Wednesday, October 31, 2012

BREWDAY: Wise Pumpkin Says Dunkel for Halloween

The seasonal brews are one of my favorite things to do. Most brewers don't like pumpkin beer. It is a plebian affair, after all, and you have to like what pumpkin tastes like to like it in a brew. Pumpkin has a flavor. It is not necessarily a pie flavor. In fact, most pumpkin pies are made with butternut squash. Still, for those of us who do enjoy pumpkin, a seasonal brew with the fruits of the autumn harvest is the perfect time to celebrate that pumpkin love.

Ah, pumpkin. Ah, Halloween. Halloween pumpkin. Ah. Yes.

Here's what I came up with from my handy brew closet supply:

3 gallon batch

1 whole roasted pumpkin pie pumpkin (about 2 1/3 pounds, cleaned, in this case)
2 pounds of red wheat malt
8 ounces of 2-row
8 ounces of caramunich
8 ounces of piloncillo sugar
2 ounces of carafa i
2 ounces of quaker quick oats
.8 ounces of Styrian Celeja hops @60
.2 ounces of Styrian Celeja hops @30
1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice blend (in this case, McCormick's brand. I did a good strong amount because the container is years old. Were this a fresh batch of homemade stuff, I'd use 1/3 of a teaspoon!)
1/2 teaspoon of Chinese Five Spice (in this case, a homemade blend, about a year old, containing fennel, star anise, clove, szechuan peppercorn, and cinnamon)

Things I did differently this time:

I used 3.75 gallons of storebought spring water to fill my kettle, this time. I want to see if I can isolate either the water or the sanitation process. I kept my sanitation the same, with the bleach and the rinsing of bleach. Let's see if it is (as I suspect) likely coming from the hard, chlorinated San Antonio tap water.

I've had good results with overnight mashing, and I'm going to keep doing it, for now, until I can get a refractometer. I've ordered one, but it is not here, yet.

So, I got my strike water up to 175 degrees, doughed in with my fresh crushed grain and pumpkin, and got the temperature up to about 155. Then, I placed my kettle in a pre-heated oven at 170 degrees. I flipped the oven off, went to bed, and did the rest of the boil in the morning. Simple. 

Pumpkin. I love pumpkin. I could take a cured cinderella pumpkin, slice it up like fine cheese and eat it raw. I could make pumpkin bread, and pumpkin alcohol, and pumpkin cinnamon rolls... I love pumpkin!

How do you process a pumpkin for homebrew if you don't have a food processor? Ours was dirty, and I was too lazy to clean it, so I had to find a different way. I put the roasted pumpkin in a plastic bag, and smashed it up with my hands, crushing it inside of the plastic bag into a gooey paste. It was clean and easy to work with, and seemed to lead to good conversion in the kettle. Time will tell. Time will tell. Refractometer en route.

Anyway, the wise pumpkin says dunkel, because yeast should have a flavor, and the spicy, fruity German yeast will complement the spicy, fruity pumpkin brew. It will not be another commercial amber pumpkin ale. (I could buy that in the store, if I wanted it!) It will be something I haven't seen out and about. And, my hope is that the piloncillo and caramunich will impart a rich caramel flavor to go with the pumpkin and the spice. Caramel pumpkin is a wise combination, no?


Monday, October 29, 2012


Part of me wants to drink it now because it looks so good, and smells GLORIOUS!

I am excited and pleased.

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble... Get more wicked, little beer!

Friday, October 26, 2012


So, a yield of about 20-21 beers, with two down and drunk already. Definitely an improvement on the prior beer. The nose is very hoppy and seems to cut the flavor of the malts down to the quick. The sticky sweetness of the homemade caramel malts really comes through in the aftertaste. Before that the fruit notes from the very banana-y, five-spice-y, citrus-y, and jammy as the weizen yeast and fruity hops and spices dominate the flavor.

A success, definitely!

The overnight mash really helped, I think. So did the better temperature control during the primary fermentation! Doing this next time, I have a list of things to do or improve upon.

1) I will get more aggressive roasting that chocolate wheat, and get it really dark - black patent dark!

2) Thin. The beer feels just a little thin. Certainly an overnight mash contributed to this, somehow. I either need to invest in a refractometer, or add a body-builder like oats or flaked what or carapils. This beer is too thin.

