Friday, December 11, 2009

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale tasting

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was one of the original beers in the American microbrewery revolution of the late 70's. It's one that is often talked about on home brewing forums and beer appreciation sites, and is said to encapsulate the American Pale Ale style.

Despite the warnings about it not traveling well, when I saw it on the beer menu at Brisbane's Era Bistro, I knew I had to give it a go.

The warnings refer to the degradation of the aroma and flavour on the long trip over from California. I've even heard that Australian exports of the beer come via Europe, adding to the length of the journey. Bright hop aromatics fade over time and at increased temperatures, and when you consider that the beer could have been sitting in a container or warehouse for who knows how long on its trip over, the warnings are understandable. But it didn't stop me from ordering one.

It is difficult to evaluate a beer that comes with so many preconceptions. The hop aromatics were still there, although I could easily imagine them being less subdued in the fresh product. I can't remember a lot of the malt characteristics that are said to be present, though I wasn't taking detailed notes at the time (after all, this was a night of a work milestone celebration). I do, however, remember making comparisons in my head to Little Creatures Pale Ale at the time; an American Pale Ale style of beer that is said to be a tribute to SNPA.

Overall, I wasn't disappointed, and am still excited to have had the chance to try it. If anything, it has made me want to go over to the US and find out just how good the beer is fresh, and how good a job Little Creatures have done in paying tribute to the style.

Friday, December 4, 2009

#22 GxSA (Galaxy Summer Ale)

Brewed: 12th November, 2009

The fourth batch in the Summer Ale series, this time using Galaxy hops instead of Nelson Sauvin.

I tried a slightly different technique of filling my mash tun this time, called underletting. This involves dumping all of the grain into the mash tun and filling it from the bottom up through the outlet. The aim of this was to see if I could saturate the grain properly and hit my mash temperature without having to stir the mash as much. The result I ended up with though was even more inconsistent temperatures throughout the mash (requiring more stirring!) and still coming in slightly under the mash temperature despite the fact that it was way over temperature before I started mixing in properly! Oh well, something learned for next time.

Part way through my first runnings, I realised that I made the silly mistake of not attaching the tap to the kettle. All of a sudden I was wondering what the dripping noise on the floor was! Luckily I was standing next to the kettle at the time and didn't lose too much sweet wort. The spills didn't end there though, as with a higher than expected post-boil volume, I overflowed the "no-chill" cube after the boil. In the future, I plan to use a brewday checklist and actually tick things off instead of relying on my memory to consult the checklist that's on the fridge in the brewing area.

In terms of numbers, I didn't lose as much temperature over the hour compared to last time (1 degree instead of 2). My first runnings were slightly under, which I made up for my adding an extra litre of water to the second sparge. My pre and post boil gravity readings were also a point lower, but well within my expectations.

The recipe:

JW Pale Malt: 4500g
Torrified Wheat: 400g

Galaxy pellets (13.4% AA): 12g @ -80 mins
Galaxy pellets (13.4% AA): 12g @-20 mins
Galaxy pellets (13.4% AA): 16g @ -5 mins
Galaxy pellets (13.4% AA): 23g in no-chill cube

Mash time: 60 minutes
Target mash temperature: 64C
Start: 63.5C
Middle: 63C
End: 62.5C

Run-off: 30L

Pre-boil SG: 1038
Boil Time: 90 minutes

Volume in fermenter: 21L
Yeast: WLP001 - California Ale (harvested from #20 NSSA)
Ferment temperature: 19C

Target OG: 1052
Actual OG: 1046

Actual FG: 1012

ABV: 4.5%

Work experience at MT Brewery

One day a week for the past few weeks, I've been heading down to MT Beer on Mount Tamborine to lend a hand to the head brewer, Ian Watson, in the day-to-day operations at the brewery. It is part of my on-going quest to discover the gaps in my knowledge about working in a commercial brewery so that I know where to focus my efforts in going forward.

So far I have been involved in cleaning and filling kegs and transferring beer to/from various vessels. Last week, I was there to help out with brewing the latest batch of Blonde, including what I imagine would be the least pleasant job, which was to empty the several-hundred kilograms of spent grain from the lauter tun. I guess I didn't mind so much at the time because it is all still new to me! It is interesting to see the similarities and differences between home and commercial brewing, where the latter in this case is approximately 100 times the volume. So far, most of my focus has been on the process side of things as opposed to the business side that I know I'll need to start looking into soon.

