Summary of Brews

The Brews

Up to Brew 8, this was kept in a notebook. After that brew, I used Brewfather to track recipes, inventory, batches and tasting notes.

More detail on Brews 1-4 are in the post Documenting a Journey.

Batches 6-8 were small batch experiments with the resulting batch discarded.

Batches 9-13 are discussed in more detail in Journey Pt 2

Batches 14 to 18 are described in Journey Pt 3

I plan to add to the batch list here up to the point where I do the full brew of the home grown hop and barley Grandfather Strong Ale.

These summaries are intended to give an overview of the viewing but the things I think are more interesting are contained in the Journey articles. There you will see the detail of my experiments and learning. The brews/batches are the outcome of the steps on the journey … however the journey is the interesting bit

Batch 1. First Try

My objective was to learn to ferment and use the basic equipment. I expected to better understand how far I needed to go to properly brew beer. Expectation was that I would need 3 months of trial and error to work this out.

Overall: this was a good learning experience and I enjoyed it
Learning: The main aim of this exercise was to learn to ferment. I had plenty of experience preparing yeast for bread making but this is very different.
Taste: Not applicable
Process: Basic process with instant opportunities for improvement

Details

The first batch was simply a test to practice the process. Equipment was a barrel fermenter and using a kit bundled in with the fermenter, bottles etc. I discovered that you really need good sized equipment, especially for the boil. The supplied yeast produced a very weak ferment after two days. A second packet (probably fresh). This brew went down the sink. It was never going to be drunk.


Batch 2. Aiming to drink this

My objective was to build on my experience of the first fermentation trial and learn more about what I might need for equipment and experience.

Overall: I was able to improve the fermentation process and learned to bottle beer.
Learning: Reading online articles and a book from the library. I started to understand the full scope of what I was aiming to do
Taste: Nobody died drinking this. First up it was not so great. After conditioning it was better.
Process: I was able to follow a better process and understood the benefits of different yeasts.

Details

The second brew was an extract brew again with the same ingredients plus what was needed for bottling. I used a larger pot to boil the wort and the barrel fermenter. I was more careful with sanitising and cleaning. The bottling exercise was messy for the first try and better after that. The result tasted rather yeasty and not that great out of the fermenter. I bottled via the tube supplied and found that there was a lot of sediment going through.

I used a fresh packet of Safale 04 yeast that worked better than the “kit yeast” in the previous batch.

After three weeks of conditioning and with 5g of dextrose per bottle the result was fairly drinkable. I took a bottle to the Canberra Brewers meeting and nobody died. I did get a wealth of useful tips for improvement.


Batch 3. Improving ingredients and equipment

My objective was to improve ingredients and equipment. This was a big step up in the process and my learning. I knew enough to understand the need for consistency and the need to avoid contact with air after fermentation. Again nobody died..

Overall: A better process and improved equipment produced an acceptable result. I was happy more because I had refined a process and learned a lot
Learning: Reading online articles and a book from the library. I started to understand the full scope of what I was aiming to do
Taste: Still too yeasty to be any good. I bottled some but decided to throw most of it away. I took this to Canberra Brewers and got polite compliments that I was learning.
Process: New equipment made the process easier to follow and especially the fermenter. The Fermentasaurus allowed me to see what was happening in the ferment and to better understand the temperature changes.

Details

This brew used new equipment for the boil. A larger pot and some measuring equipment. I changed the fermenter to a Fermentasaurus with the pressure kit. This offered the prospect of a more controlled fermentation and better protection from air/oxygen into the fermenter. It also allowed me to monitor internal temperature a bit better with an IR thermomemter.

I bought more bottles. Grolsch type this time. I used two tins of dark liquid malt extract that is a reasonably close match to what I am aiming to make – a Porter style. I chose dry malt extract with “extra body” ie unfermentable malt sugars.

The result was better and I used a Danstar Nottingham yeast that I properly hydrated and “started” with some wort added before pitching. The ferment started overnight and completed in 5 days. This was in late April and the temperature was stable and nearly ideal for fermentation. All I had to do to keep the temperature within 3 degrees between day and night was shut the laundry door and window.


Batch 4. Serious about the chemistry

My objective was to apply my knowledge of chemistry to the art of brewing. This was a brew where I was mainly aiming to learn and get the chemistry right. The result was surprisingly good. Not only did nobody die but some people liked the ale enough to have a second taste.

Overall: A very good learning experience and not a bad result overall.
Learning: A major step forward with books from Canberra Brewers and much detailed advice.
Taste: My first acceptable ale. I trialled it with new friends at the Canberra Brewers and got detailed feedback. Still plenty of improvement to go but acceptable.
Process: New equipment made the process easier to follow and especially the fermenter. The Fermentasaurus allowed me to see what was happening in the ferment and to better understand the temperature changes.

Details

Batch 4 was started straight after I attended my first Canberra Brewers meeting. I still used extract but also added steeped crystal malt and dark malt grains. I also used some Fuggles and Goldings hop pellets in sealed but not chilled packets. The Liquid extract I used was unhopped dark coloured and I used a dry malt extract with 20% unfermentable malts.

I setup a home made spunding valve and temperature monitoring for the Fermentasaurus because it was now getting colder and the temperature fluctuations large.

I did some research and found that the style I should be looking for was something similar to the Fullers ESB and towards a London Porter for the 1850s. I used the Safale 04 yeast again intending to standardise on it. The result was quite good and samples I took to Canberra Brewers were considered much better than previous. Again nobody died. Not even needing medical treatment.


Batch 5. All Grain and science

My objective was to further develop from Batch #4 and attempt to do an all grain mash. That is to do proper brewing rather than just fermenting well. I also wanted to do filtering to remove yeastiness. I learned a lot

Overall: A total learning experience.
Learning: A major step forward with books from Canberra Brewers and much detailed advice.
Taste: My first acceptable ale. I trialled it with new friends at the Canberra Brewers and got detailed feedback. Still plenty of improvement to go but acceptable.
Process: New equipment made the process easier to follow and especially the fermenter. The Fermentasaurus allowed me to see what was happening in the ferment and to better understand the temperature changes.

Batch 5 was started 2 weeks after Batch 4.

Details

I setup a home made spunding valve and temperature monitoring for the Fermentasaurus because it was now getting colder and the temperature fluctuations large.

I did some research and found that the style I should be looking for was something similar to the Fullers ESB and towards a London Porter for the 1850s. I used the Safale 04 yeast again intending to standardise on it. The result was quite good and samples I took to Canberra Brewers were considered much better than previous. Again nobody died. Not even needing medical treatment.


Batches 6 and 7. Experiments with yeast and measurements

I used half sized batches to avoid wastage of ingredients to see the differences in yeast performance and practice with the temperature control on my new fermenter. Quality of the finished product was not the priority. The experiments are documented in the Journey Part 2


Batch 8. First Kolsch

The objective was to trial a new style so that I could learn more techniques and do so with a style sensitive to mistakes in the process. Therefore German Ale or Kolsch.

Overall
Learning
Taste
Process

Summary

I used a recipe obtained from the BYO website and substituted Nottingham yeast for the proper Koln yeast style. It was an experiment more than anything. I therefore used a Pilsner extract can and additional Munich malt. Hops were Hallertau and Perle. It did not taste like a proper Kolsch – lacking complex flavours – but was clean and worked ok. I did this as a half batch to not waste as much ingredient.

4

Details

AS an experiment this was a very good one. I kept 4 bottles of this to condition/mature but the real value was in learning how to best use the new fermenter – a Grainfather Conical. Temperature control is the key feature of the fermenter and it worked well.

Batch 9. A good Kolsch

The aim of this batch was to prepare a German Ale for the Oktoberfest dinner at Zeirholz brewery. I was encouraged by the results of Batch 8 and wanted to brew an authentic ale with the right yeast.

Overall
Learning
Taste
Process

Summary

This was a good ale.

4.3

Batch 10. Strong Ale/ESB

The objective was simple. Make the signature style, using everything I had learned to date and all the new techniques with the updated equipment.

Overall
Learning
Taste
Process

Summary

No taste testing yet. I am giving it 6 months of conditioning before tasting.

3

Batch 11 was a test of the new Grainfather mashing.

Batch 12. Strong/Old English Ale

This batch was a variation to the signature ale with a very long conditioning session of 9 months in a secondary (Fermentasaurus under pressure).

Overall
Learning
Taste
Process

Summary

Tasting is due in May 2019. The long term fermentation under pressure will be the key learning from this batch. The process itself was a lot messy but can be improved with a pressure transfer kit that I have on order. I made my one pressure transfer attached to the outlet valve of the conical fermenter and it worked but made a mess and required lying on the floor to attach and detach the tubing. Also too much wastage in the tubing. The mashing in the new Grainfather worked very well with stepped mash automated. Integrated with the Brewfather app this was a highlight.

3

Batch 13. American Pale Ale

This batch was intended to be a new style and a test of new brewing technique. The newest thing I wanted to add was to do a primary, secondary and in key conditioning ferment.

