Saturday, September 4, 2010

Put a CAP in it

Classic American Pilsner, that is.

As part of my ongoing lawnmower ale phase, I’ve been brewing low alcohol, easy going ales.  This one comes from a Cream of 3 Crops Ale recipe.

Here’s the recipe:

2.72Kgs Pale Malt (from SA Maltsters)
0.5Kgs Gelatinized maizie
0.1Kgs Gelatinized rice
0.54Kgs sugar
20gm Southern Promise (11.6%) @ 60 minutes

This is a very light, slightly bitter recipe which really lends itself to a clean appearance and flavour profile.  The use of adjuncts helps make the beer lighter in colour, and helps to dry it out nicely.(FYI, not my image: thanks BierMuncher)


This particular style of beer was introduced into america by german immigrants. The germans brewed it in the same style as the traditioanl pilsen lagers, but had to make do with locally available ingredients. Hence the heavy adjunct usage and simple recipe style.

We’re looking for something a little light in intensity but with a little sweetness from the maize.  I’m using a rice and sugar based version so it’s expected to be light, dry and crisp.  Colour should be extremely light with a light yellow gold and (hopefully) pretty clear.

The expectations are to have a dry, clear, flavourless (ish) but still slightly bitter beer.  I am, however, really just using this as an excuse to practice my technique and M.O. until I can guarantee I’m not ruining my beer through stupid mistakes or bad ingredients or techniques.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Woah, what is that stuff?


Yep. That’s the gunk that was sitting on my elements in my brewkettle.

A good 30 minute scrub later and we now have:


Better.  The elements are still scorched black, probably something due to the Ph of the wort that it’s boiling, but at least there’s no gunk on them anymore.

This could possible be the cause of my off flavours, we’ll have to see what happens.

Either way, I think it’s a good idea to use this as an excuse to get some low density elements in there and make cleaning them part of my regular practice.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

3rd bad batch in a row

Well, got feedback last night from the BJCP judges at the local brewclub.  The off flavours are definitely still there.  Very different to the previous batch, but still there.

This time though, the comments and suggestions all leaned towards mash temperature and schedule.  One of the guys suggested I start looking at a decoction mash… but I just can’t justify the cost of setting one up.  Another said he tastes tannins – possibly from mashing too high (which I’m sure I didn’t).

Oh well.  Needless to say, this is frustrating.

So here’s the changes for the next brew:

  • Still boil all water and use metabisulphite (in case of chlorine or chloramine)
  • New fermenter (in case some gunk or something is hidden away in a scratch somewhere)
  • Clean kettle elements as much as I can before hand (they look kinda manky at the moment)
  • Forego the use of a nochill cube and let it chill in the fermenter (one less vessel to worry about)

One of the other guys that runs a microbrewery has offered to come and observe my next brew to make sure I’m not doing something completely stupid.  Maybe my technique is failing me somewhere.

All I know is I need to kick this thing.  I can’t keep wasting time on bad batches like this. It’s very demotivating.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Building a brew-cupboard-stand-thing

This is my spare room:


Zero space for an actual spare room here.  So time to up the storage space by building a storage cupboard that I can lock outside, store all my brew stuff (and other tools and goodies) in to make the spare room have some… well… spare room.

Here’s the bits and pieces:


Assembling (in a box):




Not a massive improvement in the spareroom (in terms of space) but at least the beer equipment is out the way so SWMBO can’t complain about it :)

Fermentation will still happen indoors, but once equipment has been cleaned it’s going in the brewcupboard for storage.  I’m still deciding whether or not it’s a good idea to store stuff in a sanitizer solution.

It’s not waterproof, but it’s not the rainy season so I have at least 2 months before I need to worry about waterproofing it.  Anybody got any ideas on how to waterproof it?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


So I’m being plagued by phenolic flavours lately.

That’s a problem.

