Sunday, January 31, 2010

SR2: The second batch begins

(It's yeast.)
My second batch of beer is burbling away in the carboy. Taking into account what I learned from SR1, I moved right through the wort and transfer to the fermenter last night. Everything went very smoothly, so I'm nervous. Last time, I knew I was kind of screwing things up. This time, I don't think I did, which means I might have overlooked something. I guess I'll know in a month.That's one of the first things about this batch that's different from the SR1 pale ale; SR2 is an India pale ale, which requires a longer bottle fermentation. That means the beer won't be drinkable until March 12. That's a long time to keep my fingers crossed.

Anyway, things that worked really well this time included keeping all the water in the refrigerator until I needed it and having all the equipment I needed (you can make a batch of beer with the stuff from the kits, but extras like funnels, screens and hydrometer tubes are a huge help). Refrigerating the water easily saved me four hours (based on the amount of time I wasted trying to cool SR1). After sparging the boiled wort with the cold, filtered water, the wort was a perfect 68-70 degrees. No muss, no fuss. I was also more familiar with what I needed to produce the wort and get it into the carboy. So I didn't bother sanitizing every piece of brewing equipment I own, just the equipment I needed last night. In fact, I only used a few pieces (two pots, a hose, funnel, filter screen, paddle, hydrometer and thermometer). And thanks to the hydrometer tube, I was able to get a correct reading on the original gravity (1.032), which will help me determine the final alcohol content of the beer. The filter and screen, which I bought on line from Maryland HomeBrew, shaved a bunch of time off the process last night because I wasn't trying to use the small cooking strainers and one-cup funnels to sparge and transfer five gallons of wort.

For this IPA, I sort of followed Charlie Papazian's recipe for "Palilalia India Pale Ale." Sort of. When I was picking up my ingredients from myLHBS, I had to buy two three-pound bags of malt extract, rather than just the 5.5 pounds the recipe called for. When I asked the guy how I could measure out 2.5 pounds from the 3 pound bag without a scale, he told me to just use the whole bag. I did. I also tossed in a half ounce of Cascade and half ounce of Glacier Leaf whole hops I had left over from the beer class I taught a while back. Aside from all that, though, I followed Papazian's recipe to the letter.

Last weekend, I had a few friends over to taste SR1. The reaction was excellent. With any luck, the IPA will go over just as well. However, one thing that bothers me about SR1 is the relative lack of carbonation. It's carbonated, but there's no head. I'm not sure if that's just the beer or something else. I suspect that it might be due to loosing some yeast in all the overflow I experienced when I left the cap on the bubbler. Now that I know to remove the cap, I'm curious to see if I experience an overflow problem again and if the carbonation will be better in the final product.
On a side note, I just joined the mailing list for the DC Homebrewers Club. Mike Dolan, one of the club organizers, was working the register at myLHBS when I stopped by on Friday and talked to me a bit about the club. I suspect that this might be the same Mike Dolan who writes for DC Beer, but I didn't get his last name until I got home and looked at the card he gave me. Interesting if it is him. Apparently, the club members meet once a month to do tastings of each other's beers and talk about homebrewing. I'm not sure how many of these gatherings I'll be able to make to in the near future, but we'll see.
I'll check in on SR2 in about two weeks. Hopefully by then it'll be ready to bottle. Oh, and I'm a
lready thinking of my next batch: a bitter.

Friday, January 22, 2010

SR1: It doesn't suck!

