Thinking about brewing this yummy-sounding brown ale this fall…

Oak Leaf Brown Ale

  • 6 2/3 pounds light malt extract
  • 1 pound crystal malt (80L or higher)
  • 1/2 pound chocolate malt
  • 1 pound dark brown sugar
  • 1 ounce Kent Goldings hops (bittering)
  • 1/2 ounce Perle hops (flavoring)
  • 1 package British ale yeast
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar (priming)

Place crystal malt and chocolate malt in water and steep at 155 degrees for 30 minutes.  Remove spent grains and bring water to a boil.  Add malt extract, brown sugar, and Kent Goldings hops.  Boil for 1 hour, adding the Perle hops after 30 minutes.  Cool the wort and pitch the yeast.  Ferment for 7 to 10 days.  Bottle, using corn sugar.  Age in bottle for 7 days.

Original Gravity:  1.044

Looks pretty easy. The recipe is from “The Homebrewer’s Recipe Guide” by Higgins, Kilgore and Hertlein.

At the same time, we’re going to brew a second batch of the holiday ale we brewed in 2007, which turned out really good.

The big question is, when are we going to find a free day to brew 2 batches of beer?  Hoping to do it in early October, when the basement should be getting to a good temperature for ale fermentation.  Stay tuned!

Back to the grind

The holidaze are now in the rear-view mirror, I’m back at work, the kids are back in school, and we’re back to our normal, boring day-in day-out routine.  For me, unlike the previous two years, the break didn’t feel too long.  That may have been because it was only two weeks as opposed to 16-18 days in past years.  Or, it may be because this year’s break was punctuated by a nice, whole-house case of the stomach bug.  Mmm, fun…  pass the Immodium, please.

Measured against past holiday breaks, this one was fairly productive, which I know is not saying much.  Got the tractor more-or-less winterized, the leaves more-or-less cleared, the house more-or-less grounded, and the master bathroom sink drain more-or-less fixed, and started prepping the master bedroom for painting.  All in all, not too bad.

I cracked a bottle of homebrew on Christmas Eve, 8 days after bottling, and it was pretty good, although still in need of a bit more conditioning/carbonating.  It compared favorably to the 2007 Anchor “Special” Holiday Ale I drank around the same time.  I imagine by now it’ll be fully carbonated and really good.  Will probably try another bottle this weekend at some point.  Need to get my taste for beer back first 🙂
Painting the master bedroom is the next big project on the docket.  There’s a bit more prep work to do (sanding, spackling, relocating a phone jack) but all in all, it’s about ready to paint.  Just need to come up with a good day to do it, and put it on the calendar.  Once that’s done there’s the laundry station.  These two should take us up to late winter or early spring, at which point we need to do something about the basement walk-out steps.

All of which brings us to…  this weekend’s to-do list.  This weekend is kinda booked up, so this is an accordingly brief list:

  • Install new fill valve in toilet in kids’ bathroom (never got around to this over the break)
  • Sanding and other prep work in master bedroom
  • Retirement portfolio rebalancing & 2008 tax planning

Beer bottled

I managed to sneak a couple hours this afternoon and bottle the beer, in the hopes that it’ll be carbonated and ready to drink by Christmas Eve. That completes the batch, for better or for worse. Final gravity was around 1.020, so with an initial gravity of 1.070, that translates to about 7.5% alcohol by volume. Should be just the thing to prepare for the Church pageant. 🙂 Total bottle tally was: 21 × 22-ounce bottles and 12 × 12-ounce bottles, plus about 8 extra ounces which I dutifully consumed. It was quite good. Not sure what it is, but the beer always tastes better out of the bottle than out of the hydrometer flask.

Lesson learned for today: I forgot that it’s harder to siphon out of a carboy than a plastic bucket. You can’t reach into the carboy and control the depth of the hose. I lost my suction a couple times because of the hose’s tendency to coil up, and my inability to hold it where I needed it. Next time I will use a racking cane, which should make it a lot easier.

Fast Fermentation

I racked the beer into my glass carboy this morning. Specific gravity was an amazingly low 1.025 (give or take a few thousandths), indicating that the beer is already almost finished fermenting. That was really fast, and it also may account for the lack of activity I noted in my post a couple days ago. However, I’m still not convinced that my bucket lid is airtight. I’m much more confident in the carboy, and the carboy is occasionally bubbling, but there’s definitely not much activity. At any rate, it looks like the beer will be ready to bottle before too long. My first good bottling opportunity is coming up in two weeks, on the weekend of the 22nd-23rd, when (by some miracle) we don’t seem to have anything else going on. Barring that, we’ll try to get it done the week after Christmas. With any luck, it’ll be carbonated and ready to drink around my birthday.

