Gowanus Brewery

Scaling Up Storage Capacity with New Rack by Jeremy
November 29, 2007, 12:00 am
Filed under: equipment

Over the last month, Barry and I have amassed a mess of buckets, carboys, and boxes loaded with equipment.  There are empty beer bottles everywhere.  We have four different beers brewing as of this morning and I plan on adding a fifth this weekend.  All this stuff, unfortunately, has just been sitting around on the kitchen floor taking up space and irritating our (loving) girlfriends.  So, Barry and I went to Lowe’s last night to buy a storage rack.  As you can see in the picture, we’ve got capacity to store eight to 10 in-use buckets or carboys on the two lower shelves, which equates to at most 40 to 50 gallons of beer. The top two shelves we’ll use for empty buckets and bottles, as well as our brewing equipment.  It was $80 and has a 350-pound capacity per shelf.  That’s more than enough heft for 5 full carboys, which weigh in at around 50lbs each.

It should be a while before we have to pick up another shelf. The operative word there, of course, is “should”.

Chinook IPA Started by Jeremy
November 28, 2007, 12:00 am
Filed under: beer, brewing, equipment, ipa, oxygen

Chinook IPA Ingredient KitLast week, I started the Chinook IPA, which I discussed in an earlier post, and this past weekend I moved the beer to the secondary fermenter. I changed slightly how I transfer the beer from the primary fermenter to the secondary fermenter and it worked out really well.

Before, I used a standard bucket with a grommeted lid for fermentation, but I lost a lot of beer when I went to move it to the secondary fermenter. This was with my California Imperial Pale Ale, which netted only 43 bottles, about a six pack short of what this kit would otherwise produce. First, with a standard siphon, some beer is allowed to run off to create the siphon, so loss is inherent with each use. Second, actually I lost suction as I siphoned the beer from one container to the other when the level neared the bottom of the bucket. So, I had to restart the siphon, which meant pouring off more beer. And, while doing so, I clumsily kicked up the trub so that it made more sense to cut my losses and discard what was left. In restarting the siphon, I also had to touch the end of the siphon hose to fill it with tap water, which unnecessarily introduced a new source of potential contamination–another issue that concerned me.

Primary Fermenter with SpigotFor the Chinook IPA, I traded out the standard bucket for a bottling bucket. The only difference between the two is that a bottling bucket has a spigot attached to it. The spigot is high enough from the bottom that you can pour off the beer without disturbing the trub. I still used a hose and bottling wand, but gravity does the work of the siphon and the whole process becomes much simpler. Plus, as the bucket empties, it is possible to draw off the very last of the beer by gently tilting the bucket toward the spigot.

It is definitely a more efficient and sanitary way to transfer beer to your secondary fermenter, but there were two new, small issues I encountered. First, the spigot assembly must be cleaned and covered in foil or plastic wrap at the time of primary fermentation to keep it clean until it’s time to use it. Second, the spigot may be clogged initially from settling hops or yeast, or it may become clogged during the pour. This happened to me and to unclog it I simply raised the end of the hose so that beer flowed back into the bucket, clearing the blockage.

There is actually a third issue that is equally relevant to both methods of moving the beer to secondary, but I need to do a little more research to resolve it. The main purpose of moving beer to secondary is to separate the beer from the trub, which would otherwise produce off flavors and affect clarity. I have read, though, that there is a third purpose, which is to introduce new oxygen to the beer to repopulate the yeast. Yeast population falls off during fermentation and exposure to oxygen promotes yeast reproduction. The issue for me is that using a hose to transfer beer from primary to secondary, whether by siphon or spigot, appears to minimize the exposure of beer to new air, potentially robbing me of an opportunity to improve my brew. On the other hand, there may be enough oxygen in the new air in the secondary fermenter to get this positive effect. I will keep my eyes and ears open for additional information on this issue.

California Imperial Pale Ale – Bottling by Jeremy
November 18, 2007, 12:00 am
Filed under: beer, brewing, double ipa, equipment

I bottled the California Imperial Pale Ale yesterday. I ran into a couple of hiccups, but otherwise everything went well. And damn it tastes good!

The bottling process is generally straightforward. In a small saucepan, dissolve 5 oz. priming sugar into 2 cups of clean water and boil for 5 minutes. Pour this into bottling bucket and siphon the beer from the secondary fermenter. Fill the bottles to approximately 1 inch from the top and cap bottles. The priming sugar should create natural carbonation in the beer in two weeks, if at room temperature. The beer should be stored at 65 to 75 degrees to ensure carbonation. For best flavor, the beer should be aged an additional month.

The first issue I encountered was in siphoning the beer from the glass carboy to the bottling bucket. I lost suction while there still a significant amount of beer left. By the time I was able to restart the siphon and reposition the carboy at an angle, there was so much sediment in the beer I had to ditch it. It really makes sense to set the carboy on blocks and at an angle in the first place for this step.

