Thursday, 27 September 2012

Beginner Tips: Start-up Homebrew Equipment

Brewing your own beer at home has a lot of perks. You get to attempt styles that aren't available in your area; you're involved in the entire process from start to finish, and will therefore appreciate the final product more; and, with some experience and hard work, you can make beer that is every bit as good, or better, than what's available commercially. Another advantage is that it is usually cheaper than paying for beer at the liquor store.

However, while your final cost per bottle may seem cheaper compared to that microbrew you normally buy, homebrewing, like any hobby, has a bit of a high cost in terms of start-up equipment. And, knowing exactly what you need to start brewing beer at a beginner's level is kind of overwhelming at first. It was for me, anyway, especially after reading different opinions in books and from online forums.

So, we're going to go over the equipment an outright beginner would require to brew their first batch of beer, and hopefully brew it well. I'm not going to get into actual recipe ingredients here, because this equipment is what you would need whether you bought a ready-made brew kit, or wanted to purchase your malt extract, hops, yeast, etc. separately and build your own recipe. I'm sure there's some things here I've missed; feel free to let me know in the comments section. I'll try to publish another post later that would get into what you need for when you make the next step, into all-grain brewing. I know some people start at all-grain, but I think the majority of us do at least a few batches with malt extract. It's certainly an easier and less-daunting place to begin!

Electronic scale
I guess you don't really NEED a scale, especially if you're brewing from a kit, where everything will be previously weighed out for you. But even here, you're still going to need to measure out your sugar for bottling. If you want to be exact in any ingredients you need - whether it be malt extract, hops, sugar, spices - weight is much more accurate than volume. And these little kitchen scales really aren't that expensive, and often go on sale. The more decimal points they go to, the better. Look for one that goes to at least three points (e.g. will read as 1.675 kg).

Boil kettle
With a few exceptions, all wort has to be boiled. When you're making 5-gallon batches, which is usually the case, you're going to need at least a 5-gallon kettle/pot. Most beginner homebrewers use a partial boil - this is where you boil about 3 gallons of water, along with the malt extract and hops, down to 2.5 gallons or so. This is then chilled in the kettle, poured into the fermenter, and an additional 2.5-3 gallons of water is added to make up the difference in volume.

If you want to make the best beer you possibly can, it's better to do a full boil, where you're boiling all 6-7 gallons of water with the beer ingredients, but I'll save the details of this for another post. However, if you're anxious to start brewing, and, like me, have a stove that couldn't handle bringing and maintaining 6-7 gallons of water to a boil, you can buy a 5-gallon kettle for fairly cheap. When you make the transition to all-grain brewing, the 5-gallon kettle will still come in handy, trust me. Either way, you want a kettle that is a good 2 gallons larger than the amount of wort you plan to boil.

In terms of stainless steel vs. aluminum, you'll find about three thousand arguments online. Stainless steel is more expensive, but aluminum has some people worried about increasing the risk of Alzheimer's disease. Keep this in mind: there has not been any documented proof of these worries. I could start quoting about how there's more aluminum in a tablet of Rolaids then in boiling water in an aluminum pot, but I won't. If aluminum is available and is cheaper, go for it. I personally have a 5-gallon stainless steel pot (because it was dirt-cheap when I found it), and a 10-gallon aluminum kettle.

Large spoon
This seems pretty obvious, but I DO want to try to be thorough! Brewing involves a lot of stirring, especially during the boiling stage, and with a minimum of 3 gallons of hot wort, you need a nice big spoon to help you out. I wouldn't go with a metal one, because it's more likely to scrape the bottom of your kettle when stirring. Find a food-grade plastic one instead.

While you're not measuring temperatures in extract brewing near as much as all-grain, you'll still need this from time to time, mainly in making yeast starters, and when cooling your recently-boiled wort, to see when you're in yeast-pitching territory. I'd recommend spending the extra bit of cash and getting a digital model - much more accurate and easier to use. Also, make sure you calibrate it after you buy it (and periodically thereafter) - test it in ice water to make sure it reads 32 F (0 C), and in boiling water for 212 F (100 C).

