Monday, March 29, 2010

Golding Hopped English Bitter Recipe

Whole hops make for a nice looking boilI had a tap open on my kegerator, so I "had" to brew something quickly, so I came up with a recipe based on what I had on hand.  Bitters are some of the fastest and easiest beers to make due to their low gravity and simple recipes, and since I hadn't brewed one in awhile it seemed like the perfect choice.  I also wanted to get a big yeast cake for a Munich Porter and a Sour Mashed Old Ale that I've had on my brewing schedule for a while.  What I got was a great, malty, balanced English ale that I was able to put on tap just 10 days after I brewed it.

This was my first time using Wyeast's London ESB - 1968.  I was impressed not only by how quickly it completed fermented but also by the speed it dropped bright.  I brewed on a Tuesday and by the following Sunday the beer was at its terminal gravity and crystal clear (and the following Friday I was drinking it).  Luckily the flavor of the beer turned out to be just as impressive.  Finally in this strain I've found an English yeast that I'm really happy with both for how it behaves and the beer it makes, hopefully the Munich malt based porter it is working on now won't let me down.

Whole hops do suck up plenty of wort thoughI went with a simple malt bill: mostly Maris Otter, with a bit of medium English crystal malt for sweetness/caramel, and some amber malt for that bready/toasty maltiness.  The hops were all whole Goldings from Freshops.  They are American grown, but they still provided a combination of herbal/earthy/fruity character that is a classic component of many English ales.  I spaced the hop additions over the course of the boil to ensure a saturated hop contribution that isn't too heavy on the aroma so the malt and yeast will be able to make their presence known.  I think session ale recipes should be pretty simple, if you want something to be drinkable don't muddle it up with more than a handful of ingredients, and make sure the ingredients you do select are all high quality and flavorful. 

I did an all-day (~7 hour) mash while I was at work (which boosted my efficiency making this bitter Extra Special).  A long mash is a nice way to shave some time off of a weeknight (or early morning) brew, but make sure to either do a mash-out or use very hot sparge water (180+) since your mash temp will most likely dip down 10-15 degrees.  Despite better than expected extraction the beer still only ended up at 5% ABV.  I decided to keg condition it with 2 oz of priming sugar both for authenticity's sake and because this beer only had 5 days in primary before I needed the yeast cake.  I thought it would benefit from some extra time for the yeast to continue cleaning up before it was chilled down to 45 degrees for serving.

Golding Medal Bitter

You could float a quarter on that krausen.Recipe Specifics (All-Grain)
Batch Size (Gal): 5.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 9.61
Anticipated OG: 1.054
Anticipated SRM: 11.1
Anticipated IBU: 33.4
Brewhouse Efficiency: 77 %
Wort Boil Time: 60 min

88.5% - 8.50 lbs. Maris Otter
6.3% - 0.61 lbs. Crystal 55L
5.2% - 0.50 lbs. Amber Malt  

1.00 oz. US Goldings (Whole 4.15% AA) 48 min.
1.00 oz. US Goldings (Whole 4.15% AA) 24 min.
1.00 oz. US Goldings (Whole 4.15% AA) 12 min.
1.00 oz. US Goldings (Whole 4.15% AA) 6 min.
0.13 oz. US Goldings (Whole 4.15% AA) 0 min.

0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 9 min.
1.00 tsp Irish Moss @ 9 min.

WYeast 1968 - London Extra Special Bitter

Water Profile
Profile: Washington, DC (Carbon Filtered)

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest 420 min @ 154

Made a starter 3/15/10 with 2.5 oz of light DME, 1 qrt of water, and 1/4 tsp of yeast nutrient.  Good activity by the next morning.

Brewed 3/16/10 started mash before I left for work.  Really hot sparge 180-185 to get the grain temp back up from ~138.  Collected ~6.75 gallons of runnings.

Added 6 g of gypsum to the kettle during the sparge to up the sulfate content to ~200 ppm.

Boil was a bit weak for the first 30 min, so I switched to a different propane tank to finish out the boil.

Used whole Goldings from Freshops, adjusted AA% down from 4.5%.

1 tsp of Irish Moss, rehydrated, along with the Wyeast yeast nutrient.

Chilled to ~69.  Pitched the already flocculating starter.  Shook to aerate.  Placed in the basement ~62 degrees.  Good fermentation after 12 hours.

Fast start to fermentation, but the krausen never got more than a couple inches thick.

3/21/10 Gravity down to 1.015 (72% AA).  Racked to a keg and added 2 oz of cane sugar.

3/27/10 Moved to the kegerator, and tapped.  Good carbonation, nice head, great malty flavor.  The amber malt "biscuit" flavor really comes through nicely.

5/04/10 First tasting, nice malt/hop characters, but it has an odd cocoa finish that must be from the Amber malt.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Cherry Blossom Competition

Thursday was the DC Homebrewers inaugural Cherry Blossom Competition.  Inspired by the annual blooming of the Cherry Blossoms here in DC each entry was required to contain a flower derivatives other than hops (entries used jasmine, chamomile, honey, vanilla, and cloves among others).  The competition entries were divided based on the meta-categories from the Austin ZEALOTS Homebrew Inquisition.  Since the Cherry Blossom Competition emphasizes weird ingredients it didn't seem worth judging the beers in accordance to the BJCP classic styles, we just wanted to split the entries into flights of similar beers and have people judge them based on their enjoyment.

