I've recently taken up home brewing (of beer) again after a long hiatus. Keeping detailed notes seems like a good idea, and since those notes might be interesting to others, the blog seems like a good place for them. Recipe, procedure and results after the jump.

Recipe

The recipe I used follows very closely the BB American Pale Ale from DeFalco's in Houston. My biggest departure from the original recipe is to omit the priming sugar, opting instead for kräusening to provide carbonation. My main motivation for this is a general distaste for adjuncts and the off-flavors they impart, though I certainly don't mind that it supposedly makes the final brew a bit less sweet (and reduces diacetyl and acetaldehyde).

Ingredients

6 lbs. light malt extract
1 1/2 lb. pale malt
1/2 lb. cara-pils malt
1/2 lb. medium crystal malt
1 oz. Centennial hops (bittering)
1 oz. Cascades hops (flavoring and finishing)
1 pkg. Burton water salts
1 pkg. Nottingham ale yeast
1 pkg. Bru-Vigor yeast food
5 gal. drinking water

Procedure

  1. Measure 1 gal. of water into a stock pot. Heat to 170°F.  Add Burton salts. Stir. Turn off heat.
  2. Add mesh bag containing mixed grains to hot water. Agitate gently and ensure bag is completely submerged. Steep for 30 min., stirring occasionally. (Continue with next step; do not wait until steeping is complete.)
  3. While grains are steeping, heat another gallon of water to 168ºF in a second stock pot.
  4. At the end of the 30 min. steeping time, transfer wort to brew kettle. Place grain bag in colander over brew kettle. Sparge (rinse) grain bag using water from second stock pot, turning the bag to ensure complete coverage. Squeeze remaining liquid from grain bag using a large spoon.
  5. Add 1.5 gal. of water to brew kettle, bringing total volume to 3.5 gal.
  6. Cover brew kettle and bring to a boil.
  7. Turn off heat. Add malt extract. (Rinse extract bucket with hot wort to easily get the last dregs of extract out.)
  8. Cover brew kettle and resume heating until wort is boiling. Boil gently for 5 min.
  9. Add Centennial hops. Stir. Boil for 45 min.
  10. Add ½ oz. of Cascade hops. Stir. Boil for 10 min.
  11. Add remaining ½ oz. of Cascade hops. Turn off heat. Stir.
  12. Cool the wort by placing brew kettle in sink full of cold water. Change the water when it gets hot. Add ice cubes if available to speed cooling. Continue until wort temperature has fallen to 90ºF. (Go on to next step.)
  13. While wort is cooling, pitch yeast into 1 cup of 90ºF water in a sterile container. Do not stir. Cover with plastic wrap. Wait for cooling to complete before proceeding to next step.
  14. Siphon ½ gal. of wort into a sterile sealed container. Place container into refrigerator. (This gyle will be used later for kräusening.)
  15. Add remaining water to 5 gal. glass carboy to be used as primary fermentation vessel. Uncover and stir yeast mixture (which should be foaming a bit by now). Add yeast mixture to fermentation vessel.
  16. Siphon remaining wort into fermentation vessel. Try to avoid siphoning hops debris on bottom of brew kettle. (Tip the kettle slightly. Sterilize your hands, and feel where the tip of the siphon hose is relative to the dregs.)
  17. Measure and record temperature and specific gravity of wort. Perform temperature correction calculation and record corrected original gravity.
  18. Fit stopper and blow-off hose onto fermentation vessel. Place other end of blow-off hose into a container of water.
  19. Allow to ferment for 4 days.
  20. Rack to secondary fermenter. Fit stopper and airlock.
  21. Allow to ferment until activity ceases.
  22. Check final gravity. Expected value is around 1.012. Do not proceed if over 1.017.
  23. Bring gyle (from step 14) to ambient temperature. Add to secondary fermenter.
  24. Bottle. Age one week. Open a bottle to check carbonation levels.
  25. Age an additional one to five weeks. Consume.

Brewing Notes

  • Cleanliness is vital, and an automatic dishwasher is a big help. Everything you use should be clean to start.
  • Anything that comes into contact with the wort after the boiling is done has to be sterile. Make a big bowl of sterilizing solution and use it liberally on your containers, hands and instruments.
  • Avoid letting your wort (boiling or not) come in contact with aluminum cookware.
  • Leave enough time. I started the brew after dinner (about 1830hrs) and did not finish until almost 2300hrs. (That includes some clean-up time.)
  • Having a second person around to help is extremely useful, especially for the sparging and siphoning steps.

Equipment

I used the following equipment. (Note: I'm not saying any of this is ideal or that it's what you should go buy. I'm just documenting what I actually used.)

