Sunday, April 11, 2010

RIS update

I measured the Specific Gravity today on the Russian Imperial Stout and measured 1.026.  It is still bubbling, so it looks like the fermentation has gone well.  I was worried that I couldn’t get this monster beer to ferment, but it has gone well.  The hydro sample is definitely bitter, but has a real nice taste to it—and quite the kick.

Looking forward to it!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Russian Imperial Stout

Black...devoid of light My friend Tom is starting to think about heading back to the USA.  After being here for over 2-years now, unless he gets a local contract in France, he is supposed to head back at the beginning of 2011.

If that turns out to be the case, a pot d’depart or going-away party is certainly in store!  Since I’ve been in Paris brewing beer, Tom has been a big supporter and is always eager to try my latest brew.  As Tom and I talked about this, he suggested that maybe I should make a “theme beer” or just a special beer to be consumed at this going-away party.  “Excellent idea!” I said.  I had just the beer in mind.

I’ve been looking at some higher alcohol barley wines and also stouts as both styles I have yet to try.  Over at Home Brew Talk, there is a recipe posted by BrewPastor called “Dark Night of the Soul Russian Imperial Stout.”  The name really caught my attention and the challenge of brewing such a wicked brew got me interested.

Here are the specs posted online for a 10-gallon batch:

Recipe Type: All Grain
Yeast: Wyeast 1272
Yeast Starter: HUGE
Batch Size (Gallons): 10
Original Gravity: 1.1324
Final Gravity: 1.020
IBU: 178
Boiling Time (Minutes): 90
Color: void of light
Primary Fermentation (# of Days & Temp): 1 week
Additional Fermentation: eternity
Secondary Fermentation (# of Days & Temp): 4 weeks
Dark Night of the Soul
A ProMash Recipe Report
Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 10.00 Wort Size (Gal): 10.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 48.00
Anticipated OG: 1.13245 Plato: 30.668
Anticipated SRM: 53.3
Anticipated IBU: 178.8
Brewhouse Efficiency: 75 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes
% Amount Name Origin Potential SRM
83.3 40.00 lbs. Pale Malt(2-row) Great Britain 1.03800 3
5.2 2.50 lbs. Roasted Rye France 1.03000 95
4.2 2.00 lbs. Chocolate Malt Belgium 1.03000 500
4.2 2.00 lbs. Crystal 150L Great Britain 1.03300 150
3.1 1.50 lbs. Special B Malt Belgian 1.03000 120
Potential represented as SG per pound per gallon.
Amount Name Form Alpha IBU Boil Time
10.00 oz. Columbus Pellet 15.00 178.8 60 min.

Notice that HUGE Original Gravity (OG) and low Finish Gravity (FG).  Just to sum things up, this is a BLACK BLACK BLACK beer, really bitter, and really high in alcohol.  Calculating out the numbers gives an expected ABV of 14.8%.  That is really strong and contains more alcohol that most wines.

So, the recipe looks good, the reports on the forum seem to point that this is a unique, interesting brew, so I think it could be an interesting challenge and provide a nice going-away beer for Tom’s party.

First order of business is cutting down the recipe.  I wish I had the equipment to brew 10-gallons of beer using just grain, but that is just not the case in my Paris apartment.  If you read the posts below, I’m not in possession of a barley mill and I’ve adopted the BIAB (Brew in a Bag) technique to allow me to do all-grain beer on the stovetop.  Since this is such a “serious” and strong brew, I didn’t want to make too much either as 1) It is really strong and you can’t drink too much at once 2) It is tricky to brew and I wasn’t sure how it would turn out.

