Tuesday, March 27, 2012

“Red Baron" German Alt

Brew Date: March 24, 2012
5 gal

YES! It's been less than three weeks since I last brewed! One of my ongoing goals is to brew more often. (You can't improve if you don't practice -- am I right?!) So here we are.

Given how unsure I was (am?) about my last batch, a Triple, I felt the need to invest more time reading up on various types of malt, especially what grains are available for steeping. John Palmer's How to Brew and the Northern Brewer website were good resources. In the end, I wanted to find a straightforward ale. I landed on the Osmosis Amoebas German Alt in The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, p. 199.

My parents recently mentioned hosting a German heritage dinner with some relatives in the coming months, so an alt bier would be perfect. I hope it's good enough to share. Moreover, the recipe seemed especially fortuitous as my music choice turned out to be drummer extraordinaire Bill Cobham's "Spectrum." The final track: "Snoopy's Search/Red Baron." Perfect. We have a name.
Adding wort to carboy

  • 3.240 kg (~7.5 lb) Amber Malt Extract Syrup
  • ~⅜ Chocolate malt (Briess) (~350L)
  • ~⅛ Black malt (Briess) (~500L)
  • 1 oz German Northern Brewer (boiling) [A: 9.6%, B: 5.5%]
  • ~½ oz German Perle (boiling) [A: 7.8%, B: 4.0%]
  • Wyeast 1007 German Ale
  • 1¼ c Light Dried Malt Extract (for bottling)

Add crushed chocolate and black malts to 2 gal cold water and steep at 150-160 'F for 30 min. Strain. Add Amber MES and hops and boil for 60 min. Strain. Add two gal cold water to fermentor. Chill wort to 180 'F and add to fermentor. Top off fermentor with cold water to 5 gal. Pitch yeast at 65 'F. Ferment at 60-70 'F. After primary fermentation is complete, siphon into secondary fermenter. Age two weeks at 55-60 'F. Bottle.

Pitched yeast 3+ hrs after activation. Placed yeast packet in warm water to speed activation.

Krausen pushing out the tube.

The overall brewing experience was almost zen-like. Almost. Everything was going smoothly -- I had Billy Cobham playing in the background, and the whole process was speeding along -- until I needed to strain the hops from the wort at the end of the boil. As per usual, this meant that I had to pour the hot wort into two separate containers (I don't have another boiling pot large enough for all the wort.) Once this was done, I brought the wort in the two separate containers back up to a boil one last time to ensure sanitation. However, because one pot is substantially larger than the other, the smaller came to a boil MUCH faster than the other. I took my eyes off it for a second and it boiled over. I managed to catch it pretty fast, so I didn't lose too much of the precious wort. Somehow, though, I didn't turn the heat down enough, and when I took my eyes off it again to tend to the larger pot, the smaller boiled over again. Damnit. In the end, I wound up with a very dirty stove. At least the rest of the transfer went fine.

As mentioned above, I placed the yeast packet in a pot of warm water to fully activate by the time I needed to pitch. It was definitely good and ready. I pitched at a solid 70-75 'F, attached the blow-off tube, covered with a blanket (to limit exposure to light), and left for a few hours. By the time I returned, maybe 7 hours later, the yeast was more active than any I've experienced before. The krausen had traveled the full length of the tube and was coming out the other end (thankfully into the cup of water I submerge that side of the tube in for sanitation purposes.) Thinking that had to be as active as the yeast was going to get, I decided to leave the fermentor alone until morning. Wrong. The next day, I found that fully two or more inches of wort and yeast had pushed out of the fermentor, into the tube and down, and overflowed the water cup. Thankfully, I had the whole mess contained in the large plastic party tub I keep the fermentor in.
Close up of the krausen. No picture of the next day's mess.

We are now in uncharted territory. Should I have pulled out the blow-off tube entirely? Would this have allowed CO2 to escape without losing the wort and yeast? Or would such an action threaten sanitation? At the very least I didn't afix a fermentation lock. May have had an explosion on my hands. I guess the yeast was activated. That, and I had more than enough sugar from the malt, even with losing some during the boil.

As of today, the fermentation is still cruising along. I use the heat wrap in the evenings. During the day it's been comfortably warm. I'd estimate the air temp averages around 60-65'F.

