Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Building a DIY Hopback Torpedo Randall HopThang!

 Hi all,

Well, I may be thousands of miles(3,300 of them to be precise) from The Brewery but i can continue to make improvements to put in place for the 2012 brewing season. A couple of years ago i found myself online looking at nice shiny bits of kit the purpose of which is the infusion of hop aroma into a beer. They were named 'Hopback' 'Hop Torpedo' and in one particular case 'Randall the Enamel Animal'! The various designs were for use at differing stages in the brewing process. All are very nice and some were extremely shiny (Blichmann version) but to my mind they were also expensive and did not add up to a worthy purchase on my personal 'Bang per Buck scale'.

The idea of an additional way to add a further hop layer to a beer stayed with me and thus I decided that HopThang should be built and added to my brewhouse. I'm sure most of  you have read about Hopbacks, Hop torpedo's and maybe even Randall as well? Somewhere in the middle of these Hop infusion wonders is a thing such as HopThang. The idea (for those who aren't in the know) is that it can be used to infuse a hop aroma into the beer post fermentation and at the same time the hops can strip X amount of yeast from the beer (mucho gracias, Pdtnc). 

 Part of my current brewing process is a basic recirculation through the grain bed after 'The Rest'  for preboil clarity. In addition to this i have found  that recirculation through the hopbed post boil makes a tremendous difference to the clarity of the wort. To my mind one more recirculation postfermentation seems like a good idea, .....doesn't it?

These ideas fit in nicely with my 'kind of green but always practical' brewing philosophy. Anyway, that's my justifications out of the way, here's the gear!

I started by purchasing a simple 10" water filter housing from Ebay without any cartridges. Very similar to the one linked below.

Water filter housing

 I removed the filter housing(the top part of the assembly) and fitted it with a small section of flexible hose held in place by stainless steel hoseclamps. The flow of the beer is in reverse to the filter housings design. That's OK as we want to use it as a HopThang not a filtration unit!

Next, I installed a length of stainless steel tubing to ensure that the beer went to the bottom of the filter housing bowl before its return trip up through the hop flowers and hop screen..

The fitting you can see on the tube is a sliding fitting as well as being the filter screen carrier. This allows the filter screen to slide up and down within the filter bowl depending on the volume of hop flowers used. In addition to this the fitting has been fitted with a compressible rubber seal which will allow the fitting and thus the hop screen to be held in place on the pipe once the desired hop volume has been determined.

We messed about with a couple of ideas for the hop filter itself. In the end we went with a handmade screen drilled with 3mm holes to reduce risk of blockage.I am very happy with the look of the hop screen. An unappreciated work of art! :)

We then trial fitted the filter bowl. There is a very slight taper to the inside of the bowl, here you can see the filter screen at the lowest point i would use. This has the added bonus of there being a reasonable volume of 'free' space above the hop filter. I will be able to see the clarity of the wort and watch the process happening. I see this as an advantage over the stainless versions.

After that it was fabrication of the wall mounting bracket and cut out for the air bleed button.

The plan is for the unit to be put in line with the bottling point line on the conical fermentation vessel and the beer will then be circulated through HopThang. My guess as i am many thousands of miles from my hops, is that the assembly will hold between 3.5 to 7 oz of dry hop flowers. The flow of beer will be supplied by a 24V Speck magnetic coupled pump. I will have some reworking and additions to the brewery pipework to do on my return to Scotland. I have high hopes for this unit moving my beer up another level and i am very much looking forward to trying it out. :)

Hello to Ghana, Puerto Rico, Serbia & Peru new readers of the Blog. Welcome Onboard, I hope you are brewing interesting beers there! :)

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Thursday, 10 November 2011

Quad B MkII & III update

Hi all,

Its been 10 days since i introduced the Brett C to the Duvel/Chimay 1.034 Gravity environment. All has went to expectations. The Duvel/Chimay split ran with the fermentation for around 5 days(i am not taking gravity samples this is going purely on visual). The MkII(no figs) then stopped and the head settled slowly into the beer. I have seen no activity at the airlock for the past 3 days and then this morning it was off and running again. No pectine layer yet but its pineapples at the airlock with the Brett C on center stage!

I am not going to make any further additions to the MkII as it's purpose is to show the differences that the Brett C brings to the table. As you may remember the base beer had an OG of 1.052. The Brett C was introduced at 1.032 and should going on past performance pull the gravity down to 1.003. This will give a nice light coloured light bodied Belgian style beer of approx 6.4% ABV. In other words i will have a Funked up Duvel type beer. I am quite looking forward to that!

