Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Lager Lag Time & Lessons Learned

We brewed our first Oktoberfest last weekend. It was the first lager we ever brewed - we used the Marzen Madness recipe straight out of Brewing Classic Styles: 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew. The book recommends pitching cold - at or below the fermentation temperature of 50F. It also recommends pitching *a lot* of yeast, to ensure a clean fermentation with minimal byproducts the are associated with yeast reproducing (like fruity esters and buttery diacetyl). By pitching enough yeast, there is minimal reproducing to do, and the yeast can get down to the business of fermenting sooner.

The Classic Styles book is interesting in that it tells you how many "packs" of yeast to pitch. Lager recipes are all around 4 packs. I'd rather make a starter. I made a 1500ml starter in a 2000ml flask. Once that fermented out, I chilled, poured off the spent wort/beer, and added another 1000ml of fresh wort on top of the little yeast cake still in the flask. The day before brew day paranoia about having enough yeast set in, and I bought another Wyeast 2206 Bavarian lager to be extra sure.

Lesson learned: Since there is little krausen with lager yeast, next time I'll just make two back-to-back 2000L starters.

The night before brew day I put my starter and Activator pack (which I let swell at room temp for a day) in the spare fridge, which I had set at around 48F. On brew day, I cooled the wort down to just below 50F using ice water and a sump pump hooked up to my immersion chiller, much like described towards the bottom of this page. (I suppose I could have let the wort cool in the fridge overnight, but I really like my brew day to be a "day," and not have to aerate again.) After oxygenating the wort to the point the entire top of the carboy was filled with foam (by just trickling the wort through the funnel at the top), we let it settle about 5-10 minutes in the fridge while we cleaned up, then pitched the entire slurry and Activator pack. After a little carboy-shake, back in the fridge it went. I'd say the wort was around 52F, so I set the fridge a little lower to help cool it down below 50F.

The next morning, the fridge was at around 46F, and the temp strip on the carboy was around 48F. No visible signs of fermentation yet. I turned up the temp just a bit, so it was hovering around 52F. Roughly 24 hours after pitching, we had some small signs of krausen. 36 hours later we have this:

The temp is now stabilized around 50F, perfect. Of course, having only brewed ales we are used to seeing the fermenter bubbling like crazy 12-24 hours later. This was certainly a change of pace. I surfed this topic quite a bit, and guys were panicking after a day of no activity. I was ready to wait 3 days until I'd let myself worry about it, since the book said to pitch at around 45F and let it warm up to 50F over the next 2 or 3 days. I didn't pitch quite that low, but did chill it almost that low after pitching. So whatever that means, as long as you get your temps in the ballpark, aerate well, and pitch plenty of yeast... it's time to relax, have a homebrew and be patient!

We'll post a follow-up on how the beer tastes, in like, oh November? Jeez lagers take patience - cheers and good brewing!

UPDATE: Well, it was more like January when we served this, but mighty tasty! Our friends certainly drained it. Just a touch of diacetyl - an issue we're working on.  Going to try doing a diacetyl rest sooner and longer next time.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron

Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head is known for outrageous brews. (See the current chicha he's brewing.) Typically, I find them to be strange for affect and not that palatable, with the exception of the Shelter Pale Ale and Aprihop on tap. However, I couldn't help but be curious about the Palo Santo Marron after reading this fantastic article from The New Yorker about extreme brews. Seriously, this beer is conditioned in a $140,000 Paraguayan wood tank!

When we review beers on this site, we'll use the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) categories of Aroma, Appearance, Flavor, and Mouthfeel.

Sweet and slightly alcoholic

Dark, deep brown

I was really expecting to get a very strong woody flavor, but was pleasantly surprised to get a nice chocolate creaminess. The alcohol wasn't too present despite being 12% ABV. There's also a subtle hop finish. Overall, it has a very similar flavor to New Holland's Dragon's Milk Ale. (A good thing in my book.)

Medium thickness and viscosity. Coats the mouth nicely, but doesn't leave your chest burning.

Overall, it's a surprisingly drinkable beer: creamy, hoppy, and packs a punch. Palo Santo ranks as one of my favorite Dogfish brews, though I wouldn't quaff it often. If you find a single bottle, definitely give it a try with a friend.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Celebrating a Year of Homebrewing, and 3 Golden Rules Learned

Roughly a year ago, Meg bought me a Coopers Brewery Kit. If you can make Kool-Aid, you can make beer with the Cooper's kit. You pour a can of malt extract, a pound of corn sugar, and some hot water into the plastic fermenter and stir until dissolved (it all comes with the kit). Then you top with cold water, and add a packet of dry yeast. When it's done fermenting, you attach the bottling wand to the fermenter, and bottle away. We did this twice, the first batch was just drinkable (the "lager" it came with), the second batch (a dark ale) we poured out.

