August 8, 2016: Amber Ale v. 3.0

As discussed in a previous post we have returned our Amber Ale recipe to the development stage (water chemistry, altitude, yeast strain, hop availability).

Stats:

  • Starting gravity: 1.065
  • Brewhouse efficiency: 75%
  • Final gravity: 1.004
  • Approximate %ABV: 8.11
  • Approximate IBUs: 90 (Rager)/68 (Tinseth)/67 (Garetz)/131 (Daniels) as determined using the Hopsteiner, ProBrewer.com, and Homebrewing.com IBU calculators.

Grain bill:

  • All grains Great Western Malting and purchased through More Beer.
  • 10 lbs 2 row domestic (#46080)
  • 1 lb 2 row pale (#45958)
  • 1 lb crystal 75L (#45744)

Hops (Pellet, * Whole cone):

  • 2 oz Magnum 12.4% alpha acids
  • 2 oz Amarillo 8.4% alpha acids
  • 2 oz Cascade* 7.9% alpha acids

Yeast:

  • Wyeast 1272 American Ale II (#0721160, mfg 6/8/2016)

Water:

  • The city of Loveland has great water. We will pass the water through an activated charcoal filter to remove any chlorine that may be present.
Wyeast 1272 propagation culture after refrigeration.
Wyeast 1272 propagation culture after refrigeration.

Procedure: Yeast was propagated in 1 L of media (0.5 c DME in 1L/~1qt water, boiled) in a 3L flask with stir bar that had been sanitized with boiling water. Media was inoculated from Wyeast Smack Pack. Propagation culture was grown at room temperature with stirring for 24 hours and was then lowered to 4 degree Celsius for 18 hours.

Strike temperature was 80 degrees Celsius. A ~2:1 water to grist ratio was achieved with 11.5 liters of water. Mash in temperature was 68 degrees Celsius, 2 degrees below target. Mash out was conducted at 77 degrees Celsius. Sparging was a combination fly/batch and was conducted at 75 degree Celsius until the volume of sweet wort in the boil kettle was approximately 9 gallons. Hydrometer reading of the last wort remaining in the mash tun was 4.0 Brix.

Samples of sweet wort (left) and the last runnings from the mash tun (right).
Samples of sweet wort (left) and the last runnings from the mash tun (right).

Sweet wort was brought to a vigorous boil and boiled for 90 minutes. All hop addition times are listed as time remaining in the boil. Magnum pellets – 60 minutes; Amarillo pellets, Cascade whole cone, and 1/2 tablet Whirlfloc – 5 minutes with 1/2 tablet Whirlfloc. After whirlpooling and allowing the trub to settle, the hopped wort was cooled to 20 degrees Celsius with a counter-flow plate chiller with a recirculating ice/water slurry. Liquid was decanted from the settle yeast culture until a total volume of 500 mL was achieved; the settled yeast was suspended in the remaining liquid and the yeast slurry was pitched into the Speidel fermenter. The fermenter was placed in an incubator that was set to a maximum temperature of 20 degrees Celsius.

Yeast 29.5 hours post inoculation.
Yeast 29.5 hours post inoculation.

Primary fermentation was complete after 72 hours and the diacetyl rest was allowed to proceed for 48 hours. The green beer was

then transferred to secondary fermenter and will be allowed to stand at room temperature for 24 hours. The fermenter will then be chilled to -2 degrees Celsius which will help precipitate proteins and any remaining yeast cells. After the cold crash, the beer will be transferred to a 1/3 keg and pressurized to 30 psi, rolled. These steps will be repeated. Tasting notes will follow.

Specific gravity and pH profile during fermentation with WYeast 1272.
Specific gravity and pH profile during fermentation with WYeast 1272.

Comments:

  • In order to achieve a faster fermentation start, we will likely shorten the propagation time for the yeast. At 24 hours, the yeast has likely entered stationary phase and may be exhausting glycogen stores due to the depletion of fermentable sugars from the media.
  • We started taking pH readings! Unfortunately, we forgot a reading at time point zero and did not take readings at our last two samplings. We will test the final pH of the beer.
  • Our brewhouse efficiency increased 10% compared to our last brew day. Possible explanations are the different water profile in Loveland, CO or a larger sparge volume. The water profile could have resulted in improved enzyme activity which increased the amount of fermentable sugars available to the yeast. A larger sparge volume would have extracted more sugars from the mash, increasing efficiency.
  • The 94 hour time point sample had a strong aroma, best described as ‘cidery’. This is the result of acetaldehyde released by yeast. The yeast, if reasonably healthy, will reabsorb it and scrub the green beer of this off flavor. Happy yeast makes great beer.
  • The estimated alcohol content takes this out of Amber Ale territory. Maybe a Red IPA? Looking forward to tasting this beer.

