Smoked Imperial Porter - 2018 Experimental

>> Sunday, April 22, 2018

Today I'm brewing an experimental version of my smoked porter. The first version of this beer took a gold medal for smoked and wood-aged beers and the second version did as well. The third version on sassafras didn't fare quite as well and I personally hated the rootbeer-like character it got from the sassafras. So today I'm brewing the fourth version which will be a split batch.

The biggest difference with this version is I'm using hickory-smoked malt that I smoked myself for my base malt. After primary, I'm planning on splitting off 2.5 gallons which will receive 1 pound of Maple & Bacon Smoked Candi Syrup. The home-smoked malt was cold-smoked using my newly completed malt tumbler. I suspect this version will have a much stronger smoke character because of the larger proportion of smoked malt, and because hickory trends to yield stronger smoke flavors compared to some other smoking woods. I love a strong smoke flavored beer, so I think I'll enjoy it, but it might be a little too strong for some.

Here's the recipe as I'm brewing it:

10.5# Hickory-smoked California Select Malt
2.0# Avangard Munich
1.25# Crisp Brown Malt
1.25# Crisp Crystal 77L
0.75# Crisp Pale Chocolate Malt (225L)
28g Magnum (60 min)
14g EKG (10 min)
Imperial Yeast Flagship
0.5 Whirlfloc
0.5t Yeast nutrient

Split batch with 1# of Maple & Bacon Smoked Candi Syrup added to half the batch after primary fermentation subsides.

Mash at 154F for 60 minutes, 90 minute boil, ferment at 60F

10 gallons distilled water using Beersmith's London water profile.

Brewing Notes
No issues. OG came in at 20.8/1.085.


Tumbler for Cold-Smoking and Malting Grain

Equipment time! I stumbled across this post on Reddit by u/Bearded_and_Bored a little while back. At the time, I was toying with the idea of brewing a Chicha-inspired beer but wanted to take advantage of malting the corn rather than doing the chew and spit thing. I also love smoked beers and was thinking this design would work great for cold smoking my own malt at home.

The design is fairly simple here; a standard food-grade bucket for the container, a simple box frame to mount everything to, a two casters connected to a rotisserie motor to turn the bucket, and a few more smaller casters to keep everything properly aligned. A picture (in this case a video) is worth a thousand words, so check out Bearded and Bored's Reddit post and related YouTube video for more info. Mine is essentially the same design as his, it's just made out of metal tubing rather than 2x4s.

I recently used this for the first time to cold smoke some California Select 2-row and it seemed to work really well. Here's the process I followed:

  1. Add grain to the bucket. For the trial run, I used 6 pounds of California Select Malt. You want the grain to be able to move freely, so don't pack it full.
  2. Moisten the grain with RO, distilled, our some other de-chlorinated water source at the rate of 9.5ml of water per pound of grain. The water helps the smoke flavor and aroma "stick" to the grain. 
  3. Fire up your cold smoke source and turn on the motor. Total smoking time on my first batch was about 2.5 hours. 
  4. After smoking, transfer the grain to a paper grocery bag and let it mellow for at least a couple days before brewing. 
For the first go, I used hickory. Hickory can be pretty assertive, but I'm using it in a smoked porter and I think it'll be able to stand up to the smoke flavor.

It's probably worth mentioning, for my cold smoke generator, I use a homemade aquarium pump venturi-style one. It works fairly well and puts out quite a bit of smoke. There are lots of options here though, Google cold smoke generators for ideas. Ideally you want something that isn't going to add any color to the grain due to temperature.

At some point I'll try using this new piece of equipment to malt some corn and possibly other grain, I'm also planning on smoking grain with some different wood varieties. More on that later.


American Wild Brown 2018

>> Sunday, April 15, 2018

Today I'm brewing a variant of my American Wild Barrel-aged Brown base. Grain-wise, the biggest change is I went with half Pilsner and half German Pale malt for the base. Note: I'd intended to go 50/50 on Pilsner and Pale malt, but when I went to measure out my base malts, I realized I was out of Pilsner malt. So this version got 100% Pale for the base. All dark malts are being added during the sparge this time (previously, only the Carafa III Special was added during the sparge). I'm using a portion of US Goldings rather than all aged hops. Lastly, this 10 gallon batch is getting split between INISBC-913 Brett Barrel III and dregs I've grown up from some Casey Brewing and Blending bottles.

Here's the recipe as I'm brewing it today:

10 gallon batch
9.5# Avangard Pilsner
19# Avangard German Pale
3.0# 4 oz Weyerman Pale Wheat Malt
1.0# Crisp Crystal 60
1.0# Briess Chocolate 350L (During sparge)
1.0#  Flaked Oats
1.0#  Special Aromatic
1.0#  Spelt Malt
4 oz Carafa III (During sparge)
17g Aged Hops (60 mins)
17g US Holdings (60 mins)
INISBC-913 Brett Barrel III and Casey dregs (split batch)
Yeast Nutrient

Mash at 157F for 60 mins, 90 min boil, ferment at room temp. Also, no aeration prior to pitching as I believe both of these cultures contain lactobacillus.

