Friday, 28 December 2012

Brewing the Megabeer Part 1

The 'megabeer' that I described in the last blog has been brewed and is fermenting away - I need to work on a better name for it than 'megabeer', but that can wait until later. As usual, there were a few hitches along the way that blew me off course on the day, so much so that I didn't actually pitch the yeast until nearly 5.30am on Christmas Eve.

The recipe was almost as described in the last blog - I cut the amber back a bit to less than 5% to make sure the final beer wouldn't be too dark:

8kg Pale Malt (Crisp)
400g Amber Malt
Mash at 64/65C for 90 mins with 24l Campden-treated water (I don't do water chemistry yet!)
This was quite a thick mash, but my mash tun couldn't take any more water.

Two very different amber malts
The first problem was that when we started to run the wort out of the tun, it was much darker than anticipated - much, much darker than expected, like strong tea, and not really what I was looking for, given that it was only going to get darker over the course of a two-hour boil. We'd put the wrong amber malt into the tun - instead of the EBC 48 bag, we picked the EBC 100 bag, hence the coffee-scented dark brown wort. (Incidentally, the EBC 100 Fawcett malt is what Dogfish Head use in their 60/90/120 Minute IPAs by many accounts, but although the beer is inspired in part by other people's clones of 120, I'm not trying to make an outright clone of that beer).

So, we made a snap decision to drain the tun without sparging, boil up anything we ran off along with some Fuggles hops that had been hanging around for ages, pitch the backup sachet of dried yeast I keep in case of emergencies, and start again. Using a Scotch Ale as a basic direction, we collected just over 20 litres of deep brown wort, gave it a short 45-minute boil with 50g Fuggles, then ran it off, took a gravity of 1.080 and pitched rehydrated Mauribrew 514 yeast. For an old sachet of dried yeast, it's done a good job - after 3 days, it was down to 1.028, and it's still going.

Hop soup - with the pellers now in sludgy suspension
While all that was boiling up, we reset the HLT and started mashing a second batch of malt. Mashing low for a highly fermentable wort, we collected as much as we could get into the boiler - 23.5 litres - knowing that we would lose a lot to the boil... and to the hops. I mixed together 250g of high-AA hop pellets (130g Amarillo, 60g Columbus, 60g Galaxy) and 75g whole-leaf Simcoe, and divided them into five equal portions, to be added at 120, 90, 60, 30 and 0 minutes. As expected, I lost a hell of a lot between the start of the boil and the FV - a shade over 15 litres. Runoff took a long, long, long time - about 2 hours - as the pellets broke down into a thick sludge that covered the hop filter and, together with the Simcoe flowers, slowed the runoff to little more than a drip at times. I need to work on a better hop filter for my boiler. I could have thrown in some more late hops, but I'm going to save them for a bigger dry hop.

300g Dextrose Monohydrate
Gravity was measured at 1.108, which was a few points up on where I thought I'd be. I allowed the WLP007 5 litre starter to settle down to a big cake at the bottom, siphoned off the top 4.5 litres of it, then swirled the cake into suspension and pitched it. After that, I made a 3-litre starter for the WLP099 high-gravity yeast, and left it to grow for three days. I left the FV in the utility room where the temperature stays at a good, constant 19C (I'll use a heatpad if I need to raise the temperature later in the ferment), and it was fermenting wildly within hours.

On the 26th, 60 hours after pitching, I took the first gravity reading at 1.030 - incredible work from the WLP007 to chew through that much so quickly - and pitched the slurry from the WLP099 starter, along with 400g dextrose monohydrate. I've measured the remaining 3.6kg of the dextrose into 300g and 150g freezer bags, and the plan is to add all of this to the FV over the next few days to give me an adjusted OG of somewhere around the 1.200 mark.

The routine goes like this - I keep a bucket of sanitiser next to the FV containing two jugs, a silicone whisk, my hydrometer and my baster. Twice a day, I take the two jugs out, drain them both back into the bucket, put the whisk and the drained baster in one jug so that they're handy. I then take a sample for the hydrometer and record the gravity, then pour this into the other jug and continue to draw beer from the FV until I have about half a litre in the jug. I add in 300g of dextrose from one of the freezer bags, whisk it into the beer until foamy and in solution, then pour it into the FV and seal it up again. I then clean all the equipment and put it back into the sanitiser.
Whisking in the dextrose

I'm hoping to keep the OG somewhere around or just under the 1.030 mark - if I take a gravity reading and the yeast hasn't chewed up all 300g of the dextrose from the previous addition, I'll switch to adding the 150g bags.

