Monday, March 23, 2009

Birdseye Barley wine. Mud season.

wow. It sure took a while to write this up. Well, at least I posted the pictures promptly...

Let's see if I can remember what happened!

Okay, here we have some of the partially boiled maple sap. I was a bit negligent in keeping track of the total amount of sap I actually boiled as I was adding it rather haphazrdly as the boil progressed. It was at least 20 gallons. The finished amount was... um, 9.50 gallons (according to my notes.). It tasted wicked good (note the sample glass) maple yes, but more like light caramel/vanilla. Pleasantly light and sweet. I could drink this as is! Thinking about making some maple soda next year...
Here we have the gravity reading for my partially boiled strike/sparge water (sap). It came out to be 8 degrees brix or a specific gravity of 1.028. I had a real brain melt trying to figure out how to account for this initial sugar in my recipe calculations. I ended up plugging 1 lb. 8 oz. pure cane sugar into the recipe to stand in for the sap. Calcs in the program called for 10 gallons of actual water (1/2 gallon more than I had) so I boiled some extra spring water just in case I needed to adjust.
I am now adding to this many months later. I am a bit fuzzy on the details so... I know I have notes somewhere, just have to find my notebook. Perhaps I will update again. Anyway, with the facts I do have from my computer I will sketch out what happened. My preboil gravity target was 1.075. My sugar substitution in the recipe formulation was a bit off the mark in accounting for the sap as my actual preboil gravity was 1.088! I could have diluted at this point but I did not bother.
lots o' hops. Yum. I used both homegrown and some pellet hops I bought. With the higher gravity I probably should have added more. I may have... But I have no record at the moment
Now I ended up with less volume in the end as well. I had 5.88 gallons and was aiming for 6.25 gallons. So, of course my OG ended up also significantly higher at 1.112! Target was only 1.090. Now looking at this photo and seeing I had 5.5 in the fermenter I surely must have diluted? With all that hop matter it is doubtful I could have gotten 5.5 from 5.88. If so, I wonder what the OG was actually?!?! Oh where are my notes!

Anyway, the yeast cake from the altbier did the trick again. Carboy go BOOM! Not sure why I thought I could get away without a blow-off. Or then again, I think I did have a blow-off originally it was just so violent it actually blew off the blow-off tube and carboy cap? Whatever the case it was a MESS!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Birdseye Barley wine Mud Season begins today!

I have collected 18.75 gallons of sap thus far. I have not done any collecting today yet so hopefully I will get my full 20 gallons by the end of the day. For now though the brew is on!

Well, the reduction of the brewing liquor (the sap) is anyway. I have been collecting the sap and storing it in my converted keg and a plastic bucket. I removed a few gallons from the keg and currently have a nice rolling boil going of 12 gallons. I have been skimming the surface every now and again. Seems I read that is the practice of sugar producers. I will have to investigate that later. I plan to add a little more at intervals throughout the afternoon until it is all in the pot. Pot only holds 15.5 gallons so I figured I would keep the volume down to lessen the likelihood of boil overs.

By the end I aim to have 9.5-10 gallons that I will use to mash and sparge my grains tomorrow.

Observations from the sugarbush

As I stated earlier this is my first time collecting sap from maple trees. As such I have tried to be as observant and inquistitive as possible so I could learn. I have taken regular hydrometer reading and volumes to get a feel for how things "flow". Thus far everything has been pretty steady sugar content wise with an average of 3.5-4 degrees brix. The volume collected each day has certainly been flucuating though. Very much dependent on the temperatures. Some days I get a almost 2 gallons from my 5 taps. One day where it was nice and bitterly cold at night then up into the forties the next day I got 5 gallons!

These observations are all things that are obviously well documented and I have read about or been told directly. However it really makes more sense and I get a better feel experienceing it first hand. Another such observation is the wisdom of removing the frozen sap when collecting. It made sense to me somewhat but I had to test it out. The idea is that you are concentrating the sap collected because the frozen bits are more water than sugar content as water will freeze before the sugar in solution. Makes sense but I had to test it out a couple of times.

My results lead me to the conclusion that while that may very well be important and useful to those making sugar/syrup it was not that important to me making beer. The first time I collected my sap and removed the ice I found the sap with ice removed was about 4.5 brix. So, yeah it was a bit higher. Once the ice had melted and come up to temperature for an accurate reading on my hydrometer (60°F) I measured that as well. It was not completely negligible in my mind. It was about 1.5 Brix. Yes much lower but not completely water. The second time I got similar results, a bit higher at 2 brix. It amounted to 1 quart. So I reduced it for kicks down to 1 pint resulting in a reading of 4.75 brix or 1.016 SG. I then further reduced it to about, oh, 5 TBS! Resulting in 20 brix (1.078 SG) and it was wonderful! Not quite syrup strength but sweet and tasty!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Latest labels

There is an homebrew competition coming up on April 4th over in Littleton, NH. So in preparation for that I have been making some new labels for the brews I am entering. Plus it was good motivation to start the process of my overall redesigning of my labels. I did not have the time to carve and print new labels. I did not want to rush that this time around as I did for my first set. So as a compromise I drew them with pencil, scanned them and worked with photoshop. I added color in photoshop and used some old (and not so old) family photos as well. Later they will be engravings/woodcuts when I am satisfied with the designs and I have the time to work on them.