Type: All Grain

Date: 3/28/2010

Batch Size: 3.00 gal

Boil Size: 3.61 gal

Boil Time: 90 min

Brewhouse Efficiency: 70.00


% or IBU Amount Item
86.54 % 13.50 lb

Pilsner (2 Row) Bel (1.5 SRM) Grain

4.81 %

0.75 lb

Chocolate Rye Malt (250.0 SRM) Grain

3.21 % 0.50 lb

Caramel/Crystal Malt -120L (120.0 SRM) Grain

3.21 % 0.50 lb

Chocolate Malt (450.0 SRM) Grain

2.24 % 0.35 lb

Special B Malt (200.0 SRM) Grain

167.1 IBU 3.25 oz

Magnum [15.10 %] (60 min) Hops

  1 Pkg

American Ale II (Wyeast Labs #1272)Yeast-Ale (2.5 liter starter made with XL pack)

Beer Profile

Est Original Gravity: 1.130 SG

Measured Original Gravity: 1.116 SG

Est Final Gravity: 1.031 SG

Measured Final Gravity: 1.026 SG

Estimated Alcohol by Vol: 13.11 %

Actual Alcohol by Vol: 11.86 %

Bitterness: 167.1 IBU

Calories: 555 cal/pint

Est Color: 54.1 SRM

So, I basically started with about 15-lbs of grain—which would make a pretty high ABV 6-gallon batch of beer and used half the water to make a 3-gallon finished batch.  I had to adjust the original recipe just a little bit as I wasn’t able to buy all the exact grains here in France.  It seems to have matched up pretty well with the original recipe.


I started the morning with toasting the rye as I couldn’t find the Roasted Rye specified in the recipe.  I baked it for about 30-minutes at 180°C, until it looked about the same darkness as Crystal 120.  I’m not sure if it was enough or not, but I didn’t want to burn it.  The aroma through the apartment was wonderful!!  I would honestly buy a scented candle if they made one with this aroma!DSC_1439Here is a small shot of the toasted on the left and the untoasted on the right.

Next, everything was ground up in the new Barley Crusher.  It only took about 10-minutes of hand cranking to make my way through the 15-lbs of grain.DSC_1440

Here is all the grain sitting in my 25-liter poly bucket ready for the mash.  That’s a lot of grain for 3-gallons of beer.  I mashed at 150°F to keep the fermentables up and help ensure that I could come close to this beer finishing out.

I did not sparge the grains, just took the first runnings from the BIAB process.  Here is an interesting set of shots from the wort in the boil kettle and the heat coming on.  I’m using a gas range and as the flames begin to heat the wort, they stir the trub up on the bottom.

DSC_1453 DSC_1456 DSC_1458 DSC_1462 DSC_1466

As you can see from the first shot, this beer is BLACK.  I can’t wait to try it!  Here is the hop addition---Lupulin goodness!


After cooling the wort, I measured the OG at 1.116.  It is lower than the recipe called for, no doubt from a little lower efficiency from the BIAB without a sparge.  But, the ABV shown above in my recipe is based on this OG of 1.116 and a measured FG (not quite the end) at 1.026.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

It’s all-grain time!

I am giddy with excitement! Because of this:

Finally, I can grind up all of the grain that I’ve been stockpiling.  The folks at BC Products were nice enough to send me one from all Barley crusher!the way in the USA.  I paid them of course, but they sent me one and it arrived in good shape.  I checked the European distributors here before I ordered from the US and with the exchange rate (crappy, but getting better) it was cheaper to order from the USA and pay for absurd shipping.

Don't put your fingers in here (duh)So, I ran about 1/2 pound of grain through the mill to clean it up and get an oil off the rollers that might be lurking.  I don’t have any feeler gauges, so I just left it at the factory setting.  I guess it looks okay.  Since I’m doing the brew-in-a-bag method described on this blog and other places, I don’t have to worry much about stuck sparges.  So, I guess I don’t really care if the grind is too fine.  But, honestly, it looks about like the other grain I have gotten “pre-ground” from homebrew shops.  Maybe a little too fine?  (Comments?)


I have to tell you though, I really hated “wasting” this 1/2 pound of malt! : )  Looking forward to brewing some nice beers this weekend.  After I bottle this next batch, I’ll have 3-fermenters open and ready for beer.

