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Brewing Until 4:00 AM, or, a First Partial Mash (Leffe Blond clone)

Posted by homebrewdad on 3/28/2012 at 08:14:14 PM

After two batches of extract brewing under my belt - both with speciality grains, one of them a kit - I had already been severely bitten by the bug of wanting to move toward all grain brewing. I enjoy recipes, I enjoy experimentation, and I see that a lot of grains - even adjunct and speciality grains - would simply be unavailable to me, as a brewer, if I only did extract. I would like to eventually have a few beers that I consider to be "my own", and I feel that extract brewing would limit my ability to do so. Unformtunately, I don't have the equipment or the disposable income to move to all grain yet, so I decided to take the intermediate step of a partial mash recipe (specifially, using the "beer in a bag" method).

Since my first two beers were so dark, I decided to go in a new direction with this one, settling on Revvy's Leffe Blonde clone recipe. Unfortunatey, Austin Homebrew was out of the hops called for in the original recipe, so I ended up substituting them as best I could. Also, the original recipe is a complete all-grain deal; I used BeerSmith to help me convert it to partial mash. The recipe follows:

Recipe Type: Partial Mash
Yeast: WLP530 White Labs Abbey Ale
Yeast Starter: Yes
Batch Size (Gallons): 5.25 gallons
Original Gravity: 1.075
Final Gravity: 1.017
ABV: 7.6%
IBU: 33.6
Boiling Time (Minutes): 90
Color: 6.5 SRM

Grain bill:
4 lbs Pilsner (2 row) Belgian
1 lb Munich Malt
5.3 oz Biscuit Malt
3.5 oz Melanoiden Malt

1 oz Glacier (5.6% alpha) at 60 minutes, 15.4 IBU
.5 oz Williamette (4.0% alpha) at 60 minutes, 5.5 IBU
.5 oz Williamette (4.0% alpha) at 30 minutes, 4.2 IBU

Other sugars:
2 lbs 8 oz extra light dry extract at 60 minutes
2 lbs 8 oz extra light dry extract at 15 minutes
10.6 oz table sugar at 15 minutes

1 tsp Irish Moss at 15 minutes

1 Pkg Abbey Ale (White Labs #WLP530) Yeast-Ale (make starter)

Mash in: add 6.94 qt of water at 173.8 degrees
Steep at 158 degrees for 60 minutes

Sparge with 3.84 gallons of water at 168 degrees

Boil volume should be 4.92 gallons.

Boil for 90 minutes, adding ingredients at specified times. Cool wort, top off with 1.25 gallons of water (to hit desired 5.25 gallon batch size). Pitch yeast, ferment, bottle, etc.

I have to admit that I was very excited about this one. I was first exposed to Leffe (a light Belgian ale) at Walt Disney World, during the 2011 Food and Wine Festival. I found it to be a light and refreshing beer, but still with a lot of flavor and some nice complexity to it. I think that this will be a great beer to use to introduce non craft drinkers to craft and homebrewed beer... and it will still be one that I will enjoy.

My package arrived from Austin Homebrew on Friday afternoon, and that evening, my brew buddy (four year old son, Noah) and I grabbed my high tech starter supplies and made a yeast starter. Yes, that is a sweet tea jug that I rinsed out and sanitized. So many new brewers are scared of making starters, but they are stupidly easy to make - a half of a cup of dry malt extract boiled for ten mintes in two cups of water. Cool and pitch yeast. Congratulations, you now have a lot more yeast that you might have had!

The next day rolled around and my starter already had a nice layer of sediment on the bottom - and no krausen - so I conlcuded that it was done. I looked at my hectic calendar for the next few weeks, and decided that Saturday night would be the time to brew this beer. My wife was a bit worried that I might be starting too late, but I assured her that even with the new steps I was adding, I wouldn't be staying up any later than a normal weekend night. I laid out my supplies, took a photo, let Noah take a photo with his own camera, then got to work... after playing a couple of games with the little guy (he really values his Daddy time, you see).

The time had come for my very first grain mash. To the uninitiated, mashing grains is essentially nothing more than letting them steep in hot water for a long time. This steeping converts sugars out of the grain, which allows for beer. Temperature needs to be fairly constant, as there is a narrow window for success. My target temperature for this steep was 158 degrees, which should give me beer with a nice mouthfeel, but some leftover complex sugars that won't really ferment out.

With Noah's help, I poured all of my grains into a mesh bag (making a guestimate on two speciality grains, as I did not have a scale - left a little of my 4 ounce baggie of melanoiden behind, same with my 6 ounce baggie of biscuit malt), tied it off, and placed it into my six gallon stainless steel brew pot. I heated water, poured it over the grains, then covered the pot with a lid. A towel was added to the floor, where I moved the pot, then blankets were wrapped around the pot. My wife had just washed and dried a load of towels, so several towels got layered over the pot for extra insulation.  Finally, I started the timer.

I checked on the mash a half hour in. I gave everything a good stir, made sure everything was submerged and that the temps were good; I had lost about four degrees of heat. Blankets and towels were replaced, and off I went.

