Posts tagged ‘brewday’

February 23, 2014

Brewday – spicing up a stout

It’s brewday today.  Not as frequent an occurrence as I’d like at the moment.  But I’m on a mission, so the time had to be found.  Actually I’m not even brewing what I had originally got in mind for today.  I should be making an IPA with all English hops for the May meeting of the Midlands Craft Brewers, a motley collection of amateur brewers with which I associate.  But when I last brewed a few weeks ago, well let’s just say it all went a bit pear-shaped.  The end result being that I haven’t ended up with the beer I wanted – quite literally in that the fermentation stopped about half-way through and nothing I tried could get it to do more.  But also in that tasting that half-finished beer, I realised that I hadn’t really achieved the flavours I set out to.  So today I’m having another go.

There’s a slight sense of urgency, because this beer is for entering into a competition – the Northern Craft Brewers annual competition held at Saltaire Brewery.  This is probably the last chance I’ll have to make something in time to enter.  The theme this year is to brew something with an “extra ingredient” – something aside from the usual malt and hops.  I’m going for a stout, flavoured with chocolate and chilli.  There’s also some orange peel in there for added effect.  Last time I tried it there wasn’t enough of any of those flavours, and too much bitterness up front – so this time I’m looking at upping the game a little.  I’m aiming for more of a milk stout base, with lactose adding some sweetness, compared to my previous effort, and as well as adding cocoa nibs and orange peel late in the boil I’ll be looking to add extra once primary fermentation is done along with the chilli which will be in the form of extract to give me an element of control over the strength.

So, the mash is on, the pH is checked (higher than the target but within the acceptable range) and there’s a myriad of jobs waiting for me.  Best get cracking.

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October 21, 2013

Brewday Report: Blackjack/Otherton Phoneticus (Part 2)

So, where did we get up to?  Wort transferred to the copper and heat applied, yes?  Well, this is where it all got a bit hoppy.  Making good use of the time it would take to reach a full boil it was a good moment to start thinking about the next ingredient.  When I made the original version of this beer it had two varieties of hops two times during and once at the end of the boil, and a further two varieties as dry hops following the primary fermentation.  The initial two were Bravo and Delta (US hops used for the Alpha acids – hence the name…) and the dry hops were Amarillo and Cluster.  However, for this version a change was on the cards.  Rob wasn’t able to get any Delta and so we needed to substitute something.  So, faced with a table stacked with a total of seven different hop varieties it was a case of getting in amongst them and comparing aromas, looking for the most suitable alternative while aiming for a similar end result.

I guess this is something I don’t do enough of at home – getting really hands-on with the hops I’m using before they go into the beer, not just sampling the finished product.  Certainly worth spending some more time on I reckon.  It wasn’t a terribly tough choice in the end, the Cascade seemed to fit in much more with the profile I could remember, which is perhaps not surprising given that Cascade features in the parentage of Delta.  So a decision was made, and quantities of each hop were measured out for the three additions – at start of boil, 15 minutes from the end and then finally at flame-out to steep.  Unlike the original this would have the equivalent dry hop addition as part of the steep rather than later in the fermenter but otherwise the quantities were the same, and around 5kg of hops was bagged up ready to go.

By this time the mash tun had cooled and so it was on with digging out the spent grain.  Definitely a bigger task than I’m used to, but at the same time I had expected it to be more of a mission than it turned out to be and I was quite surprised how quickly (relatively speaking) it was done with.

Hop additions came and went, until the clock ticked round and it was time to switch off the gas and add the final hops, the biggest addition by far.  About two-thirds of the total hopping went in now for a few minutes before Rob started whirlpooling the wort ready for transfer.  Apart from the whirlpool the transfer was again comfortingly familiar – the precise form of the equipment being used may have been slightly different but the function was the same – and before long the FV was filling up fast.  The gravity out of the copper was in the right ballpark, with up to 6% ABV on the cards, just like the original.  To achieve that though would require yeast, and a healthy dose of the Blackjack house strain was added to start its work creating the finished product.