Overall
Learning
Taste
Process

Summary

Outcome was bad. Tasteless and bland. Most of the reason seems to be a leaking keg. It was a secondhand keg and after the primary and secondary ferments, I transferred to the keg under pressure. I topped the keg up from the CO2 cylinder and then set it aside for conditioning for three weeks. I found that there was no pressure in the keg. I then changed the seal on the lid of the keg and that seemed to do the job. Repressurised and took it to Canberra Brewers. Response- underwhelming. All hop aroma and most of the flavour was gone. Experience!

2.8

Batch 14 was not brewed

Batch 14. German Brown ale

The aim of this exercise was to do an Altbier style and broaden my experience of styles.

Overall
Taste
Learning
Process

Summary

This was a good ale. I liked it and have it in a keg conditioning for 9 months. The process was the same as for Batch 9 and variations in ingredients. No secondary fermentation in the Fermentasaurus because I was using both of them.

4

Batch 16. Galaxy Pale Ale

After Batch 13, I wanted to revisit the style and see if I could do better. This time using a simplified process and a new keg. Simplified ingredients by using only Galaxy hops.

Overall
Taste
Learning
Process

Summary

I was very happy with this one. I did no dry hopping and no secondary in the Fermentasaurus so I did not learn as much as I could have. However, the simpler process and ingredients list seemed to work. The taste test was reasonably well received. Bitterness and malt were good. Hop flavour and aroma were lacking. This was in line with my objective. One packet of BRY-97 and one of Safale 05 yeast this time to make sure there was plenty of yeast activity.
I may look to some hop additives to adjust this batch … stay tuned

4

New information and tracking

From Batch 17 on I am tracking the fermentation in detail. I now have two Tilts a black and a red. The red works better in the stainless conical fermenter and the black one works well in the Fermentasaurus. Red = Primary ferment and Black = secondary. I also have a Plaato device that measures gas production in the primary. When it integrates with Brewfather I will add those graphs too.

Batch 17. Kolschy APA

The objective of this batch was to correct for the lack of hop flavour and aroma. It was a January brew in near 40 degree heat. I decided to use the German Ale hops, Hallertau and Perle with Cascade to finish off as a dry hop. Unusual but worth a try.

Overall
Taste
Learning
Process

Summary

Very happy with this. Taste test at Canberra Brewers in April was very well received. The somewhat unusual hop combination created interest. I used two packets of BRY-97 and did all the fermentation stages in the temperature controlled conical fermenter. The glycol cooler worked overtime and kept temperatures within a degree of the target.

4.3

Batch 18. Cascade APA with Citra

The aim here was to do a more authentic APA and be thorough in my preparation and brew process.

Overall
Taste
Learning
Process

Summary

First taste on 6 April was not too bad aroma and flavour are there. A few esters to clean up with more conditioning – I tasted at 12 degrees so cooling it will help. A bit cloudy from the first pour but that should settle down. The ferment was over 13 days and then transferred direct to a keg. Dry hopping was done on the 10th day in the conical fermenter and with that I added some additional malt extract to restart fermentation and thus clean up any oxygen. We will see how that worked.

4

Brewfather measurements


I have been brewing beer…
Tilt, Plaato and MyBrewbot are discussed

Updated with new things

Odd title, if you know nothing about brewing. The way I have been brewing – is likea glorified science experiment. Being scientific about brewing means planning, measuring, monitoring and adjusting to get the right biochemical reactions to take place and avoiding unwanted side effects.

Brewing is both art and science. The art is in the design and making of wort and the science is mostly in the fermentation and conditioning

Click image to visit the Brewing Page

The art is akin to cooking. Easy to cook a meal that is edible but to make something that excites people takes training and dedication to learning the art. I think the art applies up to the point of fermentation. From then on it is largely a matter of processing. If you do not get the basics wrong then the yeast does its work and you do not spoil the result. Again it is like cooking where the preparation is finished off in a well prepared oven.

It is hardly surprising that brewing and cooking are similar because beer is really just food that you drink. Enough of that.

This article is about my experiences with Brewfather software and measurement tools for temperature, pH, Specific Gravity and general fermentation progress.

Does measurement matter

This is more a matter of opinion than fact but I do think that measuring matters. For me the key is to be able to have a repeatable process that I know works the way I want it to. There is a lot of received wisdom in brewing that is rooted in circumstances that may not apply to me. Therefore, developing a process that works for me is a matter of trial and assessment of the results. Measurements help me to understand what is happening in the brewing and most importantly the fermentation stage.

Reviews – sort of

These are my personal reviews of the usefulness and effectiveness of the tools. There is a rough order of importance to me. I have not tried to review all the features available but have focused on what matters to me.

Brewfather

This is quite an outstanding piece of software. I looked hard at BrewSmith and other software and found Brewfather to be much more usable and greatly flexible. The monitoring tool for fermentation is very sophisticated. Support when I needed it. It works on all browsers I have tried.

Fermentables and additions
Hops and yeast
Mash and ferment profiles

The software helps tracking inventory of malt, yeast, additives and hops. I offers alarms to guide you through multi step mashes, boils, ferment and conditioning. These are convenience features that work for me. There are profiles for different mash and fermentation styles that can be heavily customised. Here is the link to the site if you want to try it yourself. https://brewfather.app/

Style characteristics in Brewfather

Recipe design is a highlight for me. The ability to adjust ingredients and the process and see the effect of any change on the characteristics of the brew has helped me to better understand what I am doing and to make better choices. Adjustments to water are difficult and time consuming to calculate manually, however Brewfather has a very neat tool for helping decide what adjustments to make to achieve a specified target profile per type. You can select your desired BJCP style and the software shows a graphical representation of they key parameters for that style. The final gravity in the image above could be increased to the recommended 1.010 by shortening the beta amylase step in the mash by 5 minutes.

Fermentation tracking

Fermentation tracking is what attracted me to Brewfather in the first place. The graph above shows a recent brew tracked by a Tilt device. The wort was at around 22 degrees when I pitched the yeast and started tracking. The main ferment had finished in 5 days at a fairly constant 17 degrees. It is very useful to see the progress of the fermentation.

Pros

  • The recipe designer and water analysis are a highlight
  • Graphing of fermentation progress from Tilt devices
  • Alerts for mash and boil tasks
  • Frequently improved with updates
  • Support via facebook
  • It is in the cloud and therefore easily accessible out of home
  • Free version is highly functional

Cons

  • Still being developed so you may find some inconsistencies
  • Subscription service required for the advanced features
  • You need to integrate monitoring devices to track fermentation (not too hard)

Tilt

This is a really good product that has a few small things to iron out. It does what it says it can do and is quite easy to setup. Probably the best available measuring tool for fermentation.

The Tilt is a small cylinder that does what the name suggests. It tilts in wort and the angle of that tilt plus the temperature gives a good indication of the SG of the wort. A good estimate – not accurate. But then who really needs accurate because the SG is a given not something you can control. The final measurement with a refractometer is the true final SG.

Using a Fermentasaurus and an IR thermometer to check the Tilt accuracy for temperature measurements, I found the Tilt to be very accurate. It still needs calibration to adjust for around 0.2-0.3 degrees C.

I found the Tilt easy to setup and use. I also found that I needed to get an automatic logger to take readings otherwise I would have to be constantly moving to the fermenter to take readings.

Two technical issues mean that readings can be highly variable. Firstly, bubbles and krausen can stick to the side of the Tilt and alter readings for SG.

Cleaning and sanitising the Tilt has been simple and this is important for a device that sits in the wort/beer the whole ferment. Battery life seems ok for at least half a dozen ferments but changing the battery requires re-calibration.

Calibration is a little bit tricky. Instructions try to simplify the calibration process but I found that I needed to pick several temperatures and SG points to get decent accuracy. I used sugar solutions of SG 1.010, 1.021, 1.032 and 1.045 to calibrate the Tilt. With just the suggested 2 – tap water and one other (1.019) I found that the higher gravities were showing odd readings, out by 0.005 or so.

A new Tilt App is available that is slightly better at calibration, however it is in advanced beta and changing rapidly so I cannot be sure of its performance yet. It does nave a local logging feature that could be useful, however requiring that you dedicate a device to the task.

This is the most useful measuring tool I have yet seen. It saves all that mess and fuss of taking samples of the wort and measuring then cleaning everything. It also means less chance of allowing air and contaminants into the fermenter. I use two Tilt devices. One for the primary ferment and one for the secondary ferment. Each is a different colour and can be tracked independently. If you wish you can track up to eight fermenters with different coloured devices. See also: https://tilthydrometer.com/ 

Pros

  • It gives a direct measurement of SG and temperature from within the wort
  • Operates via a phone or tablet
  • Has the ability to log to cloud services
  • Quite well designed by brewers
  • Supported by Brewfather and several data logging platforms

Cons

  • You have to manually approach the Tilt with your phone to log readings or get add on loggers like Tilt Pi or MyBrewbot to log for you
  • Bluetooth range is poor through stainless steel fermenters
  • SG readings can be out quite a bit during vigorous fermentation
  • Battery replacement is a PITA
  • Current logging devices are immature and buggy

Plaato

Plaato is a very nice looking piece of equipment and attractively designed. It does, however have some serious issues, some of which have been addressed and others are part of the design and will not be fixable. Software is in beta still so has a few issues – none too serious. however, the concept is quite good and the ability to track when fermentation starts and changes pace.

