Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Pumpkin Beer 2014

It has been an unusually long and warm fall in Colorado. The leaves are slowly falling from the trees, the temperature is still in the high 70s, and it is the perfect time of the year to brew a pumpkin beer. If everything goes as planned I should have carbonated bottles by the time Thanksgiving is here to share with family and friends.

I have been using a similar recipe for several years now, about 90% pale malt and 10% 20L caramel malt. This gives the beer a nice orange color. I also add 3 pounds of pumpkin for a 5 pound batch to the mash. In the past I have always toasted the pumpkin in the oven before adding it to caramelize it. For spice I add 1/2 tsp of pumpkin pie spice per gallon of wort 5 minutes before the end of boil. This level of spicing is slightly less than I would like so I add some vanilla and additional spices right before bottling.

This year I decided I wanted to mix things up a bit and deviated from past years. I happened to have some molasses on hand and wanted to experiment with adding some to the boil for both color and flavor. I also had some fresh cascade hops picked by a friend that I hope will make a nice addition to the beer.

The recipe that I settled on looked like this.

3 gallons
6 pounds Pale 2 Row
1/3 pound special "B"
1 pound molasses
2 pounds toasted pumpkin

1 oz Fuggles at 60 minutes
1 oz home grown Cascade at 15 minutes
1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice at 5 minutes

1 vial of Inland Island Oregon IPA Yeast

I mashed the pumpkin with all of the grain at 148 F for an hour with a batch sparge for 20 minutes at 175 F. The molasses was added at the start of boil.

Update 10/27/2014
12 hours in fermentation is raging, yeast took right off.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Baby's Barleywine Ale


My wife and I recently welcomed a new addition to our family, a beautiful little girl. In celebration of her birth I brewed a Barleywine to share with friends and family and a few extra to age for when she is older. I based the beer on a past recipe "Barley Wine 2012" which turned out fantastic. It was so good in fact that the bottles I intended to age ended up in my belly before the year was out. Using this recipe as a guideline I decided to up the roast, toffee, and chocolate and dial back on the hops to make it more of an English Style Barleywine. I also wanted to test out a yeast blend that I had acquired to the Brewing Science Institute labeled BSI-85. The blend includes a variety of English ale strains to create a diverse ester profile and California Ale Yeast to make sure that the fermentation does not stall out.

This is the recipe that I settled on:

Grain Bill:
71% Maris Otter
11.5 % Malted Wheat
7% Caramel 60
7% Caramel 80
3.5% Special "B"

90 minutes  Magnum 32 IBU
30 minutes Magnum 21 IBU
5 minutes Challenger 5.5 IBU

I mashed at 148 F for an hour to create a highly digestible wort
Starting Gravity 1.088
Final Gravity 1.020
ABV ~10%

Pitched BSI-85
Primary Fermentation 2 weeks
Seconday 3 months at 65 F
Aged 3 months at 50 F
Bottled with table sugar and fresh yeast

Tasting Notes:
Beer turned out great, carbonation is subtle which really lets all the flavors come through the beer as well as the body. Sweet and warming, well balanced at the finish. The roast really comes through as does the caramel, toffee, and chocolate.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Rocky Mountain Microbrewing Sympossium 2014

It is that time of year again!

For the past 4 years I have been lucky enough to attend the Rocky Mountain Microbrewing Sympossium. It is a get together for any brewers in the Rocky Mountain region and the day is spent listening to presentations from leaders in the industry, drinking beer, and net working.

This year presentations were given about malting, setting up a sensory analysis program, marketing, Crafting A Nation, brewing lager beer, and hop utilization. I thought I would share a couple of the tips I picked up this year from two of the presentations.

