Kazbek Saison

I’ve been planning to make a Saison for a while as it’s a style I really enjoy drinking but hadn’t managed to get around to trying to brew one. After doing some research it appears to be a sort of ‘anything goes’ style but not wanting to be too adventurous I decided to go for a fairly basic Malt grist of Pilsner, Munich and Wheat. I had originally thought to go with a more traditional hop but I had some Kazbek kicking around I was keen to experiment with and thought I’d give them a try. Given their Saaz heritage and after reading what little I could find about them I think they might work fairly well in a Saison. As I haven’t tasted a beer with Kazbek before let alone brewed with them, I decided to go fairly big on the late additions to try and get a good idea of their profile.

The recipe:

Original Gravity 1.055
Final Gravity 1.003
IBUs 31
Boil length 90 Minutes
Batch Size 21.5 Litres
Yeast Mangrove Jack M29 French Saison
Fermentable Color (EBC) Weight (GRAMS) Percentage
Pilsner (Weyermanns) 4 4000 80
Munich (Best Malz) 15 500 10
Malted Wheat (Best Malz) 4 500 10
Hops Type Alpha Acid Weight (Grams) Time IBU
Target Pellet 9% 6 60 5.8
Kazbek Pellet 6.4% 20 20 8.4
Kazbek Pellet 6.4% 40 10 10
Kazbek Pellet 6.4% 40 Hop Stand 6.8
Misc Qty Time
Gypsum 4g Mash
Calcium Chloride 6g Mash
Protofloc Tablet 1/4 10

I started out by adding 17 Litres of warm tap water to the Grainfather, added a quarter campden tablet and set the controller to 64°c. While the mash water was heating I weighed out my grains and water additions and added sparge water to my buffalo boiler. I tend not to measure my sparge water, basically as I have no easy way of doing so, so simply fill up the boiler and chuck in another quarter campden tablet.

After reaching strike temperature, and just as I was about to put the first scoop of grain into the Grainfather it suddenly dawned on me that I hadn’t checked if I had fitted the pump filter. Needless to say I had once again left it off and had to pump my mash water into 2 buckets, fit the filter and pour back in. Once back up to temperature I mashed in and left for 90 minutes. I usually do a 60 minute mash but as I’m aiming for as much ferment-ability as possible I decided to go for 90.

After the 90 minutes were up I raised the temperature to 75°c for a mash out and left for another 10 minutes before raising the grain basket and allowing to drain as recommended by Grainfather. For some reason sparging took a long, long time. Best part of an hour. After I hit 28 Litres in the boiler I stopped the sparge and fully removed the grain basket. I really wish there was an easier way to check the level in the boiler while sparging other than lifting the basked off and looking inside, dripping hot wort all over the floor in the process. Anyway, I set to boil and lowered in my hop spider.

After 30 minutes boiling I added my first hop addition of Target. There was no great thought process being bittering with Target other than I wanted to keep all my Kazbek for late in the boil and I had an opened packet of Target lying around. I find with the hop spider, all around it is a rolling boil but inside the Spider is a sea of calm. I am slightly worried about utilisation and how this effects the amount of oils that can get into the wort. Hopefully I’m worring about nothing though.

While the boil was underway I re-hydrated a single packet of Mangrove Jacks M29 French Saison which I believe is a renaming of the old Belgain Ale strain. As per the instructions I poured 100ml of pre-boiled water into a sanitised cup and heated the water in a microwave to 32°c before sprinkling in the yeast. The instructions state that you should stir into a cream for 8 – 12 minutes. I can’t imagine they mean continuously stir (or maybe they do?) so I just let it sit and give it a quick stir every now and again.

Once the boil was finished and I had added my last hop edition I began circulating the wort through the counterflow chiller in order to sterilize it. After a 15 minute hop stand I turned on the cold water to the chiller and started the transfer. I first transfer half the wort into a barrel fermentor and shake the bejeezus out of it in order to get some oxygen into solution. After about a minutes worth of shaking I pour it out into my Coopers fermentor and pour in the re-hydrated yeast before repeating with the 2nd half of the wort. I find this a bit easier on the back than trying to shake a whole fermentor’s worth of wort!