The second issue was with the bottles. Basically, they were an incredible hassle from start to finish. Removing labels and sanitizing took hours. Then, some of the bottles–the Amstel bottles–didn’t consistently take the cap. I’m not sure what I can do about removing the labels, aside from buying new blank bottles, which I feel like might be an unnecessary expense at this point. I may just have to do a better job of collecting choice bottles. Sanitizing and drying could be much improved, though, if I had a bottle tree and rinser.

This ingredient kit is an Arrogant Bastard Ale clone and, after sampling my brew, I stoked to report that it actually tastes like the real deal. In a few weeks I’ll try to do a real analysis on it.

Equipment Run Down by Jeremy
November 11, 2007, 5:00 pm
Filed under: brewing, equipment, high gravity

I ordered the two-stage homebrewing equipment kit from High Gravity when I got started last month and I want to just do a quick run down of what was included and my initial impressions.

Here is how HG described the kit:

This is a great kit for brewers already familiar with brewing and want to start with 2-stage fermentation from the beginning. This kit contains everything the Beginner Kit includes, with the addition of a 6 gallon carboy with stopper. 2-stage fermentation results in clearer and better tasting beers. Sediment is left behind in the fermenting bucket, avoiding off flavors and producing a clearer beer.

The kit includes the following:

  • 6.5 Gallon “Ale Pail” Primary Fermenter with Drilled Grommeted Lid
  • 6.5 Gallon “Ale Pail” Bottling Bucket with Bottling Spigot
  • 6 Gallon Glass Carboy
  • Rubber Stopper (Drilled)
  • Airlock
  • Siphon and Bottling Set-up
  • Bucket Clip
  • Hydrometer
  • Liquid Crystal Thermometer
  • Bottle Brush
  • Easy Clean No-Rinse Cleanser
  • Twin Lever Capper
  • Equipment Instructions
  • Home Beermaking Text

Overall, this kit is a good beginner setup and an excellent value, but it has one quirk that tripped me up.

The kit comes with two buckets and one lid and it really should come with either one less bucket or one more lid. Or, better yet, it should come with one less bucket and one more glass carboy. As it is, it’s a kit-and-a-half. It is a standard two-stage fermentation kit with an extra, purposeless bucket, or a standard fermentation kit with a two-batch capacity that’s missing a lid.

Two-stage fermentation is the practice of transferring beer from the primary fermenter to a second vessel partway through fermentation. This does few things, including separating the beer from the waste byproducts and other matter that settle at the bottom of the fermenter during the first few days of fermentation. The beer may be bottled directly from the secondary fermenter or, if desired, it may be transferred back to the now clean primary fermenter. So, this process really only requires two vessels.

You can see above that the one with the lid is the “Primary Fermenter with Drilled Grommeted Lid” and the one with out is the “Bottling Bucket with Bottling Spigot.” Two buckets. One lid, one spigot. These buckets are identical except for the spigot, so the reasoning behind the offering must be that it is better to ferment in a vessel without a spigot, than it is to ferment in a vessel with one. But, I don’t see any drawbacks to fermenting in a bucket with a spigot other than the extra steps involved in cleaning–and keeping clean–the spigot. The inner and outer parts could be cleaned as usual, using perhaps a small pipe cleaner to clean the through portion. Then, to keep the outer part clean, plastic wrap could be wrapped around it and rubber banded in place.

I’ll try this method using the bucket with a spigot for my next batch. If it works out well, I will buy an extra drilled grommeted lid and spigot assembly to convert the bucket I have now that does not have a spigot, plus I will get an extra glass carboy. The new equipment will give me the capacity to brew two batches simultaneously. I know this may seem like overkill, but keep in mind that some beers have to age for months before bottling, locking up precious equipment, which is precisely the situation I’m in now with my California Imperial IPA.

California Imperial Pale Ale – Update by Jeremy
November 9, 2007, 5:00 pm
Filed under: beer, double ipa

I took a few moments this weekend to check in on the California Imperial Pale Ale, which I will be set to bottle next week. And all I can say is it is dark! I attempted to get a sense of the color by passing light through the carboy, but I could only see color very near the surface. I may have to wait until it’s bottled to really evaluate it. It’s like ink as it is, but there are definitely red and copper tones, as prescribed by the BJCP style guidelines.

This picture represents my first attempt at a light box, which turned out not too bad. I’ll improve on it in the future and hopefully raise the level of quality in my documentation here. The first step will be to make it bigger. I actually had to remove the airlock to get the carboy to fit.

