FitoTrack Is Good

A privacy-focussed, free and open source fitness tracker
Blog: Whitabootery
Categories: 2-minute read
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Yesterday, for the first time in many years (almost a decade), I took an hour long lunch break, during which, again for the first time in many years (much less than a decade though) I went out for a bike ride. It was suprisingly a beautiful, if not slightly cold day which definitely helped me start this new and hopefully lasting exercise routine.

Today, it is basically a storm outside with very strong wind and much rain but as I noted on a social media site (distributed, federated, free and open source obviously), “Bit of a dreich day for my 2nd lunchtime bike ride.. but I am of rain, I was born in Scotland, dreich is my daily driver, a wee bit of rain and wind won’t stop me… Only my resistant legs can do that! 33 minutes more of this psyching up to go." and psych me up it did, I completed a revised circuit and though I considered doing a second circuit (as I intend to progress to soon), I figured that it would be better to stop after one so that I can cycle again tomorrow, rather than push through and encourage the jellification of my legs.

In the same update I also said that I’m “Going to give FitoTrack a go today.", which is a free and open source fitness tracker app with lots of stats, devoid of any data harvesting or adverts, that enables me to track and monitor my progress in much the same way as you might expect of a similar, commercial app tied and bound eternally to a google data centre. The GPS seemed to be reasonably accurate though admittedly not 100%, I seem to recall my garmin watch being of an equivalent level of accuracy and you are able to export your workouts as GPX files or share to whichever apps you have installed on your phone that you may wish to share to, in the form of a png image file. On this point, I have raised a feature support ticket requesting an option to choose the size and file format of the shared file as it is quite large.

If this sounds like something you might like then you can find the FitoTrack app on F-Droid - or other non-ethical purveyors of apps which I’ll not link to here, alternatively you can download the source from their codeberg page .

Today’s FitoTrack workout summary with the map provided by OpenStreetMap contributors


Alice Porteresque

Notes from brew day #11
Blog: Brewshido
Categories: 4-minute read
Tags:

I departed from my current series of Scottish export type ales to make another dark beer for my birthday, or rather the brew day was for my birthday the actual beer is still a few weeks away. I opted for one of Brewdog’s recipes which they have open-sourced for several years, all publicly available for free as in pdf format, or on their website or for a small fee as a hardback book. As this is an published and open-sourced recipe and not part of copyrighted recipe book I can actually post the details for a change! Brewdog has a lot of critics, but I’m not one of them, I enjoy a number of their beers and commend their efforts towards sustainability . I am not however associated with Brewdog or in any way a Brewdog fanboi, unless James discovers this page and hey! I’d really love to come and see your brewery!

Another departure I made was that I ordered the ingredients of this brew from The Malt Miller rather than The Brewstore as the recipe calls for specific grains, yeast and hops that were unfortunately not available from my preferred, more local, supplier. I initially tried to find alternatives for each of the grains but it soon became clear that I was moving further and further from replicating the Brewdog version of the beer that I just had to look elsewhere. I was very pleased with the delivery and service from The Malt Miller and my only criticism is that I had to order larger quantities of grains than required as they don’t offer the smaller increments that The Brewstore does, opting for 50g implements rather than 10g. I also had to buy 100g hops packets even if only 5g of hops were required but hey ho, the excess will not go to waste!


On to the Brew day! The full recipe can be found here and the ingredients for a 20L brew were as follows:

Malts:

  • 2.63kg of Extra Pale
  • 0.88kg of Munich
  • 0.38kg of Crystal 150
  • 0.31kg of Special W - which I couldn’t find so replaced with Dark Crystal
  • 0.44kg of Carafa Special Type 1
  • 0.38kg of Flaked Oats - Which were unavailable so I used torrified Oats
  • 0.31kg of Torrified Wheat

Hops:

  • 5g of Magnum at the start (Bitter) - only 5 grams of bittering hops.. presumably this recipe was designed at higher volume and this is a scale down, but maybe not shrug.
  • 25g of First Gold in the middle (Flavour) - had to somewhat guess here, my understanding is that if the hops were added in the middle (30m) they would be roughly 50% bittering and 50% flavour, so I opted for 25 minutes before the end of the boil.
  • 25g of First Gold at the end (Flavour) - It isn’t uncommon to add hops at 0 minutes left but I read that end could mean anywhere from 15 minutes left to 0, so I opted for 5 minutes until end of the boil for this addition.
  • 25g of Sorachi Ace at the end (Flavour) - same as above.

Yeast:

  • Wyeast 1056 - American Ale - This was the first time that I used Wyeast and it was a smack-pack, where you smack the .. pack.. to burst the liquid yeast sachet, introducing it to a solution which activates and nourishes it before pitching into the fermenter. Pretty neat!

Not really much to say about the day itself, it went to plan without any drama, it was very enjoyable and followed by popcorn and movie day with my daughter, a good day all round.

Whilst I haven’t yet transferred the beer from fermenter to keg and therefore don’t have an actual FINAL gravity reading, it has been stable for the past few measurements.. the scores on the board (I do care this time!) are:

Brewdog Alice Porter Original Gravity: 1.053
Jon’s Alice Porteresque Original Gravity: 1.053 - booyah!

Brewdog Alice Porter Final Gravity: 1.013
Jon’s Alice Porteresque Final(ish) Gravity: 1.012 - やった!

Brewdog Alice Porter ABV: 5.2%
Jon’s Alice Porteresque ABV: 5.3%

I’ve no idea how close to the original this is going to be once it has finished its journey but {your deity of choice or not} on a bike I am looking forward to tasting it!


80 Chillin

Notes from brew day #10
Blog: Brewshido
Categories: 4-minute read
Tags:

TLDR: This brew day was successful, in that at the end of it wort was transferred to my conical fermenter. As of yet, some weeks later it is not ready for drinking testament to which is that I just suffered a weekend of yeast eating all available mono-saccharides they could find within in my gut.

The grain bill for my tenth foray into homebrewing was taken from Craft Brew by Euan Ferguson and is more or less identical to that of William Bros ‘s 80/- recipe included in the book. William Bros are a craft brewery from Alloa , home of my aunt and also a town with a brewing heritage and one that I, for some reason, associate with 80 shilling.

