Wednesday, April 28, 2010

NHC 2010 Results

1 out of 6 ain't badOn Monday I received the score sheets back for the six beers I entered in the 2010 NHC. 

Group Red Wine Barrel Flanders Red (Flanders Red) - 33 and Mini-Best of Show Round
The two judges liked the cherry/plum character, but thought it was a bit too sour for the style.  My friend Scott entered the same beer in the Wood-Aged Beer category and it received a similar score, with the main complaint in that case being that it did not have enough "wood character" for the category.  I'm really happy with the beer, but I'll concede that it is on the drier more lactic end of the style.

Sour Cherry Flanders Red (Belgian Specialty) - 33
One judge had no real complaints and gave it a 35, while the the other said twice that it wasn't "spicy" enough (which the guidelines suggest is optional in low amounts) and gave it a 31.  I agree that it is a bit one dimensional, but I don't think spiciness is the answer.

No-Boil Berliner Weisse (Berliner Weisse - 40.5 and 1st place in the Sour Ale category! 
Most of the comments centered around the sharp sourness, and dryness. Luckily the judges enjoyed the complex citrus/apple funk, something I was worried would be a bit too much for the style.  Hopefully it does well in the second round.

Sour Squash - (Spice/Herb/Vegetable) - 27.5. 
The only real detraction was the lack of squash/spices for the category, which wasn't a surprise.  The judges comments were more positive than their score ("I liked this beer. The sourness had a lot of complexity but was balanced with nutmeg later in the flavor."), but it is a shame that having a subtle spice/vegetable complexity isn't enough for a beer to score well (who would really want a sour beer with a strong butternut squash flavor?).  Both suggested I either increase the spicing/squash or enter it as a straight sour.

Wheat Triplebock (Eisbock)- 32.5
The judges felt it was a bit too sweet/hot and that it could use some more age.  I'll agree on the sweet (although that is one of the hallmarks of the style), but I was surprised that they found it boozy, at 10% ABV it is at the low end of the Eisbock scale and at almost 18 months old it certainly isn't a young beer.  I was a bit let down considering a year ago it scored in the high 30s and won a Silver at the 2009 SoFB when it was a much younger beer.

Weizenator (Weizenbock) - 31.5. 
One judge thought that the beer had some oxidation, but suggested that additional age might be a good idea.  The other agreed on the oxidation, but suggested serving the beer younger.  I don't get the paper/cardboard (it is less than 6 months old), but it does have a thick dark fruit character that I could see being confused for sherry.

Overall I'm pleased with the scores my beers received.  Looking forward to seeing how my Berliner Weisse holds up in the final round.  Hopefully it scores well, but it is probably too sour and funky to make it against the 30 best sours from around the US and Canada (of course that is what I always say about my Berliners and in their only two contests each has a 1st).

Update: The results for the 2010 NHC have been posted online.

Our Barrels in the Washington Post

Along with a nice article profiling my friend and frequent collaborator Nathan (barrels, bacon, sausage, and BrewLocal) who has been growing hops and keeping bees at a local Franciscan Monastery.  For those who don't get the paper (like me) here is the article.  For more details on most of the beers mentioned take a look at Nathan's blog, DesJardin Brewing, or check out an article on the "Abbey Project" by Nathan in the April/May issue of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News on page 19 (you can get for free online by signing up).

Monday, April 26, 2010

Munich (Malt) Porter

Sorry about the ugly towel...Nate (not to be confused with Nathan) and I have been beer buddies for about a year now.  He is an extract brewer, but that doesn't stop him from brewing some really tasty beers.  Over a couple beers one night a few months back we decided to brew an all-grain batch together so I could show him how I brew.  We wanted to do something that would be difficult/impossible for him to do as an extract beer, an oatmeal porter using Munich as the base malt was the result.  The only other Munich malt based black ale I'm aware of is Bell's Double Cream Stout (not that we were trying to clone it).

Munich malt gives some great bready/toasty flavors, and is most commonly used in Bocks and Doppelbocks.  When using small amounts I don't mind using the American version (which is often produced from six-row malt), but when using it as a base malt I always go with high quality German Munich malt.  It has enough enzymatic power to convert itself, but not enough to convert much adjunct grain.  We were probably pushing our luck with a pound of flaked oat/wheat, so we added a pound of American pale malt and extended the saccharification rest to 75 minutes to ensure full conversion.

