Friday, 27 July 2012


Turning around a beer from brew-day to empty-keg in less than 2 weeks has to be a new record for me.  On Wednesday - only  9 days after being brewed - I force carbonated a couple of bottles and took it to the club-meeting.  With the yeast still in suspension the beer was cloudy, but had a wonderful fresh wheat-grain/hop/yeast aroma and flavour.  Citrus hops, the wheat malt and fruit-salad from the yeast all combining to make a very interesting, tasty and refreshing beer.

12 days after being brewed the beer was presented at the MB annual dinner and was generally received well - serving it with a wedge of lemon was something that was enjoyed by some, but not others.  While the beer was still 'good', I should not have left the beer cold-chill for 2 days since it would have been better with the yeast still in suspension.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

1 Yeast, 2 Kräusen

Both beers currently in the (fermenting) fridge are being fermented with Wyeast Greenbelt.  The yeast for both is identical, grown from the same slant and in the same starter until the 2nd-to-last step of the starter process.  While the wort for each beer was different, its surprising how different each looks while it is fermenting.

The Amercian Black Ale kräusen is thick and yeasty, looking much like a top-cropping English Ale:

While the Widbier kräusen is light and fluffy, looking more like foam from shaking the fermentor than a yeast-käusen:

Brewery Build #22: Wort Return

The HERMS system - as the name suggests - constantly recirculates the wort during the mash, this makes the wort-return important, so that the returning wort is distributed evenly over the grain-bed so there is no channeling of wort and hence lower efficiency.

The basics of the wort return are simply a stainless steel Ikea Stabil double-boiler inset and some stainless all-thread:
By drilling a small hole in the top-lip of the keg, the wort return is held in place by the all-thread and the height adjusted with a wing-nut.  Initially the silicon hose was run directly into the dish, but since the hose is slightly boyant it tended to float and didn't want to stay in place:
The silicon hose remained in the dish a little bit easier with a small piece of stainless tube pushed into the end:
But since I had an abundance of 1/2 inch (12mm) stainless tube, and ample practice bending it, it was logical to use some of that to better stabilize the return.  Finished, installed and ready to use it looks like this:
And after a 75min recirculated mash (even with 40% wheat) the wort return works well and the wort is nice and clear:
This video was taken just after mash-in, grain bill is 50% Pale Malt, 40% Wheat malt, 7% Munich Malt and 3% Crystal Malt (and some Rice Hulls):
And 75mins later at mash-out:

The wort return works well, however for small/single batches, the 1L volume is likely a little large and the return-dish is a little too deep.  It's likely I'll look for a cheap shallow stainless bowl that you often find at discount stores and use that for mashing small grain-bills.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Brew Day: Widbier

I had promised to brew a beer for the Melbourne Brewers annual dinner, however, due to not completing the brewery build and some problems with yeast starters, I was unable to brew the beer I wanted in time for it to be ready for the dinner.  In the "Brewing With Wheat" Book (Stan Hieronymus) it's suggested that Widmer Brothers can turn around their hefeweizen from grain-to-glass in 8 days if required, and since I had a yeast-starter ready, I thought it would be a good thing to try.

Despite the name, Widmer Hefeweizen is an American Wheat beer, some would say the original American Wheat.  While it's brewed with an 'American Wheat' yeast (now available as Wy1010, WLP320) the yeast is actually a German Alt yeast from Zum Uerige, so I figured that an American Ale yeast would be an adequate substitute.

The book listed the malt and hops as: "Wheat, Pale", "Willamette, Cascade" while the Widmer website suggests (and has for many years according to various home brew forums): "Pale, Munich, Wheat, Caramel 40L" and "Alchemy, Willamette, Cascade" so obviously the book or the website is incorrect.  I presumed that various home brewers trying to emulate the beer and the brewery website was correct, and adapted the following recipe.

Estimated OG: 1.047 SG
Estimated Color: 5.9 SRM
Estimated IBU: 32.2 IBU

Pale Malt, Traditional Ale (Joe White) 52.3 %
Wheat Malt, Pale (Best Malz) 38.6 %
Munich I (Weyermann) 6.8 %
Crystal (Joe White) 2.3 %

Magnum (11) (60 min) 16.6 IBU
Columbus (HG 12) (60 min) 10.2 IBU
Cascade (11) (15 min) (0.68g/L) 3.0 IBU
Cascade (09) (5 min) (0.68g/L) 2.4 IBU
Cascade (HG 12) (0 min, hop-back) (0.68g/L)