1) Brewing Lager Beer: The Slow and Expensive Way -Ashleigh Carter

  • Ashleigh is an experienced brewer who has worked at both Dry Dock and Prost. She travels regularly to Germany and knows more about German beer than almost anyone I know. Her talk focused on brewing Lager beer in a traditional fashion. She recommended a few things...
    • All Lager beer can be made with 5 malts and 2 hops, but for any one beer in the style you should only be using 3 malts and 1 hop at most.
    • pH is very, very important, and here are her recommendations. Mash (5.2-5.5), Begin Boil (5.2-5.5), End Boil (5.0-5.2), End Fermentation (4.2-4.4)
    • A thinner mash is better (in particular for decocting), she recommended 4:1 to 5:1 liters:kilograms
    • Mash long and low (temp 145-148)
    • Boil no less than 90 minutes (Colorado Altitude)
    • Knockout cold
    • If you need to make a water adjustment add CaCl2 at 50-100 ppm
2) A Look at Hop Utilization - Jeff Nickel, Jason Mehberg, Jason zumBrunnen

  • I have gotten to hear several talks from the folks at AC Golden in the past. They always do a great job of presenting data to back up what they are saying. They also have all the cool toys to analyze their beer and the opportunity to play around with recipes and ingredients. The topic this year was hop utilization and how perceived bitterness relates to measured IBUs.
    • The rule that we have all been taught is that you have to boil hops in order to isomerize the Alpha Acids and add any bitterness to your beer. The guys from AC Golden blew that out of the water with their presentation. They tested different conditions and how they effected IBUs measured by HPLC or Spectophotometery. According to their results IBUs were increased in the whirl pool, mash hopping, and first wort hopping. All times when hops should not have been able to isomerize. This shakes the very foundation of hopping!
    • The second half of the presentation looks at increasing IBUs in homebrews that were dry hopped. They tested three sets of homebrewed beer before and after dry hopping. Each time the IAA (Isomerized Alpha Acids) increased, some by 25%, just through dry hopping. The data is still preliminary but I am going to follow up with Jason when he has all the results in.
Yet another great year at RMMS drinking beer with the people who brewed it and learning about new developments in the state of craft beer!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Solera: Perpetuum


Two years ago a couple of my friends and I raised money on kick starter to brew beer, buy barrels, and age sour beer. Last summer we had two release parties and had a great experience sharing our creations with fellow beer enthusiasts. Although the group that was responsible for the project have all moved on, some of that beer is still left in the form of a Solera. For the first time I will be pulling from the Solera and adding back fresh wort. Before I get to that let me tell you a little bit about what a Solera is and how this particular one came about.

From Wikipedia:

"In the solera process, a succession of containers are filled with the product over a series of equal aging intervals (usually a year). One container is filled for each interval. At the end of the interval after the last container is filled, the oldest container in thesolera is tapped for part of its content, which is bottled. Then that container is refilled from the next oldest container, and that one in succession from the second-oldest, down to the youngest container, which is refilled with new product. This procedure is repeated at the end of each aging interval. The transferred product mixes with the older product in the next barrel.

No container is ever drained, so some of the earlier product always remains in each container. This remnant diminishes to a tiny level, but there can be significant traces of product much older than the average, depending on the transfer fraction. In theory traces of the very first product placed in the solera may be present even after 50 or 100 cycles."

As you can see the concept is pretty basic, you take a portion of the old beer out and make up the difference with new beer. In this case I only have a single barrel that is being aged. The barrel came about when the Wild Brewing team was bottling 90 gallons of beer. We came down to the last 5 gallons in the first two barrels and decided to put them into carboys so that they would settle out (the yeast cake was kicked up in trying to get out all the beer). When we came to the final barrel we found out we did not have enough bottles and had to leave 15 gallons of beer in the barrel. I was uncomfortable leaving the barrel half empty and so we topped it off with the 5 gallons from the other two barrels and 5 gallons of fresh beer. That brought the barrel back up to 30 gallons with a mixture of 15 gallons of Cherry Saison, 5 gallons of Flanders Red, 5 gallons of a Pale Sour, and 5 gallons of something resembling an all Brett Wit. Since that time the barrel has been topped up with extra wort from several batches of beer, mostly sour or all Brett beers. At this point it has an impressive amount of microflora both from batches of beer, the original inoculum, and several sets of bottle dregs. Here is a list of just the microbes added through beer additions.

