AG #14 – Brown Dwarf: Amarillo, Chinook, Simcoe, Cascade

I needed to use up a load of old hops and wanted to try something new, so I decided to brew an American Brown Ale. You’d think that the amount of hops being used was way, way too much, but time has most likely not been kind to them.

As I mentioned in the write up of AG #12, my hop drawer in the freezer was full, so I needed to use up some of my old stock. After having a good rummage around, I felt that I should either use up all of the old open packets of hops or just chuck them. Since I’m not rolling in it, especially around the turn of the year, I decided to use them up.

I can’t remember exactly why I choose to brew an American Brown Ale. It might have simply been a desire to try some malts that I’ve not really used before, especially as some of them will be used in the next few brews too. Or it might just have been a desire to try something new, something that wasn’t pale and hoppy.

Not too sure of what I was doing, I decided to Ask JK what he thought of the recipe I’d concocted:

With his comments in mind, I completely redid the recipe, subbing out the Mild Ale Malt for Weyermann Vienna Malt. To get to a slightly higher original gravity, rather than using half a kilo more Vienna Malt and having some left over, I decided to use up the Weyermann Pilsner Malt that I’d had lying around for a bit.

It wasn’t just the grain bill getting a working over either, as while rummaging around in my mother-in-laws chest freezer, I came across more open packets of hops that I’d totally forgotten about. Given how old most of the hops were, and the state in which they’d been stored, I decided to use an online Hop Alpha Acid Loss in an effort to try an get a better idea of what their current alpha acid percentage (AA%) would be.

Fiddling with the timings of the hop additions and the much lower AA% values, this allowed me to use up all of my open packets of whole leaf hops and still keep the IBUs within the style guidelines (for what they’re worth). It also left enough to properly dry hop the target volume with just over 5g/L and use up all of the remaining Amarillo. I just hope that I’ve used the online calculator correctly, or this will be less of an American Brown Ale and more of a Brown IPA (PDF).

The recipe...

The other thing that JK mentioned was water treatment, so I fired him an email and he sent me back a profile to aim for. I generally use Wheeler’s Liquor Treatment Calculator, which is hosted on the Jim’s Beer Kit website, as you plug your values in, set the target values and it tells you what to add to get there. Except in this case, it didn’t tell me to add anything other than some AMS (CRS), even though you can clearly see on the Cations side that additions are required.

Mash liquor treatment...

All this meant that my Sulphate was too high and out of kilter with the Chloride. This should result in the hops being a bit too forward, when really they need to be balanced with all the malts. My knowledge of water treatment is a bit limited to say the least, so I’m not sure how I get rid of excess Sulphate for future brews. Definitely some reading up required in this area.

I’ve also found that without adding any other water treatment than the AMS (CRS), the mash efficiency suffers and while I hit target gravity in the fermenter, I was about 1¾ litres shy on volume. I know that I couldn’t, safely, get any more wort in the boiler and that losses to hops were greater than planned for, but still, it’s annoying to miss the target volume.

In another first for me though, I pitched the rinsed yeast from AG #13 into this batch. I was very relieved when checking on it the following morning, seventeen hours after pitching, to discover a healthy looking two and a half litres of krausen on top. So while it set off like the clappers, it did seem to be taking it’s time to get down to terminal gravity, so I decided to leave it an extra day before dry hopping.

Update: 03/01/15
I decided to have another go at the dry hopping technique I used last time out. So I boiled up some water and added just enough of it to aid in blitzing the dry hops with the stick blender. The beer was then transferred off the yeast and onto the dry hops, before being put back into the brew fridge.

According to the brew schedule, I wont need any US-05 for the next five brews, but I had another go at rising the yeast anyway. Good practice, even if I don’t use it. I’m not sure when I’ll bottle it, technically it should be Thursday night, but my wife is out on Friday night, so it might just be easier to do it then. Either way, I’m looking forward to trying this one.

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…
IMG_20130520_193546_2
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…

Tainted

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I’m hoping to get a brew on later today, it’ll be the first time in about twenty months. So it’s probably about time I told the sorry tale of my first two all grain attempts. I’d come off the back of a run of about six malt extract brews and was ready to step up and finally have a go at doing it all properly. As I didn’t want to complicate things, I’d decided not to worry about any sort of water treatment for the first couple of brews, just so I could concentrate on the process. In hindsight this was a huge mistake.

I used the same recipe for both of these brews, unfortunately the exact recipe is lost in the mists of time, as it was on my old laptop which was stolen out of my car. I’m pretty sure that I’d used Simcoe and Amarillo in the boiler and Columbus as a dry hop, but my report of the first brew on Jim’s Home Brew Forum suggests that I used something similar to the recipe below:

Brew Length:
15 litres

Grain, aiming for OG of 1050:
95% Marris Otter (3312g)
5% CaraPils (174g)

90 min mash @ 65C

90 min boil with hops:
12g Cascade @ 90 mins
6g Simcoe @ 90 mins
21g Cascade @ 20 mins
10g Simcoe @ 20 mins
20g Cascade @ 0 mins for a 20 min steep
20g Simcoe @ 0 mins for a 20 min steep

Yeast:
Rogue Ales Pacman recovered from a bottle of Captain Sig’s Northwestern Ale.

From looking at the LibreOffice files I created to print off labels for both of these batches, I can see that I actually dry hopped with a combination of Amarillo and Columbus, although I have no idea about the quantity used.

I knew both batches had issues, I’d missed target volumes and gravities, but I was sort of expecting that kind of thing to happen until I got used to all the different steps. There was also something about the taste that wasn’t quite right though and I couldn’t put my finger on it. I just assumed that it was down to a failure in part of the process and would work itself out in future brews. As we were about to have an extension built, the brew kit was packed away in the loft, while the sheds were moved around the garden; I haven’t brewed since.

As it happened, my wife bought me an Adnams Brewery Tour for my birthday that year and when we went, I took a couple of bottles along and dropped them of for Fergus the head brewer. Imagine my horror a couple of week later, when I got a DM from Fergus telling me they were tainted with Chloramine, which manifests itself as a slightly antiseptic type taste. So when I got home that evening, I broke out the TCP and had a bit of a gargle, then I tried both batches of beer. I poured the few remaining bottles down the sink and emailed everyone I’d given any too to do the same; I was mortified that I hadn’t picked the taint out.

It turns out that my failure to do any sort of water treatment was the cause. Tap water has chlorine added to it, who knew, and if you don’t get rid of it before you mash, then you can end up with this kind of taint in your beer. There are a couple of ways to get rid of it; you an pre-boil your liquor the night before you brew, for around half an hour, or you can add half a crushed campden tablet per 25 litres of cold liquor and leave it for ten minutes before you heat it to strike temperature. It wouldn’t have taken much effort to do either of these and that’s a mistake I wont be making again, mainly as I’ve bought a tube of 50 campden tablets, which should last for a few brews.

Going forward, I’m still not going to concern myself with full on water treatment at the moment, at least not until I’ve got another couple of brews under my belt. I’ve already contacted Cambridge Water and received all the values I need to input into a water treatment calculator. I think I’ll save those for another blog though, as I need to get out to the shed and make make some tweaks to the brew fridge wiring in preparation for its first use.