Sunday, March 25, 2012

Small Batch Brewing & Step Mashing

Small Batch Brewing:
I'm brewing up some "small" batches of beer now so that I can experiment with a wider range of styles with less cost and less beer to bottle and keep around. Yesterday was the first attempt at this; Liz and I brewed up two Belgian beers - a Witbier (white beer) and a Belgian Dark Strong. Both beers are ales and have the same fermentation profile which allows me to place them both in the fermenter and ferment at the same temps/schedule.

Witbier on the left, Dark Strong on the right.
It'd been a month or so since we last brewed since most of our free time was consumed with studying for the BJCP beer judge exam, so we made a couple minor mistakes along the way, but hopefully nothing that will drastically affect the finished beer.

When boiling smaller volumes of wort, the boil off rate increases significantly, which results in increased a higher Original Gravity and a lower volume of finished wort in the fermenter. Next time I'll need to raise my batch from 3 gallons to 3 1/2 and increase my brewhouse efficiency rate. The Witbier ended up with 90% brewhouse efficiency (I had figured 75%), but yielded just over 2 gallons.

Step Mashing:
We also step mashed yesterday for the first time. The Witbier has a high amount of wheat (35%) and oats 8% which would create a wort that is highly viscous and likely impossible to sparge. To avoid a potential stuck mash, we performed a protein rest at 130F for 15 minutes before raising the temperature to 150F.  I started the mash in a kettle by heating water to 145F and doughing in to hit my target of 127F (was high though at 130F). After letting it rest at that temp, I turned the heat on low and attempted to slowly raise the temperature to about 155F. I wanted to over heat slightly so when I transferred to the mash tun cooler, I'd hit 153. I ended up losing 5 degrees when I transferred so, I'll have to plan for that next time.

The problem that occurred is I didn't realize how fast the mash temperature could rise with such a small mash. I had the heat on low and was stirring constantly to avoid scorching the grains. After a few minutes, I checked the temperature and I had hit 170F! I quickly filled a pitcher of water with 120 degree water (from my tankless heater) and poured a half gallon in. That was enough to lower the temp down to 140. I then slowly raised it to 155F and then poured into the mash tun. I was concerned I may have stopped the alpha amylase enzyme activity but it was only at that temp for about 2 minutes. My efficiency was quite high, so I think I'm ok. It also didn't help that the Dark Strong was beginning to boil (and boil over) at the same time I was trying to raise the mash temp!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Stone 2012 AHA Rally/Competition Recap

The Stone AHA Rally and March Madness Homebrew Competition was held last Saturday on March 10th and as usual had a very large turnout. Over 400 people RSVP'd for the event. I'm not sure there that many people actually attended, but the gardens were still teeming with people. There were a number of delicious beers that day. There were several I knew instantly were going to be top finishers including Ken Schmitz's Pillow Mint at the Ritz mint chocolate stout, Mango Haberno IPA, and Scott's Big IPL. The top 5 vote-getters were selected to be evaluated by a panel from Stone and the top 4 were announced. My beer ultimately did not finish in the top 4, but the three mentioned above finished 1, 2, and 4th with PP Steeze Imperial Coffee Vanilla Porter coming in third.

I also had the chance to meet up with a fellow homebrewer and blogger, Scott at SNB Brewing (Scott's Big IPL). He has an extensive write up of the Rally and I appreciate shout out for my Pirate's Breakfast Imperial Oatmeal Stout. We'll see what's in store for next year. In the mean time - I've got just 3 days left of studying for the BJCP exam on Saturday March 17th!
Greg Koch (CEO Stone) giving one of several speeches/announcements.
Pirate's Breakfast eagerly waiting to be served.
There's Pirate's Breakfast on the line up.
These are all of the beers that were served in bottles;
The other side of the garden had all the draft beers.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Countdown to the BJCP Exam!

Liz and I have just 8 days to go until the BJCP exam on March 17th! We finished up the 12 week review course on Wednesday and are continuing madly studying for the exam. It didn't look like we were going to be able to take it, but a couple people dropped out and we were able to jump in. I'm very grateful for all the hardwork and efforts that Travis, Mike, Brett, Kim (as well as many others) put in to coordinating this review course. I've learned a tremendous amount about beer and brewing that would've taken me years to learn.

Our last class at Peter Zien from AleSmith give us some tips on the exam. It was an encouraging and helpful talk, although he did say "I suppose this test is slightly more fun than the Bar exam"! I'm looking forward to having my free time back in about a week since almost every spare moment is spent cramming classic commercial examples, world beer styles, history, ingredients, brewing problems, and brewing processes into my brain. At least it's on St Patty's day :=)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

2012 Stone March Madness Homebrew Competition/AHA Rally

We're just one week away from the Stone AHA Rally on March 10th, 2012 and I hope to see you there! I'll have my Pirate's Breakfast Imperial Oatmeal Stout entered. Apparently there are over 400 people registered to attend so far, so if you're planning on going, make sure to RSVP so you don't get turned away at the door. Here is the link: Stone AHA Rally. UPDATE 3/5/12: The registration window is already closed - hopefully you're already on the list! There are so many people in attendance now, that instead of the 24 bottles required for entry, we're now being asked to bring as many bottles as we can. I'm dropping another 12 pack off today which almost clears me out of this batch of Pirate's Breakfast.

Since it's an AHA Rally, you do need to be an AHA member in order to get in. You can become an AHA member at the door (which is what we did last year) or you can join online at the AHA website. Once you're in you get to taste 40 amazing homebrews and vote on the best beer. The top four or five beers with the most votes will then go to a Stone tasting panel and a winner will be selected. The homebrewer then gets to brew that beer with Stone on their system and the beer gets distributed out everywhere Stone is available!