Square Zero

“Because without Beer . . .”

Posted by Eric (April 11, 2006 at 12:06 pm)

Thanksgiving 2004 Brew

“. . . because without beer, things do not seem to go as well.”
—Brother Epp, Kansas, 1902

This morning I kegged the second of two batches of beer I brewed a couple weeks ago. I had hoped at that time to do some “brew blogging,” but a series of brew-day crises made that impossible. (The beer pictured here is from my last beer, brewed for Thanksgiving 2004. I seem to have lost my notes for that beer; apparently it was an American ale—look at that thick, rich head!)

It had been eighteen months since I last brewed. Moving, having a baby and working on the new house made it impossible to brew for more than a year. Thanks to the forces of entropy I had a couple of equipment problems, the most serious of which was the destruction of my pH test kit. It was overturned, probably during our move from Oak Park, IL to Aurora, and some lactic acid, used for lowering the pH, had impregnated the test solution itself—it had turned from dark green to bright orange.

I had to hunt around for a replacement kit by phone, and eventually got a kit for testing soil which my wife was kind enough to pick up for me. I couldn’t leave with the mash already under way.

This could have been a serious disruption. Typically I begin to heat up the sparge water starting even before the mash—for a double batch like this, I would need some eleven gallons of sparge water, all adjusted to about 5.5 pH to provide the best possible conditions for extracting barley sugars from the grain.

I should probably back up here and define a couple of terms, on the off chance that any non-brewers are still reading this entry. To mash is to soak a whole bunch of malted grain (grain allowed to partially germinate) in warm water, which causes enzymes in the the grain to break complex starches down into the simpler sugars that beer yeast like to eat. To sparge is to slowly sprinkle very hot water onto the mash, draining the “sweet liquor” into a kettle for brewing.

Behind the whole pH problem was the fact that the osmosis filter I installed in this house when we moved in just doesn’t crank out enough water for brewing. I knew this would be a problem, but mistakenly believed I could get enough water in 48 hours; I needed more like four or five days. So I couldn’t adjust my pH as usual the night before Brew Day (when I would have discovered the problem with the test kit and sought a solution before begining the extraction process).

Despite this rocky start—which also meant sparge water that just wasn’t as hot as it should have been, I managed to extract a more-than-honorable 31 points out of the grains. (That means 31 points on the specific gravity scale, a measure of the thickness of a solution—the thicker, the higher the sugar content.)

From this mash I brewed two beers, Pascha Ale and Lost Art Steam Beer, the former named in honor of Easter, when I will drink beer again, the latter in honor of the difficult but effective work I did on our steam heating system this winter, guided by Dan Holohan’s book, The Lost Art of Steam Heating. At kegging, both brews tasted very good—clean, crisp.

“Pascha” and “Lost Art” Recipes

Here’s the recipe for the two brews. Divide grain bill and water volumes in half to do a single batch. Also, when doing a single batch I usually boil a gallon of the sparge water and add it to the mash for a 10 minute mash-out (the capacity of my mash tun makes this impossible when doing a double batch). The gravity for both brews is really at the high end, especially for the steam beer; perhaps I should have added some water before pitching.

One more tip: The day before kegging, I place the fermentor in the fridge at 45°F. This helps clarification tremendously; everything floating around in there just drops down. Probably also helps with carbonation, since you start out at the temperature at which you’re calculating your pounds of CO2. The colder temp also facilitates yeast recovery.

Grain Bill (Double Batch)

  • 10# U.S. 2-Row Pale Malt
  • 10# U.S. Munich Malt (10 Lovibond)
  • 2# U.S. Caramel Malt (20 Lovibond)
  • 8 oz. U.S. Flaked Wheat

Mash & Sparge (Double Batch)

  • Mash in a 10-gal. cap. water cooler, preheated with boiling water
  • Mash with 7.5 gal. water plus 1T gypsum
  • Strike temp. 172°F, mash temp. 154°F for 45 min.
  • Sparge for 90 min. with 11 gal. water at 5.5 pH, 165°F (ideal 190°F)
  • Yeild: 14.25 gal. at 1.048 S.G. (31 pts.)
  • Mash split equally between two kettles

Boil—Pascha Ale

  • 75 minute boil
  • 2 oz. N. Brewer (6.8% AA) at 75 min.
  • 1 oz. Liberty (4.1% AA) at 30 min.
  • 1 oz. Liberty (4.1% AA) at 15 min.
  • 1 T Irish moss at 15 min.
  • 1 oz. Liberty (4.1% AA) at knockout

Boil—Lost Art Steam Beer

  • 75 minute boil
  • 2 oz. N. Brewer (6.8% AA) at 75 min.
  • 1 oz. Willamette (4.2% AA) at 30 min.
  • 1 oz. Willamette (4.2% AA) at 15 min.
  • 1 T Irish moss at 15 min.
  • 1 oz. Willamette (4.2% AA) at knockout

Fermentation—Pascha Ale

  • O.G. 1.059 (5.5 gal)
  • Pitched Wyeast 1056 XL smack-pack at 71°F
  • Racked to secondary at 5 days (S.G. 1.018)
  • Added 1 oz. Liberty (4.1% AA) dry hop at racking
  • Kegged at 17 days (13.5 lbs. CO2 at 45°F)
  • F.G. 1.015 (5.8% ABV; apparent attenuation 75%)

Fermentation—Lost Art Steam Beer

  • O.G. 1.058 (5.5 gal)
  • Pitched Wyeast 2112 XL smack-pack at 66°F (a bit cool)
  • Racked to secondary at 5 days (S.G. 1.019)
  • Added 1 oz. Willamette (3.8% AA) dry hop at racking
  • Kegged at 13 days (13.5 lbs. CO2 at 45°F)
  • F.G. 1.019 (5.1% ABV; apparent attenuation 66%)

I’ll post an update when carbonation is complete. I plan to start drinking Pascha Ale on Easter, five days from now. I may try the steam beer then too, but in my experience steam beer needs to age for a several weeks for optimum flavor.

Meanwhile, I welcome questions or comments from any fellow brewers out there who might happen upon this post.

This entry is filed under Brewing & Cooking. You can follow responses through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

3 Responses to ““Because without Beer . . .””

  1. Rob Pluta says:

    Eric, good to see you are brewing again. I have yet to brew this year, and am eagerly awaiting bottling a barleywine I started last October. It’s been chillin for 6 mos now.

    Comment posted April 21st, 2006 at 9:48 am
  2. Eric says:

    Rob—I’ve never done a barleywine, though I brewed a pretty wicked old ale once. I’ve had 5 pounds of honey sitting in a closet waiting for me to make some mead; may still be time to start it for Thanksgiving.

    BTW, the Pascha Ale tastes great—very clean, and very clear as well (thanks to the chilling before kegging). The We Got Steam tasted a little off to me a few days after kegging when I tested the carbonation, but it might come through all right after a couple weeks.

    Comment posted April 21st, 2006 at 4:20 pm
  3. Square Zero » Blog Archive » Brew-Blogging says:

    […] Last year I posted my recipes for the beers I brewed for Pascha. When I needed to pick up supplies for this year’s Pascha brew, I fell back on that post, rather than my penciled noted, which gave me the idea of “brew blogging” this year. Rather than just write a post about the brew, I thought I would “live blog” my brew day. […]

    Comment posted March 17th, 2007 at 12:56 am