Brew Day: Railer’s Pale Ale

Brew in a Bag set up (BIAB)...draining the grains

Brew in a Bag set up (BIAB)…draining the grains

A friend recently asked if I would be interested in joining her in providing a homebrew for an event. The event is just prior to the local soccer team’s game. The team is the Carolina Railhawks, so I’m making a beer I’m calling Railer’s Pale Ale. Hopefully, my friend will be able to get my beer into a keg and we will set up beside each other to serve our beers. If the keg doesn’t work out, I can always bottle.

I used an online recipe building program, armed with a basic idea that I wanted to use some frozen, vacuum sealed Cascade hops for the bittering/background “canvas”, with a combination of Mosaic and Citra hops for flavor and aroma. The Mosaic add a resinous flavor and the Citra are, surprise! citrusy.

Cascade whole hops that had been vacuum sealed and frozen.

Cascade whole hops that had been vacuum sealed and frozen.

Starting the 60 minute boil with the Cascade hops.

Starting the 60 minute boil with the Cascade hops.

The base grain is an American 2-row. In playing with other grains to get the right alcohol ABV and the right color, I picked a few specialty grains. Then, after a little research, Wyeast American Ale II 1272 “smack pack” for the yeast. At the lower recommended temperature range, it is supposed to produce a clean, crisp result that accentuates the citrus componants. I went ahead and took the yeast out and activated it early on.

I put my recipe out for some fellow brewers to look at, but didn’t get any feedback before I had to go pick-up the ingredients. After I milled the grains and came home, I see a note from an experienced brewer who said I had too much specialty grain (28% of the grain bill) and should cut them in half and make up the difference with more 2-row. Ugh. The comment is that the beer will be too sweet. Well, I’m kind of stuck now. I can’t waste the time or money on buying more grain for a beer that is going to be given away. Ah, well. I hope that the hop selections will help counteract some of the sweetness that I’m being told is going to be there. At the very least, it will be beer, and it should be drinkable. Mine may not be picked by the fans as the best one there, but I’m not expecting to be in that group anyway…I’m probably the novice of the group.

So, without going through all the individual brew steps here, I’ll hit just a few points. The brew went pretty well as far as the step go. The mash temperature was overshot, as I usually do, not matter how careful I try to be. I used a little Culligan water, cold, to bring the temperature down into my target range. And flies and bees started showing up to check out the wort. Really got to be irritating! Otherwise, no problem with my little modified sparge or the boil.

My little modified sparge set-up.

My little modified sparge set-up.

I do need to note, that being a Liberal Arts guy, “brewhouse efficiency” and some of the more technical calculations in the process are pretty much a guessing game for me. I had the efficiency at 63% in the recipe, based on a previous brew that seemed fairly accurate. When I checked the specific gravity (SG) between the mash and the boil, I got 1.054. The post boil gravity was only supposed to be 1.052, so my efficiency was more like 71%. I adjusted it in the recipe, and the end result will be just a little higher alcohol content,,,but not crazy. It will still only be (estimated at this point) 5.15% ABV. That should be fine.

I chilled with an immersion coil. The tap water temperature is 71F, so I knew I wouldn’t get the wort down into the low 70’s.

Stainless steel coil immersion chiller in use.

Stainless steel coil immersion chiller in use.

I managed 83F and transferred to the carboy…started off using siphon, but the whole hops were a challenge and I wound up having to hand-pour about 1/3. A bit messy, but couldn’t be helped.

Siphoning wort into the carboy (on top of my little chest freezer converted to fermentation chamber.

Siphoning wort into the carboy (on top of my little chest freezer converted to fermentation chamber).

I put the wort in my fermentation chamber with an airlock installed, and placed the package of yeast in as well. I let the wort continue to cool for a few hours and then pitched the yeast.

After a couple of hours, I realized the temperature was a little low, so I turned the thermostat up a few degrees and left the lid up on the box to bring the temperture up for awhile. Six hours later, I see the slightest indication that the yeast may be active. A few hours later, I closed the lid to keep the temperature in the range I want, which would be around 65-68F. Now we wait to see if it really takes off…and how it turns out.

Update: 7/23/16    Checked on the progress around noon and we have a good fermentation in progress!




Day 162 Brew Day! McQuinn’s Robust Porter

Becoming a porter.

Becoming a porter.

I got this recipe from my LHBS (Local Home Brew Shop) as a recipe of the month at 1/2 price! It came as a pumpkin porter, but since I already have a Scottish pumpkin ale in the works, I decided to “de-pumpkin-ni-fie” the recipe, add a little maltodextrin and just make a Robust Porter. The name McQuinn comes from my paternal grandmother’s maiden name…and it sounds good for a porter!

