bird in a bottle

Early Bird is now bottle conditioning. After my brewday with Murphy and his so-called law I was pretty dissapointed and ready to dump this beer down the drain. I called off all extra experiments that I was going to try with this batch (no funkdafication, no bottling with maple-syrup, no oak). With much trepidation, I transfered the fermented beer to the bottling bucket and drew off a sample for the hydrometer. Much to my surprise the beer ended at 1.011 SG. I was expecting it to end lower. Still, its not the 1.016 I was hoping for but it shouldn’t be “too thin”. So not all is lost.

Flavor wise it seems to be going in the right direction. The roast level is quite nice, assertive but not astringent in any way. A nice blend of cold steeped coffee and chocolate. It was a bit hard to tell, and maybe I was hoping for it too much, but the oat malt did seem to bring some oaty flavors to the mix. In the back there was also a definite fruitiness that I assume is from the raisins but it seemed a little more cidery than it did before fermentation. You wouldn’t necessarily pick it out as raisins… at least not yet. You never know what will happen once its bottle conditioned.

To bring a little  experimentation back into this brew I decided to try out a variety of bottles. It will be nice to see if the different bottle volumes really do have an impact on the beer. I also just wanted to make the chore of bottling (I really need to start kegging) go a bit faster so I only bottled up a little over one case of normal bottles and the rest of the batch went into 75cl champagne bottles, a couple 37.5cl bottles, and one Magnum! It was my first time with the Magnum and the champagne style 75cl bottles. The Magum is quite impressive and will definitely call for a label. To finish them off I had to get out my old hand-capper (as opposed to my bench capper) for the 29mm crown caps. The capper didn’t like the thicker necks of those bottles but with a little extra persuading they seemed to go on just fine. Next time I will try my hand at corking and caging those bottles.

have you done this before?

That’s the question I was asking myself last sunday while I was brewing the first batch of Early Bird Breakfast Stout. The brewday didn’t exactly go as smoothly as I would have hoped. In fact I have never had such a bad brewing session. Even my very first all-grain brew went much better. Let’s just hope that the resulting beer will turn out well.

After milling the grain bill by hand (I can never get my drill to work with the Barley Crusher) I proceeded to dough-in, hoping for a mash temp of 68°C. Problem # 1: Stirring the mash I thought that it seemed a bit thick. After taking a reading of about 64°C I knew I had made a mistake somewhere. Normally this would not be a huge problem. A bit of quick math and heating up some extra water will bring the temp right up to 68°C. Done. Problem # 2: .. wait… why is it now at 65.5° C? By this time I was highly confused. The mash was now too thin to add more water and I didn’t want to bother with decoction mashing, so I just let it go at 65.5° C.

After the mashing problems I hoped that the rest of the day would go well. The first runnings came out of the tun smelling fantastic. There where some nice roasty toasty coffee and chocolate notes with a distinct oatmeal aroma. I was actually surprised that the oats came out so evident on the nose. Problem # 3: Sparging went well for the first 8-9 liters, but then the flow came to a stand still. The dreaded stuck sparge. Great, the brew day just got worse. After cutting into the grainbed I was able to eek out the rest of the wort to get my desired 25 liters. Problem # 4: Unfortunately the gravity reading was a bit high. Some more quick math told me that I needed 2 liters more water to get to the right SG. Thats when I realized the 2 liters I needed to add to get the correct SG was also why my mash looked so thick and the temp was so low. Yup, somehow I measured the strike water volume wrong.

The boil did go much better. In fact I was quite pleased with how the raisin addition went. With 20 minutes to go in the boil I placed the 225g of organic raisins in a steel pot and tapped off about 1 liter of boiling wort. A few minutes with a hand blender then puree was dumped back into the boil kettle. After the boil was done I cooled down the wort and ran it off into the bucket.  Problem # 5: I only got out about 5 liters before the run-off siezed up. Apparently the raisin bits were blocking the flow through the copper manifold. Running off the remaining 15 liters took a long time. I had to take my brew spoon and continuously run it back and forth under the edge of the manifold like windshield wipers to clear away raisin bits. I suppose a bonus is that all the raisin bits stayed in the kettle. It was also nice to see that the black raisins were now a light brown color so I can feel confident that all the raisiny goodness was pulled out of them during the boil.