Whirlfloc (Boil 15.0) (0.045g/L)
Yeast Nutrient (Boil 15.0 min) (0.045g/L)
Lactic Acid (Mash 60.0 min) (0.094ml/L)
Calcium Chloride (Mash 60.0 min) (0.18g/L)
Calcium Sulfate (Mash 60.0 min) (0.27g/L)
Lactic Acid (Sparge) (0.0125 ml/L)

Mash In (3.4L/kg) 49.0 C 5 min
Maltase Rest 64.0 C 60 min
Dextrinization Rest 73.0 C 15 min
Mash Out 78.0 C 10 min

Wyeast Greenbelt (Starter) (9.09billion cells/L)

Ferment @ 20 C.
Apparently, the Widmer Brothers copped a decent amount of flack when they first introduced this beer, either from beer-enthusiasts who insisted that without the yeast-driven flavours and aromas that it was not a Hefeweizen and from others who dislike those flavours and would not try the beer.  I could imagine the same thing happening if I called it a Hefeweizen, hence the witty (pun intended) wheat related Widbier name for this beer.

Even with a high proportion of wheat, the mill and cordless drill:
... had no problem ...
... achieving what appears to be a good crush:

300g of Rice Hulls were added to help filter the mash (and because I have several kg that I've not needed to use before):

At mash-in the wort looked very cloudy and milky:
... but after being recirculated for 75mins:
... it was surprisingly clear:

With a minor plumbing change, the wort is drained (fly-sparge) into the kettle while the HLT drains (at an equal rate) into the mash:

A fairly decent hop bill, especially for a wheat beer:

And a nice golden-colour boiling away in the kettle:

Hopefully I've found a way to use the wheat-malt I have here, since I'm not really fond of German style Hefeweizens, if anything I'll add more hops next time and make it more like Mad Brewers Hoppy Hefe, which I quite enjoyed over the summer.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Brewery Build #21: HERMS

After all the practice with pipe-bending and coil-design-practice, the actual HERMS unit was relatively simple, easy and cheap to build.  Four 1.2m lengths of 1/2 inch/12mm 0.9mm wall-thickness stainless pipe was bent into coils:
Two coils were bent in a clockwise direction and two in an anticlockwise direction, this way I was able to fit almost 5m of coil inside the $4 op-shop wine-cooler:
The hole-saw got some more use installing a 2200W 240V element from a $7 BigW kitchn-kettle in the base.  Interestingly buying, dissembling, only using the element and then discarding the kettle was a cheaper option than buying just the element from any source that I could find.  An old tube of silicon had hardened at the nozzle, so I had to cut it open to use it, so had an abundance of silicon to ensure it would not leak:
The inside-plastic-skin of the wine-cooler split a little while being filed back, however there was more than enough silicon to prevent that from being a problem:
Now-days it seems that the cheapest kitchen-kettles available for purchase are cordless ones, but luckily an IEC-type power plug:
.. plugs straight into the back of the 'cordless' part of the element socket:

I also removed the inside-thread from the top of the cooler so that the lid would snap-on rather than having to be screwed down:
Stupidly - after cutting, grinding, drilling and working with various power tools, stainless kegs and tubing - this was also when I hurt myself the most in the entire brewery build process.  Using an angle grinder to grind plastic is not a good idea since, unlike metal, the plastic tends to melt and burns like all fuck when you get it on your hands.

But the new HERMS-container passed both the boil-test:
... and the leak test:
Installed with fittings, it makes a clean and compact little unit (the PID probe slides into in the thermowell at the top of the t-piece):
 Inside is a double-helix/coil (which is why two coils were made clockwise and two anticlockwise):
With two elbows to secure the coil to the lid of the cooler:
For the moment - pending building a brew-stand - the HERMS enclosure sits ontop of the bottom of a 'modified' milk crate:

Complete and in use, it (according to the PID, since the dial-thermometer mounted on the kettle, and hence likely the actual mash temperature tends to lag a little) can raise the mash temperature by about 1 degree C per minute, which is what was aimed for:
The little brown pump has a flow rate of about 3L per min, which is likely a little slow to get a fast response from the grain-bed temperature, and since one of the little brown pumps has broken (after being used twice), it's likely that one of the first upgrades (yes ... talking about upgrades and not even finished building the system yet!) will be a new 'proper' home brew type pump.

Brewery Build #21: HERMS Build

Another item I can post about now that it's complete and working is the HERMS.  This is probably the most over-engineered single bit of equipment in my new setup.  But I don't mean over-engineered in that it is overly technical, or difficult or even that special, just that it took so many different design-iterations and build attempts to actually make the thing.

