Tuesday, November 18, 2014

#44 - Pilsner Brew Day - My First Lager

With my keezer finally in place and currently only occupied by 1 5 gallon keg and an assortment of bottles now is the first time in my life that I have a great chance to ferment a lager.  I'm also heading to New Zealand at the end of the week, giving a perfect time period to crank the chest freezer temp up a little for lager fermentation temps.

Knowing that now was the time to brew a lager the only question was, what lager would I start with? While I've long wanted to brew a BMC-ish "plain" beer (complete with adjuncts and light hopping), my recent trip to Europe introduced me to so much lagered goodness.  While I originally thought about brewing my favorite newly discovered style from Europe, the Czech Černý (which seems to sit somewhere between a Munich Dunkel and a Schwartzbier), I thought better of it due to already having a dark, roasty beer on tap and wanting something more pale and balanced.  The German Oktoberfest style beers I drank in the Wiesn tents, and the Helles and Dunkels I drank in the bars and beer gardens, were well crafted and easy drinking, but I've already had more of them than I would want for a few years.  So then, what lager to brew? Why not the most influential lager that set the bar for countless styles and the vast majority of beer consumed: Bohemian Pilsner.

While in Prague I was fortunate enough to enjoy a number of Pilsners including the original, Pilsner Urquell, in both its usual filtered and special unfiltered version (the unfiltered version is rarely seen outside of the city of Plzen but I happened to be in Prague the same weekend as Pilsner Urquell's brewing anniversary of October 5th).  Both of these, and a number of the other Pilsners offered in the Czech Republic, were excellent and I wanted to go for as classic of a Pilsner Pivo (beer, in Czech) as possible.  In my eyes there are 5 traits that make a Bohemian Pilsner what it is:
  • Soft water
  • Pilsner Malt
  • Lager Fermentation
  • Saaz Hops
  • Decoction mash
While I had these characteristics in mind, in order to fully design my recipe I looked at the most recent issue of Brew Your Own magazine which focused on German and Czech Pils. I also reviewed the four Bohemian Pilsners to have won gold at the NHC. Some notes that I found interesting:

  •  In addition to Saaz, Sterling was a common hop choice
  • Nearly every recipe used a small percentage of slightly darker malts in addition to Pilsner (often Vienna and/or CaraPils)
  • Not all recipes required a decoction with some using a single infusion mash
  • Diacetyl rest was often (though not always) mentioned as necessary
  • Long, extremely cold (~32F) lagering periods and extremely soft water were musts
With all of this in mind I decided to stick with the traditional Saaz, use a little CaraPils and CaraMalt (would have been CaraHell but HBS didn't have it), but avoided doing my first decoction and instead used a slightly more complicated grain bill and a step infusion mash.

2 days before brew day. I built a 1 gallon starter at room temperature (~68) with 2 packs of Wyeast 2000 Budvar Lager.  While 2 packs might not have been necessary, lagers typically require significantly more yeast than Ales and I wanted to make sure that mine took off without a hitch.

Brew day. I purchased 6 gallons of distilled water and added in 3.5 gallons of filtered Arlington, VA water, with no other water chemistry treatments.  Cooled wort to ~60 post fermentation before moving wort and starter to 42F chest freezer.  Will pitch yeast tomorrow once cooled and bring temps up a little.

Yeast was pitched yesterday morning and chest freezer temperature raised to 48F. Fermentation slowly showing signs of life.

Temperature increased to 60F for diacetyl rest.

Temperature decreased to 35F for lagering.

Gravity down to 1.013 (exactly what was predicted pre-brewing!).  Taste is moderately hoppy and grainy, maybe a slight off-flavor, not sure if it is due to using some older Saaz for bittering or an aspect of the Budvar yeast but it comes off a bit earthy.  Hopefully a month or so at lagering temps will bring this down but already tasting like an interesting and respectable pilsner.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Lambic #3

What can I say? I have a sour beer problem.  With my lambic #2 currently very funky but not sour at all I wanted to brew another beer with the yeast cake from my first few sours.  My Sour Mix #1 started with Wyeast's Roeselare blend and has since had dregs from Drie Fonteinen and Cantillon, BKYeast's C2 brett isolate, and American Ale yeast added.  Popping open the top of bottle storing the mix of yeast and bacteria gave such great aromas that I'm confident in the direction this one will head.

