Patersbier 2013

>> Saturday, August 24, 2013

Today I'm brewing a Patersbier, a Trappist style beer from the Belgian town of Malle. This style is a session ale brewed exclusively for the Cistercian monks...the Brothers' daily beer if you will.

A friend of mine brewed an extract version of this beer and won bronze in the Beehive Brew-off this year. It was very reminded me a lot of a Saison, but very sessionable and with a lower ester profile. I'm going to keep a bottle, but most of this batch is going to celebrate some friends' wedding reception.

My recipe is based on the one from Northern Brewer but I did make a couple small changes. I added a little bit of Maris Otter for some additional complexity, and as usual I adjusted the recipe to account for my typical efficiency.

7.0 # Dingemans Belgian Pilsner
13 oz Crisp Maris Otter
28g (1.0 oz) German Traditional (60 min)
14g (0.5 oz) Saaz (60 min)
14g (0.5 oz) Saaz (10 min)
1/2 Whirlfloc tablet
1/2t Wyeast Yeast Nutrient
Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity in 1L starter

Single infusion mash at 147F for 60 minutes. 90 minute boil. Start out fermentation at 64F and ramp it up a degree per day to 74F.

Brewing Notes
No issues during this brew session. I noticed the gravity starting to drop after running off about 5.75 gallons. This is when tannin extraction can occur, so I cut the sparge and topped off with a gallon of water from the HLT. My Beersmith pre-boil gravity estimate was 1.034 and I came in at 1.036 after topping off to 6.75 gallons.

Update 9/8/2013
This one is progressing along nicely. The 3787 yeast flocculates very well, so the brew has some great clarity even though there's some residual krausen on top. I'm going to transfer this to a keg later this week for conditioning, then I hope to bottle it by the end of the month.


Eldon James Tubing Review

>> Monday, August 12, 2013

So today I'm doing a quick little write-up about tubing/hoses.  I was recently contacted by a representative at Eldon James Corporation (EJ) and was asked if I'd like to try out some of their high temp tubing.  This tubing has been used for years in the medical field and they recently realized it has homebrew applications as well.  I am a bit of a gadget and equipment geek, so I jumped at the chance to try it out during my most recent brew session.

First up, a little bit about my experience with different tubing.  When I first started brewing, I used basic high temp PVC tubing available at my local brew shop.  If I remember correctly, I believe it was rated for liquids up to 220F.  It worked ok but it would get cloudy after repeated use and had a tendency to deform over time.  It seemed like I'd end up replacing it a couple times a year.  A few years ago I switched to silicone tubing and I love it.  Silicone is a bit more expensive than vinyl tubing, but it's food-safe, doesn't impart any off-flavors and it lasts a long time as long as you don't abuse it. 

I use 1/2" thick-walled (1/8") silicone tubing to connect the various vessels on my HERMS system, and 3/8" thick-walled for racking from fermenter to keg, fermenter to bottling bucket, etc.  I like that it is capable of handling 400+F temperatures because it allows me to boil the hose to ensure it's as sanitary as possible.  With this method, I've even used the same silicone tube to transfer both sour and non-sour beers without any cross-contamination/infection issues.  My only complaint with silicone is it is somewhat soft and very pliable...this can be a pro as well as a con.  On the upside, it easily slips over hose barbs and bottling wands.  On the downside if you don't have your hoses routed well, silicone tubing can have a tendency to kink.

Depending on where I'm at in the brewing process, I use three or four hoses on my system.  I went ahead and swapped out one of the silicone hoses for the five foot sample of EJ's 1/2" Flexelene 135C tubing.  It's rated for temps up to 275F, so it's more than adequate for brewing.  It's also PVC-free, so it shouldn't impart any off-flavors.  

The first thing I noticed is EJ's tubing feels very similar to silicone; texture-wise, it definitely feels closer to silicone than the more plastic-like PVC tubing I used to use way back when.  Like silicone, it has a 1/8" wall thickness.  The most noticeable difference between the two is the EJ tubing seems much more rigid than silicone.  Rigid might not even be the right term because it's still flexible, but it seems more structurally sound in its flexibility and  seems that it would be much less likely to kink under the same conditions.  Like silicone, the EJ tubing slipped right over the 1/2" barbs on my Type C cam lock fittings.  Like with the silicone tubing, I used a simple zip tie to secure the cam lock fitting on the hose.  I was worried the EJ tubing might leak since it is not quite as soft, but even when running my March 809 pump with the output valve at full blast there were no signs of leaks. 

