Brewing for Summer

Now that May is upon us, it’s time to get out of the normal dark and heavy beers that I’m normally brewing. This is actually a tricky one for me since I love dark beer! I decided that I didn’t just want to do something like a cream ale or basic low-alcohol SMaSH and have gone with making a Ginger Beer. I found a recipe online, but am personally not a fan of honey in my beers. Back when I first started brewing I had a bad experience with Honey, that I can barely stomach any beers that contain honey in them.

Looking at the recipe, I decided I’d just replace the gravity with just 2-row since I have a bunch of it. In addition I decided I’d add more hops. Not a bunch, but it’s still 20 IBU worth of hops. I’m curious to see what the result will be. Considering how I’m going to be doing 3 separate 25g ginger additions, I’ll be surprised if any of the hop aroma actually comes out, but you never know!

So without further adieu, here’s the recipe!

Souless Ginger Ale

Ingredients

Malt Bill
  • US 2-row 5.0kg (100%)
Hops
  • 16g Northern Brewer (8.0% AA)
  • 14g Perle (8.0% AA)
  • 7g Perle (8.0% AA)
Other
  • 75g Grated Ginger Root
  • 1tbsp Re-hydrated Irish Moss
Yeast
  • WLP060 (2nd Generation)

Mash Schedule

Full Mash
  • Mash with all the 2-row
  • Mash with 12L water
  • Target mash temp 68C
  • Mash for 60 minutes
Sparge
  • 1st Sparge with 15L of 77C water
  • 2nd Sparge with 8L of 77C water

Boil Additions

60 Minutes - 16g Northern Brewer, 25g Ginger

15 Minutes - 14g Perle, 25g Ginger

5 Minutes - 7g Perle, 25g Ginger, Irish Moss

Headstone Brewing Kits Now Available

You might notice that in the sidebar there is a Shop link now. I’ve finally gotten around to getting my online store setup where I’m going to take my favourite recipes and make them available as kits.

Currently I only have all grain kits since that’s primarily what I’ve been doing in the last year, so that’s what I feel comfortable doing. Though, I do intend on putting together at least one or two extract kits in case all grain is a little scary for you. If you have any styles you’d prefer get in contact with me on twitter and I can figure something out or simply leave some feedback in the comments. Though I figure I’m going to go with some safe styles such as an English Brown ale and American Pale Ale but I’m always open to suggestions.

If you are a friend or colleague and are interested in starting Homebrewing, pick up a kit and you can come over to my place and we can do a batch using my brewing equipment. I’ll help walk you through the process of what brewing is, also I’ll explain what the purpose of each step is and the effects it will have. All you’d need to do is pick up a fermenter, bung and airlock; that should be all you’d need.

The Importance of Remaining Critical

Now that I’ve been kegging for a number of months, I’ve had ample opportunities to easily share my beers with friends and colleagues. Whenever we get positive feedback on a recipe it’s really fulfilling as a homebrewer. It’s awesome to hear that people love your stuff, perhaps is even as good as some local craft brewers in the area. But we need to be careful and not let it get to our heads.

I’m always trying to find the flaws in my beers. How balanced is the beer? Is it too bitter or too sweet? Where there too many early hop additions resulting in a beer that results in offputting initial flavours? The list can go on for all the flaws we can look for. My main search is to find what is in a good batch of homebrew that is preventing it from becoming a great batch of homebrew.

While I have my APA that I’ll be making every second brew which will help me with tweaking my current recipe, another thing I’m hoping to take away from this is being able to formulate completely different recipes that are balanced. Worst case I’d at least make a beer that is drinkable but still needs that little bit of tweaking to make it great.

Along with trying to be critical of my own beer, I’m also trying to get a grasp on the flaws that existing in commercial brews. Clearly, to get to the scale that craft breweries operate there needs to be very little to cause error since the results could be catastrophic to their brand. Even still, we can surely find some minor problems with a beer. Or alternatively, we can work on trying to figure out what characteristics the brew has to makes it enjoyable. With these notes (mental or otherwise) we can try to take those desirable flavours, colours, and armoas and apply them to what we produce.

