Gowanus Brewery

Using the New Stir Plate by Jeremy
May 31, 2008, 12:00 am
Filed under: equipment, yeast

The stir plate worked, but I need to fine-tune how I use it.

It lacks the power of a commercial stir plate, so I can’t get a vigorous stir when the 500 and 1000 mL flasks are full. That reduces the amount of oxygen I can pull from the air in the flask to the wort. It has more than enough power, though, to keep the yeast suspended and the wort well-mixed after that. Still, in the future, I’ll shoot to fill these things to only 3/4 capacity.

To begin, I stirred the wort at full speed before and after pitching the yeast to maximize the oxygen exchange. Once fermentation became noticeable, I stirred the starters only once a day to keep the beer evenly mixed. I noticed that, at least for the 1000 mL starter, which I let ferment out over about 3 days, that foaming would subside in between mixings and restart afterwards. That makes me think it was helpful to some extent, but not more than a vigorous shaking would be.

I have to do some follow-up homework here because at this point I don’t see how this setup is more beneficial than shaking the starter by hand vigorously before and after pitching the yeast and then once a day afterwards. The only thing I can do with the stir plate that I can’t do by hand is to leave it on throughout fermentation, which I didn’t experiment with.

Anybody have any information on this?

Gowanus Strong Wheat Ale – In Primary by Jeremy
May 31, 2008, 12:00 am
Filed under: all-grain, beer, brewing, strong ale, wheat

The brew day for the Strong Wheat was a long one, but everything worked out amazingly well.

The only unknowns for the day seemed to revolve around volumes: How much of my pot would 19 pounds of grain take up? (About 1 gallon) How much water would all that grain hold onto at lauter? (About 2.75 gallons) How much water can I boil off per hour? (About .75 gallon)

In the end, I collected 7.5 gallons of wort instead of 8 and boiled it down to 5.5 gallons instead of 5. The original gravity was approximately 1.100, which equates to a mash efficiency of about 68%, and, after adding the yeast starter, my total final volume is about 6 gallons.

By the way, my 1-liter yeast starter packed more than enough punch to jump start fermentation on this beer. Knowing there might be substantial blow off, I split the 6 gallons evenly to two 5 gallon carboys, and, as you can see in this picture taken about 6 hours after pitching, there was already a lot of foam developing; after 12 hours, it was being forced out of the air locks.

Gowanus Strength Wheat Ale by Jeremy
May 30, 2008, 12:00 am
Filed under: all-grain, beer, brewing, naming, recipe, wheat

The grain bill for the Gowanus Strong Wheat Ale was huge, so I could take a third running for a second batch of beer. It’s the Gowanus Strength Wheat.

The last run off the grain, which was about 50% wheat, 40% pale malt, and 10% liberty malt, gave me a gravity of about 1.030. During the boil, I added one ounce of Willamette hops and one pound of amber Belgium candi sugar at 60 minutes and, at flame out, I added one pound of honey. The resulting original gravity was about 1.040. To top it all off, I pitched a 500 mL starter of German wheat yeast.

Under BJCP guidelines, this is a Specialty Beer, a category that includes beers that don’t fit well into other established categories because unusual techniques, ingredients, or ingredient combinations have been used. I’m not sure if using the third running for this beer qualifies as an unusual technique, but honey is specifically named as an unusual ingredient. We’ll see how special it tastes in a few weeks.

Hop Garden Update by Jeremy
May 29, 2008, 12:00 am
Filed under: hops

I’ve tried to maintain hope that the Willamette and Centennial hops rhizomes I planted in April would eventually take hold and break ground, but it’s time to accept a loss on this one: they’re both officially worm food. On the plus side, the Yahoo! Grow Hops group rhizome exchange has saved the summer with a donated Cascade cutting. Just in time, too.

With only the most basic understanding of growing hops, I can only guess how I killed the first two rhizomes. The mostly likely explanation, assuming they were viable when they arrived in the first place, is that the refrigerator was too cold for storing them prior to planting. New rhizomes are sensitive to cold temperatures and, though the temperature in my fridge is obviously above freezing, if it happened that they were in direct line with circulating cold air, it may have gotten cold enough to cause damage. I may never know.

When the Grow Hops group cutting arrives, I’m going to plant it on one side of the hop trellis. As the first bines appear, I’ll try to train them up both sides of the trellis, at least for the first year, since I won’t have a second rhizome to plant on the other side. It’s late in the season, so I have low expectations. There’s always next year.

DIY Stir Plate by Jeremy
May 20, 2008, 12:00 am
Filed under: equipment, yeast

I mocked up a homemade stir plate last night to prepare the Gowanus Strong Wheat yeast starter.

There are already several how-to’s online with in-depth build documentation, so I’ll just give you the short version here. There are four primary components that go into this project:

Enclosure: This I picked up from Radio Shack.
Computer Case Fan: I have several of these on hand.
Rare Earth Magnet: Harddisks contain two powerful, semi-circle magnets each.
12 volt AC-DC Power Supply: I used an old 12-volt, 500 mA router wall wort.

