Fall beers, what’s in your fermenter?

So it is officially harvest season and many of the pro’s have had their harvest and season specific beers out for a while.  While I personally think many of these beers where out far to early by months, it seems that overall public opinion is positive.

As a home brewer what do you like to make for autumn season beers?  Are they spiced? Or is a straght pumpkin beer more your style?  How do you add your pumpkin? puree from a can? Live pumpkin meat? Or are you one of those super creative people who like using the pumpkin itself as a mashtun or fermentor? Have you tried adding wet or dried apples or pears to secondary like you would hops? Apples and pears can also be pressed into cider and pear juice, what about using those in a mash or even as the base for an extract beer.  This style of beer production is relatively unheard of.  Who knows you might just kick off the next new thing in craft beer, or a least make a beer that  becomes a regular in your yearly rotation.

Incorporating the nuances of fall fruits and vegetables can add a deeper dimension to your brews.  Even if you don’t want  to work with real fruit, there are a number of great extracts on the market that can be added at bottling to give your beer that hint of something special.  Come by Kettle to keg to see Jesse for all your fall brewing needs.

Extract vs. Mini Mash vs. All-grain

There is a typical progression when learning to home brew beer.  Extract brewing is generally the gate way that gets people in to the hobby.  Mini mash, the natural middle ground between extract and all-grain, allows the brewer to add variation to the beer they make.  All-Grain brewing is the ultimate DIY way to brew, allowing the brewer to manage the flavors and colors at every step of the process.  The evolution of a home brewer happens at different rates, but there is a place for everybody on the spectrum of styles.  For those who geek out on the science and minutiae of brewing, they may do just a handful of batches before moving to all grain brewing.  This article will briefly describe each of the types of brewing.

Extract

This is the place where most home brewers start their journey in this wonderfully addictive hobby.  Some never leave this way of brewing because it may fit their busy life style or they like the convenience that extract brewing offers.  Extract is syrup made up of sugars from barley or other brewing grains.  The manufacturer has already converted the starches in the grain to sugars through a process called mashing.  The resulting sugar rich liquid is then dehydrated down to a thick syrup called liquid malt extract (LME) or further dehydrated to a powder called dry malt extract (DME).  After boiling the extract in water and adding hops, yeast are added which then eats the sugar in the extract and leaves behind alcohol and carbon dioxide.   Extract brewing is the equivalent of getting a frozen pizza, it’s all there you just have to cook it.

Mini-Mash / Partial Mash

Often the second step a homebrewer takes; this is a middle ground between the extract and all-grain styles of brewing.  Here, the base part of the beer is created using extracts and the color and flavoring is added by soaking or mashing grains in hot water that the brewer would later add extract to.  This allows for a greater variation in the brewers creations.  The extracts are the same as what was used in the last step, and the grains are the same ones that all grain brewers use albeit in smaller amounts.  Mini-mash brewing is the equivalent to making pizza at home with pre-made dough from the store.  The base is made for you all you have to do is top it off with some flavorings.

All-Grain Brewing

Typically the holy grail of home brewers, all grain brewing is the DIY version of making beer.  Grains are crushed and soaked in a vessel called a mash tun, which will hold heat.  The warm water activates enzymes in the grain which work to change the starches stored in the grains to sugar. All-grain allows for the widest variation and highest level of control over the brewing process.  It also takes the most time, equipment and knowledge to make good beer.  This would be the equivalent to making the dough and sauce for the pizza from scratch.

The major difference in these three brewing styles is the amount of control and individuality,  as well as, time and equipment required at each level. In the end though it is what you want to get out of the hobby and your comfort level with the process that will determine how far you will go. Good luck and happy brewing.

Making A Yeast Starter

Yeast starters are an easy way to take your brewing to the next step.  In my experience, most advanced brewers either build a yeast starter or pitch multiple packages of yeast to obtain the proper cell counts per milliliter of wort.  So why do we make yeast starters?

1. A reduction of lag time between pitching and the start of fermentation.  

 2. The flavor impact that the yeast add to the beer is affected by number of cells and the their health

For more on the science of yeast starters, Kettle to Keg carries a number of books on the subject as well as all the equipment you will need to make your own.

How To Make A Starter

Needed Equipment: Erlenmeyer flask (or other vessel that can be washed and sanitized), 4 oz (113 grams) DME, Yeast nutrient, Sanitizer, Non-reactive pot, Measuring cup, Funnel

There are two paths to take in one you mix and boil the dry malt extract and water in the Erlenmeyer flask on the stove.  The flask must be borosilicate glass, which is able to handle rapid shifts in tempreature with out shattering (this is the only type kettle to keg sells).  The other path is to boil and cool in a separate pot and then transfer to the vessel that you will ferment your starter in.  The pictures included in this post show a hybridization of both paths.

