The Spoils of Wort: IPA, Mead

I took a hiatus from brewing because I bought a house and had a kid. The one-two punch really put a dent in the hobbies. More on the point I couldn’t find half the fucking equipment for the longest time and there was one totally aborted batch somewhere in the middle due to the electric range not cutting it for brewing.

The previous electric range in the apartment was actually better, but did nothing to spread the heat so the eventual outcome was scorching on the brewpot until I figured out the flashing trick.

If you are interested in brewing on an electric range, the quick fix for hotspots is to buy a turkey fryer and never brew on your electric range again. If you absolutely insist on not owning a turkey fryer, then go to home depot, buy a piece of flashing (for a building) and so long as it’s not lead, it will work as a heat spreader. If you have an electric cooktop, it already has this. But seriously, buy a turkey fryer.

BEER
I’ve been getting hops off my Goldings rhizome for several years now and they just end up in the freezer. I think I killed it this year transplanting it into the garden, which sucks, but three years for a hop vine is actually a fairly long time. Point being, Goldings are supposed to be piney, sweet and floral. These were headed towards grassy. However, being an IPA, I decided to toss them in anyway for aroma. Hops tend to depend strongly on where they’re grown, so the “apartment hops” are going to be different from the “house hops” if they survived. More on the point hops don’t have very strong separation unless made in tightly controlled conditions, which tends to lead to hop of the month. I also grew chinooks, but it was never very good and finally expired, probably due to acidic hops needing more neutral soil than I could provide in a balcony pot.

The recipe was a basic IPA base, which is to say 16lbs pale and 1lbs caramel. Actually I made that 2lbs caramel and dropped the special B, pils and special roast because at .25 lbs, they don’t contribute anything. If it were black patent or chocolate, they would have made the beer roasty. Also my mash water is slightly on the high side since my thermometer didn’t survive the winter and I need to purchase another one. My best guess is that the water was 175F to 180F since the thermometer now has the column of color and then a thin line of it 5 degrees higher up. Fortunately they’re only $3. I also disagree with the 45 minute mash, generally longer is better when it comes to mash with the cutoff being when the mash drops to 160F or so it’s time to drain it before it really cools down and makes grain jello. My mash was roughly 1h15m.

I ended up using more make up water than I wanted due to me not paying as much attention as I should be and letting the mess boil over. Plus the late addition of hops usually means the brew kicks up. I need a bigger pot is really the root cause of this so I can keep a hard boil on while not worrying about what the hops are going to do to nucleation. This isn’t a huge problem with IPAs since the emphasis is on the hops and I had planned to use some of my own anyway.

The cooldown I decided to do entirely differently. Normally I’m a fan of the hot water bath or wort chiller, but now I’ve got a basement which hangs out at about 70F. A bit warm for lagering but perfect for just about anything else. The new plan was to simply put the beer in the carboy and put a plastic bag loosely over the top and let it sit overnight. The airlock here is a trap because the wort will suck in air as it cools. The air in the carboy is going to contract, the more it does so the more vacuum is built up in the fermenter and it’s perfectly capable of sucking all the water out of the airlock. The double-bubble airlocks really shine here because it works both ways. If the water is below the half way mark, it’ll keep the nastiness out. 3 pieces will pull the water right into your beer. So, if you have a double-bubble, use that if you’re not going to chill the beer ahead of time. It’s not the best filter, but it’s better than the bag. My double-bubble went AWOL in the move, hence the bag. Water isn’t the best filter, but as the K5 Bong Squad will tell you, it does filter whatever bubbles through it to some extent.

Dry hopping – I put in hop flowers and I really should have shredded them before doing it. Since they’re frozen, they’re plenty crumbly. It made a real mess to clean out of the fermenter. Plus they float. Not only do you lose the trub on the bottom but you lose the beer on top now that it’s filled with hops. I think I only lost four bottles out of what I expected to get but that’s four less bottles to drink. There’s a reason why those wine filters are so popular in the brewing community, and this is the reason.

Yeast – I double-pitch now because I’m paranoid that the long cooldown period will let things get into the beer I don’t want. Buying two yeast packets instead of one is cheap insurance.