Table 2 Tasting a Chamomile Hoppy RedEveryone who attended the contest judged one of the three flights in the first round (ensuring that no one was judging their own beer).  The best of show round was judged by members who either didn't enter a beer or didn't have their beer advance.  For scoring we used a modified version of Charlie Papazian's score sheet from the Complete Joy of Home Brewing with some points allocated for "flower" aroma and flavor. We left how the winners were picked up to the judges, in the first round each table filled out score sheets for the beers in their flight, but each one ended up just discussing which two beers to send on.  During the final round though the judges decided to use a straight average of their scores to pick the winner (ranking the beers 1-6 ended up being too hard to do by consensus).

I entered my Honey Wheat Sour Flower (brewed long before the contest was proposed, but the orange blossom honey and chamomile made it a perfect fit).  It ended up getting fourth place, which I was pretty happy with considering sour beers aren't for everyone.  Scores from five of the six best of show judges ranged from the high 30s into the mid 40s out of 50, while the sixth judge gave me a 13 (it was the first sour beer he had ever tried).  That is one of the problems with a hedonistic rating system, it is hard to argue against someone who just doesn't like the flavor of a beer. 

Score SheetsIt was really interesting to try the other entries, one thing that really annoys me about most competitions is that you never get to taste the other beer to see what you were up against.  Overall I thought the beers were very good, and the first and second place beers were my two favorites (so the judging worked well from my point of view).  The second place beer (which I actually thought was the best) was a wit with 2 oz of hibiscus flowers (jamaica) added along with the usual coriander and orange peel with 15 minutes left in the boil, it was light, fruity, and slightly tart, very refreshing.  The winning beer was a clove dunkel weizen with 1/4 tsp of whole cloves in the boil and another 1/4 tsp added to the primary after fermentation, it was very good but the clove contribution was slightly more aggressive than I would have liked (we were drinking the beer less than 3 weeks after brewday so the clove character may mellow a bit with additional time).

The club is planning on holding this as an annual event each March, it will be fun to see how the entries evolve over time as people figure out which flowers/techniques work and which ones don't. The next contest up is the second annual Iron Mug where each brewer receives a secret ingredient(s) two months before the contest to be included in their batch (the first year white wine concentrate and woodruff were the required ingredients).  The contest is held between DC Homebrewers and the Wort Hogs club of Northern Virginia (we hope to avenge our loss last year by winning this time around).  The club is still trying to come up with ideas for two more contests each year, if your local club runs does anything interesting/unique please post about it in the comments.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

2010 NHC Entries

Despite being BJCP certified and the Competition Co-Chair for DC Homebrewers I've never been too enthusiastic about entering my own beers into competitions.  I only do it about once a year, most contests put too much focus on brewing to style, and not enough on innovation and creativity (which is what I'm really interested in).  That said, for the first time this year I decided to enter a few of my beers in the National Homebrew Competition.  I've taken a couple medals at the Spirit of Free Beer which draws entries mostly from the Mid-Atlantic, so I thought it was time to take on the rest of the country (although as a resident of DC in the first round of the NHC I'm only up against KY, MD, OH, VA, and WV).

I chose six beers to enter, including four sours since that is what I'm most proud of (there were only 160 entries spread over 10 regions last year).  The fact that the NHC only requires 1 bottle per entry made it easier to enter some of my favorite batches (as you can see I don't have many bottles in my cellar...).

Too Many Bottles?My entries:
1. My most recent batch of Berliner Weisse, which is tart and spritzy, but might be a bit too sour for the style, although that is what I thought about my first batch and it won me my one and only gold medal. 

2/3. The Wine Barrel Flanders Red, which I think is one of the best beers I've had a hand in brewing.  I also entered a bottle of the sour cherry aged version in the Belgian Specialty category. 

4. Weizenator, which I think will do well in the Weizenbock category despite my unconventional use of Extra Dark English Crystal for most of the color.

5. Wheat Triplebock, which took a silver a year ago at the SoFB as an Eisbock and has only gotten better.  It wasn't actually eis-concentrated, but it's too strong and dark to enter as a Doppelbock.

6. Just for fun I entered a bottle of Sour Squash, although I doubt it has enough butternut squash or spice character to do well in the Spice, Herb, or Vegetable category. 

I'm certainly not expecting to win the Ninkasi Award with beers that weren't brewed with the style guidelines in mind, I'm just hoping to have a beer or two sent on to the second round of the competition (last year just better than 1 in 7 beers advanced). 

I considered entering the terrific batch of IPA I brewed a couple months back, but the hop aroma is already starting to fade, and IPA is always one of the most competitive categories.  There were some other beers I considered entering, but at $9 an entry (even as an AHA member) plus shipping to Ohio, it didn't seem worth it.  On a side note, it is sort of weird that I have to ship my entries to Ohio when Philadelphia (6 hours closer) is one of the judging sites.

I guess it will be about a month before I get my scores back, hopefully FedEx gets the bottles to the competition unharmed and I get some judges who like sour beers. 

Anyone else entering this year?  Anyone have beers on the table with mine, East region in categories 5, 15, 16, 17, or 21?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Bourbon Barrel Wee Heavy Bottling

Noah, Tim and a PumpThese days some of my brewing projects make me feel like I'm working at a small brewery rather than just enjoying the "hobby" of homebrewing.  For example, this past Saturday when our group of DC area sour-heads got together to bottle 45 gallons (~18 cases) of sour bourbon barrel aged wee heavy, then filled the barrel back up with 55 gallons of strong porter.  Moving around 100 gallons of beer in a day certainly doesn't feel like operating on a homebrew scale.

