Archive for September 2014

Iron Brewer Redux: Part 1

September 28, 2014

My goodness, how the summer flew by! Who knew working at the college could take up so much of my time? Oh, and there was that three-week stint on Vancouver Island. And then another class of Brewmaster students starting in the fall semester. And the Iron Brewer competition. And the “big project that Will Not Die!” Busy times.

Where to start? Hmm…

Well, let’s begin at the ending, the Iron Brewer competition, which has just finished.

As constant readers may recall from last year, the Iron Brewer competition is organized by the Master Brewers Association of Canada. Twenty brewers, some professional, some amateur, are given identical sacks of ingredients and must make a beer using only some or all of the ingredients in the sack plus brewing water.

Last year I made “A Winter’s Tale Winter Ale”, a strong dark ale spiced with cinnamon. It placed third. I had no great expectations of replicating a Top 3 finish, but it’s a fun event so I scanned down this year’s list of ingredients. Hmmm, no cinnamon, but there were a few surprises:


  • Canadian Malting Superior Pilsen
  • Bestmalz Red X
  • Thomas Fawcett Crystal Rye
  • Weyermann Belgian Abbey Malt
  • Carafa Special Type III (dehusked)
  • Oak Smoked Wheat Malt
  • Dark Bohemian Pilsner Floor Malt
  • Weyermann Caramunich Type II
  • OiO Toasted Barley Flakes
  • OiO 2-Row Malt Whole
  • Muntons Crystal 240 (120)
  • Small batch Rye Malt
  • Small batch Pale Malt


  • Columbus 12.7 %
  • US Tettnanger 5.3%
  • Belma 10.4%
  • Bertwell (whole)


  • Mauribrew Draught yeast
  • Safale S-04
  • Safale US-05s
  • Saflager W34/70

Other neat stuff

  • Soft Brown Candi Sugar
  • Coriander
  • Dried Heather Tips

We received our sacks of ingredients in the first week of August, so that gave us about ten weeks to brew up a batch, ferment it and package it by September 26.

As I did last year, I took all the various bags of ingredients out of the sack and put them on the living room floor. (Elaine loves it when I do this. No, wait, that’s someone else I’m thinking of. Elaine hates it when I do this. Or, to be more specific, she hates it when I spread them out, then leave them on the living room floor for two weeks.)

I then sat among the ingredients and waited for them to talk to me. Last year, they immediately told me I needed to make a strong spiced winter ale, but this year, the ingredients took a bit longer to make themselves heard. I thought when I read the ingredients list and saw coriander and candi sugar that I’d be making some sort of strong Belgian ale. But when I took out the ingredients and listened to them, that’s not what they said. Finally I heard a whisper.What’s that? A 100-shilling wee heavy?

I kind of balked at this. Let’s start with the name. A wee heavy is a strong Scotch ale. 100-shilling refers to the cost of beer in Scotland in the 18th century that was based on the strength of the beer — you paid 80 shillings per barrel for regular strength ale but 100 shillings per barrel for stronger ale.

The reason I was initially cool to the ingredients’ suggestion is because the focus of a Scotch ale is all about malt — no fruit esters, hop aromas or sulphur in the nose, no discernable hops or yeast compounds in the taste, no quick dry bitter finish. It is sweet on the nose, with a round, smooth, full mouthfeel, a sweet but not cloying flavour, and a long sweet warming finish. However, in this era of hops, hops and more hops, how would an essentially hop-less beer be received?

But if that’s what the ingredients wanted to be, well, who am I to argue?

First, I had to find a system to brew on. Last year I used a sweet little 20-litre system that had been originally built by Victor North of Garden Brewers and donated to Black Oak. Alas, when I dropped by Black Oak  to see if I could still use it, well, Black Oak had recently cleaned house, so Victor had reclaimed his system and had… sold it. Gone. Forever.


Nate’s system — flexible, clean, fast-heating

Dang. Luckily I happened to mention my predicament to fellow Brewmaster staff member Nate Ferguson, and it turns out he owns a nice system he has built himself.

Recipe. Hmmm. My plan was to make an 8% beer with just 15 IBU and no yeast esters or flavours.

  • Grist bill: I’m never one to add sixteen different types of grain to a beer (although there was the infamous “50 Shades of Grain” a couple of years ago). I just find that once you get past three or four types of grain, the flavours start to get muddled. So I kept it simple: 80% 2-row, 10% Caramunich Type II (for the caramel flavours), 5% oak smoked (for a touch of smoke), and 5% Red X (for the colour).
  • Hops: For only 15 IBU with no aroma, I didn’t need much. I settled on the US Tettnanger, which I would boil for the full 60 minutes in order to drive off all the volatile aromas.
  • Yeast: Although I haven’t used it before, I chose the Mauribrew Draught — reading its spec sheet, I saw that it apparently has good attenuation (the ability to eat a lot of sugar) and also performs well at cooler temperatures. Since I needed the yeast to eat about 16°P of sugars while at only 15°C, the Mauribrew sounded like it would get the job done.
Mashing In. Nate, whoi built the system, is a bit taller than me.

Mashing In. Needless to say, it’s obvious that Nate is a bit taller than me.

So it was that on a nice August evening, I found myself mashing in on Nate’s custom-built system. My plan was to mash in fairly hot — 67°C — to keep the beta-amylases a bit less active. This would preserve some of the long chain sugars, which our taste buds would interpret as a fuller mouthfeel. The mash went fine, although the starches took almost 90 minutes to convert to sugar. When I went to lauter the mash, I discovered that some grain had gotten past the lauter screen and had plugged the drainage port. However, attaching a garden hose to the other end of the drainage port and blowing some water into the mash tun cleared the blockage, and from that point on, the rest of the brew was fairly anticlimactic.

What a beautiful colour.

What a beautiful colour.

The run-off was a gorgeous chestnut brown shot with red highlights, and tasted delicious — I almost bottled it right then and there.

I ran into a bit of trouble with the fermentation — although most ales are fermented at 18°-23°C, Scotch ales are fermented cooler to reduce the amount of esters produced by the yeast. However, I cooled the wort down to 15°C too quickly, and the yeast simply went to sleep. I had to raise the wort back up to 20°C, wait for fermentation to really get rocking and rolling, then lowered the temperature back down to 15°C over three days.

Original gravity of the wort was 1.079 (19.75°P), and the yeast managed to take that down to 1.016 (4°P), resulting in a strength of 8.2% abv. With fermentation finished, I cold-aged the beer for two weeks at 2°C.

With the beer ready, I was all set for the competition.

Next: The Iron Brewer Throw Down


My Post-Apocalyptic Life

The world has ended, but movies and games live on.

Married to Beer

Seeing the humour in a spouse who loves suds!

Ruminations of a Canadian Geek

The thoughts and ruminations of a university chemistry and roleplaying geek

Madly Off In All Directions

A blog about whatever strikes my fancy...

It's what's on tap...

Brewing, mostly.