Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Beerstock 5060-4

The first Beerstock 5060 was held on the 40th anniversary of Woodstock on the Alison Sheafor-Joy & Mark Joy property outside of Arlington "with the intention of sharing homebrew, love, joy, peace and creating new friendships between the various homebrew clubs," but we quickly outgrew that venue. The last Beerstock drew over 200 homebrewers from 16 different clubs. This year Beerstock 5060-4 will take place in a large, private park South of Seattle where we will have lots of space for club booths, camping, a band, food, fun, games, prizes, etc.

If you're still wondering, "What is Beerstock 5060?" Beerstock is an event where homebrew clubs in Washington get together to celebrate the fact that homebrew clubs in Washington can get together and drink beer; celebrated by getting together and drinking beer.

Back on July 26th, 2009, thanks to the hard work by Washington Homebrewer's Association (WAHA) members and other friends, Washington Senate Bill 5060 passed making it legal to transport homebrew for consumption in the state of Washington. It is still highly illegal to sell homebrew here, but our brew club meetings and homebrew sharing get-togethers are now legal. In August of 2009, Beerstock 5060 was the first, legal get-together of Washington homebrew clubs to taste each other’s homebrew and talk brewing across home brew club lines.

Most clubs set up a booth from which to share their tasty brews with other home brewers, kind of like a home brewer’s brew fest or an all day and over-night NHC Club Night in the woods. This is a private event, open only to homebrew club members. Each member is allowed to invite one guest, such as, a spouse, partner, interested friend, designated driver, etc. There is no fee for attending, this would be illegal, but there is a requested donation from each person to help pay for expenses. In the past Beerstock barely broke even, but this year, it will donate any extra money generated to the Lakewood Rotary Club. In this way, Beerstock 5060 can help spread love and joy to the needy kids of Lakewood through the work of this wonderful organization.

Here is the "poster" for the second year of the events:

Friday, June 7, 2013

Water Profiles for a Westvleteren 12 Clone Recipe

One of the last things I worry about in brewing is water profiles. I'm fortunate to live in the Seattle area where the water is naturally soft, so there is a wide array of light-colored beers that I can brew with tap water, without a second thought, and without any treatment other than to remove the chlorine. For a few things like IPAs and stouts I can add a tablespoon of gypsum per seven gallons of water and be good to go.

Having brewed one Westvleteren 12 clone that wasn't as close as to the original as I wanted once before, I'm being more strategic the second time around. So water profiles are worth some study. Brew Like A Monk (BLAM) reports that Westvleteren has a water profile that is not great for brewing, so they treat their water because it is too high in bicarbonates, sodium, sulfate and chloride:

Westvleteren Water Profile
Calcium (Ca+2): 114
Bicarbonate (HCO3-): 370
Magnesium (Mg+2): 10
Sodium (Na+): 125
Sulfate (SO4-2): 145
Chloride (Cl-): 139

As with everything else Westvleteren, the actual treatment and the resulting water profile is a closely guarded secret. But according to BLAM, Chimay has a nearly perfect water profile for Belgian Dark Strong Ale, and might be what Westvleteren aims for when they treat their own water.

Chimay Water Profile
Calcium (Ca+2): 96
Bicarbonate (HCO3-): 287
Magnesium (Mg+2): 4
Sodium (Na+): 6
Sulfate (SO4-2): 32
Chloride (Cl-): 13

I'm on the other side of the water treatment line, and need to 'harden' the local water so I get the Calcium and Bicarbonate levels up high enough for brewing the dark beer I want to clone:

Seattle Water Profile
Calcium (Ca+2): 10
Bicarbonate (HCO3-): 20
Magnesium (Mg+2): 0
Sodium (Na+): 1
Sulfate (SO4-2): 3
Chloride (Cl-): 3

Brewing Salt Additions for Seattle
Chalk (CaCO3): add 11 grams, or 1 scant tbsp
Baking Soda (NaHCO3): add .75 gram, or 1/8 tsp

Adjusted Water Profile
Adding almost a tablespoon of chalk and an eighth of a teaspoon of baking soda brings the Seattle water profile within a couple of points of the Chimay water profile. An alkalinity of 150 to 300 ppm is ideal for dark beer, so we are right where we want to be.

I was very pleased to see that I got as close as I did with the example above. If you're trying get your local water profile dialed in, don't worry about hitting the target exactly. You only need to be in the general ballpark. Even when you get your local water report, it's not chiseled in stone, it will vary from year to year, so there is no guarantee that the water coming out of your tap today exactly matches the water report from last year, or from years gone by; which means that you can't adjust it with absolute accuracy anyway.

