Thursday, November 13, 2014

Delayed paradise

It's pretty cold outside. We got a couple inches of snow around here in some spots, and the roads are pretty slick.

It's pretty cold inside, too. At least my yeast seems to think so.

I noticed this morning, before I left for work, that the persistent bubbling had stopped in my airlock. The warm glow around the top of the bucket was gone. It was cold, but I didn't have time to fix it. I nudged it a few times, provided exhortations on productivity and teamwork, and went on my way.

I got back from hockey practice tonight and saw it was still halted. I whipped off the top and took measurements with my (sanitized!) thermometer and hydrometer. The hydrometer read a specific gravity of 1.018-- not quite where I want to be when I rack this thing to the secondary fermenter for conditioning. It's not quite done fermenting yet. And the thermometer told me why: 59 degrees F, on the very low end of the range for the yeast.

A quick search on Homebrew Talk showed that many people have ways of controlling temperature in cold conditions, like blankets or even heating blankets. So, I parked my bucket in the bathroom (which is always warm) and wrapped it with a towel. Hopefully, I can find ways to keep Rhys out of it for about 48 hours. Then we'll see if I got anywhere.

It worked! Well, I hope it did. The airlock is bubbling along this morning. The question remains: is it because of the Ideal Gas Law (increase in temp is causing an increase in volume and expelling gas from the headspace) or because of fermentation? Tonight, I'll check the specific gravity. If it's lower than 1.018, we'll have our answer.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A failure to plan is a plan to beer

8:00- Wake up before Rhys. Enjoy the experience of watching my son sleep in the lowlight before gently waking him.
8:30- He eats whatever I feed him. No mess. Shorty is cool with it all.
9:00- Carrie sanitized all my equipment before leaving for work, so I can get straight to brewing. Rhys has put himself down for an early nap.
9:30- Steeping grains ends, boil starts. Rhys is still asleep. Shorty catches a mouse. I find 2.5 gallons of pre-distilled water just laying around and add it to the fermenting bucket.
10:30- Boil is over. I put the pot down in an ice bath and don't spill any wort. Rhys wakes up at that moment, singing We Are The Champions in perfect pitch. Shorty turns away a solicitor.
10:45- Wort is down to 70 degrees F. I toss it into the fermenting bucket, and the trub vanishes into thin air. Shorty compliments my choice of Willamette hops as a finish.
11:00- Airlock is bubbling steadily. Rhys dresses himself.
11:30- The three of us go on a walk to pick up lunch and meet Carrie at work.

But really...

6:30- Experience Stalker-Rhys waking me up with slaps in the face.
7:30- Figure out what to feed him. Carrie has left for work.
8:30- Rhys has eaten (something) and is now thumbing through books. I am sanitizing when I realize Shorty is holding his bladder like a champ.
8:45- Rhys tries to climb into my fermenting bucket, which is still wet with sanitizer.
9:00- Rhys is in the bath. He loses it when I take away something sharp that he had hidden until just then.
9:30- Rhys has stopped crying. Shorty is complaining about being out of water. I have finished sanitizing, but I can't find a whole two pound bag of dark DME.
9:35- Take the bag of dark DME from Rhys. Wipe off sticky malt sugars. YouTube dance party until he stops crying.
9:45- Realize I don't have any ice. Drive out to CVS. Rhys throws his toys on the floor during the drive, then whines when he realizes that he's out of toys.
9:50- Cashier comments that Rhys is "such a smiley baby." Rhys blows her a kiss.
10:00- Put on water to sterilize to throw into the fermenter. Shorty takes Rhys falling on him like a champ.
10:30- Rhys fights sleep. I strap him into a baby carrier. Water is not yet boiling.
10:45- Water has boiled for ten minutes. Rhys is whining that he wants to play with random kitchen accessories. Shorty has to dump.
11:00- Poured water into fermenter and refilled pot. Rhys has not fallen asleep yet and is pinching me and grabbing my nose while laughing.
11:15- Water is hot enough for steeping. I cannot find the grain. Rhys has since fallen asleep, which prevents me from stooping or bending to look underneath things.
11:30- Water has started to boil when I find the grains. I turn the heat down. Shorty wakes Rhys up with enthusiastic scratching.
12:00- Steeping is complete. I try to find something for Rhys to eat and start the boil.
12:30- Rhys has eaten his body weight in natural peanut butter and blueberries. He is obviously tired but still fights a nap in his own bed. He also needs a diaper change. I trip on Shorty.
1:00- Boil is complete. I am upstairs, rocking Rhys, hoping he will finally go down this time.
1:05- Rhys does not go down. I set him down in the living room. He chases me with books. I try not to spill magma-hot wort on him when he dives under me putting the pot in the ice bath.
1:30- Rhys inexplicably needs another diaper change. Wort is at 140 degrees F.
2:00- Wort is at 135 degrees F.
2:30- I change the ice water carefully, probably contaminating the wort. Wort is at 120 degrees F.
3:00- Wort is at 80 degrees F. Rhys spills coffee on himself; it was coffee I made that morning, so while it was full, it was also ice cold.
3:30- Wort is at 78 degrees F.
3:35- Wort is at 77 degrees F.
3:40- Wort is at 76 degrees F. I call it good and pour it into the fermenting bucket and pitch the yeast.
3:50- Rhys makes a daring move to drink the vodka from the airlock. He swats it out of my hand in frustration and I have to refill it.
4:00- I realize that there is almost nowhere in the house to put the bucket where Rhys cannot access it. I spend equal amounts of time defending the bucket as thinking of where to put it.
4:15- Rhys trips and falls on the dog out of exhausted discoordination (aka "drunk baby"). I seize the opportunity to place the bucket while he whines for me to pick him up.
4:20- YouTube dance party until Rhys stops crying.
4:50- Carrie comes home. Rhys is all smiles. Shorty acts as if he has been tortured all day.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Dark Yeast Rises

If the title is off-putting, hang with me for a second. It's all very biological. No, wait, come back!

