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Patience, grasshopper (aka, the stout’s fine)

So it appears I jumped the gun on the oatmeal stout. One week later and this is drinking great. A bit more carbonation and much less astringency. So either:

1. It needed another week in the keg, or

2. I needed to pour and dump more than just a pint

I’m not sure which, but I am curious if I simply had some stuff in my first taster that hadn’t really settled yet. Plenty of chocolate in the nose but thankfully the harshness I tasted after 2 weeks in the keg seems gone after a third week. I do wish I had the ability to try it on nitro, but not going to complain. Having been so long (years) since I did the same recipe but with the Rogue Pacman yeast strain, I can’t tell the difference the American Ale 2 (1272) yeast makes vs the Pacman. The 1272 is certainly easier to come by. Don’t know if Wyeast even offers Pacman anymore (when they did, it was a limited just once a year).

Now to make time for the altbier I have ingredients for.

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Follow-up on the Oatmeal Stout

After 10 days fermenting around 65-66°F I took a sample that measured 1.017. There was still remains of krausen I had to go through with the wine thief. At 14 days the krausen had finally completely fallen, and the gravity remained at 1.017 so I transferred to a keg. Being the first brew in years I broke down one of my corny kegs, washed with PBW and sanitized with StarSan. New hose on the auto siphon as well. Pressurized it to about 35 PSI to get a good seal, and in the coming days lowered it to 10-12 psi. My “kegerator” is just an old kitchen fridge which we still use for extra groceries, etc, and I keep it at about 40°.

After two weeks I decided it was time for a sample, so I had to break down my faucet as install a new beer line. I also took apart the quick disconnect. Soaked everything in Beer Line Cleaner for about an hour, scrubbed as best I could with a faucet and tap brush. Getting the old beer line off was a bit of a pain in the ass, but it was good knowing everything would be clean for this first attempt to get back into all this.

I drew about a pint off the tap and tossed it, then took a small taster. Noticeable chocolate on the nose (grist had 11% chocolate malt). The taste was a bit harsh though. Also, it wasn’t carbonated enough so I increased that on the regulator a little and will give it more time .I’m not sure if it’s just too young, or if it’s just astringent from the dark malt tannins. This is only the 2nd or 3rd time I’ve brewed a stout. The Shakespeare Stout clone recipe called for a 90 minute mash, but I was only intending to do 60. Unfortunately I forgot to ad the flaked oats initially to the mash. I added them after about 45 minutes, so I decided to let the mash sit for closer to the 90 minutes. What I don’t know is if the longer mash lead to extracting more tannins, thus the astringency. Hoping it may mellow out in time.

One thing that I assume a knowledgeable brewer would ask is, “What was your mash pH? You sparge water pH?” Here I have to admit that I never take pH readings. I had my well water tested a few years ago, and I use the information from that test in the Bru’n Water spreadsheet, so I can add acid or brewing salts as estimated by the spreadsheet. With dark beers in the past I’ve not had to deal with acid additions. Same with this. However, it’s well water, which I’m sure can change quite a bit over time, AND, I’ve not taken pH readings, so I’m just going on the test results that are several years old. Probably time I start looking into pH testing.

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Dusted everything off…

Haven’t visited this blog in a couple years. Surprised it’s still even here. Looking at the last entry, from 2018, it appears I did brew an IPA the year, again looking to see if I could solve my hop loss issue. This time with a new PET fermenter. Given that I didn’t follow it up with results tells me it gave me the same hop-less result. I won’t go into the issue as I covered it here many times in the past. The only thing I don’t think I’ve swapped out or changed in the process is my immersion chiller. Prior to that I had a successful saison brew in 2017, and in 2016 I brewed the oatmeal stout I just brewed again. So very little brewing going on here as of late.

I’m back here because after a couple years of good intentions, I finally made the time to brew. Luckily my employer shut down between Christmas and New Years, so it was a real week off (not one in which others were working so I’d be checking emails, etc). Went with Rogue “Shakespeare Stout” clone. Unfortunately in the time I haven’t brewed, I managed to lose all my old beer recipe/brewing notes in Beer Alchemy. I have an newer version that I can run on my current Mac OS, but I can’t import old recipe data files. Ugh. All the notes for every brew gone. To me far more important than recipes.