What’s Water Got to Do With It?

Our temporary yeast propagation and laboratory set up in the kitchen.
Our temporary yeast propagation and laboratory set up in the kitchen.

After a five month brewing hiatus we are preparing to brew! We decided that our Amber Ale, is going to be our inaugural Colorado brew. We last brewed this in March 2016 in Davis, CA. We were happy with the recipe we developed and already have the complete grain bill. We went to Hops & Berries South in Fort Collins to pick up yeast (Wyeast 1450) and hop pellets (Magnum, Cascade, Amarillo). It quickly became clear that we would have to deal with some unintended modifications to our recipe. Here are some of the recipe and environmental changes that we will be attempting to compensate for. Beware, this post is biochemistry heavy.

Recipe changes

  • Hops & Berries was out of Cascade pellets, so we purchased whole cone. This is going to lower our utilization rate because the lack of processing means the lupulin glands (source of bittering and aroma compounds) were not ruptured. When we last brewed this recipe, the Cascade pellets were added when heat was removed; with the expected lower utilization rate, the whole cone Cascade will be added with five minutes left in the boil.
  • Hops & Berries also sold out of the the WYeast 1450, but offered WYeast 1272 American Ale II as a substitute. 1450 is a blend of three different yeast strains, of which 1272 is one. According to the knowledgeable staff at Hops & Berries, 1272 will result in a drier finish than 1450. Increasing the mash temperature may help counteract this flavor characteristic imparted by the yeast. The flavor profile (contributions of esters, higher alcohols) of this yeast also tends towards dark fruits, such as dried cherries.

Water

This is the biggest change to our brewing. The water in Davis, CA was ‘hard’, alkaline (pH 8.2), and filled with various metals (arsenic, boron, manganese, hexavalent chromium). This link will take you to the Davis, CA water chemistry report; check out all the notifications of ions exceeding limits. The water analysis of Loveland, CO (bonus points for having a quick link on the city services website for those who rely on water quality and composition for their craft) indicated soft water, approaching neutral (pH 7.4), and few metals reported.

Why the difference in water quality? During the time we were there, Davis’ water source was multiple wells. Each well’s mineral composition is based on what is leached from the rocks, soils, and human activities in the area. If you follow the link provided above (Davis water), you will see that the values for various analytes fluctuated widely. Loveland’s water comes from reservoirs filled by snow melt from Rocky Mountain National Park. Compare the Davis and Loveland analyses. The water in Loveland in consistent month in and month out for the period it was tested. We are so glad we are not drinking water from Davis, CA anymore.

What do we predict the effect of the change in water is going to have on our beer? From personal experience, the water in Loveland tastes and smells much better than the water in Davis. That will immediately eliminate off odors and flavors from our beer that are from the water. Less chlorine will reduce the possibility of chlorophenols forming; these compounds can impart a medicine or band-aid like aroma and flavor. Loveland’s lower water hardness (less calcium and magnesium) may have a negative impact on enzyme activity (calcium stabilizes and activates alpha-amylase and magnesium is a cofactor for a variety of enzymes in yeast). However, the lower pH of the Loveland water may improve enzyme activity, negating the negative effect of low calcium concentrations. Overall, we think the differences in water chemistry are going to be a net positive for our brewing in general.

Altitude

Our elevation in Loveland, CO is 4984 feet, which we are going to say is close enough to a mile high (5280 feet). So why do we care that we are a mile high? At sea level water boils at 100 degrees Celsius and the boiling point decreases roughly 0.5 degrees Celsius for every 500 feet elevation gain. So, at Loveland’s altitude, the boiling point of water is approximately 95 degrees Celsius.

Why do we care about water boiling at a lower temperature? The off flavor dimethyl sulfide (DMS). DMS has a low threshold (easy to detect) and has an odor of canned or canned creamed corn. Not usually a flavor that is found in beer style descriptions. Please bear with the next paragraph; it is heavy in biochemistry and brewing science to provide the necessary information which will help convey the impact water’s lower boiling point.

