New Brewing Bling – 60 Litre conical fermentor

I had a flash new bit of brewing bling turn up on my doorstep today thanks to the chaps at Farra Engineering . It was not that I had splashed out on some fine new stainless steel, but rather that the prize in the 2011 National Homebrew Competition for the Champion Homebrewer was a 30L stainless steel conical fermentor. Having won the prize I had a chat to the chaps at Farra I asked about upgrading from a 30L to a 60L fermentor as it seemed to make sense to have a vessel that was able to make a decent sized brew. They were only to happy to upgrade my prize for the difference in price between the 30L and the 60L.

The end result is that I have a bright and shiny new 60 L Stainless Steel Conical fermentor! It happens to look like this:

The next thing will be to clean it nicely and then start brewing in it… which presents some challenges in itself.

First of all I have no way of temperature controlling this vessel. All my brewing so far has been in my temperature controlled brewing cabinet (converted fridge with themostat that can switch on the heating or cooling). The only way I can currently brew in this beast is to dump the wort in and brew at ambient. Maybe I need to do 50L of a saison or such that does not really need temperature control?

Secondly I have a big enough pot and mash tun to brew a 50L brew, but I do not have a pump (yet?). I am not exactly sure just how I am going to go about transferring 50L of brew from the kettle to the fermentor? If I have my kettle high enough then I can syphon from the kettle to the fermenting vessel, but I might have to build myself some sort of stand for the kettle.

Those are the main things I have to figure out, but along with these concerns I have noticed some talk about the finish on stainless steel fermenting vessels specifically about the finish of the joins inside the vessel. They were talking about whether the inside surface was completely smooth or whether there was weld inside the vessel with nooks and crannies that might compromise the sanitation and sterilisation of the vessel. Having a look at the welds on the fermentor, while they are neat enough they are certainly not ground and polished inside the vessel meaning there is a lump where the sheets of metal have been joined. As to whether this will have any impact on the beer at all I am unsure. I think the temperature control is likely to play a bigger part in me making good tasting beers, but I am very interested to hear from anyone with experience of fermentors as to whether having weld showing on the inside of the vessel will make any difference to my brewing?

Anyway, seeing as I have more than 60 kg of pale ale base malt sitting in the shed I can probably afford some trials and if they become drain pours then so be it!

More photos of the vessel:

If you have not worked it out already the vessel is able to be pressurised and used as a serving vessel as well as a fermentation vessel which is a nice touch. I guess if I work out a way to bottle from this tank while keeping enough pressure in the bottles then I could pressurise the beer in the vessel (either naturally or by force CO2) and bottle beer without quite so much sediment in the bottle.

I am open to suggestions of what the virgin brew should be? Maybe something along the lines of a Cherry Porter? Let me know what you think I should brew!


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Recipe of my first brew – Zapa – Zane’s American Pale Ale Extract Recipe

This is the brew that got me into home brewing. It was pretty simple as it used malt extract from a can, but it was one step on from just using extract as I steeped some specialty grain and boiled a few hops for a while. I also dry hopped. I thought it tasted most excellent as did many of my friends and it is the brew that got me hooked on home brewing.

Here is the recipe to make 21 L of about 5.5% beer.

  • 1.7 kg Coopers Amber Ale can of hopped malt extract (this has bittering hops already added)
  • 1.5kg of Black Rock light malt extract. Any can of unhopped light malt extract would do. Try and get tins of malt extract that are fresh as they taste better than old extract.
  • 300g of medium crystal malt to add a bit of colour/body and sweetness to balance the hops. It will need to be crushed so you can extract the flavour etc.
  • 100g of Amarillo hops  (30g at 30 min, 30g at 15 min, 30g at 5 min and 10g dry hop)
  • 100g of Cascade hops (100g dry hop). You could substitute other hops such as Centenial or Summit for the Amarillo or Cascade.
  • Yeast. I would suggest Safeale US05 or Danstar Nottingham from a home brew supplier that keeps their yeast refrigerated. I would suggest throwing away the yeast that comes with the Coopers kit as it will have often been stored at ambient temperature.
  • Cleaner – Unscented nappy wash like napisan works well to clean organic dirt. The home brand stuff at the supermarket is good.
  • Sanitiser – Get a good sanitiser from the Home brew shop. I find Star San to work very well and as it is “no rinse” it is easy to use.