So I went with a clone I had success with in the past. Only difference was previously I was able to get Wyeast’s “Pacman” strain. It was hard to get at the time. I think it was only produced for a short time each year back then. Now I don’t know that they offer it all all. So after some research, I elected to try (new to me) Wyeast 1272 (American Ale II). From what I understand, if fermented in the lower temperature rage, it accentuates malts, and at higher temps, the hops, but also gives off a fruitier flavor. I built up a starter with 1L, using the canned wort (pint) I got from morebeer.com, and an equal amount of boiled (then cooled) water. Didn’t see a ton of activity but eventually got a decent yeast cake on the bottom of the flask. I chilled that, decanted, and added another 1L of wort to build up more healthy yeast. This time I saw much more activity and a lot of foam when shaken (no stir plate here, just the manual pick it up and swirl it method).

Brew day, considering the time off, went reasonably well. I had cleaned the cooler/tun days ahead with PBW. Cleaned the fermenter and any hoses as well, and used a fresh new bottle of Star San to sanitize. The night before brewing I crushed my grains. It was around 30°F outside and about 55° in the basement. I brew outside, then bring the cooler in for the mash to sit in the basement. Amazingly hit my mash temp of 149°. Most of the way through the 60-minute mash, I realized I never added the flaked outs (1.5 lbs) so I tossed them in, mixed it up and let it rest another 45 minutes. Then I realized I never added the gypsum to the mash. I had used the Bru’n Water spreadsheet in the past, and with this recipe it had calculated a certain amount of gypsum for the mash and the boil. So just added a little more than planned for the boil addition and went with that. From there on it went pretty well. Mashed out with a gallon of boiling water, vorloff, 1st runnings, etc. Then batch sparged and ran off to get my full boil amount, aiming for 7.5 gallons.

Low-tech homebrew

Here’s where I admit my “system” is very rudimentary. One nice piece of gear is my Blichmann burner. Beyond that, a 10 gallon SS pot. Pretty wide compared to the brewing specific kettles I see. No ports. So I use a hand-held thermometer to check temps. I use a converted rectangular cooler with a ball-valve that I run off from (a stainless steel hose cover inside the cooler). All very Denny Conn-ish. My kettle is not marked for volume measurements. So yes, I do a lot of estimating after I pour in the gallon jugs of filtered well-water. My pre-boil and OG were both high compared to my recipe calculations. I believe this is due to the software defaulting to 70% mash efficiency. My efficiency appears to be at least 80%. Without exact volume measurements in the kettle it’s a bit difficult to be sure.

The recipe OG was to be 1.061, and I got 1.066. Now, depending on how the Wyeast 1272 operates. If it attenuates better than average (due to low mash temp) I could be close to 7% as opposed to the 6% of the Rogue original. The yeast is a top-cropper. I pitched around 7:30 the evening I brewed, and by morning there was a 1/2″ of krausen. The 2nd day it was much thicker. By day 3 I feared it may reach the top so I added a blow-off tube. Of course, by the next morning, the krausen started to go down slowly. I’m writing this on Day 4. I pitched at 62° and used temp control (with heat tape) to bring it up to 64°. By late day 2 the temp with up to 66° brought on by the ferment. I raised the temp control to 65° to avoid it dropping to much when fermentation slows. I’ll likely leave it like that for at least a week. May rain it a bit to make sure it cleans up. Depends on what I see when I take a gravity reading.

So, so far so good. Felt great to get a brew day in again. And not to be sitting here worrying about another disappointing hoppy ale. My darker brews seemed to not be effected, but that may just be because they aren’t hoppy beers. I may try a black IPA sometime to see if the darker malts are having an effect on the hop loss.

So, this brew does have me thinking about adding a weld-less sight gauge to allow me to get more accurate readings and better document my process’s results (water absorption rate, mash efficiency, actual volumes of pre-boil, post-boil, transferred, etc). Of course, looking into that, I found myself then researching a SS ball valve for the kettle, and possibly recirculation for whirlpooling or to assist the immersion chiller in cooling the wort quicker. Typically I use an auto-siphon to transfer chilled wort to the fermenter. This time I literally lifted and poured, because the PET fermenter has a pretty wide opening. I was happy to see that much of the hop matter had sunk and was still left behind in the kettle. Pouring also likely helped a bit with oxygenation (no, I don’t have an oxygenation wand), plus I swirled it quite a bit once in the fermenter.

So now it’s wait and see. Going to give it at least 10 days in the fermenter. I hear some say that Wyeast 1272 does flocculate well, but it can take some time. Not sure if it’s worth going to a secondary, to cold crash it, or to just transfer it to the keg once the FG is steady as that will act like a cold crash in the keg anyways.

