Saturday, March 28, 2009

Book Review: Extreme Brewing

Extreme Brewing is the first homebrewing book written by Sam Calagione, the founder of the Dogfish Head Brewery. It tries to jump first time brewers right into making “extreme” beers bypassing the similar recipes that most other books recommend. Extreme beers includes using sugars, fruits, wood, high gravity, bacteria/Brett, and other ideas that the Dogfish Head has pioneered the use of.

Content: Like many of the homebrewing books I have reviewed this one is divided into two sections, with the first covering ingredients and process, and the second recipes.

The first chapter covers the basic ingredients that go into making beer. It just talks about malt, hops, water and yeast, giving them a good general overview for someone who has never brewed before. The gem of this chapter is a two page inset from Vinnie at Russian River on dry hopping that is well worth a read for any hophead.

The second chapter covers the equipment that the new homebrewer will need to buy. Sam does a good job covering most of the essentials and gives a little blurb about why each item is important. My major complaint here is that he is getting you ready to do full 5 gallon boils, but does not bother to mention wort chillers. Not that a wort chiller is an absolute must with full boils, but it would have been nice to see it discussed as an option.

The third chapter goes through a 26 step (A-Z) process for making your first batch of beer. I find it a bit odd that a 1.072 brown ale with nearly 3 lbs of sugar was selected for a first recipe. The actual process outlined seems fine, but the idea that you should encourage someone to brew such an “extreme” beer on their first try (before they master yeast starters, fermentation temperature control, and basic process) seems like a recipe for rocket fuel (fusels).

The fourth chapter covers many of the oddball ingredients that DFH is known for using. It looks at spices, herbs, fruit, wood, and has a brief paragraph about using wild yeast/bacteria. There are some pretty interesting ingredients covered including St. John's Wort, Arctic Cloud Berries, and Chicory. The suggestion for just about all the fruit is to add them at the end of the boil for a pasteurizing steep. I tend to like adding fruit in secondary, but adding it to the boil is certainly a safer method.

The final chapter before the recipes covers a brief overview of a handful of beer styles, and beer tasting tips. The styles looked at are a mix of BJCP and general beer slang (like Strong Ales). The tasting tips are pretty good, covering the ways your five senses can be used when evaluating a beer.

After the beer recipes there are is a final chapter with ideas for food pairings and recipes for using beer to make other sorts of food. There are some interesting ideas, pears poached in beer, a stout/chocolate reduction for ice cream. I haven't tried any of these yet, but it is a nice addition to the book.

Recipes: The Mo’ Betta Bretta clone is the only recipe I have brewed out of this book, and my version was converted to all-grain and tweaked. There is a good section about using Brett by Tomme Arthur at Lost Abbey included with the recipe as well. I have also sampled a few recipes that others have brewed from this book and haven’t been particularly impressed so far, but I have heard other people report good results.

There are four chapters of recipes covering ales, lagers, unique, and commercial beers. Many of the recipes are based on classic styles, but with an interesting twist (Molasses Marzen, Blood Orange Hefeweizen, or Peppercorn Rye Bock), while others are just higher gravity versions of existing styles (Imperial Pale Ale, Imperial Pilsner, and "14% ABV" Barleywine).

The commercial recipes cover a few Dogfish Head classics (60 Minute, Midas Touch, Raison D'etre, and India Brown Ale), as well as some contributions from Sam’s brewer buddies (Hopfather from Russian River, a Wit from Allagash, and an Imperial Stout from Avery). How accurately these recipes are scaled/converted from their commercial counterparts is up in the air. For example the Mo’ Betta Bretta Clone neglects to mention the lactobacillus that was used to sour a portion of the wort.

The recipes in Extreme Brewing are almost exclusively extract with steeped grain with one or two partial mash recipes. I would like to have seen an all-grain equivalent included for each recipe. The recipes are already formulated for people who can do 5 gallon boils. That being said most of the novel ideas and recipes could pretty easily be translated to all-grain by anyone with brewing software and/or a good general knowledge of recipe construction.

As this book is aimed at beginners each recipe contains a pretty full walk though of each step in the brewing process. This may be good for people just starting out, but it makes searching for the process details a bit more time consuming for the experienced brewer.

Accuracy: I have issues with quite a few of the book's recommendations, for example: steeping oats, rye and base malts (they need starch conversion), using clear candi sugar (same thing as table sugar, but much more expensive), aging a beer with ¼ pound of American oak for 3 to 4 months (wow that’s a lot of oak character), and using dark extracts (light extract and grains usually gives better results and more control). He also adds 2 tsp of gypsum to almost every recipe regardless of style and without telling people to check their water (a classic Papazian-esque maneuver). In addition he says some things that are downright untrue, such as lambics must have 30% unmalted barley. There are also some editorial errors, like a large section of the directions missing from the Sour Cherry Ale recipe.

