Thursday, August 30, 2012

Calvados Brett Tripel Tasting

Straight-ahead Belgian tripels are not one of my favorite styles. I don't find them offensive, but the flavor of even highly regarded examples rarely excites me (I feel the same way about Oktoberfests). The combination of clean pilsner malt and yeasty-fruit always tastes like it is lacking something.

I've been blown away by a few variations on tripel, like Captain Lawrence Xtra Gold (dry hopped), Allagash Tripel Roselaire (wine barrel aged with a mixed culture), and Le Trou du Diable La Buteuse Brassin Special (apple brandy barrel aged with Brett). In all of these cases the added treatment dials up the complexity without damaging the drinkability.

On the other hand, I wasn’t a fan of Captain Lawrence Golden Delicious (Xtra Gold aged in apple brandy barrels) and Allagash Curieux (Tripel aged in bourbon barrels) because they had too much barrel/spirit character for my tastes. Dry/pale beers require a light touch when it comes to barrel aging because they don’t have the big flavors or residual sweetness of an imperial stout or barleywine. Luckily for homebrewers this is easy to remedy, just add less oak to the fermentor.

My attempt to learn  from these examples (tripel aged on Calvados soaked oak cubes with cultured Russian River microbes) didn’t get quite as dry or funky as I wanted, so I dry hopped most of the batch with a hefty dose of Citra with excellent results. Not wanting to give up on my original vision of the batch I bottled a gallon straight, and here is the result.

Calvados Brett Tripel

Appearance – Blurred blonde body. The snowy head only maintains loft for a few minutes before collapsing on itself (apparently a pound of flaked wheat wasn’t enough to compensate for the extended aging with bugs).

Smell – The first note I get is floral, but that ephemeral character quickly escapes. After that the nose is a multifaceted blend of Belgian yeasty-fruity-spice and earthy Brett. There is a sweetness that calls apples to mind, although I’m not positive it is contributed by the Calvados.

Taste – The Calvados and oak are much clearer in the flavor than the aroma, but they are nicely balanced by the base beer. There isn’t much acidity, but it is crisper than most tripels. The Brett is subdued, but provides needed complexity to the apple and primary yeast character.

Mouthfeel – Slightly tannic from the oak, but not overly so. More substantial than a tripel ought to be, but it works well with the bigger flavors and the dryness of the oak. Solid carbonation, but it could be a bit snappier.

Drinkability & Notes – Not how I envisioned this one turning out when I brewed it 20 months ago, but I’m happy with it anyway. I don’t like it as much as the variations I cited above (although with Citra it was close), but the wood and microbes did a good job of adding complexity without overwhelming what is (despite the high alcohol) a rather delicate style.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Spelt it Right Saison Recipe

There are very few American beers brewed with grains other than the big six (barley, wheat, oats, rye, corn, and rice). For whatever economic/flavor reasons these are the grains that produce the huge range of beers of beers we see today. There are a couple others that see occasional use, sorghum (in gluten free beers), buckwheat (in my sour amber ale), and today’s star: spelt!

Spelt (Triticum spelta) is an ancient variety of wheat, which is often marketed as farro for Italian cooking (although farro is not always spelt). It is high in protein (~17%), which is one of the reasons it sees limited use in brewing. Take a look at the gigantic protein hot-break clumps that developed in the boil (and that shot is with no water treatment, hop additions, or kettle finings). Its flavor is similar to wheat, but to my palate provides a slightly toastier character. I’ve had it in Brasserie de Blaugies Saison d'Epeautre, and Sixpoint’s Mad Scientists #1 Spelt Wine. Some brewing suppliers sell malted spelt, but it was easier for me to find unmalted rolled spelt from Bob's Red Mill.

Saisons have crept up in alcohol content over the years. Originally these were light refreshing beers, and that is still where their slight tartness and peppery yeast work best in my opinion. However, I didn’t want to push the alcohol down under 4% into the “table saison” range, as many of these come across as thin. With good attenuation this 1.043 OG beer should end up close to 5% ABV. Perfect to drink from a 16 oz can about a year from now when Modern Times opens.

