The Batch Sparge

April 5, 2011

In my last post I mentioned that I was trying out “batch” sparging for my all-grain brewing. Today I put that beer into a secondary fermenter, so I had a chance to taste it and assess the process. For homebrewing purposes, I can’t see not going with a batch sparge method. It took half the time (at most), it was easier with far less to monitor (for instance, the ph of the sparge is much more easily maintained), it takes less equipment, temperature is much more easily controlled, you don’t have to worry about stuck run-offs, and judging from the beer so far it works great. I have plenty of malt character to the IPA I brewed; unless there’s something I’m missing, I won’t bother with the more traditional sparging methods unless I go pro. The only real downside I see is that you need to compensate about 5% for the slightly reduced efficiency of your run-off. If I ever go pro (some dreams never die) then that 5% is profits, but for a 5- or 10-gallon batch of beer we’re talking an extra dollar. I’ll gladly pay.

Here was my method:

I heated 40 oz water for each lb of grain (in this case, I had 12 lbs grain total, so I had 480 oz of water or 15 qts/3,75 gallons) to about 180 degrees. I put this into an insulated cooler/mash tun to preheat it. When the water cooled to 163 I added my grains (the grains will drop the temperature about 9 degrees, and I was shooting for a 154 degree rest). I stirred thoroughly, added some gypsum to get the ph right, and let sit. The rest temperature ended a bit low, so I took about two quarts and heated it up, added it back in and the target temperature was spot on and stayed that way for the hour it took for full starch conversion.

While the grains were mashing, I heated up the sparge water. There are, of course, careful calculations designed to get you to the 6 gallon wort that you’re shooting for (how much is lost to grain absorption etc) but my friend suggested going with an 8 gallon total and taking note of final product, adjusting accordingly for next batches. I went with this method, heating up 4.25 gallons of water to 170 degrees in two batches. When all the starches had been converted, I added the first batch of 170 degree water, stirred thoroughly and let sit as a minor “mash-out” temperature rise. I then put the other pot of water on to heat up to 170 and went ahead and opened up the spigot full force. As the first few quarts came out, I recirculated them back into the mash until the run-off was nice and clear. At that point, I simply let the whole batch run out into the pot. By the time the first sparge was done, the second round of water was ready to go, so I put that into the mash bed. I then put the first half of the wort onto the stove to start warming it up to a boil, as I went through the exact same process (recirculating the cloudy first run-offs) with the second half of the wort. When that was done, I added it to the pot already beginning to boil. The final wort was almost exactly 6 gallons which with evaporation gave me a final batch of beer just above 5 gallons at almost exactly the gravity I was shooting for. Notice that you don’t have to maintain sparge water temperatures as it slowly drains through the grains (which really is the most difficult aspect of homebrewing all-grain in my book). You do need two large kettles since you heat sparge and collect wort in two different batches, but most of you all-grain brewers already have that I imagine. If not, it’s a minor expense for the ease of this process.

I used to be an all-grain brewer back in the late 90s, but life got in the way (damned PhD and then real job) and I really wondered if I’d ever have the time to brew all-grain again. Frankly, this is not much harder and doesn’t take that much more time than using malt extract. And then the beer is all yours: a recipe you can design and truly call your own. It’s the difference between bread makers (which certainly make fine tasting bread) and baking your own. I like the feel of kneading bread; it’s therapeutic. So, too, is that magical, steamy, aromatic process of turning grains into sugar into beer.


All Grain Brewing

March 29, 2011

My last beers have been, if I do say so myself, extraordinary. My double IPA is one of my best. My farmhouse is light, fresh and tasty, and my hybrid honey biere de garde is a unique beer. My Belgian Strong Golden is aging nicely and just about ready to bottle. So, my brewing confidence is full force right now; I’ve said for a few brews that the next one would venture back into all grain, but clearly that hasn’t been the case. Until now. My Mount Vernon brewery is well stocked and I’ve got the layout figured out, confidence is high, so today I brewed a medium gravity, moderately hopped all-grain IPA. This is an all-chinook hops ale, an experiment I’m starting to really get to know my different hop varieties (the Mikkeller series of single-hop beers has also helped me with this, but it’s also made me want to brew a similar series).