Appearance-wise the EJ tubing looks very similar to silicone.  It could be that my silicone tubing is a few years old (and has some staining from Iodophor) but the EJ tubing is noticeably clearer and more translucent.  It's never been much of a concern for me, but sometimes it can be harder to see lighter colored beers through the wall of the silicone tubing.  The EJ tubing is very clear in comparison, so even light American lagers can be seen through the wall of the tubing.

Deflection comparison between silicone (front) and EJ (back)
Performance-wise the EJ tubing worked great with no notable differences compared to silicone.  It basically performed as you'd expect a hose to perform.  When connecting/disconnecting hoses, you can feel the difference in the EJ tubing.  Visually you can see that it has a tendency to fall in a more gentle arc compared to silicone tubing.  It's still flexible enough that it can be easily routed around various brewing equipment and anything else that might be in the way on your brew stand.

Overall I'd say I was impressed with EJ's tubing.  Judging by the appearance and texture, I would have guessed that it was slightly more rigid, slightly more translucent form of silicone tubing.  If you currently use silicone and haven't had kinking issues, I don't see any reason to switch to the EJ tubing.  However, if you have a setup that is prone to kinking, I think it's definitely worth giving it a try.  I am interested to see how the EJ tubing performs long-term compared to silicone, so I plan to continue to use it on my setup.  I'll report back with any issues/differences I come across.  In the meantime, below are a few more pics.

Nice gentle arc off the mash tun

Installed on cam locks

EJ tubing (top) and silicone (bottom)
Update 11/29/2013
I've had a chance to use this tubing on quite a few batches now. The only complaint I have is it has a tendency to leak after a few batches. It's not horrible, but it would benefit from something more secure than zip ties. On the upside, it's maintaining its rigidity. 


New Albion Ale

>> Sunday, August 11, 2013

Today I'm brewing a clone of New Albion Ale. New Albion Brewing Co. was founded in 1976 by Jack McAuliffe and is considered the first microbrewery of the modern era in the United States. New Albion was one of the first breweries to use Cascade hops...pretty much because that's all Jack could get a hold of and nobody else wanted them at the time. Sam Adams recently brewed and bottled a batch under Jack's supervision to honor him and his pioneering spirit in the world of craft beer.

We don't get many special releases from Sam Adams in Utah, so I figured my chances of finding this beer was pretty slim. Fortunately White Labs released the same yeast that Jack used for his beer and the recipe is readily available. This beer is what's known as a SMaSH beer, Single Malt and Single Hops, so the recipe is fairly simple. The result should be a flavorful session pale ale. I've adjusted the malt bill for my brewhouse efficiency (around 84%). Here's the recipe as I'm making it:

9# 3oz Briess Pale Malt
17g (.6oz) Cascade (60 min)
17g (.6oz) Cascade (30 min)
17g (.6oz) Cascade (15 min)
Whirlfloc (5 min)
.5t Yeast Nutrient
WLP076 Old Sonoma Ale Yeast in 1L starter

Mash at 148F. Ferment at 66F and let it rise to 68F.
Target OG = 1.055, FG = 1.011

Brewing Notes
Brew session went well. The only issue is I was updating my brew club's website and got distracted during the sparge so I ran off a little more than I'd intended. Efficiency still came in a hair over 83%, but I missed my target OG of 1.055 (came in at 1.049). As long as I didn't extract any tannins from the extended sparge, it should still be a tasty beer. 

Update 8/12/2013
Not brewing for a couple months had me out of practice. I ran the wort through the chiller a little too quick and only got it down to 80F. I left it in the ferm chamber overnight and pitched the yeast this morning after the temp had dropped to 66F.

Update 9/8/2013
I kegged this one today. It came in around 5.3%. Also treated it with some gelatin for additional clarity.


New Keezer Finished!

>> Monday, August 05, 2013

I haven't brewed for what seems like months, but I have a good excuse...I've been working on my new keezer. For anyone unfamiliar with the term, a keezer is a freezer-based draft beer setup (typically chest freezer); like a kegerator is a refrigerator-based draft beer setup.

