Home Brewing Update

I haven’t posted anything about my home brewing since August so I thought it time to do so.  I’ve been busy trying to recap our Denali trip and just haven’t found the time to plug a post in here.

Since the Nut Brown Ale was brewed, we have been enjoying it on tap for the past month or so.  It didn’t turn out quite as good as last year and I had terrible problems with the bottling.  In an effort to reduce the amount of residue in the bottom of the bottles I switched from using priming sugar to carbonate the bottles to using Coopers Carbonation Drops.  I ended up with all sorts of carbonation issues with these drops.  The only instructions on the packaging was one drop per 12 oz bottle.  There was nothing about when to add them or how fast to cap the bottles or how long to let them sit out before putting them in the refrigerator.  So I didn’t really keep track of things.  I filled a bottle and sometimes I would cap it right away and other times I would let it sit till I got to it after filling more bottles.  No rhyme or reason to my process.

When I tried my first bottle a few weeks later it was nearly completely flat.  It was terrible.  I tried a couple more bottles and the same thing.  All of them were flat.  Now I figured I could have mis-capped one or maybe even two, but after the third one I knew it wasn’t the capping.  I had 15 more bottles left so I decided to try an experiment.

I took the remaining 15 bottles and grouped them into threes.  The first five I would pop the cap and immediately drop in another drop and recap it.  The next five I would pop the cap and wait for the drop to dissolve then cap the bottle.  Both of these groups would be placed back in the refrigerator immediately after capping.  The third group would be capped immediately after a new drop was put in, then allowed to remain at room temperature for a day before being placed back in the frig.

I waited a couple of weeks and tried them again.  Everyone was flat.  All 15 bottles.  These drops suck.  I still had the beer in the keg, but lost all the bottles.  I have no idea why they didn’t work.  The only instructions I got when I bought them was to drop them and they’ll carbonate the beer.

When the Nut Brown was tapped and ready, I moved my attention to my 2011 Pumpkin Spice Ale.  I didn’t do anything much different this time around.  Here I am enjoying my Honey Ale and a CAO cigar while I steep the grains on brew day.

Everything went pretty well on brew day.  I again steeped with pumpkin mash as well as put the pumpkin in the boil and in the primary.  After moving the beer into the secondary I had a lot of pumpkin mash still in the beer.  So I decided to let it sit in the secondary for a few extra weeks to allow time for the mash to settle out.  This worked, to a certain extent.  The final product is still pretty cloudy.  It doesn’t taste grainy at all, but it doesn’t look that great either.

The only real change to this year’s recipe compared to last was a tip I got from the brewer at Elysian Brewery in Seattle.  Shelley and I stopped in for lunch at the Capitol Hill brewery and he was kind enough to come by the table and talk for about 10 minutes.  He recommended that I try to get my aroma in the beer after kegging but before serving.  He told me they add the aroma spices to the beer in the bright tanks.  They sterilize everything they can before dropping it in and then let it sit in the tanks for a few days before kegging.  Since I don’t have a bright tank and it was already in the secondary, he suggested to do it after I put in the keg.  So I did.  I sterilized a hop bag and put all my spices into the bag and dropped it into the keg after filling it up.  I had a string attached to it (sterilized as well) so I could pull the bag back out.  I let the spices sit in the keg for a few days and then carbonated the keg and served it.  I have decided to call this technique “Dry spicing.”

This worked really well.  I got a great aroma off this technique.  The beer tastes great, it smells great, but it looks like crap!  Oh well.  It’s home brew, right?

The only other brew I have in progress right now is my Stout.  It was scheduled to come out of the secondary the first of November.  But I think I may lose that beer.  The beer has developed a white, crusty film on top.  I’m wondering if, while we were gone to Denali, the water in the airlock evaporated allowing some contaminates to get it and spoil the beer.  I’m not really sure what the white, crusty film is, but it can’t be a good thing.  Last year’s brew didn’t have this problem and it tasted fine.  Or, maybe it is a byproduct of so much coffee in the beer.  I just don’t know.  I plan on moving it to a keg in the next week or so and getting my first smell and taste of it at that time.  I should know for certain then.

The only other big news in my home brewing world is that I have decided to make the switch from extract brewing to all grain brewing.  I plan on my next batch in the spring being my first all grain beer.  I have bought three new 15 gallon kettles.  I used one in the making of my Pumpkin Spice.  Some time after Christmas I’ll start buying the rest of the pieces for my all grain system.  I’ll be doing a three-tiered gravity-flow system.  I thought about buying a new beer sculpture like this one but, at around $690.00, the cost is just too much.  So I’m going to put my own together using Unistrut metal framing channels.  I got the idea from this guy who made his stand out of the same stuff.  The channels are only about $1.49 a linear foot, so I should be able to build the frame for around $200.00 and there is a local retailer here in Boise that sells all the parts.

My learning curve will steepen a bit once I make the switch.  I’m hoping to hook up with one of the local brewing stores in town when they do an all grain batch to get some experience at it before doing my first batch.  I’ve already talked to them and they do that sort of thing all the time.  They brew out in the parking lot in front of their business on some Saturdays.  I just need to show up.  They’ll even brew my recipe and I can take the beer home with me if I want.  I have to supply the ingredients of course.  But even if I just want to watch them brew their own, they are good with that.  So, hopefully I can do that a couple of times before doing my own batch.

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