In addition to the Munich base, the other twist to the malt bill was the use of dark American grains.  That may not sound like much of a twist, but all of the homebrew stores around DC only carry roasted barley, chocolate malt, and black patent from UK maltsters (Muntons Malt, Simpsons Malt etc...).  These grains tend to be extremely dark (475-600 L) and give more acrid/burnt flavors and not the lighter coffee/chocolate flavors often found in American Porters.  I wanted to give the American grains a test run (Briess Roasted Barley is only around 300 L) so I ordered them from Midwest Supplies along with some other items I'd had trouble procuring locally. 

Nate and I kept the hop bill pretty simple with two additions of Willamettes, aiming for solid bitterness and a bit of earthy flavor.  The yeast (Fuller's strain) was harvested from the ESB I had brewed a week earlier.  Nothing too exciting on this batch technique or process-wise, but it seemed like an interesting combination of ingredients.  I'm really looking forward to trying a sample in a couple weeks once we get together to bottle it. 

Sadly we were enjoying ourselves so much on brewday that I neglected to take any pictures, but I just brewed yesterday and took a photo of just about ever step (I've had calls for a "process" post to detail exactly how I brew, so that will be coming shortly).

Munich (Malt) Porter

Recipe Specifics (All-Grain)
Batch Size (Gal): 5.25   
Total Grain (Lbs): 13.00
Anticipated OG: 1.064
Anticipated SRM: 30.8
Anticipated IBU: 39.1
Brewhouse Efficiency: 71 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 min

76.9% - 10.00 lbs. German Munich Malt                  
7.7% - 1.00 lbs. American Pale Malt             
3.8% - 0.50 lbs. American Chocolate Malt                             
3.8% - 0.50 lbs. American Roasted Barley
3.8% - 0.50 lbs. Oatmeal
3.8% - 0.50 lbs. Flaked Wheat

2.00 oz. Willamette (Pellet, 4.80% AA) @ 60 min.
1.00 oz. Willamette (Pellet, 4.80% AA) @ 10 min.

0.50 tsp Irish Moss @ 15 min.
0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 min.

WYeast 1968 London Extra Special Bitter

Water Profile
Profile: Carbon Filtered Washington DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest 75 min @ 151

Brewed 3/21/10 with Nate

No water adjustments.

Collected 7.5 gallons of 1.050 runoff.  Hop AA% adjusted down since they were 18 months old.  Irish Moss and yeast nutrient rehydrated in water for 45 min before adding to the boil.

Ended up a bit high on volume.  Chilled to 69, racked onto the yeast cake from the Golding Medal Bitter.  Shook to aerate.  Left in the basement in the mid-60s. Pretty smooth brewday.

The color of the wort was lighter than expected for 1 lb of dark malt in a 5 gallon batch (even considering the lower Lovibond of the American grains). 

Within 12 hours there was a borderline explosive fermentation going on, probably lost 1/2 gallon of wort to the blow-off.

3/31/10 Racked to secondary, yeast had flocced out completely.  Left in the basement mid-60s.

5/06/10 Bottled with 3.00 oz of table sugar.

6/30/10 Tasty, but the roast character is much more subdued than I was aiming for.  Those Breiss malts really are worlds apart from the English roasted barley and chocolate malt I have used.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

'Round About Midnight Tasting

Nathan, Tim, and I brewed this batch of dark rye beer back before Thanksgiving 2009.  I should have posted a tasting sooner, but we were originally going to post it over on BrewLocal.  We didn't end up brewing it quite as intended so we eventually decided to scrap the post over there, and I didn't want it to fall through the cracks.  As a result the beer has already lost the hop aroma it had when it was young, but it is still a tasty and unique session beer.

Half Pint of 'Round About Midnight'Round About Midnight

Appearance – Dark chocolate brown with amber highlights when held to the light. Decent light tan head with some coarse bubbles. Good retention.

Smell – Light toasted/bread malt with a bare suggestion of coffee. The aroma has lost the fresh hoppiness it had a few months back, which helps to showcase the malt even more. Still clean, not showing any signs of oxidation yet.

Taste – Well balanced, malty but still with a clean hop tickle on the back of the tongue. The malt character comes through from the aroma, somewhere between an English Brown and a Schwarzbier in my estimation. It's hard to tell what the toasted rye flakes contribute, but they probably help give a depth to the toasty character.