If you're interested in adjusting your local water, Brewers Friend has a good water calculator here, a list of water profiles for various cities here, and a good discussion of water chemistry here. For a much more in-depth discussion of brewing water chemistry, have a look at the Bru'N Water Knowledge Page. There is also a free downloadable Bru'N Water spreadsheet. Just don't make yourself crazy by adding minute amounts of half a dozen different chemicals every time you brew. As long as your water profile is in the general ballpark for the style, your beer will be just fine. And even if it isn't there's a pretty good chance that you can brew a great beer anyway.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Taste Your Ingredients

I'm guessing a bit here, but I'm willing to bet that whether they started with whole grain or extract, most homebrewers brewed their first beer in one of two ways:
  1. Following a recipe designed by someone else
  2. Using a kit prepared by someone else
This makes total sense to me. When I started out, I didn't know my ingredients, I only knew that I wanted to brew a beer. I was focused on learning the brewing process, so I wanted to limit the unknowns. I knew what style I wanted to brew, so I found a recipe that said it would produce that result.

Eventually, I started making my own recipes, which initially tended to consist of tweaking an existing recipe designed by someone else to make it a little hoppier or lighter or darker or whatever. Eventually, as I started becoming more familiar with my ingredients. I started designing my own recipes.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, I got a great bit of advice from one of my fellow homebrewers, "Taste your ingredients."

With malt, you can just chew a bit of it. Nobody is going to complain if you do this in a homebrew store. Or at least they've never complained when I've done it, and if they do complain, is that the sort of place you want to be shopping? But the chew and taste method requires some mental math on your part. When tasting you need to remember that the taste you're getting will be diluted a lot and sweetened a bit. And the aroma will change as well.

To get a better understanding of malts you might want, try super-mini mashes with an ounce or two of various malts side by side. For example, Aromatic @ 21.6 lovibond, Biscuit @ 19.3 lovibond, Victory Malt @ 25 lovibond and Crystal 20 @ 20 lovibond will all add approximately the same color to your beer. You can figure that out with math. But what tastes will they add? You'll be able to tell a bit by just chewing some of the malt, but you'll get a better picture of the taste and aroma my mashing just a little bit of each.

As I found out one day long ago, you probably don't want to chew on your hops. On that fateful day I popped open a bag of Simcoe hops, and put my nose in it. The smell was glorious. I picked out a pellet and chewed. Not so glorious. Apparently, human saliva does a pretty good job of isomerizing the alpha acids, the resulting taste was nearly painful. Fortunately, there are other options. One is to smell the hops. The best way to do this is to take a bit of the hops and rub them together between the palms of you hands.

To get a good idea of the taste of various hops, this "tasting experiment" seems like an incredibly good way to evaluate them side by side. One of the "Lite" beers seems like the best test media, because they have little else to get in the way of the hop taste. I'm planning to try it soon. The Mikkeller brewery did this on a professional level by brewing a series of single-hop IPAs with the same malt bill and yeast, but different hops. Great for them, great for any homebrewers who took advantage of the tasting opportunity.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

LAMBIC! (Fantastic download)

Free information is good. Free, quality information is better. But this is a ton of free, quality information that is nearly impossible to find or get. So if you're interested in brewing anything in the Lambic stye, you need this download:

The download contains the PDF of this book which is $100 used, $500 new:
Lambic (Classic Beer Style) by Jean Guinard

And it contains the full 3-part series of Brewing in Styles: Practical Strategies for Brewing Lambic at Home by Jim Liddil. Which can only be found in the non-gettable back issues of the now-defunct magazine "Brewing Techniques"

And it also has this paper from the University of Colorado: Microbes Found in Lambic Wort by Mick Burgeson

All the PDFs are meticulously hand-scanned versions of the original texts.

Friday, May 17, 2013

What's More Valuable: Time or Ingredients?

After years of going down the wrong path I've finally realized that the most valuable thing is time. I can get more ingredients but I can't get more time. On brew-days past, I spent a lot of time messing around with the system so I didn't leave any wort behind in the pipes and tubes ad bottoms of keggles in my brewery system.

But no more. The upshot of this is that I will be brewing larger batches with a certain amount of waste built into the process, so I don't have to take so much time and expend so much effort to make sure I get every drop of goodness out of a batch. What does this mean in terms of dollars and cents? Not much. Lets take a Cream Ale recipe as an example.