From my experience, it seems that the Plaato device was designed within the paradigm of fermentation in carboys that are placed in refrigerators. I use a Grainfather Conical fermenter with internal heating and external glycol chiller that keeps the ferment within 0.5 degrees of target (once the temperature stabilises).

In an Australian Summer, I had the Plaato showing 34 degrees at the time a Tilt was showing 17.3. The fermenter was set to 17 +- 0.5. The temperature on the Plaato cannot be relied upon except when using a refrigerator to control fermenter temperature. The Plaato website does not mention this at all, as far as I could see.

This is the opportunity to mention that the Plaato was a kickstarter funded product. The website reflects that marketing approach, emphasising uniqueness and features and a bit of science mumbo jumbo. A silly thing that they have on checkout is a statement Free International Shipping ($20) – whatever that means.

Another serious problem is that the airlock allows the water and and air to suck back to the fermenter as the wort cools from pitching temperature to stable ferment temperature (ie from 21 degrees to 17 or so). Fermenting a lager would exacerbate this issue. The same things happens when cold crashing. Plaato have now come up with an add on valve to help (but not completely) solve the problem. IMHO it needs to be included.

Despite the faults I found, I do like the app and its ability to show me what is happening with the bubbles. Instead of the logging problems I experienced with the Tilt (ie having to be at the fementer to manually initiate a measurement) the data is right there in the cloud. Once the app improves a bit this should be a very useful feature.

Pros

  • It is easy to setup
  • The app works quite well for beta software
  • Monitoring of fermentation once the ferment is at a steady temperature and bubbling is good
  • It is external to the fermenter and uses a bung thus avoiding issues with wifi signals

Cons

  • Temperature measured is only ambient temperature. Nothing like the temperature of the wort unless you have the fermenter in a refrigerator or similar
  • The water reservoir sucks into the wort if you cool it even a couple of degrees
  • The app shows bubbles per minute on a scale that means you cannot see much for most of the ferment. It should be auto scaled to show meaningful graph curves
  • Measurements are not good enough to use for accurate tracking and comparisons between batches – temperature needs to be measured by another device
  • You need to have the device tethered to a USB cable for it to operate. not quite a convenience feature

MyBrewbot

This is a promising device for logging Tilt devices. The product is still under development but seems to be heading in the right direction. The device is simple (especially compared to the Tilt Pi mess) and easy enough to setup. I have marked it down because I could not get the cloud logging for Brewfather working. Regardless, the app allows monitoring remotely and that works well enough. I expect improvements over time.

The app has quite good analytics, albeit a little confusing until you get used to the interface and colour scheme. I expect to use this device regularly.

Pros

  • Easy to setup and add Tilt devices
  • Small and efficient device
  • Promising software

Cons

  • I could not get logging to the cloud for Brewfather to work
  • A few details need to be ironed out in the software and app
  • it needs to be close to the fermenter because of poor Bluetooth range through stainless steel and needs to be connected to a USB power cable

pH, SG and water in general

Pros

Cons


Brewing Journey Pt 3

Brewing Different Styles

Testing my skills and developing new ones by doing new things

Several styles and new equipment and processes

I let this ferment go for 12 days. The first 3 were fierce with the Nottingham yeast. 9 days at 18 degrees +- 0.5 then one degree higher for the last 3 days. See the following for the transfer method. I am using 5 PSI pressure to transfer and using my home style spunding valve to release keg pressure. I turned off the heat two days ago and let the fermenter cool naturally to 11.5 degrees. Looks to be 6% alcohol and quite clear. Lets’ see what happens in the keg after 2 weeks in that. I have added no additional conditioning sugars and will leave it self carbonate then bring it up to 10 PSI in the keg, if needed. This one will be darker but not as dark as I thought. I will once again use the bottom contents of the fermenter to bottle some of the ale.It may only be a bottle or two this time because I had 20l in the fermenter. It was actually 4 bottles before I got to the heavy sediment. Quite efficient really. The bulb was enough to hold all the precipitated yeast and with no dry hopping there was not much else in the fermenter.


Brew #5 Bottle/kegging. Brew #4 tasting

Laundry Brewery.jpg

Here is the result of Brew #4

Amberish Ale.jpg

The bottled version was more yeasty, probably because it was from the bottom of the fermenter after I had filled the keg. Probably a little too much carbonation but I am unsure. The first glass from the keg went into the sink (15 July). Quite a lot of sediment and very frothy. Second glass was much better and still a bit cloudy. Later glasses were clearer still and poured well. Keg temperature 12 degrees the same as the laundry. Malty sweetness is more evident in the keg ale than from the bottle – drier finish form the bottle too. The bottle, had 3 g of glucose added … interesting. The bitterness is noticeable and pleasant after the first mouthful. I could drink this often. 5-5.5% alcohol by the calculations.

Tasting Brew #5
A week after transfer to the keg and Brew #5 tastes good from the keg. This may be a bad thing because a litre disappeared on Friday evening. I still cannot work out how the glass emptied so fast. A week of conditioning seems to have mellowed the brew and the yeastiness is less evidenced. Pleasantly, there seemed to be minimal sediment when pouring from the keg this time – perhaps it was the different yeast. Initial carbonation was a little low with not enough tongue tingle (is that an official term?) going on for me and it was around 6 PSI. I put the CO2 on for an hour at 10 PSI and it was better by then. I may give it another charge or two this weekend (21 July) while tasting more then leave it alone for a while. Temperature of the keg was just over 13 degrees because the nights have been milder so there may have been a bit of fermentation but not much because the pressure was not much above transfer pressure – I suppose a couple of PSI is significant over a week in Winter.

The colour is a bit darker than Brew#4 and the malt is more pronounced. Alcohol tastes/feels lower but should be around the same as Brew#4 There is good bitterness and a nice balance over the whole palate. A slightly watery feel in the mouth may be due to carbonation being low. Also perhaps being a week since transfer.

I am interested to see what it is like after a few weeks. Might post tasting notes weekly …

Other Things
I have planted some hop rhizomes in pots so that they can be well exposed to the cold. Goldings and Chinook. Dug the garden bed to about 40cm deep then built on top of that a raised bed 40cm higher. Gypsum turned into the clay at the bottom, a half cubic metre of compost mixed in and then next weekend I will add cow manure and more compost to the raised bed, sprinkle powdered clay over it then a large amount of stone dust from a mason. stone dust is usually a better fertiliser than chemicals and the clay dust also has good nutrient and water retention properties to balance out the quick drainage of the compost. I will show how I make the framework for the hops to grow up as I do it. Basically 3m high square aluminium posts with a similar cross bar. U bolts for attaching guy ropes and the whole frame inserts into concreted square tubes with a snug fit. Then all I do is attach the twine to some more u bolts to make a good climbing frame for the hops. The frame will get a lot of sun and I can protect it a little in peak summer. Windbreak provided by the house and a fence. Irrigation via drippers and a controller that adjusts the amount of water according to humidity and temperature. It should work.

In September, I will have a partially raised bed (20cm or so) for the barley crop. It will be at least 10 square metres and possibly 20. Depends on some other ideas I have. I would prefer to have planted potatoes or similar as a winter crop to prepare the soil … next year

Brew #5 after 3 weeks.jpg

Brew #5 after 3 weeks.
Mellowed a little and a nice colour. Some of the edge is gone. Quite a lot to like. Malt is still there.

This is about Batch 13 and a bit about the Kolsch experiment.

Batch #12 was the Grandfather Strong Ale. That is the name I am giving it. I settles on Strong Ale rather than Porter or Amber Ale because it is not either of them. It may not strictly be a Strong Ale either because I am not confident it was ever kept for months before drinking in Ballarat 1850s style. It would have been drunk fairly soon, I think.

