Following our arrival at the National Homebrewers Conference (NHC) 2014 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I spent the afternoon of Day 1 attending seminars. These are very useful hour-long sessions for learning from both brewing professionals and homebrew specialists within the industry.
The 3 seminars attended on Thursday June 12 were:
- Kosmicki Spills the Secrets by Jeremy Kosmicki & Dave “Diamond” Deschaine.
- Brewing Consistency: Identifying and Controlling the Variables by Mike “Tasty” McDole.
- How to Manage Yeast for the Home Brewery by Douglas Gladue.
Kosmicki Spills the Secrets
How does Founders continue to invent new and exciting beers? Jeremy Kosmicki and Dave “Diamond” Deschaine will discuss recipe formulation, unique ingredients and processes, and how the brewery pushes the boundaries of their beer while still maintaining a delicious balance of flavors.
Founders Brewing use Lake Michigan water which has a good and consistent mineral content. The lake water contains:
- Calcium Chloride to accentuate the malt.
- Calcium Sulphate to accentuate the hops.
The speakers emphasized the importance of tasting the malts and in order to help with this Founders blind tastes them. Their All Day IPA uses 50% base malts with the rest being specialty grains including Cara-Pils and Crystal. Oats are also used in their Breakfast Stout with rice hulls to avoid stuck sparges.
When evaluating hops you should always go back for another smell to pick up the secondary aromas. Pelleted hops can be evaluated by crushing them like whole leaf hops then rubbing them in your hands and smelling. The pellets can be mixed with 185F water to get additional aroma release and help detect any bad aromas.
Founders hopping regime is generally as follows:
- Use of Magnum/Nugget for bittering (medium-high alpha).
- Hop bursts for longer flavor with late boil strikes.
- Mash and/or First Wort hopping with low alpha hops varieties.
- Dry hop with 3-4 Lbs per barrel.
- Wet hop* with 24 hour old whole leaf hops obtained from Green Hops near Kalamazoo, Michigan.
* This technique gives more fruit flavor.
Employees at Founders can also contribute their own home-grown hops into some of the beers e.g. Harvest Ale.
American Ale is the house yeast used by the brewery and the speakers emphasized the need for keeping this clean e.g. using gloves when handling the yeast. The need for oxygenating the wort was also pointed out.
Hoppy beer can be balanced with the use of dextrinous malt which is obtained by using a high mashing temperature e.g. Double Trouble DIPA. The malty sweetness in a beer can be balanced with higher IBUs (bitterness) e.g. Dirty Bastard Strong Scotch Ale.
Other ingredients used by Founders include:
- Unsweetened bakers chocolate.
- Oak chips/spirals (blanch or sterilize them first) e.g. Celebration IPA uses honeycomb oak for 2 weeks.
- Coffee (steep don’t boil) or can cold steep the beans for a longer period of time.
- Fruit e.g. juice concentrates added during or post-fermentation.
- Peppers and spices e.g. coriander, vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns.
Barrel aging is also used in their beers and can in fact even save a beer that has flaws revealed after fermentation.
Brewing Consistency: Identifying and Controlling the Variables
Do you feel like you’re getting inconsistent results from brew to brew? Mike “Tasty” McDole is well known for expounding the benefits of brewing consistency and how consistency matters in making quality, recipe-driven homebrew. This seminar will identify variables that affect consistency and ways to remove or control them.
Repeatability is needed in order to develop recipes and only changing one element at a time to know the effect of that change. Repeatability is also need so that when a good beer is made then it can be brewed once again.
Variables that impact consistent brewing are; Ingredients, Process, and Cellaring.
- Water – remove chlorine through filtration or an appropriate additive. Obtaining a water report can help determine the hardness so appropriate salt additions can be made. Correct water composition can be obtained by diluting existing water or taking R.O. (Reverse Osmosis) water and building it up using additions.
- Malt – freshness and quality are paramount.
- Hops – know the Alpha percentage of the variety being used. Freshness and correct storage are very important and can be achieved by buying hops in bulk at the start of the season.
- Yeast – use of a starter that is active, properly oxygenated, has nutrients added, and is the correct size for the batch being brewed. Tasty suggests a new starter with fresh yeast for each brew to help obtain consistency.
- Milling – the grain needs to be a consistent crush and should aid lauterability i.e. filtering through the grain bed. Always add rice hulls if using a RIMS (Recirculating Infusion Mash System) system to avoid stuck mashes.