Water Profile:
Nothing fancy here. I filled my HLT with 2 gallons of distilled water and 8 gallons of carbon filtered tap water. Since this is a 10 gallon batch, the HLT was re ftfilled with the same radio after mash-in.

Brewing Notes
No real issues. It seemed like I was starting to get a stuck mash about 10 minutes in. I ended up adding a bunch of rice hulls and resetting the bed.

Update 4/17/2018
The Brett Barrel III half had about an inch off krausen yesterday morning and more last night. The Casey half had a tiny bit of foam here and there when I went to bed last night. It has a little more around the edges this morning, so it seems to be slowly getting going.

Update #2 4/17/2018
The Casey half was rolling after I got home and Brett Barrel III seems to be slowing down a bit now. I'm going to move both out of the basement and into a warmer area of the house for the remainder of primary.

Update 4/18/2018
The Casey half has really taken off and looks like it was close to needing a blowout last night despite the fact that it had quite a bit of head space.


MicroBurst DIPA, 2018

>> Saturday, February 24, 2018

Today I'm brewing the last of my NHC entry beers. This one is a variant of the Galaxy MicroBurst DIPA that I brewed a while back. Here's the recipe as I'm brewing it today.

6.0# 11oz California Select Malt
4.0# 5oz Avangard German Pale Malt
1.5# Simpsons Golden Promise
1.0oz Carafa III Special (Sparge, for color)
1.0# 3oz Corn sugar (10 min)
28g Magnum (FWH)
14g Galaxy (15 min)
14g Mosaic (15 min)
Yeast nutrient
2.5ml Simcoe hop extract (1 min)
2.5ml Mosaic hop extract (1 min)
1.0oz Mosaic CryoHops (Whirlpool)
1.0oz Ekuanot CryoHops (Whirlpool)
168g Blend of Mosaic, Galaxy, Cascade (dry hop)

Mash at 149.5F, 90 minute boil, ferment at 64F

To 11 gallons of distilled water.
17.6g Gypsum (CASO4)
7.7g Epsom salt (MgSO4)
2.2g Canning salt (NaCl)
1.1g  Calcium Chloride (CaCl2)

Brewing Notes
No issues.  OG came in at 21.2 (1.086). I didn't start my yeast starter as early as I'd hoped, so it still had a lot of yeast in suspension when I transferred from BK to fermenter. I decided to let it rest a few more hours then decanted and pitched the following morning.

Update 3/11/2018
Dry hops were added today.

Update 4/15/2018
Although it didn't move on to the final round, this beer scored well in NHC-Denver. It scored a 41 and the only real critical comment was one of the judges wanted more hop aroma. I agree, the hop aroma was pretty solid at bottling but had dropped quite a bit within 24-48 hours. It tended to come out more as the beer warmed. Hop flavor was pretty stable and it had a nice combination of pine and citrus. 


My Milk Stout Brings All The Boys To The Yard

>> Sunday, February 11, 2018

Today I'm brewing my Golden Milk Stout again. I'm going to give this one a try as an NHC entry and see how it does. This beer is pretty popular with friends and just about anyone that's had a chance to try it. It's taken bronze the past two years for the Spice, Herb, Vegetable category at Beehive Brew-off. I'm a little concerned how it will do at NHC because it is on the sweet side, even for a sweet stout. There's only one way to find out though!

A couple slight changes this batch, I'm using floor-malted Crisp Maris Otter and dropping the lactose to 0.75 pounds. I'm also reducing the mash temps ever so slightly to 153F. I haven't decided on the coffee toddy yet, but my wife bought me a manual coffee roaster for Christmas, so I might try roasting my own beans for this batch. Here's the recipe as I'm brewing it today:

8.75# Crisp Floor-malted Maris Otter
1.00# Flaked Oats
1.00# Gambrinus Honey Malt
0.75 # Lactose (10 min)
12g Magnum (60 min)
14g EKG (10 min)
28g EKG (0 min)
Wyeast Yeast Nutrient
0.5 Whirlfloc
Coffee Toddy (at kegging)
The Bomb Tincture (at kegging)
WLP001 - Cali Ale

Mash at 153F for 80 minutes, 90 minute boil, ferment at 60F, raising temps to 65F over the course of a week.

Water - Nothing too fancy, 9 gallons carbon-filtered tap water + 2.5 gallons RO water went into the HLT.

Brewing Notes
No issues. OG came in at 1.068 (16.9P). I recently treated myself to a 7 gallon SS Brewtech Brew Bucket and this is the first batch going in the bucket. It's definitely not as heavy duty as my Morebeer conical, but it seems to be engineered really well. 


