Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Beereview: Allagash Tripel

We also made Grand Marnier Glazed Brie with Prosciutto
Belgian style ales are my own personal cheeseburger in paradise. Additionally, I suspect they would go exceptionally well with a cheeseburger in paradise. I’m all over them like flies on drub.

With that in mind, the folks over at Allagash in Portland, Maine had the same idea back in 1994. Their passion for Belgian style beers was somewhat unusual for the home-brewing movement of the time. Well before we had cloned Fantome yeast, they were providing high quality Belgian Wit beers, Dubbels, and Tripels.

Having recently procured one of their flagship brews Allagash Tripel, I was quite pleasantly surprised. Although not what I would consider Rochefort 10 or St. Bernardus Abt 12 quality, it was overall an excellent beer. At 9% alcohol by volume it’s somewhat strong, but that is fairly typical for a Tripel.

Like many reviews, let’s go through the relevant body parts in order of exposure.

The Eyes: Like any bottle conditioned beer, Allagash Tripel is quite cloudy. It has a nice golden color with a bright white head. Unlike many of the other Belgian ales I have had it didn’t leave any lacing on the glass (Lacing is when the head leaves a residue on the glass, which some think indicates higher quality oils in the hops. I’m actually not sure what does it, but most of the better beer does have a thick frothy head which remains for quite some time.) I’m mixed on whether a good beer has to have this or not, I’m not trying to shave with the lather.

The Nose: This beer has a pleasant sweet bouquet evoking citrus, peaches, and grapefruit. I didn’t smell any spices, and the hops were not noticeable. It was very similar to the smell of Duvel.

The Mouth: Allagash Tripel is very pleasant to drink. The initial taste was sweet and light, with a mildly bitter aftertaste. It reminded me a lot of Ruby Red grapefruit. The bitterness was more along the lines of orange peel than hops. Although 18 proof, there was no noticeable alcohol flavors.

And we’ll end our progress through the human digestive track here, less we become uncouth. Rest assured, there were no ill-effects to the lower extremities as a result of this fine Belgian replicant (sic – Blade Runner.)

Overall: This is a good Tripel; if you told me it was Belgian I’d believe you. At my local shop the price was comparable my old standbys (St. Bernardus, Rochefort, Duvel, or Orval), so it would be a tough call but I think it stacks up quality-wise. If I lived closer to the brewery and could get this on draft, I’d be “all up in there.” This is definitely better than many of the other American Tripels out there.

Monday, May 24, 2010

What the HERMS are you doing?? (Part 2 of 2)

In continuing from my last post...

The next step up from single infusions mashes are multiple rest mashes. As I had mentioned in part 1, there are a number of rests (including the starch conversion rest). And each rest does something different. Some of the most common rests are as follows:

Acid Rest - Typically around 95 F. It's purpose is to create a nice fluffy bed of goodness for the enzymes that come in later to convert all of the proteins and starches into food for our sugar-hungry booze-poopers (yeast). You see, these enzymes work best at a certain PH that is slightly acidic (between 5 and 5.7). Some grains used can throw that number out of wack. The acid rests does what it can to reel that number back into the appropriate range.

Protein Rest - Typically between 122 to 131 F. The enzymes active during this range of temperature break down heavy proteins which cut down on haziness and clean out the flavor of a beer (like you would find in lagers). This rest is mostly  used in lagers, because the extra taste complexity from the proteins are desirable in ales.

Starch Conversion - Typically between 149 to 160 F. This is the main rest in the mashing process. This is where the enzymes really kick it into high gear. Enzymes working here convert starches (which there are a lot of, since we've basically made a grain soup) into sugars for those lovable little yeasties. Alcohol, here we come!

All of these steps up to now have been conditioning the water so the enzymes within can go absolutely nuts. Feeding the frenzy, if you will. Next step however is a little more grim.

Mash Out - Heating the mash to 168 puts a stop to all enzyme action. By killing them. A enzyme genocide. So sad. But it does make your mash flow better when you sparge it (basically put it in your boiling pot). Silver lining folks.

There is a big issue here however. With all these temperature changes you need to add heat to your mash. If you recall, our mash tun is a rubbermaid cooler. There's a bunch of different ways to do this, but placing the rubbermaid cooler on an open flame is not one of them (unless you want a pile of toxic, plastic-y, mash). This is where the HERMS comes in.

