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Beer Style Data – Google Sheets – 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines Spreadsheet

2018 August 3
by Mad Alchemist

A lot of folks used to use my 2008 BJCP style spreadsheet on Google Drive as a quick reference chart. I finally got around to updating it to the 2015 guidelines.

I’m trying to figure out a good way to display the bitterness ratios in bar graphs again after Google nuked the motion charts–right now, it’s not showing most of the style names and I can’t find a way to force it to scroll.

Once I figure that stuff out and have a chance to do so, I’ll update the Relative Bitterness Ratio post and charts here. It’ll be at least a few weeks before that happens.

Anyway… This is purely data, no descriptors of the style:

Beer Style Data – 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines

The Grainfather: Four Brew Review

2018 July 27
by Mad Alchemist

I’ve had the Grainfather for over a month now. After more than 15 years of brewing, I’ve seen the light with regard to indoor systems.

In the short time I’ve had it, I’ve brewed:

  • Mild Mannered – English Dark Mild
  • Het Zinneke – Belgian Pale Ale
  • Sweet D’s Irish Red – Irish Red Ale
  • Quaff Country Helles – Munich Helles

Without having to consider the weather (which is to say, without having to suffer the heat waves of Southern California–during one of my brew days, it was over 110 °F outside), it’s been a pleasure brewing indoors.

Since running into issues on my first brew day with the pump being unable to function at above ~180 °F (documented here), I’ve encountered no major issues with the Grainfather.

Here’s some information on my last brew day as well as more commentary on the Grainfather Connect.

Two Days to Brew Day

I decided to try a delicate style with the Grainfather setup now that I’ve become familiar with it. One of my favorite styles is Munich Helles, so it is time to see if this system is up to the task.

In the past, I’ve traditionally stepped up a single vial of yeast with multiple starters using a 2 liter Erlenmeyer flask with my trusty 8+ year old stir plate from Brewers Hardware.

Some last minute recipe changes made it so I only had 48 hours before pitching, so I had to go with a bigger starter and two packs of yeast.

I brewed up a 1.8 L starter at ~1.038 SG, then crashed it down to ~52 °F with some frozen bottles of water and a rather old brew kettle.

After chilling, I transferred the flask to my chest freezer (aka keezer), which was set to 50 °F to keep the starter at around the same temperature as my planned fermentation. I pitched in two packs of WLP820 Oktoberfest/Märzen Lager Yeast and some yeast nutrient.

After pitching, it became abundantly clear that I was pushing the limits of the starter size in this flask. Because of this, I hit the starter with some pure oxygen using a diffusion stone. I also loosened the foil a bit from what you see above. After this transpired, I saw an INTLLAB Magnetic Stirrer on sale via Homebrew Finds and ordered that and a 3 liter flask.

One Day to Brew Day

I prepared all of the necessary components ahead of time. My reverse osmosis tank is only 3 gallons and produces water at a rate of about 2 gallons an hour or so; commencing water collection tends to be the first thing I do the day ahead. I prepared the various pieces that would be needed the next morning (particularly those for the mash, such as brewing salts, a pH meter, Grainfather, etc.).

I used the Grainfather Connect’s timer feature to get the strike water up to temp before I was ready to brew, which worked out perfectly. I set it to start about 30 minutes before I wanted to brew.

Brew Day

I mashed in at 131 °F and thoroughly mixed my grains with my wooden mash paddle. I stuck with tradition and used acidulated malt instead of phosphoric acid or excessive salts to reduce the pH of the mash. It came out to 5.18 pH with 4 oz of acidulated malt and 3g of Calcium Chloride, which is a touch low but technically okay. I still got persnickety and added a little calcium hydroxide, which brought the pH to 5.34.

Things proceeded largely as normal, but I noticed a lot of liquid running over the top pipe inside and clogging up my sink strainer (thanks, David Heath, for the Grainfather mod recommendations). To test the limits of the system, I actually reduced the crush size on my Monster Mill MM2-Pro (highly recommended–mine’s been going strong for years) to .045″ from .048″.

Turns out, that was a little too fine. It’ll go back up to the larger gap for the next brew. I ended up pausing the mash during the final saccharification rest (148 °F was the second step, then 158 °F was the final), added some rice hulls, then mixed things back up. I might not have suffered a stuck sparge without the hulls, but I didn’t want to risk it.

Speaking of sparging, I put together a simple sparge assembly with a 1/2″ FPT stainless tee – , two 1/2″ barbs, and one 3/8″ barb. The ring is just 1/2″ tubing with some slits cut in it. This worked great! I was able to dial in the ball valve on a second Grainfather (yes, utter overkill as a sparge heater. In the future, I’ll be using my old brew kettle or cooler with a ball valve) to keep the flow even.

You can see above that I had the grain stopper in. This was just force of habit to prevent myself from pouring sparge water down the tube and was completely unnecessary with the new setup.

Above, you can see my Grainfather On Wheels setup. This has proven very convenient for everything except dough-in (the whole contraption moves while stirring up the grains, but it’s not a real problem, just a little quirk). The dolly is a DeVault DEV3000B and has a hole in the middle, which is perfect to reach the reset button if needed.

I added first wort hops through the gaps on the side of the grain basket during the sparge. After the sparge was complete, I introduced a secret weapon of many North American Grainfather brewers: The Brew Hardware HotRod Heat Stick. With a 90 minute boil and a large proportion of pilsner malt, I wanted a good hard boil. I set the Grainfather to 40% power (after some fiddling–for some reason it wanted to go to strange power levels initially) and had the heat stick on a different circuit. It boiled quite nicely and is something I’ll certainly do in future batches.