Compared to our first barrel bottling day, our little group of homebrewers is getting to be ruthlessly efficient, completing the whole operation in under five hours (including a couple breaks for beer and pizza).  The general strategy was to break into two teams; one transferred the beer out of the barrel, primed it with corn sugar (aiming for 2.2 volumes of CO2), and dosed it with rehydrated champagne yeast; and the other sanitized the hundreds of bottles, then filled them with beer and capped them.  Other than a pump to speed the transfer of beer out of the barrel, and a postal scale to ensure accurate measurement of the wort before priming/reyeasting we used pretty standard equipment (bottling buckets and wands, bench cappers etc...).

Barrel DregsThe final gravity of the beer was a bit higher than I expected at 1.014, but considering the original gravity was just shy of 1.100 this beer is right around 11.5% ABV.  It has been surprising that we have yet to see the hyper-attenuation that I usually expect from sour beers (most on my regular 5 gallon batches end up under 1.005).  The combination of sourness, high alcohol, and a touch of chocolate malt should make this beer a perfect candidate for aging many years.  While I'm looking forward to seeing how it evolves over the next decade, at this stage I'm just hoping all that alcohol and acid doesn't prevent the yeast from being able to carbonate the beer. 

Bourbon Barrel Full of PorterThe bourbon character of the beer at bottling was a bit more potent than I ideally wanted, but it should slowly mellow as it ages in the bottle.  The balance was perfect when we tasted it a few months back, but it took time to get the eight of us to all brew our batches, ferment them out, and decide on a day we were all free to get together.  Being able to fill a barrel on short notice would be one of the biggest advantages of having a larger scale brewing system.

Nice PellicleWe took a break from the frenetic activity to try a sample of the second beer aging in our wine barrel, a pale Belgian beer inspired by Russian River's Beatification Batch 001/PH1.  After 4 months in the barrel it has improved greatly, the sulfur character it had when it was young has mostly cleared up, and the sourness is starting to come around.  The coming summer heat should spur the lactic acid bacteria to really sour it up.  It will be interesting to see if it gets ropey/sick like the Flanders Red that spent last year in that barrel.

Speaking of which, I brought a force carbonated sample of the wine barrel Flanders Red that I have been aging on sour cherries for the last few months.  It is just about ready to bottle since it has a nice cherry character, bright sourness, and beautiful balance.  Nathan (whose basement houses the barrels) was racking half of his share of the sour wee heavy onto sour cherries, should make for an interesting combination along the lines of Lost Abbey's Cuvee de Tomme (strong/sour, bourbon aged, cherries etc...).

With all three of our barrels filled in the last few months there probably won't be much we have to do with any of them until late in the fall at the earliest.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sour Bourbon Barrel Porter

If there is one thing that homebrewing has taught me, it's patience.  It is amazing that our (sour) bourbon barrel aged "wee heavy" has already been relaxing in its oaky resort for more than a year.  In that time it has gone from a rich caramelly fresh beer to a sour, oaky, aged delight (although clearly not what we originally set out to make).  In a couple days we'll be repeating the efforts of our Flanders Red bottling day to prime and bottle the ~50 gallons of strong-amber-sour-beer.  It will be interesting to see how it tastes with some carbonation (assuming we find a yeast capable of dealing with the considerable alcohol and low-pH).

Once the barrel is empty we will immediately begin filling it back up with a new beer.  This time around the vote was to do something strong and dark enough to nearly be an Imperial Stout, if it wasn't going to be sour and funky.  Jolly Pumpkin's Madrugada Obscura was a big inspiration for the idea, although we were not in any way trying to clone it as far as the recipe goes. 

The roasted character will be a bit restrained (9% dark grain), although if I was the recipe boss I would have reduced the chocolate/roast and added Carafa for a soft roasted character (I'm worried that the roast won't seem smooth once the resident bugs and critters lower the FG).  We also wanted to keep the IBUs low so the bitterness doesn't clash with the sourness.

We kept the recipe pretty simple (as we usually try to), with complexity coming from the different malts we each chose to brew our batches with (not to mention the bugs and the barrel):

Krausen Colored Walls?Sour Bourbon Barrel Porter (All-Grain)
84% Pale
7% Crystal (I used a combo of 55L and 150L)
5% Chocolate
4% Roasted Barley
Mash ~155 F (to hopefully save some body/sweetness even after souring)
OG ~1.080

90 minute boil with 25 IBUs of a clean hop near the start of the boil.

For yeast anything relatively clean was acceptable, American, English, Scottish, Irish etc... (I used Wyeast American Ale - 1056.)

This batch will get the same treatment as the Wee Heavy, clean primary fermentation by each of the brewers, followed by about a year in oak with the microbes now living int eh barrel, the specific time will depending on how the flavor and gravity progress.  Most likely the oak character will be lower in this batch than the Wee Heavy since the first beer probably pulled out a good deal of the wood's character.

3/20/10 Racked into the bourbon barrel in Nathan's basement on top of the last 2 gallons or so of  slurry from the wee heavy.

1/15/11 Bottled with 120 g of sugar per 5 gallons plus 2 packs of Champagne yeast for ~40 gallons.  Half my share went onto 2 lbs of sour cherries.  Gravity only made it down to 1.016.