The days start much earlier than I'm used to, but it has definitely been worth it. Getting feedback on my own beers throughout the day makes it even easier and more valuable to me (though you certainly have to go easy on it given the lack of commuting options)!

Next week Ian is planning to do a bottling run while I'm there, which will fill in yet another piece of the puzzle for me.

Friday, November 13, 2009

#21 RP (Robust Porter - Chocolate Jaffa Porter)

Brewed: 5th November, 2009

This was a variation of a Chocolate Porter that I made a few months ago. The original recipe turned out really well and a suggestion was made about the possibility of a choc-orange taste, which is where this brew idea came from. I'm going for more a citrus taste as opposed to straight up orange, but depending on how this one goes, some orange essence may be called up in the future. I'm using Cascade hops for flavour and aroma in this case to try to achieve the citrus notes. I also want to do a choc-vanilla take on this recipe one day, using vanilla beans for the flavour.

As far as the brew day went, it was reasonably uneventful. I did forget to close the tap on the mash tun after draining it the first time, which resulted in a bit of leakage when I went to fill it up the second time, but I caught it pretty quickly. I hit the mash temperature spot on and held it well over the hour.

An interesting thing I noted was that when I poured the wort into the primary fermenter, it didn't froth up at all (unlike nearly every other batch does). It corresponds a bit to the way the previous batch of chocolate porter is pouring out of the tap; ie. very little head on it. Remembering back to what food oils do to a head on a beer (transferred to the glass after eating such food), I put the lack of froth and head down to the fat content of the cocoa powder used in the recipe.

The recipe (based on this one):

JW Pale Malt: 4500g
Light Munich: 1000g
Crystal 135: 500g
Carafa Special II: 200g
Chocolate Malt: 200g
Roast Barley: 100g
Cocoa powder: 100g (added to boil @ -5 mins)

East Kent Goldings pellets (4.8% AA): 48g @ -45 mins
Cascade pellets (6.3% AA): 19g @ -10 mins
Cascade pellets (6.3% AA): 10g in no-chill cube

Mash time: 60 minutes
Target mash temperature: 68C
Start: 68C
Middle: 67.5C
End: 67.5C

Run-off: 30L

Target pre-boil SG: 1046
Actual Pre-boil SG: 1050
Boil Time: 60 minutes

Volume in fermenter: 23L
Yeast: Re-cultured Coopers Stout yeast (farmed from #19 MS)
Ferment temperature: 18C

Target OG: 1057
Actual OG: 1055

Monday, November 2, 2009

#20 NSSA (Nelson Sauvin Summer Ale)

Brewed: 29th October, 2009

This was the third batch in the series of Summer Ales I'm doing with slight tweaks between each recipe. Today, I only boiled the bittering hops for the last 60 minutes instead of the 80 minutes previously. This should have the effect of producing a slightly less bitter beer. I'll do a side-by-side taste when this one is ready to see if I can notice the difference. If not, I might try a 45 minute bittering addition some time in the future.

The brew-day was fairly uneventful for this one. I was slightly under the mash temperature target, but I only lost 2 degrees instead of the 3 I lost in the last batch. In hindsight, I could have added some boiling water at the start of the mash to bring it up to my target temperature, but I guess I didn't worry about it at the time because it was only half a degree off. I had slightly better efficiency, which I think would have been even higher if I had both elements running when heating up the kettle (the variable dial on one of the elements was off even though it looked like it was on). In all, there were no surprises, and no stuff ups so I certainly can't complain.

The next day, I transferred it to primary and pitched the yeast. This was sooner than the last two batches (two days for #18 and 3 days for #20) and adds another variable, as the cube hop addition wasn't in for as long, but I don't think it'll have much of an impact. I also decided to save the cube hops for a future batch of this recipe to see if they have enough bittering capacity left in them (I got the idea from this thread on AHB).

