Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Games with Honey

There have been 6kg of honey just sat there in the cupboard since Australia day, and my brew fridge is finally empty, so it was time to try some more weird and interesting things. My honey-related experiments so far have been a success - Loathsome Braggot is probably the best thing I've brewed so far, being at the same time aromatic, flavoursome and bloody dangerous. Mellow-Mole mead turned out acceptable though over-sweet, though it's improving with age. What I reckon has happened there is that the yeast just gave up the ghost before it got through all the honey, then when primed with yet more honey all that happened was it got heavier and sweeter still.

So last Saturday (24th of March) I bottled Codename:Miyagi, my last-ditch attempt to make a golden ale, which had stabilised at around 1.010-1.011 (nice bit of body there), then started the sticky honeyed fun. First up was Bochet. I've been reading about this lately on homebrew talk, it seems that an old style of mead has recently been resurrected after being lost for a number of decades. Bochet means burnt mead. You take the honey, boil it up until it darkens and turns toffee-like, then make mead with it. I decided not to make this too strong as a very high gravity means that it takes a lot longer to ferment and condition and also the yeast might give up again. It's going to be fermented using champagne yeast, but I did that last time as well with mixed results.

First off, sterilise everything, as usual. This part is getting quite tedious! Then I made a yeast starter. Heat a bit of water in a small pan, add a good spoonful of yeast nutrient, boil for ten minutes (the nutrient needs this), add some caster sugar, allow to cool below 30C and then add the yeast. This lot was set aside for a couple of hours while I attended to the honey.

Having read about the hazards of boiling honey, using the 40l wort-boiling pan seemed a good plan, even though there were only 3.5 Kg of it. This turns out to have been wise. Boiling honey seems to turn into this hot, roiling foam. What's more it expands two to three times. I boiled it quite hard and stirred it frequently until the foam went from a yellow colour to a darker orangey-red, which took about 40 minutes. When the heat was switched off the foam kept foaming and looked like it was still in active boil as I slowly added water. Note - when you add water to boiling honey it will spit. Boiling honey burns like napalm and goes solid very fast, so wear a long sleeved shirt if you're going to try this. This is also where having a huge pan helps. I started adding cold water a teaspoon at a time and slamming the lid back on the pot. After a while I was able to put in more at a time with my stirring spoon, until I was eventually able to add a 3 litre jug to the mix and get the whole thing down to a reasonable temperature.

The liquid that came out of this process was almost black. When diluted down to the gravity target (1.074, for ~10% abv at the end) it made up around 14 litres of black, sweet-toffee smelling liquid. I put the entire glass vessel in the laundry sink with cool water and ice to cool it down, then got the now-active yeast in. It's happily bubbling away on the kitchen counter, giving the house a mild honey smell when you walk in :)

On Sunday the 25th I came up with a recipe for a malted quaffing mead/braggot. This is to be about 5% so you can drink it in pints! I recently tried Blackwood Meadery's old mead brew, which was quite tasty at about 6%, but had absolutely no body to it. This is why this one is malted with some speciality grains -

  • 500g Belgian Aromatic
  • 500g Crystal 20
  • 500g Carafoam/Carapils

Belgian Aromatic has a lovely flavour and has enough diastatic power to convert itself, and the other two are already fully converted grains so no base malt or extra enzyme was needed in the mash. All three of these grains should give a good body and reasonable head to the finished product. These were mashed for 60 minutes at 70C (with some effort to get the temperature up there) to give as complex and full bodied wort as possible (lower temperature = higher fermentability, higher temperature = more complex sugars that the yeast don't eat). I boiled this up for 60 minutes with a pretty simple schedule -

  • 20g Cascade at 30 minutes
  • Yeast Nutrient and Whirlfloc at 10 minutes
  • 20g Cascade and ~25g sweet orange peel at 5 minutes

I'm not 100% sure it should be hopped at all, but this shouldn't give too much bitterness, and the orange peel worked really well in the last braggot. At the end of the boil 2.5kg of honey went in to provide the main fermentable material and flavour. After rapid cooling through the heat exchanger I added two packets of dried Windsor ale yeast and moved the whole lot out to the brew fridge. It too is now enthusiastically outgassing.

So now all that's needed is patience and, if the last two honey drinks are any indication, a lot of it.

