Sunday, November 17, 2013

Brew Day: Ten Gallon Hat

Lots of pictures this time, thanks to assistant brewer Andrew's camera. (I'd call him "co-head brewer" but usually one or the other of us is in charge with a recipe. Yesterday, it was me.)

This means I get to realize how much I sometimes look like a hillbilly.

And it's great that we have some photographic evidence, because this brew was a trial run of a bigger 10-gallon batch size (hence the name!) with some new equipment thrown in. The brew day took a lot longer because of unfamiliarity and heating times on the larger volumes of liquid, but generally the surprises were pleasant ones.

Extracting wort from the mash into the kettle

The weather was unseasonably warm for November, with some glorious morning sunlight that turned to cloud but we still enjoyed 11-degree weather that made life a lot easier on everyone.

Sunday, November 10, 2013


The true title of this blog post is what we kept looking at each other, Mrs. Mountbreithaupt and I, while we were there:

"Mother****ing Belgium, man!"

I'd make that the real title, but I'd feel bad if someone shares this out and gets dirty words all over their URL. But it's a word necessary to express that deep and fundamental amazement about being in mother****ing Belgium and drinking its fabulous beer.

We planned this trip a long time back-- and after some delay, it finally happened. The centrepiece of our foray across the water was a week-long tour hosted from a river barge (the good ship Fiep) by Ruth and Mike who together make up Bon Beer Voyage.

Mike and Ruth, in the middle, along with the good folks at 't Waagstuk in Antwerp

The Fiep, our home for a week, resting in Amsterdam
The trip started in Bruges, with a foray into the nearby countryside to visit the Westvleteren abbey and see the monks chant. Only, the monks were sick, and there was no chanting. Fortunately, we had a plan B.

and plan C and plan D
I don't need to say much more about Westvleteren, except we shepherded a 6-pack of Westie 12's back from Belgium without casualty. No, you cannot have one. Westvleteren 12 is the highest ranked beer in the world at Ratebeer, and also in the top 10 at Beeradvocate. It is a simply superb Belgian quad by any measure, and it sets the standard. What a way to start!

In comparison, De Dolle Brouwers was much more quirky, a small but well-established brewery near Esen, Belgium. But no less worth the visit.

Literally, "The Mad Brewers"

Who doesn't like a cheery yellow keg of oerbier?

Bottling Dalek

After Bruges, our stop in Ghent proved to be very interesting, and not just because of beer. Ghent reminds me of KW: 250,000 people, of whom 65,000 are students. While the town has lots of history, it is energetic and seemingly always reinventing itself. It is also the home to Gruut, a brewery specializing in beers without hops. While the herb mixes used to balance each beer's sweetness left me finding some fault with their thin-tasting Wit and pale ales, their malt-forward dubbels and darker beers were simply fantastic.

After Ghent was a grueling (or at least challenging) 3-brewery day. Bosteels, home of the Pauwel Kwak:

A traditional Kwak glass. The beer inside is a nice malty golden ale.

The stainless steel halls of brewing
Bosteels' recently retired owner pours a champagne-style beer for Erin.

The giant Duvel, which despite their size have some fantastic beer.

Also, Hop Straat.

And another small brewery, Malheur, in the wonderfully named town of Buggenhout.

Got to catch the brewer recovering yeast from one batch to start the next.

Tripels a la Malheur

That's a paddlin'.
Our last brewery in Belgium proper (before heading into the Netherlands) was maybe our favourite. Brouwerij De Dochter van de Korenaar, whose name translates literally to "Daughter of the ear of the corn", an old Belgian reference to beer. This operation was the closest thing to a home brewery (in fact, speaking technically, it is a home brewery) and also hosts its own retail shop on premises with the brewer's family home.

Goes to show what's possible in Europe and not in heavily over-regulated North America: In Belgium, the brewer installs a condensation chamber on his vent hood so he doesn't bother his neighbours with lots of steam. In North America, you're just not allowed to run a commercial brewery at home, you criminal, now go back to your desk job.

The head brewer alongside the equipment he custom built: insulated mash/lauter tun and kettle.