Mouthfeel – Medium-thin, with solid carbonation. This is what a session beer should be, not thick enough to get in the way, but with enough heft so that it doesn't taste “light.”

Drinkability & Notes – Even with a few extra months on it this is a solid beer. It would have been interesting to compare the same recipe with a lager yeast as we originally intended, but that will have to wait for another brewday.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Blending Lambic into Gueuze with Two Masters

Blending Lambic with the PylesIt's rare that I get to hang out with homebrewers who out-nerd me when it comes to sour beers.  I've got a 60 gallon barrel of solera sour in my basement, a reasonable knowledge of both traditional and modern techniques, and a couple medals to my credit, but Dave and Becky Pyle make me look like a novice.

In 2005 Dave and Becky's Straight Lambic earned them NHC Brewer of the Year honors (that is to say it won in the first and second rounds against all of the other homebrewed sour beers in the country, and then took best of show against the winners from the 23 other categories).  They have four barrels of spontaneously fermented Lambic in their garage, each in old bourbon barrels that Dave and a friend took apart, de-charred, re-toasted, and reassembled.  So when I heard they were hosting a tasting and blending session for their next batch of Gueuze I was pretty excited.

The morning started out with one of their signature creations, a mixture of orange juice and Lambic they call Gueuze-mosa.  They use about one part orange juice to three parts Lambic blended from their barrels, force-carbed and served fresh.  Despite the added sweetness from the juice the funk and sourness still came through nicely.  Becky told me that she enjoys it fresh, but enjoys it most after it has a month for the orange juice and beer to mingle.

Aged HopsNext up was the calibration beer, a corked-and-caged magnum of Gueuze from a blending session a few months earlier.  It had a moderate acetic character, a big range of fruit flavors (lemon, apricot, over-ripe pineapple etc...), and a nice earthy funk (needless to say the best homebrewed Lambic I've tasted, well maybe the second best compared to a different blend of theirs I tried last year).  For the base beer they use pils along with 50% wheat (both malted and un-malted), plus plenty of aged hops in the boil.  The hops smelled like old hay more than anything else, although there was a bit of funk to them.  For fermentation Dave explained that he originally bought commercial pitches of the various microbes from Wyeast (nearly 10 years ago), but now to get a new batch fermenting they rely on the microbes resident in the barrel and in a pitcher of beer from an older batch.

So much homebrewed LambicAfter we had finished the calibration beer the actual blending session began.  Everyone got a glass of beer from each of the four barrels (brewed 2006-2009).  The 2006 had a strong acetic/vinegar character, along with some solvent and nail-polish remover aromas.  The 2007 could have stood on its own, lots of lactic acid, and some big fruit flavors.  2008 had a big earthy-mushroom aroma, but not much in the way of sourness yet.  The 2009 was fresh and fruity, with some sweetness still evident.  All interesting beers, but none of them had the complexity and balance of the calibration beer. 

The Pyles don't top their barrels off with fresh beer to account for evaporation or removal of beer, allowing them to continue aging partially full until the last of the beer is blended off.  This exposure to oxygen in the headspace probably explains why their older beers develop an acetic character (vinegars are often aged in partially filled barrels to encourage the formation of acetic acid).  The level of acetic acid would be a negative if you wanted to drink the beer straight (the 2006 was close to undrinkable alone), but it became a positive addition to the blend, even for someone like me that doesn't like much acetic acid in his sours.

With eight years of experience blending Lambics Dave and Becky were quickly able to agree on the ratio they wanted.  They went from tasting the beers separately to filling their bottling bucket with an approximate blend, without stopping to do a small scale test blend first.  The the 2007 and 2009 comprised the bulk with about a half gallon of the 2006 for sharpness and maybe a gallon of the 2008 for earthy aromatics.  They tasted the blend several times adding more from several of the barrels (they had left extra space in their bottling bucket initially to ensure they had room to add more beer) until they reached the blend they were looking for.

Each of us made our own small scale blends using what was left from our sample glasses.  I liked a softer blend of just the 2007 and 2009, how it would change in the bottle with carbonation and additional age is beyond me though.  It was interesting to taste the blends that other people concocted, a wide variety of blends produced palatable results (it is a pretty easy technique to start playing with).

