Monday, January 28, 2013

All Grain Brewing Class

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of teaching a two-day all grain brewing class.  The class was held at my local homebrewing supply store, The Fermentation Trap.  The store had hosted me teaching a similar class a few years prior, but on a more limited scale.  Several of the customers had been asking for such a class, and Kenny approached me about doing one.  I was happy to oblige.

For those who have not taught or lead training exercises before, they can be intimidating.  There is something rather scary about standing in front of a group of other people and providing them information, regardless of the topic.  That being said, I have a good deal of experience training people from my previous job, as well doing community theater and being confident in the subject matter.  Still, I was a bit nervous, just like anyone else would feel.

If you find yourself preparing for such a presentation, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Preparation - Being prepared is critically important for any kind of teaching or training activity.  Make sure to have talking points or an outline to help keep you on task.  It is also helpful to have something to provide to the people attending the class, to allow them to follow along.
  • Confidence - Be confident in your presentation.  Hopefully, you have been asked to make the presentation because you are knowledgeable on the subject and the others are interested in learning that information.  Confidence in that knowledge will help you get through the presentation.
  • Flexibility - Good instructors respond appropriately to questions from the students.  You want people to ask questions and to spend time to answer them.  If one person asks a question, others in the audience probably have the same question and will value the time you spend answering it.  However, do not let it side-track your presentation too much.
  • Repetition - Make sure to repeat the most important points of the talk, as you do not want them to be missed.  An old Army training maxim holds true - "Tell them what you are going to teach them.  Teach them.  Tell them what you taught them."
  • Fun - Try to work some humor or anecdotal information into the presentation to break up the flow.  People get bored listening to one person talk for extended periods of time.  Even including some pictures into a slide presentation can really help.
The all grain class was broken into two sections: a 90 minute lecture and a brewing demonstration.  The lecture was well attended, with around 15 people participating.  I covered the major differences between all grain brewing and extract brewing, and walked people through the preparation, mashing, and sparging phases of the process.  Several people in attendance asked good questions and it was an enjoyable group to work with (teaching at a brewery where people can enjoy pints during the lecture certainly helps).  Most people also attended the brewing demonstration the next day.  It was cold (for Virginia) and we ran into the invariable "Murphy's Law" issues that occur when brewing away from home and in front of others.  Several students stated that the adjustments we made for those issues made the class real to them and gave them problem-solving tools they appreciated, which I found interesting.  I also made a conscious effort to incorporate the elements from the lecture into the brew day.  This generated more questions, which I felt was the best evidence that the participants took information away from the experience.

There are some elements of the class that could be improved if it is to be given again.  In particular, I think I could shorten the brewing math section as it went over most people's heads, and instead focus on the physical equipment to hammer home the practical brewing tips.  Such observations and alterations are good to incorporate into course materials, especially the first few times a class is given.  That allows future participants, and the instructor, to have a more enjoyable experience.

Have you ever attended a brewing class?  If so, what were the elements you enjoyed most and those you liked least.  We would love to hear from you.



Note: Updating post with two images taken during the class by Jeff Sties, who was nice enough to send some along to me.  Thanks, Jeff!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Stuck Fermentation

My first brew of the year was a Belgian tripel, which stands in direct contrast to my 2013 brewing resolution to make mostly session beers.  The brew day for the tripel went very well and I hit most of the desired numbers, though being several gravity points below the target.  I put the wort directly onto a fresh yeast cake from a Belgian pale ale I had brewed three weeks earlier.  Fermentation started overnight and proceeded almost violently quickly.  I figured I would hit my target gravity, which was around 1.010, without question.  I was wrong.  I measured 1.028 after 10 days in the fermenter, which is much too high.  I had a stuck fermentation.