Not sure if this qualifies as equipment or not, but it's extremely important to sanitize ANYTHING that will come in contact with your wort/beer after it's been boiled. There's a lot of them out there, and they all have their fans and otherwise, but I really can't see the problem anyone would have with Star San. It's a no-rinse sanitizer that you simply mix with water, keep in contact with whatever you're sanitizing for 30 seconds, and then you're done. Simple. Mixing it with distilled water (6 mL in 4 L of water) greatly increases its shelf life, and keeping a small amount of the mixture in a spray bottle is fantastic for sanitizing small items such as spoons, funnels, thermometers, etc. Two 100 mL bottles of Star San have lasted me for 45 brew and bottling sessions, and I still have some left.

You need somewhere to put your wort and let the yeast turn it into beer, right? Now, you have some choices here. The three most-common ones are buckets, glass carboys, and plastic carboys (e.g. Better Bottles). Make sure that whichever you decide to go with is large enough for all of your wort, and roughly about 1-1.5 gallons more.

Buckets are great because they're cheap, very easy to clean, and easy to get your wort, dry-hops, and other ingredients into. The biggest con is that oxygen permeates a plastic bucket much more than the other vessels, which you don't want. Also, you can't see what's going on inside unless you open the lid. They can also be scratched easily, which gives an area for microbes to hide.

Glass carboys let you see what's going on inside, are fairly easy to clean since they can be brushed and can't scratch, and they keep oxygen out better than all the other options (if you're using an airlock, of course). But, these buggers can be heavy (especially with 5 gallons of beer in them), slippery when wet... see where I'm going here? They can be dangerous. Laugh all you want, but I've heard enough horror stories of people having tendons in their arm cut when they bumped a glass carboy, or even just when cleaning one out and having the bottom shatter! Also, if you have a clogged airlock (which happens when you have an overly-active fermentation), an explosion can occur. Their openings are usually narrow as well, which makes adding ingredients during fermentation more difficult.

Better Bottles share pros and cons of both glass and buckets. Like glass, you can see fermentation activity, and oxygen permeability is very low. Like buckets, they're very light and safe to use. The opening is larger than a glass carboy, and therefore a bit easier to add ingredients. The main downsides are that they can be a bit more expensive, and can sometimes be a real pain in the arse to clean, since they have a narrower opening than buckets, and can be scratched. A good cleaner, combined with a cloth stuffed into the bottle and swished around, usually takes care of the problem.

Pretty obvious what this does, keeps oxygen out of your fermenting beer. There are a couple of different types; as far as I know, either one is fine. Some people choose to use a blow-off tube, especially during early, active fermentation; depends on how much room you leave yourself in your fermenter, and just how active your fermentation is. Just make sure to keep your airlock filled with sanitizer (some use vodka), to prevent oxygen from getting in. You'll also need a stopper of some sort if you're using a carboy.

You'll need one for pouring your cooled wort into your fermenter, if you're using a carboy or Better Bottle. You COULD also rack the wort via tubing, but having a funnel for adding other liquid ingredients is nice as well. Just don't skimp - buy a larger funnel. Trying to pour 5 gallons of wort from a heavy kettle into a little funnel can be messy. Trust me.

I've actually talked to people who have lots of brewing equipment, but don't own a hydrometer or refractometer for measuring starting and finishing gravity. I highly recommend spending the little bit of extra money for a hydrometer. If you really want details about your beers (which can help lead to improving them), you need to know the OG and FG.

Bottling Equipment
More time-consuming than kegging, but a smaller start-up investment. Basically this involves purchasing a bottling bucket (really just a bucket with a hole drilled near the bottom for a spout), racking cane and tubing (to bring the beer from the fermenter to the bottling bucket), bottling wand (to fill the bottles with very minimal spillage), empty bottles (you can re-use bottles of beers you've drank, as long as you clean and sanitize them), and a bottle capper and caps.