If this ends up working out, I’ve got ingredients for an altbier to brew. Given the 55° temp in the basement in the winter, I would still want to use an swamp cooler to try to hold it around 50°. Better chance in the winter than any other time of the year.

UPDATE: 1/11/21 (11 days in primary)

Very little airlock activity, so I pulled a sample with a wine thief. Gravity measured at 1.017. Using the calculator at The Screwy Brewer, that would put me at around 6.4% ABV, and at 72% attenuation. According to Wyeast, the 1272 American Ale II attenuates at 72-76%. I am hoping for it to drop another couple points, given the low mash temp, but not sure it will happen. Will let it sit until 2 weeks total and then likely keg it. Hopefully sitting in the chilled keg it will help it flocculate.

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First brew in about 9 months?

So, my last blog post here was last April when I was preparing to brew a Saison. I had replaced my glass carboy with a wide-mouth PET carboy I got up in Portsmouth at A&G Homebrew. I recall that one came out ok. Nothing complicated, and used Belle Saison dry yeast. Came out fine. Great.

But that’s not a test to see if I can finally get my hops to show up again. Past posts here can explain the fact that for a couple years I’ve had terrible results with what should have been very hoppy beers. I initially was able to produce nice hop forward APAs and IPAs. I’ve tried just about everything (brewing with my well water as I normally do, brewing with Spring water and gypsum, had Ward labs water test done. Swapped out hoses, auto-siphon, etc. No luck. Then I took the cooler tun and mashing out of the process completely by brewing with an extract IPA kit. All gave me the same tasting beer… and absolutely no hop flavor or aroma. I normally keg, but I even split one IPA batch into bottles and keg and they all tasted the same (no hops). So last year I replaced the glass carboy with the PET one, as it seemed to be the only piece of equipment I hadn’t replaced. I’ve only used it once and for the Saison. So this will be yet another test to see if I can solve my hop loss issue.

Got 10 lb of 2-row, some rye, carapils, and a little crystal malt. Going pretty basic. Got a good amount of Mosaic hops, vacuum sealed in the freezer. Going to use about 4 oz of mosaic and maybe a little citra and cascade. Not really expecting it to be any better than all the other attempts to fix this issue… but willing to give it another shot.

I’ll update this post with a brew-day wrap up and then eventually the results.

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Ok, ok… I’ll brew something NOT hoppy

After yet another failed attempt to discover what is causing all my hoppy beers to finish with no hop flavor and aroma (after a couple years of brewing very hoppy beers) I picked up ingredients to brew a rye saison and a Bavarian hefeweizen. Going with the French saison yeast this time after battling a stalled fermentation the last time I brewed a saison. Swung into A&G Homebrew in Portsmouth, NH after only finding some of what I needed at closer home-brew shop. Gretchen (the “G” in A&G) was helpful as ever and I found a fresh Bavarian hefe yeast pack, and grabbed a few other things I was missing: a gravity sample tube for taking hydrometer readings (the old one cracked); some DME to make yeast starters; pH test strips to check my mash pH. Then I spotted pretty much the only thing my wort comes in contact with that I haven’t already swapped out in trying to solve my hop loss issue… a PET wide-mouth carboy.

Over the past couple years in which I’ve experienced the hop issue, I’ve replaced all my tubing and wracking cane. I’ve tested my well water (resulting in trying phosphoric acid to reduce the high alkalinity in my lighter colored beers. I’ve brewed with spring water. For one IPA, I dry hopped in the primary rather than rack the beer onto the dry hops in my 5 gallon Better Bottle secondary. Curious if it had to do with my keg setup I split one batch, bottling half, kegging the other half. My last effort I resorted to an extract kit to take my mash process completely out of the equation. Every one of the resulting beers tasted the same. As the head brewer at SoMe Brewing told me after tasting a sample, it tastes like 2-row... as if I never added my late boil or dry hops at all. But he saw the recipe and knew I had more than enough hops in there. The good thing was, he said it didn’t taste like any kind of infection or common “off flavor”… the bad thing was we couldn’t figure out WHY it was happening. At the time he thought water could be the culprit, which lead to me getting my water tests by Ward Labs.

I’ve done all kinds of trials by elimination with the same results. That said, my last non-hoppy brew (an oatmeal stout) was very good. So, I picked up the PET carboy and eventually with brew my IPA recipe again fermenting in it rather than the old glass carboy I’ve used for 5 years. Grasping at straws, but dammit, there has to be an explanation!

In the meantime I will try brewing a couple not hoppy forward beers and rely on their yeast profiles to provide the signature flavors. Hopefully those come out as they should.