Beer can fail to reach a desired final gravity for several reasons (this is called under-attenuation).  The most likely causes for this outcome revolves around yeast health and population size.  If the yeast that is pitched into the wort is old, where many of the cells are dead, then the yeast population has trouble getting active and growing enough cells to churn through the sugars.  Another cause of under-attenuation can be lack of oxygen in the wort.  When wort is boiled and cooled, it contains almost no dissolved oxygen, which is needed by the yeast to build new cell walls and the population multiplies.  So, if the brewer does not add additional oxygen to the wort, the fermentation will be very slow and will likely stop early.  In a similar vein, failure to pitch enough yeast to work through the dissolved sugars will result in a high final gravity (see Jamil's yeast calculator to figure out how much you need to pitch).  Some yeast strains are also susceptible to falling dormant if the wort temperature falls even a few degrees.  For this reason, it is recommended that the temperature be ramped up as fermentation begins to slow.

I have experienced difficulties with under-attenuated beers before, particularly when they are big beers (last year's doppelbock, as an example).  In some cases, I think this is due to under-pitching the yeast population to account for the additional sugars.  However, in this case, I put the tripel wort right on top of a very viable yeast cake from a previous beer and fermentation took off right away.  I remembered to oxygenate so I am sure the yeast population grew adequately.  The most likely cause of the under-attenuation was failing to ramp the temperature as the fermentation progressed, to ensure that it would finish.

Now that I have this situation, what can be done about it?  There are several recommended approaches to getting a fermentation going again:

  • Agitate the wort:  When yeast cells go dormant, they fall to the bottom of the fermenter.  If you can swirl the fermenter up and get the yeast back into suspension, it might start fermenting again.
  • Warm the fermenter:  Given that yeast can fall dormant with dropping temperatures, if you can warm the wort up, fermentation may start again.  Do not be afraid to dramatically increase the temperature at this point, as you are trying to save the batch.  High 70s F is not out of the question.
  • Rack onto a fresh yeast cake:  As a last option, you can rack the wort onto a fresh yeast cake, which had been fermenting very recently.  The yeast added here must be active, and not just sprinkled on dry yeast, as it is going into a hostile environment where the most available food has already been consumed
I intend to try all of these methods and hope to save the batch.  Have you tried any of these methods and which has worked best for you?  We would be interested to hear.



Monday, January 14, 2013

Bourbon Barrel Fill #3

Saturday saw the latest iteration of my homebrewing club's, the Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale (CAMRA), barrel project come to fruition.  This is the third recipe to go into the barrel, which has been marked mostly by unexpected surprises.  The first surprise was that the bourbon barrel, which came to us sealed and smelling strongly of bourbon, soured the first batch of beer we put into it.  The resulting beer, a bourbon-barrel porter, eventually settled out into a very tasty, if a bit strange, brew.  The souring of the barrel dropped the number of club members interested in the project dramatically.  At one point, I feared that the barrel would be turned into planters, but some heroic club members came through.  We filled the barrel with the second batch, a Flanders Red, in July.  Then came the next surprise, that the homebrewing store which held the barrel was expanding and needed the barrel's space.  The group quickly emptied the barrel, 6 months before we intended, and moved it to its new home, The Fermentation Trap.  That is quite a tumultuous first year for a storage device that is supposed to be forgotten for long periods of time.

The current group of five club members participating in the project decided to brew a beer like Russian River's Beatification, a sour Belgian pale ale.  The selection was inspired by the Mad Fermentationist blog, and excellent resource for sour and other interesting beer information.  Michael Tonsmeire, the author, put up a clone recipe for Beatification in 2009 and we decided to follow it, mostly.  Our barrel is obviously different than Michael's, given the different beers that have lived there, and we will not likely keep it in the barrel as long.  We are also debating what additional cultures or bottle dregs to put in the barrel at this time.  Current front runners are dregs from a bottle of Cantillon and/or a pitch of Bug Farm, from East Coast Yeast.

The barrel fill day went off fairly well.  Kenny, the owner of The Fermentation Trap, had filled the barrel with water to make sure it would not leak.  The full barrel partially cracked the dolly it was stored upon, for easy movement if necessary.  So, Kenny built a more stable structure from plywood and 2x4s, mounted on a new dolly.  With everything set up properly, we filled the barrel in about an hour.  It was a fun morning, full of camaraderie and off-color jokes.

