Sunday, January 21, 2007


This last weekend was another bottle and brew--Trappist-style ale going into the bottles, and a nut brown ale brewing. My friend Brian was in town, and brown ales are his favorite variety, so we took the opportunity to start a batch and share the joy of brewing.

But beyond that, it was the moment of truth for our second effort. The stout had been in the bottles a couple weeks. Not long enough to reach their full potential maybe, but long enough to give it a try.

After our passable porter, I was anxious over how the stout would turn out. We fixed the rookie mistakes we made the first time around (i.e. filled the bucket to the full 5 gallon mark, duh!) and at the bottling things looked good. But the proof is in the drinking, so we cracked open three bottles.

First good sign was the aroma. Our inaugural porter had a funky, almost sour scent to it (reminded me of the bottle room when I worked at Albertsons... not a good thing). The stout by contrast smelled nice and beery, just like a stout ought to. Carbonation level was a positive too, some foaming but nothing out of control.

And the taste? Bingo! It had the dark, rich, full bodied flavor I look for in a stout. It is still pretty fresh, so there's a zip that a few more patient weeks should smooth out, but overall it was more than just passable. Here's a beer I can gladly share with friends and not feel the need to qualify, "Remember, it's my first batch!"

Ah, success!

Monday, January 8, 2007

Sauna for a Trappist-style Ale

As noted previously, we moved the primary fermenter into the bathroom to get some good heat going for it. Man did that work! Within a few short hours the space heater had pumped things up to about 75-80 degrees, and the beer went from bubbling every 25 seconds or so to a nearly constant 5 second clip.

This kept up for about a day and a half, then dropped off precipitously. This was a familiar phenomena from the first brewing batch, where in a short span of time things seemed to go entirely (and eeriely) dead. The reality is that the sugars just ran out, so the yeast were finished.

The Trappist-style ale has moved over to the secondary for its nice, couple week settle, and then into the bottles.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Bottle and Brew

Last Friday was the first big bottle and brew for Andrew and myself. Our second batch of beer, a Northwest-style Stout, sat ready in the carboy, sediment nicely settled, for bottling. For Christmas, Andrew had gotten a kit for making a Trappist style ale, and since it had liquid rather than dry yeast, we decided to get going on that sooner rather than later.

For bottling, we bought a dozen 22 oz. bottles, along with another case of 12 oz. ones liked we'd used before. Our first batch boiled off way too much liquid, and we didn't realize it until we bottled up. This time, we'd topped off properly, and came out with the equivalent of 49 12 oz. bottles. Not a bad job all told. We sampled a bit, and it tasted like stout--flat, not terribly interesting stout, but that's to be expected. The magic continues once beer is in the bottles.

After we'd resterilized the bucket and additional equipment, it was time to brew the Trappist. Our third batch, it went quite smoothly. The whole process is getting more comfortable, and I at least didn't feel compulsed to hover over the pot every last second of the brewing.

The Trappist recipe had several major differences from the porters and stouts we'd tried before--longer time for the hops, the addition of "brewer's candy", and liquid yeast. As far as I can tell, the candy was simply amber colored sugar crystals. They got stirred in with the malt extract. Apparently, the hops and sugar balance each other out in the final product. Although it will be considerably hoppier, the added sugar keeps it from getting too bitter.

Liquid yeast didn't have much difference in the pitching compared to dry--you do let it come to room temperature, and then put it in the cooled wort. However, there have been some significant differences in the behavior over the last week of primary fermentation. One of the guys at Main Street Brewing explained to me that it isn't unusual for liquid yeasts to act more gently and, hence, take a longer time. As of today, the spacing between bubbles from the airlock is still running around 15-25 seconds (the sweet spot we're looking for is between one minute and a minute thirty).

Another detail of the Trappist-style ale that's different is the fermentation temperature. Belgian breweries routinely run their primary for this type of beer at almost 80 degrees! We were gone over the first weekend and stashed it in the closed bathroom, which stayed nice and toasty. Since then, it's been out in cooler climes, which might have robbed us of a flavor. In hopes of getting a bit back (and finishing sooner) we've moved it back to a corner of the bathroom, closed the door and put on a space heater to reach those balmy temperatures the beer is craving.

Another couple weeks until sampling time with the stout, but the brewing is progressing quite nicely.