Thursday, June 18, 2009

All Grain Brewing Made Easy

Traditonal homebrewers who make the switch to all grain brewing (no extract syrup) have fairly complex setups with at least two, but more likely three vessels: a hot water tun (holder), a mash tun, and the brew kettle.

Being that I live in a 600 sq. ft. condo, this isn't really feasible for me. So I did some research and found out about an innovative technique originated in Australia called Brew in a Bag.

In essence, instead of mashing and sparging (rinsing) the grains in a separate vessel, I used a $2 nylon mesh paint straining bag to mash the grains in the full boil volume of water in my brew kettle. Join me on my adventure...

Brew day starts like any other: sanitizing, getting ingredients ready, weighing out hops, etc.

On this brew day, I was trying a Kirin Ichiban clone, using 4 lbs of American 6-row barley and 1 lb of flaked rice adjunct, 1 oz Hallertauer Hops, and dry lager yeast (to save a bit o' green).

Since we are using flaked rice, this will require a multi-step mash to adequately break down the fermentable sugars in our grains. The first step is to heat up the strike water that the grain will be added to. I want my final volume into the fermentor to be 2.5 gallons, so I have 3.5 gallons in the brew kettle to start to compensate for the grains soaking up water and whatever will steam off during the boil.

As you can see, the paint strainer bag fits nicely over my 5 gallon brew kettle. Once the water is sufficiently heated, we dump in the grain and stir, stir, stir.

My lager recipe call for rests at 122°, 140°, 158° and mash-out at 170°F. Traditional brewers accomplish these rests by starting with less water and adding more hot water as they go along. But I just used my stove top and the last few minutes of one rest to ramp up to the next one. Seemed to work ok.

Once the mash is complete and most of the fermentable sugars have been steeped out of the grains, we simply lift the strainer bag out of the brew kettle and the sweet wort is left behind. I put the moist grains in a colander resting on top of my brew kettle and let it drip for a few more minutes.

After that, brewing proceeds as normal, with three hop additions splitting up the hour-long boil.
After the boil, I chilled the wort off in the sink. I may need to buy a bag of ice for my next brew, since there is a lot of thermal mass in there and just sitting in cool sink water led to about a 45 mintue wait until it had reached yeast pitching temperature.
Since this is a lager, I let it begin fermentation for one day at room temp, and then stuck it in the fridge. Hopefully this will produce a clean, crisp summer beer.
I have tried the BIAB technique once before, with an American Pale Ale. I cracked open the first one of those this week:
As you can see, it's a bit hazy with a decent white head. It is less hoppy than most examples, with a smell I can only describe as beery (in the most positive sense one can take that). It has a sweet, bready and fruity taste, and finishes with an ever-so-slightly hoppy and crisp aftertaste.
I love this beer. I predict that it will not last long.
So if anyone out there wants to get into all grain brewing but doesn't think they have the chops or space, give Brew in a Bag a try. The freshness you get from using grains instead of extract is worth the additional equipment investment and grains are much cheaper than syrup anyway, so you'll save money in the long run!
Happy brewing and drinking!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A non-beer related rant

This doesn't really have anything to do with beer, but I was enjoying a Troëgs Dreamweaver Unfiltered Wheat last night as the thoughts were forming, so there's that.

I was watching The International, a thriller with Clive Owen about an evil bank that came and went earlier this year. As is my custom, after the movie, I pulled up the reviews online to see what other people thought and found lots of critics comparing it (unfavorably) to the Bourne movies, specifically the last two, which were directed by Paul Greengrass.

Now, I like all the Bourne movies, but I think the first one was the masterpiece, while the other two are disposable. The reason: Paul Greengrass cannot shoot action, or he can't be bothered to try.

PG is a big fan of handheld, shaky cameras and quick, disorienting edits. Many critics call this "stylish," I call it nauseating. It's a cheap, lazy way to make what's happening on screen seem exciting. You don't what your actors to have to rehearse a fistfight so that they can perform full speed and make it look real? Shake the camera like a candy-fueled six-year-old and cut after each punch. Voila!

Whereas, Doug Liman, the director of the first Bourne movie, allowed the fights to "breathe," showing several moves at a time, from a medium distance, so the audience could tell what was happening. And what was happening was awesome.

So after I read these critics bashing The International and taking more opportunities to sing hosannahs to Greengrass, I popped The Protector into the DVD player. It's a Thai martial arts film. The plot, such as it is, involves a warrior out to get his elephants back from poachers. And it fucking rocked.

The centerpiece of the flick was a 5 minute, no edits, smooth as silk steadicam sequence that follows our hero up a big, circular, Guggenheim-style ramp as he beats up about 2 dozen guys.

That, Paul, is how you shoot action!

Monday, June 8, 2009

American Pale Ale

I had to let my American Pale Ale ferment longer than usual, as it was still very cloudy with active yeast at the 2 week mark. But, but Sunday evening it had cleared up and it was time to bottle.

As my fans know, bottling can be a pain. I had not found a good way to add the necessary priming sugar to the bottles for the yeast to eat and carbonate the beer. Adding sugar to each bottle was tedious and imprecise, and led to sticky bottlenecks.

So then I tried CarbTabs, which are premeasured, compressed sugar pills that can be dumped in the bottle. The problem with these was they never dissolved all the way, so there were white bits floating around in the finished product. They didn't taste like anything or register as a texture on the tongue, but they definitely made the beer look like crap.

So, I decided to use my two container system for bottling. I added the priming sugar (1/3 cup of sugar, boiled in 1 cup water and cooled) to the Mr. Beer fermentor, bought some vinyl tubing, and let the beer run from the bucket fermentor, through the tubing, and mix with the priming solution in the Mr. Beer keg. I did not snap a pic, but my mad Photoshop skillz can offer this approximation:

Truly a thing of beauty, yes?

So after the beer was mixed with the priming solution, I sanitized the bottles and filled and capped them. Should be nice and carbonated in 2 weeks, but I usually pop one at 1 week, just to see how things are going.

Tastes out of the fermentor have been promising. The "fresh" taste from doing it all-grain vs. using the extract syrup is very apparent and once it's carbonated and chilled, I think I'll have some great beer on hand.

Stay tuned for a full work-up on an all-grain batch, and reviews of the Pale Ale.