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I post lots of homebrewing stuff over there now, and so if you're looking for newer content, go there. I post at least once a week. Normally every few days. I post every day when I'm really on top of things.

Thanks for stopping by. Definitely take a look over at Brainard Brewing Blog!



PostNatal and Cherry Sparkles Final Verdicts

I have had a few bottles each of the PostNatal IPA-Style Beer and the Cherry Sparkles Cherry Wheat. Here's what I like and don't like, and what I'll do differently next time.

PostNatal IPA-Style Beer is a bit too dark for an IPA. It is more like an Indian Brown Ale (DFH-style, but half the ABV). The body and bitterness are good. It came together well in conditioning. Next time, I'll use much lighter crystal malts, shooting for like 6SRM. I think this was 11 SRM with some pretty dark (60L?) crystal in there. It tastes it. That will mellow and sweeten with time, but the hops will also fade with time. I am happy with the bitterness, though I might boost it from 45 IBU to 60 IBU next time, with perhaps a bittering 60 minute addition to the boil, instead of just FWH and 30 minute (and later) additions. I would also increase the late additions to provide a lot more hop aroma and flavor. Like an extra ounce or two spread across the last 20 minutes of the boil.

Cherry Sparkles is good. I wouldn't change a thing. Maybe a little more cherry flavor and a little less food coloring. I also wish it had more carbonation, though I used 5 oz. priming sugar. I wouldn't add more than that. Maybe the food coloring is suppressing the yeast or something... But it's fine the way it is. The base beer is Stonington Memorial Summer Ale, which I've made before. This time I spread the hops all throughout the boil, and I like the fullness of hop character it provides to the base beer. I also used US-05 instead of a liquid American Wheat ale strain of yeast. The American Wheat provided a tartness but no banana or clove, which is good. It isn't a Wit, after all. The US-05 doesn't have tartness, but the wheat still provides a soft tart bready flavor. But there's that weird estery phenolic peachy thing that I've been getting in my light colored beers with the US-05. I am planning on fermenting warmer (65F instead of 62F) in the future to try to reduce or eliminate that. FWIW, the cherry hides that undesirable aspect quite well.


Cherry Sparkles Bottled

I did end up bottling Cherry Sparkles on the 26th, just a day after PostNatal IPA. I added a bit of cherry flavoring, which was more like black cherry than maraschino cherry. And I used almost a whole tube of red food coloring shooting for a pink color. I think I might have overshot, and I may be more red than pink, but we'll see how it looks once it's conditioned.

The taste was nice. The base beer is my latest incarnation of Stonington Memorial Summer Ale. That's a half malted wheat, half pale ale malt grist with Tettnanger hops. In the past, it was a 60 minute addition and a flameout addition, but I changed it up a little, with additions as first wort hops (added to the kettle as runoff begins), along with 60, 45, 30, 15, and flameout additions. It all amounted to about 20 IBU, which was a little higher than I wanted, but my volume was low, so there you go. This gives the beer a noticable but mild bitterness and all-around hop character, which was nice for the base beer. I packaged about a gallon of this un-pinked. The pink beer ended up being just slightly cherry, almost more from the nose, inferring a flavor. The food coloring is mostly high fructose corn syrup, and that showed in the flavor of the pink beer. I hope that isn't too fermentable, or my bottles might blow up. Time will tell.

They're nearly conditioned already, but I'll give them a few more days before I pop one open and test it. I don't need to drink a flat one, thank you. I already tried that anyway.


PostNatal IPA Bottled

I almost bottled PostNatal and Cherry Sparkles on Friday, just a week after brewing them, but I just couldn't do it. Even though both were done fermenting, I felt like it was too early to bottle them, even for me.

But now it's in this any-day-now mode with my wife's pregnancy, and eeking out a few hours to bottle one batch, let alone two, is a politically and practically delicate matter. You just sort of never know when I'll be needed.

But since PostNatal is for use after giving birth, I thought it would be nice if it were ready at that time. I know I'd want to crack a cold one pretty soon after giving birth, but maybe I'm projecting.

Fortunately, my wife is one of the most understanding on earth, and was agreeable to me bottling today. It turned out it was really only reasonable for me to bottle one of the batches today, but that's fine. Cherry Sparkles can wait a little bit more. Maybe tomorrow ;)

PostNatal started at 1.032 and the FG was 1.006. That makes it 3.4% ABV, which is a little higher than I wanted, but still hopefully low enough. The body is pretty thin and watery. I think that will improve with some fizz in there, and perhaps a little with age, but age generally hurts hop-centric beers. I will probably add more crystal malts and increase the mash temperature for next time I make this one. The hop bitterness is good and firm with a nice linger, but the hop flavor and aroma are weak to non-existant. I guess I need a lot more hops at flameout and maybe at other late boil times.

I'll report back when they're fully conditioned.


