Sunday, September 20, 2009

Yeast Starter

In order to better ferment my beer I've begun to make yeast starters. This will allow for, not only a much higher yeast population to be pitched, but healthier yeast cells that should help to ferment "cleaner".

1. 1000ml flash
2. Funnel
3. Aluminum foil
4. Alcohol swabs
5. Butane torch
6. Brew kettle (any large pot)
7. Oven mitt
8. Knife

1. 4 oz plain light DME (dried malt extract)
2. 1/4 tsp yeast nutrient
3. 11g Danstar Nottingham dry yeast (substitute with desired strain)
4. 2000ml - 2500ml tap water

With yeast starters sanitization is not good enough, we need sterilization. The only way that I know to do this is with heat; boiling water and flame. EVERYTHING that comes in contact with the yeast cells needs to be sterile!

A basic batch of beer is made with some dried malt that is boiled and then chilled to 70°F. This will provide the yeast with the food they need to propagate and reproduce. Malt extract and tap water should have all the needed nutrients and trace elements needed for yeast, but just to make sure I added yeast nutrient, which is food grade Urea and Ammonium Phosphate.

1. Boil 2000ml water with 4 oz DME for 30 mins (should boil down to approx 1,000ml)
2. Chill "wort" to 70°F (I placed it, covered, in the freezer for about an hour)
3. While chilling "wort", sterilize in boiling water...
- flask
- funnel (careful not to melt any plastic)
- foil
- knife (to open yeast packet)
- 1/4 tsp measuring spoon

4. Cool flask with aluminum foil on top so that no funk can get into flask.
5. Sanitize top of yeast packet with alcohol swab.
6. Sterilize mouth of flash by wiping with alcohol swab and torching with butane lighter.
7. Sterilize knife by wiping with alcohol swab and torching with butane lighter.
8. Make sure that "wort" is 70°F and add to sterile flask
9. Add 1/4 tsp yeast nutrient
10. Add yeast
11. Cover flask mouth with foil
12. Rouse flask often (stir-plate works best for this)

One note for future reference is that I started with only 1500ml of tap water, this gave me about 900ml of liquid. I would have preferred enough to make it an even 1000ml starter and have enough to take a gravity reading of my "wort". This is why I recommend starting with 2000 to 2500ml tap water.

New Wort Chiller

Stopped at Scotzin Bros. supply shop in Harrisburg yesterday. Great selection of items for both beer and wine making; everything from oak barrels to auto-siphons with an impressive variety of bottles. I purchased some small miscellaneous items that don't bear mentioning, but was very excited about buying a new wort chiller.

This is a copper immersion chiller made by L.D. Carlson. It was $69.00. I'll be brewing a Scotch ale in the next few days and am looking forward to seeing how much faster I can chill my wort (the sweet boiled liquid of malted barley and hops that will be fermented into beer) to pitchable temperatures.

The wort comes off the stove at 212° F and needs to be chilled down to around 70° - 75° F so that when yeast cells are pitched they survive; pitching yeast into high temperatures would instantly kill them and the fermentation process would never begin. I've been using an ice bath to chill my wort which takes anywhere from 45 mins to 1 hour to reach desired temperatures. This should improve with the use of the new chiller.

Fast chilling of wort is important because after it is removed from the boil the hot, sugary-sweet wort is a perfect environment for bacteria to grow. By chilling fast and adding yeast, so that fermentation takes hold, there is less chance for contamination that can off-flavor your beer.

Monday, September 14, 2009

First Bottle of Tulpy Trap

Tonight I opened the very first bottle of "Tulpehocken Trap" a Belgian Trappist style clone.

It's only been two weeks since I've bottled it, but this one is going to be a real winner.

The strong Belgian yeast strain flavors really come though well in this beer. It is a wonderful copper color with a bold, but balanced flavor.

These bottles need to sit a while longer, as they are not yet fully carbonated. I roused the yeast in all the bottles to make sure that the bottle-conditioned carbonation reaches the proper level; it looks like much yeast had reached sedimentation.

