Batch #11-09: Nutcracker Ale

Style Spiced Porter
Ingredients View Here
Brewing Date: Sunday, October 25, 2009
Primary Fermentation: Sunday, October 25, 2009
Original Gravity: 1.038
Secondary Fermentation: n/a
Bottling Date: Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Final Gravity: 1.016
Release Date: (Black) Friday, November 27, 2009
Alcohol by volume: 3.4%
Brand: Master-Yeast Theatre
Release Name: An Ale of Two Cities


This will be the first batch made from raw ingredients. It is scheduled for release on the Thanksgiving weekend.

25 Oct 1:00PM :: The initial step of mashing grains in 2 gallons of water in the brew pot at 160F was easy.  After one hour, there was a very nice wort.  The coriander, and new funnel and strainer for the bucket were easy to use, and made sparging with 1 gallon of water at 170 F quite simple.

2:00PM: Then came the boil, and the first problem.  The brew pot I use is only 12 Quarts (3 Gallons), so the initial 2 gallons plus the 1 gallon from the sparge filled the brew pot to within 1/4 inch from the top.  The second problem occurred during the boil: a boil over.  I was watching the boil closely, and could see the problem starting but couldn’t react fast enough to move the pot off of the burner.  It wasn’t major, and (for what it’s worth) it did give me about another 1/2 inch of space to work with in the brew pot: a small consolation.

Part of the problem is the electric stove I have (ceramic top).  Later on, after taking careful measurements of the brew pot temperature, I discovered that there is a position, dead center between 3/4 high and full high, which will hold the temperature exactly at boiling point (212 F). Once I had that setting, there was a steady light boil.

The other problem I had was discovering I needed 3 ounces of Fuggle hops: 2 ounces for the initial boil, and one ounce to add 50 minutes into the boil.  The kit I had only had 2 ounces of Fuggle hops, which I attribute to me losing some.  So I ended up using one ounce instead of 2 ounces for the initial boil.

The final problem I had was mistakenly ripping open the Wyeast package, instead of slapping it to release the yeast nutrient internally.  This was first time using Wyeast.  Luckily, I had another package from the ingredients for the next batch which I was able to use properly.

For what it’s worth… I have nicknamed Wyeast “Whack a Yeast” due to the slapping technique of activating the nutrient in the package.  There seems to be some money-making entertainment opportunity here at home brew festivals.  Get a whack a mole game, replace the moles with Wyeast packages, and use a mannequin hand on the end of stick.  “Activate the yeast, win a prize”.  I’ll leave the details to any of you who feed motivated.  😉

The mashing, sparging and boil process took about 2.5 hours to complete, before I was able to cool the wort in an ice bath and prepare it for fermentation.  Most of the time was spent away from the kitchen, so I wasn’t stuck there the whole time.  I actually enjoyed this process more than the malt extract kits, except for cleaning up the boil over (yuck).The final wort result had a wonderful aroma, and has the highest hydrometer reading of any batch so far.  The fermentation bucket is at exactly five gallons.

26 Oct @ 7:30AM :: No signs of yeast activity yet.  Strange, considering this is a wet yeast.

27 Oct @ 7:30AM :: Still no signs of yeast activity.  I decided that I may have used a packet with dead yeast.  Talked with a mentor, who suggested just making another starter and injecting it into the fermentation bucket once it shows some clear signs of life and growth. Got a replacement Wyeast package, which is not British Ale (they were out), but Thames Valley. It’s at room temperature, basking in its nutrient inside the package, so hopefully I can put the yeast into the bucket sometime tomorrow.

27 Oct @  11:30PM :: I starting shutting down for the day, and went upstairs to check the fermentation bucket.  I was expecting to see no activity, and then add the new yeast.  Well surprise, surprise… the S-airlock now had all the water pushed to the exit side barrel, like it was just struggling to bubble out.  It looked like what I would normally see after about 4-6 hours after pitching yeast in previous batches.  So I decided to just put the new yeast in the fridge in case this yeast is coming to life.

