Monday, 10 November 2014

How much yeast?

I need yeast, lots of yeast, and yeast is quite expensive...

I've been asked to brew a beer using honey by a friend who keeps bees, after a bit of thinking and searching I've decided to brew a version of Charlie Papazian's  Rocky Raccoon's Crystal Honey Lager.

I did an extract version of this years ago and although I have no notes I do remember it being really nice, so a full mash version sounds like a winner.

Now, yeast is a bit of an issue for Lager, pitching rates are even more important for various reasons (lower fermenting temp means less growth, means you need to start with more, less growth and straight into fermentation is better if you want a clean beer with low esters).
The Mr Malty pitching rate calculator suggests that I need nearly four 100% viable vials of yeast, which would cost about £30, or more like six if the yeast is a month or more old (v.likely in this neck of the woods). That is not much change out of out fifty quid!

You can of course build up a starter, but again the numbers look bad for just a simple starter, I'd need to grow up a 7.6 litre starter!

To deal with this I thought it was about time I build a stir-plate (there are loads of ways, mine is thrown together from a computer fan, some magnets, a sandwich box and some wire) and get growing the yeast up as efficiently as possible. Stir plates keep the yeast from flocculating and continually aerate the starter, giving you the most cell growth by volume. With a Stir Plate the calculator suggested that I would need a starter of 2.8l, which is a bit easier to handle.

Except my largest flat bottomed flask is only 2l....

Step up YeastCalc, an even more sophisticated tool than Mr Malty's.

What YeastCalc does is allow you to work out the steps you need to get up to the required number of yeast cells, up to three steps are available, which should be enough for me with 19-23ltr batches and beers that rarely go over 1.060 OG.

I decided to go with a 1ltr starter first, then move to a 1.4ltr, this should give the existing yeast cells something worth eating on the second step and sufficient growth to hit the target (ok I'm likely to be 1 billion cells short, but what's a billion between friends eh!)

It's pretty easy really, just boil your 1lts of water (I use bottle spring water, no other treatments) with 100gm of light Dry Malt Extract (DME), by using a borosilicate glass flask it's possible to do this straight on my halogen hob.

Cover the mouth of the flask with sanitised foil to stop any dust or other crap falling in.

While it's boiling take your vial or smack pack of yeast out of the fridge (you do store it in the fridge right?) and let it warm up to room temperature.

After about 10 minutes, move the flask from the heat and allow to cool for twenty - thirty minutes (you can put these flasks straight into cold water, but there's no rush and you do hear stories of them breaking sometimes.)

Then place the flask in a sink of cold water to take the temperature down further, I find that after about another fifteen minutes it's about right, but leaving it on the kitchen worktop for a while means that both it and the yeast should be pretty close in temperature after an hour or so.

Sanitise the yeast pack, shake well, if using a vial open it slowly, they often gush if done too quick, then pour the yeast into the starter.

Some people boil their stir bars in with the wort, they are after all designed to be autoclaved, but I had mine sitting in a shot glass with some Star San. Drop the stir bar into the wort and then place the flask on the stir plate, switch on and leave for 36 to 48 hours.

Because it's lager yeast I set my fermentation "chamber" (fridge) to 12 deg c, I'm going to leave it the full forty eight hours before crash cooling overnight, then discarding the beer before adding in another 1.4ltrs of wort and then fermenting again for another two days. After than I should be ready to brew on Sunday!

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Group brewing session

I'd somehow not completely alienated some friends with my incessant and nerdy rambling about beer, and yeast and stuff, and surprised me by agreeing to come round early one Saturday morning to make some beer (I did promise bacon and egg sandwiches).

One of my friends, Richard, always raves on about Castle Eden Ale, so I duly found a recipe in Brew Your Own British Real Ale and went about bastardising it a bit.

I increased the Pale Malt and removed the sugar, I don't want granulated sugar in my beer whether or not Camerons/Castle Eden include it or not. I had the bittering hops (Target) so that was all good, but I would have used Goldings or Fuggles if that was all I had. Because Styrian Goldings are now pretty hard to come by I decided to use some Styrian Celeia, which are one of the newer hybrid "super Styrian" varieties, ok ok I'll stop now before you get bored.

Anyway, I did my best to get organised the night before, sorted the water out at least (campden tablet and CRS to knock the residual alkalinity down to 20ppm CaCO3, wake up at the back) and piled my kit up in the kitchen ready.

Richard turned up first, with bacon, then Matt, Lee was late but he had been working away so we didn't mind (although I think the others were working out how many more bottles they would end up with if he was a no-show).

