This project is part of a long-term plan to become more self-sufficient. Brewing one's own beer (or cider or wine) is a critical part of any plan that pretends to have self-sufficiency as a goal.
We are starting with so-called “beer kits” which are 1.8kg tin cans filled with malt and hops concentrate. These kits are easily found in large Canadian grocery stores and I purchased 2 kits the last time I visited Vancouver. It is almost impossible to find these kits in Switzerland, so I will be soon forced to start to make barley malt from scratch.
In addition to the beer kit, we use the following tools:
The hydrometer merits a bit of explanation. It is used to measure the density of the wort (malt+water mixture) at the start of fermentation and at the end. By subtracting the difference in density, we know how much wort has been transformed into alcohol. To get an accurate measurement, the hydrometer must float freely in the wort, so the level of the wort in the fermentation vessel must be deep, or a small sample of wort can be put in a graduated cylinder. This hydrometer was sold for CDN$11 and packaged in a clear plastic cylinder that was reasonably usable. Another trick is to spin the hydrometer in the wort before measuring or air bubbles on the glass will result in a false reading.
90% of the work of brewing beer from a kit is cleaning the equipment and the bottles. The cleaning is in 2 steps. The first step is to clean away dirt and stains as much as possible with soap and warm water (and scrubbing, if necessary). The second step is to sterilize all working surfaces by soaking in a weak bleach (eau de Javel) solution, 4ml per liter of water, for at least 20 minutes.
While one is waiting for the sterilization to finish, re-reading the fine manual is a good use of time.
Here is the beer kit that we are using for this experiment. My father who has been doing this for the last 15 years recommended it and it is reasonably cheap at CDN$12 each, but impossible to find in Europe. There is a list of URLs for beer kits at the bottom of this page, but I think that we will soon be switching to home-made malt.
Note for next time: do NOT forget to bring a proper can-opener!!!
The malt in this beer kit already has hops added to it. It pours as slow as molasses and the can needs to be rinsed with hot water to get it all into the vessel. Note for next time: bring oven mits!!!
The yeast works best around room temperature, so the wort is made by mixing boiling hot water and cool tap water in the right proportions and measuring with one's finger before adding the contents of the packet of dried brewers' yeast. If I remember correctly, we had 3 litres of boiling water and 10 litres of tap water at about 10°C. Note for next time: bring a thermometer!!!
At this point we screwed up. I wanted to make a malt-only beer and did not add white sugar and water. The result was that the level of wort in the vessel was too low and the hydrometer was resting on the bottom. I did not think about using the plastic cylinder that the hydrometer was packed in until the day after (2012-08-08), so the starting density that I measured was probably too low since one full day of fermentation had already passed. The measured specific gravity was 1.022, but I suspect that the real starting specific gravity was more like 1.027 since the wort seemed pretty active already. Note for next time: get a proper graduated cylinder, at least 30 cm tall!!!
The fermentation vessel that we borrowed from Michael is really nice. It has a close-fitting top with a screw-down retaining ring and a red plastic top that has been retro-fitted with an airlock (CDN$3).
The beer was bottled 2012-09-04 and at that point had a specific gravity of 1.010. This is an excessive time to wait since fermentation was probably complete after only 2 weeks. According to the table that came with the hydrometer, that corresponds to (3.6-1.3)=2.3% alcohol. Pretty weak.
9 1.5 litre PET bottles were rinsed, sterilised with bleach solution, rinsed again, primed with 2 teaspoons of white sugar, and filled by siphoning from the fermentation vessel through a 1cm-diameter silicone tube, about 1.5 metres long. The last 2 bottles were particularly turbid with yeast that got remixed in the beer. Here again we screwed up by allowing the end of the tube to rest among the yeast at the bottom of the fermentation vessel. Note for next time: during the last week of fermentation, elevate one edge of the vessel so that yeast concentrates in a corner. Either that, or get a carboy and do at least one decanting.
The upper contents of 2 PET bottles were decanted into 6 “beugel” bottles with resealable ceramic caps (washed and sterlised in the usual manner). The bottles were primed with 3 teaspoonfuls of white sugar dissolved in hot water. The rest of the beer was “unofficially” tasted and found to be yeasty and a somewhat weak.
“Official” tasting date. Only the beugel bottles were consumed after chilling in the freezer for 1.5 hours. The result was a reasonably clear darker-than-blond beer and an optimal level of carbonisation. 3 PET bottles were set on their sides to cool in the fridge.
Decanted the contents of 3 1.5 litre PET bottles into beugel bottles using the usual 1/2 teaspoon of sugar (dissolved in a little hot water) per bottle as primer.
For some reason, the beer seems to have improved! And I don't think it just a question of getting used to it. Aging helps maybe…
The object of this experiment was to brew a more potent beer by adding common granulated white sugar. This time I used:
Sprinkling the yeast on top of the frothy wort was a mistake. Afterwards there were a number of yeast clumps that needed to be broken up manually. Next time I am going to dissolve the yeast in a bit of warm water beforehand.
The hydrometer read 1.058 which corresponds to an absolute maximum possible alcohol final content of about 7.5%. We shall see…
Bubbling stopped. The hydrometer read 1.012 which corresponds to about 1.5% alcohol, thus the content at this point is about 7.5% - 1.5% = 6.0%. The beer is distinctly sweet, so there is still some fermentation left to go.
I did not really plan to let another week pass before bottling, but perhaps it was a good thing. The hydrometer now reads 1.002, so I assume that fermentation really must be complete. Specific gravity of 1.002 corresponds to about 0.2% alcohol, thus the alcohol content of the batch (before priming) is about 7.5% - 0.2% = 7.3%. The entire batch (instead of each bottle individually) was primed with a mixture of about 400g sugar with gelatin (normally used for making jam) dissolved in 1 litre of boiling water. The primer was evenly poured over the top of the batch without further mixing in order to avoid stirring up the yeast at the bottom. Final bottled volume was about 18.5 litres, so there was a fair amount of spillage, perhaps 3 litres.
