A homebrewing blog by a novice brewer. I make mistakes so you don't have to.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Tripel Resurrection

It's been a while since my last update in March. I've recently rejoined the working class and I'm really missing the free time I had when I was unemployed...I guess I had a lot less money then too, but I digress.

Since my last posting I have brewed 3 5-gallon batches. I re-brewed and finished the Belgian tripel disaster from Learning the hard way, I brewed what I hope will turn out to be a Flying Dog Raging Bitch clone (first recipe I've come up with on my own), and a California Common.

I really enjoyed the tripel, which I named Tripel Resurrection in honor of it's deceased brother. However, I learned that Belgian beers take a lot of patience. The primary fermentation took a looong time. Those Belgian yeasts are like the Charlie Sheen of yeasts. They were partying and multiplying (yeast sex! bow chicka wow wow) for 3 weeks! Once they started to come down from their 3 week bender I moved the beer into the secondary fermenter where the yeast started the party right back up. Talk about stamina! After a week they were all tuckered out and I racked the beer into a keg.

4 weeks had past since I brewed this batch and I was struggling. I wanted to drink it!...so I did. Man was it awful! It had a really really really fruity/banana-y taste up front (think juicy fruit) and a really harsh and very dry alcohol finish. Needless to say, I was bummed.

I let Tripel Resurrection sit...and sit...and sit. I would taste it once every couple days at the beginning, and then I kind of forgot about it. It must have been about 3 or 4 weeks after kegging when I remembered I hadn't tried the tripel in a while. To my surprise, the fruitiness and the intensely dry alcohol finish had mellowed greatly. And to my dismay, the beer was very flat.

Tripels are characterized by their thick foamy aromatic head (gigidy)..and mine had none. This was odd because it had been conditioning under pressurized CO2 for weeks. I added more CO2 and tried it again the next day and it was great! Good flavors, good aromas, high in alcohol content (8.7%), and a nice head on it.

Two days later it was flat again! I added more CO2 and it was great the following day. I tried it a couple days later and flat again! What the %@*# is going on here!?

After some soul searching and beer drinking I realized that there must be a leak in the keg. Sure enough, after a thorough investigation, I realized the lid of the keg wasn't seated properly and the seal wasn't tight.

From then on the beer was glorious. 3-4 finger head and great flavors that just got better every time I drank it. And the Belgian Tripel and I lived happily ever after...


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Surviving homebrewing PTSD or Making Beer in a Snowstorm

During the couple weeks that followed the Great Belgian Tripel Disaster of 2011 (see: Learning the hard way) I thought about giving up on homebrewing, again.

For the next couple days I didn't want to think about brewing beer or beer in general. Shit, I didn't even want to drink a beer. But, I did drink a beer, and I remembered how awesome beer is. I started reading homebrew blogs and listening to homebrew podcasts again, and I realized that I'm not the only idiot in the world to have destroyed an entire batch of beer in mere seconds. This gave me the confidence I needed to try again. And who am I kidding? I had already bought ingredients for another beer and the Jew in me wouldn't allow that to go to waste.

This time I brewed a 5 gallon batch of Munich Dunkel. The brew day went smooth with no issues. I did a partial mash steeping chocolate malt at 152oF for 30 minutes. Then I added Crystal 60L, added the rest of the water and brought it to a boil, removed the malt, removed the kettle from the heat and added pale liquid malt extract. I returned the kettle to the heat and brought it back to a boil and dropped my hop additions.

At this point I still did not own an immersion chiller and chilling the wort to yeast pitching temperature took way too long. Once at pitching temperature I transfered the wort to the fermenter and pitched a smack pack of Wyeast  2308 Munich Lager. The Origianl Gravity reading was 1.053.

Then I waited for fermentation to begin. And I waited. And I waited. 4 days and nothing. A couple mistakes I made that may have contributed to this were I did not make a yeast starter, and I had ordered the Wyeast online. I've heard temperature extremes from the shipping process can affect the yeast viability. And considering the yeast was shipped from Minneapolis in the middle of the winter I'm going to say there were probably some temperature extremes involved.

To remedy this, I went to my local homebrew store, Maryland HomeBrew, and picked up a vile of White Labs WLP029 German Ale. I went with an ale yeast instead of a lager yeast because they were out of German Lager yeasts. I wasn't sure how if at all this would affect the taste of the beer, but I figured I'd give it a try.

Well I brought the yeast home as it began to snow more and more heavily. I pitched the yeast (yes, again without making a starter) and this time fermentation started with in 18 hours. Awesome, right? Well during that 18 hours the snow got worse and worse and the next thing I knew there was 4" of snow and I had lost power. This would not have be so bad if I had used a lager yeast, but ale yeasts like warmer temperatures. WLP029 needs temperatures of 65-69oF to work properly.

When I got up the next morning in a cold house I was freaking out cause I had to save my beer - nevermind Jenni or my cat, Smokey. They can wrap themselves in blankets, right? My beer was completely helpless!

Fortunately, my father lives nearby and I was able to move the beer to warmer surroundings.

The Munich Dunkel or as I have named it Pepco Blackout Dunkel turned out pretty good besides the troubles I had. The final gravity was 1.020 giving the beer about a 4.3% ABV. I brought the Pepco Blackout to a recent homebrew club meeting and it was well received. Although I was told that it was a bit sweet and fruity for a Dunkel and if I wanted to enter it in competitions I should consider entering it as a Bock. I think this had a lot to do with my yeast choice. I also found that the beer's mouth feel to be little thin. I was told that adding a little CaraPils can solve this problem.

