Monday, September 26, 2011

Adventures in all grain brewing

Apologies to my four regular readers, this is another post on homebrewing.

I have now brewed four batches of all-grain beer. It's definitely a lot more work that using the beer kits that I have used since I started in January of 2010, but there's a certain pride that comes with making a foodstuff from scratch, and being able to honestly state, "I made this."

I started with two pale ales, followed by a brown ale, then back to another pale ale. I chose these recipes because they're relatively simple, and I want to get the techniques of batch sparging and boiling wort down before I progress to more difficult beer styles.

How have things progressed? Well, my first pale ale, I'm afraid to say, had all the hallmarks of rookie production. My efficiency was barely above 50% (meaning I barely got half the sugar out of my malt that I should have. I'd like to aim for 70-75%.), and my mash temperatures were too low, which probably explains why my beer only fermented about halfway before stalling. I also wound up with a lot hoppier flavour than I was expecting. It's not a big deal, since I like hoppy beers, but I just wasn't expecting it to be that bitter.

For my second pale ale, I was able to fix some issues with my mash temperatures, and I hopped it a lot lighter, but my efficiency was still floating around 60%. It fermented out fullly, and after bottling it last week, it seems to have turned out nicely. A little drier than I was expecting, but still good and within style guidelines. I racked my first, partially fermented pale ale onto this beer's "good" yeast cake, but that didn't seem to help at all.

I thought I did everything perfectly for my brown ale (although my efficiency was still around 60%) but it's fermentation has stalled halfway through, exactly like my first pale ale. This is almost a tragedy, because flavor-wise, this beer is exactly what I was aiming for. I've done a bunch of searching on the 'net and found some recommendations to fix a stalled fermentation. Hopefully it turns out.

My last pale ale, I don't know what I did different, but my efficiency hit 80%. I was expecting a starting gravity of about 1.042 and wound up with 1.054 instead. This means I was aiming for a 4.5% ABV ale, but I could wind up with a 6% ABV beverage (not that I'm complaining). I used yeast nutrient with and oxygenated the hell out of the wort, but I used a different yeast, a WYeast 1098 that that I washed from an English bitters kit I brewed in the spring. I created a starter for it to wake the yeast up, but two days into the fermentation, it doesn't look like there's a lot of activity going on. I'll measure the gravity Wednesday to see if things are progressing.

What do I think of all grain brewing thus far? Well, I love the technicality of it - there are just so many options you can change to affect the flavour of the beer, but it's almost a little overwhelming, especially when you're a rookie trying to troubleshoot problems with your fermentation. Now that the weather is getting too cold to spend six hours outside mashing and boiling, it'll be back to brewing beer kits for the winter.

I'll appreciate the simplicity of kit brewing for a bit, but I'll wager I'll be chomping at the bit to get back to all-grain in the spring.

I will, however, take suggestions on beer styles for my last all-grain beer to be brewed in 13 days' time. Any recommendations?

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