The 1-litre bottle from “Les Brasseurs” exploded some time during this last week. One of the PET bottles got knocked over and lost about 300ml, but there were no other losses. Bits of glass blew into the next room and the sugary beer glued small shards of glass to the floor of the machine room. Now I have to figure out some way of isolating these potential bombs.
Opened one of the 330ml bottles and measured its specific gravity at a little more than 1.002, probably due to unfermented primer. The beer is too sweet to be called “ready”.
No further explosions these last 2 weeks, but the room-temperature bottles remain difficult to open without squirting half of the contents all over the place. Bottles cooled in the fridge are almost reasonable, however. The beer is still a bit sweet, but it is definitely ready. The “greenish” taste has gone away as well as most of the excess sugar.
Started the alcotec (TM) 48 Turbo Super Yeast “hooch” test this evening. Followed the instructions more-or-less exactly, except that the starting temperature of the mix was 36°C rather than 40°C. But I wonder if I did not mistake the amount of water that I added which was supposed to be 21 litres. Hydrometer shows a specific gravity of 1.117 which corresponds to a potential of 15.5% rather than the 20% that I was aiming for. Even if one adds the 0.0032 correction due to the elevated temperature (from hydrometer tables), the potential is only 15.8.%. Maybe there is a lot of undissolved sugar at the bottom? Check next time.
Examined the hooch. There is a distinct odor of booze coming from the vat which is full of liquid that looks like diluted milk. No bubbles or foam, but there was a bit of fizz when I scooped out a 200ml sample. The taste was extremely sweet and fizzy, like a soft drink. There was also a disagreeable odor similar to white glue, so it is pretty horrible to drink neat. Specific gravity was 1.014, corresponding to 2.2% alcohol, therefore there is already 15.5% - 2.2% = 13.3% alcohol in the solution.
Decanted the mix into one and a half 19-litre water fountain bottles. The stuff still stinks and I did not bother to measure its specific gravity. A fair amount of yeast was left behind, but the liquid is still quite turbid.
Liquid seems to be less turbid after a week of settling and there is a layer of yeast at the bottom of the water bottles too.
Specific gravity is 0.984 at 20°C, one tick above the minimum measurable on my hydrometer. Most of the “glue smell” is gone and a large part of the sweetness. Mixed a cocktail of 100ml of hooch plus an equal amount of orange juice and was almost unable to detect any odor other than orange juice.
|The % alcohol (By Weight) if your brew is 14.8.|
|The % alcohol (By Volume) if your brew is 18.4.|
In November I made several attempts at drinking modest quantities (100-200ml) of the hooch mixed with orange juice and each following morning I suffered from hang-overs of a strength proportional to how much I had consumed. I conclude that the hooch is probably contaminated with acetaldehyde or something similar.
As a first step to purifying the hooch, I have ordered 1kg of Granucol FA activated carbon granules from Brouwland in Belgium. Hopefully this will help to neutralise the odor (which is already pretty reasonable) and absorb some contaminants. I found this list which indicates that activated carbon absorbs acetaldehyde as well as many other organic compounds including, unfortunately, ethyl alcohol. Hopefully the ethanol is less attracted to the carbon…
At this point the hooch has lost most of its milky-white color.
Tried concentrating by freezing the hooch in a plastic Coke bottle for about 1.5 hours at -16°C and then dumping the resulting slush (resembles a marguerita) into a funnel to filter out the liquid part. Did the same thing for a bottle of beer of the last batch. In both cases the remaining ice had lost most of the original flavor, indicating that the liquid was concentrated “good stuff”. The liquid in both cases did not really change taste, in my opinion, but others said that they tasted a difference. Finished the beer, but the hooch is currently undrinkable so I dumped the sample.
About 8 months after the original brewing of the hooch, I decided to redo the concentration experiment and measure the densities with a high-concentration hydrometer that can measure up to 100% alcohol. This time I used a rectangular tupperware and 400ml of hooch.
|15h05||21.5°C||infra-red and contact thermometer agree within 0.3°C|
|15h55||-6°C||using only infra-red thermometer, no ice yet|
|16h30||-15°C||maybe a few bits of ice floating|
|17h25||-12.2°C||more slush, but no real chunks of ice|
|18h00||-13.1°C||slush starting to stick too walls|
At this point I tried filtering the slush with a funnel, but it was too fine and did not want to separate into liquid and solid phases. Put the hooch back in the freezer to try again on Tuesday.
On 2012-12-06 I received the kit ordered 2012-12-01 from SIOS containing a 4.7kg sac of malted barley, 2 small sacs of pelletised hops, and 1 small envelope of dried yeast.
This is the first “real” beer recipe that we have tried. Frankly, I feel that using malt+hops out of a can is like making a Betty Crocker cake (add water, an egg, mix, pour in the pan, put the pan in the oven). The proposed recipe can be found here and a half-comprehensible Google translation into English is here.
No plan survives a battle and neither did the above recipe after we decided to improvise. The most important difference is that we used the "brew-in-a-bag" technique to avoid lautering (or sparging) steps. Lautering is basically filtering the wort through the barley mash after it has been cooked in order to trap as much barley waste as possible, keeping only the liquid portion. This requires a special lautering tun and while it is necessary for massive batches, cooking in a voile-cloth bag and lifting the bag out of the pot has a similar filtering effect.
Since Michael had received a grain grinder as part of his brewing kit, I had elected to start from whole grains rather than have SIOS grind them for a CHF4 fee.
After reading the manual and experimenting with the grinder tension screw, we found a setting that seemed to produce broken barley grains without turning them into powder. This is ideal because one wants the hot water to reach the heart of the grains, but one also wants to be able to filter out the solid bits after cooking. Lloyd managed to grind the 4.7 kg of barley in about 45 minutes. The job was mostly effortless, but perhaps a bit tedious after a while.
After a break for lunch, we lined the interior of the electric cauldron with the cloth bag and heated 25l of water to 78°C. We carefully added the crushed barley, stirring it in without adding air. We just barely managed to get everything in - the liquid level was less than 1cm from the edge of the cauldron. By the time that all of the barley had been stirred in, the temperate had dropped to 67°C and it took 15 minutes to recuperate. We gently stirred the barley mash at least once every 5 minutes, bringing up spoonfuls of mash from the bottom of the cloth bag. The odor reminds one very strongly of Ovomaltine. Because the wort was so close to the edge of the cauldron, we made a special effort to skim off any floating barley husks that caused foam to build up.
