Sanitizing: the worst part of brewing
The Pink Boots Society is an organization for women in the brewing profession. I am not one of them, but as you see from the photo above, my homebrewing (okay, sanitizing) gloves are pink. Perhaps I should form the Pink Gloves Society for female homebrewers? Hmm.
Anyway, imagine my thrill when walking around Half Price Books to come across Extreme Brewing by Sam Calagione. Although I have several homebrewing books and old issues of Brew Your Own magazine, which has all of its recipes available online, I snatched up this particular tome right away. Why? Does the name Sam Calagione mean anything to you? To me, he is practically a brewing
Perfect match: beer & pizza!
deity, as he is the founder of the brewery-of-my-heart, Dogfish Head. (If you are not sure why a book by Sam Calagione would excite me, click on the Dogfish Head tag to read the many mentions of the brewery I have made since the inception of this blog.) Dogfish Head is known for its “off-centered” beers, beers containing unusual adjuncts or brewed in innovative or ancient ways. I had great success with my clone of Midas Touch, a brew based off of the residue found in 2700-year-old drinking vessels from Phrygia, thanks to the replicator section of Brew Your Own. (I called that brew “Ninkasi’s Nectar,” by the way.) Recipes that have been vetted by Calagione himself would be worth trying.
Now to decide what to brew–ah! That’s the tricky part. My last homebrew, which is already a year old and almost gone, was a smoked pumpkin ale (still tasty!), so nothing smoked or pumpkin-y. I even have a couple of bottles left of the Belgian strong dark ale I brewed more than two years ago with my New Jersey friend
How carboys are supposed to look
Greedo, (That’s still incredibly delish, too! Greedo, I’ll save a bottle or two for when you come to Minnesota for a visit.) so I did not want anything too Belgian-y or that would require a very long time to become drinkable. Heading into winter, I did not want something too light on the palate, as it will likely be consumed with stodgy stews and meaty roasts. The third consideration was how to make use of brewing leftovers that I have. Mark this as a particular personality trait of mine — I love and am driven to make use of leftovers in any way possible. Part of that whole “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra, I suppose. My brewing pantry contained the following:
- 1 lb. of plain wheat dry malt extract (DME)
- ~8oz. of Belgian dark candi sugar (yes, that’s how you spell it)
- slightly less than a quart of wort containing 1 lb. of wheat-light malt, leftover from when I was supposed to dissolve 1 cup of DME for priming but instead used an entire pound
- various quantities (all just below 1 oz.) of these hops: Fuggles, Northern Brewer, Styrian Golding, Hallertau
- 2-3 oz. of some unknown dark specialty grain, either roasted barley or chocolate malt
I finally decided on two recipes, as I have two carboys and plastic fermenting buckets: Dark Star Licorice Stout (with the addition of candied ginger inspired by another recipe in the book) and Crandaddy Braggot (a cranberry braggot). A braggot is a blend of mead and beer mixed with herbs and spices. (Read about this very old, even Chaucerian, style here and see a list of brands you can try. Let me know if you do, as I’ve never had a braggot. Why am I brewing a style that I’ve never even tasted before? That’s just the way I roll, honey.) One thing you can tell about me from my choices of homebrew is that I do not follow Reinheitsgebot, the German purity law of 1516, which states that beer consists only of water, barley, and hops (they didn’t know about yeast back then). I’m much more eclectic, almost Belgian, in my approach to brewing: Let’s leave the lid off the fermenter and see what falls in! (Or just experiment with interesting adjuncts.)
Side note: In a previous post, I denounced a certain video about how “ladies” can navigate a beer list. My problem with it wasn’t that there were fruity beers and “pretty” beers, but that it was assumed that women would automatically like those (if they are “ladies”) or that fruity-sweet beers are the only beers that women like. As you can see from my own homebrewing (and drinking — see the Twitter feed), I have no problem with beer brewed with fruit. Just don’t hand me a wine cooler masquerading as a beer and expect me to respect that. ‘Nuf said. Moving on.
Drinkers in Chaucer’s time liked braggot.
After a swing by my local homebrew supply store, Northern Brewer, I was laden with all the other ingredients for these two brews. It may seem like brewing two batches in a week is asking a lot — and it is, time-wise– but I have a lot of time on my hands. Moreover, after brewing, the equipment all gets cleaned, usually in our tub. Cleaning is just one step away from sanitizing, which also happens in the tub. Instead of putting everything away, only to have to be cleaned again, I figured I’d just brew a second batch a couple of days later.