It should be noted that a lot of this equipment can be purchased as a homebrew start-up kit. When I first started homebrewing, I bought a kit that had a 6.5-gallon carboy, 6-gallon bottling bucket, spoon, tubing, racking cane, bottling wand, capper, airlock, and hydrometer. But if you have access to everything separately, it will likely be cheaper to buy them this way.

Again, this is by no means an exhaustive list. If you ended up buying a 10-gallon kettle, you'd likely need an outdoor propane burner to get a boil going. Then, you'd probably want to buy a chiller so that you can get the temperature down quickly after boiling... this is how it goes with homebrewing! There's always something else you can buy to make better beer. If you ARE just starting, and doing an extract batch or from a kit, everything listed above should get you to your first completed batch. You can then start adding what you feel is necessary to improve your beer - mashtun, water carbon-filter, temperature-controlled fermentation chamber, etc.

Tasting : A Witter Shade of Pale

I'm quite overdue (again) posting the tasting notes for this beer... not only was I drinking this beer throughout the better part of the summer, but Witbier is definitely a style that should be enjoyed young - it's freshness can fade very quickly and is generally pretty susceptible to age. I actually DID write down my thoughts on the beer a couple of months ago, but just got around to typing them up now.

Overall, I was pretty happy with this beer; it definitely came out MUCH better than my first attempt a couple of years ago. And my wife, now that she's able to enjoy some beers again, has been enjoying it even more than I have! The beer is fairly balanced between spiciness and fruitiness for the most part (I find that a lot of commercial versions out there are actually too spicy, which I'm not a fan of). There's definitely some changes I'd make for next time (more on that below), but generally it came out to be a tasty, refreshing summer beer.

Appearance: Pours with a medium-sized, white creamy head that lasts for awhile before fading to 1/4-finger. Body is light yellow and hazy.

Aroma: Subdued aroma of coriander and orange, with both coming across as nicely balanced. The citrus/orange aroma could probably be bumped up a little more. A bit of grainy smell from the wheat. No diacetyl or other flaws.

Taste: Like the aroma, quite balanced... here, though, I’d say the coriander comes out a bit ahead. Again, I’d like to increase the orange peel. Creamy and smooth, and slightly tart from the wheat. Low hop bitterness in the finish. No hop flavor.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, with medium-high carbonation.

Overall: Very nice... a great summer beer. Not much I would change... I really like the yeast characteristics here. Next time I may use either bitter orange peel, or try using freshly-grated orange peel. Either way, very pleasant overall.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Brewing a Kern River Citra DIPA clone

When I was in San Diego a year ago, I was able to try a lot of fantastic new beers. Unfortunately, not every beer that I had hoped to find was available to me at the time. Some beers are just so sought after, that as soon as they are available in a beer store or beer bar, they can sell out pretty quickly. I'd say the #1 beer I really wanted to try that I couldn't find was Citra DIPA, made by Kern River Brewing Co. Currently rated #4 in the Imperial IPA category on Beer Advocate, it's supposed to be an excellent beer that has a high amount of Citra hops (of course) used during the brewing process, which would naturally provide a "strong pungent aroma" and a lot of the tropical fruits that one expects in the flavor. Anyone who has used Citra before can tell you that even a little bit goes a long way.

Every beer store that I checked in San Diego was out of Citra DIPA. When I started looking at beer lists online for the better beer bars in the area, I found that Hamiltons Tavern had just had a shipment in. We ended up there a couple of days later, but when I asked one of the bartenders if they still had it available, he informed me that they just sold out, and in fact, "I just had the last bottle myself. And it was awesome." Sonofa! Oh well, still a great beer bar, with lots of other awesome beers. So, I left San Diego resigned to the fact that I probably wouldn't get to try it anytime soon. And I haven't.

HOWEVER, luckily for me (and for lots of other homebrewers), the folks on the Can You Brew It podcast contacted Kyle Smith, the owner/brewmaster of Kern River Brewing, and he was kind enough to provide them with a homebrew recipe for Citra DIPA, which they were able to clone. I still had a pretty good supply of Citra hops on hand, so I decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to really put them to use. I also hadn't brewed a DIPA in over a year, when I attempted ANOTHER highly-rated and sought-after DIPA, Russian River's Pliny the Elder (which is a great recipe and turned out pretty awesome, by the way... I suggest you try it if you're a fan of the style).