For this first attempt at a test batch I wanted to focus on the yeast. I think the classic Dupont strain (WLP565/WY3724) produces remarkable flavors, but it can also be sluggish and unreliable even under ideal conditions. Wyeast French Saison (3711) is the opposite, a quick reliable attenuator, but the flavor is more tropical and less spicy than I would prefer. To try out two yeast strains I brewed a double batch split between White Labs Saison II and their newly released Saison III.

While saison yeast stains are often known for their tolerance (and in some cases need) for elevated fermentation temperatures, this is no excuse for not having control. I pitched both halves of the batch in the mid-60s F, allowing them to ramp up into the mid-80s over the course of a few days. Despite being mid-August in DC, nights in the mid-60s required keeping the fermentors insulated with blankets to maintain a stable temperature.

Jacob and I are planning to let the flavor of this base beer determine where we take the recipe. Does it need a more complex hop aroma? Should we spice with a touch of black pepper? Maybe blend with a portion of beer that has been inoculated with Brett? We will see.

Spelta Été

Recipe Specifics
----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 10.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 16.50
Anticipated OG: 1.043
Anticipated SRM: 3.0
Anticipated IBU: 29.5
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes

Grain
-------
78.8% - 13.00 lbs. German Pilsener
18.2% - 3.00 lbs. Flaked Spelt
3.0% - 0.50 lbs. Flaked Corn

Hops
------
5 ml.      HopShot (Extract) @ 45 min.
1.50 oz. Czech Saaz (Pellet, 3.50% AA) @ 15 min.
1.00 oz. Czech Saaz (Pellet, 3.50% AA) @ 2 min.

Extras
--------
1.00 Whirlfloc @ 10 min.
1.00 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 10 min.

Yeast
-------
White Labs WLP566 Belgian Saison II
White Labs WLP585 Belgian Saison III

Water Profile
----------------
Profile: Washington DC

Mash Schedule
-----------------
Sacch Rest - 75 min @ 147 F

Notes
-------
8/18/12 Made two .6 L starters (Saison II and Saison III). Left at 79 F to get going.

8/19/12 Brewed

Bob's Red Mill Flaked Spelt

Batch sparge, hit 171F. Collected 11.5 gallons of 1.038 wort.

Great protein break despite a lack of water adjustments.

Chilled to 90 F with ground water, then whirlpooled and switched to recirculating ice water. After 20 minutes it was down to 70 F. I racked out of the keggle, which resulted in really clear wort, but a one gallon loss. So only 4.5 gallons in each of the buckets.

Let the wort and starters sit at 66 F for two hours before oxygenating for 45 second and pitching the non-decanted starters. Left at the same temperature to begin fermenting.

24 hours after pitching I moved them out of the 66F room to my 75-77 F basement.

8/23/12 Up to 82 F ambient wrapped in a blanket, should be enough to really help it finish out.

10/18/12 Glad I split the wort, the Saison III is the standout. Despite finishing at 1.004 it has a decent body, slight tartness, and great balance. The Saison II is cidery, thin, and slightly fusel. Tasting notes.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

100% Brett Trois IPA Tasting

Unlike just 10 years ago, there are now a lot of American breweries and a lot of desire from us beer nerds to buy beers with unique flavors. Sadly, I think this has resulted in a number of breweries putting marketing before brewing. Releasing gimmicky beers that may convince people to buy them once “just to try it” that aren’t good enough to be purchased a second time.

I’m hoping one of the things Modern Times (shiny new website) will be known for is the sophistication of our flavor choices. You aren’t going to see any beers flavored like carrot cake. We won’t add chai tea to a Sahti just because the last syllable of the style sounds like “tea.” We also won’t be adding ingredients that sound good on the label, but aren’t noticeable in the glass. We’ll have a small pilot system, so we won’t be brewing 30 bbl (930 gallon) batches of beer that haven't been dialed in.