Did the rest of the brew day go off without a hitch? Of course not!

I knocked off the black pump filter cap at some point during the process. A day later, I replaced that part with stainless steel mesh and a hose clamp. That was a little frustrating since this is intended to be a very clear beer. I stopped collecting wort about 0.5 gallons short of target to reduce the amount of hops and break material I transferred to my fermentor.

A minor bummer, but I already planned to let the trub settle and dump it before pitching, so it didn’t do much in the end apart from slightly annoy me.

The real bummer came later.

Halfway through chilling to lager pitching temp (~47 °F for this batch), my Grainfather Conical’s controller went dark. Black. No pumping, no power. I scrambled and tried to get it to work, then gave up and ultimately found a carboy hood, dismantled a thermowell, grabbed my backup Inkbird temperature controller, and found a 12V DC power supply to get things up and running again.

I’ll talk more about my woes with the Grainfather Conical fermentor (yes, that is how it should be spelled darn it) in a later post about that piece of equipment specifically. Here’s a teaser of the fallout from the troubleshooting process:

Conclusions

I’ve mostly seen heaps of praise for the Grainfather Connect in various YouTube and written reviews. Often, the quirks of the system are pointed out and solutions are provided, but they’re not properly called out as flaws.

After using it four times, I have some thoughts.

The Good

It’s really a convenient piece of kit. Being able to brew inside and mash and boil in one vessel is a pleasure. Transferring my recipe schedule to the Connect is simple and makes step mashes a breeze.

My efficiency has gone through the roof. I’ve had to adjust old recipes to start dialing in my new brewhouse efficiency because my mashes are always above 80% now.

The counterflow wort chiller is very effective. Cleaning the whole thing is a snap.

Really, when everything is working as intended, it’s an outstanding piece of equipment. I spend far more time with my wife and son when brewing with the Grainfather than I ever did with my multi-vessel outdoor setup.

And, Bevie provides outstanding customer service.

The Less Good

Some of my criticisms are just idiosyncrasies of either the Grainfather or myself, but I consider them not good and will cover them here.

The first issue is specifically with the North American unit. It’s simply not that powerful. Getting 8 gallons of wort up to a good rolling boil is virtually impossible without the Graincoat accessory. Even with it, it’s not as strong as I’d like for a pilsner-laden grain bill. I want a bit more of a boil to help drive off DMS precursors.

I also worry about the sparge method. This is a quirk shared by every all-in-one type brewing vessel, so it’s not a direct criticism of the Grainfather. But, I really don’t love the idea of how much wort aeration is going on as I drain into the kettle from above. Given my proclivity for brewing delicate lagers, I do wonder if that will translate to perceivable hot side aeration, oxidation, coloration, reduced malt flavors or aroma, etc. Maybe it’s fine, but it raises my hackles when I do it.

Handles. Have they not been invented in New Zealand? I assume they have them, but they’re conspicuously absent on the Grainfather. I understand the desire to leave handles off the main unit to prevent people from lifting the thing with boiling wort inside, but man does it make it a pain to dump PBW and water out of it as well.

More problematic is the lid. It’s glass and gets really hot. To avoid burning yourself when removing the lid, you have to use brewing gloves, a towel, or something else for protection. It’s not an unforgivable issue, but it’s a quibble.

Something that I can attribute to either the Grainfather or my lack of familiarity with it so far is a problem with chill haze. It’s been quite some time since I’ve experienced issues with chill haze, but I’m seeing it in full force right now. Perhaps it’s the simmering boil or drip sparge method. Honestly, I’m not sure yet. What I do know is that I had not been experiencing chill haze issues with the same recipes using my old system. Take that for what it is (possible–as yet uncertain–correlation).

The final minor niggle is that the discharge pipe is pretty narrow. That combined with the spring and ball used to prevent accidental hot wort spray seems pretty prone to blockage. I’ve had to clear it twice in four brews so far.

The Ugly

The pump. This thing is not rated for boiling temperatures. It seems to be rated to 180 °F. Go figure, my first unit couldn’t pump through the wort chiller because it seized at above temperature. This is clearly a cost cutting measure and really should be remedied. Yes, they’re trying to keep the price down, but they really should find a better pump.

The Android app is also a bit of a letdown. For the past two brews, any time I disconnect from the Bluetooth connection, it loses what recipe I’m brewing on my phone. I either have to restart the entire session and manually advance the steps to where it should be or just let it go, since the Connect controller still remembers what it was doing. I even dug out an old phone last brew to make it a dedicated Grainfather App device, but it still happened (and yes, I followed the advice to make it not use battery saving). This is sold as a feature and I see complaints about both apps frequently on forums.

There are a couple of other design flaws that bug me. The first is the pump filter. The entire assembly is prone to dislodging either through user error or when whirlpooling as Grainfather recommends. So is the black cap on the filter. The outlet can be remedied with a hose clamp. The black cap requires the purchase of a mesh screen and large hose clamp to really solve that. I did the trick that some recommended: I flipped the filter and put the black cap against the temperature probe. That didn’t work in this last batch, as the cap came off anyway.

O-rings. There are one or two o-rings that are really prone to getting destroyed. I’ve murdered two o-rings already where the discharge pipe connects to the ball valve. This occurs because screwing in and out the recirculation pipe and chiller invariably twists and turns the connections, so you have to tighten them down and… boom. Goodbye o-ring, hello leak. I’ve replaced my o-ring with something more robust and will be adding some Teflon tape soon.

