Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Tiller Batch #1 (Bavarian Hefeweizen) -- Decoction Brew Day

** Update:  This beer received bronze in the Philly Beer Week Mash Bash for German Wheat & Rye Beers **

Traditional Bavarian Hefeweizen has been a style that I've brewed a couple of times and ended up with good, but not great beers.  There's always been something in a Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier that I just couldn't replicate with my homebrewed version.  Their's was always a bit chewy/creamy with a nice citrus-like sweetness to it.  Mine always came out a little cloying with an overwhelmingly grainy finish.

The style has never been an absolute favorite of mine but it is a clear favorite of my wife.  Also, seeing as warmer weather is just around the corner, I figured it would be a decent time to have some wheat beer on hand.

I've traditionally done a single step infusion mash when I've done my hefeweizen, but this time I'm going to go all out and do a decoction mash (see details below).  I've read all of the back-and-forth between the proponents and haters of decoction mash.  Many say it is the pivotal character in their German beers while others contend it is an unnecessary headache given the well-modified nature of contemporary malts.  I'm incorporating a ferulic acid rest for around 10 minutes at 114f as I've read some brewers insisting that the compounds created during this rest are vital to creating the right balance of 4-vinyl guaiacol which determines the prevalence of the clove character in the finished beer.  Others claim that few protease enzymes make it through the modern malting process so this rest step is unneccessary.  Well, we'll see.

The recipe is indicated below, but despite trying to adhere to the mash schedule perfectly, I was consistently under my sacc rests by around 10-12 degrees.  I'm thinking next time I'll run a thicker mash, perhaps thats why the temperature was so stubborn.  Also, this is the first time that I've done either an acid or a protein rest and I was surprised by how milky the mash liquor appeared.  Later, during the sacc rests, the mash turned more normal looking, so I'm assuming this is just a function of resting at those temperatures.

Acid rest mash liquor looking quite milky
Decoction getting started

As for the decoction part, I pulled closer to 2 gallons of thick mash, heated it to boiling over 20 minutes and then boiled/stirred constantly for 10 minutes.  It definitely darkened the wort quite a bit (super light hefes have always been a complaint of mine with single infusion mashing) and it smelled fantastic.  I was however, a little disappointed with my efficiency, which came in around 70%.  My understanding is that people's efficiencies usually increase when utilizing a decoction mash, but I'll chalk my low efficiency up to weird temperature issues.

Bavarian Hefeweizen
Size: 5.25gal batch -- 90 minute boil
Est OG: 1.048
Est FG: 1.012
Est ABV: 4.7%
IBU: 11
SRM: 4

6lb German Wheat Malt
4lb German Pilsner Malt
1lb Light Munich Malt
8oz Carafoam Malt

0.6oz Hallertauer @ FWH (8 IBU)
0.4oz Hallertauer @ 15min (3 IBU)

1000ml Weihenstephaner Weizen (WY3068)

Mash Schedule
1. Acid Rest @ 114f for 10 min (Infuse 3.6gal @ 120f)
2. Protein Rest @ 125f for 10min (Infuse .75gal @ 185f)
3. Saccharification Rest I @ 144f for 40 minutes (Infuse 1.4gal @ 209f)
4. Decoct (pull) 2gal and bring to boil for 10 minutes stirring constantly
5. Saccharification Rest II at 161f for 10 minutes (add decocted portion to achieve rest temp)
5. Batch sparge as usual

3/30/2014 -- Brewed by myself.  Hit the first two mash temps perfectly, surprised at milky color of mash liquor.  Undershot sacc rest by around 10 degrees, added boiling water to get it closer.  Pulled decoction after 10 minutes in first sacc rest, brought to boil over 20 minutes and then boiled/stirred for 10 minutes and added to mash.  Tempt was almost 15 degrees below expected.  Not sure why this was.

Gathered 7.25gal of 1.040 wort, equates to a 69% efficiency -- pretty damn shitty.  Decided to not add any DME as my original recipe was probably too big for the style.  Just rolling with what I got.