We removed the bag and while 2 of us held the bag open, another scooped a couple of litres of hot wort from the cauldron and carefully poured it through the mash. After squeezing out as much wort as possible from the mash, we set the wort to boil starting at 16h45. At this point I think we had about 20 litres of wort.
Getting the wort to boil was problematic. Even with the cauldron on maximum, we barely reached a little roiling boil after 30 minutes. It would have helped if we had dared to put the top on the cauldron, but we feared that it might boil over. In addition, we wanted water to evaporate. I believe that the ideal solution (for the future) is to insulate the sides of the cauldron, perhaps with a blanket like in some Youtube videos.
We compared the submersible thermocouple thermometer to the infrared thermometer and learned that the infrared gives erroneous low readings in the presence of water vapor.
We put the contents of the most acidic sac of hops in a “sock” and set it to boil in the wort, clamping the sock to one of the cauldron handles. In the future we should use clothes pins, not carpenter's clamps.
We put the contents of the second sac of hops in another “sock” and set it to boil in the wort too.
The copper wort cooling coil was hooked up to the water and left in the boiling wort for 10 minutes to be sterilised.
The cauldron was turned off and the cooling water was turned on at a fairly high flow. The temperature of the wort plunged from 98°C to 25°C in about 15 minutes. I was surprised at how effective the coil was because other blogs mention cooling times typically about 25-30 minutes.
Stopped cooling. Noticed strange delicate formations of protein floating in the wort.
After elevating one edge of the cauldron with a block of styrofoam, we siphoned the wort into the fermenting vat. To fill the siphoning hose, I had to suck on the bottom end and I got a mouthful of wort. Mildly sweet, not over-powering; I was expecting something stronger.
We stopped the siphoning with about 2 litres of very turbid wort and mash left at the bottom of the cauldron. I regretted leaving so much behind. The pre-made filtering brewing bag looks fine, but the bottom is made of a coarser mesh to help drain the mash which allowed too many broken grains to get through. In might be worthwhile to sew another bag of a finer-meshed cloth.
Measured the O.G. of the wort @25°C: 1.052
Estimate that the amount of wort is only 17 litres.
Sprinkled the packet of dried yeast onto the surface of the wort, screwed down the lid of the vat, and agitated the vat back and forth for 1.5 minutes. Filled the airlock with hooch and sealed the vat, storing it on the floor of the shower room which had a floor temperature of 18-19°C.
Specific gravity of the wort is 1.032 @20°C. I am a bit concerned because there seems to be no krausen (floating foam). Stirred up the wort for a minute, aerating it somewhat.
Specific gravity of the wort is still 1.032, but the wort is only 14°C! Unfortunately the door to the shower room was closed and air from outside chilled the room by 6°C with respect to the rest of the lab. Moved the fermentation vat to the kitchen area (20°C) and aerated it again to try to breath some life into the yeast.
Specific gravity of the wort is still 1.032 and research for “stuck fermentation” indicates that a chill can cause yeast to become permanently dormant. Re-pitching a new batch of yeast is the most commonly proposed solution. Checked the gunk on the bottom and it looks like a pretty thick layer of yeast, so it must have lived for a little while at least.
Ordered another packet of top-fermenting dried yeast from SIOS.
Received the packet of yeast in this morning's mail.
The wort has not changed specific gravity; it is still 1.032.
Boiled about a cup of water and dissolved a tablespoon of sugar in it. Waited until the temperature of the sugar solution was about 27°C before sprinkling the packet of yeast into it. It was necessary to squash the grains of yeast with a spoon since they clumped-up and refused to dissolve otherwise. After about 25 minutes, the yeast “cream” had a bit of a head of foam on it. Pitched it into the wort without stirring too much in order to avoid disturbing the bottom layer of old yeast in the fermenting vat.
I think this beer is lost. There seem to be delicate mats of scum floating near the surface resembling a kombucha culture. Tasted the wort and it has a bit of a sour vinegar taste. Specific gravity is still about 1.032 or maybe 1.031. I will wait until after the new year before deciding whether or not to dump this batch.
In February I attempted to use some of the beer as the liquid base for a soup, but it was already too sour. The left-over soup was somewhat fixed by adding cream, but I decided that this batch of beer was a loss and dumped it.
I kept a sample of the beer and the yeast sludge from the bottom with the idea of looking at it under a microscope to see if I could identify what was living there. My hypothesis is that it is some mixture of dead yeast and living lactobacillus. Michael brought a 600x USB microscope to the lab, but I was unable to see any microbes.
Paul took a sample home with him and tested it with a pH measurement powder. It measured 4, which is about the same acidity as tomato juice according to this pH scale.
One month after having ordered the granules of activated carbon from Brouwland, they finally arrived. IMHO, TnT sucks as a courier service.
Unfortunately, after reading a 28-page mini-book on activated carbon and the technical specifications of Granucol FA, I think that I ordered the wrong format of carbon. I probably should have ordered 0.4mm granular stuff for filtering nasty tastes whereas the Granucol FA seems to be pressed-powder pellets, specially formulated dissolve into wine must to remove excess color. There is no way that I will be able to make a filtering column with this stuff.
Nevertheless, I did the following experiment.
I took the contents of 2 half-litre bottles of hooch, emptied into a stainless steel bowl, and added a few drops of green food color. After mixing, I used a funnel to pour half of the green hooch into one bottle and half into the other bottle containing about 1 gram (+-0.5g) of Granucol FA pellets. This dose of 2g/litre was double the maximum recommended for red wine (1g/litre).
The pellets dissolved on contact with the hooch and turned it into a black murky liquid. After allowing it to work for a couple of days (shaking the bottle 4 times per day), the green tint and odd tastes and odors should disappear with a black sludge settling at the bottom of the bottle. This sludge can later be removed by decanting. I hope.
