AG #13 – Binary Star: Chinook, Citra

Sometimes the path to homebrew nirvana is simple and straightforward, other times, is a tortuous experience.

Sometimes I find it difficult to make my mind up, should I do this, or should I do that. Often, I end up chasing my tail, coming up with new idea after new idea, only to become agitated and frustrated and back where I started. Ages ago, I bought enough malt for a couple of brews, one of which was to be in the Binary Star series, the other to start the Nova series.

A lengthy gap in brewing between April and August, sort of put pay to the brew schedule that I had worked out. When I eventually harvested this years homegrown Cascade hops, there simply wasn’t any room in the freezer for them. Especially as there was also 1Kg of hops in there, that I’d kept after sending Adnams a couple of bin bags full for their Wild Hop beer. So I decided that instead of using the malts I had to hand for what they were purchased for, I needed to come up with a couple of new recipes to use up some of the hops clogging up the freezer.

So I settled on AG #13 being a slightly amped up Pulsar, single hopped with a whole bag of 2012 Citra hops that had been hanging around the freezer for ages. I wasn’t overly happy with it though and was endlessly fiddling with the recipe, to the point where I got all frustrated and decided to just brew what I’d originally planned, another Binary Star. So I asked on Twitter what everyones favorite hop to go with Citra was, as I didn’t fancy using any of my homegrown hops:

I wasn’t about to try Graeme’s suggestion of Goldings, but the multiple suggestions for Chinook really pushed my buttons. So in went a Malt Millar order for the hops and some oat husks. With all the sticky mash issues I’ve had, I’m now really reticent to brew without some of these in the mash.

I knew that I was pushing it with the lateness of the order, but orders from the Malt Millar have allways turned up the next day without fail. I knew something was up though, as I didn’t receive the usual early morning txt from DPD with my delivery slot. My order was then flagged as being unable to be delivered, due to a local event, which was news to me. As it turned out, the local event was nothing more than the complete and utter meltdown of DPD‘s Peterborough depot. I eventually received my order five business days late, which pretty much put pay to this beer being ready in time for Hogmanay.

Fermentable Colour Grams Ratio
Crisp Lager Malt 3.5 EBC 3485 grams 87.7%
Thomas Fawcett Pale Wheat Malt 4.9 EBC 326 grams 8.2%
Crisp Cara Gold 15 EBC 161 grams 4.1%
  6 EBC 3972 grams  
Kettle Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams IBUs IBU Ratio
2013 Chinook Whole 14.8% First Wort 7 8.91 15.37
2013 Chinook Whole 14.8% 15 7 7.3 12.6
2013 Citra Whole 14.8% 15 13 13.56 23.38
2013 Chinook Whole 14.8% 10 10 7.62 13.15
2013 Chinook Whole 14.8% 5 19 7.96 13.74
2013 Chinook Whole 14.8% 85°C steep 27 6.31 10.88
2012 Citra Whole 14.8% 85°C steep 27 6.31 10.88
Other Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams
2013 Chinook Whole 14.8% dry hop 30g
2013 Citra Whole 14.8% dry hop 60g
  Expected Actual
Volume (in FV) 19 litres 21 litres
Mash 90 mins at 65°C 90 mins at 64.5°C
Original gravity 1.043 (10.6 Brix) 1.044 (10.8 Brix)
Terminal gravity 1.008 1.002 (4.5 Brix)
Attenuation 81% 95%
ABV 4.5% 5.4%
GU/BU ratio 1.35 1.32
Yeast: Safale US-05
Brew fridge: 18°C ±1°C, with two days at 2°C ±1°C before bottling

As this is the first Binary Star since I started using the Brewer’s Friend recipe builder, the values, especially for the IBUs are slightly different. Wheeler’s Beer Engine doesn’t calculate IBUs from first wort hopping, or flame out steeps. So it will be interesting to see if it’s appreciably different in terms of the upfront bitterness, or late flavour.

I’m not sure I’ve got the first wort hopping correct though, as I should have used the large 15 minute addition, instead of the bitterning addition, if that article is to be believed. It’s all new to me though, so if it doesn’t have a load of upfront bitterness, I know what I did wrong and how to correct it for next time.

Other than that, the brew went pretty smoothly, other than overshooting my mash strike temperature by twenty degrees. A slow decant from boiler to bucket and back again, brought the temperature back to where it should’ve been, at the cost of half an hours faffing. I did miss my intended 65°C mash temp, but then that thermometer is well knackered, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I’d hit it, or going slightly higher than it.

I also overshot my target gravity in the fermentor, so I took the opportunity to liquor back with a couple of litres of water. The gravity is still just a touch higher than planned, but that’s fine. It also means that even with losses to yeast and dry hops, I’ll have more beer to bottle at the end of the day. I really should try and work out my brewhouse efficiency one of these days, but it’s nice to plan for slightly less and then have the ability to liquor back.

Update: 17/12/14
I decided to try a slightly different approach to dry hopping this time. In the past I’ve tried with whole hop cones in stockings, blitzing them in the food processor and liquidiser and the results have always been a bit disappointing. I came to the conclusion that I just wasn’t using enough, as it was generally what was left in the packet after the rest had gone in the boiler. So in some cases, not really very much at all.

If you look at JK’s dry hopping rates, I should really having been buying more hops,rather than just using what I had left over. It just so happened that since both the Chinook and Citra had quite high alpha acid percentages, there was enough hops left over to be able to hop at a rate of 4.5g per litre, probably around the correct amount for this beer.

Update: 22/12/14
After sitting at 18°C for three days and then being chilled at 2°C for a further two days, it was time to bottle. I have high hopes for this one, as the smell streaming from the fermentor when I pulled the lid off was immense. It looks like I have a new dry hopping regime, at least until I start using pellets that is.

I made up some primings with 6g per litre of spray malt in a few hundred millilitres of water and boiled it for ten minutes. Then it was just a case of syphoning off the dry hop trub onto the priming, then into the bottles. Twenty four 330ml bottles and twenty three 500ml bottles, so a decent amount to be getting on with.