The precursor to DMS is S-methylmethionine (SMM), which is produced during barley germination. Without germination, we would not have malt, so we cannot eliminate germination to decrease SMM. At 100 degrees Celsius (boiling point at sea level) the half-life of SMM is approximately 40 minutes. Thus, after 40 minutes, approximately 50% of SMM present would be converted to DMS. If one was boiling with vigor for 60 minutes, then 65% of SMM would be converted to DMS. DMS will be volatilized during a vigorous boil, carried off by the vapors, and will not be present in the wort (which would carry over to the beer).

95 degrees Celsius, the half-life of SMM increases to 80 minutes. So to convert 65% of the SMM to DMS, boil time would have to be increased to 2 hours. A longer boil time will increase evaporation, increase the Maillard reaction, which will increase melanoidins (flavor and color components) and potentially caramelize more sugars. Compromising and setting the boil time to 90 minutes would lessen evaporation and Maillard reactions, but approximately 45% of the original SMM amount would remain. Which could then be converted to DMS during the whirlpool stand. Without a vigorous boil, the DMS will not be volatilized and will carry over into the finished product. It’s just complicated.

Summary

We are going to just brew and see what happens. Likely modifications will be a higher mash in temperature and a 90 minute boil. Everything is about compromise. We have multiple variables changing in this brew and will find out if our compromised produced a decent beer in approximately one month.

Here’s a picture of the WYeast 1272 American Ale II starter culture under the microscope after 24 hours. A reward for reading that science geek out that proceeded the summary.

Wyeast 1272 American Ale II starter culture viewed under 800x magnification.
Wyeast 1272 American Ale II starter culture viewed under 800x magnification.

 

Northern California: Summary

CASummary
Route for our Northern California Adventure.

Our northern California excursion made leaving much harder. We realized that there were so many more adventures we wanted to go on while in California. Unfortunately, the timing did not work out. We will be back someday.

Our route was just shy of 1000 miles, at 982. We averaged approximately 16 mpg for the trip. Abby felt very sporty without the cargo trailer.

Campgrounds

Breweries

Favorite Campgrounds

  1. Wesport-Union Landing State Beach: Our favorite campground of the trip. Camped on a bluff, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, falling asleep to the sound of the ocean. What more can you ask for? Beach access? Even better. Fantastic campground that the locals know about. You can grab a spot as soon as someone leaves. Make sure there isn’t an item left at the site indicating that a camper is coming back.

    Beach that can be accessed from the Westport-Union campground.
    Beach that can be accessed from the Westport-Union campground.
  2. Manzanita Lake Campground, Lassen Volcanic National Park: Our second favorite campground. This park has versatility. Hiking, skiing and snowboarding (in June!), and lake activities. A very nice park and informative visitors center. Really enjoyed our hike up to Crags Lake. Other trail-heads accessible in or near the campground; other trails through out the park.

    View near Crags Lake.
    View near Crags Lake.
  3. Stand of young redwoods.
    Stand of young redwoods.

    Mill Creek Campground, Redwood National and State Park: Some sites were in some very dense tree cover. We had a sunnier site with a creek directly behind us – Alex loved splashing in the water. Lots of hikes accessible from the campground.

Biggest Pleasant Surprise

  1. Hidden Spring, Humboldt State Forest: Primarily tent camping and some smaller RV and trailers. Abby is only 24 feet and we were glad she wasn’t bigger. We could hike to a beach/swimming hole at the Eel River. Sites are well spaced.

Least Favorite Campground

  1. Mad River Rapids RV Park: Commercial campgrounds are not our first choice. But there was cell service here and that is what we needed for Jess’ phone interview. So here we stayed.

Routine Maintenance: Oil Change, Fuel Filter

Symptoms: None

  • Manufacturer recommends to change the oil every 10,000 miles, but Dave changes it on an as needed basis. Need is determined by how much we have traveled, the wear on Abby, and if we are towing. We put approximately ~7500 miles on Abby since her last oil change (move to California, northern California vacation, move to Colorado). The majority of these miles were done while towing our small cargo trailer; it is best to increase the frequency of all maintenance when additional stress is present.
  • The fuel filter should be changed every 20,000 miles (manufacturer) but there is not consensus on the Winnebago View forums. Some people change it every 10,000 miles, others 40,000 miles. We (Dave) changes it more frequently. Why? If the fuel filter fails, the injectors could get clogged and the injection system would need replacing. Might as well spend the few extra dollars to save thousands.

