Happy Friday-before-a-long-weekend to ya! Three-day weekends are great for filling carboys, so I hope you homebrewers have a chance to brew yourselves some great beer over the next few days. I’ll be here answering your brewing questions each week, and I can’t wait to hear about what you’re up to with this addicting hobby of ours. Submit your questions for the next edition of The Grain Bag below, or email email@example.com. Let’s get started!
We tried dry hopping recently, but ran into a problem getting the hop bag to sink in the carboy. What do you recommend to use to weigh down the dry hops–how many will it take to make it sink?
I have heard from Brew Strong on The Brewing Network that sanitized glass marbles or spare stainless steel fittings work well for this. I haven’t tried it myself, but I’d imagine anything heavy and easy to clean and sanitize (smooth and nonporous) that can fit in the bag would work well. If you’re using a bunch of whole hops, I would imagine it would take a good amount of weight to get the bag to sink, so stock up. Personally, whole hops and hop bags irk me for a bunch of reasons, so I rarely use them. I stick with pellets, including when dry hopping, and I don’t use hop bags. You’ll definitely want to use a hop bag if you’re dry hopping in a keg, however. Ask me how I know.
Quick request: Please include something in the “Name” field of the submission form so I can call you something besides Person-With-A-Floating-Hopsack. Doesn’t have to be your real name. Also, including an email address or Twitter handle or something will let me ask you follow-up questions, which could be really helpful depending on the question. I’ll make sure to keep your contact info off of the post.
How can I help my beer be clearer? Most of my brews have been murky at best!
Beer clarity! But first! Another request. This is a safe space, so please feel free to ask questions of any brewing level (and clarity is certainly not a simple thing). But please include details! Are you talking extract, partial mash, or all grain? Brewing on a stovetop or on a souped-up HERMS system? What style are you brewing? You don’t need to give me a whole writeup of your system and process (we do go on about those, don’t we?), but detail helps.
There are all kinds of things that can make beer cloudy, and some are easier to fix than others. Here are some common ones, and suggested remedies, cribbed in part from John Palmer’s How to Brew:
Chill haze: Very common source of unclear beer. It’s caused when some (or more) of the cold break is left in the finished beer. To avoid it, use Irish moss or whirlfloc (I like whirlfloc, and you only need half a tablet for a 5 gallon batch) whirlpool your wort before chilling, chill as quickly as possible, and transfer the wort carefully, keeping the break material out of the fermenter. I don’t have much to go on with your question, but this is probably the source of your haze. Chilling faster and racking more carefully will get a lot of murkiness away.
Starch: Caused by incomplete conversion of malts. Are you steeping grains that should be mashed? Are you checking your mash temperature, and is your thermometer accurate? Mashing long enough? Address these and starch haze shouldn’t be a problem.
Yeast: Some yeast is just not very flocculant. Doesn’t matter much for a Hefeweizen, which traditionally has plenty of yeast haze, but Kolsch yeast and some Belgian strains don’t flocculate well either, and you don’t want yeast haze in their respective styles. Cold conditioning and careful racking after fermentation really help here. I love using gelatin in the fermenter when I’m dealing with an annoying, powdery yeast. Besides whirlfloc in the boil and gelatin in the fermenter, there are a ton of other products available designed to help with a given clarity issue, and I’d recommend playing around with them, following the manufacturer’s directions carefully. Don’t go throwing isinglass in your brewpot.
What is a good resource to start moving from kits to designing my own recipes? My first attempt was a spiced Christmas Ale, which turned out well, but was really just a slightly modified recipe I found online. I'd like to start learning more about the nuances of different grains, and how to start from scratch when creating the grain bill for a recipe.
Great to hear that you’re playing around some! I do want to add that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with only brewing beer from other people’s recipes, just like there’s nothing wrong with only cooking food from other people’s recipes. You’re still the one doing the work and applying the skill. But yes, absolutely: developing recipes is another fun dimension of the hobby, and one I recommend. Best place to start is probably Ray Daniels’s book, Designing Great Beers. It gets technical, but it has just about all the information you might need. Before you pick it up, I can give you a couple of tips to get you started: Try brewing SMASH beers (single malt and single hop, as in one base malt or extract and one hop) to get a clear sense of a given base malt/extract or hop. Brewing simple recipes in general will give you a good sense of how their ingredients come across in finished beer, and don’t forget to taste the ingredients themselves!
When working specialty grains into recipes, make sure not to go overboard. Start with just one or two of them, and make sure they don't exceed 10-15% or so of the total grist or extract. You can push this up for lower gravity beers, but stay closer to about 10% for high gravity beers. Recipe formulation can take lots of brewing and rebrewing, so make sure to stick with it. Good luck and have fun!