Step 1 in fixing the problem is to identify where the phenol flavours are coming from.  At the last local brewclub meeting the local gurus indicated 2 major potential sources:

  1. Too much chlorine in the water
  2. Wild yeast

A bit of a search around also seems to point to the fact that it could be caused by a Bacterial Infection.  The BJCP Beer Fault List shows the phenol flavours can come from:

  • Water with chlorine or chloramines
  • Bleach sanitizers
  • Astringency
  • Infection
  • Too high a fermentation temperature

There are time-based indicators which could help identify the potential cause of the off flavours:

Flavour Effect Implication
Increase with time This would imply that the off flavours are being caused by something still in the beer.  Possibly a bacterial infection.
Stays the same This should mean that whatever caused the flavour isn’t volatile and isn’t active.  Could implicate chlorine or chloramine in the water or perhaps a bleach sanitizer.
Decreases with time This would indicate that the yeast is capable of cleaning this flavour up.  Which according to my logic means that it’s a byproduct of a high fermentation temperature.

I haven’t had the opportunity of keeping a sample for an extended period of time so I have made an effort of keeping 8 bottles from my previous batch.  I’ll try a couple of them each month and see if there is any change in the off flavours.

In the meantime though I’ll be keeping an eye on my water source and sanitation practices.

New brewday now includes an extra step to boil all water I use before-hand as well as to add metabisulphite to the water.  This should in theory get rid of all chlorine and chloramine in the water.  Note: I did this for the last batch but rinsed my no-chill cubes with hot water straight from the tap.  Hopefully that won’t have a negative flavour impact.

Also, cleaning and sanitation is going to get some serious attention.  I currently clean with a solution of Caustic Soda and sanitize with Chlorine Dioxide.  It’s already a pretty complete cleaning and sanitation procedure, so I’m just going to spend a little more care on the actual rinsing process of all equipment (such as the cubes in the previous paragraph)

Let’s hope the last batch doesn’t have any of the phenol flavours coming through.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Vuvuzela Herald

Brewed a batch of Pride of Raubsville a couple days ago.  It was the first time using my new mash tun.  My mash tun used to be a cooler box and a grain bag.  Now it’s a cooler box with a stainless steel manifold at the bottom.  It’s also been insulated with a good few layers of old Yoga mat.

I had to substitute local hops for the Target hops (hence the Vuvuzela reference).  I like the local Southern Promise hops so I’m sure it’s going to come out just fine!

Mash went beautifully.  I mashed the grain at about 69.1 degrees C.  The recipe calls for about 0.5Kg sugar so I mashed high to get some body for the beer.  The new mash tun held temperature beautifully!  Didn’t lose more than a point of a degree over the entire hour.  Lautering and sparging were absolute pleasures too. No stuck sparge and it probably took about 30 minutes off my brewday total time.

Only problem I had was I got distracted during the boil and probably ended up boiling for close on 2 hours (no hop additions yet thankfully) which means I’ve got substantially less beer than I should have had.  The OG is also a little on the high side.  I was aiming for around 1.040 but ended up with 1.050.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Summer Brew Sessions

Summer’s fast approaching, and with a big family reunion in December I need to start filling up the pipeline.  Most of the family like the typical shop-bought brands (Windhoek lager, Heineken, Grolsch, etc.) so I’m aiming for something quite simple in flavour, light in colour and served ice cold.

Here’s the potential list:

Beer Recipe Notes
Classic American Pilsner Cream of 3 Crops Ale Brewed this a year ago and it was absolutely fantastic! This is very drinkable even while it’s young.
English Pale Ale Pride of Raubsville Simple grain bill, just a pity I don’t have the hops.  I’m tempted to substitute with Fuggles and Styrian but we’ll see.
Light Hybrid Beer Squeeze my Lemon Summer Blonde Seems like a really clean recipe and the lemon zest sounds exciting.

I love simple recipes.  It seems that the more complicated a recipe the more difficult it is to get a good flavour profile from the recipe.  All 3 of the beers above have very basic recipes with very few twists.  About the furthest is the rice or lemon zest and those aren’t that bad anyway.

