By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
There are many things that can go awry during the brewing process. Anything that happens before your wort hits the fermenter is fixable, for the most part. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot to be done to salvage your precious beer if you encounter issues during fermentation. There are, however, a few steps you can try along with tips to avoid future tragedy.
The most important step that should be taken before any kind of fermentation begins is cleaning. Everything that touches your wort post-boil, during fermentation and post-fermentation should be sanitized. Use a cleaning solution that won’t leave a residue but will adequately remove all debris from equipment. A variety of chemicals are available at your local homebrew shop. What works best for you might not be what someone else prefers. The same goes for sanitizer. Ask your homebrew shop attendant for advice. That being said, this isn’t the Dark Ages and there are much better reasonably-priced options on the market besides bleach. The cleaning agent and sanitizing solution should always be two separate chemicals. While most cleaning agents can also act as a sanitizer, it’s best to be overly cautions.
The next thing to address is the fermentation equipment. Whether you are using plastic buckets, glass carboys or stainless steel containers, be sure that all the parts and pieces fit well to create tight seals. The stopper the airlocks go in need to be the right size and make sure that there’s only one way for gas to leave the fermenter. This will allow you to see active fermentation and it reduces the chance that something will find its way into the batch. Remember, the airlock is the line of defense against the outside world.
Sometimes liquid in the airlock can get sucked into the fermenter. And if there is anything undesirable in that liquid — a dead bug, for instance — you might infect your batch with bacteria. To avoid this, use sanitizer or 100-proof alcohol on the airlock just in case anything does reach that device.
Now that the post-boil equipment is cleaned, sanitized and properly installed, the next step to ensuring proper fermentation is the yeast itself. Proper pitch rates and ensuring there is plenty of oxygen are just a few factors to consider. When building a recipe, be sure you have a high starting gravity and account for that with a little more yeast than normal. That way your fermentation won’t stall, which could result in a product that is under-attenuated and too sweet.
Yeast doesn’t like to be abused, and the easiest way to hurt your yeast is with large temperature swings. If you are using a liquid yeast, you want it to be as close in temperature as the wort you’re pitching it into. A large temperature gap can rupture the cell walls of the yeast. Don’t let the yeast get too warm, though. If fermentation is too hot, you could end up with an entirely different set of problems.
Yeast also have two stages of fermentation. The first is aerobic where they actually consume oxygen to multiply. The second is anaerobic when the yeast begin to consume sugar and create all of those wonderful byproducts. The best time to introduce oxygen to the wort is before the yeast is pitched and after the wort is cold. Introducing oxygen after the pitch might create off-flavors.
As homebrewers, we can only guide the yeast to help us create award-winning beer. Give those little guys a fighting chance to reduce chances things will go wrong.
Fizzy Yellow Protocol [AG]
Fizzy Yellow Protocol [Extract]
By Dustin Gouker
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The harvest this year at Mecca Grade Estate Malt was more about the future than the present.
After harvesting a full 300 acres of Full Pint barley and overproducing in 2016 to fill up its storage, the farm and malthouse outside of Madras grew by just 40 acres this year.
But in that same field were 30 different selections for The Next Pint Project, a partnership with Oregon State University for breeding a new variety of barley that will eventually be used by Mecca Grade. (The Full Pint variety was also bred by OSU.)
It was the second of a three-year program. Last year, there were 130 crosses planted at the farm, whittled down to 30 this season based on a variety of factors, eliminating strains that didn’t work out.
After this year’s harvest, the field is down to eight, with the goal of selecting one variety that the farm will produce moving forward, according to co-founder Seth Klann.
“The selection criteria will be based on finished beer for that variety,” said Klann. “We’re looking for something bred exclusively for our conditions in Central Oregon, our irrigation, and hopefully we find some sort of unique flavor, because that’s what it’s all about.”
Barley is often an afterthought for breweries, but Mecca Grade — which raises its own barley and also malts it on the premises — is trying to change that. Most malt for brewing in North America comes from a few large producers. But by farming its own unique barley and malting it, the business is creating a niche for itself in the craft brew industry.
“Because we’re an estate malt house, people ask us ‘Well does all your stuff come from your own farm?’ And I answer ‘Yes,’” said Klann, who runs the farm with his father. “And I think it surprises a lot of people, because even other craft malt houses are having to source from all over the place.
“So everything comes off of our own family farm. And I know that it limits production, but on the other hand the only people that are invested in it are me and my dad,” Klann continued. “We’re not set up to have explosive growth and become this huge thing, and I know the brewers we work with don’t want that either. So as long as we can keep things slow and steady and putting out really rare reserved malt, that’s what we are going to do.”
