Oktoberfest!Oktoberfest!

Yes, it’s that time of year already. I christened my 5.5 gallon batch with a 1.8L starter of German Lager yeast, WPL830, yesterday at 5:00pm.

IngredientAmount
Munich Malt5 lb
Pilsner Malt5 lb
Vienna Malt3 lb
Hallertauer1.5 ounce (60)
Hallertauer.5 ounce (20)
WLP830 (German Lager)1.8 Litre

Everything went very smoothly. I treated my water with salts to boost the water profile (tsp epsom salt, tsp calcium chloride, ph stabilizer).  Mashed at 156 for 50 minutes. Got 2.8 gallons on the first run at 16 brix @ 140 degrees for a 1.078. Sort of confirmed by a hydrometer reading of 1.054 @ 140 degrees = 1.070 approximately. Second run at 1.25 gallons with 10.5 brix @ 142 degrees for 1.043, hydrometer 1.030 @ 142 for 1.046. Third run at 1.5 gallons at 6.5 brix @ 148 degrees for 1.020. And a fourth run of 1.3 gallons which was nearly water and I only used about a quart.  The pre-boil gravity was 1.056. I boiled for one hour. Cooled the wort to 63 degrees (which is the temperature of my basement where the starter had been sitting) and pitched. OG was at 1.050 which I’ll discuss in a minute. Hooked up to my handy-dandy Johnson control unit/heater set up and threw the fermenter in the refrigerator at 53 degrees. Now I’ll just wait for nature to take it’s course.

Per the above, I continue to have issues, for some inexplicable reason, with my gravities at OG time. I cannot understand how a wort with a pre-boil gravity of 1.056 can boil for one hour and come out at 1.050. That seems impossible. Water should evaporate and sugar should not. I confirmed with the refractometer which showed even lower. This is a source of endless confusion for me. I can understand if one over-collects on the sparge and then has too much water in the kettle, but I measured the pre-boil gravity… Regardless, I may have to take another tack and do some calculations on pre-boil gravity, evaporation rates, and so on to see if I can estimate the OG. But the fact that the tools reported something else is highly upsetting. In the end, I guess, it’s all about what the beer tastes like. But still.

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Grainfather all-in-one brewing systemGrainfather all-in-one brewing system

Grainfather all-in-one RIMS system, looks like a stainless steel hot water boiler. Grainfather. RIMS.

In 2017 I purchased a Grainfather in an effort to move beyond the earlier approaches I’ve used to brewing, i.e. the orange, 10-gallon Rubbermaid cooler (mash tun) with the copper manifold, spigot, etc.

While that mash tun works, and I appreciated the brews that I made on it, it really only worked for single infusion mashes, or mashes that included one or more decoction steps.

So, in late-2016, early-2017 I started looking for a system that I could direct fire (or heat). I also wanted a system that would re-circulate when mashing. Obviously, I also wanted something that could be temperature controlled, preferably by electronic (and remote) means.

At the time, I recall narrowing my options down to either the Grainfather or the Braumeister. Alternatives were expensive: for instance, a three-tiered brew systems. I felt intuitively that my wife would murder me if I spent that much on one system. Some of the options that are available today were not available when I was looking in 2016/2017.

Features

I’m not going to go into all-encompassing detail on features. There are plenty of youtube videos, as well as the Grainfather company site, to which to refer for specifics. What I’ll discuss is what I have found to be most enjoyable/useful about the system.

Grainfather connect, bluetooth connection device for brewing.

Recirculation

Yes, I know that recirculating infusion mash systems (rims) aren’t new, but they are to me. The system has a magnetic drive pump (6 watt, 1800 RPM). It isn’t the strongest pump in the world, but it’s better than dealing with gravity, tubing, and 212 degree wort.

Pump filter

There’s a filter in-between the interior of the Grainfather and the pump. This vastly improves the your chances for not getting a stuck sparge, as when your grain bed is sitting on your slitted manifold.