Each of the beers shares similar characteristics:

  • Light in colour
  • Light in alcohol
  • Light in hops
  • Not too much maltiness

Pretty much all simple, standard brews. I’ve seen the term “Lawnmower” beer used to describe them.  The one I’m most excited about is the CAP, but I’ll probably brew the Hybrid up first.  I’ve just added a braid manifold to my mash tun and don’t want to risk a stuck sparge just yet by using adjuncts.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Last night, I dry hopped the California Common I brewed.  Also took a hydrometer reading and threw some gelatin finings in for clarity.

The fermentation has been going well so far.  I started fermentation at 19 deg C then once the yeast had taken hold (around 12 hours) I dropped the temp to just over 10 and kept it there for 6 days.  Constant airlock activity throughout the entire period (I know, I know, airlock activity is by no means an indication of a healthy fermentation… but it’s just so fun to listen to it bubbling away!)  This is the first time I’ve been able to keep the fermentation temperature so constant (and low!!) I love winter for that reason alone.

The SG of the hydrometer sample was already down to 1.012 and I’m not expecting it to get much lower since we used almost 500g of crystal malt.  It’s already lower than I was expecting though, which means is going to come out quite dry.  Not too bad though considering the complete thermometer mess up that happened (planning a permanent fix for that).  Since it’s so close to ending I raised the temp a bit to 18 deg C and plan on keeping it there till Thursday night.  The increase in temp will allow the yeast to clean up after itself nice and quickly.

I want this batch in the keg on Saturday and after tasting the hydrometer sample (BEST sample I’ve ever tasted by the way) I’m getting more and more impatient!  The sample was very heavy with sediment and also hadn’t been dry-hopped yet so it can only get better.

The sample was probably so cloudy due to the fact that primary fermentation hadn’t actually finished yet.  Should clear up quite nicely when I cold-crash – the gelatin will help too.  Even if it isn’t too clear, I don’t mind. Clarity doesn’t impact flavour. I’m going to drop the temperature as far as I can on Thursday night in an attempt to get the floaties to settle out. I don’t have the patience for an extended cold crash so Thursday till Saturday is going to have to do.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Common brew day

As mentioned I planned to brew a California Common.

Here’s the recipe:

4.5Kgs Pale Malt (from SA Maltsters)
0.45Kgs Crystal 60L (from Weyermann)
28gm Northern Brewer 8.00% @ 40 minutes
14gm Northern Brewer 8.00% @ 10 minutes
14gm Northern Brewer 8.00% Dry hopped for 5 days
some Irish Moss for good measure
1 packet US-05

Pretty simple recipe. Here’s the goodies all laid out:


Step 1: Heat a bunch of water and clean everything with caustic soda.  No need to sanitize here since everything is still pre-boil.

Crush the grain.  Very handy grain mill provided by a friend from the local brew club (Worthog Brewers).  I need to make a hop feeder though, something that I can fill and it will pour the grain out at an adjustable rate.  I’ve got some ideas about that, just need to get around to it though.


Step 2: Mash

Dropped my thermometer in the water heating for the mash accidentally and broke it.  Had to swop out for a meat thermometer :/ Oh well.

I tea-bag mash at the moment, but that will change soon as well.  Until then though it means I can use equipment as is and only worry about cleaning one extra bucket (for lautering and recycling). Mashing at 67.8 C so this should be close enough.

Check the temp 30 minutes in.  I lost a couple degrees since it’s winter. In summer I don’t seem to have this problem so in winter I tend to check and topup a little more often.

Mash Temps

Step 3: Sparge.  Like I said, I tea-bag mash so once the mashing is done I take all the grain out and pour it into a bucket with a tap at the bottom.  I sparge with the grain still in the bag which means I don’t have to worry about stuck sparges or anything.  The wort does come out a bit more cloudy but it’s easier with my current setup.  Yes, it is ghetto, but it works… most of the time


Step 4: Sparge again. Same thing as before but with less water (just enough to get to our pre-boil volume)

While the second sparge is on the go I start slowly heating the previously mashed and sparged wort.  This just makes it a little quicker to get to the boil when it’s all done.

