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.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Batch 7 - Belgian Quad Version 2

Our seventh brew is going to be a second run at the Double/Quad we made as our second batch.

A few things we're doing differently and hopefully better this time out:

1. We'll be using more yeast.  Last time out we had a ton of fermentable sugar at the start of fermentation.  That never seemed to get fully broken down.  This time we're using two vials of yeast.  Hopefully this gives us some more horsepower in the fermenter.
2. We're going to try a different yeast strain.  First time out we used White Labs Monastery Ale Yeast (WLP500).  This time out we're using their Flemish Ale Yeast (WLP 665), which is supposed to bring some more stone fruit flavors along with it.
3. Better mixing of our dextrose during our bottling process.  Last time out we didn't mix things too well, which resulted in some inconsistency in fermentation.
4. Longer bottle conditioning.  Something closer to 5 weeks this time out, versus the 2 to 3 we observed the first time.

As a progress update, here's the fermenter from the evening of day 2:

This is a much less aggressive yeast for sure.  In previous brews we've had some very aggressive fermentations.  To the point that we blew the airlock off the top of one of them (that's why we've gone to the simplicity of a stopper, tube, and growler of sanitized water of late).   Typically we've been doing some aggressive aeration before pitching our yeast and that's been more than enough to get the yeast to explode in to action.  This time out, fermentation was very slow to start.  I took the extra steps of giving the wort a round of aggressive swirling each morning and evening, that seemed to help, but still didn't kick things off.  It was only after a strong swirl on the evening of day 2, that we finally saw the sort of aggressiveness that we are beginning to see.

We're starting with an original gravity of 1.092 on this one, so we've got a long way to go.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Brew 2 - Belgian Quad

This was supposed to be a Belgian Double.  However, I would say it's got the strength of a Quadruple.  Maybe we used more malt extract than we thought, or maybe things were just more concentrated.  Not too sure, but I'm going to call this one a Quad:


Brew Date: 11/28/2014
Bottling Date: 12/13/2014

Steeping Grains:

1 lb Caravienne
0.5 lb Special B1


9.5 lb Pale Dried Malt Extract
1 lb Dark Candi Sugar

Hop Additions:

60 mins - 1/2 oz Northern Brewer
5 mins - 1 oz Syrian Golding


White Labs Trappist Ale Yeast