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The Great Decoction Experiment

This page describes some of the more interesting things about my brewing activity. I started with some brewing kits from Grumpy's Brewhaus, one of Australia's most public brewing supply houses, which happens to be just round the corner from where I live. Initially I brewed some of their (better than average quality) kits, but then I started doing my own thing.

The following entries relate to my online diary, but may have more details than in the diary.

Saturday, 8 November 2003

Did some more thinking about a temperature controlled fermentation enclosure (effectively a fridge with a digital thermostat and a 60W light bulb for warming), and made some progress on that front. Also to Grumpys for some supplies: I'm experimenting now, this time with an all-malt-extract dry-hopped ale. Also wrote a little program to calculate sugar requirements. Sure, there are plenty of programs available on the web, but they all seem a little hard to use. Found a relatively comprehensive library which still left to be desired.

Started a first experimental brew, number 10:

quantity  ingredient 
3 kg  Coopers pale malt extract
38 g  Fuggles hops (pellets)
25 g  East Kent Goldings hops (pellets)
  Coopers Pale Ale yeast starter
20 l  Total volume

This was supposed to be a pretty standard base brew of pale ale, brewed at 18°. Made a bit of a mess of the cooling: didn't really think about it, so it ended up cooling in the fridge overnight. The Fuggles were boiled with the wort for 60 minutes, and the Goldings went into the fermenter at pitching time.

Tuesday, 11 November 2003

On Sunday, Daniel O'Connor offered me what proved to be about 400 empty beer bottles, so planned to go and collect them. In addition, I've been meaning to do a number of partially experimental brews with liquid malt extract, which requires a certain amount of preparation. Coopers make 28 kg cans of malt extract for about 40% of the cost of the 1.5 kg cans, which made it quite attractive. That would make enough beer for the best part of a year, though, and the stuff is hard to handle. Phillipa Jarrett wrote an article on the subject, suggesting the use of a honey gate. The problem is, what's that? On Saturday Andrew Schultz told me of a supplier, John Guilfoyle in Prospect Road, so called them up and discussed the matter, and was little the wiser except knowing that the things weren't frantically expensive.

Down to Grumpys to pick up a can of malt extract and some hops, and also got some “wheat malt” extract. It seems that this is a misnomer: it's 45% wheat malt, 55% barley malt, which is written nowhere on the can. Good to know.

At Guilfoyles, discovered the cause of my confusion: a honey gate is just a kind of tap, so you can't use it on the original drum. Instead you need a second container to which you attach the gate. Fortunately, he had a second-hand bucket there and was able to fit it with the honey gate right away. After cleaning and filling, it looks like this:

Wednesday, 12 November 2003

Spent far too much time brewing beer today. It was supposed to take an hour or so, and with various odds and ends I spent half the day on it. First, I started off a companion brew to batch 10:
quantity  ingredient 
2.9 kg  Coopers pale malt extract
700 g  Cane sugar
38 g  Fuggles hops (pellets)
30 g  East Kent Goldings hops (pellets)
  Coopers Pale Ale yeast starter
26.5 l  Total volume

The difference here was the saccharose: Andrew Schultz of Grumpys had told me that the Coopers malt extract is too high in dextrins for a pure malt brew, and that some refined sugar would make for a better tasting beer. He could be right: I note that after the previous ale brews have been conditioning for about 6 weeks, the body increases greatly, and they already have quite a high proportion of sugars. It'll be interesting to see the difference.

This was also the first time I had used the bulk malt. On the one hand, it was easier than I thought to pour it into the honey bucket, and using the honey gate was also easier than I thought, but I misjudged the amount that was left dribbling after turning off the gate (I'd guess about 250 g), so I ended up with about 200 g more of extract than expected. My calculation programs helped there, but it meant that I had to add 1.5 l of water to get to the same OG as the other brew. Boiled the Fuggles for 60 minutes in water with sugar and citric acid, forgetting that I really needed more; instead, added more Goldings to the cooled wort (this time done better by adding cooled boiled water). I still forgot to check the temperature before pitching, and discovered to my horror that it was 35°. There are too many differences between the two brews, but hopefully I'll be able to decide what creates which difference in the final beer.