Tips/Comments:

  • Follow the manufacturer’s specifications for the oil, and all other fluids with the exception of the windshield washer fluid. Don’t cheap out.
  • The fuel system needs to be bled of air when the filter is replaced.   The filter replacement is easier done with two people. One person turns the ignition to the point where the glow plugs are turned on and the fuel system is pressurized (do not turn over the engine). The other person watches for the air to bleed out and for fuel to flow.  They then holler at person one to turn the key to the ‘off’ position.
  • The fuel pump runs for a few seconds even after the key is off. Consider getting a fuel overflow container larger than a beer bottle.  There may have been some swearing.  Eau de Diesel is not sexy.
  • Experience level: If you can change your car’s oil, you can change the oil in the RV. The fuel filter is more difficult to do and requires bleeding the system. Increases the routine maintenance skill level to intermediate.

Disappearing Window

Symptoms: Partially down passenger side window dropped completely down when Jess’ arm was rested on the window.

An open window in June may not be a problem, but we were camping in the Sierras and had witnessed snow flurries the night before. Having an open window would result in a rather chilly night.  We were also in bear country. Top Gear may not be the most educational show, but the one thing we did learn from watching the Botswana special (go to minute 34), is when you are in an area with predators, you best animal proof your car. An open window is not animal proof. Thus it was decided we (Dave) would fix the window.

Plastic panel removed from the door.
Plastic panel removed from the door.

Problem: The window likely came off the track within the door.

Solution: The door paneling had to be removed to access the window. Close investigation showed that the arm of the the opening mechanism was bowed. This allowed the glass to slip off the track during a certain point of window travel and fall into the door cavity.

To straighten the arm, Dave employed a lever in order to apply sufficient force. Jess was concerned with the lever slipping and breaking the glass, so the glass was removed while Dave worked on the arm. With the arm straightened, the glass was returned to the track and the window was tested to ensure smooth motion.

Window_04
The window back on track and the arm straightened.

The final step was putting the door back together; make sure all the tabs are lined up correctly.

Repair Tips/Comments:

  • The hardest parts of removing the plastic door paneling was figuring out where the two screws were hidden and which way to lift the panel to remove it without breaking the plastic tabs. This also required unplugging the electric window control so the wires could be threaded through a hole for easier removal of the panel.
  • The glass was not broken and the window motor was still functional. If the motor had been broken, we would have likely had to figure out a way to block the window in the up position.
  • Dave has restored cars before, so he was familiar with this repair. Otherwise, it may be higher on the challenge scale. Go slow and take the time to thoroughly look over the problem.
  • Dave at the end of a successful repair. Wouldn't have happened without Chewie's supervising.
    Dave at the end of a successful repair.

    You need a helper dog to supervise your work.

Acadia National Park

Acadia_RouteWe decided to squeeze a trip to Acadia National Park before we left the East Coast and moved west. As any good trip planners would, we visited with good friends who live in New England. It was also a fantastic way to burn up the remainder of Jess’ vacation time before she quit.

We were pulled over by police two times on the trip up to Acadia. Ticket free both times – out of state plates and Alex’s red wagon made for a sympathetic combination. The first was entering the GW, where contrary to what the Canadian border crossing agent told us, we are required to adhere to all truck restrictions. Thus we were not allowed on the lower level of the GW bridge. Apparently others have made this error before and there was a special ramp for us to  us to get to the upper level. The second was driving through Connecticut – we were not allowed on parkways due to size restrictions. The signage informing us of this restriction was not observed. We had to exit the parkway three miles short of our target destination (the interstate) and got to explore small town Connecticut as we worked an alternate route to the interstate.

We arrived in Acton, Massachusetts and spent a couple nights with Jess’ good friend from high school. As always, we added class to the neighborhood with our RV parked near her house. We also met up with some of the New England motorcycle group. After good times catching up and exploring Acton, we pushed on to Acadia National Park.

We camped a Blackwoods Campground, which was heavily wooded. This was a problem for the time of year with limited daylight hours combined with the fact that it was overcast and raining the majority of the time we were there. We had to be very conservative with our batteries since our main way of recharging them was not functioning due to the lack of sun. We could have run the generator, but that gulps propane and we had a limited supply.  An important note – when traveling to an area at the end of the season make sure your key amenities are full. We could not find an open propane station and needed to have enough for the furnace. We did not do our pre-trip preparation well at all. We could not recharge the coach batteries while driving because the solenoid was disconnected (did not discover that until after the trip).