I’m not saying we won’t brew anything unique, weird, or controversial though. For example, I love mixing Brettanomyces and aggressive hopping. One of my biggest complaints about breweries combining sour or funky beers with aromatic hops is that many don’t do a good job. There are only two general methods that I think work. #1 Make a standard, low-hopped, sour/funky beer, let it age until the acid/ester profile is where you want it, then dry hop and serve quickly (New Belgium's Le Terroir is a great example of this method). #2 Brew a hoppy 100% Brett beer that can be packaged quickly (the New York collaborative Super Friends IPA, is my favorite of this breed). For this batch of 100% Brett Trois IPA it was less than five weeks between brewing and drinking a glass of fully carbonated, dry-hopped beer.

What makes a beer like this different than the commercial beers I poked fun at above? Well first of all it actually tastes good. I also selected ingredients with the final flavor in mind. I chose hops (Citra, Centennial, and Chinook) and a Brett strains (Trois/Drie) that have complementary flavor profiles. The resulting beer has a balance that combines characters from the wort and fermentation to give a wonderfully complex, tropical-fruit flavor.

Glowing glass of 100% Brett IPA.100% Brett Trois IPA

Appearance – Deep sunny yellow beer. There is a slight haze that causes the beer to glow in the early evening sun. The moderate white head doesn’t last very long, despite the wheat malt and hops.

Smell – The nose is almost straight tropical fruit juice. Mango and pineapple especially. Not a hint of grassiness. It is really difficult to tell where the hops end and the Brett begins. There is a slight hint of doughy wheat in the background.

Taste – Similar in its fruitiness to the aroma, but rather than the sweetness you’d expect from juice, it has a balanced bitterness of an IPA with a bare hint of tartness. The light bready flavor is there in the finish. Basically no “classic” horse-blanket Brett funk, but I think the fruitiness of the Brett primary fermentation works perfectly with the Citra, Centennial, and Chinook.

Mouthfeel – Dry, and on the thin side, but no more so than many West Coast IPAs. Solid carbonation.

Drinkability & Notes – Not the most complex IPA I’ve ever tasted, but certainly one of the most unique. Perfect hoppy beer for summertime drinking: quenching, refreshing, and fruity.

Monday, August 20, 2012

India Red Rye Ale Recipe

A brick of Indie Hops Cascades.
While it might sound similar to Founders Red's Rye on the surface, this Red Rye IPA shouldn’t share many flavor similarities. Unlike the other test batches I’ve brewed for Modern Times, this one was a bit further away from any of my previous recipes. (As an aside, Jacob is about to dive head-first into brewery site selection!) The only rye IPA I had brewed previously was Denny’s famous recipe. I didn’t really care for the combination of rye, Mt. Hood and Columbus hops in either my batch or the one my friend Scott brewed.

This Red Rye IPA is a continuation of our attempt to brew hoppy beers with a wide variety of characters. Citrus (Hoppy Wheat), Dank (Amber IPA), Classic “West Coast” (Pale Ale), and now spicy-grapefruit. I opted for the combination of Sterling and Cascade in a roughly equal ratio as both are assertive, but not nearly as much as some of the bold new varieties coming onto the market. The Cascade was a sample that Jacob obtained from Indie Hops. They have hyped their lower temperature pelletization, but these are whole hops. Sometimes their hops are available to homebrewers through Falling Sky Brewing.


While brewers often call rye “spicy” I’ve always sensed more of a toasty/earthy flavor. As step-mashes, to alleviate the sticky character of this grain, may prove challenging on the commercial system, I skipped the beta-glucan rest and kept the rye malt to under 20%. In addition I added both Fawcett Caramel Rye and Weyermann Chocolate Rye for additional dimension to the rye flavor. Along with the American pale base, I added melanoidin to enhance the malty character, and CaraRed to ensure a deep saturated red color. CaraRed didn't taste like a true caramel malt, my guess is that it is similar to Weyermann CaraAmber (which despite the name is toasted, and not a caramel/crystal malt). Depending on where CaraRed falls, this recipe may have a bit more caramel/crystal malt than I usually add to hoppy beers, but I had great results with last year’s India Red Ale which was brewed with 12% crystal malt.