Finally, multiple US users have reported their plugs fusing to the Connect controller. This is said to have been fixed in recent batches of equipment, so hopefully that problem is a thing of the past.

The Recommendation

Problems aside, would I recommend the Grainfather Connect? Yes, I believe so at this time. It has made my brew days more enjoyable, and I’ve been slowly working out the kinks.

Some users on the Grainfather Facebook groups have gone pretty far in modifying their units. I’ll probably modify mine as well.

As is, however, it’s a solid unit and works incredibly well most of the time. If you run into issues, Bevie backs up the Grainfather with excellent and prompt customer service.

Hopefully they can work the kinks out of the system and manufacturing to the point that nobody runs into significant issues, because it really does make the brew day more relaxing.

Mad Alchemist Mild Mannered (English Dark Mild)

2018 July 4
tags:
by Mad Alchemist

Nearly unknown in the US, Dark Mild is a lovely beer style that deserves more attention than it gets. In some ways, it’s an easier drinking porter–like a session porter.

I was introduced to the style on a visit to England some years ago, and I’ve sought good examples across the Atlantic ever since. Sadly, it’s rare for me to find one of them at all, much less one I find satisfying.

So, I sought to brew my own. I’ve brewed a few, and this is perhaps my favorite of the bunch. It’s largely a to-style Dark Mild, but I add a little twist at the end with some medium oak (not soaked in anything) to give it a bit of a cask character and emphasize smoothness with the grain bill.

There is minimal hop aroma, though a little bit of East Kent Goldings flavor comes through. The predominant flavors are of chocolate, caramel, and toffee with a fairly sweet finish, rounded out by the oak character.

The bitterness levels are technically a touch higher than most Dark Milds to balance out the round smoothness of the oak.

If you aren’t a huge fan of oak character, leave it out. It does tend to dominate the delicate profile of the malt in this recipe.

On to the (5.5 gallon) recipe for Mad Alchemist Mild Mannered:

Ingredients

  • [7.5 lbs] Pale Malt, Maris Otter (Fawcett)
  • [12 oz] Caracrystal Wheat Malt (Briess)
  • [8 oz] 120 °L Extra Dark Crystal (Fawcett)
  • [4 oz] Midnight Wheat (Briess)
  • Hops: 0.25 oz Magnum @ 12.7% AA (60 minutes)
  • Hops: 0.9 oz East Kent Goldings @ 6.1% AA (20 minutes)
    • 0.1 oz of EKG for the 60 minute hop addition as well
  • Yeast: White Labs London Ale (WLP013)
  • Water: Add water salts to RO/distilled for a balanced profile, slightly in favor of chloride with relatively low levels of both sulfate and chloride
  • Mash: 155 °F (~5.4 pH)
  • Yeast: White Labs London Ale (WLP013)
    • Use a starter and yeast nutrient!
  • NOTE: Your grain bill will need to be adjusted according to your mash efficiency. Mine is around 85%.

Target Profile

  • Original Gravity: 1.049 SG
  • Final Gravity: 10.16 SG
  • Color: 20 SRM
  • Bitterness: 24 IBUs
  • ABV: 4.3%
  • Carbonation: 2.5 Vols

Oak Cubes

3 oz Medium Hungarian oak cubes were added for 1 week at 55 °F after fermentation was complete. They were removed cold crashing. These came from somewhere that ensures they’re sanitary when unopened, so they needed no treatment at all. This simulates a bit of a cask flavor, which I find adds complexity the final beer. NOTE: I wanted to use Light French oak. This would have been a better choice, as the tannins were too strong with this Medium Hungarian oak. 2 oz would be more appropriate as well. We just want a bit of cask flavor, not pronounced oak.

Fermentation

This one is normally fairly simple, but due to some complications with getting to pitching temp, I did some wonky stuff. It turned out a great beer, so I’ll tell you what I did. Generally with a mild, I just ferment in primary at ~66 °F until fermentation is nearly complete, then raise the temp to roughly the yeast’s highest happy temperature.

However, for this brew, I pitched at 60 °F. I was starting to get signs of fermentation after an overnight wait, but on day 2, I raised the temperature to 68 °F (it managed to get to ~64 on its own).  On day 3, I raised it to 70 °F for the remainder of fermentation. I usually cold crash to ~40 °F +/- 2°F depending on whatever floats my boat.

The Grainfather: Conical Cooling Setup

2018 June 21
by Mad Alchemist

I acquired the Grainfather Conical fermentor along with the Basic Cooling Kit.

The Grainfather Conical Fermenter Basic Cooling Edition includes the Conical Fermenter Pro Edition and Cooling Pump Kit. This allows you to control the heating of your unit and cooling via the Cooling Pump Kit, dump yeast, take samples and transfer your wort via our innovative dual function valve design.

I have a bucket full of water with the pump in it. A nearby pot is home to a stainless steel immersion chiller. The cold water from the bucket gets pumped through the Conical, and the return (warm) water goes through the immersion chiller to reduce some of the heat on the way back into the cold water bucket.

There is a temperature probe in the bucket of water to keep the liquid cooled via the chest freezer. I decided to give it a test, bringing 5 gallons of 90 °F water down to 64 °F, attempting to keep the water in the bucket around 55 °F.