The Citra DIPA recipe (which can be downloaded as the podcast, and is also written out here) is, as expected, pretty interesting. The grist is roughly 80% 2-row, 5% Munich malt, 2.5% each of Honey and Wheat malt, and 5% each of Carapils and Crystal 10. I didn't have access to Crystal 10, and since it's actually pretty comparable to Carapils, I just subbed in some more of that.  That seems, to me, like a pretty high amount of nonfermentables for a DIPA, but the mash temp is quite low at 148 F, so the beer is supposed to finish quite dry, with a lot of fermentable sugars provided for the yeast.

And this doesn't even include the dry hops
The hop schedule is where this beer really stands out, of course. While the bittering addition is Nugget, there are four more hop additions for the flavor/aroma, all Citra. Note that the amounts used are nothing crazy (about an oz each), but keep in mind that as I mentioned, Citra is a very pungent, powerful hop variety. Throw in four different dry-hop additions (combination of Citra and Amarillo, another citrusy hop), and you have a beer that is bound to pack a lot of hop punch... and be more expensive to brew than others! The calculated IBUs for this beer was 69.4, but with a 20-minute whirlpool, it'd probably be closer to 90-100, about on par for a DIPA.

Kyle notes in the podcast that the beer should be racked to secondary after only about 3 days, when fermentation is roughly 80% complete, and then the dry-hopping process can begin (they do it "warm" at Kern River Brewing, as opposed to cooler temps). I've always read that fermentation should be completely done before you start dry-hopping, but obviously these guys know what they're doing, and it worked for Tasty (who brewed the beer for CYBI). However, I'll be away for several days and won't be able to keep a strict watch on the every-3-day dry-hop schedule, so I'll be waiting a little longer than 3 days before racking to secondary. Fermentation will therefore likely be completely finished, but it's better than the alternative - racking too early.

As for fermentation, the easy-going/neutral WLP001/Wyeast 1056 is the strain of choice, with fermentation temps around 67 F to keep things focused on the hops. I didn't have time to make a starter, so I used Fermentis US-05 Safale dry yeast (rehydrated); I've had to go this route before, and have had results similar to Wyeast 1056 American Ale.

I'm not sure what to expect with this beer. Since I never got to try the actual Citra DIPA, I have nothing to compare to, as usual. And I've used Citra in healthy amounts before, and the resulting beer has been very hop-strong. I'm really looking forward to the results of this recipe... hopefully, at the very least, it'll make a decent DIPA that'll tide me over until my next trip to San Diego.

Recipe targets: (5.5 gallons, 73% efficiency): OG 1.070, FG 1.010, IBU 69.4, SRM 6, ABV 8%

5.32 kg Canadian 2-row
682 g Carapils
341 g Munich malt
168 g Honey malt
168 g Wheat malt

Nugget - 25 g (12.25% AA) @ 60 min
Citra - 28 g (12% AA) @ 15 min
Citra - 28 g @ 10 min
Citra - 28 g @ 5 min
Citra - 28 g @ flameout, begin 20-minute whirlpool

Dry-hop schedule:
33 g Citra & 14 g Amarillo for 3 days... then
20 g Citra for 3 more days... then
28 g Amarillo for 3 more days... then
28 g Citra for 3 more days.

1/2 tsp yeast nutrient @ 15 min
1/2 tab Irish moss @ 5 min

Yeast: US-05 Safale dry yeast, rehydrated

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; mash water treated with 5 g of gypsum

- Brewed Sept 9th, 2012, with Jill. 50-minute saccharification rest with 17.35 L of water for a mash temp of 148 F. Mashed-out with 11.12 L of near-boiling water, resulting temp 167 F. Let rest for another 10 minutes, then vorlaufed 3-4 L and drained into kettle. Sparged with 8 L of 168 F water, stirred well, and left for 5 minutes before vorlaufing and draining into kettle again, for a total volume of close to 7 gallons (slightly over target).

