September 28, 2011

Pumpkin Ale Brew-day

With fall right around the corner I recently brewed my first pumpkin ale. The idea with pumpkin ales is not to make a beer that tastes like a pumpkin (ever had pumpkin on its own ?) but to spice the beer so it reminds people of pumpkin pie. That being said nearly all pumpkin ales have pumpkin in them, it provides some extra starchiness, orange hue, and some extra  fermentable material. Additionally you couldn't really call it a pumpkin ale if there was no pumpkin in the beer could you ?

The brew-day went pretty good with only 1 or 2 minor issues. Generally pumpkin ales are notorious for stuck mashes and slow runoff''s. I avoided the problem of gumming up the mash with the pumpkin I dissolved the puree in the mash water while the RIMS system was recirculating. Additionally i added extra rice hulls to the grist.

The wort running into the brew kettle after had a great orange color, exactly like the outside of a pumpkin.

The rest of the brew-day was pretty much normal I only used 3 ounces of hops in the recipe, just enough to counter the sweetness of the wort.

I also change my method of whirlpooling on this brew. I lifted the hop bag out of the wort and let it drain over the kettle which let me get the wort spinning much faster leading to a better trub cone after transfer.

I ended up with 4 carboys full of beer, fermentation started within a few hours of pitching. Im letting this beer ferment in the ambient temperatures so it should finish pretty quickly. After fermentation is done I'm going to make vodka tinctures with some typical pumpkin pie spices and add them at kegging.

September 26, 2011

Brewery Tour

If I'm going to be talking about making beer it's probably high time I let people see what I'm working with.
This is the beginning of the obsession. Just a corner of basement jazzed up with some paint  and a few second hand stainless steel tables. At this point the mash- tun was still a cooler and we were boiling in a makeshift kettle that would come apart when the burner was run for too long. This version of the brewery didn't last too long, one big spill of water lead to tile floor, a floor drain, a walk-in cooler and automation for the brewery.

The boil kettle is just a standard blichmann 55 gallon kettle nothing special. The kettle is fired by a 180,000 BTU burner which was made out of a free stainless table, its hard piped natural gas controlled by an automated gas valve.

The hot liquor tank is a very nice piece of equipment. It holds about 25 gallons of sparge water, its heated by a water jacket with an electric heating element that is also automated.

The RIMS mashing system is by far the most complicated part of the brewery. It uses a 30 gallon blichmann kettle, false bottom and sparge arm. Mash water is recirculated from under the false bottom and back over the top of the grain bed. The flow rate is controlled by a flow rate meter and a gate valve. The system is automated with the use of an automated gas valve and temperature probe.

The automation for the system is achieved through a BCS-462, The unit controls the gas valves and takes temperature readings from the HLT, Mash, and all refrigeration spaces. It can be accessed online from anywhere making reading the data logs and changing fermentation temperatures very easy.
The unit can be accessed at  (user: admin, pass: beer) these are guest settings so feel free to visit without fear of changing any settings.
This system needs some more work, the digital temperature and analog blichmann thermometer don t agree and mash temperatures have been frequently missed. Next brew will see a new temperature probe placement which should resolve the issue.

The grain mill is a motorized MM3 monster mill. The extended hopper holds about 20 pounds of grain. This is another system that might benefit from a few small changes. The mill jams occasionally when grain gets behind the roller, also a gear reduction motor would allow the mill to be even stronger also reducing jamming. Also, This thing has zero safety features some yellow lights that turn on when the mill is running could be useful, maybe some scary stickers of a hand being crushed would be a nice touch.

The walk-in fridge is huge. It could probably hold 35 kegs easily  along with many bottles. It was made by sticking out the walls, adding a stupid amount of insulation, a vapor barrier and some finishing work. Cooling is provided by the guts of an old commercial freezer. Additionally the walk-in has taps coming through the wall with chalk board labeling system.
Fermentation takes place in a 27 gallon blichmann conical fermenter when its available. It lives in the seven-up fridge in the above photo. Soon the 42 gallon extension will be making an appearance hopefully in time for the run of assorted winter porters. Next upgrade for this system is a thermowell to monitor actual beer temperature and not ambient temperature.

Thats most of the brewery. I didn't bother showing the storage spaces because nobody really needs to see empty bottles and kegs stacked up. Here are a few pictures of the whole operation.