Lessons learned:

  • Always create a yeast starter
  • Never ferment an ale during a blackout in the winter
  • Buy fresh yeast from a local homebrew shop
  • Add a little CaraPils to thicken beers
  • Pitch the appropriate yeast for the beer you are brewing
  • Use an immersion chiller to cool wort

After everything is said and done, I'm enjoying this beer.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Learning the hard way

On Sunday, January 16th I ended my homebrewing hiatus. My awesome girlfriend, Jenni, bought me a dual-tap kegerator for the holidays. "I no longer have to bottle beer!!?," I thought to myself. "I'm back!"

I decided on a Belgian Tripel for my first batch of beer in two years. Belgian Tripels are light, fruity, tasty and very high in alcohol content. For brewing purposes Belgian Tripels are considered a more intermediate beer to brew since a yeast starter is typically required. Hey, why not start out with a more advanced beer? Besides, I had an assistant. My buddy, Brad - also a brewing newbie, came over to give me hand.

Everything was going swimmingly. We steeped the grains and started the boil with no boil over. At the end of the boil my assistant had to run off. This is where things started to go wrong. Now I'm not blaming him for what happened, but it is kind of his fault.

I did not own an immersion chiller at this time, but I didn't think this was going to be a problem since it was 30oF outside. Well, beat me with a rubber spoon if it didn't take 3 hours for it to cool down on its own. That's the first mistake. The wort should be brought down to yeast pitching temperature within the 30 minutes to an hour to avoid contamination.

When it was finally cold enough for me to transfer the wort from the brew kettle to the fermentor I brought in the brew kettle from the back patio and set it down on top the kitchen island. And that is when I discovered, to my horror, that the kitchen island top isn't level! The combination of the soot and condensation on the outside of the kettle made it very slippery. Before I knew it there was 5.5 gallons of sticky, smelly wort all over my kitchen floor.

Fortunately, Jenni wasn't home and I was able to towel and shop vac all the liquid up before she got back. Have you ever walked on a floor full of melted taffy? Me neither, but I'm pretty sure it feels similar to what it was like walking in the kitchen for the next 2 days.

Needless to say, Jenni wasn't thrilled with the sticky floors. She told me the entire brew process was going to have to take place outside from then on.

So the moral of this story is make sure your kitchen counter tops are level..

Thursday, February 3, 2011

My Nano-Brewery

My brewery setup like most beginner homebrewers is very simple and very, very small. I did not make up the term nano-brewery, though I wish I had. It's just a cool word that makes me think of the microscopic robots flying around brewing beer. I've seen nano-brewery defined a few different ways, and that is definitely not one of them. Essentially, nano-brewing is defined as very small scale brewing - usually associated with homebrewing.

If you are getting into homebrewing, you should know that the IRS allows you to brew up to 100 gallons per year per adult living in your household without being taxed. Fortunately, I lied on this year's Census and said that there are 16 full grown adults living in my household.

My small operation includes the following standard items:

  • 8 gallon stainless steel brew kettle with thermometer and ball valve
  • 4 gallon stockpot
  • Bayou Classic propane burner
  • 3 plastic bucket fermenters 
  • Racking cane and tubing
  • A giant stirring spoon
  • Hydrometer and hydrometer test tube
  • brushes and cleaning solution

All of the items listed above fit inside a 33"L x 20"W x 14"H Rubbermaid bin. Well, everything but the robots.

One thing that I have that most novice homebrewers do not is a dual-tap Haier kegerator and a couple of refurbished ball lock corny kegs. I keg my beer because I loathe bottling. If you are new to homebrewing I suggest bottling. However, if you have brewed a few times and plan on continuing to do so homebrew do yourself a favor and keg your beer. It will save you hours of cleaning and filling. In the immortal words of Ferris Bueller, "It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up."

I make 5 gallon batches of beer and the above setup is perfect. I am missing a couple key pieces that I plan on picking up along the way such as a copper wort chiller and a Erlenmeyer 2000 mL flask to create yeast starters.

Well now you know what I'm working with. My next post will detail my misadventures with a Belgian Tripel. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

About Homebrewing for Kunckleheads

Homebrewing for Knuckleheads is my first blog. I am a novice homebrewer, and as I write this I have brewed under 10 beers and mostly extract beer kits you find at your local homebrew shop. I was inspired to write Homebrewing for Knuckleheads after listening BrewSmith podcast episode 2, "Beer Bloggers and 365 Beers". If you are interested in homebrewing I highly recommend this podcast.

The purpose of Homebrewing for Knuckleheads is to provide you with a learning experience through the eyes of a novice homebrewer. I want to share with you my experiences as a homebrewer, my mistakes as well as my successes so that you can learn, along with me, what it takes to make really good beer. And hopefully I will do just that. That is the point of homebrewing, isn't it? 

My lawyer suggested that I add a disclaimer regarding the title of this blog. "Homebrewing for Knuckleheads" is not meant to insinuate that you, the reader, are a knucklehead. Knucklehead as defined by Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary "a stupid person: dummy". Though you may be a knucklehead for reading this blog, knucklehead refers to the author and his complete lack of knowledge of homebrewing.