 Crushed grain

Monday, March 15, 2010

Some older posts

So tonight, I uploaded some old posts from a “blog” I started when I first arrived in Paris.  They are old, from 2008 and reflect some of my first thoughts and experiences, and mistakes while here in Paris.  I never really kept up with the regular updates of all the things I found strange and all the things I did wrong.  I kind of wished I did, but it is about as tough as keeping this blog up to date.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Beer Bottles

I can’t tell you how much I hate to wash beer bottles. DSC_0972Here is what me and about 8 friends took care of last night.  Not really that much (only about 6-liters of beer), but if I didn’t wash them today, they would just sit around and accumulate until my lovely wife reminds me they need washed. : )   And, I usually let quite a few stack up until I wash as I really hate to wash bottles.  I am really looking forward to when I am back in the US and will get a keg setup.  Not that I am going to completely give up on bottles forever, but the bulk of my beer I would like to keg.

10-minutes in the pressure cookerI have been using Fischer bottles now for sometime.  In fact, I drank a LOT of Fischer beer so that I could get my first set of bottles for my first batch of beer back in April 2009.  But, I’ve been getting concerned thatFischer Swingtop I’m not getting the swingtops and the gaskets sanitized well.  I think this is the third or maybe four batch of beer bottled in these same bottles and I’m starting to worry that I’m not getting everything clean enough when washing bottles.  So, I recently picked up a pressure cooker to try some new meals and I thought I would try removing the swingtops from the Fischer bottles and running them in the pressure cooker to autoclave them.  My new pressure cooker is only an 80 kPa model, so it only does about 12 psi.  So, I’m thinking I’ll need about 20 minutes in there to completely sterilize them.  The photo above is the first test I ran.  Since the top is plastic and the gasket is just rubber, I was a little worried that the top would melt.  But everything turned out okay.  I still need to run a 20-minutes cycle to make sure that everything will be okay, but right now, it looks okay.  Before my next bottling session, I’ll remove all the swingtops from my Fischer bottles and sterilize them all.  I post this as some of the folks on Homebrewtalk were worried about the tops melting.  For now, I think it will be okay.  I’ll keep you posted after I run a batch for 20-minutes.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Beer is bottled

So, my first all-grain batch is a wrap.  I let it ferment for about a week and checked the gravity.  It was down to 1.012 which was just a little higher than I wanted.  I decided to let it go another week and then some.  I bottle it today and got about 19-liters of finished beer at 1.010 FG.  It tastes quite good, bitter, but not overwhelming.  It has a nice nutty taste and I’m really curious to see how it will carbonate up and taste at refrigerated temps.

Mild Mannered Ale

At some point, I really want to start harvesting yeast.  I pitched a 1.5 liter starter on this beer and it fermented out quite well.  It really is amazing that you start with a single vial of yeast and what you end up with at the end.  The flocculation on this yeast was really great and I was able to rack-off almost all of the beer without sucking up any yeast.  Here is what was left.

Lots of yeast!

I recovered almost 4-cups of yeast from the fermenter that I really hated to pour down the drain.  But, I just don’t have a good way to store it right now.  Hopefully later, I can get a canning setup and start to sterilize some jars and same some yeast from beer to beer to start and lower my costs a bit.  Next report:  How it tastes!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

First all-grain beer (well, almost…)

So, I’ve been away from the blog for a while.  I’ll try to keep things current a little better this year on what is going on.

As discussed in one of my previous blogs, one of the regulars on HomebrewTalk (HBT) posted a method for all-grain brewing on the stovetop.  Typically, people that tackle all-grain brewing, have a little more space than an apartment including a large, outdoor propane cooker, a couple large pots for boiling water and a cooler to use as a mash tun.  Not having all this space, outdoor cookers and coolers, I tried the simpler approach detailed above.

When I was in the US over Christmas, I brought back lot’s of ingredients and a few supplies to make beer.  To all those that ask, YES, I can buy the stuff over here, but it is not as easy and honestly, the availability of items here in Europe (at least what I’ve found) is not as great as what is available in the USA.  Home brewing is just not as popular here.

