Brewing test batches isn’t necessarily a whole lot of fun, but it does lend itself to some potentially useful experimentation. Throughout my (home) brewing career, I’ve bounced more or less randomly from one Belgian strain to another, in the process collecting most of the common strains, but without really settling on a “house” yeast. For the past couple years, most of my Belgian-style beers have been fermented with Wyeast 3787 (the Westmalle strain), which I find to be excellent for high-gravity beers. It’s a good attenuator, is reasonably flocculent, and has a moderate ester profile that helps to accentuate the malt and sugar characteristics of those high-gravity ales. Once I started working on the recipe for Backside Blond, however, I found it lacking. For a 10.5°P beer, it’s simply too attenuative and – here’s something you don’t hear very often about Belgian yeasts – too clean.
OK, enough of my life story. The experiment at hand is a split batch of wort brewed using a concentrated boil and fermented with two different strains: Wyeast 3522 (Chouffe) and a culture from a bottle of Unibroue beer, which I’ll refer to as Wyeast 3864 for simplicity’s sake. The full recipe is linked at the bottom of this post.
3522, left, and 3864, right, five minutes after pouring.
Given that the 3522 has a reputation for being so flocculent, I was expecting a somewhat higher FG, but not nearly such a large variation. I’ll be brewing with it again to verify that this wasn’t a fluke, but even if it was, inconsistency alone would disqualify it from being a contender for a “house” yeast strain.
On racking to the kegs, both batches were fairly cloudy. I fine with BioFine Clear, using the kegs as bright tanks, so that was more or less expected. As of now, some six weeks after brewing, the 3864 beer is brilliantly clear, but the 3522 continues to be hazy at a level I consider unacceptable. However, the 3864 beer is almost totally lacking in retention and lacing, so the winner in the appearance category isn’t clear, if you’ll pardon the pun. The photo at right was taken about five minutes after pouring.
In terms of aroma, the 3522 beer is very malty, with some sweetness from the wheat being very apparent. The 3864 beer has a more yeast-driven aroma, with esters and phenols being dominant and increasing as it warms.
For my tastes, the 3522 batch was a little too sweet, especially when young. This gives its ester presentation more of a cotton-candy quality than the outright fruitiness of the 3864. Overall, though, ester levels are comparable; the 3522 is balanced more toward a banana flavor, while the 3864 has more pear and apple. The 3522 beer does have a noticeably lower phenol content, but the overall impression is surprisingly similar to a German wheat strain. It would be a fun test to use it as such, and I might if I can find the time.
On the whole, both beers are free of any obvious defects, and I would flatter myself to think they’re good examples of sessionable Belgian-style ales. I’ll be fermenting more beers with both strains to try to identify a “house” Belgian yeast, but as of now I would have to say 3864 is winning.
10.2 Mk4 recipe (PDF)
It is exactly as dangerous as it looks.
are becoming popular among home brewers, and for good reason. Having two heated vessels really streamlines a brew day, and makes double brew days significantly less painful. And the economics of electric heat are compelling (in fact, that’s the way I’ve decided to go for the 7 bbl system at Two Mile
). For example, to bring 5 gal (18.9 L) of water from 20°C to 80°C — a typical scenario for a home brewer heating strike liquor — requires 4.75 MJ of energy, costing roughly:
- Propane: (4.75 MJ * $7.33/kg)/(46.44 MJ/kg * 40%) = $1.87
- Electricity: (4.75 MJ * $0.117/kWh)/(3.6 MJ/kWh * 80%) = $0.19
Using current retail pricing, per Wikipedia, and assuming 80% efficiency for the electric system (which is really conservative) and 40% for propane (which is actually pretty optimistic). So the thing will pay for itself, and pretty quickly. As regular readers know, I’m always willing to jump on a bandwagon, especially if I can do it for less money and with less regard for aesthetics and/or safety.
All joking aside, working with 120 VAC circuits is inherently dangerous, and adding water doesn’t exactly help. I’m using a GFCI outlet, but having only one safety system between me and death doesn’t cut it. So I knew that I wanted the body of my heater to be plastic. I also wanted to be able to move it from kettle to kettle without using any tools, yet be able to mount it such that the element didn’t make contact with the kettle wall. Lastly, to allow for future tinkering, I didn’t want to have to solder or weld or epoxy anything together.
