Monday, February 21, 2011

Imperial Oatmeal Stout

I'm taking names! That's right - I'm taking names on what this Imperial Oatmeal Stout should be called. (it's an "imperial" because of it's projected alcohol content (ABV) of approx 8%). Leave me a comment or shoot me an email to weigh in on your naming suggestion! This should have a thick malty body, with velvety chocolate and some roasted flavors. We'll see how it turns out. There are pictures at the bottom of this post.

In my previous post, I discussed my new plate chiller design and set up. This was the first batch I was able to put the plate chiller into use. My primary objectives were to decrease the amount of time to chill the beer, which should help to clarify the final product and lock in flavor/aroma. There were actually a number of new techniques (for me) that I employed on this brew:
1. Re-built my filter in my mash tun and installed a ball valve on the drain line
2. Plate Chiller with pre-chiller
3. Added Irish Moss to boil to clarify final product
4. Whirlpooled to clarify and prevent sediment from clogging plate chiller
5. Built and used a hop bag to hold the hops during the boil
6. Used a different yeast strain (Safale 04 instead of the 05 strain I used on all previous brews)
7. Blow off tube on primary fermenter

I was very pleased with the outcome of every new technique (although I won't find out about item #6, the different yeast strain, for a few more weeks.) Here's the reader's digest of what I'll dig into below:
Everything went very well, the several steps I took to clarify the beer (Items #2, 3, 4, 5) all worked extremely well, and I can see the wort is very clear already).

Let's look at each one:

1. Re-built my filter in my mash tun and installed a ball valve on the drain line:
I replaced my filter with actual stainless steel, rather than the synthetic (which I thought was SS), and added a ball valve to better control the flow from the mash tun. It worked beautifully! I was able to mash out in about 10-12 minutes in a very smooth manner and eliminated the "hot-side aeration" that I was having to do on my 2 previous brews.

2. Plate Chiller with pre-chiller
I've already discussed the set up of the chiller in this post. This set up worked very well! I was able to cool the wort from boiling temperatures to 68 degrees in 30 minutes (as opposed to 1 hour previously). This also kept the system closed which helped keep air from reaching the wort. I made my own in-line thermometer to monitor the temp of the wort as it entered the fermenter with a piece of 6" copper and a stick on thermometer for $2.25 instead of paying $30 for the fancy brand name Blichman "Thrumometer". It wasn't pretty but it performed great!

3. Added Irish Moss to boil to clarify final product
Irish Moss is algae from the North Atlantic that helps clarify the final beer product. I just rehydrated a table spoon and tossed it in the end of the boil.

4. Whirlpooled to clarify and prevent sediment from clogging plate chiller
I swirled the wort for a few minutes which drove all the sediment in the beer to the center of the kettle, away from the drain line. 

5. Built and used a hop bag to hold the hops during the boil
This is the piece of equipment you'll see sitting on top of the boil kettle (4" PVC with a 5 gallon paint strainer bag clamped onto it). All the hops get thrown in here, and the bag is pulled out at the end of the boil. Again, this helped eliminate sediment from the final product.

6. Used a different yeast strain (Safale 04 instead of the 05 strain I used on all previous brews).
This should help enhance the malty character of the beer - we'll see how it turns out.

7. I put a blow off tube (see second to last photo below), to prevent the krausen (foam head) from spewing out like it did on the Damn Chizzam double IPA. So far it hasn't gone over, but it's working perfectly nonetheless. 

Mashing the grains

My shiny new ball valve on my mash tun

Mashing out (and my new ball valve on the kettle)

Hop bag

Boiling wort and stirring away

Mashed grains

My ghetto, home-made mash stirrer (but hey! it work's great!)

My new plate chiller with pre-chiller in action

Close up shot of plate chiller and pre-chiller. Plate chiller is on the chair, and the pre-chiller is in the bucket.

Finished wort. Crystal clear.

Imperial Oatmeal Stout wort is in primary fermenter. I used a blow off tube this time, just in case the krausen (foam head) decided to go crazy and overflow like it did on the double IPA. (The double IPA is in the plastic bucket - secondary fermenter - dry-hopping.)

Plate Chiller is Ready for Maiden Voyage

The plate chiller I wrote about in my last post arrived and I finished buying the other parts I needed and put it all together the other night. Here's a picture of the whole set up:

This plate chiller is available from I was amazed out how small this little guy is - about 3" x 3" x 8". It's amazing to me that I can cool 6 gallons of boiling liquid to 65 degrees in a matter of a few minutes using this set up.

How it works
The chiller system I'm using utilizes a plate chiller, which is a counterflow heat exchanger (wort enters one side, cool water enters other side and they flow past each other, separated by plates), and a pre-chiller copper coil that sits in a bucket of ice water. A garden hose is attached to the copper coil and cool water (approx 70 degrees) enters the copper coil, which cools the water (hopefully to 40 degrees or so). The chilled water then enters the plate chiller and cools the boiling wort that is flowing into it from the boil kettle. Once the wort passes through the plate chiller, it dumps into the fermenter at the appropriate temperature.

Installed ball valve into kettle
I first had to install a weldless ball valve into my boil kettle which I bought through Northern Brewer. Now that I have it, I realized I probably could have built this little assembly myself, but I wasn't sure of what all went into it. Now I do, so I'll build it myself next time for probably 1/2 the cost ($32 shipped). Fortunately, my kettle is aluminum, which made it very easy to drill through. I located it as close to the bottom as possible so I can drain as much wort as possible. I realized later that now it hits on the rim of the turkey fryer, so I'll have to modify the rim a bit now.

I used 1/2" (O.D.) x 20' soft copper to make the pre-chiller. Many articles I've read say to wrap it around a round object (like a 5 gallon keg). I didn't see the point and just worked it to the diameter I wanted by hand. Very simple to do!

Set up of Chiller
I set up the components of my brewing system how I wanted them. Then I simply cut 1/2" tubing to the appropriate lengths to connect all the components together, added a few hose clamps and voila! The system was complete!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

New plate chiller in the works

I'm in the process of making a new chiller for the wort (unfermented beer), to replace the borrowed immersion chiller I've been using. This new chiller is a plate chiller, or counter-flow chiller. The 30 plate chiller is a heat exchanger which runs cool water through one side, and hot wort through the other side. As the hot wort/cold water flow past each other, it rapidly exchanges the heat, which should cool the wort from boiling to pitchable yeast temperatures (65 degrees) in about 5-10 minutes. The immersion chiller I've been using takes about 45 - 60 minutes.

Not only does this save significant time in the brewing process, it also helps lock in flavor, aroma, and reduce potential bacteria infections.

Here is the plate chiller I'll be using, which can be found at Once I get it built, I'll post some photos of the whole set up.

Monday, February 7, 2011

"1844" Pale Ale Scores a Touchdown at Super Bowl Party!

The first beer that we brewed up - "1844" was a huge hit at this weekend's superbowl party! Once everyone found out it was a home brew, it went fast! We saw plenty of people going back for seconds - definitely encouraging to see people loving the first beer that we made. The "Chizzam!" IPA turned out much better than the "1844", and those that have been privileged to try it have loved it! I've got a San Diego Pale Ale (double IPA) in the fermenter now - It'll be great for "hop heads"!