Filling the Hopback

Damn the Torpedo… or Hopback, Part 1

It was absolutely frigid. Frightfully cold, and I say this with the slightest nod to friends and family that are north and north east getting pounded with snow, sleet and ice and truly freezing again. After 20 years here in Texas, I have lost my tolerance for the cold. My buddy Neil from Scottish Brewing and I got our heads together to collaborate on a Hopback-based IPA – something to really push the limits of the 1.5 gallon Hopback I got from the folks over at Stout Tanks. Our discussion rolled through a couple of IPA ideas – Neil is a huge fan of NZ hops, and I am more of an APA kind of person. We discovered that we both adore Bell’s Two Hearted that features such incredible flavor and aroma from just Centennial hops. So we knocked around a few ideas:

  • Pale, with just shades of orange and gold, polished bright, star bright
  • Dry, featuring high levels of sulfate and good attenuation
  • IPA strength, so shooting around 70 gravity points and around 60 IBUs using whirlpool calculations in BeerSmith
  • All late hops – no hops in the boil. Stuff the hopback and recirculate through the kettle
  • Centennial and Cascades, classic and bulletproof pairing of American Centric hops

Clearly this is not in our wheelhouse, but not that difficult to imagine. I am calling it Cascadentennial IPA. Might just not be an IPA… will see.

The recipe is here (Thanks Derek Springer for the BeerXML plugin!):

Recipe Details

Batch Size Boil Time IBU SRM Est. OG Est. FG ABV
12 gal 60 min 64.4 IBUs 7.8 SRM 1.070 SG 1.015 SG 7.3 %

Style Details

Name Cat. OG Range FG Range IBU SRM Carb ABV
American IPA 14 B 1.056 - 1.075 1.01 - 1.018 40 - 70 6 - 15 2.2 - 2.7 5.5 - 7.5 %

Fermentables

Name Amount %
Brewer's Malt, 2-Row, Premium (Great Western) 18 lbs 63.16
Maris Otter (Crisp) 8 lbs 28.07
Crystal Light - 45L (Crisp) 1.5 lbs 5.26
Wheat, Torrified (Thomas Fawcett) 1 lbs 3.51

Hops

Name Amount Time Use Form Alpha %
Cascade 5.93 oz 45 min Aroma Leaf 7.9
Centennial 5.93 oz 45 min Aroma Leaf 9.6
Cascade 3.17 oz 15 min Aroma Leaf 4

Miscs

Name Amount Time Use Type
Irish Moss 0.60 tsp 10 min Boil Fining
Yeast Nutrient 2.40 tsp 10 min Boil Other

Yeast

Name Lab Attenuation Temperature
Safale American (US-05) DCL/Fermentis 77% 59°F - 75°F

Notes

Hopback Experiment

60 something IBUs are calculated here as a 45 minute hopstand at flameout. We recirculated for 25 minutes through the hopback into the kettle to increase wort to hop contact, but the flow dropped too far. This rested for 15 minutes or so before relieving the pressure on the hopback and adding 90 grams of cascades to finish. The big hopbag was squeezed into the kettle and let drain. We knocked out quickly into the fermenter through the fresh cascades.

Mashed thicker than my normal 1.5 at 1.35 qts/lb. Targetting 5.4 pH and sparge water is acidified to 5.4. Checked run off at end of boil volume - SG 1.014.

--- big problems with hopback, lost at least 1 gallon to the hops and 1.5 gallon spillage

OG 1.065 means something didn't happen correctly in the mash. Missing 5 points. Maybe related to the torrified wheat addition.

The recipe above doesn’t pickup the fact that the hops are calculated for a 45 minute hopstand… I assure you that the BeerSmith file is set correctly.

Martin Brungard pointed me to the seminar at NHC 2014 last year by Matthew Brown, called No Boil Hop Beer. If you are an AHA member, you can find the presentation at the AHA front page under seminars. The gist is that through experimentation, Mr. Brown built a small hopback and used it to create a series of beers that had no hops at all in the boil. He lautered through the full hopback and then a short whirlpool/circulation through the hopback at flame out (10 minutes). In this way – he split batch and measured the beer with only the lauter hops and the beer with the lauter and knockout hops. It was a fascinating concept.

The Brewday

As mentioned, the day was very chilly – and fought my system coming up to temperature. I heat my strike and sparge water separately, ensuring that the heat exchanger and accompanying plumbing is warm enough to help regulate the RIMS circulation when I grain in. A mistake led me to leave out a gallon of strike water, which was fortunate. When I looked at the 10 gallons in the tun, I was pretty sure that 28.5 lbs of grain would nearly max out the tun. So I moved the extra gallon to the sparge and re-figured my mineral additions (Pale Ale Profile, BWS).

