The Next Generation of Brews (Brown Ale)

In my previous post, I talked about some of the improvements I was making to my brewing process in order to yield better beer. The first brew with which I implemented these changes was my brown ale. In the rundown, I’ll indicate which steps were different from what I usually did in the past.

Left Nut Brown Ale (brewed on 11/4/16)
5 gallons (anticipated efficiency 70%)

Fermentables:
Maris Otter 78.1%
Victory 7.6%
Crystal 120 5.7%
Special Roast 5.7%
Chocolate Malt 2.9%
(Target SRM: 22.44)

Water Profile: Ca 50ppm, Mg 10ppm, Na 22ppm, Sulfate 71ppm, Cl 68ppm, Bicarbonate 58ppm
(Water chemistry was new here. Instead of using unadjusted bottled spring water, I used distilled bottled water and added my additions as noted below).

scale

Strike Water: 5 gallons distilled bottled water. Added 1g gypsum, 2g calcium chloride, 2g epsom salt, and 1.5g baking soda. Dissolved additions and heated to 161F and mashed in.

Mash: Water to grist ratio 1.9. Target temp: 153F, Actual Temp: 152F
Mash Time: 60 minutes, measured pH: 5.5

ph

Sparge: 2.1 gallons distilled bottled water. Added 0.1mL phosphoric acid 10%, 0.4g gypsum, 0.8g calcium chloride, and 0.8g epsom salt. Dissolved additions and heated to 170F before executing sparge.

Boil: 60 minutes

wort

Hops: 1oz Northern Brewer AA 4.9% @ 60 min
1oz East Kent Goldings AA 5.1% @ 15 min
(Target IBUs: 29.5)

hops

I chilled the wort after boil using my copper immersion chiller. I stirred constantly during the cool down where previously I would only stir periodically. I was able to cool it down to 90F in about twenty minutes.

Hydrometer reading (adjusted for temperature): 1.052 (target 1.054)

og

I then transferred the wort to the fermentor bucket, sealed it and placed it in my chest freezer set at 67F to cool down further. When the wort was down to 67 (5-6 hours later), I pitched 2 packets of Fermentis US-05 dry yeast (previously I would have only pitched one packet and when the wort was 90F or high 80s before putting in the freezer). I let the yeast sit for 30 minutes before vigorously stirring the wort with a sanitized spoon.

After one week, I removed the fermentor from the freezer and placed it inside the house where it is normally 75F and let it sit for an additional week.

After a total of 2 weeks in primary, I took a hydrometer reading (1.010) and then bottled as I normally would, batch priming with cane sugar. The bottles sat at ambient house temperature for two weeks before refrigerating and drinking the first pour.

Below is a summary of my changes:

Water
Before: Used unaltered bottled spring water.
Now: Added minerals/salts to bottled distilled water to achieve a specific water profile. In this case, it was the Brown Balanced profile from the Bru’n Water spreadsheet.

Mash pH
Before: Didn’t pay it any mind. Didn’t measure, didn’t adjust.
Now: Used the Bru’n water spreadsheet to dial in my desired mash pH through the use of minerals, salts and acids. Measured the pH at about 15 minutes into the mash using an inexpensive pH meter to confirm.

Pitching Temperature
Before: Pitched yeast when wort was still in the 80s or 90s (right after finishing the chilling step with the immersion chiller), then placed the fermentor in the chest freezer.
Now: Put the fermentor in the chest freezer first until the wort was at the desired fermentation temperature before pitching yeast.

Yeast amount
Before: 1 packet of yeast
Now: 2 packets of yeast

brown

The final product:
The color is a deep dark brown with an off white head. The carbonation is full and the head is lasting. Aroma is roasty, toasty and clean. The taste is clean, crisp, a little on the dry side but has a nice full roasty flavor. Mouthfeel is a nice medium. Reminds me of why I love browns. It has the crispness and easy drinkability of a lighter beer but contains the darker roasty notes in the realm of a stout. My past attempts at this recipe had left me unsatisfied. There was this unquantifiable offness to it that I couldn’t describe. But this version hits the mark. I must say that whatever I did differently did improve this beer and I’m sold. So I will continue to incorporate these “better brewing practices” moving forward. I have a tripel that’s just about done and I’m about to bottle a milk stout. We’ll see if these beers are also as solid as this brown.

The Kegging Question

Most homebrewers usually start out bottling their batches. And most agree that bottling is a pain in the ass for the most part. Which leads most homebrewers to a point eventually where they ask themselves if it’s time to start kegging. And even if the desire is there to make the jump, that opens up a bunch of other questions. How much is this going to cost me upfront? How much is the ongoing cost moving forward? Do I have space for the needed equipment? Do I have the money? Is it worth the money? I came to that point recently and I asked myself those very questions. And here are the answers basically. I don’t have the funds or the space at this time to get a kegerator or a keezer and the equipment that I would need to set up a keg/tap system. And yes I did look on craigslist for used stuff. So I started looking at alternatives. There were basically two that I found. The first has been around for a few years called Tap-a draft. See pic below.

Tap a draft

It comes with three bottles, that together would bottle about a 5 gallon batch, 5 CO2 cartridges and one tap assembly. You essentially treat each bottle like, well, a big bottle. You sugar prime your batch like normal, fill the bottle, let it carb and condition, then you refrigerate it. After its cold, you slap the tap on, insert a co2 cartridge and keep it in your fridge. Draft beer anytime. The bottles are small enough to fit on a standard fridge shelf.

The second option is a relatively new product made by Brewing Tools LLC. It’s called the Beer Box. It’s essentially the same product as Tap-a-Draft in basic design and function. But instead it’s two 2.5 gallon HDPE plastic boxy bottles (compared to the PET plastic of TAD), with a port for a Co2 cartridge and a tap assembly. So the bottles are bit more sturdy and rugged and it comes with an adapter and picnic tap, resulting in a little more versatility. But this runs $200 vs about $80 for Tap-a-Draft.

beer box

So I settled on the Tap-A-Draft mainly because it would fit my current needs and it was cheaper. I just want something to sit in my fridge and dispense beer (with the Co2 component) and maybe throw it in a cooler with ice if I want to hit the road. It arrived last week. My approach is that I’m going to use it mainly for my daily drinkers like my rye ale, cream ales, witbiers and hefeweizens, maybe brown ale. Since I won’t be making one of these until March, I won’t be using the TAD until then. I’m going to fill one TAD bottle from the batch and do traditional bottling with the rest of the batch. So I won’t be eliminating bottling, just reducing it. I still like bottles. I like how they look labeled, they can be given as gifts, portable, etc. I just don’t want to fill and cap 50 at a time if I don’t have to. So I’ve taken a baby step toward kegging. I guess I like to take things slow.

Left Nut Bottling

After 14 days in primary, I bottled my Left Nut Brown Ale.  I boiled two cups of water, added a half a cup of cane sugar and stirred until dissolved.  Covered and allowed to cool.

Sugar solution

With a sanitized measuring cup, got a sample from the fermentor and poured it into my test tube and took my final gravity reading.  Adjusted for temperature, it was 1.023, which results in an ABV of 4.6%.  Missed my target of 5.0%.  Maybe the yeast stalled.  But I’ll live with it.  Taste test was very good.  I dumped the sugar solution in my bottling bucket and racked my ale from the fermentor on top of it.  I gave it a stir, sanitized my bottles, filled, capped and labeled.

final gravitybottlingbottles filled

finished brown ale bottlesbrown ale label

The yield was fantastic.  One 16 oz PET for my carbonation tester and 47 12oz bottles.