Pictures and revisions

<--Dragon King (left)...and...(right) Marynka Porter-->
First: Dragon King. For some reason, this bottle didn't have as much head as the others have. I still don't know of a great way to get consistent carbonation from bottle to bottle within a batch. Any thoughts?
Now: Marynka Porter. I was on crack when I said this was fruity like Cascades. There's none of that. The body is pleasantly light, given the darkness of the beer. I think it's more the Fuggles I'm picking up on and remembering and calling Cascades. What the hell do I know, anyway?

Brew Day

Today I am making two beers at once. This is the second time I have done this. That makes today the Gemini Series Beta Project.

Gemini Beta One is PostNatal IPA. This is a low alcohol IPA. Before you get all BJCP on me, let me tell you that I know IPA is supposed to have high alcohol, or else it isn't an IPA, just a hoppy Pale Ale. Blah blah blah. There's no style that welcomes 1.030 OG, 11 SRM, 45 IBU beer. At least none that I could find that would mean anything. If you know of one, let me know. The wort is not too sweet (obviously) and is very bitter (perhaps also obviously).

Gemini Beta Two is Chery Sparkles. This is named in honor of Iris, my four year old daughter. This is her self-appointed nickname, and ever since I had her make a label for me, she's wanted me to make this beer. She didn't really care what it tastes like, since she's four and hates beer. I think she'll like it to be pink. I am making my Stonington Memorial Summer Ale recipe, which is just a half wheat, half base malt beer with less than 20 IBU of Tettnanger hops. This is adapted from the Northern Brewer.com American Wheat recipe. But it's not like some earth-shattering unique recipe. I'll be using dry yeast, US-05, like always, so it won't be as tart or tangy as a normal American Wheat beer. Then I'm going to add some cherry extract at bottling time, to give it a very subtle cherry flavor. Then I'll probably dose it up with some red food coloring so the beer and bubbles will hopefully become pink. Should be fun. It's still boiling, so I don't know the gravity, but I'm planning for 5.5 gallons at 1.043.

Marynka Porter Tasted

I also broke into the Marynka Porter. No photo of this one, either. What's wrong with me? I think I'll have to drink one each of the Marynka and the Dragon King tonight so I can get a few snapshots to post here.

The Marynka Porter pours deep dark brown with a small head. The smell is of roasted grains. The taste is dark too. The Marynka hops promised a licorice, cedary flavor, and deliver something like that. I really like the Marynka hops with the Porter. I also used a small dab of Fuggles, but I used a lot more Marynka. I find this kind of a little light-bodied, and the hops seem almost fruity to me at times. I might have guessed there were Cascades in there if I didn't know better. Unless Northern Brewer.com sent me Cascades labelled as Marynka. Which I don't think they'd do. This is my favorite home-made beer right now. The Mean Giant Double Stout and Big Slick IIPA are just a bit over-the-top intense sometimes. But the Marynka Porter hits the spot. And at 7.1% ABV, it's the lowest alcohol of my own beers available right now!

The Marynka porter has no phenol at all to it. Maybe that's just because the dark grains hide it, but I don't think so. The massive hops and ABV in Big Slick couldn't hide it, so why would dark grain flavor hide it. This is part of my new belief that my water is alkiline, and thus better at dark beer.

Dragon King Tasting Notes

I don't have a picture yet, for some reason... but I have broken into the Dragon King Pale Ale.

It pours a very light golden color, with a pretty good sized head. It is still pretty cloudy. The initial aroma is lemony, which I guess comes from Ahtanum hops. Then there's a big whiff of phenol in there, like band aids, still. Where the hell is this coming from?! All new buckets and stuff, so it's not that... Overall, it's not too hard to get past the phenolic smell. The taste doesn't carry it. This beer is an easy drinking 7.8% ABV. The 40 IBU aren't quite enough to achieve a deep bitterness, but there's enough to keep it interesting. The lemon zinger finish makes me anticipate that this will be a nice refreshing summer beer. Refreshing and nearly 8%. Phenols or not, that's not too bad.

Just today I got an email that had included the AHA forum daily email in it. They're having a discussion on phenols over there. Once you get past all the talk of "good phenols" that come from yeast, like Hefes and Belgians and things, I found a new bit of information. Many said that the band-aid phenol could come from high pH sparge water/wort runoff. I am pretty sure that my water is alkiline. The water report indicates it has a high pH, which I always thought didn't matter, as long as the other stuff was OK. Not that I've tested it...

But I also notice that my very dark beers don't seem to have a problem. In fact, before I started brewing, I didn't think I really liked dark beers like stouts and porters. Now I love them. Mine always come out really well. This would make sense with high alkilinity water, since the dark grains have a lot of acidity to them. It might be starting to come together.


America Makes the Best Beer

It's official! My poll got a whopping seven votes to determine that the best beer comes from home. I think there's a person from a different country that logged in and voted for Imports. But I can't argue with numbers. What a landslide! If only I knew what the real elections of today resulted in, I could make a political analogy, but I don't, so I can't.