The recipe (based on this one):

JW Pale Malt: 4500g
Torrified Wheat: 400g

Nelson Sauvin pellets (11.5% AA): 15g @ -60 mins
Nelson Sauvin pellets (11.5% AA): 15g @-20 mins
Nelson Sauvin pellets (11.5% AA): 20g @ -5 mins
Nelson Sauvin pellets (11.5% AA): 25g in no-chill cube

Mash time: 60 minutes
Target mash temperature: 64C
Start: 63.5C
Middle: 62.5C
End: 61.5C

Run-off: 29.5L

Pre-boil SG: 1039
Boil Time: 90 minutes

Volume in fermenter: 21L
Yeast: WLP001 - California Ale (harvested from #18 NSSA)
Ferment temperature: 19C

Target OG: 1050
Actual OG: 1047

Saturday, October 24, 2009

#19 Milk Stout

Brewed: 22nd October, 2009

I had some different issues with my mash temperature for this brew. I lost more than normal from my strike temperature, but didn't lose as much as I normally do over the hour. It doesn't bode well for my consistency.

I was a bit suspicious that my thermometer was out, but I tested it at freezing and boiling and it seems to be correct at the extremes. I still have to do a comparison with some accurate thermometers around the mash temperature to be sure, but at the moment, I'm reasonably confident that it is not my thermometer. Maybe the different type of grains had a role in absorbing more temperature?

I also underestimated the sparge water required and came out about a litre under my pre-boil volume. That ended up working out in my favour though, because I had overestimated the boil loss and ended up with my target volume in the end. The original gravity came in close enough too and probably would have been too low if I had the extra litre or so there.

Finally, I'll need to remember to wear my glasses more in the future! I was splashed in the eye with hot water when filling the mash tun, which wasn't a pleasant experience.

The recipe (based on this one):

JW Pale Malt: 3175g
Carafa Special II: 450g
Crystal 135: 225g
Carapils: 225g
Roast: 225g

Perle (8.3% AA): 30g @ -60 minutes
Lactose: 500g @ -5 minutes

Mash time: 60 minutes
Target mash temperature: 70C
Start temp: 68C
Middle temp: 67.5C
End temp: 67.5C

Expected run-off: 26L
Actual run-off: 25L

Boil time: 60 minutes

Target volume: 19L
Actual volume: 19L
Target OG: 1056
Actual OG: 1053

Yeast: Coopers stout yeast, harvested from #17 Dark Ale
Ferment temperature: 18C

Friday, October 23, 2009

QABC result feedback

A couple of months ago, I entered my Winter Ale (recipe coming soon) into the Queensland Amateur Brewers Competition. It was the first time I have ever entered a beer in any competition, so it was a completely new experience for me.

The beer was entered under the Northern English Brown Ale style of the Brown Ale category, a decision that was made the night before with my trusty tasting partner, who helped me realise that it wasn't going to fit under the original style I was thinking of. I was really glad that I made the switch, as these competitions are so much about entering under the correct style so that the beer can be matched up with the guidelines.

The results were published about a month ago, but it was only last night at the Brisbane Amateur Beer Brewers club meeting that I received the score-sheets with feedback.

It's very interesting to see the comments by the two judges side-by-side, and it made me realise just how much of the score comes down to luck of the draw with the judges. I'm not saying that the results are completely down to luck - you obviously need a good beer to do well - but a few points can mean the difference between placing and not placing. The difference is understandable too; no matter how much objectivity they try to put into the judging process, at the end of the day, the range of ability to discern different flavours & aromas can vary quite a bit between people.

Also interesting to note that the main flaw I thought the beer had (too much diacetyl) wasn't mentioned at all in the comments. Maybe it was within the style limits after all.

Judge 1: 6/12
Very low aroma. Cannot detect any malt character at all. No faults detected either.

Judge 2: 8/12
Lovely light fruit hops, caramel also comes through.

Judge 1: 3/3
Good colour, clarity for style. Head is moderate and stable.

Judge 2: 3/3
Nice head retention. Lovely carbonation billowing up the glass. Good amber colour to style.

Judge 1: 14/20
Well balanced beer, needs a touch more malt complexity for style. Increase nutty by adding chocolate malt etc. Low fruitiness from yeast - good. Hops & after taste reserved.

Judge 2: 15/20
Malt sweetness good. The hop flavour & bitterness levels are within style.

Judge 1: 4/5
Medium body good for style, slight warming sensation ? higher end of alcohol scale.