Wort from my Red Rye IPA.After a few batches using my new chilling rig (March pump, to HopRocket, to Therminator) I have to say it was a breeze going back to my old immersion chiller and ice-water-recirculating pump for this brew. It takes a bit longer to chill, but using ice in this way is much more efficient than in a pre-chiller because the ice water keeps running through the chiller until it absorbs as much heat as it can.

This is the last hoppy beer I’ll be brewing for a few batches because I recently had two 5-gallon barrels arrive from Balcones Distillery that need to be filled, and then refilled relatively quickly. I also brewed my sixth batch of lambic last weekend, fermenting with a starter I made from six bottles of 3 Fonteinen gueuze (including all four of the phenomenal Armand’4 series), and you probably thought I’d forgotten the sorts of things this blog is known for?

India Red Rye Ale

Recipe Specifics
---------------------
Batch Size (Gal): 5.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 13.41
Anticipated OG: 1.063
Anticipated SRM: 13.3
Anticipated IBU: 73.9
Brewhouse Efficiency: 75 %
Wort Boil Time: 75 Minutes

Grain
-------
67.1% - 9.00 lbs. American Pale "2-row" Malt
18.6% - 2.50 lbs. Rye Malt
5.6% - 0.75 lbs. CaraRed
3.7% - 0.50 lbs. Crystal Rye
3.7% - 0.50 lbs. Melanoidin Malt
1.2% - 0.16 lbs. Chocolate Rye

Hops
-------
5 ml HopShot (Extract) @ 60 min.
1.00 oz. Sterling (Pellet, 7.50% AA) @ 20 min.
1.00 oz. Cascade (Whole, 5.75 AA) @ 15 min.
1.50 oz. Cascade (Whole, 5.75 AA) @ 0 min.
2.00 oz. Sterling (Pellet, 7.50% AA) @ 0 min.
2.50 oz. Cascade (Whole, 5.75 AA) @ Dry Hop
2.00 oz. Sterling (Pellet, 7.50% AA) @ Dry Hop

Extras
--------
0.75 Whirlfloc @ 10 min.
0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 10 min.

Yeast
-------
White Labs WLP001 California Ale

Water Profile
-----------------
Profile: Washington, Hoppy

Mash Schedule
-------------------
Sacch Rest - 60 min @ 150 F

Notes
-------
Brewed 8/5/12 by myself

Undiluted filtered DC water. This is a darker hoppy beer, so I didn't mind the high carbonate as much as I usually do. 6 g of gypsum and 3 g of CaCl added to the boil.

Collected 6.75 gallons of 1.060 runnings with a fly sparge that I ended up batching at the end out of concern for channeling.

Added the final dose of hops and waited 15 minutes before starting the chill, hop-standing. Used ground water to get the wort down to 95F, then switched to recirculated ice water. When I reached 66F I strained the 1.070 wort and diluted with .5 gallon of spring water to hit my target gravity.

Wort color looks darker than the expected ruby red, may look a bit lighter after fermentation.

Pitched 12 oz of loose yeast slurry from the Hoppy Wheat #2 harvested two weeks earlier (stored in the fridge, allowed to warm to 66F before pitching). Shook to aerate. Left at 66 F to start fermenting. Good activity by the following morning.

8/18/12 Racked into a flushed keg containing the sack of dry hops. Left at cellar temperature until a tap opens up. The color appears substantially lighter than the wort did, maybe even too light.

8/28/12 Removed the dry hops, and put on tap. Color looks a bit light, and it is really cloudy.

9/26/12 Tasting notes for this one. Really solid beer, I like the hop character, I just want it bolder. I like the maltiness, I'd just prefer it a bit drier.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Hoppy American Wheat #2 Tasting

When a recipe calls for a dry hop, what do you do? Add the hops to primary as fermentation slows (as Firestone Walker does)? Cold crash the yeast out of suspension before dry hopping at cellar temperature (like Russian River)? Add the hops to the serving vessel and let them sit in there until the beer is gone (as I do)? There are so many combinations of time and temperature, with each imparting their own unique character.