New pieces of equipment etc:

  • A chest freezer with adjustable temperature from -24 to +10 degrees. Holds 2 x 19 litre kegs and 3 x 4-10. Kolsch in there now to lager or something like that …
  • Lactic and phosphoric acid to adjust acidity. CaOH2 does the reverse. Lactic used in Brew #13
  • Triclover fitting to make a home-made pressure transfer for the Grainfather Fermenter. Successfully trialled yesterday with a transfer direct to keg. Far better than using the pump and faster too
  • Properly setup wort cooler. Now using the immeresion cooler in the kitchen sink and recirculating for 2 minutes to get the wort from boiling to 85 degrees quickly. Did a hopstand with 30g of Galaxy hop pellets for 20 minutes while the wort cooled to 82 degrees. Then cooled again recirculating for 15 minutes down to 45 degrees with a change of water in the sink. Quite efficient but for the water usage. See below for the Brew #13 story.
  • A dangly stainless steel ball thing for hops. Worked well.
  • Irish moss flocculator. Probably did what it was supposed to do but I am not sure it is needed.
  • better weighing tools. Jewellers scales for the chemicals. 0-50kg scales for malt and keg weighing. See Batch #12
  • A collection of buckets for the malt, crushed grain and water transfer
  • Let water stand overnight to remove the noticeable chlorine. Soon to have a filtration system in the kitchen to remove a wade variety of water contents. It will muck up the calculations …

Batch #12 was kegged after a three week fermentation where the cold crashing was done in the Grainfather Fermenter. Glycol cools the fermenter so I left it to “lager” on the yeast for a week. Then I carbonated by giving the keg a burst of CO2 at 14 PSI while the keg was still cool around 8 degrees. Two bursts at 2 hour intervals and then the keg into the fridge/freezer. Another burst this morning and at midday keg steady at 8 degrees. It seems to work ok. Compared with the fermentasaurus it is a bit more work but the temperature and other factors are more controlled. I could have transferred to the fermentasaurus for a “secondary” but wanted to see how this approach worked out.

The pressure transfer setup I made was good for 3 PSI transfer pressure. I used a white connector to the IN post of the keg and nothing on the end of the tubing attached. I consider that the constant flow of beer keeps air/oxygen out well enough given the thin tubing. I considered using a blow off bottle but decided it was too anal retentive to own up to in public. Transfer was done in a little over 5 minutes compared to using a pump. It was much cleaner and easier to sanitise/clean up. Personally, I think that the Grainfather Fermenter should come standard with a Triclover ball lock post for a spunding valve or blow off bottle connection rather than the airlock and bung. Then it could be more easily used for pressure transfer. The double butterfly valve and its arrangement pushing the outlet above trub/yeast is ideally suited to a pressure transfer. The setup I made was cobbled together instead of using a simple and readily available connector for the CO2. 3 PSI is fine for transferring so no problems there.

If I was designing a next gen version of the Grainfather fermenter, I would make sure there is a lid that handles higher pressure (10 PSI would be good enough) and a 4″ triclover connector so that readily available attachments (ie with gas and liquid posts and a hook for doing dry hopping) can be used. The rest of what it does id good. Very good. Maybe they could do what they have done with their brewer and have a phone and recipe controlled fermentation schedule. It is a pain setting it up on a small screen at floor level.

With fermentation under pressure and the connections to allow no-opening additions, there would be no need for another vessel – as I think is needed now.

Brew #13 – American Pale Ale

This is another learning brew. I want to learn about hops, what I need to get clear beer and to see if I can do it well enough. I chose Galaxy hops for every hop purpose. I introduced a hopstand step. 10g at 70 minutes in the boil. 30g for the hopstand at 85 degrees through to cooling and transfer to the fermenter. I will not dry hop this time to see what I get. Theoretically the hopstand will have given me about what I want and I need to isolate the steps and consequences a bit more.

I paid strict attention to pH this time and to the water additives. Mashing was at 67 degrees because I needed to maintain some gravity when using US05 yeast. Here is that I used:

  • Voyager Compass – 4 kg
  • Voyager Munich – 400g
  • Simpsons pale Crystal – 100g
  • 200g Maltodextrin powder (becasue I could not work out a way to get the gravity up enough otherwise). Lazy but possibly effective. I hit the projected OG of 1.057 exactly
  • Galaxy hops 10g at 70 minutes on the boil. 30g hopstand
  • CaSO4, CaCl2, NaHCO3, MgSO4 and NaCl to adjust water
  • 2ml Lactic Acid to adjust mash pH. I tested and then added 2.5ml more to get the 5.3-5.35 pH I was after. The difference is probably not great but the aim was to pay attention to the pH.

Process changes were in doing the hopstand and an improved cooling method. I was quite happy with both and they worked together well. Overall, I found that I saved around 2 hours compared to Brew #10 which was the last one I timed. Started at 2 PM. Finished with cleanup and fermenting by 9:55. Plenty of time to do other things while getting alerts to start the next step. Simple things like having buckets and other items ready – rather than searching for them one at a time – helps. I now have a shelf in a cabinet with the equipment I need ready to use.

CO2 bubbles started relatively slowly at around 13 hours after pitching. No attenuation after 17 hours. Still, it is going. We will know whether it is a a good batch in 3 weeks.

Ok, new year and I have a couple of days to do things brewing.

Firstly a report on Brew #13. A major disappointment. It seemed like it was going well until tasting it from the keg … it was conditioned for 3 weeks and the keg leaked gas. While leaking gas it may also have taken in some air. Hard to tell but, instead of having a strong Galaxy hop flavour, it was dull and uninteresting. On top of that it had probably oxidised. That means I will have to try again with the process I was testing to see if the process or equipment is the issue.

Cricket season has meant that I have been unable to do much at all since October. This next 10 days, I plan to do two batches. One a repeat of the galaxy pale ale and the other will be a different pale ale with some wheat. At the same time I will be doing some malting. More soon but back to a brew with an easy boil (outside) for the pale ale. No way would I be putting this much heat and steam in the house in this weather.

I promise some pictures.

 

 

Brewing Journey Pt 2

Experiments

Learning about brewing and how to get it all right


Experiment 1 Malt Milling

Grain milling
Some of what I want to do is to test a few theories and see for myself what works. Not that I do not trust the knowledge of others … just that there is often something that matters t me and not to others.

I have now tested the results from milling a pale malt via my KitchenAid grain mill and comparing it with a three roller grain mill that I borrowed.

Pictures below are of the two results. Which was done in the KitchenAid and which was done in the three roller grain mill? Is this a good grain crush size (the grain mill was adjusted to the recommended setting). Results were slightly different for crystal malt.

Mill A

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Mill B

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Mill A (oval bowl) was the 3 roller mill. Mill B (circular bowl) was the KitchenAid.

There are indeed whole grains in the sample from the 3 roller mill. This is probably because the rollers are a little too far apart in order to operate the mill or because of the wrenching required to move the rollers. There is also more flouriness from the 3 roller mill.

KitchenAid
There is less flouriness overall from the KitchenAid grain mill and it was easy to do the milling. However it only does about 300g at a time. The consistency is very even. Time taken to do 1 kg was around 6 minutes on speed 6. Speed 2-6 seemed to produce the best results. Cleanup and setup was fast and simple. The milling was done on the maximum setting so there is no scope to try and get larger pieces of crushed grain. Crystal malt grains that are smaller crushed well on the second coarsest setting.

3 Roller Mill.
This produced an inconsistent crush at the recommended settings and I closed the gap a little. When I closed the gap more there was more flouriness.Resetting to the recommended gap, some grains got through uncrushed but this could have been because I had to wrench the handle hard to move the rollers and therefore the crushing was probably uneven an perhaps pushed through some grains. The smaller gap was very hard to move – for me, at least. I could do 3-4 kg at a time if I was able to manage to crank the handle for long enough. I understand that there is a motor coming for these mills that will improve ease of use. The roller gaps are infinitely variable so there should be a lot of flexibility fo rdifferent grain types and sizes. Setup is finicky with a strong table and clamps needed to use the mill. Cleaning is not much of an issue. Cost is around $180-220 for the mill according to websites I saw.

Overall, I think the KitchenAid mill is the best. It is of course not as flexible but it is certainly easy. I think the attachment costs about $240 now. I think I paid less than $100 when I bought mine for making bread over 10 years ago.

Experiment 2 – Measuring and managing ferment

After the experiment with grain milling, I have two more interesting ideas to explore. Firstly to try continuous monitoring of SG so that I can pick the time to transfer to a keg or Fermentasaurus for the finishing/secondary/maturing phase. Secondly, I want to try out a clean German ale (Kolsch style) brewed with ESB and Nottingham yeasts. More details in the following, however the main thing to note is that I am doing this with a new process that first ferments with a Grainfather temperature controlled fermenter for as short a time as possible and then transfers under pressure (ideally) to a secondary vessel (Fermentasaurus or perhaps a 19l keg) to further ferment and mature under pressure and with minimal spent yeast.
Experiment #2
This was done using a Tilt monitoring device that sits in the fermenter and comparisons with the previous process of checking 2-3 times a day to see the SG while measuring the temperature of the fermenter sitting under a blanket and warmed with a heat pad. Now that I am using a highly temperature controlled fermenter (heating and cooling) I have the ability to do a lot more manipulation of the ferment process in a less clunky way. The Tilt has built in temperature monitoring as well as the SG, which is the thing I am most interested in.