What's that? It's a recirculated hot oil kettle! The oil is heated to 130 celsius and run through these tubes to boil the wort.
In addition to being a wonderful example of why North America suck with its hyperprescriptive zoning and puritan attitudes towards alcohol, the Dochter brewery also makes some amazing products. In particular, their barrel series:

Yes, they have both Laphroaig-barrel and Lagavulin-barrel aged beers.
The Charbon pictured in the corner above was also a standout smoked porter. And we got a few sips of something special: some Eisenbock ice-distilled beer, clocking in around 30% alcohol, served from a plastic iced tea bottle.

Which is also probably illegal in about 4 different ways here in Nanny Canada.

After Dochter, the famous La Trappe trappist brewery is almost unremarkable despite its size and history. Except when we got a hint of what brewing at that scale means:

Malt delivery, La Trappe style.
But by the time we were at La Trappe we had crossed into the Netherlands. There, we also visited De Molen brewery and Brouwerij 't IJ, two Dutch breweries with one thing in common.

Apart from the fact they both have fermenters...

they both...
...are under windmills.
Thanks to Untappd and a few other notes, I know I tried some 69 kinds of beer (in sample size or larger) during the whole time we were there... including some opportunities outside the tour like our finding one of the only meaningful Parisian beer spots (La Fine Mousse) and discovering a great brasserie in Amsterdam Oud West called Gollem's Proeflokaal.

What this trip has left me with is a new appreciation for Belgian styles I had only sparingly tried and not really grokked... now I want to be able to replicate some of the dubbels and tripels-- and possibly even quads-- in their rich flavours.

It also left me with a hat.

Once a kwak, always a kwak.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Brewery advances!

Brewery advances!

I was up early this morning, which meant I had time to put an order in to OBK before going to work (where the site is annoyingly filtered). A relatively modest order, but an important step in moving to a 10-gallon brewing process. The main item of the order is a 19-gallon 2-port brew pot that will cost about half of what the 8-gallon pot I ordered from Morebeer did. (The quality may not *quite* be the same but functionally, it should be equivalent. And I don't get shanked on shipping costs.)

It is, of course, not the only part of upgrading batch size. Andrew is loaning me some equipment needed to prototype the process-- namely, his pump and counterflow chiller (and swank silicon hose). Moving and cooling a greater mass of scalding hot liquid becomes a real challenge and these tools become a lot less optional above 5 gallons. Hopefully A will also be present for the inaugural brewday next Saturday (as well as the weather staying comfortably above freezing...)

This is only the first step, though. Based on the experience of next Saturday, I'll also be looking at chiller, pump and hose setup so that A and I don't have to do a brewmance divorce. The process will still be fairly low-tech but then I can start to investigate mashing improvements like recirculation (HERMS or RIMS), as well as paying some attention to the fermentation side.

I've also done some work on the mash/lauter tun, after some hands-on experience with Grub of Biergotter. A better lautering manifold, built of copper, to replace the finicky dishwasher hose filter, I hope will buy me a mittful of mash efficiency points as well as removing a serious headache from my brewing process (a flexible filter hose that is pinched or that folds upwards in the mash bed can cause unwelcome variability.)

At the moment, though, my main goal is to just get the batch size up. I want to be able to keep the keg fridge pouring for less time than it currently takes me, so that I have more time for interesting experimental brews (and other things in life.)

Speaking of experimenting, a recent trip to Belgium has me hooked and interested in replicating Belgian beer styles. That will be quite the challenge. My only foray in that direction resulted in the regrettable "Banabel" tripel, and I hadn't had the courage to try since.

Saw a lot of breweries while I was over there, too. Might put together a future post on that.

Sunday, September 1, 2013


"I do not like this word 'bomb'. It is not a bomb. It is a device which is exploding." 

       - Jacques Le Blanc, French ambassador to New Zealand, 
on France's 1995 nuclear tests in the Pacific

Take your pick:

All bombs, or bombes. Some are more chocolate than others.

The reality is more like:

The rig above is a blow-off hose into a large plastic jar with water that serves as the airlock. While I've seen foam pushed through before, this blow-off rig has never been defeated. Until now.

In action:

And really, that's just the fermentation. I had a wonderful picture of the surprise boilover that occurred during brewing, but managed to lose it.

I'm glad I didn't name this beer beforehand! This was to be a self-indulgent brew day. An imperial stout is self-indulgent enough, but this one will see the addition of some booze-soaked cacao nibs and vanilla bean to make it a chocolatey. It already has the barley flakes to make it smooth and rich, and that's why it's so prone to explodiness-- it's almost viscous. And I think I've lost about 4 or 5 bottles' worth already to boilover and fermentation foaming.