There are lots of different keezer examples out there but they tend to fall into two primary styles:
  1. Collar-mounted taps - A collar of some sort is sandwiched between the freezer lid and freezer body. Holes are drilled for mounting the taps through the collar and a drip tray is attached to the front of the keezer.
  2. Tower/Coffin mounted taps - Collars are sometimes but not always used in this kind of setup; it usually depends on how much clearance is needed inside the keezer. The original lid may be used but oftentimes a new lid is fabricated. A tower/coffin is mounted to the lid and the taps are mounted in the tower/coffin.
I went with the tower/coffin style setup and I'm using a collar so that I have enough clearance to fit two kegs on the hump and eventually upgrade from three to five taps. I didn't document things step by step, but here's some basic info.

Most of the wood is 3/4" poplar. The backsplash and top use 1/2" plywood with 1/4" cement backerboard set in thinset and then fastened to the plywood with screws. The cement backerboard should provide a stable substructure for the tile. The tile is glass mosaic and will hopefully be easy to clean if there are any spills.

The coffin and top were assembled with an assortment of biscuit joints, pocket screws, and wood glue...I think I could park my truck on it and it wouldn't break. I also made a dado cut on the lid trim pieces.  These fit snugly over the edge of the plywood lid and should help prevent sagging/warping with the lid. Also mounted on the lid is a 4" x 19" stainless drip tray from Update International (part # DTS-419). It's not quite as nice or heavy duty as my old wall-mount drip tray, but it's good enough.

I welded a very basic cart so the keezer can be easily moved when needed. It's constructed of 14 gauge 1"x2" rectangular steel tubing and 1.5" square steel tubing. I haven't done it yet, but my plan is to attach the keezer to the cart by sheetmetal screws that screw into the "feet" of the freezer.

Inside the keezer is a gas manifold, a tower blower/cooler, and the temp probe is immersed in a re-purposed White Labs vial filled with water. 

The gas manifold is made from a mix of brass fittings courtesy of Harbor Freight and Lowes. As with the previous kegerator, I chose to have the CO2 tank outside the keezer. The reason for this is it seems to work better on the outside (more consistent PSI) and I needed the extra room if I ever manage to upgrade to five taps. 

The tower blower/cooler helps recirc the air which helps avoid temperature stratification inside the freezer (thus helping to eliminate foamy pours from a warm tower/coffin). The cooler/blower design is based on this one. I might add a switch later on, but right now the blower is powered on whenever the freezer is plugged in. 

The temperature controller is a Willhi WH7016C controller which is similar to the STC-1000 controller that a lot of homebrewers are aware of ("eBay temp controller"). The main difference is it's a single stage controller rather than dual stage (heating or cooling rather than heating and cooling). It also displays the temp in Fahrenheit rather than Celsius which is nice for those of us in the US. I made a mounting panel out of some scrap sheetmetal I had and attached it to where the original thermostat was mounted. This controller includes a 30 amp relay, more than enough to handle the five amp draw of the freezer. I also added an 80mm fan that blows on the freezer compressor whenever the freezer kicks on; maybe not necessary but it was cheap and it might help extend the life of the compressor.

The faucets are VentMatics which were on my original kegerator. Shanks vary in length from 3" to 5", some with the integrated nipple and some with a detachable tail piece. These are also from the old kegerator but I can't remember why I didn't buy all 3" ones.

Here are a few random pictures of the keezer. through various stages of the build. Hopefully these will help illustrate how I put things together and may help inspire others that are considering tackling a project like this. This was a fun project, but I'm really looking forward to brewing another batch. On deck is a New Albion clone.

After initial assembly
Operational and waiting for tile
Five kegs, blower hose (middle) and gas manifold (right)
Dry fitting the tile
Bottle opener for...well, bottles
Temp controller replaced original thermostat


My 2013 Beehive Brew-Off Results

This past weekend was the 5th Annual Beehive Brew-off. I volunteered to judge both days this year and had a chance to try some fantastic beers. I also got to meet and talk with homebrew celebrities James Spencer and Steve Wilkes of Basic Brewing Radio.