I'll use the worst-case scenario, and look at the costs as if I was buying all my ingredients from the most expensive homebrew shop in my area. All the following prices include tax. Pilsner malt is one of the cheaper options there at $1.55 per pound, but other malts are as much as $2.75. Hops are $3.25 per ounce, dry yeast is $5.40 and liquid yeast is $8.10 per packet. Going up in batch size from five gallons to seven gallons means adding another three pounds or so of malt, and another ounce or two of hops. On the yeast I would just make a bigger starter. So if we say that the 'average' malt is $2.00 per pound, we're looking at bumping up the total cost of the batch $9.25 for the additional hops and malt for a fairly light, not overly hopped beer.

I'm OK with that. Looking at my regular sources where my costs are roughly half that much, I'm totally OK with blowing an extra five bucks per batch. The one gotcha here is that it will take a bit longer to get seven gallons of water up to temps rather than five. But I don't need to be fussing with it or standing around as that happens. I can set a timer and go do other stuff.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Beano Cream Ale Experiment

One of the joys of home brewing is building my very own beer recipes. One annoying feature of building beer recipes is that I'll get everything just the way I want it, only to find out that my final gravity isn't low enough, even when I start out with an original gravity that is mid-range for the style. This often happens on lower alcohol beers, so the problem isn't that the yeast isn't attenuative enough, or alcohol-tolerant enough to finish converting all the sugars. Basically, my brewing software (I've tried several) has decided that there will be too much unfermentable sugars created. Sometimes this ends up being true, sometimes not.

Fine. I'm going to fight back with Beano, which can help you to make bone dry beer. The magic ingredient in Beano is the enzyme amyloglucosidase (AMG) which breaks down any currently unfermentable dextrins into fermentable sugars, which will readjust the FG numbers in my favor. So I'm going to make a Cream Ale, but this time it's going to be a "Lite Cream Ale."

There are two main times to consider adding Beano: pre-boil and post-boil.

Let's consider post-boil first. You're ready to pitch your yeast, and you could pitch some crushed Beano tablets along with it. Plenty of non-fermentables in the wort waiting to be transformed into fermentable sugars.

The post-boil addition problem is that enzymes continue to work as long as their substrate is present, so all residual dextrins in the wort will eventually be converted to fermentable sugars which the yeast will then convert into alcohol and carbon dioxide. This process can go on for a very long time. This is not a major problem for me because I keg, but if you bottle your beer, this could lead to long-term bottle bombs. If you had a professional setup, you could stop the enzymes by pasteurizing your beer prior to bottling, but I don't see that as a viable option for home brewers.

The other way to use Beano is to add it to the mash. The questions here are how much time and how many tablets for the AMG to work on the dextrins. Enzyme activity is accelerated by heat, so the mash temps will help out. AMG should be stable at fairly high temperatures, hopefully up to around 176ºF, which means it will be working for the entire mash, and as the wort heats up for the boil, which means that it will have up to 1 1/2 hours to work. According to the Googles, about 1 tablet crushed per gallon should do the trick. I could let the collected wort stand for a couple of hours prior to boiling, but that will add too much time to my brew day.

If you're adding Beano pre-boil, the boiling step will denature the AMG along with all the malt enzymes and you'll avoid the danger of exploding bottles. I'm going with pre-boil because I'll have more controlled process without yeast continuing to work for weeks, months.

Liquid Sunshine Cream Ale

Batch size
7.0 gallons
Original Gravity
Final Gravity
19.0 IBU
3° SRM/ 6° EBC
Mash Efficiency
4.6% ABV
274 per 12 oz.


% LB OZ Type ppg °L
50% 6 0 Weyermann Pilsner Malt 37 2
41% 5 0 American 6-Row 36 3
9% 1 0 Flaked Corn 37 1


Use Time oz Variety Form aa
boil 60 mins 1.06 Hallertau pellet 4.4
boil 30 mins 0.75 Hallertau pellet 4.4
boil 1 mins 0.35 Hallertau pellet 4.4


Primary: Safale US-05


5ea. Beano
1ea. Whirfloc

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Yakima Hops Harvest

Hops on the bine. Yep, it's a bine not a vine. Vines have tendrils that they use to wrap around other plants to climb up to the sun. Bines wrap themselves around other plants and other convenient objects.