I’m trying to input my recipes and brewing sessions into Brewer’s Friend online, but they include some technical stuff that I’m not into yet. They also do not account for things like sugars or fermentables that aren’t part of the “mash” or grain steep. (I’m doing BIAB–brew in a bag–all grain brewing).

All set to brew, BIAB style.

All set to brew, BIAB style.

So, when going from end of mash specific gravity reading, to pre-boil, to end of boil, the calculations show my conversion of grain to sugar and mash efficiency to be over 100% I’m also getting confused on water volume, grain absorbtion, boil off rate, etc. I start with 6 gallons in the kettle to mash, I know the grain absorbs some and the calculations have a standard default. Then I do what I’m calling a modified “sparge” where I drain heated water over the grains to hopefully wash out some more sugars from the grains…so, I’m adding about 2 gallons back.

My "modified sparge" set-up. Hey...it seems to work!

My “modified sparge” set-up. Hey…it seems to work!

Starting at 6 gallons and adding 2 gallons, minus what the grains absorbed, should leave me with about 7 gallons, but I swear I had 8 for the start of my boil. Had to keep the boil slow for most of the hour, because of the volume. Then I wound up with a slam full fermentation bucket.

Pitching the yeast in a "slam full" bucket of aerated wort.

Pitching the yeast in a “slam full” bucket of aerated wort.

I had to actually pull out a gallon to process separately, after I pitched the yeast. I used an oxygen tank with an aeration stone to aerate the wort for two minutes. I’m using Mangrove Jack’s British Ale Yeast. I was supposed to have 5.5 gallons after the boil.

The other thing that throws me off on all-grain brewing is the amount of trub. If you want a nice clear beer, you rack maybe 5.25 gallons off of 6 gallons and the rack again to 4-1/2 for bottling. I don’t care too much about getting a higher alcohol by volume (ABV) so much as I was a good beer and I want my 5 gallons! Ah well. C’est la biere!

So, I keep trying to tweak the brewing program and make notes that explain discrepancies, but it can be confusing. The main thing is that the actual brewing went well…except the temperature dropped in the mash at one point and I fired the burner to boost it and I over-shot from the 153 target, up to 157F. I stirred constantly for over 15 minutes to get it back down. Temperature control in the mash is the bane of my beer making! I’m not sure how it would do in an accurately judged competition, but my stuff still seems to come out pretty well, so I guess it’s okay. At the end of the brew, the color looks good and the OG reading is spot-on at 1.063 with an anticipated ABV of 6.32%.

Chilling the boiled wort in an ice bath...maybe a copper coil chiller for Christmas?

Chilling the boiled wort in an ice bath…maybe a copper coil chiller for Christmas?

Despite the brewing program confusion and water volume weirdness, this should be a pretty decent porter…and I have an extra gallon or so to experiment with. I’m using blow off tubes, since this is a dark beer and the volume is high.

Hit my numbers and still had more that I could fit in the fermentation bucket.

Hit my numbers and still had more that I could fit in the fermentation bucket.

I may wind up combining them at secondary and then dividing them again at bottling time and add cold brewed coffee to one half or one quarter.

If anyone would like the details of the recipe, I am happy to share…let’s see how it turns out, though!

Update: 10/6/14   The porter has been chugging away all day!

Update: 10/8/14   It has only been a couple of days since brewing and the porter has already gone through a quick chugging fermentation period and by yesterday afternoon, had already slowed substantially. I think I might go ahead and switch from blow off tubes to regular airlocks. I don’t know if this is normal for Mangrove Jack’s British Ale Yeast…I have to assume so.

Day 3 after brewing, small jug...action substantially slowed.

Day 3 after brewing, small jug…action substantially slowed.


Day 154 Brew Day! Scottish Samhain Pumpkin Ale

Samhain label...no artist to credit, but it's beautiful!    Not for sale, so I guess it's okay.

Samhain label…no artist to credit, but it’s beautiful! Not for sale, so I guess it’s okay.

After I picked up a new oxygen canister and some bags of ice, I set up for brewing my Scottish Pumpkin Ale that I’m calling “Samhain”, which is the Celtic version of Halloween and is pronounced “so-win”.