Judging this comp was a great experience. On Saturday I got to judge category 15 German Wheat and Rye Beers and category 21 Spice/Herb/Vegetable Beers. On Sunday I judged category 22 Smoke-Flavored and Wood-Aged Beers. One tip I have for anyone entering categories that cross traditional styles 21, 22, 23 (Specialty Beer), etc. is to provide as much detail about your beer as possible. For example, I'd recommend always specifying the base beer in addition to details about process/ingredients that made you enter a beer in one of these categories. I've been guilty of this too, but don't put it on the judges to try to figure out where you were trying to go with a beer. Also, if you call out a certain ingredient, make sure it's identifiable in the finished beer. For example, if you were entering a Pineapple Saison in the Fruit Beer category but there isn't any hint of pineapple in the aroma or flavor, you might want to consider a different category.

I had five entries this year. Based on my personal preferences, I ranked my entries from strongest to weakest as follows:
  1. Berliner Weiss (17A)
  2. Flanders Red (17B)
  3. Tie between Brett Saison (16E) and Belgian Red (20A)
  4. Saison 2013 (16C) 
Only one entry placed, but the rest received fairly good scores and had pretty good comments. Here are the judges' scores in red, an overview of the judges' comments in grey, followed by my comments in blue.

Scoring Guide
Outstanding - (45 - 50) - World-class example of style.
Excellent - (38 - 44) - Exemplifies style well, requires minor fine-tuning.
Very Good - (30 - 37) - Generally within style parameters, some minor flaws.
Good - (21 - 29) - Misses the mark on style and/or minor flaws.
Fair - (14 - 20) - Off flavors, aromas or major style deficiencies. Unpleasant.
Problematic - (0 - 13) - Major off flavors and aromas dominate. Hard to drink.
  • Berliner Weisse 2013 - 35, 34, 36; Judge A - <every other word is illegible>. Judge B - Nice dry sour. Perhaps slightly a bit too sour that slightly covers up the wheaty breadiness. Judge C - Quite nice. The sourness is near high threshold. Nice natural fruitiness. Watch the sourness. It's near lambic territory. Not bad comments. This beer is very acidic, but that's what I was shooting for. In my opinion, it's a very different sourness than a lambic. We all have our own preferences, but I don't plan on changing much on this one.
  • Flanders Red #1 - 31, 30, 33; Judge A - Malt and fruitiness seem lacking. Sourness dominates palate. Could be better balanced. Judge B - Sourness overpowers everything else. Hard to taste malty richness but some evidence exists. Judge C - Fruity/sour/barnyard. Nice example of style. Improvement on head/increasing non-fermentables maybe. I agree this one is very sour and the malt character is a bit low. However, as to fruitiness, this beer screams pie cherries. I really like this beer, but I also really like bold flavors in food and beer. From a competition perspective, this beer would probably do better if it was blended with a younger less sour version. Also, this one is under-carbonated. In the mouthfeel section, the judges commented that it had medium carbonation. Honestly, I'd be surprised if there was more than 1.0 volume CO2, so I'm surprised they didn't catch that.
  • Saison 2013 - 32, 29; Judge A - Very tasty beer. Would have another. Maybe clean up astringent issues and age on yeast longer. Judge B - While some sourness is appropriate, the sourness here tends to slightly dominate more phenolic flavors. I thought this was a good saison, but it wasn't a standout. So going in I wasn't expecting it to do all that great. I think it's kind of funny that the one judge recommended aging on the yeast longer. This one spent a lot more time on the yeast than I'd planned. 
  • Belgian Red -35, 32Judge A - This is a drinkable beer. I would like a little more cherry. Carbonation might be a little high but ok for style. Judge B - Nice drinkable beer. True to style. This beer ended up winning the gold medal in the Fruit Beer category. I thought it was a great beer, but honestly I thought my Berliner Weisse was a stronger entry. I agree, it's very drinkable and the tartness from the cherries makes it very refreshing. This is my first win in a comp other than club-only comps, so I'm pretty excited about it. I was torn on which category to enter this in and at the last minute I switched it to Fruit Beer. 
  • Brett Brux Trois Saison - 38, 37, 36; Judge A - This is a very good drinkable beer. Overall balanced. Loved this beer. Judge B - Good drinkable beer. High in carbonation. Judge C - Dry, light, "champagne" beer with some Belgian character. I was pleased with the scores on this one but a little bummed it didn't place. A few of my brew club buddies have absolutely fallen in love with this beer. It's developed some great brett character over the past year. My only knock against it is some of the peppery/spicy notes have mellowed with time, so in one sense it's lost some complexity, but in another it's added complexity with the brett character. It's one of my favs and I'll definitely be making this one again.