How it goes together. You will need

  • A big pot and a way to heat it
  • A thermometer
  • A mesh bag or a sieve.
  • Scales

1. First of all you want to make sure your fermenting vessel is clean. A good wash out with a cleaner like napisan should do the trick. I often soak my containers overnight with a napisan solution in them. Once the container is clean (i.e. no physical dirt can be seen) it will need to be sanitised before the ferment. Cleaning gets rid of the dirt where bugs hide, but does not get rid of the bugs. Sanitising kills the bugs so that your precious brew does not get infected!

2. Grab a big pot and heat some water to about 67 deg. Use as much water as you can 3/4 fill the pot. I was using a pot that I was able to put about 7 or 8 litres of water in, but you could probably get away with doing it in 3 or 4 litres.

3. Grab the mesh bag, put the 300g of grain in the bag and steep in the 67 deg water for 30 minutes. Try and keep the water at about 67 deg but a degree or 2 either side wont matter. You could buy some cheap stockings to use as a mesh bag, or home brew shops will sell you something. Spotlight have a nylon mesh fabric that is cheap (voil?) and can be sewn into a bag if you are feeling like being crafty. Otherwise at the end pour the liquid through a sieve to take the grain out.

4. After 30 minutes pull the bag of grain out and let it drain for a minute or two. While the grain is draining start heating the pot to the boil.

5. Once boiling you will add some hops. When brewers talk about hop additions they always time it from “flame out”. This assumes that the pot is boiling and your hop additions are added at time intervals measured before you take the pot off the heat. My recipe has the Amarillo hops added at:

  • 30g Amarillo at 30 minutes
  • 30g Amarillo at 15 minutes
  • 30g Amarillo at 5 minutes

So once the pot is boiling, add 30g of Amarillo and start timing. After 15 min add another 30 g and after 25 min add another 30g. After 30 minutes take the pot off the heat, and cool it down. The easiest way to cool it is to put the pot in a cold water bath (either fill the sink or a bucket or the bath with cold water and sit the pot in it).

6. Add the contents of the pot to the fermenting container. You will also need to add the malt extract and the balance of the water to make the entire volume up to 21 litres. I would personally boil the entire volume of the water for the brew to make sure it was sterile, but many people use the water straight from the tap. The liquid malt extract in the can should be sterile until you open it… you should do everything possible to make sure you dont add bugs to your brew which will mean opening the cans with sterilised can openers and getting it out with a sterilised scaper. Alternatively you could add the malt extract to the water if you are going to boil, and boil it all for about 15 minutes to make sure it is sterile.

7. Add the yeast. With dry packet yeast you can simply sprinkle the yeast on the top of your wort (wort = malt+hop+water mixture). Get the temperature of the mixture in your fermenting container to about 20 deg before you add the yeast. I always like to rehydrate dried yeast for an hour or two before adding to the wort. To rehydrate yeast take about a cup of water that you have boiled and then cooled to about 25 deg. Add to a sterile jar and let the dried yeast rehydrate in the water. Add the whole yeast slurry to your brew.

8. Cap your fermentor with an airlock (filled with sterilised solution) and keep your brew at a constant temperature. If the yeast gets too cold (below about 15 deg for ales) or too hot (above about 22 deg C) then the yeast are likely to give your brew strange flavours. If you can keep it at a constant temperature of about 20 degrees it is ideal. In general slightly lower temperatures will usually give you a cleaner tasting brew and slightly higher temperatures will give a brew with more esters.

9. After about 12 to 24 hours you should see gas start to bubble through the airlock. If the yeast is old or has been badly treated (i.e. not kept refrigerated) then it may take longer.

10. After the first few days the airlock bubbling should slow down, this is when I would add the 10g of Amarillo and 100g of Cascade hops into the fermenting container. After 2 weeks the air lock should be no longer bubbling or very slow. I usually just bottle my beers after 2 weeks, but I am confident that the yeast and temperature control I use is good. If you are unsure if the ferment has finished you can either leave it for another week or 2, or take a hydrometer reading. The FG should be down about 1.010.

11. To bottle the beers I usually decant from the fermentor into a bottling bucket as this way I can leave most of the dead yeast behind and I can mix the sugar needed to carbonate the beer in. I add dextrose before bottling, but normal sugar is fine. I would usually add about 110g of sugar for a 21 L brew with a little water in a pot and boil for about 15 minutes. I let this cool and then pour into the bottom of the bottling bucket, then using a sterilised piece of clear pipe I siphon from the fermenting container into the bottling bucket. The sugar solution will mix in as you siphon the beer in. Getting an auto-siphon is a good thing. I used an ordinary piece of pipe for a while and after making quite a mess I bought something like this and brewing got easier.