- 1440 W water heater element
- Grounded appliance cord (15 A minimum)
- 120 V lamp assembly (optional)
- ABS project enclosure (at least 1.5″ tall)
- 3″ x 3″ 90° angle bracket
- 2 ea. 1/4″-20 machine screws, nuts, and lock washers
- 1″ NPS stainless nut
It turns out that plumbing parts in 1″ NPS are hard to find, so I had to order the nut online. I’m guessing that in a bigger town I’d be able to find one at a dedicated plumbing supply shop. Everything else I was able to get from my local Radio Shack and Ace stores. Total cost was $39 since I had to buy a 1-1/4″ drill bit. So the unit should pay for itself after about 15 batches, not even accounting for getting my propane tanks refilled half as often. The first project enclosure I bought (pictured) turned out to be a little small at 1″ in height. While I was able to use a scrap piece of plastic to keep the element leads from contacting the mounting bracket, that approach made me a little uncomfortable and I ended up buying a 5″x2.5″x2″ box instead. With the lid and element nut/gasket tightened down, the unit isn’t quite water-tight, but should certainly stand up to some splashing.
The internals, such as they are.
The actual build is pretty self-explanatory and took less than an hour. I drilled the 1-1/4″ mounting hole for the element at one end of the project box, then used a Dremel rotary tool to cut away enough material at the other end for the angle bracket and power cord. I friction-fit the bracket and box around the lip of my thickest kettle before marking and drilling the two holes in the top of the project enclosure. One more hole near the element end of the box holds the panel-mount power indicator. That turned out to be pretty much redundant — as soon as the unit is plugged in the water around the element starts boiling.
Wiring is equally simple. The live wires (black and white) of the extension cord are connected to the element, along with the power indicator, in parallel. The ground wire (green) is sandwiched between the mounting bracket and the lid. Since the angle bracket is in contact with the kettle (and therefore water), the GFCI will trip should anything that can be touched become “hot”.
That’s all there is to it. On a test run using 4.5 gal (17.1 L) of water, I was able to heat it from 4°C to a boil (92°C) in 100 minutes. That’s an average of 1050 W, or about 73% efficiency. Most of the losses can probably be attributed to the fact that I left the kettle open in order to keep an eye on the heater. Regardless, it’s a significant improvement over using propane.
Shaved Parmesan doesn’t work quite as well as shredded.
A recipe that doesn’t involve beer?! I know, I’m in danger of becoming a well-rounded person. These are delicious, though, and very easy to make, and quickly becoming my go-to appetizer for guests. If you have access to Trader Joe’s, they sell a can of all-claw [...]
Just a quick note. While I was doing some calculations for Two Mile, I decided to expand on a year-old post on draft system balancing, primarily just to include the relevant results for longer draft systems. Enjoy.
Or not. It doesn’t really affect me either way.
I haven’t posted in… let’s see… six months. Yikes. Here’s a quartet of beer recipes, though, so that’s basically the same as posting almost once per month.
10.2 Mk2: I’m still struggling to get the attenuation I need out of my Belgian-style “Blond” (I use quotation marks because BJCP-wise, it would be a Belgian Specialty [...]
I’m not wild about the idea of driving somewhere for the sole purpose of running somewhere else, but I suppose allowances can be made.
Name: Track 023 Date: Apr 26, 2012 11:35 am Map: View on Map Distance: 3.01 miles Elapsed Time: 29:41.2 Avg Speed: 6.1 mph Max Speed: 8.3 mph Avg Pace: 9′ [...]
Well, maybe “hate”‘s a strong word. I’ve just never had a wine that I’d prefer over a good beer. I’ll keep trying though. You know, for science.
What I do hate is the wine industry. Bunch of namby-pamby grape gropers whose bottles collect dust and who spit instead of swallow. Which is why my interest [...]
Considering I haven’t run since August, I’m actually pretty pleased with myself. Descending half a mile doesn’t hurt either.
Name: Grants 5K Date: Mar 31, 2012 8:25 am Map: View on Map Distance: 3.28 miles Elapsed Time: 31:54.8 Avg Speed: 6.2 mph Max Speed: 7.9 mph Avg Pace: 9′ 45″ per mile Min Altitude: 6,451 [...]
Get it? It’s a thermodynamics pun! How many brewing blogs give you wordplay like that? None of the reputable ones, that’s for sure.
Anyway… Last year I started experimenting with partial boils, due to not being able to use a garden hose in the winter. And that technique has been working well for me, [...]
Obviously I haven’t been updating the blog lately (though there have been some behind-the-scenes upgrades, and hopefully you’ll notice decreased page load times). In lieu of actual content, I thought I’d share some of the reasons why, in order of ascending time-suck.
I fried my video card. A new cooling fan seems to be doing [...]