Assuming it doesn't foam itself entirely out of the fermenter, this beer will get its cacao and vanilla additions in a few weeks, see some further aging, and be bottled in November. It will then get some nice shelf time, probably requiring until at least January before it's ready to be cracked open and enjoyed as a mid-winter treat.

Self-indulgent indeed, and self-named, too."Bombe" it is. Chocolatey and explodey.

The recipe below doesn't include the cacao or vanilla additions. Also, because of the boilover I mentioned, the hopping is... unknown. I don't know how much hops were lost when the pot turned into a mad, frothy god and whether replacement additions were less, more or about the same.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Grumpy Urbanist

If a recipe is new, sometimes the name I give it when formulating it ends up being temporary. In this case, I had in mind something like "Dead Greek God", on account of the fact that I was using hops from the now deceased Zeus hop vine (it inhabited a large pot next to the driveway and unlike the ground-planted hops, was the victim of winter kill this year.)

The larger bowls are Zeus leaf, and the smaller bowls Palisade pellet.

But, I was feeling a bit grumpy and stressed out in the morning as I got the mash going, and depressed upon reading things like a bake sale with a drive-through. So anger-tweeting got me through the mash, and so too has it provided a new name for this beer.

Brew day went well, with a brief visit from our friends J and C. C has an interest in homebrewing and I routinely offer her an invite to see how an all-grain process goes. Oh, and J happens to be the namesake of the previous batch, which didn't get a brew-day post:

It's an "in" joke.

But back to the Grumpy Urbanist. For once, some accuracy in my numbers. Pre-boil gravity came out at 1.051 (vs a target of 1.050) with an Original Gravity of 1.060 (target 1.057). Much better than the terrible undershoots of the last few batches. Not that I've seen any meaningful efficiency improvements, mind. I've just dialed my expected efficiency down to a weepingly low 65%. Clearly, Chris needs a new mash tun.

This recipe is a little wacky. Brew with what ya gots. And I gots:

  • The aforementioned Zeus hops - pungent, obnoxious, good for bittering
  • "Palisade" pellet hops - similar to Willamette. Mixing pellet and leaf is a pain on my system, too.
  • T-58 yeast - kind of a specialty yeast that produces some estery and peppery flavours
  • 5lb of rye malt to go along with the last 5lb of pale, and a few more pounds of pilsner to round out the malt bill.
I figured that this beer could be a mess, in terms of flavour. Sometimes, though, you got to get a little freaky. But what I didn't expect was that this beer would quickly be a mess in the brewery, as well:

Airlock = insufficient.
Mad kreusen.

I've never seen a fermentation take off like this. These pictures are from ~20 hours into fermentation. I was already seeing strong gassing off at 6 hours! I should have known this might happen, since it's typically not until the next day that I see any activity.

So, cleanup on aisle three, change out the lid, and then back to the blow-off tube for the rest of fermentation.

Fortunately, at high kreusen like this, a fermenting beer is actually quite robust even in the event of a containment breach of the warp core. The overpressure means there's very little opportunity for outside air or microbes to get into the fermenter, let alone through the thick layer of CO2 foam. But I'm glad I caught it, because the sweet wort would also attract insects, and that would be that.

The recipe is below. I've also included the Golden Pockets, which turned out to be remarkably close to Dirty Fawcett that it's almost indistinguishable. It is slightly superior to it, though, so I'll regard it as a successful refinement of DF instead of a failed attempt to produce a different beer.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Brew day: Lawnmower Man Blonde

I like names that work on multiple angles. A "lawnmower beer" is something cold, fizzy, refreshing on a hot day after chores (like lawn-mowing) are done. It's not meant to be high-brow, just pleasantly drinkable. Then, as well, there is the fact that during this brew, I actually did mow the lawn. So I was a lawnmower man... or perhaps, a lawnmowing man.

And of course there is this:

The trifecta is achieved: Meaning, circumstance, pop culture reference. A name is born!

As for the brew, a few different things with this one. Instead of my traditional 50/50 split of super-hard tap water with super-soft RO water, this beer was put together with 100% RO with small mineral additions (1gr chalk, 1gr epsom salt, a tiny amount of table salt) to achieve a water profile similar to Pilsen, Czech republic. Of course, I have no idea if I actually hit those precise sub-gram measurements, or how mineral-free my RO supplier's water is, but I'm interested to see what effect this will have.