Once transfer was complete I took a Gravity reading and found I was a bit shy of my target coming in at 1.053. No biggie. I’m still working on nailing my efficiency but it looks like I’m getting about 75% with my current grain supplier. I then moved the fermentor into my fridge which had been preset to a temperature of 26°c. I haven’t fermented this high before and wasn’t even sure If my heater would manage it but it did so easily. I’m not sure if M29 is a true Saison strain and if it is susceptible to a stalled fermentation as some wet Saison strains seem to be but just in case I intend to increase the temperature to 28°c over the next 2 days to help fermentation along and dry out the beer.

*Update 12/07/2016

The yeast went of like a rocket and 2 days later it was down to 1.003 and looking done. That’s fast! Hoping I don’t get too much alcohol flavours. I plan to leave it on the yeast at 28°c for 10 days and then either keg or bottle.

*Update 14/09/2016

I have been drinking this a lot recently and as such only have a few bottles  left. It’s a damn tasty beer. Very fruity, Mostly citrus with a little banana (which I wasn’t expecting) and some pepper and spice. Will definitely use Kazbek again, love it. This beer, while not placing, scored a respectable 40 at the UK National Homebrewing Competition which I am delighted with.


A Return To Brewing.

I haven’t brewed in a long tine, 6 months if memory serves. The reason being is roughly 18 months ago  I developed a rare neurological condition called Transverse Myelitis. Among other things this effects walking and balance and causes chronic fatigue and pain. None of these things are conducive to brewing, which can be physically demanding at times. Determined to return to the hobby I love I decided to ditch the 3 Vessel system and see if a Grainfather could simplify the brew day enough to make it manageable.

For those that don’t know, the Grainfather is an all in one brewing system that has a temperature controller, recirculation pump and a counterflow chiller. It is designed to be used on the floor (ideal) and can be neatly packed away when finished. It does require a separate HLT or cooler for sparge water but I have been able to put my Buffalo boiler to good use for this.

I have so far made 3 beers on the Grainfather and while I have still to get the process down perfectly, I am getting close. If I hadn’t accidently over-sparged on my last brew I reckon I would have hit all my numbers.

All in all I couldn’t be happier with the Grainfather. For the money it really is a great piece of kit and it has enabled me to do something that I was starting to think I would never be able to do again. Ironically, I can even see myself brewing more regularly than before as the Grainfather is so easy to use and clean and I can setup, brew and be packed away in under 5 hours. I’ll drink to that!

Transferring 23L of clear chilled wort into the fermenter.

Brewday disaster (Belgian Wit)

I’ve been slowly upgrading my homebrew setup recently in order to move from a 10 litre BIAB system to 21 litre 3 vessel system. The first beer I decided to brew, rather unwisely as it turns out, was a Belgian Wit. There was a lot of firsts in this brew and I anticipated a few hiccups though not as many as I encountered. The Recipe

Original Gravity 1.049
Final Gravity 1.011
IBUs 16
Batch Size 21 Litres
Yeast White Labs WLP400
Fermentable Color (EBC) Weight (GRAMS) Percentage
Pilsener (Castle Malting) 4 2400 46
Flaked Wheat 3.2 2000 38.3
Flaked Oats 2 450 8.6
Oat husks N/A 250 4.8
Melanoidon 59.1 120 4.8
Hops Type Weight (Grams) Time IBU
Magnum Pellet 12 60 16.4
Galaxy Pellet (Bruphoria) 20 Dry Hop (10 days) 0
Misc Qty Time
Servomyces 1 10
Curacao Orange 25g 5
Coriander seeds 15g 5
Chamomile flower 1.5g 5

While reviewing the recipe the night before brew day I noticed the first problem. At the time of recipe formulation I hadn’t realised the need for a protein rest when using large quantities of flaked wheat. As this was the first brew on a new system I really didn’t want to do anything other than a single infusion so I decided to just take a hit on mash efficiency and reduced my efficiency setting in Beersmith from 75% to 68%.