The hops were Goldings 5.2% (the percentage being an indication of alpha acid volumes) and the yeast was White Labs Edinburgh Scottish Ale Yeast (WLP028).

What was notable about this recipe were the lack of volumes for water and wort at the various stages and any indicative suggested method to follow. As such, I crafted a brew day plan based on previous brews and hope that it works out.


In absolute contrast to the previous attempt at this beer, this brew day was almost flawless. After the Grainfather blocked pipe incident that sabotaged my previous brew, I took to the net to find a solution and found that Grainfather themselves had admitted this flaw exists and created a filter basket which sits at the top of the mash tun above the upper filter plate and catches errant grains before they reach the circulation pipe.. at least in theory. In practice, this only works if you are brewing a beer with sufficient enough a grain bill to allow the upper plate to sit high enough for the walls of the new filter basket to sit higher than the height of the circulation pipe inlet at its lowest setting.. this was not the case in this brew and I had to spend 47 of the 50 minutes holding the basket in place, with my fingers millimetres above the 71°C wort being circulated below. It seems to me that a far more useful solution to the issue would have been for the basket to be welded to the removable circulation pipe inlet hence ensuring the basket cannot fall below the height of the inlet itself. As mentioned in the previous blog post, looking into this a bit more to see if I could fashion this solution, instructed me that this needs a brazing specialist and is not really a viable option during lockdown.

Me holding a filter basket in place during the mash

Aside from this, the brew day was good. This was the first brew which I’ve done that mandates a 50 minute mash, previously this has always been at least 60 minutes. The purpose of the shorter mash is presumably to allow for a sweeter wort and resultantly a sweeter beer as the amylase enzymes have less time to breakdown the non-fermentable polysaccharides, so a greater volume of these are transferred to the fermentation vessel and as the yeast cannae eat them, into the beer. As I am trying to work towards a reasonably sweet brown ale for a future recipe idea, I was happy to give this a go.

The nominal O(riginal)G(ravity) target for this beer (it was a bit of a hybrid but taking the gravity targets from the William Bros recipe) was 1.048 S(tandard)G and I hit 1.043 which is a little further from that target than I would normally hit if following the recipe verbatim, but the focus of these series of beers is the impact of the grain on the colour and flavour of the beer so hitting gravity targets is an added bonus, if it happens. The F(inal)G of the William Bros beer was 1.012 with an ABV of 4.2%, the FG of my beer after two weeks in the fermenter was 1.018 which would be disappointingly high if I cared, but I don’t.. honest.. and results in an ABV of 3.9%.

The current status of the beer has been impacted a little by my kegerator finagling (replacing spar and clasp connections with John Guest connections, replacing gas regulator and trying to eliminate the gas leak that I previously found) and so doesn’t seem to have carbonated effectively with the two weeks of conditioning, it’s back on the gas feed and I’m giving it another week or two. I do NOT want to ingest more live yeast from this beer! On the plus side, the aroma is excellent, it has a treacle-like richness to it that I hope is reflected in the final beer, whenever it decides that it is ready!

I am about to keg my latest beer from my eleventh brew day and hope to cold crash it if I can convince my beer fridge to run at close to or below 0°C, I’ll condition it first to try and avoid any oxidation, finger’s crossed that it works!

The Grainfather blue LED panel displaying current temperature whilst it heats the strike water

A close up of some small kernel unmilled oats

A close up of mixed malted barley prior to mash in


End of the Beginning

Notes from brew day #9
Blog: Brewshido
Categories: 4-minute read
Tags:

TLDR: This will be a short post as my first brew day of the year was sabotaged by a blocked pipe! However, given that this site is primarily a journal of my brewing experiences and lessons it would be amiss of me to exclude it.

The grain bill for my ninth foray into homebrewing was taken from Craft Brew by Euan Ferguson and is more or less identical to that of William Bros ‘s 80/- recipe included in the book. William Bros are a craft brewery from Alloa , home of my aunt and also a town with a brewing heritage and one that I, for some reason, associate with 80 shilling.

The hops were Goldings 5.2% (the percentage being an indication of alpha acid volumes) and the yeast was (unused but would have been) White Labs Edinburgh Scottish Ale Yeast (WLP028).

What was notable about this recipe were the lack of volumes for water and wort at the various stages and any indicative suggested method to follow. As such, I crafted a brew day plan based on previous brews and hope that it works out.


The brew day was a little less organised than usual but went reasonably smoothly until post-boil when it came time to rapidly cool the wort before transferal into the conical fermenter. The metal circulation pipe on the grainfather got blocked by wayward grains and therefore wasn’t pushing the boiling hot wort through the counterflow chiller, also as the pipe contained boiling hot wort and I don’t have heat resistant gloves, I was unable to try to investigate and fix until the wort cooled to a more reasonable temperature. It took several hours for the wort to cool by which time I had struck the day off as spoiled. If you let wort cool naturally then it massively increases the risk of dimethyl sulfide formation which would have resulted in a very unpleasant beer.

In the heat of frustration, I had decided that after a string of issues with the Grainfather that I was going to immediately replace it. However, once I had naturally cooled down over a period of some hours, I thought better of spending several hundreds of £s for a replacement. As it happens, the grain creep into the pipes is a known issue and after customer feedback to that effect a new filter was created which should help control this. It was £16 so I bought it. This should stop overflow grains getting into the mash pipe and into the wort at the bottom of the mash tun, which should reduce the amount of grains making it into the circulation pipe (though given I had to hold it in place for the duration of the 50 minute mash during brew day #10, I feel perhaps it might have been designed a little better - apparently correcting this flaw will require a brazing specialist so £16 is potentially only the start!).

However, there is an additional point of risk. The inner sleeve\grain basket of the unit has a gap between it and the mash tun (which it needs) and if pouring grains in from a wide receptacle (such as a big soup pot) then there is a risk that some grains will fall between the sleeve and the walls of the mash tun into the wort at the bottom and be sent to the recirculation pipe. The additional filter should catch these during mash though. I have (mid-mash on brew #10) adapted my process to transfer the grains using a small 500ml jug from pot to tun. I also need to order heat-resistant gloves as a back up.

