Friday, January 13, 2012

Gumballhead: It's Triple-Hopped!

You probably heard some time ago that Miller Lite is "triple hopped." Triple-Hopped sounds pretty good if you don't consider that Miller isn't even halfway to the max on hop addition possibilities. Aside from dancing around the kettle and randomly throwing in hop flowers, I can think of at least seven possible hop additions, but that's a blog for another day.

I haven't confirmed this the folks at SAB Miller, but it sounds like their lite beer has the standard three hop additions; the first for bittering, the second for flavor and the third for aroma. Last time I heard, Miller was using hop extract rather than "real" hops, so it's probably more correct to say that Miller Lite is "triple hop-extract dosed." All in all it looks like they're brewing a pale lager more or less the way large breweries brew pale lagers. And in their spare time they're making adds that really outshine the completion on the annoyance factor.

All that being said, the subject of hop additions can be interesting, and thoughtful use of hops can add great character to beer. One great example is Gumballhead, brewed by Three Floyds Brewing Company in Munster, Indiana. According to the brewer, Gumballhead is...
"An American Wheat Ale, Gumballhead is named in honor of the underground comic book cat created by Rob Syers. Initially a seasonal summer beer, now brewed year round due to demand. This beer helped redefine American Wheat Beers. Brewed with Amarillo Hops and a generous portion of American red wheat, Gumballhead has a complex hop aroma with notes of grapefruit, lemon zest, marmalade and peach. These flavors combined with low bitterness make Gumballhead a refreshing American Wheat Beer that doesn’t suck."
For me, American Wheat is one of the gateway beverages like lite lagers. Not much in the way of hops, or beer character in general. To make their beer non-sucky, Three Floyds is doing something interesting with the hops, while staying inside the style guidelines. Just barely...

BCP American Wheat Vital Statistics: IBUs: 15 – 30 ABV: 4 – 5.5%
Gumballhead Vital Statistics: IBUs: 28 5.5%

Let's go back to the idea of the standard three hop additions for bittering, flavor and aroma. No hop addition does only one thing - the results vary according to when the addition is done. There is some flavor and a little aroma in the bittering addition. There is some bittering and aroma in the flavor addition. Finally, there is s touch of bittering and some flavor in the aroma addition. The trick in Gumballhead is that there is so much in the aroma addition that it has significant impact on the flavor and some good impact on the bittering. The results are pretty fabulous.

Gumballhead Clone Recipe

Batch Size:5.0 gallons
Original Gravity:1.055 / 13.6° Plato
Final Gravity:1.015 / 3.8° Plato
Color: 4° SRM / 8° EBC   (Yellow)
Mash Efficiency:74% used for O.G. estimate
Bitterness: 27.4 IBU / 5 HBU ƒ: Tinseth
BU:GU Ratio:0.50
Alcohol:5.3% ABV / 4% ABW
Calories:182 per 12 oz.

Malt & Fermentables
% Lbs. Oz. Malt/Fermentable PPG °L
45% 4 8 Pilsner (Germany) 37 2
45% 4 8 Wheat Malt 37 2
10% 1 0 Vienna Malt 36 3

Use Time Oz. Variety Form AA
Boil 60 mins 0.5 Amarillo pellet 10.7
Boil 0 mins 4.0 Amarillo pellet 10.7
Dry Hop 7 Days 1.5 Amarillo pellet 10.7

Type Strain Description
Safale US-05 Dry Ale Yeast in dry form with low to medium flocculation and 73% attenuation

NOTE: Add the four ounces of Amarillo at flameout. Whirlpool, and let it stand for ten minutes. This will probably push the IBUs into the high twenties, which is still fine for the style. Back the recipe off half a pound on both the Pilsner and Wheat malts if you want to brew a 'lighter' version.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Grain Mill Costs vs. Payback Time

When I started all-grain brewing I thought of a grain mill as a bit of a luxury item but I found out that it's almost a necessity. For years, I looked at the fact that the local homebrew store was kind enough to crush the grains in their mill for me, and I thought that was great. Then I started doing price comparisons. I found that by buying just enough for the current brew I was paying roughly double what I might pay if I was buying my malt by the bag.

Then I started doing the math. Let's say that on an average IPA or APA you're using 10 pounds or more of American 2-row as base malt. And let's say you brew five batches of beer per year. Yeah, you may do more but let's start here. Buying my base malt by the bag, I can get 50 or 55 pounds for about $35, depending on the maltster. Buying the same quantity per recipe (by the ounce) I'm looking at about $70. Using Maris Otter as a base those numbers roughly double. So I'm looking at a minimum of a $35 savings per year, more if I brew over five batches, and even more if I brew a barleywine or other big beer. I think most homebrewers could count on saving $50 or more per year.

Now let's look at the equipment costs. You can go with various manufacturers, but the Barley Crusher 7lb model sells for $130 with free shipping and 15lb model goes for a bit more. I went with the 7lb model partly because I'm cheap, partly because it's easier to store. I also bought a large plastic garbage can with a lid for grain storage. I already hand the electric drill I would need to power it. Given the savings of $50 or more per year, I'm looking at a three year payback, max. Give the formula a bit more time if you also need to buy a drill; or you can easily crush all your grain just using the hand crank while the mash water is heating.

The Barley Crusher is a dual roller mill, and I find that it will crush the inside of the grain and leave the outside hull largely intact. The finely crushed grains will give you great efficiency while the intact hulls will help prevent a stuck mash. It has a hand crank, or it can be driven by a 3/8″ drill motor. It comes pre-assembled on an MDF base that has little knobs on the bottom fit a standard 5 gallon plastic pail. All you have to do is put on the handle or drill and start cranking. MDF is a reasonably sturdy wood product, but not particularly moisture resistant, so I put a couple of coats of varnish on mine. The mill itself is a machined-aluminum housing built around cold-rolled steel rollers. There is an adjustment knob for the gap on the unit. BC Products offers a free lifetime warranty on the mill.

"OK", you say, "But what if the grain goes bad? You're better off buying fresh malt every time." Au contraire, mon frère. That would be true if I crushed it in advance, but I'm storing un-crushed malt in a bag inside in a plastic container. It all comes from the same harvest as the malt in the store, so buying malt from the store for each batch is no different than getting it from my storage. In fact, the temperature in my garage is typically cooler than the homebrew store, so I'm probably keeping my malt fresher. I still have to buy some malts by the ounce, but my beer got a lot cheaper by taking the base malt out of that equation.