All I can say, in my best redneck Red-State voice "Whooooo! USA friggin rules man!" But seriously, I do think that we have the best beer culture in the world here. Where else does every brewery make a RIS and IIPA? There are some British breweries that make like ten beers under 5% ABV.

Thanks to everyone who voted here!

Dragon King and Marynka Porter Bottled

On January 26th, I brewed two beers on the same day. Dragon King Pale Ale was intended to be a 1.055, 40 IBU basic pale ale. Marynka Porter was meant to be a 1.047, 33 IBU basic porter, featuring Marynka hops.

This being my first batches with my new grain mill, I got unheard of efficiency, and ended up with a pair of 1.070 beers. That makes a really low IBU American IPA and a midrange Baltic Porter. Unfortunately, I didn't measure pre-boil gravity, so I didn't boost the hops accordingly. Both beers are expected to be a bit malt-leaning.

Today I bottled the two. Marynka's been done for a few days. Dragon King didn't seem as far along, but I figured now's the time.

Marynka ended up at 1.016. One point lower than BeerSmith predicted, even mashing at 155. There's just no stopping that dry yeast! And I didn't even rehydrate it. The beer has a nice dark grain aroma, with the taste to go along with it. The hops are subtle, as expected, and perhaps to style. Marynka is said to have a cedar, rootlike, licorice thing going on, and I can sort of pick up on that. I figured this would be a really nice complement to a Porter's dark malts. Now that it's a baltic porter, the Polish hops only make more sense. I am really happy with this one. There's a slight tang, and the body is a little light. I think I need to use more dark malts to get past that dark malt tang, and that will also deepen the body. I'll just have to ignore the SRM specs for dark beers that I make. Mean Giant RIS proves I love tons of dark malts.

Dragon King came out weird. I used two hops I don't normally use: Brewer's Gold and Ahtanum. Brewer's Gold was a 60 and 30 minute addition. It turns out that Brewer's Gold is sort of like a low alpha Chinook, which I am learning that I don't like too much. It has a real pukey smell to me, which might be more objectively described as intensely resiny and spicy. Big Slick IIPA has a lot of Chinook in it, and it is worse off for it. Maybe Columbus next time? Or Simcoe? Or ?? But Dragon King is no IIPA. With 40 IBU and 1.070, it is very mildly hopped. To say the least. But the Chinook makes a decent bitterness when you don't catch a whiff of them. The Ahtanum is said to contribute a distinctive sweet, citrus-zest character. Making the recipe, I thought "grapefruit" and thought maybe I had a Cascade option here. But it is more like lemon. The lemon zest impression from a 30 minute and flameout addition of Ahtanum is big. Almost like actual lemon zest. This is a summer beer. A huge one. Coming out at 1.010, it is 7.8% ABV. The alcohol is pretty well hidden, and the overwhelming character is my negative impression of Chinook and a big lemon tang finish. It doesn't help that it is dry as hell, finishing at 1.010 and all. But I think the big ABV will help this one keep for a few months until it's warm enough to enjoy a refreshing beer. Plus there's something to be said for a nearly 8% beer that's anything close to refreshing. This just might end up being a regular summer brew for me, and for my eventual brewery. The concept is perfect for today's beer market.

So there you have it, two beers, twins, born in the same day, but not identical. Both are good in their own way. You can never choose a favorite child. But I feel a preference for Marynka right now, based off this tasting. Of course, come warmer days, I just might change my mind. Sort of like the kids. One day, Iris is the fave. Then the next day, Boden is best.

Another nice thing was saving some time by bottling two batches at once. The original intent of brewing two in one day was to save several hours by parallel brewing. The same thing paid off today in bottling. It's been taking me two-and-a-half to three hours to bottle one batch, but I did two today in probably four hours. I was able to sanitize the bottles for batch two while bottling batch one. And I did a bunch of other ad-hoc multitasking as I went along.

This is also amazing considering this was my first bottling with Iodophor. I am on a 15-minute soak schedule with Iodophor for now (although I hear that it doesn't need that much, that's just what Zok said to do). So if I have to do four rounds of sanitation in my bottling bucket to handle two cases of bottles, that's an extra half hour right there.

In the end, it's awesomely cool to bottle four cases of beer in one day. I feel like a farmer that just sowed all the seeds for the season. I just can't wait until this abundant feast of beer is ready to harvest. They say you reap what you sow, but I can't wait to reap this!


Gemini Alpha Update

A week ago, I had my first dual brew day. Gemini Series is the name of the two-beers-made-on-the-same-day thing. Alpha is my name for the first of this series. They were made together, pitched just hours apart, but not progressing at the same rate.

Marynka Porter had an OG of 1.070 for 5 gallons. It's pretty much done fermenting now. I haven't seen a bubble all day. Though I see evidence of bubbling when I go down there. I figure it's to the point where it's just expressing the CO2 from the beer that's now made in the bucket.

Dragon King Pale Ale had an OG of 1.070 for 5.5 gallons (total coincidence on the same OG). It's still going. It bubbles every ten seconds or even more frequently. It is probably still scrubbing those last few points of gravity off the beer. Interesting, and even expected, since I mashed it four degrees cooler than Marynka (151 vs. 155). Plus, it's obviously lighter, and thus, to a certain extent, more fermentable by nature.

I could probably bottle Marynka right now. And God is it tempting. But I want to wait. I want to bottle them together. Two for one. Both on the same day. So in all likelihood, I'll be making the move on Tuesday or so next week. Of course, I'll post about it when the time comes. I'm eager to taste these latest creations. I expect both to be excellent. I think Dragon King might end up a little under-hopped, since the gravity came in 15 points higher than planned. But I'll be happy with clean-tasting, contaminant-free beer right now. Hopefully new buckets and tubes means no band-aid phenols.


Gemini Series Alpha Project Fermenting

Gemini Series is my fancy/cheesy name for making two batches of beer in the same day. Great time savings. Alpha Project is my fancier/cheesier (downright geeky in every sense of the word) name for my first attempt at making two beers at once (not counting the two partigyles I've done). If you're reading this, you presumably know that fermenting is what we call it when yeast consumes sugar and creates alcohol and CO2.

Finally, after a nearly 24-hour lag time, my two beers are fermenting. They're going pretty good right now. I am almost ready to switch the fridge over to cool mode to keep the temps from raising too much as fermentation creates heat in the becoming-beer.

It is strange, though. The two beers are fermenting differently. One is steady, like a normal beer. But the other one is really burst-y, no activity for a second, then three bubbles all in a row. It was so compelling to me, I filmed it (with my digital camera - the one that I take still photos with) and put it on YouTube. Here it is:


Brew Day

Today I did the first in my "Gemini Series" - that's twin batches; two batches in one day. Today was fraternal twins - a Pale Ale and a Porter. Actually more like a Double Pale Ale and a Baltic Porter. My new grain mill bumped my efficiency to 90%. I still can't believe it, and I've got to make sure I'm measuring everything correctly.

But the hydrometer read 1.070 for both batches. Maybe today is a "70" day somehow. So much for the session beers at 4.8% and 5.5%. I'll have to deal with two 7% beers. Can you tell I'm disappointed? ;)

I tried to be time-efficient. I mashed Dragon King Pale Ale first. Then, my intention was to time the heating of the mash water for Marynka Porter such that as soon as the mash tun was free from Dragon King, I could take it over with Marynka. I had sparge slowness, so it took a bit longer, but in the end, it all came out OK. I'll skip the play-by-play. Because I am lazy right now.

Marynka Porter

BeerSmith Recipe Printout - www.beersmith.com
Recipe: Marynka Porter
Brewer: Keith Brainard
Asst Brewer:
Style: Brown Porter
TYPE: All Grain
Taste: (35.0)

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size: 5.00 gal
Boil Size: 6.72 gal
Estimated OG: 1.070 SG
Estimated Color: 30.3 SRM
Estimated IBU: 31.2 IBU
Brewhouse Efficiency: 90.00 %
Boil Time: 90 Minutes

Amount Item Type % or IBU
10.00 lb Pale Malt (Pearl) (3.0 SRM) Grain 90.91 %
0.50 lb Black (Patent) Malt - Light (478.5 SRM) Grain 4.55 %
0.25 lb Caramel/Crystal Malt -150L (150.0 SRM) Grain 2.27 %
0.25 lb Chocolate Malt - Medium (385.0 SRM) Grain 2.27 %
0.50 oz Marynka [6.50 %] (90 min) (First Wort HopHops 12.3 IBU
1.00 oz Fuggles [4.60 %] (60 min) Hops 14.9 IBU
0.25 oz Marynka [6.50 %] (30 min) Hops 4.0 IBU
0.25 oz Marynka [6.50 %] (0 min) Hops -
1.00 items Immersion Chiller (Boil 15.0 min) Misc
1.00 tsp Irish Moss (Boil 15.0 min) Misc
1.00 tsp Yeast Nutrient (Boil 15.0 min) Misc
1 Pkgs US-05/US-56 (Safale #1056) Yeast-Ale

Mash Schedule: Single Infusion, Medium Body, No Mash Out
Total Grain Weight: 11.00 lb
Single Infusion, Medium Body, No Mash Out
Step Time Name Description Step Temp
60 min Mash In Add 13.75 qt of water at 167.1 F 155.0 F

Gemini Series - Alpha Two.


Dragon King Pale Ale

BeerSmith Recipe Printout - www.beersmith.com
Recipe: Dragon King Pale Ale
Brewer: Keith Brainard
Asst Brewer:
Style: American Pale Ale
TYPE: All Grain
Taste: (35.0)

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size: 5.50 gal
Boil Size: 7.33 gal
Estimated OG: 1.070 SG
Estimated Color: 6.2 SRM
Estimated IBU: 40.4 IBU
Brewhouse Efficiency: 90.00 %
Boil Time: 90 Minutes

Amount Item Type % or IBU
11.25 lb Pale Malt (Pearl) (3.0 SRM) Grain 93.75 %
0.25 lb Cara-Pils/Dextrine - Dark (12.5 SRM) Grain 2.08 %
0.25 lb Carared (20.0 SRM) Grain 2.08 %
0.25 lb Munich Malt - Light (6.5 SRM) Grain 2.08 %
1.00 oz Brewer's Gold [7.70 %] (60 min) Hops 22.5 IBU
0.75 oz Ahtanum [5.50 %] (30 min) Hops 9.3 IBU
0.50 oz Brewer's Gold [7.70 %] (30 min) Hops 8.6 IBU
0.25 oz Ahtanum [5.50 %] (0 min) Hops -
1.00 items Immersion Chiller (Boil 15.0 min) Misc
1.00 tsp Irish Moss (Boil 15.0 min) Misc
1.00 tsp Yeast Nutrient (Boil 15.0 min) Misc
1 Pkgs US-05/US-56 (Safale #1056) Yeast-Ale

Mash Schedule: My Mash
Total Grain Weight: 12.00 lb
My Mash
Step Time Name Description Step Temp
60 min Mash In Add 15.00 qt of water at 162.5 F 151.0 F

Gemini Series - Alpha One



Pre Cut "Just Resiny"

So today I went back to Zok's. I could go on and on about how great it is there. It was even better this time than last time.

Today there were three other guys there. Bill Hincks was there, and it was great fun to meet him in person. Now I have a face and a voice to the email correspondence. Then there was a guy named Andy Jackson there, who is from Mystic. He had a beer made with Spruce, and on top of that, Zok was just saying, "there's this other guy that makes a good beer with some Spruce in it..." Then there he is! And there was one more guy, whose name I didn't get. But he was nice, too. It was the five of us hanging out for a while, sampling various beers. Just cool, really. Never had anything like that at any other homebrew shop.

But, what does this have to do with a sour Pre Cut Ale With Fir, you might ask, except for the fact that Andy brought a pine beer, too? I brought a bottle of Pre Cut with me, so Zok could try it and analyze the nature of the sour taste. He detected a sour taste, but decided it wasn't lactic, and was probably not an infection. Further anti-infection evidence is the fact that the bottles aren't absurdly fizzy. Lactic bacteria devour sugar that beer yeast won't touch. The feakin' bottom feeders of the yeast-microbe world, and that's saying something. So if the beer was infected by lactic acid, souring bacteria, it would keep fermenting until the beer was so fizzy it spouted forth from the bottle as soon as you opened it. This is not the case - Pre Cut is just a normal carbonation level, whatever that means...

So the final diagnosis is that Pre Cut was just too Fir-infused. The sour taste could just come from the tree. It was overwhelmingly voted "resiny". The two full boughs of Fraser Fir, stick and all, was too much for those little three gallons to take. It might have been something extracted from the sticks put in the beer. Heck, it might have been something that they sprayed on the tree while it was growing. In fact, I caught a whiff of the same sour smell from another old piece of the tree that the kids were playing with today.

So in the end, I might have replaced all my plastic crap for no reason. But better safe than sorry, and the stuff was dirty. Furthermore, I really drove myself crazy with the "why" and "how" of the infection. I guess I will sleep well tonight, knowing that I didn't really do anything wrong, except just used too much Fir with too many sticks in there. Next time, I'll just use the needles.


Big Slick 2 Sampled

Ever since I found Pre-Cut to be infected, I've been nervously anticipating the state of Big Slick 2. The first time around, Big Slick was supposed to be my most awesome thing ever. It ended up poorly attenuated, and I tried to fix it, and in the actual end, it was DMS city, like a bottle of cooked corn. Bummer. Major.

So today, sixteen days after brewing, the thing is still bubbling in the airlock and I am nervous as hell. I am fermenting at 62-64°F, but still, shouldn't it be done by now??

I did something I am almost categorically against. I thiefed a sample a few minutes ago. I sanitized the plastic beer thief, and drew three pulls. That was enough to fill a hydrometer sampling cylinder. Gravity is 1.015. OG was 1.085, and BeerSmith predicted 1.020 for a FG. But I have been beating BeerSmith all the time with my one-two punch of temperature control and US-05 dry yeast. Slightly worrisome, but not alarming...yet.

Then the smell. It is still fermenting, and I have never tasted still ferementing beer before, or at least not recently. At first, it smells like...uh...hops I guess. But there's something else in there. I now have labelled the smell "puke", though "pee" was my first disgusting thought. Hopefully that's just the smell of something that's still fermenting, like it's just the yeast dropping down to the bottom of the bucket so I can leave them behind. You know, how the yeast on the walls of the bucket smell so nasty. Maybe it's just that. But I'm pretty worried now.

The taste has set it straight. I can't pick up any sour. Sure, it's warm and flat and not done, but it is pretty promising! It is 9.2% ABV, but not too hot, even this young. The hops are absurd - just like an IIPA ought to be. It is really big, soft, and smooth in the mouth. I can sort of taste a touch of the puke if I really look for it, but the hops are center stage here.

Prognosis: I think this one's going to be just fine. No, it will be awesome! I might need to give it some more time, though... If I can, I'll rack to secondary tomorrow afternoon, and then bottle it in a week or so, with a fresh packet of yeast. But then again, I might just bottle it in a few days when the airlock stops bubbling, as has been my lately routine.


Zok is the Coolest

Today, at the recommendation of Bill Hincks, former CT-RI Brewery Correspondant for Ale Street News, I went up to Willimantic (or Windham or whatever) to visit Zok's Homebrew Supply.

Since I found Pre-Cut to be sour, I immediately suspected every single piece of equipment in my brewery to be full of lactic Brett yeast, and in need of replacement. I soon realized that probably only the bottling stuff and fermenting bucket were likely infected, if that much, and headed out to pick up some new stuff.

I got a bottling bucket, auto siphon, blah blah blah - a bunch of bottling and other plastic stuff. But the best part was meeting the famous Zok. For those of you that don't know, Paul Zocco is Zok. He has a homebrew shop in Willimantic CT, and his knowledge and experience are vast. He does annual trips to Belgium to visit Lambic breweries and blenders as well as other great Belgian brewers. Probably does other trips, too. He writes for BYO, has a bit in Sam Calagione's Extreme Brewing book, knows people like Stan Hieronymous, and probably even more things I don't even know.

Yet with all this awesomeness, he's the easiest guy in the world to talk to. Honestly, I was pretty nervous heading up there. Fortunately, I had 51 minutes (according to MapQuest) to get over the nerves, and by the time I got there, I was excited to see the place and meet the man. I ended up spending upwards of an hour chatting about everything brewing and picking out all the stuff I needed.

Turns out Zok's passion really is with brewing. He seems particularly involved in Lambic brewing, and even has two (soon to be three) wood casks of Lambic in progress in his store. The store's sort of scattered, but there are so many cool things there. You can buy 1/4-bbl brewhouses and 1/2-bbl brewhouses from him, as well as plastic conical fermenters. He had on display a bottle of Utopias (vintage not noted), as well as empty bottles of all sorts - the ones I noticed were Newport Storm annuals from 2000-present.

Another cool thing about Zok is that he has some firm opinions, but at the same time, he's willing to let you do your own thing. A perfect example is fermenting. I used to do secondary fermentation, but stopped when I had all those flat batches. I now bottle every beer - big or small - a day or two after it's done bubbling the airlock. Zok is traditional and always does secondary, often for months. I just don't have the patience, but he respectfully stated his opinion and reasons, listened to mine, and agreed to disagree - no judgement, no arguing, not even a sigh and head shake. A perfect gentleman.

It was a real pleasure to talk with someone so well-versed in brewing, and loving it, doing it day in and day out for his work. Just an inspiration, really. I am glowing inside just thinking about it now. Even though I only ended up with just over $60 of odds and ends, I was given the royal treatment. I am hooked. I want to go back tomorrow to get my copy of Extreme Brewing signed, share some of his Lambic, and get his opinion on my Pre-Cut sour taste. I'll even bring my Mean Giant Double Stout to see what he thinks about it.

So besides a tribute to Zok, I guess the message is: try something new. You might find something awesome.


Pre-Cut is Sour

Did I say "sour"? I meant "acidic". There was something wild in there. I bottled it about four days ago, and today it is sour. It was verging on funk at bottling time, but today it is funky. Funny thing is, with this mild dose of acid, it is pretty tasty. Doesn't exactly blend with the fir that well, but at the same time, it isn't horrible.

But now I am worried about my bottling equipment and even the bucket I fermented this in. Are they infected? I don't think I want to risk souring the Big Slick 2 by bottling with the same equipment. Lucky me that Big Slick 2 is still bubbling away in there, unaware of the buggy risks that it has just avoided.

To-do tomorrow: go to Rob's and get a new bottling bucket, siphon, and bottling wand.

Hey, this frees me up to go ahead and make "Lambic Imprint" (a takeoff on Limbic Imprint - yes, we are going to do a natural homebirth.) Lambic Imprint will be a 100% Brett B. beer! But according to Vinnie Cilurzo, it will take about six months before it's ready.


Mean Giant Tasted (Twice)

Yesterday was my wife's Birthday. I made for her a dark chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. The perfect excuse to taste the Mean Giant Double Stout that has been conditioning since 1/3/08. I can tell by squeezing the barometer PET bottle that it isn't really ready yet, but sometimes I just can't resist dipping in anyway.

Yesterday morning I put a bottle in the fridge. When I popped it at cake time, it was flat. So it tasted the same as the bottling sample, just colder and flat. A bummer, for sure. Not to say it wasn't good. It is very strong, with tons of roasted flavor, really big and strong tasting, like a Mean Giant should be. It was just flat. Flat. A little bit of bubbles for looks and a bit of palette lifting would be nice. But flat it was.

Tonight, I couldn't resist again. I took a warm conditioning bottle, from the temperature controlled fridge at 62°F, and put it in the fridge for like literally two minutes. More of a gesture of goodwill than anything else. This one popped like a beer. It poured with a small, but present head that left a ring around the edge of the glass til the last sip. See the photo above for the immediately post-pour shot. Awesome. I think now that a beer like this was meant to be had at a warm temperature like that.

I think with a few more days conditioning, it will be slightly bubbly like this even cold, but in the mean time, I am happy to sneak samples from the warm fridge.

Pre-Cut Bottled

Pre-Cut Ale with Fir has been done fermenting for about a day. That is, the airlock no longer re-rises when I push the lid of the bucket to get the CO2 out of there. Done enough for me.

I bottled it today. I am...um...how can I say this...curious to see how it will come out. The FG is 1.007. BeerSmith told me it would be 1.011. Maybe the 0.50 lbs of Honey gave it that extra burst of fermentability. The flavor is sort of sourish, and thin. It reminds me of the Sparkling Maple Wine I made this summer, which had a FG of 1.000. It was gross. At least this has a smell and taste of piney fir bough to keep it interesting beyond the pure alcohol of the rest of the flavor. I am considering the possibility that there is contamination. I used a half an open packet of dry yeast from a few months ago, so it could have been contaminated. This would explain the low FG, since wild yeast are a bit less picky about what they'll eat. It could also explain the sour-ish taste, since the notorious characteristic of wild yeast is an acidic fermentation byproduct.

At any rate, I got about fifteen 22-ounce bottles out of it. I dosed it pretty good with corn sugar - 3.25 oz, to get around 3 volumes of CO2. In a word, fizzy. Think Champagne or cellared Gueuze. Time will tell, but I expect to have this one around for a while waiting for it to "mature" in the bottles.


Brew Day!

I have really been on a roll these past few months. I made CornucopIPA on 11/7/07, Christmas Presence on 11/15/07, Little Bear’s Brown Beer on 12/11/07, Mean Giant Double Stout on 12/20/07, and now today I made Big Slick 2 and Pre-Cut!

I don’t normally make two beers in one day, but this was a special recipe. Big Slick was the first big beer I ever tried to make. The grain bill to achieve a starting gravity of 1.095 for 5 gallons was just over 20 lbs of grain. I knew I could mash at most 12-15 pounds of grain in my little 5-gallon Rubbermaid cooler mash tun, so I had to get creative.

I decided to do two mashes, each with half the grain bill, and each mash I would collect half the wort I needed for a single big batch. The result was pretty good in terms of hitting a high gravity, but the end product wasn’t so hot. The finishing gravity never really got as low as I wanted, and I kept messing with it, and it ended up with a flavor that I believe to be DMS.

I have a lot more brews under my belt now, so I decided it was time to try again with the old Big Slick. It is an Imperial IPA, with the full range of American C-Hops: Chinook, Centennial, and Cascade. Big Slick 1 stalled at 8.5%, but I just made Christmas Presence to be 8.8% with no sweat at all, so I am sure that I can outdo Big Slick 1 with this Big Slick 2.

You might wonder, “why do two mashes, why not just use DME to augment the gravity”, and that is a good question. For one, DME costs a lot more than grains. For two, I like mashing a lot more than I like stirring in powder – it feels more authentic to me. Finally, I don’t know what’s in that DME – it might be a lot less fermentable than a comparable amount of malted barley would be.

Another benefit of doing the two mashes is the opportunity to PartiGyle. This basically means making two beers from one set of grains. Since I only need about 3.5 gallons from each mash, that leaves gallons worth of useful wort that I could make beer with. I think of this as an opportunity to experiment. So I did.

I put branches cut from our recently discarded Christmas Tree (a Fraser Fir) into the wort and boiled them for about 20 minutes in there. I put in two little branches to three gallons, such that the smell was very apparent after the additions were done. My intention is to have the fir act as all the spice I need. The smell of a Christmas tree is so luscious, I figure the taste must be nice, too. Furthermore, the whole piney family of plants has a lot in common with the aroma and taste of some of our favorite hops varieties.

The resulting wort has a strong Christmas Tree aroma, and a distinctive Christmas Tree flavor (not that I tried to eat the tree, but the flavor follows the aroma). It is even almost minty. I didn’t use any hops in this beer, called Pre-Cut, but I did use a half pound of DME and a half pound of local honey to boost the gravity to produce a beer at about 4.5%.

Here’s the recipe and label art for Pre-Cut.

Back to Big Slick. There are almost five ounces of hops in there, and you can tell it from the taste already. Plus I had to clean the strainer three or four times to get them all out while pouring from brew kettle to fermenter to aerate.

Here’s the recipe and label art for Big Slick.

In addition, Little Bear’s Brown Beer is fully conditioned and out of temperature control. The taste is great! Mild, but still hoppy. I consider it an American Brown Ale. It is also low alcohol, clocking in at 4.3%, as intended.

Also, Mean Giant Double Stout is still chugging away, slowly bubbling every minute or so. That’s good news, because it means that it should be well attenuated, and thus plenty powerful, as intended. With any luck, it will even go further than predicted and end up over 10%. Then we’ll cross our fingers for proper conditioning in the bottles.

Big Slick 2 Imperial IPA

BeerSmith Recipe Printout - www.beersmith.com
Recipe: Big Slick 2
Brewer: Keith Brainard
Asst Brewer:
Style: Imperial IPA
TYPE: All Grain
Taste: (35.0) Wort is very sweet and cleanly bitter. Perhaps a tad too bitter - may need some aging.

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size: 5.50 gal
Boil Size: 7.33 gal
Estimated OG: 1.085 SG
Estimated Color: 8.8 SRM
Estimated IBU: 82.4 IBU
Brewhouse Efficiency: 57.5 %
Boil Time: 90 Minutes

Amount Item Type % or IBU
10.50 lb Pale Malt (2 Row) US (2.0 SRM) Grain 47.7 %
10.50 lb Pale Malt, Maris Otter (3.0 SRM) Grain 47.7 %
1.00 lb Caramel/Crystal Malt - 20L (20.0 SRM) Grain 4.5 %
1.00 oz Chinook [11.00%] (60 min) Hops 30.4 IBU
0.75 oz Magnum [10.00%] (60 min) Hops 20.7 IBU
1.00 oz Cascade [5.40%] (60 min) Hops 13.4 IBU
1.00 oz Centennial [6.00%] (30 min) Hops 12.7 IBU
0.50 oz Cascade [5.40%] (30 min) Hops 5.2 IBU
0.50 oz Cascade [5.40%] (0 min) Hops -
1.00 items Immersion Chiller (Boil 15.0 min) Misc
1.00 tsp Irish Moss (Boil 15.0 min) Misc
1.00 tsp Yeast Nutrient (Boil 15.0 min) Misc
1 Pkgs US-05/US-56 (Safale #1056) Yeast-Ale

Mash Schedule: My Mash
Total Grain Weight: 22.00 lb
Name Description Step Temp Step Time
Mash-In Add 27.50 qt of water at 162.5 F 151.0 F 60 min

Two separate mashes, but not reiterated. Partigyle the second runnings. First mash was 63% efficient, but the second was apparently only 53%. The grains were floating in the MLT when I opened it at the end of the mash for the second mash (the maris otter mash), so that may be the problem - many of the grains weren't in solution for the mash.


Pre-Cut: Ale with Fir

BeerSmith Recipe Printout - www.beersmith.com
Recipe: Pre-Cut
Brewer: Keith Brainard
Asst Brewer:
Style: Spice, Herb, or Vegetable Beer
TYPE: Partial Mash
Taste: (35.0) Smell and taste of wort are of christmas tree. Of course, the taste has some sweetness. This should be interesting!

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size: 3.00 gal
Boil Size: 3.75 gal
Estimated OG: 1.045 SG
Estimated Color: 5.8 SRM
Estimated IBU: 0.0 IBU
Brewhouse Efficiency: 58.0 %
Boil Time: 20 Minutes

Amount Item Type % or IBU
0.50 lb Amber Dry Extract (12.5 SRM) Dry Extract 9.2 %
2.10 lb Pale Malt (2 Row) US (2.0 SRM) Grain 38.8 %
2.10 lb Pale Malt, Maris Otter (3.0 SRM) Grain 38.8 %
0.21 lb Caramel/Crystal Malt - 20L (20.0 SRM) Grain 3.9 %
0.50 tsp Irish Moss (Boil 10.0 min) Misc
0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient (Boil 15.0 min) Misc
1.00 items Fraser Fir Bough (Secondary 7.0 days) Misc
3.00 items Fraser Fir Bough (Boil 15.0 min) Misc
0.50 lb Honey (1.0 SRM) Sugar 9.2 %
1 Pkgs US-05/US-56 (Safale #1056) Yeast-Ale

Mash Schedule: My Mash 2
Total Grain Weight: 4.41 lb
Name Description Step Temp Step Time
Mash In Add 5.51 qt of water at 162.5 F 151.0 F 60 min

Second runnings of both mashes of Big Slick 2. Grains are approximation of gravity of this wort. Extract and sugar added to achieve normal gravity beer. Used the open, half-pack of US-05. Fir boughs got all black and nasty looking after being boiled.