  • two 1.5gal.+ stock pots (at least one of which is not aluminum)
  • 5 gal. stainless steel brew kettle with lid
  • big plastic stirring spoon
  • ridiculously huge plastic stirring spoon that looks a comedy prop
  • gas stove
  • colander
  • 2 qt. plastic measuring cup
  • infra-red non-contact thermometer
  • kitchen sink big enough to immerse base of brew kettle
  • 2 qt. plastic container with tight-fitting lid (for gyle)
  • plastic siphon hose
  • 5 gal. glass carboy with handle
  • 6.5 gal. glass carboy with handle
  • carboy cleaner (and electric drill motor)
  • stainless steel bowl (for sterilizing solution)
  • no-rinse sterilizing powder
  • small plastic funnel
  • plastic turkey baster
  • carboy stoppers
  • glass airlock
  • glass 2 cup measuring cup
  • plastic wrap
  • kitchen timer
  • float hydrometer

Changes

The previous batch was actually pretty decent. The biggest problem was that a whole lot of hops dregs got transferred from the brew kettle to the fermenter, then siphoned from there into the bottles. (Some bottles had a quarter inch of sediment.) There were also some minor off-flavors (probably from the aforementioned sediment and the nasty tap water -- it wasn't skunked or bacterially contaminated). Another problem was that I was brewing in a 20 year old plastic bucket, and the lid was no longer an airtight fit. Things I changed since the previous batch:

  • keeping detailed notes
  • using bottled water instead of Houston tap water
  • kräusening instead of priming with dextrose
  • two-stage fermentation rather than single stage
  • fermenting in a glass carboy instead of plastic bucket (with a lid that doesn't seal right)
  • siphoning the wort from the brew kettle to the fermentation vessel instead of pouring it -- this resulted in a whole lot less hops debris in the fermenter

Mistakes

Experience is what lets you recognize a mistake when you make it again. Here are some things I need to try to do differently next time:

  • I didn't let the wort boil for five minutes before adding the Centennial hops. I threw them in as soon as it started boiling.
  • Using an aquarium pump to circulate the water in the sink when cooling the wort turns out to not be worth the trouble.
  • The end came off the siphon hose when I started transferring wort from the brew kettle to the fermentation vessel. I spilled about a pint all over the floor, the outside of the carboy and myself.
  • I measured the specific gravity from the cool wort in the brew kettle (before adding the last 1.5 gal. of water!).
  • Having realized the previous mistake, I took a reading directly from the fermentation vessel. And by "directly", I mean I dropped the sterilized hydrometer right in there. It was a real hassle to retrieve.
  • A fluid level of a little less than 4.5 gal. in a 5 gal. carboy leaves a lot of head space. I was hoping for closed fermentation per Papazian et al. where most of the foam blows out through the hose on the primary fermenter. It looks like the foam level is not going to get to the top (despite extremely vigorous fermentation).

So, for next time:

  • Get a decent siphon system and a thief (ideally one of the fill-and-return ones that can also float the hydrometer).
  • Get a hydrometer that reads correctly.
  • Use my procedure from this site instead of the original recipe. (I think mine is more clear and detailed, and should help me avoid silly errors.)
  • Increase the volume to fill the primary fermenter almost to the top. (This might require a corresponding increase in malt extract to keep the gravity up.)
  • Come up with a better way to cool the wort? That's the single most annoying and time-consuming step.

Presentation

I'm bottling in individual brown glass bottles. There are plans afoot for cool labels (with original art). Watch this space for pictures. Update: Such as the one to the right. The QR code is just the URL for this page.

The swan image is an original charcoal by SJH, created specifically for this project. Layout and formatting by yours truly, using Inkscape and GIMP.

The name "Black Swan" comes from the theory developed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb involving events which surprise the observer and which have a significant impact.

(That's oversimplifying a bit. The beer is named in honor of the fictional airship, which in turn is named after the carved figurehead on her prow: a swan, painted black. Given the airship's history, folks connected her to the theory. Don't bother Googling it -- this is all RPG backstory that's yet to be playtested, much less published.)

The name of the beer has absolutely nothing to do with the maritime salvage effort or the recent movie.

Results

Brewing was performed the evening of 22 June 2011. Original gravity read as 1.044 1.054 at 88ºF, giving a corrected gravity of approximately 1.048 1.058, and an expected ABV of 4.6% 5.4%. (Update: My decrepit hydrometer is way off. The figures here are assuming it's just wrong by a constant offset of 0.010.)

23 June 2011 0900hrs: Primary fermentation is under way, with a large amount of foam and CO2 being produced.

24 June 2011 0900hrs: Fermentation is still very active. The head has subsided slightly, and the CO2 volume is less than it was on the previous day.

25 June 2011 1600hrs: Head has greatly subsided. Fermentation has all but ceased; blow-ff hose bubbles only a few times each minute. Racked into secondary fermenter and fitted with airlock. Left behind a substantial volume of inactive yeast.

28 June 2011 2100hrs: No further bubbles in airlock; secondary fermentation is complete.

29 June 2011 1900hrs: Bottled. Corrected final gravity 1.012 (approximate) before addition of gyle.

06 July 2011 1930hrs: Sampled a bottle. Carbonation and head seem OK. Flavor a little weak, hopefully just due to immaturity (of the beer, smartass). Not bad, though. I have high hopes for what this'll be like a week or two from now.

24 July 2011 2133hrs: This is good. A week and a half ago it was promising but had some plastic-y off notes. Now, it's much better. Not flawless; among other things, it's a little sweet and perhaps over-carbonated. Probably both are a result of reserving too much unfermented wort for later priming. Next batch: try one quart instead of two. Still, a nice pint and very more-ish.

Updates will be posted here as things progress.