Softland Aleworks

Big Beers Brewed in a Tiny House

Month: April, 2012

Beginners Brewing

For the first time in months we have nothing fermenting, so I thought I would take the opportunity to reflect a bit on our progress thus far and what’s coming down the pike:

The Summer Saison and the Brown Porter are both in bottles and should be carbed in a few weeks’ time.  I suspect the latter will be ready to drink sooner than the former. I don’t like my Porters overly carbed and the dry-hop character should have a nice freshness to it, so hopefully we can enjoy this one in another 2 weeks. When we bottled, I noticed a bit of a tang akin to what we got in the Extra Pale Ale clone. I am hoping that this is my imagination or else dissipates — final judgment will come during the tasting notes. As previously posted, this was our first attempt at using a swamp cooler and I am wondering if perhaps I was fermenting at too high a temperature.  Next time I will keep the water closer to the 60 – 62F range.  This was also our first use of WLP002, which is known to be extremely flocculant and can drop out early.  Despite multiple attempts to rouse the yeast, I was only able to get the final gravity down to about 1.017 or so.  In hindsight, I think I should have pitched a packet of Nottingham to clean up any residual sugars. As it is, I will chalk it up to rookie mistakes. The dry-hopping did go well and imparted a subtle Fuggle aroma to the beer, which is not altogether out of character (I didn’t want it to have the nose of an IPA — just a soft hop note).  I took the liberty of having a glass of the beer from the bottle of the carboy, which had tons of whole leaf hops in it — Man, was it great!  It left me wanting to do another brown porter, but this time doubling the hops.  There is, of course, another option, courtesy of our friends at Dogfish Head:

The Saison will no doubt benefit from a bit more time in the bottle and, I suspect, be ready in another month or so.  I had a taste after one week (couldn’t wait) and it was already surprisingly carbonated; however, there are a lot of flavors that will need to mellow out and blend together. While I will wait to give proper tasting notes, I will say that this beer had a fair amount of banana esters up front, with a whole lot of clove and spiciness to follow it up.  It has a beautiful hazy orange color and I am so looking forward to cracking open the first proper bottle in due time.  For the next round of Saison-brewing, I may look into corking in Champagne bottles to give an authentic presentation. I love Belgian ales and look forward to brewing more and more of them. I also look forward to trying out a number of different yeast strains, finding one that I like, and ultimately developing a “house strain”.

This leads me to my next topic: The move to All Grain (AG).  There are many reasons to get into brewing and there is no doubt that you can make beautiful beers using extract. For a lot of folks, there is really no need to move over to AG brewing. There is afterall a sizable increase in gear, tools, knowledge, time, etc., that goes into AG. However, the appeal of AG to me is in further understanding the process of brewing, including the conversion of starches, the role of mash temperatures, different mash techniques, etc; having more control over ingredients and recipes; and generally having more of an opportunity to be creative with my beer. For me, the move to AG is inevitable and will hopefully take place soon.  In the meantime, however, I will continue to hone my skills in the fundamentals (fermentation temperatures, pitching rates, sanitation, etc.) and look forward to making new mistakes to learn from.

Next up: the Imperial Black Rye IPA kit from AHS, which we should be brewing next week!


Swamp Hoppin’

Last week we brewed a sessionable brown porter in preparation for the coming heat. Summertime in Texas demands light, quaffable beers; and with its heavily German/Czech roots, this often appears in the way of pilsners and other lagers, hefeweizens, kolsches  — styles which, incidentally, are on the docket for later this Spring. In the meantime, however, I am holding fast to a love of dark ales and taking the opportunity to try out a few techniques: Using a Swamp Cooler and Dry-Hopping.

A swamp cooler is basically a bucket of water in which you place your fermenter.  By keeping the water cooled, you can control the ambient temperature of your beer and use yeasts that demand a cooler environment year round.  For this beer, we used WLP002 (English Ale Yeast), which is known to be highly flocculant and quickly fermenting.  The suggested temperature range for this yeast is 65-68F, so I knew that I should provide an ambient temperature of about 62F or so.

After poking around on the Internet a bit, I found a very useful guide for the swamp cooler set up on Billy Broas’s blog.  I used a few ice packs and frozen water bottles to get the initial temperature down to about 60F and placed my fermenter in the tub.  The heat produced by the yeast quickly raised the temperature, but I found that by simply changing out a frozen water bottle every 6 hours or so I was able to keep a steady temperature around 62-65F. Hopefully that put the temperature inside the fermenter right where I needed it. As this yeast is known to drop out pretty quickly, I took gravity readings and roused the yeast a couple times throughout the week.  I use a bucket-style primary fermenter, which (owing to its flat bottom) teetered and tottered inside the swamp cooler, never simply sitting upright.  While I have no evidence for this, I would hypothesize that this subtle motion may have helped me keep the yeast in suspension a bit longer — who knows!  As the gravity approached my target FG, I moved the fermenter out of the swamp cooler and let it sit at room temperature (approximately 70-72F) for a few days. As was my hope, I immediately saw an increase in airlock activity, as the warmer environment reinvigorated the yeast that remained in suspension. Ideally, this will finish out the primary, producing a drier beer and eat up most of the residual diacetyl.


I also decided to try my hand at dry hopping on this recipe. Not necessarily something that is “true to style” for a porter, but that’s ok. Adding hops at varying points in your wort’s journey to becoming a delicious beer will contribute different characteristics. For instance, adding hops at the beginning of a boil will add bitterness, and adding them at the end of the boil will add aroma. Dry-hopping is more in line with the latter, and as such, shouldn’t affect the sweet roasty flavor of the porter too much. I racked the beer onto 1 oz. of whole-leaf Fuggles in the secondary. I plan to leave it there for about a week, after which we will be bottling!

About another month before this beer will be ready, but the sample I had tasted pretty good! The proof, as they say, will be in the pudding, however.