The list of brewers and beers using Mecca Grade’s malts is constantly growing. (You can see a full lineup on the website.) The Ale Apothecary in Bend now makes all its beer with Mecca Grade malt. Yachats Brewing on the coast uses it for about 95 percent of its beer, according to Klann.
This fall, you’ll see beers using this year’s harvest at Hood River’s pFriem Family Brewers and Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, Klann said. Deschutes Brewery, which has produced several beers using Mecca Grade’s product, has another beer in the making that will feature the farm’s crop.
“We’re going through the process of getting all of our barley certified Salmon-Safe, and that’s been big for Deschutes, and it’s been big for Crux [Fermentation Project],” Klann said.
But Oregon craft breweries are not the only destination for Mecca Grade’s malt. About half of it goes to California; its pilsner-style malts are being used in hazy IPAs.
“Our malt is definitely not cheap, and I think in Oregon the price is going up, but it kind of prohibits people from experimenting with better and more local ingredients,” Klann said. “But down there the price has already gone up, so people are just kind of chasing after the next secret ingredient for making better beer.”
Beer makers as far away as Allagash Brewing Company in Maine have also used Mecca Grade.
If you’re looking for Mecca Grade malt for your homebrew, you can find it at retailers in Portland (F.H. Steinbart Co.), Bend (The Brew Shop) and Corvallis (Corvallis Brewing Supply).
By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
If you love to experiment, it’s no wonder you’re a homebrewer. Anything that we can eat safely can be used to craft your next award-winning beer. But all too often, brewers get stuck with the same old ingredients out of habit. The only way to break the cycle is to try something very different — something that perhaps you’ve never heard of anyone else using before. For example, maybe you want to explore the possibilities of a tropical fruit like a banana. But what about swapping in banana candy? Yes, candy! Using candy in beer is twice as easy as using fruit and you might discover some interesting outcomes in the process of experimenting.
Candy may seem like a cop-out ingredient because it’s basically sugar and flavoring. However, it offers several advantages. Ginger candy, for instance, doesn’t have a sharp bite or taste anything like raw ginger. Licorice is similar. But we can push the boundaries further. Why not step outside the box and brew up a watermelon Sour Patch Kid cream ale? How about a lemon drop Berliner weisse? The best part about deciding what type of candy to pair with certain styles is that the sky’s the limit.
One thing you do need to be careful of is ensuring that the candy doesn’t have a large amount of preservatives. You’ll also want to take into account that candy is mostly sugar and flavoring. The sugar will ferment away and leave behind some of the flavoring. Some candies are not very tasty once the sugar has been removed, so taste testing is a must when selecting the right treat for your brew.
Once you’ve selected your candy and beer recipe, you’ll want to know when to use it during your brew day. Since it’s mostly sugar, definitely add it sometime before or during fermentation. Putting candy in the boil can help dissolve and sterilize it, making sure you get the maximum amount of sugars possible. But if you put the candy in at the beginning of the boil, you run the risk of caramelizing it. This could also ruin the compounds that give the candy its unique qualities that you’re trying to impart on your brew. Tossing in the candy at the end of the boil is optimal, then. Stir to be sure it has all dissolved. If this isn’t happening fast enough, take a bit of the wort and put it in a separate bowl — then add the candy. While chilling the rest of the wort, you can stir the candy with the hot wort and add it directly to the fermenter or pour it back into the boil kettle once it’s dissolved. If you add the candy solution to the fermenter, be sure to have enough chilled wort in the container so that the temperature isn’t affected.
Remember that experimentation is the name of the game. You’re the brewer coming up with new and interesting flavor profiles. If you enter your beer in a competition and it doesn’t fit neatly into a style category, you’re doing something right.
Drop the Lemon [AG]
Drop the Lemon [Extract]
By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Now that the holiday season is in full swing, it’s the time of year for big, malty spiced ales with alcohol contents that make even the heaviest drinker blush. This style of beer isn’t particularly complicated to make and mastering a solid holiday recipe will ensure that your family gatherings are a bit more festive.
Raid the Spice Rack
There are a number of flavors that seem to define the holidays, and many can be found on your spice rack. We’ll cover some of the most popular that bring comfort when the weather turns cold: allspice, anise, cinnamon, clove, ginger, molasses, nutmeg, orange peel and vanilla.
Allspice: Allspice introduces that potpourri punch that you’ll often encounter in the home decor department of a big box store. While it does have cinnamon notes, there are also hints of clove and nutmeg. Allspice tastes like it smells, so be aware that a little goes a long way.
Anise: One spice that has as many fans as it does haters is anise. The black licorice flavor can be a fantastic addition to a mulled beverage when added with other spices. However, it can be difficult to single out in some beer styles.
Cinnamon: The spicy heat in cinnamon can be warming in a brew, but if used in excess it’s overwhelming. Sweetness and woody flavors are also present.
