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PLEASE NOTE: I'm *slowly* combining my blogs into this single site. If you are looking for Lotus Notes content from my old site, please EMAIL me at: jrlitton at gmail dot com and tell me the link or the content you were seeking. I will try to email you the content within a day.

- Joe

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Dry Chocolate Coffee Stout - added cacao & coffee today

Last weekend I started an Irish Stout. It'd had a week of fermenting, so today was time to add the coffee and cacao to the batch for the desired flavors, and then let it sit and ferment another week or two. The first step was to filter the coffee. Yesterday I sanitized a large pitcher, and then added 1/2 pound of organic French Roast coffee to 24 ounces of filtered cold water. I covered that and let it steep for 24 hours. Today I used a couple of cup-top Melita filter holders with #2 coffee filters, pouring the coffee mix through to end up with ground-free coffee. As is critical in homebrewing, EVERYTHING was sanitized along the way (using Star San) ...The large measuring cup, the coffee mugs, the filter holders, and even the filters themselves were sanitized (I poured some Star San solution through each filter before using).

Once the coffee was filtered, I covered that container and "racked to secondary" ...meaning I siphoned the beer from the primary fermenter (the bucket in which it'd been fermenting for the first week) on into the secondary fermenter (the bucket where it will now ferment for the next week or two):

With the beer transferred to the secondary fermenter, the filtered coffee was added. I was trying to minimize the oxygen that would be introduced, so poured the coffee along the inside wall of the bucket. Man, that smelled good!

A few days ago, I put 4 ounces of organic cacao nibs in a small container, and barely covered the nibs with vodka. This was to sanitize the nibs, but also to draw out the chocolate flavor (at least that's what several sources seemed to indicate in the various posts and articles I've read). After the first day, some of that vodka seemed to have been absorbed; I guess cacao gets thirsty too! So a little more vodka was added to keep the nibs barely covered. The total amount of vodka used was probably little more than a shot, so this won't affect the taste of the beer (it's a 5-gallon batch, after all!). Not wanting to just dump the nibs in (envisioning a big *plop* and introduction of even more oxygen from the splash), I used a spoon to gently add the nibs to the brew. As always, everything was sanitized, the spoon, my hands and arms ...everything!

And now we wait. After adding the nibs, I wiped the top rim of the bucket with a paper towel, pushed the (sanitized) lid on top, added the (sanitized) air lock, and carried the bucket to the Cool Brewing Fermentation Cooler (large, zip top bag) where it will sit undisturbed for a week or two. We made the pvc framework that holds the bag off of the airlock, although that's not really necessary. I keep a bottle of frozen water in the cooler - between the fermenter and the cooler's wall - to help keep the temperature around 67F. The pic on the left shows the fermenter bucket sitting in the bag. You may notice a white wire; that's the wire from the temperature probe that I keep taped to the outside wall of the bucket. On the right is the closed cooler, with the temperature gauge sitting on top. This lets me easily check the temperature without opening the bag.

Next up: bottling, which will quite possibly be next weekend, but may be a week after that - just depends on whether there's a lot of fermentation going on (indicated by bubbling in the airlock). And once this batch is bottled, I then plan to start a batch of a real hoppy ale :) ....Cheers!


Peach Apricot Ale: Worthy of a re-do

My goof-up in the bottling process for the Peach Apricot Ale resulted in a brew that is OK ...but has only the very mildest hint of fruit fragance or taste. I did find that adding an ounce of Peach Schnapps to a glass of the beer gives about the desired flavor, but sheesh, then why not just have some light ale and add a shot of Chambourd for raspberry, or whatever variety of schnapps for one's favorite fruit? Nah, I don't like that idea. I'll use this batch as bottled, either drinking as-is or adding schnapps, but will be far more careful the next time I brew it. I do think I can acheive the target flavor using the indgredients that I'd used on the first attempt long as I follow the proper process next time!


Yeast poop disaster (or not)

Some weeks back I started working on our "Sweet Seduction" Peach Apricot Ale. The image to the left (click to view larger) shows the labels we've had printed (they are reusable vinyl; the pink border shows where they peel off from the backing). The design was the idea of my lovely wife, so don't go calling me a perve.

ANYway... I started with a Blonde Ale recipe. Did the initial sorcery with steeping grains, boiling hops, adding malt, yeast, and setting aside for a week in a big bucket Primary Fermenter. I'd ordered some Vintner's Harvest Peach Puree and Apricot Puree all the way from Oregon (just south of where we lived for years in Vancouver, Washington); this stuff gets great reviews and is quite pure. So after a week in the Primary, I siphoned the semi-beer into another big bucket the Secondary Fermenter. Approximately two and a half pounds each of the Peach Puree and Apricot Puree had been poured into the bottom of the Fermenter before siphoning the ale from the Primary into the Secondary. With all that new sugar, the yeast had a feasting good time. I checked the airlock every day, and could see that the yeast was digesting those sugars for 3 weeks! In case you didn't know, beer is basically yeast poop. The yeast digests the sugars, craps out alcohol and CO2, the airlock lets the CO2 out and we keep the alcohol. And some solid junk falls to the bottom of the bucket Fermenter.

