Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Brewing pt2

In this particular case I'm using a recipe kit from Austin Homebrew, their Kalamazoo IPA. This kits comes with pelleted Centennial hops which I will be using along with my own hops. The vast majority of the hops I have harvested are Columbus, which are normally used as a bittering hop as they have a high alpha acid content. However, it is unlikely that my own homegrown hops will have achieved such high levels of alpha acid, especially in their first year. I'm also not going to spring for a lab analysis. For these reasons I've decided to split them up, half (about half a pound, wet weight) going in at the start of the boil (as bittering hops would) and the other half going in 15 minutes before the end of the hour (along with the meagre offerings from the other two hops) to contribute to the flavour. Here's the first lot going in:

I poured them in straight from the freezer. This is what they looked like after a couple of minutes:
The smell at this point is amazing. I always enjoy brew day for the way it makes the house smell but using fresh wet hops always makes it that much more so. As I said earlier, I added the rest of the hops towards the end of the boil. All three Willamette cones (bless their hearts):

As well as 2oz of Cascade:

And the rest of the Columbus:

At this point the smell in the whole house is incredible, as long as you like hops as much as everyone in this house does. Once the boil is done it's time to cool the wort as quickly as possible. In our previous house I had done this by immersing it in the sink full of water with frozen cool packs and ice. As you can see in the photo below this isn't possible in our new place:

This is actually my first time using a cooling coil (also from Austin Homebrew). I should probably make it clear that I'm not affiliated with them in any way other than being a happy customer. Previously, wort cooling had taken up to 30 minutes. This coil brought it down to less than 15. I have read elsewhere that the quicker you can cool your wort the less haze you will get in the final beer, which is, unsurprisingly, referred to as chill haze. Everything I've read about it says that it doesn't affect the flavour of the beer so I hadn't worried about it much. We will see if this beer ends up with less in the way haze once bottled.
Once the wort has cooled and the gravity measured, the yeast starter culture is added. With the lid attached and air lock in place, the whole thing is placed in the basement to ferment:
The basement stays at a pretty constant 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius) and I was rewarded the next day with plenty of activity in the airlock. I have high hopes for this beer. I once previously made a beer with fresh hops I bought from my local homebrew shop in Houston (DeFalco's). It was easily the best beer I had made up to that point. If you have never tried using fresh hops please do yourself a favour and try it soon.

Brewing pt1

As I mentioned earlier, I thought I would take you through my brew day when it came time to use the hops I've harvested. I'm sure there are many and better homebrewing blogs out there but I thought I should see the whole process through, from planting a rhizome to making the brew. As a consequence I'm not going to be extra careful to include every single little detail but I'm open to questions. I've also discovered the length limits for a blog post, so I've had to split it into two parts. If you're only interested in seeing pics of fresh hops being dumped into boiling wort skip straight to part 2.

My brew day starts with setting up a starter culture for the yeast. I use a procedure for recovering yeast from previous brews, which can be found here. First thing involves preparing the actual media. I use honey (about 1cm deep at the bottom of a pint glass) and yeast nutrient. To this I add boiling water (to discourage other things from growing in it) and cover with foil. I also add a small magnet and put it on top of a magnetic stir plate:

This helps to mix the ingredients to start with but also helps with yeast growth once it has cooled enough for them to be added. Adding the yeast is done by pouring off the liquid above the cells and pouring in the prepared starter media, then back again and repeat until all of the yeast have been transferred into the pint glass. This is what the collected yeast look like before they're removed from the fridge:

Next step is to collect the water I'm going to use. I have discovered the hard way that the water used for mashing is very important. The first time I tried to do a partial mash, I got no conversion of starch to sugar and only succeeded in making porridge (didn't improve the flavour of the beer). After a little reading I discovered that the enzymes responsible for this conversion will not work above pH 6 and the water coming out of my tap was well over pH 7. When I found this out I immediately tried the water from our Brita filter which turned out to be below pH 6. As a consequence, all of the water I use for mashing and lautering goes through the filter:

I've relatively recently graduated to all grain brewing, which means that I have to collect a fair bit before starting. Once I've collected the volume I need for mashing it goes in straight in my largest pot to heat it to mash temperature:

The other two pots are for the water I'll use for lautering (what I always think of as washing the grain to get as much of the sugar out as possible). I was inspired to switch to all grain when I saw my neighbour throwing out this cooler:

It may not be pretty but it's clean on the inside and I've been able to fit it out with a false bottom and new plumbing (all from Austin Homebrew):

