Monday, October 10, 2016

Brewing mystery!

Brewing mystery! And math!

I brewed a Belgian Quadrupel today and it ended up a lot stronger than expected. I haven't worked out why.

A big part of brewing is achieving a certain "gravity": amount of dissolved sugar in wort as measured by density. 1.000 is water, and my target was 1.087. Doesn't seem like much, but that's pretty big.

I use BeerSmith, software which helps me with the math. Its prediction for the wort, pre-boil (and pre candi sugar addition) was 1.064 at 7.6 gallons. I stopped the sparge at around 7.2(ish) gallons at a lower 1.057.

There is no arguing with the fact that there's less sugar in the pot than expected. I expected 486 "points" of sugar (7.6 x 64, for 1.064) and instead got 410.

No matter what I do there will never be more sugar in that pot. Unless I add it. Which I did: a 1.8kg brick of candi sugar I'd made using 1kg of table sugar.

The 7ish gallons was boiled down, and eventually I got 5 gallons of wort in the fermenter. My predicted gravity of that wort (the Original Gravity, or OG, for this beer) was 1.087. Instead I got... 1.107.

Which is a jaw dropping difference.

So where did the extra gravity come from anyway? Well, sugar can't appear out of thin air, but there's some things to cover.

Most interestingly, I realized I'd made a recipe error. Remember that 1kg of sugar? Well, I called it 1kg of candi sugar *syrup* in the recipe. Instead, it was a 1.8kg brick of something denser (800g of which, can you believe it, is water... despite its solidity.)

But I knew it had 1kg of actual sugar in it so I made that switch. And my predicted OG went from 1.087 to... 1.092.

OK, so. Next is volume of wort. If you boil off water, the sugar stays behind. So my 5 gallons was actually a little less than my target of 5.25. Let's also say that my kettle loss (amount of wort left behind in the boil pot full of sludge-like "trub"-- the leftover hop residue and protein break- estimated 3/8 gal) was a little less than expected. No more than 1/8 gallon though. So in total, 0.375gal less water.

Running the numbers on that, I get an expected gravity of 1.098-99. Now we're getting closer. But I'm still missing 9 points of gravity after having accounted for the recipe error, boil-off and lossage differences.

But I haven't touched on the low measured pre-boil gravity. If I factor that in, that expected 1.098 becomes 1.084. Versus a measured 1.107. That's a huge discrepancy.


Let's come at it another way. Using my imperial units, 1kg of sugar is 2.2lb. A pound of sugar contributes 46 sugar points (if dissolved in 1gal water you'd have a 1.046 gravity.)

So 2.2lb sugar is good for 101 points. 410+101=511.

511 points of sugar in 5.25 gal of water (our total fermenter volume plus lossage) is... 1.097. Which doesn't match either reality or adjusted prediction.

So. There's a probable arithmetic error on my part somewhere but not enough to account for the discrepancy between 1.097 and 1.107.

What can account for that? Well, possibly a measurement error. Maybe my pre-boil measurement was off. If I hadn't mixed the wort properly, it's possible. Too late to find out.

Anyway, I did adjust gravity from 1.107 down to 1.092 by adding 0.75gal of boiled, cooled water. It'll still be a potent Quad, without being crazy. And it will have a permanent air of mystery...

Tuesday, August 4, 2015


Two beers for today's roundup! Both inspired by Belgium (well... the second one was technically Dutch, but from my perspective here in North America, that's like the difference between southern Ontario and south-western Ontario.)

Unforced Error

The first was a shot at a nice, malty, tasty Belgian Dubbel. No problem, right? My brewing partner, Andrew, got ambitious. Who was I to argue? He cooked up some Belgian candi sugar, using a process like this. What he got was pretty gorgeous:

Three pounds of invert sugar, cooked for three hours.

Well, with colour like that, we figured we should build the beer around it without too much malt to help. Then, two things happened. One, we overshot our gravity with unexpectedly high efficiency from our mash-- resulting in a wort that would reach 9% alcohol after fermentation, instead of the targeted 7%. Two, we got much less flavour and colour contribution than we expected.

What we got, actually, was a beer with a ton of clove notes and a pretty clean profile. What we got was a Tripel.

They have a term for this in baseball, when you accidentally turn a double into a triple. They call it an Unforced Error.


"Ra Ra" (working name)

Next on deck (ooh, another baseball reference) was an attempt to clone, or at least get close to, a wonderfully rich, flavourful, no-roast imperial stout by De Molen brewery in the Netherlands, called Rasputin.

Much better beers than the facial expression would express.

The exported Rasputin has an interesting history in the US, being referred to as "Disputin" for a while due to a trademark dispute. What it is, though, is a fantastic, potent imperial stout that bears a very winey, rummy flavour instead of being full of roastiness. And lately I've found roasty beers to be about as appealing as licking a campfire.