Grain Bill:
10 lb 2-row
1 lb Belgian pale malt
.75 Belgian caramel pils
.25 Briess caramel 120 degree

In my previous all-grain incarnation, I stuck very firmly to the traditional model of sparging. I have been persuaded in my reading, though, to work with a “batch sparge” method in which the sparge is done at full speed (rather than the slow model in which the brewer maintains the level of water in the mash tun as it drains). The two big pluses to this method are speed and no stuck mashes; the con, of course, is a potential loss of efficiency leading to a lower gravity than a recipe might call for. Most of what I’ve read suggested that the loss of efficiency is not that great and can easily be countered by adding about 5% to the grain bill which is what I’ve done.

3.75 gallons mash water
Strike temp of 152 degrees
60 minute rest

4.25 gallons 170 degree water, in two batches.

1 oz Chinook hops, 11.2%, 60 minutes
1 oz Chinook hops, 11.2%, 15 minutes
1 cup malto-dextrine, 15 minutes
1 tbsp irish moss, 15 minutes
1 oz Chinook hops, 11.2% 1 minute

Add 1 tsp calcium carbonate and Wyeast 1056, American Ale yeast and aerate.

O.G. = 1.055

Everything went well and the pre-fermented beer tastes pretty good. I’m surprised by the hop character–it’s not that overwhelming a hop profile, or so I thought, but the first taste of it has a pretty spicey burn at the finish. This isn’t a bad thing, but it is surprising to me how strong it seems. We’ll see. My plan is to dry-hop an ounce of Chinook in the secondary, but I’ll sample before then and see what I think.

Africa, Part III

March 14, 2011

I’m having trouble learning the software to edit some of my Africa video footage. I have several videos which I partially took sideways to get the full image of dancers. I am trying to edit it to rotate the footage, but I’ve yet to figure out a way to do this (if anyone has suggestions, feel free to leave me a comment!). I thought I’d wait till I get it all figured out to put on the blog, but some of this footage is too cool. So here’s a video of a Batwa community wishing us farewell with song and dance. As Henry, our guide and translator, said, “They want to sing you one more song. What can I do?”

Sure, it goes sideways, but still pretty cool. Enjoy:


Africa, Part II

March 11, 2011

Here is a brief video of a Batwa Community welcoming us. Notice the slope of the hillside that they are living on. It’s hard to fathom how people live on these hillsides, let alone farm them.

Africa, Part I

March 10, 2011

Well, we’ve returned from Uganda. It was an overwhelming experience I’m still trying to sort through. Earlier, I said I’d probably give a day-by-day account after the fact (since I really couldn’t blog while I was there) but I don’t think that’s what I’ll do. I’m sifting through all my notes trying to pull out the relevant material, but it’s difficult to do. It’s such a different world.

The first thing I want to do, though, is post a few photos of the Batwa. I was struck meeting these people at how open and generous they were in the face of lives that would simply grind most of us down. I was simultaneously depressed and uplifted by their experiences, living in utter poverty but persevering and still able to sing. Here are a few photos of the Batwa in their communities:

My friend Kurt who went along as photographer will have many more, and much better, shots than I have that we’ll share when ready. I’ve also got video I will share in due time, but I need to figure out how to edit first. I’m also slowly working through transcribing the stories I recorded while I was there and I’ll share as I work on them, so plenty of material I’ll be posting here about our adventures. Stay tuned. In the meantime, be sure to check out Act and Empower to see the work they’re doing with the Batwa.

Belgian Strong Ale

February 21, 2011

I’m trying to clean off my desk before my upcoming travels, get myself as organized as possible instead of this mass of papers, books, and other junk that I call my life. In the midst of one pile I found the scribbled notes of a recipe for a Belgian golden ale that I had not posted here. Since I use this blog as a kind of recipe book for me as much or more than any of my readers, I thought I should jot it down before I leave (and I guess it’s either an appropriate style since we’ll be flying into Brussels on our way to Africa, or perhaps oddly inappropriate since we’ll be flying into Rwanda).  Anyway, here goes:

– .25 lbs Dingeman’s Caramel Pils
– .25 lbs Dingeman’s BiscuitGambrinus
steeped  20 minutes in 1 gallon 170 degree water. Sparged with a gallon room temp water.

