Friday, May 14, 2010

Beeronomics: The Hopopotamus™ Lives!

I am very pleased with my new all-outdoor brewing set-up, and was so determined to brew outdoors that The Hopopotamus™was delayed by the extended wet and cold weather we have had over the last few weeks.  But last Friday the weather cleared, I wrapped up all the tasks I had to do early, and set to brewing.

After a trip to Steinbart's, where many hops were purchased, I swung by and picked up The Beerax for moral and spiritual guidance and then set up my al-fresco brewhouse on my patio.  My new propane burner was fantastic and in no time at all I was ready to mash.  So mash I did.  Here is a picture of the grain sack early on in the mash.


Then it was time for the powdered malt extract andhere the trouble began.  After stirring the malt extract a little I noticed my floating thermometer was trying to float horizontally. I figured at fist this was due to malt extract - pretty gooey stuff before it dissolves - sticking to it.  But when I pulled it out I discovered, to my horror, that it had shattered at the bottom leaving behind glass and weighting pellets of unknown provenance. [In the picture you can see the offending thermometer] The thermometer itself which rests inside the glass container, was intact (and thus no mercury contamination - if there is any in these things anymore), so there was a few moments when I pondered continuing on and straining out the debris.  After all, the little weighting pellets couldn't be lead could they?  No one would be the wiser, I thought, and what is a little shard of glass in a beer anyway but a fun amusement?  

Fortunately, seeing my moment of weakness, Jeff looked at me in the eye and said "I 'aint drinking your beer man..."  Of course he was right and so a mad dash to Steinbart's ensued - in rush hour, argh! - to procure more grain and malt extract.  And in this cautionary tale lies yet another reason homebrewing is not a money saver - this will end up being an expensive beer, economies of scale indeed.  

So after a refreshing jaunt through Portland traffic, back we arrived and re-started the entire process with a new thermometer.  Once the grain bill was fully infused the fun began.  I, being the Beer-Whisperer, had an unconventional sense that I should add the low alpha acid hops early, creating a base of gentle bitterness that would then be layered upon with pungent, high AA, hops later in the boil.  Jeff, however, started getting skittish about the result being under-hopped and was strangely unimpressed by my Beer-Whisperer's certainty that my instinct was True and Good.  

This unsettled me.  Jeff is, after all, the Beer-Savant (or the Rain Man of beer as I like to call him) and my conviction started to wane, so I capitulated.  [Later Jeff would say that he was merely posing the question and not making a suggestion - so now I call him the passive-aggressive Rain Man of beer] I thus threw in an ounce of the ultra-high AA Simcoe hops and switched the order of the moderate AA Cascades and the lower Crystals.  More Simcoe and Amarillo were added late and in the picture below you can see the wonderful, glorious oil-slick of hop resin as well as the remaining Amarillo waiting in the carboy as my dry-hops.  

Maybe Jeff was right, thought I, as the final product in the carboy whispered to me that it was good.  I have had a bit of a under-fermentation problem recently, so I pitched two packs of Wyeast's American Ale II yeast, which reputedly is the Anchor Ale yeast.  Never used it before but it, of course, whispered to me that it was the One.

And so The Hopopotamus™sits in my basement fermenting away getting ready to make its world premier in another few weeks.

Over at the Beeronomics blog (which is simply a collection of all my Beeronomics posts from this blog) A commentator noted that perhaps my assertion that The Hopopotamus™name was a registered trademark was suspect as Roots has already had a beer of that name.  I had not known of (or more likely not remembered) the Root's brew, but in any event Craig spelled it Hoppopotamus whereas I go for the more parsimonious use of the p.  Regardless the registered trademark symbol was entirely a joke, but lest the feds get whiff of The Hopopotaumus™- and surely they will what with all the hops - I have switched to the TM symbol.  So there.

And I did rip-off the name, but not from Craig Nicholls, rather I stole it from The Flight of the Conchords.  Enjoy:


Dann Cutter said...

At the end of the process you mention the Yeast... I brought this up once on Jeff's blog but it was a bit off topic to the popular conversation, but I again raise the issue - during a recent visit with a local brewmaster the influence of yeast on flavor was raised, and it was purported that yeast was by and far the largest contributor to the flavor profile of all ingredients. Yet it seems the bastard stepchild in the process for homebrewers, commonly spending a great deal of time on the other factors, and a small portion on the yeast used and its requirements.

I am curious on your take? Do we forsake carefully selecting yeast due to its difficulty, sacrificing more advanced flavors - or fundamentally, does using specialty yeast prove such a little effect that it's not really a factor?

Patrick Emerson said...

For me I am trying to experiment with different varieties for the very purpose of learning more about the characteristics. Unfortunately this is a process that takes repetition and so most homebrewers of my frequency can't be very expert on yeasts. Many breweries have a house yeast that they use in most of their beers (Rogue's Pacman yeast comes to mind) and so you can start to discern the characteristics of the yeast from tasting the different beers. Those of us with moderate palates find this difficult, but the more you brew especially, the more you start to sort out the specific ingredients and their link to the taste on your tongue.

So what I do is read the descriptions, find out what brewery the yeast is supposed to come from and try and select a yeast that might do well in the beer I am making. In my case this was the Wyeast description:

"Fruitier and more flocculent than Wyeast 1056 American Ale yeast, slightly nutty, soft, clean with a slightly tart finish. Ferment at warmer temperatures to accentuate hop character with intense fruitiness, or ferment cool for clean, light citrus character. Expect good attenuation, but this will vary with grist makeup, mashing protocol, or other wort characteristics. Reliably flocculent, producing bright beer without filtration."

I think yeast matters a lot, but at the infrequent homebrewer's level I have to rely on what I am told more than what I know.

Jeff Alworth said...

As to the Hopopotamus, I am prepared to take full credit or deny involvement, depending on how it turns out.

Dann, yeast is a huge factor. Huge. Sorry I didn't respond to that comment. The reason it's not mentioned more often is that when you're talking about yeast strains within a category, the differences are subtle.

If you're brewing an ale and you use an American strain or a Whitbread strain, the resulting beers wouldn't be radically different. But use a Belgian yeast or lager the beer, and it would dramatically change things.

I tried to brew a beer once that I wanted to really dry out. I used a standard ale yeast, but it was inefficient and left a fair amount of residual sugars. Then I pitched a bit of Belgian yeast, figuring that there weren't enough fermentables for the yeast to really do much with. Wrong. I turned my experimental IPA into a Belgian ale--it was absolutely unrecognizeable as an IPA. And this was with just a few sugars left over after my English strain had finished out.

Patrick Emerson said...


Ironic then that I shall take full credit or hand off all blame to you depending on how it turns out.

I transfered it into another carboy to separate the spent yeast and dry hops and nipped a wee zwickel: promising, very promising...

Jeff Alworth said...

There is no honor among homebrewers...

Wendy said...

I would dry hop once the beer has fermented most of the way. You will lose a lot of the flavor during the fermentation. Also if you buy your grain in 55 pound sacks and hops direct from the grower ( it is quite a bit cheaper and the capital investment will pay for itself rather quickly. Looks like a tasty brew.