After you have cleaned and sanitized anything that will touch the wort once it has been cooled, measure out:

4 oz (113 grams) of dry malt extract.

800 ml’s of water

yeast nutrient

If you will be using the flask, put the water, DME and Yeast nutrient in it and put it on the stove and heat slowly to boiling.

 

If you are using the pot method add all the ingredients  and boil, partially covering the pot for the last 5 minutes to sanitize the cover and protect the wort during the cooling stage.

The DME can take sometime to dissolve, you can help it along with a wisk and some stirring.

The boiling wort will look just like the boil when making a batch of beer (minus the hops) there will be hot break and you still risk boil overs and the subsequent mess.  Have a small bowl of ice cubes to toss to stop the boil over before it happens.

Partially cover the pot to sanitize the lid which will help protect the wort while cooling in an ice bath (If you are using a flask cover the opening with a piece of sanitized aluminium foil).  Cool the wort untill you get to pitching temp.  If you pitch to high or to low you shock the yeast.

After the wort has reached the temperature that you want, pour the wort from your pot into the fermenting vessel and add a sanitized stir bar if using a stir plate.  If not swirl the fermentor every few hours to keep the yeast in suspension.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These picture show the saved yeast (note the nice cream color on the left) Most of the clear beer was decanted and the sample was mixed and allowed to sit for ten minutes or so to allow for dead cells and any other trub to precipitate out and settle to the bottom of the jar.  The slurry in suspension is then added to the fermentor to begin building the starter.  In most cases you will pour a new package of liquid yeast into the fermenting vessel.

 

 

 

 

 

The Care and Feeding of a Hydrometer

A hydrometer is one of those pieces of equipment that every beginning brewer should own and should know how to use.  Unfortunately, however, it is the one thing that often gets forgotten in those nascent days of brewing.  This wonderful little device was discovered by Hypatia of Alexandria in the golden years of discovery just before the beginning of the dark ages and has been used for hundreds of years in the brewing and wine industries

Hydrometers have three main components: The float, the neck, and the scale situated inside that is used for measurement.

Inside the neck of the hydrometer is a scale calibrated to one or more systems of measurement such as Specific Gravity (beer), Plato (beer), Brix or Balling (wine).  Some hydrometers have multiple scales such as in the picture showing a Beer/Wine hydrometer that has Specific Gravity, Potential Alcohol, and Balling scales.  Some of the more expensive models will have a thermometer in the bulb so that the temperature of the sample can be taken as well. A hydrometer works by displacement, much in the way a ship floats on water.  If we were able to change of the water by making it thinner or thicker, the ship would float higher or lower respectively. Wort or Must is a liquid saturated with sugar, the more sugars the thicker the liquid and the more it displaces the hydrometer.

When using a hydrometer there are a few things to remember:

  • Work with cooled samples: The liquid sample should be as close to the hydrometers calibration temperature (usually around 68oF) as possible.  If you are working with hot liquids, let it cool below 120o F before putting the hydrometer in the sample jar.  Rapid changes in temperature could cause the glass to crack or burst.
  • Be Accurate: Most hydrometers come with a calibration table to show you the change in specific gravity due to temperature, allowing you to sample somewhat hotter samples
  • Always work in the sample jar:  Never use your hydrometer in the boil kettle, bottling bucket or fermentor.  Contamination issues aside, the float is weighted with lead and that would not be a good additive for your hard earned beer or wine.
  • De-gas your sample: The bubbles in a partially or fully fermented sample can give you a falsely high reading.  De-gas with agitation or letting the sample sit for 20 – 30 minutes
  • Properly dispose of your sample: Unless the wort is still boiling the sample never goes back from whence it came.  This practice opens the beer or wine to infection and could potentially ruin the batch.
  • Always take the reading at the same place:  The preferred place to take a reading is at the bottom of the meniscus.  The meniscus is a “U” shaped depression caused by the liquid clinging to the side walls of the hydrometer and the sample jar.

This is simple device can increase the accuracy of your brewing or wine making, allowing you to attain the quality that you want.  Come into Kettle to Keg and see Jesse, he will help you pick the Hydrometer that’s right for you.

Jesse Takes the BJCP Exam !!!!!

