Friday, December 30, 2016

My 2016 Adventures in Homebrewing

2016 (4)
Homebrewing: great! Bottling: not so much :(
There are only a couple days left in 2016, but I just realized that I hadn’t written any blogs about any of the homebrews I made this year. So let me “briefly” recap all the explorations in zymurgy I embarked upon this year:

I should start by mentioning that I sold ALL of my homebrewing equipment back in the autumn of 2015 when I was moving from Albany, New York down here to Central Florida. Once I got an apartment in Orlando in January of 2016 I thought I’d pick up the hobby again, so I bought a starter kit from the new Orlando Homebrew Supplies shop on Curry Ford Road for $70.

Homebrewing 2016 (2)
Homebrew #1: Maggie Brau (espresso stout)

iPhone 201602 (101)My girlfriend at the time, Maggie (now my BFF), had recently tried Founders Breakfast Stout and wanted us to make a homebrew similar to that beer. So I bought a sweet stout extract kit along with some vanilla beans; Maggie provided the coffee in the form of her own espresso beans. I had made a similar homebrew about a year prior so I was familiar with the brewing process, though this recipe was a little different (it came with lactose sugar, but no oatmeal nor cocoa nibs).

Everything went well as far as the brewing and fermentation process. However, right before we were about to bottle it we took a taste test and realized that there was almost no coffee flavor in the stout. Since Maggie keeps espresso beans in her house we decided to throw a handful in the fermenter for about a week to up the coffee taste – and did it ever!

Initially, “Maggie Brau” was difficult to drink. The espresso flavor and intense roasty bitterness overpowered the base brew. After about a month the coffee presence began to subside and the true stout character started to emerge. It was no longer a coffee bomb, it was an American stout with coffee. I didn’t find it to be much of a sweet stout, though. The lactose really wasn’t noticeable and neither was the vanilla. The only way to get the sweetness to emerge was to pair the beer with spicy and savory foods. We found that if we drank it while eating Montreal-seasoned steak for dinner, the coffee was neutralized by the spice and the chocolaty flavors really stood out. In fact, I recommend trying this food and beer pairing with any commercial coffee brew – you’ll be surprised by how different a beer can taste in a contrasting pairing.

Maggie Brau recipe
Homebrewing 2016 (14)

Homebrew #2: Hockey Hefeweizen

Not long after making the first homebrew, I decided to wanted to get back into all-grain homebrewing. I bought a mash/lauter tun and a propane burner from a fellow Orlando homebrewer I had met through Facebook. I returned to the homebrew store and purchased a 10-gallon brewpot and wort chiller, along with all the ingredients to make a hefeweizen recipe I had made the last few years. As enjoyable as that brew was in the New York summer, I thought it would be even better here in the Florida heat.

I brewed it on a Saturday in March – the best day of the year for college hockey fans as there are six playoff games happening from early afternoon to late night that day (hence the name). Unfortunately, that particular brew day was cursed by Murphy’s Law. Pretty much everything that could have went wrong, did.

For starters, the propane tank kicked about halfway through the mashing process. So I ran over to Walmart and got a new tank. I was annoyed because I was certain there was enough gas in it to get through the brew day, though that’s not the first time this had happened to me. Then, when it was time to sparge, I realized I had forgotten to buy rice hulls which resulted in a stuck mash. It was a major PITA trying to get the wort to flow but it did, albeit super slowly. Once it was time to boil I set the burner to max power, but it plateaued around 180 degrees – arrgh! So Maggie ran over to Walmart and bought me a new burner which was able to get the temperature up to boiling lickety-split.

And then it started raining.

Not just raining, but an apocalyptic-level of downpour. Fortunately, I was able to get the burner and brewpot moved under cover but not before getting absolutely drenched. Thankfully, the rain stopped just as the boil time concluded. What should have been a typical four or five-hour brew day inflated to eight or ten hours! I was hoping that as long as the fermenting process went well, the beer would at least be drinkable.
It was not.

Though the beer smelled great while it was fermenting and even tasted pretty good when we bottled it, it was clearly infected with Butyric Acid. The beer smelled like farts and tasted like vomit – eww! I was disappointed and quite angry that I had to dump two cases worth of homebrew. I have had beers not turn out well in the past, but I had never had an entire batch become so infected it was rendered undrinkable.