The low mash temp now meant that the beer would turn out drier than I was aiming for. To adjust for this I decided that I would use a pack of Wyeast 1968 London Ale yeast (even though I had not made a starter) which is less attenuative than the US-05 I had initially planned on using. I activated the smack pack during the mash to hopefully start to wake up the yeast before throwing them in. Problem # 6: By the time my stretched out brew day was done the smack-pack had not swelled at all. Feeling quite desperate at this point I dumped it in anyways. I waited patiently for signs of fermentation. 24 hours passed by. Worry started to set in. I waited some more. 48 hours after pitching there were still no signs of anything happening. I popped open the lid and sprinkled a pack of US-05 on top of the lifeless wort. Problem # 7: Another 24 hours later there were still no signs of action in the airlock. However, there was a faint indication of something happening through the plastic bucket. The next day at work is when I remebered that the black rubber bung in the lid isn’t air tight (thats why I normally us the red ones). A couple sheets of plastic wrap and the problem was solved. The airlock is now bubbling happily.

Thats were the story ends for now. I really hope that bottling goes well or else I may just pour this beer down the drain in spite. I still have hopes for this beer though. The hydrometer sample tasted great and the recipe still looks solid to me. If it doesn’t work out this time, or if it is way too dry, then my next brew will be a re-brew of this beer. Now let’s all pray to the beer gods.

Early Bird

In the last post I mentioned that I want to brew up a stout. It’s been a while since I’ve brewed a stout and the last one was a big boozy Belgian Imperial Stout fermented with Wyeast 3787 Trappist yeast (Westmalle yeast). It clocked in at almost 12%ABV. This time round I am looking for something more sessionable; something under 5%ABV.

I have some oat malt laying around and have been looking for an excuse to use it so I am going to brew up an Oatmeal Stout and substitute a portion of the flaked oats with the oat malt. Apparently Oat malt adds a lot more oat flavor than flaked oats. Some say it is too pungent but I am thinking that some real oat flavor may work out well here. This is what I am thinking of brewing:

expected OG 1.050
expected FG 1.013
4.8%ABV
30.5 IBU (rager formula)
expected color 27.3 SRM (71 EBC)
boil duration 60 minutes

60% Pale Ale malt
12% Munich malt
8% Flaked Oats
6% Oat malt
5% Roasted Barley
5% Chocolate malt
4% Biscuit malt

East Kent Goldings at 60min

Single infusion mash at 68C for 60 minutes

I am hoping that the biscuit will lend a nice toasty edge to the oat malt. I know a lot of people like to toast their flaked oats in the oven before using but if the biscuit works out well I think this could be more consistent than toasting my oats. Since I can’t leave well enough alone I have been thinking about what other flavors would go well with the chocolate, coffee, and hopefully oatiness of this beer. Raisins immediately popped in my head. Heck, a handful of raisins is my favorite addition to a nice hot bowl of oatmeal. Together with a large cup ‘o joe and you have a satisfying breakfast! Now I just need to figure out exactly how I want to add the raisins. I could puree them with a little wort and add that to the boil during the last 10 minutes, or I could just dump some raisins into secondary. Anybody out there have any experience using raisins?

Of course I feel I have to experiment with some non-traditional fermentation. So here is the plan… I will brew the base beer and then split it between two fermenters. One fermenter (most of the batch) will get Safale S04 English ale yeast (possibly Wyeast 1968 London Ale) and the other fermenter will receive only Brettanomyces Bruxellensis. After everything has fermented I may play with blending the two and age that with some medium toast French Oak chips. Some of the two separate batches would get bottled before blending so I can compare  all three and see what’s going on, but I really like the idea of a light musty, bretty oak note in the back of a nice smooth oatmeal stout.

If you have any ideas/input I’d like to hear it.

Dear Santa,

Christmas is near. Have you written your letter to Santa yet? I’ll be writing mine soon, but first I have to figure out what I will ask for. The list of possible choices is too long.

For the fiery side of life:


For the beery side of life:
  • 27 liter electric canning kettle (To use as an HLT or as boil kettle for smaller batches)
  • 20 liter french oak barrel or 32 liter chestnut barrel (found a good deal on them)
  • 50 liter brew pot (sometimes you just need to brew a bigger batch)
  • march pump
  • a bottle of 1980 De Dolle’s Speciaal Brouwsel
  • a job at a small brewery

hmmm, perhaps that last one sounds the best. Now I just need to write Santa a very convincing letter.

