Saturday, May 7, 2011

Brewing up my third Home Brew, a Belgian Blonde

While I'm still not ready to call myself a "Home Brewer", I'm happy with my home brew results so far. In early February I brewed a Winter Ale and I followed that up with an American Strong Ale in late February. I was pretty happy with the American Strong and the Winter Ale was very drinkable.

Prepping my gear and supplies
The family always ends up with some sort of Memorial Day function and I thought it would be cool to debut a nice summer brew there. Well, somehow it's the first week in May and I'm only just brewing, but whatever. Beer is just as tasty on June 11th as it is on Memorial Day.

This morning I started working on a Belgian Blonde Ale. Morgan is a big fan of the Indigo Imp Blonde Bombshell and I've yet to brew something she really enjoyed, so this is my latest attempt. A variation on pale ales, the most common Belgian Blonde is Duvel, which is now available all over CLE. Just like my first two brews, my Blonde is a kit from Midwest Supplies.

The hops and the grains steeping
Here's the goods:
  • A premixed bag of specialty grains:
    • 4oz Caravienne
    • 8oz Caramel 10 °L
    • 8oz Flaked Wheat
  • 3lbs Wheat Dry Malt Extract
  • 2lbs Extra Light Dry Malt Extract
  • 1oz Willamette Pellet Hops 
  • White Labs Belgian Wit Ale #WL400 Liquid Pitchable Yeast

    I still don't feel like I'm ready to assemble my own recipes, but after drinking my first two batches, I've noted some things I want to work on. Both brews were too malty, with a malty aroma and very little hop in the body. This time I steeped the specialty grains for 12 minutes at 150 degrees, instead of the 25-30 minutes I did previously.

    Bringing the pot to a boil and adding the first ounce of hops
    I also added some extra hops:
    • 1oz. Glacier Leaf Hops
    • 1oz. Willamette Leaf Hops

    I added the Willamette pellet hops at the start of the boil, the Glacier after 40 minutes for a bitter earthiness and then the Willamette leaf hops at 55 minutes for extra aroma. The Glacier have a similar aroma, but also a fuller body, oaky and earthy. The Willamette hops have a fragrant fruitiness that I hope will provide a pleasant aroma.

    My experience with pellet hops thus far has resulted in a huge mess, so this time I put all of the hops in muslin bags. Also being able to directly compare the Willamette pellet and leaf hops, hands down the leaf are so much more aromatic. Their sticky, fruitiness fills the air and clings to your skin. Admittedly I'm a hop head, so it might just be me.

    This is also my first time using Dry Malt Extract (DME). Both of my other brews used Liquid Malt Extra (LME), a sticky, thick, cumbersome liquid the consistency of molasses. Pouring the LME into the brew kettle was a pain, even after heating it. I dumped as much of the LME out of the jug as possible, then added some hot brew water back into it. Shake, empty, repeat. Let me tell you, repeatedly shaking a half gallon plastic jug full of 170° water is lots of fun. The LME was much easier. Cut, pour, stir, repeat.

    The second and third hop additions
    About twenty minutes into the brew session I realized just how much water gets lost during the boil, something I never really measured before. I'm sure factors in the extra strong maltiness of my first beers, so I made sure to bring it all the way back up to the 5 gallon line in the fermenter. In total I lost nearly a gallon of liquid to steam, the grains and the hops. Glad I bought that extra water!

    I was also better prepared for the cold break. With about 5 minutes of boil time left I filled our bath tub with cold water. Once the boil was complete, I put on the lid and into the tub it went. I stirred frequently and after about 10 minutes it was down below 150°. Two gallons of ice cold water went into the fermenter, followed by all the liquid from the brew pot. 4 and smidgen gallons of wort were now at 88°, which I topped off to the 5 gallon line. After ten more minutes of frequent stirring and aeration, the wort was 75° and I pitched the yeast.

    In total, my cold break took about twenty minutes, not the two minutes my poor typing indicated when I mistakenly sent out this message. Even still, twenty is way better than the sixty-plus my first cold break took.

    Adding yeast and then off to the fermentation chiller
    The brew procedure:
    • Sanitize everything, yep, everything -- Clean things make good beer, dirty things make smelly water
    • Pull the yeast out of the fridge and allow to come to room temperature
    • Bring 3 gallons of water to 150°
    • Steep specialty grains in a muslin bag for 12 minutes
    • Squeeze the grain bag to drain as much liquid as possible, discard grains when finished
    • Add the DME, one bag at a time, stirring thoroughly to combine before adding the next bag
    • Bring to a boil
    • Add 1oz Willamette pellet hops in a muslin bag, boil for 40 minutes
    • Add 1oz Glacier leaf hops in a muslin bag, boil for 15 minutes
    • Add 1oz Willamette leaf hops in a muslin bag, boil for 5 minutes
    • Squeeze each bag of hops to drain as much liquid as possible, discard hops when finished
    • Chill brew kettle
    • Mix brew kettle contents and cold water to fill a 5 gallon fermenter
    • Measure temp, looking for between 70° and 75°
    • Aerate the wort by stirring vigorously for 10 to 15 minutes
    • Pitch liquid yeast
    • Lid up, add the air lock and keep in a cool, dry place

    For the next few weeks it's going to live in my fermentation chiller. I need to do some more reading, but I think I'm going to try a two stage fermentation this time as well. Once the Blonde is in bottles I'll be brewing up a Lemon Coriander Weiss.

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