HERMS stands for Heat Exchange Recirculating Mash System.
My sketch
In my post "Look Out: Science!" I added pictures of my Mash tun and my hot liquor tank. My mash tun is the rubbermaid cooler, and my hot liquor tank is the decommissioned keg (Note: hot liquor tank does not hold liquor. Just hot water. Don't get excited).

The idea is this, mash gets sucked out of the bottom of the tun (through a screen) by a pump, which pumps it to the hot liquor tank. In normal mode, the mash bypasses the tank and heads back to the mash tun, where it gets dropped off on the top of the tank. This ensures the temperature across the mash stays even (hot stuff rises, remember chemistry? You have to keep it mixed).

There's a thermocouple (fancy word for a thermometer) that senses the temp in the mash tun. When I need more heat, I punch the desired heat into my controller box (no, I haven't finished it yet, so you wont find a post on it). This tells my valves to switch, which sends the mash through a coil at the bottom of my hot liquor tank, which is submersed in water. The hot liquor tank is getting heated (stainless steel won't melt... well... nevermind, I digress). This raises the temperature of the mash going through the coil, returns to the mash tun and mixes it with the mash currently in the tun.

When the thermocouple senses the right temperature has been reached, it switches the valves back again and bypasses the hot liquor tank.

This process gets repeated again and again until I'm done with all my rests. After all this is when I start the boil. Needless to say, this process adds a significant amount of  time to the brewing process. But I hear it's worth it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Nick's Brew Day, part 3 of 3: Bubble, Boil, Toil and Trouble

For those of you not familiar with Shakespeare's Macbeth, the title of this posts hearkens back to a witches brew consisting of poisoned entrails, eye of newt, toe of frog, and a fair bit of demonic incantation. Now those ingredients were fairly difficult to locate at Whole Foods, so at the time of this writing I had to settle for Malt Extract, Barley, and Hops. The toil, trouble, and incantations did remain true to source however.

As you may have read in parts one and two of this trilogy, I have so far managed not to completely contaminate, spill, or otherwise bungle my first solo brew recipe. While riveting I assure you, the danger presented so far has only put the batch at risk. It's time to lay it all on the line; we're at the point in our story where things can actually get dangerous.

A Brief Preface:

While boiling the wort, you add malt extract which is probably the stickiest substance on earth. I'm talking along the lines of "movie theater floor," "I got pine sap on my hands," or "I super glued my finger to my nostril (again) sticky." During the boil, something can occur called a "boil over." I don't know if you've ever forgotten rice on the stove, but boil overs happen in the blink of an eye.

Now with rice, it isn't so bad. You just get that stinky sweet burned starch smell and have some crunchy stir-fry. With malt extract you better know a good contractor and flooring guy.

Hence: It's much better to do the boil outdoors.

For this purpose, I purchased a Bayou Classic Turkey Fryer complete with 7.5 gallon aluminum stock pot and thermometer. It's an awesome deal if you don't intend to fry a turkey; the process of heating up a flammable liquid over an intense flame next to an explosive container and then dropping 20 pounds of frozen American Heritage in there never seemed like that great an idea to me.

So to speed things along, I got my turkey fryer fired up and ready and started heating the water so that I could add my grain (to steep). I forgot from last time just how long, slow and agonizing it is to watch water heat up. I should have followed the directions and not tried to steep in the full five gallons of water. During the downtime, it really made me wish I had brought Macbeth along for some light reading.

Since I tend to do stupid things, I apparently picked one of the windiest days of the year to do my brew. Not being a kite aficionado, outdoor launderer, or wind energy entrepreneur, the day was not ideal. Every five minutes I had a gas blow-back.

No I did not eat Mexican last night: a gas blow-back is when the propane ignites where the hose connects to the turkey fryer, rather than in the burner. It can get very dangerous if it burns through the hose, so constant attention was required. This is where a partner would have really been nice, since standing around in the full sun for hours with no water or bathroom breaks kinda sucks.

Eventually the wort did finally boil and I managed to control my explosive gas emissions (lol.) I added the flavoring and aroma hops right on schedule and cooled it down with my wort chiller (although that took 45 mins instead of 15, I think I need more tubing.) I poured it off into my primary fermenter, added the yeast, and hoped for the best.

Stay tuned, next time we'll discuss secondary fermentation.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Micropost: New Comment System

I just added the Disqus comment system to the blog, but the "import" feature doesn't seem to be working. If you left a comment on the site, thank you! They aren't gone, they are just invisible.

