Let’s face it, we all want to brew great beer, right?
As brewers we strive to find that illusive something that sends our senses into euphoria every time we take a sip. It’s a never ending pursuit that fortunately, most of us love, otherwise we probably wouldn’t have the patience for it! With so many things contributing to the flavour, both good & bad, we must find ways to keep the unwanted flavours from dominating the ones we want to shine through.
While I’ve been focusing my attention on water chemistry and pH levels in the mash as of late, something unexpectedly pleasant has crept up on me in my last few brews. They’ve been turning out very ‘clean’ tasting. Now don’t be scared when I say ‘clean’, clean can mean many different things to many different people. It’s obviously very difficult to convey taste perceptions in words and sometimes I find it difficult to accurately describe aspects in my beer to begin with. Every time I eat or drink something, I strive to fine tune my palette, but it takes time. My point is, regardless of whether my recipe was any good or not, or if the hops I used were fresh, the flavours that were there, have been shining through. It was almost as if someone took a squeegee and cleaned the window I was using to see my beer. All of a sudden I’m finding it easier to evaluate the recipe and see how it works together, rather than trying to see through any possible off flavours. This also opens the door to trying different, higher quality liquid yeasts, because I will be able to accurately see what they bring to the table.
The first thing I started doing was pitching my yeast at a cooler temperature than my target fermentation, around 60°F (for most ales) and 44°F (for most lagers). This was yet another great suggestion from Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmer in their book, Brewing Classic Styles: 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew. Yeast is most active at the beginning part of fermentation because they are busy absorbing oxygen, reproducing, and building up the needed energy to digest the sugars in your wort. During this time they create the most by products, some of which are appropriate at low levels for certain styles, but most of which are not. Yeast actually prefer an oxygen rich environment. They are able to get more energy out of the sugars they consume, thus allowing a greater amount of activity even though it may not be noticeable in your carboy. (Fortunately for us, brewing yeast has evolved over time to survive in an ‘anaerobic’ environment. In order to survive without oxygen, they make a little something called ‘alcohol’ in order to do so) By introducing the yeast to your wort at a lower temperature, these by-products are minimized. When the temperature finally reaches it’s target, the yeast will be ready to go and in optimum shape.
During the winter months, it’s pretty easy to get my wort cooled down to the 60°F range because the water coming out of my tap and into my counter flow chiller is considerably colder than in the summer. It will be more of a challenge then, but that’s where my newly built temperature controlled chest freezer will come in handy. Even if I don’t get my wort down to 60°F, I can put it in the chest freezer to cool it down that extra bit before pitching the yeast.
The second thing I started doing is something we’ve heard time and time again, aerate your wort! I never bothered with it much before. I just let it aerate as it was transferring from my chiller to the carboy. Perhaps I would shake it for a while, but I’m sure that had a minimal impact. I happened upon a wine de-gasser while I was picking up my fresh juice to make wine last October and it’s the perfect tool for getting more oxygen into your wort. Sure, the best way to get optimum levels is with an oxygen tank and a diffusion stone, but that will have to wait for another day. The de-gasser is incredibly easy to use, cheap, and will get more oxygen into your wort than just simply shaking your fermenter. Just sterilize it (very important of course ), attach it to a drill, insert it into the carboy and whiz up your wort for about a minute. Just be careful not to foam it up so much that it overflows!
There you have it. Two, very easy steps to making a ‘cleaner’ tasting beer. Believe me, i t really makes a difference!