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Kona Lemon Grass Luau Revisited

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It’s been three years since I cloned and brewed a small batch (2.5 gal) of  Kona’s Lemon Grass Luau. Well, 4th of July is coming up and we are expecting many guests, so I decided to scale up the recipe and brew it again.

Planning

The malts, hops, and sugar I just scaled up to a 6 gallon batch in Beersmith:

The amount ginger however, I did not dare to simply more than double. Ginger can easily overwhelm a beer, so I decided on 1.5 oz for 15 min at the end of the boil.

Water

The Arrowhead Mountain Spring water, again, was diluted with 20% of distilled water.

Yeast

I don’t trust my local brewstore with their yeast anymore. Sometimes their yeast is very old, sometimes their young yeast does not take off. I wanted to use American Ale yeast like last time, but I could not find a package that I could trust. So I settled for WLP002 English Ale yeast. It will be beer.

Lemongrass

The titular lemongrass will be added, as soon as primary fermentation is over. I will double the lemongrass from three to six stalks.

Brewing

Mashing and Boiling

  • Cutting ginger

    I mixed the grains with 4 gal of 157F water and held the temperature at 151F for 60 minutes.

  • I sparged with 170F water and collected 7 gal.
  • When it came to boiling the wort, I added the sugar at the beginning this time.
  • The 0.75 oz of Willamette went in as soon as the wort started boiling, followed by the first addition of Northern Brewer after 30 minutes.
  • 15 minutes before the end, I cubed the ginger (small cubes) and added it via hop sock, together with yeast nutrients.
  • The final Northern Brewer hop addition was added at flame out.

Cooling, Settling, Oxygenation, Pitching

  • Aerating the wort

    The wort cooled in an icebath down to 68F.

  • I splashed it into a settling tank keeping most of the hot/cold break in the pot.
  • After settling for 30 minutes, to oxygenate the wort, I dribbled it into my fermenter, that was already sitting in its Brewjacket Fermenting Sleeve.
  • After that, all that was left was pitching the WLP002 English Ale yeast, attach the head unit and dial in the temperature.
  • I will ferment this wort at 67F.

Update Brewday +1

Within 24 hrs the WLP002 has taken off very nicely. A thick layer of kraeusen is crowning my developing Lemongrass Luau. My brewjacket is doing its thing very nicely as well, after I had repaired the unit.

 

Update Brewday +7

Kraeusen has died down, primary fermentation is definitely over. I raise the temperature of the beer to 70F, and now it is time to add the lemongrass. I bought six stalks at the supermarket, and they seem to be a bit wilted. The taste is ok though.

I peel off the outer leaves, until I reach the fresh core. Then I cut the six stalks into fingerlong pieces and dived them in two, since I will pack them into two disposable hop socks.

Next comes the cleaning. I wash them in a mild vinegar solution and soak them for 30 seconds in a weak SanStar solution. And then they take a swim in the beer, where they will remain for roughly two weeks.

 

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Brewjacket Immersion Pro – Great When It Works

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Lager brewers know the pain: how on earth do I keep my wort around 50-54F while fermenting?

For years I used a large plastic tub, which I filled with water and placed the fermenter in it. Then I used frozen blue icepacks to hit the required temperature. It was not pretty. Lucky brewers have a spare fridge and a temperature control unit. Others have given up on exact temp control and ferment their lagers in the 60ies. But there is help!

What is it?

IMG_2109.jpgBrewjacket promises to keep your fermenter up to 35F below the ambient air temperature and that in an exact manner. So how do they do it? According to their website this is how it works:

“At the heart of Immersion is a patented solid state cooling system. Solid state cooling technology relies on dissimilar metals joined in circuit within a microchip. When an electrical current is passed through the metals, heat is moved. The result is an instantaneous transfer of an enormous amount of heat.”