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Well, it’s been over a year…

I’m realizing that my last post was November of 2015. I see it was about the oatmeal stout I brewed. I do recall it being quite tasty. I had it on tap in the late winter. I recall it being served at an end-of-season team party (my daughter’s 6th grade basketball team… but no fear, only poured it for the parents) and it went over quite well. I believe I brewed once more after that, trying to brew the same IPA recipe I’ve been doing for ages in an attempt to discover why all my hop flavor and aroma is disappearing in my APA and IPA style beers. That last attempt I used some phosphoric acid in an attempt to offset some high alkalinity I have when brewing light colored beers with my well water. Unfortunately I got the same result as the 6-8 other attempts since the issue came about (it wasn’t always a problem).

Today I jumped back in time and brewed from an extract kit. That’s right. Haven’t brewed extract in over 4 years. But, by doing this, I am eliminating a large portion of the process. If the issue is resolved, I can look more closely into my all-grain process and equipment. I’m grasping at straws, having done water tests, tried brewing salts with my well water, tried brewing with only spring water, and so on. All getting the same exact results.

If this doesn’t work, I’m not sure what to try next. I replaced my auto-siphon and tubing. I washed my carboy well. I don’t think there’s any chance of infection (and as the pro brewer who tasted my problem beer previously said, it didn’t taste off in such a way that suggested infection or poor ferment temp control, etc. It just tasted like 2-row, despite the amount of hops I was dumping in there.

Yes, I tried ingredients from different sources too.

So, the kit was a Citra Session APA. Only intended to be about 4.6%. I tweaked it a bit, used a little added DME (in addition to the LME the kit came with) and played with the volumes. OG came in around 1.055. I just pitched the S05 dry yeast and will have to wait and see.

Can’t believe it’s been a year since I brewed last, but the repeated poor results with my hoppy beers has me far from enthused. Hopefully this one sheds a little light on the issue.

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Water update, and Shakespeare Stout

After getting my well water tested by Ward Labs, I tried brewing my same IPA a couple times, once using spring water and once using my water but adding gypsum, and noticed very little difference in the hop aroma department. It’s still lost. The one with gypsum added I did notice more hop bite and a bit more flavor, but the aroma is still lost considering the amount of late and dry hops used.

It’s been a few months since I last brewed, so I decided to do a dark beer today. My first stout, which seems odd considering I’ve been homebrewing for about 5 years. My brews of Tasty McDole’s “Janet’s Brown,” a big hoppy American Brown, have been plenty hoppy. And my porter has been quite good the last couple times. With the high alkalinity of my well water, darker malts work better. I used the Bru’n Water spreadsheet, with all my water test results entered, and found the stout recipe I am using should bring the pH down into the preferred range. Fingers crossed.

I did load up on malt to brew a light hoppy beer again next, though. I also picked up some 85% food grade phosphoric acid which I intend to use in my water for the next IPA brew. This should lower the alkalinity of my well water. Worth a shot! I have a lot of Mosaic hops in the freezer that I need to use up, but may also mix in some Warrior (bittering) and a little Citra and Chinook as well.

Once the oatmeal stout is tapped I’ll check in here to report on the results. I basically picked up a recipe the Brewing Network “Can You Brew It?” show used attempting to clone Rogue’s Shakespeare Stout.

10lb 2-row
1.5 lb each of Crystal120 and Chocolate malts
4 oz of Roasted Black Barley
18 oz can of Quaker instant oats

Mashed at 153°

Hopefully it doesn’t require TOO much time conditioning, but I do wish I brewed this  month or two ago to allow it time and still have it for the winter months. I spotted Wyeast’s Pacman yeast being available which is what lead me to trying this recipe.


Water test results (long play edition)

So, after spending some time online reading Palmer’s How to Brew water section and discussing the topic on homebrewtalk.com, I know more, but the waters are just as muddied.

Ward Labs brewers' water test results

Ward Labs brewers’ water test results

If I could rely on my well water not fluctuating much, it appears my issues are mostly aligned with the high alkalinity (144 ppm) shown in my report from Ward Labs. Overall, the ionic content in my water is not very high, which is a good thing. It’s relatively soft, and therefore I could brew beers known for their soft water profiles (like a Pils) with just a little modification. And for hoppier ales, adding compounds like gypsum could help my hops “pop” more. However, the alkalinity fights everything. High alkalinity is not good for brewing.