3/12/11 Bottled the 2.75 gallons of the cherry portion 1.25 oz of table sugar.  Aiming for 2.0 volumes of CO2.  Added 1 gram of 71B-1122 to the bottling bucket.  Gravity back down to 1.016.

5/18/11 Despite its short time in the bottle it is already drinking well, great blend of coffee, vinous, tart, sweet.  Excited to see where it goes in another year or two.

6/27/11 The cherries add a wonderful secondary dimension to the vanilla of the barrel, really happy with how this one turned out.

5/7/12 The cherry version scored a 32 at NHC as a Fruit beer. Placed 3rd out of only 16 beers. Snippets of the judges' notes.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Dry Hopped Sour Squash Tasting

What I have sitting in front of me is a glass of quite possibly the first sour beer ever dry hopped with Citra (the variety Sierra Nevada uses extensively in their Torpedo Extra IPA). There is no way to be sure of that claim, but at least I'll guarantee that it's the first Citra dry hopped, butternut squash, sour beer... really stepping out on a limb there...

I got the idea for combination after the great results I had with the bottle hopped Flanders red (Amarillo and Cascade). In that beer the citrusy character of the hops really complimented the bright acidity and slight sweetness of the base beer. This sour/brown is pretty similar (big acidity, but still some malt, and no aggressive funkiness) I thought a hop like Citra would have the same magical effect.  I also thought it would be a good way to get a sense for a hop I had never used before, still not sure what I'll do with the other 4 oz I bought (maybe a hoppy American red?).

Bottle Hopped Sour Squash AleCitra/Simcoe Bottle Hopped Sour Squash

Appearance – Nearly opaque, ruddy, dark-brown.  One of the problems with bottle hopping is that it makes pouring the beer more difficult (the hops tend to clog the neck of the bottle) which makes keeping the sediment at the bottom of the bottle difficult. The thin tan head has moderate retention and lacing. 

Smell – Nice citrus/orange nose with some tropical fruit (mango?) and pine, as well as some dank/herbal notes.  The hop character has deteriorated a bit over the last few weeks (those dank notes are new), it has now been in the bottle for about 5 weeks.  There is certainly a sour/funky note to the aroma, but the hops cover up the nuances. 

Taste –  That bright/sharp acidity kicks off my first sip with a bang, but it seems mellower after that.  The finish is a bit yeasty/muddy, I really need to find a better way to dry hop sours.  I'm really happy with the combo of Russian River and New Belgium microbes in this one, plenty of acidity with a gentle funk. One of the sourer beers I've made, but there is a bit of sweetness to help balance it out.  Not too suprising that the squash and spices are nowhere to be tasted.

Mouthfeel – The acidity really puckers, but there is still some body to balance it.  The carbonation is moderate (bottle hops give nucleation sights for bubbles, so I'm interested to see how the non-bottle hopped version compares).

Drinkability & Notes – Tasty, but I need to be more careful pouring these bottle hopped beers to avoid getting so much yeast (I should also be quicker on the draw with these hoppy sour reviews).  Looking forward to cracking open some of the "regular" version of this beer soon as well.  Nice way to relax after spending my evening brewing a hoppy English ale.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Chalkboard Kegerator and Blended Sour

Back in September I put together my first kegerator, and I've got to admit that I am now a convert to kegging.  I've enjoyed being able to force carbonate beer, fill any size glass (or just have a taste), and it really is much quicker/easier than bottling. However, I hadn't found a good way of letting my friends know what beers I have on tap (besides just telling them and pointing). I had considered getting a small chalkboard or white board to put on the wall next to it (as many homebrewers do), but that didn't seem like enough fun for me.

Chalkboard KeggeratorAfter using a can of chalkboard spray paint to refinish an old chalkboard that my girlfriend bought from someone on Craigslist, I had the answer to my dilemma.  So I took the collar off the kegerator and sprayed the front with two coats of the paint an hour apart.  After 24 hours the surface was ready for me to chalk the names of the two beers on tap.  It is functional, and I think it looks pretty cool/unique.

The new labels came in very handy for my housewarming/birthday party over the weekend.  I still had plenty of my "Pound of Hops" IPA on tap, but I kicked the keg of Hoppy Saison a week back.  It seemed like a waste to have a two tap system with only one keg, but I didn't have any other batches ready to drink.  So I decided to blend some bottles of homebrewed beer to make a special dark sour cuvée.  After some small scale tests I settled on a six pack each of my Sour Squash (big acidity, not much funk) and Big Funky (strong, some oxidized dark fruit, no carbonation), and one 750 ml bottle of my Adam clone to add some richness and a hint of peat.  The blend was a big hit at the party, combining the best aspects of the three beers to yield a sour, but balanced beer with lots of dark fruit complexities.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Belgian vs. Belgium and Pliny vs. Pliney (rant)

Just a quick Friday rant, it's Belgian beer not Belgium beer.  It is just amazing just how often I hear it said or see it written incorrectly, and for whatever reason it really drives me crazy.  You wouldn't say you enjoy England beer (or France fries for that matter), so don't say you like Belgium beer (unless you are talking about New Belgium beer). 

On a related note Russian River's Pliny the Elder/Younger has a short "i" (pln not pln).  I am well aware the the brewer (Vinnie) is one of the main offenders, but he didn't make up the name.  I also hate when I see people spell it Pliney, because I can hear them in my mind saying it wrong.