I weighted out my base malts (twice lucky) and used the very last ounce of my 2-Row. The rest of the grist, Marris Otter, some Crystal 45L and Torrified Wheat were added and prepared to mill. The mill ate through the malt easily, but I managed to spill a little bit. The torrified wheat was incredibly fat – I believe from Fawcett. This got mashed-in whisking vigorously to ensure no dough balls formed. I decided to add in a few handfulls of rice hulls as insurance. The mash went essentially without a problem at 152° F for 60 minutes. We had to cycle the gas a couple of times as the temperature fluctuated more than normal. I confirmed a 5.42 mash pH at around 45 minutes, just a few hundredths high of my estimate of 5.39 using BWS.

We did not lauter through the hops (as in the NHC presentation) and decided to rely on the hot wort at flameout to create the required bitterness, aroma and flavor.

There was a small hiccup during lautering. I fly sparge, and the pump was pulling liquor from the HLT and somehow airlocked. Not a big thing, but I need to look for a possible leaky connection or bad gasket. We got it working again and finished the run off. The wort struggled to achieve a rolling boil, but finally made it. I used a touch of FermCap-S to ensure the very full kettle wouldn’t foam over.

Remember – we are boiling without any hops. The hot break material formed nearly instantly, indicating that the pH had dropped to around 5.1 right away. As the boil progressed toward the Whirlfloc and Nutrient addition, I noticed that the break had formed a skinned cap on the top of the boil. It looked and behaved a bit like the skin that can form on a milk based soup. I pushed it and it folded up and was easily removed.

As we neared the flame out period, I got the hopback into position, and as luck would have it – the gas ran out. From a sensory perspective, all we smelled was malt during the boil – which was expected. But it was a strange sensation not having what would have been that intense hop aroma you would expect from 12 ounces of hops.

It had already been filled to the brim with 6 ounces of Cascades and 6 ounces of Centennials, tied loosely into a bag. We left the top open while the hot wort flowed into the vessel. As the hop bag started to float out, we secured the lid. Somehow, a portion of the bag caught under the silicon seal. This allowed the building pressure to cause wort to spray and then leak during the circulation period. There wasn’t much we could do, and we decided to proceed with the circulation for a total of 25 minutes. Essentially using it a bit like a hop tornado vessel.

The circulation speed was tremendously slow, as you can see by the video. Usually the stream is quite strong, so those hops were tightly packed, which might have hurt extraction. Then rested for about 15 minutes while I connected to the fermenter and relieved the pressure in the hopback to install the fresh hop charge – another 3-4 ounces of cascades. This last charge still got very hot wort, and hopefully the oils were transferred directly to the fermenter without any chance of evaporation.

Squeeze the bag

As I removed the massively swollen spent hop charge (the 12 ounces) I decided to squeeze the bag to recover as much of the wort as possible since we were losing so much to the leakage and adsorption. This was really the first time we noticed any traditional hop aromas you would find with a normal boil schedule. I squeezed about a quart and a half back into the kettle and a huge slick of oil formed on the wort.  We added the finish hops and turned on the cold ground table water to my new convoluted counterflow chiller and was able to knock out and chill to about 66° F in just about 5 minutes. But it was clear that from a 14.3 gallon pre-boil volume, down to massive losses with the hops and leaking, we only had about 9.5 gallons in the fermenter. To hell with brew house efficiency…

At this point, we decided to carefully disconnect the hopback and dump the residual gallon or so of wort into the fermenter. I wish I had remembered to sanitize the exterior of the vessel, but I didn’t. I hope that excess heat of the wort rolling through the hopback killed anything too bad. We were able to pitch at temp (64° F) shortly after.

break on the false bottom

Perhaps hard to tell, but the break layer covered the false bottom about 1/8″ deep, and created ‘snotsickles’ under the perfs. I cleaned away 3/4 of the false bottom to show.

 

Spoon of Break

Remember that weird and crazy break material? Clean up was strange. The false bottom of the boil kettle caught and filtered a good deal of the hot break. The texture was a lot like soft tofu, held together in a gelatin-like manner, but cleaned up easily. The amount of break material wasn’t excessive, but I am interested in pulling trub in a day or two to see what falls out as cold break. Even the leaking pools of wort on the garage floor had break material form as it cooled – very odd.

Messy floors

I still have a lot of floor scrubbing to do out in the garage. But it smells really great out there!