As the timer was winding down, I realized that I was about to hit my first problem - how on earth was I going to heat up almost four gallons of sparge water, when the only big pot in my possession was in use? The best I could do was to use a six quart and a two and a half quart pot; fill them, heat the water, then repeat. Bleh.

As I prepared to sparge, I discovered my second issue - I would need to place my heavy, waterlogged bag of grain in such a way as to pour hot water over it into my brew pot. I had thought a collander would work, but my collander just barely made it over the opening... and being made of plastic, would slip and fall in when pressure was applied (as I discovered a couple of times). Frustrated, I grabbed my stirring spoon and a grill fork and used them to span the pot opening so that the collander would not fall in. I spilled a small amount of water once or twice, burned my hand a bit when trying to squeeze the grain bag... but aside form me having to do a little cleanup, it went okay. At least, I think/hope that it did!

Unfortunately, time was marching on. Midnight was in my rearview mirror, and I hadn't even started the boil yet. Somewhere in the sparge process, Noah gave it up - he took advantage of all those blankets and towels to go ahead and crash out on the floor. Speaking of the boil, this was easily the most water I have tried to boil; my pot was almost full to the top. I was getting quite nervous as to whether I would even be able to achieve a boil, and whether I would be able to contain any potential boilovers.

It took almost half an hour to reach a full boil, and of course, I did have to contend with that first foam up - but I was able to control it with a reduction in heat, plus some vigorous stirring. I set my timer for a half hour, then went ahead and prepped my hops. Once again, I didn't have a scale to get exact measurements, but my recipe called for the full ounce of Glacier , along with half the Williamette, at sixty minutes, followed by the other half of the Williamette at thirty minutes. I decided that two or three pellets either way wasn't going to hurt anything.

The hardest thing at the sixty minute mark was getting all of that darned extract to dissolve - and then, of course, fighting the foam up caused by it. Once the extract and the hops were in, I set my times for another half hour, then cracked open one of my Yorkshire square nut brown ales. The thirty minute point was even less eventful - I dumped in the remaining hops, and simply tried to stay awake.

Speaking of waking, my wife popped into the kitchen at three AM. She was less than happy, having been experiencing dreams of rotting groceries and burning coffee. I had thought that no one would notice the smell of my brewing so late, but I was wrong - she asserted that the entire house smelled like ferret. While the kitchen actually smelled good, to me, I did have to agree that the rest of the house didn't smell as nice. This will definitely be the last late night brew that I do.

The last fifteen minutes were chaotic; I had to add the rest of my malt extract (saved to this point to help reduce carmelization, and thus keep my beer light in color), the yeast nutrient, and the Irish moss. I also had to dunk my wort chiller into the wort to sterilize it; the boil didn't want to take back off for a few minutes.

Finally, though, chilling time arrived... and I discovered that my sink adapter for my chiller was missing. Instead of a fifteen minute cooldown, it took twenty-five, and I had to hold manually hold the hose up to the faucet (which created a lot of lost water). I employed a cold water bath with ice packs in the sink to help, but this was still nowhere nar as efficient of a cool as I am used to having.

Pouring the wort into my carboy was also a challenge; I am used to having someone hold the funnel for me, but I did manage to do it with no spills. I topped off with some plain water to get to my desired volume of 5.25 gallons (I had hit my expected volumes perfectly), shook the heck out of the wort, and took a gravity reading - 1.078, which was almost perfect. I happily pitched my yeast, snapped a pic of the beer, cleaned up, and went to bed a couple of minutes after four AM.

As a footnote - by nine AM, I had a bubbling airlock. Later that afternoon, I had to switch to a blowoff tube to avoid an explosive fermentation. Needless to say, this beer appeared to be very happy!

Tags for this post: partial, mash, leffe, blonde, clone, belgian, late, night, brewing, brew, beer, ale

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just finished a leffe clone myself. happen to be drinking one at the moment. I've been doing all grain for a couple of years now and wanted to take a break, so i converted the above to extract with steeping grains. It actually came out a little darker than the original but is still quite tasty. I also brewed it at about 80 f in true belgian style. I called it Leffe Dirty Blonde. How did yours turn out?

posted by mat on 3/29/2012 at 09:04:02 PM

Great blog,I will brew the same tonight,BIAB with a bit less grain.will let you know how it went.
I hope I'm not gonna finish at 4am.

posted by Chris on 3/30/2012 at 02:14:21 AM

I'm familiar with brewing in the early hours of the morning - when you have kids it's usually the best time to do it.

Here's a tip for next time you do a partial mash: don't add your extract to the main boil pot, instead use a seperate pot to dissolve and short boil sanitise it. You'll avoid foaming problems, avoid caramilization, get better hops utillisation, save time and cool faster. Your wort from the PM should be at around the right BG whthout any additional extract. I've written up my PM process here:

posted by Aidan on 4/11/2012 at 03:11:38 AM

By the way, the second pot for the extract doesn't need to be that big, a standard large kitchen pot should do. It's my approach to the 'late extract' method which overcomes the known shortfalls of partial boil (and the shortfalls of my stove!).

posted by Aidan on 4/12/2012 at 03:58:39 PM