However, the filter sticks out into the Grainfather like a wart off someone’s chin, and at least one time I’ve hit it with my mash paddle where it had the effect of a straight razor on said wart. When the filter comes off the pump, you’re screwed: unless you want to stick your arm down inside boiling wort.

I purchased a hop spider, which greatly reduced the likelihood of a stuck sparge. The pump filter has large enough holes that the detritus of pellet hops slips through.

Grainfather connect

Grainfather connect allows for a bluetooth connection from your phone to the controller, so you can control all aspects of the mash timing, from your phone.

Often times I don’t have the full amount of time required to have a brew session. Grainfather connect allows me to sit with my family and still monitor a step mash, for instance.

There’s a Grainfather brewing app that allows you to put in your recipes and execute them from your phone, but the app is buggy and you’re better off setting everything up through their website and then running it from your phone.

You can also program the unit to pre-heat in advance (assuming you have the water in it and ready to go), and pre-set mash steps.

Grain basket

The design of the Grainfather in this regard is very good. When you’ve finished mashing, you simply lift the grain basket out and let the lauter begin. The “feet” on the grain basket rest on the interior brackets. You can extend the grain basket to 19.8 pounds. Extending is something I should have done during my most recent brew (to be discussed later). The limit is on mashing in the grainfather (hint: 21 pounds of grain doesn’t work very well).

Counterflow wort chiller

The wort chiller is great. As I’ve posted before, I’ve got the Blichmann Therminator which is a fantastic plate chiller. While the Therminator works better, in my opinion, than the counterflow chiller, you can connect the Grainfather counterflow chiller to the pump, which makes the difference. I’ve also connected my Blichmann Thrumometer to the brew-line-out of the Grainfather chiller, which allows for inline temperature measurements,. The Grainfather chiller works extremely well with only a slight influx of cold water. I empty the hot-line from the chiller into my washing machine so all excess water serves two purposes.

Quirks

There are some clunky aspects of the Grainfather (besides those I mention above):

  • If you want to perform a decoction mash while using the Grainfather, you virtually cannot use the top mesh screen. Absent the top mesh screen, you risk grain spilling into the main tank, which you’ll use later for boiling.
  • The top recirculation arm is very tight against the glass lid. Should you need to remove the lid, you’ll need to take the recirculation arm off to take off the lid. This ensures that hot wort will run down the side of the unit, onto the pump housing, and the floor). The unit can also be touchy in terms of scorching on the bottom.
  • If you fail to remove scorch marks from the bottom of the Grainfather, you’ll have some problems. The scorching will build and trigger an emergency shutoff of the Grainfather as the heating element is on the bottom. Also on the bottom is the reset button. To reset the unit, you’ll have to lift it up. That’s a problem if the unit is filled with a mash or wort. This also goes for any additions you make which could scorch (extract, honey, etc.)

Final Thoughts

Despite my pickiness about a few things with the Grainfather, it’s a positive development in my brewing experience. That I can use one piece of equipment to both mash and boil is great in itself.

The bluetooth remote control, the ease of step mashing, the pump controlled re-circulation and wort chilling, and the ease by which you can move wort into the fermenter makes the brew day nearly effortless–at least in comparison with the old Rubbermaid mash tun, and 8-gallon brew pot.

Cleaning the unit is fairly easy as well. The insulating jacket pulls off, the Grainfather connect unit disconnects, and the recirculation features of the pump can be used to clean the unit and the wort chiller.

Right now, for instance, to clean off some scorching from last night’s brew session, I’ve got the Grainfather set to 140 degrees and some PBW mixed into two gallons of water. I can control the temperature of the water via my phone and can later re-circulate the clean water through the unit and the wort chiller while sitting on my couch.

I’ve included some other photos below.