3) I doughed in cold and brought the temperature of the whole mash up together, to a protein rest. I'm not sure that was the right way. I think with 70% wheat, a protein rest was called for - and my beer is surprisingly clear considering how much wheat was involved - but I don't need to start cold and build up to it. I can get the water up above protein rest temps, then dough in.

 4) Water chemistry and sanitation: I can taste a very subtle background note of band-aid/plastic. That means one of two things. Either the chlorine/chloramine from the tap water made it through, or some of the bleach water sanitizer did. Either way, there is a simple solution. Campden tablets and a no-rinse sanitizer are cheap and effective methods of preventing this problem.

Ah, but how heartening to drink something I have made, all-grain, and know that it is good. Not win homebrewing awards good, but share with others unashamed good. Onward!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

BREWDAY: When life drops your butternut, make BUTTERNUT ALE!

Upon the kitchen table that is a family heirloom from when my parents were first married, I had placed two pie pumpkins, and a butternut squash.

I had every intention of making a pumpkin beer in a couple weeks, after pipelining some simple, small SMaSH Pale Ales to feature Cluster and Styrian Celeja hops in two otherwise identical brews. I had even toasted up 8 ounces of malt to a nice, nutty, medium toast, to be divided up between the two pale ales. I had even made up 8 ounces of a home-roasted caramel malt, made from soaking grain and caramelizing it in the oven and then roasting it to dry it out. I had done these things for Pale Ales.

The gods of homebrew hurled my butternut squash upon the ground. It cracked at the top, splitting evenly down the center, and halfway down the fruit.

Immediately, I roasted the squash to make some use out of it. If I had left it alone, it would have just rotted like that.

So... That was not part of our dinner plans, just yet.

Beer gods demanded Butternut Squash Beer.

Interesting fact: Most homebrewers who make pumpkin beer are probably already making butternut squash beer, because most commercial cans of pumpkin puree are actually a type of butternut squash, or a hybrid variety of squash/pumpkin called Dickenson Field Squash. Actual pumpkin, if you made it into a pie, would be a golden yellow color, not the orange we know and assume means pumpkin. Butternut Squash is what people are really thinking about, when they're imagining the flavor of pumpkin in their mind. It's richer, deeper, with a bright orange color, and it's a perfect thing to make beer with on an early autumn day!

I cobbled together a recipe with what I had lying around. Fortunately, I did have some more interesting malts in the brewcloset. (Plus some fresh spices straight from Grenada courtesy of my wife, whose family harvest cocoa, cinnamon, and amazing nutmeg and send it to us from their farm. Nutmeg and cinnamon were both from Grenada!)

This batch turned into a 3 gallon brew when I lost track of how much water I was pouring into the darn brew kettle... The end result was around 3 gallons, right?

I pulled up my edition of iBrewmaster...

3 gallons, thereabouts
OG: 1.062
FG: 1.017
30 SRM
(estimated mash efficiency of 86%)

3 pounds of Rahr 2-Row Pale
1 pound of Munich Malt
8 ounces of home-toasted malt
8 ounces of home-made caramel malt, est. at 100L-140L
6 ounces of Caraffa I
6 ounces of Dark Brown Sugar, added to the boil
half of a roasted butternut Squash for about 1.5 pounds, pureed
@60 minutes use 1 ounce of Cluster hops for about 40 IBU
@15 minutes, add one small cinnamon stick, 1/2 tsp of fresh-ground Nutmeg, .25 ounces of grated, fresh Ginger
Include in the full Primary (or secondary instead, if you plan to use one) with 1/4 of the cooked, pureed butternut squash
Pitch 1 full packet of Safale S-04

With Brew-in-a-bag, and a very fine grind, I'm expecting a super efficiency. I also did another overnight mash. In fact, my overnight mash went long because I got pulled away for some stuff for work in the morning, and could not get to the wort after eight hours. It was a thirteen-hour mash, then. I set the oven to 180 degrees when my wort, on the stovetop, was protein resting at 122 degrees for twenty minutes. By the time I got the wort to 154 degrees, the oven had reached 180 degrees. I put my kettle inside to mash overnight, and flipped the oven off. When I woke up, before I got an e-mail from work, I had flipped the oven back on to buy someself some more time, to 200 degrees. I had started the mash at ten o'clock, and didn't mash-out until almost eleven-fifteen.