Once signs of fermentation end, I plan to transfer the beer to a secondary fermentor to condition for a few weeks.


Original gravity: 1.022 (1.020 @ 68 'F). Beer has a rich nut-brown color. Sweet taste, light chocolate coffee flavor. Fairly clear.

  • Use 15% less hop pellets for recipes not specifying hop pellets.
  • Use 20% more malt extract syrup if substituting for DME.

    Wednesday, March 21, 2012

    Update: “[Triple] Button Hand Me Down" aka “Triple Jump" [Bottled]

    Bottle Date: March 16, 2012 (twelve days after brew date)

    Probably one of the smoothest bottling experiences so far, and not just because it was a half-batch. Shortening the hose was a GREAT idea. So was purchasing an auto-siphon clip. Getting the hose filled and flowing only took one or two pumps. Added my priming sugar (boiled ~⅝ Briess Light Dried Malt Extract in 8 oz water for five minutes) after filling the secondary carboy with about half the beer, and then siphoned the rest. Swirled a few times and we were off and filling bottles.

    Although the bottling went smoothly, I'm concerned about the overall flavor and body of the finished beer. The FG came in at 1.024 (1.022 @ 80 'F). ABV was probably 6-7%.

    Smell: Alcohol (do I really want the beer to smell like "alcohol"?), sweet, citrus, spicy
    Look: Cloudy, deep orange
    Taste: VERY strong, alcohol flavor, spicy, sweet, citrus
    Mouth-feel: Heavy, thick (nowhere near as crisp as I wanted; I think I went overboard on the added steeping grains, especially the Carapils malt).

    I plan to let this beer bottle condition for several weeks before testing it. I've read that some Belgian triples are conditioned for months before they hit store shelves. That may be what I decide to do here.

    In the meantime, I plan to really "hit the books" on brewing. I feel totally overwhelmed by the difference between malted and unmalted grains, which grains may be used for steeping and which require mashing. I also need to buckle down and try to brew a few beers exactly according to recipe. I should aim to replicate OG, FG, and IBU. I just want to develop my own recipes and unique flavors so badly. But you've got to walk before you run.

    I did find some great resources. How to Brew by John Palmer is now available online for free, http://www.howtobrew.com/intro.html.

    This table will be especially helpful:

    Nominal Malt Steeping Yields in Points/Pound/Gallon

    Malt Type

    PPG Steep

    2 Row Base Malt


    6 Row Base Malt


    2 Row British Pale Malt


    Biscuit/Victory Malt


    Vienna Malt


    Munich Malt


    Brown Malt


    Dextrin Malt


    Light Crystal (10 - 15L)


    Pale Crystal (25 - 40L)


    Medium Crystal (60 - 75L)


    Dark Crystal (120L)


    Special B


    Chocolate Malt


    Roast Barley


    Black Patent Malt


    Wheat Malt


    Rye Malt


    Oatmeal (Flaked)


    Corn (Flaked)


    Barley (Flaked)


    Wheat (Flaked)


    Rice (Flaked)


    Malto - Dextrin Powder


    Sugar (Corn, Cane)


    Steeping data is experimental and was obtained by steeping 1 lb. in 1 gal at 160°F for 30 minutes. All malts were crushed in a 2 roller mill at the same setting. * The low extraction from steeping is attributed to unconverted, insoluble starches as revealed by an iodine test.

    Also some nice, straight-forward info on Northern Brewer, http://www.northernbrewer.com/connect/2010/04/grain-malts-demystified/

    Some info on converting recipes, http://www.northernbrewer.com/connect/2011/08/converting-recipes/, and a helpful calculator, http://www.tastybrew.com/calculators/recipe.html.

    And one thing I should definitely do next time is make a yeast starter, http://youtu.be/jMhFerNTwbQ.

    Tuesday, March 6, 2012

    “[Triple] Button Hand Me Down" aka “Triple Jump"

    Rod. Before he got lame.
    Brew date: March 4, 2012
    2.5 gal.