Old Christmas BastardOld Christmas Bastard

That’s what I named my Christmas beer. It’s a pretty good beer. The main detractor from the Christmas beer was that when I Christmassed it, I over bittered. The beer is an Arrogant Bastard clone, and so is sufficiently bitter already. Then I added the orange peel and curacao (along with everything else), which sealed the deal. Consequently, I had to sweeten it with 4oz of milk sugar (lactose). It worked very nicely, the beer has a sweet front end and a very balanced bitter finish. Bitterness does pass with time, so it was important not to over-compensate on the sweet side.

Old Christmas Bastard was well-received by friends and family and all that remains is three twenty-two ounce bullets. In addition, I entered the beer in the Wizard of Saaz competition which concluded recently, and, unfortunately, by some cosmic mistake, the beer was not judged in the competition. The message from Mike Yingling read, partially, as there was a “screw up in the cellar. The beer was on the pull sheet but the stewards & cellar master must have made a mistake. I’m very sorry your beer was not judged.” However, I am far more interested the evaluation of the beer, and Mike emailed to tell me that it would be reviewed and the results sent.

So, there goes the first competition; but that was the first for me. There will be many more, now. I’m very interested in getting the feedback on my beers as, when you brew for a long time, as I have, you get into certain habits of approach to the brewing process. I try as much as I can to read and adjust and experiment, but at the end of the day my brew session is to get the beer brewed so I can drink it! Competitions will help point out areas that are weak and push me in the direction of exploring more intensely the questions of the process.

Brew DayBrew Day

Two Brews and Some Crazy Notions

Recently brewed two clones: Founder’s Breakfast Stout and Stone Cali-Belgique. I’ve put the recipes in below, including the BeerXML files. 

Founder's Breakfast Stout BoyI just moved the two to the secondary last night. I added 2oz of Grand Cru to the Breakfast Stout and .5 oz of Cascade and 1.0 oz of Centennial to the Cali. Tasted both out of the primary and they were delicious. I used both a refractometer and hydrometer to see the gravity progression and to continue to test the comparison between the readings. Each seems to be on target coming in at around 1.018 and 1.016 respectively–and there’s still a bit more time in the secondary where some action will take place. I’ll bottle the Cali-Belgique for a wedding but keep some back for the All-American Homebrew Competition; a part of the Cincy Winter Beerfest.

I’m planning my next brew, which will be a Hopslam clone, and I may try to get it in before the All-American Homebrew Competition deadline, but it will be a very tight squeeze on this one. I went out to JW Dover’s homebrew store in Westlake yesterday to fill some of the holes in my inventory and had one fortuitous encounter and learned one thing I didn’t know–so it was worth the trip. First, I met the owner and proprietor Jerome Welliver and Tom ? one of the brewers who offered to provide me with yeast slurry from one of their brews. All I have to do is bring in a sanitized mason jar and they’ll fill it up. That kicks ass. I was looking for the 1056 in their yeast cooler and then I got to talking with Tom and he offered. For me this means several things: first, the slurry will be a big pitch, meaning energetic and complete attenuation/fermentation; second, it is second generation from a professional brewery; third, I hope it’s a connection that I can maintain. Second, in the grand scheme of things, what I learned is that Jerome is not only the owner and proprietor of JW Dover, but Black Box Brewing Company, which now owns the label for Crooked River and is brewing up their old recipes.

This also sparked in me two notions, one tempting the other possibly stupid. First, to brew one beer a week for the year. Don’t know if I can pull it off. But I’d like to try. I’m behind right now, but have the ingredients to brew the Hopslam and a Flanders Red, which I could so this coming week and it would put me on track for January. Second, I’m considering the Lenten trial of drinking only beer until Easter. I would be hoping to drop some pounds and let’s face it, beer tastes better than the Almased liquid diet. And besides: it’s beer! Three times per day.

We’ll see. I’m looking forward to heading out to Black Box Brewing this week to pick up the slurry and brewing up a Hopslam clone.

