Tag Archive | Maris Otter

The quest for a quicker brewday

Wasting my time
Resting my mind
And I’ll never pine
For the sad days and the bad days
When we was workin’ from nine to five

– Pink Floyd, “Biding My Time”

In February, a friend just starting out with extract brewing came over to observe my all-grain brewday. The hot liquor tank had just been fired up for the mash-in when he arrived at 10 a.m.. I mentioned casually that I would be working until about 5 or 6 p.m.. He looked at me in wonder and said something like, “Wow. I can’t imagine what would take eight hours.”

Of course, he was speaking from his experience with extract. Many all-grain brewers probably can imagine an eight-hour brewday. The mash and sparge – i.e., the very things the extract brewer doesn’t have to contend with – can easily add three hours once you factor in the time to heat water, vorlauf, etc. Not to mention time spent cleaning the extra equipment. But my friend’s curiosity got me thinking about whether I could be doing anything differently to speed up my brewday.

I was reminded of the article “Speeding Up Your All-Grain Day” in the March/April 2012 issue of Brew Your Own magazine by Dave Louw, which applied the Critical Path Method of project management to an all-grain brew day to find the shortest distance between Point A (setting up equipment) and Point Z (putting away clean equipment while yeast happily devour the meal you’ve set for them). The principle Louw applied was to identify the tasks that must be done sequentially and focus on those, working in the other required tasks while those are taking place. If you sanitize your fermenter while wort cools, you’ve got the idea.

By sticking to the Critical Path, Louw illustrates how an all-grain brewday can be begun and done in less than 4 hours, though his example is extreme to illustrate a point. There’s an abbreviated 45-minute mash. A no-sparge lauter. A 60-minute boil. All legitimate techniques, but not “my way”. Yes, my 60-minute mash, double batch sparge, and 90-minute boil make for a nearly nine-hour brewday – ten in summer thanks to slower cooling. But I get consistent results. And I’m happy brewing my way.

Was that the choice I was faced with? Between being happy and being fast? I set out to test this on a recent brewday.

NOTE: The following is about as scientific as I get. Unlike some of you homebrewers with backgrounds in engineering or chemistry, I’ve got a liberal arts degree in English and classical studies. I can’t build an Arduino-controlled HERMS system, but I can identify zymurgic puns in classic works of literature and explain the origin of the word “Saccharomyces”.

The brew was about as simple as it gets: a Maris Otter-Fuggles SMaSH ale. 9 pounds of malt and a handful of rice hulls, 1.25 oz of hops each at 60 and 15 and 1 oz at flameout, and Safale S-04. Nothing fancy, just a vaguely English fast-flocculating pale ale to fill an empty keg in 4 weeks. It seemed right for my experimental “rush brewday”.

I did everything I normally do – no shortcuts – but not wasting any time, either. At no time was I sitting on the porch reading a book and enjoying a beer or coffee. I did little tasks while the Critical Path was running: set gear up while water heated, measured out hops while the mash rested. During the boil I even got a head start on the one task that’s so unpleasant I usually save it until the end, or the next day: cleaning.

I didn’t stop. I was so busy going about the various tasks of my “rush brewday” that I completely forgot to hook up the iPod and listen to some Rush.

And I finished in six hours. My “Critical Path” looked something like this:

Critical Path Other Tasks
11:00 Setup pots, burner, etc.
11:15 Begin heating strike water
11:25 Mill grain
11:45 Preheat MLT with strike water
11:50 Mash in
11:55 Set mash timer for 60 minutes
12:15 Heat sparge water
12:35 Boil water for yeast rehydration
12:55 Vorlauf & first runnings
1:05 Begin batch sparge #1
1:20 Vorlauf & second runnings
1:25 Begin batch sparge #2
1:40 Bring kettle to boil
1:57 Set boil timer for 90 minutes
2:15 Begin cleaning
2:45 Prepare wort chiller
3:25 Sanitize thermometer for cooling
3:27 Start wort chiller
3:58 Stop wort chiller
4:00 Whirlpool cooled wort
4:05 Sanitize fermenter, hoses, etc.
4:30 Transfer wort to fermenter
4:37 Rehydrate yeast
4:40 Aerate with aquarium pump
5:00 Pitch yeast

The one thing I should point out is that I did leave some of the cleaning for the next day. Just the mash tun and brew kettle, which I like to soak overnight with PBW anyway.

The beer isn’t in the keg yet, but it’s going to be great. I hit my target OG and FG perfectly, so consistency was achieved. And I did it all in six hours instead of nine. That’s a pretty definitive result (see note above re: “This is as scientific as I get”). But I was exhausted by the end of the day. And though of course brewing is always better than nine hours at the ol’ day job, my rush brewday was nothing like the relaxing experience I usually get as the other reward for my brewing labors.

And isn’t the fun why we do it? It’s why I do it.