And I didn't even realize what I wanted to brew until I tasted a (somewhat past its prime) stout by Russ of Biergotter, and I was reminded of how a stout doesn't have to be all Black Patent and Roasted Barley.

This recipe is an attempt to get close to my memory of Rasputin, which I've had at the brewery in the Netherlands, in the wonderful Gollem's Proeflokaal in Amsterdam, and at Volo in Toronto who sometimes import De Molen. Rasputin is one of my very favourite beers and if I can get close to it, it will be a huge victory.

Gollem's, with a tram casually rolling on by because Europe.

All I know about Rasputin is that it is "pale malt, chocolate and crystal malts" and "premiant and saaz hops". That's not much to go on, but I constructed a recipe designed to load the beer up on rich dark-fruit and malt flavour. The Saaz hops I could do, Premiant I couldn't, but I don't think that matters so much. The yeast is an Abbaye belgian yeast, brought up in a starter to give it a fighting chance in a 1.095 gravity wort.

Brew day wasn't perfect, we undershot our gravity quite badly, but drawing off extra volume and then boiling aggressively ended up giving 4.8 gallons at 1.095, instead of 5.5 at 1.097. Close enough, trading a few bottles of end product for a higher gravity. It occurs to me I had the same problem with Bombe, but after 2 years, I didn't remember the lessons of my last imperial stout. Oh well.

The name for this one is, well, probably temporary. Like Unforced Error, its identity will be revealed in time.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Brew Roundup

Long time no post. So let's round up the last year or so of brewing activity. Brew details first, with the recipes posted below the cut.

This past year has seen a shift in my brewing pattern. I've got some recipes that I'm fine-tuning now. I'm also brewing a little less frequently, but with more ten-gallon batches in the mix. This has been helpful from a life-balance perspective, without sacrificing on the kegerator-pours-beer-when-I-pull-the-tap front.

Ten Gallon Hat Brown

This brown ale has seen some iteration from its previous incarnation. I recreated it with some tweaks in August 2014, and then tuned it further as the inaugural 2015 brew in March. The latest iteration dials back on the Fawcett amber and rounds out the malt profile with some Melanoidin (my new malty friend) and some Honey malt. I also went to Hallertauer hops, not for any specific reason but because of availability.

The end result is rich and complex, with a sweet chocolate-cake finish, but doesn't lose its drinkability. It may be the best beer I've ever brewed, and people seem to like it. It's a favourite of Erin's, and other friends have remarked positively about it.

The recipe included at the bottom is from the third edition. TGH will be back again this fall, I'm sure.

Smoke & Sting Porter


It's funny, I don't really remember this one so well anymore. But looking at Untappd, it seems like we all liked it. My tasting comments: "Really hit the target with this one. Smoke character is perfectly balanced. Get a nice roasted note too. Not too heavy either. Happy!"

The most memorable thing about this one is that on brew day, it got a little something extra in the pot: a wasp. I might have to brew this again, see what all the fuss was about. Maybe this time I'll add two wasps.

Campaign Rye Pale Ale


In what was a very busy fall, I took a leap of faith and brewed 10 gallons of a style I'd barely tried before. The result was epic. Campaign got us through the winter by being a fantastically well-balanced, drinkable, tasty beer.

Brewing it was a challenge, though. The mash profile was flawed, because it exceeded my mash tun's volume constraints, so I had to adjust on the fly. On top of that, the rye-heavy mash stuck during initial runoff, and I had to re-set it and sparge very slowly.

It also got a couple of random 2-ounce hop packages that I had hanging around. Ahtanum for aroma hops, and Glacier for dry hop. But the Glacier went in "hop tubes" that are designed to fit in a carboy, and that was a complete bust: the pellets expanded and turned into hop concrete. Very poor utilization.

Still, the end result was extremely good. My latest beer (below) is a RPA that is modeled on Campaign, though with enough ingredient substitutions that I'm giving it a different name.

Speaking of names: Campaign got its name by being brewed during the heat of the 2014 municipal election campaign. It was an incredibly busy stretch for me. And fortunately, the good guys won.

Santa's Sweet Stout

I set out with the mission of creating a "sweet" or milk stout, with cocoa nibs, to make it a "chocolate milk stout". If I recall correctly, half of this batch went to Andrew. I bottled my half.

This wasn't a bad beer, but it didn't really hit the mark. It was meant to be sweet and chocolatey, and it ended up being fairly dry without the cocoa nibs contributing much of notice. Which is a shame, because nibs are expensive. I had to hunt around to find some, eventually locating them at a baking goods store.

No Crystal IPA

This past April, it was definitely time to brew an IPA-- it has been too long! An experimental beer, this was a 5 gallon batch only, which I regret.

