Sunday, March 30, 2008

Blending for Competitions

Recently I have been trying to make a more concerted effort to enter the monthly style competitions my homebrew club runs. However, since I rarely brew to style it is hard to get a helpful critique of my brewing. So for the last two months I have been blending two off-style beers together to get something that is closer to the classic style. I simply chill the bottles I want to blend for 24 hours in the fridge (cold liquids hold CO2 better), then pout them into chilled wetted bottles (wetting reduces the nucleation sites), this seems to hold the carbonation pretty well, and oxidation isn't an issue since I'm doing it the night before they'll be consumed (like a growler fill, fine for a few days if kept cold).

In January I blended my Funky Old Ale with a Wee Heavy that I did with a couple of my friends as a parti-gyle brew day. The Wee heavy was about a year old and very sweet with an FG around 1.030. I went with a 2:1 ratio of Wee Heavy to Old Ale. I thought this blend mellowed out the funkiness to an acceptable level and added enough sweetness to make it a more friendly beer. It did alright with an average score of 29. The judges comments are very positive, for example one says "This old ale makes a firm impression of the style." However, clearly the hint of Brett confused two of them slightly, although neither of them identified it. One judge thought the beer was over-the-hill and oxidized, while another thought it had some acetaldehyde and would improve with some age. I think both of these were just a misidentification of the flavor/aroma Brettanomyces contributes. Overall I was pleased with the comments and the fact that I was one of the 4 beers that made it to the best in show table out of 16 beers, pretty good considering neither of the beers could have passed as an Old Ale on their own.

For February I blended my Scandinavian Imperial Porter and a second runnings "leftovers" porter I did with a few friends a couple months back. I entered it as a Baltic Porter, with a 2:1 ratio of regular porter to imperial. Again it did pretty well with an average score of 32. Some of the descriptors used include cherry, prune, chocolate, clean, and roasted. I got dinged for having low carbonation, which I expected because the Scandinavian Imperial Porter is pretty close to flat. The only really confusing comment is that it lacked complexity, and that I should "try more variety in the grain bill," each of the beers contained about 10 malts, probably the two most complex grain bills I have every used. I believe that blending two beers can either grow or destroy complexity, as I saw in my blended tasting subtle changes in the ratio can really change the flavor of the blend.

I wouldn't suggest this method for beers that will sit around for awhile before they are judged, the pouring does oxide the beer which will end up giving off flavors over time. You could certainly do taste tests though, blending a couple bottles and trying one every week or so to see how much of a problem oxidation would be.

My time of poking fun at judges will also be coming to an end soon as I'll be taking the BJCP exam in June. I am lucky that my club is running a prep class, it will be interested to see how much harder blind "flight" judging to style is than drinking something on its own and just determining if I like it or not.

Look for more of these blended reviews as time passes, it seems like a fun way to get something in a competition. This summer I will be doing a large pre-bottling blending of several sour beers that should have enough age on them, really looking forward to that.

How many batches of beer have you brewed?

How many batches of beer have you brewed?

0 11 (5%)

1-10 59 (29%)

11-30 57 (28%)

31-100 52 (25%)

100+ 23 (11%)

Looks like a good mix of experience levels.

The number of beers I've personally brewed is 67 if you count my split batches as only one beer. That's an average of a brew every 2.5 weeks since I started brewing , not too shabby. That doesn't include helping out on other people's brew days, or other fermented beverages. If you want to be generous and count each part of a split batch separately then the number of distinct beers I've made it is about 89.

In my experience the number of beers brewed or time as a brewer isn't an accurate gauge of brewing experience. I think the amount of time you spend researching, and thinking about each batch is just as important. If you are brewing a beer a week, but just using a recipe you found in a book or online without really understanding the why of each ingredient and step, how much are you really learning? If you put a lot of effort into making a beer, but don't take the time to write down what you've done, how much of the experience are you retaining? I'm guessing most of the people who read this blog like to read and think about beers, and half the reason I started this thing was to force myself to take better notes on brew days and tasting which I hope will make me a better brewer.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Hoppy American Tripel

I've always found Tripels a bit boring, big on alcohol, but without the complexity to make it worthwhile. That changed when I tried Xtra Gold from Captain Lawrence, I was blown away by the marriage of a complex Belgian yeast character to the aroma of American hops. There are several other breweries in both Belgium and American doing similar things including Russian River, De Rull├ęs, and d'Achouffe. In my case I kept the bitterness much lower than so called Belgian IPAs, I aimed for a similar balance in terms of bitterness and sweetness to Westmalle Tripel, while trying to enhance the late hop character.