The last one there I did my best to make the photo appear old. I am no photoshop whiz by any means so, I know it is not very believable. I am pretty proud of one part of the job though. "Old" Ernest there was not looking spiffy enough dress wise in the original photo so I did a little dress up with him. I "borrowed" an old daguerreotype portrait I found online, more specifically I borrowed the clothes of the person in the image and put them on my bro. So if you recognize the attire as a distant relative of yours, thanks for the loan, very sharp, just what I needed.

I'll post a picture once they are on the bottles. I designed these specifically for the short stubby type bottles that breweries such as Sierra Nevada, North Coast and Boulevard Brewing use as I like those bottles and have a pretty good collection of them. Yes, though I keg I still have a plentiful amount of bottles. These will be going on plain old long necks though for the competition.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Some art...

Since part of this blog is supposed to be about my printmaking as it relates to my homebrewing anyway, it is past due that I post some artwork.

I have sadly not been very productive in the print/art interests in my life lately. I have been working slowly on redesigning my beer label design. I will post my progress, but first I will revisit my first attempts.

The following are my first hand-printed woodcut/engraving labels. The second one was awarded honorable mention in the BYO magazine homebrew label competition in 2006.

These both are printed from multiple blocks to print each individual color. They are a combination of linoleum block, woodcut, and wood engraving. This was only my second serious attempt at wood engraving. The results were a bit wonkier than I would desire. It is not really up to my usual standard. It was a start though.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

0.6 or 6 no big diffeence eh?

Ah man! I was at my local homebrew supply store today. I noticed the Northern Brewer hops were labeled as 10.6% Alpha Acid. I bought some of these a couple of weeks back when they had just came in before he had repacked them in 1 oz. packs. I verified with the owner that this 10.6% batch is indeed the same I had purchased. Problem here is that the 4 oz. package he made for me was labeled as 6%!!!

So, I now have a hop bomb Altbier!

He said he just grabbed an old label at the time and forgot to check it! Man, when will I learn! This is not the first time I have been given the wrong information. Really makes me wonder what the heck I am actually buying sometimes. Their prices are excellent and no shipping but is it worth it...

Well, that is not the only problem with this altbier I guess. I forgot to mention in my previous post how my efficency suddenly crashed on that batch. I went from 80% or above to 69%. Not sure what happened. I am wondering if it had to do with the age of the grains. I ended up with low gravities. Well, I really just wanted the yeast anyway!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

An emergency yeast cake.

So after I tapped my maples in preparation for my next barley wine I realized I was missing something. I do not not have a yeast cake of California ale yeast to pitch onto. I realize I could make a huge starter or several packets of yeast, since I am using SafAle US-05, however I feel like the yeast cake is best. Simply because I had such great success using that method with my first barley wine. So what to do? Well, brew up a batch quick. I have no idea how long it will take me to collect enough sap but I can let the batch sit for my usual 3 weeks, or if per chance I collect enough sap sooner (say a week or week and a half) I can rack it off sooner.

So, last Saturday I brewed up a 5 gallon batch of Altbier. I had been toying with brewing this for a while as a means of using up some grains I had that I did not see using and had been around for a bit too long. Namely some Munich, a lb. of melanoidin, and some Caramunich. All seemed reasonable ingredients if not totally tradtional for an alt. The plan was to use what I had and not buy anything new. So, I used some chocolate for color (rather than a more traditional debittered carafa) and some US-05 as a neutral clean yeast. Most importantly I would have that yeast cake!

I won't go into too much detail as I mainly made this for the yeast to harvest. Also I normally do not brew any German beers and I feel I hardly have anything helpful to offer anyone in that regard.

The recipe for Reste Altbier (remainders altbier)
3 lb. 8 oz. Marris otter (I believe pilsner would have been a more tradtitional choice)
3 lb. Munich malt
1 lb. Melanoidin (makes up somewhat for the fact that I did not decoct?)
12 oz. of Caramunich II
8 oz. of Carared
2 oz. of Chocolate malt (again carafa would have been a more authentic choice)

43 g of Northern brewer (6 %AA) at 60 minutes.
3 g Irish moss at 15 minutes.
Mashed at 150°F for 60 minutes. Boil for 90 minutes.