So what are you thinking about asking the big guy for? Anything beer, brewing, fire, or cooking related? Come on, let’s hear from you. I know there aren’t a whole lot of readers of this fine blog, but I’ll be sad if only my wife responds (he says, setting himself up for failure).

Alvinne homebrewfest 2009

On the 7th of november was the Alvinne homebrew gathering. 12 homebrewers (myself included) served 20-something beers. This is the event I mentioned that I brewed the two versions of Hop-Nest IPA for. The event was a smashing success! The tasting room at Alvinne was quite full of thirsty homebrewers and non-brewing-beer-lovers. I didn’t know what to expect from the event so I was pleasantly surprised to see such a good crowd.

There were many good beers there, so my taste-buds were happy. Glenn also whipped up some great soup. Romanesco-Cauliflower soup with Melchior, mussels and a touch of pesto drizzled on top. You can find the recipe here. Back to the beer though. The highlights for me had to be Uli’s geuzes. If you don’t know who Uli is, he is one of the most passionate and creative beer lovers you’ll ever meet. He spends much of his time roaming the pajottenland buying up lambic from the different produces. The rest of the time he is back in Germany blending these lambics into wonderful geuze or aging them with different fruits, dry-hops, or other interesting ingredients. Perhaps my favorite of the day was a geuze dry-hopped with East Kent Goldings. Really spectacular! Uli said he also dry-hopped a geuze with Nelson Sauvin hops for a bar in Italy, but forgot to save any bottles for himself. I sure hope he does that again as NS is now my favorite hop.

Speaking of Nelson Sauvin, Hop-Nest was very well received. It was nice to hear people commenting positively about the beer, not knowing that it was mine. Its a great feeling when someone says “hey, you gotta try this beer” and you can say “thanks. I brewed that.” The Brettanomyces Clausenii version was not as well received as its more normal brother. On its own I think that it is quite nice, but when stacked up next to the regular version, it pales in comparison. Its hard to pin-point, but it seems to be missing something. It will be very interesting to see how it progresses though.

Thanks to all the homebrewers who participated in the event and all the enthousiastic beer drinkers who consumed our brews. Of course Glenn and Davy deserve a big thanks for putting this event on and putting homebrewing in the spotlight, something that doesn’t happen too often here.

If you are interested in knowing more about some of the beers that were served and seeing many more photos (including one of me with way too much hair and apparently no chin) check out William Roelens blog (in dutch only)

feeling the funk

funkadelicNo, not that funk. Just a quick brewing update. I have probably mentioned before that I want to get more experimental with my homebrew and walk on the wild side of fermentation. From now on most of my brews will be fermented, at least in part, by critters such as Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus and Pediococcus rather than traditional Sacchromyces strains. To start this new love affair off, back at the end of April I racked batch one of New Addition to secondary and added a smack pack of Wyeast Lambic Blend . Being impatient, I popped it open and took a sample. It’s now at 1.014 and has a very light brett character with hints of sour cherry and some cola, but overall the bugs have not had too much influence yet. It definitely is going down the right path, but the path seems to be long. At least a pellicle just started to form. That will be fun to watch (for a beer geek like me).

baby_brewer090913Hop Nest batch #2 was brewed last Sunday. The recipe was modified from the original test batch. Rather than 100% Munich I added a touch of Aroma malt. The hopping schedule stayed the same but I slighlty lowered the amount of Amarillo and upped the amount of Nelson Sauvin. So where’s the funk? Well I split the batch into two fermenters. One received the same US-05 yeast as the original recipe but the second fermenter received a large pitch of Wyeast Brettanomyces Clausenii. This is supposed to be the “cleanest”, and possibly fastest of the Bretts. I hope it will give me some of the pineapple aroma that is can produce, although the reported success of this seems to be spotty. After 48 hours I wasn’t seeing any activity in the Brett fermenter. I read from several people that they were seeing lag times of 3 days, but I was still worried. Thankfully I was greeted by an enthousiasticly bubbly airlock when I came home from work on the third day. Reports say that this brett can ferment out a beer in 5 weeks. I hope thats true because I intend on serving this beer at the Alvinne International Homebrew happening on Nov 7th, next to the “normal” version.