Boil proceeded as normal and after chilling to 65f, I gathered 5.25gal of 1.050 wort and pitched the yeast starter.  Fermentation began in 6 hours.  Massive krausen and already some blowoff.

4/1/2014 -- ...and explosion.  Blew the stopper out (even though there was a blowoff tube) and shot gunk all over.  SWMBO surprisingly tolerant.  3068 has a reputation for being aggressive, but I figured I would be somewhat safe given the low gravity.  Or not.

4/7/2014 -- Krausen dropped.

4/13/2014 -- Bottled with 5.25oz of corn sugar to get 3.0vol carbonation.  FG 1.010, not bad considering the mash temps came in WAY low.  Tastings going into the bottles were amazing.

5/18/2014 -- Tasting notes.  Great hefe.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Squatch (Appalachian Amber) -- Brew Day

I feel like as a homebrewer, I definitely go through a lot of fads.  To start, I tried to brew every different style under the sun.  If I went to a German restaurant recently, I'd brew a dunkel.  Had I been home visiting Chicago, I'd probably come back to Philly and want to brew a hopped-up wheat a la Three Floyd's Gumballhead.  Recently, I've decided to buck the whole "jack-of-all-trades" brewing style and just focus on brewing what I like to have consistently in my fridge.  For the past several months, this has been IPAs and Stouts/Porters.
Now that my palate has been thoroughly obliterated, I'm going to try taking it a little easier for this next brew. I've always been a fan of American Ambers in theory, but I've found many of them to essentially just be a red IPA.  In the spirit of "taking it a little easier", I'm planning to tone down the IBUs on this one.  Additionally, I'm planning to mash a bit higher to make a more full-bodied beer.  Hopefully with a more manageable IBU count this beer will be more tame than what I've been brewing lately.  The decent malt bill brings the IBU:SG ratio to 0.673.

The idea for this is a combination of my own Amber that I've done several iterations of and some different hopping additions inspired by the Bertus Brewery American Amber 3.0.  I've also decided to use London Ale, which has essentially become my house yeast (along with Super San Diego WLP090 to a lesser extent).

I ended up with around 75% mash efficiency, which was a little bit lower than the 80% that I was expecting.  I've been trying out new supply stores over the past month or so, so re-dialing in my efficiency has been a practice in trial-and-error.  Due to the lower efficiency, I added 7oz of DME once the boil began.

The Squatch (Appalachian Amber)
Est OG: 1056
Est FG: 1.014
Est ABV: 5.5%
IBU: ~38
SRM: 16

9lb Maris Otter
1.5lb Munich Malt
12oz Carastan Malt
8oz Caramel 120L
3.2oz Chocolate Malt

0.4oz Magnum @ 60min (26 IBU)
0.5oz Centennial @ 10min (5 IBU)
0.5oz Amarillo @ 10min (5 IBU)
1.0oz Centennial @ Flameout (5 IBU)
1.0oz Amarillo @ Flameout (4 IBU)
1.0oz Citra @ 5 Day Dry Hop
1.0oz Nelson Sauvin @ 5 Day Dry Hop

London Ale Yeast (WY1028)

Mash @ 154f for 60 min

3/15/2014 -- Brewed by myself.  Slightly lower efficiency than what I was planning, but I was probably a bit over zealous.  Ended up with 5.5gal of 1.054 into the carboy.  Fermentation began with 5 hours at 70-72f.

3/29/2014 -- Dry-hopped with 1oz each of Citra and Nelson Sauvin.

4/2/2014 -- Bottled.  Fingal gravity came out to 1.013.  A tad drier than recipe, but I was a little low on the OG so no worries here.  Primed with 4.1oz of corn sugar, shooting for 2.4vol.

I ended up washing the yeast from this one since WY1028 has become one of my favorite go-to's these days.  This was my first attempt at yeast washing and I was amazed at how easy it was.  We'll see how they perform in subsequent batches, but the harvesting part should definitely not discourage any trying it.