A week later and the beer hadn’t settled, so I let it sit for two weeks and some change and things had improved. Also make a mental note to buy a keg kit. Actually washing out two cases of bottles, sterilizing them, and then washing them out again is crap. Not that kegs are easier to clean but they’re certainly better than 50 bottles. The beer is good.

MEAD
My wife eventually got the beer envy and said “Lets try making mead!” Note that we still have that lonely bottle in the basement from beeguy via Rusty, I keep saying we should drink it and she keeps coming up with reasons why not. I think it’s getting on four years old now. One of these days I swear it’s going to grow wings and fly away.

Now, BEERLAB 2021 is already setup to do wine because my wife thinks Arbor Mist is good wine. Then, just because Arbor Mist wasn’t shitty enough, there’s a brand of wine kit called Harbor Mist which is absolutely fucking foul. Any wine which requires you to add “concentrated watermelon flavor” to the mix – probably crap. The two year old bottles are actually passable because that shit gets toned down but no-one is going to mistake it for wine. We’ve had OK luck foisting it on people as wine coolers. Also a note on better bottles versus glass. Better bottles, despite all claims, pick up the hop smell. If you use a better bottle for beer, you cannot use it for wine. I have been playing with the idea of adding noble hops to wine or fermenting wine in a beer bucket if the nose is right, but I want to hear from more winemakers before committing to it. I’ve had the better bottles for a few years so they’ve got some wear on them. I also have a glass carboy and I prefer to use that.

Anyway, mead is interesting. The Northern Brewer will ship just about anything for $7.99. While it’s not a huge savings for one kit, if you order two it’s a steal. In fact they have an extremely nice selection of mead kits so I just picked a beer kit (petit saison) and we got them both. Of course, she got sweet mead and let me tell you it lives up to it’s name. The mead kit comes with energy mix, whatever that is, and three more small satchels of the same. It also comes with the standard overpitch of yeast. Of course it also comes with a metric ton of basswood honey.

Now when I link to that, it’s so you can see the color and get some tasting notes. Be that as it may, this honey from northern brewer was raw. It was slightly darker than that, strong smelling, had shit floating in there to the point of being opaque and it had a layer of stuff on the bottom. NB sends a note with it – “it’s normal for the honey to be opaque since this is brewing honey, not table honey”. OK maybe it’s a UK thing, but I wasn’t aware there was “table honey”. The instructions said it would clarify when it was warmed, which to their credit it mostly did but I’m still not sure you would want to eat it straight from the bottle. There were no mummified bees present in it’s golden depths.

Now, if this were wine there would be warming, a brief boiling period, etc. Mead is a lot more raw than wine and the process is dead simple: Warm bottles in a hot water bath, boil some water. Stir in big yeast nutrient phial in boiled water and add yeast. Fill fermenter half way with warm water. Pour in honey. Top up. Done.

I changed this a bit.

I’m in the camp that the yeast should be re-hydrated with whatever you’re going to put them in. Reason being that the yeast are sensitive to temperature and they are strongly sensitive to Ph. I could have saved some honey and put that in the water but the easiest way of doing it is to toss the yeast straight way into the fermenter. Since we already have to stir up the honey and we need to stir in the yeast food, it only makes sense to put the yeast in the must (unfermented wine-product) and stir and stir again. I did not observe any adverse effects.

The honey at this point was quite pretty and golden.

The next day – it stank. To make it more fun, there’s three additions of yeast food 24 hours apart. If it stinks now, you can bet that it would stink for subsequent feedings. Trust me, it did. It only got worse. Every time we fed it for the next three days it smelled like all sorts of strange smells. Sulphur and overripe apples abound. I was actually getting worried it had spoiled, except every time we gently stirred it we got CO2 out so I knew the yeast was working properly. Fortunately we have a radon mitigation system in the basement and it’s fairly flowy so most of it was going out the top of the house. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was unique. Once you smell it you notice it’s everywhere.

A week later I went downstairs for something unrelated and noticed it was cloudy and highlighter yellow. I was starting to fear the worst so I got out the trusty wine spoon and gave it a quick cleaning. I stick it in there and KABOOM. All the suspended CO2 came out, it looked like soda. Six gallons of highlighter yellow mountain dew. I decided to lick the spoon and it was delicious. Honey, apples, flowers and sugar. Oh this is going to be dangerous. Yes it is.

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