Stay tuned to see where the barrel project heads next, though hopefully, it will remain undisturbed for a long time to come.



Monday, January 7, 2013

2013 Brewing Resolution

New Year's resolutions seem to be in the air at this time of the year.  One look at all of the TV and magazine ads clearly shows that people try to make changes in their lives around January 1.  For the most part, I think this is a good thing, with the exception of the now ridiculous crowding at the gym.  In this spirit, I decided to set a  brewing resolution this year - to massively increase the amount of session beer that I brew.

The term session beer should be familiar to readers of this blog.  While definitions vary, the concept is that session beers are flavorful low-alcohol brews that allow people to consume several pints and still get home safely.  Session beers are historically prevalent in most brewing cultures, which makes sense given their lower cost in raw materials and aging time.  But, their production has been limited here with the United States craft beer movement focusing on anything Imperial.  From the homebrewing perspective, session beers can be harder to make well.  The flavors of a session beer have to be balanced carefully, as with lower alcohol concentration, the beers can seem watery or insipid.

For these reasons, including the ability to drink several pints and the challenge in making them, my 2013 Brewing Resolution is to make two out of every three batches of of homebrew based on session beer recipes (66%).  For these purposes, I define session beers as those with 4.2% ABV or lower.  Practically speaking, this will be difficult unless I only include the beers I am making just for myself, rather than for summer parties or homebrewing club competitions.  But, I think the goal is possible and I am already starting lay out recipes to try.

Wish me luck, especially given that the first beer I brewed in 2013 is a big Belgian tripel that will likely weigh in at over 9% ABV.



Thursday, January 3, 2013

2012 Homebrewing Year in Review - Tom

As Jeff posted recently, it seemed a good idea to continue the annual tradition of posting a homebrewing year in review, even though the later part of the year took me away from blogging.  It is both rather fun and cathartic to look at what I brewed or fermented over the year, and compare it to past years to find emerging trends. You can find the posts for previous years here: 2010 and 2011.

Here are the numbers for 2012.

  • Number of Batches Made - 22
  • Number of Gallons Made - 141
  • First Brew Day - 1/2/2012
  • Last Brew Day - 12/22/2012
  • Number of Beer Batches - 18
  • Number of Wine Batches - 1
  • Number of Cider Batches - 2
  • Number of Mead Batches - 1
  • Batch with Highest Alcohol - 14.8% - Splitting Hairs - split batch of mead with 5 gallons on 12 lbs of strawberries and 1 gallon on 2 oz of cacoa nibs
  • Batch with Lowest Alcohol - 3.0% - Amarillo Mild
  • Average Alcohol Across Batches (accounting for batch size) - 6.4%
  • Number of "Cloned" Commercial Beer Batches - 3
  • Favorite Brew - Waltzing Through Vienna (first attempt at a Vienna lager and the easy and smooth flavor went wonderful with the hot days of summer)
  • Honorable Mention Brew - Old Smoked Hafermalz (club Iron Brewer contest that had me conceive of a beer inspired by both of my grandfathers - which made for a great back story)
  • Worst Brew - Fiery Irish Red Head (beer soured in the keg after brewing, which resulted in a thin, watery, and slightly tart beer that had none of the malt character demanded by the style)
  • Favorite Name -Math Challenged (I brewed this beer with a friend who loved 90 Minute IPA.  We enjoyed a few pints during the first part of the boil, before realizing we majorly miscalculated the early hop additions, which resulted in a less bitter beer we both loved.)
  • Approximate Amount of Grain used in 2012 - 319.5 pounds (average of 17.75 lbs/brew)
  • Approximate Amount of Hops used in 2012 - 55 ounces (average of 3.01 oz/brew)
  • Most Rewarding Aspect of Brewing - Continuing to be involved in this great hobby with my brother and watching a good friend open a small brewery close to my house.

Happy New Year!

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