I should note here that drinking moderate amounts (<300ml) of hooch no longer causes me headaches or nausea, so perhaps purification is not absolutely necessary.
(WHERE IS THE PHOTO?) After 2 weeks the bottle treated with carbon had cleared and there was no green tint left. However, the liquid still had a bit of milky tint to it. Perhaps the pore size of this carbon is really good for removing color, but it does not seem to work so well on larger floating impurities.
2013-04-01 to 2013-06-30
In April I attempted the same experiment on a grander scale. I divided the 20l of hooch into two containers, 10l each, and added 10g of carbon to one of the containers. After 4 weeks the carbonised container was much clearer than the non-carbonised container. People who tasted the cleared, carbon-treated hooch found it to have a much cleaner taste.
I found that both the clean and the murky hooch have approximately the same taste effect when mixed with orange juice, but the cleaner one might cause less-sever headaches.
2013-09-03 to 2013-09-15
The first experiment with the Altbier demonstrated that having a stable temperature is important for brewing beer. I decided to measure temperature during a couple of weeks in the Usine and Cellier (under the stairs) areas of the lab. I bought a Raspberry Pi, equipped it with a WiFi USB dongle, and attached 2 DS18B20S 1-wire temperature sensors, using http://andyseasysite.com/?p=11 as a starting point. NOTE: The Fritzing diagram in the tutorial is incorrect, showing the temperature sensor wired in backwards.
The first series of measurements was done in the Cellier from 2013-09-03 to 2013-09-10. There were 2 temperature probes, one probe (green line) on a breadboard fastened to the Raspberry Pi and the other probe (red line) about 50cm away. The red line gives the most correct temperature of the room. The green line shows a couple of higher-temperature plateaus corresponding to times when there were a lot of WiFi users in the lab.
The second series of measurements was done in the Usine from 2013-09-10 to 2013-09-14.
The temperature in the Usine ranged from 19°C to 23.5°C which is far more variable than the Cellier which ranged from 25.3°C to 26.3°C. This is due to air entering the Usine via a duct from underneath a grating in the sidewalk outside of the building. I concluded that even though the temperature in the Usine is closer to the ideal brewing temperature of Altbier (18°C) it would be safer to wait a few weeks and do all of the brewing in the Cellier. The dust in the Usine is another reason to move the brewing activities elsewhere.
When we brewed the Altbier we were disappointed with how slow the cauldron was at heating the mash and wort. Here I measure the temperature curve of 20 litres of initially cold tap water heated at maximum power. The cauldron is wrapped in a aluminium-mylar-and-foam blanket and the cauldron is covered.
Even with the insulating blanket, it is going to take about 50 minutes to heat the brew to 80°C. We might be able to speed things up by using a kettle to boiling water.
SIOS had a sale of 6 different Cooper's beer kits for CHF100. They are all nearing their “best-by” date, so before I do another Altbier, I decided to brew the Cooper's dark ale kit. The instructions in the kit indicate that it is much more tolerant of higher temperatures which seems logical for beer coming from South Australia.
Proceeded according to the recipe with one exception. Instead of directly sprinkling the yeast onto the wort, I first prepared a cube of sugar dissolved in a half-cup of warm water and mixed the yeast into the water when it was about 28°C. When it came time to add the yeast to the wort, there was a small amount of foam floating on the yeast water, indicating that the yeast was indeed alive. The wort was 28.2°C when I added the yeast, which is a little outside of the recommended range of 21°C-27°C.
Here is what I noted on the brewing record that came with the instructions:
Theoretically this should result in a normal 5%abv ale.
Michael took a few photos of me and Vincent:
This batch was set to brew in the Cellier, sitting on top of the raspi temperature probe.
Measured the specific gravity to be 1.012, so not quite ready for bottling, in my opinion. Although I was pretty careful when I deplaced the fermenting vat, there was still a bit of sloshing that probably disturbed the trub on the bottom.
It took longer than I remembered to get set up for bottling the beer, but I did a few things differently this time. To avoid getting a lot of trub mixed with the beer during the bottling process, I siphoned into one of the 19l water bottles, losing 2 litres of beer in the process. If the water bottle had been big enough, I think I would have sacrificed only 0.5l.
The priming was accomplished by mixing approximately 20lx8g/l=160g of jam sugar (white sugar with gelatin) in 0.5l of boiling water, stirring until perfectly dissolved, adding to the water bottle, and then siphoning from the fermenting vat into the water bottle.
The beer is very dark but otherwise clear. There were brown crumbs of krausen floating on the surface of the fermenting vat. I hope not too much got into the bottles in the end.
Bottled the beer with the help of Mara. Re-discovered the advantage of using the bottling cane versus blocking the siphon hose with one's thumb: much less spillage and less air mixed into the beer. I started getting set up (mixing priming solution) at around 17h30 and we finished bottling (with clean-up) at around 20h15.
There were about 30x350ml bottles and 20x500ml bottles. The smaller bottles may be contaminated with a bit of eau-de-javel taste because I think I forgot to rinse them.
Conclusion: This was the best batch yet, in my opinion. Carbonisation was just right: not too much and not too little, with little variation between bottles. The ale was dark and stayed mostly clear except for a bit of yeast build-up from the priming process. The taste was like a Guinness, but not as strong, with no trace of sweetness, indicating complete fermentation. I tried a bottle 4 weeks after bottling and was a bit concerned to notice a trace of acidity, maybe indicating bacteria, but after 6 weeks the bottles were all perfect and I noticed no acidity. The batch was completely consumed between November 1 and December 15.
Temperature in the Cellier has dropped to the 18°C-21°C range, but I was too busy to do a grain brew. Instead, I brewed the next-oldest beer kit, the Cooper's India pale ale. The recommended temperature range for fermenting is the same as the other Cooper's ale kits, i.e. 21°C-27°C, so this one might not work so well.
Proceeded the same way as with the last dark ale batch. Instead of directly sprinkling the yeast onto the wort, I first prepared a cube of sugar dissolved in a half-cup of warm water and mixed the yeast into the water when it was about 24°C.