Jockey Box 2.0

>> Saturday, February 03, 2018

About two years ago I posted about my first jockey box build using a vintage Coleman Steel-Belted cooler. I really dig it, it works awesome, and it has so much more character than plastic cooler-based jockey boxes.

Earlier this year, I stumbled across some brand new Steel-Belted Coleman coolers on clearance at Sam's Club. I figured maybe I could resell them on ebay and/or locally and make a few bucks. I had lots of interest in them, but unfortunately nobody actually showed up to buy them. My original build used a Coleman cooler from the early 70's, and much like the cars of the day, it has straighter, more angular lines. The shape of the new coolers is closer to that of the vintage Coleman coolers from the 50's, nice rounded lines. The paintjob is somewhere between matte and satin black with a slight orange peel texture. Combined with the stainless steel trim and the addition of some shiny faucets, I began to realize it would be a cool candidate for a jockey box build.

It got me to thinking...I have some spare parts laying around from previous kegerator and jockey box builds...maybe I should build another jockey box. It wasn't long before I stumbled across a really good deal on another 7-circuit cold plate and I decided to move forward.

Construction on this box is similar to the original with a few minor changes/improvements. 

  1. Like the original, three lines make a double pass through the cold plate, and the fourth makes a single pass. 
  2. Instead of having all liquid supply lines on one side of the cooler, I have two on each side. That's not a huge change, but it should make arranging kegs a little easier.
  3. The biggest change between this one and the first one is I added plastic inserts for the liquid line bulkheads. I fabricated these out of Airborne Immune Support vials. These make it so I can really snug down the bulkheads for a secure fit. They're caulked which should help keep any moisture from entering the space between the outer metal skin and the inner plastic lining of the they give it a nice clean look. I'm probably going to go back and retrofit the original jockey box with similar fittings.
  4. Lastly, I changed the design of the cold plate stand slightly. This version has extensions that center the stand in the middle of the cooler and keep the cold plate from sliding around during transport.

Tips, Tricks, and Comments

This is a fairly simple project, but you'll definitely need some tools. Measure carefully before doing any cutting/drilling. Masking tape, a Sharpie, a tape measure, and an adjustable combination square can be helpful when laying out your design. I tend to drill small pilot holes first, protecting the metal skin with masking tape. The tape keeps the drill bit from slipping and protects the paint. Drill the pilot hole all the way through the metal skin and the inner plastic liner. I use my Harbor Freight step bits (you can probably buy almost all your tools at Harbor Freight for this job) to open up the holes in the metal skin. This includes for the stainless bulkheads on the liquid lines, and the initial drilling for the tap holes. I use hole-saws to cut the inner plastic lining of the cooler. Run hole-saws in reverse (counter-clockwise) so that the teeth don't grab and gouge the plastic. The final hole for the taps is done using a 7/8" Greenlee chassis punch. The order for drilling should be:
  1. Drill pilot hole.
  2. Enlarge the pilot holes using a drill bit the same size as the bit in your hole-saw.
  3. Align hole-saw bit to your pilot holes and cut appropriate sized hole in plastic liner. DO NOT cut through the metal skin with your hole-saw. Remember to run drill in reverse when using hole-saw on plastic.
  4. Use step bit to open up the holes in metal skin. Holes should be big enough for bulkhead to fit through on the liquid line holes, and big enough for the punch's bolt on the tap shank holes.
I used a little bit of epoxy appliance paint to touch up the bare metal around the holes. This will help reduce the risk or rusting.

Below are some pictures and a parts list. I've included prices where applicable to show that you can build these fairly affordably if you shop around and aren't in a huge rush. I say "fairly affordably" because...well, these things aren't cheap. A lot of the expense is in the stainless fittings and they can add up quickly. Plated fittings and faucets are much cheaper, but they're still not cheap. I'm the type that prefers to buy once and spend a little more money up front than have to replace parts later. That said, I got a pretty good deal on some chrome faucets so I skipped the stainless versions there. My total price was right about $250. Compare that to some of these pre-built examples and you can see that they can be quite a bit cheaper to build yourself.