Click on the picture for an enlarged version (400 kB)

Sunday, 16 November 2003

I'm planning to brew a couple of wheat beers, one the Grumpy way, the other the Hanghofer way. Here are the planned recipes:

Grumpy Weizen

Mash grain at 66 °C for 60 minutes. Sparge with 76 °C water. Add malt extract and bring to the boil, add hops and boil for 30 minutes. Chill, dilute to 25 litres.

quantity  ingredient 
2 kg  Liquid Wheat Malt
500 g  Pale Malted Barley
250 g  Malted Wheat
250 g  Caramunich Malt
250 g  Munich Malt
  Hallertau Hops
  Hersbrucker Hops
10 g  Hallertau Dry Hop
  Wyeast 3068

This is pretty much the way Grumpy's published it. I've changed the yeast (they recommend Wyeast 3333), and I'll have to calculate the hopping. I'll also add some more malt extract to increase the volume from their “5 gallons” to 25 litres.

Hanghofer Weizen

I'm also planning to adapt a recipe from Hubert's Bierrezepte. Hubert Hanghofer uses only grain brews, so it's quite an adaptation; the intention is to have the same quantities as his recipe, and the comparison with Grumpy's is to see whether the difference between partial mash and all extract is more important than the choice of ingredients. It's taking some time to adapt the quantities, though: in particular, the wheat malt extract is really 50% wheat malt extract, 50% barley malt, and since Hanghofer wants a total of 50% wheat, it doesn't give much leeway for the other components. This recipe may end up getting shelved for a while.

Tuesday, 18 November 2003

Started brew 12, yet another pale ale. This time I put in 5% of crystal malt. I had originally intended to put in 10%, but it's a good thing I didn't: even this much made it very dark. I'm beginning to wonder whether this wasn't dark crystal.

Cooling down is still a problem. Despite everything, I ended up with a wort at 33°. I must buy a beer cooler.

Sunday, 30 November 2003

Brew 13 has been fermenting for ever! It started off normally, and the fermentation rate dropped notably after 3 days, but then it carried on at that rate for nearly another week. I assume it's due to the different yeast. It'll be interesting to see the density when I finally rack it.

On the Weißbier front, finally came up with a compromise between the two brews I was considering: mainly Coopers Wheat Malt extract, which proved to be a mistake. It's far too dark. Managed to cool things quickly by using ice water, so we should be OK on that front.

Thursday, 4 December 2003

Bottled the Pale Ale I made with the Thames Valley yeast today. It had been fermenting for 12 days, but it looks like it would still have continued: there were a number of bubbles at the top of the beer. This yeast really does go on for ever. The SG was 1003, the lowest I've ever had, so I don't think I've done any great harm by bottling now.

The Weißbier that I started on Sunday has finished the primary fermentation. In the process, I noted a distinct change of smell of the exuding gas. Initially it had been nice and fruity, and now it was smelling decidedly sulphurous. Racked the beer, somewhat concerned about infections and other nasties. The yeast smelt decidedly of sulphur, but the raw beer had that Weißbier taste that I was expecting. Presumably this is also what I had at Gordon Biersch in September. This looks like being a real success.

Still, the change of smell got me thinking. Presumably the yeast (Wyeast 3068) consists of a number of different yeasts with different characteristics. If I were to collect the yeast from the secondary fermentation, would it have the same character as the original, or would the late fermenting sulphurous elements predominate? At the moment I don't feel like trying. Instead I'll try a beer with wheat malt instead of Coopers Wheat Malt extract, which is too dark. I'm also curious what a barley-based beer with this yeast would taste like. That might be another one.

Sunday, 16 May 2004

Spent almost the whole day brewing two batches of beer from grain using the tools that I had already prepared. The fun started when trying to sparge the first brew: nothing came out. Expecting that my primitive sparge manifold was to blame, found a tool to extract it from the hot mash, with no difference. Finally traced it to the tap, which was blocked. The taps I'm using come with a little plastic strainer in the nozzle:

Click on the picture to see a medium-size version in the index

Unfortunately, it's relatively easy for a little grain to get in there, and they clog up very easily. The photos here were taken later, when the other tap got itself clogged with nothing more solid than the scum from hop pellets. Here's what it looks like after removing the strainer:

Click on the picture to see a medium-size version in the index

Finding the problem and fixing it was a lot more difficult for the mash, and it took me over an hour. On replacing the manifold, discovered that there are more reasons than uniformity to decide how many slits to put in the manifold: the flow rate was still too low, and I had to remove the thing again and cut three times as many slits in it. After that, mercifully, the sparge worked, and I had no problems with the rest of the brew. In particular, the wort cooler worked nicely, and I was down to pitching temperature in about 20 minutes.

The second brew went better, of course, and I got a really nice, clear wort out of the sparge. I'll be interested to see what effect that has on the flavour of the beer. Certainly the problems have jeopardized my original intention of making two beers which vary only slightly.