Here is what I noted on the brewing record that came with the instructions:
I measured the specific gravity twice:
Theoretically this should result in a typical 4.9%abv ale.
Starting at 15h45 and ending at 20h30, I bottled this batch of beer. The first 19 litres were done using the method of decanting+priming established for the dark ale, i.e. 8g of jam sugar per litre. No cleaning mistakes this time, but it was slow doing this work alone.
REMINDER TO SELF: When filling bottles with bleach solution, drown 2 at a time.
The first 12 litres were siphoned using the bottling cane, but there were a couple of occasions where air infiltrated into the line, perhaps through a leak in the joints, perhaps through a hole in the silicone tubing. After processing about 12 litres (finishing all of the clear bottles and using 3 of the brown Fischer bottles), the silicone siphoning hose would no longer stay below the surface of the beer.
REMINDER TO SELF: Refurbish the bottling cane before bottling another batch. Add a stiff tube to the other end of the tube too.
Bottled the rest using a funnel and brown bottles. The funnel is easier to use than the cane, but there was much more air mixed into the beer.
REMINDER TO SELF: A combination of funnel+cane might be the best of both methods.
The last 3 litres of beer were poured by funnel directly into brown beer bottles and they will probably be pretty turbid.
2014-01-20 (and after)
After 4 weeks we started drinking the bottled beer. I initially detected a bit of a soapy taste that some sources on the Internet claim comes from decomposing yeast. I felt that the beer improved noticably after the 5th week and gave a couple of bottles to family members with instructions not to open before February 6th.
The colour and clarity of all bottles (even the brown ones) are good, but darker than I expected, and the taste is dry and hoppy, i.e. there is absolutely no trace of sugar and this beer is the most bitter of all of the batches thus far. The sediment at the bottom of the bottles is easily disturbed on the first pour, but it sticks together in reasonably-large clumps and does not disturb the clarity.
Finally found the time to re-attempt brewing the SIOS Altbier full-grain ale of 2012-12-08. The goal was to redo this recipe but without any mistakes this time and fewer improvisations. It helps that SIOS sent the recipe in English this time.
First change is that intead of using the dry yeast option, I decided to pay more (a lot more) for a Wyeast 1007 live yeast packet. This is a 125g plastic packet of yeast with a smaller plasic packet of sugar solution inside of it. When you decide that you want to use the yeast packet, you need to pop the interior packet and let the yeast sit for 3 hours or more at room temperature. They say that the packet can be stored for 6 months at 4°C, but the first one turned out to be dead, perhaps because the PTL refrigerator got unplugged at some point. The second packet I bought worked OK. Here is what it looks like warming up in a bowl of room-temperature water. For most of the first 3 hours it did not seem to be blowing up, but then it finally began to expand.
There were two major equipment changes for this experiment. The boiler is now insulated by a aluminium-mylar-and-foam blanket that is normally used to protect automobile windshields from heat. The “beer-bag” that holds the malted barley mash has been replaced by a home-made version (thanks, Christiane!) with a finer mesh on the bottom than the one used in our first effort.
In addition, the 4.7kg sac of malted barley has already been milled by SIOS. Examining it closely, I cannot see a difference in fragment size between SIOS's milling and our milling, so I think we got it right the first time.
At around 12h30, I started heating 12 litres of tap water to 54°C, aided by adding 1.5 litre batchs of boiling water done in a kettle. The SIOS recipe instructions are very precise and I do not believe that my measurement of temperature is more accurate than a few degrees. The mash procedure is to:
After adding the barley malt, the boiler was only half-full. This permitted me to cover the boiler with its lid which sped up the heating. It takes about 5 minutes to increase the temperature by 10°C.
At 14h00, Sebastien Chassot helped me to lift the beer-bag out of the boiler and balance it on a pair of metal beams over the boiler while I poured 10 litres of hot water through the bag to extract as much malt as possible. The sack filled with spent malt was placed in a plastic refrigerator box, to be used later for making bread. TODO: build a draining rack for holding the beer-bag over the boiler.
The wort was brought to a low boil and the first hops sock of 6.6% acid was thrown in. After 40 minutes, the second sock of 4.2% acid was added and the wort was boiled for another 20 minutes.
In total we managed to make 18.5 litres of wort. As before, the cooling coil was very efficient, but this time there was no coagulation of protein or other gunk. Later, when we siphoned the cooled wort into the fermenting vat, we discovered very little solid matter at the bottom of the boiler, so it looks like the new beer-bag did its job much better than the old one.
The original gravity is 1.058 at about 20°C. The taste is very sweet with very little bitterness. I think that we did not add enough water and this beer is going to be stronger than the original recipe.
Except for cleaning up, the batch was done by 15h30, therefore it took about 3 hours in total.
Examined the fermenting beer. It has a lovely 3cm-thick layer of foam on top.
The gravity is 1.018 at about 20°C. The taste is still somewhat sweet.
The gravity is 1.016 at about 20°C. The taste is perhaps a bit less sweet.
The gravity is 1.014 at about 20°C. The foam has collapsed to a layer that is a few millimetres thick. I am concerned that the fermentation may have almost stopped since there has been only 0.004 of change in the last 7 days…
The gravity is 1.014 at about 20°C. The foam has dropped to the bottom of the fermentation vat and I decided to bottle at this point. Siphoned from the vat to a 19 litre water bottle, leaving behind 1 litre of yeast. Primed with 145g of gelifying sugar mixed with 500ml of boiling water.
Although the “correct” tasting time should have been 2014-04-07, I started drinking the beer today. It is pretty good, but too sweet for my taste and not much hops taste. I wonder if it is a mistake to put the pelletised hops in the socks rather than just letting it simply dissolve in the wort. The malt taste is quite strong and it resembles the “8.8” beer that one can buy at the Denner. Others have said that it was the best beer I have done thus far, but I think that they just liked the sweet hopless taste. I discovered that drinking more than 1 litre per day gives me a headache.