It’s just a shame it wont be ready for Hogmanay, as was planned. I may open a sneaky bottle just to check how it’s getting on though. Although I expect it will need at least another week after that before it’s open season.

AG #11 – Binary Star: Nelson Sauvin, Citra

This brew was originally supposed to have happened at the start of July, mainly so I could enter it into the Thornbridge, Waitrose homebrew competition. Best laid plans and all that though; my entry into home brewing competitions will have to wait.

I’m normally quite excited when I get to homebrew, but for some reason I really wasn’t feeling like it for most of the day. I was very tardy in setting up and could’ve and should’ve, started a couple of hours earlier. I was also home alone with the kids, so had to juggle the brewing with looking after them, which complicated matters somewhat. This is the recipe, which is essentially the same as AG #09, except for the hops:

Fermentable Colour Grams Ratio
Crisp Lager Malt 3.5 EBC 3269 grams 87%
Thomas Fawcett Pale Wheat Malt 4.9 EBC 326 grams 8.7%
Crisp Cara Gold 15 EBC 161 grams 4.3%
  5 EBC 3756 grams  
Kettle Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams IBUs IBU Ratio
2013 Nelson Sauvin Whole 12.3% 90 8 15 30%
2013 Nelson Sauvin Whole 12.3% 15 9 8 15%
2012 Citra Whole 14.8% 15 12 12 25%
2013 Nelson Sauvin Whole 12.3% 10 12 8 15%
2013 Nelson Sauvin Whole 12.3% 5 22 8 15%
Other Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams
2013 Nelson Sauvin Whole 12.3% 80°C steep 20g
2012 Citra Whole 14.8% 80°C steep 20g
2013 Nelson Sauvin Whole 12.3% dry hop, days 7 to 11 29g
2012 Citra Whole 14.8% dry hop, days 7 to 11 18g
  Expected Actual
Volume (in FV) 19 litres 20 litres
Mash 90 mins at 65°C 120 mins at 65°C
Original gravity 1.040 (9.8 Brix) 1.042 (10.3 Brix)
Terminal gravity 1.007 1.002 (4.2 Brix)
Attenuation 81% 96%
ABV 4.3% 5.2%
GU/BU ratio 1.25 1.19
Yeast: Safale US-05
Brew fridge: 18°C ±1°C, with two days at 2°C ±1°C before bottling

I used the same malt bill as last time, mainly as I had to buy a kilo of Cara Gold, which was enough for six batches of this beer. But also as I blew hot and cold with the last batch, sometimes it was great, other times, a bit meh. I thought it deserved another couple of chances before deciding if we should keep it, or go back to what I was doing before.

I’d used oat husks in the mash on the previous two brews and it had a massive difference to the run off during sparging. This time it didn’t, with the run off petering out with a third of the sparge liquor still left in the mash tun, on both sparges. It wasn’t that the grain bed had set solid either, as when I emptied it, it was nice and fluffy underneath that nasty grey top.

I’m not really sure why it happened, but it meant that the wort in the boiler was rather on the murky side, as I had to jab a hole through the grain bed to get the run off going again. Which I have to say, it did really easily, so maybe that grey top on the grain bed was the issue.

Alternatively, it could be the fact that the tap on the mash tun is crap and is either on or off. It’s practically impossible to get it to trickle, as when you turn it, it jumps halfway round; I must buy a replacement before I brew again.

Unfortunately it wasn’t just the mash I had issues with, as my boiler decided to play up as well. It would boil fine for a bit, then start cutting out and just simmer, even on full power. This meant that the first twenty minutes of the boil, it wasn’t exactly boiling; I think there maybe something loose in the bit that controls the temperature, so I’ll have to look into that before brewing again. It did work correctly for the majority of the ninety minutes though (after a bit of waggling), so hopefully everything will be alright, there certainly seemed to be some hot break, so fingers crossed.

I did remember to take a pre boil gravity reading though, unlike the last two brews where I’ve forgotten. It was 9° Brix, or ~1.036, with about 25.3 litres of wort in the boiler. There was quite a bit of liquid left in the mash tun, but given how prone my boiler is to boiling over, it’s best not to go far past 25 litres. This means that the mash efficiency was somewhere in the region of 76% to 77%. I’ll need to do a proper calculation to work it out correctly though, as I don’t trust the website I entered the details into.

The last time I brewed this malt base, I forgot to do an 80°C with the hops. It does add an extra half hour or so to the brew length, but it’s worth it I think. Hopefully it will add an extra layer of flavour to the finished beer along with the dry hopping that is still to come.

After chilling, I transferred it to the fermenter, I was aiming for 19 litres and got 18.5 litres, so not too bad. The gravity was a touch high at 1.046 or there abouts, so I liquored back with a litre and a half to bring it down to about 1.042, which is still slightly higher than the 1.040 I was aiming for. This all meant that the final volume in the fermenter was 20 litres, so hopefully that will mean around 18.5 available for bottling, after losses to yeast trub and dry hops.

Now it’s just a case of being patient while letting the US-05 do its thing. I’ll admit to sneaking out the the brew shed to check on it, it’s smelling wonderful. I do like the smell of fermenting beer.

Update: 08/08/14
I’ve been a bit lax with tracking the gravity on this batch, in that I haven’t checked it since putting it into the brew fridge. I should probably have check it on Wednesday evening, but the Great British Bake Off was on the telly box and I was tired. So I checked last night and the gravity had dropped to 5.2 Brix, or 1.007 or thereabouts, so I probably should’ve dry hopped it on Wednesday night, but better late than never…

So it’s three days at 18°C ±1°C, with two days at 2°C ±1°C before bottling, which means bottling should happen on Tuesday night. Except I normally go for a 100+Km cycle on Tuesday nights after work and I’m off down the pub next Wednesday, so I think I’ll have to revisit what I do when next week as I don’t want to leave this too long in the brew fridge.