The hop yards just before harvest. At the beginning of the growing season cords are strung in a "V" shape from the overhead cables, down to the spots where each hop plant is beginning to grow.
In this picture the cords are still in the "V" shape, but someone will be along to cut the bottom ends, leaving about 1 1/2 feet of hop plant in the ground.

Here, the hops are being harvested. The hop bines are now hanging straight down, because the bottom of the cord and the plant have been cut earlier by workers on the ground. As the tops of the cords are cut, and the hop bines and the cords fall into the the truck. There is a guy on each side of the truck bed, making sure that things don't get too messy.

The guys on the back will now pick out individual bines and hook them into the conveyor system overhead. Once they're hooked in place, the rest of the process is automated.The hop flowers (and some of the leaves) have now been stripped off. There are a few stragglers but the hop farmers view trying to harvest them as a task that is not worth their time and effort. Eventually, the truck will be full and they'll drive it back to the plant for processing. The trucks are offloaded, three at a time.

Once the hops come off the truck, automation takes over. Hop flowers are stripped off the bine, and separated from the leaves in a flurry of sifting and sorting activity. The flowers leave the building on one conveyor belt, everything else on another.

The next stop is the kiln. A layer of hops several feet thick is gradually spread over a cloth-covered perforated base. Warm air is forced though this layer until the hops are dried sufficiently for storage.

Getting near the end of the process. Mountains of hops await the baler.

Hops are pressed into giant bales for storage. They will remain in these bales until their ready for sale or retail packaging.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

SRM / Lovibond / EBC Values

I started looking at SRM recently, after doing some research on Westvleteren 12, which according to notable sources has an SRM 40. This number seemed off the mark to me, so I knew I needed to do a bit of research because I want to brew a credible clone of the Westy 12.

Keeping track of what color value means what is complicated a bit because there are three different scales for determining the color of a beer: SRM, Lovibond and EBC. SRM and Lovibond are essentially the same for the values that can be discriminated by the human eye:

°L = (SRM + 0.6) / 1.35
For example, with an SRM of 6, the Lovibond value would be 4.88, so the difference is nearly indistinguishable, and I think most people treat them as being the same. Looking at beer in a glass, I don't think I could spot one degree of difference without some reference system. Here's an example:

SRM   Color  

EBC is roughly double SRM, but not quite. Why should any part of this be simple?

EBC = SRM x 1.97
SRM = EBC x 0.508
And just to keep things more interesting, the Lovibond scale is mostly used to express the potential color for dry ingredients such as malts and sugars, while SRM and EBC are used to express the color of liquids.

So, back to the problem at hand, the color of Westvleteren 12. To put things in perspective, here is a scale that represents the colors for various style of beer. (Yes, I know that what I can show on a webpage is only a vague approximation because the perceived color depends on the angle of the light, the angle of the view, and the thickness of the sample, so bear with me.) If Westy 12 really does come in at SRM 40, it's at the end of the scale, and is the same darkness as Imperial Stout.

SRM EBC Example Styles   Color  
2 4 Pale Lager, Pilsener
3 6 Maibock, Blonde Ale
4 8 Weissbier
6 12 American Pale Ale, India Pale Ale  
8 16 Saison
10 20 English Bitter, ESB
13 26 Biere de Garde, Double IPA
17 33 Vienna lager, Märzen, Amber Ale
20 39 Brown Ale, Dunkelweizen
24 47 Doppelbock, Porter
29 57 Stout
35 69 Foreign Stout, Baltic Porter
40+ 79+ Imperial Stout

With all this in mind, 40 seems way too dark. To settle it once and for all, I needed to open a bottle of Westy 12. This is the kind of research I need to do more often. Looking at a fresh pour, it looks pretty dark, but the head isn't as dark as I would expect for RIS:

And when I shine a flashlight from the back, it's clearly not as dark as RIS:

Finally, as I expected, pouring it into a smaller glass has a significant effect on the color perception. There is also a bit of sediment from the bottom of the bottle which gives the light something more to reflect off.

I think I'll be shooting for an SRM around 25 or 26 when I brew my Westvleteren 12 clone.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Designing A Westvleteren 12 Clone

If there was ever a beer worthy of cloning, it's the Westy 12. It tastes great and is one of my favorite beers, but nearly impossible to get. You need to schedule a time to visit the monks at the Abbey of St. Sixtus in Belgium, and then you can buy a case. Or you can buy individual beers at the pub across the way from the abbey. Not an economical way to acquire this beer unless you live in the area. You can buy grey market beer on eBay, which is a less expensive than the trip to Belgium but it costs about $20/bottle the last time I checked.