Next Batches by Jeremy
November 1, 2007, 4:00 pm
Filed under: beer, chinook, extra pale ale, hops, ipa, northern brewer

I recently received a Northern Brewer catalog and it has both an awesome array of geeky homebrewing equipment and a great selection of ingredient kits. Well, at least the selection is great for my still-learning-the-ropes purposes. Several styles of beer are represented and there are several beers to choose from within each style. Plus, NB makes it easy to choose between the kits by including important basic information alongside each beer. You see the style of beer depending on which section the kit is in and in each caption you get brewing difficulty, original gravity, aging time, and, best of all, a short paragraph describing the beer’s characteristics. This catalog makes choosing what beer to brew for my next batch a breeze.

As I said, I am going to try to build on past experience with each new batch. Now, I have a batch of California Imperial IPA aging and waiting to be bottled, so I am going to stick with ales. In this category, NB carries a kit for a beer called Chinook IPA, which sounds appetizing:

Our take on the American IPA style has a relatively modest gravity and an immodest hop character derived entirely from a single hop variety. Chinook hops have long been used by US brewers for bittering additions, but their intense aroma and flavor have caught on only recently. This kit is a bit lighter in body than our Classic India Pale Ale kit, which enhances the perceived bitterness and reduces the aging requirements. It shows up in the glass with a reddish-gold color and a thick, resinous Chinook aroma that lingers after the glass is emptied.

The Chinook IPA appears simply to be a traditional IPA defined by its hops, Chinook hops. In its most basic form, the IPA, or India Pale Ale, is a pale ale with higher levels of alcohol and hops. And the pale ale is just a style of beer comprised predominantly of pale malt, which is so called because the malt is dried at a sufficiently low temperature to preserve its light color, and fermented with an ale yeast. The higher hops in an IPA add bitterness over the pale ale and, in combination with the higher alcohol, have an antimicrobial effect, which is where the IPA gets its namesake. In the 1700’s, beer would rarely survive the voyage from England to India unless it was heavily hopped to protect against spoilage.

I remember that the hops I used in my last batch, the California Imperial IPA, were also Chinook hops, so I am definitely going to go with this kit. It should have similar, less intense flavor characteristics compared to the Imperial IPA. Unfortunately, the hops are the only similarity in the ingredient list between the two beers, so there will still be a lot of variables at work to set them apart. Specifically, the Imperial IPA used crushed crystal malt 120L, while the Chinook IPA uses Dingemans Caramel Pils and Briess Caramel 120. The Imperial used plain amber liquid and dry malt extract, while the Chinook uses Pilsen liquid and dry malt extract. The Imperial used Nottingham dry yeast, while the Chinook uses Wyeast #1056 American Ale Yeast. Despite the differences, by choosing the Chinook IPA for my next batch, I will have the opportunity to brew a similar style beer and to focus in on Chinook hops.

I don’t know what sets Chinook hops apart from the rest, so naturally I have to look it up. My primary resources for the time being are going to be the Brew Your Own website, the Beer Advocate website, and Wikipedia, although I do have two homebrew guides to draw on as well.

The BYO site has a helpful chart which says Chinook hops have a typical flavor characteristic that is “[m]ild to medium-heavy, spicy, piney, and grapefruity.” It says Chinook hops typically appear in pale ales, IPAs, stouts, porters, and lagers. It also says Chinook hops range from from 10 to 14% alpha acid.

Beer Advocate also has a hops chart, which says the following:

Chinook is a bittering variety with aroma characteristics released in May, 1985. It was bred by crossing a Petham Golding with the USDA 63012 male. A high alpha acid hop with a wonderful herbal, almost smoky character when used as an aromatic during the last few minutes of the boil when dry hoping. Excellent for hopping American-style Pale Ales, especially those brewed to higher gravities. (alpha acid: 12.0-14.0% / beta acid: 3.0-4.0%)

Wikipedia more or less says the same:

American cross between Petham Golding and a USDA-selected male. Typical American citric pine hop with notable grapefruit and pineapple flavours. (Alpha acid 12.0–14.0% / beta acid 3.0–4.0%)

In sum, Chinook hops seem to be a relatively new variety, originating in 1985, and typify heavier, American-style pale ales. Its flavor characteristics may include citric pine, grapefruit, or pineapple and the hops may, when added late, add an herbal or smoky aroma. Chinook hops have high alpha acids, ranging between 10 and 14%, and low beta acids, ranging from 3 to 4%.

To be prepared for the third batch and to save a little money on shipping charges, I’m going to order two ingredient kits at the same time. With the Chinook IPA, I am also going to order Northern Brewer’s Extra Pale Ale kit, which will actually include some of the same ingredients as will come with the Chinook. They even use the same yeast, so it will be interesting to see whether these two new beers are more similar to each other due to the shared ingredients, than the Chinook is to the California Imperial IPA because they are similar styles.