OK, this is going to seem really stupid of me, but I’ve just realised that the problems I’ve been having (see below) are most probably caused by the amount of sunlight I allow near the fermenter. I know, obvious, right? I guess I thought the fermenters I use were opaque enough and I definitely underestimated how serious a problem direct light can be. Believe it or not, none of the texts I have made serious mention of sunlight that I could find (How to Brew [Palmer], Designing Great Beers [Daniels], Extreme Brewing [Calagione], Brewing Classic Styles [Zainasheff, Palmer]). Solution? I wrapped my latest batch (made using a fresh wort kit from St Peters brewery) in a giant plastic bag. It’s still very young but Steph and I tasted it the other night and it seemed to be rid of familiar taste my brews started to get. Still not perfect and I put that down to controlling fermentation, but much better than before.
Christmas Ginger Ale
So just quickly, I made a Ginger Ale for Christmas. It was meant to impress the hell out of the inlaws and the heavens were supposed to open and a new crown bestowed upon my head. However for a bunch of reasons none of this happened and instead I ended up with a few polite smiles and a lots of undrunk beer (ahhh 15 longnecks). And you know what? I don’t blame them, the beer was nothing like I intended and despite a megatonne of fresh ginger added to both the boil and the fermenter, the beer tasted more of honey than ginger. I added more than twice what the recipe called for but that didn’t seem to make a difference. The finished beer was beautiful and clear and straw in colour but I ended up having to add wedges of lemon to it in order to give it a bit of flavour.
So what went wrong? My best guess is that I used White Labs California Ale Yeast (WLP001) and it did too good of a job. It’s an epic yeast that is super efficient, leaves not much yeast character at all and I figure it just ate all the ginger flavour up! Here is a picture and the recipe I used, just for interests sake –
Wort Volume Before Boil: 24.71 l
Actual Wort Volume After Boil: 20.00 l
Actual Volume Transferred: 18.93 l
Actual Volume At Pitching: 19.50 l
Actual Volume Of Finished Beer: 19.00 l
Actual Pre-Boil Gravity: 1.040 SG
Actual OG: 1.042 SG
Actual FG: 1.004 SG
Actual ABV: 5.0 %
Actual ABW: 4.0 %
Actual IBU: 28.2 IBU
Actual Color: 5.5 EBC
US Pale Ale Malt 1.814 kg
German Caramel Pils 0.567 kg
Sugar – Honey 1.360 kg Start Of Boil[/one_half]
Slovenian Styrian Goldings 31.8 Loose Pellet Hops 60 Min From End
NZ Willamette, 28 g, Loose Pellet Hops 1 Min From End
Lemon Juice of 2 lemons, 5 minutes from the end
Lemon Rhind of 2 lemons 20 minutes from the end
Ginger Root 177 g 30 minutes before the end of the boil
Ginger Root 59 g at the end of the boil
Irish Moss 5 g 20 minutes before the end of the boil
Ginger Root 120 g In Fermenter [/one_half_last]
Brew House Troubles!
My last few beers have been a bit crap. I’m very careful with my process and sanitation, I’m reading new books all the time, forums every day, The Brewing Network podcasts every day. I feel like I’m doing everything I can to knowledge myself up however I’m still making beers that aren’t even just average. Some of them are straight up terrible (I even had to dump a batch a few months back!). One of the problems I have is that I started brewing only 6 months ago and built myself up to my current level really fast. I didn’t slowly add equipment or casually improve process, I dived straight in the deep end so it’s really hard to know where to start trouble shooting. Boil? Fermentation? Recipe? Sanitation? Personal hygiene?
I’ve got a pretty good feeling it’s either in my boil or in fermentation. With respect to the boil, I’m still doing it on an electric stove top. I have a 35l pot and I really have trouble getting a vigorous boil going without taking the lid on and off the pot. Ideally your boil should be open and vigorous so as to boil off any unwanted nasties before fermentation. If you can’t achieve this you end up with off flavours and clarity issues. This problem I can do something about. All I need is a new burner and to move my operation outside. Not too much extra equipment and not much extra money. The other potential problem might be coming from fermentation. I can’t exactly control my fermentation temperature although I have a spot in my house that only fluctuates between about 18C and 24C and the swings are rarely that big. Usually they’re no more than 3C over a 72 hour period. This I can’t do anything about. I live in a one bedroom apartment with a patient (albeit unreliably patient) wife and there just isn’t room for a bigger fermentation system. To control temperature I’d need a fridge, a temperature controller and a place to put the two. So all I can really fool around with is the boil, sanitation and recipe formulation. I just hope I can improve the beer by changing the boil process.
It occurred to me that I might be able to test my fermentation conditions by using a fresh wort kit from Dave’s Homebrew. That way I can test fermentation conditions with a professionally made wort. If my beer still tastes like crap then I know it’s fermentation and I may as well quit. If it turns out alright, then it’s most likely the boil and I just need to buy a 3 or 4 ring camp burner. Note: I’ve taken extreme care to sanitise everything to absolute extreme so I can be sure fermentation is controlled and any off flavours aren’t caused by contamination.
Here is the fresh wort cooking away. I will report back once it’s all done.