In beer, alcohol is the whole point of the study. It's the one thing you generally have to have. Of course, it has to taste good: but without fermentation, all you have is generally grainy-tasting syrup water with bitter oil in it. Kind of like a weird, brown Kool-aid that no one wants to drink. It would certainly make for some terrible parties.

So, it follows that in order to get beer right, you have to get fermentation right. That requires a minor refresher in high school biology. Enter yeast: commonly reviled, frequently misunderstood, microscopic champion of civilization. It's the hero we deserve, just not the one we need right now.

Saccharomyces cerevisiae, AKA Batyeast.
Respiration. Does that word sound familiar? Respiration is the most fundamental process in living beings for turning chemicals into energy. That's not exactly accurate, sure, but I don't have time for accurate. I only have time for beer.

When species in the Animal Kingdom respire, we typically take in oxygen, and through a series of chemical reactions with myriad starting materials, we derive energy, carbon dioxide, and water. Once you step into yeast's office, though, it's not quite that simple. Sure, it likes oxygen as much as the next Dark Microbe, but it can go without. It can take it.

When yeast doesn't have oxygen, it does something peculiar. Instead of producing carbon dioxide and water like everyone else, it produces carbon dioxide and ethyl alcohol. In beer making, this is always the intended effect. The malt sugars are the chemical input, and alcohol and bubbles come out. It's both simple and complex, really, and a wonder to watch. For me, at least. Yeast has no limits, it seems.


Except, it does. Yeast, as with all things, prefers sugars that are easy to digest. Beer yeasts tend to focus on maltose. Once you run out of simple sugars in the wort/beer, yeast will then turn to some more complicated chemicals and convert them as well. This is what brewers call conditioning. When the yeast starts doing this, it takes some chemicals which might produce off-flavors (rubber cement, cardboard, etc.) and neutralizes them. But it takes a bit more work, and the yeast isn't getting as much bang for its buck.

If you don't have enough yeast cells doing work, fermentation might be very slow, or it might stop entirely before it's work through all the chemical yeast fuel. And that is absolutely not what you want to happen. Remember the description of the alcohol-less beer above? However much of the wort doesn't see fermentation will taste exactly like that. And chances are good that you won't like it much. Maybe you will, I dunno. I personally think it's kind of disgusting.

We come, then, to the yeast starter. Yeast usually come from a lab in a state of hibernation, and are refrigerated until it's time to use them. They need water (if dry), food, good temperature control, and time to wake up and multiply. If it's too hot, they'll move too fast, produce a wide range of chemicals, then quit. Not ideal. If it's too cold, they won't want to work at all. Also less than ideal. The starter, being a small mixture of malt extract and water, is perfect for yeast to have time to get going before being added to your beer.

It's like a tiny lab kit that you can use later to make delicious beer. What's not to like?


With a little forethought and a little sanitation, I'm hoping that fermenting this Christmas beer will go off without a hitch. And it's a real rager right now. The timing gets me to Tuesday, Veterans' Day, to make the batch. Veterans, I salute you with a beer I'm planning to put in 22oz swing-top bombers. Good night!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Proper Draft

Here's an admittedly messy BrewTarget spitout of my Christmas Beer recipe. If you find this confusing, skip to the "Misc" bit and keep in mind it's a bit reddish with mild, spicy hop flavor.

Unnamed Christmas Beer - Christmas/Winter Specialty Spiced Beer
Batch Size: 5.953 gal
Boil Size: 3.953 gal
Boil Time: 60.000 min
Efficiency: 70%
OG: 1.050
FG: 1.012
ABV: 4.8%
Bitterness: 23.0 IBUs (Tinseth)
Color: 18 SRM (Morey)

Caramel/Crystal Malt - 120LGrain 8.000 oz     No   No   72% 120 L
Black Barley (Roast Barley)       Grain 2.000 oz     No   No   55% 500 L
Special B Malt       Grain 2.000 oz     No   No   65% 160
Muntons DME - Light Dry Extract 4.000 lb    Yes   No   95%   4 L
Muntons DME - Dark Dry Extract 2.000 lb    Yes   No   95%  22 L
Total grain: 6.750 lb

Glacier  5.5% 1.000 oz  Boil 60.000 min Pellet 17.3
(OR Cluster 7.75% 1.000 oz Boil 60.000 min Pellet 24.4)
Willamette  5.0% 1.000 oz Aroma  5.000 min Pellet  0.0

Ginger Root   Herb    Boil 1.000 tsp 15.000 min
Cinnamon  Spice    Boil 1.000 tsp 15.000 min
Sweet Orange Peel Flavor Primary 0.000 tsp    0.000 s
Cranberry Flavor Primary 0.000 tsp    0.000 s
Allspice  Spice    Boil 1.000 tsp 15.000 min
(Maybe two vanilla beans in the primary?)

Safale S-04  Ale  Dry

What do y'all think? I think this could be a winner. I need to get a starter going, I'm running out of time!