It all took a long time. It's probably worth formalizing the time it takes to do a brew like this:

Time from start Activity
0:0 Start mash: 12½ litres of water at 64°, 5 kg malt, resultant temperature 59°
0:2 Place in oven at 60°
0:10 Warm to 63°
0:15 Replace in oven at 63°
1:00 Warm to 72°
1:10 Replace in oven at 72°
1:55 Start sparge
2:10 (after collecting about 5 litres wort) start boil
2:40 By now the sparge should be complete, and the wort should be boiling. Add bittering hops.
3:30 Add aroma hops to boil.
3:40 Start cooling.
4:00 Rack half wort to fermenter, start aerating.
4:30 Rack remaining wort to fermenter, pitch.

So, a total of about 4½ hours for the operation. Admittedly, it shouldn't require much presence, but it's longer than I expected.

Monday, 17 May 2004

This last batch of beer has been interesting: for the first time ever, I aerated the wort of Brew 28 for over half an hour, and it rewarded me by fermenting nearly twice as fast (and noticeably warmer) than I've ever had before. Brew 29 only got about 10 minutes, after which I had to stop because the froth was crawling out of the fermenter. It get fermented at less than half the rate. I'll have to investigate how to aerate the wort without it foaming out of the fermenter; looks like I'll have to aerate about half at a time.

Friday, 28 May 2004

Recently I've started trying older brews to see how my art is progressing. I wasn't prepared for the results:

Saturday, 29 May 2004

A day with a difference today. Started by bottling Brew 29, which went pretty quickly. I used to spend about two hours bottling a brew of beer, but with practice and streamlining I'm now down to over an hour.

In the afternoon turned my attention to a temperature logger kit that I had bought from Ozitronics kits, and which I had seen at in January. In the process, realized that I had forgotten a lot of common knowledge about electronics components, and that the kit instructions didn't help. Which is the positive pole of an electrolytic capacitor? Which way round does a diode go? Spent some time confirming that my suspicions were correct (the capacitors I have have a marking next to the negative lead, which is also shorter; diodes have a bar at the cathode end, the one that is shown as a bar in the circuit symbol). Didn't take long to put the kit together, but connecting up the temperature sensors, which look like small transistors, is terrible. There just don't seem to be any components that you can use for this sort of thing. I need to find a better solution to this issue, but for the time being just kludged it by soldering things together, along with some lengths of (German) telephone wire, which has the most confusing colour coding I've ever seen: all conductors red, most with varied-spacing blue stripes. The spacing is such that you can't tell them apart without stripping at least 10 cm of the outside insulation, so I ended up using a continuity meter to find the ends. The result works, but looks terrible:

Click on the picture to see a medium-size version in the index

More investigation is require before I can really use these things, but at least I'm getting an output like this:

=== root@sydney (/dev/ttyp1) ~ 21 -> cu -s 2400 -l /dev/cuaa0
R V1.0 2002-01-06 20:37:37 C
1 0024.25
3 0023.50
4 0024.68
1 0024.25
The first number on each line is the sensor number (note from the photo that 2 isn't connected), and the second is the temperature in °C. Looking at the values, it seems that the device uses Fahrenheit internally (resolution 0.10 °F) and converts to °C. We can live with that.

Tuesday, 1 June 2004

Did more playing around with my temperature control equipment, and got it mainly to work. Using parallel ports under FreeBSD is less than obvious: /dev/lpt0 is really only for parallel connected line printers, and other equipment, including my relay board, should use /dev/ppi0. The interface is less than obvious: all I/O is performed by ioctl calls. Still, it was relatively trivial to get it to work, and now things seem to be more or less complete. Once I sort out the mechanical issues, I should be ready to control temperatures.

Thursday, 3 June 2004

More work on the fermentation control today, and came to the blindingly obvious solution to my connector problems: what I needed were the kind of connectors that are used on just about every PC to connect the front panel to the motherboard:

Click on the picture to see a medium-size version in the index

I had plenty of them, so spent some time putting things together. The rest worked nicely with a serial cable with 25 pin connectors at each end, which I was able to connect relatively cleanly. It's sad that I have to resort to this sort of solution rather than to get standard solutions.

Friday, 4 June 2004

Still more work on the fermentation temperature controller. Mounted things in the housing of an old computer I have, a 486 DX/2, 66 MHz, 16 MB RAM, running an equally old version of FreeBSD. It's connected to the rest of the world by wireless, which I'm beginning to appreciate more and more for this kind of connection. It's now cheaper to install a wireless card than to run cabling.