Also, I now have a kegging system, so this will go into keg once it's done. Hurrah kegerator!

I present: Lawnmower Man Blonde.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Brew Day: Wolfshark FACE 90XL

This beer is inspired by Dogfish Head 90, only.. awesomer. I present: WolfShark FACE 90XL!!!!

Actually, it didn't quite go entirely as planned. Gravity undershot, so it won't be as awesome as DFH (were that even possible to begin with.) But still, the name must live on, because I can't wait to see what Erin does with the label design.

The recipe is below. And yes, you read that right: hop additions every ten minutes, to get something like a continuous hopping over a 90 minute boil. All the hops went into a single bowl and I measured out about .4oz every ten minutes. To match predicted IBU I entered all the additions laboriously into BeerSmith. (Would it kill him to add a cut/paste function?)

The real DFH90 is Amarillo, Simcoe and Warrior. This beer is Amarillo, Galena and Northern Brewer. The malt bill is pretty comparable though, especially the Thomas Fawcett Amber (yes, that stuff again.)

Some stuff in the recipe notes about other difficulties I had today, including stuck sparge. It's a good bet that this won't be the clearest beer I've ever brewed.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Brew day: Dirty Fawcett amber ale

I should mention before I start: the Banquo's Pilsner is bottled, and hopefully will be ready to drink in a couple of weeks. Also, I'm sipping on the Garbage Pail ale (it had a much shorter turnaround) and it has turned into a very nice hoppy IPA.

I did have something different while brewing. Erin and I went through Niagara region yesterday, and stopped at Silversmith Brewing to pick up some of their fantastic Black Lager (it has become one of E's favourite beers-- apart from the fine products out of Mount Breithaupt, of course.) On a whim I also got a pair of growlers (at $5 deposit per.. ouch), one of which contained their Bavarian Breakfast Wheat.

So: Dirty Fawcett Amber Ale: a simple beer, Canadian 2-row with two full pounds of this Thomas Fawcett Amber malt that I recently acquired. Modest additions of Willamette hops and a clean-fermenting yeast. This will be a very malt-characteristic beer, and I need that. Need to learn what I'm dealing with since I've got SO MUCH OF THE DAMN STUFF. Likely I will give some away, because I don't expect to be able to stuff 2lb of it into every batch, and I have... 38lb more of the stuff.

Canadian 2-row and the dirty Fawcett.

Milling the malt with a Canadian Tire special.

Milled malt, prior to mash.

The same malt, spent after mash.

Recipe below the cut.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Brew day Sunday!

It's a brew day on Sunday! Coming up, a "Dirty Fawcett" amber.

On Friday, I stopped in at Gilbertson & Page, a malt distributor near Fergus. I had an interesting chat with a new member of the team there, Shelley, who is interested in setting up that homebrew supply presence that G&P has been saying they want to do for the last two years now.

Along with the full 55lb bag of Canadian 2-row I went there for, I ended up impulse-buying a 3/4 bag of Thomas Fawcett Amber. Turns out, this amber has no diastatic power, and has a fairly strong flavour, so it's not suitable as a base grain (contrary to what I thought.) But now I have rather a lot of TF Amber.

So, I plan on dirtying up a rather straightforward ale tomorrow with the stuff. As far as recipes go, this is a simple one. 9lb of Canadian 2-row pale malt, a full 2lb of the Amber, and the last of my Willamette pellet hops.

If nothing else, we'll find out what this Fawcett tastes like.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Brew Day: Garbage Pail Ale

"Garbage pail" ale: something to help me clean out some older ingredients.

I had a few pounds of Maris Otter (an English pale ale malt) and a lot of pellet hops that are getting to be almost two years old-- even sealed and frozen, they won't last forever. So I whipped up an IPA recipe, with the Maris O bolstered by some pilsner malt, and a lot of Amarillo hops.

Beersmith says this will be very high on the bitterness scale, but it's quite likely the degraded hops won't take it so far.

Brew day went pretty well, with no headaches apart from the weather. Unlike that wonderful January brew day, today was minus a handful, grey, and breezy. But the mash went great, so did the boil, and it only took one kettle's worth of boiling water to restore flowing water to the outside tap.