This beer is named after the valley region between the Blue Mountains and the South Mountains that surround my home town of Womelsdorf. The Tulpehocken valley, meaning "land of turtle" in its Indian origin, is 322 square miles of beautiful farm land that is sometimes referred to as the Lebanon valley. Cheers!

Reporter Red is Dead

It has the outlook of most newspapers around the country - bleak!

It's happened to most of the brewers I know. I personally believe that no home brewer has gone without one. Oh, there are those who claim, with a bold stance, their voice deep and stoic, "I've never had one, and I've been brewing for 125 years." It's the dreaded DUMPER!

Five gallons of sweet liquid not fit to drink*. Nineteen liters of wonderful fizzyness not worth consuming*. Forty pints too repugnant to stomach*. Six hundred forty ounces of golden goodness better off put down the drain*.

"Reporter Red", a red ale, tasted fine when it was racked into the secondary fermenter, it tasted fine when I bottled it, but after three weeks conditioning in the bottles... Blah. The beer has a sour finish very much like a traditional Lambic. Perhaps my house is teaming with a strain of Lactobacillus I didn't know about when I bought the place. There is no doubt some people I know would kill for this type of brewing environment, but not this guy.

I've popped three of the six, 16oz bottles and one of the ten, 32 oz bottles only to find the same sourness in each. Some had a very strong off aroma, others rather faint, but all had at least some sourness, especially at the finish.

I've brewed batches before this that turned out fine, I've brewed batches after that are great, so why this batch? I'll bring a few bottles of this to some of the upcoming brewing events and share some of the funk in hopes that my fellow brewers can help me identify where I went wrong. It's either that or relabel this as "Red-Faced Reporter - bitter with anger"

*there are those who would say stick it in the 'fridge. It's cold, wet and will get you drunk, don't dump it.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Brewing Log Sheet

You never know what information about your beer is going to be important in the future. This is especially true when you first start brewing or when you are brewing a style of beer that you have never brewed before.
I like to focus on details; most of the time these small things can make a big difference. I record the basic information of my beer, the ingredients, the mash temp, the initial specific gravity and the times that I add hops to my boil, but have found some of the most useful information is small, seemingly important notes.
Some examples of these small notes are...

- Who I brew with
- If I filled my kettle with hot or cold tap water
- The beer I was drinking when brewing
- How long the whole process took
- The taste of the wort

It is there little things that are often the most important when I go back and review my brewing logs. Being reminded that I brewed with one of my close friends, that it was his first time brewing and that we both drank some Bell's Hops Slam is nice to look back on.
My hope is, that by recording small details that I will be able to solve a future problem I'm not aware of now. For example, is there a difference in my final beer taste is I use hot tap water to fill he kettle or if I use cold water. My cold water come from directly from the city supply, but my hot water comes through my hot water heater boiler. I'm not sure if this will make a difference, perhaps it won't, but by recording this information I may find a way to better refine my beer.

Download a copy of my brewing log here.

Hops Harvest

Harvested hops at the Richland Brewhaus this past weekend. A bounty of hops is now drying nicely, ready to be added to new brews and vacuum packed for future beer.
The hops smelled great when picking. One thing I didn't expect was the stickyness; the resin in the hops cones turns your hands a mild yellow and makes them very tacky.
The harvest consisted of Cascade and Nugget. A few things to note about the hops and the harvest are that hops that got more sunlight where much larger than those growing in partial shade. With the amount of heavy rain we have had lately there was no need to water the plants this year.
We picked the large hops cones from the vine and left many of the smaller cones to mature a little.
Now that the hops are drying it is a little disappointing to see how quickly they start to weigh almost nothing. Most of the weight of the fresh hops is water and after drying I realize that it is going to take a very large amount of whole hops to brew an entire beer (bittering, flavoring, finishing and dry hopping).
I look forward to testing my green thumb next year and grow my own hops.