Batch 1: The Stout (partial grain w/ extract & adjuncts)
It was a dark and rainy day when I brewed this beer that I plan to be drinking when the snow flies. (That may be next week here. Beer won’t be ready then, though.) The recipe called for pouring 4.5 gallons of water into the kettle to start. I only have a 5 gallon kettle, which is fairly typical, so I only added 3.5. I put the
Steeping the grains
extra grains I had in the coffee grinder and added them to the grain bag. This bag o’ crushed specialty grains steeps in the water until it reaches 170 degrees (Fahrenheit, of course). The water turned black in seconds. Sometimes a recipe will call for “sparging” the grains, which involves pouring more water through the grain bag to get every last ounce of goodness, but this recipe specifically prohibited even squeezing the bag. (I saved the spent grains for cooking. More on that in a future blog post.)
The next step involves adding the malt extracts, 9.9 dark liquid ME and 1 lb. light DME. The sizes available at Northern Brewer — and my not wanting to have more leftovers — gave me only 9.15 lbs of the LME and my DME was wheat, but I was not too bothered by that. Maybe the reduced amount of malt will give me a lower alcohol stout, but it will still be in the ballpark. This concoction is brought to a boil and then the first addition of hops is added, in this case, Fuggles. Hops added at this point are for bittering. Thus begins “the boil,” which is usually an hour. Hops and other adjuncts and additives are thrown in the kettle at various points in the boil, so it’s important to keep track of when it starts and how far into it you are.
A couple of problems occurred during this homebrew session. The first was the dreaded boilover. After adding more than ten pounds of malt to the 3.5 gallons of
Wort chiller: a great time saver
water, the wort (the non-fermented not-yet beer) was dangerously close to the top of the kettle. As I had an appointment later that afternoon, I also tried to rush it to a boil by putting the lid on the kettle, which sometimes makes it shoot past the boiling point. When it starts boiling, it often foams up … and over. Make that “all over the stove.” Immediately, I pushed the kettle off the burner and switched the burner off. I grabbed towels, both wet and dry, to mop up the sticky dark mess. (No photos of this incident, as I was in panic mode. No, Charlie Papazian, that was not the time to “Relax. Have a homebrew.”) The wet towels and a squirt bottle with a mild soap solution were what I used for the burner, since it was still hot. I didn’t want the wort to burn on, so I had to work quickly. There is still a crusty ring on our burner, but at least most of the mess is gone.
After the boilover, the wort maintained a steady and controlled boil. My thermometer showed that it never got above 211.7 degrees (212 is boiling for you metric folks), but since there were bubbles and roiling, and the burner was as high as it could go, I chalked it up to thermometer or atmospheric variance and continued. Flavor and aroma hops went in toward the end of the boil, along with licorice root and Irish moss, which is a clarifying agent. I got to use up the remaining Fuggles I had, as well as most of the Styrian Goldings. The recipe actually called for Willamette hops, but after checking the hops chart in Radical Brewing, I saw that both Willamette and Styrian Goldings are varieties of Fuggles and have similar alpha acid levels, which is key to hops substitutions as it determines the bitterness level of the hops. At the very end of the boil, when the heat is off, I added 2 oz. of candied ginger. (The recipe in the book that used ginger calls for crystallized ginger, which is what I thought I had. Nope. Oh well.)
How you do NOT want your carboy to look
The wort chiller we have is a piece of brewing equipment I would not do without. After the boil, it is important to cool the wort down to 70 degrees in order to pitch the yeast. If the temp is too high, it will kill the yeast. The longer it takes for the previously boiling wort to cool to yeast-pitchable temperatures, the higher the risk of contamination. Even in a Minnesota winter, when I would put the lidded kettle into a snow bank, it would take nearly an hour to reach a safe temperature. With the wort chiller (a coil of copper with two hoses — one attached to the faucet, the other draining in the sink), that cooling time is now about 20 minutes. To sanitize the copper coils, you just put the thing in the kettle for the last ten minutes of the boil. Easy.