Given the feedback I’ve received so far, along with what I’ve read, the most foolproof way to avoid these issues is to use Reverse Osmosis water for all my brewing. RO water is highly filtered, (as opposed to distilled water, which is collected from the vapor of boiling water), and basically starts one off at zero. For compounds helpful to brewing, one would need to add those to the RO water. Denny Conn was kind enough to point me to Bru’n Water, where I found helpful info as well as a great Excel spreadsheet in which I can enter all my water report data, and it then make adjustments (diluting with distilled or RO water, adding compounds, etc) to achieve desired profiles provided.

If I choose to use my well water, with the info from my water report, I can attack the high alkalinity issue with acid. Adding Lactic or Phosphoric acid to my brewing water can help lower the alkalinity greatly. This is also in the spreadsheet, so it’s results are calculated, shown me what that acid addition would do to all my water numbers. Another method would be to use a percentage of RO (or distilled) water when brewing, thus cutting down the alkalinity as well as the ionic content, some of which would need to be built back up with other compound additions. The third way is to go with all RO water, and build up my profile with compound additions.

I was thinking about the first option, using my water and modifying with phosphoric acid and adding gypsum. However, as someone pointed out, their well water fluctuates quite a bit, and my Ward Labs water report results may differ week to week. This would require getting a water testing kit like this, or just going all RO water.

I was hoping to avoid having to buy water every time I brew, but the RO option may make the most sense, and would be the most consistent. It appears I can go to my local Walmart and fill 5 gallon bottles at a “Primo” water system, which is supposedly RO water. I will need to visit the Walmart to see if they in fact have these, and stock the 5 gallon jugs. If so, I can fill two 5-gallon jugs for around $5. I typically use about 9-10 gallons per brew (losing 1.5 gallons to absorption, a gallon plus boils off, and then more is lost to sediment in the fermenter). Likely less hassle than constantly worrying about my water profile fluctuating and having to buy a test kit  which costs over $100.

So like I said at the beginning of this post, I’ve learned a lot… but muddied the waters at the same time.

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Ward Labs water report in

After getting my water report in this week, I’m going back to school (figuratively) and learning the tip of the brewing water chemistry iceberg. Short version: high alkalinity. Long version to come soon


great help from the NH Seacoast beer community

Having recently emptied both kegs in the kegerator (and after not brewing for several months over this past seemingly endless winter) I got determined and made time to brew an American IPA and a few weeks later, a British ESB. For the IPA, I went with a basic grain bill (2-row, carpils and C40) and a hop bill reflective of one of my favorite New England IPA’s, Maine Beer’s Another One. Warrior to bitter, 20 minute and 1 minute additions of equal amounts of Simcoe and Citra. after 12 days in the primary, I then racked off the yeast into my 5 gallon Better Bottle secondary, dry hopping with 2 oz of Simcoe and 1 oz Citra. 10 days in secondary, then racked into a corny keg and gassed it up over 2 weeks.

About 10 days after kegging it I pulled a small sample that was, as expected, very cloudy with sediment. Dumped that and eventually got a clearer sample a few days later. The initial pour and sniff was nicely hoppy, but that’s when the hops fell short.  I noticed this aroma and flavor that has been showing up in many of my lighter colored hoppy beers. I’ve been noticing it for about a year now. In the last couple of beers, a robust porter, and a rye IPA, it wasn’t relays noticeable. Not a t all in the porter, and I don’t recall it being as evident in the rye. The porter’s dark malts obviously masking it, and my rye IPA uses a fair amount of crystal malts (carapils, C60, C120, and aromatic). But still that rye IPA was lacking in bitterness and hop flavor, considering the amount of hops I used.

This time it really pissed me off. I was looking forward to this batch. Almost 5 oz of hops used in the boil, and 3 more oz dry hopping, and there was this other flavor over-riding the hops. So, I decided to throw my dilemma out to the masses, via Twitter and a Facebook page called Seacoast Beer, focusing on the craft beer market in the NH seacoast area. I had specifically asked if anyone who was a BJCP certified judge, or a professional brewer, would be able to taste my beer for me and provide some feedback. I got a lot of responses right off the bat. But, at least from the Twitter responses, most would have required me shipping beer. I’ve stopped bottling since getting the kegerator, so the thought of bottling and shipping wasn’t too appealing. Then, Pete M. on the Seacoast Beer page recommended bringing a sample up to SoMe Brewing in York, Maine. He said the head brewer there, Dave, loved to talk brewing and would be up for helping out. York is two states away, but only about a 40-minute drive. Surprisingly I managed to make the time on Sunday to drive up, with a growler full of my IPA. Continue Reading »