For this second batch of Hoppy American Wheat, I wanted to soften the impression of bitterness. While dry hopping does not add IBUs (heat is required to isomerize alpha acids), extended time on hops can add to the perceived level of bitterness. This can work well in a strong hoppy beer, but isn’t what I was looking for in this refreshingly citrusy beer. The result is a better balance than the first batch, more drinkable, with a brighter hop contribution.

This recipe is just about dialed in, not much left to change as far as I am concerned (good thing too as I'm out of Citra hops until the fall harvest).

A glass of my second attempt at a hoppy American wheat beer.Built On a Swamp #2

Appearance – Sticky white head, great retention. Vibrant, almost glowing, cloudy blond body. It is hard to imagine a more attractive wheat beer.

Smell – Fresh orange zest, and classic Amarillo fruitiness. It doesn’t have a hop aroma that leaps out of the glass and across the room like some of my other hoppy beers, but I like the lack of green “stemmy” hop aroma compared to extended keg hopping. This one should kick quickly enough that I won't miss the longevity of the hop aroma that keg hops provide.

Taste – The hops come through well in the mouth, saturated, but not aggressive. I think the hop-back really shines in a beer like this. The flavor has this wonderful lingering soft bready/doughy quality. The bitterness is really smooth, but still much more than you’d expect in a “standard” American wheat. Not much sweetness. Very clean fermentation, no noticeable off-flavors.

Mouthfeel – The body is surprisingly full and creamy for such a light beer. The first batch was slightly tannic, maybe from long contact with the hops. Carbonation adds a slight sparkle, especially in the finish, cleaning off the palate.

Drinkability & Notes – Close to my ideal summer session ale. This is the sort of beer that is dangerous on a hot summer day if you are thirsty. I could stand for a slightly stronger hop nose, but that was probably just because I didn’t weight the dry hop bag enough and a third of it floated above the surface of the beer.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Bottle Conditioning with Brett - Belgian Single

With all of the attention that both 100% Brett fermentations and sour beers receive, I wanted to revisit bottle conditioning with Brett. This is what Orval does to produce what Michael Jackson referred to as the "quintessential beer" and was also responsible for the batch Russian River's Vinnie Cilurzo refers to as his best, the original bottling of Redemption (only time will tell if his collaboration with Sierra Nevada, Brux Domesticated, ages as gracefully).

Over the years I’ve done a number of split-batch experiments. It started six years ago with a hop experiment, and continued with three sugar experiments, and a flavored (Frangelico, raspberry jam, cocoa/vanilla, and bourbon/coffee) oatmeal stout that for some reason I never posted about. Those batches all involved either splitting the wort during the boil, fermentation, or aging, which requires multiple one gallon jugs.

Adding Brett at bottling is something I was long wary of. The two common species of Brettanomyces used in brewing (anomalous/claussenii and bruxellensis/lambicus) both produce an enzyme that allows them to ferment carbohydrates (dextrins) up to nine glucose molecules long (brewer's yeast can only ferment chains up to three glucose molecules long - maltotriose). With too much residual gravity remaining the Brett will over-carbonated the beer given time, which can result in gushing or even bottle bombs. However, several brewers I've interviewed for the book (like Gabe Fletcher of Anchorage Brewing) swear that fermentation under pressure in the bottle is the key to creating a great aromatic Brett profile.

The results of my first attempt at dosing Brett at bottling, last year’s Belgian Single, were good enough to earn second place out of 55 entries in the first round of the NHC (and a spot at the mini-BOS in the final round). Even after close to a year at cellar temperature, the bottles with Brett are still not over-carbonated. The base recipe for this batch was nearly identical except for a small addition of wheat in the mash, and a slightly adjusted hop-bill. I really like the subtle fruity character of WLP500/WY1214 (the Chimay strain) fermented cool as a background to the funky Brett. It is important to warm up the beer toward the end of fermentation to ensure a complete fermentation though.

Four types of Brett B.
At bottling I split the batch five ways. 20% was capped without Brett, as a control. The remaining 80% was divided between White Labs Brett brux var. Trois (isolated from 3 Fonteinen), Wyeast Brett brux (most likely Orval), and two strains isolated from Cantillon by Jason Rodriguez of Brew Science. I added 10 drops of loose Brett slurry to each 12 oz bottle, and 20 to each bomber and 750. I used a dropper that I re-sanitized and then rinsed with sterile water between dosing each strain. It will be interesting to compare the flavors created by all these strains, but that won’t be for several months.