    Yeah, that title is a mouthful. I'm hoping the beer is too. This batch finds me trying my hand at a Triple. I like the idea of naming beers after what I'm listening to while brewing. In this case, I confess to stretching it a bit. Riffing off Rod Stewart's seminal album, "Every Picture Tells A Story" -- which was jamming during the wort boil -- I decided to go with the only Rod connection I could think of: "Three Button Hand Me Down" by the Faces. "Three button...;" "triple button." Get it? *Sigh.* I'm already sorry. The wife wanted to call it "Triple Jump." That explains the "aka." Anyway, let's not get bogged down with the name...

    Overall, I was going for pretty classic Belgian flavors with this style: Strong, fairly sweet, frothy head, spicy with citrus and coriander notes, and a solid gold color.

    Toasting the malt.
    Since I have a fair number of bottles of my porter on hand -- It's finally becoming more developed! More on that in another post -- and not wanting to totally overwhelm my wife with beer stored throughout the house, I made the executive decision to try a half-batch. Ideally, I would brew more often, so smaller batches do make sense. (Unless, of course, it turns out amazing, and then I'll be pissed I didn't brew more.) I confess, I liked having to deal with less volume. It made the boil easier to maintain, moving the carboy lighter, and kick-starting the yeast a flash. One thing's for sure, the high sugar content and double the yeast really got this batch moving.
    Measuring OG.

    • 2.792 kg (~6 lbs) Light Malt Extract Syrup (Briess Golden Light)
    • ~½ lb Cara 20 Malt (Dingemans (Belgian) ~19-27L)
    • ~¼ lb Carapils Malt (Dextrine) (Briess ~1L) [for head retention and mouth-feel]
    • 117 g (~¼ lb) Candi Sugar (Brewers Best) [looks similar to rock candy]
    • 1 oz Styrian Golding hops (boiling)
    • ¼ oz French Strisselspalt hops (aroma)
    • 10 g Dried Bitter Orange Peel (Brewers Best)
    • 15 g Coriander Seed (McCormick) (crushed)
    • Wyeast 1388 Belgian Strong
    • ⅝ Briess Light Dried Malt Extract (for bottling)

    Toast ground Cara 20 and Carapils malt at 350 'F for 10 min. Used only 275 g (9 ¾ oz) of the malt. Add grain to 1 gal cold water and steep (in bag) at 150-160 'F for 30 min. Strain. Add Light ME syrup, candi sugar, Styrian hops. Boil for 45 min. Add orange peel and crushed coriander seed (hand-ground in mortar and pestle). Boil for 10 min. Add Strisselspalt hops. Boil 5 min. Strain. Place boiling pot with hot wort in sink with ice water. Cool wort to 140 'F. Add to 1 gal cold water in fermentor. Top off to 2.5 gal. with cold water. Pitch yeast at 70 'F. Ferment at 70-75 'F.

    Pitched yeast ~4 hrs after activation. Placed yeast packet in large bowl of warm water to speed activation.

    First impressions:

    Heat wrap affixed to carboy
    Original gravity: 1.041 (1.040 @ 65 'F). Beer has a rich, deep gold color, slight orange hue. Moderately cloudy. Quite sweet to taste, with slight spiciness. Hint of citrus?


    This is the first chance I've had to use my new Fermentap FermWrap Heater to better manage my fermentation temperature. The heat wrap is affixed to the outside of the carboy with electrical tape. I don't have a temperature controller, but it supposedly only uses 40 watts of power to heat the wort to the optimal 70-75 'F temp. We shall see. I'm tempted to take a reading, but I hate to muck around in the beer once it starts fermenting. I'll probably just keep my fingers crossed. There will still be some varied heating and cooling taking place; however, because I don't like having the wrap plugged in while I'm gone for work. That means the fermentor will cool slightly over the ~9 hrs that I'm gone each day. I will wrap the carboy in a few towels while I'm gone to hopefully better maintain the temp.


    • Once the steeping water has reached 150-160 'F, reduce heat to low, stir often, and largely leave uncovered. I feel that I did a better job at maintaining the temperature range this time around.
    • Place yeast packet in warm water to help speed activation prior to pitch.
    • Get a bigger thermometer. I'm tired of steam burning my hand.
    • Get a Beer Thief to easily pipe a sample out of the carboy for testing.

    Yeast: Feverishly eating and having sex with itself. Isn't fermentation beautiful?