Richard weighed out the grains and Matt helped with setting everything up, after talking them through the process as the water got up to strike temp it was to to begin to under-let the mash tun and for the excitement and action to begin.

Once that was out of the way we decided to have round one of bacon & egg sandwiches and coffee, we then killed some time making some sour dough bread that I had kicked-off the night before.

As is always the way, the ninety minute mash time went quickly, and we proceeded to batch-sparge the grains, again totally uneventful, although it was handy having so many assistant brewers as this time an open tap was spotted before filling the boiler.

Matt dealt with the hops like a true professional, tipping them in with a deft flick of the wrist and while eating another bacon and egg sandwich I took them through the cooling process. For the late hop addition I'd added  another 25 grams to the frankly pathetic 7g in the recipe, which might not constitute a "massive hop bomb" addition, but it should add a lot of flavour and hopefully a bit of mouthfeel.

We lost 1ltr of beer to the boiler and hops, the pick up pipe must be leaking air so it didn't syphon the last, but in the end 22ltrs of 1.038 wort made it into the fermenter.

It was gone noon at this point, and they had to go, so I pitched the Nottingham yeast and moved the bucket into the fermenting chamber (sounds better than fridge) and cleaned up alone (nothing new there).

It was good fun having people to brew with, it might have been even more fun if we'd had been drinking, but then it might have been a mess and chaotic, as it stand all three left enthusiastic and keen to get brewing, so if you have a friend or two that you haven't bored to death yet why not get them involved one day soon?

As usual our American cousins have gone and gotten organised!

Here's the recipe folks:

Recipe: 30 Close to Eden
Style: Standard/Ordinary Bitter
TYPE: All Grain

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size: 23.00 L     
Boil Size: 27.81 L
Estimated OG: 1.038 SG
Estimated Color: 7.7 EBC
Estimated IBU: 35.3 IBU
Brewhouse Efficiency: 72.00 %
Boil Time: 90 Minutes

Amount        Item                                      Type       % or IBU     
3500.00 gm    Pale Malt, Maris Otter (5.9 EBC)          Grain      89.86 %      
395.00 gm     Wheat, Torrified (3.3 EBC)                Grai       10.14 %      
20.00 gm      Target [11.00 %]  (90 min)                Hops       27.7 IBU     
33.00 gm      Styrian Celeia [5.40 %]  (10 min)         Hops       7.6 IBU      
0.25 items    Whirlfloc Tablet (Boil 15.0 min)          Misc                      
1 Pkgs        Nottingham (Danstar #-)                   Yeast-Ale                 

15.00 gm      Styrian Goldings [5.40 %]  (Dry Hop after 4 days for 7 days

Mash Schedule: Single Infusion, Medium Body, Batch Sparge
Total Grain Weight: 3895.00 gm
Single Infusion, Medium Body, Batch Sparge
Step Time     Name               Description                         Step Temp    
90 min        Mash In            Add 9737.55 ml of water at 73.6 C   66.0 C   

22/10/14: After fermenting for four days at 18c I dry hopped with another 15g of Celeia, already tastes great, looking forwards to drinking this one, but not sharing it with FOUR other people!

30/10/14: Bottled 41 500ml bottles, used 56g of corn sugar which should give a reasonably high carbonation (about 1.8 volumes given the beer was 10-11 deg c when I bottled it). So that's 10 bottles each with on left over, decided to add a single coffee bean to the one left over as an experiment.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Flanders Red - Belgian Sour Mix vs. Roeselare Blend

Flanders, or Flemish Red ales are sharp, acidic and refreshing, they have fruity flavours and aromas that develop from the malt, yeast and extended aging in large oak vats.

There is some evidence that Flanders Red and English Porter beers share the same heritage, that might seem at odds with the flavours you find in these beers today, but makes more sense when you begin to understand the process for maturing and aging them. Back in the early 19th century Porter was stored and aged in very large wooden barrels, this invariably meant it took on an acidic twang, tart if not fully sour, and at the time this mature beer was known as "stale" and it's younger fresher self as "Mild".

At some point in its evolution it was discovered that mixing an amount of old sour Porter with younger, milder beer would result in the same overall result.Thus the un-blended fresh beer, or Mild and a stronger flavoured or stale beer, could be blended to create Porter, as long as a stock of mature stale beer was maintained. Indeed, it was even shipped to pubs in separate casks and then blended by the barman to suit the taste of his drinking clientele (often unbeknown to them).

The blending of fresh and sour beer is how Flemish or Flanders Red Ales are still produced today, with breweries such as Rodenbach blending various amounts of young and mature beers together to achieve their different beers.