And, my grind was very small, too. I was really aiming to pulverize this stuff, because I wanted to give BIAB a real go of it with a finer grind.

Anyway, woot for butternut squash! There's still a quarter of the squash sitting in the fridge for my wife.

Of note:

The squash that I put into the primary fermenter was microwaved just before putting it into the primary good and long, to make sure it was completely cooked and to make sure it was completely sanitary. It seemed like the easiest way to sanitize something that likes being cooked in a microwave, right?

Of note: Pictures of a brewday that was messy and spontaneous and fun.

The smell in the primary, just before pitching, was stunning. A milder dark roast, with Caraffa I instead of chocolate and medium-toasted malts instead of dark roasted malts, may not be the "perfect to style" stout, but it does ease into the stout flavors, allowing the butternut pie flavor with the sweetness of the caramel malts, to shine over the top of the dark, thick brew!

It's the sort of thing that makes me want to use exclamation points. Because the squash fell! I can make it into beer! The beer smells really good! Everything is working!



Monday, October 22, 2012

BREWDAY: Red River Dunkelweizen

I have named this beer "Red River" in honor of my family's move to Texas. Also, I am hoping it will be red. My process is still working out the kinks, and there's just no way to be sure that I'm going to nail the color red. The name is hopeful. I am placing the name upon the beer, as if it might cast the spell upon it that encourages the color red to appear. (A brewer's mantra: A red river flows through you... A red river flows through you... A red river flows through you...?)

Why red? Because with the hint of chinese five spice and bay leaf, I'm really hoping to get a little taste of autumn in the glass.

2 lbs and 11 ounces of Rahr Red Wheat
1 lb of 2-row pale
4 ounces of homemade caramel/crystal malt
2 ounces of homemade chocolate wheat malt
.2 ounces of Styrian Celeja at 60 minutes for 8.81 IBU
.2 ounces of Styrian Celeja at 15 minutes for 4.37
1 bay leaf at 15 minutes
.5 tsp homemade Chinese Five Spice Blend at 15 minutes
.2 ounces of Cluster at 5 minutes for 2.73 IBU

Mashing this, I put all the grain in to room temperature water, and brought it up gently to 120-125 degrees, and held it there for ten minutes, stirring and allowing to settle. I thought it might help with the haziness of the last brew, even though such things are to style. After that, I brought it up to mash temp for medium body at 154, and then threw it into the pre-heated oven. 

Concerned about my conversion last time, and still sans refractometer, I went the other extreme. I did an overnight mash, in the oven. After about an hour, I flipped the oven off, and left it closed. I let the grain and water rest until the next day in the warm oven, hopefully converting everything. (My PH and water chemistry research continues, naturally, but I'm trying simple solutions first.)

In the morning, I put it all out on the stove and it was 144 degrees! (I'm sure I got about as much conversion as possible when it stayed successfully warm for so long!)

From there, I brought up the temperature to mash-out at 170, and then drained out the grains. (With those grains, I brewed up some bread to go with the beer. See prior post!)

This was the easy boil I had heard about in a biab, with no boilovers and not even a moment's unrest over such things. Additions were added. Coffee was enjoyed. Cooling off in the sink was simple.

Breaking up the brewday process with an overnight mash was very nice. It gave me something to look forward to in the morning, and spreads the time spent brewing out a while.

Once the wort cooled to pitching temps, I put this straight down onto the yeastcake from the Golden Cloud Ale, and it seems to have made beer. I hit it with lots of ice during the week, and kept it down. The smell out of the fermentor has a lot more balance of banana against the clove. I'll be bottling soon. Hopefully, I'll be drinking soon, too!


 <-filtering out the hops and escaped grains before the primary! In small batch brewing, I want all the beer I can get, and I don't want to lose any to trub and crud like this!

Man, I need to get me one of these:

Friday, October 19, 2012

BREAD DAY: What to do with those leftover brewing grains?