Anyway - as I wrote the draft of this post (as always) I was brewing again, same recipe as above but with a clear pipe, a new tentatively positioned filter, a more organised start and due care during the mash in stage. Fingers crossed!


Export From 2020

Notes from brew day #8
Blog: Brewshido
Categories: 5-minute read
Tags:

Intro

For my final brew of 2020 and my first foray into brewing from recipe books as opposed to pre-measured and packaged kits, I opted for a Scottish export style beer, loosely an 80/- (shilling) style. Whilst I knew before I made the choice that I did not have the correct gas for conditioning this beer style - it prefers a CO2-Nitrogen mix and I only have CO2 - I opted for this beer style as a non-complex malty departure from stouts.

As the focus of this and future brews will be on learning the different flavour influences of the ingredients of beer and not so much on process, then I’ll ditch the template I had been using in previous posts for a looser, more flavour focused form.

I suspect that as I’m learning from recipes in copyrighted books, I’ll not be able to share exact details of the recipes but we’ll see how it goes.


..brew time!

The recipe that I followed was “Scottish Export” from BREW by James Morton .

The first challenge of this brew was that I was unable to order the precise ingredients listed in the recipe. So I turned to an online resource, brewing grain substition chart , for suggestions on replacements. A very basic but very handy reference spreadsheet for common grain alternatives.

I swapped out the Maris Otter, which is the base malt and makes up the bulk of the grain bill, for Golden Promise Finest Pale Ale, the Special B malt for Dark Crystal and the Pale Crystal malt for Light Crystal. The additional flavour malts were Amber and Chocolate.

The grain bill was ~4kg and each of the grains were measured in the following percentages of that total:

Grain % of total bill
Golden Promise 85%
Light Crystal 5%
Dark Crystal 5%
Amber 2.5%
Chocolate 2.5%

I had to also source a different hop as the suggested East Kent Goldings was out of stock, I had been assured by the recipe preamble that the hop choice wasn’t overly significant so I opted for Williamette, having never before heard of it (though this is a questionable reason for the choice).

The yeast was White Labs WLP028 - Edinburgh Scottish Ale Yeast.

I also used Irish Moss, for the first time, as a process aid - it to clarify the beer by enhancing the removal of some proteins that can otherwise contribute to haze formation.

As always, all ingredients were sourced from the Brewstore in Edinburgh.

The hope was for a malty, very lightly hopped brown ale which can be adapted and made my own in future brews. As this was the first attempt, I wasn’t expecting perfection just something I can work with as a base for furthering my understanding of the influence of the grains.


The brew day was very straightforward, it was an easy recipe to follow and everything went smoothly.


The beer

The resulting beer is drinkable but not overly enjoyable, it’s a bit reminiscent of how I remember this style of beer tasting in the 80’s but I had hoped for a little more of an exciting tipple (photo to be added once I have CO2 again to pour one).

The biggest disappointment is that there is very little head retention. This cannot be attributed to the non-preferred gas being used for conditioning, head retention is related to proteins and dextrose and it seems there was some deficiency there in the final beer. It is possible that the beer required more conditioning time before being poured, I left it for 2 weeks in a ~5°C kegerator, unfortunately I don’t really have anywhere to properly condition the beer at a stable, ideal temperature of 12°C, still perhaps it could have been conditioned for longer.

It is also possible that the replacement grains that I chose lacked the desirable properties of those in the recipe and that some adjustment might be required in order to protect the foam retention properties of the beer, for example, adding oats or wheat malts, or a greater proportion of crystal malts (though the latter seems unlikely given they already made up ~10% of the grain bill).

However, it is most likely that the addition of Irish Moss removed too much protein from the wort resulting in a poorer head retention. It used half a protofloc tablet for a 20L brew, but it seems like that measure is recommended for a 25L brew and as such this is likely the main culprit.

That said, as a first step in a learning process, I’m happy enough with it, we’ll drink it ;)


Next

Plans for next beer - change up the grain bill and adjust irish moss measurement!

I found the recipe for Williams Bros Brewing Co. 80/- and have modified my grain bill based on it. I haven’t changed the yeast to match theirs, nor am I using the mix of hops that they are using, I will stick to a singular malt with few additions to simplify the process. The grain bill contains oats and malted wheat so hopefully the next beer will retain its foam for longer than the current one.


Photos

Plastic bags containing various malted grains, colours ranging from pail beige to dark brown - too much plastic! Golden Promise pale ale malted barley grains in a stainless steel pot Amber malted barley grains in a stainless steel pot Light and dark crystal malted barley grains side by side, light beige on left, dark brown on right, in stainless steel pot A small collection of dried, green Williamette hop pellets in a small, brown bamboo bowl A close up of a hydrometer measuring gravity of a brown beer with some chrome bar taps in the background A very clear brown beer in a sample container with a white kettle and black tiles in the background


End of the Imperial March

Notes from brew day #6 & #7
Blog: Brewshido
Categories: 8-minute read
Tags:

Wow, 5 months have passed since my last homebrew journal entry and it was written on the day of the first of today’s summarised brews. The seventh of my brews was back in late September just after I started my PgDip Brewing and Distilling course , much writing about beer has happened since then but all academically and not on this site, though I am happy to report that things are progressing well in that area and for anyone interested I have links to my assignments on my bookmarks page .

Anyway, let’s crack on, shall we?

In the same vein as my previous post I’ve decided to bundle both brews together as they were using the same base recipe with minor adjustments to adjuncts. As you might expect with a series of brews that are essentially the same, improvements were notable in each subsequent brew and the last one, in which I had assistance from my wife, zero mistakes were made.. not a typo!

As I’ll be covering two brews I’m going to condense my normal layout a little and skim over parts which went well for both brews. Both brew days went smoothly but in the area of gravity measuring a discovery was made in the latter brew which proved to be a valuable learning experience.

The Beer Kit

The beer kit for both of these brews was this Imperial Stout 23L All Grain Beer Kit (pictured above) from Edinburgh based brew store .

The kit contained a pre-ground bag of grains (unspecified) and 2 vacuum-packed foil wrapped packs of hop pellets (namely hop A and hop B).

The yeast for both brews was a dried yeast (Mangrove Jack’s M44 West Coast Ale Yeast ).