5/18/2014 -- Tasting notes.  Nice beer, maybe a touch high on the chocolate malt, but otherwise very nice.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Bolshevik (Russian Imperial Stout)

I've mentioned before that I've been on a huge dark beer craze for the past few months.  I actually used to very much dislike this style, but I opened up to it a bit after trying Great Divide's Oatmeal Yeti.  Since then, I've been hooked.  I originally wanted to brew this to be somewhat like Evil Twin's Imperial Biscotti Break, but I couldn't find a clone recipe anywhere.  As such, this ended up being an amalgamation of various RIS recipes.  As you can see below, its a bit of a "kitchen sink" type recipe.

After this ages for a month or so, I plan to rack half of the batch onto some cacao nibs and potentially a vanilla bean with the other half getting cacao nibs and some tart cherries.

This makes for a very messy brew day.  The huge mash nearly filled my 10gal cooler and I managed to get a decent amount of wort on my floor.  It did smell spectacular though.  Also, due to the huge amount of roasted malt going into this mash, my water chemistry spreadsheets were indicating that the mash pH would drop a bit out of range, so I added some pickling lime to bring it back up to around 5.5.

Brew day then proceeded as normal.  I'll update my notes below as this thing proceeds.

The Bolshevik (Russian Imperial Stout)
Size:  5.25gal -- 90 min boil
Est OG: 1.102
Est FG: 1.026
Est ABV: 10.25%
IBU: 67
SRM: 64

15lb Maris Otter Malt
1.5lb Roasted Barley
1lb Caramel 120L
1lb Chocolate Wheat Malt
1lb Flaked Oats
12oz Carafa II
8oz Black Patent
8oz Caramel 80L
8oz Flaked Wheat
4oz Special B
3lb Light Dry Extract (add at beginning of boil)

2.25oz Magnum @ FWH (59 IBU)
0.5oz Centennial @ 15min (5 IBU)
0.5oz Centennial @ 5min (3 IBU)

1500ml Scottish Ale Yeast (WY1278)

Mash @ 155f for 90 min

2/5/2013 -- Brewed by myself.  Huge mash.  70% efficiency (not too bad).  Gathered 5.25gal of 1.102 wort.  Fermentation kicked off quick and was extremely violent even with a healthy dose of FermCap.

3/11/2013 -- Ashy taste that was evident after the first couple of weeks has faded a bit.  I think this one just needs some time to age out.  Will most likely rack to seconday next week.

3/15/2013 -- Racked half of the batch onto 3oz cacao nibs and 3/4 of a vanilla bean split and quartered.  Racked the other half onto 3oz cacao nibs and 3lbs of Oregan Whole Pitted tart cherries.  Ended up with around 2.5gal in each 3gal carboy.  I'm a little worried about the headspace in the secondaries, but there should still be a bit of fermentation going on that hopefully that purges oxygen in the headspace.

3/20/2013 -- Seeing some visible signs of fermentation on the batch that had cherries added.  Probably a good thing to purge the headspace of oxygen.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Philosopher (Pliny The Elder Clone) -- Brew Day

I've been planning out my brew schedule for the next few months around various events that we have coming up this summer.  Being fortunate enough to live in Philadelphia and having access to fresh Pliny via the gods amongst men at Monk's Cafe, I don't often brew a Pliny clone.  But, seeing as we are having some family gatherings and it was popular last summer, I figured I'd go ahead and whip up another batch.  It's been around a year since I last brewed one and I've decided to make some adjustments this time around.

My last attempt ended up somewhat heavy on the mouthfeel compared to the actual Pliny and had much more of a fruity hop nose rather than the pine resin that I get from the real thing.  So, this time around I'm mashing lower and changing around the hop schedule a bit after reading up on some adjustments others (like Bertus Brewery) have done in the past.

Pliny, along with a bunch of other popular DIPAs, allegedly uses a double-dry hop whereby most homebrewers will rack into a secondary vessel to drop in the second dose of hops.  I haven't done this out of sheer laziness and I haven't noticed any difference.  Per usual, I'm adding both doses of dry-hops at the in two doses into the same fermenter.  It makes for a massive dry-hop, but I'm lowering the contact time to only 7 days for the first potion.  Several new pieces of research have unveiled that most of the flavor contribution takes place within the first day or so of dry-hopping, so I'm not going to leave the beer on this much of a dry-hop for an extended period of time.