Ferment at 68F (until the yeast is needed...) Then cold condition for 2 weeks.

Barley wine here I come!

The Wee Heavy Scotch ale.

The final installment in my Scottish ale succession. This will likely take the place of my previous Scotch ale in using the name "Wicked Auld Thistles" ale. It has taken me a while to sit down and right this one up. I brewed it on February 28. Wish I had typed this up while it was still fresh in my mind... Alas, I did not, so here we go.

Was a bit off on this one. As usual with all the different things I have going on I cannot easily pinpoint where things went awry. First things first though. Recipe and procedures.

16 lb. 8 oz. of Marris Otter malt (99%)
2.75 oz. of Roasted barley (1 %)

28 g of Golding hops @ 60 Minutes
7 g of Golding hops @ 45 minutes*

3 g Irish moss @ 15 minutes

Mashed at 158°F for 60 minutes

*a slight deviation from the overall scheme here. It needed more hops obviously to balance the higher gravity. I decided to add some at 45 minutes instead of all at 60 minutes. I figure this will provide some needed hop character without too much flavor. This will be so big, sweet, and chewy that it will need a touch of more hop presence to balance it differently.

Collected 1 gallon of first runnings and reduced it (caramelized) to about 1 quart. Collected an additional 7.25 gallons of wort (which measured 1.055). Boiled total of 7.5 gallons of wort with a preboil gravity of 1.064 (on target) for 120 minutes (2 hours)

Chilled down to about 54° F and pitched onto the yeast cake of my last Scottish ale brewed, Bompa Bristle's 80/- (shilling). Maintained a temp of no higher than 60°F.

Where did things go amiss? Well it was not too bad. Started off with an unwatched pot syndrome on the caramelized wort. It was steadily reducing away. Not too fast. Alas, I learned that when it gets down to the end it is more prone to boil over. I lost an unknown amount. Regardless my preboil gravity was spot on. Though my preboil volume was a quart low. Unfortunately I did not learn my lesson wit the first boil over. The brew kettle then also boiled over at the commence of boil. Again, unknown volume lost, though according to my volume stick it was not too much.

I then apparently missed the pot with my second hop addition. I was late adding these at 39 minutes. Some of the hops remained on the rim of the keggle. I flicked them in when I was adding the Irish moss and chiller at 12 minutes. Yes I was late adding those... So, I may end up with some inappropriate hop flavor/aroma but I think it was small enough that it will not be perceptible. Especially with the aging this will be getting.

Finally, I was off on my OG. I ended up with a gravity of 1.082 instead of 1.090. I guess I waited to post this because I am still scratching my head over some of these variables. I ended up with 5.50 gallons in the kettle as predicted. It appeared? I measure after it was cool. However I only was able to transfer 5 gallons and there was maybe a quart when I scooped out the remainder to try and funnel/strain more in. There was not that much hop or break material, so where did that other quart go? Maybe I need to recalibrate my volume stick. I pitched onto about a ½ gallon of yeast (and trub) from the previous batch. So I have 5.50 gallons in the fermenter in the end.

Other than that things have gone well. Fermentation took of vigorously within a few hours on the cake and I was able to maintain temps better this time. Only slight fluctuations up and down but mostly steady for the first 36 hours or so.

I also attempted to collect a second batch of beer from the grains to make a two penny ale. However I sparged with too much water. I added 5 gallons of 170°F water to the mash after my intial wort collected. I ended up with 4.5 gallons of wort with a SG of 1.012. Way too low to bother with I figured. Perhaps with better planning it could have worked but it was an after thought.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Wow! Chocolatey goodness!

I settled on racking the Mayan Imperial Stout to a keg to age and infuse. I racked it on Sunday (2 days ago) and added the following. 3 oz. of cacao nibs, 1/2 a vanilla bean slit in half, 2 dried ancho peppers, 1 dried pasilla pepper, and for "the kick" half of an habanero (fresh) deseeded and deveined. I put the dry peppers in whole and straight into the beer. The cacao nibs and vanilla bean I placed in a mesh bag to prevent clogging the diptube and the habanero was in a stainless steel "tea ball" so I could remove it separately if things got too hot. I ended up with about what I expected volume wise after transferring, about 2.5 gallons. Well a bit less perhaps... There was probably about 2.25 quarts of trub/cocoa/yeast sludge.

Tasted it today. I was a bit nervous that 1/2 a habanero was perhaps too much to start. So I tasted it so I could remove the pepper. So far, it tastes fantastic! Even better than it did at the gravity check last week. Wicked chocolatey! Not fake sickly chocolate liqueur flavor either. No taste of pepper yet, either heat or flavor. My only concern is that it is not mixed and the pepper heat/flavor did not come through in the sample collected. I used a picnic tap. Time will tell...

