Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Fermentation Temperature Management

Last Friday Chris and I were at the Ballast Point Brew Mart to pick up the ingredients for our next brew, a copy of d'Achouffe's McChouffe.  While we were there, one of the guys who works there, Ryan let us know that he was going to be holding an info session at 6pm to discuss temperature control.  This is a topic that's been an interest for a while.

Chris and I have long considered purchasing a conical fermenter.  The challenge though has been how we control temperature with a setup like that.  It's a real challenge this time of year in San Diego.  As we get closer to the 80 to 90 degree days on the coast, it's very difficult to keep fermentation temperatures down.

Ryan's strong push was that we instead consider setting up a chest freezer with a digital temperature control.  With the July 4th sales at Sears, I decided to go for it and purchase a 15 cubic foot chest freezer.  Picked it and a Johnson A419 temperature control up yesterday and it's amazing.  We'd bought a couple thermowell stoppers on Friday night.  This has been super simple.  Put the thermowell stopper in to the carboy, fill the well with sanitizer, drop the probe in, set the setpoint on the controller to 70, mount the controller on the wall and watch magic happen.

I can't describe how more relaxed I am about these fermentations now.  I used to be always having to check on these things, move the fermenters around the house to try to manage temperature, etc.

Here's the setup:


As you can see here, when I first took the fermenter out of the closet, it was 74.  Not crazy warm, but warmer than we'd like:


I don't have a shot of the temperature after a couple hours in the freezer, but take my word for it that it was bang on 68.  Same thing this morning.

Monday, June 29, 2015

First True All-Grain

Sunday June 28th was our first ever all-grain brew with a hot reservoir, mash tun and brew kettle.  We've been doing brew-in-a-bag the past few brews and it's generally worked well, but has also provided some challenges.  Namely:

1. The brew bag is so heavy that when it presses against the Mega Pot's thermometer, it skews the temperature readings.  So it's very, very difficult to manage the mash temperature.
2. Getting the brew bag out of the Mega Pot without ripping the thermometer or valve apart is real tough.  I've already put a hole in one brew bag.
3. The mass of a brew bag with wet grains is crazy.  I built a stand that we could clip the brew bag to, which helped considerably.  However, it's still a royal pain in the ass.

I purchased an additional kettle to give us what we needed to make the all grain thing go for real.  I have to say, it went very, very smoothly the first time out.  I built a wood stand to hold the mash tun during sparging.  This gives us everything we need to be able to do a gravity based sparge.  The water reservoir remains on the stove top.  The mash tun is placed on the stand.  Finally, the kettle sits on the floor.  Using the valves, we're able to use gravity to move liquid through the process and get it all down into the kettle.  Then all we need to do is raise the kettle to the stove and we're in great shape.

This time out we brewed what is supposed to be close to Brasserie d'Achouffe's McChouffe (http://www.beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/321/1581/).  This is the recipe

As far as the all grain brew goes, I personally enjoyed it a lot more than brew in a bag.  Less manual labor for sure.  The only negative for me is the time required.  We're now talking about a 5 hour event when we take prep, brewing, and cooling in to account.  The good news is that we really seem to be getting somewhere with our brewing.  Our equipment is getting dialed in and so is our process/technique.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Moving to All Grain

After brewing a variety of beers using partial mash (malt extract with some steeping grains), Chris and I have taken the plunge with all grain brewing.  We just wrapped up our second all grain brew, an Amber Ale.

We're using the brew in a bag method of doing this, which has so far been pretty smooth.  Generally, this is the same as a partial mash brewing, the differences being that you start with a lot more grains (12 pounds for an amber versus 2.5 with partial mash), don't use malt extract, mash your grains for a longer time, and do some more rigorous sparging.

Here's a shot of our first all grain, a Belgian Saison:

Personally I'm really looking forward to this style of brewing.  One can easily see how brewing this way gives you an infinite number of variations in your grain bill.  With All Grain you've got the ability to use 10s of different grains in all kinds of proportions.  Whereas, with partial mash, there are only 4 or 5 different types of extract out there, so you're pretty limited with where you can go.

The Amber Ale is one that went very well for us as an extract brew.  It was the first brew we ever did and we liked it so much we did it a second time.  So, it'll be fun to compare the extract versus all grain and see which we like better.