Sunday, February 19, 2012

Batch #8 - American Pale Ale (REVISITED), (Extract, Full-Boil, Non-kit)

Custom caps from
For batch #8 I'm going to quit "playing the field" so-to-speak and really try to perfect my extract American Pale Ale recipe before moving on.  While the original APA batch (#6) was probably the best so far it's still not what I would consider stellar.  I've learned a lot from the previous 7 batches but I think the best way to really pinpoint was it working (or not) is to keep the variables to a minimum and really laser focus on one recipe.

My American Pale Ale should be a pretty easy recipe to pull off as it is fairly basic and the alcohol levels should not overwhelm the yeast before it does its job.  Following are some lessons I learned the first time I tried this recipe that I will incorporate into this batch:
  • Start with a pre-boil water level of 5.7 gallons (not 5.5 as before) as prescribed by BeerSmith.  Side note: Full-boils make a big difference in taste.
  • STRAIN this batch!  I didn't do this with the last batch and the amount of trub bothered me.
  • Consider using a blow-off tube so the airlock doesn't go dry.
  • Use the hydrometer and keep your results for reference.
  • Aerate well.  See HERE for instructions.  Going to employ a wort aeration system for this batch.
  • Pay close attention to fermentation temperatures - keep them constant.  Shoot for 67-68 degrees.
  • This style probably does not require a yeast starter as the specifications on the Wyeast site indicate it can handle a full batch based on my style stats.  Follow these instructions carefully IF you do not use a yeast starter.
  • Don't be so anxious to transfer to secondary.  Let the yeast do it's job.  Use a hydrometer to assess when/if it is time to go to secondary.
  • 6 lbs. Light Dry Malt Extract (DME) - Munton's Light
  • .5 lbs. 2-Row
  • .5 lbs. Munich
  • .25 lbs. Pale Malt 20L
  • .25 lbs. Pale Malt 40L
  • .5 lbs. Carapils
  • 1 oz. Centennial Hops for bittering (60 mins.)
  • .5 oz. Cascade Hops for bittering (40 mins.)
  • .5 oz. Cascade Hops for flavor (30 mins.)
  • .5 oz Cascade Hops for aroma (20 mins.)
  • 1.5 oz. Cascade Hops for aroma (dry hop)
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet (an Irish Moss product) during last 15 minutes of boil.
  • Yeast - American Ale from Wyeast #1056
  • 5 oz. Corn Sugar (Dextrose) for priming (bottle conditioning)
  • 6 gallons of drinking water
  • 20 lb. bag of ice for chilling the wort
  1. Bring 5.7 gallons of water up to a temperature of approximately 158 degrees.
  2. Pour all of the crushed grain into a grain sock and submerge in water for 20 minutes to steep. Maintain a temperature between 150-165 degrees for steeping.  Be careful not to let temperature rise to 170 or above to prevent off flavors from being introduced.
  3. Remove grain sock and allow excess water to drip back into pot.  (Do not squeeze.)
  4. Bring wort to a gentle rolling boil, remove from heat and add all of the Light Dry Malt Extract and stir vigorously to dissolve.  Return to heat and resume boil.
  5. Add hops according to boil schedule above.
  6. Add 1 Whirlfloc tablet (an Irish Moss product) during last 15 minutes of boil.
  7. Chill wort to 70 degrees or less and transfer to primary fermentation (strain).
  8. Take OG reading with hydrometer - target is 1.056.
  9. Optional - add clean (boiled) water to get OG to target range.
  10. Pitch yeast.  Follow these instructions:
    1. To Activate, locate and move inner packet to a corner. Place this area in palm of one hand and firmly smack the package with the other hand to break the inner nutrient packet. Confirm the inner packet is broken.
    2. Shake the package well to release the nutrients.
    3. Allow the package to incubate and swell for 3 hours or more (it is not necessary for this package to fully swell before use) at 70-75°F (21-24°C).   
    4. Use sanitizing solution to sanitize the package before opening.
    5. Shake well, open and pour the Activator™ into 5 gallons of well aerated or oxygenated wort up to 1.060 OG at 65-72°F (18-22°C). Maintain temperature until fermentation is evident by CO2 bubble formation, bubbling airlock or foaming on top of wort. For high gravity or low temperature fermentations additional yeast may be required.
    6. Adjust to desired fermentation temperature.
  11. Ferment in primary for 4-7 days or LONGER.  Use your hydrometer to determine when it is ready to move.  Don't rely on airlock activity.
  12. Take second specific gravity reading.
  13. Move to secondary fermentation when ready for an additional 10 days or more.
  14. Take final specific gravity reading to ensure fermentation has ceased.
  15. Prepare priming sugar by boiling 2 cups of water and adding 5 oz. of priming sugar.   Be careful not to scorch.  Boil for 3-5 minutes and add to bottling bucket.  Stir for 1 minute.
  16. Transfer wort to bottling bucket and bottle.
  17. Bottle condition for approximately 30 days.
Notes, Results and Lessons Learned:
  • Brew Day - March 25, 2012
  • Transfer to secondary fermentation - April 15, 2012 (dry hopped) - 3 weeks in Primary.
  • Bottling Day - April 25, 2012 - 10 days in Secondary.
  • Fermentation temperature (range) - Remained constant at 66 degrees.
  • Estimated Original Gravity after boil - 1.057
    • Actual Original Gravity - 1.080
  • Estimated Final Gravity - 1.012
    • Actual Final Gravity - 1.020
  • Estimated ABV - 5.9%
    • Actual ABV - 7.9%
  • What was done differently for this batch compared to the last one of the same style?
    • Employed a wort aeration system to try and ensure a full fermentation.
    • Hops schedule changed.
    • Deleted amber malt and used a 2 lb. grain bill suggested by my local home brew supply store.
    • OG was much higher than planned.  Forgot to add additional water.  I think there was more boil-off than I anticipated.
    • Tasted the wort when it was transferred to Secondary and it was surprisingly good.
The Verdict:
I cracked open a bottle on May 9th which meant 14 days in the bottle.  Carbonation was fine.  As for taste, like many of the previous batches, it was certainly not bad but still not where I want it to be.  It has a sweetness to it that I attribute to an incomplete fermentation.  The final gravity was much higher that it was supposed to be.  I will go through this batch and enjoy it for what it is but I am on a quest to produce that batch of homebrew that makes me say, "Finally, this is IT!".
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Saturday, February 11, 2012