Photos of boiling honey later, if I can be bothered

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Things I might want to brew

I'm making this blog entry because I've had a lot of ideas about things I want to brew lately. Comments and suggestions from my loyal readership are most welcome. So let's begin:
  • Quaffing Mead

    The last mead I made was a strong one, lots and lots of honey, champagne yeast and a bit of fruit. The result is very sweet, flat and full flavoured. It's also quite alcoholic. I'd like to make one opposite to this - Around 4-5% so you can drink it in pints, maybe with a small malt component for body and head.

  • Honeyed Cider/Cyser

    Again, a quaffing drink. Take apple juice, add some honey, ferment. Try to come out around 5% but with a good honey aroma.

  • Bochet

    I've only just heard of this but it sounds great to me. Like mead, but you take your honey and boil it hard until it starts to darken and caramelise, then make mead with it for toffee'd honey flavour.

  • Maple Mead

    Mead, but using Maple Syrup instead of honey. Yes, we're heavy on the mead theme in this entry. I have six kilos of honey at home, just burning a hole in my... cupboard... or something.

  • Weird eastern-style beer.

    This is a strange idea, take some elements from South East Asian cooking and make beer with them as flavour additives. Specifically, palm sugar and lemongrass, maybe ginger as well

  • Piggy

    This is a beer from a dream. It was an awesome dream. I don't know anything about the beer other than it being brown. In the dream my friend Dave was wallowing in a hot-tub full of the stuff, in a shipping container, while a couple of us looked on and chanted encouragement. I will be making a batch of ale called "Piggy" sooner or later, and getting a bottle to Dave.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Codename: Miyagi

Wax on - WAX OFF.

I've been reading more about brewing, always dangerous I know, but I think I've found a few things out. I mentioned last post that one source of the bitter, earwaxy flavour in my beer could have been the tannins in the grain, if I was sparging for too long. In truth I hadn't been measuring how long I had been sparging, working on the theory that any spargewater was getting some good flavour from the grain and was better in the brew than just using water. Turns out that's wrong, and you get tannins, and stuff, that taste bad. However the earwax flavour doesn't seem to just be tannins. Then I found a thread about Gypsum over at homebrewtalk. A fellow had been trying to make water harder and had added two ounces of gypsum to a 5 gallon brew. Gypsum... that's CaSO4, just what I've been adding. I've been adding about 20g to a six gallon brew, so somewhere around a third of what he'd been adding, but still, quite a lot.

I'd been adding it for the Calcium, because Mosman Park water has virtually non, it's very soft, but apparently the other half, the Sulphate, also matters. After some rough calculations I realised that the sulphate part of it was about twice as high as you should have for even a bitter stout. Which explains why only dark, bitter things I make taste any good, and then have a very bitter edge not fully explained by the hops (or tannins). Apparently using soft water is nowhere near as bad for the final flavour as is adding bucket-loads of sour tasting arse...

Armed with this knowledge, I've decided to try one last attempt at a light, hoppy golden ale. In the freezer I have a few Fuggles and a boatload of Styrian Goldings, in the cupboard there's 5kg of Maris Otter malt. Right, so, this time we restrain ourselves on the bittering hops, watch the spargewater gravity carefully, AND completely skip the calcium sulphate. I'm also going to deviate from sensible mole's advice and not use so many campden tablets this time, as they allegedly make life harder for the yeast. They do clear chlorine and chloramines from the water, so I'll still use a couple at least, just not every five minutes.

As a quick aside, I bottled around 23 litres of "Maple Mole Eh?" last weekend, with another 330ml of maple syrup to prime. I've kept the bottles at 18C in the brew fridge for another week, and as many as possible are going to stay there while Miyagi brews. I'm getting impatient to try it but it's at least another two weeks before it's ready to try, and probably a month after that before it's really good.