Brewday I started off by adding 20 litres of water and a quarter campden tablet to my HLT (Buffalo 30L urn) and while that was heating up I weighed out my grains, hops and water additions. When I went to check the temperature of my liquor I discovered my thermometer was no longer functioning and neither was my backup. As luck would have it the previous day I had installed a dial thermometer into my HLT. Unfortunately I hadn’t had a chance to calibrate it but had no other option but to put my faith in it and once strike temperature was reached I drained into my mash tun and added my grains and water additions. An hour later and after lautering I pumped the wort to the boil kettle and batch sparged with liquor I had heated while mashing. At this point I took a refractometer reading and measured a pre-boil OG of 1.035 which was way way lower than expected. I then went to put the lid on my new SS Brewing Technologies kettle only to have the handle come clean of the lid! (an email to ever excellent Malt Miller had it replaced within 2 days). I started a 90 min boil and added a slightly reduced bittering addition at 60 minutes to compensate for the lower than expected gravity. With 10 minutes to go I placed my chiller in the kettle and added the Servomyces. At 5 minuites I added the Orange peel, Corriander and Chamomile. Once the boil was complete I chilled and then whirlpooled leaving for 20 minutes to settle. I then took another refractor reading and measured a rather low 1.038. At this point I decided to check the calibration of my refractometer and realised it was worse than I though and it was reading a little high and the actual OG was something more like 1.036. Oh well, no option but to carry on. The SS brewing kettle has a trub dram that is supposedly effective against pellet hop trub. One thing I hadn’t considered was the orange peel and chamomile didn’t really settle out with the whirlpool and the drain off into the fermentor was painfully slow as a result. Once fully drained I pitched my yeast starter and placed the fermentor into my fridge and set at 20°c. After 5 days I added the Bruphoria galaxy hops to a cup of boiled water for 10 mins as per their instructions and then emptied the contents and hop bag into the fermenting beer. I intend to keg and force carbonate this beer, another first. Hopefully despite the far lower than expected OG it will be still drinkable.

Update 20/07/2015: I was hoping to keg after 2 weeks in the fermentor but due to losing a vital part required to hook the gas line to my regulator I had to delay a week while I ordered a new one from ebay. This was my first time kegging and I’ll write a bit more about the process another time but for now I will say I liked it a whole lot more than bottling. I transferred into a sanitized keg just stopping short of the gas in post and secured the lid in place. I head read that it’s a good idea to hook the gas line up and set to a low pressure and vent a few times to purge the oxygen from the keg. Once I had done that I place the keg and gas bottle in my fridge and set the temperature to 10°c and set the pressure to 18 psi which once carbonated should give me roughly 2.5 volumes of CO2. CKNGnc_W8AAgKFC

Yeast Starter #01 (WLP400)

Up until now I’ve only ever used dry packet yeast in my brews as they are cheap, easy to use, and depending on the strain capable of producing some pretty good beers. As I step up to brewing larger batch sizes however, the cost of liquid yeast starts to become a little more bearable and opens up the choice of strains of yeast available. I’m planning on brewing a Belgian Wit this weekend and bought a vial of White Labs WLP400. While White Labs claim their yeast can be directly pitched into the fermenter the general consensus of the interwebs is that a starter is required in order to wake the yeast up and increase the cell count to the required level for a healthy fermentation.

WLP400 Starter
post boil volume a little short of target.