So I’ve done some English-major-level science and answered my own question. Yes, for me it is a choice between happy and fast. And experience has cured me of my desire to brew faster. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to know that by busting my ass, I can get a simple brew done in six hours and still have time to shower before leaving the house if I have evening plans for dinner … or whatever. 

But unless I have to, I’m not gonna.

SMaSHy thing

HULK SMASH!! – orig. attrib. to Dr. Robert “Bruce” Banner, shouted by little boys everywhere

I recently took a break from my own frantic child-raising adventure to help my wife host a baby shower for friends expecting their first baby in October. The main request we got from the expecting parents was to make the event couples-friendly and laid back, with food, beverages and fun for the ladies and guys alike.

So in true Zyme Lord fashion, I decided to brew a beer.

I love having guests over to try my homebrew. It’s a great way to get objective feedback and improve my beer. This was a unique opportunity to reach beyond my closest friends – all of whom are already familiar with my homebrew – and get feedback from lots of people I didn’t know as well … most of whom I’ve worked with and gotten to know at other get-togethers, but who I hadn’t yet had a chance to have a beer with, let alone one of my own.

My kegerator was stocked with three kegs, but I wanted the special release beer to be the go-to tap. So it had to be something everyone could enjoy, regardless of their level of beer geekdom or personal style leanings. It should be in a popular and accessible style, and of course low-alcohol enough to keep the party family-friendly (it was, after all, a baby shower). I just didn’t know what.

Then one day when I was at the house of my expecting friends, flipping through the dad-to-be’s staggering collection of Hulk comics, the answer punched me in the face like a big green fist: I’d brew a SMaSH (Single Malt and Single Hop) beer in honor of one of my friend’s favorite comic characters.

I’ve made beers from a single malt and single hop before, but this was my first recipe following the SMaSH ethos: a platform to showcase the unique flavor and aroma of a single base malt and single hop (ideally added throughout the boil to reveal its bittering, flavor, and aroma characteristics). I designed my SMaSH as a pale ale, fermented with a clean, neutral yeast: full of flavor but easy drinking, interesting but not intimidating.

Also in true Zyme Lord fashion, I chose ingredients for symbolism as well as flavor. The grain bill was 10.5 lbs of Maris Otter malt mashed at 154°F for 60 minutes. I thought the nutty flavor of Maris Otter would be great unadulterated, and it was also a fun choice to commemorate the English ancestry of the growing family who were our guests of honor.

I also wanted to incorporate ingredients from Oregon and Maine, the two states where my friends have their roots. Oregon was easy. I used Willamette hops (4% AA), adding them as follows for just under 40 IBU:

  • 2 oz at 60 minutes
  • 1.25 oz at 15 minutes
  • 1 oz at flameout

Finding an ingredient to represent Maine was tricky. I located a few boutique maltsters up there, but even if I could get them to sell me a single sack of grain at an acceptable price, I doubted I’d get it shipped in time. So I ended up breaking the SMaSH rules and adding a small amount of adjunct: 8 ounces by weight of Maine maple syrup, at the start of the boil. This was a minuscule addition in a 5-gallon batch; enough to add 2 tiny gravity points but no flavor. I added it for no reason really other than to say it was there – a technique I refer to affectionately as “KISS blood”. A little cheating was worth it to tell the story.

The OG was 1.058 and I pitched a single pack of Safale US-05 dry. Fermentation took off quickly thanks to a little yeast nutrient in the boil. After 15 days, it finished out at 1.010 for 6.3% ABV: not quite as sessionable as I was shooting for; but what the hell, the party was only three hours. I dry hopped with 0.75 oz of 4% Willamette for nine days.

We served the beer frat-house style, with the keg in a bucket of ice. No pumps or picnic taps, though – this was the maiden voyage of my new portable paintball tank CO2 rig and post-mounted faucet from KegConnection.com.

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Chilling in the chest freezer, before we moved it to the bucket.

As it turned out, the visual of a battered old Cornelius keg sitting in a bucket of ice with a hose hanging off one side and a tap handle mounted to the other was an excellent conversation starter. I spent a lot of the party talking about homebrewing and getting to know some friends better. As for the beer, it was smooth, just hoppy enough, and very refreshing. We went through 4 out of 5 gallons before the party was over, and some guests were inspired to try a flight of all four brews I had on tap in the house. A smashing success, I’d say.

See what I did there?

An homage to UK pubs (and a classic monster movie)

I vote we go back to the Slaughtered Lamb. – Jack Goodman, An American Werewolf in London

Homebrew inspiration can come from strange places. My favorite homebrews are the ones that were inspired not just by an imagined set of flavors, but by places I’ve visited, stories I’ve read, movies I’ve watched, etc. I love using the language of malt, hops, and yeast to tell a story about something more than beer. The trick, though, is that brewing is not an abstract art. A good concept might make for a great conversation starter, but no matter how high-concept a brew is, if it doesn’t taste good I don’t want to be stuck with five gallons of it (I graduated from a Catholic university in New Orleans, but that doesn’t make it a good idea to brew a crawfish & Bananas Foster porter with Trappist ale yeast for the alumni picnic). Finding the right balance between concept and taste is the ultimate goal.