- Mashing – the temperature of the strike water and grist matter because the colder the grains are the more the strike water will drop once the grain is added. Water to grist ration is also a factor together with temperature control of the mash itself and also the importance of vorlauf was emphasized – this is the recirculation of the mash run-off to set the bed and run clear before filling the boil kettle.
- Sparging – the run-off rate into the boil kettle needs to be consistent and checked e.g. how long does it take to fill a gallon container?
- Boiling – boil-off rate needs consistency and adjusting based on the burner rating and the ambient temperatures which can vary throughout the year.
- Hop additions – always stick to the recipe and bag loose hops so they can be removed from the kettle in the event that a longer boil is needed to obtain the correct volume without impacting bitterness.
- Whirlpool – the length and effectiveness of this are important factors on hop flavor and aroma.
- Knockout – this is when the flames heating the boil kettle are turned off. The length of time to cool the wort to the target pitching temperature is a factor affecting consistency but more importantly is getting the wort down to the correct pitching temperature. If the seasonal water temperatures are too high then post-chilling it may be necessary to further cool the wort in the fermentation room prior to pitching the yeast.
- Fermentation – oxygen levels and temperature control are key factors here. Always document the profile of the fermentation for future reference.
For cellaring, conditioning is important – Tasty suggests treating beer like milk!
How to Manage Yeast for the Home Brewery
How were brewing strains chosen to make beer? Douglas will provide Information every homebrewer can use to ensure their beer is properly fermented and does not contain off flavors associated with bad fermentation. We’ll discuss picking proper yeast strains, reusing yeast for multiple batches and storing cultures for future use, and share tips helpful to both new and experienced homebrewers.
Douglas comes from the University of Connecticut and explained that Saccharomyces is the Latin name for yeast and that in 1876 the first brewing laboratory was established by Carlsberg.
Yeast grow by ‘budding off’ once they reach a certain size. If oxygen is present in wort then rather than produce alcohol there will be a lag in the start of fermentation whilst the yeast take up nutrients and oxygen to boost their reserves. An increase in the number of yeast cells will help shorted fermentation lags.
Additionally when yeast flocculate they absorb unwanted compounds in beer and high fermentation temperatures can give harsh alcohol flavors.
It is important to choose the right yeast based on what beer is being brewed. What is available e.g. dry or liquid yeast? What temperatures can you brew at? How much attenuation needs to be achieved i.e. the amount of sugar converted into ethanol and CO2?
Flocculation is another factor – this is the speed at which the beer clears:
- High = 3-5 days
- Medium = 6-15 days
- Low = 15+ days
There are different ways to harvest yeast:
- Easiest – dump wort onto another yeast cake left over from a previous brew.
- Easy #2 – scoop yeast off the top of the fermentation of a brew into a sterile container.
- Some work – wash the yeast. The healthy yeast will be on top of the trub after a couple of hours of being shaken.
- Reuse – split a new yeast vile or pack and store it in viles in the fridge.
- Freeze – for long-term storage of yeast use a 30% glycerol solution with sterile water in a vile then surround it/them by ice packs if the freezer self de-ices to avoid the formation of ice crystals.
- Capture – it is possible to capture yeast from bottle-conditioned beer by leaving the sediment in the bottom, shaking it and then growing up the yeast to a larger volume before storage BUT it needs to be checked that the yeast used in the bottle is the house culture and not champagne yeast for production of CO2 during conditioning.
- Growler fill – these can often be obtained from local breweries.
- Wild – yeast can be captured from the wild using some wort and then separating out the good cultures from bacteria and bad ones. Good yeast culture are ones that look healthy, smell and taste good.
Hybrid strains of yeast are now being made by crossing strains to provide the advantages of two different yeasts and also obtain new flavors and aromas.
How much yeast is needed to homebrew a 5 gallon batch of beer?
- Wyeast – suggests 100 bn cells.
- White Labs – suggests 70-140 bn cells.
- Fermentis – suggests 115-150 bn cells.
As a general rule a lower amount of healthy yeast is better than a higher amount of old or sick yeast!
Differences between Professional and Homebrewed beers regarding the impact on yeast (i.e. conical versus carboy):
- The weight of the liquid on top of the yeast.
- The amount of CO2 back pressure in the vessel.
- The size and shape of different vessels impacts yeast behavior.
In our next article we will cover more seminars that we attended on Day 2 at NHC 2014. If you have any comments or questions, please do not hesitate to leave them below.