Dave and a big bottle of KriekDave finished off the day by popping open a 3L bottle of their Kriek.  For fruit flavor they used 48 oz of sour cherry juice added to five gallons of beer in the bottling bucket.  It was a good level of cherry as an accent without dominating the beer's character (think Cantillon Kriek more than Drie Fonteinen).  Even with that amount of juice they still added a cup of priming sugar, giving the beer champagne-like carbonation.

It will be interesting to see how the Gueuze they blended changes once it is carbonated, something the Pyle's assured us we would all be able to taste at a future BURP meeting.  I left inspired to start a Lambic blending project of my own, especially after several lackluster attempts to produce a great Lambic without blending.  It also inspired me to make a harsher tasting "acid" beer, aged with some oxygen exposure to give it an acetic edge for blending into beers that need some sharpness.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Barrel Aged Beer a New Idea? (rant)

Mayflower Brewing BarrelsThe rise in barrel aged beer has been one of the most notable trends in American craft beer over the last 15 years. These days barrel aged beer is mainstream enough that even Budweiser is getting into the act with Winter's Bourbon Cask Ale (which according to the label is aged on, not in, bourbon barrels) and a few breweries, like Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, oak age all of their beers. Among internet beer nerds many of the highest rated beers on both BeerAdvocate and RateBeer see some time in barrels that previously held a spirit or wine (each site has just under half of the top 50 rated beers barrel aged and that doesn't even include the beers aged on oak cubes or chips).  The most highly prized barrel aged beers are generally either strong (and often dark) or sour, these three characteristics can help to fend off the gradual oxidation that results during barrel aging.

Some people will tell you that this oak aging idea is an invention of American craft brewers (or homebrewers), and that before 1992 (or so) any barrels used to store aging or fermenting beer were coated on the inside with brewer's pitch to prevent wood flavor and oxygen from getting into the beer.  An alternative history from Innis and Gunn claims that their bourbon barrel aged beer "Is unique to us, a world first!" despite having been brewed for the first time in 2002... a full decade after Goose Island first brewed Bourbon County Stout in 1992.

The first, and most obvious, counterexample to the America First Theory is the use of unlined oak vessels to age/ferment most of the great sour ales of Belgium.  Traditional Lambic and Flanders Red producers have long relied on wooden barrels and tanks to age their beers.  These would never have been lined to prevent wood-beer contact because the use of oak here is specifically for its oxygen permeability and microbe harboring characteristics.  These breweries go to great lengths to clean off any impermeable beerstone buildup on the oak vessel before they fill it back up.  This cleaning ensures that each batch of beer gets the same wood contact as the previous batch (Rodenbach scrapes the inside of their large tuns by hand, and Cantillon agitates barrels filled with hot water and metal chains, while others just use a high-pressure hot water spray).

Bullfrog Brewing Barrel CellarFine, fine, sour beers are often a special case, they are the loophole answer for just about every brewing best practice.  However, according to Wild Brews one of the Lambic brewers' favorite barrel sources are the Czech Pilsner breweries that still ferment/age some of their beer in the traditional fashion (Pilsner Urquell Kvasnicovy for example).  Once the barrels get too old for pilsner (not enough wood character?!) the breweries sell them to breweries that want barrels without much character left. 

As these rants with a historical slant often go I'll turn to Ron Pattinson for some information I couldn't dig up on my own.  I sent him an email asking about the history behind barrel aging beer a few years back and he related the story of obtaining barrels from Guinness back in the 1970s that were not pitch lined.  So that makes three examples from different brewing traditions across Europe, more than enough to show that oak aged beers are anything but an invention of American craft brewers in the 1990 (although I will admit that it was Americans who popularized barrel forward beers).

With all of that said I have read that there were plenty of breweries that did use pitch lined barrels, especially for shipping beers long distances (like in the case of the original India Pale Ale), so while today some people may enjoy adding a bit of oak character to their IPAs there probably isn't much historical basis for it.  History aside, I think any unnecessary aging (especially with exposure to oxygen in a barrel) for a hoppy beer is a waste of time and hop character, but that's just me.

If you have any suggestions for rant topics please post a comment or send me an email.  For example, Chris Colby, the editor of BYO Magazine, recently complained to me about the use of the term "infected" to refer to an unintentionally sour beer (he made the excellent point that it is organisms that get infected, a beer should be called contaminated).

Thursday, April 8, 2010

How often do you enter your beers in competitions?