I do plan on making this recipe again next Spring, and this time I’ll remember to get rice hulls.

Hockey Hefeweizen recipe

Homebrew #3: Brooklyn Sorachi Ace Saison (one gallon clone)

There’s a great bottle shop here in Lakeland called Beer Revolution. Last summer, they were selling 1-gallon all-grain homebrew kits from the Brooklyn Brew Shop (a subsidiary of Brooklyn Brewery). I had seen these around in recent years but had never bought one because I always make 5- gallon recipes. I thought it would be fun to try, since the kit was all-inclusive and contained both the equipment as well as the ingredients.
Sorachi Ave on the left, Maggie Brau on the rightHomebrewing 2016 (26)It was interesting to make an all-grain homebrew on my stovetop. The process is similar to making a traditional homebrew, but there’s no lauter/sparging stage which really saves on time. I was pleasantly surprised by how easy this beer was to make. I used my own fermenting and bottling buckets, though. The actual beer was pretty good. I would definitely make one of these kits again, but I haven’t seen them for sale since.
Sorachi Ave on the left, Maggie Brau on the right

Homebrew #4: Hoppy Beerthday! (IPA)
IPA is one of my all-time favorite styles of beer, and it had occurred to me that I hadn’t homebrewed an IPA in years. They’re pretty easy to make; especially this recipe because it was a SMASH (single malt and single hop), so I figured this was going to be a foolproof operation.

I made it on my birthday, September 9th (hence the name) and everything went fine as far as the brewing process. I decided to ferment the beer with a generic American ale yeast strain (Safale US-05) I’ve used in prior years back north. However, since I don’t have any kind of fermenting cooler other than my broom closet, using that strain in the Florida [summer] heat wasn’t a good idea. You see, even if your equipment is perfectly sanitized you can still wind up with a bad beer if you ferment at too high of a temperature. Each yeast strain has its own comfort zone for temperature. If you go below that zone it’ll ferment extremely slowly or not at all; if you go above that zone the yeast will produce a bunch of off-flavors known as phenols. Sometimes phenols are a good thing as they tend to produce smoke and clove-like flavors and aromas (they’re a required characteristic for styles like hefeweizen). However, in the case of my IPA, these phenols were not pleasant at all. If you’ve ever blown up a plastic pool toy or a balloon, you’re familiar with that plastic/rubber chemical-like taste. That flavor was in my brew in the form of phenols as a result of fermenting at 80 degrees or more.

Additionally, I had recently acquired a bunch of flip-top 500ml bottles from someone on Craigslist. Though I sanitized the bottles, it was clear that they contained wild yeast (which are mutated strains that tend to survive most sanitation procedures other than boiling). Also like phenols, wild yeast can be a good thing as they sometimes produce tart, citrusy aromas and flavors – but usually only controlled environments. Truly wild, feral yeast strains can produce nasty chemical by-products like Butyric Acid (see homebrew #2 for example).

The Mosaic hops created for a nice pineapple flavor, but the plastic phenolic quality was too distracting. I was able to drink a few ounces at a time, but this homebrew became cloying quickly. I wound up having to dump most of this batch, too.

Hoppy Beerthday recipe

Homebrew #5: Bray’s One Month Mead
I was really frustrated by the way my IPA turned out, so I decided to do something completely different. I found a recipe online for a one-gallon mead that would be ready to drink in a month. I thought this would be a fun experiment and a challenge because I had never made mead before. In fact, I rarely even drink mead but I’ve always liked the ones I’ve had.

Making a mead is amazingly simple: there’s no brewing involved. You simply take honey and water and mix them together, add yeast and you’ve got mead. Well, you do have to add some nutrients for the yeast, but it’s really easy to measure out a fraction of a teaspoon here and there.

The recipe calls for using a Belgian beer yeast strain which is good because Belgian yeasts do well at higher temperatures and produce a lot of esters and phenols (the good kind). I did a secondary fermentation as well to clarify the mead, though it was still quite cloudy when I bottled it. However, as soon as I refrigerated it, the brew clarified amazingly well.

I was shocked when I measured the gravity before bottling as it was 0.996! I had never seen anything finish that dry before. However, I think my hydrometer may have been broken as my next brew would also finish extremely low.