The Mk III

The Mk III is still running in Duvel/Chimay mode(i think) as there has been consistent activity at the airlock. About 50% of the figs are now in puree form on the bottom of the FV. Note all colour leached from the figs!

I am still smelling sulphur at the airlock but a LOT less than when it was running full bore. I am hoping that the Brett C will finish off the fermentables and that the fig layer will settle to bottom and firm up. I hope for this as the beer will be transfered to the glass 5 gallon fermenter (less O2 permeability for the long term) in the New Year and i will be adding around 6 bottles of my 2009 Russian Imperial Stout to the party. The RIS finished at 1.036 so i will achieve a few goals with this addition. Darkening of the beer, maintain the general ethos of wild brewing by blending an aged beer into a new beer thus changing its flavour and introducing further fermentables for the Brett C to work on.

Who can say how this one will end up? I am of course hoping for excellent! As i am allowing myself the luxury of a long time line on this beer we will leave to the side (for the moment)  the introduction of the dark chocolate and Kilos of cherries in 2012.

 I am departing these fair shores for an unknown number of weeks and the temperatures are dropping nicely here in Scotland. Thus the opportunity was seized to throw together my 1st lager. It is in a Bohemian Lager style so i am looking for a bit of colour & body to the finished product. I used M.O & Munich as the base along with Hallertau Tradition & Styrian Goldings as the late hop. Yeast is Saflager W34/70 and its an 11 gallon batch with an OG of 1.046 and a current fermentation temperature of 14 degrees. Its not going to be the best lager in the world but its a first step for me in a direction i have disdained for far too long.

The above shot was taken this morning. I find it strange to have very little in the way of yeast presence(odour) in the fermenting beer. Also this is the 1st time i have opened the valve in the bottom of the conical and nothing but beer came out. Top fermenting yeasts eh?

Guilt time

Quad B has only been in the bottle since the 4th Nov, so theres no way i should be trying it out, right?

WELL, it turns out that a couple of bottles magically moved from the conditioning cellar(lower kitchen cupboard) to the chilling room(spare fridge). The beer is obviously fresh and not 100% clear BUT it does have a beautiful banana/nutty thing going on in it. Seriously smooth and there is a light peppery note to it right at the end of a gulp(sorry i meant tasting sip). Carbonation is excellent and the head holds to the bottom of the glass. I am very surprised that the beer tastes this good so fast. I put it down to the Duvel/Chimay yeast being commercial yeasts and have been picked by men with larger brains and more experience than myself to crack on and get the job done quickly. Also the yeast sticks to the bottom of the bottles. The picture below is 3 days ago.

I love the idea that 2 bottles of Belgian beer that were bought and drank 2 years ago are still paying me dividends to this day. I am aware(and hope that you are for your own experiments) that each time i brew with this split it will be changing and the beer will vary as the balance between the two alters. Nonetheless, i would suggest that anybody reading this who hasn't tried culturing yeasts from bottle conditioned beers should get up and get themselves to the shop! My recomendation(as if you didn't know) is Duvel and Chimay Red yeasts together and fermented at 16 degrees. I would be very interested to hear from anybody else who has had success with bottle recovered yeasts as i like to try new things without TOO much trial and error!  

Right! That's enough of my pish for 2011. I'm off to Saudi Arabia tomorrow morning so i'll see you in 2012. Hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and a great and very Happy New Year.
Slainte! :)

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Friday, 4 November 2011

Quad B Mk I bottled with MkII & MkIII progressing nicely

Hi all,
Well that was rather quick wasn't it? The 6 gallon of the original 16 gallon batch of base beer finished out 2 days ago at a nice 1.010FG. I was deliberate in a lower fermentation temperature on this batch(16 degrees). The reason for this lowish temperature harks back to a beer i brewed last year on the same yeast combo. I let that batch run all the way up to 24 degrees. Sadly this was too high and the Duvel/Chimay split threw off a load of Phenols, they took a LONG time to blend into the beer.

In this case a 16 degree ferment has left the beer with a nice slight banana ester and no sign of the phenols. I am also smelling a pleasant citrus touch from the hops and general Belgianness. Admittedly its very early days but its looking good!

I set the carbonation levels to give a 2.7 carb volume on this beer. I used my usual application method of a 10ml syringe-full of sucrose/water for each bottle and off we went. I am particulary enjoying the look of the Ex-Efes bottles that i bring back from Turkey on our return from the apartment.