The recipe is a modification of a Scottish Ale recipe from a member at www.Homebrewtalk.com. I put the recipe together like this (but note the changes as I brewed!):

Scottish Samhain Pumpkin Ale

Original Gravity: 1.068 Final Gravity: 1.019 ABV (standard): 6.49%

IBU (tinseth): 30.47 SRM (morey): 19.58


Amount Fermentable PPG °L Bill %

14 lb United Kingdom – Maris Otter Pale 38 3.75 73.7%

1 lb American – Caramel / Crystal 80L 33 80 5.3%

0.75 lb United Kingdom – Brown 32 65 3.9%

4 oz Molasses 36 80 1.3%

3 lb Dry Malt Extract – Light 42 4 15.8%***

19 lb Total


Amount Variety Type AA Use Time IBU

1 oz East Kent Goldings Pellet 5 Boil 60 min 19.79

0.5 oz Fuggles Pellet 4.5 Boil 60 min 8.91

0.5 oz Fuggles Pellet 4.5 Boil 5 min 1.78

Hops Summary

Amount Variety Type

1 oz East Kent Goldings Pellet 5

1 oz Fuggles Pellet 4.5

Mash Guidelines

Amount Description Type Temp Time

5.5 gal BIAB Infusion 158 F 60 min

2 gal modified sparge Fly Sparge 168 F —

Other Ingredients

Amount Name Type Use Time

29 oz Pumpkin, canned, roasted 30 minutes at 425F,  Boil 15 min

29 oz Pumpkin, canned, roasted Other Secondary 0 min

2 tbsp Pumpkin Pie Spice Spice Boil 0 min

1 each Vanilla Bean, split Flavor Secondary —

2 oz Vodka, to soak vanilla bean Other Secondary —


White Labs – Edinburgh Scottish Ale Yeast WLP028

Attenuation (avg): 72.5% Flocculation: Medium

Optimum Temp: 65 – 70 °F Starter: Yes

Fermentation Temp: 70 °F Pitch Rate: 1.25 (M cells / ml / ° P)

393 B cells required (Guess…I have no experience calculating this.)


Method: Corn Sugar CO2 Level: 2.4 Volumes

Target Water Profile: Cary Town Water

Method: BIAB

Style: Holiday/Winter Special Spiced Beer

Boil Time: 60 min

Batch Size: 5 gallons (fermentor volume)

Boil Size: 7.5 gallons

Boil Gravity: 1.045 (recipe based estimate)

Efficiency: 35% (brew house)*** 

Source: Matt Miller

Non-grain fermentables added at 60 minutes.

Irish Moss added at 15 minutes.


***So, there were a couple of issues that required some changes. The efficiency that was the default in the recipe builder for Brew in a Bag (BIAB) brewing was 34%  and I evidently get double that.

Sparging...kind of.

Sparging…kind of.

Set up for a rigged "sparge". Seems to do the job.

Set up for a rigged “sparge”. Seems to do the job.

After the mash, I had an SG of 1.075, which was already better than projected and I had not yet added the 3 lbs of DME I thought I would need to add to the boil…so I omitted it entirely.

The process went smoothly. If anyone is interested, there are other posts that go through the process. The color is really nice!

Nice color!

Nice color!

Sorry the photos aren’t better…*someone* took my camera to use at a Demi Lovato concert and didn’t bring it back in time. I had to use my phone’s camera. I did chill the wort down to 76F, using an ice bath.

Ice bath chill

Ice bath chill

Then I pulled a sample, oxygenated the wort for 2 minutes using a sanitized oxygen canister and “oxygen stone” set-up and pitched my Edinburgh Ale Yeast (that I harvested from a previous batch of cider). I had prepared a starter for the yeast in advance and it was very active. I don’t have experience with “pitch rates”, but I believe I have plenty of yeast cells for the job. Since the volume I wound up with is about 6 gallons, in a standard fermentation bucket, and I have seen this yeast ferment very aggressively, I went ahead and set up a blow-off tube  to keep from fouling the airlock.  The yeast was pitched around 5:10 pm. As of 9:45 pm, I’m hearing a little action in the blow-off tube.

Blow-off tube.

Blow-off tube.

Now, aside from the process, let’s talk about the sights, smells, and flavors! I made my own pumpkin pie spice blend, using cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg. I did freshly grate the nutmeg. Also, the ginger has been around along time, so I supplemented it with a little grated fresh ginger. I roasted a can of Libby’s Pumpkin, spread on some parchment paper, on a baking sheet, at 425F for about 30 minutes. It wasn’t particularly pretty, but it picked up a few dark spots from caramelization and lost a lot of water. I kept the pumpkin in a sanitized storage container until I was ready for it.

Roasted, canned pumpkin

Roasted, canned pumpkin

The wort took on a great brown color with a dark orange-ish shade to it. Really nice! And the aroma and flavor from the pumpkin and spices are very good, too. I think this is going to be a VERY good beer.

Using the hydrometer sample, the OG came in at 1.083 and, if the attenuation rate is accurate, the ABV will be 7.91%; however, in my experience, the SG isn’t going to stop at 1.023…so, the ABV will likely be over 8%. And, this sample was also the basis for the flavor and color evaluations.

Hydrometer sample...settling a little.