His math is also screwy in a couple places. For example his Dema Goddess Ale starts from an OG of 1.100 and ends up at 14-16% ABV with the addition of just 11 oz of sugar during incremental feedings. 11 oz of sugar would add about .006 to the OG, which means the beer would need to get down below 1.000 to get to even the low end of the ABV scale.
Readability: It is a very easy book to read with loads of great pictures. The language is very simple, with very few advanced concepts. The book does cover a wide variety of topics, so it would be a pretty interesting read for someone just getting into the hobby (sadly you'd need to get another book to read more if any of the topics really struck a chord with you). If you aren’t careful you can polish off the entire book (including the recipes) in about two hours.

There are some charts and insets which are nice, but often they are located a few pages off from where they should be. For example a blurb about dried yeast appears a couple pages after the yeast section. In several cases there is a chart next to a photo on the same topic (e.g brewing herbs/spices), but the chart and picture don't have many of the same items in common. It almost seems like the creation of the photos and charts were not coordinated like they should have been.

I’d say pick up Extreme Brewing if you really love DFH, or want a coffee table book with loads of pretty beer pictures to look at. I just don’t think it accomplishes the goal it sets out of making extreme brewing accessible to the extract brewer. In the end the book reads like someone took Complete Joy of Home Brewing and Radical Brewing, ripped out 90% of the information and stuck in some photos. Radical Brewing covers all of the same topics but goes into far greater detail and has a multitude of things that this book lacks.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Caramel Ice Cider Collaboration

One of my favorite things about the homebrewing community is the camaraderie. Whether at a homebrew club, on an internet forum, or hanging out with friends, homebrewers love to get together and talk about their hobby. Talking about process and flavors is one thing, but when you get the chance to collaborate with another brewer (as so many pro-brewers seem to have recently discovered) that is when the fun really starts.

It was over on a thread at the Burgundian Babble Belt that SteveG (who runs the site) struck upon the idea of blending his sweet strong cider (which was concentrated by boiling pre-fermentation) with my champagne like ice cider. He figured that the dry finish in my cider would help cut through the syrupiness of his cider, and the residual sugars in his would fill my cider out.

Here are the details on Steve's batch:
My first go got up to about 1.115, though I don't have a gravity on batch 2. I reduced 5 gallons to 2.5, pitched some fermenting cider to inoculate then set out to reduce down another 5. Plus there was the 2 doses of "crystal" that went from 2.5 gallons to 20 oz. Anyway, I filled the carboy over the better part of a week, fermentation was going very well so there was no point where I could have taken a reliable gravity reading. I will say though the syrup I made appeared to reduce more than the previous batch, it was bubbly and caramel-like in texture. I would have to guess that if anything, batch two has 5 or 10 points on batch 1.

Steve shipped me two bombers of his cider to blend with mine. After a couple sample blends I carefully transferred (poured) his cider into a growler along with three 12 oz bottles of my ice cider and one of my regular cider. After a few weeks of sitting (just in case there was any more fermentation from the champagne yeast in mine working on the sugars in his) I bottled the blend with 1/2 tsp of table sugar per bottle for carbonation.

The resulting blend (although still uncarbonated) is better than the sum of its parts. The balance of sweetness and acidity is wonderful, and the alcohol (which I believe is around 10% ABV) is nowhere to be tasted. The sad thing about all of this is that it only netted us three bottles each. I'll certainly be playing with making my own caramel apple syrup next fall. I'll do a full tasting once it is carbonated.

Tasting of the blend 9/30/09

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Book Review: Brewing Classic Styles

First off I'll admit that I am a big fan of the Jamil Show and How to Brew, both Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmer consistently give great information and clearly know their styles. Brewing Classic Styles is a distillation of what was covered over the first three year run of the Jamil Show; it does not go into the same level of detail as the podcasts did, but it is much easier to find information in here than it would be to go back through the show's archive.

It seems like after Brew Like a Monk there was a bit of a lull in good homebrew books. This one is the most recently published brewing book on my shelf having come out just about a year ago.

Brewing Classic Styles is a great book for someone who knows how to homebrew and wants tested recipes that will do well in competition. It is also a great book for someone just starting out. At that stage of your brewing career you should be using reliable recipes so that you can be sure any off flavors are a result of your system/technique and not your recipe.