12. I make sure the bottles are clean and I rinse them with sterilising solution before adding the beer. I have a bottling valve which attaches to the tap at the bottom of my bottling bucket (like this ). This makes bottling easy as you simply slip the bottle over the tube pressing the bottom of the bottle against the valve at the bottom of the tube. The bottle fills with primed beer. You can fill the bottle right to the rim as when you remove the bottling valve it leaves the right amount of air gap in the top of the bottle.

13. I use crown cap bottles (330, 500 and 750s) and I have the crown caps sitting in sterilising solution before putting them on the top of the bottles and clamping them on with a capper.

14. The beer then needs to mature for a couple of weeks. There is a secondary fermentation in the bottle from the sugar we added at the end and this adds the carbonation to the beer. For this secondary fermentation to proceed you need to keep the bottles somewhere warmish for a couple of weeks. I usually fill a couple of small clear plastic soft drink bottles with the beer as well. With these I can see when the beer has clarified and I can tell if the beer has carbonated by how tight the bottle gets.

15. Enjoy your beer. Try serving a beer like this at about 10 deg C. If it is too cold you will not be able to taste all of the hop and malt flavours.

16. If you brew this, let me know how it goes!

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My first cask conditioned real ale

My friends Charlie and Veronica are off overseas and had a party to farewell friends. Knowing Charlie is a big fan of cask conditioned real ale I offered to do a brew for the party that would be suitable to be served with a beer engine (a handpump).

Using a recipe for a NZ pale ale (a recipe that won a gold medal in the national homebrew competition) I dropped the alcohol content to about 4.5% and dropped the late hopping levels back a little so that we would have a session beer that tasted good all evening.

The brew went to plan and the beer was in the fermentor for 3 weeks before I had time to try and figure out how it was going to be prepared for serving. I had initially been under the impression that hand pumped beer is served with almost no dissolved CO2, but with a little research I found that traditional cask conditioned ales are actually served with light carbonation that is present in the beer due to natural fermentation in the same way that bottled home brewed beer is carbonated by the secondary fermentation.

I had made about 33L of the beer, and soon figured out that my normal plastic containers that I use for fermenting and conditioning were not going to be suitable to hold any pressure and so I got hold of a 50L stainless steel sanke keg. Getting the circlip off so I could get in and clean the keg was a bit of a mission, but I eventually had the keg cleaned and the beer in the keg with enough dextrose to carbonate the beer to about 1.5 volumes. With only 4 days until the party I was concerned that I had left it a little late, but kept the keg warm and my fingers crossed.

I transported the keg to the venue the day before the party and managed to chill it to about 4 degrees overnight before the party.

I had attached a normal keg coupler to the keg, with a regulator on the gas in line to stop the pressure flowing out and a picnic tap on the beer out line. The night before the party we slowly let the pressure off the keg by using the pressure to pour a few glasses of beer through the picnic tap. These first few glasses were quite cloudy but were tasting good. As the keg had not been chilled at that stage it is possible that the beer had not dropped bright by then, but most likely it was the sanke spear picking the beer up off the very bottom of the keg, and taking any yeast that had sedimented out at the same time.

The evening of the party the hand pumps arrived and we hooked the keg up (picnic tap and regulator removed, beer out line put into handpump). The beer served beautifully through the hand pump and was a hit with the party people. Even the kiwis who are used to being served fizzy cold beer were complimenting the cask conditioned real ale. I was pleased to see that the 33L in the keg emptied before the 2 other handpump beers at the party!

Now with Christmas only a couple of weeks away I need to get some more brews down as my beer collection in the shed is getting very low.

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Stoked! 2011 National Homebrew Competition Champion.

The prizegiving for the 2011 National Homebrew Competition was held at Pomeroys in Christchurch on a Saturday afternoon. I had spent the morning riding fantastic beech forest singletrack on my bike and was happy to grab a pint of delicious craft beer and sit down to see how everyone did in the competition.

I had 6 beers entered and while I had hopes that 2 of them would do well, I was not sure about the other 4. Having only started brewing in March this year I had entered mostly looking for feedback from the judges on what was right and what was not with my beer.