So, I picked a good  English mild, Brown ale-type recipe from the HBT archives.  Since I was not able to get all my pale malt back from the US, I was a little short on the recipe…hence the “almost” in the title of the blog.  I did end up using about 1/2 pound of dry malt extract to get my gravity where I wanted it.

So, I loaded all my information into my Beersmith software and adjusted quantities a bit to keep the color, OG, IBUs and other parameters correct for the style.

The recipe started as “Mild Mannered Ale” by Orfy on HBT and I tweaked it a bit.  Thanks Orfy, I don’t know you, but the recipe looks good.  Here is the final recipe I used:

  • 5-lbs Maris Otter Pale Malt
  • 1-lb Carmel/Crystal 80
  • 4-oz Carmel/Crystal 10 (because of not enough C80)
  • 4.5-oz Chocolate Malt
  • 0.5-lbs Light Malt Extract (late edition with 15min left)
  • 0.87-oz Fuggles (60 minutes)
  • 0.87-oz Fuggles (15 minutes)
  • 1-tsp Irish moss (15 minutes)
  • 1-vial Whitelabs WLP005 British Ale yeast

I actually started this beer on Sunday with a yeast starter.  Since I am forced to ship my liquid yeasts in from the US and who knows how well they have been stored, I have started doing starters for all my batches if nothing else but to verify the health of the yeast on 2-liters of beer without risking 5-gallons of wort.

Yeast starter

I use a small 3-liter water bottle that I got here in Paris to do my starters.  This starter was started Sunday, so it is about 3-days old in this picture.  You can tell it is “done” because the beer has cleared and all the yeast is settled to the bottom waiting on more food.

Before pitching this yeast starter, I decanted about 1/2 of the liquid, shook vigorously and then pitched the rest into my fermenter.

To get started, I used Beersmith to calculate my water temps and volumes of water.  I had just 6.5-lbs of grain, so I chose 10-quarts of mash water, giving me 1.53 qt/lb of water-to-grain ratio and heated that up to 166°F.Strike water coming up to temperature After hitting my temp, I shut off the burner, configured my LARGE mesh bag and added my grains.  I was shooting for 153°F and hit it I think.  I got my  new SST thermometer while in the USA for Christmas.  All was great except the two thermometers would not agree.  My older floating thermometer reads about 6° high, so I wasn’t sure which one to believe.  I need to calibrate this later with my thermocouple to see which one is correct.

153-degrees is the target

I held the grains at temperature for 60-minutes.  I mostly kept the cover on, but would open it about every 10-minutes to check my temperature.  A few times I added some heat with the burner and also added some ice cubes to keep my temperatures where I wanted them.  I saw as high as 166°F on my floating thermometer.  Time will tell if I killed the enzymes.

I moved my mash tun to the back burner and started heating up my sparge water.  The plan was to do a large “batch sparge” where I remove all the grains from the mash tun and simply dunk them in the sparge water to remove the final sugars.

Mashing and heating up the sparge water

Going on the advice of the HBT article, I chose 18-quarts of sparge water as the more I used, the higher my efficiency should be.  While I was doing the process, I thought I had really messed up with the quantity of water I had to boil, but it really turned out okay.  After mashing for 1-hour, my sparge water was up to temperature and it was time to commence with the process.

Draining the grains

I  drained the grains as best I could and then sent them to the sparge water for a 10-minute rinse.  I was shooting for a sparge of 170°F, so I heated my water to about 180°F.  SpargingIt worked out pretty well.  I mixed them every couple of minutes and tried to keep them “rinsing.”  Remember, the goal is to get the last bit of sugar out of the grains.  After this step, drain the drains again and compost or discard.  I live in an apartment, so I discarded them in the trash.  Just take a look at those first-runnings!  Nice, rich, thick wort.  I meant to measure the gravity of this, but it was too hot and I didn’t want to waste any!