Odds are that all four of these Bretts are strains of the same species, Brettanomyces bruxellensis. However, just like California Ale and Abbey Ale are both Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Brett has a huge range of intraspecies variation. Hopefully in six months these five versions of the same beer will be a showcase for the range of characters Brett is capable of.

If you don’t follow Jason's blog, you should take a look. He has been doing some really interesting things, like isolating yeasts from a Brooklyn Brewery beers that was fermented with lees from a natural wine. The hunt is really just getting underway for the great strains of Brett at work in traditional wines and beers around the world. After the push towards single strain fermentations 100 years ago, microbiologist are once again becoming the most important people in the brewing world, but this time by bringing things back around to mixed fermentations.

Brett Finished Belgian Single

Dosing Brett into a bottle with a dropper.
Recipe Specifics
------------------
Batch Size (Gal): 5.25
Total Grain (Lbs): 8.00
Anticipated OG: 1.048
Anticipated SRM: 2.8
Anticipated IBU: 22.1
Brewhouse Efficiency: 82 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes

Grain
-------
93.8% - 7.50 lbs. German Pilsener
6.3% - 0.50 lbs. German Wheat Malt

Hops
-------
1.50 oz. Hallertauer Mittelfruh (Pellet, 3.00% AA) @ 60 min.
1.50 oz. Hallertauer Mittelfruh (Pellet, 3.00% AA) @ 5 min.

Extras
--------
0.25 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 min.
0.50 Whirlfloc @15 min.

Yeast
------
White Labs WLP500 Trappist Ale

Water Profile
----------------
Profile: Pale, Low Hop

Mash Schedule
-------------------
Protein 20 min @ 129 F
Sacch I 75 min @ 146 F
Sach II 20 min @ 156 F
Mash Out 15 min @ 165 F

Notes
-------
7/7/12 Made a .8 L starter for the yeast

7/8/12 Brewed by myself

2.8 g of CaCl and 1/2 tsp of phosphoric acid added to the mash water, which was 50% distilled 50% DC tap.

Batch sparged with 182 F water that included another 1/2 tsp of acid, stabilized at 170 F.

Chilled to 94 F, then switched to recirculating ice water to get it down to 66 F. Pitched starter, not decanted, pumped in 45 seconds of pure O2, left at 65 F ambient to start fermenting. Dropped to 62 F the next morning.

7/12/12 Up to 66 F

7/15/12 Up to 75 F, fermentation appears finished, but I want to make sure there are no simple fermentables left behind.

8/4/12 Down to 1.011 (about the same as the last batch of this beer). Bottled with 3.75 oz of table sugar.

Put all of the beer into bottles, then dosed some with Brett:

Capped:
"P" with no Brett
"WLT" with White Labs Brett Trois
"WYB" with Wyeast Brett B
"CB1" with Cantillon Brett 1 from Jason
"CB2" with Cantillon Brett 2 from Jason

Small bottles each got 10 drops of loose Brett culture, big bottles got 20 drops. Left at 75-80 F to bottle condition.

11/15/12 Tasting of all five version, CB2 and the Trois were my favorites. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Toasted Oatmeal Coffee Stout Tasting

A cool frothy mug of Coffee Stout.
While coffee stout was only invented some 20 years ago (maybe at New Glarus?), but roasted barley had been used as cheap filler for expensive coffee for centuries. As in fruit beers, I think coffee works best as a subtle addition to enhance flavors and aromas already present in a beer. When I drink coffee, it tends to be black and potent, but I don’t care for dark French/Italian roasts. That was my goal for this recipe, lots of coffee, but no acrid/charcoal. Full coffee aromatics with more (hop) bitterness than you might expect when so many coffee stouts go in a sugary direction. The oats were added to provide the full body people expect in a stout, without the sweetness of crystal malts.