Jesse Mertz, our fearless leader, recently sat for the Beer Judge Certification Exam, after taking prep classes put on by the Concord Area Homebrewers.  This is what he had to say about it:

The online pre-test was 200 multiple-choice/multiple-answer questions with no partial credit, which must be taken in 60 minutes.  I did pass that in order to sit for the exam.  The tasting portion was proctored, and was held at the Fisher Cats Stadium.  We had 15 minutes per beer to do a complete scoresheet, with a 15-minute break between beers 3 and 4.  Approximately 3 of the 6 had minor flaws, with 1 beer containing major flaws.  I would not attempt a BJCP certification without a fairly strong brewing background – I’m not sure how the non-brewers pass this thing, really.  Certainly challenging, and I learned a great deal, too.  The biggest thing that helped me was reading Zymurgy’s ‘Commercial Calibration’, studying the BJCP style guidelines themselves, drinking lots of beer and styles that I would not normally pursue, and filling out scoresheets on both commercial and customer beers.

If you are thinking of this exam, I guess you will have to knuckle down and study hard, which will also include tasting lots of beer in different styles.

Here are some resources

BJCP

Concord Area Homebrewers


Hydrometer? Refractometer? What are they?

If you brew beer or make wine then you know that most everything we do is done to get fermentable sugar out of grain or fruit. We do this all just to give it to some hungry yeast in order to achieve our final result – alcohol!  This brings us to measuring those sugars, which we do to monitor the process and scientifically assess the health of the fermentation, as well as determine the strength of the final drink.  Fortunately we have some tools to provide that information, and they are so simple to use that no homebrewer should be without them.  There are a few scales that you should be aware of:

Brix: Used primarily in the wine industry.

Plato: Used by most professional brewers.

Specific Gravity: used by home brewers and some brewing professionals.

Balling: A measuring system used by vintners that has since fallen by the wayside.

There are many other industry dependent scales but we will be talking about the ones applicable to beer and wine. The two main devices used by home brewers are:

The Hydrometer

The simplest of all the devices, it was invented by Hypatia of Alexandria in the days before the dark ages fell and threw science back a thousand years.  A hydrometer measures the amount of sucrose in a liquid. The higher the amount of sugar per unit of liquid the higher the number will be on the scale.  The typical hydrometer consists of a weighted bulb at the base and a stem at the top.  Inside the stem is an insert with a scale showing Specific Gravity, Plato, or Brix, with sometimes Potential Alcohol as well.  The scale most homebrewers use (generally) is specific gravity, and it runs from .990 to 1.160.The Refractometer

A refractometer measures the sucrose content of a liquid by the liquid’s ability to bend a ray of light through a prism. These take only a drop of wort or must and are in some cases automatically thermally corrected.  Refractometers measure in Brix and/or Specific Gravity with only a drop or two of wort or must placed on the lens.

Calibration

Both devices require calibration, for the hydrometer the testing jar should be filled with distilled water at 68 degrees.  If the measurement is more or less than 1.000, then note should be made for future brew sessions to adjust the reading by the degree of change.  For the Refractometer, a drop of distilled water is placed on the lens, the cover is closed making sure there are no air bubbles or dry spots.  Look through the lens and adjust the calibration screw till the scale is at zero Brix (or what ever scale it has in it).

The Pro’s and Con’s

The advantage of a Refractometer is the ability to analyze the liquid despite its temperature at anytime over the course of brewing.  The advantage of the Hydrometer is its cost, and ease of use.  Also once there is alcohol in the liquid the Refractometer needs a calibration table where as the Hydrometer needs a calibration table based only on the temperature of the liquid involved.

At Kettle to Keg we carry both Hydrometers (in many styles) as well as Refractometers – and if you need help learning how to use them we have knowledgeable staff on hand to help you!  With a little practice you can have a big impact on the quality of your brewing.

 

NH Craft Beer Week at Kettle to Keg

New Hampshire Craft Beer Week is rapidly approaching! This celebration will include events like tap takeovers, tastings and special release beers from top breweries in New Hampshire and New England. To celebrate New Hampshire’s first Craft Beer Week, Kettle to Keg will be holding a special promotion!  During the week of June 25rd to June 29th, customers that come to the store will find:

Home brew samples

Free copies of home brew magazines

A 10% discount off all beer ingredient kits

Help Kettle to Keg celebrate NH Craft Beer Week by coming in and checking out the new, expanded store!

Hope to see you there!

Homebrewer Spotlight

Are you a homebrewer? Do you use Kettle to Keg for your home brewing needs?  Then we want you!  We are looking for local homebrewers (everyone from beginner to advanced) to showcase their home brew systems, special techniques, unique beers, or anything else that you think makes your beer different.  Take some pictures, write a paragraph and send it in to info@kettletokeg.com with the subject line “Homebrewer Spotlight”.  Each month we will be profiling one homebrewer on this very Kettle to Keg blog, and if your entry is chosen you will score a small gift from K2K as well! So relax, pour yourself a homebrew, and send me some emails!