This proved to be a decent stress test of the system. It definitely worked, dropping the temperature by a few degrees Fahrenheit per hour. It was able to hold the temperature for the entire day with minimal fluctuation in a hot garage.

Ultimately, this is a lot like the “chilly bin” (“cooler” for most of us) method that many use. The standard method is to put ice or frozen bottles inside a cooler and pump water from there, exchanging the ice or cold packs when they melt. The two modifications here are to use a freezer instead of ice and a wort chiller to bring the return temperature down some.

My initial plan was to use a propylene glycol solution in the cold bucket so I could keep it even cooler, but I decided not to for the first test. I was also considering keeping the temperature low enough that the immersion chiller was actually in an ice bank while the glycol solution remained unfrozen. I spoke with the Grainfather folks and they advised using a ~5% glycol solution with the pump kit, which isn’t really adequate for this purpose.

My return tube from the immersion chiller currently rests at the bottom of the water bucket, as does the temperature probe. An improvement would be to separate these two because the freezer kicks on immediately when the pump does (because warm water flows right over that temperature probe).

I have a Belgian Pale Ale to brew on the Grainfather system this weekend. I was looking forward to trying out this cooling setup in a real world scenario with that brew, but the opportunity presented itself for me to get a decent used glycol chiller for a good price, so I’m going to be trying that out instead.

If the system’s performance with water is any indication, however, it would work quite well. The main drawbacks are that it takes up a lot of space and it’s pretty inefficient overall.

The Grainfather: First Brew Day

2018 June 18
by Mad Alchemist

I received my Grainfather last week and decided to brew with it pretty much immediately.

My first step was to watch every video about the Grainfather that I could find. David Heath has put in incredible effort for the community and deserves a mention.

Various notes, warnings, tips, and tricks led me toward my first brew day with some degree of confidence.

The following were taken into consideration or otherwise implemented:

  • Wrapped the Grainfather in a Graincoat
  • Put the Grainfather on a hardwood dolly for Reset button access
  • Added a worm clamp to the filter to ensure I don’t knock it off
  • Strainer added to the overflow inlet to filter stray grains during the mash
  • Adjusted mill to 0.050″ (medium crush) to prevent a stuck sparge
  • Used 1 lb of rice hulls Just in Case™
  • Purchased a HotRod Heat Stick from BrewHardware
  • Purchased a Jaybird Whirlpool/Aeration paddle

To put the Grainfather through its paces without putting myself through too much unnecessary stress, I came up with a simple Dark Mild recipe with minimal hopping and a bit more grain than I’d normally use to keep the grist bill within the sweet spot. I also tossed in a few non-standard grains (for a Mild) just to mix things up.

Mad Alchemist Mild Mannered Ale

  • [7.5 lbs] Pale Malt, Maris Otter (Fawcett)
  • [12 oz] Caracrystal Wheat Malt (Briess)
  • [8 oz] 120 °L Extra Dark Crystal (Fawcett)
  • [4 oz] Midnight Wheat (Briess)
  • [1 lb] Rice Hulls (in part to bring the grain bed up a bit for the mash)
  • Hops: 0.25 oz Magnum @ 12.7% AA (60 minutes)
  • Hops: 1 oz East Kent Goldings @ 6.1% AA (20 minutes)
    • Used about 0.1 oz of EKG for the 60 minute hop addition as well
  • Yeast: White Labs London Ale (WLP013)
  • Other: Yeast Nutrient, Whirlfloc
  • Water: Added water salts for a balanced profile

Pregame

The day before brewing, I got the yeast starter going and cleaned the Grainfather as specified before the first brew. I used PBW since the official cleaner is unavailable in the USA at this time. I took the opportunity to familiarize myself with the Android app and controlled the temperature and pump from there.

Rather than use the handy timer to start heating the mash water (you can set up a delay and tell it when you want to start the mash, so it heats up before that time), I decided to watch it heat up for my first brew day.

I also exported my recipe from BeerSmith as a BeerXML file, then imported it to Grainfather’s own application. That required a couple of minor tweaks (not all of the data is properly standardized from BeerSmith) but was relatively painless. I also decided to use the Grainfather’s water volume calculations rather than BeerSmith.

Mash

Heating the liquor started off pretty slow–as expected with the 110V unit–so I introduced the HotRod Heat Stick and brought the strike water to 155 °F quickly.

I added a quart or two of grain at a time, making sure to stir throughly. After adding all of the grain, I used the Jaybird paddle with a hand drill to get things mixed up even more. This was really unnecessary, as my wooden mash paddle did a fine job of it. Next time, I’ll skip using the Jaybird paddle at this step as it was superfluous.

Putting the top perforated plate on required a little effort, as anticipated. I ended up putting some grain dust on the edges and dropped it an an angle before straightening it out. The seal popped off on the first couple of tries but it wasn’t too bad (indeed, the bottom plate was more difficult. I’ll have to improve my process on assembling that part in the future).

10-15 minutes into the mash, I measured the pH with an Omega PHH-7011. I was surprised to find that my pH calculations were off, as my results are generally very consistent. I then remembered that I didn’t do my standard collection of reverse osmosis water the previous day and instead purchased water for the brew day. It wasn’t wildly off, but I treated it a bit with phosphoric acid and will be smarter next time.

I let the mash go for 60 minutes, then it automatically took it up to mash out temp (168 °F). When it beeped at me to start heating my sparge water, I obliged and popped the HotRod into my old brew kettle to heat up the sparge water. It was ready by the time I needed it.

Sparge

The sparge was simple enough. After reaching temp for a period of time (I believe it was 10 minutes), it told me to start the sparge. That meant lifting the inner basket, rotating it so the feet stood on the inner stand ring, and letting it drip.

I let it drain for a few minutes, then pushed the top plate down to the grain bed and started sparging with a quart or so of hot liquor (aka water) at a time. This went by without incident. All the while, the Grainfather was starting to heat the wort up to prepare for the boil.

This is the first step that I’m dubious about. I’ve always taken care to reduce the possibility of hot side aeration (let us not discuss whether that’s a real problem or not here). The method of draining definitely introduces oxygen to the wort and puts me a bit on edge. But I digress.

My gravity readings indicated that I achieved higher efficiency than the application indicated, which is definitely not something I’ll complain about. After several more batches, I should have the numbers dialed in accurately.

Boil

Initially after completing the sparge and removing the grain basket completely from the boiler, I let the Grainfather heat up on its own power. That was taking longer than my patience would allow, so in went the HotRod Heat Stick and the boil began in earnest shortly thereafter.

I made the decision at this point to remove the heat stick and let the Grainfather maintain a boil on its own. It seemed to do fine at the job (with the Graincoat), so I’ll likely continue this practice in the future. The other option would have been to switch the Grainfather’s heating element to “Mash” mode and keep the heat stick in. It would have produced a more vigorous boil, but I don’t think it’s necessary.

While I have a hop spider, the 1.25 oz of hops I planned for this batch didn’t set off any alarm bells, so I set it aside.

The Grainfather continued to tell me when I needed to do things. I added a couple of dummy steps called “Scrape” to remind myself to scrape the heating element and keep it free from buildup.

To this point, this was one of my most pleasant brew days in recent memory, especially considering that I was using new equipment and processes. I was able to hang out with my wife and son while brewing, and my dog didn’t start tucking her tail while I ramped up in stress throughout the day.

I cleaned each piece of equipment as it was no longer needed, which also kept things pleasant. Knowing that I didn’t have a giant mass of cleaning coming up after finishing the brew day really reduced my stress level.

What did not reduce my stress level was what came next.

Chilling

Toward the end of the boil, it was time to hook up the counterflow wort chiller. I’ve always been an immersion fan for its simplicity, lack of maintenance, and ability to bring the entirety of the wort down in temperature quickly (highly recommended: JaDeD Hydra wort chiller).

Everything was hooked up and the boil was complete, so I started to whirlpool the wort using the Jaybird. This is the second part of brewing with the Grainfather that raised my hackles a bit. Won’t this cause hot side aeration? But they told me to do it, so I did it.

I then flipped on the pump.

Whine, whir, flutter. @#$%!!!

The pump wouldn’t start. Was it clogged? Did I have the valve closed? Was the wort chiller connected incorrectly? Plugged? Crimped? Reversed?

I feverishly worked through all of the things I could think of and utterly failed to get the pump to push wort through the wort chiller.

Unfortunately, I also had the Grainfather too far away from my garden hose to be able to use my immersion chiller properly. So, I rigged up a rather weak pond pump to my old chiller and slowly filled a bucket with water while it pumped through. This was taking painfully long because the water flow was trivial.

By the time the wort got down to ~140 °F, I was annoyed and tired of waiting, so I rigged up yet another wonky contraption.

I took a stainless wort chiller, sanitized it using the pond pump and StarSan, then decided to let gravity and a siphon do some work for me. I added ice to the pot within which I put the stainless immersion chiller, then decided once more to try the pump before using the siphon.

Fwoosh. Sputter. Glug. And it was pumping the wort. No blockages. What? Screw it. I pumped the wort through the stainless chiller and into my carboy. It got down to around 95 °F in the process.

Fermentation

I carried the carboy with a Brew Hauler, placed it in my chest freezer/fermentation chamber, and set it to 66 °F. I decided to just let that go and hang out with the family for a few hours, then pitch the yeast right before I went to sleep.

When I checked on the wort in the freezer, it had managed to go down to 60 °F. Argh. Yeah, the freezer is well insulated and I didn’t consider how long it would be on. Oh well, I’m pitching anyway.

I used the Jaybird (sanitized) one last time to aerate the wort. I’m used using O2 via a diffusion stone, but that process has always been a little inconsistent for me (and in my previous batch, I got into a conversation with my wife while doing so and have no clue how long I oxygenated). This process seemed to work quite nicely, so I’ll be using this method going forward.

Rather than heating my fermentation chamber to get the wort up to 66 °F, I just pitched the yeast and let it go. By the morning, I was starting to see evidence of fermentation, though the lag time was considerably longer than usual. I decided to be nice to the yeast and raise the temp to 68 °F on day 2, then 70 °F on day 3 to help it along given the early complications.

It’s now been a few days. Primary fermentation is complete and the krausen layer is settling out, flocculation is beginning, and I’ll let this condition for at least another week or two before cold crashing and transferring to a keg.

Closing Thoughts

What began as a pleasant brew day turned into a bit of a nightmare at the end.

I decided to troubleshoot over the course of a couple of hours and eventually discovered the core issue. The pump simply refuses to pump hot liquid after a boil has been reached for a minute or two. After that point, it will not pump until the temperature gets down to somewhere around 180 °F.

I contacted Grainfather and–credit to their customer service–there is now a replacement pump on the way. I’ll be sure to test it out before my next batch, and will take additional precautions just in case (primarily, I will ensure I brew close enough to the garden spigot to use the old chiller if the need arises).

It is far too early to review the Grainfather. It was an altogether excellent experience with one glaring exception at the end of the brew day.

The only remaining worry I have is that there are two times during which hot side aeration could be problematic (sparge and whirlpool). The final product will shape my opinion as to whether this is an issue.

I look forward to my next brew session using the replacement pump. For the next brew, I’ll also have the Grainfather Conical fermentor with the cooling kit. I’ll try to update this article with tasting impressions of Mild Mannered after the beer is ready.

Update #1: Bevie already sent me a replacement. Grainfather is now in full working order!

The Grainfather: Zero Hour

2018 June 12
by Mad Alchemist


I’ve been eyeballing the Grainfather and similar all-in-one brewing systems for quite some time.

My first electric brew was in an apartment over 8 years ago. I’d been brewing for years, but had been limited to partial mashes and cooktops for my own setup (and had to go elsewhere to do all-grain).

I bought an electric turkey fryer and some mesh from the hobby store and brewed in a bag. After refining the process to work fairly well (Reflectix insulation, smaller batch size, small sparge, etc.), I ditched it like a bad habit the moment I lived somewhere I could use propane again.

It was an experience that left me cold to electric brewing. Back in those days, there weren’t any great off-the-shelf solutions for electric brewing.

The Grainfather recaptured my interest. A custom tailored system to brew indoors with a proper batch size, mash steps, reduced effort, and less cleaning?

That had me intrigued. Back in the old days when I really updated this site frequently, I would brew at least monthly, if not multiple times a month. In the past few years since having a kid, I’ve brewed once or twice a year. It’s such a hassle!

The single vessel mash/boil system and theoretically-reduced effort really was appealing.

But, the cost of entry was prohibitive. I’ve refined my technique and equipment for years. $1000 for a new mash and boil setup seemed exorbitant. I could buy a nicer kettle, burner, mash tun, pump, and other odds and ends for the same price.

The Grainfather maintained my peripheral interest over time, but never really grabbed me enough to buy it. Then, other electric brew systems started showing up. Most seemed to be pretenders. Inferior imitators. Some of the others that looked good were multi-vessel. No thanks. I have propane for that.

The Robobrew came out and I darn near bought it. But I didn’t. Probably because I wanted the Grainfather. It was proven, and New Zealand accents are cool.

But $1000!

The Grainfather conical came out. I was impressed. The double wall insulation and other considerations really meant that they get it. At least to me.

I’ve never gone to conicals over the years. I’ve used all manner of buckets and carboys. I have a chest freezer and built a PID temperature controller ~7-8 years ago that’s still going strong.

But the Grainfather conical… Ugh, that thing looks good. Arguably it looks way less cool than a conical from SS, Spike, Stout, or others, but the functional design speaks to me.

My biggest hang up is chilling. I can lager and carefully control my fermentation temps with my existing setup.

Then I saw their simple cooling kit. It isn’t glycol, so it couldn’t be as good as my freezer. Would I even be able to lager? Cold crash? Hrm…

Fast forward to last week when everywhere had the Grainfather for $200 off, and I looked at the system again. The Connect came out since the last time I really looked at it, and that looks pretty impressive. You can even import Beersmith recipes to it!

Crap. Goodbye expensive headphone gear, hello hobby cash. I decided to overhaul almost my entire homebrewing system in one go.

I pulled the trigger and bought a Grainfather Connect. Then I bought the Graincoat. Then I bought a Hot Rod Heatstick to heat strike water and supplement the boil if needed.

Then I bought the Grainfather Conical Basic Cooling Edition. This one has me the most worried, to be honest, since I can already control fermentation temperature tightly.


My plan for cooling: I added a collar and insulation to my fermentation freezer. I cut holes in it for the cooling tubes. I plan to use a glycol solution and keep the liquid below freezing to cool more effectively. I might also add a stainless wort chiller submerged in an ice bank for the return liquid (to cool it down and offset some of the BTUs).

We’ll see how that works. I’m confident I can manage ales, but I’m not sure I can lager with it, especially in my garage. Should lagering prove impossible, I’ll temporarily continue to use carboys in my chest freezer for that purpose and will invest in a Grainfather Gycol Chiller later on when it’s available in the USA.

Yeah, I’ve gone full Grainfather. Everything arrives soon (the Conical is delayed by a week or two).

I’m excited but more than a little worried about so many process changes at once. I also hope I don’t suddenly feel disconnected from the process with the automation capabilities of the Grainfather.

I’ll try to document my experiences here, and possibly in a video after I get things up and running. If all goes well and this helps kick-start my brewing habit again, you can expect more posts at Mad Alchemist over time.

Wish me luck! And any tips on using the Grainfather Connect or Conical are welcome.

Here’s a beauty shot of my keezer/chiller, complete with a paintjob by my 4 year old son:

Mad Alchemist Obliterum (Rye IPA)

2016 January 17
tags:
by Mad Alchemist

Every now and then, I brew a special oak-aged rye beer to share with my friends and coworkers. The last, Savage Remedy, was very well-received.

To commemorate the same occasion for our latest project, I brewed a Rye IPA, companion to the above, and lovingly call it Obliterum.

I also enjoy testing new techniques whenever the opportunity presents itself. With this beer, I purchased some HopRage to use for bittering. It’s a shelf-stable hop extract that can be kept refrigerated for~6 years.

It also smells wonderful and imparts–as I found with this recipe–a smooth yet assertive bitterness. I will likely use HopRage either as the only bittering hops in my future beers or I’ll augment it with my usual Magnum. Highly recommended.

On to the recipe and description. This Rye IPA is equal parts bitter and smooth, delicate and bold. It is silk obscuring an assassin’s blade. The flavor develops on the palate as luscious > sharp > warm > smooth > dry. You are compelled by a brain itch to retrieve the glass mere moments after your last sip.

I present to you, Obliterum:

Ingredients

  • 2-Row Pale (4 lbs)
  • White Wheat (4 lbs)
  • Rye Malt (1 lb)
  • Flaked Barley (1 lb)
  • Torrified Wheat (1 lb)
  • Flaked Rye (1 lb)
  • Special Roast (1 lb)
  • Crystal Wheat (1 lb)
  • Crystal Rye (1 lb)
  • Hops: Magnum (0.5 oz @ 60 mins for Bittering)
  • Hops: HopRage Extract (5 ml @ 60 minutes for Bittering)
  • Hops: Liberty (0.5 oz @ 20 mins for Flavor, 0.5 oz @ 0 mins for Aroma)
  • Hops: Willamette (0.5 oz @ 20 mins for Flavor, 0.5 oz @ 0 mins for Aroma)
  • Yeast: Dry English Ale + London Ale
  • Water: Balanced Chloride/Sulfate Ratio (favor Sulfate a little bit)
  • Mash: 150°F at ~1.25 qt/lb. Target pH is ~5.4
  • (Don’t forget the rice hulls! This is a recipe for a gummy mash)

Target Profile

  • Original Gravity: 18° Plato (1.079 SG)
  • Final Gravity: 3.36° Plato (1.013 SG)
  • Color: 17.7 SRM
  • Bitterness: 70 IBU
  • Alcohol: 8.1%
  • Carbonation: 2.6 Vols

Oak Cubes
2 oz Medium American. On brew day, put them in a sealed container with enough Rye Whiskey (I use Bulleit) to cover the cubes. Shake it up every now and then. After 2 weeks of fermentation, add the oak cubes to the fermentor along with the Rye Whiskey, and leave them in for one week prior to cold crashing.

Fermentation
Ferment at 67°F for ~2 weeks, raise it to 70 for the last few days of that two weeks, add the oak for a week, then crash it down to ~34 over the course of a week. Bottle/keg and age for ~3 months to allow the flavors to meld and harsher characteristics to mellow out.

Final Notes
As with any recipe, adjust to your equipment and taste. Some might want less rye, others more bitterness. Some might find they have a more efficient system than I do, while others might have to add additional 2-Row.

Experiment! Make the recipe your own and imbue it with your own artistic touch. Make a California variant with American yeast and fruity hops. Use different oak. Substitute “Wheat” everywhere you see “Rye” and condition the oak cubes in Irish Whiskey instead.

Cheers!

 

Lactose Alternatives for Homebrewing

2016 January 13
by Mad Alchemist

Some people want to brew a sweet/milk stout or other beer that calls for it, but they don’t want to use lactose. Perhaps you are vegan or you’d like your vegan friends to be able to drink the beer you brew, or you worry that lactose-intolerance could be an issue.

Are there any substitutes for lactose? For those of us who would prefer to avoid lactose but want a creamy sweetness in our beer, there are still many options available:

  • Mash at a higher temperature, around 158 °F. This will decrease the fermentability of the wort and make it fuller-bodied and sweeter.
  • Add some carapils, maltodextrin, carafoam, or similar. All of these increase head retention and body.
  • Treat your water to favor the flavors. A 2/1 Chloride/Sulfate ratio with 100+ ppm of Chloride will help, as will some additional Sodium (but keep Sodium below 150 ppm)
  • Increase the amount of low lovibond crystal/caramel malt you use. For example, if you have some Crystal 20 at a rate of 5% of the batch, up that to more like 10%.
  • Reduce the astringency you introduce from dark grains (like chocolate malt and roasted barley). This can be done in a number of ways, including using Carafa Special (dehusked chocolate) Midnight Wheat, or De-bittered black malt. Alternatively, you can steep your dark grains separately (below 170 F) or “cold brew” them like a coffee then add them after the mash to help avoid tannin extraction.

There’s really a lot you can do. I actually stopped using lactose even in sweet stout so I didn’t have to worry about it impacting lactose-intolerant friends, and I employ most of these techniques when making a sweet stout. If you’re interested in a longer write-up on sweet stouts, feel free to hit this article: Mashing the Perfect Sweet Stout

Recipe: Mad Alchemist Savage Remedy (Dry Stout)

2014 June 7
by Mad Alchemist

Frankly, this recipe is as yet untested. I’ll try to update this post with taste notes in a few months when the beer is ready. I’m brewing tomorrow.

Mad Alchemist Savage Stout is a not-to-style dry stout that utilizes rye and oak cubes sanitized in rye whiskey. It is intended to be a rye-forward, relatively bitter beer with an initially slightly-sour and spicy impression that dries on the tongue then rounds out with an oak tinge.