Update: 13/08/14
I turned the brew fridge down to 2°C ±1°C on Monday morning, due to forgetting on Sunday evening. When I checked it after work on Monday, it was only down to 7°C, so I was a bit worried, as this was the second brew on the trot, where the fridge hadn’t got down to the required temperature. I then noticed that the fridge dial was only set to 2, so switched it all the way round to 5. When I checked again on Tuesday morning, it was finally down to 2°C. Not sure why I had it set so low, obviously it needs to be all the way round to enable it to go cold…

The bottling went without any issues, thirty 500ml and twelve 330ml bottles is quite a good return. It was interesting to see that the gravity drop quite a bit further from what it was when the dry hops went in. An alleged attenuation of 96%! US-05 is a funny old beast…

AG #09 – Binary Star: Galaxy, Citra

I went on holiday last August, fully intending to brew the moment I got back, I’d even produced a brew schedule for the rest of the year. As it turned out, the holiday cost a bit more than we budgeted for, which meant that I had to make some hard decisions during the rest of the year; should I brew, or go to the grand final of the Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt, for instance. Then there was the small matter of #projectcider. I still have some unfermented must and while I’ve given back the majority of the fermenters I borrowed, both of my fermenters still have cider (in various states) in them.

My wife has made her thoughts on #projectcider well known, especially the lack of brewing beer while its all been fermenting. So a couple of weeks back, I popped into Cutlacks on Mill Road and bought another fermenter, then placed an order with The Malt Miller for some grain. I didn’t buy any hops, as I still have a freezer full, as I bought a load before we went on holiday last year. I was all set to brew again, so decided to brew the second thing that I was going to brew after coming back from holiday last year. Here’s the recipe:

Fermentable Colour Grams Ratio
Crisp Lager Malt 3.5 EBC 3269 grams 87%
Thomas Fawcett Pale Wheat Malt 4.9 EBC 326 grams 8.7%
Crisp Cara Gold 15 EBC 161 grams 4.3%
  5 EBC 3756 grams  
Kettle Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams IBUs IBU Ratio
2012 Galaxy Whole 13.9% 90 7 15 30%
2012 Galaxy Whole 13.9% 15 8 8 15%
2012 Citra Whole 14.8% 15 12 12 25%
2012 Galaxy Whole 13.9% 10 11 8 15%
2012 Galaxy Whole 13.9% 5 20 8 15%
Other Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams
2012 Galaxy Whole 13.9% days 12 to 17 54g
2012 Citra Whole 14.8% days 12 to 17 38g
  Expected Actual
Volume (in FV) 19 litres 21 litres
Mash 90 mins at 68°C 105 mins at 68°C
Original gravity 1.040 1.040 (10 Brix)
Terminal gravity 1.007 1.006
Attenuation 81% 85%
ABV 4.3% 4.46%
GU/BU ratio 1.25 1.25*
Yeast: NBS West Coast Style Ale
Brew fridge: 19°C ±1°C, with two days at 2°C in kitchen fridge before bottling

Unlike all the other Binary Star beers I’ve brewed, this one has three malts in it, rather than just two. I decided to try this after reading Phil Lowry’s homebrew article in BEER magazine, where he chatted to Mark Tranter. Darkstar Hophead is one of my favourite beers, so if it’s creator offers a recipe with a similar malt bill, I’d be a fool not to try it.

I know I said after my last brew that I’d take a look at proper water treatment going forward. But as it had been ten months, I just wanted to brew without the complication of an extra new step. I’ll take a look at proper water treatment on the next brew…

The brew pretty much went without a hitch, it did take slightly longer than it could have and I didn’t get to bed until 03:30 or something daft. I also went with a much higher mash temperature, 68°C, than I normally go for, 65°C, I’m not sure why I did that if I’m being honest.

The main difference with this brew, was the use of oak husks in the mash, to help avoid the dreaded stuck mash. They worked an absolute treat and I had absolutely no issues with run off, from either of the two batches. I’ll definitely be adding some of these to every brew going forward.

The only other thing that I changed, was the yeast I used. Rather than the ever reliable US-05, I decided to use one of The Malt Miller‘s own packaged yeasts, just to see what the difference would be. It seemed slower to start, with only a partial krausen after 32 hours and slower to chop down to terminal gravity. Normally I’d have dry hopped for five days and be ready to bottle, in the time it took to reach terminal gravity.

Update: 23/04/14
As the yeast had finally chomped its way through the available sugars and hit terminal gravity, it was time to dry hop. Due to the tardiness of the yeast and the fact that I was brewing another beer this evening and needed the fermenter, I was forced to use a spare keg, that was waiting for another batch of #projectcider. As I’ll only be dry hopping for five days and the cider hasn’t quite finished, there shouldn’t be any contention for the keg.

Normally I whizz up the whole hops in the food processor and add them to the fermenter. Since I was using the keg, I decided to try blending the whole hops in the Vitamix, to see if that would help release anymore hop oils into the beer. So I added the remaining Galaxy hops and enough Citra to leave half a packet for another brew to the blender and three hundred millilitres of boiled water.

To be honest, I doubt I do this again, especially if I then have to put the resulting mush into a keg. The first issue was that the hops wouldn’t really blend, they just absorbed the water and stuck in the jug, rather than dropping into the blades. Secondly, getting the hops out of the blender jug and into the keg was nigh on impossible, without two pairs of hands.

Somehow I managed it, but I’m sure that there’s a bit of paper in there, and some of the paint from the plastic place mat thing I ended up using too. I’d been planning on trying this at some point, now that I’ve done it, I’ll probably just start buying pellets, as they’ll be rather easier to use…

Update: 28/04/14
After having dry hops in for the last five days, it was time to bottle. Normally I dry hop in the brew fridge and crash cool to 2°C for the last two days. As I have another beer in there fermenting, I ended up putting the keg into one of the kitchen fridges (yes, we have two) on Friday evening and setting it to 2°C.