As with the second batch of Dank-Amber IPA, I prefer this batch of Coffee Stout to the first. The coffee is a bit more subdued, the mouthfeel is more rounded, and the oats make a larger contribution. The next step for this beer will be trying to get similar flavors after switching to American 2-row and 001/1056, which will make it easier to brew when we have a silo of base-malt and plenty of yeast to repitch. From there we’ll just have to find a local roaster to work with, and dial in exactly how much coffee character we want.

Get Out of Bed Stout #2

Appearance – Nearly opaque brunette with a dense tan head suspended above. With all of the oats it isn’t an especially clear beer, but in a dark beer who really cares? It doesn’t look out of place in a coffee cup.

Smell – Freshly roasted coffee, chocolate, and French toast? Maybe it is the toasted oats and crystal malt coming though, adding a nutty/bready aroma. Great balance, the coffee is present, but doesn’t overwhelm the flavors of the base stout.

Taste – The coffee flavor comes through well, round and fresh. It is the primary flavor, but it mingles with the mocha character from the roasted barley and chocolate malt. Otherwise very clean, dropping the small late-boil addition was the right choice. Firm bitterness, but as with all of these HopShot beers it is not as sharp as the IBUs suggest.

Mouthfeel – Creamy body, low carbonation. Could be a bit fuller to meet the expectations of an oatmeal stout, but it is close lacking the tannic character of the first batch.

Drinkability & Notes – Even on a warm summer night this is easy to drink in quantity. The Country Choice toasted oats are not as potent as home-toasted oats would have been, but in this case I think it works well. There isn't much I'd change on this one, hopefully I can get similar results without the Maris Otter and English yeast.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Where do you buy most of your homebrewing ingredients?

The box that two 5-gallon barrels arrived in.Online/Catalog – 62%
Locally – 37%

There are lots of arguments that can be made both in favor and against buying brewing ingredients locally. You can talk quality, price, selection, economics, service, and environmentalism. However, brewing the best possible beer is my first priority as a homebrewer. I’d rather spend additional money or time if it means the beer I end up with is more delicious. I’m surprised to see such a wide margin of victory for online/catalog, but I count myself in that group.

One of the things I appreciate most about shopping online is the ability to get exactly what I want. When I visit a homebrew store I’m sometimes forced to make an on-the-spot recipe adjustment (You're out of WLP001?). When ordering online I can shop around until I find a store that carries everything I need. However, I’ve also run into situations where an online homebrew store has called me to say they are out of something I just ordered. It’s amazing to me that some websites don’t have an automatic inventory that updates when a product is sold out.

Until recently, shopping online was a big time saver for me because the closest homebrew store was about a half hour drive away (and I’m sure some of you are jealous of even that). A few weeks ago one opened a half mile from my house, so that is no longer a valid excuse. They are still small, but the fact that it is located in the tasting room of 3 Stars Brewing means that I'll probably find my way down there pretty regularly.

I'd include group bulk buys as non-local shopping, that is unless they are run through a homebrewing store. One of my friends arranges the purchase of a pallet of grain every few months (great deal for PBW as well). I also buy a lot of my hops by the pound from HopsDirect each fall, although I augment as the year goes on. I prefer to buy yeast local/fresh whenever possible, especially when it is cold or hot enough outside to harm the fragile fungus. The savings can be remarkable. Let’s take a look at a simple recipe for an IPA that calls for 12 lbs of malt and 12 oz of hops. Shopping at Maryland Homebrew I’d have to pay $21.60 ($1.80/lb) for American 2-row, and $30 (~$2.50/oz) for the hops, (call it $52 with yeast and a 10% homebrew club discount). Whereas ordering in bulk I’d pay closer to $.75/lb for malt and $1.00/oz for hops including shipping, for a total of $27 including yeast.

Having several hundred pounds of grain in my basement (not to mention the beer) also puts me in a good position to survive a societal collapse. Just make sure you store your grain well and keep the bugs out. My great-grandmother stockpiled flour and sugar after the shortages (and anti-German sentiment) during World War I, sadly by the time World War II rolled around it was infested and had to be dumped.

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