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Dusseldorf Alt Brew #2

March 17, 2011

I’ve really liked the couple of alts I’ve brewed in the past (even though they were completely differrent) and I’ve kinda been craving one again, so I’m gonna rebrew my very first all-grain.  Unlike last time, I have a working hydrometer so hopefully there won’t be any explosions.

Recipe

BeerSmith Recipe

Pre-Brew

I ran into a couple of unavailable items and a dubious assurance that one other thing was the same during my trip to the brew shop for ingredients for this brew.

First, they didn’t have any Crystal hops.  As I mention in the “Brew Day” section, though I think I upgraded anyway.

Second, they didn’t have Caramunich and instead directed me to Cara 45.  This is a Dingemans product, making it belgian so I’m not completely sold that it’s the same.  The guy said they used to call it Caramunich but ran into trademark issues or somesuch and switched it.  That story rings a bell, but I don’t recall what others thought of the substitution (guess I should look it up).

Third, they didn’t have Carafa II.  According to the Jamil Show, you should add the Carafa special roast, just for color.  There seems to be a lot of confusion with the Carafa family so I’m not sure if Carafa II == Carafa Special, but that’s what my original recipe had (i.e. I went to my “original” instead of a “copy” like my Crystal hop situation).  In the end, I chose to do a mix of de-bittered black and black patent on the advice of the guy at the brew shop that I have some faith in.  Knowing that the carafa was just for color, though maybe I should have just stuck with the de-bittered black.

Brew Day (3/17/2011)

When picking up ingredients, the brew shop didn’t have Crystal hops so I improvised (or so I thought) with Hallertau.  I had also read the Mt. Hood would substitute, so I set about trying to figure out which would be best.  I fired up Jamil’s Kolsch/Alt show (about 1 hour, 5 minutes in) only to find out that he recommends a noble-type hop.  I’m thinking now that my crystal use in the previous batch was itself a substitute.  I guess I need to be more careful about copies of copies…

I got to use the club’s grain mill for a full batch this time (as opposed to using it for a partial mash like my Maibock).  When all was said and done, it still left me at ~65% efficiency though, so I’m not sure exactly what is going on.  Although my secondary pot was still at 1.032 pre-boil, so I’m thinking I could have still gotten quite a bit more out if I had a bigger pot.  It’s not all bad, though.  Stopping lauter when SG is still high is supposed to be a good thing.  There are even those that advocate no sparging whatsoever.  IIRC, it has to do with tannin extraction.

This beer calls for a lower mash temp (~148F), but I actually hit even a bit lower than that at ~146 F to start.  I think I should be good, though.  The key is just to get it highly fermentable.

I used Hallertau for the first time and it has quite an interesting smell.  My first impression was that they were going bad (sort of a cheesy smell), but further reflection turned up a little bit of a spicy aroma, not quite in line with the smell of hops gone bad.

Finally, despite my attempts otherwise, my immersion chiller was still broken so I had to resort to the bathtub again.  Unfortunately this time, having a secondary boil kettle complicated things.  Knowing that I wanted to use what was in that pot, I treated it like a first-class citizen (gave it its own hop doses) and wanted to cool it down rapidly just like the main kettle (previously I had let it just cool on its own, not too concerned with DMS).  I considered just leaving it on the burner while I cooled the main kettle but chose to try to cool both at the same time.  Leaving it on the burner would have made sense since it took 10 or so more minutes to get to boiling anyway, but I didn’t do it.  In any case, it was a bad decision to try to cool both at the same time.  The water level required to cool the main kettle caused the secondary kettle to float.  When it got below ~100 F (quite a bit faster than the main kettle despite the increased attention I paid to the main kettle), I put its lid on.  Unfortunately, that unbalanced it and it dipped into the water.  I just went ahead and re-boiled it for ~10 minutes so I think I’m safe, but if nothing else it extended my time a little bit.  The moral of the story is that I need to get a proper chiller back online before next brew day.

Since I was missing my immersion chiller, I stopped cooling once I got in the low-80’s.  It only took 15 minutes or so, but the whole process made me nervous and I didn’t want contamination, so I moved it to my sanitized (and closed bottling bucket).  Unfortunately this means it took overnight to get reasonably close to pitching temperature (it was 66.6 F in the morning).  Due to this, I threw my yeast starter (which I’d started at ~10 AM) into my keezer at about midnight.  The keezer is set to 48 F for my maibock fermentation so I thought that should stop the yeast from really doing much of anything more.  In the morning, I just put them back on the stir plate to mix up everything that had settled (which was a pretty nice cake) and then funneled the whole thing into the fermentor and added oxygen.  Hopefully the ~3 F above ideal that I had (temp dropped to ~65 F when I added the starter) won’t affect the quality noticeably and it can get down to 62 F quickly enough.  Judging by the ~4 F it dropped over night, it could reasonably be at 62 F before activity starts showing.

In the fermentor, the beer is pretty dark.  I’m thinking it will be out of style, but as long as it’s a good tasting beer, I won’t be too upset.