Saturday, March 7, 2009

More sappy news.

Well it did not get quite cold enough last night. The sap flow has slowed greatly. However, I managed to collect about 1 gallon total from all. It measures a specific gravity of 1.011 or 3.5 degrees brix. I am not used to using the brix scale but I believe that means it is about 3.5 % sugar by weight? I will figure it out as I go. One gallon (roughly measured) weighs just over 8 pounds. Why does that matter? Well, at this point it does not. When I have collected enough and reduced it then it will. The best way I could determine to figure for the extract contribution of this sap in my barley wine recipe was to take a gravity reading and a sample weight then add it t the ingredients list in my brewing software. The software uses ingredient weight and potential extract (amount of sugars an ingredient will contribute) to determine the amounts of ingredients and the likely outcome based on the efficiency of your brewing setup. Anyway, here it is.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The sap is running!!!

Yeah! I am stoked!

Okay, I am going to totally betray my flatlanderness here. I am really excited about this and I can't pretend that this is not totally cool. I cannot believe I have gone this long without collecting maple sap. A big thanks to my friend Javin for his guidance and for loaning me some equipment to get started. I tapped my two trees today.

Here are the trees.
Here is the equipment. Thanks again to Javin for the collection buckets and the spiles (spouts)

the spiles...
Okay, yes I feel a bit sheepish about purchasing a hand drill for this. I admit the "old fashioned" way did appeal to me but it was not completely impractical. I would have used a cordless drill but I do not own a functioning one. I suppose I could have run extension cords all the way out to the back of the yard but come on. I also could have bought a $200 cordless drill that will probably be useless in a year or so or have obsolete batteries that are no longer available... Alright maybe it was impulsive, but I am not ashamed! Well, maybe a little... However, I like my new hand drill and it performed beautifully!
Note the tape on the bit to mark the depth (1.5")
tapping it in.

It began to drip as soon as I drilled. First hole I was not quite practiced with my new drill and I got the bit stuck in the tree. I was excited though as the sap began dripping down the bit. Tastes good.

Finally put some makeshift lids over the buckets and we are good to go! I may add one more tap to the wider tree tomorrow. I thought I would include my son in the process and let him help with that one. Now it is time to get down to figuring out my barley wine plan! Hooray!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Bompa is in the keg...

So last Saturday saw the brewing of the final Scottish ale in the series, the Scotch or wee heavy ale. Racked ol' bomper, the 80/- to keg and pitched on the yeast cake. Any concerns of the yeast being pooped out where quickly vanquished as only a few hours after pitching it was fermenting away quite vigorously at 60F. Much more active than any of the previous brews have ever been and much quicker. I'll have a new post about that brew day at some point when I get the time.

Xocolatl gravity check

So I checked the gravity and did a bit of tasting yesterday on my Mayan Imperial Stout. It has been in the fermenter about a month as of this coming Friday. So far so good. Gravity is at 1.024 for an attenuation of 73%. Pretty much right on.
Taste wise it is surprisingly drinkable for something so big and still so young. Chocolate flavor was evident especially in the bitter character I was hoping for. There was some flavor present that was not quite desirable but it is young. I could not pinpoint what it was and it was not really bad so I will just consider it to be an age issue, meaning too young... Nice and roasty overall.

I did a bit of playing with adding some drips of the pepper infused vodka as well and it helped to imagine the character the pepper will add. Again not so much heat but more a fruity rich flavor from the peppers. I am fairly certain now I will add some small amount of fresh scotch bonnet peppers (- the seeds and ribs) for a touch of spice.

So next step is to transfer it to a clean vessel for doing the infusion of chili's, vanilla beans, and cacao nibs. I feel like I did achieve the chocolate flavor I want but I do not think adding some cacao will hurt. I had a new thought about what vessel to transfer to. Since it is only 3 gallons; or probably only 2.5 after racking, I am hesitant to transfer to another 5 gallon simply because it is not producing much CO2 at this point. Therefore there will be potentially a lot of air in the headspace that could oxidize. I am hesitant to transfer to one gallon jugs because I want to keep it all together for infusing. Though it could be good to try different amounts in each... Anyway my thought is to transfer to a corny and then top it off/purge with CO2. Lot's of CO2 used but it is worth it to protect the beer. I don't think it will be a problem as far as it becoming carbonated as it will be stored cool and not cold. I guess I will have to top it up now and then... I don't know. Decisions decisions. Not sure I can spare the corny either as I only have 3 empty at the moment and I have 4 beers in the fermenters including this one. Guess it may be time to do some bottling from some kegs! Man, I have a lot of brew stuff to do! Hey, I ain't complainin'!