In spring 2011, Lisa and I visited the United Kingdom for three weeks and spent a lot of time in pubs. We drank real ales from so many regional breweries whose names I can’t remember (except for Brains – #1 among zombies in South Wales) served at cellar temperature, often from beer engines – though at one awesome hole-in-the-wall in a one-road hamlet in Scotland I think I remember drinking beer dispensed from a cardboard box. The taste and aroma of real British ale, even the sight of the interior of a British pub, are vivid and powerful memories for me.

In summer 2012, I saw John Landis’ 1981 film An American Werewolf in London for the first time and my nostalgia was kindled by an early scene in the film at a fictitious Yorkshire pub called the “Slaughtered Lamb”. So I brewed a special bitter with English malts and American hops that I named Kessler’s Rampage Special Bitter in homage to the film’s main character and titular werewolf. Not long after I kegged it my sister-in-law and her husband, a native Sussaxon*, came to visit for a week and emptied the keg while I wasn’t looking. I took that as a compliment, and decided to brew it again this summer.

The 2013 version was 94% (8 lbs) Fawcett’s Optic malt, reportedly the base used by Fuller’s and other UK breweries. 4 oz each of Crystal 40 and Crystal 150 rounded out the grain bill. Last year I used Crystal 120 instead of Crystal 150, but otherwise the malt profile was the same in both versions and pretty typical of the style. The mash was one hour at 155°F.

The hops were my chance to freestyle. American homebrewers can be pretty predictable in their hop selections for English pale ales – occasionally someone might get bold and use a little Fuggles, but generally it’s either East Kent Goldings, East Kent Goldings, or another … what’s it called? oh yeah, East Kent Goldings. I suppose that’s what judges look for in competition, but the lack of originality disappoints me. American pale ales and English pale ales are cousin styles, and I see no reason why American hops can’t play a role in a damn fine English bitter if the right ones are chosen – i.e., probably not the 4 C’s (though I suspect someone has done it well).

In 2012, I used exclusively American hops in keeping with the inspiration (you can see both recipes here). For 2013, I deviated with one English hop in the mix:

  • 0.5 oz Warrior (15% AA) at 60 minutes
  • 0.5 oz Progress (6.6% AA) at 15 minutes
  • 0.4 oz Willamette (4% AA) at 5 minutes

Although Progress is English and Willamette is American, both are Fuggle derivatives, so I thought they would pair nicely together despite being a slight variation on the original inspiration. Consider it an homage to Jenny Agutter’s character Alex in the film, the English love interest of the American David Kessler (yes, I can rationalize anything with my artsy symbolic bullshit).

I pitched Safale S-04 into the wort with an OG of 1.046. True to the old adage that “English yeast do it faster,” the fermentation bottomed out at 1.010 less than 48 hours later, leaving me with an ABV of 4.7%, palpable but still sessionable. I kegged it after 4 weeks, and after 2 weeks under refrigeration it’s just starting to get good enough to drink.

I don’t have any of last year’s batch left over to do a true vertical tasting, but I’m a little disappointed in this year’s model. I’m not sure the Progress hops were a good addition (sorry, Jenny). I’ve used them in more robust English-style beers like porters and stouts to great effect, but with so little malt character to hide behind, I’m getting a strong tropical fruit flavor though it is mellowing with time in the keg. The other fault is less diacetyl than I like in this style, though it may be hiding under all those Progress hops and may become more obvious as the hop flavor mellows.

So the beer’s not perfect. But considering I half expected the skies to open up, swarms of locusts and some ancient BJCP curse to fall upon me when I put hops other than East Kent Goldings in a special bitter, I think I’m still coming out ahead. I don’t get the feeling of being an American lost in Britain in this version, but my second Transatlantic ale experiment is good enough to brew again. And again. Until I get it right.

*Sussaxon: a native of East or West Sussex. My brother-in-law assures me this although this term is technically accurate, no one uses it. We both like it because it makes us think of the people of Sussex as mud-splattered, armor-clad Saxons performing great acts of manly savagery like raiding cottages across the southern coast of Great Britain. They’re not.

Old Froglegs, or: How I learned to stop worrying and love brewing barleywine

Daddy loves Froggy. Froggy love Daddy? Ribbit. – Hedy Lamarr (that’s Hedley!), Blazing Saddles

Big beers seem to be the norm for some homebrewers. The word “imperial” is thrown around at homebrew club meetings more than at Star Wars conventions, and barleywines seem far more prevalent at the homebrew level than commercially. I suspect many people become homebrewers just to hoard gallons of nose-hair singeing strong ales for a fraction of the cost of buying it commercially. Not me. I mostly drink beers around 8% ABV or lower, and my brewing habits reflect that.