Unfortunately sour beer went out of favour in England and almost all Porter these days is in fact more akin to the original "Mild" beers of the 19th century, although some smaller artisan breweries are starting to produce a more "authentic" version so maybe the style will catch on again in the UK.

The most famous of all Flanders Red Ales is made by Rodenbach, the story goes that in the second half of the 19th century Eugène Rodenbach brought the English Porter brewing methods back to his native Roeselare, while the accuracy of this seems unlikely given that blended Porter was really on the wain in England by 1870, it is certainly true that for whatever reason he began brewing a beer using this approach and a style of beer was born. These days only Rodenbach and Verhaeghe make beer in this traditional way.

Grain bill, minus some wheat
Anyway, before I get all misty-eyed, let's get back to my attempts at brewing something that will hopefully, with patience and a bit of luck, give me a drink that will be interesting and refreshing, if not an exact clone (how could it ever be?) of these fantastic beers.

My starting point, like many people I guess, was Jamil Zainasheff's recipe in his book "Brewing Classic Styles", it wasn't my only source of information however, there are recipes all over the internet these days, and probably the best article can be found on the BYO site.

Indeed it was that site, plus a few others that encouraged me to adapt the method to hopefully give me the best chance of success.

My grain bill for a 22L batch was as follows:

Amount        Item                                      Type         % or IBU      
2296.49 gm    Pilsner (2 Row) UK (2.0 EBC)              Grain        38.90 %       
2296.49 gm    Vienna Malt (6.9 EBC)                     Grain        38.90 %       
434.21 gm     Munich Malt (17.7 EBC)                    Grain        7.36 %        
219.04 gm     Aromatic Malt (51.2 EBC)                  Grain        3.71 %        
219.04 gm     Caramunich Malt (110.3 EBC)               Grain        3.71 %        
219.04 gm     Special B Malt (354.6 EBC)                Grain        3.71 %        
219.04 gm     Wheat Malt, Ger (3.9 EBC)                 Grain        3.71 %        
26.64 gm      Goldings, East Kent [5.00 %]  (60 min)    Hops         14.2 IBU 

This is pretty similar to Jamil's, it's scaled up to suit my efficiency (72% vs the book's assumed 60%) as well as the size of the batch. The key ingredient is the Special B malt, the darkest of all Belgian Caramel Malts, it provides the deep reddy-brown hue that is so recognisable.

The hops were also a year old and so the IBUs are likely to be less than predicted, although recipes give between 10 and 20 IBUs as normal, the lower end should allow the bacteria and wild yeasts at least a fighting chance.

I also had another dilemma, which yeast to use. WLP655 from White Labs or Roeselare Blend from Wyeast. Both have their advocates, but waiting a year to find out which I preferred was too much for me to handle.

To solve this I decided to do a split batch and try both, finding that 3 US Gallon (just over 11 litres) PET carboys were now available, very similar to my 6 US Gal Better Bottle, I ordered a couple, some bungs and two airlocks.

Racking after four days
I had also concluded that I didn't want to ferment each with just the two different cultures, I would used a neutral ale yeast (Nottingham, as that is what I had in stock) and let that go for four days, before racking into the carboys, adding the souring cultures and aging for a year or so. The reason was that I was ready to brew on Sunday, I didn't have the carboys and I didn't want to have to buy four carboys so I could rack off the trub in a few weeks time. Only time will tell of course whether this was a good idea.

The final tweak was to mash at 70 °C (158 °F), this I did to ensure that there would be plenty of sugars left for the Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus and Pediococcus bacteria to munch on.

I hit all my numbers, having to add 1ltr of previously boiled water to make up for evaporation (90 min boil, longer boils are generally a good idea if using Pilsner Malts as it helps deal with DMS).

The OG of the beer was 1.059, after four days it was 1.019, the beer was still cloudy and sweet tasting, but actually not unlike traditional Mild, I might even be tempted to have a go at an tasty malty session beer using a very similar grain bill, maybe a few more hops and a lower mash temp.

I then racked it into the two new carboys, added the cultures and labelled them up ready for their long hibernation through the winter and next year. I will probably add some oak once I feel it is nearly ready to bottle, but only for a couple of weeks. I also may well end up blending the two beers, or saving one for another year to mature and sour further, it all depends on what happens.