After rummaging around in the loft for ages on Saturday to get a load of bottles down for #projectcider, I ended up tidying up that bit of the loft, so hopefully it will be easier to get bottles down in future. I selected two different types of bottle, one for this brew and another for the other batch that’s still fermenting. My OCD means I really have to have an entire brew put into the same style of bottle (the 330ml are for giving away to friends etc).

It turns out that I prepared the exact number of bottles required, which was a bit of a worry, as I normally have one or two spare just incase I’ve miscalculated. there was a bit left over, which looked rather opaque when held up to the light. I initially put this down to chill haze, but when I look at it again this morning, I’ll claim it’s hop haze from the dry hopping. South Cambridgeshire murky, if you like…

Taste wise, the bit left over was interesting. I can confirm that Galaxy and Citra go quite nicely together and the bitterness was just what I was after. As for the malt flavours, I’m not sure, it’s hard to tell this early and without any carbonation. I think I’ll only be sure when it’s all drunk.

* I’m not sure that the GU/BU ration is correct due to the two litres of liquor back to get to the correct gravity…

AG #06 – Binary Star: Delta, Green Bullet

I had originally planned to brew a US style IPA for AG #06, but I wasn’t happy with the makeup of grain I’d selected and range of hops I had left in the freezer. So in the end I decided to brew another batch of Binary Star, and use up the last of the older hops in the freezer, which were Delta and Green Bullet. If the last brew had been a bit of a snap decision, this brew was even more so, as even a couple of hours before I started, I hadn’t even thought of sneaking a brew in.

Fermentable Colour Grams Ratio
Crisp Maris Otter Pale Malt 5.5 EBC 3317 grams 95%
Thomas Fawcett Pale Wheat Malt 3 EBC 174 grams 5%
Kettle Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams IBU Ratio
2010 Delta Whole 6.5% 90 16 30%
2010 Delta Whole 6.5% 15 17 15%
2010 Green Bullet Whole 13.7% 15 13 25%
2010 Delta Whole 6.5% 10 23 15%
2010 Delta Whole 6.5% 5 43 15%
Other Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams
2010 Delta Whole 6.5% 80°C steep 1g
2010 Green Bullet Whole 13.7% 80°C steep 37g
2010 Green Bullet Whole 13.7% days 5 to 9 37g
  Expected Actual
Volume (in FV) 19 litres 18.4 litres
Mash 90 mins at 65°C 120 mins at 65°C
Original gravity 1.040 1.041 (10 Brix)
Terminal gravity 1.007 1.003 (4.25 Brix)
Attenuation 81% ~92%
ABV 4.3% 4.9%
GU/BU ratio 1.25 1.21
Yeast: Safale US-05
Brew fridge: 19°C ±1°C

I tried to fit the mash around the kids dinner and bedtime, but got my timing slightly wrong, which meant that the ninety minute mash, turned into a two hour mash. On the plus side though, I managed to finally hit my target mash temperature of 65°C. Which is typical, as I finally remembered to have a kettle of boiling water and a jug of cold water on hand, to adjust the mash temperature if I missed the target slightly.

I did get a partially stuck mash during the first batch sparge though, which was really quite annoying. After getting around eight litres of the twelve and a bit I needed, I just stop the flow and added the second batch of sparge water and stirred. This seemed to do the trick, as the runoff from this second sparge, while not the fastest, didn’t have any issues.

The boil was uneventful, although it had rather a lot of scum on the top to start with. It’ll be interesting to see what this one tastes like, as the Green Bullet hops were smelling amazing in the packet; so good in fact, that I had to wander back into the house and let my wife have a sniff. Given the lower Alpha Acid content of the Delta hops, there was only 1g left after the boil to use in the 80°C steep, so we should really get to find out what Green Bullet can bring to the table in term of aroma.

The only real problem became evident once I’d transferred the wort into the fermentation bucket, there just wasn’t enough of it! I was aiming for nineteen litres and got just over seventeen and a half, so I wasn’t exactly impressed. I’m not sure what happened, maybe I boiled too hard, so there was more evaporation, or that the hops were really dry, so soaked up more wort, I’m not really sure. As the gravity reading was higher than the 1.040 I was aiming for, it meant that I could try liquoring back for the first time. So in the end, I managed to get about eighteen and a half litres in the fermentor, which was slightly better.

Fermentation took hold pretty quickly and after four days, I whizzed up the last of the Green Bullet and added it to the fermentor. It’s been in there for three days so far, so this evening I’ll be turning the temperature down to 2°C, in preparation for bottling on Monday evening. I’m looking forward to trying this one, especially as I switched from CARAPILS to Wheat Malt for head retention. It’ll be interesting to see what, if any, difference that makes.

Update: 26th June 2013
I spent Saturday and Sunday scrapping labels from bottles, so that I could have a range of sizes to fill on Monday evening. It may appear a random selection, but there was method to my madness. There are some old Sierra Nevada 710ml bottles, so when My wife and I want to share one, some 500ml bottles that once held Crouch Vale’s Brewers Gold for when I fancy one and a bundle of 330ml bottles to give away and for when my wife fancies one to herself. See, method to the madness.

One thing all this bottling has taught me though, is that I really, really need to get a bench capper. I don’t think "Greta" my twin handled capper can handle many more bottling sessions, as it took multiple attempts to get most caps sealed properly. It was a real ball ache, as was the transfer from the fermentor to the bottling bucket, which was hampered by hop detritus, again. Next time I’m going to wrap the end of the syphon tubing in some muslin and hope that stops it getting clogged up.