  1. Yeast
    • French Saison (3711), Chimay, Farmhouse (3726), Saison (3724), Cherry Yeast, Scottish Ale Yeast 
  2. Brett
    • Drei, Crooked Stave (CMY-001), B. clausenii, B. bruxellensis, B. lambicus
  3. Bacteria
    • L. brevis, L. delbrueckii, Pediococcus
A couple of weekends ago I decided it may be best to move the beer into a new barrel that did not have cherry pits and a bunch of autolysing yeast in the bottom. I used a barrel that had been cleaned and moved all of the original Solera beer into the clean barrel along with 5 gallons of new beer (a highly hopped Scottish ale). This should give the bugs something to survive on and get the beer off any dying yeast.

I tasted the solera beer at the time I was moving it and it was very tasty! A nice round sourness and a whole lot of fruit in the nose. It was a light red color which I hope to darken up by adding darker beers in the future. In about 6 months I will take out 5 gallons and bottle it and freshen the barrel with new beer.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Yeast Cell Counting and Viabilty: Hemocytometer

Cell counting is one of the most important skills for a brewer. It allows a brewer to be able to pitch the correct number of cells into their wort. It also ensures that the cells are healthy and ready to make beer.

The most basic way for a brewer to count cells is to use a hemocytometer. This is a tool that was developed in the 1800's for counting blood cells. It just so happens that blood cells and yeast cells are about the same size. For this reason a hemocytometer can also be used for counting yeast cells.

The hemocytometer itself is a rather ingenious invention. It is simply a grid on a slide that holds a known volume of liquid. The volume inside of any one of the 9 large squares on the grid contains exactly one 10000th of a mL of liquid. To obtain  the total cells in 1 mL of liquid you can count all the cells in that 10000th of a mL and multiply by 10,000 to come up with the cells in 1 mL of liquid.

In combination with counting cells they can also be stained for viability. Viability is how many cells in the population are alive. The number does not tell you how healthy the cells are, (there is another method called a Vitality Test that can be used to tell you how healthy the cells are) only if they are alive or dead. To stain the cells you can use a solution of 2% Methylene Blue, which is a dye that enters into all the yeast cells. The yeast cells that are still alive have an active enzyme that will break down the dye. Yeast cells that are dead have no active enzyme to break down the dye and soon accumulate it inside. This causes the living cells to appear unstained and the dead cells to stain a dark blue/black color. By counting dead and live cells a percentage of living cells can be obtained, this number is the viability of the culture.

Here is how both a cell count and a viability count are done.

Loading the Hemocytometer
Photo 14:12, 13 November 2008 (UTC) by Jacopo Werthe
  1. Take your yeast slurry or whatever sample you want to count.
  2. Mix the sample up very well, if the yeast are heavily concentrated you will need to dilute them in water (you can not count the cells if there are too many on the slide, aim for between 80-200 cells in the 5 counting squares).
  3. Take the diluted sample and add a few drops of methylene blue until the solution turns a medium blue color.
  4. Add about 15 uL of the sample to the hemocytometer slide using the sample loading notch.
  5. Count all of the cells in the boxes that are highlighted below (the 5 4x4 boxes that are located inside the large center square). Note that each of the boxes is rimmed by a triple line. Cells that are on the upper and right triple line should not be counted (they are considered out of bounds). Cells that are on the lower and left triple line should be counted as in bounds. If a cell is budding count it as two cells if the bud is greater than or equal in size to the mother cell. Count the budding cell as one cell if the bud is less than half the size of the mother cell.
  6. Take the number of cells you counted, multiply by 5 (because you counted only 5 of the 25 squares in the area), multiply by 10,000 (because your volume counted was a 10000th of a mL) and multiply by your dilution factor. If you diluted 1:20 and counted 89 cells the math would look like this...
    • 89 x 5 x 10,000 x 20 = 89,000,000 or 8.9E7 cells/mL

    The 5 cells to be counted are highlighted in blue.
    Photo from http://dictybase.org/techniques/media/dicty_growth.html

  7.  To determine the viability count the number of living and dead cells in all 5 highlighted squares, then divide the living cells by the total number of counted cell. If you counted 86 living and 3 dead the math would look like this... 
    • 86/(86+3) = .966 or 96.6% viability.

Stained cells.

 Now that you know how many cells you have in your slurry you can calculate how much volume of your yeast slurry to add to your fermenter. I will be adding a post on how much yeast to add to your wort and will post a link here.