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.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Windbreaker Bohemian Pilsner

A Mount Breithaupt Brewmance partnership!

Andrew and I set out to try a much more challenging brew: a (relatively) authentic Pilsner. But it drifted into less authenticky territory as (a) we decided against a decoction mash and instead decided on a simple recirculating step mash in Andrew's 10 gallon Blichmann mash tun and (b) I got a series of messages the night before where Andrew exclaimed that the plentiful supply of Pilsner malt he thought he had was, in fact, Canadian 2-row pale ale malt.
Preparing a starter for the yeast

But it's cool, man. Lots of people brew pilsners with 2-row. The character will be a little different, but we need to focus on execution.

Sunday was a very warm day that started off nice, and turned into a windy, blustery affair that forced the garage door closed. (Lest you think we were setting ourselves up for CO poisoning, the front door was not completely closed and the side door and back window were both opened.) Regardless, a very pleasant day to be outside!

As nice as that Blichmann pot is (it has a false bottom, a nice siphon, a temperature probe and even a sight gauge), it has always proved to be a temperamental and this time was no different. Drawing liquid from the bottom and pumping it to the top while the pot sits on the burner is the general idea: the mash bed "sets" well, filtering the wort and also gets more evenly heated. Unlike my Coleman cooler, this kind of mash tun can adjust temperature on the fly.

That's if the pump will stay primed, though. Pumps like Andrew's March and my Chugger can't run dry, and don't do well if they're fighting against air in the line. And for reasons not completely understood yet, this is very easy to cause.

But Andrew doggedly worked with the pot and though we may have wandered a bit with our ability to control the mash temperature, we still got a good mash out of it, and some extremely clear wort that very efficiently drew off sugars. In fact, our final runnings measured 1.010 gravity, right around the lower cut-off point beyond which you risk drawing tannins out of the mash instead of sugar.

Wort gathering in the boil kettle

The wort didn't stay clear, though.

When you boil the wort, you get a certain amount of "break"-- proteins that coagulate and clump together. (Specifically, this is called "hot break". "Cold break", on the other hand, are the proteins that precipitate when you cool the boiled wort.)

Well, there's lots of hot break, and then there's Egg Drop Soup. This beer managed to look like the latter. But, the nice part is that it's easy to make sure this break doesn't end up in the fermenter (most of it, at least) and it will all settle out nicely anyway.

So, between the weather and the wort, we get Windbreaker.
The Coleman serves as Hot Liquor Tank for sparge water going into the notorious Blichmann.

Undershot volume a bit this time but gravity was a little over. What that meant is we could top up the fermenters to hit both volume and gravity targets pretty much on the nose. That took a bit more time, of course-- more boiled water, subsequently chilled. I believe we got something like 4.6gal in each fermenter, and topped up with another half a gallon each for just over 5 gallons at 1.050.

Now, it ferments for a while on lager yeast, at as cool a temperature I can manage in my basement. I'll likely have to move it into keg to let it cold condition, as it's the only way to fit in a fridge. But if it turns out, it'll make a great beer in June or so.
Speaking of great beer...
Recipe below.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Spring is a Tough Nut

Welcome to brewing season 2014!

With sunny weather and temperatures forecast to hit six whole degrees I knew it was time. We've had a long hard winter (and we still are having one, according to the inestimable Spring Indicator) but on this sunny Sunday, seeping tendrils of warmth would penetrate into Mount Breithaupt's deep, dark hibernation cocoon, and quicken the slow pulse of a sleeping dream.

In other words, let's brew something already!

MBB is still transitioning to 10 gallon batches, and today was my first solo 10 gallon brew day. So, there was very little routine about it. I also have a new pump, pretty much a necessity when it comes to moving up to hundred pounds of boiling hot liquid.

Old 8 gallon brew pot is now on mash water heating duty.

And that pump only sprayed me a little bit in the face with acid sanitizer when I was doing an ill-advised sanitation/diagnostic run. It's a tricky beast. The worst part of it is that it cannot run dry, so the pump must always be located below everything, so it can be gravity fed before starting up. Of course, that places an electrical appliance closest to a potentially wet floor and underneath all the vessels full of liquid. At least the power source is GFI.

10 gallon batches really push this Coleman cooler mash tun to the limit.

Still, I avoided real problems, and I now have some hard-learned SOPs that should ensure that I don't  face the risk of groping my way towards the garden hose to flush my burning eyes in the future. (Okay. Maybe not burning, but I'm pretty sure Star San solution stings pretty bad, and I got a hint of that today.)

After all that, what I had was a pretty routine brew day, with a lot of head scratching moments when it came to logistics. And I learned I can't really stretch almost-empty propane tanks, as the burner output makes boiling 12 gallons really a long wait if I'm not getting a strong flame.

Today's brew is an Amber Ale recipe adapted from Dirty Fawcett to fit with available ingredients. It's designed for simplicity, and for quick turnaround. After all, I have an empty keg fridge, and now is not the time to lay down a long-aging beer. Oh no. I want something quaffable by the time the deck is habitable.

And the beauty of it? A 10 gallon batch means I get two kegs for the price (well, the effort) of one. Check out these beautiful twins.

Different yeasts for each. Should make an interesting contrast!

Still underestimating my system's efficiency. Pegged 77% and ended up with about 85%. As a result, this beer will be closer to 6% than 5%. I'd consider watering it down, but I have precisely the volume I wanted, and any more means I'd have to bottle the excess.

Recipe below.