Thursday, February 24, 2011

Undercover San Diego: Sheep Canyon

It's time to start planning your trips to the Anza Borrego Desert because it's getting close to wild flower season. Here is a link to a great Anza Borrego Flower Map.
The past year we did an overnight at the primitive camp in Sheep Canyon. For this trip, it is as much about the journey as it is the destination. If you have a 4 wheel drive vehicle and off-roading skills then you can drive all the way to the primitive campsite. Well, I have neither so that means that we drive as far as we feel that my 2 wheel drive SUV can go. And we stick to places that have decent traffic so if we do get stuck then the generous desert people can help us out (which happened once before).

So I created a custom Google map that has all the checkpoints for getting to Sheep Canyon.

View Road to Sheep Canyon in a larger map

One thing I learned from this trip is just how much more you can "see" by hiking rather than driving. I don't mean area, but depth. In an area like the desert that looks so scarce it is amazing what you see when you slow down your pace.

For example, in Boulder Alley where all the technical off-roading happens we got to watch (carefully) the desert blister beetle (Lytta magister) mate. Just watch, don't touch.

And my animal expert hiking partner, Jordan, also found a nice snake. It is amazing how quickly he can identify (make sure not poisonous) and grab them. The snake was much easier to catch since it was starting to cool down and that slowed the snake considerably.

The reason that most come out to Sheep Canyon is for the a bit of canyon exploration. There are a few waterfalls and pools but I've heard Cougar Canyon is much better for this. The best reason is the sunrise.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Session Series: 2011 Scottish 60/-

This was a first on a few levels. And not the beer or recipe. This beer is a staple of mine every year because it is just such an easy drinking malty beer. I still don't think I'm all that close to perfecting it, but I really like trying. It is also a great beer to use as a starter to build up some yeast because 5 gals can be pitched with 1 White Labs vial.

So the firsts are:
1) First time messing with my brewing water
2) First time using WLP028 Edinburgh Scottish Ale Yeast
3) First time trying to get some kettle carmelization
4) Full on Time Lapse Video of the brew day...enjoy (thanks Dan)

BREW KNEW from Dan Olson on Vimeo.

I know you are not supposed to change more than 1 variable at a time, but I did. And it may have bitten me a because of it. Stay tuned for the Tasting Notes.

First, brewing water, I have read several articles and listened to several podcasts on Brew Strong on the Brewing Network. But up until now I just didn't try it. I thought this beer was a great candidate because I can never get this beer quite as malty as I want. I think part of this is due to the hard and high sulfate water in San Diego that lends itself much better to hoppy, bitter beers. I looked through several online calculators and spreadsheets. I really liked the simplicity and completeness of the EZ Water Calculator. I used the latest water report for San Diego (2009) I could get. It is very simple to read off the chart and enter the water profile. I used the average numbers from Alvarado since that is the plant that supplies Downtown San Diego. Looking at the chart shown below I figured out that I could dilute with some distilled water and add some salt (non-iodized) to get the right Chloride to Sulfate ratio and still remain in the acceptable ranges.

In the past, I have used California Ale yeast for my Scottish Ales as Jamil suggests. But I was really curious how the beer could be with the traditional yeast. And looking through the stats and reviews on the White Lab site it seemed very similar to WLP001 but with a few more esters which I would prefer in this style.

Also I setup my recipe to be a bit lighter than previous versions because I wanted to see if I could do a bit of kettle carmelization. I was hopping it would add some depth to the carmel notes but I didn't want to get any butterscotch notes I have read about from over doing this method.

Recipe: Scottish Ale 60/-
O.G.-1.035  F.G.-TBD   IBU-13  
SRM-11   ABV-3.3   Cal-116

Grain Bill (77% Efficiency):
5 lb Maris Otter (78%)
8 oz Crystal 40L (8%)
8 oz Honey Malt (8%) 
4 oz Crystal 120L (4%) 
2 oz Brown Malt (2%)

.5 oz East Kent Goldings, 5%, pellet, 90 min 13 IBU

1 vial of White Labs WLP028

Brew Day:
Brewed: 01/29/11
Kegged: 02/13/11

San Diego (Alvarado) Tap Water
1 campden tablet for 5 gal.

Mash Details:
H2O/Grain Ratio: 1.85 qt/lb
Mash Volume: 3 gal
Sacc Rest. Temp/Time: 158F @ 60min
Strike Temp: 168F
Sparge Volume: 5.5 gal
Sparge Temp/Time: 168F

Boil Details:
Boil Volume: 7 gal

Boil Time: 90min (I did boil 1 gal of first runnings to .5 gal)
Post Boil Volume: 5.25 gal

Ferment Details:
O.G.: 1.035
Ferment Temp: 66-68F
Length: 10 days

Tasting Notes

Friday, February 18, 2011

Dreg Series: Old Ale with Avery 15 Brett

Since I was just blown away with my results with these Brett strains in the Avery 15 / Drie Bitter I had to do another batch. And also since this is a Brett Only beer with no other bugs, I'm not too concerned with super attenuation. I am still letting these beers sit for a couple months before bottling but not the normal 12 months I would with other sour beers.

