Wednesday, July 29, 2009

On pH Measurement

On my most recent brew day, I took pH measurements throughout and took some pics. Not sure how much use the pictures of the strips will be - they don't always jive with what they looked like to my naked eye as I read them. I'll describe each step where I took measurements, what they mean, and how you as a homebrewer should look to take measurements as you go.

Mash pH

Much has been made about mash pH, and I won't get into it all over again. I think that John Palmer's How To Brew gives as fine a rundown on mash pH as anything out there and it's already up on the web. If you want to understand how residual alkalinity works, how different minerals affect mash pH, and how to dial your mash pH into the correct range, read up. I'll wait...

I think that the most frustrating thing about the discussion of mash pH is that nobody tells you how to measure it. I'll attempt to address that in this very space.

You'll often hear that your mash pH should be 5.2. It's a common statement that you'll hear from brewers. And there's truth to it. Palmer says that mash pH should be in the 5.2-5.6 range and this is for a number of reasons; optimal enzymatic activity in the mash, wort and beer clarity, healthy fermentation, a more pleasant hop bitterness, finished beer flavor, and more.

However, when it comes to measuring mash pH, there's a critical point that should not be overlooked. Palmer makes it himself, but for the best and most succinct explanation, I'll refer to page 75 of Dr. Charles Bamforth's Standards of Brewing:

"Remember that pH changes with temperature, and so wort at 149F will have a pH about .35 lower than that measured at 68F."

With that in mind, let's think about a couple of things:

  1. Most pH meters that we homebrewers can afford are not rated to take measurements at standard mash temps (145 to 158F).

  2. When you take a measurement of your hot mash pH with a pH strip, it almost immediately comes to room temperature once you're looking at it out in the air, up against the guide on the package, or against a white background of your choosing. You don't read the strip while it's immersed in the hot mash.

So, even though your mash at mash temperature should be 5.2 to 5.6, you're actually going to look to read 5.55 to 5.95 at room temperature (68F). In the case of my most recent brew day, I took a 3 oz sample from my mash and cooled it to room temperature. I took pH measurements with five separate instruments and here are the results with some pictures:

Economy wide range strip reading: 6.0 (+/- 1.0 pH)

Economy 4.6-6.2 range strip reading: 5.8 (+/- 0.2 pH)

ColorpHast pH strip reading: 5.8 (+/- 0.3 pH)

Hanna Checker meter: 6.06 (+/- 0.1 pH)

Martini meter with ATC: 6.04 (+/- 0.1 pH)

The first thing that I learned from these readings was that my mash pH was higher than what I wanted. I made an addition of a 10% phosphoric acid solution to my mash to lower the pH and came up with the following readings:

Economy wide range strip reading: 6.0 (+/- 1.0 pH)

Economy 4.6-6.2 range strip reading: 5.5 (+/- 0.2 pH)

ColorpHast pH strip reading: 5.3 (+/- 0.3 pH)

Hanna Checker meter: 5.55 (+/- 0.1 pH)

Martini meter with ATC: 5.52 (+/- 0.1 pH)

This brought me to a mash pH of about 5.2 (correcting the Martini meter from 5.53 - 0.35 = 5.18). What I learned from these two sets of data was the following:

  1. The meters are simply much more accurate than the strips, both in their stated levels of accuracy and in the elimination of operator error. Which leads me to...

  2. The strips can be difficult to read. The difference between 5.5 and 5.8 on the economy (4.6-6.2) strips and 5.3 and 5.5 on the ColorpHast strips is extremely subtle. I honestly don't know that my eyes can tell the difference between 5.3 and 5.5 on the ColorpHast strip.

  3. The ColorpHast strips seem to measure consistently low. There's a fella who's been doing a study of the shift on the ColorpHast strips and he's determined that they're pretty consistently off by about -0.3 from actual pH.

  4. Having ATC (automatic temperature correction) on the meter is pretty useful. In the case of this exercise I took a lot of time out of my brew day to take measurements and pictures. But on a normal brew day I absolutely would not want to. With ATC I only really need to get my sample into a reasonable temperature range to get an accurate reading. I don't need to get the sample to a specific temperature, which makes it easier to get an accurate reading on the fly.
Pre-Boil Wort pH
Mash pH is the most critical measurement. In theory, if you get your mash pH dialed in, your wort pH both pre and post boil should follow correctly. However, measuring wort pH both pre and post boil can be a valuable tool in troubleshooting, as was the case in my most recent brew day.