I don't like waste. We compost in our house. We make use of old things. We don't waste. When I look upon my spent brewing grains, I see excellent compost for our garden, and I also see an excellent ingredient for delicious bread. The first time I made bread with spent brewing grains, I dumped nearly a pound of dark, roasty steeping grains from an extract batch out onto the counter and added flour until it became bread like. Man, it was thick. Two giant loaves of dark, malty, chewy, grainy breads was too much! With my current BIAB set-up, I can use a finer crush of grain. This is a good thing for breadmaking. Also, I don't know if I would ever use that much caraffa in a bread recipe, again, because, like, WHOA - too roasty! But, with my recent brew completed (which will be coming soon), I dug my spoon into the spent brewing grains after mash-out, and snagged about half a cup of them.

I mash in the oven. When mashing in the oven and making beer, think about this: You just pulled the converted grains out of the oven and the beer is rising to boil while you are making the dough. The bread rises in the (already warm) oven while you do your additions and stir the kettle. Finally, when you're cooling the wort, you lay the bread out and send it back into the oven. By the time your cleanup is complete, you have fresh bread!

The process is synergistic.

Then, I dropped them into the food processor (dough blade attached!) with three cups of King Arther brand Whole Grain Flour, a pinch or two of bread yeast, some salt, a tablespoon of olive oil, honey, and 1/2-3/4 cup of water. (While processing, I adjusted the water to get the consistency of good bread dough.)

I let it rise for an hour or two. It rose. I spread it out flat on a greased cookie sheet, and sprinkled the top with onion powder and carraway seeds, with more olive oil!

Bake at 375 degrees for about half an hour and voila!

My sister said it was the best thing I'd made, to date.

Next bread-making plans involve some of that rahr red wheat, my handy-dandy grinder, and no beer, at all! 

Get good flour, people. Get the good flour.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

BOTTLING DAY: Golden Cloud Ale

Today was the day. The beer had stopped fermenting, and it was time to put it in a bottle. I've used Danstar Munich before and gotten good results, but I have to wonder if the difference between extract brewing (and water PH?) had any effect on this batch. It was a mess. The beer was not clear. It was not clearing. It was just sort of stuck exactly where it was supposed to be, at my target gravity (1.014). It wasn't cleaning itself up, and I needed the bucket and the yeast cake. So, I made a judgment call. Bottle this gloopy mess. Hefeweizens are supposed to have some yeast, right? Right? If I had known how much yeast was still hovering in the wort, I'd have tried again.
I got 15 bottles before it was too sludgy to move. It tastes all right. The yeast is definitely a part of the beer, and gives it a creamy texture enhanced by the use of oats in the mash. The head is thick and foamy and rich. Coming in warm, I'm tasting a lot of clove in the beer. I wanted to see what that meant, when people talk about the clove and the banana, and try a couple beers to find that range. Well, I found the clove range, for sure. It's not unpleasant when cold, but it's definitely something i'd like better if there was blood oranges in the batch. The next batch (currently bubbling away) will be kept much cooler to aim for the banana esters. The toasted malts have definitely improved the recipe, as well. There's an indescribable something in the malts, sweeter and nuttier than expected. There's something there, and it's wonderful, and it's hard to place on the palate. The color is beautiful. The beer is refreshing and spicy and there's just that nice hint of sweet toastiness somewhere, riding over the clove esters. It's not a caramel malt sweetness, and not a roasted barley toastiness, but it's there, just on the palate and gone. Give it time. Maybe the beer'll get better. Takeaways: 1) Research how Danstar Munich reacts to different kinds of water, because maybe that's why it would not drop clear out of the wort. 2) Research my own water, here in San Antonio, and see if I can't find a way to do it better with either water treatments or Reverse-Osmosis water, or even just the spring water I used to use in Decatur, GA, because the tap water was no good. Did the hard water I used impact the flavor? 3) Be more disciplined with temperature control. I wanted to let it run hot to see what it tasted like that way, and now I know. It isn't bad. In fact, in a blood orange hefeweizen, I'd say it would be ideal for me to have more clove, but in this toasted malt hefe, it isn't the right balance. Cool it off, and aim banana with toasted malts. Aim banana. Lesson learned. Hey, want to find out about the Blood Orange Hefeweizen that's so popular on-line? Sure ya do: Right! A great time was had by all, and some beer is in front of me that needs drinking. Next time, BREWDAY: Red River Ale!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Roasted Chocolate Wheat Experiment #1