My darling wife still maintains that i am 'off my head' to even think about doing this. Admittedly the carbon footprint of flying a couple of dozen beer bottles back from Turkey to Scotland in our suitcases is high but as the suitcases are mostly empty (still working on the apartment) for our return leg i thought 'why not'?

Please judge for yourself on the finished article. A pleasant ratio between the bottle size/shape and the label size? Or am I as my wife maintains on the slippery slope?

I like this label, nice and basic.

Gratuitous 'Happy days' overview

The other two batches have in a Hary potter style been banished to the cupboard under the stairs for the duration of their fermentation. Just as well as the 4 gallon fig batch is throwing off massive amounts of sulphur at the moment!

As you can see most of the fig mush has risen to the surface. The airlock is still firing like its life depended on it! This fermenter has a daily swirl to keep everything mixed. Once airlock activity drops off and the Brett C takes over i will leave it to its own devices.

The base beer batch which has Brett C intorduced to it has finished fermenting on the Duvel/Chimay and is now settling down to Brett C production. I am keeping an eye on it for a Pectine layer. Some slight pineapple aroma off of the airlock but its kind of masked by the Sulphur from the 4 gallon bad boy!

My wife has bought me a brewery mascot! I have decided to name him Albert. Not sure why but i think it suits him. :)

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Sunday, 30 October 2011

Big Bad Belgian Beer or Quad B 1 to 3

Hi All,
I have recently returned from Turkey where i bought a couple of kilos of totally organic figs at the local market. Here's a shot of me in shopping mode!

I love this market as almost all the fruit and veg is organic and locally grown. I know many of the stall owners from the village itself. Think Tom & Barbera from The Good Life and you will be there!

The man i bought the figs from(and a coke bottle full of his pressed olive oil) is about 70 years old. He's fit as a fiddle and an excellent advert for his own produce. Here's the figs!

As i said in the last blog post i had a plan for a Belgian Style beer. It turned out to be a 16 gallon batch with a starting gravity of 1.052 and a known IBU of 55 but god knows after the frozen hop additions.

Quad B Base beer
8kgs Marris Otter
4 kgs Munich
2kgs Wheat malt
1 kg torrified wheat
150 grammes oats
7 oz FWH Cascade hops
Duvel/Chimay cultured yeast 50/50split 2nd generation.
In the past i have advocated the use of 2nd hand dry hops frozen and then used as FWH in further brews. I thought that the 7oz of Cascade hops looked rather lonely in the bottom of the kettle so i added my current stock of frozen ex dry hops. These are a combination of Pacific Gem, Simcoe, Amarillo gold & Cascase hops. The frozen weight was 3Lbs. My relaxed guess is that they were in their dry form around 8oz.

I personally can see no fault in reusing dry hops to extract everything that I paid for from them. Others may disagree which is fair enough but when i smell those Alpha acids that otherwise would have ended up on the compost heap and not in my beer then i know its the way to go!

Anyway, that's quite enough of me banging the frugal brewer drum, back to the figs! In this case i decided to sterilise the figs by boiling. At the same time i would be able to make the figs more suited to the restricted throat of the FV's.
Large knife and pan time.

They look more fungal than fruit to me in this photo.

A lovely dark sweet smell.

Frozen and stored for a couple of days while the Duvel/Chimay split reduced the SG to 1.032 .

The Duvel/Chimay & base beer was fermented at 18 degrees to keep the phenols & esters under control. The last thing i want is pineapple flavoured solvent! As soon as the base beer was started i cultured the Brett C up to a 400 ml sample.

Apologies for the next shot. I know what it looks like but honestly it IS figs. :) I used an ice cream scoop to get them in through the neck of the FV.

At the moment i have 7 gallon of base beer fermenting on the Duvel/Chimay split, 5 gallon on Duvel/Chimay and now with Brett C introduced. The final (and most exciting to me) is the 4 gallon batch with Brett C & 2 kgs of figs. As we know, fruit flavours undergo huge changes during the fermentation process. With this in mind, i can say with hand on heart that i have no idea how Quad B Mk III will turn out! I can see it being a 1 year beer in the making and i can see the introduction of dark chocolate and some dark malts in a couple of months. If the Brett C does its job Quad B Mk III will be my Xmas beer choice for 2012 but only one at a time and small bottles at that as it will be North of 9% ABV..... ho-ho-ho

Thanks for reading the blog and i hope you take something with you from it. A laugh, education, inspiration. Any of these would make me very happy. Cheers! :)

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