Headstone APA - AKA My Consistency Brew

Here is the recipe that I’ll be using (and probably tweaking) for the APA that I’ll be attempting to master. I’ve tried to keep the malt bill relatively simple and as well as the alcohol content low.

Aside from gaining the experience of being able to consistently create the same beer repeatedly, another goal is to create a beer that has a lot of flavour but isn’t too high in alcohol content. I’d like this beer to be something I can drink all year round, without having to worry about one or two completely destroying me.

Ingredients

Malt Bill
  • US 2-row 2.5kg (50%)
  • US 10L Munich Malt 2.0kg (40%)
  • US 40L Caramel Malt 0.25kg (5%)
  • US 240L Caramel Malt 0.25kg (5%)
Hops
  • US Cascade 22g (4.5% AA)
  • US Centennial 20g (8.5% AA)
  • US Cascade 20g (4.5% AA)
  • US Centennial 20g (8.5% AA)
  • US Cascade 10g (4.5% AA)
Yeast
  • White Labs WLP0060 (American Ale Blend)
Other
  • Irish Moss 14g

Mash Schedule

Full Mash
  • 2-row, Munich and Caramel malts included in mash
  • Mash with 15L water
  • {“Target Mash Temp”=>”68 C for 60 minutes”}
Sparge
  • First Sparge with 12L of 77 C water
  • Second Sparge with 6L of 77 C water

Boil Additions

60 Minutes - 22g Cascade

15 Minutes - 20g Centennial

10 Minutes - 20g Cascade, 20g Centennial

Dry Hop - 10g Cascade for 1 week

Aiming for Improvement

Now that I’ve gotten my brewing process down I feel that the next step is to get into getting consistent with what I make. While making new beers is a fun and it’s great to throw together random things that turn into tasty magic, it’s of value unless I can pull this off consistently.

The goal is to have a few staple beers of mine that at the drop of a hat I can throw together and know that it’ll be exactly like the last batch. The tricky part is coming up with the beers I wouldn’t mind making over and over again. While consistency is important, it’s also important to keep changing things up so I don’t burn out from doing the same thing over and over again.

My goal for the summer is going to be to make something that definitely fits the season but is should also be able to carry me into the fall. I’m currently thinking that an American Pale Ale is a excellent style that should be enjoyable. Unfortunately I haven’t really made one that I’d consider good. This was back when I was still a little gung-ho with drastically overbittering my beers. They made everything terribly medicinal and unenjoyable. With this knowledge I’m going to set myself up with a few restrictions.

  1. No more than 35 IBUs
  2. Cannot Dry-Hop with more than 14g
  3. Needs to be under 5.5% ABV
  4. No darker than 12 SRM
  5. Needs to use my “house yeast” of WLP060

I’m confident this should, and will help me attain my goal of making a consistent batch of beer. Since my brew days are about 2 a month, one will always be my consistency brew. I’ll be taking rigorous notes about the entire process. Mashing process, how many stuck sparges I encountered, the boil, boil overs, you name it. Using this information I should be able to correct any problems in future batches and end up with something that I’ll be proud to share.

Keep an eye on the blog since once I have a recipe thrown together I’ll be posting it here, along with each brewdays notes.

The Grind Is All It Takes

A few months ago I posted about how my brewing process was taking a dive once I moved inside for the winter time. I was getting quite quite discouraged after I was only getting 12 liters of wort from 4 - 5 kilos of grain. Something had to be wrong in my process. In December I ran into a fellow brewer and told him about my brewing woes. His first suggestion was to re-investigate my grind, saying that there’s a very good chance that it’s too coarse so I’m not exposing the grain correctly.

Later that week I grabbed my Cereal Killer and started to adjust the rollers. I’ll admit they were a fair bit apart, so I adjusted them with the hopes that I’d be getting at least 75% efficiency in my next brew.

