Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A better way to brew with raw wheat berries

I love witbier. I hate milling raw wheat. Sure, I could use flaked wheat from my local homebrew store, but I can buy raw wheat berries for less than half the price. If you decide to grind them with a two-roller malt mill, you will regret every step in your life leading to that decision. If you use a Corona-style mill, you will be able to crush the raw wheat, but not without a lot of elbow grease, and a poor-quality grind. Mine tends to pulverize part of the wheat to flour, but leave some berries intact. This is likely because the Corona mill was not made for barley/wheat/rye, it was made to grind corn into grits or masa.

Masa is made by boiling raw corn in water with calcium hydroxide, then grinding. You then make tamales or tacos with it. On an industrial scale, they dry it and sell it as the instant masa mix (just add water) you may be familiar with.

How does this help us? If we can boil corn to soften it, then use our Corona to get a nice uniform paste, maybe we can boil our wheat berries to soften them, making them much easier to grind evenly.

Step 1) Place wheat berries into a pot (size of which depends on how much wheat you're using)
Step 2) Add enough water to cover, with 2-3" of standing water above the submerged berries.
Step 3) Bring to a boil while stirring.
Step 4) Reduce to a simmer. Simmer for exactly 15 minutes.
Step 5) Strain off liquid.
Step 6) Crush the softened berries in your Corona-type mill.

Left: Wheat berries that were boiled before milling.
Right: Un-boiled, milled wheat berries.
Both bags contain the same total amount of wheat berries.

The boiled and ground wheat berries. You can see that the pericarp is mostly intact.

A close up of the boiled and ground wheat berries. The pericarp is intact. The endosperm has been ground to flour.

A close-up of the unboiled, ground wheat berries. Notice the poor, irregular grind.

[Imaginary FAQ]

Why boil for exactly 15 minutes? 

5 minutes is too short. The berries will still be hard and a pain to grind. 10 minutes is better, but you'll shred most of the pericarp. 15 minutes gave the best results.

Wait, what's a pericarp? 

"Pericarp" is the name for the outer covering of a fruit.

But isn't wheat a grain, not a fruit?

A wheat berry is the fruit of a wheat plant, in the broadest sense of a "fruit." Barley and rye have husks covering their pericarp. Wheat lacks a husk. This is one reason why barley and rye are easier to brew with; the husk forms a natural filter bed for sediment during lautering.

Why should I care if I shred the pericarp?

Because wheat doesn't have a husk, using large amounts of wheat in a mash can lead to a slow or stuck lauter. If we can keep the pericarp of the wheat mostly intact, the pericarp will act like a husk, and help us filter the wort.

If the grain is wet, won't that clog up my mill?

If you're using a two-roller mill, that is possible, but it may not. If you use a Corona-type mill, it won't. Be sure to strain as much liquid as possible, but don't worry if the grain is still damp.

Ok, so the wheat looks prettier, but does it brew better? 

When I use this method, I see a faster lauter and clearer wort. The intact pericarp will make rice hulls unnecessary, even when using a large amount of raw wheat. Boiling the wheat has the secondary benefit of (partially?) pre-gelatinizing the wheat, making conversion quicker and easier, without the need for a cereal mash.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Triple-decoction vs. No-sparge + melanoidin malt.

I don't blog much anymore because I don't have a lot of free time, and I've decided I don't like posting low-quality content. I think this post might be interesting to some people, so I'm putting it out there.

This study was really easy to put together, very hard to analyze. I'm providing my data so you can look at it for yourself to decide if I draw a reasonable conclusion. If you disagree with my methods or results, it's easy to find qualified people on the AHA forum to serve as evaluators. Any study is useless if it can't be replicated, so I encourage anyone interested in this topic to organize their own study.

Latest version of results and summary.
Pre-taste questionnaire
Post-taste questionnaire
BJCP scoresheets

3X on the left, 5% on the right, chill haze on both.
Big picture (my conjecture based on this study and everything I know about brewing):
1) Decoction probably won't make your beer better.
2) Decoction mashing extracts more gravity from malt, and it probably extracts more compounds that can be perceived as "dry" as well. Whether that's good or bad for a given recipe will depend on personal preference and your targeted beer profile.
3) Using melanoidin malt doesn't emulate decoction mashing
4) There were a lot of contradictory descriptions of the beers. How people perceive aroma and flavor is complex and not easy to anticipate.

