Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Step-By-Step Bottling

After all the hard work that went into conceiving a recipe, brewing a batch, sanitizing equipment, and fermenting for several weeks, bottling and packaging can seem like an afterthought. Chances are you've moved on to the next project, or are at least dreaming it up, and the couple hours needed to properly bottle seem like they could be spent on better things. Not so. Bottling - or kegging, for some brewers - is a vitally important step on the road to great beer and must be treated with the care and attention that every brewing task demands.

As with every step that takes place after the boil, all surfaces that are to come in contact with the beer must be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized. This means buckets, siphons, tubes, bottles, caps, everything... After cleaning and flushing each bottle with hot water, I fill them with a
solution of Starsan, an acid-based sanitzer developed for the brewing industry. Starsan is amazing stuff: strong enough to kill unwanted bacteria, but gentle enough to not require rinsing once the solution is drained. It also produces a thick bouffant of foam that works into every nook and crevice.

After sanitizing the bottles and bottling bucket, it's time to prepare a corn sugar solution that will carbonate the beer in the bottle once the cap is sealed. This process is pretty amazing and is definitely a little mystifying if you haven't seen it before. In a nutshell, the fermented beer is transfered, by
a sanitary siphon, from the fermenter to the bottling bucket (a 5-gallon plastic bucket with spigot at the bottom), in order to separate the beer from the yeast and hop material (brewers call the mix trub) that coats the bottom of the fermenter.

While the transfer is taking place, I measure a little more than 3/4 cup of corn sugar and mix it with 1/2 cup of water and place it on the stove burner. I mix and bring the solution to a boil for 5 minutes. The sugary mix is rapidly cooled in an ice water bath, added at room temperature to the beer in the bottling bucket, and stirred with a sanitized spoon. Once the slightly sweet beer is sealed in the bottles, the yeast that has inevitably stayed suspended in the beer during the siphoning will consume the simple sugar converting it to a tiny amount of CO2, which is trapped in the bottle and dissolves into the beer over the course of about two week. Caps are applied, in my case, with a hand-held capped that can be cumbersome, but gets the job done.

Voila! You have produced a bottle-conditioned beer.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

1st Annual Brooklyn Pie Bake-Off

Had a great time at the 1st annual Brooklyn Pie Bake-off Benefit at Spacecraft in Williamsburg today. I counted 125 people at the height of the festivities, so it goes without saying that my case of beer didn't last long. Thanks to everyone who made it possible, especially Glenn Robinson of Bags For The People, Leslie Henkel of Abrams publishing and Stella and Cristina at Spacecraft.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Steam Beer

I brewed a steam beer or california lager last winter and thought I would give it another shot. Version 1.0 turned out to be really great, wonderful taste and aroma, but I wanted to tweak the grain bill slightly to give this take a darker, copper-toned color and maltier profile. I blogged about the original version here.

This brew was my first after reading Ray Daniels' Designing Great Beers, and I think it will benefit from the techniques I learned from Daniels' well-researched book.

Lager yeast cells prefer colder fermentation temperatures and require more time to finish than ale yeasts. The German word lager roughly translates to "to store," and German brewers developed unique lager yeast strains by storing their brews at near-freezing winter temperatures. The yeast cells adapted to the chilly environment and resulted in clean, crisp, malty beers. The California lager yeast is unique in that it works optimally at around 60degF, which is around the average winter temperature of it's birthplace, San Francisco.

A popular beverage in the 1850's, California lager would be a historical curiosity if it wasn't for its only modern incarnation: Anchor Steam.

Here's my recipe:

OG: 1.050
35 IBU

Grain Bill:

6 lbs Marris Otter pale
3.9 lbs Canadian 2-row pale
1.47 lbs British crystal 65degL

Mash: single infusion, stabilize at 154degF. Ratio: 1.33 quarts/lb of grain
Batch sparge


.75oz Northern Brewer 60 minutes
.5oz Northern Brewer 30 minutes
.5oz Cascade 5 minutes

Yeast: California Lager (Wyeast)

Brewday: 10/24/09

I finally got a chance to use some new brewing equipment that I have been developing for this session. First, my new water filter allows me to filter sediment and chlorine from my hose
water and begin my brew outdoors instead of carrying water out from inside. I modified a home filter unit with a hose fitting to and definitely noticed a clean, chlorine-free smell.

I also switched to a 10-gallon mash tun, which gives me the flexibility to mash larger grain bills and even upgrade to 10-gallon batches from my previous 5-gallon limit.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bottling and Brewery Modifications

It's been a while since my last post. I've been super busy with work, visiting my amazing girlfriend and playing gigs with my jazz trio. In the last month, I have however been able to devote some time to brewing related endeavors. I bottled my coffee stout and oatmeal dunkelweiss, which both came out pretty well, purchased a great book, Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels, and started what may prove to be a total overhaul of my home brewery.