Ally and James and Nathan got the show on the road in front of a small crowd of beer geeks. They let us know that both the number and standard of entries were well up on last year, with 55% of entries gaining a medal which is fantastic. I like the idea that more and more people are brewing, and that most of them are making great beer!

Ally went on to announce the category winners, with the majority of the first categories being won by people who were not present at the prizegiving. Ally got to the award for the “Best Ale” and I was very pleasantly surprised to hear my name. I was stoked! It was still all sinking in while I was getting the certificate, shaking Allys hand and posing for the photo. I will be interested to find out which of my ales it was that won, as it does not say on the certificate (edit – results up now. It was my American Brown that won)

Absolutely chuffed with having won something I sat back down. Ally started announcing the Champion Brewer with a little story about how they realised they had 2 people who were very close in the running while they were judging on the Sunday. The Champion Brewer is decided by the medal points for the top three beers per entrant. The medal scoring system is broken into 3 further levels, so a Gold medal might be a Gold 1, a Gold 2 or a Gold 3. The top score would be one brewer scoring 3 x Gold 1 medals.

As Ally got close to announcing the Champion Homebrewer he was looking at me… and then announced my name as the 2011 Champion Homebrewer. Super surprised I was up shaking his hand again! I really had not expected to do so well and am definitely very happy to have won the Champion Homebrewers prize!

It was great being able to talk to all the other brewers at the prize giving and find out how they had done with their beers. Congratulations to all of the medal and category winners! Well done on brewing great beer! The results so far are:

  • Best NZ beer goes to Llew Bardecki
  • Best overall beer goes to Tony Fulkner.
  • Best Imperial beer to Craig Fitzgerald
  • Best porter stout fruit beer goes to Chris Moore
  • Best lager/pils hybrid goes to Stew Marshal

Full results up on the Soba website here

Winning the best ale category means I will have a couple of sacks of Gladfields pale ale malt coming my way. I am super happy about this as this is the base malt I usually use. I will have to make sure I get plenty of brews down to use it while the malt is still fresh! If I get brewing now it could be a very merry Christmas.

For winning the champion brewer award I get a 30 litre stainless steel conical fermentor from Farra Engineering in Dunedin which looks super nice! I am really looking forward to brewing with it!!

The beers I entered in the Competition and how they did are:

1. Caspa – New Zealand Pale Ale. Brewed in September. As reviewed here by “Beer For A Year” – Gold 1.

2. Gonna be Hughes – New Zealand Pale Ale. Brewed start of September. Gold 1

3. Inzane Brown – American Brown Ale. Brewed in July BIAB. Gold 1

4. Marksman Bitter – Ordinary Bitter. Brewed late August. Gold 3

5. Cawaka – American Amber Ale (done with NZ hops). My first all grain brew done BIAB back in June. Bronze 1

6. Maeve – Irish Red Ale. My second all grain brew done BIAB, also done in June. Bronze 1.

I am currently brewing with a 40L stainless steel pot, 3 ring burner, large chilly bin with stainless steel braided hose in the bottom for a mash tun and plastic carboys to ferment in. I do ferment in a temperature controlled cabinet, which keeps the fermentation temperature to within a degree. Still bottling all my beer currently, but I intend to move to kegging sometime in the near future.

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2011 NZ National Home Brew Competition – Judging Day

This weekend past was the judging of the New Zealand National Homebrew Competition as organised by SOBA .

There were over 400 beers entered in the multitude of categories, which the organisers managed to collate and organise. I went along to the judging on the Saturday as a steward, and was mainly involved in getting the beers to the judges. This involved a lot of organising beer entries, filling in beer details on the score sheets, pouring beer and cleaning glasses etc, but also plenty of hearing/seeing the judges comments on the beer and being able to taste it as well. It was a great learning opportunity and I now have a deeper knowledge of what some beer faults actually taste like in a beer.

Any time a beer got a gold medal a bunch of us jumped in and had a taste of the beer as well. There were some fantastic beers submitted and I loved being able to try the variations in style.

The biggest thing I think I noted from tasting a number of beers is that a number of people who submitted hoppy beers had perhaps brewed them too early for the competition as the hop flavours were not as bright and fresh as expected. I have found with my hoppy beers that they are best consumed about 3 weeks after bottling and the hop flavour diminished from there. I think a number of the hoppy beers submitted may have suffered from this fate.