- SG 1.054 (target 1.057). 60-minute boil. Began chilling 20 minutes after flameout and whirlpool; took about 40 minutes to get to 70 F. Poured into BB and set in ice water to drop temp a few more degrees. OG low at 1.065 (likely partially due to the bit of extra volume I had after boiling). When temp dropped to 66 F, pitched yeast, aerating by shaking well for several minutes before and after. Placed BB back in sink with a few ice packs to try to keep the temp in the high 60s.

10/9/12 - 12/9/12 - Over the first few days, fermentation took off in about 18 hours after pitching... activity got quite high by the second day, with some beer getting into the airlock. Bubbling 1-2 times per second, temp got as high as 70-72 F, but I managed to bring it quickly down to 68 F by adding ice packs to the water bath.

20/9/12 - Racked to secondary and added first dry-hop addition. Gravity 1.014 - 4 points above target FG, and I doubt it'll go down much more, if at all.

23/9/12 - Second dry-hop addition. Temps still around 70 F.

26/9/12 - Third dry-hop addition.

29/9/12 - Fourth and final dry-hop... smelling intensely Citra-y, as expected.

2/10/12 - Bottled with 120 g table sugar, aiming for 2.5 vol CO2 for 5 gallons with max temp of 72 F reached.

4/11/12 - Despite the numbers being off, this really made a delicious beer... tasting notes.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Tasting : Z.E.D. IPA

While I actually bottled this NHC final round American IPA back in the middle of May, and even jotted down the tasting notes for the beer(s) soon afterwards, I'm just now getting around to posting about it. No excuses at all. Basically, I just waited until I could take the opportunity to open both versions at the same time, for picture purposes - even though the two beers look exactly alike.

This beer was brewed a little hastily... after my Alpine Duet clone won a bronze medal in the 1st round of the NHC, and therefore moved on to the finals, I decided to brew it again, in case the bottles I had left over wouldn't taste as fresh for the competition in June. Unfortunately, I lacked the hops needed to do a total rebrew of the recipe, so I changed things up a bit, and even increased the amount of hops in the beer. I also split the beer into two batches, the only difference being the dry hopping - one with CTZ/Nugget, the other with Citra/Simcoe. I decided to send the Citra/Simcoe version on to the NHC final round, which the judges felt was actually TOO hoppy for an American IPA, and a little harsh-tasting as a result.

The beers obviously look alike, but it's pretty amazing just how much of an effect the dry-hopping has on the aroma and flavor, even though the grist and boil-hops are exactly the same. In the end, while I did really like both of these replacement beers, I still feel the Duet clone was the better beer, and even now, 7 months later, is still tasting better then the replacements. In hindsight, I think I would have even entered the older beer into the competition, as I feel it's smoother and better-balanced.

Appearance: Both beers have a moderate-sized, fairly sticky white head that leaves good lacing. The body is a burnt-orange, with a bit of haziness (that isn't unexpected with the high amount of dry-hopping).

Aroma: Both are very hop-forward, with very little (if any) malt background. The CTZ/Nugget beer is slightly dank and earthy, with an odd candy-sweetness that I assume is from the Nugget. The Citra/Simcoe, however, has a huge citrus aroma - very big on a grapefruit/melon character, with a bit of pine.

Taste: Again, neither beer has much to offer in terms of malt character, which should be considered a fault. I'd have to say both taste pretty much like they smell, with the Citra/Simcoe version being more intense due to the huge grapefruit/melon presence. Oddly enough, the CTZ/Nugget version actually comes across as slightly more bitter... say, medium/high bitterness in the finish for both, with the CTZ/Nugget having a bit of an edge.

Mouthfeel: Both are medium-light bodied, with medium carbonation, and a bit of astringency.

Overall: As I mentioned, really tasty beers, but the Duet clone definitely wins out, even now.