Judge 2: 3/5
Carbonation level to style. Nice dry finish to style.

Overall Impression
Judge 1: 7/10
Good easy to drink beer. Not enough aroma character with more malt complexity required for style.

Judge 2: 6/10
An overall good attempt at style. Nutty & dry finish. Well done.

The combined result for the beer was 34.5/50, and it was beaten by three other beers in the category (with scores of 39.5, 36.5 and 36) amongst 15 entries in total.

I remain extremely happy with the result, and I look forward to entering more beers in the BABBs mini-comps for more feedback in the lead up to next year's QABC.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Brewday pics

Here's a few snaps from my last brewday.

Weighing out the grain:

Getting ready to mill:

Roughly 500 turns of the handle later:

Grain close-ups


Note that the idea of milling the grain is not to completely pulverise it, but rather crack it and crush it enough to allow water to mix with the dry content of the grain. In the above photo, you might still be able to see some of the larger husks in tact. This husk aids in filtering grain particles when running the wort out of the mash tun.

Speaking of which, my mash tun:

The mash tun is the vessel in which the grain is mixed with heated water and left for a period of time. During this time, enzymes present in the grain break down the starches in to simpler sugars that can be later fermented by the yeast. By adjusting the temperature, you can adjust the kind of sugars that are produced, which in turn impacts the body of the resulting beer. Higher mash temperatures will produce less fermentable sugars and result in a fuller bodied beer, whereas lower temperatures will produce more fermentable sugars (easier for the yeast to convert) and result in a drier beer.

Inside the mash tun:

I have stainless-steel braided mesh to prevent larger grain particles from going through the tap, which in turn eventually stops the smaller particles from going through.

An hour after adding the crushed grain and water to the mash tun:

Collecting the start of the wort, waiting for the liquid to be visibly clear of grain particles:

Grain particles add tannins to the beer if they are boiled with the wort, which results in an astringent taste. This is why we want to wait until the liquid is clear before transferring to the kettle.

Inside the empty kettle:

Mash tun as it is being drained into the kettle:

Mash tun at the end of draining:

See how the grain particles have all compacted together, creating that natural filter for the wort to flow through without taking the particles with it.

After draining the mash tun, it is topped up with water again, left to settle, and drained for a second time to extract more of the converted sugars. This particular procedure is called batch sparging, and although it is not the only sparging method available to brewers, it is one of the simplest and requires the least equipment.

Weighing out the different hop additions:

The hops above are hop flowers that have been compacted into pellet form.

Hops are added to the kettle at different times during the boil. Earlier additions (boiled for 80-30ish minutes) are generally used for bittering the beer. Flavour additions are generally added between roughly 30-10 minutes before the end of the boil, and aroma additions are added in the last 10 minutes, or even after the boil has finished. The longer the hops are boiled for, the more flavour and aroma is driven off from the wort, hence the different timings.

The liquid yeast I used for this brew:

Once the boil has finished, the hopped wort is drained from the kettle and cooled down to fermenting temps (for the case of ales, around 20°C). Once at fermenting temperature, the yeast is added, or "pitched" to the hopped wort, and begins converting the sugars into alcohol. Three weeks later and with a little luck, I'll be pulling the first beer from this batch out of the keg!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

#18 NSSA (Nelson Sauvin Summer Ale)

I did my 18th all-grain batch today. It is the second in a series of brews that I will be doing based on Ross' Summer Ale recipe, where I will be changing one variable at a time. In this batch, I am using a different, higher quality, yeast strain and trying to keep everything else the same.

Unfortunately, I've already had a couple of other differences. First of all, the mash lost three degrees over the hour instead of 1 degree the first time. It may have been because I started a lot earlier today when it was much cooler in the brewery. Next time, I'll try to compensate for that by heating up the mash tun before I add the grain so that I don't lose as much heat to the vessel while it warms up.

Secondly, I had an extra litre of wort into the kettle compared to last time. It was looking a bit thin towards the end, and I nearly stopped it early, but I didn't realise that I only took 29 litres last time. My original gravity is down too, which I suspect is at least partly from the extra volume. Last time my original gravity was over the expected gravity by two points.

Anyway, I'm really looking forward to tasting the results of this batch with the different yeast, and to reusing the yeast for subsequent batches. I've got the yeast getting ready in a small starter now that I hope to step up tonight and pitch tomorrow.