Mangrove Jack’s M44 West Coast Ale Yeast sachet

Additionally on brew day #6, I tweaked to volumes of the adjuncts from the previous brew to try to produce a more chocolate-y stout so I used 150g of cocoa nibs and 100g of coffee beans. On the next brew day, I reduced this to 120g of cocoa nibs and dropped the coffee altogether.

The ingredients were accompanied by some general brewing tips and as always the …

Brew Day Sheet

This very handy two page guide split the brew into its composite stages and provided target temperatures, gravity readings and volumes as well as space for recording timings and measurements throughout the day. It was very useful and despite my occasional flapping it kept me pretty much on track. The composite parts of the sheet will be incorporated below in the stage sections.

Stage 0 - Prep!

No issues here on either day so, moving on!

Stage 1 - Striking & Mashing

This stage went very well on both days, though on brew day #6 I accidentally brought the temperature down to 66°C for the mash, but recovered to 68°C and maintained the temperature for the hour. During both brew days I took more time to constantly, gently, mix and move the grain bill around whilst the temperature was reducing from the strike temp. of 76°C, than I had previously. In earlier brews I was concentrating on getting the temperature down quickly and less focussed on loosening the grains and breaking up clumps, this led to a more vigorous approach which it seems might have been somewhat counterproductive.

Lovingly stirring the grain during mash in

As noted previously my grainfather is definitely struggling a little with consistency when heating and maintaining heat, it is a candidate for replacement when time and funds are more ample.

Stage 2 - Lautering & Sparging

Again, I followed a similar procedure on both days which was to gently coax the water from the grains during lautering, breaking up the grain bed gently so that the wort could flow a bit more easily. When it came to sparging, I was a little bit more aggressive with the breaking up of the grain bed, allowing the rinse water to pass through somewhat quicker than before. Compared to brew day #5 this process completed almost 2 hours earlier!

Stage 3 - Boiling

On both of these brews, and in comparison to previous brews, there was a much more generous protein build up at the start of the boiling stage. It took about 6 minutes to break it up and this I believe is a good sign and is a direct result of the tweaking of my mashing method.

Stage 4 - Hop Additions

The schedule for this both brews was:

  • 36g of hop B at 60 minutes (start of boil)
  • 36g of hop A at 25 minutes (35 minutes into the boil)

In addition for the second of the brews:

  • 150g/120g of cocoa nibs at 5 minutes (55 minutes into the boil)
  • 100g of coffee beans at end of fermentation for 24 hours for brew #6.

Cocoa nibs in a bowl

Cafepod SW18 daily grind whole coffee bean label

No whirlpools again, this is a future experiment because its an invite to chaos with the false-bottom in my grainfather.

Stage 5 - Cooling

No notes were taken with regards to cooling and I have no adverse memories of this part of the process, so I gather all went well.

Stage 6 - Fermenting

As a result of learning more about yeast on my microbiology course, I had developed a deeper understanding of the requirements for a good fermentation by the time I did my 7th brew, I have a deeper still understanding now but it remains to be seen how that plays out in future brews! As such for brew #7, I was intent in increasing the available oxygen for the yeast for the initial phase of fermentation, and the conical fermenter is a little too heavy to lift and shake.. So after transferring the wort from height (normal procedure), and through a sieve (ineffective), I experimented with using an electric whisk (sanitised of course) and this definitely greatly increased the surface oxygen and produced the amount of frothy bubbles that I was looking for.

For reference the following were my volume and gravity targets and final gravity (FG) results:

  • Desired Volume: 23L
  • Actual Volume (day #6): 23L
  • Actual Volume (day #7): 18L is what I have written in my notebook.. but that can’t be right!
  • Desired OG: 1.083
  • Actual OG (#6): 1.081
  • Actual OG (#7): 1.083
  • Desired FG: 1.016
  • Actual FG (#6): 1.041
  • Actual FG (#7): 1.041
  • Actual FG (#7 with a device I can actually use): 1.022
  • Desired ABV: 8.9%
  • Actual ABV: ~5.25% (but really ????)
  • Actual ABV: ~5.51% (but really ~8%)

As previously suspected, I am not using the refractometer that I have used to measure every one of my brews, correctly. It seems to measure higher gravities reasonably well but doesn’t fall below 1.040, which isn’t ideal since every single final gravity target is lower than that by some margin. Having received advice from a few mutuals on mastodon, it seems like it needs to be calibrated with purified water and maintained at 20°C +/- 0.5°C and needs to be regularly recalibrated.. Thankfully, I had a hydrometer lying around which requires no calibration and which gave me much more promising results. It does require a sacrifice of more beer for measuring but for some degree of accuracy that’s fine with me. Also as a result, I don’t really know how close to previous targets I hit but.. onwards!

Stage 7: Kegging & Carbonising

During the transferring of beer to keg on brew day #7, I took multiple samples at different stages to measure with the refractometer as mentioned above, this was really to rule out a niggle that maybe at different stages of the transfer there would be different trub concentrations that perhaps were affecting the gravity reading of previous samples taken from the tap at the bottom of the conical fermenter.. it didn’t really seem to make much difference but a worthwhile exercise nonetheless.

Photo of the stout being transferred to keg

Stage 8: Drinking

Both beers were delicious, the first was a novice attempt to come close enough to Fierce Beer’s Mouse Mousse chocolate stout and I don’t think I was overly far away but perhaps the coffee inclusion detracted from the comparison a little. The beer didn’t really taste much like an imperial stout, which tends to confer an oily quality and strong alcohol flavour, it was instead a very easy to drink and pleasant, if not slightly thick, chocolate stout with a subtle coffee aftertaste. It was a glorious success and did not last long in this stout loving household.

The latter beer was my greatest triumph yet, not only because finally I acquired an accurate reading of the final gravity but it is (not was, more on that shortly) indisputably an imperial stout! By lowering the cocoa nibs volume, the strong chocolate flavour of the previous beer was lessened but still a little more than subtle and it is very much my favourite beer so far. Unfortunately, after pouring some of it, I noticed that I was out of CO2 and had to immediately stop pouring lest I decompress the keg.

