Sunday, April 3, 2011

Starting in the middle (now with pics!)

Tonight my taps are dry... I'm drinking Demo, a black IPA by Magic Hat and Red Hook's ESB. Not really impressed with Demo, kinda doesn't come together very well for me. Like a roasty stout with a lot of hop aroma but not much bitterness. The ESB is one of my go-to, middle of the road, commercial beers. I love it.

As most of my intended audience is not familiar with all the terms and technical points of brewing, I want to make this kind of educational. I am no brewmaster, but I can share what I have learned and maybe take some of the mystery out of brewing for anyone interested. Kinda bummed that I am starting this in the middle stages of two batches, but there will be plenty of other batches that I will document from beginning to end.

First project tonight was testing the specific gravity of my Autumn Cider, that I started on 3/22, to see if it is ready to be kegged.

So tonight I pulled the fermentor out of the closet. After mixing up a bucket of sanitizer and sanitizing my hydrometer (scale for testing the amount of sugar left in beer/cider/wine) I opened the bucket up.

All that floating on top is just the rehydrated raisins, cranberries, and spices I used. Smells like total fall in the kitchen... The original gravity (measure of how much sugar) of this cider was 1.056 before fermenting. If I left this alone, the yeast would turn all the sugars they could eat into alcohol and go dormant. In a beer that's the goal, but in this cider I want to stop those greedy yeast early to keep a little sweetness. Depending on the yeast they would probably quit at specific gravity (SG) 1.000 or lower. I'm trying to stop at 1.010, that would math out to 6 % alcohol by volume.

The sample measured out to 1.008, went a hair too far but close enough. That is 6.3% ABV probably higher because of all the sugars I couldn't measure in the raisins and cranberries. It tasted great... So racking (siphoning) to keg and putting in fridge to cool and put those yeast to sleep.

After sanitizing I racked to keg...

Put the keg in the kegerator and set CO2 pressure to 30psi for 24 hours to jump start carbonation. Noticed I might be running out of CO2. I'll have to stop at AirGas to fill my tank. Now we wait... I'll be drinking this in about a week now.

My other task of the night was to check the gravity of my Belgian IPA. The BIPA was brewed on 3/20. With a beer you need to let it ferment all the way out. So really all I need to see is where it stops so I can figure out the alcohol percentage. Also, for this beer, once it is done I am dry hopping with an ounce of Amarillo Gold hops for a week before kegging. 

The yeast strain I used for this (Ardennes) is completely insane. My first time using it and I had a feeling it would be super active. All that gross stuff on top is called krausen, foam created by the yeast during fermentation. During the first two days of fermentation this thing was pushing the krausen through a blow-off tube I set up just in case. The top of the bucket would swell up and then it would push some stuff through, relieve the pressure and the lid would go back down. It looked like it was breathing! Temps matter a lot for the yeast. This time of year my house is at like 64 and for this yeast I wanted it more like 74. I have a rubbermaid tub I can put the bucket in, fill with water and use an aquarium heater in the water to raise temps. I ended up not needing to... This yeast was so active, it created it's own heat. The thermometer on the side of the bucket was reading 75 even though the closet was 64! 

Took my sample, starting to clear. This beer started at 1.080. That's about as big as I can go with my current setup. Tonight it measured at 1.011, making it 9.0% ABV! The strongest beer I have made to date. Also, it's probably done... I could take another reading in a couple days to confirm it, but the yeast is dropping out so I am not too worried.

In with the dry hops! I am using pellet hops (ground up and formed into pellets) and they make a mess when you dry hop with them. That's why I am putting them into a sanitized bag, so they don't turn into hop slime and end up in the keg. Most of the hops are added during the boil, before fermentation. Dry hopping is adding hops to the fermented beer to give it fresh hop aroma. Not necessary for all styles but for anything IPA it's a must... Now, the way I am doing this can be a little controversial. A lot of homebrewers move the beer to a secondary fermentor to let the yeast settle and add dry hops there. I don't do secondaries anymore. Its a waste of time in my opinion. The beer will clear just fine if you let it sit long enough and there is no risk of off flavors from the yeast cake, so why bother? So, I'll let the dry hops sit for a week and keg it. Meant to try the sample I took tonight, but I froze accident, trying to chill it for tasting. Oops... When it thaws out I'll let you know how it was. But it smelled amazing!!

Last pic for the night... My 5 year old painted me this picture. "It's a beer!", she said. She was so proud. Pretty funny... I hung it up on my kegerator.

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