Monday, December 2, 2013

Home Brew Part 4: Fall Brew-ha-ha

     It's been a while since I've posted on my most recent hobby of brewing beer.  My colleague and I started brewing back in March and we were able to knock out about four batches before the summer holidays.  During that time I did some serious research, hitting up several major breweries while we were back in the States, including:  Harpoon (Boston), Victory (Downingtown, PA), Sweetwater and Monday Night Brewing (Atlanta), Port Brewing, Lost Abbey, and Stone (North San Diego, CA).  I read a few crash-course books on brewing to get a better understanding of the process and tricks of the trade.  I also stocked up on some supplies that have been difficult to acquire in Hong Kong.  In short, I wanted to be prepared to bring the pain this Fall with a serious brewing line-up.  In this post I want to recap the four batches that we've produced over the last few months.

The materials, equipment, and literature I brought back - let's just say I had to pay for an extra bag!

     Contestant #1:  Belgian White (Brewferm Tarwebier kit)

This was the third (and final) beer that we made from a canned extract kit.  The two predecessors both proved to be sub-par, so expectations weren't high for this one.  We followed the recipe with the exception of using a dry Hefeweizen yeast rather than going with the nondescript yeast packet included in the kit.  The one major screwup here was that I misread the recipe and added twice the amount of dry malt extract that was required - which could lead to a nice full-bodied brew or it could end up with a foul taste.

     Verdict:  DUMP IT!  Although the yeast allowed the beer to have a nice creamy head that was thicker than our previous beers, the extra DME caused an off-taste that basically made the batch taste cidery.  Reminded me of a "Mr. Beer Kit" experience years ago.  However, I did manage to salvage the beers into a drinkable form by adding a teaspoon of raspberry flavoring to each pint.  The cidery/sour taste can be preferred by some beer drinkers and by balancing with some sweetened raspberry flavor, it was at least drinkable.  Needless to say we didn't share this batch with anyone else.

     Contestant #2:  German Wheat Beer (partial grain / dry malt extract recipe)

I followed a clone recipe for Harpoon's UFO beer, using wheat grain that I brought back from the States.  I'm calling it a German Wheat only because of the yeast and hops that I used, but it is definitely not a hefeweizen that would've required open fermentation.  I'll show you a few steps below to give you an idea of the process.

Working in the Science Department certainly has its perks - a digital balance being one of those.  Here I'm trying to get the proportions right for three different types of grain that will then be placed into steeping bags for the next step. 

Water was brought up to a sub-boiling temperature before adding the grain in these steeping bags.  They sit in here for probably 45 minutes to an hour, releasing their sweet-smelling sugars that makes the apartment smell like a real brewery. 

The steeping bags are removed and dry malt extract is added (wheat in this case) which is even sweeter.  Now the wort is brought to a boil for another hour before adding hops.     

German hop pellets are added to add bitterness to the wort.

Once the wort boils for a couple of hours it's time to cool it down quickly before adding the yeast.  Here I got to bust out my new wort chiller I brought back from a beer store in Atlanta.  It's just a coil of copper tubing that sits in the hot wort and acts as a heat exchanger when cold water from the tap is run through the inside.

This was a game-changer for us since we don't have a large bath-tub or an ice maker or a cold climate that most people use to chill their wort.  We run water through for about 15-20 minutes to get it down enough to add a few ice cubes and pitch the yeast. 

The soaked grain can be used for a lot of baking projects - none of which we have tried, but it certainly smells amazing.

Once the wort is cool enough, we put a sample into the hydrometer to measure the density.  This will be used later to determine the alcohol content of the finished product.  This is also helpful for us following recipes with target "original gravities (OG)" that should be reached for a particular style.  We can add water little by little in order to get there without watering it down too much.

The yeast is pitched on top after being rehydrated with some water.  Now these guys will do their thing for about 10 days before the next step.

This was a small batch (10L) but this is the basic set-up where we will transfer the beer out of the fermenter into a bottling bucket.  This step sort of filters out the sediment at the bottom leftover during fermentation. 

The result is a nice looking beer that is ready to be put into a bottle for a couple of weeks for conditioning. 

     Verdict:  DRINK IT!  This one turned out tasting like a clean wheat beer with nothing incredibly special, but also nothing that left a bad taste in your mouth.  Since this was also the first batch that we used partial grain-steeping and partial extract without the help of a kit, it seemed that in many ways this was our first beer without the training wheels.  That made it taste better than it probably was.

     Contestant #3:  American Wheat (partial grain / partial extract)

This one was practically identical to the previous batch, except that I used an American ale yeast.  I wanted to see how that affected the taste.

     Verdict:  DRINK IT!  This one actually tasted very similar to the first, except that the head wasn't quite as thick.  For fun I put raspberry flavor into part of the batch to make a Raspberry Wheat.  Both received good reviews from my sampling panel.  The raspberry version is definitely one I'd make again.

     Contestant #4:  Porter (partial grain / partial extract)

This was our first attempt at a darker beer.  I wasn't sure if it'd turn out to be a Brown Ale or a Porter, but we ended up with a porter.  You get the darker color when you use grain that has been roasted.   

     Verdict:  DRINK IT!  I was really proud of this one.  It is very different from our previous brews but it is a very nice porter with a slight bitterness and a roasty finish.  It's gotten rave reviews and I'd definitely make this one again.

     So, the Fall has been a busy brewing season.  There's one more batch that's conditioning now, so I'll wait until another post to release the verdict.  It's another porter that will be a bit darker, but will also be sweeter with the addition of cocoa nibs and using hops with less bitterness.  I've also got to share the new set-up in the brewing room.  At this rate, we hope to have some beers to enter in the home brew competition in Hong Kong early next year.

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