Acetaldehyde off flavor tasting

I recently brewed up an English Best Bitter. I enjoy these session style pale ales quite a bit. English bitters in general have plenty of malt character balanced by earthly slightly spicy English hops. My favorite is the classic East Kent Goldings. Brewing English beers is fairly straightforward the trickiest part is managing the fermentation. English ale yeasts are well know for a couple off flavors if not treated right. And that’s what we discovered when we tasted my latest brew.

This beer has a subtle but noticeable acetaldehyde character. Namely it comes across as an apple quality. At lower levels acetaldehyde may seem like another fruity ester. Esters are actually a pleasant and welcomed flavor common to English ale yeasts.

So where did this acetaldehyde flavor come from. Well production of acetaldehyde is a normal part of the fermentation life cycle of all yeasts, not unique to just English strains. Normally at the end of fermentation yeast will re-absorb acetaldehyde and convert it to ethanol. They metabolize it as a carbon energy source after the sugars are all consumed. However this takes some time.

In my case, I think the garage was starting to chill down as late fall started to transition into pre-winter like temps. English ale yeast is notoriously finicky to changes in temperature. Especially a drop in temperature. If the yeast sense a drop in temperature they begin to flocculate. English yeast strain are normally the highest flocculators of most brewers yeasts. This creates a situation where the lower temp signals a time to go dormant, flocculation happens and you end up with either incomplete fermentation or a lack of cleanup.

I suspect that’s what happened here. I wasn’t using active temp control and my yeast flocculated out too soon leaving me with some unused acetaldehyde. Thankfully I didn’t get a double disaster with some diacetyl as well! To prevent this in the future, or in your own beers, I would ferment cool for the first three days then I’d start ramping the temp two degrees or so a day until I got it to 72F. Then I’d hold the beer there for another 7 days or so. Of course this changes somewhat strain to strain,wort to wort, and recipe to recipe.

Brew Stand Build Lessons Learned

The brew stand build is basically complete. I thought about painting it but that’s a waste of time. I’d rather be brewing than waiting for paint to dry. This week John is a little curious about the project so we hit the high points of the build out and discuss some of the lessons I learned along the way.

Aside from cutting and grinding metal for the fabrication, the primary hurdle was to handle the plumbing of the gas lines. I used 1/2 inch black pipe for all the hard lines. Essentially running a supply line along the back of the stand with T-fittings for each burner. I connect to each burner using coated flexible stainless steel supply line. The same stuff you’d use to connect to a standard gas stove.

I don’t know a whole lot about plumbing gas and maintaining an adequate supply pressure for all three burners. I suspect that if I had used a different diameter piping maybe all three burners would be able to run simultaneously at full bore…but they don’t I can get two burners screaming with flame, but when I light the third I just don’t think there is enough pressure coming from the tank to get it done. Not a big deal really as there is rarely a time when you’d want to run three burners. Let alone at full bore. My center burner is for the mash tun with I only fire intermittently to maintain mash temps.

The most important thing to remember when plumbing for any type of burner is the proper orifice. Natural gas and propane but come at different pressures and you have to have the right orifice to match the fuel and pressure source. An orifice is a small fitting that has a small home bored through it. The gas meets the orifice and is pressed through there creating a jet like effect on the otherside. This is how the fuel pulls in air from the “carbuerator” like flapper valve on the back of the burner. If you don’t use the right sized orifice for your supply pressure you just get a dirty yellow burn and not the classic clean blue flame you are looking for.

Lastly, I wish the stand was a little taller. I cut the original aquarium stand down to half its height. While its perfect for brewing there isn’t enough room to safely mount my pump beneath it. I am afraid there is too much heat from the burners and the pump may get damaged.

So for now I plan to build a small portable pump and chiller stand that I can move around separately. Which might make things easier for cleaning than if it was all mounted under the stand. Only time will tell.

Stay tuned for a future video of the stand in operation while brewing. You’ll quickly see what I mean about burner usage and the pump situation.

Any thoughts or questions on brew stands? Just pass them along!

Oatmeal Stout Kit Brew Day

Nothing Wrong with Brewing Kits

I have been getting into brewing kits lately.  There’s something fun about taking out some of the decisions out of picking out ingredients and just brewing what comes out of the box after it arrives at your door.

The last one I brewed was the witbier that was written about a few months ago.  In the pursuit of brewing a great stout, I got an Oatmeal Stout kit from Northern Brewer.

I like taking the kits and modifying them a bit – maybe my mind isn’t ready to shut down all decisions of what goes into the beer recipe.

Just a Bit Modified

Let me know if you agree with me: The hop variety that came with the kit was Glacier.  Now I was all about these hops six years ago but for an oatmeal stout I thought a tried-and-true English variety would be better.  Thankfully, I had some UK Kent Goldings on hand and substituted them in.

The grains come all mixed in together so you’d better hope that the measurements have been done correctly in the warehouse.

What?  I trust them.

The oats did come separately, which was nice because I wanted to toast some of the oats to draw out more flavors from them. I put them in the oven while I was heating up the water for the mash and they were timed perfectly.  The toasted oats came out of the stove and went right into the mash tun right before the hot liquor did.