I bought a second-hand 18-litre ball-lock (aka NC-type) keg and a cheap portable siphon to go with it from SIOS.ch. Since I wanted to test it with a simple kit before committing to the work of storing a mash brew in it, I picked the Canadian blonde kit to use as a test beer.
Here is what I noted on the brewing record that came with the instructions:
I measured the specific gravity 4 times in all:
According to Dave's Dreaded Actual Specific Gravity Calculator,
|The % alcohol (By Weight) if your brew is 3.42.|
|The % alcohol (By Volume) if your brew is 4.34.|
Assuming that I add the usual amount of priming sugar, the %abv should go up about another 0.5% to 4.8%abv.
Bottling day of the Canadian blonde. “Sterilised” the keg by filling with 2l boiling water and then 17l of hot tap water and left the keg to soak for about 30 minutes. Temperature was about 63°C in the end. “Sterilised” 7 0.7l and 0.8l swing-top bottles adding to about 5.3l with hot tap water. Mixed the rest of the jelly sugar (64g) with some white sugar to get 176g, i.e. about 8g per litre. Reserved 24g for 3l extra beer ⇒ 152g for 19litres Filled the keg with a siphoning hose, leaving a 5cm headspace. Filled the 7 bottles and had about 0.5l beer left over that I dumped.
Uh-oh. I read in a couple of places that if one is priming beer for a keg, one should use only 1/3 to 1/2 the usual amount of priming sugar! I hope that I have not made a bomb…
My fears about an explosion were unnecessary. There was absolutely no pressure in the keg when I checked, so it looks like the priming did not work! There was a bit of scum on the surface (maybe protein) and a few scummy bubbles and not much else. Tasted the beer and it seemed like a normal relatively flat sweet green beer. No hint of sourness, so I doubt that there is a bacterial infection.
What happened? Did all of the yeast die or what?
Pitched a teaspoon of dry-yeast (about 3g) activated 30 minutes before in a glass of sugar water into the keg.
Checked one of the bottles and found that there was some gas build-up, normal level, I think.
Checked the keg and there was still practically no pressure. But after searching for “korny keg priming sugar” I came to the conclusion that the large O-ring in the lid is not sealing properly.
I found a number of forum references where they recommend pressurising the keg to at least 1/3 atmosphere in order to seal the keg after filling it. I had just assumed that since the keg was delivered pressurised that it could easily seal. So it looks like I am going to be forced to buy a gas system. Looked for silicone sealant in the lab, but did not find any. I think that water-based lubricant jelly should work too and be more food-safe.
Here is a forum thread that shows that getting a good seal is not obvious. One interesting technique is to boil the lid to soften the O-ring and get a better seal, so I tried that.
Briefly pressed the IN valve of the keg and a bit of gas escaped this time, so apparently the keg is holding pressure. But it was pretty weak and I am almost positive that external pressurisation is going to be necessary.
I already drank one of the 600ml bottles. It is OK, not remarkable, and still a bit green. Maybe another week is necessary. Tried using the “frosty glass” technique to chill the room-temperature beer and I admit that it helps a bit, but it is not perfect. Maybe going to need a fridge for the keg(s) too…
Finally got around to buying the CO2 necessary to pressurise the keg. Using the slow force carbonisation chart and assuming room-temperature ale, I used this table to decide to set the regulator to 2 bar (15psi), but I could probably have gone higher. Beer will be at steady-state carbonisation in 10-14 days. At the moment, it comes out easily but it tastes pretty poor. Apart from the beers that went sour, this one is probably the worst. About the only good thing I can say about it is that at least it has alcohol.
Drank about 2 litres of beer this afternoon. Although it is well-carbonised, it is still not very good and I feel that it has a bit of a soapy taste. The beer pours with a fairly big head of foam, but the gas does not last long, probably due to its warm temperature.
After reading about the phyto-estrogen found in hops, I thought I would look into making gruit, medieval ale based on bittering herbs other than hops. Since there is a lot of sage in my garden, these recipes for sage ale are a good start. (Unfortunately, according to Wikipedia, sage also is a source of phyto-estrogens! Damn.)
I roughly followed the same procedure that I used for the SIOS Altbier in Experiment 10.
Starting at 17h00, the procedure was:
Finished at 20h30. Measured OG was 1.055 at about 24°C.
Tasted the wort but I cannot honestly say that there was more than a hint of sage. However, the odor was apparent in the lab during the brewing. Since the sage bush was flowering, I wonder if the sage leaves were not simply a bit weak. FOR NEXT TIME: double the mass of sage.
Disaster. Went to bottle the ale and discovered that it had turned sour so I had to dump it. There were a few small floating mats of scum on the surface (apart from the bits of sage leaves). Charlie Sellers did not think it was that sour, but I remember this smell and taste from December 2012; if I had left it alone for a few more weeks, it would have been as sour as tomato juice.
I really have no idea what went wrong; I am pretty sure that my sterilisation technique and hygiene were perfect. Charlie believes that the infection came when I opened the airlock for fermentation measurement and released the CO2 atmosphere, but that seems implausible to me. If this is the cause, then why is it only the mash beers that are going sour and not the kit beers?
After reading this article on Mister Money Mustache, it occured to me that I was doing things the hard way. If hard (alcoholic) cider is really as simple as buying a jug of apple juice and tossing in a half-teaspoon of champagne yeast, why not try it?
It is not that simple around here. I did not find a source of fruit juice in convenient 5-litre or 10-litre glass jugs. I did not find dry champagne yeast. What I did find is pasteurised apple juice at the Denner for CHF1.10 per litre in 1-litre cartons and liquid cider and wine yeast for CHF11.40. Way too expensive, so I decided to make a jar of yeast starter and use only half of it to make a 24-litre batch of cidre.
Over the weekend I monitored the progress of the yeast in the 1 litre of apple juice using the lab webcam and saw that the yeast falls to the bottom instead of floating on the surface like an ale.
With the help of Martin, Yvonne, and Alexandre, we innoculated a batch of 24 litres of Denner apple juice using half of the yeast-and-juice solution.
The O.G. of the juice was 1.041.
Bottled the cider this afternoon with the help of Martin. Worked from 16h30 to 18h30.