Weyermann Abbey Malt – A new kid on the block

Welcome to Kettle to Keg’s new Malt Profile Series, where we’ll break down the extensive grain list that we carry here at the shop.  This series will bring you detailed information on grains so you don’t have to hunt it down yourself.  Today we will be talking about Weyermann Abbey Malt.  This is a newer product for Weyermann and there is not a lot of information about it yet.  As a matter of fact I have not used this malt, which was the impetus for starting this series with this particular grain.

To business then! This is technically a base malt, however be it one with a weak diastatic factor (the ability to convert starch to sugar).  It has some power, but needs to be mixed with true base malts for full conversion.  It is 15 – 19 Lovibond and has a pronounced “malty flavor”, according to the Weyermann website. Due to its weaker diastatic power and the darkness of the color of the grain, the maltsters say that it can be used for up to 50% of the grain bill and would be good in Belgian, Trappist/Monastic, fruit and faro type beers.  In doing my research on this malt, I read a few of recipes and comments that said this grain gave a complex flavor profile when used in a fairly simplistic grain bill.

I am planning on using this grain in my next batch of blonde ale, which I often use as a test bed beer when I will be adding new malts (as I recently did with rye malt).  The modifications (below) give me 16 % of the Abbey malt in the grain bill.  I usually like to start slow when adding new grains, and then brew between two and three renditions of the given beer with increasing amounts of the new malt.  I do this because natural products rarely progress in a linear fashion, usually topping out at some point or becoming more over whelming with smaller inputs.  This practice allows the brewer to dial in the amount of a particular grain, as well as accounting for seasonal variability with very minor adjustment in the grain bill.  The question begs, however, will this be a Belgian/abbey blonde or a blonde with a new back ground flavor?  Only time will tell!

 Blonde Ale* (Original)

Blonde Ale (Modified)

Grain

11.5 pounds – 2 Row

0.5 pounds -Crystal10L

Hops

2.0 ozWillamette4.8 % 60 Min

Mash

152 deg for 1 hour

* From “Brewing Classic Styles”

Grain

10 Pounds – 2 Row

2 Pound – Abbey Malt

Hops

2.0 ozWillamette4.8 % 60 Min

Mash

152 deg for 1 hour

 

If you do choose to brew with this grain, try to do a side-by-side recipes to analyze the difference that this grain makes in your beer. And by all means – bring some into the shop to let us taste what you have done!

T-90 versus T-45 Hop Pellets….What does it mean?

When you shop for hops, do you ever wonder what the “T – 90” description means? Because it is on the Kettle to Keg website, we felt that it should be explained to better aid our customers in selecting their hops and for our advanced brewers who are trying to dial in their process.  At Kettle to Keg  we carry hops in the three major forms: pellets, plugs, and cones, but it will be the pellets we talk most about as they are the most available and easiest to use.  As a quick review let us look at the other two styles:

Cones are simply the flowering bud of the hop plant that has been dried and are then added direct to the boil or the fermentors/keg for dry hopping.  They tend to add a lot of chunky material that plugs siphons and air locks.

Plugs are ground hops pressed into a disk about half an inch around and quarter of an inch thick.  These were initially made for cask beer so they would fit through the bung.  They also add chunky material to the wort/beer causing the same problem noted above.

Pellets come in two forms: T-45 and T-90 formats which are determined by the way they are processed.  T-90 Pellets are milled into a powder and then squeezed through a die. They retain all of the vegetative matter that came in the hop cones and can be used as a full replacement for cone hops.  T-45 pellets follow a similar process except that when they are milled it is with the addition of heat to make the lupulin less sticky.  Once through the mill some of the vegetative matter is removed and the remaining material is then pressed through a die to make the familiar pellet shape.  T-45 pellets can also be used a full replacement for hop cones.  The difference between the two types of pellets is that with the T-45 version you get he same alpha acid numbers with less over all material in the kettle at the end of the day.  Because hop pellets have small relative surface area in relation to leaf and plug hops, pellets have a lower oxygen exposure per surface area than the other forms, which means a drop in degradation over time.

So how should we protect our hops once we have them home? There are two major hop destroying entities; light and oxygen.  Heat and bacteria are two more that play a lesser destructive role. Without going into a long and boring lecture on the chemistry of hop degradation, suffice it to say that light causes the hops to degrade and produce a chemical that is akin to that of a skunks spray and oxygen causes hops to oxidize decreasing the life of the hop oils.  Both reactions shorten the already short shelf life of hops. The way we protect our little bittering buddies is to shelter them in a dark, cool place (like a freezer) and store them in an oxygen impermeable vessel.  The best way to ensure that you are getting the freshest hops is to shop at Kettle to Keg where our stock of hops rotates fair frequently. 
Cheers!

The K-2-K Team.