Smoked Porter 2015

Over the 4th of July, I smoked about 3 lbs of Pils malt on an old potbelly stove.  It smoked with mesquite chips for a few hours in two batches, then was left to condition for ~7 weeks in an open paper grocery bag.

I first brewed a smoked porter with home-smoked malt in 2011.  I used alder chips then, in an homage to Alaskan Brewing Co.’s Smoked Porter.  It turned out well and the bottle I opened yesterday as I brewed the 2015 version has aged nicely.  The biggest flaw is that the smoke flavor is too phenolic.  I tried to avoid chlorinated water throughout the process but may not have succeeded.

I brewed this year’s smoked porter on the same potbelly stove I used to smoke the malt.  I’ve already written about the process of brewing on the potbelly stove, so I’ll stick to the recipe and batch notes here.

Recipe

I should probably get the ingredients of my recipes embedded into the blogposts for a more robust backup and an easier browsing experience, but for now I’ll link to the Brewtoad recipe.

Water (softened!)

I used softened well water, which will be a first for me.  There’s lots on the internet written about why that’s a bad idea, but few seem to have challenged the conventional wisdom and actually tried it (a common phenomenon in homebrewing).  Some of the concerns are (with my responses):

Sodium: my softened water tests at about 144 ppm sodium.  After accounting for condensing the wort during the boil, I should be around 172 ppm.  On the high end, and not ideal, but the wort samples don’t taste salty to me.  The EPA says in section 6 of this paper that sodium levels above 30-60 ppm (or mg/L) will be noticeable to sensitive individuals, while the WHO suggests keeping sodium levels of drinking water under 200 ppm for taste purposes (same paper).  Those levels are for plain drinking water in an experimental setting, and the research notes that the addition of sugars or acid [like in beer…] cause these thresholds to increase by several times.

Calcium: my softened water has a mere 2 ppm calcium (vs. 75 for untreated).  This is no good.  I added 0.5g per batch-size-gallon of gypsum and calcium chloride to the mash water, taking me up to 68 ppm of Calcium which should be enough for yeast health.

pH: I didn’t use a pH meter for this brew.  Lots of dark grains, and no sodium, but my softened water is still high pH (7.9) and high in bicarbonate (386 ppm) and alkalinity (316 ppm).  The mash converted so it couldn’t have been a disastrous pH.

Process

This was my first no-chill batch in years, and I’d forgotten how easy it is.  I’ll pitch the yeast later today.  I brewed without any electricity (no pumps, no electric heat) or propane.  Nice and simple.

The potbelly stove made for a long brew day, but it was a pleasant one.

Missed my gravity by a bit but 1.055 should be fine.

I tried to keep ash out of the boil but didn’t entirely succeed.  When I’ve boiled water on campfires, I’ve sometimes found the water to be smoky.  I’m not sure if that will affect my beer, nor how I would even know if the smoke character is from the home-smoked malt or from the boil over a wood fire.  Though given the random variety of wood we burned, I hope the mesquite character of the smoked malt comes through.

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