This beer is all about the yeast/bacteria so I kept it as simple as it comes for the recipe: 5 pounds dry malt extract, 2 ounces lambic blend hops (1.2% AA) for 60 minutes and my Sour Mix #1.

Brewed on stove top with 6.5 gallons of unfiltered Arlington water with K-Meta added.  1 tbsp phosphoric acid 10% and 1 tsp each of gypsum and calcium chloride added prior to boil.  Extract and hops added at full boil and boiled for 60 minutes prior to chilling. OG measured at 1.054.

With no signs of active fermentation taking off I added yeast from my Saison Blend #1 (Wyeast French and Belgian saison yeasts).  Some bubbles appearing in airlock after 12 hours.

Gravity down to 1.006.  A little fruity, slightly bretty, a touch bitter.

.5 ounces Pinot Blanc soaked medium-plus toast Hungarian oak cubes (and about 8 ounces of the pinot) added to primary.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

#43 - Oatmeal Stout

After a long time off from brewing a dark, malt driven beer I found myself really craving a refreshing, chewy, hearty stout.  I also have been eating a lot of oatmeal recently and really wanted the creamy smoothness and slightly nutty flavor of oats to come through in the finished product.

I based this beer off of the two successful porter/stout beers I have made in the past with some influence from my English pale ale.  The beer is intended to take the middle road between sweet and bitter, but the malt character should definitely be the driving factor.  One other important aspect of this beer is the yeast, Wyeast West Yorkshire Ale. I have wanted to try the strain for a long time and see this beer as an opportune way to build up a culture of it that I can use in anything that could use a bright, peachy yeast presence, from balanced bitters to extremely hoppy double IPAs.

Tasting Notes:

A- Pours with a beautiful big cascading beige head.  Opaque, very dark brown body with some noticeable yeast and hop residue at the bottom.

S- The stonefruit notes of the yeast lead with pear and peach.  There are also some mild roast notes of toast, nuts, and just a touch of dark chocolate.  Pretty much exactly what I want a stout to smell like.

T- Starts with light sweetness, toast and nuttiness, followed by some dark chocolate roast and a moderately bitter finish.  The fruit of the nose is much more subdued, just barely coming through.

M- Slick and creamy, while a little low on the carbonation (the gas disconnect was not properly attached initially so this may have been slightly rushed).  I can still get behind a lightly carbonated stout.

O- Very happy with this one.  While I would have liked more coffee character it is still an oatmeal stout where the oatmeal and roast both come through without being overly strong to make this anything more than an easy, cold weather drinker.  I'm also very happy with the yeast character as it stands out, without dominating or calling too much attention to itself.

Brewed on stove top.  OG of 1.052, a little odd tasting at this point, though maybe I just don't remember what a stout wort should taste like.

Fermentation has slowed dramatically.  Gravity down to 1.022; hopefully it will keep dropping over the next few days.  Taste is good: a bit biscuity, grainy, and nutty with a definite oat slickness and a touch higher bitterness than expected.

Gravity still reading at 1.022.  8 ounces of maple syrup added, hopefully this will ferment and rouse the yeast.  The beer might not attenuate any further due to the high mash temp and large amount of oatmeal.

My inaugural kegging. Set force carbonation to 30 psi to quickly carb for dispensing in a couple days.

Poured a tiny sample, gas disconnect seems to have not been fully attached.  Will re-attach and begin force carbonation over.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Picnic Tap Keezer

Today I took one step forward in my quest for great beers when I finally decided to take the dive into kegging.  My new setup is very simple with just a 7.0 cu. ft. chest freezer from Home Depot with a Ranco temperature controller and a 5 gallon ball lock keg and 5 pound CO2 tank and regulator inside.

