Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Windy City Brew Day!

Well it's been a while since our last brew day. With all the work and excitement around Kickstarter, we haven't had much time for what we really love, brewing! Luckily we found time yesterday to brew up a pilot batch of a recipe we've been fine tuning now for a while, our Belgian IPA.

The day started off somewhat frighteningly. With some heavy rain and 60mph gusts, the windy city was showing us what she was all about in Autumn. Luckily the rain let up by ten or so and Gerrit and myself headed out in search of some tasty ingredients to add to our kettle.

The first stop was Chicago's famous Spice House. This place is truly amazing, loaded with just about every spice you could dream of. Walking into the shop immediately fills the senses with an onslaught of aromas. If you haven't been, be sure to check it out. Our primary goal there was to get some Szechuan  peppercorns. While in the neighborhood we also picked up our great friend and fellow brewer Scott. This was a good thing, because after several weeks away from the brewhouse, there was a substantial amount of cleaning to do.

The next stop was to our local homebrew shop, Brew and Grow. Since moving this place has expanded into one of the biggest brew shops I have ever been too. They also specialize in everything for the garden, whether it be indoor or out. While there we stocked up on a couple of bags of malt and a couple new hop varieties from New Zealand, which we shall use in a future brew. We also had a chance to sample some of the fine beer that resident brewer Larry whips up when he's not helping customers with their brewing questions. The star of the day was the pumpkin ale brewed with Irish ale yeast.

Before we got started with the brew day, there was one more important stop. That would be lunch at Hot Doug's. If you've never been, you must seek this place out. They specialize in hand made sausages, often made with exotic meats including kangaroo, ostrich, and elk. After stocking up on encased meats, it was time to head back to the lab to brew up some magic.

Scott is always a good sport and a hard worker!
Before we got started we had to do a bit of cleaning. This meant giving the kettle a once over, cleaning out the chest freezer, and for Scott, cleaning out some old carboys that i had neglected a while back :)

After a good bit of scrubbing and sanitization we were ready to roll. We began heating our mash water and milled our grains. Once we had gotten our strike liquor (water) to the appropriate temperature we mashed in. This is where we mix the milled grain with the hot water where enzymes in the malt will convert starches to sugar that yeast will later convert to alcohol and CO2 during fermentation.

The important thing here is to mix the grains thoroughly so that there are no dry clumps which would result in missing out on some of those sought after sugars. We use an oak mash paddle that me and Gerrit made a couple of years ago. It works like a charm for this job.

 The resultant mixture looks a bit like oatmeal and smells wonderful. Once it is mixed thoroughly we let the mash sit for one hour so that the enzymes can do their work and release the sugars.

My pup Jonas guards the sweet wort during lautering.
After the hour wait is complete, we added some more hot water to the mixture to bring the temperature to 170F. This stops the enzyme activity and makes the wort (sugar water) more fluid so that it may more easily pass through the grain bed, which acts as a filter during what is called lautering.

During this time we slowly let the sweet wort flow out through the bottom of the kettle. The grains themselves are sitting on a mesh sort of filter to prevent grains from running out with the wort. We also continue to add hot water to rinse the grains further, this is called sparging.

Gerrit uses a refractometer to check the amount of sugars we've extracted into the wort.  

Beejay adding some pellet hops in a mesh bag.
 Once the wort is collected we return it to the freshly cleaned kettle. This is usually done in separate vessels, but for our purposes, one kettle is enough to serve both needs. We now bring the wort to a boil. This will serve several purposes. First it will sanitize the wort, giving the yeast a chance to develop without competing with other nasties. It will also concentrate the wort, increasing the amount of sugars within it and allowing for a stronger beer. In this case we are aiming for a beer of 6-5% ABV. Lastly it will allow resins in the hops we will add to isomarize, lending bitterness to the beer. Since this is an IPA it will be a fairly bitter beer. To accomplish this we are using a very bitter hop called Warrior.

We also add a much larger amount of aromatic hops. For this we used whole leaf hops. These will add some intense aromas and flavors to the finished beer. In this case we are using a blend of Simcoe, Centennial, Citra, and Amarillo. These hops will add flavors of citrus, pine, and some tropical fruit to the finished beer.

 Speaking of beer, we decided to enjoy a little bit of this years Nemesis from Founders. I must say this was the perfect beer to enjoy on a windy backyard brewday, especially fresh on draft ;)

Here you can see just half of the flavoring hops going into the kettle. We are really looking for a huge hop character on this one so we pulled out all the stops and tossed them in generously.
We Also added some ingredients you might not expect to find in your everyday IPA; coriander, fresh seville orange peal, and Szechuan pepper corns. You might be thinking that the peppercorns would add some undesired heat to the finished beer, but this is a common misconception. They are actually a berry and their flavor can be described as citrusy and woody. We think they make a great addition to this unusual beer.

Once the boil is complete the wort must be cooled quickly to ensure it isn't contaminated. We built a semi-fancy little setup of gizmos to accomplish this. The wort is pumped out of the kettle and through a couterflow chiller. Basically it uses channels to pass hot wort in one direction and cold water the other. This allows us to cool five and a half gallons of wort from near boiling to 75F in about five minutes. After leaving the plate chiller the wort passes by an inline oxiginating stone which pumps pure oxygen directly into the wort. This helps with yeast health and a good strong fermentation. Once the wort is in the fermenter we pitch yeast, in this case a Belgian Wit strain, give her a quick mix and lay her down for fermentation.  We also use a hydrometer to make sure that we've gotten the correct amount of sugars into the finished wort.
This particular beer will ferment at around 69F for 5-7 days after which we will add even more hops to the fermenter, which is called dry hopping. This wont add any additional bitterness, but will increase the aromatic qualities of the finished beer. After another week the beer will be cooled to 35F or so to help clear the beer. Following this cold crashing we will most likely transfer the finished beer to a keg, where we can carbonate it and serve it.

While we have brewed  versions of this in the past, this is by far the hoppiest iteration to date. We are really looking forward to the play of flavors between the different ingredients. We hope we will be able to share this one with you when it's all done ;)

P.S. To all those well versed in the practices of brewing. Forgive my long winded  descriptions of the brewing process. Since this is our first brewday recap I thought I'd give some extra info for those that don't know about the ins and outs of the brewing process. In the future I will be a little more straight forward with highlights and such, I swear!

Feel free to ask any questions and I'll try to answer em ASAP!

Beejay and the Pipeworks team.

You can check out more photos from our brewday here...


  1. I love the chilling setup. I'm looking to put together something similar here pretty soon.

    How long does that oxygen tank last?

  2. We run the oxygen for about half the runoff of the wort. We usually get at least 7-10 batches off a single can and I think they run about $5, so about fifty cents per batch.

    We used to used the aeration system with an inline sterile filter, but it takes way too long and foams the wort up so much that it became impractical.