The F.G. of the cider was 1.004 and the taste was quite dry but flat and a little weak in apple taste, in my opinion. In fact, it tasted very similar to Ebbelwoi from Frankfurt.
Assuming that the homebrew calculator is valid for cider, the alcohol content is 4.8%abv.
I added 175g of fructose priming sugar dissolved in 500ml of hot water and decanted the cider which was quite clear. This should add another 0.5%abv. All of the yeast had neatly fallen to the bottom of the vat and I was able to recuperate almost all of the liquid except for perhaps 300ml which I stored in a glass jar at room temperature for future use.
After waiting about 5 days we started to drink the cider bottles. And, after about 12 days, we have almost run out. When carbonated and chilled, the cider was extremely drinkable and resembled commercial product except for a very thin layer of yeast at the bottom of the bottles.
In preparation for the next batch of cider, I removed the 300ml jar of yeast to room temperature, added a teaspoon of fructose, stirred throughly, and lightly fasten the lid to permit gas to escape. After a day, there were a few bubbles on the surface, so I assume that the yeast is alive.
Did another 24 litre batch of cider based on Denner apple juice and the recycled yeast culture. The yeast had a bit of a sour smell to it and I wonder if some bacteria got in there. Maybe this will turn out to be a batch of apple vinegar.
O.G. was 1.041 at 22.7°C.
F.G. was 1.004, like last time. Decanted 18 litres into the keg and put it under 2 bars of pressure and bottled the rest. The cider is definitely more sour than last time, but quite drinkable. Also somewhat more turbid than last time.
Recuperated the yeast and stored it in a jar in the fridge.
Approaching the end of the keg, even though I was practically the only person drinking it. As time went on, the cider became less turbid and as of this date, it is quite clear.
Went to PTL at lunch time and pulled the jar of yeast recuperated on 2014-10-21. It had a powerful sour smell to it but I added a teaspoon of fructose and set it to warm up for the afternoon in a bath of water.
In the evening, around 17h00, I saw no major signs of activity. I pulled the jar of remaining original Wyeast culture, put in the fridge 2014-09-14 and sniffed; just a normal apple juice odor. Added 1 teaspoon of fructose and warmed to room temperature in a water bath too.
Bought 19 litres of Denner apple juice, just enough to fit the keg.
At 21h30, we dumped both jars of yeast culture (neither showed much activity) into the vat of apple juice.
Charlie Sellers says that the brew is bubbling, but he did not see a froth ring. When I checked it at 18h00, it had clearly frothed, hit the top, and collapsed. No contamination in the airlock liquid, however.
Final gravity was 1.002 or maybe even lower.
Everyone thought it was a bit sour, so I doped it with about 150g of fructose dissolved in about 500ml of hot water which I dumped into the keg.
Decanted the cider into the keg, leaving about 1 litre of yeast which I recuperated and put in the fridge.
Pressurised the keg to 2 bars and turned off the CO2 to see if it will leak.
Putting sugar in the cider was a mistake. Over the next week the total pressure of CO2 that evolved was greater than the initial 2 bars and, unfortunately, I had slightly over-filled the keg so that the CO2 input port was below the surface of the cider. The result was that cider was forced up the CO2 pipe and might have gotten into the regulator. I deconnected and washed out everything, but a through cleaning will be necessary.
In spite of the sage ale (gruit) being a failure (it went sour), I decided to make a rosemary-herbed ale. But instead of investing the great effort and expense of doing it from scratch, I decided to use one of the beer kits, specifically Cooper's “Mexican” one.
I started by clipping a half-dozen rosemary twigs each about 30cm long and stripping their leaves. I threw away the tough stems and roughly chopped the leaves with scissors and weighed out to 33g. I picked this weight because people on the Homebrewtalk.com forum had already experimented and found that 4 ounces of rosemary for 5 gallons was way too much herb and anything less than an ounce was unnoticable. However, some had found that the rosemary essence became stronger with time, after about 3 weeks.
Instead of leaving the herbs in the fermenting vat, I boiled them seperately in 1 litre of water for about 20 minutes, resulting in a pale-green infusion that I added to the wort when the time came.
I tested that the yeast was still good by mixing it in a glass of warm water with a teaspoon of sugar. It seemed a bit sluggish to grow, perhaps due to the age of the beer kit.
Here is what I noted on the brewing record that came with the instructions:
The wort had little taste of rosemary and just a bit of the odor. Maybe it will become more apparent as the sugar is replaced by alcohol.
Magnus reported that it did not seem to be fermenting and there was only a couple of centimetres of foam around the edge. Does this mean that the rosemary killed the yeast? And maybe the sage did the same thing last time?
Wort specific gravity is at 1.020, 21.5°C. The foam mark is only about 2cm high. Since I was worried that the fermentation has stalled, I prepared 1 teaspoon of yeast and 1 teaspoon of white sugar in a 100ml of tepid water. After 2.5 hours, I added the yeast to the wort. Cannot honestly say that I notice the rosemary.
Wort specific gravity is at 1.007, 23.8°C. Looks like fermentation is still going, but slow. Noticed that I had to knock the hydrometer a couple of times to get the bubbles off so that it would give its lowest reading. Tasted the beer and I find that the rosemary is too subtle for the moment, even though the beer is much less sugary that last time. Next time use 66g for a 20l batch.
Bottling day. Wort specific gravity is at 1.004. Beer tastes completely flat with maybe a trace of rosemary odor. Primed with 160g white sugar and 500ml hot water. Poured into a 19l water bottle using a new tap and noticed that this beer is one of the least-turbid I have managed yet.
Conclusion (+2 weeks later)
The rosemary ale turned out quite well. It turned out that the amount of rosemary that I added was just right; enough to leave a pleasant odor and taste, but not enough to be over-powering.
The wine yeast culture left-over from brewing cider was taking too much space in the fridge so I tried the following experiment. I went to a pharmacy and bought a couple of 20ml syringes with the strongest needles they had. Total cost: CHF2! Cheap! I drained off most of the clear cider from the top of the yeast culture and mixed the yeast trub into suspension. I innoculated 4 1-litre berlingos of Migros Classic pasteurised apple juice with 20ml each of yeast solution. The berlingos (still wrapped in shrink-wrap plastic) were placed on a metal tray (to catch run-off fermented juice) and observed with a web camera for 5 days.