I will give a more thorough review of the Tilt in another post. For now the important things to note are that it does what it says. It is accurate. It does NOT work well in a double walled stainless steel fermenter but it is usable. It is more suited to plastic containers because it relies on Bluetooth to communicate. It integrates with Brewfather which is where I was able to graph the ferment in the picture below. The ferment was with an extract recipe for a German ale of a Kolsch like style … only the ales made in Cologne and surrounds can be called a Kolsch. Anyway the style is an ale and it is one that is supposed to be clear and free from any off flavours. It is also highly fermentable and … different … the intention is to drink it rather than pour down the sink. I need a new baseline to work with the new setup because nearly everything is different in detail. It is in part a learning exercise and in part an experiment in its own right that will lead on to Experiment #3 which is the really interesting one. One last thing. I used the Lallemand ESB yeast. It is not a Kolsch style yeast at all but this is the experimental part.
Objective
The objective is to use the Tilt and manual testing of the ferment in a Grainfather fermenter to see how long I need to ferment a controlled sample of wort to full attenuation and know when it is “right” to transfer to another vessel to complete secondary ferment and maturing. Along the way, I want to know how well the Tilt works and how best to use the Grainfather fermenter features. For this exercise I am going to only use the heating on the fermenter so the process is closer to the one I already understand.

Method
I made up a wort consisting of two tins of light pilsner malt and 30g hallertau hops. I boiled 10l of water and added the extract to this along with hops for a total boil of 15 minutes … theoretically at least. There was about 25 minutes more of steeping while the temperature reduced to a bit over 85 degrees. I then transferred to the Grainfather, straining the wort to remove hops – the wort was fairly clear and light. I let the wort cool to 70 degrees and added cold water that got the temperature to just over 22 degrees and overall volume to 20l. I rehydrated the yeast at 25 degrees and set the fermenter to 21 degrees for the initial growth stage. I added some Go Ferment to the wort because I forgot to add it to the rehydration jug. I splashed the wort to aerate it a bit more. Pitched the yeast and added the Tilt. I had to be careful to sanitise everything because of the temperatures. I liked the ability to put hot wort into the fermenter. The Grainfather has that over a fermentasaurus. However it is much more of a bulky item and awkward to maneuver. I expect that with cooling pipes and all the rest attached, it will have to stay in place and the wort carried to it. Doing that via a robobrew may not be a lot of fun. Will have to think that part of the process through when doing grain only brewing.

I planned to leave the fermenter at 21 degrees (on the Grainfather display) for 6 hours then reduce to 18 degrees, however it was only 4 hours before the airlock started loudly popping. I turned the temperature down to 18 and was almost kept awake at night by the fermenter – even behind a closed door two rooms away. Monitoring of the Tilt was a bit tricky, requiring a visit to the fermenter to get a reading. That part of the Tilt operation is not as good as I would like. The rest is good for what I want.

The Grainfather fermenter is a pain to use for racking. I ordered a pressure transfer kit but it is not arriving until October. I found that I could only rack the brew to small vessels by sitting th efermenter on a box 50cm high. Getting the ale into a 19l keg or fermentasaurus was impossible because of the difficulty of lifting a heavy weigh to bench height. This is also not feasible with cooling tubing attached. I will have to rig up a pump to do the transfer … of course the fittings for the pump are not in stock either. Bunnings may be my friend or a specialist plumbing supplier. Aqua Safe maybe. That is another story. Malt, hops, water and yeast.

Results
The two pictures below show it all, Really. I was surprised by two things. Firstly how violently the ESB yeast fermenteed. Secondly, the heat generated by the ferment was more than I was expecting. The Grainfather fermenter has an insulated layer inside a stainless jacket. This meant that the fermenter heated up despite an ambient temperature of 14 degrees and then down to 12 after I opened an external window to cool the laundry down! I was finding out what I needed to know.
1. use the cooling – even for ales
2. ESB ferments fast. The ferment was over in 1 and a half days with attenuation from 1.041 to 1.008.

I think the high ferment temperatures mean the ale will be less than clean but it is in small kegs with some dextrose to see if that can clean things up a bit over 2-3 weeks. Otherwise I am happy enough with what I managed to find out. I know what I need to do for subsequent ferments and I know that the process can work well with a few more tweaks. That brings on Experiment #3.

Theory

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GF Baseline.png

A couple of things warrant an explanation. A lovely smooth curve for fermentation against time looks good. However fermentation is a dynamic thing and measurement is a chancy thing as well. A hydrometer is indirectly measuring SG by using buoyancy as the measure wit a scale reading to get the SG, assuming a temperature and then requiring further calculations to get an accurate answer. The Tilt uses bouyancy as well but then calculates SG from its tilt angle and does the adjustment calculations for me. The Tilt device has the advantage of not requiring any draw off of the ale and therefore offers the ability to take frequent measurements without touching anything. It does require my phone to be close to the fermenter to do a test. They recommend that you do not leave a phone nearby permanently because it runs the Tilt batteries flat faster. Besides, I kind of need the phone for other things. The Tilt can be disturbed by bubbles clinging to the side and krausen is that kind of bubble. The early readings were frequent then the next one was overnight. Subsequent readings were late in the day and several times in the evening. I think the Brewfather “smooths the curves” to resemble the theory. The early morning single reading seems to have been a bit low and was probably due to a short sample time as well as some krausen clinging to the device. Later measures taken over longer times showed a lot of variation but then averaged out (the device and app handle this fairly well). A later glitch where there seemed to be no attenuation over 3 hours is due to another short sample period. Lesson – take the samples over 5 minutes or so, not 10 seconds.
Interestingly, the temperature profile tells me a lot about what was happening. A large rise in temperature as the ferment went wild (the airlock was almost hissing) and then falling once the fermentation was nearing completion.

Second part of baselining is to do a proper Kolsch ferment and see how close to the theory I get.

This was done Sunday 12 August. I used pre-prepared 15l Zeirholtz wort with 5l of water added. I will be using this wort as a standard for Experiment #3 to ensure that I have almost identical starting conditions and therefore can make sure that the differences will reflect yeast rather than other factors. The Grainfather fermenter will be used on its own for this baselining. I want to see the effects of using the chiller to keep temperature steady and to then do a rapid cold crash of sorts. The profile will be to start the ferment at 20 degrees and rapidly move to 17 degrees as recommended by Zeirholtz. The yeast was 21 degrees when pitched mid afternoon and the wort 20 degrees. Setting the temperature for fermentation to 17 degrees, it took 14 minutes to reach that. Maybe too fast for propagation to happen. We shall see.
Courtesy of Bunnings, I have fittings to pump from the Grainfather to a keg or Fermentasaurus. That will mean minimal exposure to oxygen and be more convenient. I need more kegs!

Using While Labs Kolsch yeast the ferment looks like the graph below as the temperature is being raised for cleanup and a day prior to 4 degree crashing. The rather ewild swings in temperature are due to the Grainfather fermenter having difficulty handling the thermal effects of the cooler, I think. overall a very sedate ferment compared to the ESB ferment on the same wort.

Screenshot_2018-08-17 Brewfather.png

Next weekend I will commence Experiment #3.

Experiment 3

Experiment #3 was delayed due to the novel concept of having to do some work … imagine letting that interfere with brewing.

Experiment #3 changed. It changed because I have more things to measure with and new things to try.

Here is what it will be. I want to nail down a process for fermenting that is tied into a rapid brewing method that produces as good a fermentation environment as I can manage while seeing whether fermentation additions, filtering wort and methods of cooling the wort to pitch and ferment a standard yeast. I mentioned previously that I was going to use US05 (first idea) then Nottingham. Now I think London ESB is the yeast of choice for my ultimate goal of making the Amber Porter (my name) which is probably a Strong Ale and could be an Old Ale. It seems to cross that line and also have similarities to a lighter porter too.

So here are the three stages of the experiment and my plan:
Standard Brew Process:
The brew process is to use a recipe of:
5.5 kg Joe White Pale Malt
300g Voyager Voodoo melanoidan malt
200g medium crystal malt
100g Joe White Chocolate malt
London ESB yeast

crush all that in the kitchenaid (takes 15 minutes)
Prepare chemical additions.
Prepare hop additions
Wash and disinfect brew equip

Mash in at 70C then 65 degrees for an hour and back to 74 to mash out for 10 minutes. 17l of water and water adjusted (3g Calcium Chloride, 2g Magnesium Sulphate, 3g Calcium Sulphate). Sparge with 11l of similarly corrected water. Bring to a boil while draining sparge into the wort over about 20 minutes.
Add 50g of EK Goldings for 75 minutes after 5 minutes for the boil to settle down. Recirculate on 1900w (using the insulating jacket) for 75 minutes then add 30g of Fuggles after the power is turned off to cool and the wort is around 90 degrees. Hop additions in small bags. I should have 20l after the longer boil and it should be around 1.065 OG and 70-80 degrees hot. Then the experiment starts …

Stage 1 is to do the standard brew with a defined grain mix and brewing process up to a relatively long Hopstand of 30 minutes. Then try idea #1 of simply transferring into the SS fermenter and cooling within the fermenter. It should work.Set the temperature for initial fermentation to 21 degrees. Add Fermaid 3g. When the temperature is 23 degrees in the wort, hydrate the yeast at 30 degrees and follow the guide to then add wort to bring the temperature from 30 degrees to between 21 and 25 degrees. Pitch at whatever the temperature of the wort is at this time(this is the recommendation). Only stir the yeast in. After 3 hours at 21 degrees, shift to the primary fermentation temperature of 19 degrees.