The HERMS design/build process started with sourcing some stainless tube.  On the telephone Geordi Stainless said multiple times that they had 6m lengths of 1/2 inch/12mm thin walled (0.9mm) stainless tube in stock, unfortunately when I drove there they had sold it all and only had 1.2mm wall thickness.  In addition, full 6m lengths of tube were not so easy to get home in the car:
While it was - just - possible to bend the 1.2mm wall-thickness tube, it proved to be an absolute bitch to bend around anything (such as a 4kg CO2 bottle) to shape it into a reasonably small size:
 ... so that idea was abandoned.  Luckily after bitching at Geordi on the 'phone they referred me to another stainless dealer, ironically closer to home, who did have 12mm 0.9mm wall-thickness stainless tubing in stock, but unfortunately it only came in 1.2m lengths:

Fortunately they  had so much of the stuff, and nothing to do with it, they were happy to sell it at essentially scrap-metal prices, so it was time to get creative and see what I could come up with.

With some practice, coils were easy enough to bend with the thin-walled stainless tube:
But I was going to need to find some way to join multiple lengths of the tube together to in order to achieve enough lenght of tube for it to be an effective heat exchanger.  Some creative ideas included a double-helix:/coil:
5 lengths (approx 6m) of coil inside a corny keg:
With a couple of additional fittings and filled with ice, this might turn into a post-plate-chiller instant-lager-pitching-temperature brew day chiller.  In that case the additional volume of chilled water/ice will actually be a benifit not a disadvantage as it is with heating the water for a HERMS unit where you want a smaller volume of water to make it mroe responsive:
The next iteration of HERMS design involved using the least amount of heating-water possible, by fitting it into a kitchen-kettle.  One of the reasons I attempted this is because I was told it couldn't be done at home:
With some practice and work, the pipe-bender was able to coil the tube tight enough to fit inside a kettle, the only problem being the inlet and outlet since the coil was already as tight as it would go, it was difficult (but not impossible) to bend both up to the top which was the easiest design solution.  In addition only 2 coils could easily fit inside the kettle, since it was difficult to compress them (top to bottom) tight enough.  It could have been done but became more effort than it was worth.

While the completed HERMS did not take long to make and - in itself - was very cheap to build, all the different prototype builds did take quite some time, and effort, and pushed the end-cost up so that it was not that much cheaper than buying a pre-made coil ... and I now have a collection of reject-stainless tube:

Continued ... HERMS.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Brew Day: ABBA

This was the first 'beer' I have produced from the new system.  The first batch of 'wort' was no-chilled and will be used for starters, the second batch was an attempt at a Golden Ale - which I christened Epic Failure and resulted in muddy-brown wort into the fermentor:
 ... so I didn't even waste yeast on it.

I've been planning to brew a Black IPA for some time now, however after thoroughly enjoying Samuel Adams' India Red Ale:
I thought I might be able to tweak the recipe a little bit and end up with something similar (however it didn't work out that way).
ABBA (aka an American Big Black Ale)Estimated OG: 1.055 SG
Estimated Color: 27.5 SRM
Estimated IBU: 57.2 IBU

Pale Malt, Traditional Ale (Joe White) 76.4 %
Munich I (Weyermann) 12.5 %
Caraaroma (Weyermann) 3.8 %
Crystal (Joe White) 3.8 %
Wheat Malt, Midnite (Briess) 2.5 %
Carafa Special II (Weyermann) 1.0 %

Columbus (HG 12) (60 min) 22.4 IBU
Cascade (11) (60 min) 20.9 IBU
Cascade 09 (15 min) (0.83g/L) 4.7 IBU
Amarillo (10) (15 min) (0.71g/L) 4.6 IBU
Amarillo (10) (5 min) (0.66g/L) 2.7 IBU
Cascade (HG 12) (5 min) (0.83g/L) 1.9 IBU
Amarillo (10) (0 min, hop-back) (0.66g/L)
Cascade (HG 12) (0 min, hop-back) (0.83g/L)

Whirlfloc (Boil 15.0) (0.04g/L)
Yeast Nutrient (Boil 15.0 min) (0.04g/L)
Calcium Chloride (Mash 60.0 min) (0.16g/L)
Calcium Sulfate (Mash 60.0 min) (0.33g/L)

Mash In (3.33L/kg) 55.0 C 5 min
Maltase Rest 63.0 C 35 min
Dextrinization Rest 71.0 C 35 min
Mash Out 78.0 C 10 min

Wyeast Greenbelt (Starter) (10billion cells/L)