Looking forward to trying this one in a couple of weeks though, the sneaky taste I had, showed a bit of promise. Maybe not quite what I was expecting, but it had a nice bitterness to to, which is the whole point of this series of beers…

AG #04: Binary Star – Simcoe Amarillo

After the stuck mash on my last brew, I was itching to have another go and try and get it right. I’d already decided to go with pretty much the same recipe as last time, mainly as I knew that these first couple of brews back would have issues and I wanted to try and iron them out. The main difference between this brew and the previous one were the hops being used, this time around it was a bag of Simcoe that was getting used up, along with the remainder of the packet of Amarillo. Here’s the recipe:

Fermentable Colour Grams Ratio
Pale Malt 5 EBC 3436 grams 89.1%
CaraPils 4 EBC 420 grams 10.9%
Kettle Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams IBU Ratio
2010 Simcoe Whole 12.2% 90 8 30%
2010 Simcoe Whole 12.2% 15 15 25%
2010 Amarillo Whole 10.7% 15 10 15%
2010 Simcoe Whole 12.2% 10 12 15%
2010 Simcoe Whole 12.2% 5 23 15%
Other Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams
2010 Simcoe Whole 12.2% 80°C steep 20g
2010 Amarillo Whole 15% 80°C steep 20g
2010 Simcoe Whole 15% days 4 to 10 21g
2010 Amarillo Whole 10.7% days 4 to 10 20g
  Expected Actual
Volume 19 litres 18.8 litres
Mash 90 mins at 66°C 90 mins at 65°C
Original gravity 1.040 1.048 (12 Brix)
Terminal gravity 1.007 1.007 (5.8 Brix)
Attenuation 81% 85.4%
ABV 4.9% 5.4%
GU/BU ratio 1.25 1.04
Yeast: Safale US-05
Brew fridge: 19°C ±1°C

I didn’t quite have enough Marris Otter Pale Malt left to reach my target gravity of 1.040 with a 92%/8% split with the CaraPils, so I added more of the latter to make up the difference. Hopefully this won’t result in the beer having too much residual sweetness and infact might help as the GU/BU ratio is quite high.

For some reason I decided to use my main boiler to heat the initial mash liquor, rather than my spare one. I think the reason was that I needed more liquor than would fit in either, so decided to use the main boiler first so it would free to accept both batches of wort, without having to wait for the second batch of water to heat to temperature.

The taps on both the boilers are different, the one on the main boiler is quite small and doesn’t have anywhere near the float rate of the spare boiler, which is why I’ve always used it in the past for the initial mash liquor. Because of this, it took longer than expected to get the initial batch of liquor into the mash tun and I missed my mash temperature by a degree. Which meant that I mashed at 65°C for ninety minutes, rather than at 66°C for ninety minutes. I was pleased to see though, that after ninety minutes, the temperature of the mash was exactly the same.

Missing my mash temperature was also compounded by over shooting the strike temperature and then having to faff around to try and cool it down by a couple of degrees. I’m not sure what happened exactly, but it reached strike temperature about five minutes earlier than I was expecting and as I was in the house at the time, it meant to ended up too high. I should really find out what the power of the boiler elements are, so I can be a bit more accurate with working out how long it will take to heat up.

Both batch sparges went without issue, although I do think I should have recirculated three two litre jugs of wort like last time, rather than just the two that I did. The wort was much clearer last time round before I let it drop into the boiler, this time is was really muddy looking. On the upside though, at least this meant that I didn’t end up with a stuck mash, which all meant that I hit my target pre-boil volume.

Due to not having a stuck mash, this part of the brew went just bit faster than last time. I didn’t time it exactly, but it was somewhere in between three to three and a half hours or so from starting to fill the boilers with water, to having all the wort in the boiler. I still think there is room for improvement, so I hope to make this part go even quicker next time. One thing I definitely need to do next time is go to bed immediately after I finish and not stay up till half past midnight.

After drinking a few bottles of the last brew on the Friday evening and another bottle once I’d started the mash, I decided to make a tweak to the hopping schedule. Rather than 40% of the IBUs coming at the start, I decided to go with slightly less, in favour of a much bigger addition at 15 minutes to go. This also meant that there was no twenty minute addition, so it’ll be interesting to see what kind of difference that makes, if any.

The boil passed without incident, although I’m not sure that I boiled quite as hard as last time. Though there did appear to be quite a lot of break material in the boiler once it was drained, so hopefully I boiled it hard enough. It took quite a long time to get to the stage where I could empty the boiler though, as it seemed to take an absolute age to cool down to pitching temperature. On the plus side though, I reseated the jubilee clips on the chiller, which seems to have stopped them leaking.

All that was left to do was pitch the yeast and clean up, which I did immediately this time round. While chilling the wort seemed to take an age, everything else seemed to be go a bit quicker, so I was all done and dusted and back with the family in time to whip up an Ottolenghi recipe for lunch.

I was much happier with the way this brew went, even though I still overshot the anticipated gravity, which I think was just down to an increased efficiency, rather than anything else. Having said that, I do think that I could have had a clearer mash run off, so it’ll be interesting to see what the beer is like once it’s been bottled.

Update: 17/04/12
I popped out to the shed this morning to check up on the beer and take a gravity reading. As you can see from the photos, I had a smashing time… I don’t know what it is about me and hydrometers, they just don’t last very long around me. At least I have a refractometer now though, so I can still monitor the beer and work out the terminal gravity and thus rough ABV. So it turns out that this equation is my new best friend:

SG = 1.001843 – 0.002318474*OB – 0.000007775*OB*OB – 0.000000034*OB*OB*OB + 0.00574*FB + 0.00003344*FB*FB + 0.000000086*FB*FB*FB

Update: 18/04/12
The gravity reading from yesterday was low enough for me to think about dry hopping the beer, so I did. I used up the remainder of both the packs of Simcoe and Amarillo, and boy did they smell good! I used the same dry hopping technique as last time, although I decided against adding some water, mainly as I couldn’t be arsed to boil some for ten minutes to sterilise it. I should really get my finger out next time and make sure I do try it wet, as I’m not sure I want all those lovely hop resins stuck to the side of the processor bowl.