Due to lockdowns, my access to the shop where I bought the gas canister is essentially outlawed and so I’ve been without gas for over a month.. I have just a few days ago discovered that the shop is actually supplied by a company in my town and that they would be happy to top the canister up if I can swing by their warehouse! I’ve had conversations with a local taxi company explaining that they’d be transporting a pressurised gas canister and we’re good to go. I just need to clarify cost of top up and how long the process will take (whilst the taxi meter ticks) and then hopefully this week I’ll be able to continue pouring my best beer yet!

Next up will be my first foray away from kit beers as I try a Scottish export type style from a recipe book. I chose the recipe due to its process simplicity and low volume of hops so that I could play around with different grains over the next few brews and see how I can tweak it into something delicious.


Not Black & White

Notes from brew day #4 & #5
Blog: Brewshido
Categories: 9-minute read
Tags:

Subtitle: A little less stout*

As I sit waiting for the mash stage of my 6th brew to complete, I figured this was as good a time as any to post the belated summary of my previous two brews.

I’ve decided to bundle them together as both brews were using the same base recipe and whilst one was a pretty smooth ride, the other was a catastrophe of errors!

As I’ll be covering two brews I’m going to condense my normal layout a little and skip over parts which went OK for both brews.

First though, a small bit of background on these two brew days.. Brew day number 4 was on a Friday, a day which is traditionally reasonably quite for my job and thus, I figured a day where I could fit in a brew whilst also working.. That Friday was not a normal Friday, that Friday demonstrated the clairvoyance and devilry that my colleagues apparently possess.. just as every single stage deadline approached, I was called, pinged or otherwise engaged to carry out some work. Stage transitions were rushed, wort was spilled and walls were decorated in partially formed stout.. It was a terrible idea and a disaster of a day!

Brew day 5 was an entirely different beast, having learned from stupidity, it was scheduled for a quiet Sunday. Every stage was carefully considered, measured and executed and bar introducing the 2nd hop 5 minutes early and not having fine mesh hop bags available, the day was a resounding success!

The Beer Kit

The beer kit for both of these brews was this Imperial Stout 23L All Grain Beer Kit (pictured above) from Edinburgh based brew store .

The kit contained a pre-ground bag of grains (unspecified) and 2 vacuum-packed foil wrapped packs of hop pellets (namely hop A and hop B).

The yeast differed between brews, one brew day #4 I used a liquid yeast (White Labs WLP001 California Ale Yeast ) and on brew day #5 a dried yeast (Mangrove Jack’s M44 West Coast Ale Yeast ). Though, to what end this contributed to differences in the beer, I am still too inexperienced to ascertain.

White Labs WLP001 California Ale Yeast sachet Mangrove Jack’s M44 West Coast Ale Yeast sachet

Additionally on brew day #5, I added a couple of adjuncts, 100g of cocoa nibs and 100g of coffee beans.

The ingredients were accompanied by some general brewing tips and as always the …

Brew Day Sheet

This very handy two page guide split the brew into its composite stages and provided target temperatures, gravity readings and volumes as well as space for recording timings and measurements throughout the day. It was very useful and despite my occasional flapping it kept me pretty much on track. The composite parts of the sheet will be incorporated below in the stage sections.

Stage 0 - Prep!

No isues here on either day so, moving on!

Stage 1 - Striking & Mashing

On brew day #4, I started poorly and continued in a similar but more frantic vein.. First mistake, aside from scheduling a brew on a work day, was that I had pushed the pipework too far down into the heated grain was unable to retrieve it, resulting in grains being able to bypass the false floors and potentially block the filer in the brewing unit.

On brew day #5 there seemed to be some sort of blockage in the circulation pipe and it wasn’t circulating as much as I’d have liked, but I managed to fix this on the fly with only a momentary drop in mash temperature.

Photo of the mashed grain

Otherwise, the striking and mashing stages went OK for both brews, though I noted yet again that my grainfather is definitely struggling a little with consistency when heating and maintaining heat.

Stage 2 - Lautering & Sparging

DISASTER ZONE! For day #4, I was very, very flustered by this point and was trying to rush the sparging stage. In order to try and get the sparge water to drain more quickly, I was attempting to stir and break up the grain cake, however the metal bar supporting the insert containing the grains and water was not designed for additional weight, the force that I was applying was too much for it and it kept disconnecting from the unit and as a result wort and grains were propelled around the room, primarily up the wall and over a frustrated amateur brewer! I was certain at this stage that any hopes of making a drinkable beer were ruined.

Photo of the sparged grain

No issues experienced here on day #5, I made no attempts to rush the process, though I did very gently stir the grain on occasion when I couldn’t hear water passing through. It took almost 4 hours! No mess though!

Stage 3 - Boiling

Nothing to see here.

Stage 4 - Hop Additions

The schedule for this both brews was:

  • 36g of hop B at 60 minutes (start of boil)
  • 36g of hop A at 25 minutes (35 minutes into the boil)

In addition for the second of the brews:

  • 100g of cocoa nibs at 5 minutes (55 minutes into the boil)
  • 100g of coffee beans at end of fermentation for 24 hours.

Post boil on brew day #4, I attempted a whirlpool but the additional false bottom within the unit was rising every time I got some sort of pace going.. conclusion, no more whirlpooling attempts with this set up.

Stage 5 - Cooling

This is where the grainfather’s flaws come into play, whilst trying to rapidly cool the wort and transfer to the fermenter, it’s heating unit kicked in and started super-heating the wort. The fermenter is thankfully temperature controlled and was able to cool the wort back down to the target range before I added the yeast.

This happened on both days but I was more mentally equipped to deal with it on the second of the brew days. Added a lot more time to the process though!

Stage 6 - Fermenting

My experiences with previous brews led me to purchase a cheap cooling system for my fermenter, involving an ice box and pipes which pump cooled water through the sleeve of the fermenter. As such despite the wort hitting the fermenter at a higher temperature than desired on both of these brews, I was able to cool it down in the fermenter before pitching the yeast.

Not much otherwise to report here from a process perspective, the only difference between both stout brews was that after arriving at a consistent final gravity reading for the second of the brews, I added 100g of coffee beans which had been briefly rinsed with boiling water into the fermenter, and then let it steep for 24 hours.

Despite the calamity of the first of these days, the gravity figures were surprisingly similar which you might think would mean a similar alcohol by volume figure.. that doesn’t appear to have been the case, although the estimate is pretty much the same the drinking experience suggests that the second beer was considerably closer to the target than the first. The impact of the booze after drinking was definitely more obvious with the latter beer.