September 16, 2011

American Saison Tasting

Over the summer I decided to brew my first saison, at the time I had never tried any commercial versions of the style. In preparation I did some reading in Brew Like A Monk, Designing Great Beers , and so I felt comfortable with my recipe and what I expected from the beer. While I feel I had a good plan I forgot to put any simple sugars into the   beer so it ended up not being as dry as I would have liked. Also I stepped away from style but only a bit by adding homemade extracts of lavender and thyme (made by soaking the herbs in vodka and filtering)
Appearance: Translucent copper/orange color. Off white head with reasonable (not great) head retention. Brilliant clarity
Aroma: Herbal/earthy esters and spiciness from rye malt/ thyme dominate. Hints of lavender.
Flavor: Herbal, slightly malty, smooth bitterness (in balance with beer) somewhat thick/ heavy mouthfeel, high level of carbonation gives a clean finish

Next time I brew this I will be sure to add the simple sugar (will be honey) to dry it out a bit, I will probably also tweak the malt bill to further dry the beer out. Also it needed a little more age on it, by the time it really hit it's prime there was only about 20 beers left.

September 15, 2011

Beer School

I have been planning on going to beer school after i graduate SUNY Albany. Originally I was looking at the American Brewers Guild but recently i changed my mind and decided to go to the Siebel Institute. Here are the strengths and weaknesses from both institutions as far as I see them.
American Brewers Guild:
ABG was my first choice, they only offer online or "distance learning" classes which I was planning on taking anyway, they have locations in Windsor Vermont and Sacramento California where the final exam will be held. They offer two types of courses, First the intensive brewing science and engineering (IBS&E) which is a 23 week course including a week long residential study at a working brewery. Tuition is $6,750 which includes all books and materials. Second, the craft brewers apprenticeship (CBA) is a 28 week course it also includes a week long residential study but goes further in offering a 5 week (unpaid) internship at a working craft brewery. Tuition for this program is $8,950 including books and materials.
For both programs the prerequisites are as follows
Math: Precalculus or algebra
at least one from the following list
(1) Biology: microbiology, cell physiology or biochemistry
(2) Chemistry: general college level chemistry (must include organic, inorganic and analytical)
(3) Physics: heat and mechanics or process control
(4) Engineering: topics in mechanical or chemical engineering
I expected the prerequisites but the major issue with ABG is that they have such small class sizes that registration is closed until 2014 (not a typo) and even then there are lots of people waiting to get in meaning I would have to really put my education on hold. That being said I really like the internship opportunity with a craft brewery.
The Siebel Institute:
Recently I changed my plan, originally I was going to wait and got to ABG but now i have decided to go to Siebel. Siebel is the oldest brewing school in the US (founded 1868). The degree you get from Siebel seems, to me at least, to be more respectable.
Siebel is located in Chicago but also offers distance learning programs. Siebel offers many types of courses from an advanced homebrewing course to the full on master brewers program. They have an international reputation as well working with the Doemens academy in Germany, the Institute for brewing and distilling (IBD) in the UK and the World brewing academy (WBA).
The cost of different programs and individual classes varies from $810 for a business of brewing overview to $20,000 for the entire master brewers program. I chose to start on the associates in brewing technology. It consists of 3 "modules" (like semesters) raw materials and wort production, beer production and quality control, and packaging process and technology (will run a little over $9,000 total). These are all considered upper level courses and instead of listed prerequisites you can either take the concise course in brewing technology (2 week introductory course, no prerequisites) or contact Keith Lemcke (vice president at Siebel and WBA). In an effort to skip the intro course I contacted Keith and he basically gave me an interview via email. He asked about my brewing experience, educational background, titles of specific books I have read and my goals for brewing education. After my assessment he told me it was basically up to me but that most people entering the course are already professional brewers or have more sciences than I do but ultimately it was up to me.
 I decided to take the concise course first then enter the upper level course because i don't want to be behind before i start even though this will add another $3,000 to my total cost.
Why did I choose Siebel if they don't offer an internship and i will spend more money ? I actually want to enter the brewing industry sometime before I'm 40 and i can work on my studies at Siebel on a module by module basis while still at SUNY and hopefully graduate from college and beer school at about the same time.Also the range of courses offered at Siebel is way more in depth and the faculty includes some famous figures in the beer world (Ray Daniels, Randy Mosher, Chris White).
Additionally I think while I'm studying at Sibel I may be more recognized when I'm shopping my resume around.

September 13, 2011

Hollis Brewing Company Introduction

So I have decided to start a blog (lame). My hope is by blogging I can get some more exposure  and showcase my eventual entry into professional brewing and starting of my own brewery (fingers crossed). In the meantime I will use this as a place to keep tasting notes about brews, letting people know whats coming up and available in my (home)brewery and maybe some recipes (though for whatever reason I am always tight lipped about those).
So thats it hopefully people will actually read and enjoy.