OK, so Miyagi recipe -

  • 5kg Maris Otter

I'm not going to bother doing a hard-boil on two litres to darken it, we'll go as straw-coloured as possible. I'm in two minds about adding a few oats here as well, but we'll see. The hop schedule is going to be pretty simple in terms of ingredients because all I have is 225g of Styrian Goldings and 85g of Fuggles. (FYI, Styrians are just fuggles grown somewhere outside the UK, apparently). So -

  • 15g Fuggles at 60 minutes
  • 15g Fuggles, 15g Styrian Goldings at 30 minutes
  • 15g Fuggles, 15g Styrian Goldings at 15 minutes
  • 15g Fuggles, 15g Styrian Goldings at 5 minutes
  • Everything else (about 25g Fuggles, 180g Styrians) at 0 minutes.

The 0 minute additions will go into the filter bag and only be mixed in when the wort is poured through the bag prior to chilling with the heat exchanger. According to Beer Engine and Brewmate this will give me a beer somewhere around 4.5% alcohol, with a bitterness of 30-32 IBU, falling roughly within the style of a Best bitter or Special Ale, though a very light coloured one. With NO EARWAX FLAVOUR, Dammit!

Right, I'd best get started, it's 7.50 and I'm relying on doing this all at high speed again to get it done by midnight.

Mash on at 8.24. While digging through the cupboards for my thermometer I found another 12 bottles of Golden Mole or One-Legged or something. It still tastes like bitter earwax, this is not a flavour that matures away with time.

Right, that was quick. All finished and tidied away by midnight. Awesome. No major spills of beer (did get water all over the kitchen floor but hey...), did break the hydrometer when I was clenaing it though. Bum. I controlled the sparge better this time, allowing a slow and steady pour, so I could measure the hydrometer reading and stop it at 1.010. The boil went a bit mad and spilled over while I wasn't paying attention, but I didn't lose much. All in all I got 23 litres at 1.045 out, an efficiency somewhere between 65 and 70%, way up on last time. And hopefully no earwax flavours! We'll find out in about six weeks I guess...

No pics again because, well, you've seen it by now. Also there were no oats.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Maple Mole Eh?

So it's been a while since I wrote here. That's mostly because it's been a while since I've done any brewing.

This is becauce I've been away on holiday a lot, and also because Gord and myself went to U-BrewIt and did three more brews towards the end of last year. This is not a bad thing, but those beers have to be kept in the fridge as they are filtered and not 'live' like my homebrew, that can apparently live in the cupboard almost indefinitely.

There was enough u-brewit stuff that not only was I down to one shelf in my main fridge, but the temp-controlled brew fridge had to be pressed into service as a secondary beer fridge, and was packed full as well. Over the following several months I've been valiantly trying to clear the backlog, and today I have managed to liberate the second fridge for brewing purposes again.

Before I start on Maple Mole, Eh? I'll tell you about the other brews. Loathsome Braggot has turned out amazingly well. It's a little like Chimay Blue, only it's stronger, and it has an amazingly powerful honey aroma. I am well pleased with this one. The only trouble is the strength. A couple of little bottles of the evening and you'll feel it. Any more than that and you wake up the next day feeling like you got run over by something. Success :)

Golden Mole was not a success. It made utterly divine smells as it was fermenting, deliciously fruity and hoppy. I bottled it after a few weeks, and after applying the gelatine clearing method, all seemed well. On pouring a few weeks later it was a brilliant amber colour and divinely clear - no cold haze, no yeasty residue, just beautiful translucent, sparkling beer. We gave the first taste to Fran, who said "Mmm" and then shortly afterwards "ugh, well, err, you might like it, but it's so bitter! It tastes like earwax!"

Unfortunately she was right, there was an overpowering bitter earwaxy aftertaste and and after trying a few more bottles, Golden Mole had to go down the sink :(

Hopping Lord Moley (which was to be renamed "One Legged") finished fermenting and then I lagered it for a couple of months in the brew fridge while I was in and out of the country. Eventually I bottled it. No gelatine treatment for this one, I decided, besides which, the prolonged cold secondary should sort it out. Which it did. Golden mole, when bottled and poured, is another nice, clear, straw-coloured, sparkling ale. Which tastes of earwax.

Not anywhere near as bad as Golden Mole, but still not right. I'm beginning to get the impression I should stick to dark things... I haven't poured this batch down the sink (yet) and will give it another try in a few weeks to determine it's future.