Update: 23/04/12
I totally forgot to turn down the temperature on the brew fridge in Sunday night, which would have given the beer three days at 2°C. I suddenly remembered this morning, so ran out the the shed and adjusted the thermostat accordingly. I totally forgot to adjust the low level alarm again though, so when I got home it was blinking away. Luckily the temp in the fridge appears to have gone all the way down to 2°C inspite of this, so a minor tweak to the thermostat and the alarm disappeared.

I think I need to write a checklist of all the different steps that need doing and when they need doing. Sounds like a good idea for a blog or two…

Update: 25/04/12
Yesterday morning before work turned out to be slightly hectic, as I suddenly realised that I hadn’t prepared any bottles by stripping them of their labels. This resulted in a frantic scrubbing session at nine o’clock in the morning, to make sure I had more than enough clean de-labeled bottles.

I have to say though, that preparing German bottles is a breeze, the labels simply slide off after five minutes in hot water. In contrast, I have no idea what glue British brewers are using, as it seems capable of withstanding a thermonuclear explosion! Judicious use of a knife and metal pan scourer eventually got it off, but what a pain. I think I’ll have to try boiling the bottles next time, that should soften the glue enough, I would have though…

The benefit of getting the bottles prepared before work though, was that I could get them all into the dishwasher and have it set to come on while I was on the way home, so the bottled would be ready for me once I’d had my dinner, so theoretically I could get on quicker. This worked out quite well, especially as I ended up going off to collect another fridge for use in the shed, so if I’d waited until I’d got home to put the dishwasher on, who know how late it would have been when I finished.

I bought a new syphon tube clip for use on this brew, as my existing one is a bit crap and last time, didn’t allow the tube to get all the way to the bottom of the bucket. The only issue though, was the clip is for ¼” syphon tubing and mine is slightly thicker, which meant that it got a bit pinched. This resulted in the longest transfer I think I’ve ever done, it took an absolute ages to syphon the beer onto the primings in the other bucket. I might have to have a fiddle with different tubing, although the syphoning into the bottles didn’t appear to be affected.

I managed to get 34 bottles, which isn’t too bad, it means I lost just over a litre and a half to the trub and dry hops. While I could take this into account and have more than 19 litres in the fermentor, I’m getting near the limit of what the existing mash tun can cope with when batch sparging. I’m considering looking into getting some of those 30 litre blue barrels and trying to bodge my own system, I can’t see it happening anytime in the near future, but it’s worth dreaming about for a bit I think.

The bottles are all now in the brew fridge, which has been set to a balmy 19°C, where they’ll sit for a week or two until they’re ready to sample. All that’s left to do, is cut the remaining labels out and stick them on. I’ve got high hopes for this one and am really looking forward to trying it.

Update: 08/05/12
My wife was out last night, so I took the opportunity to cut out the remaining labels and stick them on. I’m quite pleased with these labels, I think they’re an improvement over the last batch. They do need a bit of tweaking though, as the sidebar has come out a bit darker than I wanted and I think the main text could be slightly larger, but other than that, I’m really quite pleased.

Update: 21/05/12
And in a fountain of foam, the last bottle was gone…
So it looks like this batch had some serious carbonation issues, as the vast majority of the bottles had next to none, while a few were quite lively. Then there was this one, where the foam literally jumped ten centimeters out the top of the bottle the moment it was opened.

I can only conclude that the pinch in the syphon tubing that caused the slower than normal transfer into the bottling bucket, meant that the primings didn’t get evenly distributed. They must have been in a clump that mostly went this this last bottle, which would explain why all the others were near enough flat. So I’ll be switching the syphon tubing around for the next brew to try and avoid this…

AG #03: Binary Star – Galaxy Amarillo

I’ve not brewed for about twenty months, mainly as we were having an extension built, but then mainly due to being lax. After finally getting the brew fridge up and running the other week, which I’d been using as an excuse not to brew, it was time to finally pull the proverbial finger out and get a brew on. Fitting a brew in round a young family can be challenging though, as I’m not allowed to spend a whole weekend day on one of my hobbies and ignore the family.

It wasn’t so much of an issue when I was doing the extract/partial mash brews, as they could be all done and dusted in an evening. The initial plan was to take a Friday afternoon off work and brew into the night, although I just don’t have enough spare holiday this year to be doing that. This didn’t leave many options, but one that was suggested on Jims Homebrew Kit Forum, was to split the brew over two days; getting the mash done in the evening, then doing the boil early the following morning.

So that’s what I did at the weekend; mashed in on the Saturday evening while my wife was out and then got up at five o’clock on the Sunday morning and completed the boil and clean up. In fact, I actually started on Friday, as I needed to give all the containers a really good clean, they were quite manky from having sat unused in the shed. So I picked up some VWP at lunchtime and spent the evening up to my elbows with a cloth and shower head getting all the grime off.

Here’s the recipe I was working to, I was aiming for something pale and very hoppy, with an OG of 1040 and 50 IBUs. I wanted to keep the grist simple, as I had done in my first two all grain attempts, there’s plenty of time to experiment with other grains once I’ve got back into the swing of things. I have a load of hops that need used up, they were all bought a couple of months before I stopped brewing, as I thought I could fit in a few more brews before the extension was started, but I didn’t manage to fit any in. Wanting to use up as many as I can in each brew is the main reason why there is 150g of hops in the brew. The other 50g of Amarillo will go in the next brew, along with 100g of Simcoe, my fifth and sixth all grain brews will feature even more as I try to use them all up.