Further reading:

BYO Magazine on Flanders Red

Martyn Cornell on Porter

Beervana visit to Rodenbach

Friday, 3 October 2014

Immersion vs. Counter Flow Chiller

I've just decided to get an immersion chiller, I've been using a home made counterflow chiller for the last 30 or so batches of beer, and the results have been pretty good, the thing works well and seems very efficient (I can pretty much chill 23lts to 20 deg c with 30lts of tap water).

So, why after all this time, this happy beer making?


I am forever worrying about getting the inside of my chiller clean and sanitary, it's 8mm microbore copper tubing and there is no way of getting all the liquids out of it unless you connect it up to a compressor to blow air through it (which I do), this is a faff.

On a brewday I first have to flush it through with oxyclean, I then have to rinse it, I then have flush it through with Starsan, I then collect the first runnings in a jug and discard, for some reason, even after all the cleaning, this often has a noticeable green verdigris tinge, urgh.

As for the immersion chiller, well, if kept clean all that needs to be done is for the chiller to be inserted into the boil kettle 15 minutes from the end of the boil, that's it.

Time and the effect on hop bittering and aroma.

The throughput of 10mtrs of 8mm microbore is pretty low, this mean it takes ages for the boiler to drain. All the while the wort is sitting there at nearly boiling point and the hops are continuing to isomerise and the volatile aroma oils are being driven off.

According to this BYO article, "Alpha acids will continue to isomerize after flameout until the temperature of the wort reaches about 175 °F (79 °C)."

Therefore getting all the wort down to below this temperature, as quickly as possible, will ensure that this stops, and you should have a much more predictable level of bitterness.  It should also help prevent the flavour and aroma compounds from being driven off, indeed according to the same BYO article, if you hold the temperature between 160–170 °F (71–77 °C) you can find increased aroma and flavour is obtained.

This level of control is just not available with a counterflow or plate chiller.


It might be that the optimum is to use the immersion to drop the temperature to halt bittering, and then stabilise for 30 minutes while an additional amount of hops is added purely for aroma and flavour. Then both the immersion and counterflow could be used to get the beer down to pitching temp as quickly as possible, clearly there is room for much experimentation!

Oh I estimate I lose half a pint to the chiller.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Should you rack your beer after initial fermentation?

Why is it that people seem to follow the ferment for four days, then rack into a secondary fermentor for another week, then bottle or keg dogma?

Unless additional fermentables (sugar from fruit for instance) are added then racking your beer from one fermentor into another won't result in a secondary fermentation, it won't, maybe you'll unstick a stuck fermentation (but rousing the yeast is probably as effective), more likely you'll just oxidise your beer and it will stale quicker.

There is even some evidence that the yeast absorb off flavours if the beer is left on the yeast for a day or two, there have been studies showing that leaving your beer on the yeast for a week or four won't ruin your beer (from the oft mentioned rubberery autolysis), certainly rushing to rack your beer into another fermentor for a few days before bottling or kegging is it seems, a waste of effort.

Ok, so if you are planning on ageing a beer for extended periods then you don't want it sitting on a yeast cake that is slowly dying (unless you're doing a lambic and then the brett likes to munch on the yeast) but what I'm arguing against is the accepted wisdom that racking to a secondary is de rigueur in all cases, my view is that buggering about with your beer as little as possible on the way to packaging it is of far more importance.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

The easiest way to aerate wort (or how to do less work and get better beer).

Yeast like oxygen, everyone knows this, but if you don't (and even if you do it's worth revisiting) John Palmer has a whole section on Yeast and Oxygen in How to Brew so there's no excuse.

I like many other brewers have spent 10 to 15 minutes each brew day thrashing the hell out of my cooled wort with a big spoon in order to get some oxygen dissolved and a the yeast a good start in life, Mr Palmer lists shaking, pouring and finally pumping air or O2 through the wort.

Always on the lookout for a way to improve my process (i.e. do less work and get better tasting beer) I had considered investing £20+ in a pump system, or maybe even a bottle of pure oxygen.

However, I stumbled across a couple of forum posts about the Venturi effect. Basically manipulating the flow of an liquid or gas so that the pressure drops and causes a vacuum, and using this vacuum to either drag in a liquid like an airbrush does or drag in a gas, which is what we want to do.

You can create this effect by constricting the flow and then expanding it again, at the point of expansion the pressure is lessened and if you place a strategically placed hole suction will occur.

While this image is using air, the same effect works with a fluid.
This approach means you have to make something, then put a small hole in it etc, it all seemed time consuming and as it would be on the cold-side, sanitation was a worry.

I happened to have some nylon 1/4 (6mm) hose connectors, I'd bought them to make a pumped corny keg cleaning system (which I still need to do). I thought I'd have a play around with a three-way connector.


