Monday, November 30, 2015

Award winning Schwarzbier recipe!

I still can't believe the success of this beer. This one batch has gotten 8 awards including 3 gold medals, 1 silver, and 2 bronze as well as 3rd Best of Show and most recently 1st Best of Show at the 2015 Music City Brew Off! I've been brewing (and drinking) a lot of tasty lagers lately, mainly Munich Helles and Dortmunder Export, but the Schwarzbier isn't exactly my favorite style of lager. That's probably why I've managed to hang on to this one for so long, hence all the competition entries.

This recipe is straight from Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmer's book "Brewing Classic Styles".  The changes I made were the hops and yeast. I use Ultra hops for all my "noble hop" needs. This one is Ultra hops all the way through. Also I used my favorite lager yeast: White labs WLP833 German Bock lager yeast. This brew was a split (12 gallon) batch with the other half getting WLP830 German Lager yeast but the 833 made the better beer and was used for competitions.

There are several factors that I would point to that I believe contributed to the success of this beer. Temperature control is a must, which goes for any lager. The yeast was pitched below 50* and was raised over a period of 12 days to 68* where it rested for a couple of days (see details below).
Also pitching lots of good, healthy yeast is crucial. For this recipe I re-pitched yeast from a previous batch of lager. I've found that re-pitching yeast makes for better beer. For some reason they just get better acclimated to their surroundings after a few generations. I pitched 500ml of yeast slurry into each 6 gallon batch. Keep in mind one White Labs vial contains 35ml of yeast, so that's a ton of yeast for this beer!
I used a 90 minute mash and a 90 minute boil. When using pilsner malt you always want to do at least a 90 minute boil but I do 90 minutes boils for all my beers now. For the mash, I mashed the base grains for the first 60 minutes then added the roasted grains for the next 30 minutes. Mashing the dark grains for a smaller amount of time help reduce the astringency and acrid flavor of the roasted malt. I also mash thick (usually around 1.1 qts/lb) so a 90 minute mash always helps with conversion of starches.

So without further ado, here is the recipe for "Brunette Lager"!

Batch size: 12 gallons
OG: 1.055
FG: (est.) 1.015
SRM: 25
IBU: 29

12 lbs. -  Light Munich Malt
9.4 lbs.  - Pilsner Malt
12 oz. -  Crystal 40
12 oz. - Chocolate malt (350L)
7 oz. - Carafa II
7 oz. - Roasted Barley

Ultra (7.6% AA) - 1.74oz @ 60 mins.
Ultra - .53 oz. @ 20 mins.
Ultra - .53 oz. @ flameout

WLP-833 German Bock - 500ml washed yeast from previous batch.

Treated to obtain (using EZ water calculator):
107 ppm calcium
17 ppm magnesium
8 ppm sodium
51 ppm chloride
92 ppm sulfate

Mash temp: 154*
Mash pH - 5.54

Oxygenated with pure O2 for 1 min (approx. rate: 1L/min)

Fermentation schedule:
Pitched yeast @ 47*, let rise to 50* and hold for 3 days.
Raise temp 1* per day until reaching 68* and hold for 2 days and keg.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

More homebrew competition wins

It's been a year since my first win in a homebrew competition. Since then I've had many achievements. I've managed to win 23 more medals:  7 gold (1st place), 11 silver (2nd place), 5 bronze (3rd place), 1 3rd place Best of Show and one honorable mention. Also managed to make it to the 4th round of the Cool Springs Brewery Pro-Am competition.
The more I've learned the more my beers get better.
I'll be posting some award winning recipe's in the near future.

But for now here's some bling:   :)



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Friday, August 22, 2014

My first homebrew competition win!

Won my first ribbon! Took 2nd place in the dark ale category at the 2014 Wilson County Fair homebrew competition with my Diver Down Brown Ale. This brown ale is based off of Tasty McDole's Janet's Brown Ale, just slightly tweaked. It's very hop forward and higher gravity for the style.
I've discovered the magic of reusing yeast rather than buying new each time. It saves money and it really does make for a better beer. This one was made using second generation yeast which I think made it so good.

Diver Down Brown Ale:

Batch size: 5.5 gallons
90 minute boil
OG: 1067
ABV: 6.4%
IBU: 36

11 lbs Rahr 2-row
1.15 lbs Carapils
1.15 lbs Carastan (35L)
15 oz. Wheat malt
7 oz.  Chocolate malt (350L)

.6 oz Northern Brewer (10.1% AA) - Mash hop
.7 oz Northern Brewer (10.1% AA) @ 60 mins
.6 oz Northern Brewer (10.1% AA) @ 15 mins
.8 oz Cascade (8.5% AA) @ 10 mins
1.2 oz Cascade (8.5% AA) @ 0 mins
1.8 oz Centennial - dry hop for 13 days

Mash @ 154* for 60 mins
Pitched 150ml of 2nd gen WLP-001 @ 65 degrees
Let rise to 67* and rest for 2 days then gradually let rise to 71* for the next 5 days and dry hop.
After 13 days racked to keg.

Friday, December 20, 2013

My first homebrew competition

This year's annual Music City Brew Off was an opportunity to enter my first homebrew competition. Being a big fan of American pale ales I've been working on dialing in my own preferred recipe. It started out as a session APA, one that has plenty of American hop flavor and aroma but is lower in alcohol (~4%) so I can enjoy more than just one at a time. I boosted up the recipe to meet the proper BJCP guidelines of an APA which is more in the 5 to 5.5% range.