On the 5th day I tested the specific gravity was about 1.010 and the juice had fermented but still had a fairly strong sugary taste with a trace of carbonation. A dozen of the fruit flies living in the lab had been lured to their deaths by the puddle of fermented juice that escaped, but no flies were found around the needle holes in the tops of the containers. When chilled this is a good drink for people who do not like strong alcohol.
By the 7th day fermentation was complete with no trace of sugar left in the taste. The result is similar to an ebbelwoi.
2015-07-20 OG 1.045
2015-07-27 FG 1.002
Last spring I planted 2 "Magnum" hops plants in my garden. The first summer they grew a few 50cm stems and no cones, but this summer they grew much longer, probably about 4 meters, and at the end of September I managed to harvest half a paper shopping bag of hops cones. I partially dried these cones in a conventional electric oven for 24 hours at 45-50°C and then packed them in 4 large plastic resealable freezer bags.
For this batch, I decided to try dry-malt-extract (DME) rather than my usual shortcut of a malt-sirup beer kit since the latter usually already have hops added to them. I bought 3kg of Amber Malzextraktpulver from the Brau und Rauchshop for CHF40.50 total including delivery. Not cheap.
In brief, the recipe was:
OG was 1.046 at 25.9°C
Yesterday David reported (with a photo) that there was no activity in the vat. Went to PTL and saw that foam was forming but the SG was still 1.046 or 1.045. Dumped 3 teaspoons of dry yeast into the vat and noted that the packing date on the yeast bag was April 2014 and the best-before date was +18 months. Beer tastes like malt-water.
SG 1.008 at 22.7°C, so I decided to bottle now and add in only half of the usual amount of priming sugar, i.e. 80g of white sugar in 250ml of boiling water. Taste of the beer is moderately-hopped with a bit of a smokey flavor, perhaps coming from the drying of the hops cones? Since it is still a bit early, the beer was still quite turbid after bottling.
Martin wanted to test the new beer even though it is still pretty turbid and split a bottle among 4 of us. We all agreed that it tastes and smells pretty bad. Sort of a burned-rubber odor. Hopefully it will be OK in 4 weeks…
Decided to try another beer. The rubber odor is still there, maybe not as bad as last time. So it is not a problem of a bad seal.
Tried another beer a week ago and the rubber taste has not gone away, so I guess it is there to stay. Did a google lookup for “beer hops rubber odor” and fell on this explanation that the odor is probably coming from phenolics due to over-kilning or over-ripening of the hops. If that is true, then my entire crop of hops of last year is no good for beer, although it might be OK for tisane.
Alexandre Rosenberg did most of the brewing at PTL during the first half of 2016, I only made a batch of cider for the keg. This experiment was my first for 2016. I wanted to approximately repeat the last DME experiment with a few modifications regarding the hops.
This year, I harvested the hops about 1 month earlier than last year, i.e. third week of September rather than the third week of October. In addition, instead of drying in the oven for 1 day, I dried the hops for about a week by spreading them out on sheets on the top floor of my apartment which is very warm on sunny days as it is just under the roof. The hops look fresher than last time:
I also am using about half as much hops this time, 1.5 big handfuls (16g), for a 10-litre batch of beer.
Made a starter consisting of 500ml of water, plus 3 teaspoons of expired brewers' yeast, plus 50g of DME and let it sit over-night. Looks and tastes active, so I guess the yeast is still OK.
Working with Christian Casamirra to teach him to be the next PTL brewer.
Weighed 16g of dried hops and boiled them for 1 hour in 1 litre of water. The water turned yellow, but it lacked aroma. The boiled hops cones, however, had plenty of aroma. Came to the conclusion that the alpha acids had not properly dissolved into the water, so we broke up the wet cones by hand, added 2 more litres of hot water, and boiled for another 30 minutes.
Total water added: 9.5 litres Total malt sugar added: 1.25kg OG: 1.052 at 29°C
Using the 19l clear plastic water bottles rather than the usual 32 litre fermentation vats.
Also doing 6 litres of apple cider to test the viability of the champagne yeast.
I filmed the cider and the beer as they fermented. The light was left turned on in the cellier and every 5 minutes I took one picture with a IP surveillance camera. The movie that resulted clearly shows that although the cider starting fermenting almost immediately, the beer took almost a day before any really visible activity occurred.
CONCLUSION: The beer yeast really needs to be replaced.
FG: 1.010 at 23°C. According to the calculator, this means the beer is 5.7%abv.
The beer had what looked like a bit of greenish mold growing on the surface. The burnt-condom taste was there again but not nearly so strong as last time. The beer is too hoppy, in my opinion.
CONCLUSION: Needed to use only half as much hops as we did.
Alternatively, Charlie suggested that we do a 1-hour boiling of one third of the dose, and a 15 minute-boiling of the rest. The first portion of hops would add sufficient alpha-acids, and the second portion would add aroma.
Added 80g of DME in 0.5 litres of hot water as primer and to also give the beer a +0.5%abv boost, for a final concentration of 6.2%abv. Christian managed to fill about 15 0.6-litre Fischer beer bottles with the batch.
The cider had a FG of around 1.000 so I assume that everything went as good as last time and it is about 4.8%abv. Transfered to the keg and pressurised to 2 bar. The first 100ml of cider had plenty of yeast sludge, so I think that the dip-tube of the keg was not properly cleaned. Should be OK though. Unless I make any significant changes, this will be the last batch of cider I document.
Beer has the rubber taste but weakening. Cider is perfect.
http://www.cage.ch/ Cercle des Agriculteurs de Genève et Environs, source of malt, Satigny Landi
http://www.brewferm.be/en/experts.htm Instruction pour kits avancé brewferm
Swiss online shop:
http://www.beersmith.com/recipes.htm recipes from BreeSmith website
Special thanks to: