of water and added it until I brought it up to 152. My biggest gripe with the new false bottom is that it allows more crap to get through from the grain bed. I'll have to try and do a better vorlauf next time and see how it goes.The efficiency was still a few points lower than I'd hoped, but was much better than the ss braid I was using before. I actually took my OG reading while the wort was still pretty hot then adjusted for the temperature, so for all I know I actually hit my OG right on and just didn't adjust right. Note to self: Next time cool it off then check again to see how close the math on the temp correction is.

2/16 - Boiled 10 oz white table sugar in 2.5 c. water. Added to primary bucket & applied heat belt.

2/21 - SG @ 1.001! The sugar character/dryness & wheat both come through nicely, but not overdone. Yeast character is great! I'm super impressed with the Wyeast French Saison strain! Bitterness seems a little high, but this is a hydrometer sample, so that should mellow a bit with some bottle conditioning.
- Moving to basement (60-62F) for a few days until ready to bottle.
-2/27 - FG 1.001. Bottled w/ 5 oz corn sugar. Bitterness still seems a tad high, but not unpleasantly so.
-3/11 - Bottles are *super* carbed at room temp. Tossed the entire 2 cases in the fridge to help bring the foaming down and hopefully avoid bottle bombs!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

English Brown and A Visit to the Emergency Room

It started out as a normal enough brew day. My friend Jesse came over to the new house to brew together. He put together a Belgian Golden Strong AG recipe with a twist. We've both been excited about trying wine yeast for a few ales, either solo or blended with an ale yeast. Jesse did a very straightforward base malt grain bill and tossed in an ale yeast to get the fermentation started. As his beer ferments, he's going to add the wine yeast (which should take over the ale yeast) along with some sugar additions. I'm excited to try it when it's done, but will leave the details to him in case he decides to blog about it elsewhere.

I'm in the middle of fixing my mash tun. I just picked up a new false bottom from our awesome new Milwaukee area Northern Brewer store! (I'm all about supporting local business, and we have some wonderful people running a nice homebrew store, Hop To It, here in Racine as well. Hop To It hosts our local club meetings in the basement as well, which is cool.) Anyway, as a result of the mash tun repairs in progress, I did another batch of the extract Northern English Brown recipe I put together in the meantime. In my previous post I used the same recipe, but with my Bugfarm III yeast cake. This time, I used the White Labs Irish Ale Yeast I had originally intended for the recipe.

As a side note, I picked up some Victory Wild Devil that we enjoyed along with some of Jesse's recent Bitter he brewed. Both were tasty and I'm looking forward to the rest of the Wild Devil bottles currently in our cellar. While brewing I also baked my first batch of sourdough bread with a starter I made a week beforehand. In the end it wasn't very sour, but I didn't give the dough more than 2-3 hours to rise. Next time I'll let it rise overnight to give the bugs more time to do their dance. All in all it was still yummy bread though.

I'd love to say the brew day was otherwise uneventful, but that was not to be! I did manage to break our nice glass mixing bowl while baking and cut my finger on the resulting glass shards. Jesse also cut a finger on his brewing equipment. Here's where things started getting messy. Jesse's wort was chilling in the basement with my immersion chiller, and my batch was in its last few minutes of the boil (I started brewing significantly later than he did since he was doing all-grain. That worked out fine though with time to bake and cook up some thai yellow curry with pork for lunch.) I took my spent grain to the backyard to dump it for the critters. February in Wisconsin isn't the easiest time of year for animals to find food I'm sure. As I turned to go back out front I managed to turn eye-first into a low hanging pine tree branch! I'm not talking a little poke either, this batch of needles got me full on in the eye. With one eye closed, we managed to haul my kettle downstairs to get it chilled. (Jesse burnt his hand on the steam on the way down.) We ended up sitting in the bathroom trying to rinse out my eye and rub aloe (luckily my wife keeps a couple plants of it growing in the house year round) on Jesse's burns while we each already had a bandaged finger! I couldn't help but laugh. . .

After waiting about an hour with no improvement, with both beers chilled and in their respective fermenters, I had Jesse drop me off at the local Emergency Room on his way home. In the end I was diagnosed with a decent sized corneal abrasion right in the center of my right eye. They sent me home with a big eye patch on. Now, here I am one week, 2 ER visits, and 3 ophthalmologist appointments later, finally able to see well enough to type this article. I'll spare the medical details, but it's been a royal p.i.t.a. All I wanted was a quick brown ale to restock the cellar a bit since I've been spending so many brew sessions lately on sours that won't be done for over a year, and in the end I have an extract batch that will (assuming I figured out the deductibles right for our health insurance) have cost around $400. I know extract batches tend to run a bit more expensive, but that's overkill!

I ended up having my wife pitch the yeast for me later that night since I was in bed on the verge of temporary blindness when she got home, but left it in our 60F basement for the first night. After longer than usual lag time I moved it upstairs where it is more like 66-67 right now.

The only other interesting thing to come out of this was that I really was pretty much non-functional for several days and couldn't even see well enough to get down the stairs. As a result, I left my big brewpot uncleaned witht he dregs of the wort in it sitting in the basement for about 4 nights. (I made sure to at least give everything that comes near the wort post-boil its usual cleaning/sanitization before heading out to the hospital.) When I went down to clean out the pot this week the little bit of wort sludge had, probably obviously by now, grown an interesting bacterial pellicle and started to spontaneously ferment. While dumping it down the drain, I got a good wiff of it and though it still smelled somewhat sweet it also had a really neat overall odor, nothing at all off-putting. I'm tempted now to try a spontaneous basement fermentation down the road with a straighforward recipe in an open bucket, at least to begin with.

I just posted the brown ale recipe in the previous post as part of the Sour English Brown, but here it is again with the few changes that apply to this batch:

Northern English Brown

brewed on: 1/31/10
OG: (I didn't take a reading on this one due to my eye injury, but I estimate it was around 1.044 due to the small change in amount of extract used.)

12 oz Special Roast Malt
8 oz Crystal 40L Malt
8 oz Victory Malt
4 oz Pale Chocolate Malt
6 lbs Extra Light liquid extract

1.2 oz Kent Golding @ 5.1% - 60 minutes
.5 oz German Hallertauer Hersbrucker @ 3% - 5 minutes

WLP 004 Irish Ale Yeast

Steep grains in 1 gallon for 3 minutes at 154F.
Sparge with gallon or so.
Bring 6-7 gallons (enough to end up with just over 5 gallons) of water to boil, add extract & hops as scheduled.

Pitched at ~60F with little activity. Raised to 66F after 2 days & activity picked up.

2/14 - Moved to basement where temp is around 60-62F.
2/21 - SG @ 1.012. Delicious. Sample had a malty nuttiness w/ slight sweetness, (but not syrupy or showing "extract" twinges.) Can't wait to get this bottled and carbed.
2/27 - FG 1.012. Bottled w/ 3.25oz corn sugar.