What that comes down to is a massive rod that is immersed in your fermenting wort. Is is attached to a head unit that is located above the fermenter. The head unit contains something that looks like a heat sink and a fan. When it is plugged in, a control board lets the user dial in the temperature and through the heatsink and the fan, heat is drawn out of the beer.

A separate thermometer cable is attached to the fermenter or is placed, through a thermowell, in the wort. It tells the fan when the desired temperature is reached and it turns off. The system  is supported by an insulated jacket that envelops the fermenter and helps keeping the temperature stable.

What do you get?

I was sick and tired of shlepping blue ice blocks, so my wonderful wife bought me a unit for Christmas 2016. To set up the system one needs a head unit, AC adapter, thermometer cable, the rod, and then – depending on the fermenter –  the right tools to seal the unit.

Brewjacket supports several type of fermenters. I opted for a Better Bottle, which needed to come pre-drilled with a hole in the neck. The bottle came with a nipple that would go into that hole and has a blow off tube attached. It became quickly apparent that I was not able to use a bubbler with that setup.

Does it work?

In one word: yes. My first lager turned out fabulous. The unit cooled the beer from 70F to 52F within 48 hrs. Now here comes the warning. It is slow to cool or heat. Your wort must be close to the desired temperature when you start the unit, if you want to see results soon.

According to Brewjacket the unit cools 1F per hr for the first 10F below ambient, then 0.5F/hr for the next 10F below ambient, and finally 0.25 fr the next 10 to 15F below ambient. It worked great for me. It cooled an kept my fermenting baby at 52F.

Along came the failure 

I did not brew much in 2017. Only four beers in all, but the Brewjacket worked. My fifth beer with the Brewjacket happened in 2018. It started out fine. My Pilsner was chugging along at 53F. Then after two weeks, the temperature suddenly rose to 64F. And then 68IMG_2110.jpgF. I turned the unit off and on again. No change.

I contacted Brewjacket and that is where the problems began. I told them that I knew that it would be out of warranty, but asked if a warranty repair was possible, since it has lasted for only 4 brew cycles. When I sent the email, the automated return mail promised a response within 24hrs. That didn’t happen, but I got a reply after 48 hrs. I was asked to submit pictures of my setup to a different address, which I did. And then the waiting game began. 

After a week I started sending reminder emails.  Answers first came not at all, and then very sparingly. What it boiled down to, was that the Brewjacket support was convinced that the insulation in the fermenter cover was doubled over and was not covering the entire fermenter. I checked, and lo and behold it was doubled over. It was sent this way and I thought that this was what is was supposed to look like. 

I unfolded the insulation and argued that this couldn’t be the problem, because I had already fermented four beers successfully with the folded insulation. With the guidance from support I ran some more tests and the head unit still didn’t cool. Finally, support sent an email that I was right, the unit had failed, but that I was out of warranty and just should order the failed part.

The Price

And here comes my main sticking point: an entire unit without the fermenter costs $299 plus shipping. That should last longer than four fermentations. I gave them another chance and ordered the failed headunit, just the bottom, not the control board, for a whopping $150! If that one fails whithin a short time, I am dropping Brewjacket. 

Conclusion

Should you buy it? Difficult to say. When it works, it is fantastic. It’s expensive, but fermenting a beer is as easy as plugging it in and dialing the temperature. If you are sick of your current lager fermenting system and you have $300 dollars lying around, go for it. But use it often within the warranty period, to see how it holds up.

And be prepared for a very tiring support process.

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Headunit with rod

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Headunit and control board disassembled

Update

I received my headunit part. Taking the control board off the failed unit and putting it on the new unit was painless. I will test the repaired brew jacket with a Lemongrass Luau recipe shortly.

The Bitterness Wars

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Hop.png

When you read a magazine, evaluating what to brew next, what are you looking for? Are you jumping right to the style? Is difficulty a factor? Adjuncts? From the beginning of my homebrewing life (early 2012), one factor has overshadowed every recipe decision for me: IBUs and the resulting  bitterness.