What the data supports:
1) Decoction increases mash efficiency.
2) There was no statistically significant correlation between the BJCP scores and recipe.
3) 57% of evaluators preferred the no-sparge beer with 5% melanoidin malt (5%) over the triple-decocted beer (3X), 29% had no preference, and 14% preferred 3X.
4) Judges were significantly more likely to correctly identify duplicate beers than expected based on a random guess.

What the data probably supports:
1) Small difference with 3X leaning toward dry/bitter, 5% leaning toward malty/balanced.

What the data might support:
1) No difference other than color
2) Small difference, but no agreed-upon difference.
3) Either no-sparge or decoction had no effect, and the only difference was due to melanoidin malt, or vice versa.

What the data doesn't support:
1) Decoction makes a better beer
2) Decoction makes your beer maltier than using melanoidin malt w/no sparge.
3) Decoction makes a smoother beer
4) Decoction makes a beer more people prefer

Problems with the study:
1) Small sample size
2) I only have room for two fermentors in my freezer, so I could only make two beers at once to compare. I could've made smaller batches, but I wanted them to be "typical" homebrew batch sizes.
3) There were some issues with inconsistent carbonation from bottle priming. I've never noticed a difference in carbonation levels in my beer before, so this was really interesting for me.
4) A couple samples may have had a low-level infection. If I could consistently brew perfect beer, I wouldn't spend so much time on the internet trying to learn about brewing.
5) Mixed variables: I framed the study as a comparison of no-sparge vs decoction because I wanted to confound evaluators' expectations. If decoction could provide some special je ne sai quoi beyond just darker color and increased maltiness in a way that melanoidin malt can't emulate, that should have shown up in the results, with more people preferring 3X or more people describing 3X in more favorable terms. In any case, it's possible the no-sparge, decoction or the melanoidin malt had no effect, but I'd say it's more likely that no-sparge or decoction had no effect and melanoidin malt had some effect.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A couple brew day pics

I'm working on something special. Details coming soon.

In the meantime, here's a couple pictures of my grist. I think it looks pretty good.

Waiting on some sparge water to heat up:

Friday, April 13, 2012

How to design a homebrew recipe, pt. 2

I brewed my Brut on Wednesday.

Here is my finished recipe:

19L batch size
Est. OG: 1.090
5.25kg Rahr Pils
750g Wheat malt
200g Aromatic malt
700g Dextrose (secondary addition)
300g Date sugar (secondary addition)

20g Magnum @ -60min for 19.4IBUs
18g Nelson Sauvin @ -10min for 7.9IBUs
18g Nelson Sauvin @ 0min for 0IBUs
20g Nelson Sauvin Dry-hop for 3 days, post-ferment

Wyeast 3711 @ 60* (I want to keep fusels low, so I'll start fermentation fairly cold)

1 tablet Whirlfloc
2tsp yeast energizer
50g French oak chips, med. toast

19L of water @ 158* for a step temp of 149* - 45min
pH was 5.5
Sparged with 15.4L

Collected 12L @ 1.074 and 15L @ 1.036 - 27L @ 1.053. 81.4% mash efficiency

90min boil

Pre-ferment pH - 5.7
Total volume - 20L @ 1.070
Pitched 3711 - 9m/ml @ 70*
Fermentation chamber set to 60*.

Water profile (mg/L):
Ca - 61.6
Mg - 6
Na - 2
SO4 - 6
Cl - 74
HCO3 - 36

After a few days, I'll add the simple sugars. My yeast starter wasn't quite big enough to handle all the sugar at once.

How to design a homebrew recipe, pt. 1

Here is a brief description of how I design my beer recipes. When I started brewing, my recipes were a hodge-podge of ingredients, without a clear idea of what kind of beer I wanted. How do you know when you arrive if you don't where you're going? I've found it helpful to imagine the type of beer I want, and design the recipe around that.

I suggest you actually write this stuff down on paper, or back up remotely online. I have a cheapo school notebook I use. I lost all my recipes and notes when my last laptop died, so while I use my computer for design, I keep my notes and copies of my recipes in my notebook.

I'll start by looking at the BJCP Style Guide. I think it's important to brew to taste, not to style (unless you're brewing for competition) so don't feel beholden to the guidelines. I recently made a recipe for a Belgian Brut, a Champagne-like beer of which there are only a handful of examples. That didn't give me much to go on, but I felt what I wanted was close to a Belgian Golden Strong Ale, with a few tweaks.