Beer related words I pronounce incorrectly that I'm sure drive other people crazy include Hoegardden, Lambic, Gueuze along with pretty much every other Belgian beer term and brewery name.  To check on your pronunciation skills, check out The On-Line Guide to Belgian Beer - Pronunciation Guide.

Any other beer words that anyone has a pet peeve with?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Pale Belgian Sugar Experiment Tasting

Probably the most debated question among homebrewers when the topic of brewing pale Belgian beer (Belgian Blonde, Strong Golden, Tripel etc...) comes up is which sugar to use.  These beers don't need a characterful sugar (like a Dubbel of Belgian Strong Dark), just something easily fermentable to boost the alcohol while leaving a light body.  For years the answer was clear candi rocks, since it was assumed that these were the most authentic.  Then a few years back Brew Like a Monk came out, with the suggestion that those rocks were just overpriced sucrose, changing the answer to table sugar (cheap sucrose).  Then Dark Candi started selling clear candi syrup, the same stuff Orval (along with many others Belgian breweries) uses... and what about corn sugar?  Is sugar really necessary anyway? 

These were the questions I set out to answer for myself a few months ago on a wintery December day. I split one 5 gallon batch of 100% pils wort between the main sugary contenders, including one gallon with no sugar at all. Two weeks later each batch was primed with the same experimental sugar (the no sugar got light DME) and bottled.  Last night I finally had the chance to sit down to do a full, blind tasting, to see what results I could tease out of my experiment.

As expected the five batches were very similar, so I'll forgo a full review of each to focus on the flavor and aromatic differences. All of the batches had an identical golden-yellow/orange body with a nice white head with moderate-poor retention (I poured from left to right in the picture, so the first two are a bit less heady).  They were all crystal clear as well, so the sugar had no influence on the appearance.  The aromas shared a similar bready/pils malt character and the flavors had just a hint of hop bitterness.  All finished plenty dry within .001 of 1.006 (certainly within the margin of error for my hydrometer reading skills), and none of them came across as more boozy or alcoholic than the rest.

Table - None - Rocks - Syrup - Corn in that order

Table Sugar: The most apple character, a bit more sulfur/yeasty, and the spice is more toward pepper.  The sulfur has mellowed from when this batch was young when it was clearly different from the rest.

No Sugar: Brighter, the spice comes across as clove, the flavor also had a bit of less-fermented "worty" character. The hops also came across a bit more than the rest, maybe a testament to the lower alcohol or milder fermentation.

Clear Candi Rocks: This one is the only one that was a bit over-carbonated.  It comes across with a softer/rounder character though, and it also has a nice pepper zip. 

Clear Candi Syrup: The cleanest/mildest of the bunch, no real defining characteristic (although it certainly still had a distinct Belgian yeast character).

Corn Sugar: Another clean/mild one like the syrup, except for a bit of extra clove (second only to the plain).

I would like to emphasize that the flavors/aromas of these batches were all very close (say 95%) and I had to let them come up close to room temperature to get some of these differences. I think most of these differences could not be detected unless you were trying them side-by-side.

The most surprising result was that I picked out the table sugar (for whatever reason) as the most appley, a shock as I have long been a doubter of the so-called "cider" character some people claim cane sugar gives. It also was the only one that showed some signs of sulfur when it was first in the bottle a few months back.

I found it interesting that both the beers with sucrose (table and candi rocks) came across with a spice character of pepper while the no-sugar and corn sugar leaned more towards the clove.  Not sure what this indicates, but it may be that 3787 (Westmalle strain) has different byproducts when it ferments sucrose.

I also found it interesting that I didn't notice much body/alcohol difference between the no sugar batch and the other four with sugar, although I did pick it out as being wortier.  This is a testament to the fact that all of these sugars are easily fermented by Saccharomyces and left nearly identical final gravities, with just alcohol as a byproduct.

In the end my take away from this was that the difference between these different clear/white sugars when brewing a beer this clean is probably similar to the difference between using two pilsner malts from different maltsters.  That is to say something that you might play with when really trying to dial in a beer, but not something you need to to worry about the first time brewing a recipe.  While these beers did have slight differences, they were so slight that I really didn't have a preference for any above the rest.

I'll be running the five samples by more people in the future to get a broader sampling of what people can taste as the difference between these sugars.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Failed Beer Recipes

Every once in awhile I brew a beer that flat out sucks, not because of a process error, not because of an infection, but because I make a mistake when designing the recipe.  In general this blog has been a record of my successes as a homebrewer, but today I thought I'd take a look at a few of my "oops" batches.  A couple batches I've posted about in the past have turned out less than stellar (infected Foreign Export Stout, and First Batch of Lambic for example), but they have been the result of microbial issues not recipe design; the blame for the three batches below falls squarely on me.  Hopefully a few of you will be able to glean some information from my failures that will help you avoid the same pitfalls.