Stage 2 will vary the fermentation process by filtering the wort aggressively to remove hop and malt particles. Keep the Fermaid

Stage 3 will vary by not filtering and not using Fermaid but aerating the wort.

Stage 4 will try cooling wort directly from the robobrew and transferring to the fermenter at around 23-25 degrees, using the best of the previous processes. I do not expect to see a difference but may taste one.

Stage 5 will take into account what was learned by the previous fourand see if there is an optimum combination or something else to investigate. If nothing else, then I will see the effect of a cold crash after a 5 day ferment without a second vessel ferment.

During fermentation the activity and timing of the ferment will be tracked in detail so that I can see what effect it has. This monitoring will be for the first ferment and the second vessel ferment, see below.

The experiment is to see how techniques in the first ferment and transfer to the fermenter affect fermentation as a whole. I will use a second vessel ferment step in a fermentasaurus to let the yeast clean up. This will be for a week at around 18 degrees but not with high precision as with the first ferment vessel. The purpose of this step is to take the ale off the trub/yeast so as to reduce the impact of that material while it should be able to drop the suspended yeast from suspension over a week. After this it goes into a keg and a few bottles. Taste testing will be the final arbiter.

That is the plan.

A trial using Stage 1 is complete and it came out at at 1.063 OG. Temperature at transfer was just under 70 degrees. It cooled down to 23 degrees in 2 hours and the glycol chiller handled it well. I prepared the yeast a bit early so it sat ready for 20 minutes and it was Nottingham because my London ESB has been delayed. I would have to have redone it later anyway. Simple process and relatively fast with some waiting to do in between short bursts of activity. I will report on the progress over the next week. First measurements show that the ferment started 7-8 hours after pitching. 15 hours after pitching the fermentation was going quickly.

Post

Full run of Experiment #3 Stage 1 underway after an eBay order of ESB yeast. I am proceeding with the planned Stage 1 although I think I know how i want to tweak the process in the end. Yesterday I got a very efficient transfer to the fermenter and ESB yeast going well 6 hours after pitching the yeast. This is Batch #12.

Cooling in the fermenter with glycol works well enough but I think that adopting the Grainfather method of cooling:

  • a counterflow wort cooler sanitised by recirculating wort to the boiling vessel
  • trickling the wort through for 15-20 minutes with quite a bit of cold water
  • wort straight into the fermenter at around 25-28 degrees (estimated
  • then use the glycol chiller to take the wort to 23 degrees and rest there for 3 hours
  • reduce to 19 degrees to ferment 3 days

That is essentially the details for Stage 4 of Experiment #3

I am now thinking I will try a step mash as well with 40 degrees for 20 minutes, 63 for 20 minutes and 69 for 40 minutes – that is for my strong/amber/porterish ale. With luck this will remove a bit of haze. For a Kolsch or IPA I think a mash of 40/20, 60/20, 68/30 will work. Or something like that.

Second vessel transfer by pump and tubing is a right PITA. Pressure transfer is a much better thing by my reckoning. I think I can rig up something on the fermenter by drilling a 1.5 triclover cover and attaching a gas ball lock valve. This will allow me to pressurise to 3-5 PSI and transfer from the valve above the trub/yeast and avoid messing around in a tight space. This method can allow transfer of CO2 to the secondary vessel to minimise oxygen in the vessel.

My method this week was to vent some CO2 in the fermentasaurus and then add 1l of second wort made from 0.5l of water and 200g of dried malt extract, cooled. Add a tea ball of dry hops (10g of Fuggles) on a chain attached to the lid. Seal it up. Pressurise the fermenter to 12 PSI. Pressure release. Repeat. Should be not much O2 left (<2%) in 35l of airspace. This was reduced further as the contents of the first fermenter was pumped in and the headspace volume was about 14l. Another pressurisation and release then attach the spunding valve set to 10 PSI. Any remaining oxygen should be cleaned up by the yeast fermenting the second wort I added.

During transfer by pump, I found that there were bubbles forming in the pump. As I tried to clear on one occasion, the silicone tubing came off and half fermented beer splattered the laundry. At least the floor will be nice and clean by this evening … walls

Update on the German Ale experiment.

This followed the first German ale with Nottingham yeast. The idea was to see if aeration makes much of a difference. If the difference is undetectable then why bother. If noticeable then it is worth doing.

First brew was done with a standard extract recipe and partial mash then hops. Fermented with Kolsch Yeast from White Labs. The variation was to intensely aerate the wort with an aquarium aerator for 15 minutes. Rapidly cooled wort before fermentation. Direct pitched yeast. Fermentation was 18 degrees for 5 days then one at 21 degrees and conditioning for 2 weeks in a keg. Isinglass finings.

Second brew was the same except I only splashed the wort around a bit.

Short story: Experimental brew Kolsch #1 was fairly cloudy and had a yeasty smell to start with and settled down with conditioning. Yeast started to create CO2 after 9 hours at a steady 18 degrees. FG was in about 4 days 12 hours at 1.008. Quite a lot of esters and banana evident. Possibly some higher alcohols too. After conditioning the ale was clearer with some haze.

Experimental brew Kolsch #2 was a little cloudy and detectable yeastiness and clarified very well. Co2 started at around 15 hours and the ferment reached FG in 4 days and 3 hours. FG 1.007. The reading is within the measurement error. Timing was surprising because I would have thought the early start to fermentation would have meant an earlier finish. Final product tested well and was cleaner than the first brew that had a week more conditioning. No noticeable esters or banana.

I would like to do this again to confirm the results because it goes against the advice generally given to aerate. Will do in November or later. BTW, both batches are drinkable and may well improve. I cannot find anything where someone else has experienced what I found in this experiment.

What has anyone else experienced with aeration?

The reply was that oxygen is by far the best way to aerate with significant improvements to quality of the ferment. It is suggested this is due to the yeast being healthier. Yeast manufacturers suggest otherwise, but again opinions differ. This means another Experiment!

A Brewing Journey

Discovering brewing and a bit of the 1850s

The beginning

Extracts from forum posts edited

It was suggested that I should blog my grand (overly?) plan to brew like my grandfather (5 times back) in the early to mid 19th century. I plan to post updates. Almost a blog. Pictures? Maybe.

So what does this mean? Background


It means I plan to make an English ale not too far distant from a Fullers Golden Ale. As far as I can tell, this is the approximate to what would have been brewed then. It is likely that my grand father’s brews would have been distributed to ale houses in the Stepney/Whitechapel area of East London – including the old Blind Beggar Inn (see Cray Brothers for why this is interesting) before it was replaced by the existing building in 1899. The family lived in Turner St and had been in the area since the early 18th century. Prior to that the family had been in Chichester, Surrey since the mid 1600s (as far back as family records go) and were a brewing family – gentry in fact, according to an 1830s census. In Turner St, the extended family consisted of 12 and the house had many rooms across two floors. William Guy seems to have worked at the Anchor brewery in Stepney Green between 1825 and 1854 at least. A brewery clerk rather than a brewer per se … why let facts get in the way of a good story.

I wanted to be a scientist when I went to Melbourne University a long time ago. I have a physics and chemistry background and therefore like the idea of experimentation and testing out theories. This is a lot of what appeals to me in doing home brewing. Playing with chemistry sets and testing theories.

What Am I trying to do?

I do a bit of my own backyard sustainability with fruit, citrus, vegetables, honey, corn, olives and nuts the current focus. I was thinking of what else I could do and brewing came to mind when I was writing about the 100th anniversary of my father’s birth last year. It has taken me until this autumn (2018) to get myself ready. You can see what I have done so far as at June 2018 below. What I want to do is to replicate something like what my grandfathers did around 2-300 years ago. Not that I plan to go back to the labour intensive ways of the time and I certainly will use modern equipment, grains and hygiene that were not available then. So what exactly do I plan?

First is to learn about all stages of the brewing process. I will do this by doing my brewing learning in an approximate reverse order of the actual process. The process being:

  1. Plant and grow malting barley and hops. Should be simple, right?
  2. Harvest and malt the barley. A whole new world of pain and learning.
  3. Process the malt and do the “brew”, adding hops. May variations to try
  4. Yeasts and preparation for fermenting. Much to trial and refine here.
  5. Ferment the brew and clarify it. Options include natural settling, finings, crash chilling and filtering
  6. Store and condition and or carbonate. Plenty of options here too.
  7. Bottle in actual bottles and small kegs. Two main options here – just bottle or fill bottles from a keg.
  8. Have friends and other guinea pigs test the results and give me feedback

The whole process is a long one and has quite a lead time. Therefore my approach of trying out the latter parts of the process and “debugging” the process will give me a stable process to follow later. The very labour intensive and time consuming part will be growing, harvesting and malting the grain. Hops similarly but with simpler processing. This means that the grand experiment will take from mid 2018 through to the end of 2019 and most likely beyond.