It doesn't suck. That was my single biggest worry about this first batch of beer. Given all the sanitizing (and dire warnings about what would happen if I didn't keep everything absolutely sterile), screwing up the recipe by adding too much hops (I guess I did end up making Honkey's Pale Ale), and my prior experience with my batch of beer from Shenandoah, I was certain I had a solid 50/50 chance of pouring out this batch of beer.
As it turns out, the beer wasn't too bad. In fact, it's pretty good. Sure, I've had better pale ales and the malt flavor is a little too prominent (resulting in a faint cereal flavor), but overall the beer goes down easy, so I'm happy with the result.
I'm also ready to take what I've learned and move on to the next batch. But let me close the book on SR1 first.
When I finished the wort and transferred it to the carboy for fermentation, the dark color of the beer threw me off. Because I was making a pale ale, I was expecting a golden color to the wort, not the dark brown that it was. As you can see from the photo, the color lightened up nicely. Still, I did burn the malt extract a bit, so I need to watch that next time.
Another thing, I have no idea what the alcohol percentage is for the beer. Given it's final gravity, 1.022, and based on Papzain's equation for calculating ABV, I figured the beer was around 3 percent. This didn't seem right, so I did a little research and discovered that it maybe around 5 percent ABV, but I have no way of knowing. I can't trust my initial hydrometer reading because of the stupid rig I had to put together in order to take it. And then I took the final reading after I added the finishing malt, which is a no no (thanks for not pointing that out, Charlie). So the ABV on this batch will go in the books with a big question mark.
I shouldn't have that problem with the next batch thanks to the hydrometer test jar I bought from Maryland Homebrew, and the tips I've since picked up.
Speaking of Maryland Homebrew, I also just ordered five hops rhizomes from them. This spring I'll be planting Cascade, Willamette and Centennial hops in the backyard. These aromatic hops are supposed to grow well in all climates, so we'll see how they do. The best case scenario is a couple big batches of wet hop ale next fall. The worst case is five more plants die by my hand.
Alright, that's it, I gotta go drink my beer.

Monday, January 11, 2010

SR1: Bottled and capped

I've decided that brewing isn't all that hard, but sanitizing everything sure is a pain in the ass.
I got started on bottling this morning around 8 a.m. By the time I cleaned up the last bit of brewing equipment it was just after 3 p.m. That's nearly a full-day's work, and only about an hour or so of that involved moving the beer from the carboy to the bucket and finally to the bottles. I know there are areas that I can save time on, like getting the bottles cleaned and dried ahead of time, but the rest of the process takes the time that it takes.
Before I finish discussing my nearly complete first batch, let me back up. Earlier I mentioned the overflow I was experiencing out of the bubbler. Well, I now know why it was happening: I kept the damn top on the bubbler. Now, this isn't as dumb as it sounds. The goddamn cap is perforated, therefore I assumed you left it on and the excess carbon dioxide would exp
el through the little holes. Nope, the foam and yeast kept getting backed up until it belched out all over my closet. Once I took the cap off the bubbler, my problem was solved. So if the cap isn't supposed to stay on the bubbler, why is it perforated? Unless it was done to befuddle and irritate novice brewers, I can see no reason for the little holes. None.
The other thing I was wondering about was the color of the beer. Early on it was looking darker than a pale ale should, and I was assuming it was a result of some caramelization that occurred when I added the malt to the wort. Well, it turns out there was nothing to worry about. The beer came out a beautiful golden yellow, just as it should.
However, the beer seems to be a bit lower in alcohol than I expected. According to my final hydrometer reading of 1.022, the alcohol content is around 3 percent. I guess I've made a session beer. Also, it's a bit more bitter than Charlie Papazian intended. Although I decided to skip the brewing kit and handle the ingredients myself, it appears
I've accidentally added three-quarters of an ounce more of hops than the recipe called for. I guess I shouldn't have just dumped the pouches of hop pellets into the wort without confirming the amounts I needed. When I tasted it, the beer seemed a little bitter, but not too bad. My first thought was that it needed more malt. Turns out, it just needed less hops. Anyway, I'll know what the final product tastes like on Jan. 21. Before bottling, I added an additional cup and a quarter of malt extract to help with bottle fermenting, so that might help the bitterness some. We'll see.
I got a bottle shy of two cases of beer from this batch, which sure beats the five cases I had to plow thought after Shenandoah. Once I finish off a case, I'll start on the next batch. Hopefully with this first batch of beer behind me, the next one will go smoother.