The results are more functional than pretty:

Click on the picture to see a medium-size version in the index

This one shows the temperature probe assembly. There are no mounting holes on the probe board, so I had to mount it by its 9 pin serial connector. I had already connected to probe cables to a 25 pin connector. I wanted it inside the case, so I had to connect the flat cable to the serial port on the outside of the case (the grey cable going out through another cutout just below the probe board). I need to find some kind of plate that I can use to mount it inside the case.

Click on the picture to see a medium-size version in the index

This shows the 12V connection to the relay board. I mounted it from the top of the cabinet, and the 12V input is from the computer power supply.

Click on the picture to see a medium-size version in the index

This one shows the other side of the relay board with the mains power connections.

Click on the picture to see a medium-size version in the index

A view of the back of the computer. This shows a number of things:

Saturday, 5 June 2004

Somehow today was all spent with temperature control. Started by installing my new computer-controlled fermentation temperature controller in the laundry:

Click on the picture to see a medium-size version in the index Click on the picture to see a medium-size version in the index

Note the position of the temperature sensors:

Spent a lot of time fine-tuning the software, which still isn't ready. I'll make it available on the web when it is, but at the moment it's not in any good condition to publish. Still, it works well. By the evening I was working on graph plotting software—how I hate gnuplot—and, with the exception of the ugly plotting, came up with a most gratifying graph:
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It looks as if I'll be able to get better than 0.2° accuracy either way.

Sunday, 6 June 2004

Another brew today, this time based on more traditional English malts. The pH was too low, and probably as a result the extract efficiency was lower than I expected. I'll need to address that issue, not made any easier by the fact that my pH meter (with “ATC” proudly written on the case) shows greatly different values at 40° and at 20°.

Based on my experiences two weeks ago, decided to aerate the wort for a full hour. The problem is foaming: I had to stop the aeration of brew 29 because it was overflowing the fermenter. I had a similar problem making a starter a couple of days ago:

Click on the picture to see a medium-size version in the index

Solved that problem by aerating half the wort each in two fermenters:

Click on the picture to see a medium-size version in the index Click on the picture to see a medium-size version in the index

We'll see how that goes. First attempts with the temperature control showed a certain amount of oscillation until I tuned the parameters, but then it looked fine:

Temperature graph

This shows a period of about 18 hours. Look at the bottom (cyan) line: it shows the cooler (bottom state), idle (middle state) and heater (top state). Initially, of course, it had to cool the wort down from 24° to 19.5°. After that, until about 40% through the time, it was heating and cooling alternately. After changing an overshoot parameter, it went a lot better. Note also that, as the fermentation intensity increases, the need for heating goes away, though the ambient temperature is lower than the wort temperature.

Sunday, 13 June 2004

Started brewing Brew 32 today, the first I've done with brewing salts. I decided to go by the general recommendations in John Palmer's "How to Brew". Palmer gives recommendations for the main mineral contents:
Cations (+ charge)
  Calcium       50-150 ppm
  Magnesium     10-30 ppm
  Sodium        0-150 ppm (but recommends > 70 ppm)

Anions (- charge)
  Sulphate      50-150 ppm for light beers
  Chloride      0-50 ppm (recommends some)
Now the problem is the relative weights of the cations and anions. They almost don't overlap: the anions are heavier. In particular, the ratio of magnesium to sulphate in magnesium sulphate is 4 to 1. I've come up with the following table for my personal use:
Substance Molecular proportions inverse
weight proportions
Calcium carbonate 100 0.4 Ca 2.5 Ca
Calcium sulphate
CaSO4.½H2O 145 0.275 Ca 3.625 Ca
0.66 SO4 1.5 SO4
Calcium sulphate 172
Magnesium sulphate 246 0.097 Mg 10.25 Mg
MgSO4.7H2O 0.39 SO4 2.56 SO4
Sodium chloride 58 0.396 Na 2.52 Na
NaCl 0.603 Cl 1.657 Cl
Sodium bicarbonate 84 0.274 Na 3.652 Na
Calcium Chloride
Hydrochloric acid 36. 0.97 Cl 1.03 Cl
Hydrochloric acid, 30% 0.29 Cl 3.43 Cl

The way this table works is: the “proportions” table tell you what proportion of the substance is the ion in question. The “inverse proportions” tells you how many parts you'll need for one port of the ion.