Further, I plan on starting with the Grand Funk… Lambics. I figure each year I will try to brew one Lambic and then in a few years I can start to play with blending a Geuze. Also in the pipes is a series of 100% Brett beers with all the other Brett strains I received from Chad. Maybe my imperial stout will also get the funky beat with some critters and oak thrown in after primary fermentation.

– The Funk Soul Brewer

and the winner is…

glenn_barell090829There is something nice about waking up early, getting into a car and setting off on a day of beer discovery. The world just seems a little brighter, friendlier and tastier. First I was off to Heule, near Kortijk, for the “introduction day” for the 2009-2010 brewing class at Brouwerij Alvinne. I think more educational institutions need to cater to the needs of the humble student like Glenn does. No sooner had I walked in the room than I was handed a beer. 9am is not too early is it?. We had a thorough tour of the delightfully small brewery and then got down to the serious business, tasting a range of Alvinne beers. Now don’t get the wrong idea, we will be learning the intricacies of the brewing process, but for this first lesson we had to learn what Brouwerij Alvinne is about, and that needs to be tasted.

Off to my next destination, Kessel-lo (near Leuven). Today was the first gathering of the Vlaamse Hobbybrouwers Forum. Organizer Marc put together a well planned event. Again, the beer samples were tasty and the beer talk flowed freely. Unfortunately I had missed all of the early activities since Heule and Kessel-lo really aren’t close to eachother. This event also included a homebrew competition which I had entered. The judges were locked away in a tent in the corner of the yard, away from prying eyes. We knew that the beers must have been good because it seemed to be taking the judges longer than planned. So, who ending up winning? Well, the winner of the first “Flemish Homebrewer’s Forum” homebrew competition was an American, me! The winning beer VHM090829was Hop Nest which you will be familiar with if you follow this blog. Besides the obvious prestige, I won a 6-pack of Westvleteren (always nice to have) and a stack of good looking beer books to add to my library.  Unfortunately I had to then immediately leave. It would have been nice to stick around and get to know everyone and their beers a little better, but the timing just wasn’t right and I wanted to get back to see my baby. Many thanks to Marc and everyone who helped put together a wonderful event.

I have to say that today was a very good day.

de eerste vlaamse hobbybrouw meeting

A quick note for any homebrewers in flanders who may read this. The Vlaams Hobbybrouwers Forum is organizing a homebrew gathering on the 29th of August in Kessel-lo. There will also be a small homebrew competition along side other events. In order to take part you need to sign up with Liemingbrouwer over on the forum. For more information (in dutch) go to the forum post here. Tell them Brewsader sent you.

hop nest

hopnest_label090702That’s the name I have given my munich malt IPA (still working on the label). This brew has turned out to be quite a fantastic, balanced IPA. It has the necessary hop bite, tons of hop flavor and a dreamy aroma. It does not have the harshness and finess of a sledgehammer that so many IPA’s do. This could be the beer to turn me to the hop side. So really, how is the beer? Well, I will try to give it the good old ratebeer analysis.

The beer pours a hazy deep copper with orange edges. A tall slowly fading creamy yellowed head sits proudly on top. Pungent hop nose with grapefruit zest and some musty pine resin. Some indeterminate fruitiness blows in as the hops dance around. Very complex hop notes that are a bit hard to nail down. Heavenly if you like the smell of hops! I can pick up something that you could describe as “winey.” Could this be the famed character of the Nelson Sauvin hops or am I just looking too hard for it? No, as it warms up that character comes out more. A touch of simple sugar and malt make their way upfront after a while, but the nose is definitely hop forward. First impression in the mouth is a good stiff bitterness coming from deep with some grassy notes. Not astringent at all but definitely assertive. Some malt and thinned out caramel try to work there way upfront but are pushed back by waves of citrus hops. Some pine is noticed in the throat. Good lightly fruity tones. Quite nice. Malt does finally make its way forward and join the grapefruit and “wine” for a decently long finish. Medium to light mouthfeel with a dry finish. CO2 level is just right.

Score: aroma 8/10, appearance 4/5, flavor 8/10, palate 3/5, overall 16/20: total score 3.9/5

hopnest_tasting090702This is pretty much exactly what I was shooting for. The only thing that I would like to change is that the beer is just a touch too thin. That is not really surprising since this was an experiment with only munich malt… nothing to build mouthfeel. I have already adjusted the recipe in BeerAlchemy to include a touch of crystal. It will definitely be brewed again. I am also now in love with Nelson Sauvin hops!