Content: The book starts out with a mini-version of How to Brew. It covers each of the major beer ingredients (hops, malt, water, yeast, and malt extract). This section contains some great charts. I really like the hop substitution chart which groups hops into categories which are acceptable to interchange.

Next is basic coverage of how to brew extract beers. It is distilled down to the point of being a slightly more complex version of the instructions that come with beer kits. It really focuses on how to brew great beers without adding much about why these techniques work. That said it has some great suggestions, to the point that I almost want to give doing an extract beer a try again to see how it compares after years of pretty much just brewing all-grain.

There is a section that spells out every assumption made in writing the recipes. Including efficiency, hop form, etc... This is very nice as many brewers will need to tweak the recipes for some combination of efficiency, boil-off rate, boil volume, and fermenter size.

Next comes a brief section on lagers. Essentially it just covers the suggested fermentation and aging regimens. I wholeheartedly agree with their advice to pitch the yeast cold which goes against the "classic" homebrew technique of pitching warm and then dropping the temperature.

Most of the rest of the book is structured just like the BJCP Style Guidelines. Each chapter covers a group of styles, with a section for each substyle. The coverage of each of the style includes a short write-up that talks about the style overall, an explanation of the key points in brewing each substyle, and sometimes the story behind the recipe.

The last section of the book covers a few more odds and ends. This includes a section on Jamil's favorite topics, yeast pitching rates. It also goes over steeping specialty grains, and partial mashing.

Recipes: It is easy enough to find a tried and true American Pale Ale or Russian Imperial Stout in most homebrew books, but where else will you find an award winning recipe for Roggenbier, English IPA, or Belgian Blond? These more obscure beers are more interesting anyway because most of us haven't brewed them.

The 80 recipes in Brewing Classic Styles are sort of the opposite of the way Radical Brewing handles its recipes. Every detail is spelled out (exact yeast strains, fermentation temperature, boil time, very specific/obscure malts). It is a book that encourages hitting a target, not going off on your own to explore how to best suit a beer to your pallet.

Most of the recipes are given as extract plus stepping grain with an all-grain option at the end. This strikes me as an odd setup as it is the all-grain version of each recipe that Jamil used to win his many medals. The extract recipes are just numerical conversions, many of which he had not even brewed. I understand that they are trying to make the book accessible to new brewers, but it still rubs me the wrong way to have to mentally apply the all-grain option at the bottom of the page to the extract recipe.

I have to say that most of the recipes I have brewed out of this book (American Brown, Flanders Red, and Munich Helles) have been solid, but not spectacular. When trying to win a competition you want to land your beer right in the middle of the style so that no judge would deem it "out of style." As a result the recipes tend to be a bit bland, the pale ales aren't too hoppy, the sour beers aren't too sour, the stouts aren't too roasty etc... This may be desirable in a competition, but it isn't necessarily what I am looking for in my homebrew.

I feel that there is a lack of imagination for the BJCP categories that are more open (Other Smoked, Specialty, Belgian Specialty, Fruit etc...). For example his Robust Porter recipe is reused as a Smoked Robust Porter, Chocolate Hazelnut Robust Porter, Vanilla Robust Porter, and Raspberry Robust Porter. I also would have liked to see something besides an Orval clone as a Belgian Specialty.

There are a few substyles that get two recipes, (Russian Imperial Stout, American Brown Ale, and Schwarzbier). The alternate recipe is generally a bit bigger/bolder, but not quite as "to style" as the regular option.

Accuracy: It is hard to talk about the accuracy of a book like this because most of its claims revolve around opinions about what makes a beer that will do well in competition. He is not claiming to be reporting clone recipe or history (although there are a few clones in there), just what has worked for him in making award winning beers. The sections at the beginning and end are fine, but since they are aimed at new brewers there isn’t much in the way of controversial topics covered.

Concise, well written, and interesting. The organization is great, having each recipe in its own short chapter makes this book easy to reference and search through. That said it makes for a book that you really wouldn't want to read cover to cover.

Overall: It is a perfect first or second homebrew book. It is also a great starting point for your first foray into any style, or for making an interesting base beer to experiment with. After reading through it you will definitely pick up some great information, but really it is just a recipe repository for making Jamil beers. Not that there is anything wrong with his beers, but I love homebrewing because of the creativity and exploration of flavors, not just to make beers that do well in competition.