Clove: With a similar flavor profile to allspice, clove might be more approachable because it has a bit of sweetness. It’s best used with other spices because it can be intense.
Ginger: Ginger root can be found in the produce department, and the difference between using fresh and dried ginger, even in grandma’s pumpkin pie recipe, is quite noticeable. Fresh ginger can provide your brew with a sharp bite and aromatic punch.
Molasses: This should be treated like any other brewing sugar. Add it at the very end of the boil so that it can dissolve without burning or over-caramelizing, which would lead to an unwanted residual sweetness. Be sure to use unsulfured molasses, which is of the highest quality.
Nutmeg: If you’re looking for a wonderfully sweet and nutty touch to a brew, nutmeg is your friend.
Orange Peel: This is another ingredient that can be used fresh or dry. Dried orange peel can be found in two forms: bitter and sweet. Your local homebrew shop will likely have both versions, and if you give them a smell you can accurately determine how they’ll affect your brew. You can also opt for fresh zest from the peel, avoiding as much of the pith as possible, to add a pop of citrus.
Vanilla: If you’re looking for strong vanilla flavor, you can “dry hop” the gooey center of split vanilla beans. Sample the brew every few days to taste the progression to avoid overdoing it. However, you can also add vanilla extract in small doses over time.
All of the dry spices listed should be added with five minutes left in the boil and then steeped while you’re chilling the wort. Fresh ginger and orange peel should go in at flameout or even used as “dry hop” additions to help maintain as much of the flavor as possible.
Now that we have our entire spice cabinet ready for the brew day, the next step is deciding on the base. Style guidelines suggest “a stronger, darker spiced beer that is a good accompaniment to the cold winter season.” Therefore, look to a style that is malt forward, higher in alcohol content and little- to no-hop presence, which will allow the spices to shine. If you do add hops, turn to varieties with spicier notes instead of the citrus bombs that would go into an IPA.
Fortunately, there’s plenty of room to experiment with spiced beers, so have fun playing with the spice rack!
Holly Day Ale [AG]
Holly Day Ale [Extract]
By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The process of fermentation is a wondrous one. As brewers, we only have so much control over the outcome of a batch. Much of the work is done by yeast, and we simply strive to create an environment for that yeast to flourish. Besides adding a bunch of sugar for the yeast to metabolize, there is another ingredient that’s often overlooked on the homebrew level: oxygen. Yes, oxygen is bad in a finished beer, giving it a cardboard-like flavor. However, it’s crucial for the beginning of fermentation. Having the right amount of oxygen dissolved in your wort is going to noticeably affect the completed brew. The yeast will reproduce better, fermentation will be faster and the finished beer will be cleaner.
Now that you know that oxygen is beneficial, how do you get it into solution? The easiest and least invasive way to get oxygen into the wort is to either shake your fermenting vessel (not recommended with glass carboys) or by allowing the wort to splash as it flows into the fermenter. These methods are easy and cheap and it’s also next to impossible to get too much oxygen into the fermenter.
Another method involves an oxygen tank (available at some hardware stores) and a diffusion stone (available at most homebrew supply shops). The stone should be connected to a hose that comes off of the regulator on the oxygen tank. When the tank is opened, the tiny holes in the stone force oxygen into the batch. With a pure gas supply, there is the risk of over-oxygenating. If this happens, fermentation will be rapid but the yeast can stall and fail to clean up off flavors such as diacetyl and acetaldehyde — presenting the unwanted essence of buttery popcorn or green apple.
The amount of dissolved oxygen needed is approximately 1 part per million (ppm) for every degree plato. For instance, if you have a beer with a starting gravity of 1.065, your plato is 15.9, so you would need just under 16 ppm of oxygen. There are a handful of ways to measure dissolved oxygen in a solution. The most expensive method is a handheld electronic meter, which comes with a probe that’s inserted into the wort in order to extract oxygen and provide a reading. Unfortunately, this also removes oxygen from the batch, so if you try to obtain another reading from the same spot, the number will be lower.
Another, less-expensive option for measuring is a colorimetric test. This can be found at most aquarium supply stores and works like a chlorine test for a swimming pool. Simply add some wort to a vial, dilute it with water and then add a chemical that will turn the solution a different color (usually blue). Compare this shade to the provided chart and you’ll have a measurement. Of course, this won’t work well on dark beers.
The least-expensive way to measure is simply to experiment, which is what homebrewing is all about anyway! Start by adding small amounts of oxygen with each batch until you notice an improvement in your beer. Record the length of time you allowed the oxygen to bubble or how long you shook your fermenter and then make that a common practice. Once you’re in the right range, you’ll only need to take readings every couple of batches to ensure you’re still on track.
Nasal Blaster [AG]
Nasal Blaster [Extract]
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.