Nearly a week on now it has been quite strange having a beer in progress that I haven’t, indeed can’t, go and check on.  Can’t check the temperature of, can’t check gravity, can’t have a sneaky sample.  It’s likely that I won’t know what it is like until the rest of the world gets to try it too.  That day isn’t far away – plans are afoot, but more of that later.  No doubt it will give rise to a third installment of this tale…

October 18, 2013

Brewday Report: Blackjack/Otherton Phoneticus (Part 1)

The most striking thing was just how little difference there really was.  The big tank of hot water, the shiny metal mash tun and the gas-fired boiler were all bigger, obviously, but fundamentally the same three vessels that sit in my own garage and get dragged into place on a brewday.  There was a fair bit of underletting that I could certainly see myself adopting for filling the mash tun at home, to avoid some of the frequent interaction between hot gravity-fed water and human flesh, but that probably means extra piping and another pump, so we’ll put that in the “ponder” box for now.  On the other hand I noted there was no fancy heated recirculation on the mash tun like I have at home, which is to be fair a bit of a luxury item for me.  I admit though I have strange ideas about what constitutes luxury…

When I arrived at the Blackjack brewery the bulk of the malt was sitting ready beside the mash tun, and that’s when it started to sink in just how much bigger this batch would be than the original recipe (about 18 times bigger in fact). I’m used to getting through a full bag of base malt across up to five brewdays, but several full bags were ready to go and once the remainder of pale malt and other additions were weighed out we had another couple of bags to add to them.

We were brewing Phoneticus, an American Pale Ale recipe I made earlier this year at home, and inevitably it would need to be adjusted to adapt to a different brewkit and the availability of certain ingredients.  Some careful substitution was all it took though, with an eye to matching the colour, flavours and gravity of the original.  Initial indications were good – the colour and gravity matched well and as far as I could tell so did the flavour of the finished wort, but it will be the final product that really confirms if we’ve got it right.

Mashing-in was much more a two-man operation than at home; I always find I need two pairs of hands but rarely have the space (or assistance) necessary.  This is where I think the underletting would help me, so tipping in grain and stirring the mixture aren’t hindered by moving the filling hose around and dodging the hot liquor.

Once that was done it was a case of waiting.  The time flies when brewing at home because there are a thousand little jobs that I can be doing.  Fixing this, cleaning that, moving things around aimlessly, usual brewday stuff.  In someone else’s brewery it’s different.  They might have their own odd jobs but as a visitor there’s not a lot you can do.  Still, 90 minutes eventually passed and we were ready to transfer to the copper.  Again, the process was little different to what I’m used to, just bigger, and, naturally, taking slightly longer to move several hundred litres where I have just 60 to deal with.  As the level of the wort rose above the heater we fired up the copper and once full, left it to reach the boil while we sorted out the hops…

[to be continued]

Huge thanks go to Rob at Blackjack for allowing me to come and fit my own beer into his brewing schedule and take up one of his fermenters for a few days!

October 14, 2013

Going cuckoo

When I set myself the target, at the start of this year, not only to get some experience of brewing in a commercial setting but also to produce a commercial brew of my own, I didn’t expect it was going to be a trivial task.  Within just a few weeks, however, the excitement was already mounting when I got an offer to do just that.  It was therefore one of the big disappointments (for me) of the Birmingham Beer Bash when that beer was not available as planned, due to the brewery’s decision to sell-up days before I went to brew with them. 

After the time spent planning and preparing it was quite a setback, and with the all-important beer festival on the horizon, opportunity to get things back on track looked slim.  But, one conversation at the Beer Bash changed all that, and now I find myself just over a day away from a visit to Blackjack in Manchester, to brew a version of the American Pale Ale that I created at the start of the year and had a great result with at the Saltaire competition in April.

So, last-minute disasters permitting, it looks like a reality, and in a few weeks you might just be lucky(*) enough to sample Otherton’s first foray into the commercial beer world.  Watch this space for the brewday report, and let me know what you think if you get to try it later in the year!