Here's the recipe:
JW Pale Malt: 4500g
Torrified Wheat: 400g

Nelson Sauvin pellets (11.5% AA): 15g @ -80 mins
Nelson Sauvin pellets (11.5% AA): 15g @ -20 mins
Nelson Sauvin pellets (11.5% AA): 20g @ -5 mins
Nelson Sauvin pellets (11.5% AA): 25g in no-chill cube

Mash Time: 60 minutes
Mash Temperature
Start: 64.5C
Middle: 63.5C
End: 61.5C

Run-off: 30L

Boil Time: 90 minutes

Yeast: WLP001 - California Ale
Ferment temperature: 19C

Target OG: 1050
Actual OG: 1046

Monday, October 12, 2009

Day one on my new career path

As I alluded to a couple of posts back, I've been spending a lot more time this year on a rediscovered passion of mine, so much so, that I have decided to pursue it as a career. And that passion is brewing beer.

I began making beer with my father when I was at university, and continued doing so throughout the remainder of uni and my first career as a software developer. I use the term "making beer", as we were using pre-brewed, concentrated kits and fermenting it from there. This year, I made the switch to all grain beer, which actually involves mashing and brewing the grain and hops as well as fermenting the resulting wort. The all grain method is a lot more time consuming, but you have much more control over the results and you can make beers that are at least as good as a lot of micro-brewery beer.

The task now is to find out how to scale this method up to a commercial level. Whilst I've already done a bit of preliminary research towards this goal, today was my first real day working directly towards it.

Like any first day on the job, there were a lot of unknowns in front of me. My first port of call is to try to line up some work in the industry so I can gain some experience. While there's not a whole lot of opportunities around in Brisbane, I'm confident that I'll be able to find somewhere to get started.

Today I also discovered the brewing courses offered by the University of Ballarat. They have a short course as well as a Graduate Certificate and Graduate Diploma, which is something else to look into. The short course certainly looks like something I'd be keen to do, but I'm told that it isn't being held again until mid next year.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

J Walker @ The Queensland Art Gallery August 14th

The other week, we went to see J Walker of Machine Translations playing as part of The Met Up Late. On show at the Queensland Art Gallery was the American Impressionism & Realism exhibit. I don't know a lot about physical art mediums, so I can't really comment on much of the exhibit itself.

However, I do know a bit about Machine Translations, and I was very happy to hear a number of tunes from J's back catalogue tonight.

Having just said that, I have to admit to not recognising the first song of the set, which was performed by building up upon layers of acoustic guitar loops. I'm not sure if it was from the latest album (which I haven't listened to enough yet) or if it was something else.

From there, he moved on to a slightly different take on Misunderstood, which was played to a more swung beat. I'd had this song in my head a couple of days earlier and it took a while for me to realise what it was when he started playing it. She Wears A Mask followed, which for the first time that I can recall, I actually heard a lot of the words. Not that they had been a mystery that I'd wanted to solve for a long time, but it was interesting to hear a bit of what the otherwise catchy song is about.

Two more of my favourite Machine Translations songs were up next; Not My Fall (including the whistling solo, which he wasn't too happy with but I thought sounded alright) and Amnesia. Unfortunately we're still waiting for him to bring back Simple Life into his set, which we always get our hopes up for each time we see him.

The rest of the set included a Leonard Cohen cover (with more whistling), and a couple of other songs that featured crescendo building noise collages with the help of the loop pedal. Finally, he opened up the tuning on his guitar for what I think was You'll Change (though my memory is starting to fail me now, so don't quote me on that).

The gig happened right in the middle of a very busy week for us, but it ended up being an unusually relaxing and enjoyable night. It was also an early night for us, which was an added bonus!

A change to the (ir)regular programming

As anyone who may still be following this space may have guessed, there hasn't been a lot happening for me on the music scene this year. While there have been some exceptions (notably Gomez, The Black Keys, Ben Kweller, David McCormack and Paul Dempsey), I haven't really been out to see as much live music, and when I have, I haven't been able to make the time to write about it.

I have, on the other hand, been taking many notes on what is taking up a lot of my time these days, which is probably where my writing here will be heading shortly.

In the meantime though, here's something for old time's sake...