Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Homebrewing a Chimay Bleu Clone

After a couple of extract, stove-top batches of homebrew last year, I decided that I wanted to step up to the challenge of all-grain brewing. In my mind, despite taking more time and effort, all-grain would give me more control of the recipes I make and ultimately (I hope) lead to better tasting homebrew. Add to that my enjoyment of cooking and that my degree is in chemistry. I love tinkering.

After a bit of reading and a lot of questions at homebrew stores and on homebrew forums, I set about getting the equipment together. I bought an outdoor propane cooker from Home Depot which I can hook up to the gas grill propane tank. Next, I picked up 25' of flexible copper tubing from Lowe's and some connections. I ordered a nice stainless (and weldless) ball valve spigot, which I placed as a drain on the side of a 16 gallon stainless steel beer keg purchased from a distributor in Pittsburgh. Duquesne distributor in town didn't want to sell me one, for some reason.

I used pretty much the recipe from the Szamatulski's Beer Captured for Chimay Grande Reserve, ordering all my recipe supplies from the Grape and Granary in Akron - great service and fast!

So, on an unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon after Thanksgiving, I started my journey in all-grain brewing. What a day that was!

I made a yeast starter slurry of Wyeast 1214 Belgian Abbey Ale two days prior - pitched it in some dissolved DME in a growler and let 'er go. On Saturday morning, I spent quite some time filtering a lot of water through the Brita ... mistake #1! Other than taking too long, I underestimated the amount of water I would need for all-grain - in short, only ~70% of the water I used that day was filtered. The rest was straight-from-the-tap Indiana Borough water. Now, I had used that before for extract - but now that I've tasted the finished Chimay clone product, I realize that one of the flavors that I don't enjoy in my homebrews must be from the water here - heavily chlorinated. In the latest issue of Brew Your Own, there's an article on how to make your own water filtration system using a Culligan showerhead filter. That'll be my next tinkering project.

Because of my set-up, I decided to just heat my mash to the proper temperatures, rather than heating water separately and adding to raise the temp - maybe that's good, maybe that's bad. In short, I mixed the cold water and my grains and brought the whole concoction up to about 122F and rested it for 30 minutes. Getting an accurate temperature in water with ~15 lbs of grain is not as easy as you would think ... hot spots. Mistake #2 - buy a bigger spoon!

I kept raising the temperature, hitting rests at 133F, 150F, and 158F. I used some of my iodine sanitizer for a starch indicator and found that I had conversion. Mashed out at 169F. By this time, I'd been at the keg for 2 hours.

Now for the sparging. I used a 6-gallon plastic bucket with holes drilled in the bottom and placed that over another 6-gallon bucket with a spigot on the bottom. I had some PEC tubing with holes drilled in it circling the upper rim of the top bucket for the water to trickle out of. Here's where I started using non-filtered water! I had to heat up the sparge water in the keg to around 170F (took some time), then I started sparging. Imagine my surprise when the liquor kept flowing and flowing. I must have heated three separate batches of water until my gravity was around 1.010 ... I now had various pots and pans filled with around 8.5 gallons of wort! Mistake #3 - a 6 gallon bucket seated in another is not big enough to hold all that grain. Had some liquor trickle out of the top of the bottom bucket (the ants loved that, I'm sure). Plus, my jerry-rigged PEC sparge arm wasn't holding up too well to the hot water.

Now I've got almost 9 gallons of liquor that I have to boil down to a reasonable amount. Mistake #4 - I need a good way to estimate volume inside a steel keg! I marked gallon lines on the outside, but it's a little difficult to interpret that inside the keg!

Boil, boil, boil. Oops! Ran out of propane. Drove to Sheetz to exchange tanks. Boil, boil, boil.

OK, now I think I have enough liquid to boil for hops addition and end up with ~5.5 gallons. Wrong! I underestimated the boil off. After my hops additions and wort chill, I ended up with a little over 4 gallons. Dang. I added enough water (again, non-filtered) in the primary bucket to bring up to 5.25 gallons - got the temperature to around 80F.

I finally pitched the starter at 8:30pm ... 9 hours after I started. Cleaned up and was ready for a beer! I'm glad we didn't make plans for that night.

Happily, by the next morning everything was bubbling away and continued to do so for about 5 days. I racked to secondary the next Saturday and left it to age and clear for about 3 1/2 weeks in the basement. Bottled it up the Thursday before New Years. I also decided that I was going to kraeusen - back on brew day, I used Papazian's formula for keeping out enough gyle (hopped wort) to use for priming as an alternative to corn sugar. It seemed to work, since the beer has since carbonated.

So how's it taste? Opened a bottle the other day. Decent carbonation, though the head isn't as full as I'd hoped for. A bit murky yet, but good color (looks like Chimay). It smells pretty much like Chimay. For taste, it's still quite raw. I think this batch is going to have to age for several months before it tones down and becomes more subtle in profile. Got the alcohol up to around 8.7%, so it's within expected range. Good malty sweetness and just about the right level of bitterness - and there's a decent amount of the estery and yeasty goodness you'd hope for. Here's hoping it ages well!

All in all, it was a great first all-grain experience and I learned a lot by doing it. My next all-grain batch is going to be a little lighter on the grain load. I hope to get a second keg converted for more efficient sparging and keep a better eye on the burner. Onward and upward.


Eli said...

Thanks for the write-up, I'm glad you included some of your mistakes.

So the water in town isn't that great for brewing? I guess maybe I've adapted to the flavor, it tastes alright to me.

Adam said...

Nice write up. Heheh...lotsa stop start kinda stuff. I like it! You know everybody goes through that kinda stuff. Why not share it..eh?

Thanks! I'll bet it will clear up and taste even better as it ages.