My desired beer profile:
Aroma: Fruity esters, prominent grapefruit aroma, spicy phenols, moderate hop aroma.
Appearance: Golden to orange (4-6 SRM?), highly effervescent, rocky head, good lacing, moderate-to-high clarity.
Flavor: Subtle but present malt flavor, extreme attenuation, moderate bitterness, fruity flavor, with subtle spice, moderate hop flavor.
Mouthfeel: Light body, high carbonation, but with decent structure and smooth finish.
Misc: High ABV for extended cellaring ability. Very high carbonation will require Champagne bottles.

How do I turn this into a recipe? I start with appearance, since that's the most straight-forward. Use a program like Beersmith or Hopville to start plugging in your ingredients, starting with your grains. Since I want a subtle, light malt flavor, I'll use pils malt for the bulk of my fermentables. I want a little color, and a little extra malt flavor, so I'll use a small portion of Belgian Aromatic malt. I want a dense, rocky head, so I'll need some kind of malt to increase head retention. Wheat (malted, unmalted, or torrified) is commonly used for this. I could have used Carapils to increase the head retention, but since I want extreme attenuation, I don't want to add any crystal-type malt.

So my grain bill looks like this:
Pils - 84%
Wheat malt - 12.1%
Aromatic - 3.2%

I want extreme attenuation, so I'll need to add simple sugar. There are many sugar options. Plain table sugar or dextrose would work fine for increasing attenuation. I want a fruity flavor though, so I'll use a percentage of date sugar.

Sugar bill:
Dextrose - 70%
Date sugar - 30%

My fermentables bill is now:
Pils - 72.4%
Wheat malt - 10.3%
Aromatic malt - 2.8%
Dextrose - 10.3%
Date sugar - 4.1%

I want moderate, clean bitterness, so I'll use Magnum hops for bittering. For the grapefruit and hop aromas, and fruity flavors, I'll use Nelson Sauvin for aroma and flavor additions. I don't want a ton of hop flavor and aroma, so I'll stick to around an ounce or so.

Hop schedule:
20g Magnum @ -60min for 19.4IBUs
18g Nelson Sauvin @ -10min for 7.9IBUs
18g Nelson Sauvin @ 0min for 0IBUs
20g Nelson Sauvin Dry-hop for 3 days

For yeast, I'm looking for fruity esters and spicy phenols. Some British yeasts may give fruity esters, but since I want spicy phenols as well, that narrows it down to Belgian-style yeasts. Since I want extreme attenuation and a smooth mouthfeel, I decided to go with Wyeast 3711, the Brasserie Thiriez strain.

I want to make sure I have a solid mouthfeel, even with the high attenuation. For this, I'll add 50g of oak chips. To complement the spiciness from the yeast, I'll choose French oak, medium toast.

I'm shooting for 10-11% ABV, so I'll scale my fermentables to a gravity of 1.090.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Paradigm shifts in my brewing philosophy

I've brewed beer, wine, mead and cider for about eight years now. I still consider myself a "newbie," but along the way I've picked up some knowledge.

When I first started I approached brewing like I was making a cake. I got recipes online or at my LHBS, followed the instructions, and ended up with beer I was proud of, but wasn't all that great.

Soon I started formulating my own recipes. They were a generally a muddled mess of ingredients. I didn't fully understand how the flavors would interact. I made mediocre beer.

The first big shift in my thinking happened when I started looking into water chemistry. I think the importance of water chemistry is overestimated by most amateur brewers. Getting your mash pH in line is crucial, and is related to water chemistry, but trying to imitate "historic" brewing waters is a terrible idea, from my experience. The worst non-infected beer I've ever made was a pale ale with Burton-on-Trent water.

The next shift in my brewing philosophy was to pare my recipes down to make them as simple as possible. Plain old 2-row has a lot of flavor. I started thinking about the types of flavors I wanted in the beer, and adding ingredients with purpose. My brews turned out much better.

The latest shift in my brewing philosophy came when I realized how important proper yeast health is to good fermentation. More on that later.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Brew Shed pt. 2

After several more days of cleaning, it's starting to look like an empty box!

I found both water and termite damage, so it'll take a bit more work before I'm ready to finish the walls. I pulled out all the insulation that was in really bad shape.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Brew Shed pt. 1

I've been busy cleaning up an old shed on the property. I plan on having a cold room (40-50*F), cool room (60*F) and brewing space. Here's a sketch:
As far as I can tell, the previous owner had never cleaned the shed in the 30 years he owned it. It looked like something out of that Hoarders show when I started. Here are some pictures after several days of cleaning:

Still a lot of work to be done.