(A note about sanitization: Brewing has been around for millennia, but the knowledge about sanitization is only relatively recent. While one does not have to develop an ulcer worrying about things not being as clean and sanitized as they could be, it still is a very important part. Though you are unlikely to get sick from anything going wrong in your brew, improperly sanitized bottles and equipment could lead to off-flavors (rendering your 5 gallons of beer unpalatable), low fermentation rates, lack of carbonation, or “foamers,” where it takes an hour to pour one glass. So grab that bleach and/or stick your bottles in the dishwasher on the “high heat” and “sani-rinse” cycles.)
Once cooled, I took a hydrometer reading to get the initial gravity (it will be compared to the final gravity reading after the beer is done to determine alcohol content), poured the wort into a glass carboy, pitched the yeast (Irish Ale yeast), and put on the airlock. Safely set up on a table in our basement, I started the ten-day wait until bottling time.
After this blew off, a clamp was added.
Or so I thought. The next day, I heard a loud popping, exploding noise from the basement. I rushed down to see the krausen foaming out of the opening of the carboy. The airlock was on the floor. This is known as a “blow out,” where the krausen clogs the airlock tubes and the gases behind it cause an explosion. Luckily, the explosion came in the form of the airlock flying through the air and not of the carboy breaking. I frantically rushed around the basement looking for the blow-off hose gadget to use in place of an airlock. It needed to be cleaned and sanitized, so at least 20-30 minutes went by where my precious beer was foaming out of the carboy into the unsanitized basement. Once in place, the end of the blow-off hose is placed in a bucket of water to collect the residue and allow the gas to escape. So vigorous
was the fermentation, however, that it blew off the blow-off hose attachment a few hours later. Let’s just say that there was a lot of swearing in the Ninkasi’s Niece household that day.
Batch 2: The Braggot (extract w/ adjuncts)
Last night I made the Crandaddy Braggot. It called for 6 lbs. of light light malt extract. I added another pound to make use of
Just add a side of turkey!
the mysterious wort in my freezer. The remainder of my Hallertau hops went into the kettle for bittering, along with the remaining smidge of Styrian Goldings (about .2 oz, so not much). This time, I did not try to rush the boil by keeping the lid on. It took longer, but the boil was controlled the entire time. In the last 6-7 minutes, I had to add a concoction made of two pounds of dried cranberries plumped up in a quart of water and then pureed into a “thin paste.” Thin? Not so much. At first I used the immersion blender (pictured), but when I reread the instructions and saw “thin,” I dumped them in the food processor. They thinned a bit, but I think I’ll leave the adjective off the word “paste.” Added to the kettle, along with the 6 lbs. of orange blossom honey, the wort was an odd mixture of hop particles, cranberry seeds, clumps of … stuff, and stickiness.
While sanitizing the equipment for this brew, I was faced with this question: To use the other carboy or play it safe with a plastic fermentation bucket? Ah, heck.
A mesmerizing mélange
I am stubborn. I went with the carboy. Surely, I will not have two blow-outs! (I say while frantically knocking wood.) Besides, I like seeing the fermentation in progress and the sediment settling to the bottom. (Update: It’s the next day and nothing’s exploded!) The yeast for the braggot was a package of Champagne yeast, the stuff that comes in a little paper package. For a beer, that would be an odd choice, but this is a mead-beer hybrid, and my recent experiences in making wine and mead prepared me for the idea that the yeast for these not-quite or not-at-all beverages does not come in the chem-lab-looking test tubes or fancy “whack packs.” In addition to the yeast, the recipe called for yeast nutrient and pectic enzyme, both ingredients I happened to have on hand, thanks to the aforementioned mead and wine making. Yeast nutrient acts as a sort of “vitamin pill” for the little yeasties and the pectic enzymes eat the naturally occurring pectin that fruit contains and that would cloud the beverage with gelatinous clumps. No one like clumps in their booze or their gravy.
Speaking of gravy, though this particular brew seems like it would be great with Thanksgiving feast, it will not be ready by then. Early to mid-December is when I’ll be cracking open the first bottle. The stout, however, should be ready by Thanksgiving. Something dark and festive for Black Friday?
In the meantime, I am not permitted to ferment anything else this year. Having two wines, one mead, one beer, and one braggot is the limit for the space Mr. NN allots me on the “fermentation table.” He’s next up to brew, anyway. So now my interests will turn elsewhere… say, to baking with spent grains and infusing some of Mr. NN’s vodka with some cranberries I found in the freezer….
Nothing says it’s holiday time like boozy cranberries.