While I've been relatively happy with bottling for nearly 4 years now, there's a number of reasons that made me finally decide to purchase a chest freezer and kegs for a keezer build:

  1. Carbonation Consistency - I've often been disappointed by overcarbonated beers, with a few being very undercarbonated as well.  Overcarbonating a beer can detract from the flavor (carbonic acid gives a bite and heavy carbonation makes it harder to taste subtle flavors), from the body (beers feel more "seltzery" and less full bodied) and detract from the overall drinking experience (difficult to pour, have to wait for heads to fall, can cause dregs to mix in).  Undercarbonated beers are generally not as big of an issue but sometimes leave beers feeling flat and watery, not how beers should float around in the mouth.
  2. Bottle bombs - This is sort of a 1.a since this is just an extreme case of carbonation issues.  I've had a few batches of bottles that have been overcarbonated to the point of exploding over the years which have scared the crap out of me.  The issues with using too much priming sugar or having an infection cause increased carbonation isn't much of a concern due to kegs generally not being naturally carbonated, the cold crashing process reducing yeast and bacteria viability, and the significantly higher levels of pressure that kegs can handle compared to bottles.
  3. Oxidation - This is also a two part issue.  One issue is with general oxidation of beers, with several of my batches that were aged for a long time or moved to secondary experiencing oxidation effects that greatly detracted from their flavors.  The second issue is with hoppy beers, where flavors fade quickly and fade even quicker when naturally carbonated in bottles.  The move to kegging (at least the having access to carbon dioxide part of it) allows me to purge secondaries and kegs with CO2 and package hoppy beers (in keg or potentially bottling from keg) with less oxidation.  A few of these topics were discussed in Mike Tonsmeire's recent post about IPA tips.
  4. Cold Storage - the purchase of a chest freezer for kegging provides a large space for kegs (and potentially bottles) to be stored cold. Previously I had to find space in my fridge, not always an easy task, and there was certainly never room for the 20+ gallons of beer that I have now. In the past my beers were often stored at room temperature which helps to deteriorate their quality.
  5. Secondary Fermentation Temperature Control - While I plan on using the chest freezer for kegs (~40°F) and not as a primary fermentation fridge (55-65°F) this very cold temperature could still occasionally be used for extended secondaries or lagering, a capacity I didn't previously have.
  6. Light - The 3 factors which degrade beer: oxygen, heat, and light.  While brown bottles do a decent job keeping out light and I haven't noticed any light-struck skunkiness in my beers, kegs are even better, making sure that even pale, light beers (where these skunked qualities often show up) would be protected.
  7. Versatility - As mentioned earlier, I can still bottle beers, now I just have the option not to, and that's a beautiful thing.

It's interesting to note that ease of use or time saved aren't being mentioned here.  While hopefully these are positive aspects there is a bit of a learning curve with kegging and, even though I've spent a long time researching how it is done and how I'd like to build my setup, there are still going to be mistakes and issues.  Additionally, while I hope the cleaning and sanitizing process isn't quite as tedious as it is for bottling, there are still multiple parts to clean and sanitize on a regular basis from the keg and its parts, to the tap lines, to the keezer itself.

It is worth mentioning that the biggest downside to kegging seems to be the sheer amount of equipment required, which both costs money and takes up space.  I currently have just one keg and the cost of my system has already ran over $600 (although I was able to buy the $200 chest freezer  with gift cards so it didn't feel like as big of a hit).  Part of the reason for the cost being so high is that I went with all new equipment, rather than used versions which are usually about half as expensive.  Moving forwards I could easily see spending another $500 to get all of the bells and whistles I'm currently looking at (and that's still with picnic taps).

I put my oatmeal stout on tap today and am trying to quickly pressurize it to have it ready within a few days.  I'm very excited but also a little anxious; I'd hate to only have one beer on tap and it not be very good.