Ferment @ 18 C.
During the mash tun the wort did not have the vibrant red hue I was looking for, likely should have included less crystal and more CaraAroma, so the Midnight Wheat additions were added to the mash to give it a deep black colour.  The first addition added (100g) of Midnite Wheat added at Maltose Rest, so it would add a little bit of roasty-flavour, and the last 50g added at Mash Out since I was still not happy with how 'black' the wort was at that stage:
Which resulted in nice black wort boiling away in the kettle:
It would appear that the little brown pump(s) have some sort of thermal-cut-off mechanism, so when I turned off the pump (to transfer the wort return to the kettle) to start draining the mash tun, the pump would not turn back on again.  In addition I forgot to put the kettle-filter in place so had to spend time connecting a second little brown pump, and then after the kettle was partly-full drain the wort back into the mash in order to set the kettle-filter in place.  Unfortunately this resulted in a lower-than-expected efficiency, so I couldn't really call the beer an "IPA" anymore, so it became what will likely be a very hoppy "ABA" (American Black Ale).

The four hop additions each contained both whole hop flowers and pellets, so it was to be a test of how the new kettle and hop-back would work together as a filtering-system::
The home-grown Centennial were a bit brown by the time they were picked, but they still had a very pungent aroma, but the bittering addition was split between them and a much larger addition of Cascade pellets.

After the boil, hops and break in the kettle:
... and the first layer of hopback filter:

... and the second (fine) hop back filter:
But at it smelled and looked good going into the fermentor:
Not very exciting to look at but, here is the first batch of beer (in some time) fermenting in the fridge:
Rather ironically, the yeast-starters also needed to go into the (temperature controlled) fridge (with heat-mat) because it was too cold for them to be happy sitting in the lounge-room!

Brewery Build #19: Hop-back

After brewing on the new system a few times (3 in total so far) to ensure that all the design and concepts work as expected, it's time to go back and fill in a few additional items.  The first is the hop-back, originally I was planning to make it an enclosed (pressurized) system, much like the Blichman Hop-Rocket.  However, after research and reading, it appears that many Hop-Rocket owners run it up-side-down with the top open and get good or better results using it that way as a hop-back.

Not having the hop-back fully enclosed made it much easier to design and make, however it does require monitoring while the kettle is draining in case it gets clogged, the pump slows or the wort from the kettle is is filling the hop-back too quickly.
The hop-back is made from a "3L Bain Marie Buffet Stainless Steel Canister & Cover", which cost a little under AUD$30 delivered from Ebay.  Since the original idea was to always run it totally full, the Bain Marie Canister has a stainless top, however there are much cheaper stainless canisters with perspex-type see-through lids that would likely do just as good job for the way I ended up using it.  (Note: the silicon hose is to prevent splashing and reduce/eliminate any chance of HSA, however to work best - so the hose sits close/ontop of the wort, it needs an elbow under the lid which is not shown in the picture above).

The hop-back has 2x perforated stainless inserts, the first/bottom one has 3 stainless bolts that act as a stand-off to keep the filter above the base and allow adequate space for it to drain without issue.
The second perforated stainless insert-filter sits ontop of the bolt-heads:
This setup works well for whole hop cones, which is generally how it will be used:
The whole hop cones swell as the wort is introduced and tend to float-around, likely increasing the contact with the almost-boiling wort, which is likely a good thing:
The hop back acts as a good secondary filter (the first filter is the false-bottom perforated plate at the bottom of the kettle) and the wort into the fermentor was very clear:
In general, as with most hop-backs it works best with whole hop flowers, however (due to import laws and availability) sometimes specific varieties of hops are only available in pellet form.  This makes using them in a hop-back more difficult since they disintegrate into tiny little bits when wort is added.  In order to use hop pellets in the hop-back and to provide additional filtering capability's, I used some swiss-voile.  The first attempt was a hop-back-bag:
And loaded it with both whole hop cones and pellets:
When the hop-back-bag did not survive being cleaned in the washing-machine and I didn't have the time or effort to get the sewing-machine out again, I resorted to using the a cut disk of swiss-voile above the bottom filter plate:
But sandwiched inbetween the second filter-plate:
The filtering performance of both the kettle false-bottom and hop-back work better to filter the wort with more hops, the next beer was a hoppy IPA:
With three kettle additions, and one in the hop back, each addition combining both whole  hop flowers and pellets:
With the large amount of hops inside the kettle, most of the break material was filtered out there:
With the hop-back also doing a very good filtering job:
Most all the break and hop pellet debris was retained in the kettle and layered hop-back filter, this is the bottom swiss-voile layer:
Once again the wort into the fermentor was very clear, so I think the sandwiched swiss-voile approach will be how I use the hop-back each time it needs to be loaded with hop-pellets.