Taste-wise.. the sample was nice and smooth with the spices (orange, cloves and cinnamon) dominating the flavor. Strong but not overpowering alcohol taste, with just enough hop flavor to balance things out. Definitely tastes like it’s almost done.

Really happy with these results so far. I’m sure the starter culture contributed to the fast fermentation, so I’m going to try to do one for all of our future batches.

Fermenting away

The beer is fermenting away. I was a little concerned at first because there was no visible activity (bubbling airlock) after more than 48 hours. This seemed a little odd given that I had gone to all the trouble of making a starter, etc. Tonight I popped the lid off the bucket, and the beer was quite obviously fermenting. It turned out that the fermenter was not completely airtight. There was a leak around the little grommet that seals the airlock to the bucket lid. I fixed the grommet and put the lid back on, and the airlock is now bubbling about once per second.

All this reminds me why I’m not crazy about fermenting in plastic buckets. The lids are hard to seal and a pain to put on and take off, and you can’t observe the fermentation through the opaque plastic. If I decide to really get back into the homebrewing thing, I may need to break down and buy a 6.5 gallon glass carboy.

This weekend (or whenever the primary fermentation activity has died down) I’ll rack the beer into the 5 gallon carboy for secondary fermentation. I’ve been letting the beer ferment in the boiler room where it’s around 70°, and I’m inclined to leave it there until I rack the beer. At that point I might move it somewhere slightly cooler, say 65°. White labs recommends a temperature range of 65°-70° for this strain of yeast, so it’s in the range either way.

Brewing Notes

The brewing happened as planned today.  I had forgotten what a mess it makes.  No matter how neat you try to do it, the pot always finds a way to boil over and make a big, sticky mess on the stove.

Straining the beer from the kettle to the fermenter is also a challenge.  I think it must be the hops that clog things up so fast.  We used a handy funnel with built-in strainer, and it took several iterations of:  pour beer into funnel until strainer clogs up, stir up gunk in funnel until funnel slowly drains, repeat.  It’s definitely a two-person job, although I must say it does a fine job of aerating the wort in the process.

Starting gravity of this batch was roughly 1.070, which could be a pretty potent beer, depending on how completely all the stuff ferments out.  I think the starter culture was a good idea.

Stay tuned.

Starter culture

Did my starter culture yesterday (Friday) evening. I brought 1 quart of water to a boil and added ¼ cup Breiss “sparkling amber” dry malt extract, then boiled for 10 minutes. I then chilled the wort to around 78° and got my yeast out of the fridge. It was at that point that I realized I was supposed to let the yeast acclimate at room temperature for 3-6 hours before pitching. Oops. I transferred the wort to my 1 gallon jug and put the jug and the yeast vial in the boiler room, which is the warmest room of the house this time of year. I let the yeast acclimate for an hour and a half. By that time it was 11:30pm, so I went ahead and pitched. I figured what the heck, it’s just a starter culture, not 5 gallons of wort.

The next morning there were signs of fermentation, with the airlock bubbling about once every 20 seconds or so. This continued into the afternoon. By evening it had slowed down quite a bit. Could be that it’s already burned through all the sugars… ¼ cup isn’t very much.

At any rate, we’ll brew tomorrow afternoon and pitch it, and see how it goes.

If this batch goes well, I’m thinking about possibly trying a lager.  The Sun Porch should be at a good temperature for lagering this winter.  I’ve never done a lager before, so it might be fun.  My recipe book has some extract-based recipes for German Dark and Black lager styles, which sound yummy.

Beer ingredients purchased

Just got back from Maryland Homebrew, and I think we’ve got everything we need to brew. OK, we might need a bag of ice for cooling the wort. I will check on our ice situation tonight. As noted earlier, I’m straying a bit from the original recipe. Here’s my list of substitutions:

  • Substituted Cooper’s amber malt extract for Munton’s
  • Substituted Munton’s dark plain malt extract for Munton’s stout kit
  • Substituted White Labs 011 “European Ale” yeast for Wyeast #1007 German Ale yeast
  • Substituted Breiss amber dry malt extract for Munton’s light/amber

The biggest change was using the plain dark extract in place of the stout kit. MDHB does not stock the Munton’s stout kit, but it presumably uses hopped malt extract. Hopefully the use of unhopped extract will not affect the balance of the finished product too much. We’ll find out.. that’s the fun of homebrewing. I may have skipped the stout kit even if it was in stock — the kits run $5 more than the plain extracts, and include extra yeast that I don’t need.