28 Oct @ 7:45AM ::  The airlock is actually bubbling at about 10-12 second intervals. So, it is alive. Since I was planning on brewing the next batch this weekend, I will just put the new yeast into the flask with a starter, and give it 72 hours to get going.

The long start time surprised me.  I went back on Heart’s web site and re-read the starter instructions.  I think there were two things that caused the long delay.  First, I did not use any starter other than the nutrient package in the yeast: I put it straight into the bucket from the package.  Second, the manufacturing date for the yeast was August.  Heart’s Wyeast instructions has the following comment:

A healthy yeast pack usually starts to swell in 12 to 24 hours if it’s under one or even two months old. If the package is older than that, it can be more than three days before you see any activity. The yeast may take longer even though it is in good health. The rule of thumb is to allow at least one day per month of age after the manufacture date.

So the time the yeast took to show activity is about as described (I love rules of thumb).  I also checked with another home brewer, who pointed out that when spices like cinnamon and nutmeg are used, the yeast growth may also be initially hindered. In any case, fermentation is under way.  I am relieved.

29 Oct @ 7:45AM  :: bubbling cycles are now at 1-3 seconds with very strong bursts.

31 Oct @ 3:45PM :: bubbling cycles are now at 50 seconds between bursts.  Will take the hydrometer reading tomorrow evening, when the bubbling cycles go past 1 minute.

01 Nov @ 7:30 PM :: bubbling is still at 1 minute intervals.  I’m giving the yeast a bit more time.

02 Nov @ 7:30PM :: bubbling went over 90 seconds, took a hydrometer reading: 1.016.  The reading is higher than I expected, but the numbers look right.  Tomorrow looks like bottling day.  Sampled a sip full.  The cinnamon and nutmeg is prominent, but not overpowering.  This is definitely a holiday-flavored brew.

03 Nov @ 10:00PM :: The hydrometer reading was steady at 1.016, so I bottled it.  The yield was 42 x 12oz bottles, 1 x 24oz bottle, 2 x 34oz bottles (Ikea snap-down), 1 x 22oz bottle (snap-down). The yield was lower than using a malt kit, mostly because I topped the fermentation bucket off at exactly 5 gallons.  With the kits which yielded about 60 bottles, I topped the bucket off to about 5.5 gallons. Also, the trum at the bottom of the bucket was about twice as thick as with a malt extract kit.

I used a replacement bottle capper this time,  since my old one had scratches on the metal inside.  It was even trying to take the caps right back off when removing it from the bottle.

My sense is that this beer is one of the special tasting drinks which is really, really refreshing for the first bottle.  After that, the “special” goes away and an old favorite like a  lager is more appealing. Still, I scheduled this batch and the upcoming pumpkin brew to be specialty brews for the holidays, and my intent is to share them to celebrate the holidays.

08 Nov @ 8:00PM :: Opened a bottle to try.  There was practically no head, but carbonation was present.  The flavor is fairly spicy: nutmeg and cinnamon are prominent.  I used 1/4 teaspoon of corn sugar directly in each bottle for priming, so the yeast should have plenty of food.  Hopefully I will see a head forming by the 18th.

23 Nov @ 8:30PM :: Opened another bottle to try it.  Well, well.. the saying “give yeast a chance” proves itself again.  The nutmeg and cinnamon flavors are no longer dominating the beer: they have mellowed and meshed with the other flavors in the beer.  This is turning out very nice.  Release day is Thanksgiving Day and the day after.

27 Nov @ 7:00 PM:: This beer received good feedback from the Thanksgiving dinner crowd, and some friends from work.   I was worried about how this beer would turn out, being the first batch I made from scratch.  I was very happy with the results, and hats off to Heart’s Home Brew for a great recipe.

I also received one interesting comment, that this beer goes very good with a meal of B-B-Q ribs.