Fermentable Colour Grams Ratio
Pale Malt 5 EBC 3586 grams 92%
CaraPils 4 EBC 312 grams 8%
Kettle Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams IBU Ratio
2011 Galaxy Whole 15% 90 9 40%
2011 Galaxy Whole 15% 20 6 15%
2010 Amarillo Whole 10.7% 15 11 15%
2011 Galaxy Whole 15% 10 10 15%
2011 Galaxy Whole 15% 5 18 15%
Other Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams
2011 Galaxy Whole 15% 80°C steep 30
2010 Amarillo Whole 15% 80°C steep 20
2011 Galaxy Whole 15% days 6 to 11 27
2010 Amarillo Whole 10.7% days 6 to 11 21
  Expected Actual
Volume 19 litres 12.3 litres
Mash 90 mins at 66°C 90 mins at 66.9°C
Original gravity 1.040 1.060
Terminal gravity 1.007 1.011
ABV 4.9% 7.1%
Yeast: Safale US-05
Brew fridge: 19°C ±1°C

I batch sparge, as while I have the kit to do fly sparging, the mash tun isn’t quite square enough and I’d rather not have to worry about getting water flow rates equalised when my mash tun tap is so crap. I don’t mind having to use a few hundred grams more grain to offset the loss in efficiency, as it makes life alot easier. Having said that, I didn’t actually do it properly on my first two brews, as I mashed in with both the mash liquor and the first batch top up liquor. Having read this article on batch sparging on Jim’s Beer Kit, I did it properly this time and used the right amount of water for the ninety minute mash.

I was aiming to mash at 66°C, but let the strike temperature of the water get a few points of a degree too high. I also didn’t recheck the temperature of the grain once it had gone into the preheated mash tun, so this all resulted in the temperature creeping up to 66.9°C. I wasn’t too bothered to be honest, as having a bit of extra body would theoretically help to carry the bitterness. When the ninety minutes was up, the mash had only lost about a degree and a half, which wasn’t too bad, although I’d still like to insulate the mash tun lid with some two part epoxy foam.

The first batch sparge went without incident. In a change from my previous brews, I made sure that I recirculated a decent amount of wort to enable the grain bed to settle and act like a filter. In the past I’ve just used a couple of 500ml jugs worth and felt that the wort in the boiler was a bit on the murky side. So I dug out an old 2.2 Litre jug from my old darkroom kit, that I had last used about nine years ago. After recirculating three jugs worth, the wort was much, much clearer and I let it run into the boiler. I was after 12.3 litre from each batch sparge and as you can see from the photos, I pretty much hit that on the button with the first batch.

For some reason, after filling up the mash tun with the second lot of sparge water, I left it to sit for about twenty minutes before starting the run off. This is what I did on the first two brews, but for the life of me I can’t remember why; I must have read it online somewhere. In a similar fashion to the first batch, I decided to recirculate three jugs of wort, before draining into the boiler. The first jug was cloudy, but the second was really, really clear and in hindsight, I should have just let it run into the boiler at that point.

To cut a long story short, I managed to get a stuck mash, twice. I managed to free up the grain bed with a bit of stirring, I just hope that hasn’t released too many off flavours from the grain, but I had no way of underletting to try and refloat the mash, so it was the only option. After recirculating another couple of jugs, I started to let it run into the boiler, but the mash stuck again with only about half of the required volume transferred. This time there was no recovering it and no matter what I did, I couldn’t get more than a few drops out of the tap. It was at this point I discovered that I’d also dislodged the copper grain filter, so I knew the game was up.

I was after 24 litres in the boiler, I got about 19, so it wasn’t a complete disaster, but it did mean the wort was much stronger than anticipated. After tweaking the recipe in BeerEngine to account for the new OG and volume, the hop weights had only changed by a gram or two for the same IBUs, so I decided to stick with the original weights. I cleaned up as best I could and stumbled off to bed at around one o’clock.

When the alarm went off four hours later at five o’clock, I won’t lie, it was very tempting to just switch it off and turn over, but I didn’t. I got up, dressed and took the boiler out to the shed, where it was plugged in and on to full whack within ten minutes. After making myself a strong coffee, I got all the hops out of the freezer and started to get everything else I need out to the shed. It was at this point I realised that I’d not fitted the hop strainer to the boiler before the batch sparges, which meant having to plunge a rubber glove covered arm into 80°C wort to get it wedged into place.

I made a conscious decision to boil at a higher power than I have in the past. I’ve seen loads of photos of other peoples homebrew days and they all seem to have more hot break than I do, so I boiled harder to ensure I’d get a good hot break for a change. This had the side effect of increasing the expected boil off though and all the steam produced, also made the shed ceiling drip with liquid. I think I’m going to have to build some sort of extractor hood to fit over the top of the boiler, as it can’t be good for the shed to have that much hot moisture inside it.

Other than that, the boil was pretty uneventful, the hop additions all went in on time, as did half a protofloc tablet. I let the wort cool down to 80°C and then added a big load of hops to steep for twenty minutes to half an hour before getting the chiller on. I had a slight issue with the jubilee clips holding the rubber tubing to the chiller letting a tiny amount of water drip out and into the boiler. I need a better way of securing the tubing to the chiller, I’ll need to see if I can get some sort of John Guest fitting, or other compression fitting that I can secure onto the chiller ends.

Once the wort hit 23°C, I drained the boiler into the fermentation bucked, sprinkled a packed of Safale US-05 onto and gave it a quick mix with the mash paddle. Then the lid went on, the air lock was fitted and it was placed into the brew fridge, with the TC-10 set to 19°C with bounds of ±1°C. I then quickly emptied all the containers, quickly piled everything up and went back to join the family.

I was expecting to clean all the kit thoroughly in the evening after the kids had gone to bed, but I managed to fit it in while dinner was cooking. Over all, if I add up all the time taken, the split brew and clean up took nearly ten hours, my first two all grain attempts were both done and dusted in under eight. I know the stuck mashes didn’t help, but I think that I always slow down at the end and don’t get things cleaned up and put away as fast as I could, so there’s plenty of room to make this kind of split brew day go a lot faster.

Even though I know I’ve not brewed for a while and that my first five to ten all grain brews were all going to be about learning, I can’t help but be a bit disappointed. I’m pretty sure that I caused the stuck mash and forgetting things like fitting the hop strainer to the boiler, which I’ve done before, is annoying to say the least. Mostly I’m annoyed at how little volume I ended up with, I was shooting for 19 litres, I ended up with a touch over 12. So I’m going to have to do some calculations to work out boil off and losses to hops etc and feed that back into the calculations for the next brew.