Everything I read about the White Labs yeasts says that they work best with a starter culture, so I will prepare one tomorrow night. I’ve used the White Labs stuff at least once before (since MDHB stopped carrying Wyeast) and I believe I used a starter culture then, too.

Big Dig, brewing update, etc

Today was the Big Dig at our house, where we had our old, leaky water line replaced with a brand, shiny new one. The new line is polyethylene. It has the advantage of being lots cheaper than copper, and it’s a single, continuous run of approximately 250′ from the house to the meter. We got a new shutoff valve as part of the deal, replacing our old gate valve that I never completely trusted. And of course, as with everything in this house, there’s a catch that I didn’t realize until a few minutes ago. Our electrical service was grounded to the old copper water service, so we’ve effectively just cut off our house ground. Lovely, huh? Looks like I’m going to be driving a ground rod or two in the near future. Got to do it soon, before the ground freezes. Sigh..

Tomorrow I’m off to the homebrew supply place to pick up ingredients for the beer we’re brewing this weekend. I did a little web shopping there last night, and it looks like I’m going to need to make a couple of substitutions, in particular a different kind of yeast. I think the beer will still turn out fine, and of course I’ll document the final recipe we follow here.

Leaf removal began in earnest today, much later than most years because the leaves stayed on the trees so late into November. As with past years, I’ll be mulching a bunch with the chipper shredder, and frantically trying to get the rest out for yard waste pickup before the county stops the service for the winter.

I also ordered a new, kinda pricey hard top cover for our pool table today. The hope is that it’ll protect the table as it gets used for laundry sorting, gift wrapping, crafts, etc. And at some point in the future, when we have massive, wild parties in the basement, we can use it as a buffet table. Hope it works as advertised. I did get a pretty good price on it.

Time to brew!

It’s been a long time since we’ve brewed a beer. Going by my financial software (which is going to be indispensable when I write my memoirs), the last time I bought homebrew ingredients was June 21, 2000, and according to Oracle Calendar, we brewed an Amber Ale on the following Saturday, the 24th. That’s practically a lifetime ago. If I recall, we picked an Amber Ale in honor of Alaskan Amber, which we had consumed large quantities of during our recent trip to Alaska. By 2000, I had brewed several batches of beer and was just starting to perfect my routine. Now I’m going to have to see how much of that I can remember. I also need to dig through my brewing stuff to see if I need any new equipment, supplies etc. I know I need a new bucket or carboy for primary fermentation, plus some plastic siphon tubing and possibly bottle caps. We’ll see what else, I guess.

Here’s the recipe we’ve chosen. It’s very seasonably apropos. Cathy sent it to me in November 2000, and it’s sat in my inbox ever since.

Anne’s Choice Christmas Ale

Contributed By: Mare
Ingredients for 5 gallons:

  • 3 1/3 pounds Munton and Fison Stout Kit
  • 3 1/3 pounds Munton and Fison amber malt extract
  • 3 pounds Munton and Fison light/amber dry malt extract
  • 1/2 ounce Hallertauer hops (55 minutes)
  • 3/4 pound honey (simmer 45 minutes)
  • 5 three-inch cinnamon sticks (simmer 45 minutes)
  • 2 teaspoons allspice (simmer 45 minutes)
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • 6 ounces ginger root
  • 6 rinds from medium-sized oranges (simmer 45 minutes)
  • 1/2 ounce Hallertauer hops (five minutes)
  • Wyeast No. 1007 German ale liquid yeast
  • 7 ounces corn sugar to prime

Original specific gravity: 1.069
Final specific gravity: 1.030
Primary fermentation: 14 days at 61 degrees F (16 degrees C) in glass
Age when judged (since bottling): six months

Brewer’s specifics: Simmer spices and honey for 45 minutes. Boil malt and hops 50 minutes. Add finishing hops and boil five minutes. Cool, strain, and pitch yeast. (Note: Honey/spice mix is added to the wort just before cooling. They are not boiled together.)

I think I’ll throw a page up on my wiki to document my brewing procedure, as I recall it in bits and pieces.

On a totally unrelated note, I can’t believe that it’s mid November and most of the leaves are still up on the trees. By this time last year, the yard was knee-deep in them. So far this year, I haven’t even touched a rake yet. I’m sure the extremely warm October had something to do with it, or maybe it just hasn’t been windy enough yet, but whatever, it’s really strange.