I brewed a light lager this time around, which meant a really light beer that would push my pH towards the upper limits - no roasted malts to acidify the mash. It also meant a really low original gravity, and the possibility of a weaker, more alkaline sparge. I didn't fly sparge the mash this time around - I batch sparged. So I didn't get to test the pH of the runnings throughout the sparge. That might have been illuminating. Maybe next time. Anyway, here are the results of the pH measurements of the pre-boil wort:

Economy wide range strip reading: 6.0 (+/- 1.0 pH)

Economy 4.6-6.2 range strip reading: 5.8 (+/- 0.2 pH)

ColorpHast pH strip reading: 5.5 (+/- 0.3 pH)

Hanna Checker meter: 5.73 (+/- 0.1 pH)

Martini meter with ATC: 5.76 (+/- 0.1 pH)

As per this BYO article by Steve Parkes, wort pH should drop from the 5.6-5.8 range pre-boil, to the 5.2-5.4 range post-boil. My pre-boil pH seemed to be fine. The rise in pH from mash during the sparge would be explained by basically dilluting a high gravity, highly buffered wort, with water at a higher pH. In this case I seemed to be fine. However, after a 75 minute boil...

Post-Boil Wort pH

According to the same Parkes article, the drop in pH during the boil;

is primarily due to the precipitation of calcium phosphate. Calcium ions in brewing water reacts with phosphates from the malt to form calcium phospate and hydrogen ions, which lower wort pH.
However, my post-boil wort pH measurements were:

Economy wide range strip reading: 6.0 (+/- 1.0 pH)

Economy 4.6-6.2 range strip reading: 5.8 (+/- 0.2 pH)

ColorpHast pH strip reading: 5.5 (+/- 0.3 pH)

Hanna Checker meter: 5.76 (+/- 0.1 pH)

Martini meter with ATC: 5.80 (+/- 0.1 pH)

If anything, my wort pH went up (if only slightly)!!! I wonder why? Steve...

This demonstrates the importance of excess calcium ions in the wort after mashing. For this reason, it is sometimes a good idea to add gypsum to the kettle. If your mash pH is fine, but the pH does not drop to at least 5.4 by the end of the boil, add 1/4–1/2 teaspoon of gypsum per five gallons.

And in my case, I have extremely soft water that is very low in calcium. And my wort did not drop to 5.4 by the end of the boil. What would be the impact of that? For one, higher wort pH during the boil is associated with a harsher bitterness extracted from hops. Additionally, higher wort pH usually means higher beer pH, which in turn means a "flatter" tasting beer and a beer that is slightly more susceptible to spoilage by bacteria.

So, I would reckon that this exercise was valuable from a troubleshooting perspective. I was able to monitor my mash pH and dial it in to the right range. I was also able to determine that I may not have enough calcium in my mash and wort to drop the pH during the boil.

Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Brewtopia on Labor Day weekend this year

Last year Brewtopia was held on the weekend of Halloween. Not hard to forget what with the funny outfits at the festival and the reminders from R to call for a ride home instead of walking home by myself and risking coming home looking like a pre-cooked omelet.

This year, it's not only a new time, but a new place.

The cruise ship pier has been replaced with the Park Ave armory. This is definitely a space with quite a bit more character, so it would seem to be a good move on the surface. We'll see how things go logistically.

The change in time, though, is a bit of a bummer. Like, the kind of bummer that means that I won't be going. Unfortunately Labor Day weekend is a bit too busy to make time for the festival. So I won't be there to get drunk or to serve homebrew, both of which I did a reasonably good job of last year.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Portland and Burlington Trip

So many cool and fun things happened on our recent trip up to the lovely cities of Portland, ME and Burlington, VT that I could write and write about it for days. However, for the purposes of this space I'll keep it as short and sweet as possible, and all about the beerz. Here are some of the highlights:

Portsmouth Brewery: We stopped in New Hampshire on the way up and were quite impressed with the city of Portsmouth. Kind of like a Portland Lite. The Portsmouth Brewery is affiliated with Smuttynose Brewing and we stopped in for lunch. Skipped the Smuttynose beers since we can get those pretty easily at home and went with the house offerings.
I rather liked the Dirty Blonde Ale, their standard brew pub "entry level" beer. I've been really interested in trying these beers at brewpubs - is this the red headed stepchild of the brewer that just gets thrown on to serve something to the Bud Lite crowd, or do they actually put some care and pride into brewing a tasty light flavored beer? Dirty Blonde didn't disappoint. Light but not too light. Had some specialty malt character (Victory? Biscuit?) without being too full bodied. The Thaizenheimer was an American Wheat beer flavored with lemongrass and kafir lime leaves. An interesting twist and definitely thirst quenching, though I would have a hard time putting back a second one - lemongrass wears on me pretty quickly. The food was excellent. We got a very healthy portion of nachos and I enjoyed a pulled pork sandwich.

Portland, ME: The Land of Ringwood

$3 Dewey's has $2.75 Shipyard Pints all day Sunday: I haven't heard the best things about the brewery tour at Shipyard, so that wasn't really on our agenda for the trip. So what better way to try a bunch of their beers! The atmosphere at $3 Dewey's was a little "young", to say the least. There were some very young and intoxicated people in there who made for some interesting entertainment.

As for the Shipyard beers go, what can be said that hasn't already? If you can't stand diacetyl and Ringwood beers, move on. I seem to have a higher tolerance than most, so I was not deterred. I thought that the Chamberlain had enough hop character to keep the diacetyl down and be nicely drinkable. The Fuggles IPA on the other hand was intensely bitter, and not in the most awesome of ways.

Oh, and I should mention that after our trip to $3 Dewey's we went straight to J's Oyster, one of my favorite restaurants in the entire world. Just thought I'd throw that out there...

Novare Res: You know, I want to like this place so much. It's a fantastic space - both the indoor and outdoor seating. And they have a tremendous beer list. But the service is horrible. Just so bad.

We ordered beers at the bar and took them outside. I had a Spezial Rauchbier that was one of the best beers I had on the entire trip. Bravo to Novare Res for serving an imported beer of low alcoholic strength that tasted so fresh. But big thumbs down to the waitress who took our second beer order and then disappeared to play Baggo and never return. We just left. And it would be one thing if this were the only time we experienced poor service at Novare Res - it wasn't.

Gritty McDuff's: Yay, more Ringwood!!! Didn't eat at Gritty's this time around, but I had a sampler at the bar. I don't know if it's their most popular seller and the beer they move the most of, but to me the Pub Style always seems to stand out and taste freshest. I'm sure that's just coincidence. I might disagree with the comment on their site that it has a lot of hop character, but it's an easy drinker and doesn't disappoint. The Bitter was also nice - hoppy, lightly carbonated off the cask, dry bitter finish.

Great Lost Bear: We've been saying that we wanted to get out to this place since our first trip up to Portland many moons ago. Unfortunately it's not walkable from the peninsula and it's either a drive or a cab ride away. We made the wise decision to cab it.

The food is decent pub grub off of a massive menu. It always makes me nervous when a place has such an extensive menu, but we stuck to standard burger and salad stuff to be safe.

One look at the draft list and you can see why this place gets so many accolades as a great beer bar. There's no place in the area that shows off Maine brews as well as the Great Lost Bear. Not even close. I was able to try some Maine beers that we didn't see anywhere else downtown - Sheepscot Boothbay Bitter on cask, Andrew's Old English Ale. They also serve 5 oz tasters, which is great. I did a round of six Allagash brews (everything they had minus the white beer). The dubbel and trippel were great examples of their respective styles - balanced, strong, spritzy. The Burnham Road on the other hand had some really strong band-aid phenols going on, presumably from the smoked malt in the beer.

Rabelais: OK, so not exactly beer related, but it would be completely wrong for me to not give a quick shout to one of the coolest book stores in the entire world. Rabelais is a book store - new and used stock - all about food and drink. Check out the site. Visit the store. Allow your mind to be blown. All that and the owners couldn't be more friendly and accommodating.

Sebago Brewing Company: Stopped in here for a couple of happy hour drinks (didn't try any food though). Sebago's beers don't typically jump out at me. Nothing terrible, nothing overwhelmingly great. The space itself leaves a lot to be desired. You kind of feel like you're drinking in the mall when you're there. And though the happy hour prices are fantastic (you'll never see $3.50 24 oz beers in Manhattan), they have to do something about that light that comes through the window when the sun goes down. Even with the shades drawn it's blinding! One thing I'll give them is that they're not using the same yeast as 60% of Portland's breweries...

I had their light ale, and this one missed the mark a bit for me. I found it to be a bit too thin, though that's probably what they're going for with the Bud Lite crowd - which actually may make it one of the better examples of a light brewpub ale around, when you think about it. They also definitely lost some points for the little beer stone floaters I saw in my glass. The Frye's Leap IPA was more like it - nice American hop character, though not brutal like the dank nuggz you get in the west coast IPA's.

Maine Brewing Supply: I've been trying to check out any of the local homebrew shops when we visit new towns, and amazingly, Maine Brewing supply is right next door to the Great Lost Bear (they weren't open when we went to GLB for dinner). The owner told me that it's just coincidence. And thankfully he let us in when we showed up twenty minutes before they opened - see we have a bad habit of constantly showing up at stores, restaurants, any kind of place, when they're closed and then freaking out when we realize we've been shut out yet again. The owner was kind enough not to take our gesturing at the door personally when he opened it for us. Nice shop, lots of stuff, totally knowledgeable.