For reference the following were my volume and gravity targets and final gravity (FG) results:

  • Desired Volume: 23L
  • Actual Volume (day #4): 23L
  • Actual Volume (day #5): 22L
  • Desired OG: 1.083
  • Actual OG (#4): 1.070
  • Actual OG (#5): 1.069
  • Desired FG: 1.016
  • Actual FG (#4): 1.040
  • Actual FG (#5): 1.044
  • Desired ABV: 8.9%
  • Actual ABV: ~4%
  • Actual ABV: ~3.5%

This leads me to believe that I have a little bit more to learn about how to use my hydrometer. The first stout might have been around 4% the second was not, it was definitely much stronger. I have a fairly high resistance to alcohol (not a brag) and I was decidedly tipsy after just 3 schooners of it, 3 similar sized 5% beers have little noticeable impact normally. Yes, this is circumstantial but I’m calling the 2nd beer as hitting its ABV targets regardless of the evidence suggesting otherwise! This screams user error to me!

Stage 7: Kegging & Carbonising

Not much to mention here, I’m reasonably well versed in this process now and didn’t experience much worth reporting, except disappointingly off-target figures, but as noted above, I suspect I am somehow recording these inaccurately.

Photo of the stout being transferred to keg

Stage 8: Drinking

The first beer turned out to be surprisingly passable, it wasn’t a clean tasting beer, it had a bit of funkiness, probably due to the comedy of errors surrounding it’s inception, but it was assuredly drinkable regardless. It was a homebrew though, no doubts about that, it would be returned at a bar and replacement sought.

It seems though that perhaps stouts, in our house anyway, have a larger buffer for success than IPAs do.

The second beer was OUTSTANDING! It was exactly what I wanted it to be, it’s an imperial stout so not really designed for ease of drink, it’s thick and oily, carries a punch in flavour and alcohol volume but is rounded off with very subtle hints of coffee and cocoa. This wasn’t just passable, it was wonderful! As I sit here, now at the boiling stage of my current brew, I can only hope that I am able to replicate this level of beer for my 3rd imperial stout in a row!

Photo of my first or perhaps second Imperial Stout

Imperial stout number three is so far going well, and is basically the same as from brew day #5 but with 50% more cocoa nibs. They are only in the mix for about 5 minutes so not much time to make an impact so we’ll see how that goes.

Onwards!

  • A little less stout came to me one evening in the 90s as I sat in the Bell’s bar in Aberdeen for happy hour with a good friend. The bar was quiet, and to entertain ourselves we were re-branding the drinks we could see at the bar or marketing them with new slogans. One of my funny at the time creations was Guinness Lite with the slogan ‘A little less stout’. Whilst we went on to get fairly inebriated that one always stuck with me.. then some time later when I took my girlfriend (now wife) to Dublin to propose, we visited the Guinness storehouse and I discovered that at some point (possibly the 70s based on the font and graphical stylings) that Guinness in fact did have a beer called Guinness Lite, though I have no idea if they ever used the slogan ‘A little less stout’.

Hoppy Days!

Heriot-Watt University PgDip course acceptance
Blog: Brewshido
Categories: 3-minute read
Tags:

As stated in my founding post for this beer focussed blog, I have future plans to one day establish a modest craft brewery of my own in rural Japan. In order to help achieve those goals I tentatively applied for the MSc Brewing and Distilling By Distance Learning course run by Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.

Learning to brew beer through practice and experimentation is all well and good but I really wanted to understand the science behind the brewing in order to be be prepared to tackle future challenges and ideally preferred to do so in a structured manner, so this course seemed perfect for my needs.

Unfortunately, the soft requirement for entry into the course is an undergraduate degree in science or engineering and my degree in Japanese language and culture fits neither bill so I was apprehensive that I may not be considered. I therefore lined up some former lecturers to provide references if required and penned a passionate accompanying statement ensuring the university that faith in me would not be misplaced.

Offer letter from Heriot-Watt University

Fortunately, the soft requirement was indeed soft and without any request for references I have been offered an unconditional acceptance into the programme, which I have confirmed! WOOHOOO!!!!! If we’re honest, this is probably more to do with harsh financial challenges facing our universities than it was to do with my passionate plea but either way, come September 2020 I shall commence studying in the programme which I think makes my dreams to open my own brewery far more attainable.

Whilst, this is an MSc course, every new student is enrolled in the postgraduate diploma course and opts in to the dissertation for MSc at a later date, should they wish to pursue this. I do not currently have plans to complete the MSc, nor even the PgDip but rather intend to exit after completing 6 courses and attaining a postgraduate certificate (on completion of 4).

My reasoning is that I’m attaining industry knowledge which will then be applied in practice to my own company, as such I am not so inspired to study the courses relating to academic writing and research. This could however change and the course offers me the flexibility to make tho choices further down the road.

Offer details from Heriot-Watt University

In recognising that I don’t have a science background the offer also included a book recommendation for me to prepare for the start of the course, which shall be studied intently during the coming months.

I am very excited to start, a little daunted by the idea of studying a postgraduate science programme but ready to face the challenges and rise to them!


Of Sugar Munchers and Chilly Gas

Post-brew discoveries #1
Blog: Brewshido
Categories: 4-minute read
Tags:

As I settled down to read over the brew sheet for my impending Imperial Stout brew and after over 2 hours of cleaning and sanitising kit, I made a discovery.. I did not have enough yeast for the next day’s brew and had no means of acquiring more in time. So I hugged the windows in this mobile network black spot we call home in order to latch on to a signal to advise my scheduled brew buddy of the postponement.

YEAST

Purepitch Yeast Packet Front

When buying the beer kits I have been using to learn brewing, I had noted that for certain kits I could choose dry yeast or liquid yeast. I had previously read in slightly out-dated brewing books that liquid yeast is superior to dry yeast and so I have, for the last few orders, been opting for liquid. As it turns out, in doing so I’ve unknowingly been brewing with insufficient volumes of yeast!