When it came to the brew day it was the shining moment to see if the adjustments would work. The first thing I noticed was that grinding became a lot more difficult, but I was definitely getting a better grind. There was far more flour than before which was a promising first sign.

The adjustments have made wheat brewing a bit tougher though; with all that wheat malt it just gunks up my braid and then I’m stirring up the mash trying to loosen it up or pouring in a few liters of boiling water in the hopes of causing the sugars to dissolve into solution. All in all though, the results have been stellar ever since.

To date I’ve brewed 3 batches with the new adjustments and my yields have been going from 16 litres pre-boil to almost 30! According to my software I’m only getting 75% efficiency, but I’ve also been getting an extra 10 litres of wort. I’m hardly disappointed since I now have some extra beer that I can bottle for entering into competitions or sharing with friends.

So if you’ve been having issues in your brewing system, before adjusting anything else, take a look at your grinder. It could be the culprit and it’s an easy fix!

Getting Started With Starters

It wasn’t until late this year that I started using Yeast starters in brewing. I was looking into ways to drive the price per batch down, and because I pretty much only use liquid yeast thats become a huge part of my homebrewing costs.

My first starter I made was from a vial of expired yeast I bought on sale for about half price. I found that using manufacturer yeast was a good starting point since it made it easier because I had fewer things to worry about vs rinsing the yeast from the trub of another batch.

All in all, starters are pretty simple to make and you should be able to make them with things you already have from your brewing setup. If you are an all grain brewer, you can try collecting some extra runnings from your batches and use that, but for now I’ve just been using dry malt extract simply because it’s easier to store.

My typical items for making a starter are:

I start off by simply taring my saucepan on the scale and adding the dry malt extract followed by the water. I’ve been eyeballing it, but according to Palmer you should be targetting a post-boil gravity of about 1.040.

Now all that needs to be done is to bring the saucepan to a boil. While waiting for that to complete I take care of the other parts, those being sanitizing all the parts that will be coming in contact with either the yeast of the starter. So, I spray down my jar, the foil and my funnel and put them somewhere out of the way to dry off.

By now, I’ve forgotten to pay attention to my starter and it’s probably boiled over. So take that as a warning to keep your eyes on the wort. It’s sneaky and if you aren’t careful will boil over on you. Luckily I have one of those glasstop cooking surfaces so it’s relatively easy to clean, you might not have that luxury.

It’s now time to cool off the starter. If your tapwater is cold enough you can just fill your sink with enough of that so the water is at least as high as your wort. You are just doing the good old icebath to bring the wort down to pitchable temperatures. Once that’s all good just place everything in the jar and give it a good shake. This is the complete opposite of what you’d do with a beer, but it’s fine. You need to get that yeast nice and oxygenated so they reproduce like crazy!

Put your yeast somewhere dark and safe and let it sit for a few days. I like to check on it before and after work just so I can see that it’s working and also to get the yeast back into suspension. It’s tricky to tell if it’s actually working because there’s a good chance you’ll miss out on the krausen you normally see in a beer. Sometimes you’ll be able to see the tiny little CO2 bubbles happening, but othertimes it’s hard. If you aren’t sure if it’s working or not, just grab a flashlight and shine it on the jar. It should help make the bubbles far more visible.

Congrats! You’ve now made a starter! All you need to do now is pitch when it comes to brewing day.

Seasonal Brewing Systems

Back when I started brewing I was using a 21 quart canning pot, which worked out pretty well when I was doing extract batches. You’d get a super high gravity wort then water it down to the necessary 20 litres or whatever it was. Things were great and it was also a really simple system. Though, it did lack a lot of the freedom I wanted, that I’m able to acheive with all grain.

Over the summer and with the transition to my new place, I was able to pick up a 9 gallon turkey fryer. With it I was doing full all grain batches and things were excellent. While the system does have a few flaws, such as that annoying timer, it wasn’t too bad for a first step. The problem was, I was getting used to how that system works, and it’s rather impractical for my climate during the winter months.