The other creation I had been working on was "Mellow Mole" spiced mead. This took about six months from hive to glass but was well worth it. It still needs a little time to mature, but it did eventually drop clear in the bottle. It's got a lovely honey and orange smell to it, and a kick like a mule. This ought to smooth out in time. I also made double and triple honeyjack varieties of it by freeze-concentrating two and three bottles respectively to single bottle volume. The triple tastes like lovely honey sherry! Definitely a success. Another batch is planned, probably with peaches as an additive.

So, on to today's main course - Maple Mole Eh?

I went to Canada last year and brought back a litre of Maple Syrup from the trip. I figure Maple Syrup would make a good flavour addition to stout, so I'm going to try a variation on Fat Moley Redux that uses Maple Syrup as a flavour and sugar adjunct.

The grain bill needs to be reduced slightly as Maple syrup contains a large proportion of sugar that the yeast will turn to booze. So it goes as follows -

  • 5 Kg Maris Otter Malt
  • 300g Crystal Malt
  • 300g Black Malt
  • 500g Roasted Barley
  • 1500g Rolled Oats
  • 1 Litre (~1300g) Maple Syrup

I'm going to add the Maple Syrup at or near the end of the boil so it doesn't boil off any aromatic flavours, and given it's already 6pm, I'd better get on with it...

The mashing water was heated up to 73/5-ish degrees again. This time I took the step of pre-heating the tun with a couple of litres of boiling water. This, and the higher mash water temperature ensured that I got the mash to 68.5 ish degrees with no need to add in extra boiling water for a temp boost. Excellent. The mash is going to be a relatively short one this time - I read that 90 minutes can be excessive and will allow the enzymes time to break down some of the more complex stuff, resulting in a thinner beer. 60 minutes is apparently better for an ale. I'm going to sparge at about 170 degrees this time, and I'm also going to monitor my spargings for gravity. If it drops below 1.008 then you're at risk of extracting a lot of tannins, which could just be the source of the earwaxy flavour from the last brews.

The mash eventually went on at 7pm. At 8pm I drained the sweet wort, and started to deviate from Sensible Mole's advice based on some reading and some thinking. I wanted to get the sweet wort boiling ASAP rather than letting everything cool in a long clarifying process that likely results in further sugar conversion and thinning of the beer. So I passed the first 5 litres of sweet wort through the grain bed again, then drained another 10ish litres and put them straight on to boil. Then I started sparging. Sparge water was 25 litres at 70C. I let this go through pretty quick too, and after collecting about 15 litres of this I noticed that what was coming out of the tap was down to 1.006, already too low! But probably a lot better than what I've done before. So I stopped collecting, and topped the pan up to roughly 30 litres with unused sparge water.

Doing this quickly and not messing around has another advantage - the stuff is already pretty hot as you start the boil, so getting it up to 100 is quicker. It's now almost 8.55pm, the first hops have gone in and it's under two hours since the start of the mash, and only two and a half since I started the brew. Have now decided to put the maple syrup in early rather than late. As it's made by boiling the crap out of maple sap, a bit more boiling isn't going to hurt it!

Today's hop schedule is similar to Fat Moley Redux, but constrained by what I have in the freezer, because I have a lot of hops in the freezer and I'm damned if I'm buying more...

  • 40g Northdown at 60 minutes
  • 40g EKG at 60 minutes
  • 20g EKG at 20 minutes
  • 20g Challenger at 20 minutes because I only had 40g of Northdown
  • Yeast nutrient and whirlfloc at 10 minutes

This done, I got cocky and tried to run the wort straight from the pan, through the heat exchanger and into the fermentation vessel. The heat exchanger got blocked with hops, I had to take it off, got my arm sprayed with boiling sugar water, and sprayed tap water everywhere. Bum. So I passed the boiling stuff through a muslin bag into one fermentation vessel, and then from there through the exchanger to another, and then back again. Forgetting to switch the tap on this vessel to 'off' I let about half a litre of sticky pre-stout escape onto the kitchen floor... At the end of this I have 24.5 litres of black stuff at 1.062, a stunning 55% efficiency! WTF? I didn't spill that much. Maybe I overestimated the sugar content of Maple Syrup, maybe my quick sparging and wort clarifying reduced my efficiency, maybe I'm just crap today.

So there's an attempt at a quick brew. Started 6-6.30 ish, finished (bar the tidying up) by 10.30 is. That's about 3 hours quicker than my last effort.