Step 5: Boil and hop additions. Nuff sed.  These Northern Brewer hops smell FANTASTIC!!


Step 6: Transfer to no-chill cubes and wait.


That’s it.  OG of 1.052, efficiency came in at 80%.  Projected FG of around 1.012.  Once the cubes have cooled down I’ll transfer them to the fermenter, pitch the yeast and let the real work begin.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Super-quick brews?

I just finish watching ITV’s Men Brewing Badly.  Men Brewing Badly is a 5-part mini-series based on the 2010 soccer world cup.  Neil Morrissey and Richard Fox are brewers who try and help the English team by bringing a batch of their own beer to Africa.  The plan is to drive 3000 miles from Dar Es Salaam to Rustenburg for the first English match, throwing a party for the England fans the evening before.

The brought a lot of beer with them but proceeded to either drink it or give it all away before they got to their final destination.  Eventually they managed to make it to South Africa, beerless, 5 days before the big party.  They manage to convince the South African Breweries to make a couple kegs of their english ale based on their recipes.

5 Days from grain to fully carbed up beer?  Surely that’s not enough time.

A quick google search yields typical quick-brews come in at 10 days from grain to glass, so 5 days to get going?  I suppose it’s possible: 4 days fermentation, 1 day force carbing with the shaking and rocking and crash cooling during this step.  It’d be interesting to try a speed-brew like this…

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Steaming ahead with a new brew

Time to brew again!  It’s been almost 6 weeks since I’ve brewed, the keg is feeling really empty and I want to try do better than last time.  But what to brew?  There’s a brewery in SA called Shongweni Brewery which makes what it calls a “West Coast Ale” which as far as I can tell is modelled after the California Common (or Steam Beer).  I quite enjoyed it so I think it’s time to try brew one myself.  Not knowing the recipe that they use for their “West Coast Ale” I’m going to go ahead with the assumption that it is in fact a steam beer clone.

Steam beer was first produced somewhere in the 1800’s.  The beer was brewed using a lager yeast but was fermented at the cool end of the ale-temperature side.  This was probably out of necessity for them, but for me it means I don’t need a lager fridge yet :)  Steam beer is the name trademarked by Anchor Brewing Co so we need to refer to it as a California Common.

According to the BJCP styles (7B), the California Common’s signature style comes from the use of Northern Brewer hops.  The supposed profile is:

“Med body, moderately malty.  Clean lager flavour, but character of an ale.  Dry, with a hint of toasted/caramel flavour.  Med amber to light copper colour.  Low fruitiness, ester and diacytl. Clean.”

The recipe I’m going to use comes from HomeBrewTalk.  Nice, simple and I have almost all the ingredients.  The only item I’m missing is the lager yeast but I’ve made the decision that I’m going to use US-05 instead of the actual lager yeast.  It is going to change the flavour profile and it won’t follow the BJCP style anymore… and I can deal with that.  I like the profile of US-05 and I have on hand.

I’m very excited to see what the Northern Brewer hops are going to come through with.  It’s going to be my first time brewing with an American hop having previously opted for the European and African styles.

Anyway, since it’s no-chill I’m going to go ahead and change the hop additions like so:

Hops Original No-Chill Altered
28.35gm Northern Brewer 8.00% 60 minutes 40 minutes
14.17gm Northern Brewer 8.00% 30 minutes 10 minutes
14.17gm Northern Brewer 8.00% 0 minutes Dry Hopped for 5 days

So there we have it.  The plan is to get this all going on Sunday, pitch yeast Monday evening and see what happens.

OG is projected for roughly 1.050 so not a big beer by any measure.  I’m still going to try bottle about 8 of these (keg the rest) and leave the bottles for 8-12 months and see what happens to the flavour.