Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Upward mobility (Gushing, Part II)

After my last post about gushing I got a message from my Partner in Crime. They guy sounded upset. "Infected beer doesn't taste good, it has weird flavors! Ours is good, no flavors!", he complained.

I had to admit the man had a point. The beer was gushing, but we didn't know why. Before I send him to look for a possibly non-existent infection in his equipment, I should try and figure out exactly what was wrong. The signs we had (gushing getting worse with time, beer looking weird) were inconclusive. I needed more information. If I could only taste the beer, I may be able to tell what's going on there...

Which leads to an interesting question: How do you go about tasting a beer that levitates out of the bottle when you open it? I decided to to a little experiment.

I took two bottles of the beer out of the fridge and set them side by side on the counter. For both bottles, I started to open the cap little by little, until I heard just a little bit of gas let out. Psssst...stop. Psssst...stop. I noticed that a bit of foam was building up inside the bottle, sign that the CO2 was being released. I tried to release the gas in two different rates: the bottle on the left got one release for every two the one on the right got.

At some point, I clearly overshot. The bottle on the right, that has been releasing at a faster rate, had apparently reached a tipping point. All of the sudden I noticed that the foam inside the bottle doubled and the yeast inside seemed to be traveling upwards towards the cap. Ah ha! One mystery solved. I have been wondering why it is that when I pour the beer it looks murky and smells weird. Now I knew: The pressure letting up caused CO2 to fling the yeast back into the beer, causing the murkiness and the smell.

Well the one on the right was obviously a bust. But what about the one on the left? I have been letting the gas out very slowly, and the yeast didn't seem to be disturbed. If I kept venting the beer really slowly I should be able to avoid the yeast problem. But I didn't want to spend half the night on this. Finally I had a thought: I caught one tooth on the cap with my bottle opener and bent it until I could hear just the faintest Pssssssst sound. This meant that I've created a tiny channel for the gas to escape, hopefully very slowly. I put the beer back in the fridge (figuring that that would help any yeast that becomes disturbed to settle back down) and went to sleep.

The following evening I grabbed the beer from the fridge. Opened it like I would any other, and poured it. Success! The beer poured without gushing (but still with plenty of carbonation) and settled neatly in my glass. There was a slight haze to the beer, which was what it had always had, but none of the murkiness. Time for the all-important taste test: Will the beer taste infected?

Well, no. In fact, it tasted just fine. I've had this beer many times before, over the course of several months, and I knew what it tasted like. It tasted exactly the same now. No sign of wired flavors or infection. Mystery solved! I guess I owe P.O.C. an apology :)

Moral of the story: It pays to spend the time an figure out exactly what happened to your beer. Even if it takes a whole day to open it. :)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Tasting Notes: Hoppy Burton Ale (English IPA)

Taking a page from Mike "The Mad Fermentist" I've decided to start posting tasting notes for my beers. I've often wondered what my beers would rate like if I could post them on ratebeer, and this seems like a good way to quantify the experience in order to improve the beers in the future.

A general note about tasting notes: These are my personal impressions. If you have tried the beers I'm rating and would like to add your own evaluation, you are encouraged to do so in the comments for the appropriate beer.

Hoppy Burton Ale Ver. 1
A note about the name: After my diatribe about American IPAs I wanted to call this beer something that would distinguish it from the style. While it is true that the IPA is, fundamentally, an English beer, I felt that the "IPA" designation conjures certain expectations that this beer does not, and was never meant to meet.

Appearance - This beer is pretty. There's no other way to describe it. Deep golden color bordering on copper. A solid white head and decent lacing. Beer is somewhat hazy, though. I don't know if a couple more weeks of aging would clear that, or is it just a natural result of dry hoping (in primary, no less).

Aroma - I must admit that I was a little disappointed at the aroma at first. I poured the beer, sniffed it, and smelled almost nothing. But then I let it sit for a bit, and once it got a little warmer (about 12C) the beer just "opened up". All of the sudden there was a whole bouquet of aromas. Earthy notes, spices, and forest. It was a little disconcerting not to have the grapefruit notes that we all to often associate with (American) IPAs, but there was plenty of nose to satisfy. Still, I think it would benefit from more aroma next time.

Taste and Palate - Firm bitterness with plenty of hop flavor. Palate lasted a good 10-15 minutes. Very balanced and a good malt background means that it doesn't give you that lop-sided sear-your-throat taste that some IPAs can. In the same way that the beer could use some more aroma, it could also use a little more flavor (not bitterness, just flavor). But on the whole very nice.

Drinkability and general notes - Medium body and good mouth feel. This is a nicely drinkable beer. It needs to be served cool rather than cold, which is typical of English beers I suppose. Carbonation is a little on the high side for the style, and could be toned down a notch as well. All in all, I'm very pleased with the result.

Notes for next version - More late addition hops would benefit this beer. Perhaps something around the 5 minute mark, or simply adding more hops to the 10 min and dry-hop stops. This recipe calls for challenger, fuggle and E.K. Golding hops, with challenger being a bittering addition only, so perhaps a good choice here would be to add a little of it to the flavor stop as well.
Carbonation on this batch was 2.4 volumes, and should probably be dialed down to 2.3 or 2.2. This, along with the higher serving temperature, will give it more of a "real ale" feel, which is where this beer originates, after all.

Recipe (as brewed):
Batch Size (fermenter): 20.00 l Brewer: Boaz
Boil Size: 29.44 l Asst Brewer:
Boil Time: 80 min Equipment: Brew Pot (50L) and Cooler (24L)
Final Bottling Volume: 20.00 l Brewhouse Efficiency: 75.00

Est Original Gravity: 1.054 SG Measured Original Gravity: 1.052 SG
Est Final Gravity: 1.014 SG Measured Final Gravity: 1.012 SG
Estimated Alcohol by Vol: 5.3 % Actual Alcohol by Vol: 5.2 %
Est Color: 10.4 SRM

4.00 kg Pale Ale Malt 2-Row (Briess) (3.5 SRM) Grain 1 85.0 %
0.18 kg Wheat Malt, Bel (2.3 SRM) Grain 3 3.8 %
0.18 kg Biscuit Malt (23.0 SRM) Grain 4 3.8 %
0.25 kg Medium Caramel/Crystal Malt - 45L (45.0 SRM) Grain 2 5.3 %
0.10 kg Dark Caramel/Crystal Malt -107L (107.0 SRM) Grain 5 2.1 %
45.00 g Challenger [7.00 %] - Boil 80.0 min Hop 6 38.1 IBUs
45.00 g Fuggles [5.00 %] - Boil 30.0 min Hop 7 19.8 IBUs
30.00 g Goldings, East Kent [5.00 %] - Dry Hop 7.0 Days Hop 14 0.0 IBUs
0.50 tsp Irish Moss (Boil 10.0 mins) Fining 9 -
15.00 g Goldings, East Kent [5.00 %] - Boil 25.0 min Hop 8 6.0 IBUs
10.00 g Goldings, East Kent [5.00 %] - Boil 5.0 min Hop 11 1.1 IBUs

Mash Name: Single Infusion, Medium Body Total Grain Weight: 4.71 kg
Sparge Water: 15.12 l Grain Temperature: 16.0 C
Sparge Temperature: 75.6 C Tun Temperature: 22.2 C
Adjust Temp for Equipment: TRUE Mash PH: 5.20

Mash Steps
Name Description Step Temperature Step Time
Mash In Add 13.16 l of water at 75.1 C 66.7 C 60 min
Mash Out Add 6.84 l of water at 95.7 C

Carbonation Type: Bottle Volumes of CO2: 2.4
Pressure/Weight: 125.67 g Carbonation Used: Bottle with 125.67 g Corn Sugar
Yeast: S-04 (Fermentis)
Fermentation Temp: 20C

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Leave the gushing to your mother

As a proud owner of a Jewish mother, a Jewish Grandmother, and now a little baby, I am quite accustom to gushing. It usually starts off lightly and then bursts into a full force stream of compliments about how cute/smart/funny/alert/strong/perfect the baby is, and how she looks like me (ok, so they're not all compliments... ) And that's great when it comes to my kid. But when it comes to my beer I prefer it to, well, stay in the bottle.

Case in point: I have a few bottles of beer that I brewed with a fellow homebrewer (Let's call him "P.I.C." for "Partner in crime") back in November. It was a Belgian Triple that was brewed on PIC's system, bottled by him (without me present), and was lagered in his fridge for a month before it was delivered into my waiting hands sometimes in early December. I got thirty bottles that promptly went into the basement of my building, where the temperature at this time of year is around 12 degrees C. So far so good.

I drank a couple of bottles, and they were good, but they could be better. A bit of research taught me that a Tripple should be aged for a couple of months to achieve peek flavor, and so I left them in the dark, cold basement to age slowly, and for the past month I've been slowly going through them.

But it turns out that I'm not the only thing going through them. It was slow at first: a feeling that the beer is a touch over carbonated. Then a foam that rose out the bottle when I first opened it. Then it got to the point where I'd have to have a glass ready to pour the beer into as soon as it was opened. And finally, a couple of days ago, I opened one of the bottles (very slowly, after cracking the cap open a couple of times to let the gas escape) and was treated to a full-force geyser out of the bottle. No doubt, it had a gushing problem.

Why do bottles gush? Well, in the simplest terms, it's when there's too much pressure in the bottle. Since pressure is the result of fermentation, over-pressure is, loosely speaking, the result of over-fermentation. That is, there was more fermentable material in the bottled beer than was required to carbonate it. There are three main reasons for this:

1. The beer didn't finish fermenting before it was bottled, leading to residual sugars being fermented.
2. Too much priming sugar was added
3. The beer was infected with a bacteria or foreign wild yeast that can ferment sugars that ordinary beer yeast cannot.

The first case happens sometimes when cold-crashed beer gets warm again. The yeast wakes up, eats up the rest of the sugar, and presto! Gushing. If there's enough sugar, the bottles wont just gush, they'll explode.

The second case is self-explanatory. If you dump too much sugar in the beer before you bottle, you'll end up with too much bottled gas. This happens a lot with beer made from kits. Beginner brewers just dump all the sugar in without calculating what they actually need, and without realizing that often a kit comes with two or even three times as much sugar as necessary.

The third case is typically the result of poor sanitation somewhere a long the process. Typically, if the gushing is not limited to a bottle or two, but is consistent throughout a batch, the problem is in the bottling equipment, the racking equipment, or the fermenter. In other words, something that comes in contact with the entire volume of beer.

So what happened to the Tripple? Well, it's a bit of a mystery. On the one hand, PIC insists that his bottles didn't gush. On the other hand, he tends to drink his beer so green it's practically still wort. On the third hand, I know the guy, and he tends to pour priming sugar in by the cup-load. On the fourth hand, the slow progression of the process seems to indicate infection. On the fifth hand, this is not the only beer he had bottled that I've ended up wearing rather than drinking, so that points to something in his process. And on the sixth hand, he claims it's all my imagination, and that it never happens to him.

I don't know what happened to the Belgian. To be safe, though, the next time I open a bottle, I'll do it in the tub. And take a video, just to prove I'm not imagining things...

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Does this look funny to you?

For a few brew cycles now I've had a nagging feeling that something is wrong.

I've been on a kick of "British" beers (English, Irish, and Scottish) lately, and have brewed several of these styles in succession. They seemed ok, they tasted good, but yet they seemed oddly dark. Of course, when one makes a brown ale or a scotch it's a little hard to tell, but the feeling was there. Until finally it came to a head when I brewed an Irish Red:

Those of you who are particularly sharp-eyed can see the "Irish Red" written on the label. But even the duller-eyed readers will have to admit that while the beer looks very nice, has a nice head on it, and looks inviting to drink, it is not, well, red.

Why?! I wondered and pondered. I had faith in the recipe, which came from a well respected and trusted source. And I was there when the grain was measured and milled in my LHBS, so I knew that was right. I didn't do anything special in mashing these latest few beers, and while it is possible that heating them the way I do (immersion heating element and gas heat combination) may scorch the wort a bit, to achieve this kind of change I think the wort would have had to actually catch on fire...

It was a mystery. All signs seem to point to something in my process, but what? What could I possibly be doing that would roughly double the SRM value of my beer? And more importantly, how do I stop it (and what'll it cost me?) I was stymied.

And then, a few days ago, I had a thought. What was I basing my color expectations on? Well, I'd put my recipe in BeerSmith, and drew my conclusions from that. But what did BeerSmith use to calculate these color values? Well, whatever was the default setting... Oh....

A quick peek at my recipe in BeerSmith and my LHBS website confirmed my suspicion. I had used Roasted Barley in my recipe which, according to BS, came in at 300SRM. My LHBS, on the other hand, was selling Crisp Malting Roasted Barley which comes in at a whopping 884SRM!. Likewise the chocolate roast (which was part of several other "British" beers) was also 200SRM darker than what I used for my calculations. I changed the value of Roasted Barley in my recipe to the one that I actually used and... Presto! my red ale turned into the exact shade of brown I saw in the glass.

Amazing! Plus, now that I know what my recipe actually made I could look it up and figure out what to call it. It certainly wasn't an Irish Ale, but it did fit quite well in the category of Brown Porter. Nice. I'll take it.

So from now on I'm going to make sure I know what I'm actually getting when I buy ingredients. This may sound obvious, but it's not. There's such a verity of malts out there that may have similar or even identical names but wildly different characteristics, that you have to really know what you're getting if you want to make a particular kind of beer. I'll keep that in mind for the future. In the meantime, I have a whole bunch of nice, eminently drinkable brown porter to get through. And then I'll make an Irish Red. One that will actually be, well, red.