The wort coming out of the tun was black and oily.

Oatmeal Stout Wort

Foamy Boil and Following the Tips

The boil was pretty foamy. I found that I had to keep on boilover watch throughout the hour. There was one tense situation where my son had run off with my mash spoon but I quickly recovered it so that I could give the wort a stir and keep the foam from tumbling over the side of the pot. I guess oats bring more protein to the brew.

The spent grains were a speckled sight to see.

Oatmeal Stout Spent Grains

The beer cooled down pretty quickly – thank you cold ground water – and I was ready to pitch the yeast. I went with two packets of Safale S-04 (proofed) and followed Mike’s Oatmeal Stout Home Brewing Tips for the fermentation temperature schedule. In short, the temperatures start low and end high to reach that the attenuation that I want.

As always, we will taste this one when it is ready.

Brew On, Peeps!

Shirron Plate Chiller

It seemed a few weeks back I was constantly getting weekly emails from some of my favorite on line homebrew retailers. Each week it seemed like one retailer was trying to out do the offer from the other the previous week. Finally, I got a 25% offer from and I couldn’t pass it up. I had a handful of things I need to get and it was time to pull the trigger on a new plate chiller.

After building the brew stand I knew that eventually I wanted to get a plate chiller. I have found that in the first couple runs of the stand my brew day has the potential to pick up a little more organization and efficiency (speed). It was always my hope that if I could incorporate a plate chiller I could shave a little more time from the day by combining chilling wort with moving wort to the fermentor.

As I have said before, I don’t want my brew days to fly by. It is a hobby and good way to spend some personal time. However, scheduling a long brew day against other commitments can be tough. I have been working towards a more streamlined and timely brew day. So that hopefully I can brew a little quicker, and also find time to brew more often.

My primary concern with the plate chiller has always been clogging it and keeping it clean. For a short while I had played with a stainless mesh kettle screen similar to a HopStopper. It worked really well until I started doing a recirculated chill process. The recir process would eventually clog the fine mesh vs. just a simple drain out of the kettle where all the hops are in suspension and gradually come to the filter screen. So it will be time to re-investigate that little tool before I get the chiller in line.

Speaking of being in-line; my intended set up with be to go: Kettle–>Pump–>Chiller–>Fermentor.

Hopefully, I’ll get this new toy cleaned up, sanitized and ready for action before the new year is out. I am however in process of potentially moving my brew setup to a new part of the house. So using that Shirron Plate Chiller may have to wait until next year.


Home Brewing Consistency

We write about exploring different beer styles, learning about the diverse types of beer from around the world and brewing them.

Besides these aspects, there is another mark of homebrewing mastery and that lie in brewing one style consistently. We have written in the past where brewing the same beer recipe over and over again can help you improve your skills.

Consistent Process, Consistent Results

Mike is always examining his brewing process, not only his but mine too. He feels that if your brewing process is standardized – meaning that it can be easily replicated for each brew session – then you beer brewing results should be predictable. Having a sloppy process where the steps aren’t regimented, opening up chances for accidents or other occurrence beyond your control will lead to unpredictable result and could lead to bad beer.

The only way to standardize your brewing process is to brew often. Through experience and taking notes (it certainly helps), you’ll know your brewing system’s quirks and you’ll gain the practice to get the steps and timing down for homebrewing.

Once you feel like you have a consistent process, it’s time to prove it in brewing the same style repeatedly with the goal of producing the same beer over and over.

Choose a Style – Any Style

One fact about brewing a style is choosing one you like. If you brew it several times, you are going to have a lot of it so choose wisely. It probably won’t be the hardest decision in your life but it sure does pay off if you start brewing your favorite beer in bulk.

The other thought I have on it is optional. If you are looking to improve or learn more about a certain aspect of brewing, you can choose a style that aligns with that goal. Maybe nailing down the perfect fermentation temperature for witbier is a goal of yours. Maybe understanding how much late in the boil hops make a great IPA is something you are looking to figure out. If you want, you can add an improvement aspect to your choice as well.

My choice was the Vienna Lager style. I like that beer very much and I wanted to know lagering cold (pun intended).

Seek Proof

How can you tell you are brewing consistently? Certainly you can use yourself as a judge and taste the different versions of the same beers side by side to understand differences if any. Your homebrewing and beer loving friends are also a great resource for getting opinions as well.

Another way of getting feedback on your brewing consistency is putting the same beer into competition year after year. You can note the scores, comments, or if you are lucky enough, the same award.

Ok – humble brag time. I won the first place prize two years in a row in the European Amber Lager category at the New England Regional Homebrew Competition. Now it’s time to brew it again and hopefully get a better placement at next year MCAB.

Steps to Follow For Homebrewing Consistency

If you want to know the path to consistent homebrewing, follow these steps:

  • Know your brewing process – know how your set up works – know the steps to brew and follow them every time
  • Practice, practice, practice – brew often!
  • Brew the same beer several times
  • Compare results of the same beer brewing (self, friend, and beer judge evaluations)

Brew ON!