Apart from the brewing there are several things I want to do as well. First is to look at a refined process that has tested as many tips and guides as I can manage. This is an iterative process that will involve some qualitative and some standardised testing. I am keen to see what equipment and techniques really make a difference. I will offer opinions and evidence on the way. The unfortunate consequence will be that I will have an excess of variable quality beer along the way.

SWOT

Ok, a little bit anal … The strengths of this venture are that I already make bread, jams, juices and a wide variety of dishes made form home grown produce. I know yeast fairly well. I know how to grow organically and I have the space to do this, having remodelled a quite wide and deep back yard in Kaleen. I have a lot of the equipment needed already (large pots strainers funnels etc). I have large kitchen and laundry sinks. I have space for fermenting (a former hot water tank cabinet). Opportunity: I can be proud of my achievements and the link back to forefathers.
Weaknesses: this is a quest worth of Don Quixote. It will take time and effort. Threats: My home may smell like a brewery. Cost may become high if I commit to too much convenience over hard work. Work may require me to be away for long periods of time

Scientific questions

There are a few things that I think need to be verified. There are many things in life subject to diminishing returns and I am keen to see where these are in home brewing. My findings will relate to what I am doing and not to some other setup or set of objectives. As they say, your mileage may vary. It is me recording what I am after and that is the end of the disclaimer.

Q1: I want to find out what really makes yeast work best. By this I mean what can be done to get the most out of a yeast and what is worth the effort. Dried yeast, liquid etc will be tried

Q2: I want to find out about the water chemistry and how it affects the brew and fermentation – including results.

Q3: I want to see what kinds of scientific equipment work best. Using some I already have and some I plan to borrow and test. One or two devices I will buy because they work and are needed.

Q4: What is the optimal equipment setup for me. This is part of the learning. The concept is to keep it simple and convenient. Regardless, I have low tolerance for things that do not work …

Q5: What are the optimal brewing techniques for achieving a balance of quality beer, simplicity and time effectiveness. Cost may come into it as well but not the most important thing overall. There may be more than one optimum depending on what I find – ie a time optimum and a quality optimum

Q6: Natural/traditional methods for getting clarity in the ale, chill conditioning, filtering. What is the most convenient and effective. Again an optimum is probably the most important thing to find

Q7: Can and should I preserve a yeast and reuse it across multiple brews. The fermenter allows this so it might be a good thing and allow a trial of a premium yeast that is reputedly from Fullers. I understand that my grandfathers were of the opinion that the yeast they used was their competitive advantage.

Q8: Is there a sufficient difference in quality of beer to justify the greater work required for partial grain and full grain brewing techniques. This will be confirmed by third party blind judging from bottles specially prepared with these variations. All other factors will be kept stable. I may even do two at the same time to keep environmental variable consistent.

Q9: What level of housekeeping works best. Another optimum, I suspect. How clean is good enough. Oxygen. Good and bad, just depends on what stage of fermentation? Contaminants? Storage? Those kinds of thing.

Q10: What process to use once the other questions are settled enough to stabilise the process. Especially keen to work on fermentation under pressure.

So – to try a lot of variations, I will need to keep accurate records, label well and form interim hypotheses to test. Then retry based on what I find; and do a bit of regression testing after refining processes

What I have done to date

First I bought a very basic brew kit to see what I thought of the idea. It was ok and yet I was not very pleased with the setup. So I got myself a Fermentasaurus and did a lot of reading. Conical fermenters do seem to have some benefits and the one I have is capable of doing a wide variety of things that can be tested for efficiency and quality of outcomes … ie beer. More specifically, Ale. I think I can do better with temperature control and getting the aerobic and anaerobic processes working better.

I learned the basics of fermenting in three brews. The basics of grain malt and brewing at that level of complexity in one effort at doing a partial grain brew has given me a sense of the next few challenges. Bottling and conditioning experience comes with territory. I decided to buy a few secondhand kegs to store and condition in and to also test the theories about carbonation and clarity. I have a filter system as well so I can test this. I have an order in for 40kg of seed barley that will be sown for a late Summer harvest this year and early harvest (planted in May) next year. I will impose upon members of the club for rhizomes and tips for growing hops. I am currently preparing a 5 x 4 plot for growing intensive barley and several types of hop.

Here are some of the things I have done in a bit more detail:

  • First brew. standard kit beer with the basic fermenter. Discarded it and thought that it might be good to get into distilling … stopped thinking crazy things
  • Second brew. A non-standard kit for an approximation to a dark ale by using dried dark and light malt mix and a tin of dark ale. I bottled this and learned about sediment. Drinkable and not quite what I am after. Sufficiently happy to go a further step. I used a SAFALE 04 yeast.
  • Third brew was one where I have tracked the ingredients and process a but more closely. This used an English Special Bitter standard recipe with dry hopping at the end of fermentation. I used 1 Kg light dry malt, 500g dried dark malt and a can of Ironbark Amber. Yeast was Windsor Danstar dried 11g, prepared like I do for bread making. Dry hopping was done via the Fermentasaurus bulb. I filled this with boiled and cooled water (oxygen removal) to avoid oxygen into the fermenter at a late stage of the process. Dry hops (a teabag version) were left in the fermenter for two days. In the water I had dissolved 50g of dextrose to create secondary fermentation (sort of) and changed the lid to a the pressure lid. I did it this way because I could not buy a pressure release valve as suggested on the Oxebar website/youtube video. Not wanting to risk an explosion if I forgot to release pressure in the tank it seemed the best way to do this. I got enough CO2 pressure to transfer the finished ferment to bottles and a keg, apart from the last 3-4 litres which I decided to discard. I had 25 litres, a 25% increase in volume that aligned with the extra dark malt used. Extra hops seemed a good thing to do. I collected a lot of yeast in the bulb and it does seem possible to preserve a good yeast in one of these things to use again next brew. Theory and reality may be different. I kept the temperature for this ferment between 18 and 19 degrees with a heat plate in the cabinet. The controller is simple and accurate, however relatively expensive if you do not have the sensor and switch already (I did). Overall, more mess and much more thinking involved but potentially a better result.

    Tasting: Well after three weeks in bottles, there is a thick layer of sediment. Clear beer. Slightly yeasty. The PET bottles seem more yeasty and this could be due to which part of the fermenter it came from. Glass (Grolsch) bottles seem to be clearer. Surprisingly, much better than the previous, Batch 2. Clean finish (confirmed by others) and decent aroma. Alcohol is not to strong and not too weak. Colour is reddish gold. Nothing to complain about at all. Still room for improvement and it is an “extract brew” but with dry hopping. The temperature control may have helped.
  • Fourth brew was a further step for me and draws on a few things I learned at the June 2018 club night and my further reading. A mixed grain and dry/kit approach. I decided to standardise on SAFALE 04 as a standard yeast until I start experimenting with different yeasts. This will eliminate one variable from my testing. I prepared the mixed grain using 500g of a crystal grain, 500g of a dark grain and 50g of a dark roasted (black grain). The mix was pre-prepared for me to give me what I was after – ESB to traditional ale. To this I added 1 Kg dry light malt and two Black Rock Light unhopped malt extract tins (the malt content is cheaper by a small margin compared to dry) – this will be around 8-9% ABV. I could have added more dry malt but this is what I chose to do. I did the 75 degree steeping and used a digital remote sensing thermometer to check temperatures – separate item below. I did the mash boil and added Green Bullet hops for the full boil then 12g EK Goldings for 5 minutes and the remaining 25g packet after the boil. Steeped for 30 minutes. Added the malt extract tins and water to 6l. Temperature 52 degrees. Vigorous stirring for 3 minutes. Again 5 minutes later with splashing. Extracted half a cup of wort to use as a starter for the yeast. Diluted to 38 degrees (yes just diluted it to get the temperature correct) checked with the thermometer. Added yeast and stirred to dissolve. Left aside for about 12 minutes until it threatened to overflow a 2l pyrex measuring cup. Put 10l of tap water in the fermentasaurus and then funnelled the wort into the vessel. Added cold water to 22l and checked temp. Added 1 l of 50 degree water and 4 more of cold to get a temp of 24.8 degrees and 27l. Added the frothing yeast to it. Stirred and splashed for 3 minutes. Left covered for 10 minutes. Repeated splashing and stirring. Sealed with Pressure cap. Sterilisation of all parts was with calcium perchlorate. Fermenting as I write. I will be dumping yeast and seeing if this helps clarity and reduces some yeastiness. I have a cunning plan to cold crash the ferment by leaving it overnight outside in the Winter. Not sure if I will do this on batch 4 or not.

First taste test of Batch 4.

Clear and bright
Strong flavour. Good malt. Nothing negative standing out
Hop flavours there and probably can be a bit more bitter
Yeasty. This is good and bad. Possibly to much yeast that distracts form other flavours. However the style demands some yeast aroma and esters. Can do better

It is amber coloured and the bubbles are nicely defined. After only 5 days, it seems to be settling down nicely. Wondering what filtering might do from here. I am guessing that if it removes yeast the yeasty flavour will be reduced.