So, I'm going to try brewing this beer again. I tried once before but I got too cute and caramelized my own sugar (just like the monks.) This time around I'll go with commercially prepared Candi Sugar. In looking at the recipes around the web that purport to be Westvleteren 12 clones, they mostly seem to be too dark, wandering into porter/stout country. That's not going to get you a credible Westy 12 clone. Knowledge is power, so what do we know? The monks haven't been overly forthcoming, but we do have some information.

The Fermentables: We can't confirm anything here, but the most likely scenario is:
  Belgian Pilsner
  Belgian 2-Row
  Belgian Candi Sugar
And all in quantities that are unknown. The beer may also contain some plain sugar, but no specialty malts. We know that all the darkness and most of the character in the beer comes from the sugar rather than from specialty malts, but how that is accomplished is one of the monks secrets they are not willing to share. All that Michael Jackson and the book 'Brew Like a Monk' (BLAM) say is that "caramelized sugar" is used. BLAM also says that 15 to 20% of the fermentables in a Belgian Dark Strong can be sugar, which would be between 2.75lbs and 4lbs for a 5 gallon batch.

The Mash and the Boil: We don't know anything here. Decoctions and infusions are possible, we just don't know.

The Hops: Michael Jackson wrote that Northern Brewer was used for bittering (which has since been replaced by a hop extract) and Styrian Goldings and Hersbrucker are used for flavor. BLAM says the same. Amounts and schedules aren't known.

The Yeast: We have solid info on the yeast. Westvleteren uses yeast they get from Westmalle, and they pitch fresh on every batch. "A secular worker" makes the drive to get the yeast on brew day. This means White Labs 530 Abbey Ale Yeast or Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity are going to be good choices.

The Ferment: According to Brother Joris, head brewer of Westvleteren, fermentation begins at 68°F and then rises to at least 82°F (pretty darn warm), even in the winter. After apparent attenuation reaches 76-80% he begins cooling the beer to 68°F. Westvleteren 12 spends four to six days in primary before lagering to clarify (crash cooling to 50°F) for 8-10 weeks. Bottle conditioning is done at 79°F and takes 12 days. They pitch additional sugar and yeast for this.

The Water: Westvleteren has a water profile that is not very desirable for brewing, and BLAM says that they treat their water because its high in bicarbonates, sodium, sulfate and chloride. The Chimay water profile has identified by BLAM as being desirable for a Belgian Dark Strong Ale, so this is worth considering:
  Calcium: 96
  Bicarbonate: 287
  Magnesium: 4
  Sodium: 6
  Sulfate: 32
  Chloride: 13

Hope this helps. Please don't make another 'Westvleteren 12 Clone' that comes in at 40° Lovibond. Also, don't try to make one that follows the BJCP color guideline for Belgian Dark Strong. That's also off the mark. For what it's worth here is part of my tasting notes, which were probably skewed a bit by the small tasting glass that made the color seem a bit lighter than it should be:

Pours a cloudy dark amber with a big fluffy off-white head. Creamy medium-full body. Taste of pears and apples, almost to the point of being like cider, but with the toffee and caramel malt and some spice behind it.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Measuring Specific Gravity with Refractometers

I've had my refractometer for a while now, but it's taking me a while to make the leap from the Specific Gravity scale found on hydrometers, to the Brix scale found on refractometers. There is probably a super-cool refractometer out there somewhere that has both scales, but mine doesn't.

There are a number of web pages that have a chart to convert between the two, but I find the charts annoying. Some are short and easy to read, but not very useful because they don't have anything but whole values. Others include the values for 10ths of a degree, but make it tougher to find what I want because the list is so long.

Right now, I look at the value in Brix scale displayed on my refractometer, and then calculate the Specific Gravity on a phone app, or look it up on a web page. Eventually I'll leave SG behind, but for now the calculation and conversion process is a crutch.

The conversion from Brix to SG is not simple math that you can do in your head, but in the interest of science, here it is anyway:
  ( Brix / ( 258.6 - ( ( Brix / 258.2 ) * 227.1 ) ) + 1 = Specific Gravity

And here's a nifty calculator that will do the work of converting the Brix scale to the Specific Gravity scale so that you (and I) don't have to:

Brix/Plato:    Specific Gravity: