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Partial Mashes, Priming Sugar, and So Much More: The Grain Bag, Volume IV

Days are getting longer, and for me that means more daylight to spend brewing out on my back patio. I don’t hate winter (what winter, amirite DC?), but spring means less brewing-by-flashlight-because-it-took-forever-to-mash-in-because-your-water-hose-was-frozen-solid-that-morning, and it will also mean more of me answering your homebrewing questions. Remember, to submit questions please use the form at the bottom of this page or email editor@dcbeer.com. Let’s go! 

I've been homebrewing for about a year now, and so far have only brewed with extract (+ specialty grains) kits. As I'm continually looking to challenge myself, I'm plotting a move to partial mash, but like many in DC, am constrained by a lack of space, to the point where even adding a 2nd brew-kettle and secondary fermentor presents a problem. Any tips for upping the ante without having to move to the suburbs?

Upping the ante, eh? I can think of at least one prominent DC homebrewer who brews and kegs all-grain lagers in a fairly small apartment, but that kind of thing is hard to pull off without having brewing stuff in pretty much every corner of your place (the horror!). First things first: you don’t need any additional gear to transition to partial mash. Put your crushed grains in a steeping bag and steep them in your brewpot in a measured amount of 150-154F water (anywhere from .75 to 2 quarts per pound) for an hour. Remove the bag and let it drain into the pot, then top off with more water and add your extract. Brew-in-a-bag style!

Other sensible upgrades you might consider are:

1. Kettle that can hold full volume of boil. Trust. Topping off with water after the boil can help chill faster, but it kills your hop utilization. A smaller kettle also makes it more likely to scorch your extract. This shouldn’t take up much more room than your existing one, so you can either replace it or nest the two pots to save space.

2. Wort chiller. You’ll need one of these if you go full-volume, trying to chill a full pot in a water bath is a nightmare. If you don’t have a utility sink or garden hose spigot, you can get an adapter for your kitchen faucet, or even put a quick disconnect on it. Also possible to store in your kettle. Lots of people make their own, which is cool, but since most of what you pay for a prebuilt one is the copper, I just like getting one that’s ready to go.

3. 2000 mL Erlenmeyer flask. For yeast starters. They’re only about $20, they fit on a shelf or in a cabinet, and yeast starters are one of the single best things you can do to improve the quality of your beer.

Hi, I'm just getting started in stovetop BIAB homebrewing and my last two beers had low efficiency and thus missed my gravity targets. Any advice on getting both better gravity and efficiency? -Logan

Hey Logan, great question. There are tons of reasons efficiency could be lower than expected, but I think the most common is probably grains that aren’t crushed enough. With BIAB you can handle a very fine crush, so go to town on that grist (or make sure your supplier is). I think milling often goes overlooked or isn’t considered enough in homebrewing because it’s so much easier to measure–or even just think about–factors like temperature, pH, and liquor-to-grist ratio instead. Those are important, but something as seemingly mundane as the crush can really throw off a brewday. It’s thrown off plenty of mine. Get a finer crush and try to use consistently crushed grains in order to dial in your system and your process.

Make sure that you’re also measuring your water accurately. Two California residents are claiming Anheuser-Busch is having trouble with this step (http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/26/business/california-anheuser-busch-lawsuit/). Personally I doubt that’s true, but I do like any opportunity to revive Professor Bruce’s joke about American [macro] beer being like making love in a canoe (http://youtu.be/m_WRFJwGsbY?t=1m9s, audio NSFW).

"So, I have used corn sugar to bottle condition my beer since I can't afford a draft system. I have been thinking about using alternative sugar sources to referment and add flavor.  I believe the Dogfish head has done this.  Specifically I have been considering fruit juices or unrefined  sugars.  I know there are conversions for using table sugar or corn sugar, but is there a way to look at a label of a juice/sugar and decide how much to use? Is it complicated by the type of sugar molecule?

P.S.  actually got the idea when thinking about what to do with a bucket of Berlinerweisse, since it is traditionally served with syrup.  I figure the lactic acid might further complicate the calculation so I did not include that in the question."

-Capitol Hill home brewer

Hi neighbor! I don’t think there’s anything you’re overlooking. The Basic Brewing Radio podcast (great show! He’s interviewed Mike Tonsmeire a bunch of times) had an episode on this exact subject in October 2010, so I’d check that out. Check the nutrition label for the sugar content of a given serving size of your chosen priming ingredient, then calculate how much of the ingredient you’ll need to have the equivalent amount of sugar. I’d use the priming table for sucrose to find how much sugar you’ll need, but only because I can’t think of a reason not to at the moment. Experiment and adjust. Part of me does want to tell you that I think there are better ways to play around with adding flavor than by messing with alternate priming sugars, and that priming with carefully measured doses of corn sugar is the best way to get consistent carbonation and avoid bottle bombs when bottle conditioning. But I’m gonna tell that part of me to shut up and go get us another beer because playing around with this kind of thing is a big part of why we have this hobby in the first place. And because I love maple syrup.

I don’t think lactic acid/lactobacillus should complicate things here.

Some people claim that it's very important to rack your fermented beer to secondary soon after it hits final gravity. Others claim you can keep it in the primary fermentation vessel for much longer. What say you? Besides clarity, what are possible effects of both? -Eric

Lots of opportunities to give credit to Basic Brewing Radio tonight. They published an episode about an experiment they did on delayed racking with Brew Your Own Magazine in May 2009, and they couldn’t find any flaws with beer left in the primary fermenter for 4 weeks after the end of fermentation. I’ve procrastinated much longer than that (especially back when I was bottling) and haven’t detected any autolysis flavor (my understanding is that autolysis isn’t a subtle thing, your beer will LET YOU KNOW if you’ve got an autolysis problem). If you make your yeast happy by pitching the correct amount of cells, adding nutrient and oxygen to your wort, and keeping fermentation temperature consistent, they’ll make you happy by making you good beer without dying on you. And without a secondary. I don’t secondary. You can, but I don’t think it makes a difference, and a secondary is another thing to have to clean and sanitize as well as a potential source of oxidation. I keg, though, and I can play around with clarifiers and fruit and that kind of stuff in the keg. A secondary is great to use for that stuff if you’re priming and bottling. For me, I rack to a corny keg after about 10-28 days after pitching and don’t worry much about it.

Bill Jusino swears he didn't pick that question just to make the canoe joke. Send him your homebrewing questions with the form below. He may also be reached on Twitter at @billjusino. Please don't wake @JUSINO_CAPS.

 

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