Disqus has a lot of nice features like spam blocking, comment replies, and twitter integration. Feel free to give it a try!

Also, scroll down for Gene's latest beer-related post about his HERMS system!

Monday, May 17, 2010

What the HERMS are you doing? (Part 1 of 2)

So just last week I was gaming with Brewer Nick, and as we settled back in our chairs with our beers in hand he tells me, "I read your post today, good one, but I realized that I have no idea what your system does, or why you're doing it." It dawned on me right then and there that if he had no idea, than there's probably a lot of readers out there who are saying to themselves "yeah that's great... what the hell was that?"

Oops. Good mash, but wrong mash.
So lets start with the why. In all grain brewing, you have to create a mash. When you're using malt extracts, you skip this mash step. I guess you could say the mash and the extract are one in the same.

When you make a mash, you take your grain, and dump it in a large container. Then you steep this grain in a bunch of hot water, effectively creating a huge tub of grain-tea, yum. The important thing here is to keep your grain all at one temperature, and at one temperature for a long period of time. This is called a rest (the mash rests at one temperature for a set period of time, lazy mash). This method is called a single infusion mash, because you dump hot water on the grains, and let them steep without changing the temperature. This is also a single temperature rest that we had just mentioned.

To keep the grain at one temperature, many homebrewers use 10 gallon rubbermaid coolers. More commonly you probably see them as the Gatorade coolers at your local football game. These are handy because they are readily available, and you can easily knock off the plastic spigot and replace it with a ball valve from your favorite homebrew supply store (check out the beer links on the side). These coolers also lose very little heat. This is all you need for doing basic all-grain brewing.

Now there are a number of rests, and I'll get into those and how to achieve those next Monday. For a single infusion mash however, it's known as a starch conversion rest, which is typically around 160 degrees. This coverts all those grain sugars into sugars that are ferment-able (aka yeast can turn them into booze). Just as a note, if you're following a recipe, it will typically show you the strike temperature. This takes into account a room-temperature mash tun (rubbermaid cooler) and room-temperature grains.

Whew. This post got significantly long quick.  I'll give you guys a break and post the rest of this next Monday. Stay tuned for our exciting conclusion where I talk about the other rests and what the hell a HERMS does anyway.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Nick’s Brew Day: Part 2 of 3 – Sanitizing

As you might recall from my Previous Post , I sort of left you hanging. Never fear! Unlike “Lost,” “Heroes,” or the 2005 National Hockey League, I won’t leave this cliffhanger for next season. We’re on to stage two: Sanitizing. Arguably the most important part of beer-making, it’s extremely easy to bungle this step and ruin your entire batch.

First, A History Lesson:

Ancient Vikings, well known for their wonderful hygiene and excellent grooming habits used to make beer without Billy Mays telling them how to clean their underpants. They relied mainly on the boil to clean and sanitize their brew and tools. They also kept around an heirloom mold stick which they intentionally used to infect their brew with the necessary bacterial agents. It’s not really fair to call it a mold stick though, since mold (i.e. penicillin) would likely clean the beer or make a kind of non-dairy cheese drink. But I digress, we’ll save the thrilling discussions of Alexander Fleming for a later date.

Once the yeasty beasties turn the sugars to alcohol, they basically pee in their own pool to the point that it becomes toxic to them and most other kinds of microbes, stopping fermentation (and limiting the ABV.) The Vikings had it right; we want our brew to be very dirty, but we need it to be the right kind of dirty. As an aside: Beer was one of the only ways to carry palatable water on ships. Keep that in mind next time you get Montezuma’s revenge on a Mexican cruise.

The world is a plethora of life. With wild yeast and fecal coliforms literally blowing around all over the place, it’s a wonder that we can make beer with any predictable characteristics; that’s not even counting all the filth under your fingernails.

The rule of thumb with sanitizing is, if you put something you sanitized down on something that you did not, it is dirty again. This little rule causes endless anguish unless you keep all your tools in the cleaning solution. Pre-boil this is a little less important, but once you’ve cooled the wort down to below 175 F, it’s prime for colonization.

There’s not a whole lot to say about the actual action of cleaning. I started by putting a packet of PBW in the primary fermenter and adding a gallon of water. Since the hose was one of those old fashioned brass ones, when I turned it on it whipped around like a spitting cobra. I contained the threat, and sprayed it at the PBW. This is where I blasted myself in the face yet again (I’m losing count). The pressure from the hose was so severe that it reflected soap and water directly at my face. I really recommend the gun type of hose nozzle for this reason.

After scrubbing my tools and buckets, I added more water and left the stuff I’d need later to soak. I put Star San in my bottling bucket, and after rinsing, put my tools inside for the second stage of cleaning. That’s really all there is to it, but it took about ninety minutes. It’s like doing a lot of humongous dishes.

Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion in “Bubble, Boil, Toil and Trouble,” coming at you next week. Fecal coliforms are fart bacteria, by the way.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Look Out: SCIENCE!

I can finally provide a HERMS update. The project is coming along well. Below is a picture of my completed Hot Liquor Tank (HLT, on the right) and Mash Tun (MT, on the left).

Just to recap, HERMS stands for heat exchange recirculating mash system. The idea is that your mash undergoes different processes at different temperatures. But in a Rubbermaid cooler you can't heat it directly (well you can, but burning plastic is dangerous AND toxic, never mind the fact that your mash will be ruined). Here you heat the HLT; The mash gets circulated through a system of pipes and when the temperature needs to change, you send it through hot water (in the HLT) to pick up that heat indirectly. Yes, you're right, you don't heat liquor in a HLT, but that's what it's called.

I fashioned my HLT out of a decommissioned keg. I cut half of the top off (let the sparks FLY), and screwed a board onto the edge (seen in white) to mount my solenoid valves on. Soldering copper is easy, but time consuming, because it has to be done one joint at a time. Anywhere you see on the picture a sliver of silver, is where flux (white goop) was applied to both pieces, inserted together, placed in a vice, heated, soldered, dipped in water (to cool), and dried. Also, don't solder barefoot. When that solder drips off your pipe and hits the ground, that splat created tends to shoot under the arch of your foot and make you dance around your garage; with the door open; like an idiot, while your neighbors point and laugh.

I'm having my system circulate continuously, so the temperature in the MT stays consistent top to bottom. Using a PID controller sensing the temperature in the MT, the controller will apply a voltage to the solenoid valves when heat is needed. I picked the bypass valve (which doesn't send the wort into the hot water) to be normally open, and the coil valve to be normally closed. That way I can apply the same voltage to the both and they will switch positions. Also if anything goes wrong, it will fail to bypass, and not to heating, so I wont end up cooking my mash or melting my cooler.

I realize there's no coil in there yet. I'm using up all the parts I've purchased first, and then coming up with a list of parts remaining. 

My mash tank is installed with a Blichmann Autosparge mechanism (yes, it's basically a toilet float). I can remove the stainless float for the circulation process, and the wort will just continuously flow. When I'm ready to sparge, I can disconnect the host coming from the bottom from my HLT and place it in my boil kettle. I'll install the float, and sparge away. The float ensures that there will always be a certain level of sparge water in the tank, and if things get stuck, the stainless float will stop any more liquid from coming in.

Finally I've only just begun to start on my control box. And I've mounted a computer power supply in it to power my 12V DC solenoid valves.

Whew. Sorry if that was too much geek for you. I can't help myself. I've got engineer (and beer) running through my veins.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Friday Micro-Post: Learn to Brew

For whatever reason, Friday seems to be a really slow day for blog traffic. I suspect that the level of "goof off at work" is at such a frenzied pace that people don't read blogs. My theory is that they are too busy watching videos on Netflix, taking two hour lunch breaks, and leaving at 3:30pm. Hence, the Micro-Post.

I wanted to let you all know that we put up a page for those of you interested in taking up the craft. It contains links to all the diabolic machines and sundries associated with fermentological alchemy. I'm making no claims for your divinity here; but you really can transform water into beer. It's not all that hard with the right ingredients.

The page also has a fully fledged article, which I thought was important enough to perma-link in our main navigation. Since you can't comment on the page itself, feel free to post any suggestions for additional equipment here. Now why don't you learn to brew?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Nick’s Brew Day: Part 1 of 3 - Setup

As you may recall, the last time I had a day to brew it didn’t go so well. This past Sunday I had another chance; this time, I managed to brew some beer without blasting myself in the face with water. Well, mostly without blasting myself in the face with water. This six hour ordeal is too much to cover in one post, so I’ll be breaking it up into three parts: “Setup ,” “Sanitizing,” and “Bubble, Boil, Toil and Trouble.” Anyhow, here’s the scoop.

