Brew Day: Copper Amber Ale

One of my first craft beers I tried when I moved to Charlotte was an Olde Mecklenburg (OMB) Copper Ale. It was an easy-drinking beer that helped me ease into the rabbit hole I call craft beer. This used to be my go-to beer whenever we went out because it wasn’t too “knock your teeth out” hoppy and was incredibly refreshing. I was excited to find out that one of my friends requested this particular style because it was his favorite also.

Full disclaimer: I'm an engineer and get 
geeked up about the science of things...

Yeast Starter:

According to my recipe via BeerSmith, Copper Ale v1, my yield will be 11 gallons at 1.051 SG. So using my handy-dandy yeast pitch calculator:

12 gallons of wort (I will lose some from yeast in fermentation) at 1.051 SG: I will need approximately 430 billion yeast cells.

Using 2 vials of yeast at ~100 billion each, I would need a yeast starter of at least 2 liters in 1.036 SG of wort. This should provide 503 billion cells (C. White Stir Plate  growth model) with a pitch rate of 0.88M cells / mL / ºP. I like to make a little extra so I ended up making a starter with 4 liters of 1.036 wort to yield 616 billion cells.

I used WLP002 English Ale Yeast – I know, I know this is an American Ale… Why did I chose an English Ale. My go-to WLP001 California Ale Yeast was out at my homebrew store (I guess it’s very popular!?) so I had to settle with this. I’ve used this before with excellent results and the difference is slightly noticeable with a little less clean taste.

Brew Day:

Asst. Brewer Sarah

Today I invited residents of my apartment complex to come watch me brew. Because of the long process (being that it takes 6 hours and all), not many stayed, but I welcome any chance I get to share this exciting hobby of mine.

Residents trying to stay enthused about enzymes in action!

As I explained in my last post, Jitterbug Coffee Stout, my setup is a modified HERMS system where I circulate my wort through a hot liquor tank (HLT) and then back into the mash tun (MT). I originally learned this method from The Electric Brewery who has a step by step brew day explanation page. I prefer this method from the single step mash one because of consistency and repeatability.

Anyways, I heated up 6.875 gallons (1.25 L/ lb. of grain) of strike water to 170º F and circulated it into the 10 gallon cooler I have modified to make a MT. Then I dough’d in to give me a mashing temperature of 155ºF — A little high, but it is within my range to target the alpha-amylase enzymes and let them go to work converting my starches to sweet, sweet wort. I also love this smell as it smell as it smells like oatmeal like I would have as a kid.

I need a new thermometer

Grain Bill:

The BJCP guidelines on this style call for this to have a slight malty taste so I added a little bit of Munich Malt and Caramel Crystal Malt. The Chocolate malt is there to give it more of the burnt orange color that is indicative of this style, but there it not enough to contribute much if any flavor. Despite its name, chocolate malt does not give any chocolate taste to the beer, but more of a burnt, smokey taste. It also says that the International Bitterness Units, or IBU, should be moderate to high so I targeted around 30 IBUs.

  1.   20 lbs. of Pale Malt (2.0 SRM)
  2.   1 lbs. of Munich Malt (20 SRM)
  3.   0.75 lbs. of Caramel/Crystal Malt – 120L (120 SRM)
  4.   0.5 lbs. of Chocolate Malt (350 SRM)
Side note: SRM stands for Standard Reference Method 
which is used by modern brewers to measure the color 
of the beer. The higher the number the darker the beer.

After mashing for about 15 minutes I turned on the pump and started circulating my wort through the HLT. This acts as a Vorlauf method to help clarify the beer. In another 20 minutes, I had achieved conversion where my starches were converted into sugar — Simple science proves that at a hotter temperature molecules move faster… The same goes with enzymes and how fast they work.

Fly Sparging:

I meant to raise the temperature of the mash to 167ºF to denature the enzymes, but I forgot. It won’t be the end all be all,  just my efficiency will suffer a little for it. I was teaching a brew class to the residents of my apartment complex and I guess I got distracted.

Mash Out:

Utilizing the fly sparge method (replenishing the water back into the MT as it’s being drained) I collected 12 gallons of wort at 1.044 SG over a period of about 45 minutes. It’s often debated whether it’s worth it to sparge slowly or fast and I often find myself in between both parties.

View from the refractometer

Plugging this into a brewhouse efficiency calculator the total yield if at 100% efficiency would have been 1.068. At 1.044, my efficiency was at 65%… Not my worse, but not my best.

The recipe calls for me to have 13.75 gallons at 1.044SG so I missed my mark. This could’ve been for a couple of reasons, one of them being that I forgot to mash out. using BeerSmith’s dilution tool I calculated that if I added 1.75 gallons, I would achieve 13.75 gallons at 1.038 SG.