Man, that is some nice looking wort!  After that, pour the first runnings into the second sparge water pot and combine the first and second runnings.  At this point, you’re making beer like normal, bringing to a boil and then starting your hop additions.  So, I was using my tape measure to calculate the volume of my boil and this is where I started getting worried.  As I measured the diameter and depth of my wort, I was calculated 26-quarts, or 6.5 gallons.  I was a little worried that all of this was not going to fit into my better bottle.  So, I boiled for 15-minutes before starting the clock on my 60-minute boil.


At the “official” beginning of the boil, I added 25-grams (or about 0.87 ounces) of Fuggles that I picked up in London last fall.  My last experience making beer with an Octane IPA (a Midwest recipe), I just threw all the hop pellets into the boil.  With my small funnel and strainer setup (see below), that caused me a LOT of trouble trying to get all the beer into the fermenter.  Lovely leaf hops!So, this time, I decided to use a hop bag to contain most of the mess.  And, since these hops are leaf hops, it kept the mess to a minimum.  I think I’m going to use a bag from now on.

With 15-minutes left in the boil, I added the Irish moss and the last batch of Fuggles.  Also, since I was a little short on grain and I had opened a bag of dry malt extract, I figured I would just use it up.  So as not to make the beer darker than I wanted, I just added it at 15-minute before the end for “late extract addition.”  I finished out the boil, threw on my sanitized lid and moved the entire container to the bathtub.  Since I’m in an apartment, I’m trying not to accumulate too much equipment, so I don’t have a heat exchanger for cooling my wort.  I find that 1-hour in a cold water bath tub (filled as high as it will go) does the job.  It uses a lot of water, but it works and that is all I have right now.

Checking temperature for pitchingNext,  moved back into the kitchen and verified my temperature.  It was about 70°F, which is about right.  I used a 1-quart, Pyrex measuring cup to transfer the wort from my boiling pot to my fermenter.  Once the level gets down to about 1/3, Here comes the mess--I need my larger funnel!!I usually tip the whole thing into the fermenter.  This is where I made my huge mess because I’m pouring into a 4-inch funnel.  I bought a nice funnel from Midwest supplies over Christmas, but the damn thing was too big to get into my luggage.

I took one sample to check my gravity and it looked good.  My target according to Beersmith was 1.038, which is at the high end of the style guidelines for a Mild, but that’s okay.  I ended up with 1.040 which is pretty close for my first all-grain beer.  Hit my OG target on the nose: 1.040The only thing I “worry” about is if I didn’t convert all the starch to sugar, would the gravity reading be the same?  The beer cleared during the mash which for me, means that the starch was converted to sugar, but I’m not sure.  There is so much stuff floating around in there, it is sometimes hard to tell.  Time will tell I guess.  But, if everything goes as planned, this beer should finish out to a 3.5% beer which should be a real nice drinking beer that you can enjoy a couple without worrying about how  you’ll feel the next day.  In other words, it will be VERY different from the Dogfish Head 90-minute IPA that I’m sipping on right now!  I love this beer, but it packs a wallop!

As I described above, I made a 1.5 liter starter on Sunday with Whitelabs WLP005.  It has completely fermented out the limited sugars I gave it and had settled out nicely in my water jug.  I decanted off about 1/2 of the liquid and then put the lid on the jug.  I shook it up vigorously and then pitched everything into the fermenter.  First nightI setup my blow-off tube and left the beer in the kitchen over night.  My previous experience with using yeast starters is that the yeast are ready to go NOW and they don’t waste any time.   My last IPA I made created quite a mess in my bedroom after I pitched a 2-liter yeast starter in overnight.  I had a blow-off tube setup, but it couldn’t keep up with the volume of foam coming out of the top of the fermenter and made a mess of my floor and walls.  mess..It cleaned up okay and no permanent damage wasmore mess. done, so I count myself lucky.  The pictures don’t really do it justice.  Check back here to find out how the beer finishes up and the taste results!  Thanks for reading.  -Matt