This process looked like it was going to be the easiest one, yet. Stovetop roasting of Rahr Red Wheat, half an hour at a medium/low heat, with constant stirring, followed by degassing in a paper bag for a week. Simple right? For this recipe, I wanted 2 ounces of Rahr Red Wheat roasted into something resembling chocolate malt. I wisely measured out extra, because I suspected I would lose weight once the milling started. Little did I know, I would also lose weight while roasting the grains! Yeah, these suckers kept popping out of the pan! I tried to gather up lost grains, but it seemed, as I stirred, they got bouncier and bouncier and as they "popped" they left the pain entirely. It wasn't a mass exodus, or anything. But, it was significant enough of a loss that I thought that I should use a much taller-sided pan in the future. Soon, it will be time to bottle the Golden Cloud Ale, which smells done, and seems ready to leave my primary. Then, I will be brewing up a Dunkelweizen on the yeast cake, with my newly roasted grains. We'll see how things taste. I'm not sure how far I got from Amber Wheat Malt to Chocolate Wheat Malt. I stopped when I smelled burning and chocolate and I was tired of making a big, huge mess. Also, I stopped because it was half an hour, and that was all the recipe said to do. This time, my first time, I wanted to be conservative and not risk the creation of black patent malt... Regardless, I expect to drink the evidence.
I like the oven better for evenness and cleanness. Next time, I'll use the oven. My wife has a super-awesome cast-iron pot I could use, too, but I'm sort of afraid I'll be the one who damages the enamel finish first. I would be that guy, in our household! Oven. Definitely the oven.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Caramel Malt Experiment #1

I have nothing against commercial caramel malts. I use them, and will use them again. Right now, though, what interests me is doing it myself. I read about a guy who made his own caramel malts at home. I've noticed in on-line discussions there's a lot of debate about whether these are actually caramel malts. You see, commercial caramel malts are made by sprouting green barley grains, then roasting them. It's just not the same to do it at home with dry grains. But, some homebrewers will tell you that you aren't changing the chemistry, just the process. The enzymes that make the whole process work are still present in the grain. Or something. I don't know. It doesn't really matter to me if I'm getting a true caramel malt, or just something different that works the same.

The thing that matters to me, as a homebrewer, is the beer. If the beer tastes really good, and the process was unique, that only makes the beer more appealing to me, because it makes it something that I cannot purchase at the store. It makes it something that I can teach to my nephews and nieces someday, when they're old enough for this hobby. It makes it artisan and craftsman and made with human hands.

Why not try to make our own caramel malts at home?

So, I'm going to try a couple different processes to produce caramel malts. This blog post will be my first experiment.

I soaked grain overnight, as if they were beans, and then rinsing them, again, like beans. 

Then, I spread them on a foil-wrapped baking sheet, and poured a little more water over them, to keep them damp during the roast.

I placed them in a cold oven, and then I set the temperature of the oven for 170 degrees (my lowest setting). 

Then, I stirred occasionally and added more water as things dried out, to keep the grains damp, for one hour and fifteen minutes.

At the end of that time, I set the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Now, it was pretty late at night, and I had some other things to do that would take a lot of my attention. Once the oven hit 350, I gave it a minute, and flipped it off, while leaving the grains in the heated oven. A few hours later, I checked and noticed there was still dampness in the grains, so I stirred and flipped the oven back on to 350. Once it struck, I gave it five minutes, then turned it off again and went to bed. In the morning, the grains were dry and a good color, so I put them in a paper bag to age.

These will age at least five days. 

Are they caramel malts? Are they some sort of super-toasted sweet malt? I don't know. I do know that they smelled grainy and sweet, and that they developed a golden red color that cooked in a bit darker during the drying phase. 

Until someone comes by to tell me precisely what I created, I'll call it Experimental Malt #1.

Man, but it was late, and I think the lesson learned here is to budget your time a little smarter. I needed to do it tonight to let it age for a few days before my next batch (hurled upon the yeast cake of Golden Cloud Ale) and I still have to roast some chocolate wheat for my next planned batch! Argh! I was so sleepy!

I'll do things differently, next time. I will roast earlier in the day. I will use a different process for the caramel malts. I will experiment, iterate, try new things!

This is a great way to keep my hand in the business while my Golden Cloud Ale is still fermenting.

Also, is it any wonder I'd want to do it myself when there's prices like this out there: