A Change of Heart

A couple of months ago, I posted about what I do “wrong” on purpose in order to simplify my brew process. I reasoned that it didn’t matter because I enjoy what I brew and so do the family and friends that I serve it to. Since that post, I submitted three of my beers to a BJCP-sponsored homebrew competition. Each of them scored approximately 25 out of a possible 50 points. Not the best scores, but I get a gold star for consistency! That type of score indicates that it is a “good” beer but that it missed the mark in style and had flaws. The imperial stout was “hot” (I agree with that) and “vegetal” (only noted by one of two judges and I don’t perceive that). The witbier was phenolic (belgians are supposed to) but they used the terms plastic, rubbery, medicinal. Both judges for the marzen used the terms medicinal, rubbery, bandaid, plastic for both aroma and flavor. Whoa!!!

I went back after I received the scoresheets and tried these beers again. I still think the witbier is really good. The clovey phenolics from the yeast may be covering up the medicinal phenolics that may be there. The imperial stout is still hot. Maybe with age that will mellow. The marzen to me was the eye opener. I had previously thought there was something off that I couldn’t describe or quantify. I thought maybe it was recipe based and my malts were off. But now I’m thinking that the “off-ness” may be what the judges are talking about. I know what a band-aid smells like, but I’ve never smelled it in the context of a beer, where it would be at a lower level.

After stewing for a couple days over the results, I came to an acceptance that my beers are not as good as I thought they were. They are fair and drinkable. But they have flaws. If I wanted to strive to do better, I’d have to change some things. So I came up with a game plan to institute some better brewing practices that I haven’t yet adopted.

1. I need to monitor and adjust my mash pH. To date, I usually write a recipe, mash it and go with it. I’ve never measured the pH of a mash before. Except for maybe my darker beers, my mash pH is probably higher than the recommended 5.2-5.6. I’ve had a pH meter sitting in my closet waiting for the next time I was going to make a berliner weisse. I’m going to start putting it to use every brew day. But pH is also tied into water profile… which leads me to the next one.

2. I’m delving into the world of water chemistry. Up to this point, I’ve only used bottled spring water with no adjustments. There are no water quality reports that pinpoint it’s profile, only broad ranges. Also, my water utility company does not have a recent water report on file to indicate just what’s in my tap water. So I’m going the route of using distilled bottled water (blank slate) and adding my salts/minerals to the desired levels, which will in turn also get me to my proper mash pH in most cases. If not, I can further adjust pH with a little lactic acid. I’ll be using the Bru’n Water spreadsheet to determine my additions for each beer. It’s free and it’s wholeheartedly endorsed by many of the giants of the homebrew world.

3. I’m pitching more yeast. I’ve always just pitched one dry sachet or one smackpack. But maybe the yeast are stressing a bit. I’m not ready to make starters. So I’m taking the baby step of just simply pitching two packets of yeast instead of just one and see where that gets me. Yes it is a little bit more money, but I guess I’m buying a little convenience. It’s simple and doesn’t add any extra work to my brew process.

So my first brew that I’ll be implementing all this with will be my brown ale. In the past, I’ve never been completely happy with it. I’ve sensed the same sort of “off” thing that I couldn’t describe, much like the marzen. So given that it’s a straight forward, non-hoppy, no adjunct brew, I thought it would be a good candidate to see if all of this will improve this beer. To be continued……

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