– 7 lbs Pilsen malt syrup
– 2 lbs clear belgian candi sugar
– 1 oz Czech Saaz hops, 3.9% (60 min)
– 1 oz Tettnang hops, 4.9% (60 min)
– 1/2 oz Czech Saaz, 3.9% (30 min)
– 1/2 oz Hersbrucker, 2.4% (30 min)
– 1/2 oz Hersbrucker, 2.4% (10 min)
– 1 oz Czech Saaz, 3.9% (1 min)
– 1 Tbsp Irish moss (15 min)
– 1 cup malto dextrin (15 min)

– Wyeast 1388 Belgian Strong Ale.
– 1 oz calcium carbonate for yeast, aerated well.

OG: 1.079

This is another one that can use some aging so it will sit until well after I’m back, hopefully ready for a summer party. See ya then!

Africa Preparations

February 21, 2011

It is the middle of the night and I’d really love to be sleeping. But my mind is racing with the idea of my upcoming trip to Africa and of the many little things I need to remember before I go. So, rather than lie in bed awake for the rest of the night thought I’d get up and do at least a few of those things, and apparently jot a few thoughts down here on the blog as well.

I will be spending time gathering stories from Twa villages in Uganda, so I’d love to say that I’m spending my sleepless nights doing something really productive like learning Kinyarwanda so that I can speak with the Batwa  (Kinyarwanda is actually a Bantu language that most of the Batwa have taken on with their own twists, their original language all but gone. My understanding is they also make use of a good dose of Swahili). But a new language is certainly not going to happen before I go. I’ve at least got a list of some phrases:

Good morning: MwahRahMootZAY (Mwaramutse)
Good afternoon: MweeReeWay (Mwiriwe)
Hello (anytime): MooRahHoh (Muraho)
How are you?: AhMahKooRoo (Amakuru)
How are you? (reciprocated): AhMahKooRoo Yah Way (Amakuru yawe)
I’m fine: Nee MAYza (Ni meza)
Thank you: MooRahKohZay (Murakoze)
Thank you very much(Swahili): AhSANtee SAHna (Ahsante Sana)
Goodbye (afternoon): MeeReeGway (Mwirirwe)
Goodbye (evening): MooRahMooKeyAy (Muramuke)
Goodbye (general): MooRahBAYho (Murabeho)
Yes: YAYgo (Yego)
No: Oya (Oya)
What’s your name?: WitWAHNday? (Witwa nde)
My name is _.: NEETwah _. (Nitwa)
Nice to meet you (one person): NdahBeeSheemYay (Ndabishimiye)
Nice to meet you (plural, polite form): NeeSheemYay KooBah MenYah (Nishimiye kuba menya)
Good: MAYza (Meza)
Bad: BeeBee (Bibi)
Welcome: MooRahKahZah NayZa (Murakaza neza)
Water: AhMahZee (Amazi)
Beer: EeBeeYehRee (Ibyeri)
Tea: EeKEYAhYee (Icyayi)
Coffee: EeKAHwah (Ikawa)
Food: EeBeeReebGah (Ibiribwa)
Meat: EenYahMah (Inyama)
Plantains: IGeeToeGee (Igitoke)
Bread: OomooKAHtee (Umukati)
Potatoes: EeBeeRAIYee (Ibirayi)
Rice: OoMooChelEe (Umuceli)
Money: AhMaFahRanGah (Amafaranga)
How much does this cost? :NahnGahHay? (Nangahe)
White person: OoMooZoonGoo (Umuzungu)
White people: AhBahZoonGoo (Abazungu)
What?: EeKey (Iki)
Why?: KooKee? (Kuki)
How?: BeeTay (Bite)
Who? (singular): Nday (Nde)
Who? (plural): BahnDay (Bande)
When?: ReeAhDee? (Ryali)

So, other than learning a language I’m doing those little things like making sure I have enough batteries for the recorder, plenty of notebooks and pens, my malaria medicine etc. Much of my preparation consists of things I wouldn’t normally think of, but I need to remember that out in the villages there won’t be a corner store I can go to.

I, of course, will write more, but now I suppose I’ll put my sleepless night to better use than blogging. I imagine I will keep a kind of diary and post it as blog entries when I get back. Not even sure if I’ll bother to take my computer as it could be more of a hassle than useful once I get to Uganda (but, then again, old habits die hard and  I still might find my computer with me–I use the passive since of course it would be the computer choosing to join me, not me deciding to take it. But in any case, I won’t have wireless in Kisoro so my blog entries still wouldn’t be posted until later).

For now, Murabeho.

Cedar Rapids follow-up

February 18, 2011

So yesterday I wrote a post about the upcoming moving “Cedar Rapids.” Today’s Cedar Rapids gazette has an article about a local group who won tickets to a sneak preview. Sounds as if the movie got some good laughs and everyone had a good time. And here is the quote of the day: “It was funny–it really was. It made Wisconsin look worse than us.” And there you go. With endorsements like that I’ll admit I didn’t know what I was talking about.

“Cedar Rapids” the Movie

February 17, 2011

So in my last post I made some references to the upcoming release of “Cedar Rapids.” I should clarify that I don’t know that much about the movie and it may well paint Iowa in a good light; I don’t know. But I admit that I’m confused when, say, the editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette entertainment section, who also hasn’t seen the movie, refers to it as an “homage” to Cedar Rapids and how great that will be for our national image. Really? Was “Fargo” an homage to that town?

Even as I ask that question, I know that many of you will say it was in fact an homage. It’s true that the Cohens displayed great affection for the people of Fargo even as they severely ridiculed them. Masters that they are, the Cohens can deftly maneuver that fine line. And maybe this movie will do the same, but I certainly wouldn’t jump to conclusions that this is what the movie is trying to or will do. Rather than an homage, it’s better to think that the location of Cedar Rapids offers the movie-makers something helpful for their plot. And this is a comedy about an earnest but naive man from Wisconsin on his first adventure into “big-city” experiences. So you’ve got to think that the comedic value has to be the irony of “big city” and “cedar rapids,” no? What makes it funny to go to a convention in Cedar Rapids? Maybe our slogan, the City of Five Seasons, is enough (can we please get rid of this city motto–for those of you who don’t know: the fifth season is “the season to enjoy all the others” so it’s all year long. No, I’m serious).

Here’s the thing. I’ve said some less-than-flattering things about Iowa in this space, some of it fair, some of it not. But ultimately I don’t look down on Iowa or Iowans–Cedar Rapids is a good town and I feel good to be here. My heart broke and still breaks for its struggle following the flood. It’s a town filled with big-hearted people who are giving it everything they can to recover. I wish the community well and do what I can to help it along its way. On the other hand, it has always seemed to me that Iowa on the whole is about 20 years behind the rest of the world. Even that doesn’t really bother me. In the right light, this can have its own charm. What ultimately bothers me is that we don’t even see that we’re twenty years behind. If it’s a conscious choice, it may be kitsch but OK, I can live in a world of nostalgia as well as the next person, but if we live with our heads stuck in the sand then the process of recovery is always going to be stuck in the same sand.

Let me give one example (and then I swear this will be the last time I bring this up–or I will try): I’ve written more than my share about the crazy beer/liquor laws we’ve been living under before last year. So what happened during that time was a craft brewing explosion around the country. Now I would have been upset had we been aware of it but chose to not participate in that explosion. But the reality was that people in this state didn’t seem to get that the explosion was even happening, that we were actually losing money to those states around us that carried better beer. During the final debates about the issue, the real fear was that young drinkers would buy higher alcohol beers to get drunk. Proponents of course kept saying, look at other states please. Craft beers are also much more expensive. College kids are not buying these beers. And now we have a more reasonable law and our beer culture can slowly grow. But we’re twenty years behind everyone else. Most national breweries have unfavorable views of Iowa and aren’t too concerned with having us as a market–this will change, but my point is that we now have to sell ourselves to catch up. I say this not to rehash the beer debate but because this is the easiest example I have. We seem to be stuck behind the times in terms of food, movies, coffee, music, etc. And this makes it even harder to draw in businesses, or young professionals, or even keep the youth we have.

I’m looking forward to seeing this movie. And I hope it has some good-natured fun with Iowa. I also hope and trust that the people of Iowa will see it as good-natured. Part of me is skeptical, though, that we’ll necessarily even see what’s funny to people elsewhere. We’re an earnest lot we are. I hope the pundits are right and this movie will bring a little recognition to an area that’s been struggling and could use some help. Of course it won’t help that they had to actually film it in Ann Arbor.

Iowa City is Not Madison

February 14, 2011

Every few months, MB and I feel the need to go somewhere where we can eat and drink better than we do in Iowa, and somewhere where we can wander new neighborhoods or hike new trails–you know, just a different town. The goal is an easily drivable town, one we can easily do for just a few days for a reasonable cost. Fairly frequently–or whenever we’re able, really–we get to Saint Louis or Minneapolis. On occasion, but less frequently (see the comment about affordability) we get to Chicago. The easiest spot, and one that always fits the bill, is Madison. About a 2 1/2 drive, with Dubuque–an interesting river town–bluffs, the potential for a stop at New Glarus, and plenty of rolling farmland all along the way. It makes a great one- or two-night trip.

The last few years we’ve taken a very short mid-winter trip down to Iowa City for my birthday at the end of February, only a half hour away. It’s a nice town, and we love being able to eat a decent meal and then spend the evening at our favorite bar, The Sanctuary, with its nice menu of Belgian and other assorted beers. This year I will be in Africa for my birthday, though. We also just needed to get away, so we spent this last weekend in Madison. Once again I’m reminded of how much I love this small city.

What struck me, though, during this last visit was thinking of how many people in Iowa I’ve heard compare the two towns, Madison and IC. Yes, they are both Big 10 cities with a large midwestern university in the heart of town. But the comparison can go absolutely no further than that. Iowa City is a pleasant enough town, but it really has 3 or 4 good restaurants, the Sanctuary, John’s grocery (one of the better beer suppliers in Iowa), a below mediocre brewpub, and a few nice hiking trails. Yes, many will say, but it has the Iowa Writers Workshop, but I’d rather not get started on that. In general, I find the workshop atmosphere rather pretentious and cliquish (oh my god, there I’ve said it).

Madison, however, has a comparatively amazing array of restaurants (for instance, what a treat to be able to choose between the Tibetan or the Nepali restaurant that are just blocks away). While I love the Sanctuary, it was a real treat to spend the evening in Brasserie V, a real Belgian beer lover’s heaven with some decent food to boot. There’s Steve’s liquors for stocking up on all those beers we can’t get in Iowa (yes, we came home with the car loaded down). There is a fine brewpub, Great Dane, and an excellent brewery, Ale Asylum (they have a tap room, but I’ve yet to make it).  And the trails and lakes and outdoor culture of Madison can’t be beat.  Yes, the real point here is we had a great weekend. But I find myself scratching my head about the people who insist on making the comparison here. I get it that Madison is not only a big-10 university town but also the state capital. So, sure, that affects the culture of Madison so it’s the apples-oranges thing. But even more I wonder, then, why compare them? It makes me think of the recent local commentary about the upcoming movie “Cedar Rapids.” Local politicians are determined to point out how good this will be for our state giving it big-name recognition. An Ed Helms movie about an inept businessman who goes to a convention in Cedar Rapids that was actually filmed in Michigan because our film industry is so appealing? Really? I haven’t seen the movie but I’m not sure it’s going to be good press for Iowa.

I don’t know what my point here is (except maybe to say it’s worth visiting Madison if you haven’t). I’m not trying to downplay Iowa City (I’ve done enough Iowa bashing elsewhere). Maybe it’s just that we’re working hard to be something we’re not. Iowa City isn’t Madison. And Cedar Rapids certainly shouldn’t be hoping for movie recognition. Let’s just do what we do and do it well. So, to that end I’ll point to one positive change from earlier commentaries: now that Iowa has lifted the ban on higher alcohol beers, I’m pleased to say that Iowa now has a first rate beer. Peacetree brewing has shown some promise in early beers, but they are inconsistent and not all that great. But their relatively new Double IPA (which would not have been legal under the old laws) is quite nice. It’s a beer I’m happy to say comes from Iowa. It’s a beer I’ll share with friends from elsewhere. So get a few more good brews in state. Get a few more good restaurants. And then be happy to be small town middle America. A place where we can increasingly know the farmer who grows our food. Where education is valued. And where diversity is supported (oops, maybe I need to rethink that one after we recently voted out the judges who upheld gay rights and gay marriage…. a post for another time).