The beer is now fermenting at 64° F on a slightly oversized batch of rehydrated US-05. The gravity also came in a few points low at 1.065 rather than 1.070. Not sure where that went – but have seen this problem a few times when I use wheat. This is going to go for a few weeks as I don’t have any room in my backed up beer pipeline, but we are already considering the possibility of shipping this keg out to NHC for club night. At the least, it maybe a nice and hoppy APA, but hopefully a solid IPA with immense hop flavor and aromas.

So to summarize, we did not lauter through the hops. We are counting on the BeerSmith calculation for a 45 minute steep/whirlpool stand of 12 ounces of hops. The finishing hops are calculated for 15 minutes. In actuality, we probably achieve the 45 minute stand, but the temperature of the kettle quickly fell to around 160° F and stabilized. This is below isomerization temperatures – so we really do not have an idea how this will settle out.

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Running the Brew Magic with a new RTD thermocouple today

Brewday in Pictures and Video

We have some wonderful weather here in Central Texas during wintertime… truly the most redeeming quality of this area. That and crazy good BBQ. Anyway – an A/V document of my brew day… a truly beautiful day and most everything went extremely well.

As mentioned in an earlier post, I built a new grist mill and case. This was the first chance to brew with the crush. I was fairly happy with the results, but may make some adjustments along the way. I will say that it was a bit underwhelming watching the 20# of grain burned through in about a minute. The skirt worked well, no dust kicked out to speak, just what kicked pouring the malt into the hopper.

I can’t hold a camera and grain in… so assume it all went very well. I prepare my strike water in the tun and heat to about 164F to hit 154F. Minerals split between the strike and sparge water. I run the RIMS with direct heat to bring the water to temperature – which also helps even the heat distribution in the system. After mash in, I slowly bring the recirculation speed up. With a more fine mill, the circulation is slow. With this grind, I was able to recirculate very quickly… nearly double the rate of the fine grist.

The Brew Magic deploys a hybrid fly sparge method. I establish the flow rate with the first runnings, and match the pump over from the HLT to that rate. Circulation also introduces a rotation of the wort at the top of the mash and pulls the liquor down through the MLT. The result is very clear wort through the process.

I tend to boil with a lot of energy. The vigorous boil helps to create strong break material. I do need to find a path to moderate the boil strength as it tends to darken beers like Pils. I use a few drops of FermCap-S as well as drop in a couple of bits of hops to help control the foam. A spray bottle helps me when adding new hops – like below – however it never threatened to overflow.

I have built a hop spider, but have fallen back to simply pinning a mesh bag floating free for pellet hops. Whole hops go into the kettle and are caught on the false bottom. Since moving to the counterflow chiller, I worry a lot less about trub and hop material plugging up the chiller.

I clean as I go – so the judicious use of a wet dry vacuum to knock out the mash and to clean up any loose bits is useful. Remove the mash and give a light rinse and then wipe down the sides. Vac the remaining out and your tun is pretty clean! Plus I find emptying the plastic bucket easier than a heavy keggle.

I also compost my spent grains. I took the time to turn the compost pile and was thrilled to find live and wriggling earthworms! In February no less. The pile is about 2 years worth of grains and compacts pretty quickly in the heat. As long as the top dries quickly, the smell is not too bad.

I added my last addition and prepared to knock out. I decided to proceed with ground water, as opposed to circulating ice water, and still knocked out at 66F, perfect for pitching. I have modified my Chill Wizard to use a convoluted counterflow chiller rather than the big plate chiller. I have been frustrated with the difficulty in keeping the plate chiller clean. I chilled and pumped directly into my SS BrewTech 1/2 Barrel Chronical. Hit target gravity right on.

The day ended with some light cleaning of the BK and a quick yeast count. I pitched right at 400 billion cells and fermentation showed in just a few hours!

The recipe is a scaled version of Brülosophy’s Best Brown Recipe, which will be featured in a later post.

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Been Busy in the Garage…

Fun week building out my new Grain Mill Case. 2×6 construction using pocket screws. Brand new Monster MM3 Pro mill connected via Lovejoy connectors to a PowerGrinder 185 RPM motor from All American Ale Works. Add wheels and it rolls. Went this route with a direct drive to prevent any possible caught fingers in a wheel/belt system.

Notes: While the performance of this motor is great, the documentation and notes from the vendor are pretty light, but adequate. For the record, ‘sketch #2′ in the wiring schemes is the right one for this mill and turns clockwise. The system bound up a bit at first, but once it was rolling (with some small adjustments at the Lovejoy connectors) runs well.

EDIT: added some more photos after the first brew day.

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