This lead to homebrewing lesson numero uno:
You have to boil something to make any sort of decent beer.

You may read reviews of the the Coopers kit where people are amazed at how good it is, and how easy the process was. If you drink a lot of commercial beer, this may very well be true. However, if you are a fan of craft beer, then don't listen. Pick up of copy of The Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian, and just follow his directions for making your first batch. Even if you buy a Cooper's kit (the fermenter is actually pretty nice), chuck the directions, the corn sugar, and the "carbonation drops." Go to your LHBS (local home brew shop) and buy some hops and liquid yeast. You'll be glad you did, trust me.

Now, when you're fermenting your ale, here's lesson number two:
Try to keep the temperature around 68 degrees (20C), or a little lower. Keep in mind that the fermentation process itself will raise the temperature at least a few degrees inside the fermenter. This is why cool basements are good for fermenting ales. You'll just get a cleaner tasting beer.

And the final lesson of homebrewing is: Relax - your making beer. It's supposed to be fun. As long as everything is clean/sanitized and you're following rules 1 and 2 - you'll get some good brew, and your friends will be glad to suck it down. Cheers.

Experiments with Spent Grain: Rats, Mold & Cookies

Since we switched to all-grain brewing, we've been experimenting with different ways to use our spent grain. Originally we buried it around the shrubs in our backyard as fertilizer. (Man oh man, did the hydrangea love it!) This seemed to be the perfect use for it, that is until the rats found it. In Chicago, the common alley rats are Norway rats. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, Norway rats "will eat nearly any type of food, but they prefer high-quality foods such as meat and fresh grain." Well, they found a jackpot of fresh grain in our yard! Unfortunately for us we had to find a new use for our grain.

When we're not brewing, I spend a good deal of my time baking. I know that many brewpubs (and homebrewers) use spent grains in their bread. Believe it or not, even as a homebrewer, I'm not a patient person, so that ruled out baking bread. (The rising, the kneading, the waiting - ugh!) However, spent grain adds a nice chewy texture to cookies and crisps.

There are two main things to remember when baking with spent grain:
  1. It must be DRY
  2. Use in moderation
Drying: Don't think you can just leave your grains out to dry - I tried that and got a moldy, smelly goop. After some trial and error, here is what I've found to be the best way to dry grains:
  • Spread a thin layer of drained grains on a microwave safe dish. (Use pyrex or something very sturdy, as you'll need to nuke it for quite a while.)
  • Microwave on high for 6 minutes. Stir and nuke for another 6 minutes. (If dried, the grains will stick to the dish.)
  • Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator
Use in moderation: remember that the majority of the flavor/sweetness in the grains is extracted during the mashing process. This leaves behind a fairly flavorless and very chewy grain; thus, you're using the grains for texture only. A little goes a long way.

To date I've only baked two things with the dried grains, both successes! Below is my recipe for chocolate chip cookies.

Spent Grain Chocolate Chip Cookies
1/4 c. butter, room temperature
1/4 c. butter-flavored shortening
1/2 c. dark brown sugar, loosely packed
1.5 t. vanilla
1 egg
3/4-1 c. spent grains
1 c. flour
1/4 t. salt
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. baking soda
1 c. chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Using mixer, cream butter and shortening until smooth. Add the sugar and mix until fluffy. Add vanilla and egg, mix until smooth. Add grains and mix until combined.

In separate bowl, whisk remaining dry ingredients. Add to the wet mixture until combined. (Do not overmix.) Add chips.

Drop by spoonfuls/scoopful onto sheets. Bake for 8-9 minutes until golden.

Feel free to make substitutions, although I think that nuts may clash with the grain texture. I've used butterscotch chips in place of the chocolate - delicious.

I'm always looking for new spent grain recipes or suggestions on drying. If you have either or both of those, please leave a comment. Next recipe: Fresh Cherry Crisp


Since Matt and I started homebrewing a year ago, we've learned a lot and drank even more. We've met other homebrewers, read books/magazines, and trolled the internet for as much info as we could find about the basics of beer and the homebrew process. As you can imagine, there's plenty of stuff out there, but unfortunately it's not often helpful. On this blog we plan to have a place for concise, easy to follow brewing tips for the homebrewer, reviews of the many ales (and occasional lagers) we consume, and miscellaneous beer tidbits of interest. We hope you enjoy - cheers!