My friend Matt moved away for a job in Virginia, but his parents graciously offered their patio and hose for my multifarious purposes. Brewing beer off-site alone has some pitfalls I wasn’t really expecting. It’s sort of like camping in that “if you didn’t pack it, you ain’t gonna have it.” It’s sort of not like camping in that you don’t need to pee in the woods. But I digress.

I intended to arrive bright and early, which for me means around ten O’clock. I started packing the car around nine but by the time I finished it was ten thirty. What took so long you might ask? Six gallons of water, propane, a turkey fryer with stock pot, two buckets, the kit, and all the other fermentology essentials take up a ton of room in the car. If the Tetris music wasn’t playing, it should have been; I definitely heard it.

Pitfall #1: If you drive a Honda Civic, reconsider brewing off-site.

When I finally rolled in around eleven and unpacked, it was approximately ninety degrees with a blistering sun. I had a hat and sunglasses, and figured I’d just hang out in the shade while the boil was going since my setup was in the full sun. I entirely underestimated the time it would take to clean and sanitize, so obviously one thing led to another and I fried up like cracklings in Louisiana. What are cracklings? A little bit of skin, a little bit of fat, and a little bit of meat deep fried Southern Style. I think the analogy fits.

Pitfall #2: Put on Sunblock if you’re brewing outside. If you don’t think you need it, put on twice as much.

Before I get deep into the “Sanitizing” section in the next post, I wanted to mention that PBW strips off sunscreen in milliseconds. It’s inevitable that when dunking your hands in the soap bucket to fish out the air exchanger parts or hydrometer it’s going to take sun block off your entire arm. Likewise, when rinsing parts or removing dripping wet equipment it’s going to take it off your feet. I don’t have a good solution other than this: reapply, bring a beach umbrella, or trick somebody into helping you brew.

All the sunburn should be worth it though. When this is all done, I should end up with two cases of Red Ale. That means one hell of a weekend to not remember.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Welcome Blogger Visitors

We were pleasantly surprised to find out we've been featured as the Blog of Note!

I'm speechless; we didn't even have to make all of Julia Child's recipes. I thought that when our blog was wiped out, we'd be starting from square one. Seems like Karma really works; I'm going to go buy a lotto ticket.

If you're new to the site, as most of you are: we're two home-brewers with a passion for creating high quality ales and lagers. Gene's more of the beer guru and I'm just starting out.

While we wait for our kegs to empty or our fermentation to finish, we'll also throw in a review now and then.

So a big THANK YOU to the blogger community for taking notice!

Beereview: Newcastle Draughtkeg!!

Sometimes finding something on your front door can be pretty damn exciting. Especially if you really aren't expecting it for one reason or another. Back when I wrote my post "Knick, Knack, Paddy-Whack," i had a bone to pick with the draughtkeg. You can see the post here. In quick summary, I love the draughtkeg, but don't love how much of a limited selection there is, and why I hadn't seen the Newcastle one yet. Well I got a quick response from a lovely lady that does PR for Newcastle. With good news for you, and even better news for me. Good news for you (if "you" reside in Florida) is that the Newcastle draughtkeg will be in Florida stores by the end of the summer, if not a little sooner. Even better news for me is that I received a free sample in the mail along with a piece of their new glassware, the "Geordie Schooner." I just received this package a few days ago, and my wife could not wait to try it out.

First the Geordie Schooner. A name like "Geordie Schooner" to me brings images of old dudes with beards down to their knees tilling the fields (think ZZ Top with pitchforks), I don't know why. But with a little more research I found that the glass, originally named the Wellington Glass, is a tribute to the old locals of Newcastle, known as "Geordies". All that historical crap aside the glass was fun to drink out of and fits really well in your hand. And a "Schooner" of Newcastle looks awesome.

The draughtkeg.

Upon the first pour from the draughtkeg, there's a faint smell of what I think is Citrus? I really can't put my finger on it. The head is a straight white, thick, and stable. It almost taunts you, saying "I bet you can't drink through me, bring it b___h." The beer is sweet, and hops don't really make a noticeable appearance. The malt flavor is strong, and good. The beer finishes smooth and sweet, and sets up your palate for another round. A very easy drink, and from the draughtkeg, the pour is perfect every time.

Noting: I cannot be bought. Well, I probably can. But I truly love the draughtkeg design. In a few weeks, the draughtkeg will meet my Sawz-All and we'll see what makes it tick.