(*) assuming all goes to plan!
December 6, 2012

Saison a Trois update – primary fermentation

It’s a bit of a techie update this, and to be honest I got bored writing the first draft, so heaven only knows how you’ll get on with this slightly (I think) improved version. I did think there might be someone, somewhere, out there who has followed the brewing of Saison a Trois and is interested in details of the fermentation, but to be honest I couldn’t find any way to make it even remotely exciting! You take your own chances…

Before embarking on this project there was a fair bit of research done into what yeast to use and how to handle its particular quirks, and with various (mostly internet) sources of information not necessarily all entirely agreeing, here’s our experience to add to the mix. We chose Whitelabs WLP565 Saison I. It is widely suggested that this yeast is one of the several strains that together form the house yeast used for Saison Dupont so it seemed a good basis for our own effort – of course it could be that it was only actually suggested once and then widely replicated around the internet, but I haven’t seen anything saying it isn’t true so I’m prepared to go with it. From this choice two themes emerged from the information available – firstly lots of reports of stuck fermentations and failure to attenuate out to the expected level; and secondly a suggestion that the yeast likes temperatures somewhat higher than the typical ale yeast range. Perhaps even as high as 32°C. So we resolved to go for a warm ferment and see what that resulted in.

Before we go on perhaps I should explain more about how my temperature control for fermentation is set up. It all takes place in a large insulated cupboard into which a fermenter (aka a big blue barrel) is placed. In the cupboard is a heater controlled by a PID that switches the heat on whenever the temperature (according to a sensor within the cupboard) falls below a set temperature and off when it rises above the target. Actually there’s a 1 degree buffer either side of the set temperature so that the heater isn’t constantly switching on or off, but you get the idea. So the fermenting beer sits in an environment at or about the desired temperature, and raising the cupboard temperature will allow* the beer temperature to rise too.

* I’ve found this volume of actively-fermenting beer will naturally rise about 2 degrees above the surrounding air temperature in this set-up due to the heat generated by the process itself.

Cooling is a slightly different arrangement – the FV is wrapped in several loops of beer line connected to a reservoir and pump. When the temperature of the beer (this time monitored by a probe in the FV itself) exceeds the target set on a second PID the pump is switched on. This then circulates water from the reservoir, through a beer line chiller unit and round the FV. This direct cooling is quite effective and can be used to drop the beer down to just a couple of degrees after fermentation is over.

Back to the saison then. At first the temperature limit was set to 24°C and after 24 hours the fermentation was going strong. On day 2 the temperature settings were stepped up to 26°C with gravity already down to 50% attenuation by this stage. On day 3 it was time for another step up to 28°C, and the gravity had further dropped with plenty of signs of continuing activity. I was then away for work overnight but once back on day 5 things were clearly slowing down and we were close to the expected final gravity*. Despite setting temperatures up to 32°C by this stage the cold weather was limiting the heating capacity of the cupboard and the slowing fermentation was no longer producing as much heat itself so we peaked at about 28.5°C.

* actually it appeared to go some way below the expected gravity, but a later check for equipment calibration showed that slightly inaccurate readings were being obtained and adjusting for this the gravity was exactly in the right place at about 90% attenuation.

After another day at that level the temperature was dropped right down ready for transfer to a secondary vessel and on day 8 it was transferred across. This is the point at which fruit was added. 2kg of frozen blackberries were heated to pasteurize them and once cooled enough they were added to the secondary FV and the beer added on top of them.

As I write this that FV is sitting in the cupboard at about 16°C, and the remaining yeast is clearly enjoying the small amount of sugar the fruit has provided. Estimates are that no more than one point of gravity has been added by the fruit, so it won’t significantly change the ABV, but the effect on colour is much more significant, and hopefully will add some great flavour too. We’ll find out in a few days when it is racked off to the wooden cask for ageing.