As such, I decided to step back down to my 21 quart brew pot while still sticking to an all grain system. This is where things get a bit tricky. There is no way I can get a full batch, so I need to compensate. This is normally achieved by creating a very high gravity wort (similar to how my extract was) and then diluting it with sanitized water. The tricky part is getting my volumes right.

My first batch, a California Common, was what I would consider to be a disaster. It was a bunch of effort and I’m certain I’m just going to get about 10 litres of beer. This is of course, extremely disappointing because of all the effort I ended up having to put into it. Also, if I only end up with say, 20 bottles of beer, I’ll be even more heart broken once they are all gone! Now this isn’t to say it’s not a learning experience.

With the newly gained knowledge of how my system performs under these conditions I then anticipated that with my brew last weekend. I was making an English Brown Ale and equipped with the knowledge of my system adjusted my recipe accordingly. That was, I assumed I’d get less of a yield from my mash (65% efficiency) and boil and would correct it with water. This time I was much closer! I hit about 15L of wort at 1.040! It’s still not perfect but I’ve gotten closer to what I was hoping.

While working with the old-new system is a bit awkward but I’m confident that after another batch or two I’ll be hitting my targets and making a bunch of awesome beer in no time. It’s frustrating to not get everything right, but brewing is definitely a learning experience and I’ve found that no matter how much I read when it comes to actually doing it things are always a bit off. I know for sure though, that I won’t let this stop me.

The Irishman: An Irish Red Ale

This was my first attempt at an Irish Red ale. It was also my first experience using Wyeast 1084. It is a nice tasting ale that isn’t too overpowering and has a slight malty sweetness.

Ingredients

Malt Bill
  • US 2-Row 2.722kg (64.9%)
  • US 10L Munich Malt 907g (21.6%)
  • US 60L Caramel Malt 454g (10.8%)
  • US Chocolate Malt 113g (2.7%)
Hops
  • East Kent Goldings 14g (5.0% AA)
  • East Kent Goldings 14g (5.0% AA)
  • Fuggles 14g (4.0% AA)
Yeast
  • Wyeast 1084 (Irish Ale)
Other
  • Irish Moss 14g

Mash Schedule

Full Mash
  • 2-Row, Munich and Caramel to be included in mash
  • Mash with 1.8 gallons of water
  • {“Target mash temp”=>”65 C for 60 minutes”}
  • Add Chocolate Malt at vorlauf
Sparge
  • Sparge with 18L of 77 C water

Boil Additions

60 Minutes - 14g EKG

30 Minutes - 14g EKG

15 Minutes - 14g Fuggles

5 Minutes - 14g Irish Moss

And It Shall Begin

This is going to be a pretty light post, but I figured it’s the best way to get rid of the default posts that come with the blogging engine I’ve went with.

I’ve been brewing for almost 2 years and have been putting some updates on my main blog but felt that I should really move all of my brewing content to a single location.

That is what this is going to be for. I’m going to talk about my experiences in homebrewing, along with any solid recipes I come up with.

If you’re curious about my setup it’s rather humble. During the summer I brew in a 41 quart turkey fryer that I scored for pretty cheap from Canadian Tire. During the colder seasons I’m going to be brewing with a 21 quart canning pot. This is actually the one I started my adventures into homebrewing with! It’s a solid pice of kit, the only problem is that I’m a bit awkward with it when it comes to all grain brewing.

I started doing all grain back in June of this year, and things went well with the turkey fryer. I’ve found with so much room it’s a lot easier to hit my targets. With my winter gear it’s a lot trickier! I’m going to need to get a lot better at estimating so I can get the correct gravity then adjust it with sterile water.

I’ll try to keep more posts coming, and will continually add more functionality to the blog to make it easier to engage in conversations.

In the meantime feel free to get in touch with me on twitter