Sunday, March 21, 2010

Fifty Pounds of Grain and a Pound of Hops

It's been a while and I've been going through brew withdrawals. Besides the extract recipe I made some time back I hadn't brewed like a big boy in some time. Back in January I made a Scotch Ale for my friend's birthday and two months later, just last Friday, I put it in a bottle. It'll bottle age for 7-14 days or more before it's ready for consumption. With the weather somewhat favorable I crafted the Black Lager I alluded to in the same post. I'm leaving it to ferment and age outside in the cool dark of my shed. The temperature outside has been fluctuation between lows in the 40's and highs in the 70's, so I figured the average temperature in my shed would be ideal lager temperatures between 50 and 60. Crafting these fancy beers takes time and attention, not to mention I'm a novice to both styles. What I really wanted was to get back to my roots - to craft a beer I love and drink it! What better way to inspire the spark of creativity while simultaneously resurrecting an old favorite style a brew contest.

The homebrew shop in New Orleans is calling on brewers of South Louisiana to use their experience to craft a recipe kit for a Pale Ale. There will be two winners, an Extract Recipe and an All-Grain Recipe. The winner receives a $125 gift certificate to the store, Brewstock, a Brewstock T-shirt, and a recipe kit sold at the store with the brewer's name on it.

Pale Ales are my favorite beers. I enjoy the hops a little more than most people should and the maltyness can range from deep caramel to golden dry. For some time I've been trying to craft my ideal Pale Ale, but I have never quite gotten it down. I was determined to get it right this time and, if unsuccessful, continue until I do. To accomplish this I dropped some cash and reached a new milestone in my homebrewing adventures, Bulk Grain.

I had to pay a little more than I should plus an arm and a leg for shipping, but instead of a 10 to 12 pound kit I ordered a 50lb sack of basic unmilled 2-row barley. This called for me to pull out an old hand-cranked grinder to mix and mill my grain personally. I got a little carried away and used more than I should have for the first batch, but if I average 10lbs per five gallons, I should have enough for 5 batches. To accomplish this end I bought a few pounds of specialty grains and - get this - a POUND of hops! That's sixteen ounces of whole leaf cascade. I had everything I needed to craft another iteration of my ideal ale:

Istrouma Pale Ale
Style: American Pale Ale
OG: 1.065
FG: 1.019
ABV: 6.03 %
IBU's: 52.33
Primary: 7 days @ 68.0°F
Secondary: 14 days @ 72.0°F
Aging: 21 days @ 74.0°F
Color: 8.9 SRM

Grains & Adjuncts
11.00 lbs Pale Malt (2 Row) US
0.50 lbs Caramel/Crystal Malt - 40L
1.00 lbs Victory Malt
0.50 lbs Cara-Pils/Dextrine

1.00 ozs Chinook - 60 mins
1.00 ozs Cascade - 20 mins
0.50 ozs Cascade - 10 mins
0.50 ozs Cascade - 14 days

1.0 pkg Safale S-04 - Fermentis

Using some rudimentary eyeballing skills I measured my grain - poorly. I intended to use ten pounds of 2-row Barley and three pounds of specialty grains for a grainbill of 13 pounds. As I said, I got a little carried away and used 11+ pounds. So I halved the Crystal 40 and Carapils to keep the grainbill constant. Using the grinder I crushed the grain to expose the sweet seed and increase the surface area of hot liquid on the grain in the sugar-to-starch conversion process called Mashing. I used the usual single-infusion mash process, and in this practice my brewing faltered.

With the exception of my first all-grain recipe - a failed pale ale - I've used a mashing process known as single-infusion. In this practice I use a 5 gallon Igloo cooler to hold a set amount of water at or near 155 degrees. This is an ideal temperature for the starches in the grain to react with natural enzymes and convert to fermentable sugars in a process called Mashing. I've had problems with this method in the past, but coupled with too much sparge water, this was an utter disaster.

Perhaps I am being too hard on myself. The beer is fine. It is in my closet, fermenting well. I came out with close to 5.5 gallons of wart, and, with three bottles submitted to the contest, I will have the majority to keg, consume, and enjoy. The problem comes with the Gravity and the final Alcohol By Volume (ABV). Due to improper temperature, too much grain, or some other variable I cannot quite isolate, I was not able to convert all of the starches to sugars. On top of that I watered it down too much. This means a beer that was estimated to have an O.G. of 1.065 with a potential ABV of 6%, turned out to have a measure O.G. of 1.040 with potential ABV around 4%. It's not the end of the world. It's just disappointing, especially in the face of competition.

Also, I used a more potent strand of hops, Chinook, in this batch. In addition to my pound of hops I bought a single ounce of Chinook. Which is a strand similar to Cascade, but on steroids. It was to counteract the higher alcohols somewhat like an India Pale Ale. I plan on brewing this again and submitting it to the competition as well, only with exactly 10lbs 2-row for sugar, one pound of Crystal 40 for color and caramel flavor, one pound of Victory Malt for bready taste, one pound of Carapils for body and head retention, and the same hops profile except all Cascade and no Chinook.

What made this weekend so Brewtastic, despite my shortcomings, is my friend and fellow homebrew-adventurer, Caleb, was ready to brew as well. He had a terrible experience with his first all-grain batch early this month, but was back on the horse. Ironically, he had problems with his mash as well, but he had talked it up and showed me a new method of mashing, Step-Mashing.

In single-infusion, the mash is mixed at a certain temperature and left to its own devices, whereas step-mashing controls the temperatures by gradually adding set amounts of hot water over a course of time. There are formulas and ratios for how much and how hot of water to add to increase the mash x degrees per y pounds of grain. It's something I'll have to experiment with, but the process gives more control of what types of sugars are produced.

It starts at a lower temperature around 130 degrees and held there for a Protein Rest. Then boiling water is added to increase the beer and hold it between 150 to 158 degrees - higher for more body lower for more alcohol, less body. Then, if desired, the temperature can be raised to 168-170 to end all enzymatic activity in a Mash Out before sparging and boiling. For my next beer I plan on using this process to increase the production of sugars. I'll most likely use a protein rest for 20 min and raise the temp to 155 for 15 then up to 158 for 15 shooting for an medium bodied beer. If I am really paranoid I can test the starch conversions with an iodine test.

Caleb tells me that the stuff I used to play with as a kid, purportedly called Monkey's Blood, was a vial of iodine you can pick up at any pharmacy. The iodine will change into a crimson color in the presence of starch. When placed into a small sample of mash - less than an ounce - the iodine will change if any starches are present, but if no color change occurs then all starches are converted. I might not go to such extremes in the near future, but if I wanted to I could. After all, I have Fifty Pounds of Grain and a Pound of Hops!