This is the first time trying out my brand new BIAB bag, sewed by Jeff at BagBrewer.  I've used one of his bags before when I mashed in a smaller cooler, but I wanted something reusable to fit my large 10gal cooler.  I was really pleased with his craftsmanship before and this bag was no different.

My process these days involves a BIAB mash in the cooler followed by a dunk sparge in the kettle.  After that, I pull the bag and let it drain with a light squeeze.  Then I pour the cooler wort into the kettle and get my boil on.

I ended up dramatically undershooting my pre-boil gravity and volume for reasons unknown to me (most likely fuzzy math) so I had to add DME and a bit of water to the boil kettle.  After that, everything proceeded as normal.

The Philosopher (Pliny The Elder Clone)

Size: 5.25gal -- 90 minute boil
Est OG: 1.071
Est FG: 1.008
Est ABV: 8.3%
IBU: ~110ish (inclusive of steeping hops)
SRM: 5.2

13lb 2-Row Pale Malt
1.0lb Carapils
5oz Caramel 20L
1lb Corn Sugar (added at end of boil)

2oz Magnum @ 90min (72 IBU)
1oz Simcoe @ 30min (24 IBU)
1oz Centennial @ Flameout (7 IBU)
1oz Simcoe @ Flameout (10 IBU)
1.5oz CTZ 7 Day Dry-Hop
0.8oz Simcoe 7 Day Dry-Hop
0.8oz Centennial 7 Day Dry-Hop
0.5oz CTZ 4 Day Dry-Hop
0.5oz Simcoe 4 Day Dry-Hop
0.3oz Centennial 4 Day Dry-Hop
0.3oz Amarillo 4 Day Dry-Hop

1500ml starter of Super San Diego Yeast (WLP090)

Mash for 90min @ 150F
In the end, it was just so much work for Oscar
3/12/14 -- Brewed by myself (Oscar bailed pretty early on).  Undershot pre-boil gravity and volume and had to adjust prior to boil.  Boil proceeded as normal.  Gathered 5.25gal of 1.069 gravity wort.  Slightly lower than recipe, but not too bad considering the efficiency issues.  Healthy fermentation within 6 hours at 68f.

3/23/14 -- Dry-hopped with the first dose of hops.

3/26/14 -- Dry-hopped with the second dose of hops.

3/29/14 -- Bottled with 4.0oz of corn sugar for 2.4vol of C02.  Gravity finished perfectly at 1.008.  Smelled fantastic going into bottles.

5/18/2014 -- Tasting notes.  Overdone on the bittering charge, otherwise a solid DIPA.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Undertaker (Oatmeal Stout) -- Tasting Day

Winter here has been largely unbearable this year (at least by Philadelphia standards), so I've been brewing a lot of dark beers lately.  One of the beers that I try to always keep on hand is a nice, smooth oatmeal stout.  I've gone through various iterations of this beer over the past year and this iteration, while nice, is not likely going to end my tweaking with this beer.

This time around, I took my base oatmeal stout and aged it on 4oz of medium-toast french oak chips and 1.5 cut/hollowed Madagascar vanilla beans for 6 days.  Normally, I would age on the vanilla beans for a few more days, but the beer was already getting quite oaky, so I decided to bottle.

This one really benefited from some extended aging.  It was overly oaked after 2-3 weeks in the bottle and then once it hit the 1.5 month mark it really changed and mellowed out.

A -- Dark black and a slight ruby tint on the edges.  Tan head that fades quickly and stays as a ring.  No lacing.  Could benefit from some head-improving grains.  I imagine the flaked oats are preventing a steady head on this one.

S -- Lots of vanilla, some nuttiness.  A little bit of oak in the nose but this has largely faded.

T -- Similar to the nose, lots of vanilla.  A slight amount of roast comes through in the middle, but it definitely could be a bit more roasty.  I'm also getting a sweetness at the end almost reminiscent of a milk stout, although it is probably just the high mash temp.

M -- Thick, chewy.  Just how I like my stouts.

