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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.

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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

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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 »

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This winter started so well

The winter started pretty mild. Only a couple of minor snow storms and it was already mid-January. Then, over the past two weeks, we’ve had about 4 FEET fall. Had a 30+ inch blizzard to start it off, followed almost ever few days following with smaller storms. And now looking at a potential foot out of this current storm. Top it off with the neighbor’s grandson, who’s plowed my driveway for a couple years now, having the mounting frame crack a couple days before the blizzard. Not a huge deal if it was a normal driveway, but ours is a 325 ft long access road more than a driveway. And it’s uphill to get out. So keeping it cleared is a must.

What’s this have to do with beer? Well, nothing other than the fact that it’s taking up so much time that I haven’t had any time to brew! I brew outside too, given my wife’s hatred for the smell of the process. It’s been frigid, snowing, and what time I may have free I’m spending snowblowing and shoveling.

Featured imageThe last few batches have been Mike “Tasty” McDole’s “Janet’s Brown Ale” (my 3rd attempt), the 5th brew of my Rye IPA, and 2nd batch of the Deschutes Black Butte Porter clone. The JBA I altered by dryhopping with Chinook instead of Centennial, and I’m going to keep that change going forward. It worked really well, and the beer went over with everyone who tried it. A great, great beer. Not too much roast which is the main thing I don’t care for in Black IPAs. JBA is a hoppy beer, but the malt bill really matches up with the hops and balances it out with a nice layering of flavors.

The Rye came in at 6.9% ABV (a little higher than intended) and unfortunately was not as bitter as I had hoped it would be. Still tasty, with 2.5 lb of malted rye in the grist, and all Amarillo hops other than the bittering charge. I bottled 2 gallons to gift out, and wow… I forgot what a pain in the butt bottling is! I’ve been kegging for about a year and a half and have no desire to hand bottle again. That said, I believe the folks I gave them to appreciated it.

Featured imageThe Deschutes Black Butte Porter clone was the 2nd attempt (the 1st being last winter). Only thing changed was that I used Simcoe for the late boil additions, but those hops are so in the background I don’t think it made a difference at all. I used the S04 English Ale dry yeast again. Unfortunately, I mashed a bit too high, given the yeast I was using, and the final gravity only got down to about 1.016. Wish it had finished a bit lower/drier, but it’s still very tasty. Just enough coffee and chocolate flavors coming through. And only a 5.5% ABV, so it’s not going to hit anyone too hard. Those who have had it (brought a growler to a friend’s Super Bowl party) really seem to have enjoyed it, and that’s what it’s all about.

I’ve had the ingredients to brew up a IPA since brewing the porter, but between the winter holidays, and now weather, I just haven’t been able to carve out the 5 hours needed. I’m looking at a new IPA recipe, which will be low on the crystal malt, focusing on the hops front and center. Was going to go all Simcoe, but might mix in Citra as well. Just need to find the time!

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Single-hop APA brewday

I just kegged my latest brew, a single-hop American Pale Ale based on Russian River’s “Row 2 Hill 56” which was brewed using all Simcoe hops (the Row and Hill numbers signifying the location in the experimental hop hard in Yakima, WA where it originated. I got the idea to use their recipe from Lewy’s series of single-hop brews, recipes and results found on his blog.

I opted to go with all-Columbus hops. Granted, I DID use a different hop for bittering, as bittering hops tend not to offer up any noticeable flavor and aroma, and I hate to waste good aroma hops for that stage. Instead I used reliable, clean, high alpha acid Magnum at 60 minutes, with Columbus at 25 min, flame out, and dryhop. My OG came in a bit high at 1.058 after the 90 minute boil. (90 minutes due to the almost 60% of Pils base malt. Pils tends to need a longer boil to avoid DMS production and it’s associated off-flavors). So rather than the 5.8% of the Russian River beer, mine is around 6.4%, finishing dry at 1.010 FG.