So far, it seems to be turning out very nicely! I reckon the ABV is up around the 13% mark by now, and the aroma from the FV is wonderful. My main concern is that during one of the dextrose additions, I'll introduce an infection of some kind, hence the sanitising routine each time I open it up. It's been hard work having to nurture it for as long as I have so far, but I hope it'll be worth it. I'll be back with an update once I've finished the primary fermentation and the beer is ready to enjoy a nice, mellowing rest in secondary for a few weeks.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

A Christmas Experiment

For several months I've been planning a brew for Christmas, the one time of year when I can have 10-14 days off work straight without using up lots of precious annual leave. I'd quite like to fit in a few brewdays between now and the new year (a classic English nut-brown ale and another saison are high on the list), but this is pretty much the only time of year when I can fit in something really labour-intensive.

What I have in mind is something like a really big barley wine, something that will keep for years and develop, but which is interesting to drink now. There were so many BWs at the festival in Toronado in February that were offered as verticals - 2009-2012 versions being poured alongside each other - and it was fun to see how they'd developed. Along the same lines, this year I've loved drinking Dogfish Head's 120 Minute IPA (not a barley wine per se, although the DFH site doesn't seem to know what it is) and Brewdog's Anarchist/Alchemist (which they claim is a 'triple IPA', although who knows what that even means apart from 'it's really strong'), which are both hugely hopped when fresh but which mellow out nicely to bring out sticky, candied fruits. If I can get in that territory I'll be very happy, although more than likely I'm going to end up with a big hot fusel mess.

Those two aforementioned beers have enormous ABVs - 20%-ish for the original 120 Minute, 14% for AA - which are way beyond anything I've brewed before, hence why I've been saving this 'experiment' for when I have some time on my hands. All of the yeast strains I've used so far only have a tolerance of up to 10%, so the plan here is to follow a trick Sean Paxton, The Homebrew Chef, used when trying to 'clone' 120 Minute for a Can You Brew It? - his blog on this is here. He pitched two yeasts - WLP001 to start with, then the super-tolerant WLP099 high gravity yeast a few days in - then fed the second yeast dextrose on a twice-daily basis to bump up the ABV. I'm not sure I want to take my beer up as high as 20%, but then I doubt I'm going to be able to look after my yeast well enough to get it close to that anyway.

Someone else who has done something similar to this is Scott of Bertus Brewery, except for extra authenticity he went with WLP007, the Dry English Ale strain, instead of WLP001. He has some great tips for brewing with the high gravity yeast in this blog - I'll definitely be referring to this over the next few days. He rightly points out that Sean's SG of 1.050 is ridiculously high and aimed for 1.020 - again, I doubt I'll be able to get my yeast to attenuate down to 1.020 but anything under 1.030 should be okay. I plan to measure the SG every day and control the dextrose additions to manage the sweetness.

So those were the starting points for pulling the recipe together. A simple malt bill with a few % amber malt, and using WLP099 part-way into the ferment to kick up the gravity. Sadly, the availability of hops in the UK isn't quite as good a over in California and Arizona where those guys are brewing, so I'm going to do my own thing on that score. By huge coincidence though, The Malt Miller just took stock of a load of fresh 2012 Amarillo hops. I'm going to partner it with some Columbus pellets that Mel brought me from San Francisco, and some terrific Galaxy hops from Australia. I'm not going to faff about with hop additions every 3 minutes either (I've done it once with a 60 minute boil and it was incredibly tiresome), so I may instead do 5, one every half hour through a two-hour boil.

So the broad outline for the ingredients for this 5 gallon batch of doom...

8kg Pale Malt (!)
500g Amber Malt
(Aiming to mash on the low side, mid 60s, to help with attentuation)
350g Amarillo, Columbus and Galaxy hops, mixed and split into five 70g batches and added every 30 mins from start to finish
Target post-boil gravity of 1.100 or thereabouts

The most important thing about this brew is going to be looking after the yeast. For the initial yeast, I'm going with WLP007 - two vials went into a huge 5l starter a few days ago and there's a nice big cake forming at the bottom (I don't have a stir plate, hence the size of starter and length of time I've given it for growth). Mr Malty recommends about 350 billion yeast cells for a 1.100 gravity beer, and I reckon I should have at least that in there now. I'm going to make a similar size starter for the WLP099 on brewday to give me the same number of cells again to start attacking the dextrose.

Finally, I've been worrying about how to get enough air into the wort before I pitch. I asked on Twitter for advice and the ever-awesome Broadford Brewer linked me to this video from Wyeast:

I don't have an aquarium pump (or any fish - the two are connected) or any pure O2, so I'm going to have to get shaking. My plan is to run off into the FV, seal it up, shake it well for a full minute (with help from my brother - this is going to be heavy) and then pitch the yeast cake from the starter. It probably won't be optimum aeration, but it's the best I'll be able to do.

Right. Time to go and put the HLT on!