The name makes reference to the fact that no crystal malts were used. This came out of a conversation with Culum of Together We're Bitter, after I tasted his very delicious IPA. He has this thing against crystal, and formulated his IPA to not need any. At an IPA growler tasting event, his was light and drinkable, while everyone else's was some degree or another of chewy.

So I decided to give it a try. I followed Culum's lead by using some honey malt for balancing sweetness. I also used all Mosaic hops for the beer, which gave it a tropical juicy character.

Somehow I stumbled on a really nice balance. I got to recently try Block Three's Mo Money Mo Problems Mosaic-hopped IPA, which was good, but... I liked mine better.

I will likely try and replicate this beer. Maybe change up the hops a little.

Southern Exposure Cream Ale

This one was fun.

I wanted to brew an "authentic" cream ale. So I came up with a recipe with 3 pounds o' grits as part of the malt bill, as a corn adjunct. But you can't just toss grits in. You have to gelatinize them first.

So I basically boiled the grits along with some malt. The malt is needed to provide a little enzymatic action to break down the gooiest of the starches from the porridge-like mass of grits.

Given the approach, I decided to do a protein rest and some decoction mashing. It turned out to be quite a challenge, as I ended up having to do three decoctions after the adding the boiled grits to the mash.

The end result is just on tap today, and is pretty drinkable. It will probably improve after sitting in the keg fridge for a while. I would have liked to cold-condition it earlier, though. The best I managed was a few weeks of cool-basement-floor conditioning.

Dusty Roads Rye Pale Ale

Another crack at the RPA style, modeled after the Campaign RPA.

This was brewed today, with the lessons of the previous RPA in mind. Lautering was still a challenge, but nothing stuck this time.

The ingredients are different enough (I'm low on Vienna and had to do a bunch of hop substitutions) that I decided to rechristen this beer. Currently, our street is a big mess of construction, and I had to take the careful step of closing the garage door to prevent billowing dust from falling in the brew pot as I chilled it.

Speaking of chilling, that was pretty tough too! Our temporary water supply runs above ground for a few hundred feet in a nice blue plastic pipe. That meant the temperature was a fair bit higher than usual, which affects my ability to chill a wort using an immersion coil.

Still, no major problems. Should be a good beer in a few weeks!

Thursday, August 28, 2014


I interrupt your usual stream of brew-day summary posts to show off a little something...a custom sandblasted growler made by Colour and Light (ie. me).

Sunday, July 20, 2014


A special brew day yesterday. I should have taken pictures. Yesterday we went FULL QUAD.

Dave and Shawn, a couple of friends, were on hand to assist through the day, which made it a lot easier. This 5 gallon batch of Belgian Quadrupel was a challenge, with some unusual and even unique steps.

Firstly, I used a liquid yeast in a starter I put on Wednesday, to give me the cell count needed to provide a healthy fermentation. I was able to effectively use Erin's stir plate (former research chemists have interesting toys) to get the most bang for my buck.

Secondly, this recipe called for a "magic elixir", a process step suggested by a respected brewing acquaintance. The first 1.5 gallons of runnings off the mash went into a separate pot, the demerara sugar was dissolved in, and it was boiled down by 50% or more to caramelize. Tricky, because it can't scorch or boil over, and the second burner I have is very hard to adjust. But Dave and Shawn handled that part of it well. By the time it was returned to the main pot, it was almost syrupy.

Apart from that, things were actually quite simple. A straightforward single infusion mash with batch sparge. A single hop addition.

A successful brew day. The technicals went well, and the company was welcome. But it'll be a while before we can enjoy the fruits of this labour. This is a beer for the winter, not a beer for now.

Recipe below.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Brazilian Blonde, Awenda Wheat, KWCBC, etc.

So, I've been remiss on posting lately. Slipping!

Brazilian Blonde

Early in June I ran a 10 gallon batch of Blonde Ale. There's not much notable about it. I'll include a recipe below.

It isn't even kegged, because the keg fridge already has a nice yellow beer in it (Windbreaker Pilsner, which has turned out very nice now that it's had a chance to age after I dry hopped it.)

IPEh Growler Event

The US-05 yeast version of Backyard IPEh went to the KW Craft Beer Club's IPEh growler event. It tied for 4th out of 10. I'm happy enough with that, but the event was too competitive (and some of the beers were not, to be honest.) Participants would have got a lot more value out of the event if they had a chance to describe the beer and hear people's responses.

I would have appreciated it, myself. I don't think the Backyard was that great a beer and one lesson I did come away with was that the better performing brewers are thinking tactically about their ingredients and recipe. Something I need to learn.