The result is, as you can see, a constant stream of bubbles of air mixed with the liquid as it falls into the fermentor, by the time I had 23ltrs in the fermentor the foam was touching the lid. At least as good as ten minutes thrashing with a spoon, and I'm not having to stand over it wasting energy.

It really is that simple, leaving one of the connector ends unconnected means that as the wort flows through it sucks air in the open end, and bingo, effortless, free (nearly) wort aeration!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

About as unfunky as it gets - Broughcliffe Best Bitter

So having just fairly recently got back into All Grain brewing I thought I'd better make up a batch of my "house beer", this is a recipe of my own devising that has been tweaked a few time after I threw some ingredients together four years ago.

The aim then as it is now was to create a tasty, medium strength balanced beer, not sweet and and not IPA hoppy, but with nice body and drinkability that English Beers are famous for.

Some of the colour and mouthfeel comes from adding a mixture of malts to the base of Maris Otter pale malt, some Crystal of course, but also a good measure of Wheat Malt and a small amount of roasted malts. Originally I used Chocolate Malt, but this time rather than buy a kilo of grains that I'll never use, I decided to use Black Malt instead (that I bought for the Dogbolter brew I made a few weeks ago), only time (and my memory) will tell if there is a significant impact on flavour.

The hops were also modified, I'd got some Target hops in for a brew I'm doing with some friends in a month or so, and rather than buy a bag of Fuggles for bittering I substituted the Target. The consequence of using the much higher alpha % Target (2x at least) is that I needed less hops, therefore I lost less wort. Plus the run off was a lot quicker.

Some of my brewdays are really smooth, the first two I have done since restarting have gone great, but I didn't hit my efficiency or volume targets, this time I was all over the place organisationally, but this time I hit almost all my numbers, apart from a slightly higher efficiency.

I also got to use my "acme" wort-aerator for the first time in anger, and that proved very successful.

All in all I got 23ltrs at 1.042 OG, up a little from the predicted 1.039, which meant my efficiency was 72% rather than the 66% I had assumed, I'm sure this is in part due to the Crisp Maris Otter that I was using for the first time, but also maybe the Target Hops helped here too.

So, the recipe:

Batch 28 Broughcliffe Best Bitter
Type: All Grain
Date: 20/09/2014
Batch Size: 23.00 L
Boil Time: 90 Mins

Amount Item Type % or IBU
3600.00 gm Pale Malt, Maris Otter (4.9 EBC) Grain 83.62 %
470.00 gm Wheat Malt, UK (3.5 EBC) Grain 10.92 %
200.00 gm Caramel/Crystal Malt - 60L (150.0 EBC) Grain 4.65 %
35.00 gm Black (Patent) Malt (1300 EBC) (1300.0 EBC) Grain 0.81 %
28.00 gm Target (Leaf) [9.70 %] (90 min) Hops 30.7 IBU
17.40 gm Goldings, East Kent 4.6 [4.60 %] (15 min) Hops 4.2 IBU
0.50 items Protofloc (Boil 15.0 min) Misc
7.00 gm Gypsum (Calcium Sulfate) (Mash 60.0 min) Misc
1 Pkgs Windsor Yeast (Lallemand #-) Yeast-Ale

Est Original Gravity: 1.039 SG
Measured Original Gravity: 1.042 SG
Est Final Gravity: 1.009 SG Measured Final Gravity: 1.012 SG
Estimated Alcohol by Vol: 3.82 % Actual Alcohol by Vol: 3.90 %
Bitterness: 34.8 IBU Calories: 392 cal/l
Est Color: 20.9 EBC Color:
Mash was at 67C for 60 minutes, the temp in my mash tun was 65 after the hour.
I used Windsor because it doesn't strip out flavours like many more flocculant strains to, certainly seemed to work well last few times, but it does mean the beer takes a good while to clear.

Update 25/09/14: Gravity is down to 1.012, so this is a 3.9% beer as planned. Still very cloudy, but then again Windsor doesn't like flocculating so that is to be expected, taste wise its very good, lovely tangy bitterness that is then followed by a nice malt finish. Now, need to be patient for a couple more days just to make sure the yeast finishes off before chilling for a few days to encourage the yeast to drop out. I've never had to fine any of my beers so don't expect to with this one. 

Update 03/10/14: Gravity remains at 1.012, still very cloudy but that's Windsor for you. Tastes great, really clean and fresh. Dropped temperature down to 5 deg c, will keg most of this over the weekend, although as I have 23ltrs some will have to go into bottles.