Bray's Brewpub: On our way out of Portland towards Burlington, we stopped for lunch at Bray's Brewpub in Naples, ME. It's one of three brewpubs on the long... drive... west between the two towns, and Bray's was the one not represented at the Vermont Brewer's Festival, so it was our choice for lunch.

Holy food! We got massive portions of food and practically had to roll ourselves out the door when we were done. It was hit and miss though - a huge pile of really well done nachos, but the bruschetta was something you'd probably get run out of town for in New York. The BBQ platter I had was also hit and miss - sweet pulled pork, but the brisket was chopped up very strangely and kind of dry.

The Orien Oatmeal Pale Ale was one of the more inspired beers I had on the trip. It was a very balanced pale ale - just the right blend of malt sweetness and toastiness with a restrained hop profile, and a dash of oatmeal silkiness thrown in. Great stuff.

Burlington, VT: Brewpub Nirvana

Vermont Pub & Brewery: Quite possibly my favorite brewpub in the world. To the left you see R and a couple of VPB samplers (sorry for the dark pic). Every single one of the beers that we had there was somewhere between very good and fvcking incredible. I'll start off by saying that the Burly Irish Red is probably the best brewpub beer I've ever had. Smithwick's wishes it was Burly Irish Red. Imagine a rich, slightly roasty, malty beer like Smithwick's just with a clean dry finish, minus the caramel and lingering sweetness. Perfect. There were also quite a few fruity/funky/spicy things on tap that I usually shy away from, but were home runs at VPB. Like the raspberry tartness of their Forbidden Fruit and the funky and sour Spuyten Duyvil. And Handsome Mick's Smoked Sstout is always a winner too, even in July.

We also ate at VPB for the first time on this trip. I was blown away at how reasonably priced everything was. Like, downright cheap. It's not exactly haute cuisine, I know, but very good pub grub. A massive plate of beer-battered onion rings, deliciously juicy and equally massive beer-battered Atlantic scrod. And I don't think that a single thing we ordered off the menu was over $6. I miss VPB already...

American Flatbread: OK, so maybe I spoke too soon. Maybe Flatbread is my favorite brewpub of all time. First things first, the flatbreads (pizzas, basically) are unreal. Perfect dough - chewy and crusty at the same time. Delicious sauces, meats, cheeses, and vegetables as toppings. A nice simple menu with a couple of fresh seasonal specials - it's really all you need. I can't say enough about how great the food is there.

And the beers were exceptional. I didn't love the London Calling - had kind of a licorice thing going on that I didn't love. But everything else I had was great - Boognish Brown, Christina Pils, and Albee Bock. Yes, that's right - two lagers on tap at a brewpub!!!

Three Needs: Of any brewpub that I've ever been to, Three Needs is by far the most like a neighborhood dive. Pool table, rock music, a couple of small tables off of the bar. The beers were pretty decent. Liked the Chocolate Thunder Porter - it was nice and chocolatey, just as advertised, and smooth. No harsh roastiness that you can get sometimes from porters with too much black malt. Also had a lambic, which was quite overwhelmingly sour. Good, but definitely would not have gone back in for a second.

Vermont Brewer's Festival: Went to the afternoon session on Saturday. The rain messed with us for the first hour or so of the festival, but a couple of umbrellas and numerous tents located throughout helped. I'm not going to get into the beers we tasted at the festival - it was more or less the usual - most good (Otter Creek's Mud Bock and Vanilla Stovepipe Porter), a few lame ones (Hopfenstark's super-watery Berliner Weisse), and towards the end the palate starts to wane.

I wish that I had taken greater advantage of the events in the Meet The Brewer tent. We only went to the last of the four sessions; "The Power of Flavor & Aroma & Your Perception", tasting lead by Matt Nadeau of Rock Art Brewery. He served a pair of Vermont cheeses with a barleywine from the brewery. The dry, earthy tarentaise really brought out the hop character of the barleywine, while the smoked gouda really enhanced the maltiness. Very educational and fun. I really felt like I learned something. As a matter of fact the tarentaise was so good we bought a block of it at a market on the way out of town.