In general I've had mediocre to poor luck with "concept" beers, my Oatmeal Cookie Beer being the prime example.  My father is a big oatmeal raisin cookie fan, so back in 2006 I decided to try brewing a beer for him with similar flavors as a Christmas present.  I started with a relatively standard brown ale base and added home toasted oats, brown sugar, raisins, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and toasted walnuts (sounds good right?).  The flavor wasn't terrible (although it wasn't great either), but what really killed the drinking experience was the complete lack of head retention and the oily mouthfeel both due (I suspect) to the fat in the walnuts.  I knew something was wrong when the beer fermented without a krausen, who knew that 1 cup of ground walnuts in the mash would provide enough oil to have such an impact?  Lesson: Be careful when adding fatty ingredients to a beer.
1238 Special
One of the beers that got me into "good" beer early on was Ommegang Hennepin, the subtle ginger flavor really struck me (especially since I was into Jamaican ginger beer/ale at the time).  My friend Jason and I wanted to do something a bit more "interesting" though, and when you are first brewing that means strong.  We took a clone recipe from BYO and increased the malt/sugar/hops by 50% to make it closer in strength to a Belgian Strong Golden.  The recipe suggested 1 oz of dried ginger (we upped it to 1.25 oz), which turned out to be far too much, especially because I used ultra-potent ground ginger that I picked up at Penzeys shortly before brewday.  Farmhouse Ales suggests only .5 -1.2 g of ginger in 5 gallons of saison (I had good luck with the saison I brewed for my Cable Car clone falling those guidelines).  After choking down most of the batch I am still sensitive to the flavor of dried ginger in beer to this day.  Lesson: Don't trust any recipe, even if it is from a "reliable" source. 

Dodgy Hampshire 2.0The first all-grain batch I brewed was a English Pale Ale named Dodgy Hampshire with my second brewing partner (and my buddy since 3rd grade), Jason.  It was so good that soon he and I brewed a second version, this time adjusting our local water to match Burton-on-Trent (specifically by adding gypsum and Epsom salt to get close to 800 ppm sulfate).  Needless to say the beer came out tasting like harsh mineral/chalky flavor that made it almost undrinkable.  I still have a couple bottles and I think the minerals dropped because it is a much more balanced, drinkable beer today than it was back 4 years ago.  I had a nearly identical experience with a Westvleteren 8 clone I brewed using the water listed listed for the brewery in Brew Like a Monk (even though I reduced the bicarbonate to make it easier to work with).  Lesson:  Don't emulate a classic water profiles.

Luckily these failed batches have been few and far between, and each one has taught me a lesson about recipe design, ingredient selection, or water adjustment.  If you have a brewing FAIL you'd like to share please leave a comment letting everyone know what went wrong (and hopefully what you learned).

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Big IPA Tasting (Plus EisPA)

Normally I sit on a beer for awhile before I post a review, especially for a big beer, but with this big IPA (that was hopped with Amarillo, Simcoe, and Columbus including 3 oz of dry hops and 3 oz of keg hops) I wanted to log a tasting as soon as possible while the hops are still blaring.  I brewed the batch just 32 days ago, and I've already been drinking it for more than a week.

West Coast IPA in the Mid-AtlanticAppearance – Slightly hazy (which I'll blame on the dry hops) pale yellow (just a shade or two darker than Bud). Nice tight white head, beautiful lacing, and great retention (the carapils did its job).

Smell – Pine, tropical fruit (mangoes), resiny, pretty close to sticking your nose in a bag of Pacific Northwest hops. That's pretty much it, no malt, alcohol, yeast, or subtlety (just about perfect in my book).

Taste – Big bitter assault on the back of the tongue that lingers until you take another sip (or a couple minutes if you don't). The volatile hop oils carry through in the flavor as well with similar notes of resinous pine and tropical fruit, as well as citrus (orange) there in the background. A bit of clean malt in the middle, but it stays out of the way of the hops. The alcohol is well disguised for 8% ABV, thanks to the hops. Not balanced in any sense of the concept, but that is what I want from a big IPA.

Mouthfeel – Light and crisp (the sugar really helped out), with moderate carbonation. The bitterness is more a part of the mouthfeel than in any other beer I have brewed, but it is not rough/tannic luckily.

Drinkability & Notes – The epitome of a “West Coast” IPA, highly drinkable if that is what you like. This is the happiest I have been with any hoppy beer I have brewed. I could count the commercial IPAs I would take over this beer (and just about all of them are from Russian River). Hopefully this one keeps drinking this well as it continues to sit on the keg hops.

Iced IPA (EisPA)Bonus - I also tried a quick ice concentration (EisPA) on this batch a couple days ago, using the same process I did to make the Dave clone (freezing it overnight and letting it slowly drip through a metal strain for 20 minutes or so).  Instead of aging it in the bottle though I put the concentrated beer into a plastic bottle and used my carbonator cap to give it a bit of carbonation.  It worked well resulting in one of the tastier "massive" IPAs I have had (not hard compared to Dogfish Head 120 Minute and Founder's Devil Dancer).  The hop aroma was just about as aggressive and the bitterness kept up with the increased sweetness.  The alcohol was present (~14% ABV if the 75% increase I got with the Dave clone held true), but we drank it pretty cold so it did not come off as harsh. I think this is a much more practical way to get a giant alcohol/hop bomb rather than fermenting our a very high gravity wort which tends to leave too much residual sweetness.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Which kind of beer would you give up drinking?

Homebrewers, if you had to choose, which would you give up drinking for a year?