According to the Mr Malty pitching rate calculator, for a 21 litre batch of 1.049 beer I needed a starter size of 1.53 litres (based on yeast production date and intermittent shaking of starter). I added 1.5 litres of cold water to 150g of Dried Malt extract and boiled for 15 mins in a saucepan. I then placed the pan in a sink of iced water and once cooled to 23°c transferred to a sanitised erlenmeyer flask. At this point I noticed a shortfall in the quantity of wort. I presume I lost some volume due to boil off. Oh well, next time I’ll make more wort than I think i’ll need. I didn’t take a gravity reading at this point but I imagine if will be above the targeted 1.040. Once transferred to the flask I sanitised the top of my yeast vial, poured in the yeast, cover the flask with sanitised tinfoil and gave it a vigorous shake.

Come the following morning there was a good indication of activity and by the time I got back from work in the evening the silver foil had blown clean off the flask and a fair amount of yeast had managed to escape. As I was brewing the next day, and there was no longer any signs of activity, I put the starter into my fermentation fridge at 1.5°c to cold crash over night.

wlp400 starter
Healthy looking Krausen

On brew day I removed from the fridge in the morning and let it come up to room temperature over the course of the day. When I when to decant the wort, in order to leave only the yeast, I discovered that activity had kicked right back up again. As I was only brewing only a 21 Litre batch, I didn’t want to pitch the whole amount as It generally recommend that starter sizes don’t exceed 5% of the batch size,  so I poured off a little amount to bring the volume just below 1 litre and then pitched the rest into the fermentor. As it turned out I was way down on my starting gravity for this beer so a smaller starter shouldn’t be a huge problem. The next day there was good signs of activity.

Thinks I need to consider for the next starter:

1) Make up more wort than I think I need to compensate for boil off (or use a shorter boil time).

2) Either ensure more time for making a starter or if not possible make a small starter on the day in order to increase yeast vitality

3) If using the intermittent shaking method again, use some foam control.

Water Analysis

Recently I had my water analysed by Murphy & Son with the plan to start adding water additions to see what effect they have on my homebrew. The cost was £25 (now £26.99 at time of writting) and the ordering process was via Brew UK who sent out a sample bottle and pre-paid return envelope. All that was needed was to fill the bottle and drop it in the mail, and a few days later I was emailed an analysis of my water along with recommended treatment for 3 categories of beer; Bitters & Pale Ales, Stouts, Porters & Milds and Lagers & Pilsners.

The water analysis report provided the PH and PPM values for the following Ions:

PH Nitrate Total Hardness (CaCO3) Calcium Magnesium Chloride Sulphate Alkalinity (CaCO3)
6.00 2.80 41 11.35 1.39 19.54 18.87 27

and recommended additions are:

Additions based on 25L Brew Length DWB Sodium Carbonate Calcium Chloride Flake Calcium Sulphate
Bitters & Pale Ales 24g
Stouts, Porters & Milds 2g 15g 2.3g
Lagers & Pilsners 6.5g 4.3g

I intend to initially make additions as per the recommendations to see what improvement (if any) it makes on the final beer. Once I have a better understanding of brewing water chemistry, hopefully by the time I get to the end of the highly recommend book ‘Water – A Comprehensive guide for Brewers’, I will start making tweaks. For now however, I intend to keep it as simple as possible.

Aldi Scottish Beer festival 2015

The 14th of May saw supermarket chain Aldi kick off their 6th annual Scottish beer festival with a total of 50 different beers available from a host of Scottish breweries. In keeping with previous years there is a mix or readily available beers, including Aldi’s year round selection, as well as offerings from lesser known breweries. Along with some new additions to this years lineup I was pleased to see the return of some of last years standouts including Top Out Shmankerl, Windswept APA, Cromarty Happy Chappy and Loch Ness HoppyNESS.

This year also sees beers of note from Alechemy (Ritual Pale), and Tempest (Long White Cloud) snuck in between the usual offerings from Williams Brothers, Broughton and Brew Dog. The average price for the festival beers is £1.99, which while a tad higher than the usual £1.49 Aldi charges for its ales is still good value especially when you consider the majority are 500ml bottles. It’s great to see Aldi’s ongoing commitment to bringing scottish produced beers to a wider section of the beer buying public, I only wish they would they would have some of the smaller brewery’s beers available all year round.