Nowadays, due to improvements in the science dry yeast is apparently pretty close to liquid yeast in terms of quality but one advantage to liquid yeast is it enables you to create a yeast starter. This is currently too advanced a process for me to include but in essence you create a low gravity wort using dried malt extract and pitch the yeast into this a day or two before, which enables you activate and grow the yeast cultures so that you have sufficient volumes to pitch into higher gravity worts. Still with me? (who am I kidding, I’m the only one reading!). This is also advisable if your yeast is a bit older.

Purepitch Yeast Packet Back

As a result of the previous paragraph, when you order liquid yeast in the kit, you are only sent by default one sachet. If you don’t make a yeast starter then this is likely to be insufficient, and you have the option of ordering more. If only I had realised this at the time of ordering I’d have an exciting stout in the fermenter.. and my last beer would be much better!

This may go a large part of the way to explaining why I missed my final gravity reading in the last brew.

So today, I’ll order the extra two sachets of liquid yeast required to munch on high gravity stout wort and then I’ll buy dried yeast going forward until I’m ready to advance to yeast starters.

Force Carbonation

As I opted to skip the bottling phase for the time being and keg my beers, I have been trying to follow steps with regards to properly carbonating the beer post-fermentation. Carbonating using CO2 rather than brewing sugars is referred to as force carbonation (not force carbonisation as I keep calling it) and the trick is knowing what PSI or volume of gas to introduce to the keg for how long.

Han Solo Force CarbonisationForce Carbonation NOT Force Carbonisation

Everyone seems to have their own method and so for the beers I have made up to now I had opted to follow a generic instruction from the manufacturer of my brewing kit, Grainfather. Their instructions are simple to follow:

  • 30 PSI for 2 days
  • 10-12 PSI for 1 day
  • 8-10 PSI and refrigerate for 4 hours

They are simple to follow but haven’t really worked for me, in each case the resultant beer was a little too flat. My experiments thus far in correcting this have been disappointing, for my NEIPA I cranked the PSI up for too long, resulting in a massively over-carbonated beer, I’ve been able to eek it down again but there is a lasting bitterness in the beer as a result.

I’ve been looking in to this and possibly the issue is that I’ve not been considering temperature as a variable. When I pressurise my kegs, I do so inside the kegerator (for that is where the gas outlets live) and this is maintained at a temperature of 4°C whereas the instructions above seem to infer that the keg is only refrigerated for the final age.

My meanderings led to further discoveries, namely gas carbonation charts and gas carbonation calculators because I, of course, and not re-inventing the wheel here.. many brewers precede me and careful web searching could have saved me a bit of effort.

Different beer types have different recommended gas volumes and working out how to deliver this volume at my working temperature can be attained using either the charts or the calculators (the latter being quicker, easier and more likely to be my way forward).. so from here on in I’ll be using this calculator from Brewer’s Friend, a website which I suspect I’ll be visiting often.


Chinook What I Made

Notes from brew day #3
Blog: Brewshido
Categories: 10-minute read
Tags:

After the abject failure of my previous brew determination was high. Mistakes would not be made, at least not with regards to the most important stage of the process, sanitisation!

This was my first brew day with assistance, in the form of my dad, and having someone to “teach” really helped my focus throughout the day, not only were there considerably less mistakes there were also notable improvements throughout the steps compared to previous attempts.

TL:DR I DIDN’T DESTROY THIS BEER!! WOOHOOO!!

In my summary of brew day ichi-ban I described in detail (my understanding) of the steps involved so I’ll not go into as much detail this time but will attempt to follow the me structure.

The Beer Kit

19L New England IPA

The New England IPA 19L All Grain Beer Kit was the same beer kit that I had used in the previous disastrous brew however due to issues with online payment I had to vistt the brew store to pick up, and the hops that were included in this kit were different from the previous kit. I’m a novice so I didn’t question this at the time but at various times during the brew I considered that perhaps I had been given the wrong hops.

Grain bill for brew 3

In the kit this time was a bag of mixed grains, 200 grams of Chinook hops as well as a sachet of White Labs WLP066 London Fog Ale Yeast (liquid).

As previously ingredients were accompanied by some general brewing tips and the …

Brew Day Sheet

This very handy two page guide split the brew into its composite stages and provided target temperatures, gravity readings and volumes as well as space for recording timings and measurements throughout the day. It was very useful and despite my occasional flapping it kept me pretty much on track. The composite parts of the sheet will be incorporated below in the stage sections.

This was actually missing from the kit on this occasion but I had the previous brew’s sheet and I noted all of the important steps and numbers in a notebook.

Stage 0 - Prep!

Not only did I clean and sanitise EVERYTHING immediately after the last brew, on the night before this one, I went through the whole process again! This time however, on the advice of a retired chemist on the fediverse I noted every measurement and each step down.

Brewday 3 - Notes

In addition to directly address the issue that wrecked my last beer, I bought accurate measuring devices in the form of a glass pipette set which enabled me to measure exactly 2ml of the ‘no rinse’ sanitiser in with 1 litre of water for the spray bottle.

Brewday 3 - Pipettes

I also endeavoured to spray less enthusiastically, or rather less intensely.. enthusiasm levels were high regardless of the somewhat tedious task at hand. The extra focus on preparation definitely provided a solid foundation for the next day’s activities!

Stage 1 - Striking & Mashing

Another lesson learned from the previous brew was to heat the strike water as soon as I rolled out of bed, this meant that by the time the brew started the water was already at the correct temperature.. enabling me to spend just short of an extra hour with my daughter before I started in earnest.

Previously, I had noted that the thermometer probe wasn’t secure and had slipped out during the last brew.. this was firmly taped to the unit this time and didn’t budge through the whole day.

With the mash, we actually actively mashed and stirred the grain in for the entire duration of the water dropping from 76°C to 66°C.. this was tough work, I’m not entirely sure how long it took but my dad and I took turns, and in actively working the mash for the whole time we not only reduced the cool down time considerably but also released more sugars into the wort than previously.

This stage was absolutely nailed, a marked improvement on previous attempts, and the benefits of having a brew buddy became very apparent, very quickly.

Stage 2 - Lautering & Sparging

According to the brew sheet for this NEIPA recipe, approximately 8-10 litres of 76°C water should be rinsed or sparged through the spent grains in order to hit a pre-boil wort volume of 25 litres.. I needed 12L which was the same as last time.