My real concern is that having loads of people brewing the same recipes will narrow the style guidelines when I feel they should be expanded. If there are 8 beers in a flight and 5 of them used very similar recipes/techniques which 3 beers do you think will be the first ones eliminated for being out of style compared to the other ones?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sour Butternut Squash Ale

Sometimes you try a beer that really broadens your perception of what you can do with an ingredient. I am normally not much of a fan of the "standard" pumpkin ale formula (amber, heavily spiced, not much actual pumpkin flavor), but last year my friend Scott shared a bottle of Alpine's Ichabod with me. Ichabod is a pumpkin beer that is made as a different style each year, the 2007 version we had was wine barrel aged for several months with a dose of Brettanomyces.

A sour pumpkin beer may sound like a way out there idea, but for fall 2008 both Jolly Pumpkin (La Parcela) and Allagash (Drunken Promise) did sour/funky pumpkin ales as well. Sadly I have not had the pleasure of trying either of them. It is nice to see several breweries going off the beaten path on a style that normally has so little variation.

I couldn't get much information on Ichabod, so this recipe is not a clone. For the base beer I just came up with a recipe for a malty Belgian brown/red of my own design. The base malt was pils, with some Munich and melanoidin for bready maltiness. I added some wheat and flaked barley for body and head retention. The grist was rounded out with two types of crystal malt for residual sweetness and flavor, and a bit of carafa for color.

Pumpkin was out of season when I wanted to brew, so I decided to use butternut squash instead (butternut squash tastes better and is easier to work with than pumpkin anyway). I was amazed that my 3.75 lb squash

(after it was seeded, peeled, cubed, and roasted) yielded only about 1.5 lbs to add to the mash.

I may add some more to the secondary fermenter at some point if the beer doesn't have much squash flavor.

For spices I went with classic fall choices, nutmeg and cinnamon. I think nutmeg in particular pairs well with the flavor of squash. I wanted the spices in a supporting role (there is so much going on in this beer as it is), so I just added a couple grams of each. As always it is easier to add more spices later than deal with an over-spiced beer.

The beer was pitched onto the yeast cake from the Funky Flower, so it should get pretty sour. I added 1 oz of medium toast oak cubes which had been soaking in cognac since last summer. I also added a cup of wine to help simulate wine barrel aging. I am hoping that the squash, spices, oak, and bacteria/yeast combine to make a complex autumnal flavor. This one should be ready to bottle by late fall, but it is really up to the yeast/bacteria to decide.

Sour Squash

Recipe Specifics (All-Grain)
Batch Size (Gal): 5.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 13.19
Anticipated OG: 1.067
Anticipated SRM: 16.7
Anticipated IBU: 17.4
Brewhouse Efficiency: 71 %
Wort Boil Time: 120 Minutes

7.00 lbs. German Pilsener
2.00 lbs. Munich Malt
1.56 lbs. Butternut Squash
1.00 lbs. Wheat Malt
0.50 lbs. Crystal 90L
0.50 lbs. Crystal 55L
0.25 lbs. Flaked Barley
0.25 lbs. Melanoidin Malt
0.13 lbs. Carafa Special II

0.63 oz. Amarillo @ 60 min.

2.00 gm Cinnamon @ 0 min.
1.00 gm Nutmeg @ 0 min.
1.00 oz Medium Toast French Oak Beans in secondary

WYeast 1056 + dregs (La Folie +Russian River)

Water Profile
Profile: Washington DC

Mash Schedule
90 min. @ 156

2/27/09 Peeled, cubed, and roasted a 3.75 lb butternut squash. 45 min @ 400 F. The pieces ended up soft, with brown spots, and a sweet aroma (and only 1 lb 9 oz).

2/28/09 Brewed by myself

Added the squash to the mash in chunks. Collected 7.5 gallons of 1.047 wort. Cinnamon was jarred, nutmeg was fresh grated.

Pitched onto the whole yeast/bacteria cake from the sour honey wheat beer that was brewed two weeks earlier.

3/14/09 Racked to secondary. Added 1 oz of oak cubes soaked in cognac. Also poured in a cup of J. Lohr Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon. Volume about 4.75 gallons.

3/21/09 Small pellicle starting to form. The sample I pulled tastes pretty good, some spice and wine/oak flavors evident, and maybe a hint of squash.

8/09/09 Added a bit of Primere Cuvee for eventual carbonation.

2/10/10 Bottled with 3.25 oz of cane sugar.  Final gravity 1.012, surprisingly high for how sour the beer tastes.  Dry hopped 6 bottles with 2 Citra cones and 1 Simcoe cone.

3/16/10 First tasting of the dry hopped version.  It is good, but I should have reviewed it earlier when the hops were fresher.