Recipes:

Breakfast Stout

BeerSmith Recipe Printout - www.beersmith.com
Recipe: Breakfast Stout
Brewer: Tom Hayes
Asst Brewer: 
Style: American Stout
TYPE: All Grain
Taste: (35.0) 

Recipe Specifications
--------------------------
Batch Size: 5.00 gal      
Boil Size: 5.72 gal
Estimated OG: 1.093 SG
Estimated Color: 57.9 SRM
Estimated IBU: 64.8 IBU
Brewhouse Efficiency: 75.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Ingredients:
------------
Amount        Item                                      Type         % or IBU      
13 lbs 3.2 oz Pale Malt (2 Row) US (2.0 SRM)            Grain        74.66 %       
1 lbs 6.4 oz  Oats, Flaked (1.0 SRM)                    Grain        7.92 %        
1 lbs         Chocolate Malt (350.0 SRM)                Grain        5.66 %        
1 lbs         Roasted Barley (300.0 SRM)                Grain        5.66 %        
8.0 oz        Caramel/Crystal Malt -120L (120.0 SRM)    Grain        2.83 %        
5.3 oz        Carafa III (525.0 SRM)                    Grain        1.87 %        
4.0 oz        Black (Patent) Malt (500.0 SRM)           Grain        1.41 %        
1.10 oz       Nugget [13.00 %]  (60 min)                Hops         37.3 IBU      
2.50 oz       Williamette [5.50 %]  (30 min)            Hops         27.6 IBU      
2.50 oz       Williamette [5.50 %]  (0 min)             Hops          -            
1.50 oz       Chocolate, unsweetened baking nibs (Boil 1Misc                       
2.00 oz       Kona Coffee (Secondary 1.0 weeks)         Misc                       
2.00 oz       Sumatran Coffee (Boil 10.0 min)           Misc                       
2.50 oz       Chocolate, Dark Baker's (Boil 10.0 min)   Misc                       
1 Pkgs        American Ale (Wyeast Labs #1056)          Yeast-Ale                  


Mash Schedule: Single Infusion, Full Body
Total Grain Weight: 17.68 lb
----------------------------
Single Infusion, Full Body
Step Time     Name               Description                         Step Temp     
60 min        Mash In            Add 22.10 qt of water at 170.5 F    158.0 F       
10 min        Mash Out           Add 8.84 qt of water at 196.6 F     168.0 F       

Cali-Belgique

BeerSmith Recipe Printout – www.beersmith.com
Recipe: Stone Cali-Belique IPA
Brewer: Tom Hayes
Asst Brewer:
Style: American IPA
TYPE: All Grain
Taste: (35.0) 

Recipe Specifications
————————–
Batch Size: 5.00 gal
Boil Size: 5.72 gal
Estimated OG: 1.076 SG
Estimated Color: 6.8 SRM
Estimated IBU: 64.9 IBU
Brewhouse Efficiency: 75.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Ingredients:
————
Amount Item Type % or IBU
13 lbs Pale Malt (2 Row) US (2.0 SRM) Grain 92.86 %
1 lbs Caramel/Crystal Malt – 20L (20.0 SRM) Grain 7.14 %
0.64 oz Pearle [8.00 %] (90 min) Hops 16.3 IBU
0.43 oz Magnum [14.00 %] (90 min) Hops 19.1 IBU
1.00 oz Centennial [10.00 %] (Dry Hop 3 days) Hops –
0.50 oz Chinook [13.00 %] (Dry Hop 3 days) Hops –
2.00 oz Centennial [10.00 %] (15 min) Hops 29.5 IBU
1.00 items Whirlfloc Tablet (Boil 15.0 min) Misc
1 Pkgs Belgian Golden Ale (White Labs #WLP570) Yeast-Ale 

Mash Schedule: Single Infusion, Full Body, Batch Sparge
Total Grain Weight: 14.00 lb
—————————-
Single Infusion, Full Body, Batch Sparge
Step Time Name Description Step Temp
60 min Mash In Add 17.50 qt of water at 162.5 F 151.0 F