So: I started out with the following mineral bill:
Ca 100 ppm
Mg 20 ppm
SO4 100 ppm
Na 80 ppm
Cl 100 ppm

Then this table:

Substance ppm Ca Mg SO4 Na Cl
NaCl 110 20 30
NaHCO3 290 60
MgSO4.7H2O 100 20 80

Round about here, the problem became apparent: I already have all the chloride and half the SO4, and I haven't done any calcium yet. How can I do that?

In the end, I compromised: I used the following:

Substance ppm g/25 l Ca Mg SO4 Na Cl
NaHCO3 291 7.28 80
MgSO4 100 2.52

Monday, 14 June 2004

Spent a lot of time looking at the beer temperature control, though, and made many improvements, some of which seem to have made things worse. On the other hand, I was testing on a very vigorous fermentation, and that won't have made things easier. Still didn't find time to get gnuplot to interpret times correctly, so what we're left with is:

graph of initial part of fermentation of Brew 32

From about 60% into the time, the temperature control gets pretty ragged.

Thursday, 17 June 2004

Racked . Considering David Logsdon's recommendations, decided to drop the temperature to 17°. The resultant temperature graph was interesting:
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The second drop to 16° was an experiment. It's fairly clear from the gradient of the ambient temperature (green) that it's taking longer to cool down the beer than the fermenter probe shows. Without stirring the beer, I'm not sure what the correct approach here is. It's also interesting to note that the second fermenter (probe 2, brew 30) cools down more slowly than the first, though it contains the same amount of beer. I can't make up my mind whether this is a question of temperature distribution in the fridge or insulation of the temperature probe.

Tuesday, 14 September 2004

You'd think that beer brewing was an established enough tradition that there wouldn't be anything very new to report, but it seems that enzymes work differently in German speaking countries and English speaking countries: the recommended optima for α-amylase and β-amylase during mashing are different in the two countries:

Enzyme pH range pH range Temperature range Temperature range
Germany USA Germany USA
β-amylase 5.4—5.6 5.0—5.5 60—65° 45—66
α-amylase 5.6 5.3—5.7 72—75° 68—72°

Sent a message out asking about the discrepancies. The answers should be interesting.

I didn't get many answers, but John Palmer sent a document describing the process in much more detail. It's not exactly a predigested answer, unfortunately.

Saturday, 15 January 2005

While cleaning out the fridge I found a couple of samples of Wyeast 3068 Weihenstephaner Weißbier Yeast, dated 1 December 2003. This appears to be part of the original starter I made the day before. This is related to a question I asked David Logsdon last year. Set up some wort for a new starter; we'll see how things progress.

Sunday, 16 January 2005

Bottled brew 45 and brew 46 today. They both had a very high FG despite looking as if fermentation had completed. Particularly brew 46 worries me: the FG was 1022/8.7% Brix, and by the time I measured it I had already added my standard 9 g/l of saccharose, which could mean that I've just put 40 bombs into the beer cupboard. Decided that it probably wouldn't attenuate that much more and bottled them anyway (the most obvious alternative appeared to be to throw away the brew, which seems a bit extreme). I'll take a look in a few days and see how things are looking.

When I started these two brews, I put some wort into a couple of glasses and left them on the kitchen window sill. Things here are definitely not sterile:

Click on the picture to see a medium-size version in the index

It took them about 5 days to start doing something, and today one (brew 46) was covered in mould, while the other one looked normal. Testing the refractive index, I found that both had attenuated more than the beers I had just bottled: the sample from brew 45 had 8.3% Brix, and brew 46 had 6.4% Brix. I don't suppose it would have been the same if I had kept them at the same temperature. Maybe I should do that next time.

The smell of the brew 45 sample was OK, though I didn't dare try it; earlier it had had a rather rotten (sulphurous?) smell. brew 46 obviously smelt of mould.

The 3068 yeast culture is looking quite happy. I only made about 500 ml of it, so I suppose it's worth stepping up to a litre or so. Then I can have another go at Weißbier next weekend.

Tuesday, 22 March 2005

Today was harvest day for my hops. Ended up with 600g (before drying) of “Pride of Ringwood” hops:

Click on the picture to see a medium-size version in the index

Now to work out the best way to dry them. Initially I thought of a cool oven (40°), but I was worried that they might lose what little aroma they have. Decided to leave them to dry out at room temperature, which I suppose could take a couple of days.

Saturday, 2 April 2005

Brew day again today, which meant that I didn't get much else done. Tried a few new things:

In addition had problems with my temperature control stuff. One of the sensors seems to have contact problems, and the software is not handling them well:
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Diary entry for Saturday, 2 April 2005


It's the red line in the graph, of course. Time for some programming.

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