Homebrew - 26%
Commercial Beer - 73%
277 votes

A hard decision, but these days I feel like I'm buying less commercial beer than at any other point since I became interested in beer.  I've only been buying beers that are unique or interesting, when I'm at home and I want a beer, its rare that I open anything commercial (unless someone else is there to share it with me).  Commercial beer has become a source of inspiration more than anything else to me, allowing me to taste different combinations of ingredients without having to devote the time and effort to brewing an entire batch.  Part of the decline in my commercial beer consumption is also due to the fact that I simply don't get as much enjoyment out of a great commercial beer as I do from a great beer that I (or a friend) brewed.

There are some times when craft beer is a necessity though, for example when you go out to a bar or restaurant with friends.  I would also really miss the semi-regular beer tastings with my group of friends, getting to share the interesting beers they acquire in their travels or trades (last night it was growlers of Brooklyn's Cookie Jar Porter and Russian River Redemption my friends Peter and Alex shared).  That said, I enjoy brewing and drinking homebrew with the same people even more, so (if I had to choose) commercial beer would be the one I would give up (seems like most of the people who voted agree).

If anyone has any compelling thoughts in either direction let's hear them, and vote in the new poll on homebrew competitions by visiting the blog.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Sour Solera Beer Barrel

The past two weekends have been my most productive as a homebrewer, at least from a volume standpoint.  My friend Nathan (whose basement houses the two "group" barrels that I have posted about repeatedly in the past) suggested that we get a third barrel, to store at my house.  I contacted Chrysalis Vineyards (the same winery that we bought our first barrel from during fall 2008).  They still had a surplus of French oak barrels that had held red wine, and the price was still the same so I didn't bother contacting anyone else.  The day before the first brew we drove to pick up the barrel, when we got back we had to manhandle it through the snow and down into my basement and onto the simple barrel rack that Nathan had put together.  Originally we had planned to pick up the barrel two weeks earlier, but DC's "Snowmageddon" prevented us from heading out there two Fridays in a row.

165 qrt Cooler Mash TunThis time though instead of having 7-8 people involved (each brewing five or ten gallons on their own to blend and then age in the barrel), we decided to handle the brewing ourselves with two marathon 27.5 gallon brew days.  This audacious plan was only possible because Nathan has been piecing together a large scale brewing system from a 165 qrt  (40+ gallon) cooler mash-tun, and two 15 gallon keggles (this was his first time using all of it together).  Still we needed my burner, and pots (not to mention garage) to produce that much wort in one day.  The two brew days were surprisingly uneventful, taking about 11 hours each from the time I started to heat the strike water until we finished cleanup.

Barley Crusher in ActionWe didn't have anywhere besides the barrel to ferment 60 gallons of wort so we decided to go with a Lambic-esque recipe (since that is the only style that is left to age/sour in primary).  We used mostly pils/pale with some unmalted wheat and oats (although more oats and less wheat than would be in a Lambic), as well as some malted wheat we had lying around.  Not perfectly traditional, but the raw grains will provide some starches for the long souring process, and the simple/clean malt bill should be a good base for some experiments with fruit/herbs/spices (it is too  much beer to drink all of it "plain").  I'll also say that it's a good thing I had a drill to turn my Barley Crusher, not sure if I have the arm stamina to crank through 65 lbs of grain (look at that grain fly!).

For yeast/bugs we used half of the 10 gallon batch of Bugfarm Sour that I brewed a month ago along with the slurry from the other half. It was fermented with a slurry from Al B which contained about 15 strains of Sacch, Brett, Lacto, and Pedio that he had isolated from a number of great commercial breweries.  The yeast and microbes took the first 27.5 gallons of the wort down to 1.015 by the time the second batch was brewed, so there should be plenty of cells to handle the second half of the wort.  We also tossed in the dregs from a couple bottles of Jolly Pumpkin that we drank during the brew days just to up the biodiversity even more.

Inside an Empty Wine BarrelWhat are the two of us going to do with our 60 gallons of sour beer?  Solera.  The solera concept is most commonly used in vinegar and sherry production (although Cambridge Brewing beat us to solera beer with a sour cherry beer called Cerise Cassée).  The general idea is that on a set timetable some of the liquid in a barrel in transferred out and fresh liquid is added to fill the barrel back up.  In some cases a series of barrels in employed with each barrel being successively smaller and containing an older blend.  Whether one barrel or many, the idea is to create a blend that has already aged together (from a practicality standpoint it also means that we never have to deal with an empty barrel).  We decided a solera would be a good way to tackle a two person barrel since neither of us really has a need for 30 gallons of sour beer at a time (on top of the other two barrels and our own batches).  For more talk about soleras check out the post about the interview Nathan and I did with Basic Brewing Radio a couple months back (or Wikipedia, where I learned the same system is called by the cooler sounding "Perpetuum" in Sicily).

It will probably be a year before we pull the first round of beer from the barrel.  The current plan is to take 15 gallons once a year (replacing it with 20 gallons or so to account for evaporation), this will yield a beer with an average blended age of 3 years after a few pulls.  We will make adjustments to the recipe if the beer is initially too sour, or not sour enough.

Perpetuum Sour
Sugar Beard

Recipe Specifics (All-Grain)
Batch Size (Gal): 55.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 129.25
Anticipated OG: 1.058
Anticipated SRM: 4.0
Anticipated IBU: 10.5
Brewhouse Efficiency: 69 %
Wort Boil Time: 75 min

42.6% - 55.00 lbs. German Pilsener                            
37.1% - 48.00 lbs. American Pale Malt
7.9% - 10.25 lbs. Oatmeal
7.0% - 9.00 lbs. Unmalted Wheat
5.4% - 7.00 lbs. Wheat Malt

And that is only half the grainHops
4.25 oz. Willamette (Pellet 3.70% AA) @ 60 min.
3.00 oz. Cascade (Whole 5.75% AA) @ 60 min.