Like many homebrewers, my mash efficiency suffers with bigger grain bills. I get great efficiency with beers around the 1.050 mark, but with beers around 1.070 it’s decent (not astounding). Satisfied with brewing beers mostly in the 1.050-1.080 range, I’ve haven’t bothered to rock the boat by trying a bigger brew. Over time, the idea of brewing a really big beer like an American barleywine became a little intimidating. Imagine a whole category of the BJCP Style Guidelines staring back at you when you close your eyes, whispering, “You’re not man enough to brew me, and you know it.”

Oh, but there’s nothing like having a baby to change your perspective. Faced with responsibility for an adorable but needy new organism while surviving on Clif bars and fifteen hours of sleep a week, the most intimidating non-baby-related activity in the world sounds like a vacation. That first month, I probably could’ve been talked into skydiving. So when someone suggested I brew a barleywine to commemorate Lucian’s birth, my enthusiastic response of “WHY THE HELL NOT!?” was, I’m sure, loud enough to be heard across the Texas Hill Country. I decided to make it the first beer I brewed after he was born.

I started with a name: Old Froglegs American Barleywine, after a nickname we gave Lucian within hours of being born (his legs were constantly crossed as a newborn). The recipe was big but simple, in keeping with my recent emphasis on fewer carefully chosen ingredients. 19 pounds of Maris Otter formed the base: a premium malt more expensive than plain American 2-row, and on a grain bill this big cost adds up. But Maris Otter has great flavor, and besides, how many “first beer after my baby was born”s do you get? I added 3 pounds of light Munich for melanoidins and a half-pound each of Crystal 60 and Crystal 150 for caramel and dark fruit notes. If you’re counting, that’s 23 pounds of grain (plus rice hulls) that would go into my 10-gallon cooler mash tun.

Expecting that high a ratio of grain weight to mash tun volume to seriously impact my efficiency, I took a few measures to compensate:

  • Milled my own grain
  • Increased sparge water/runoff and extended the boil
  • Included kettle sugars for extra fermentables

By milling my own grain I hoped to achieve a finer crush than what I’d get at the homebrew store – admittedly a crap shoot, not knowing how their mills are set. I didn’t actually buy my new Barley Crusher MaltMill for this brew, but it happened to be its maiden voyage. Earlier this year I realized that brewing with a newborn around would require flexibility, since daddy tasks might pop up unexpectedly on the weekend (I was right). With a malt mill in my arsenal, I can buy unmilled grain and crush it on brew day, ensuring fresh malt even if brew day is postponed by a week or more.

IMG_1337

Pictured above: the quantity of grain known to maltsters as a metric assload.

I doughed in at a stiff 1 qt/lb and added the rest of the liquor (to 1.25 qt/lb) only after I was sure that my mash tun would fit it all. It did, barely. I sparged to collect just shy of ten gallons of wort, which didn’t fit in the brew kettle, so I saved the extra in a pitcher and added it to the kettle as it boiled down. I didn’t actually start the boil timer until all the wort had been added and boiled down to my usual starting volume. All in all, the boil lasted about 150 minutes.

IMG_1341

On the edge of boiling over. He’s a madman! A maaadmaaan!

Once boiling was underway I added a pound – 2 pressed cones – of piloncillo (a.k.a. panela), an unrefined cane sugar particular to Latin American cuisine. I’d had it in the pantry for some time and it seemed a great addition to a barleywine, with its rich molasses flavor and high fermentability leaving the beer high in alcohol and low on cloying sweetness. Protip: smashing the cones with a meat tenderizer before adding them is great stress relief.

I added only 60-minute hop additions to the boil for bitterness. I had 1.75 ounces of Warrior and 1 ounce of Galena in the freezer, so I used them. I also added yeast nutrient to the boil because of the high gravity and 4% adjunct sugars.

I met my gravity target and then some, achieving an OG of 1.114. I pitched 2.5 packets of Safale US-05 dry (I ran out of time to rehydrate) and it took off like a rocket, with bubbles coming through the airlock less than 16 hours later. Two weeks later, the beer was at 1.023, which appears to be its final gravity. I racked it to a carboy at the end of May.

It’s going to stay there for months. I plan to bottle it in November so it’s ready to drink on Lucian’s first Christmas. Since I’m not an everyday barleywine kind of guy, I’ll save it for special occasions, birthdays and other milestones. I think I can get several years of good aging out of it if I treat it right. Even if it starts to decline after a while, I have to save at least one bottle to share with Lucian on his 21st birthday.

And then I can embarrass the hell out of him with the Froglegs thing.