I am still waiting for the Bitter to carbonate before I do a review but just from the smell and gravity sample I know this yeast gives off a lot of fruit flavors. So when I was constructing my Old Ale recipe and thinking about how I want the some dark fruit flavors I knew I had to try this yeast on some of the wort. I'm thinking this beer is going to give me a delicious thick FRUIT CAKE beer.

The yeast took off again, with activity within a couple hours even with this higher alcohol content. It appeared to be fully fermented in a week.
02.17.11 Gravity at 1.020 (that is 7.2% ABV, and 73% Apparent Attenuation)
The taste is fantastically sour. This beer tastes like a year old beer. It is not quite as complex as I want it and the malt flavor is hidden a bit behind all the sour fruity notes. Has a nice mouthfeel and is not too sweet. But easily one of the better sours I've had and only after a month!
Add .25 oz French Oak cubes and 3 oz Turbinado Sugar (adds 8 pts or 2% alcohol)
07.22.11 Gravity 1.014. Overall beer went from 1.071 + .008(sugar) = 1.079 = 8.6% ABV and 82% Apparent Attenuation. Bottled to 2.5 Volumes. Nice sweet and sour balance. Then carmel and toffee flavor. Also a decent amount of sourness for Brett Only. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Homebrew Notes: Using Gelatin

I received this tip (by email) from a fellow QUAFFer, Kelsey McNair (Of the West Coast Bitter and North Park Beer Co fame). Most of my beers get pretty clear because I brew a lot of beer styles that have high flocculation or have sit around for a year. But with my Dubbel with figs it had a bunch of fruit matter floating around. I think some was pectin, but I thought the gelatin would also help.
And did it ever work. It worked so well that I have done it on every beer I've kegged since then. And my Best Bitter was brilliant, it looked like a commercial beer. I think it also improved the flavor by doing 2 things.
1) Removes yeast, which helps sharpen the malt or hop taste
2) Helps trick the brain that the beer will taste better because it looks pretty
(Kelsey also agreed with the above and uses it on all beers regardless of color except those that should have haze)

Gelatin Clarifying Process:
Start with a fully chilled keg of beer. It can be carbonated or still - it has no effect on the fining process.
1) Boil 2 oz of water for a minute or two to sanitize things.
2) Let things cool to 180-190. This will help dissolve the gelatin well without denaturing it.  Do not boil your gelatin!
3) Add 1tsp of gelatin and swirl around for a minute to dissolve well.
4) Add this solution to your keg.
5) Purge head space in keg and swirl entire keg to mix well.
6) Let sit 24 hours (kept cold) and then dispense the first muddy 8-16oz through your tap.

Not Kegging (Will end up with "yeast bologna" - a slimy blob of yeast in the bottom of the bottle. The beer on top of said glob will be nice and bright) 
2 days before you would normally bottle
Follow steps 1 - 3
4) Add the gelatin solution directly to your fermenter
5) Get it as cold as you can without freezing it for 24-48 hours.  If you are using a carboy at this point, you'll be able to see the beer clear from top to bottom.
6) Rack into your bottling container with fresh yeast/bottling sugars.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Brewing Equipment: Mash Paddle - FREE

Well, it was free for me. And if you had to pay for the wood (depending on type) it should cost less than $10. Most people have some wood leftover from a project, in my case, trim left over from the Brewing Cabinet. I did a bit of research on materials that people have used for making their own. Most people including myself used Oak, which is a hardwood. And is recommended over Pine, but to be honest the contact time with the mash is pretty short so I doubt it has much effect. Others have used cutting board oil on their paddles (that sounds dirty) to make them look a bit better. I think that is overkill and an unnecessary risk to your beer.

My process was simple, do a Google Image Search for "Mash Paddle" (you may want to turn on your safe search at work). Start to get an idea of the shape and dimensions. I just have a 5 gal Igloo so I don't need something very big. I liked the look of the oar paddles and the custom images cut in the paddle were also a nice touch.

I ended up with a 30" x 2.5" x .5" starting piece. I drew freehand onto the piece with pencil. Then for the paddle end cut out, I traced through a image I found.

After a few tweaks, I pulled out the jig-saw and started cutting. Some good clamps and a work bench make all the difference. To make it look professional I busted out the router and gave all the edges a nice round.

A final sanding with coarse sandpaper to fix all the corners and then used some fine sandpaper for a nice finish.

And it works great.

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