Picture taken when we briefly had sunshine.
Picture taken when we briefly had sunshine.

Despite the rainy weather, we were able to get a few hikes in. We were very please to discover Acadia is dog-friendly and allows dogs on most trails. Penny, Chewie, and Buster enjoyed the opportunity to hike with us.

On the way back to Delaware, our overnight stop was at the house of friend’s from Dave’s motorcycle group. It was great catching up and great to be able to enjoy a real shower. We pushed on home the next day, and 15 miles shy of our goal, the great transmission failure occurred. Such things happen, we managed to get home in a friend’s truck.

Canada, eh?

CanadaRouteWe took Abby and Alex on their first international border crossing. Well, at least Abby’s first border crossing with us. We went to Canada with the motorcycle group that Dave is a member of; this trip is biannual tradition for at least 20 years. Unfortunately, we did not take Dave’s motorcycle on this trip. The logistics were rather complex and we decided it would be easier if everyone was in Abby.

The drive from Delaware to Saint-Alphonse Rodriguez, Quebec took two days. Our first day’s destination was the Lake George Battlefield Park, in Lake George, NY. We arrived literally right behind another member of the group. Following tradition, we ate at Adirondack Brewery, a short walk away from the campground. The next morning, we ate breakfast at the Hot Biscuit Diner in Ticonderoga, NY. Despite having his own breakfast, Alex decided Jess’ biscuits and sausage gravy looked tasty and needed two spoons to get it into his mouth fast enough. Another bonus of the route that we took from Lake George to Canada was the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream stop.

Alex double fisting biscuits and sausage gravy at the Hot Biscuit diner.
Alex double fisting biscuits and sausage gravy at the Hot Biscuit diner.

We crossed into Canada at the I-89 border crossing. As we approached the crossing we realized we didn’t know what lane to chose. Looking at the pictures on the signs (since all the writing was in French. Quebec, perhaps you are ignoring Canada’s dual language law?), we determined we were not a bus and not a car. But what were we? We selected the lane that looked the most like us, which had a truck shaped picture above it.

We pulled up to the booth and the border agent started speaking to us in French. Dave inquired if he spoke English, which the agent responded in the affirmative. He asked for our passports and Dave did not hear what he said. When Dave asked the agent to repeat himself, the agent inquired if we spoke English. Things were off to a good start.

The agent asked us if we were carrying any weapons (knives, guns, pepper spray). We had the bear spray in the RV from our Western trip and we declared that because the agent seemed like he would classify that as a weapon. The agent inquired, ‘For the spraying of bears?’. We bit our tongues and refrained from replying ‘Bears and snarky border crossing agents.’ Satisfied that bear spray was for protection from bears, the agent then asked us what our commercial load was. When we declared none, we received a lecture that we had used the commercial truck lane and were actually classified as a ‘minivan-camper’ and should always use the car lane. Well. Lesson learned. After a few more minutes of our tongue lashing, a real commercial truck pulled in behind us and the agent directed us on our way.

Smoked meats. Cheese. Bread. What more does one need?
Smoked meats. Cheese. Bread. What more does one need?

We arrived at Saint Alphonse-Rodriguez and set up camp at a children’s camp. This camp is traditional in the sense that all campers are exposed to a wide variety of activities – canoeing, archery, art, and a ropes course. What really surprised us is the area, which was not experiencing the best fortunes two years ago, is booming. The group found out that the children’s camp will be in operation for one more year, and then it will be sold to condo developers. It was rather fitting that the weekend was gray and rainy.

With the weather, we did not have the opportunity to paddle the lake and critique Canadian lake houses. There is always, however, Staner’s.  We purchased some smoked meats, cheese, and bread. We walked down the street to the gas station for the wine. It was a relaxing afternoon as Alex napped. Later in the evening we participated in a beer tasting arranged by one of the members and got to enjoy some beers we normally wouldn’t have chose for ourselves. Alex enjoyed running around and visiting with all the different people. There were a couple of parrots and a dog that he enjoyed playing with.

Canada_01
Waiting to return to the United States.

Returning to the United States was much less eventful than Canada. We chose the proper lane. The border agent did board Abby to obtain a visual of Alex. The agent was slightly incredulous that we were only bringing back a sticker, but accepted the explanation that we ate and drank all our other purchases while in Canada.