Didn't do too well in the 2010 NHC, judges wanted more spice/quash flavor and aroma.

5/6/10 First tasting of the plain version.  Very tasty, lots of sourness pretty complex.  I don't think it needs more spice/squash (both are just over threshold).

6/9/10  Last bottle of the dry hopped version.  Not what it once was, but still pretty tasty.  That hops have gotten a bit grassy, not too surprising after 4 months on them in the bottle.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Book Review: Principles of Brewing Science

George Fix's classic work Principles of Brewing Science is about the science behind brewing beer. If you are the sort of brewer who wants to understand the "why" behind each step of the brewing process, then this is the book for you. It probably won't make your beer taste much better and it isn't a fun or inspiring read, but it might make you more focused on small the small details of your process that you might have otherwise overlooked.

Each chapter covers a different aspect of the brewing process.

Malt and Mashing. This section starts with a discussion of water, including the impact of various ions on brewing. This section reads like a chemistry textbook, explaining how the various dissociation reactions function. Fix talks at length about how the various ions and acids affect mash pH and mashing in general.
Next the composition of malt is analyzed, this includes carbohydrates, protein, phenols, sulfur compounds (like SMM>DMS), and finally other trace elements. He finishes up this chapter by looking at what happens chemically to barley as it goes through the malting process and into the mash (which he explains as an extension of malting).

Most interesting topic - Sour Mashes

Wort Boiling. This is where hops are covered, particularly the chemistry behind the isomerization of their alpha-acids into stable iso-alpha-acids. Light struck flavors, hop oils, and other hop compounds are also looked at. The rest of the chapter talks about the other processes taking place during the boil, Maillard reactions, protein coagulation, and DMS reduction.

Most interesting topic - First Wort Hopping

Fermentation. This section tells you everything you could want to know about yeast. From what metabolic pathways they use during fermentation, to the stages of growth.
The rest of this chapter talks about various spoilage microbes. This includes, wild yeast (including superattenuators, and Brettanomyces), and bacteria (including Lactobacillus, Pediococcus, and loads of others I had never heard of because they aren't big players in sour beers).

Most interesting topic -Lactic Acid Bacteria

Oxidation. The causes of and solutions to oxidation are the focus here. Honestly I agree with him that oxidation is a issue for commercial breweries (although maybe not as much as it sounds like it was 10-20 years ago), but I don't think it is a big issue for most homebrewers. He covers common (and less common) oxidation inhibitors (like metabisulfite and vitamin C). He then goes through a variety of compounds present in beer to talk about what happens to each one when it oxidizes.

Most interesting topic -Hot-Side Aeration

Beer Stabilization. This chapter is about how to get your beer to be as stable as possible after it is packaged. The main focus is on attaining clear beer. First it looks at the causes behind cloudy beer, then at the solutions. A wide variety of methods are
looked at including various fining, cold conditioning, and filtration techniques.

Most interesting topic - Freeze Stabilization

Gases. This section mainly looks at carbonation. This is one of the densest sections, covering the various laws that govern how gasses interact with liquids. It finishes with a discussion of how to figure out the correct serving pressure for kegged beer.

Most interesting topic - Head Space Oxygen

I have a hard enough time absorbing all of the information, let alone trying to find inaccuracies. That said it was written 10 years ago, so I would imagine that some information does not reflect the very latest brewing science (although I doubt much has changed on the homebrew level).

He does occasionally have some advice that I don't agree with, such as that overnight mashes can lead to erratic results (from bacterial contamination).
It also bothers me that it seems like half of the citations in the book are to his own papers. I realize that this is the way science works, but it still seems a bit excessive.

There are no recipes or even discussion of recipe development.

This is the driest brewing book I own, but for the most part it is at a level that you can understand if you really sit down and concentrate. I do wish each chapter included a brief plain English summary with the key suggestions spelled out for quick reference. The way the book is set up you sometimes need to read an entire chapter to find the piece of information you are looking for.

Overall: It is worth having on hand if a brewing science question comes up, but I don't think I retained much from reading it cover to cover. At this point there are very few revelations left in it. Many other books have distilled out the key details and figured out the techniques that take advantage of them. I would only suggest this book if you have a passion for science and find other homebrew books to be lacking in this department.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Hoppy Brown Ale (India Brown Ale)

I based the recipe off of Janet's Brown (a Mike McDole recipe) in Brewing Classic Styles, but I tweaked it a bit. I backed down on the crystal and carapils because I felt that at 10% each it would be too sweet/thick for my taste in a hoppy daily drinker. I also fine tuned the hops and malts to match what I had on hand. I'm still working through the last of my 2007 hops, I bought mostly American hops when the hop shortage first started, but ended up brewing mostly European inspired beers for the last year.

