Mac’s Brewing System
I’ve been busy the last couple of weeks, learning the “ins and outs” of my new equipment, brewing, trouble shooting and creating recipes. As promised in the last newsletter, I will try to provide additional details of Mac’s activities and brews over the last several months.
I have desired a sophisticated brewing system for the last couple of years. Unfortunately they are quite expensive, so I had to wait and save money in order to purchase what I wanted without sinking into debt. When I retired, Sheila made a very generous donation to Mac’s Brew to help fund a brewing system. After a lot of saving and researching, I decided to purchase a “Single-Tier Brew Sculpture” (with digital controls) from MoreBeer at the end of December, 2013. This decision coincided with an end of the year sale at MoreBeer, so I was able to save a little money.
Not only did I upgrade the quality of my brewing equipment, I also doubled my brewing capacity. I opted for a 10 gallon system (the smallest available), which is more than enough for my purposes. I was previously able to brew only 5 gallon batches. The “Brew Sculpture” is made entirely of stainless steel, which makes maintenance and cleaning much easier. My system is pictured in the photo above, taken on brew day #1.
My first batch on the new brewery was nearly a disaster. The nature of this system (especially the digital controls) allow me much greater precision and control over the process; however, everything is so different from my previous equipment that it seemed complicated. Needless to say, I had some real difficulties, and there is definitely a learning curve involved in brewing on a system like this.
On February 12, 2014, I initiated operations on the new system by brewing Baby Luke’s Barley Wine. It probably wasn’t a good decision to attempt such a big and difficult beer when I had never used the system before. Nevertheless, my arrogance got the best of me and I forged ahead with this endeavor. Now, you may be asking yourself, why was it not a good idea to brew a barley wine on my maiden “Brew Sculpture” voyage. There are several reasons: 1. Barley Wine recipes are notoriously difficult to brew right – even commercial breweries struggle with efficiency when brewing ultra high gravity beers like barley wine; 2. Barley wines are expensive beers to make because of the enormous grain bill – my recipe cost $78.00 for a 5 gallon batch; 3. Barley Wines are typically aged for extended periods to mellow out the high alcohol, which can give the beer a boozy and hot taste – any equipment or procedural problems leading to flavor flaws won’t be known for a long time because of the aging process; 4. Unfamiliarity with equipment, or use of new equipment almost invariably leads to problems and unanticipated headaches – e.g., malfunctioning pumps, leaks, misdiagnosis, wrong connections and improper usage. Why risk those inevitable problems with an expensive and difficult recipe, when you can brew something easy and cheap while learning how to use the new equipment? Like I said, my arrogance convinced me that I could sail through this undertaking without much of a problem. FOOL!
Suffice to say, I had a lot of problems on my first brew day, but Baby Luke’s Barley Wine turned out alright (I hope). My efficiency was much lower than anticipated (see Baby Luke’s Barley Wine description below) and I had a catastrophe while cooling the wort. In addition, I had several other minor catastrophes during the brewing process, but managed to escape with 5 gallons of barley wine in the fermenter. I’m going to have to wait (a long time) to see how it turned out. Enough said about day one at Mac’s new brewery.
When you fall off a horse, you need to get right back on, as they say. I applied that principle to my new brewery, having learned by my mistakes and previous problems (it’s not that I enjoy attending the school of hard knocks, it’s just that I frequently find myself there, seated in study hall). I brewed batch two 13 days later (February 25, 2014). This went much smoother, although I still had some problems during the day. I brewed a “smaller” beer (a wheat beer), but increased the batch size to 10 gallons. See Mac’s Apricot Wheat Ale description below for additional details. I have already started on my recipes for the next two batches (an imperial IPA and a bourbon barrel stout). I hope to brew both of those within the next 3 weeks, depending on any intervening events. After that, I’ll make some refreshing “lawn mowing” beers before taking my annual summer break from brewing.
Ok, so now a little information on the current/recent offerings at Mac’s Brew Pub. I recommend you stop by for a draught pint or two before these kegs dry up.
Mac’s Novemberfest: 6.8% ABV. Brewed 11-01-2013. Kegged 11-23-2013. OG 1.075 FG 1.023
This is an Oktoberfest recipe, but fermented with ale yeast (rather than lager yeast). It’s the same recipe as the award winning Whatchamacallit, but fermented with a different yeast. I’ve brewed this recipe three times now, and each time I have used a different yeast, with slightly different flavor results. It’s a beautiful copper color with a nice sweet malty taste, but well balanced with hops. I should have let this condition about one more week in the secondary fermenter, but was in a hurry to get it on tap for Thanksgiving. Next time I will condition awhile longer, and ferment with the same yeast I used the first time I brewed this recipe a couple of years ago. It’s quite good (several people, who aren’t hop-heads like me, like it better than anything else I currently have on tap, including a commercial keg of Firestone Walker Double Barrel Ale).
Smack Down: 9.9% ABV. Brewed 12-03-2013. Kegged 01-05-2014. OG 1.090 FG 1.017.