Recipe Link

In other news, the January Pilsner is still around, quietly conditioning in a corner of the basement, a spot that hovers around 55 F during the winter. I may end up bottling it at the same time as this one, in a couple of weeks.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Brew Day: A January Pilsner

A warm front has swept through southern Ontario this weekend, giving us a very brief dose of mild weather in the middle of January. It was about 5 degrees overnight, and climbed (in the sun!) to at least 11C in the afternoon.

With the prospect of such good weather, and an unusual free Saturday, I decided to have an impromptu brew day. Today's recipe: a German Pilsner that doesn't really have a name yet. (Perhaps I should call it "Banquo's Best" in honour of the play that is taking up so much of my time.)

I don't normally brew lagers-- at the homebrew level, they are more challenging, because they bring with them the need to have a cooler fermentation than most situations allow without chilling. But since it's winter, the basement can support a temperature of 55F/13C in certain corners.

Milling grains with muscle power is for chumps.

The recipe I put together is based around what I have: some german lager yeast (W-34/70) that was running up against its best-before date and I wanted to use, 8lb of Bohemian Pilsner malt and a bit of Munich, and some Saaz pellet hops that Andrew had bought for his previous brew (a Helles.) I've never made a beer with Saaz before, so I was looking forward to this. There are a number of similarities between this Pils and Andrew's Munich Helles, so I decided to try and see what a modest amount of flavour and aroma hops in this brew would do to distinguish it.

Saaz hop pellets, measured and ready for timed addition

Recipe Link

The brew day started out well enough. Here at MBB (in other words, my garage), Andrew and I had been refining and advancing our brewing process with a nice new Blichmann pot to serve as a mash tun, and even a couple of toys that we've not used (a March pump and a chiller plate) waiting in the wings for the next brew day to allow for some interesting new tricks.

But today, given I was on my own, it was a back-to-basics brew day. I would be doing a single infusion mash in the Coleman cooler I had started doing all-grain brewing in a couple of years ago, but that had been relegated mostly to hot liquor tank (i.e. storage vessel for hot water.) It's not a great solution for mashing, but it has got me through many brews successfully.

Coleman cooler, converted for mashing with dishwasher hose and plumbing parts
The "basic setup": an 8 gallon MoreBeer pot for heating and brewing, and the adapted cooler for mashing

The thermometer says I hit my mash temperature!
A beautiful, steaming bed of mashing malt
Drawing wort from the mash tun.

Using a refractometer to check the gravity of the first runnings

Still, today was odd. Despite hitting my mash temperature well, it chilled off substantially over the next hour that I felt the need to top up with boiling water to get the temperature up. Essentially I changed this brew from a single-infusion 150F mash to a step mash, finishing the mash out at 156F.
Other oddities: The wort was so heavy with trub (solid matter that isn't beer) that my pot's tap clogged up. I had to siphon out the cooled wort manually. A pain! Speaking of taps not working, my turkey fryer burner's regulator is shot and I was forced to control the level of flame at the propane tank tap itself. Another pain, and one that needs replacement.

Winter brewing means colder tap water: chilling after the boil is so much faster!
 Finally, despite leaving lots of volume behind as trub loss, the original gravity of the wort-- how much dissolved sugar it has before fermentation-- was higher than expected, so I topped up the wort with water. Watered it down, essentially, to bring the gravity on target and to restore the volume I wanted. The only reason I could do this was that I had underestimated the efficiency of the mash: I drew a higher percentage of sugars from the mash into the brewpot than my calculations had expected. So, combined with loss from the gunky clogging mess at the bottom of the pot, I came out right on target.

Dismantling reveals the culprit of my clogged pot tap: siphon full of green gunky trub
I don't usually fly by the seat of my pants so much! I prefer when the recipe matches reality. Variations become challenges if I ever want to reproduce something, so I took a lot of notes this time.

Despite all the oddities, it was a beautiful day to spend outside brewing. Normally, winter brewing is a miserable affair and something I've gone to lengths to avoid. But today was comfortable, with no challenges from freezing or snow, and the sun shone most of the day. I even got the chance to fix a downspout that had frozen up around Christmas time.

Naturally I enjoyed a beer while brewing!
The end result is a carboy full of wort, which will spend the rest of the winter fermenting and conditioning in the coolest corner of the basement. Hopefully this will be a lovely deck lager when spring starts turning into summer. 

Cold, dark corners full of beer.