This recipe has 7.33 oz of hops in just 3.5 gallons of beer. It had hops in the mash, three boil additions, and dry hops. All of the hops were Cascade pellets from Hops Direct except the Centennials for dry hops. The general idea of the recipe is that the crystal and high (154) mash temp balance out the huge hop kick better than a dry IPA. As a result a beer with a 1:1 bitterness to gravity ratio drinks like a less hoppy beer.

I am not a big fan of the Centennials from Freshops, they tend to taste a bit more herbal than I like my American hops. I've loved all the other varietals of hops I've gotten from them (and I love Bell's Two Hearted, an all-Centennial beer), but have now had issues with two different orders/vintages of Freshops Centennials. In this case though they blend pretty well with the dark malt, but it still isn't exactly what I was aiming for.

Tasting 3/09/09

Appearance – Dark brown, bordering on black. Nice thick rocky tan head. Good head retention, the carapils and the crystal certainly responsible for this. Any darker and I would say it was a porter, but I think it still qualifies as an American Brown.

Smell – Fruity (apricot?) hops, with considerable dank/herbal notes. The hop character is more reminiscent of Columbus than Centennial/Cascade to me, not as bright as I was hoping/hopping for. Slightly toasty, chocolaty, bready malt contribution, but the hops conceal it for the most part.

Taste – Bitterness shines over the malt sweetness, but not by much. The high mash temp and crystal malt certainly did their job, balancing out the big hop bill. There is a hint of chocolate with a touch of charcoal.

Mouthfeel – Medium bodied, with medium carbonation. Glad it attenuated as well as it did, not as thick as I was anticipating.

Drinkability & Notes – Complex, but still balanced enough to drink easily. The malt balances out the hops, but it also makes this a less of a hop bomb than an equally hopped IPA. I made a mistake going with the Centennials, I should have used the Amarillo or Simcoe I have in the freezer.

Hoppy American Brown

Recipe Specifics (All-Grain)
Batch Size (Gal): 3.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 9.92
Anticipated OG: 1.063
Anticipated SRM: 22.8
Anticipated IBU: 64.5
Brewhouse Efficiency: 61 %
Wort Boil Time: 105 Minutes

7.25 lbs. Maris Otter
0.84 lbs. Cara-Pils Dextrine Malt
0.84 lbs. Crystal 40L
0.66 lbs. Wheat Malt
0.34 lbs. English Chocolate Malt

1.50 oz. Cascade Mash Hop
1.50 oz. Cascade @ 60 min.
1.50 oz. Cascade @ 10 min.
1.50 oz. Cascade @ 0 min.
1.33 oz. Centennial @ Dry Hop

0.25 Tsp Yeast Nutrient @15 Min.
0.50 Whirlfloc @ 15 Min.

WYeast 1056 American Ale/Chico

Water Profile
Profile: Washington DC

Mash Schedule
60 min @ 154

Brewed 1/19/09 by myself

Starter made 36 hours before it was pitched (never got a krausen, but it produced a head when swirled), crash chilled for 8 hours before pitching.

Batch sparged, collected 6 gallons of 1.040 wort.

2007 cascade pellets from hops directed adjusted down from 4.8% AA.

Boiled down to 3.5 gallons, chilled to 66, strained to remove as much hop matter as possible, let sit for 20 minutes, then transferred to the better bottle (lost .5 G to trub), pitched ~1 qrt of starter (which smelled a bit odd) left at room temp around 74, cooled quickly to mid/high 60s with an open window.

1/29/09 Racked to secondary onto the dry hops (which I had rehydrated in 1 cup of 150 degree water for 5 minutes).

2/06/09 Bottled with 2 1/8 oz of cane sugar. Gravity ~1.014 (6.4% ABV, 78% AA). I am surprised by the high attenuation despite the hot mash and 16% crystal malt.

6/13/09 Scored 27/30/30 at the SoFB. The judges were split two thought it was too hoppy, one not hoppy enough.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Book Review: Farmhouse Ales

Farmhouse Ale: Culture and Craftsmanship in the Belgian Tradition by Phil Markowski covers the rustic styles of Bière de Garde and Saison (as well as other related styles). It is from the same excellent series of books on Belgian Brewing as Wild Brews and Brew Like a Monk (although each was written by a different author).