As for the mead, well, it turned out pretty good. It had a bit of a dry white wine taste to it, but I didn’t pick up on any off-flavors or flaws (but I’m not nearly as experienced with mead tasting as I am with beer). I gave away a few bottles and everyone who tried it seemed to like it.
The only thing I wasn’t happy about was that the mead did no carbonate. I dropped about 5 sugar tablets in each bottle and I could see there was a tiny amount of sediment at the bottom of each of them, yet they were all essentially flat when poured. Oh well, live and learn. I plan on making this recipe (or one similar to it) again soon.
BOMM recipe
Left: BOMM mead Right: Creamy saison
Left: BOMM mead
Right: Creamy saison

Homebrew #6: Creamy Saison
Cream ale in the 5 gallon carboy. Mead and Christmas Ale in the 1-gallon carboys.
Cream ale in the 5 gallon carboy. Mead and Christmas Ale in the 1-gallon carboys.

Having learned my lesson from fermenting the IPA too warm, I decided to play it safe and make a simple cream ale recipe and ferment it with Saison yeast (a Belgian strain which enjoys high temperatures).
This wound up being a two-day brewing session. I work nights, so I figured if I started by 11am I’d be done in time to leave for work.


The lauter stage didn’t finish until about an hour before I had to leave, so I transferred the wort from the brew kettle back to my mash tun and brought it inside for the night. The next day I picked up where I left off and boiled it for 90 minutes. I used one of many packets of dry saison yeast I had bought for literally pennies at Tampa Beer Works when they were closing their homebrew store (among a bunch of other items).

Using saison yeast definitely was the way to go, though, ironically enough, the beer was fermented a bit cooler than the IPA was which meant that there wasn’t as much of an estery character as I had hoped and expected.

Additionally, using those 500ml flip-top bottles imparted a wild character – but the good kind this time! The beer in those bottles had a nice lemonade-like character: tart and a little citrusy. No nasty phenols this time.

I gave away almost half of the batch to my co-workers and everyone said they liked it. In fact, a lot of people asked me if they could have another.

I still have a few bottles left in the fridge. If there was a competition coming up I’d probably enter it as a wild ale rather than a traditional cream ale (or maybe a 36C “Experimental Ale” since it’s a hybrid of three styles, really).

Creamy Saison recipe

Homebrew #7: Christmas Beer Is Here (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)

I’ve always wanted to make a huge Trappist ale like Rochefort 10, Westvleteren 12, or Chimay Blue. But I’ve also wanted to make a spicy Christmas beer, so I thought it would be fun to combine the two (St. Bernardus Christmas Ale is a good commercial example of such a brew). I didn’t want to make an entire 5-gallon brew, though. I did some searching around online and found a 1-gallon recipe for a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, and I picked up some coriander and orangepeel while I was at the homebrew store.
I also wanted to try my hand at Brew-In-A-Bag, a style of homebrewing where you eliminate the lauter/sparge stage by mashing your grain in the brewpot within a bag and simply pulling the grain out when the mash stage is done. This is difficult to do when you’re making five gallons, but only one gallon on the stovetop is a bit simpler. I even wrapped my brewpot with a blanket during the mashing to prevent the temperature from dropping too drastically. I’d say the brewing procedure went pretty well considering I had never tried this before.

The beer itself turned out pretty well. As far as specs go, it has the typical aromas, flavors and color of a 26D. I was a bit disappointed that the orangepeel and coriander did not stand out much. Additionally, the Belgian candi syrup (date syrup) becomes very prominent if the beer warms. It’s a bit cloying and kind of vegetal. Still, the final product was enjoyable. I would definitely make this again and next time I’d up the spices and use a little less syrup. I might even use saison yeast to emphasize the spicy flavors. We’ll see.

Christmas Beer is Here recipe

What’s in store for 2017?
I wouldn’t mind doing another one of those BOMM meads but with a different type of honey since that can be made in less than an hour (plus, there’s a mead competition in Savannah in a few months I would like to enter). I’m also considering making the 1-gallon Christmas Ale again already if for no other reason than to use up the leftover spices, syrup and hops.

As far as my long-range plans, well it’s a bit hard to say right now. I have a few other projects I’m working on right now so 5-gallon homebrewing is taking a backseat for the time being. If and when I do brew again I’ll blog about them at the time instead of waiting until the end of the year to do a recap.

Sorry this blog was so long but if you read all the way to the end you are awesome!