Friday, October 7, 2011

Guest post: Brooklyn Brew Shop Review by Joe Morris

While some of us #pdxbeergeeks were fortunate enough to make the delightful acquaintance of Stephen and Erica of Brooklyn Brew Shop in August at the Beer Blogger's Conference, #pdxbeergeek Joe Morris was busy *brewing* one of their kits! What follows: a perfectly geeky guest post account of brewing with a 1 gallon brew kit from Brooklyn Brew Shop...

Beer Kits from Brooklyn Brew Shop
Sometime in late April, my wife returned from an evening shift at William Sonoma and excitedly told me that her store was now selling “home brew supplies.”

At first, I was dismissive. My mental image was dusty cans of pre-hopped DME sitting under less-than ideal stock room conditions.

She mentioned that they were kits “From some Brooklyn something.” I recalled having seen Brooklyn Brew Shop 1-Gallon brew kits online, in the past. I assured her that they seemed to be legit and that she should sell them with confidence. I explained to her that it is very cool that a first-time brewer can walk into a local shopping mall and walk out ready to brew (all-grain, no less) that same day. It is a product that truly offers something very unique to their customer.

But what of the product itself? Is it worthy?

Well, I was presented with a chance to see for myself and I could not pass it up.  I purchased a deeply-discounted Summer Wheat Ale kit and was truly excited to get started.

Granted, I am coming from a slightly different place than the run-of-the-mill customer that this product targets.  At the time, I had about 9 months of brewing experience. In that time I had been very prolific; having brewed about 70 gallons of beer using both “Extract and Grains” and Partial Mash techniques.  So, even though I am still something of a homebrewing n00b, this was not my first rodeo. Although I had brewed several batches that were partial mashes, I was very excited to try my hand at all grain brewing with this small-scale experiment.

Upon opening the box, I took inventory:

What is included:
• 1 Gallon Fermentation Jug
• Screw Cap Stopper
• Airlock
• Racking Cane
• 4’ Tubing
• Tube Clamp
• 12” Lab Thermometer
• Sanitizer Packet
• Ingredient Mix

Having brewed before, I made some choices on which equipment I would be using.  The C-Brite sanitizer was removed in favor of StarSan (which I had at hand).

Also, a small pack of Munton’s yeast was pitched directly into the trash (pardon the pun) favor of some Danstar Notthingham dry yeast that has been in my fridge as an emergency backup.

Oh, and ever since I lost a batch of Amber Ale to a broken glass thermometer, I swore off any glass in my brew. All-metal dial thermometers for this guy!

  • 1 bag labeled “Grains”
  • 1 small bag of Styrian Goldings Hops.

I weighed the contents of both bags on my brewing scales and determined that the grains were 2# (which I presumed to be a 50/50 split of 2-Row and Wheat) and .25oz of pelletized hops.

Brooklyn provides the following instructions with their kit:
Heat 2.5 quarts of water to 160°F (71°C).
• Add grain (This is called “mashing in.” Take note of jargon. Or don’t).
• Mix gently with spoon or spatula until mash has consistency of oatmeal.
Add water if too dry or hot. Temperature will drop to ~150°F (66°C).
• Cook for 60 minutes at 144-152°F (63-68°C). Stir every 10 minutes, and use
your thermometer to take temperature readings from multiple locations.
• You likely don’t need to apply heat constantly. Get it up to temperature, then turn
the heat off. Monitor, stir, and adjust accordingly to keep in range.
• After 60 minutes, heat to 170°F (77°C) while stirring constantly (“Mashing Out”).

Having mashed before and owning a 2 Gallon round cooler for that very purpose, I decided to deviate slightly from the instructions and relied on instructions from this Homebrewtalk forum thread devoted to the topic.

I mashed at 152f in my round cooler at a ratio of 1.25 lbs to quarts for :60 min. with the grains inside a 5 gallon grain bag.

To sparge, I drained the bag and rinsed the grains in 1 gallon of sparge water at 165f. I dipped the bag repeatedly and allowed the grains to rest for :05 min in the sparge water, before dunking the bag again repeatedly and draining completely.

I tasted the wort to ensure it was sweet and that saccrification had occurred.

The Boil:
After gathering all the wort in a single vessel, I began the boil.  