Plus, of course, various other hardware, including power connector, potentiometer, switch, wiring, etc.

The very last thing to get squared away is the stir bar. At the moment, I’m using a short piece of paper clip, but I’m trying to get my hands on some reasonably-priced magnetic stir bars. As obvious as it may be, this is a worthwhile upgrade. Unfortunately, I probably won’t get one until after the Gowanus Strong Wheat is finished.

Gowanus Strong Wheat Ale – Recipe Rewrite by Jeremy
May 10, 2008, 12:00 am
Filed under: all-grain, beer, recipe, strong ale

Many thanks to the members of the New York City Homebrewers Guild and to Friar Smith for helping to refine this recipe.

Based on their advice, I’m reducing the total amount of Liberty malt and hops, as well as adjusting the hop schedule. It was suggested that these ingredients might be overpowering and I want to ensure that this brew is still recognizable as a wheat ale when all is said and done. Also, Friar Smith made me aware that, at least in his experience, a little honey goes a long way, even at half the volume I intended to use. So, I’m cutting that down as well.

8 lb. Wheat malt
8 lb. American 2-row
2 lb. Flaked wheat
1 lb. American victory
1.5 oz. Newport (13% AA, 60 min.)
1.5 oz. Argentina Cascade (3% AA, 15 min.)
1.5 oz. Argentina Cascade (3% AA, 0 min.)
1 lb. Basswood Honey (boil flameout)

Mash 145-155 degrees Fahrenheit, 120 minutes; boil 90-120 minutes; age six months.

For this beer, I have to use a modified mash schedule. That’s because mash efficiency tends to be lower for higher gravity beers, which requires collecting more wort than usual. High gravity beers also require substantially larger yeast starters that have volumes in the .5 to 1 gallon range and must be figured into your final volume. With those two factors in mind, this is the plan:

  1. Collect Water: In the primary kettle, add 6 gallons water and bring to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. In second kettle, add 4 gallons of water and bring to 170 degrees.
  2. Add Grain and Heat: Add grain to primary kettle, heat to mash temperature of 150 degrees. Hold for 120 minutes.
  3. Mashout and First Sparge: Raise temperature to 170 degrees and collect 4 gallons wort.
  4. Second Sparge: Add the 4 gallons of water from the second kettle. Collect 4 gallons wort.
  5. Boil: Boil 8 gallons wort down to 5 gallons, adding hops and adjuncts at appropriate times.
  6. Pitch Yeast: Pitch .5 gallon yeast starter for final target volume 5.5 gallons.

This brew will represent many homebrewing firsts for me. I’m anxiously looking forward to getting started on it.

Notes on Growing Hops by Jeremy
May 8, 2008, 12:00 am
Filed under: hops

Friar Smith was kind enough to address a couple of concerns I had regarding our hop garden and to share some general wisdom, based on his own experiences.

On my hop trellis design:

Your first-year hops will not bush-out much at the top, so being 14″ apart at the top is not an issue for now. Next year, you may want to add some type of divider along the top two to three feet of your trellis to keep the plants apart. Be a ruthless pruner: if you are disciplined and keep your bines limited to 3-4 per plant (that’s so hard when healthy ones pop out!), you will keep the bushing-out to a minimum, limit the expansion of the root mound (read: keep the thing contained and under control), and really increase the amount harvested. I usually let the first 7 or 8 bines grow to about 18 inches, then keep the 4 healthiest.

You should consider installing at least one staked guy-wire perpendicular to the orientation of the hangers at the top to safeguard the pole during windy days.

After-planting tips:

The first sprouts should break ground in 21-28 days, depending on weather.

Rather than participate in the clockwise/counter-clockwise debate, consider first the path of the sun relative to each plant. The tip of the plant will follow the sun and wrap in that manner. If you are unsure, wrap the bine in the way it grows naturally. Fighting it is useless, because they will either unwind themselves or start to grow their own way anyway… which is probably best.

Remember, July is mini-skirt month. Once your plant grows 5-7 feet and starts to send out lateral growth (where the cones will set), thin out the foliage on the bottom four feet of each bine so you just see the twine and bine. This will discourage mildew, aphids, and will focus more of the plant’s energy towards the top section and those precious cones.

The two products below probably can be ordered online, and you might find them at a hardware or nursery that sells organic fertilizer. I’ve never seen these at HD or Lowes. They are simply awesome for hops. Two lupulin-covered thumbs up…

Fish emulsion: Mix one tablespoon in a gallon of water. Apply once each week to the base of each plant until you get lots of burrs (around July 1st). This stuff stinks (it’s ground up fish and fish excrement from hatcheries) and is hard to wash off your hands, so wear some kitchen gloves.

Mor-Bloom: Mix at the same ratio, but start weekly applications around July 1st through harvest. Does not stink!

After-harvest tip:

After your harvest, don’t cut the vines down until a week or so before your first heavy frost, which for the east coast, is probably sometime in October. This will encourage further root growth until the ground freezes. Then cut the bines about knee-height and cover them with compost and leaf litter.

Thank you Friar Smith!