The next event is a Wheat beer event. Which brings me to:

Awenda Wheat

Sunday, I fired up the 5 gallon system for the first time this year, because this brew is a pair of firsts. One, it's my first wheat beer. Two, it's my first decoction mash. Normally I do infusion mashes (so called because the mash temperature is set and adjusted by the infusion of hot water into the grains). But this time, I decided to follow a simplified version of a traditional German brewing technique.

When you want to adjust the temperature of your mash, you scoop off the thickest part of the mash into a separate pot, so you have a big pile of soggy grain in there (leaving most of the liquid behind) and then you boil it. Once boiled, you return the hot grains and liquid back to the mash and mix it in.

It didn't go quite as smoothly as I wanted: I needed to move from 122F (protein rest) to 153F (sacharification rest, or the main starch-to-sugar conversion process) and what I thought would be one step ended up taking three whole cycles of scooping grain out with a slotted spoon and boiling it. In the end I settled for a mash temperature of 148F. That will change the body of the beer.

Decoction mashing is counter-intuitive for 2 reasons.
  • Boiling the mash denatures the enzymes you need to mash (but since most liquids get left behind and the enzymes have dissolved, this doesn't end up being a problem.)
  • Brewers are told not to subject their grains to more than 168F because of tannin extraction. But decoction involves boiling the damn things. BYO does an okay job of explaining why this isn't a problem.
There are some upsides to decoction, according to some. It changes the character of the beer, creating body without adding residual sweetness. We'll see.

For a fairly simple Weizen, though, it's completely in place. I even had a package of Weizen yeast on hand, but it was a little too old and didn't look viable, so I used a backup package of dry WB-06 instead.

Recipes below the fold.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Backyard I.P.EH?






Karma? Kismet? Or simple good timing?

I was planning to brew a pale ale on Saturday. But then I learned about the Kitchener Waterloo Craft Beer Club's "Homebrew I.P.EH? Get Together" in mid-June: bring a growler of your finest IPA offering to share just a block or two away.

The twist is that the recipe has to include some ingredient from the local area. Theoretically that could include "water from the Grand River" according to them, but really, honest ground water pumped from a deep well to a KW tap, loaded with so much calcium that drinking it would bone-spur your teeth into a solid rocky mass, would be more "local" than some foreign liquid that just happened to tumble through Waterloo region by following the so-called path of least resistance.
In the brewery, resistance is futile when you have a pump.

I will not take that path of least resistance. Not when I have a pound and a half* of "Cascade backyard mix" sitting in the freezer. With six weeks to the event, the stars aligned, and I threw caution to the wind that filled my sails.

With a book value of 85 IBU (though I've had a history of low utilization from my backyard hops, so I don't trust that), and so much hop mass in the kettle that I had trouble stirring the brew during chilling, this should be a real hop-forward IPA. Even better, if I walk the growler down to Guelph St., then none of the hops in this beer will have ever been transported by vehicle. How local is that, hmm?
Pretty goddamn local, I'd say.

I admit: while formulating this recipe, I read this blog post that talked about how if you're doing an IPA, you just can't shy off the hops. It made me revisit it and increase the hop schedule. And then increase it again. 10 gallon batches sometimes have some scary numbers that come with doubling every ingredient, but 25 ounces of hops is pretty terrifying to someone who came into homebrewing during the great hop shortage of  '07-08, paying $3-5 per precious ounce.

Estimated wort loss from hop absorption: 3/4 of a case of beer(!)

As with the Spring is a Tough Nut, Backyard I.P.EH? is being fermented separately with different yeasts. English ale yeast S-04 in one (my experience with Tough Nut is that the S-04 version was fantastically better and the Bertus Brewery blog post above suggested it as an interesting IPA yeast option despite its seemingly incompatible heritage) and WLP-001 California yeast in the other.

Hang on a moment...


Ahem. Here, have a picture of some innocent squirrel-free fermenters:

Anyway, the WLP yeast is a liquid yeast, something I've never tried before, but the good folks at OBK have made liquid yeast a viable and economical choice now! The immensely wide range of liquid yeast varieties beckons: while there are 6-8 useful and accessible dry yeasts around, there are dozens to choose from in liquid form. They just don't keep as easily.

As of this writing, the WLP fermenter has kicked off nicely. The S-04 is still lagging, but that seems to be its lot. The fermentation temperature is still fairly low thanks to lingering cold ground chilling our basement... the fermenters are at about 62-64F, which slows the yeast activity down, but I do like the clean fermentation that results.

* So it turns out I didn't have a pound and a half of the Cascade. I ran out. I had to do some late substitution of 2012 harvest Zeus (last featured here) which is unfortunate because... it's best used as a bittering hop and has a distinct character. Even after 18 months in the freezer, it packs a powerful nose. The beer will be different because of it. But, you know, roll with it!

As always, recipe below.