After mashing for at least an hour it's time to collect the sugary goodness inside (or wort as it's technically called):

You may or may not be able to see my bodged together setup for capturing some of the grain husks that try and sneak their way into the wort. These will apparently give the beer a somewhat astringent flavour if left in the wort during the boil, which is started once enough has been collected:

As I don't have a 10 gallon boil pot I am restricted to having to boil two pots. I suspect a pot big enough for the job would be too big for our cooker to actually boil which would then mean having to brew outside with a propane burner (I much prefer brewing in the kitchen, especially when it's not very nice outside). The one on the right is filled first, with the rest draining into the one on the left. While both of them are boiled for an hour, all of the hops will be added to the one on the right with the other one being used to top up the final fermenting volume to just over 5 gallons.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Signs of recovery

I said I would provide an update if I saw any signs of recovery. Here's what the whole sorry affair looks like right now:

Despite the catastrophic die-off, there are definite signs of life. The Columbus (closest to the camera) definitely has some green leaves left. The contrast between the dry and dead leaves with those still alive is pretty striking. Next along is the Cascade, also with some signs of life lower down. It's harder to see with the Willamette at the end but there are some leaves still maintaining their form. All three also have at least one small shoot that I'm going to tell myself is new growth. Others may disagree. This is the Columbus:

Growing buds like this are nearly always the first to die when the plant suffers severe damage, so I have high hopes here.

Here's the Cascade:

If you look very closely you can see a small bud beginning to emerge to the left of the main stalk.

The Willamette also looks like it might have some new growth:

The main stalk to the right looks to have two new shoots, which are of course slightly out of focus. This picture also shows how some of these leaves are only just (but bravely) hanging on, having been eaten by bugs and also discoloured.

Overall I'm quietly confident now that they're not going to completely die off. The biggest concern I have now is whether they will be able to recover enough, before the cold weather appears, so that they can survive the winter and appear again in the spring. Fingers crossed as usual.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The big move.

So the time for the big move finally arrived. Transplanting hops is not something I have tried before but I figured that I don't have much to lose and if they do indeed survive the move I won't have to start from scratch again next year. I had previously shown you my new raised bed for them to move into. This is the last pic I took before removing them:

It was of course at this point that I discovered some cones I had missed at harvest time:

Just to be as careful as possible I decided to excavate them by hand. I also thought I would start with the Willamette, partly because it had been the least productive in terms of above ground growth but also because I was hoping that this would mean that there was much more root growth and thus would be more forgiving while I tried to find the best way of doing this. Here's what its exposed roots looked like:

You should be able to make out the original rhizome that I planted in the middle. The roots that had grown since were very rubbery and floppy. I'm not entirely sure if this is natural or because they were a little dry. I also found out pretty quickly that, although rubbery, when I tried pulling at the end to break them off where they were growing through the raised bed the rubbery part easily separated from an inner fibrous core. I'm pretty sure this is not very good for them. With the benefit of hindsight, using secateurs or some other cutting implement would have been better. 
As the Willamette and Cascade are entwined around the same shepherd's hook I thought I should move them together. Here you can see the difference between the two root systems. The Cascade on the left has much finer branching of its roots:
The fine nature of the branching of these roots meant there was a lot more tearing as I tried to excavate them. After a lot of the gentlest teasing out of the roots I could manage this was the result:

To minimise the amount of time out of soil I moved them immediately, rather than removing the Columbus and moving everything at once. The new place is only just down the road after all. Here's what they looked like once in the new raised bed:

I repeated the procedure with the Columbus as best I could:

Unfortunately, these roots were not nearly as cooperative as the others and there was some tearing at the point where the roots met the above ground stems:

Not a great start. This is what they all looked like once I'd finished the move and given them a thorough soaking:

So far so good, you might think. The more botanically minded will probably have guessed already what's coming. The very next morning, this is what I found:

Very sad looking hop plants. Nearly all of the leaves have shrivelled up and died and become brittle. This process continued for a couple of days:

This really doesn't look good for future hop growth from these plants. You might be able to see that I have wound a soaker hose around the raised bed, so instead of using a spray to water them I have been leaving water running through it for several hours a day. There is some small reason for optimism though. This is what the back of the Columbus looks like:

The Cascade:

And the Willamette:

As I hope you can see there are still some leaves that are not yet shrivelled up. I am hopeful that they can all recover from here. When or if I see any new growth I will be sure to document it. On the plus side I found this sprouting out of our compost:

Perhaps this will have to become a tomato growing blog next year.