Having said that I’m disappointed, it’s really great to have finally brewed again after so long. The wort I tasted from the sample jar after taking a gravity reading, tasted really sweet and quite full bodied. While it was also really bitter, it wasn’t harsh or astringent like my previous attempts, so I’m hopeful the campden tablets have done their thing and that the hop combination will result in a really flavourful beer.

I’ll be updating this post with more details on the beer, like terminal gravity and theoretical ABV etc. There’ll also be more photos of things like the dry hopping and bottling and maybe even some tasting notes. In the meantime, here’s the photos from the brew day(s):

Update: 21/03/12
I popped out to the shed this morning and took a gravity reading. There was little point in correcting for temperature, as 0.0005 of degree doesn’t really have much impact on the actual reading of 1.020. So I’m toying with dry hopping it this evening, as I’m expecting it to finish higher than anticipated due to the higher mash temperature.

Update: 23/03/12
I should really have taken a gravity reading and dry hopped last night when I got home form work, but I was too tired. So once the family was all up and fed, I popped out to the shed to take the gravity reading and see if the beer was ready for dry hopping. Just like Thursday morning, the temperature correction wasn’t really worth worrying about, so I’ll take it as reading 1.012, it’s getting there.

I mixed up a fresh batch of StarSan, mainly as I didn’t want to start on the peracetic until the next brew. After spraying the food processor bowl, I weighed out the remaining Galaxy hops, and enough of the Amarillo to leave 50g for the next brew. Then after whizzing them up for a few minutes, it was back out to the shed to sprinkle them into the fermenting wort.

I’ll give them two to three days at 19°C, before crashing the temperature down to to just 2°C for another couple of days before bottling. The idea being to precipitate out as much of the dry hop, yeast and trub as possible. This would mean bottling on Thursday night after work however and as Thursday is my wife’s birthday, I think I’ll probably be waiting till Friday…

Update: 27/03/12
I popped out to the shed this morning before work, as I needed to fiddle with the brew fridge. First I gave the dry hops a gentle stir, which released loads of luscious aromas, can’t wait to actually try this brew. Then I switched the thermostat down to 2°C, I’ll find out when I get home if that’s actually worked or not. Finally I popped up into my loft and got down a box of bottles, which need to be soaked to remove their labels.

For some reason I thought that this Thursday was my wife’s birthday, it’s not, it’s next Thursday. I also forgot that it’s Easter weekend, so I have Friday off work. Due to this mind muddle, I’ll be bottling on Friday, when I have more free time, hence why I waited until this morning to turn the temperature on the fridge down.

Update: 30/03/12
The last update saw the brew fridge thermostat being set to 2°C, unfortunately when I got home that evening, the low level alarm was flashing. I couldn’t remember which setting was the one to adjust it and I couldn’t find the instructions (turns out they were in my bedside table), just as well it was really cold that night. The following morning, I changed the low level alarm setting from 16°C to 0°C and left the fridge to it.

As the weather was due to be really cold, I decided to take the bucket out of the fridge on the Thursday night. Mainly so that any disturbed trub would have time to settle out over night. I also soaked twenty three bottles in hot water, so that I could take their labels off. This worked wonderfully well, even with the Oakham Green Devil and Moor labels, which are quite hard to get off. This meant that on Friday I just needed to clean the new bucket and syphon tubing I’d bought and crack on with the bottling.

So on Friday morning, after I’d got back from the gym, I made up a priming solution of spray malt and water, cleaned the bucket and tubing, put the bottles through the dishwasher and headed out to the shed to crack on with it. The temperature corrected specific gravity was 1.011, which is pretty much exactly the 81% attenuation you’d expect from US-05. This means a rough ABV of around 7.1%, which is ever so slightly higher than the 4.9% that I was aiming for originally!

The filling went without hitch, although I should have filled all twenty 500ml bottles, before filling the three 660ml ones, as I was left with two and a half empty bottles. However, upon trying to put caps on the 660ml bottles, I managed to snap off the top of one and crack the other two. I didn’t realise that this type of 660ml bottle doesn’t have the required step at the bottom of the neck to engage the capper. So whatever you do, don’t use the new style Moor bottles, which are the same one’s that Oakham’s Green Devil comes in, without a bench capper.

In the end I managed to fill all twenty 500ml bottles and there was enough beer left in the 660ml bottles that I could have had at least another one, if not two 500ml bottles. So I’m a bit disappointed, but you live and learn. If I’d used the old style Moor bottles, the same ones that Punk IPA comes in, there wouldn’t have been a problem.

The beer is currently sitting in the brew fridge, which has been set back to 19°C. It’ll be in there for a week or two while it conditions. I’m looking forward to trying a bottle, as the taste out of the sample jar was quite nice. I’m not however, looking forward to sticking twenty odd labels on…

Update: 07/04/12
I stuck the labels on all the bottles yesterday, they’re now looking pretty cool. Definitely the best looking batch of beer I’ve made so far. While I won’t be opening any for another week, I’ve put a load into the kitchen fridge, as it gives me something to look at when I open the door. Nothing worse than an empty shelf which should be full of beer…

Update: 30/04/12
And then it was gone! Without even realising it, I drank the last bottle yesterday evening. I was quite sad when I discovered that I didn’t in fact, have another couple of bottle stashed in the cupboard upstairs. For an accident, it was a really tasty beer. Yes, it had lots of issues, not enough carbonation, a bit too cloudy, no head retention, but it had bags of flavour, a great bitterness and the best nose of any beer I’ve made.

I have to say that the combination of Galaxy and Amarillo hops worked really well, especially with the Galaxy to the fore. I’m definitely going to brew with Galaxy again, maybe even in a single hop beer, so I can full understand the flavour.