Pre-built Examples

Parts List

Qty - Desc - Price - Supplier
  • 1 - New vintage-style Coleman cooler - $42 - Sam's Club
  • 1 - Used 7-circuit cold plate - $52 ($37+$15 for shipping) -ebay
  • 3 - 3" stainless steel beer shanks (needed four, had a spare) - $32.85 - ebay
  • 4 - 1/4" Stainless steel bulkheads - $10.28 - Installation Parts Supply
  • 8 - 1/4" x 5/16" barb x flare fittings (some were missing from the cold plate) - $13.28 - - Installation Parts Supply
  • 14 - 5/16" gaskets for cold plate - $1.40 - Installation Parts Supply 
  • 4 - 1/4" Stainless shank tailpiece - $5.80 - Installation Parts Supply
  • 4 - Neoprene tailpiece washers - $0.52 - Installation Parts Supply
  • 4 - Tailpiece wingnuts - $0.00 - unknown, spare parts
  • 4 - Liquid ball-lock disconnects - $27.96 - Salt City Brew Supply
  • 7 - 1/4 flare swivel nuts (needed 8, had a spare)- $13.93 - Salt City Brew Supply
  • 4 - Standard chrome faucets - $20 - local classifieds
  • 4 - Stainless tap handles - $32 - eBay
  • Misc parts - ~$20.00
  • Misc shipping - $9.71
Liquid line bulkhead, exterior

Liquid line bulkhead, interior


Another shot of the Airborn fitting

Bulkheads for taps 3 and 4

Four taps, waiting for something to pour


Doppelbock 2017

>> Friday, January 05, 2018

Today I'm brewing a style that I've never brewed before, a Doppelbock. I don't know why it's taken me so long to get around to brewing this's just kind of a casualty of my tendency to brew ales more frequently than lagers. The 2015 BJCP guidelines describe this style as follows:

Overall Impression: A strong, rich, and very malty German lager that can have both pale and dark variants. The darker versions have more richly-developed, deeper malt flavors, while the paler versions have slightly more hops and dryness.

Comments: Most versions are dark colored and may display the caramelizing and Maillard products of decoction mashing, but excellent pale versions also exist. The pale versions will not have the same richness and darker malt flavors of the dark versions, and may be a bit drier, hoppier and more bitter. While most traditional examples are in the lower end of the ranges cited, the style can be considered to have no upper limit for gravity, alcohol and bitterness (thus providing a home for very strong lagers).
Since this is my first time brewing the style, I'm going with a recipe based on Jamil Zainasheff's recipe from Brewing Classic Styles. I'm brewing this beer as a 2.5 gallon batch rather than 5 gallons...just in case things don't turn out well.

Some key points to remember, because of the colder temps and therefore more challenging fermentation environment, lagers require big healthy pitches. Doppelbocks are big high gravity beers as well, so a large pitch of healthy yeast is extra important. For this beer I went with two smack packs of Wyeast 2206 Bavarian Lager yeast in a 1.6L starter on a stir plate.

Here's the recipe as I'm brewing it today.

7.0# Avangard Munich Malt Light (8L)
2.0# Weyermann® Floor-Malted Bohemian Pilsner
1.0# Weyermann® CARAMUNICH® Type 3
20g Hallertauer (60 min)
4.1g Hallertauer (30 min)
Wyeast 2206 Bavarian Lager
Wyeast nutrient

Water - To 7 gallons of distilled water
1.2g - Epson salt
3.2g - Baking soda
7.1g - Chalk
Note: I don't use the full 7 gallons of brewing water, but I need to maintain a certain level so that my heating elements aren't exposed.

Mash - As is somewhat typical for the style, I'm going with a decoction mash. This does add some complexity to the process, but it's not too bad and it goes a bit quicker with small batches.
  1. Mash in for an initial rest at 125F for 10 minutes.
  2. Pull about 25% of the mash for the first decoction. The decoction should be thick; try to leave most of the mash liquor behind. Raise decoction to 155F and hold for 15 minutes, then increase to a boil and hold for 15 minutes before returning decoction to mash.
  3. Maintain mash at 155F for 45 minutes.
  4. Pull second decoction (25%) and bring to a boil for 15 minutes before returning to mash.
  5. Maintain mash to 168F for 10 minutes, then proceed with sparge.
Boil - 90 minute boil.

Fermentation - Chill to 47F and pitch yeast.
  1. Ramp temperatures up to 50F over 3 days.
  2. On day 9, start raising temps for diacetyl rest at 62F for 3 days.
  3. Gradually drop temps to 40F over 7 days.
  4. Condition at lager temps for 2-4 months.
Brewing Notes
Friday, after-work brew sessions are always fun and go a little later than I hope, but thankfully no issues. The color on this beer is a gorgeous deep copper. OG on this came in at a whopping 1.099.

Update 1/6/2017
I was able to chill the wort down into the high 50's by whirling and using my immersion chiller. I left it in the ferm chamber overnight to get down to 47F. I aerated the wort then pitched my starter this morning and this evening I'm seeing positive pressure in the airlock and hints of krausen in the fermenter, so things seem to be off to a good start.

Update 4/15/2018
For the most part, I really like how this beer turned out. The one flaw is the gravity finished too high. I wouldn't call it cloying, but there's definitely some sweetness there and I noticed it before I even sent it off for judging. I'm pretty sure this is tied more to the decoction than issues with yeast health/pitch size. I'll definitely brew this one again and try to dial things in a bit.

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