So far so good. When the bubbling in the airlock had pretty much stopped after 3 weeks, it was time to bottle. What I should have done was to siphon the beer from the Secondary Fermenter back to the Primary (which should have a spigot near the bottom). This leaves the solids in the bottom of the Secondary Fermenter, and allows the happy brewer to stir in a little syrup for the yeast to digest in each bottle to give the beer some fizz (CO2).

But I'd been having a beer or two when I first started the Blonde Ale, and I started it in the bucket that doesn't have the spigot (the one that should be the Secondary Fermenter). So when I "racked" the beer to the Secondary Fermenter ...oops! ...I was really siphoning the beer into the bucket that has the siphon and that should have been the Primary Fermenter. I don't know if this makes sense to you, but the point is that when I bottled this weekend, I should have siphoned the beer from the bucket with the spigot to the bucket without the spigot, cleaned the bucket with the spigot, then siphoned the beer back to the one with the spigot, stirred in the "priming sugar" (now a syrup after dissolving it in a little warm water), and then filled the bottles using a little hose attached to the spigot. I wasn't thinking clearly, and didn't do any siphoning, I did gently stir in the syrup of priming sugar, and we then bottled.

Bottom line: This beer won't be as clear as it should be. I'll have to pour very, very carefully. Hopefully the little bit of sediment that did make it into the bottles won't result in any off flavors. And sometimes little accidents result in wonderful discoveries. I'm hoping this ends up being a tasty ale ...even if we are just drinking yeast poop.


Homebrew: Working on Peach Apricot Ale

Me, I prefer a brown ale, a dry stout, or a really hoppy beer. But wifey isn't much of a beer drinker, so when we find one that she does like, well I have to try to mimic that. A while back we were at the wonderful Dunedin Brewery, and they had a Peach Apricot Ale that passed the taste test. So... last week I started a Blonde Ale. Today I "racked" it -- meaning I transferred the brew from the primary fermenter (fancy name for the big brew bucket where the yeast has been feasting for a week) into the secondary fermenter (as you may have guessed, this is just another big bucket, and is where the yeast will do its munching for the next two or more weeks).

Here's a pic right after opening the primary fermenter. This is definitely a LOT paler than the nut brown ale I did last time :)

I'd purchased two cans of Vinter's Harvest puree (one Peach, one Apricot) from Bell's Beer. This stuff gets good reviews and contains only non-GMO fruit, plus a little citric and ascorbic acid. I'd read suggestions to use roughly one pound of puree per gallon of beer. Since I'm brewing five gallons, and each of these cans is 3 pounds, I used approximately 2.5 pounds from each. Here's the Peach puree going into the bottom of the sanitized secondary fermenter (and I sanitized the can opener, my arms, the can tops, etc).

And next was approximately 2.5 pounds of Apricot puree.

Then it was time to siphon the beer from the primary fermenter to the secondary (using, of course, sanitized arms, siphon, etc).

That was all set to rest a couple of hours ago -- for the yeast to feast in peace for a couple of weeks or more before bottling. I'll just watch the action via the airlock to have an idea of when fermentation is slowing. As this pic just now shows - via the bubbles in the airlock indicating the CO2 that the yeast throws off as it digests the sugars - things are going nicely.

That's somewhat of a closeup looking at the top of the fermenter bucket as it sits inside my Cool Brewing cooler. Can't wait to try this in a few weeks or a month or so!

Oh, and the Nut Brown Ale from the first batch turned out quite nice...


Homebrewing: Day 7: Rack to secondary fermenter

Today was day 7 after starting my first batch of beer. The bubbles were down to 1 or 2 a minute, so it was time to "rack" ...transfer the beer to a secondary fermenter (in my case, just another large bucket) for another week of fermenting. The idea is to give the yeast a chance to do more digesting, and get the old sludge removed. (click on any of the thumbnail images to see a larger pic)

The first step was to gently carry the bucket of fermenting beer from the back room closet out to the kitchen counter. It's not so bad carrying it, but for a runt my height to hoist the thing up onto the counter was entertaining to watch. I let it sit probably a good 20 minutes (to let it settle) whilst I washed some equipment and filled the secondary fermenter with sanitizer. Then it was time to pry the top off of the primary fermenter...

Oh man, that already was smelling like good beer!

Everything - including my arms and hands - had been covered with sanitizer to be safe. So I got the siphon started and positioned the hose in the bottom of the secondary to keep the wort from splashing around...

As soon as the liquid was flowing properly, I covered both buckets to keep out as much contaminant as possible, and let it run...

Here the siphoning has completed, the (sanitized) lid has been pushed down on the top of the secondary fermenter, the airlock (washed, sanitized, and filled most of the way with sanitizer) has been inserted, and a plastic cup (which I snipped a bit to ensure there was easy exhaust of CO2) was inverted over the airlock. The purpose of the plastic cup is to ensure that the lid of my new Cool Brewing Fermentation Cooler (a lined and insulated cooler bag with a zippered top) would be held off of the airlock. I also taped the sensor probe of my electric thermometer to the side of the fermenter, so that I can easily monitor the temperature with the cooler zipped closed...

And here's the proof of how well this Cool Brewing bag works! We keep our air conditioning set to 78F. With one litre of frozen water in the bag (two 500ml frozen water bottles just placed inside on the bottom of the bag, outside of the fermenter) ...the temperature of the fermenter is sitting at 69.2F. NICE!!

Next weekend: BOTTLING!