Hydrometer sample…settling a little.

An update on the ciders and muscadine wine: the wine is basically bulk aging and clearing nicely. I’ll eventually rack it…maybe a couple more weeks, and let it go a few months, before I bottle it. The Caramel Cider made with crab apples and Cripps apples is pretty much bulk, aging as well. It did have a little airlock activity going on for a while after racking…not regular or often, though. It has almost stopped now, I think, so I’ll probably rack that a final time in about a week. Maybe bottling in two weeks. The crab apple, pear and Cripps apples cider…no name for it yet…is still bubbling pretty regularly in the airlock. It probably won’t be bottled for a month.

I think I’m learning that it pays to take a little extra time. Excess sediment in the bottom of bottles seems to be messing with my carbonation after bottles have been around for a couple of months. And I like my ciders to have very good clarity…not as huge a deal for all beers, but some. (For instance, wheat beers are actually supposed to be a little hazy.) So, slow down…get it right. Give it another week. It can only help!

Update: 9/15/14  Getting very good action in the blow-off on the Samhain Pumpkin Ale. It hasn’t fouled and it isn’t quite what I have heard some describe as “Rhino farts”, but it is almost constant bubbling.

Update:  9/15/14  Opened the test bottle of the caramel cider to see what it’s doing. No carb at all. The ABV is a hefty 10.89%, though and the flavor is nice. Color is good. Finished product will be more clear.  Alcohol may have pushed the Edinburgh Ale yeast past its tolerance…may have to explore options, if I want to carb.

Caramel Cider tester bottle...no carb; lots of alcohol.

Caramel Cider tester bottle…no carb; lots of alcohol.


Day 83 Brew Day Costa Cocoa Milk Stout

Ingredients for Costa Cocoa Milk Stout

Ingredients for Costa Cocoa Milk Stout

Brew Day 3/8/14   I think I am far enough along to breeze through the basic details. The basic brew went well, except I added 1 lb of lactose instead of 8 oz. From what I have heard, that should not be a problem. Maybe a slightly higher gravity. I started the grain steep with 3 gallons of water @ 155 for 30 minutes. I did do my little mini sparge set up. I used a bottling bucket with hose and gravity drained 2 gallons of water @ 168F over the grain sock.

Mini sparge for the grain sock. Hey, why not?!

Mini sparge for the grain sock. Hey, why not?!

Creative little mini sparge

Creative little mini sparge

Boiled for 60 minutes following directions for additions. Ice bath chilled to 125F, added 1 gallon of cold water to top-off at 5-1/2 gallons. Temp was still at 100F. So I returned the bottling bucket that I’m fermenting in, to the ice bath.

The Boil

The Boil

When I got it to 75F, I pulled a sample for specific gravity check and pitched the yeast (I rehydrated the Safale s-04 yeast in 4 0z of 75F water). Popped on the lid and airlock and I aerated for 5 minutes. Finished shortly after 5 pm.

I checked the OG with my new refractometer: 1.063/1.064 (those numbers are SO small!) and hydrometer: 1.060 at 80F, adjusted to 1.062…so, pretty close to each other. The original specs called for 1.053. I imagine the difference can be accounted for with the extra lactose and maybe a little better efficiency on the grain steep resulting from the mini sparge technique(?).

The hydrometer OG check

The hydrometer OG check

Update 3/9/13   9 p.m.   The wort began to ferment late last night and became pretty strong by this morning. I was away from the house for several hours and returned to find a very small amount of krausen in the airlock. It may not be necessary, but I went ahead and set up a blow off. I have 1 quart of cold brewed Kona blend coffee in the refrigerator. That will be added at bottling, after a secondary on Costa Rican chocolate nibs. This brew will eventually be “Costa Kona Mocha Latte Stout”. Did I mention that I love sitting here and writing and being able to hear the blow off chugging away in the next room? Yeah…love it. And having a glass of my homebrew Citra Citrus American Wheat doesn’t suck, either!

Citra Citrus American Wheat...Man, I love this beer!

Citra Citrus American Wheat…Man, I love this beer!

By the way, the strawberry blonde is continuing to clear in secondary. I’m thinking it should be ready to bottle by next weekend. The small batch of Plain Jane Blonde is in a plastic bucket, so I can’t see it; but I assume it is at least as clear as the strawberry. Maybe I’ll bottle that later this week, just to break things up a  bit. There’s about 6 gallons of strawberry, so that’s going to take awhile. The plain is only about a gallon and a half.

Strawberry Blonde Ale, secondary for clarification.

Strawberry Blonde Ale, secondary for clarification.

I hadn’t thought about it before now, but I’ll need to do some math on the corn sugar amount for bottling these blondes, since both are substantially off from the 5 gallon mark.