Markowski was the right man for the book as the Saisons and Bière de Garde that he produces at Southampton Publik House are some of the best American examples available (such as their Bière de Mars, French Country Christmas Ale, and Sasion). Aside from making great "to style" beers he also embodies the Belgian spirit with beers like Cuvee des Fleurs (a saison flavored with various edible flowers), and Sasion Deluxe (a super saison).

Content: The book starts out with a brief history of farmhouse brewing in what is now the boarder region between Belgium and France. The author claims that we are in a golden age of rustic brewing following a long period when most small breweries in the area just scrapped by making bland lagers for the local populace.

The book then moves on to a section that suggests that no set of style guidelines can accurately capture two such rustic and diverse styles. The commercial version can vary so much that it is nearly impossible to quantify all of the variations these two styles can have in a short description.

The rest of the book is roughly divided in half with a section on Bière de Gardes, followed by a section on Saisons.

Bière de Garde: This section gives the best look that I have found at this often overlooked style. It starts out with a review of the history of the style. This chapter is great because it covers part of brewing history that even most beer nerds aren't too familiar with. The style started out as something closer to a low alcohol historic English Old Ale (a moderate gravity beer allow to oxidize and sour slightly), but the alcohol has been increased over the last 30 years to make them into more of a specialty beer.

Next comes a section on the general characteristics of the style and sub-styles (Bière de Mars and Bière de Noel) and the best commercial examples to seek out. Like Brew Like a Monk many of the commercial beers discussed get an ingredient and method overview which would be a great help if you were trying to go in a certain direction or clone a beer. Each brewery gets a short profile as well, with some interesting tidbits about the history, brewer, and physical brewery.

The meat is in the last chapter of the section, which talks about production methods. Each ingredient and aspect of production are covered, first what the current commercial practices are, followed by the best suggestions for doing it for yourself.

It is very interesting to see the differences between the examples from larger and smaller breweries, particularly in yeast choice and grist composition. Smaller breweries tend to use ale yeast and relatively complex grain bills, while large breweries use lager yeast and often just base malt and a dark malt for color. It is more difficult for large breweries to use multiple malts or yeast strains, so this is more of a choice about ease of brewing rather than flavor profile.

Each portion of recipe development is laid out with the options (and effects) presented. There are some great charts with suggested yeasts (ale/lager and White Labs and Wyeast). The way that the book is written makes it very easy to use when designing your own recipe, or just for tweaking a recipe you already like.

Saison: The history chapter is written by Belgian beer expert (and brewer at De la Senne) Yvan De Baets. Saisons originally started as a refreshing beer for field laborers. Apparently the style has radically transformed over the years from something funky and reminiscent of low alcohol De Ranke XX to the cleaner, higher alcohol beer it is today.

Next comes a chapter covering the general description of modern saison including related styles (Grisette and Super Saison) and a review of a few of the commercial examples. These beers are pretty well known today as this book really kicked off a revival of the style when it came out five years ago. It is particularly interesting to read about breweries, like Vapeur and Blaugies, that are still basically brewing with some of the same ingredients, techniques, and equipment as farmhouse breweries did in the 19th century. It is also surprising how many of their breweries are part time jobs for the brewers (Alpine Beer Company is the only brewery in America that comes to mind like that, but I am sure there must be more).

Next comes the chapter on Saison production. The malt and hop suggestions are pretty short, but then the general suggestion is to keep things simple. The advice certainly leaves room for customization, but as a yeast forward style the malt and hop characters are not as important as they are for a Bière de Garde.

The big revelation of this section is that Saison yeasts love to ferment hot (often 85+). They are unlike any other beer strain out there in this regard (which is why Les Perkins from Wyeast suggests it may have mutated from a red wine strain). With most other strains fermenting at these temperatures would result in a beer that tasted like a combination of gasoline and nail polish remover, but with saisons you get a wonderful complex peppery-fruity flavor.

This chapter also has some nice info on using other grains like spelt, wheat, and oats. Spices are another big topic. The suggested amounts are far lower than you often see in homebrew recipes. I mangled my first batch of saison three years ago by adding 1 oz of dried ginger (on the suggestion of a BYO Hennepin clone). By comparison Farmhouse Ales suggests just .5-1.2 grams of dried ginger for a 5 gallon batch.

Accuracy: It is a very accurate book with lots of first hand information. It is hard to doubt the fermentation temperatures cited for saisons when there is a photo of the temperature gauge at Dupont and a graph of the fermentation temperature regime the author uses for his saison. I don't have any major issues with the accuracy of the information provided, and the editing is very good.