2.00 Whirlfloc @ 15 min.
5.00 tsp Irish Moss @ 15 min

Al B's Bugfarm #3 < Nathan Skimming Hot BreakWater Profile
Profile: Washington DC (Carbon Filtered)

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 90 min @ 156
Mash Out - 15 min @ 168

Brewed the first half 2/20/10

Mashed a whole sack of Pils, plus 4.5 lbs each unmalted wheat and (flaked) oats.

Collected 12 gallons of first runnings @1.083.  Added 2 1/8 oz of Willamettes after 15 min boil. (996 Gravity Points)

Collected 8.5 gallons of second runnings @ 1.049.  Originally in a keggle, but poured into my 10 gallon pot since the keggle started leaking.  Added 2 1/8 oz of Willamettes after 15 min boil. (416 GP)

Collected 5 gallons of second runnings @1.034.  No hops, 60 min boil. (170 GP)

Added 6.5 gallons of sparge water.  Stirred, rested for ~15 min.  Collected the same volume back ~1.019.  (123 GP)

1705 Total GP collected.  Which works out to 1.057 in 30 gallons, assuming no losses to hops/trub.

Racked all of the wort to the Chrysalis red wine barrel (French oak from World Cooperage) trying to filter/settle our most of the hops/trub.

Racked in 4.5 gallons of Bug Farm Sour and the ~1/2 gallon of dregs from the other half.  Also added the dregs from a Jolly Pumpkin Bière De Mars.

Hit it with 2 min of pure oxygen.  Left in the basement at around 55.

The combined mixture in the barrel was 1.054, which means the rest would have to average around 1.060, since that is more that I calculated we are probably a bit under volume.

2/27/10 The first portion was down to 1.015 before we added the second half of the wort.
Running the wort into the keggleSecond half brewed 2/27/10

Used the rest of the malt (Pale, malted wheat, oats, raw wheat).

Switched hops to whole cascades to make removing them from the wort post-boil easier.

Divided the hops roughly between the three pots.  We were out of whirlfoc so we added some rehydrated Irish moss with 15 min left in each boil (5 tsp total).

Hit similar gravities to the first round, but both keggles worked so we got 11 gallons 1.086, 11 gallons 1.055, and 6 gallons 1.024.

Ended up a couple gallons short of a fill, so filtered/boiled/cooled 4 gallons of water and racked it into the barrel to fill it to the top.  Then I racked 5 gallons of the fully blended wort out to ensure there was adequate head space for the krausen.  Added the dregs from a Jolly Pumpkin Oro De Calabaza (which had just won a NYT Golden Ale Tasting). By the next morning the airlock was going crazy, bubbling probably 5 times a second.

3/13/10  Racked the 5 gallons back into the barrel.  Added 1 gallon of spring water to bring the barrel nearly up to the brim.  Time to wait.

9/17/11 Nathan and I spent the day Bottled 5 gallons. Racked 5 each onto 1 oz of elderflowers, 3.5 oz of Hallertau Tradition, and 1 gallon of Cabernet Sauvignon wine grapes. We then refilled the barrel with freshly brewed, minimally aerated wort. It took nearly a week to start fermenting again.

10/5/11 Bottled Dry hopped and Elderflower versions with a fresh dose of champagne yeast.

1/17/12 Bottled the grape aged portion with 4.5 oz of corn sugar and some rehydrated champagne yeast. Great color and aroma.

2/23/12 Tasting of the Hallertau Tradition dry hopped portion. I think we overstuffed the hop bag and it didn't get enough circulation, hop aroma is minimal. Still a great beer though.

2/28/12 Tasting of the First Plain Pull. The dry hops added more than I gave them credit for, this version tastes more like Petrus Aged Pale than anything else, a bit too clean for my taste in sours (but the oak is terrific).

3/15/12 The Cabernet grape aged portion is terrific. The wine grapes come across as complex, raspberry, cherry, wine, and balance perfectly with the beer's character.

3/19/12 Tasting of the Elderflower version. Nice fruity/floral character, that actually seems to have grown over the few months in the bottle.

5/7/12 The Cabernet version scored a 34 at NHC as a Fruit Lambic, but managed to placed 1st out of 28 beers. Snippets of the judges' notes.

5/4/13 Brewed ~24 gallons of 1.055 pale wort (Pils, wheat malt, and flaked oats). Fermented outside the barrel with Belle Saison, S-33, T-58, and US-05. Most of that in plastic, the rest in two 5 gallon American oak barrels. Shook to aerate, and left in the mid 60s to ferment.

5/16/13 Bottled 5 gallons with 2 g of rehydrated Champagne yeast and 4.25 oz of table sugar. Racked 5 each onto 4 oz of Sterling, 1 oz Nelson, 2 oz Mosaic, 1 oz Citra, and 1 oz each Mums and Jasmine. Topped barrel back off, probably 2 gallons short.

9/7/13 Tasting notes on the two dry hopped version from the second pull. The Nelson/Mosaic/Citra in particular is fruity and delicious.

7/30/14 Tasting of the second pull plain and on flowers. One is too weird, the other not quite weird enough!