Ingredients

  • 2-Row Pale Malt (7 lbs)
  • Flaked Barley (2 lbs)
  • Rye Malt (1 lb)
  • Crystal Rye (1 lb)
  • Special Roast (1 lb)
  • Midnight Wheat (12 oz)
  • Chocolate Rye (8 oz)
  • Hops: Magnum (1.5 oz @ 60 mins for Bittering)
  • Yeast: Dry English Ale
  • Water: Balanced Chloride/Sulfate Ratio (favor Sulfate a little bit)
  • Mash: 151°F at ~1.5 qt/lb. Target pH is ~5.4

Target Profile

  • Original Gravity: 16.68° Plato (1.068 SG)
  • Final Gravity: 3.84° Plato (1.015 SG)
  • Color: 42 SRM
  • Bitterness: 68 IBU
  • Alcohol: 7.1%
  • Carbonation: 2.5 Vols (favor it a bit lower to stay truer to stout. I usually carbonate high in bottles because you can pour hard straight down the middle of the glass to get rid of excess carbonation)

Oak Cubes
2 oz Medium American. On brew day, put them in a sealed container with enough Rye Whiskey (I’m using Bulleit) to cover the cubes. Shake it up every now and then. After 1 week of fermentation, add the oak cubes to the fermentor along with the Rye Whiskey, and leave them in there for the remaining two weeks of fermentation.

Fermentation
Ferment at 65°F for ~2 weeks, raise it to 70 for the last couple days of that two weeks, then crash it down to ~34 over the course of a week. Bottle/keg and age for ~3 months to allow the flavors to meld and harsher characteristics to mellow out.

Update
This turned out quite well. Quite well indeed. It is smooth as silk despite trying to savage your tastebuds. The bitterness is significant, but you can only really notice that it’s there if you’re looking for it. This is one of my favorite beers I’ve brewed. In addition to the yeast listed above, I also used pouch of Wyeast London Ale (no starter, so I had about 1/4 as much of this as White Labs Dry English Ale) to add complexity and ensure proper fermentation.

I would summarize this as a big, bold, rich, dry stout with significant complexity and smoothed edges.

The Secondary Myth

2014 March 3
by Mad Alchemist

Should you rack your beer to a secondary fermentor after primary fermentation is complete? When is it appropriate to rack to secondary? How long can you leave beer in a fermentor on the yeast cake before all hell breaks loose?

These questions are commonly asked, and there are people in both camps, but one of the camps is wrong. Traditional homebrewing literature posits that racking to secondary is vital if you wish to make the best possible homebrewed beer. Modern techniques and ingredients suggests that racking to secondary is a practice of the past, with an asterisk.

If you don’t want to read a bunch of text, stop after this paragraph. John Palmer, author of the seminal How to Brew, espoused the need to rack to a secondary fermentation vessel. In subsequent revisions of his book and in current conversations, he believes racking to secondary is rarely necessary (and wishes people would just buy his new revision rather than using the free first edition online to get old information). The only time racking to a secondary is advised is when actually performing a secondary fermentation (e.g. when adding fruit or souring the beer).

Quick review of racking to secondary: This is the practice of siphoning or otherwise transferring finished beer out of the primary fermentation vessel into a new one. It was done to allow the beer to condition and prevent autolysis (and its associated off-flavors) in the process. Autolysis is most likely to occur if the brewer uses unhealthy yeast or does not pitch enough yeast for the batch.

What are the risks associated with transferring to a secondary vessel? The two main risks are oxidation and infection. Oxidation can occur due to oxygen exposure during the transfer, which will cause the beer to stale sooner (as will warmer storage conditions, but that is not part of this discussion). You can mitigate oxidation by ensuring that the siphon does not get bubbles in it and that you prevent splashing during the transfer. Infection can come from a number of directions, but can be avoided with relative confidence with good sanitation practices (which you should already have), and isn’t a significant risk anyway given the alcohol content in the beer being transferred.

The alternative to racking to secondary is leaving the beer in the primary fermentor until you bottle or keg. What has changed since traditional homebrewing literature advised racking to secondary? Two main things have changed.

First, the yeast we have access to is worlds better than it used to be. There are multiple excellent sources for great yeast. In fact, it’s the same stuff that actual breweries use. Because we have access to healthy, viable yeast, we don’t have to worry much about autolysis.

The second factor is knowledge. We now know what proper pitching rates are for different gravities of wort. Since we know how much we need to pitch (and how to handle yeast), we can avoid the risk of autolysis by pitching at a proper rate (often a vial of White Labs or packet of Wyeast is enough for a standard/low gravity wort, but creating a starter is often advised for higher gravities or if you are obsessive like me).

It is now safe when utilizing healthy yeast a proper pitching rates to leave your beer on the yeast cake for several weeks, and even up to a couple of months in my experience. Leave it in your primary fermentor and it will condition properly, cleaning up acetaldehyde and diacetyl. Don’t risk oxidation and infection for no reason! This applies both to ales and lagers.

As I mentioned before, racking to secondary is sometimes necessary. However, it is only necessary when a secondary fermentation takes place. The two most common examples would be adding fruit (due to the sugars in the fruit) or souring the beer intentionally. The only other time I do it is if I want to free up my primary fermentor for a new beer.

Some of those who are firmly planted in the secondary camp also believe that the clarity of the beer is improved in a secondary vessel or that tradition is worth preserving. People who like to rack to secondary, keep doing what you’re doing. The clarity argument might be true, but I don’t feel the risk of oxidation or effort involved are worth it, and I cold crash my beer for a week before bottling anyway, which completely negates that benefit in my process.

Final words: White Labs, Wyeast, John Palmer (author of How to Brew), and Jamil Zainasheff (author of Yeast) all recommend against racking to secondary. They are all more experienced and knowledgeable than we are; listen to them.