How (and why) to Aerate Your Wort

Let's start out with WHY we should aerate our wort.  Aeration is really about helping the yeast.  Because yeast plays such a critical role in the overall success of our home brew we want to pay special attention to it and create an ideal environment for it to thrive.

Yeast needs several things to work well and do its job.  First, it needs food.  Yeast feeds off of the fermentable sugars in the wort and in the process converts it to CO2 and alcohol.  Next, it needs to be able to work within the proper temperatures for its particular style.  Many ale yeast strains work best around 68 degrees Fahrenheit.  Finally, yeast needs OXYGEN which brings us to WHY we need to aerate our wort.

It is often written that the best things we can do to improve the quality of our home brew is to do full-boils of our wort*, control fermentation temperatures and take special care with sanitation.  All very useful and practical suggestions but I submit that aerating your wort ranks just as high in importance.

*Note: While full-boils of your wort can significantly increase the quality of your beer they also greatly deplete the amount of oxygen naturally contained in the water thus further increasing the need to aerate.

Let's take a look at what happens with under-oxygenated wort:
  1. Long Lag Times.  This will be one of the first problems you may notice if your wort has not been properly aerated.  Lag time is that crucial period when yeast cells replicate and fermentation begins.  We want shorter lag times to lessen the chance of contamination and reduce the chance of off flavors ending up in our finished beer.
  2. Incomplete Fermentation.  Here again, it comes down to the yeast.  To achieve the desired final gravity of your particular beer style you want your yeast to ferment completely to achieve the desired Final Gravity and ABV percentage.  If your yeast does not have enough oxygen it will eventually cease functioning thus resulting in incomplete fermentation.  Assuming proper pitch ratios, fermentation temperatures and life-sustaining oxygen, the yeast will continue to be healthy and thrive despite the rising alcohol production which can kill the fermentation cycle in poor environments.
  3. Off flavors or "fruity" tastes.  When it comes down to it we are really just trying to make the best tasting beer we can.  As we previously alluded to, long lag times can lead to off flavors ending up in our finished product.  Another by-product of poor yeast cell production (from poor aeration for instance) is excessive ester production.  An over abundance of esters can lead to an unwanted fruity character to your beer.
So if you are convinced that aerating your wort is a good thing, let's investigate HOW to do so.  The good news is that it's easy.  Like most tasks in home brewing there are many avenues to getting to where you want to go.  Aeration is no different.  Below are 3 methods for getting oxygen into your wort.  (All methods take place AFTER the wort is cooled and BEFORE the yeast is pitched.)

William's Oxygen Aeration System
  1. Splashing.  This is a simple method of allowing the wort to "splash" into the primary fermentation container either along the side, through a strainer or off the bottom of the vessel itself.  This will allow a little additional air to make its way into the wort before the yeast is pitched.
  2. Agitating or Shaking.  This method simply involves vigorously stirring or whisking the wort after it is in the fermentation container for several minutes or longer.  Alternatively, you can cap the fermentation bucket or carboy with a sanitized lid and shake for 1-2 minutes or as long as you can stand it.  This isn't as practical since a typical 5 gallon batch of wort is quite heavy!  Note - method 1 and 2 can be done in combination with one another to improve the result.
  3. Injection.  There are 2 basic ways of injecting oxygen into your wort.  The first involves purchasing a simple aquarium pump along with a filter and diffusion stone. These are readily available from pet stores or home brew stores. Simply sanitize the hose and stone that will come in contact with your wort, submerge and power on for 25-30 minutes.  The second, and most preferable, method is to inject pure oxygen into your wort.  All of the methods above introduce "air" into your wort.  Since air only contains just over 20% oxygen you need to inject way less pure oxygen into your wort for it work.  Much like the aquarium set-up, you can purchase a relatively inexpensive oxygen valve, hose and diffusion stone to get the job done.  To this, you will add a pure oxygen tank (for around $10 from Lowe's or Home Depot) and you are set (I like this one from Williams Brewing).  The good news is that instead of injecting air into the wort for 25-30 minutes you only need 45-60 seconds of pure oxygen to give the yeast its much needed boost.  A word of caution though - More isn't always better when it comes to injecting oxygen into your wort.  Too much oxygen can actually stress the yeast and in extreme cases kill it so stick with the prescribed times.
Well, that's it.  I hope you have luck aerating your wort and I'm sure your home brew will be all that much better.

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