O -- Decent beer, could be a little bit roaster.  I might sub out some of the kitchen sink grains that I threw in there and just concentrate on overall roast malt rather than trying to layer a ton of flavor.  I'll also probably toss in a pound of Carafoam to improve head retention.

The Undertaker (Oatmeal Stout)
Est OG: 1.067
Est FG: 1.019
Est ABV: 6.3%
IBU: 30
SRM: 37

12lb Maris Otter Pale Malt
1lb Flaked Oats
12oz Victory Malt
8oz Flaked Barley
8oz Black Malt
8oz Caramel 80L
8oz Pale Chocolate Malt
6oz Carafa III
3oz Chocolate Wheat

2oz Willamette @ 60min (30 IBU)

1pkg British Ale II (WY1335)

Mash @ 156f for 60min

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Blight (American Farmhouse Ale) - Tasting Day

** Update:  This beer received a 39 at the Philly NHC competition in 16E.  Unfortunately the score wasn't good enough to move on to min-BOS, which only speaks to the quality of the other beers at the competition.  Well done guys.  No real feedback on what could make this one better, but it was a bit young for the brett qualities to come out and I may regrew and age this one a bit more for another judging. **

A while back I had read about bottling a traditionally fermented beer with a strain of brettanomyces.  I've always loved brett flavors in a light saison and I figured that this would pair well with some of the newer, fruity hops available on the market now.  Several brewers have commented in the past tha in order to bring out really well-rounded brett flavors, the beer should undergo a brett fermentation in the bottle.  We'll see.

The process is, on paper, easy enough.  Brew day and fermentation proceed as you normally would, but then at bottling, you add a bit of brettanomyces to each bottle.  I've pored over various taste tests online judging potential brett strains to use and I was torn between using Brett Trois and Brett Bruxellensis.  After hearing about how sometimes Trois can be a more muted flavor (and having less than satisfactory results previously with the muted B. clausenii) I decided to go for a full punch of brett flavor and chose the B. bruxellensis.

I had a significant amount of trouble with the fermentation for this batch.  I fully knew going into it that my yeast choice, the Saison DuPont strain, was incredibly finicky and has a tendency to conk out at around 1.020 if high temperatures aren't maintained.  Figuring this wouldn't happen to me, I proceeded anyways.

Then, it happened to me.  Living in a brick rowhome in Philly, I don't really have a ton of room for temperature control.  I usually ferment in my basement, which keeps fermenting beers in the high 60f range.  After a week or two of shaking the fermenter and trying the rouse the yeast and seeing no change in gravity, I went back to the drawing board.  I moved the fermenter so it was sitting directly on top of a heating vent and I pitched some S-04 dry yeast.  I figure a little bit of fruity English yeast wouldn't hurt all that much and hopefully the added yeast activity and heat would also kick up the Saison yeast.  Luckily this worked and it dropped down to 1.008 within a week.

As for bottling, I bottled half of the batch in regular 12oz bottles without any brett.  I really wanted to compare the two after a bit of time in the bottles.  For the brett potion, I bottled the rest into 12 750ml belgian bottles.  I poured my packet of Wyeast Brett Brux into a santized bowl and with a medicine dropper I placed roughly 20 drops into each bottle.  Afterwards they were corked & caged.

I just opened one after two weeks in the bottle.  It tastes almost just like the version without brett, actually almost a bit less interesting.  It seems my brett ate my hops.  I'll try another in a few weeks.

A - Deep, golden straw colored with a perfect white rocky head that lasts for quite a while followed with some lacing.  Clarity is decent, I didn't add any post-boil finings to this, but totally acceptable for a saison.

S - I get a lot of pear from this, albeit a bit more muted than the non-brett version.

T - A small amount of the "barnyard funk" that I was expecting.  I definitely haven't been all that impressed with the taste on this one.  Maybe its just too early?

M - On the thinner side, somewhat high carbonation.  This is basically what I was shooting for to stay within style.  Although it does reinforce the fact that I much prefer a fuller-bodied beer.