I love the etched markings inside the kettle

After collecting the correct amount of wort based off my boil off calculation of about 12% (it varies depending on ambient conditions, but usually hovers around there, I place the kettle on the turkey fryer and flame on!

Usually it takes about 20 minutes for the turkey fryer to raise the temperature to boiling… About 15 minutes in, I have to watch closely to prevent a boil over and loss of sweet wort. The general rule of thumb is that you want your kettle to be double the yield you’re making… simple math: 10 gallons x 2 = 20 gallons. Though before I made this purchase I was making 5 gallon batches in a 7 gallon kettle (see below)… boil over was inevitable no matter how hard I tried.

5 gallon boil in my 7 gallon kettle = No fun


Remember that it’s important to have a good, vigorous boil in order to drive off unwanted flavors such as Dimethyl Sulfides (DMS) and to fully isomerize your hops. Also, you want to leave your kettle uncovered because the condensation dripping from the lid contributes to off flavors as well.

American Copper Amber Ale Boil Additions:

  1. Chinook (13.0 % α) @ 0 minutes
  2. Williamette (5.0% α)  @ 20 minutes
  3. 2 capsules of White Labs Servomyces (Yeast Nutrient)
  4. 2 tablets, crushed of Whirlflock (fining Agent)*
  5. Williamette (5.0% α)

*Whirfloc Tablet is a finish agent, like Irish Moss, coagulates and attaches to the unwanted proteins within the wort to help clarify the beer.

Hops added at different times contribute different flavors and aromas to the beer. When hops are added to the beginning, they are fully isomerized and contribute to the overall bitterness. If added at the end, then they contribute more to the aroma. Depending on your wants and the style of the beer, hop schedules can vary from one addition to adding it throughout with 5 minute intervals. There has been much debate whether this is necessary, but some brewers swear by it saying it adds complexity and multiple layers to the flavor.

Chilling and Adding to Carboys:

After the 60 minute boil (standard boil time) it is time to chill the beer… The faster, the better! This is because of the “Cold Break” where the proteins within the wort are thermally shocked and coagulate out of the beer resulting in a clearer beer. There are types of beers who’s style is supposed to be cloudy, but in most it is not preferred. There is also something called “chill haze” where, when cold, the final product is cloudy. When the cold brew heats up a little, the haze is gone.

      Counterflow Wort Chiller

Essentially, this is an heat exchanger where the hot wort goes in hot and comes out cold and the cold water goes in cold and comes out hot. This is achieved by the two fluids flowing in counter flows (hence the name… get it?)

Once it reaches the carboy, it’ll be around 70ºF – The perfect pitching temperature for yeast. Side Note: wort is also a breeding ground for other bacteria and air-borne particles floating about… For this reason it is important to pitch your yeast as fast as possible.

Filling up the carboys

As you can see, the wort is coming out of the hose as a nice amber/ copper color… Amber Copper Ale (it’s coming together now)

My final gravity into the carboy was a little lower than expected. Most likely because I forgot to raise the mash temperature up to 167ºF which would halt all enzyme activity.

Gravity reading at 1.046 SG

The final yield was 12 gallons @ 1.046 SG. I will lose some during fermentation to give me about 10.5-11 gallons of beer to carbonate.


I am going to use WLP002 English Ale Yeast as you can read from my yeast starter section I should, theoretically, have around 600 billion cells. I overshoot just for peace of mind. After about 24-36 hours on the stir plate, I chill the container and let the yeast settle. Because you don’t want to add necessary flavors to the beer, I decant out the liquid that does not contain yeast (it flocculates out and to the bottom. Most experts (or beer nerds) say that you shouldn’t add more than 5% of your yields volume… That means I shouldn’t add more than 0.25 gallons of starter liquid (not meaning the yeast, but the by product alcohol – I’m actually pouring alcohol down the drain :/)

Yeast starter after chilling

As you can see, there is a thin white line above the trub (pronounced troob) and the suspended liquid… This is healthy yeast cells and what needs to be targeted. I decant off and pitch the healthy yeast, trying to be as equal as possible, between the two carboys… Let the fermentation begin!

24 hours update:

After I pitched the yeast I typically check on it after about 12-24 hours to see if the airlock is okay and it’s having a healthy, vigorous fermentation. To my surprise, and dismay, it was fermenting so strong that it popped off the airlock! I don’t know how long it was off for, but it should have any adverse effect on it. It’s good to know that the little monsters are off and healthy!

Airlock popped off!

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