Fermentation

A couple weeks of testing showed me that a wet towel with a fan blowing on it would keep a carboy full of water at ~60 F throughout the day.  I figure with fermentation going on that should go right up into the optimal range for an alt at ~62 F.

Good krausen formation and slow airlock activity after ~5 hours.

At bedtime the night of pitching, temperature was nicely in the 62 F range (I forget exactly where).  In the middle of the night I was woken up (to be described next) to find it at 63.7 F.  Despite my best efforts to bring it back down to 62 F, it continued to climb up to ~64.5 F before activity slowed and it started coming back down.  It was back to 63.7 F the evening following pitching (so ~36 hours after pitching).

In the middle of the night, I woke up to a sound like a faucet with an aerator running.  I looked in the closet to see the airlock full and hissing.  I pulled out the stopper to a good hissing sound (of the pressure relieving).  I left a column of foam coming out the top (pic below) to clean and sanitize everything and set up a blowoff tube.

Foam Column Escaping

Now I’ve got the blowoff tube setup (pic below) and foam is gurgling through pretty steadily.

Foam Column Contained

Sample at ~1 week:  1.010.  Definite hop bitterness.  Very cloudy, but that could have a lot to do with the wine thief sampling from the bottom.

Kegging

Kegged 3/28, about a week and a half after brewing.  The gravity indicates that it’s done, so I can get it into the keg and let it begin lagering for a few weeks.

After kegging, I decided to take a gravity reading.  Unfortunately, it was 2 points lower than I’d read a few days prior (now @ 1.008).  Hopefully there’s no harm in kegging it.  At least it’s in a keg this time instead of bottles so it won’t blow up.  I think 1.008 is pretty good and it can’t have too much farther to go.  Even if it does have a couple more points in it, I don’t think the beer will be ruined without it getting there.

Impressions

After having too many:

Aroma:  My nose isn’t working so well

Appearance:  Dark copper, not quite as clear as I’d like.  Nice thick, white/tan head, with nice staying power.  Excellent lacing down the glass.

Flavor:  Bready with “assertive” hop bittering presence.  Nice dry finish.

Mouthfeel:  Full, creamy, dry.

Overall:  Not quite as nice as the first incarnation, but I still enjoy it (what beer don’t I enjoy, honestly?).

After having none previously:

Aroma:  toffee, quickly dissipating

Appearance:  clear, reddish-brown.  Nice head that stays, good lacing.  Creamy white head, small bubbles.

Flavor:  Initial whiff of alcohol along with alcoholic-heat, dissipating to reveal dark fruit.  Strong bitterness, but no hop flavor to speak of.

Mouthfeel:  Dry, creamy, medium body, high carbonation (style-appropriate, I think), alcoholic warmth.

Overall:  The alcohol is definitely noticeable and I wonder if there’s some character in there that’s vegetal.  I say that because it reminds me a little of the brown ale I submitted to the Badger Brew Off.  Of course the similarity could just be the natural similarity between browns and alts.  I wonder if it’s lacking complexity, also.  That’s something I have trouble pinning down, and maybe it’s not always bad to lack.  Overall, I don’t like it as much as my last 2 Alts, but I’m not exactly disappointed.  By accident, I found out that this blends well with my Maibock.  It tones down the sweetness well.

Final Evaluation

Aroma:  Strong licorice-type aroma with some burnt notes.

Appearance:  Very clear brown with medium beige head with very good retention.

Flavor:  Very bitter with slightly burnt, though mostly neutral malt in the beginning.  Finishes very dry and bitter with lasting bitterness.

Mouthfeel:  Medium-Low body with very dry finish.  Medium carbonation and creamy.  No alcohol warmth.

Overall:  This is an enjoyable beer to drink, but I think it misses the mark.  It’s pretty bitter (which may be appropriate), but the malt isn’t present enough and what is is too burnt.  Looking at the recipe, I think the de-bittered black and probably more precisely, the black patent was too prominent in this beer.  It seems that this substitution for Carafa Special II was less than optimal.

NOTE:  My better tasting abilities (from BJCP exam classes) coupled with my soberness, make me feel this last evaluation is the most correct.  Of course I write this just after completing my last evaluation, so it’s probably not completely unbiased.

Since I was missing my immersion chiller, I stopped cooling once I got in the low-80’s.  It only took 15 minutes or so, but the whole process makes me nervous and I didn’t want contamination, so I moved it to my sanitized (and closed bottling bucket).  Unfortunately this means it took overnight to get reasonably close to pitching temperature (it was 66.6 F in the morning).  Due to this, I through my yeast starter (which I’d started at ~10 AM) into my keezer at about midnight.  The keezer is set to 48 F for my maibock fermentation so I thought that should stop the yeast from really doing much of anything more.  In the morning, I just put them back on the stir plate to mix up everything that had settled (which was a pretty nice cake) and then funneled the whole thing into the fermentor and added oxygen.  Hopefully the ~3 F above ideal that I have (temp dropped to ~65 F when I added the starter) won’t affect the quality noticeably and it can get down to 62 F quickly enough.  Judging by the ~4 F it dropped over night, it could reasonably be at 62 F before activity starts showing.
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