O - Decent.  Hopefully the brett characters that I have been looking for end up coming out on this one.  I'll keep popping a bottle every month and try to find the peak aging time for this one.  Hopefully its only a few more weeks.

The Blight (American Farmhouse Ale)
Est OG: 1.061
Est FG: 1.008
Est ABV: 7.0%
IBU: ~ 25
SRM: 5

12lb American 2-Row
1lb Belgian Clear Candi Syrup (end of boil)
0.5lb Flaked Barley
0.5lb Flaked Wheat

0.5oz Vanguard @ FWH 90min (9 IBU)
0.5oz Calypso @ 5min (5 IBU)
0.5oz Citra @ 5min (4 IBU)
0.5oz Mosaic @ 5min (4 IBU)
0.5oz Calypso @ Flameout (2 IBU)
0.5oz Citra @ Flameout (1 IBU)
0.5oz Mosaic @ Flameout (1 IBU)

Belgian Saison (Saison DuPont) WY3724
Brettanomyces Bruxellensis WY5112 (at bottling)

Mash @ 150f for 90min

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Ma Petite Roo (Flanders Red) -- Brew Day

This past Sunday, I decided it was well beyond the time that I should venture into sours.  This has been a favorite style of mine ever since I spent a long weekend up in Portland, ME with the wife and another couple.  We dropped by the Novare Res cafe and my friend Nate indoctrinated me into the culture of Cantillon via a bottle of their Saint Lamvinus.  My wife and I were never the same.

For my first sour, I decided to go with a standard Flemish Red.  I'm planning to age this in a BetterBottle for at least the next 12 months.  After that, I'll let taste be the guide.  I'm planning on tossing in any sour bottles dregs during that time for added complexity.  I've done some pretty extensive research from reading through Wild Brews to trolling the forums at  It seems that most people have had success adding the Roselare blend immediately, rather than fermenting first with a clean American or a Belgian yeast and then adding Roselare to secondary.  I'll also not be racking this beer to secondary, assuming the brett and bugs will take care of any of the saccharomyces byproducts.

Everything got laid out and Oscar and I got to it.

Flemish Red Ale
Est OG: 1.052
Est FG: 1.011
Est ABV: 5.6%
IBU: 14
SRM: 15
Batch Size: 5.25 gal

3.5lb Pilsner Malt
3.5lb Vienna Malt
2.0lb Flaked Corn
1.0lb Aromatic Malt
0.5lb Caramunich Malt
0.5lb Munich Malt
0.5lb Special B Malt
0.5lb Wheat Malt

0.5oz EK Goldings FWH@90min

1pkg Roselare WY3763 (no starter)

The mash regimen called for two sacc rests, one at 145f for 40 minutes and another at 162f for 30 minutes.  Due to a better crush that I get from Keystone Homebrew, I way overshot my pre-boil gravity and had to add 1.5gal to the boil.  After that, the very non-labor intensive boil got underway and I gathered 5.25gal of 1.051 gravity wort.  I'll keep updating as the fermentation process continues.

3/2/14 -- Brewed by myself.  Process went as normal.  Fermentation began within 12 hours.  Temp peaked at 72f.

3/9/14 -- Added dregs from Jolly Pumpkin La Roja.

3/27/14 -- Added dregs from Jolly Pumpkin Fuego del Otono.

3/30/14 -- Added dregs from Cuvee de Ranke.

5/3/2014 -- Added 0.5oz of Medium Toast French Oak cubes.  Tastings have a decent sourness already beginning.  Potential pellicle beginning to form.

7/18/2014 -- A pellicle has formed.  I refilled the airlock as it was getting a touch low...I hope that's not the reason for the pellicle.  Either way, it's pretty sweet.

9/3/2014 -- Pulled a sample for a quick taste. My wife and I moved the other week, so I had to toss the whole carboy in the car and slosh it around, breaking up the pellicle.  I was fearful that this would taste like vinegar, but its perfect.  Definitely needs a little bit more time on it, but the smell is a decadent sour and the taste is not far off.  It's still a touch on the sweet side for me -- it tastes like Duchesse de Bourgogne.

12/16/2014 -- Added dregs from Russian River Consecration.