I had help from my handy father in building an insulated fermentation chamber out of polystyrene insulation and building a new mash tun out of a ten gallon insulated water cooler, which will give me the ability to make twice as much beer on a given brew day (I'll post pictures of each soon). I've been meaning to make these improvements for some time and I really think they will improve the quality of my beer.

Also, I will be selling beer at upcoming events by Bags For The People, a great organization run by my friend Glenn Robinson.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Oatmeal Dunkelweiss with citrus

Brewed: 9/20/09

I'm not entirely sure that this beer fits the Dunkelweiss category, but the German translation "dark wheat" certainly makes it a literal fit. I have always been intrigued by a recipe in brewer Randy Mosher's excellent Radical Brewing for a Tangerine Porter, which he likens to a "chocolate orange creamsicle." and my Oatmeal Dunkel is a close approximation of this.

Grain bill:
4lbs Munich Malt
3lbs Bavarian Lager Malt
.75lb Carafoam Malt
.5lb Black Patent Malt
.25lb Special B Malt
1lb rolled oats
2lbs unmalted wheat
.25lb rice hulls (filtering aid)

.5oz Columbus - 60 minutes
.25oz Amarillo - 30 minutes
.5oz Amarillo - at heat shut-off

zest of 2 tangerines at heat shut-off

Mashing grains like unmalted wheat and rolled oats is always a challenge. They need to be boiled for a period along with a portion of malted barley to break down their complex starches, and even when that is done correctly, they can still be troublesome. My mash seemed fine, until I began to drain the liquid and the flow abruptly ceased. Anyone who has ever left a bowl of uneaten oatmeal on the counter will know what I'm talking about. The mash temperature had fallen below the gellatinization threshold and turned into a substance resembling sticky cement. After working the mixture a bit, infusing with hot water and recirculating the wort I got it flowing again, but it added a couple hours onto an already long brew day.


It's been a week and the primary fermentation is complete. I'm going to leave this to ferment for a couple more weeks, before bottling or kegging.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Milling Grain

I'm planning on brewing sometime in the next week and thought I should discuss one of the most important aspects of all-grain brewing. Malted and unmalted grain must be properly crushed before the brewing process can begin. Brewers differ on their definition of "properly," but the general consensus is that the kernel should be crushed instead of pulverized and, in the case of barley, the husk should remain partially intact to form a natural filter bed when the mash is drained (sorry in advance if this post comes off as overly geeky!). Most breweries and experienced homebrewers use a roller mill that employs opposing steel pins to evenly crush the grain, but I have had success using the much-maligned (in brewing circles), but economical ($40 instead of $100+) corona mill.
Designed to churn out corn meal, the corona mill forces whole grains through opposing steel plates that can be adjusted to produce varying degrees of coarseness. It really does an excellent job once you learn how to adjust it properly, and all the cranking tones the biceps, so what's not to like?

When crushing barley malt for brewing, the results should look like this:

My beer will be around 80% barley malt and 20% unmalted wheat (which will require a brief period of cooking to break down starches and a mill adjustment to account for its smaller size and lack of husk). To ensure an ample filter bed, I will mix a couple handfuls of rice hulls (tasteless, natural filtering aids) to the grain mixture before mixing in the mash water. This is a vital step when dealing with significant quantities of huskless and/or unmalted grains like wheat.

Monday, September 7, 2009

My Beer History

I've been brewing beer at my apartment in the Greenwood Heights section of Brooklyn for a little more than a year, but my interest in fermented food goes back a little further. Introduced to the finer points of cheese making and saurkraut production by friends and coworkers at the Union Square greenmarket in Manhattan, I picked up Wild Fermentation by the incredible Sandor Ellix Katz. Katz' book is an amazing collection of recipes and a history of fermented foods, as well as a manifesto on healthy living and community building. I couldn't recommend it more.

From there, I moved on to fruit wines and ciders before brewing my first batch of ale from a recipe in Charlie Papazian's epochal The Complete Joy of Homebrewing. In the past year, I've brewed a wide range of beers and progressed from extract, to partial-mash and, finally, all-grain brewing. My good friend Glenn Robinson captured my first attempt at all-grain brewing back in January '09 and posted his photos and my descriptions here.

What stared out as a solitary endeavor quickly grew into something more. I met experienced homebrewers living right in my neighborhood who, in turn, suggested reaching out to the brewers at Six Point brewery in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The pros at Six Point have provided advice and supplies that have been invaluable to my brewing endeavors. I've also begun providing beer for events put on by Bags For The People, a great organization based in Brooklyn, and branching out and experimenting with classic beer styles. My most recent batch is a stout with brewed coffee that I blogged about here.

Thanks for visiting.