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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Amber Waves

It’s been way too long since I’ve written anything here.  There are three beers that I’ve brewed since the last entry.  The 2011 edition of St. Bernard Christmas Ale that has completely fermented and is aging in the cold storage of the 34 degree F chest freezer.  This time, it’s a Belgian Dark Ale instead of the Old Ale that we all enjoyed last year.  I still get asked if I have any more of that beer, but I gave it all away at Christmas time. 
Next, I made the first attempt at Southern Belle Blonde Ale which is about as close to American style lager as I would be wiling to serve.  The fermentation is clean without character.  Exactly what I imaging this style is supposed to be.  Maybe I should get some of Southern Star’s Bombshell Blonde to compare it to.  Lastly, I brewed the first attempt at Doubting Thomas, an American Pale Ale.  I don’t care for this at all.  The hop character is all wrong.  Apparently the combination of German Magnum, Centennial and Columbus doesn’t suit my palate.  If I mix 75% Southern Belle and 25% Doubting Thomas, I can make a light pale ale that I can drink all day, but it’s nothing special.  I’m going to try a new recipe that is based on Epic Pale Ale from New Zealand.  Apparently the kiwis know what the Hell they are doing.  The recipe is simple, British pale and crystal malt and all American Cascade hops.  The trick is the execution.  More on that adventure later.  This brew day is about Amber Waves, American Amber style ale.  This is part of the American Patriot line that in addition to Amber Waves includes, Tea Party Porter and Paul Revere IPA.
BrokenCarboyMost brew days have their little problems; a stuck sparge, a missed temperature, a boil over, or the one time you walk away from the kettle, the propane goes empty or a gust of wind blows the flame out.  I’ve heard about full on catastrophes that lead to Tim, “The Tool Man”, Taylor style hospital visits, but I’ve been careful.  Or lucky.  After eleven years of brewing I had a minor catastrophe on this brew day.  I got lucky in that I didn’t need to visit the Emergency Room to seek stitches or a burn treatment. 
My minor catastrophe was backing into a draining 6 1/2 gallon glass carboy that was balanced precariously on the bottle drain, but sitting cock-eyed due to a carboy handle.  In the split second that it took to fall over, I had time to consider many things.  “What was that I just bumped into?  It was smooth and cool, like glass.  What could it be?”  It was about this BloodyThumbtime in the eternity that was the 1.5 to 2 seconds of the event that I realized it was that carboy that I so stupidly left behind me, in the way, and balanced on the carboy drainer, leaning up against a bucket full of iodophor sanitizing solution.  I spun around and reached for the falling carboy with all the deft and coordination that a middle-aged, slightly-pudgy non-athlete can and stuck my thumb right into the newly formed joint where the glass had broken.  Whoops, that was a mistake.  Retracting my hand from the pieces of the fermenter that had been a faithful provider of malty elixirs since my earliest days for brewing, I examined the collateral damage.  My thumb started to bleed and as I applied pressure to the wound, there was more sharp pain.  Third mistake.  There was still glass in my thumb but I couldn’t see it.  All told a minor injury that could have been much worse.  I’ll be replacing that carboy with a PET Better Bottle.
DriveBeltFailWhile milling the grain for Doubting Thomas, I walked out of the immediate area to get the mail.  When I came back the garage was full of smoke and smelled of burnt rubber.  Apparently, I had conditioned my malt too wet and gummed up the grain mill which seized and the motor kept right on churning, abrading a big divot in the drive belt.  No I need to find the instructions so I know what size belt to replace it with.  It still works for now, but It needs to be replaced.
Another, recent modification to the mash tun includes an all copper manifold that replaced the stainless inverted sieve that is supposed to be better.  I also stopped continuous mash circulation.  Rather than draining the mash water, running it through the heat infuser and back to the top of the grain bed, I’m just heating up the water, stopping the pump and dumping in the grain.  The mash tun holds the temperature amazingly well and I’ve had much more relaxed brew days without fooling with falling grain beds, stuck recirculation pumps and all that mess.  If I add one more fitting to my hot liquor tank, I can use the heat infuser to heat up step infusion or mash-out water instead of trying to recirculate the mash.  I get just as clear a wort without recirculation and it’s much less of a headache.  Anyone can follow a recipe.  The masterful part of being a brew-master is nailing the process down to being repeatable and within guidelines.  I missed my target gravity by 3 points, but this time I was on the low side instead of overshooting the target.  I think this was due to my attempt at fly-sparging, which is simply refilling the mash tun with 168 degree water from the top while draining the wort from the bottom.  Most times I batch sparge which is draining the mash tun of sugary water and then refilling with warmer water and draining a second time.  At some point I will need to brew the same beer twice, once fly-sparged and once batch sparged to see if I can tell a difference.
Another issue with my current process is that I have an in-line oxygen stone aerates the wort as it goes from the chiller to the fermenter.  My pea-brain insists that gases bubble up through liquids, so the oxygen stone is below the outlet to the fermenter.  The problem is that since I do not need to aerate the entire batch (only about 25%), while there is no pressure to the oxygen stone I get wort into my hepa-filter that filters the oxygen.  If I was using medical grade oxygen this may not be an issue, but I’m using welding/brazing grade that you can buy at the hardware store.  The beer still turns out fine, but if I start growing mold in my hepa-filter, it kind of defeats the purpose.  I guess I could invert the assembly and have the oxygen stone above the outlet, but I have no idea how, or if that CarboyFillingwould work.
I pulled the yeast slurry from Doubting Thomas and warmed it up to room temperature the day before brewing.  In order to make sure that my little friends were still healthy, I boiled another liter and 100 grams of malt extract.  After cooling, it was dumped into the flask and put on the stir plate.  I now had 2.5 liters of WLP 001 California Ale Yeast slurry and it was very healthy.  Thinking that this was too much and remembering that Jamil and Tasty keep telling me that too much yeast is just as bad as not enough, I used the Mr. Malty (aka Jamil) yeast pitching calculator iPhone app to tell me that I only needed 1.1 liters or repitched slurry.  Measured that into my 1000ml Erlenmeyer flask and put in the 62 degree (F.) fermentation chamber to acclimate from the 80 degrees of the house.
One thing about brewing in Texas is that the ground water is close to 80 degrees, so even with the ultra-efficient Blichmann Therminator, I can’t get my wort much below 80.  I could rig up an ice bath for the Therminator inlet water, but man, just one more piece of equipment to worry about.  I’d rather brew than build stuff (I haven’t always said that!).  So my Amber Waves wort had to sit in the cool changer overnight.  By 10am, Sunday, it was still at 65 degrees.  I pitched anyway, planning on holding that temperature until Monday night and letting it slowly climb to 68 over the next 3 days.
I’ll post tasting notes when I brew the next batch which should be Tea Party Porter.

1 comment:

  1. I forgot about posting tasting notes for this. This batch is 2nd favorite recipe to date just behind Pedigree Porter. I had taken Jamil's recipe from "Brewing Classic Styles" and added a dry-hop regimen to it. Very similar to St Arnold's Elissa IPA. This one goes to Dixie Cup 2011.