Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Beer Update

The Belgian Tripel that I have in the fermenter right now is going beautifully so far--not bragging or anything.  The temperature is holding at a steady 68°F which is like Disneyland for yeast.  The airlock has been steadily bubbling for the last week or so and it's been very encouraging.  So encouraging, in fact, that I've decided to bang out another five gallon batch of brew right on the heels of the Tripel.

Heather took a bread making class at Brooklyn Kitchen--an establishment at which Heather and I have taken a handful of classes, some of them beer related--and she suggested that if I were to brew another beer, I could use her 10% class discount to buy ingredients.  I said let's do it.  It wasn't until that very night that I decided on the beer to brew.  I decided on a coffee stout.

My "stout"
As loyal readers may recall, I tried my hand at a stout earlier in the year.  The result was a drinkable beer, but very pale.  I had a couple of theories about what went wrong with the color--maybe I didn't steep the grains for long enough or maybe I didn't get the right kind of malt.  A lot of things could have happened.  That beer marked the first time that I selected the ingredients myself rather than have the home brew shop assemble them for me.  I got the recipe from the Keystone Homebrew website--a great resource for extract brewing recipes--but I got the ingredients from Brooklyn Kitchen.  As a result, I had to make substitutions for some ingredients that they didn't carry.

It didn't occur to me until two nights ago--after I picked up the ingredients for this upcoming batch--that the grains need to be milled or crushed.  Every time I get my ingredients from Keystone, they prep the grains and blend them together.  Part of that preparation includes milling the grains so that the hot water can get access to the starch inside the grain and turn it into fermentable sugar.  Brooklyn Kitchen will not automatically do that for you, which explains the pale color and the low Original Gravity (1.040 as opposed to the 1.050 that the recipe estimated).  I felt (feel) like an idiot, but I am happy that it's no longer a mystery.  The code is cracked and I'm excited to move forward.

As luck would have it, Heather left her phone at Brooklyn Kitchen after her class.  She called them the next day and had them set it aside to be picked up later.  The phone retrieval gave me an excuse to go back, hat in hand, and ask them to let me mill my grains.  They were happy to oblige.

Whenever I get the kits from Keystone Homebrew, they give me the Wyeast smack packs of yeast that inflate when you burst the little bag inside.  When I go to Brooklyn Kitchen and pick out my own stuff, I get the White Labs vial of Irish Ale Yeast.  There's really not a great deal of difference between the two, but the vial makes me feel like more of a scientist.  The smack pack--while effective--makes me feel like I'm about to treat a sports injury.  Hopefully with my properly cracked grain, I'll be able to give the yeast a little more fermentable sugar to feed on.

I am very excited to return to beer brewing after this long hot summer.  I spent a good chunk of yesterday cleaning used bottles with my bottle brush and removing their labels with steel wool, which works leaps and bounds better than the scouring side of our dish sponge.  Heather is slowly getting used to the amassing of bottles in the apartment and has been putting up with it like a saint.

Bottling day for the Tripel is a week from today and I'll be able to drink it two weeks after that.  The recipe suggests that the beer could benefit from a secondary fermentation in a glass carboy.  Unfortunately, I don't own a glass carboy so I'll be skipping that step.  As far as I've come with beer brewing, there is still so far to go.  I suppose that's one of the things that keeps me interested; there's always going to be more complex and elaborate things you can do to make your beer better.

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