The scores weren't too shabby. One judge gave it a 34 and the other a 37. The comments were overall good. Both judges agreed that the body was a little thin and the maltiness was low so there's what I need to work on. It got high marks on the aroma, flavor and mouthfeel although one commented that the hop aroma was a little one dimensional (surprising since there is such a layer of different hops).
Adjustment have been made and hopefully I'll have time to brew the revision beer soon.

Here's the recipe for the competition beer:

Kirk's American Pale Ale

ABV: 5.1%
IBU: 32

7.5 lbs Rahr 2-row malt
1.8 lbs Munton's Maris Otter
8 oz. Biscuit malt
8 oz. Carapils
8 oz. crystal 20
8 oz. light Munich malt
2 oz. crystal 40

.3 oz. Magnum (13.1% AA) @ 60 mins.
.5 oz. Centennial (8.4% AA) @ 15 mins.
.5 oz. Amarillo (9.8% AA) @ 15 mins.
.3 oz. Simcoe (13% Aa) @ 15 mins.
.5 oz. Centennial @ 0 mins.
.5 oz. Amarillo @ 0 mins.
.5 oz. Simcoe @ 0 mins.
1 oz. Amarillo dry - hop for 5 days @ 70*
1 oz. Centennial - dry hop for 5 days @ 70*
.5 oz. Simcoe - dry hop for 5 days @ 70*
1 oz. Amarillo - dry hop for 5 days @ 34*
1 oz. Centennial - dry hop for 5 days @ 34*

Mashed @ 150* for 60 mins
Yeast - WLP-001 (1500mL starter on stir plate)
Pitched @ 65*
Raised 1 degree per day for 5 days (65*-70*)
Cold crashed on day 7
Kegged on day 12

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What I've learned about brewing

Wow. It's been over a year since I last posted and boy have I learned a lot since then.
Not only have I honed my processes on my brewing equipment to maintain consistency but I've added more equipment to make the processes faster and the beer better. Also lots of reading and researching on the importance of things like water and proper yeast pitching have been a key factor. Listening to podcasts from The Brewing Network has helped tremendously. I've learned more from the short time of listening to these shows than I have from reading the various conflicting opinions on homebrewing forums.

Some of the things that I've found to be vital in making good beer:

Fermentation is probably the most crucial element of making beer. Proper fermentation temps are a must. Too warm and you produce unwanted fusel alcohols and esters which can make your beer taste like turpentine. Too cold a temp and you get lagged fermentation and improper yeast growth which will also affect the taste of the beer.
I bought an old chest freezer on Craigslist and a temp controller from Amazon. Along with a small heating pad I can maintain consistent fermentation temperature at any temp I want. Ferment at lager temps? No problem. Ramp up the temp on my ale after several days into fermentation to reduce diacetyl? No problem. Can't say enough how much this has helped my beers.

Pitching the right amount of yeast is right up there with proper fermentation. Too little of a pitch and the yeast get stressed and attenuation is poor. Too much yeast and the flavor of your beer suffers. Either way it usually ends up producing crappy beer.
The Yeast Pitching Rate Calculator at is a great tool to help you pitch the perfect amount of yeast for your beer.
Making yeast starters is helpful in pitching the proper amount of yeast. With a starter you can use less vials of yeast and you can assure the vitality of the yeast. Using a stir plate with your starter is even better. I made a stir plate out of a computer fan and a Tupperware container. I can now make super yeast starters that make my yeast happy and get my fermentation rolling in no time.

Water/Mash pH
The quality of the water being used and the pH of the mash is also a huge factor in making good beer. I contacted my local municipal water supplier and got a report on exactly what was in my water. Knowing what key elements are missing (or what there is too much of) helped me to dial in my water by adding minerals or diluting with distilled water.
Checking the pH of the mash and adjusting helps with the efficiency of the mash and helps reduce and astringents that would cause bad flavors.
I use the EZ Water Calculator. My water has excessive calcium and is hard but the sulfate is low. I can add gypsum to increase sulfate and lower mash pH but too much gypsum and I have too much calcium. My adjustment is to add a slight amount of gypsum and use a small amount of lactic acid to reduce mash pH.

Other things I've learned
Grain to water ratio is not an important factor when mashing. Use what volume of water is easiest. I always use 4 gallons of strike water no matter what the grain bill is. The sparge amount will vary depending on the size of the grain bill but having a consistent strike volume makes it easier and I hit my target mash temp every time. 

There is almost always no reason for a secondary. I used to think it was important to transfer the beer off of the yeast after primary fermentation. I just heard that it was "bad to keep the beer on the yeast!" The yeast actually cleans up the beer after fermentation reducing diacetyl (the nasty buttery flavor you don't want in your beer). Another myth is that this helps clear your beer. Beer doesn't clear any faster in a secondary container than it does sitting in the primary. Matter of fact you may just stir up the yeast when transferring and cause it to clear slower. Also any time beer is transferred from one container to another the risk of infection goes up. You also risk oxidizing the beer. For this reason dry hopping should also be done in the primary. Just throw the hops in the fermenter (the best time is right as fermentation is almost complete) and you'll avoid adding oxygen.
I let me beers sit in the primary fermenter until they are done then transfer to a keg. The only time you might want a secondary is if you're adding fruit or some other additive after fermentation is complete. I still don't use a secondary for this. For instance, I used cacao nibs recently in a chocolate stout and just threw them in the primary.

Brewing different styles, attempting to clone commercial beers, experimenting with different grains, hops and yeast has taught me many things as well.
I'm hoping to learn even more in the next year to come!

Thursday, December 13, 2012