Two weeks on and Batch 4 is ready for bottling and a keg. Half filtered and half not – at least in the bottles. New sanitiser will be phosphoric acid based. I have the ability to use little CO2 bulbs to push the filtration along and get the last out of the fermenter.

Short story made long: Trying to filter, I had leaks. I stopped the flow and gave up for this brew. The filtered vs unfiltered testing will be with a following Batch. Filtering requires plumbing skills. I now know a lot more about loctite than I used to. I also know a lot more about fittings and tubing, connectors. I know why people have CO2 Bottles that are big and full of lots of gas rather than use the convenient small bulbs and/or sodastream bottles. Did I mention that SodaStream bottles and the adaptor are potentially dangerous? Well, here is what I found – 2 gas bottles later. Screwing in the adaptor releases a jet of very cold CO2 as you screw the gas bottle in. If your fingers are in the way they freeze – unless you put the whole lot down to prevent those frozen fingers and let the gas escape … Another loverly undocumented feature … So having tightened the cylinder to stop the leak, I found that the regulator needed adjusting very low so the bottle emptied itself through the pressure release valve while I figured that out. Cue up the second bottle. Lose a lot of gas while screwing into the adaptor.

On to transferring the beer to a keg and bottling. First thing I did was to try squirting CO2 into bottles. Mistake. I will only try this again once I have a full sized gas bottle and other dedicated equipment. Tubing and a ball valve to shut the gas off is possible but seems wasteful. Something like a counterflow filler and proper gas lines seems to be what I need – or just do what I did last time and pour the beer into the bottle and so not stress about the air in the bottle. I used a small bulb of CO2 transferring the last of the beer from the fermenter to a keg. I left 20l in the fermenter and filled the keg with 18.5l as per the measure on the side of the fermenter. The last bit I poured down the sink. Overall about 3 litres out of 27 lost to wastage of one sort or another.

What went into the bottles seems clear and promising. Lets see what happens. I put 5g of dextrose per bottle because there was already carbonation from the fermenter. A week in the cold but not outside in sub zero temperatures seemed to leave clear beer and precipitated yeast. I removed a bulb of yeast and trub first up and there was more than another bulb (each half a litre) at the end. Alcohol should be about 8%.

I really need to have much more convenient ways to do the transfers and bottling, if I am to have a consistent process. SodaStream gas bottles end up being fairly expensive compared to the price of bulk CO2 refills for a 6 kg bottle. Now I have a full keg that will need some extra CO2 … more learning involved, I suspect.

Next Steps

First I will test the effect of filtering on Batch 4. My plan is to keep five bottles of filtered and five bottles of unfiltered ale. I will label the bottles and do a comparative test to see if there are discernible differences in taste and cloudiness. The filtered bottles will not have secondary fermentation. They will be carbonated separately via a keg. The naturally conditioned bottles will probably not have secondary fermentation either and if they do it will be 2-3 g of dextrose because they will already be carbonated from the fermenter. I will take these from the top which will mean higher carbonation and lesser sediment, in theory.

Comparative taste testing will commence. A neat little challenge to one’s cognitive biases.

I will do a brew or two more along the lines of batch 4 and refine my process and bring together any additional equipment I might need. I have purchased some large bags of malt grain uncrushed and will add that part of the processing to my repertoire in the next batches. Over the next few batches, I will vary the mixture of partial grain and extracts. Moving on to perhaps a grain only batch in September. This is what will allow me to stabilise and perfect the process. From October on, I may need to consider a refrigerator to maintain temperatures. Winter seems to be a good time to brew in Canberra.

Planting of barley and hops and finding out about malting. Possibly buying some equipment to make that work. Getting feedback on what I have made. All that awaits.

Thermometer
This remote sensing thermometer is what I used to check temperatures. It works quickly, easily, is good with liquids and importantly works well with a fermentasaurus. Accuracy is within a degree and you can get more accuracy for a higher price. See below. Note it uses a laser. Avoid looking a reflective surfaces such as stainless steel. Shine it at an angle that reflects away from you. You do not get an accurate reading of contents of a stainless steel vessel. You need to measure the temperature at the liquid surface. Not the bubbles. Not utensils etc.
https://www.jaycar.com.au/non-contact-thermometer-with-dual-laser-targeting/p/QM7221

non-contact-thermometer-with-dual-laser-targetingImageMain-515.jpg

Fermentasaurus

Ok, I like the design. There are some suggestions that I have passed back to the manufacturer. The top opening needs to be bigger. Bigger so I can get my arm in to undo the butterfly assembly and clean it all. Bigger to make it easier to pour the contents of a large pot into the vessel (I do use a broad flat funnel that is also useful for making tomato passata and jams) without spillage.

I would like to see calibration points for the volume measure clearly defined. I think that the pressure kit should have the adjustable pressure relief valve and its gauge included or at least an optional kit package. To my mind it is essential. There are a couple of other things that you probably need as well: something like the party kits that are sold for filling a growler makes it easier to transfer the finished ale and to keep carbonation levels up as well. This device can substitute somewhat for the variable pressure relief valve but it is much messier to manage it that way.

Maintaining and monitoring temperature could probably be improved. The simple temperature indicating liquid crystal is fine until you need to cover the vessel to maintain a consistent diurnal temperature and still monitor it. Relatively minor points, but then if one aim is to provide a stable fermentation temperature it might matter. I have rigged up a monitor and switch that uses standard home automation components to switch a heat pad on and off to keep the temperature around 18-19 degrees. This works ok in Winter here but would not be so effective in warmer months.

Of course it does look like one should have a CO2 tank and the fittings to do some of the more advanced things with the vessel.

Then, I have another wish. Wheels and a lifter. I can move around 25 Kg with relative ease but it is not a good thing for an ageing back. A lifter/jack/elevator would be great … perhaps my wishing is going a bit far. Would be good for helping manage transfers better, regardless.

Sustainability

I like to be sustainable, efficient and relatively low impact on the environment. Just living a Canberra lifestyle is a large impact on the environment. So what about the ale making? It uses quite a bit of water, produce and equipment. Heat, cooling and all the rest. How does this fit?

To be brutally honest, it does not make a lot of sense. Breweries can do this much more efficiently with economies of scale. Some do a really good job with a quality beer. I can rationalise this way … most of the energy used to supply me with a carton of ale is used in transporting, storing and selling it. If I do it myself then I can save at least some of that. Using bulk materials and leveraging solar heated water and generated electricity means the marginal impact is reduced. Using a lower water process helps as well, compared to that of industrial brewers. Using the waste grain for compost (perhaps chickens even) helps to close the loop. Then there is the possibility of growing and malting myself and the reduction of energy consumption that provides.

Overall, probably not a bad thing.

Young People Today …

Who is at fault?

Let us not listen to those who think we ought to be angry with our enemies, and who believe this to be great and manly. Nothing is so praiseworthy, nothing so clearly shows a great and noble soul, as clemency and readiness to forgive.

Marcus Tullius Cocero

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. AKA – The Golden Rule

My mother. Her mother ... and so on

If young people today are so bad (eg the Cronulla Riots) then it is because they have us as an example to follow… The debacle in our Federal Parliament over what is a relatively small number of refugees coming to Australia by boat is just shameful. These people are elected to represent their constituents, sure. That does not mean that they lose all responsibility.

The argument that they represent the views of their electorate is a poor one. It is a minority of their electorates who would make the decision themselves to let hundreds of people die when they could save them. But vocal minorities who do not want anyone “to jump queues” get to make the decisions because they get heard in the media. Since when was queue jumping punishable by death? Rather than find a humane and sensible approach to processing people trying to enter the country without a permit (legally by International conventions Australia has signed up to), the political parties prefer to allow hundreds of people to die. Why? Sadly it is to score political points and nothing more. May history condemn you, who by your failure to act humanely, cause others to die.

Dear Australia Post …

I used to really like it when parcels delivered to my home, when I was not there, would be taken to the local post office where I could pick it up on a Saturday or late afternoon. So why do you now send the parcel off to a depot where they are only open during hours when I normally work (more than an hour’s round trip away too!) and not open at all on the weekend?

Continue Reading →

Olympic Coverage

This is a Rant… I have to say that the Olympic coverage that was on the commercial Channel this weekend is so bad that I have turned it off. I refuse to watch it. I tried to watch the Women’s basketball earlier in the week and it was impossible. They kept showing 3-5 minutes then switching to some other trivial thing. This was elimination so it was important to see how things went. It was even Australia! The things they crossed over to were promos, “news breaks” that only covered what they had covered the previous one and montages of things that someone in the studio thought that everyone else should see. Anything that might be interesting (badminton, volleyball, basketball or sailing) was ignored unless there was a medal being won by an Australian. So stupid and sad. Then there is the insufferable commentary and the inane hosts … Gaaaa