I don’t know, if I am more sensible to bitterness in beer than other people, but excessively bitter beers are just not drinkable to me. And I brew what I like to drink. Here is an important distinction: hoppiness is not equal to bitterness. Hoppiness describes the hop aromas and flavors, imparted to the wort by the hops added late in the boil, at flameout, or in dry-hopping.  Bitterness is –  well –  the taste of tar and soil and rocket fuel on your tongue when you force down that IPA that the hipster type at the bar described as a “revelation and a challenge at the same time”.

I am perfectly fine with hoppy. I am not fine with bitter. I can deal with certain bitterness, but I am turned off by anything swings toward the dark side of the malty-bitter balance. Some time ago it was discovered that a gene is responsible, if a person tastes broccoli as bitter or not. Maybe the same is true for beer; maybe some drinkers perceive the bitterness less because of a genetic trait. That doesn’t change the fact that I prefer malty beers, and sometimes the IPA trend frustrates me.

Bars, pubs, and restaurants are proudly carrying whole shelves of IPAs, drowning out malt balanced options. Beer magazines have caught on and are riding the wave. Sometimes I can read really quickly through an issue of Brew Your Own by ignoring all IPA centered articles and recipes. As isolated as I sometimes feel with my taste, I am not alone.

What’s in a name

IPA, or India Pale Ale, got his name from its destination. It was brewed in England and exported to India, and later to other colonies including the Americas. Differing accounts exist about the strength of the early IPAs, but there is consent that it was strongly hopped, to survive the long sea voyage across the world.

In the US the Prohibition was the great brewing inhibitor. Brewing styles and recipes fell by the wayside and after America started drinking again, lagers dominated. It were the smaller breweries in the 1970ies that revived long neglected styles, among them the IPA.

Over the top

The rest is history. The IPA is now more successful than it ever was. But is it too successful? Is it now pushing other beerstyles from their well deserved spotlight? There are nuances, of course, and every IPA is not the same. There are some that I can drink, but I haven’t found one I actually enjoy. And isn’t enjoyment the point of drinking beer?

Again, I am not begrudging hop heads their fun, but I am pleading to not forget about the beer lovers, who just don’t like beer past a certain level of bitterness. On reddit I found proof that I am not alone, as evidenced by this post:

Poster Maltinger writes

I get it! Some people like bitter beers! Good for you! But does that mean that 3/4 of the table in some pubs have to be IPAs?

Other blogs and publications have sounded the same horn, but their voices are few and far in between. Tastes are changing, and that is where my hope resides. If tastes can swing to more bitter beers, they can swing back as well. Hopefully the chase for 100+ is a just what it is now, a craze that will eventually pass.

One can always hope.

George Washington And His Beer

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“Happiness and a good beer are inseparably connected.”
-George Washington
portrait-george-washington-3605088.jpg

Ok, I fudged the quote above.
The original reads “Happiness and moral duty” but it seems that the great general and first President was partial to a good brew. We know this, because his military journal contains a recipe for a small beer. A small beer was a beer with low alcohol content that was drunk through the day by everyone (and that includes children). Small beers were either brewed to target lower alcohol consumption, or were produced by running water through the mash again, after the wort for the bigger beer with higher sugar content (=higher alcohol) had been drained from the brew pot.

Washington’s recipe calls for bran hops and a lot of molasses. Budweiser has taken it upen themselves to brew this historic recipe. The result is their Freedom Reserve. Big breweries are fighting back against the microbrew trend. It is nice to see that Budweiser tries to stay in the game with interesting brews.

Will it taste like the beer George Washington drank? No. Like most historic beers it will be an approximation. There is no way to tell if the taste of the ingredients even came close to the modern taste, and sanitizing regiments and brew processes in a modern brewery add their part to separate Freedom Reserve from it’s historic roots.

But I would like to try it. Just for the fun imagining that I am tasting roughly the same beer that George Washington drank on his long journey.

Article in Esquire

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