November 28, 2012

Saison a Trois – the brewday report

I’d be surprised if anyone reading this wasn’t already well aware of what a fabulously sociable thing beer is (notwithstanding all those of us who quite enjoy a solo pint, as The Session a few months back proved!).  Equally it is often remarked that the brewing industry is a pretty friendly world and that seems to be backed up by the various collaborations that seem to be getting more popular these days.  So when an idea began to form (over a few beers, obviously) that myself, @MarbleTim and @ckdsaddlers could brew up a collaboration of our own, well it seemed perfect.

Of course, being a drunken idea, it was never going to be a simple affair.  By the time we parted that evening we’d already settled upon a strong dark saison, which was to be aged in a wooden cask with a helping hand from a little Brettanomyces.  A few days later and we’d added a fruity secondary fermentation on blackberries into the mix and from that point on we never looked back.

It wasn’t without its difficulties though.  For starters we didn’t actually have a wooden cask, and it quickly became apparent that the only way we were going to get one small enough to be any use was to buy new – a second-hand wine or whisky barrel would have added flavour and complexity but at 55 gallons the size just isn’t practical.  Eventually a nice new chestnut (less intensely woody than oak apparently) 30l cask was sourced and so we were well on track.  But to fill a 30l cask you need at least 30l of beer.  Actually you need more, as even over the course of a few months aging there’ll be evaporation – the whisky distiller’s angels’ share – and we really need to top that back up.  And it felt wrong not to have something to bottle when the main batch went into the cask, so we could get an earlier idea of how it would turn out while we were waiting for the aged version to be ready. 

So the target was 50l.  Not a problem in theory, given that I’d already got the makings of a 100l brewery in progress.  But that is the key point – in progress.  Not finished.  Still, nothing like a bit of incentive to get on with a job.  A 60l fermenter complete with a cooling coil, was quickly ready but the real challenge was the mash tun.  There was always the option of mashing twice in my tiny (by comparison) original mash tun, but this wasn’t an ideal solution and even with two mashes it was going to be a tight fit to get enough wort to end up with 50l strong enough to ferment out to around 7% ABV.  Having decided that the only solution was to crack on and get the new mash tun finished, and realising that I needed to get off the fence and either make the last bits I needed or get them bought, I finally put my hand in my pocket and, despite some hiccups along the way, am glad I did.  The insulation may have still been a work in progress on the morning of the brewday, but it did the job and a last minute reconfiguration of the plumbing work didn’t hurt either.  There may have been more satisfaction about making every last bit of it myself, but if I’m really honest, in 12 months time I’d probably still be waiting to get around to it and instead I can now get on with brewing instead.  Or rather, focus on finishing off all the other jobs that are still outstanding…

So, finally, as a result of that slightly drunken conversation back in July, on a cold and frosty morning last weekend we finally got to turn our plans into reality.  By half past 9 the liquor tank was warming up nicely as Chris and Tim turned up raring to go, and so we quickly got underway.

Our planning over the previous months had seen the theme of “three” firmly embedding itself, not least in the chosen name of our brew, “Saison a Trois” (which should explain the regular appearance of that hashtag on Twitter recently!) and so we started off with preparing our grist made up of three different types of grain – barley, wheat and spelt, and before long were mashing in the largest grain bill that the Otherton brewery has faced to date.  The mash was deliberately on the cool side to get a higher than normal level of fermentables – we wanted this to finish on the dry side, while the spelt will hopefully give an increased perception of body to avoid it being too thin. 

The grain bill...

The grain bill…

Mashing in

The start of the sparge saw the christening of the new sparge arm (see my previous post on that subject) which I’m pleased to report was a definite success, and before long we were collecting a lovely dark wort into the copper ready for the boil.

Sparging

Sparging – or as Chris put it: “swirly thing alert”

By this stage it was becoming apparent that, unlike some of my recent solo efforts, this was going to be a well organised brewday and we were able to relax with some tastings of the last two Otherton efforts – including a porter straight from the fermenter which needed to be emptied before the saison could go in – as well as some bottled treats that Chris and Tim brought along for the occasion.