Recipes: Farmhouse Ales covers a few variations on each style, for eight recipes total. The recipe structure is similar o the other two books in the series. Like Wild Brews many of the recipes have built in options and ranges suggested for altering the recipe. For example "Add up to 5% white sugar (by extract)" or "Caramel Malt - add up to 2% for color and residual sweetness." I really like recipes that give some freedom and options, particularly styles like this that are not centered around a single "classic" example. That said if you are looking for a book with 40 recipes that you can select between you will be a bit disappointed. I also really like that this book (unlike BLAM) clearly tells you that the percentage of sugar is by extract.

I have not tried any of the recipes directly, but the Saison and Bière de Garde portions of my Cable Car Clone was highly influenced by the information in this book. The Dark Saison was also heavily influenced by suggestions in this book and the notes on SPF 8.

This book is less about recipes and more about recipe design, think of it as a Designing Great Beers for rustic Belgian/French ales (this book covers a much wider range of Saison and Beire de Garde in terms of gravity, color, bitterness, and flavor than the BJCP recognizes).

Readability: Much like Brew Like a Monk the information goes beyond just telling you how to brew the styles from a technical standpoint. It tells you how to think and design recipes like a farmhouse brewer. I like the way the book is divided in half, if you want to read about one style or the other you don't have to skim through the entire book.

I really like all of the headers that identify each topic in a chapter, for example in the Brewing Saisons chapter here are the headers for just four pages (Malt, Unconventional Brewing Grains, Mashing, Hops, Spices, Yeast), it makes referencing the book quick and painless.

Overall: A well put together book that looks at traditional and innovative brewing at the same time. An indispensable read for anyone interested in either Bière de Garde or Saison. That said, if these are not styles you have much interest in you'd probably be better off taking a copy out from the library since there isn't too much information that is applicable to other types of beer.

This is my second copy of the book (my first was left in a hotel room in Florida last spring), so it is in pretty good shape. If you buy a copy make sure it has all 198 pages, the first replacement copy I bought from Amazon was missing the last 50 pages.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Book Review Schedule Set

Here is the schedule based on the results of the poll:

1/22/09 The Complete Joy of Homebrewing
1/29/09 How to Brew
2/05/09 Designing Great Beers
2/12/09 Wild Brews
2/19/09 Brew Like a Monk
2/26/09 Radical Brewing
3/06/09 Farmhouse Ales
3/13/09 Principles of Brewing Science
3/20/09 Brewing Classic Styles
3/27/09 Extreme Brewing
4/10/09 Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers
4/17/09 Homebrewer’s Garden
4/24/09 Barley Wine
5/01/09 Brewing up a Business
5/08/09 The Brewmaster’s Table
5/15/09 New Brewing Lager Beers
5/22/09 Smoked Beers
5/29/09 Brewing Wheat Beers
6/05/09 Microbrewed Adventures
9/25/09 The Everything Homebrewing Book
11/28/11 Brewing Better Beer

I've moved the reviews to Fridays for the time being because my beekeeping class starts this week on Thursday nights.

After that I have some random other books on beer, mead, cooking, and baking that I'll take a look at.

The new poll was submitted by a reader named Ryan who is interested in what homebrew software people use.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Hoppy American Tripel: First Tasting

I was thinking of doing a second tasting on my Hoppy American Tripel, but then I realized that somehow I missed doing a first tasting on this while it was fresh. It has changed considerably over the last year (namely the hops have really mellowed), but I thought it was too hoppy at first.

Appearance – Brilliantly clear golden orange. Nice creamy white head, with good retention and lacing. It certainly looks the part of a tripel, one of the best looking beers I've made.

Smell – Sweet, fruity, with a hint of clove, but with a fair amount of oxidation (although thankfully dark fruit and no wet cardboard). No more fresh hoppy aroma, but the Belgian character comes through more than when it was young.

Taste – Still sweeter than I like my Belgians (even more so now that much of the hop bitterness has dropped out). Good malty backbone, and nice fruity esters (apples and pears especially). The alcohol has mellowed over the last year, very hidden for 10% ABV.

Mouthfeel – Medium body, nice prickly carbonation. A bit thicker than ideal, but the carbonation helps to keep it in check.

Drinkability & Notes – This beer probably peaked after 6 months in the bottle, but it is still a dangerously drinkable beer. With the light oxidation it almost tastes like a Belgian barleywine. If I were to rebrew this I would lower the mash temp to 147 (to reduce the sweetness and lighten the body), and make sure the yeast was healthier. I would also consider leaving out the dry hops.