The FG sample wasn’t overly hoppy, but I won’t know until it’s carb’d up and I can pour a glass from the tap.

I am thinking about trying to remove the 20 minute flavor hop additions, and try “whirlpool additions“. From what I understand, after the boil, I can chill to about 180° and then add flavor hops, allowing to sit for about 20 minutes to get better hop utilization and more hop flavor. I need to do more research on this first though.

I will update this once the Columbus APA is tapped.

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hoppy wheat brew: late blog

Realized now that I’ve been negligent as of late. I just recently kicked my two corny kegs… 1 had Altbier and 1 had a hoppy wheat based on Michael Tonsmeire’s “Fortunate Islands” recipe. I dialed back the late hop additions as his were seemingly over the top even by today’s hoppy standards. I used a 2-to-1 ratio of Citra- to-Amarillo hops in late additions (15 min left in boil, 5 min left, and a good sized dryhopping).

It was my first time using this much wheat (47%) in an all-grain process, so out of fear of a stuck mash, I opted to use a 1/2 lb of rice hulls, which I soaked in 160° water, drained, and rinsed again, before mixing in with the milled grain in my cooler/mash tun. Whether I would have had a stuck mash or not, I felt better on the safe side with the hulls. Mashed at 154° and had no issues collecting my wort. OG of 1.053

After 6 days at 65°, the gravity was down to 1.015 (using S05 dry Cal ale yeast). Added dry hops straight into the primary carboy at 7 days and turned this beer around from grains to tap in 3 weeks. I don’t have a final gravity in my notes, but I do know it was fairly dry to the gravity must have dropped a few more points in the second week. Some took it to be an IPA, despite it’s ABV (around 5.3-5.5%), the hop-forward flavor and aroma likely the reason. It was also around 45 IBUs according to calculations, so a bit more bitter than a typical wheat beer. To me, it came across more like an APA, but less caramel. Very easy drinker in the summer heat, but still had enough hop flavor to make it interesting. It also didn’t come across like a watery “session IPA” thankfully. Definitely will try this one again next summer. Love the citra!

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Is Brita filtering my well water worth it for brewing?

I’ve filtered my brewing water since I started. Not sure why… but always assumed it was better than not. And no, I haven’t had my well water tested (other than when we first bought the house 10+ yrs ago). That test wasn’t the homebrewing water test of course. The only issue I’ve had with our well is that at times, we’ve had a sulfurish smell from the water, but that always dissipates. We use a Brita pitcher/filter as well as their larger spigot dispenser (which I keep in the fridge). I’m really wondering if I need to filter my brewing water. Given I do this with the Brita pitcher and dispenser, it obviously takes a long time and more effort than seems worthwhile.

According to the Brita site:
The Brita® Pitcher Filter Systems and the Brita® Faucet Filter are both excellent water filtration products offering different filtering techniques. The best product is the one that most meets your individual needs. Both products reduce the contaminants that most commonly concern consumers — lead and chlorine (taste and odor) — and both products deliver great-tasting Brita® water. The Brita® Pitcher Systems also reduce copper and mercury — which the Brita® Faucet Filter can’t do. But unlike the pitcher, the Faucet Filter removes the microbes, Cryptosporidium and Giardia, and reduces the chemicals Atrazine, Lindane, Benzene, Trichloroethylene and Asbestos.

I suppose I should get the water tested with the brewer test, but I’ve been too cheap and lazy to bother with it. Our Brita filtered water tastes fine, so I’ve always just gone with that. But, to prep around 10 gallons of water for mashing and sparging is a pain using the Brita devices. Trying to avoid the added cost of a “whole home filtering system,” again, as I’ve had no reason to worry in the past.

Would greatly appreciate homebrewers thoughts on water filtering. I’m not getting into water chemistry, because I simply don’t have that kind of time for this hobby. I know many brewers strip down their water to nothing, and then “build” their brewing water up with salts and minerals. At this point, for me, that’s more work that I want to do.