First runnings

First runnings into the copper

Hop addition

Transfer

The boil came and went without incident, three hop additions of Bramling Cross to maintain the theme, and before long we were chilling and transferring, and then it was time to pitch the first of the yeasts that will play a part in making this beer.  Allegedly the strain of yeast used in Saison DuPont, or at least the main one of the blend, we had settled for WLP565, and a healthy starter was pitched following transfer.  Two days later and this was already fermented down to half the starting gravity, and another day on it has passed 75% attenuation while still looking lively.  With this yeast strain supposedly favouring warmer temperatures the normal rule book was thrown out and gradually the temperature is being allowed to rise up by a couple of degrees a day, towards a maximum of 32C targeted by the end of the week – fingers crossed this really does work the way it is supposed to, because it feels very unnatural letting the yeast get so warm!

Starter

The yeast starter (split between demijohn and flask) alongside a better known example of its heritage.

Fermentation

So that’s it for now, until the target gravity (tests have indicated this should go down to 1006 in primary fermentation) is reached and it can be racked off onto the blackberries for a couple more weeks where it should pick up some fruity flavours and an interesting tinge of colour.  Then it is into the cask for a few months for the majority, where the second yeast addition comes courtesy of a couple of bottles of Orval – a handy way to get a little Brett into the cask and an enjoyable task to empty the majority of the bottles out first.  Tough work, but someone has to do it.

The cask!

Bend from the knees…Fortunately this lifting technique was only demonstrated while the cask was empty!

That cask is currently sitting (almost) ready to go, filled with water to allow the wood to swell and seal.  After an initial bout of incontinence mostly caused by an ill-fitting bung, all is holding well and so we are, quite literally, holding water. 

The final stage, once the beer has aged sufficiently (and I guess there’ll need to be some regular sampling, just to make sure…) will be the final bottling – anything left over when the cask is filled up will go straight to this step too – with a suitable third yeast addition to get them nicely carbonated.  We’re thinking a champagne yeast would suit the style and strength well and some sturdy bottles with cork and cage will provide a nice finishing touch.  Watch out for these next summer, just in time for saison season, when hopefully I can provide an update on what it tastes like and whether all the effort was worthwhile!

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June 25, 2012

Some brewing karma restored?

After the utter disaster that was the (supposed) smoked porter – still flat as a pancake but now developing the flavours it was meant to have! – the next brew was approached with trepidation to say the least. A lot of lessons had been learnt however, and changes put into place. Two weeks ago the brewday took place and having just kegged the results I finally feel able to write about it without tempting fate too much.  As a reminder the catalogue of disasters can be found here.

On the day things started out well with the ingredients all accounted for in advance, the HLT in the right place (which was in itself a revised location from original plans) and the newly rewired pump was in and tested. A good early start meant the water heated up in good time for a mash-in before breakfast. Minor failure at this point meant no bacon sandwiches but we can overlook that.

Hoses recirculating hot water all stayed where they were put, the OG pre-boil was in the right ball-park and post-boild was pretty much spot on. So far so good. A minor hiccup with the counterflow chiller meant a slightly warmer transfer than intended but it quickly cooled to an acceptable level ands the yeast was pitched. A good starter saw it off to a flying start.

After a few days it was ready for dry-hopping. Final gravity was a bit high, but OK, and the taste was good.

Another week on and clearly the transfer to secondary for dry-hopping had roused the yeast and the gravity was now exactly where it was supposed to be (minor lesson – need to rouse this yeast! Would have preferred to ferment lower before the dry hops went in). It is tasting good too, and a bit of time in the keg now before serving should complete things nicely.

So, it feels like I’ve had some brewing karma restored. The new bag of grain has performed fine which only reinforces that the previous one was a significant part of the problem. And the biggest lesson of all from the previous brewday was always learn from what went wrong – it may not have produced the beer that was intended but it has certainly helped this latest batch go absolutely swimmingly.

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