Monday, January 18, 2010

Batch 54 and Beyond

Under gray skies and light rain in the back yard yesterday, I squeezed in my first brew of 2010. On a purely trivial note, this is the 54th all-grain batch of my brewing life. Somewhat less trivial (at least to me) it was really now or never if I want to make a run at besting last year's personal best of 16 batches, considering the relentless train of winter storms now aimed at Southern California along with an increasingly busy work and family schedule. Moreover, having carboys and/or kegs sitting empty in the brew corner of our garage just never feels right.

The pressure to brew also stems from recently having to call a corny of my Helles on Wheels up to the front a few weeks early, to duty on the ole kegerator's Sunset Wheat tap. With the rest of my year-end series of German lagers sleeping in their kegs, I decided to start another series of English ales. I so enjoyed my first attempt last fall at a dark mild, as well as the subsequent English IPA, that I just couldn't wait to repeat the series. Plus this present batch of Brooks Leather Saddle Mild should just about be ready to go when the current keg on tap blows. Here is yesterday's recipe, only slightly modified from the first batch:

OG: 1038 (9.5°P)
84% Pale Maris Otter malt
8% Medium Crystal (60L)
5% Chocolate malt (450L)
3% Wheat malt
single-infusion mash at 155°F

approx. 20 BUs (calculated using Tinseth)
boil 75 minutes
Northern Brewer hops, 60 min.
American Goldings hops, 5 min.

White Labs English Ale yeast (WLP002)

Despite the light rain, my brew day went pretty smoothly. My brewhouse efficiency was a little higher than expected, but this was largely offset by less kettle evaporation on the wet day, so my starting gravity still came in on style. I use a rather primitive, but cheap and effective, water-bath system for managing fermentation temperatures. The temperature of one of the two carboys was spot-on this morning, at 67°F, and it was already showing some activity through the airlock. The other carboy, however, was sitting in the low 60s, so I quickly brought up the temperature several degrees with a boiling-water addition to the water bath. I've used this technique before to good effect, and I expect both carboys will be going strong by the end of the day.

Rather than repeat my fall series of English ales exactly, I'm going to experiment a bit in the weeks ahead. First, I'm going to add a couple ounces of cocoa nibs to one of the two carboys of the current mild as primary ferment dies down. I'm hoping that a week or so of "dry nibbing" will yield a nice chocolate aroma, but this is my first time using nibs, I don't really know what to expect. My second change from the fall series will be swapping out the ESB that I brewed last time for a completely revised version of my Roubaix Red, an American Amber ale. ESB is one of my favorite styles, but I wasn't thrilled with my own Penny Farthing ESB in the fall, and I've got a good supply of American hops I want to play with instead. Plus, I recently was inspired by a clone recipe of Stone's Levitation ale, and I'd like to try something comparable myself.

After these two session-strength beers in January, I plan to stretch the capacity of my mash tun in February, first with an encore batch of Century IPA-UK, then with a pair of half-batches of Barista Porter and an experimental oak-aged Man With the Hammer strong ale, the latter based on a clone recipe for my favorite beer of the 2009 winter holiday season: Lagunitas Brown Shugga'.

Then, in March, before the weather turns too warm, I plan to brew another series of lagers before moving on as summer approaches to a long-overdue series of something Belgian. As always, though, these plans are subject to change. Such are the joys of freedom that homebrewing allows. Cheers!