I made the hops additions at the increments determined by the directions (50% at :60, 25% at :30 and 25% at :05).

There was one issue with the boil.  I had never used this particular 8 Qt stock pot for brewing before (it’s far too small for the batches I tend to brew). The amount of boil-off I encountered was phenomenal compared to the rate I encounter on my normal 4 Gallon partial boils. As best I can tell, I lost close to 50% of my volume in the boil (I had calculated for between 15-20%).

This boil-off volume loss required me to “top off” with more than a quart of bottled water!  I am sure that hurt my hops utilization quite a bit.

In the end, I had a nice SG of 1.048 (just shy of my target of 1.050 (as calculated by Brewsmith)

I was able to get a killer cold break using just the top-off water and ice bath due to the very low 1 gallon volume.

I tried to eyeball ¼ of the pack of Nottingham into the fermentor, but almost certainly over-pitched.

Fermentation in a batch this small took off like a rocket and was nearly over before I ever knew it had begun.

I had made some starters this size and with a SG similar to this batch, so I anticipated it to be a very short fermentation.

I gave the brew about 2 weeks at 68f in my temperature-controlled refrigerator and took a hydrometer reading for FG.

I was shocked to see that my final gravity reading was down near 1.005!  I had anticipated it to bottom out around 1.010.  I probably over-pitched the yeast and wound up a lot drier than I should have. But, I’ll tell you what...that was a gooooooood-tasting hydrometer sample!

After fermentation was complete, I cleaned out and sanitized the recommended 10 bottles and began racking.  Brooklyn Brew Shop recommends racking to a stockpot containing a water/honey solution for priming solution* and using the included mini-racking cane and tubing in bottling.  I would think this process would be very difficult and require more coordination than I possess.

Since I already own an autosiphon and spring-loaded bottle wand, I opted to rack to a growler containing my priming solution (3 TSP honey and sanitized water) and rack using the autosiphon and bottle wand.

I only managed to squeeze out 8.5 bottles of beer. I probably lost a ton of volume in fermentation due to my over-pitching miscalculation.  I stored 8 bottles in my 70-75f “conditioning closet” and drank the .5 leftovers in a small double old fashioned glass. It was sweet with the unfermented priming sugar, but the malt and hops tasted fantastic, well-balanced and the alcohol was not over powering (despite the over-pitch).

Final Product:
Normally, I try to pre-chill my bottled homebrew 5-7 days before drinking. I try to let all the funk fall out and have the CO2 evenly distributed throughout.  

However, just as I popped this beer into the fridge to chill down, I received word that we would have family visiting from Canada in a few hours. Despite my concerns about it being green or having some yeast-bite....This was the best beer in the house and who was I to keep it from our travel-weary guests?!

With some reservation, I cracked the first few bottles and served them to our thirsty guests out on our deck one warm August evening in Oregon.

The feedback was swift and immediate. THEY LOVED IT. Every single one of our guests had nothing but praise for the brew. It was crisp, balanced, thirst-quenching and delicious.

Final Impressions:
Overall, this was a great experience. I was able to try out all-grain brewing. The results were far better than expected. The process was simple and manageable with standard kitchen equipment. I made a beer that people truly enjoyed and that is always the best possible outcome for me as a homebrewer.

**Brooklyn Brew Shop Revisited**
I recently scored an other kit from Brooklyn Brew Shop and decided to give it a whirl. This time around, I brewed their “Everyday IPA.”

Everyday IPA kit from Brooklyn Brew Shop: photo courtesy of Brooklyn Brew Shop

The processes recommended in the IPA kit mirrored those of the “Summer Wheat” kit with exception to the hop schedule.

The only qualm I had about this particular brew was that the instructions again called for honey as a bottle-priming sugar.  This method of priming was fine with the Summer Wheat, given the style.

However, the honey left significant amounts of unfermented sugar and residual honey taste in the IPA. The taste and sweetness was very apparent and unwelcome in the second batch. The sweetness and residual flavor robbed some of the hoppiness from the beer and was very much out of style.  I’m still kicking myself for not making a judgement call and using table or corn sugar to prime. But, it was a valuable lesson to learn and the perfect scale batch to learn the hard way.