The original yeast I pitched, 3787 (Westmalle) petered out, so I ended up adding some US-05 to get the gravity down. The beer ended up being tasty, but a bit sweeter than I wanted even at 84% apparent attenuation.

If I were to brew this again I would swap out most of the Belgian pale for more Belgian pils as the color was a bit darker than I wanted. I would also lower the Amarillo dry hop to .25 oz, it was just too assertive when the beer was young. To help it dry out more I would lower the mash temp to 148. Finally I would ferment a bit warmer to prevent the yeast from quitting on me so early, I would not go higher than the mid-70's as I don't want the yeast to be too assertive.

Hoppy American Tripel

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 3.75
Total Grain (Lbs): 11.88
Anticipated OG: 1.087
Plato: 20.99
Anticipated SRM: 5.3
Anticipated IBU: 36.3
Brewhouse Efficiency: 68 %
Wort Boil Time: 93 Minutes

6.31 lbs. Belgian Pilsener
3.94 lbs. Belgian Pale Malt
1.38 lbs. Table Sugar
0.25 lbs. Wheat Malt

All Whole
0.50 oz. Cascade @ 63 min.
0.50 oz. Crystal @ 63 min.
0.50 oz. Sterling @ 63 min.
0.25 oz. Crystal @ 15 min.
0.25 oz. Cascade @ 15 min.
0.25 oz. Sterling @ 15 min.
0.38 oz. Crystal @ 0 min.
0.38 oz. Cascade @ 0 min.
0.38 oz. Sterling @ 0 min.
0.50 oz. Amarillo @ Dry Hop

0.50 Unit(s) Whirlfloc @ 10 Min
0.25 Tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 10 Min

WYeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity

Mash Schedule
60 min@ 150
15 min @ 160

Brewed 10/28/07 with James

Diluted 4.5 gallons of DC Tap with 4 gallons of distilled water. Added 3 g CaCl, 1 g gypsum, and 1 g Epsom salts. Added 1 tsp of phosphoric acid to the sparge water to get the pH down.

6 gallons of runnings collected, 1.061 with sugar added.

Lost lots of wort to the hops, but the gravity came out right about where I wanted it (1.087).

Chilled to 74, strained out the hops and put it into a 62 degree fridge to drop down cooler. After about 5 hours, I gave it 60 seconds of O2, and pitched about 1/2 cup of thick slurry from the dubbel (harvested a few hours earlier and held at 62).

10/31/07 Upped ambient temp to 64 because fermentation seems to be slowing down.

11/1/07 Up to 65

11/02/07 Up to 66, still looks like there is some activity, nice thick krausen.

11/05/07 Took a gravity reading, still a depressing 1.040 (54% AA). Raised the temp to 72. Looks like there is still a good deal of yeast in suspension, and there is still a small krausen. Hopefully the higher temp will help.

11/08/07 Raising the temp seems to have accelerated the fermentation, 1.030 (66% AA)

11/09/07 Added 4 grams of US-05 straight on top of the remnants of the krausen, just to make sure it finishes nice and dry.

11/12/07 Finally getting there, 1.018 (79% AA, 9.2% ABV), may drop a few more points as there seems to still be a good deal of yeast in suspension.

11/15/07 Transfered to secondary

11/17/07 Tastes good after a few days of cold conditioning, FG around 1.016

11/27/07 Temp upped to 57 to allow the Avant Garde Clone to ferment.

12/01/07 Temp up to 60 for Avant Garde

12/02/07 Took out of the freezer and added the dry hops, in another week I'll bottle.

12/05/07 Took a sample, down to 1.014 (84% AA, 9.7% ABV)! Great hop character, dry hops taste very fresh. This should be a winner. Color might be a hair dark, sort of golden-orange.

12/09/07 Bottled with 3.25 oz of cane sugar. got just under 3 gallons of yield

12/15/07 Decent carbonation, great hop flavor, Amarillo has mellowed a bit and let some complexity through.

1/5/08 Tastes a bit too sweet and the hops are still covering up much of the yeast flavor. Carbonation should be a bit higher as well.

Hops continued to mellow and the beer continued to dry out over the next few months.

2/02/09 1st Tasting

Based on Xtra Gold and Damnation 23:

Xtra Gold (10% abv)
Belgian Pils
Simcoe, Sterling, Cascade, Crystal, Dry hopped w/Amarillo
OG 22
IBU 33

Damnation 23 (11% abv)
We turned our regular Damnation recipe into a Tripel. It is bittered with Tomahawk and has Sterling and Cascade in the mid-boil and finish. The beer was then aged on new American oak chips for two to three weeks.