There were 4 tables judging the beer, and each table had 3 judges, who would come to a consensus on the score and comments of the beer. Starting at about 8.30 in the morning and going through until about 6.30 that evening the 12 judges managed to get through about 320 beers on the Saturday. This was a huge effort! That left them with another 80 or so to get through on the Sunday.

It was fantastic meeting some of the other home brewers and also meeting some of the people from the beer industry. I also made a connection with someone who has an apple cider press which I can borrow come apple season so I am stoked about that as well!

All in all it was a great experience and I really enjoyed the chance to taste so many diverse beers and to learn a bunch about beer evaluation. I look forward to seeing the results come out on Saturday 26th of November. I submitted a few beers and have no idea how some of them did and so cant wait to find out.

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Yeastie Stu likes my beer PKB 2011 Remix – Weetbix

Over here I talked about brewing the Yeastie Boys Pot Kettle Black 2011 Remix (Weemix).

I sent Stu of Yeastie Boys a rigger of the brew I did of his recipe and this is what he thought

“Drinking “Weetbix” a play on PKB Weemix by @Zaneralph… great beer Zane, very sessionable. Thank you!”

I am stoked that Stu likes it!

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Hop monsters for hop heads – late hop additions to give big hop flavour and aroma

The key to getting big hop aroma and flavour in your beer is putting in large additions of late hops. Done right you will get a huge smooth hop character to your beer. There is quite a difference between the characteristics of late hop additions and dry hop additions which I will explain below.

As a quick overview in brewing an all grain beer, malt is crushed and then mashed to extract the goodness. This extract (which brewers call wort) is then boiled, usually for at least 60 minutes but sometimes for a lot longer and the boiling needs to be done for a number of reasons including:

  • sterilisation of the wort
  • isomerisation of the hop oils (this gives beer the bitterness)
  • protein denaturation and enzyme inactivation
  • protein coagulation
  • formation of colour and flavour compounds
  • removal of unwanted flavour volitiles
  • concentration by evaporation

Late hopping is the addition of hops late in the boil and is considered as any addition of hops with less than 30 minutes of boiling. Boiling the hops causes the hop oils to isomerise and turn bitter, so the later in the boil (right up to flame out or 0 minutes) you add the hops the more hop flavour and aroma is preserved. If you use good brewing software then it should have a calculation that will give you an indication of how much bittering your late hop additions are adding to your beer.

Dry hopping is adding the hops to the fermentor, and is a great technique for getting hop flavours in a beer as well. Hop flavours from dry hopping are often characterised as more resiny and grassy while late hops are characterised as more floral and fragrant. Late hopping gives a very clean finish where dry hopping tends to cling to the palate a lot more. It will depend on which characteristics you are looking for as to which hopping techniques you will want to use, but if you want a whole bunch of smooth hop flavour and aroma then large late hop additions will give you the bucket load of hop flavour and aroma you are looking for.

When starting to brew it is generally thought that you have to add the 60 minute hops for bittering and late hops are only flavour and aroma. It turns out that the late hops can also add bittering depending on where you add them. It is possible to get sufficient bittering out of late hopping additions to almost remove the 60 minute bittering hops totally. Done right this can create a superb beer. My first brew of Caspa was entirely late hopped with no bittering additions and I have done some tasting notes for it here. I have done a few other brews with minimal bittering hop additions and have been very pleased with the results.

For home brewers with basic gear the late hopping will consist of adding the hops to the boil pot. There are other ways to add late hops including whirlpool additions or hopbacks.  You can use the whole hop flowers, or hop pellets. Many people find the hop pellets easier to use as the pellets disperse easily in the wort and do not clog up lines and pumps. The hop oils in the pellets are usually more easily available than from the flowers as well.

Hop pellets

You want to select your late addition hops based on their flavour and aromatic qualities. Varieties such as Cascade, Centennial, Styrian Golding and Fuggle are often used. There are many more suitable varieties and it will depend on which exact hop flavours and aromas you are looking for. The current American hop shortage will have a toll on some of the craft beers that use these hops like I mention here.

For a time brewers found late hopping to be wasteful of hops because late hopping uses much more hops than if they are added during bittering. Thankfully the craft brewers ignored this idea as they wanted the wonderful aroma and flavour in their beers. Having large amounts of hop oils present in the beer can make the beer less stable to storage over time. The hop aroma and flavours also decrease over time. For these reasons late hopped beers are best consumed fresh.

I for one am very thankful that the craft brewers decided that late hopping was a good thing!

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