Lastly, I'll say that the VBF does it right. Entry is much cheaper than most festivals you find around this area - $25 for the VBF as opposed to $45 for the upcoming Brewtopia fest in NYC. But there's a catch. You get 15 tickets for the VBF that you exchange for samples. What that means is that there are far fewer people getting wasted at this festival. It's not quite the drunkfest that you get at most of the beer festivals I've been to around NYC. And that includes me - I've done a pretty good job of getting my money's worth at beer festivals around here lately and I left the VBF in much better shape. And I was happier for it. So was R.

If only I had known that Charlie Papazian was at the same session that I was! I definitely would have gone out of my way to get a picture with him. How did I miss the great guru of homebrewing????

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I Am A Home Brewer Video

For those who saw the "I Am A Craft Brewer" video that Greg Koch of Stone presented to the Craft Brewer's Conference, here's the home brewers version:

I haven't really investigated the roots of this so much, but it would appear that some home brewers got together on one of the message boards and filmed their own versions and edited them together. Kind of cool, I guess. I sure wish they would have left out the lame corn and rice finger-wagging that Sean pointed out in the craft brewer's video. I won't rehash the lameness of that, read it on Sean's blog. He did a better job of explaining than I would have.

And of course.... Sam Calagione has to be in everything, doesn't he (3:35)?

Monday, July 20, 2009

"Dark Beers" from Upstate NY

It's been a while since I posted. Took a trip up to Portland and Burlington with R this past week, so I was a bit out of commission. More on that, including the Vermont Brewer's Fest, later. In the meantime just to get something up here I figured I'd post on the beers I've been making my way through tonight. After our last trip up to the Binghamton and Ithaca areas I brought back a bunch of beers. The last of the bunch have to go to make room for the beers that came back from Portland and Burlington. I saved the darkest for last...

Oh, and I haven't done one of these posts in a while. I'm not too into the whole business of people doing full blown BJCP style score sheets for all of the commercial beers they try online. So this is just how I do. Sorry if there's a lack of flowery langauge around these descriptions.

Lake Placid Ubu Ale: I'd describe this as an American-style Brown Ale. Has some citrusy American hop character in the nose. Some fuity esterage. Has some chocolate to it, which becomes much more dominant in its flavor. Doesn't go down as strong as the 7% ABV that it's listed as, but it's a bit too fizzy for my taste - carbonation seemed to make this beer rather filling.

Ithaca Nut Brown Ale: Borderline black. Big nose of chocolate and roast. Definitely stradles the line between what you'd think of as Brown and a Porter. Sweet malt up front in the flavor with chocolate and roast in the finish. Very little hoppage going on. Bitterness is spot on and well balanced with the malt flavors.

Middle Ages "The Duke"
: Chocolate and roast up front with some vinous notes. This is definitely a porter. Very roasty in flavor and super-dry. I'm imagining a grain bill with a lot of black malt and/or roasted barley. There's a little earthiness in this beer that could be from hops or possibly age - no fault of the brewery if it's age. Bitterness is restrained which is a good thing considering the high roast factor.

Cooperstown Benchwarmer Porter: Quick aside - this is one of my favorite beer labels in the world. Anyway... a ringwood beer, and surprisingly little diacetyl in the nose. A lot of roast going on, and a lot of esters too. Shocked at how much fruit is going on in the nose of this beer - and not necessarily in a bad way. Strawberries, grapes. Flavor is much more about roast, coffee, and some dark fruit, like red grapes. Diacetyl starts showing up in flavor, but is pretty mild. Finish is highly bitter. Was not expecting this much complexity out of this beer.

Cooperstown Strike Out Stout
: Was a bit concerned about this one when it poured relatively flat-looking. Perhaps the 5% flaked oats explain that. The beer has a very restrained coffee, roast, chocolate aroma which is quite refreshing in light of the last couple of roast-bombs. Some malt sweetness up front with a smooth malty and roasty finish. Not surprised that there's oats in this one. Looks totally unappetizing and flat in the glass, but may have been the tastiest of all. By the way, very little diacetyl in this one, considering that this is another of Cooperstown's ringwood offerings.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Measuring mash, wort, and beer pH

This past weekend I brewed up a quick batch of something that will be along the lines of an ordinary bitter or light blonde ale and decided to mess around with pH measurement. I took my mash samples and measured them with five instruments:

1) Economy pH test strips (universal range)
2) Economy pH test strips (mash pH range)
3) ColorpHast test strips
4) Hanna Checker meter
5) Martini pH meter with automatic temperature correction (ATC)

My early findings are as follows, and I promise to update this soon with some more solid data:

1) The ColorpHast strips are way off, as other users have found out.
2) ATC is pretty useful on a pH meter if you don't want to bother with either bringing your sample to a specific temperature, or measuring the temperature of the sample and calculating the correction.