Sunday, October 21, 2012

On Recipes

I've written about this before, but since I've been posting a lot of (half-arse) recipes, (you're welcome, Kenny!) I wanted to give a few words of general explanation about what makes it into the posted recipe, and what gets left out. I think it's clear to most moderately experienced brewers that these are not complete paint-by-numbers type procedures. I don't have the time or patience for that, and more importantly, every brewer and brewery has their own way of accomplishing certain things. There are, for example, three or four popular ways of chilling wort in a home brewery. Different ways of mashing, i.e. brew-in-a-bag, no-sparge, etc; different ways of sparging, i. e. fly vs. batch. I don't address water, which is a local source issue that each brewer must sort out. Fortunately for me living here in metro Detroit, I have a great water source that requires only carbon filtration to remove chlorine, and basic mineral tweaking as the grist might dictate. More about that one anon.

Some things that I do pretty much every time, that may not be noted:

I almost always do a 90 minute wort boil, with an evaporation rate of approximately 10%/hr. If you do a shorter boil, collect less wort. About the only exceptions for me would be super-high-gravity beers like Imperial stout, barleywine, wee heavy, and the like, where even more reduction and possibly also kettle caramelization is in order. My rationale for the longer boil is a combination of practicality and laziness. I treat my water as necessary to the sort of beer I'm making, and the malts involved, (talk to this guy about that subject.) (Also, buy his book. Really.) Anyway, I treat the water, but I'm not super precise about it, which is generally OK as my friendly neighborhood maltster has set me up on the road to success. Get the water in the ballpark as far as minerals go, and the mash pH will fall in line. If'n it's not exactly perfect, say a little high, one could extract some tannins (a class of polyphenol, harsh and astringent,) from the malt husks, which are an unpleasant addition to beer. That first 30 minutes of boil time, before kettle hops are added, allows a good 'hot break' to form, where the unwanted tannins, should they be there, join up with some (also unwanted,) large proteins to form a precipitate commonly  called "hot break" which is left behind in the kettle. Hops also contain polyphenols that also bind to the same heavy proteins, so boiling until a good hot break is attained before adding the kettle hops allow one to select for removal of the nasties that may have carried over from a less-than-perfect mash and sparge. How do I decide what sort and how much "mineral tweaking" to do? A combination of educated guessing, and trial and error. I do keep a log, with basic recipe info, procedural stuff, and sketchy tasting notes. Generally speaking, dark malts add acidity which must be buffered (offset) with calcium carbonate, which is easily available in the form of powdered chalk. (Beers that are too acidic taste harsh and have lousy head retention.) So if I'm making a beer with a decent amount of roast malt, I add some chalk. Estimated color is a good guide; darker equals more chalk. If it tastes harsh and has poor head retention, I add more next time. I am perhaps oversimplifying, but seriously folks, this is not pianosmithery. Using our Detroit water, beers that are really pale might benefit from some gypsum or calcium chloride, or a bit of both. Beers in the middle range, amber-ish, don't require anything special for a healthy wort, though mineral additions to influence flavor might still be desirable; to get a classic Burtonesque minerally, hoppy character, you are going to need lots of calcium, sulfate, and a bit of magnesium. Again, trial-and-error is what gets things dialled in.

Mashing is usually spelled out OK in individual posts; almost all of mine are single infusion or decoction, though there are a few step infusion cockups.... Sparging is 'fly,' I float the sparge water onto the surface of the grain bed and try to match runoff and sparge flow rates.

After the boil: Heat off, chill on. I use a typical immersion chiller. I chill down to approximately 100F uncovered, and then cover the kettle to bring it down to pitching temp. If you want to minimize DMS, venting the wort while it's still steaming is essential. While it may be an accepted feature of some beers, notably pale European lagers, I can do without it. If you detect DMS in my helles or pils, you are very sensitive.

Then there's dry hopping. I am continually amazed by the huge amounts other brewers use to dry hop; for me, anything more than about 1/2 ounce for 5 gallons is at the point of diminished returns. But here's the thing: I put the dry hops in the container from which the beer is dispensed - the keg or firkin. Many other brewers are racking beer onto dry hops for a set number of days, then racking off the hops into packaging, so the contact time is not the same as what I'm doing, meaning we are talking apples and hops. Mmm, apples... mmm, hops....

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