Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Beerening: Scotch Ale + Brown Ale brewday

Scotch Ale Tasting:

Initial tastings of the ale are downright offensive.  It tastes like cat urine.  The first bottle is acrid, and burns all my senses.  It's pretty awful.  After a few weeks it's managed to upgrade itself to "bland", which still isn't too great to drink but at least isn't as awful as it used to be.  Moving on from that, it went through a stage where it smelled really yeasty but didn't give up a lot of hints regarding the beer itself.
I was originally shooting for a very low level of carbonation to approximate English pub ales.  After the first few tastings I decided to try to re-carbonate to a higher level of carbonation to attempt to make the flavor a bit less bland.  I tried to add additional carbonation using pre-measured conditioning tablets.  I opened every bottle, added 2 tablets, and quickly recapped using sanitized caps.  I had a few gushers, which is probably similar to the mentos+coke effect and could have been avoided by putting all the bottles into the fridge for a few hours first.  CO2 dissolves better in cold liquid.
 After a week it was more carbonated, which helped the blandness but still tasted the same.  Another week or so after that something odd happened...the flavors "rounded out", for lack of a better term.
 What used to be really thin and sharp flavors, not metallic but with a bit of that character, became much warmer and everything seemed a lot more cohesive.  It almost feels like I can actually judge it as a beer and not just relegate it to the bin of things that taste awful.  I can't quite identify everything in it, which is still troublesome but I can definitely pick out a light maltiness with a toffee like body.  Something in there is very similar to Werther's candies, but not quite as buttery.  I definitely didn't manage to get the fruity yeast esthers I was trying for, which might have helped this beer a lot.
It's still a very light beer, which disappoints me because I really wanted something with more character and complexity, but it's actually shaping up to be something quaffable.  I've learned a few things from this, even if the beer is less than stellar:

#1 I tried too many new things.  All-grain, decoction, Belgian Aromatic Malt, brown sugar.  I tried a lot of new stuff and I don't know what's making up the flavors I really don't like.

#2 My ability to hold a mash temp is freaking terrible.  If I were to shoot higher to begin with or take more intermediate steps to maintain a temperature, I might do better.

Brown Ale brewday:

Moving on from that, I decided to step back and make a really simple beer to try to refine my technique.  I also bought the Beersmith software, since I figure it could help me with some mash calculations.

I decided to shoot for a Brown Ale using only 3 malts, 2 hops, and a basic yeast I've used before.
12 lbs. US 2-row
2 lbs. Briess Special Roast
.5 lb US Chocolate Malt

1 oz cascade @ 60 minutes
1 oz cascade @ 30 minutes
1 oz glacier @ 10 minutes

Yeast: Wyeast 1272 - American Ale II
 Since one of my major problems has been holding a mash temperature I decided to use the same basic technique as last time and improve upon it instead of trying something totally new.  In the Scotch Ale writeup I mentioned using an "improvised mashtun" but didn't really go into detail about that.  My improvised mashtun was a ginormous nylon grain bag in my bottling bucket with a spoon wedged inside between the bag and the inside opening of the spigot.  Even with the top on, the plastic is just too good at giving off heat to hold the temperature for the length of the mash.

This time, to try to mitigate that I wrapped the bucket tightly in a blanket.  I also told Beersmith I was using plastic, so it could take the thermal properties of my mashtun into account while calculating my strike water temperature.  Since the Scotch Ale was so bland and light bodied I decided to mash a bit higher as well.

Unfortunately, I'm still trying to figure out Beersmith's interface so I screwed up and misread the temperature and used a strike temp that was way too low.  I wound up in the high 140's instead of the mid 150's, and realized I'd screwed the pooch.  I pulled off a bit of my mash immediately and also added some additional water from the tap, totaling about 1-2 gallons of water, and boiled it.  As soon as it was boiling I poured it back into the mash and stirred up, which got me to a lot more respectable temperature.

Even with the wrapping I still lost a decent amount of heat so I might need to upgrade to actual insulation, or just sack up and do an actual Coleman Cooler MLT conversion.

I just let the mash rest, and then lautered to another bucket.  I managed to get about 1.062 gravity from my first "gyle".  I added my sparge water and let it sit, then lautered again.  According to my refractometer readings of the runnings, at 1.020, I could have kept going but I had way more wort than I'm actually capable of boiling so I decided to leave it be.  Generally you can lauter all the way down to about 1.008 before you start extracting tannins.  In all I collected 5.5 gallons of wort with a combined pre-boil gravity of 1.052.

In the past I've topped up my boil kettle during the boil to maintain volume, so I have to top off less once the wort is in the fermenter.  This time I knew I had too much wort and wasn't going to boil off enough over the hour, so I got the 2nd largest kettle in my apartment and filled that with wort hoping the extra boil off would let me use all my wort.  I followed my hopping schedule as advertised, with the only real exception being I tossed a few pellets into the secondary boil, which I started a little earlier than the primary boil.

Prior to this brew I'd built my own immersion wort chiller, basically following what this guy did:

It's really easy and really cheap, there is pretty much no reason not to do it.
I chilled with that, and it took about 15 minutes to get to a pitchable temperature.
Post-boil I had 4 gallons of wort and topped back up to 5.5 gallons and pitched yeast.  My Original Gravity was 1.048

I actually brewed this on Dec 5th, it's taken me this long to get around to writing this.  The beer is about ready for bottling, so hopefully this goes better than the last.  The krausen has fallen, and I hope to get around to bottling this weekend.