This is the same Smack Down recipe I brewed last April. This Imperial IPA is what I would call bittersweet, as it is very hoppy, but with a lot of residual malty sweetness. This is another one I should have let condition for another 7 – 10 days before cold crashing and kegging. It’s very good, but suffers from a little diacytl. I might be more picky than many others, because even when I point out the flavor flaw to those who have imbibed, no one has been able to detect it. Oh well, I think I know how to eliminate this the next time I brew it.
Mac’s Aeronautical Amber Ale: 6.1% ABV. Brewed 01-08-2014. Kegged 02-09-2014. OG 1.066 FG 1.020
Ah, yes, Mac’s Aeronautical Amber Ale – You’ll Be Soaring With Pleasure. I brewed this same recipe a couple of years ago; don’t know why I didn’t brew it again until now. It’s really good amber ale. I like my beers on the hoppy side, so I made this a little hoppier than a typical amber. The first time I brewed it, I was trying to create something along the lines of Anderson Valley’s Boont Amber Ale (kinda hoppy). Anyway, this is a little hoppier than Boont, and it is wonderful beer. I might try to keep this one available at Mac’s Brew Pub all the time. It doesn’t taste hoppy to me (did I mention that I like hoppy beers?). In fact, I would describe it as sweet, but well balanced. Sheila, however, said it is hoppy, a comment echoed by a couple of others. Well, what can I say? I brew beer the way I like it (that’s why I brew, after all). This was well conditioned, and has no off flavors. In my opinion, it’s the best I have on tap right now (at least, it’s the one without obvious flaws, but maybe not as tasty as Smack Down).
Baby Luke’s Barley Wine: Brewed 02-12-2014. OG 1.095 (FG & alcohol content TBD)
This is the beer I had so much trouble with on brew day (due to equipment – see above). I was hoping for a significantly higher original gravity (10% – 15% higher), but had very low efficiency on brew day (same thing happened when I started brewing all grain about 3 years ago with my old equipment), so I am not too surprised. This is currently in the secondary fermenter (I added additional yeast, a different variety, into the secondary fermenter to help bring down the gravity that was still too high when I transferred from the primary to the secondary), and will probably be there for another couple of weeks). I then plan to age on oak/bourbon until the beginning of December (maybe longer), so I won’t know how this turns out for several months. Stay tuned . . .
Mac’s Apricot Wheat: Brewed 02-25-2014. OG 1.060. (FG & alcohol content TBD).
Mac’s second brew on the new brewing equipment. This is a 10 gallon batch (I could brew a maximum of 5 gallons on my previous equipment). Brew day went much smoother, but I had some difficulties during the cooling process. Hopefully next time this will not be a problem. This batch is currently in the primary fermenters (had to divide the 10 gallon batch in order to get it into 6.5 gallon fermentation vessels). I added the apricots yesterday, and will probably rack to the secondary fermenters in another 4 – 5 days. When the batch is done conditioning (late March), I will keg 5 gallons and bottle the other 5 gallons to bring to the beach house vacation in July.
Mac’s Bourbon Barrel Stout: 11.8% ABV. Brewed 01-14-2013. Bottled 11-21-2013. OG 1.1054 FG 1.021.
This beer turned out quite nice, although there is room for improvement. The final gravity is a bit lower than I wanted (I was hoping to finish around 1.028 – 1.030) so next time I will mash at a higher temperature (like the first time I brewed it) and I will add some other specialty grains to increase the viscosity of the beer. Also, the oak flavor is just a little stronger than I wanted, so next time I will re-use the same oak cubes from this last batch, in order to mellow out the wood flavor. I only drink this once or twice a month (12 oz bottles), so it should be available at Mac’s for awhile.
I think everyone has heard of Pliny the Elder (a double IPA from Russian River Brewing, Santa Rosa, CA). It’s consistently ranked among the top beers in the world. Russian River also brews Pliny the Younger, a triple IPA that is next to impossible to find as it’s brewed only once a year in limited quantities. This is ranked as the 3rd best beer in the world (Ratebeer.com and Beer Advocate). So why do I mention these in this newsletter? Because you have Pliny the Elder as a top ranked beer, and Pliny the Younger as another impossibly good beer (both are IPA’s). Therefore, I am next going to brew “Mac the Annihilator”, and make my own great Imperial IPA. I tweaked the Smack Down recipe ever so slightly to come up with Mac the Annihilator. I hope to squeeze 10%+ ABV out of this beast. Let’s hope I’m up to the task!
So, Mac the Annihilator is next, and then another huge barrel aged stout. After that, I will turn my attention to some smaller beers for awhile in order to keep the kegerator full for the summer. That’s it for now. I know this newsletter is a little long, but I had a lot of old news to catch you up on. The next newsletter won’t be so lengthy (assuming I publish it in the near future). Thanks for your indulgence, and I hope you appreciate some of the technical “beer geek” stuff.