It could be that there are improvements that could be made to this part of the process so I’ll maybe agitate the grain a bit more during this process to release more sugars and move the sparge water through, I suspect that of the 12L poured in a fair amount was still sitting within the grain cake.

Stage 3 - Boiling

Somewhat excitingly (likely to a very limited audience only) there was some proper protein build up as the wort hit the boiling point. I had experienced this during a trip to the Stewart Brewing Craft Beer Kitchen with friends a few years previous and was a little confused as to why it hadn’t happened on my earlier brews.. but it seems that our increased activity during the mash stage was the reason. What nice, natural, confirmatory feedback on our enhanced efforts!

With the confidence that the thermometer probe was securely attached and accurately measuring temperature, after breaking up the protein with a paddle, the rest of the boil went very smoothly.

We filled the time reading brewing books and chatting about my future brewing plans in Japan. As my dad was driving later in the day we weren’t drinking.. my next brew buddy is a non-driver!

Brewday 3 - Books

Stage 4 - Hop Additions

There was an initial 50g of the Chinook hops as a 10 minute (from end of boil) addition, then the hop stand which involves lowering the temperature post-boil to 70-80°C, adding in another 50g of the hops and holding the hot wort at that temperature for 30-45 minutes, we went for 40 minutes at 76°C since 76 appears to be a special number.

So far the hop stand seems to be a specific step for this style of beer and must contribute to the hazy or rather juicy look of the final beer.

Brewday 3 - Chinook Hops Label

Whilst we were reading in the previous stage, I had spotted a note attached to a recipe from BrewDog’s DIY DOG 2017 which stated that they get the be results when dry -hopping for 5 days (rather than 4 recommended elsewhere) at 14°C. It wasn’t overly clear if they meant specifically with the recipe the note was attached to or as a general rule of thumb but with my newly acquired chiller, I gave it a go.

Hop schedule for this brew was:

  • 50g of hops at 10 minutes (50 minutes into boil)
  • 50g of hops post-boil in a hop stand
  • 100g of dry hops post-fermentation for 5 days at 14°C

Stage 5 - Cooling

Post-brew it occurred to me that I missed a step which could logically fit in this age, I briefly mentioned it in my first brew post and will remember to do it next time.

The whirlpooling stage is primarily meant to separate trub (errant hops or grains which managed to escape the grain basket post-sparge) from the wort by dragging them down to the bottom of the .. boiling vessel.. but also the act of a 5 minute (yup!) whirlpool will also cool the wort a little, albeit slower than the cooling coil that comes with the Grainfather.

We cooled the wort to 18°C and transferred into the fermenter at a higher elevation than previously in order to increase the oxygen in the wort for the hungry yeast.

Stage 6 - Fermenting

The target original gravity (OG) for this beer is 1.063 which on my previous disastrous brew I hit on the nose, this time though I missed it by a little, landing on 1.059.. There was about an extra litre of of pre-boil wort and it seems that this was extra sparge water resulting in a very slightly weaker final wort.

Brewday 3 - Hydrometer for measuring wort gravity

The fermentation of this beer was the most active (noisiest) so far.. even into day 8 there was still the occasional bubble through the airlock. However, as previously experienced the active yeast increased the temperature of the wort in the fermenter, and it occurred to me finally that I had forgotten to buy a cooling system, so I ordered an inexpensive one and took immediate action whilst awaiting its delivery.

On noticing the temperature creeping up to almost 23°C, my wife and I carefully moved the fermenter on to a worktop in the utility room, opened the window to a Scottish winter and watched the temperature drop. The fermenter has a heating element so whenever it drops below the target temperature it slowly recovers.. so whilst there were a few periods where the temperature was slightly below 18°C, they were brief and the heat never exceeded 20°C for the remainder of the fermentation window.

During the fermentation, I noted that the yeast dump deposits were a bit smaller than previously but this made sense because the yeast was .. expiring.. at a slower rate. Where the fermenter previously went dormant after 4 days it stretched out twice as long this time before fermentation seemed to be done.

Again though, my final gravity (FG) reading was higher than the target and this time I’m not sure why. It was closer to the FG this time (1.026) than last time (1.033) so some progress is being made. Perhaps I need to look into the pH levels of the water or perhaps it will improve upon the introduction of a 5 minute whirlpool.. This is a challenge I feel will take a bit of time to understand.

As a result of missing both OG and FG targets my final ABV (according to the Brewer’s Friend Calculator ) is 4.33% had I hit my OG this would have been 4.86%.

For reference the following were my volume and gravity targets and final gravity (FG) results:

  • Desired Volume: 19L
  • Actual Volume: 19L
  • Desired OG: 1.063
  • Actual OG: 1.059
  • Desired FG: 1.013
  • Actual FG: 1.026
  • Desired ABV: 6.6%
  • Actual ABV: 4.3%

Stage 7: Kegging & Carbonising

I force-carbonated the beer for 2 days at 30PSI, brought it down to 12PSI for another 24 hours, hooked it up to the tap and lowered the pressure to 10PSI. However, as I had noticed on my first brew this resulted in a slightly under-carbonated beer so I cranked up the PSI to 30 for another 24 hours.

Stage 8: Drinking

Vindication you taste awesome! OK, dialling it down a bit.. this is a tasty beer, I would be happy if I ordered this in a pub and would enjoy every last drop. I wouldn’t necessarily rush back to order it again though but that’s an issue of personal taste..

I like my NEIPAs to be almost fruit juice like, certain hops give off more fruity qualities that I think are better suited to a NEIPA than others. Chinook has some of those qualities it seems but also some resin-y qualities, this is fine, Fierce Beer make a very nice juicy beer which is quite resin-y (Late Shift ) but it just isn’t my personal preference.

Brewday 3 - NEIPA

As an exercise in brewing this was a fantastic experience and my confidence and enthusiasm has been restored.

Will I drink this beer? Of course, with pride and I’ll make it again, but next time I’ll use El Dorado hops and see if they taste like I think they would taste without the accidental inclusion of sanitising chemicals.

For the next brew, I have a friend joining me and whilst we enjoy this NEIPA, we’ll be having a crack at an Imperial Stout.. arguably my favourite type of beer!