Never - 52%
Multiple times a year - 24%
Once a year - 11%
Less than once a year - 10%
Monthly - 0%

It seems like homebrewing competitions are becoming more popular than ever these days, especially with the announcement that the 2010 National Homebrew Competition drew 6,148 entries, up more than 500 from last year (luckily I didn't have to enter in the Northeast or Midwest regions which, for the first time, hit the cap of 750 entries).  I'm not sure if this rise in entries is a result of more people participating in the hobby, more publicity and emphasis on competing/winning (Jamil Effect?), or some other factor.

Despite all those entries into just one competition, more than half of the respondents to the poll indicated that they never enter their beers in competition.  I would assume that the high percentage is partly due to this blog's focus on brewing off-style beers.  However, despite my complaints, I tend to enter at least one BJCP sanctioned contest a year, and have done pretty well with my entries the last couple years (still waiting to hear back on my NHC entries this year).  I have plenty of friends who aren't the competition types, but even if I don't love the "brewing to sytle" format I do enjoy the excitement of competing (and winning) once or twice a year.  Looking at the numbers it appears that most of the people who enter contests do it pretty frequently, so maybe some people have that competitive bug while others don't.

While the one-size-fits-all BJCP guideline based judging has always been a complaint of mine, one of my biggest suggestions for a competition would be to have people submit a recipe/process sheet along with their entry.  The extra information wouldn't be looked at until after judging/scoring is complete (so as not to bias the judges), but could be used to help the judges provide accurate and helpful suggestions for improving low scoring beers or tweaking higher scoring entries.  There is nothing that makes me feel more foolish as a judge than trying to guess where an off-flavor might have come from (is that chlorophenol from chlorine in the water, or did the brewer use beach to sanitize their equipment?), and there is nothing more frustrating for me as an entrant than getting a score sheet back that has a bunch of suggestions that don't apply to my beer ("watch sanitation" when I entered an lightly funky saison etc...).  Just a thought.
So are the 52% of you who never enter contests just against the notion/cost/effort of entering, or are you not satisfied with how contests are setup/run/judged?

The new poll up on the blog is:  Best way to add fruit flavor to a beer?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Dark Hoppy Rye Collaboration Beer

A few months back Nathan and I got together with our friend Tim to brew the experimental recipe he came up with for the interview he did for BrewLocal (our craft-brew-centric-side-blogging-project).  Tim was one of the brewers at Old Dominion Brewing Company in Virginia before they moved their brewing operations to Delaware a few months back, he now works for the FDA.  His original recipe was for a roasty/hoppy rye beer fermented with a lager strain, but we decided to make 10 gallons and ferment half with clean ale yeast (1056) and half with lager to compare (sadly the plan didn't work out, but more on that later). 

Nathan and Tim Mash InIt is an interesting recipe, mostly pils, with some dark malt (both carafa and roasted barley), and flaked rye that Nathan toasted in the oven until it had a crisp texture that wouldn't have been out of place in a bowl covered with milk.  The hops were Hallertau Select (probably Tim's favorite variety) and Saaz.  A cool recipe that I doesn't compare to anything else I'm aware of, roastier and hoppier than a Schwarzbier, too clean and the wrong hops to be an American Porter etc... The brewday went smoothly although with three cooks in the kitchen some of the hops got added earlier than we had planned, and some minor adjustments had to be made to compensate. 

The lager yeast starter that Nathan made never took off.  As a result the lager yeast portion of the wort ended up being pitched onto the yeast cake from the ale half.  Since the wort was refrigerated until it was pitched with ale yeast there didn't seem to be much of an issue, but we decided to add dry hops to cover up any minor off-flavors.  Tim mentioned that he is planning on brewing a batch of it as a lager soon, so it will be interesting to taste the beer as he originally intended it

As it is the beer is slightly roasty/toasty, surprisingly smooth hops (those noble varieties will do that), and very subtle, I could easily imagine it being sold in six-packs to non-beer nerds.  I'll be posting a tasting in a couple weeks, but for the time being I'm in New York City for business.  I've been enjoying the beer scene (made it to Beer Table and Rattle and Hum over the weekend), but my posts may be few and far between for the next couple weeks until I'm back home in DC. 

'Round About Midnight

Tim Recircing the WortRecipe Specifics (All-Grain
Batch Size (Gal): 10.50   
Total Grain (Lbs): 19.11
Anticipated OG: 1.052  
Anticipated SRM: 21.9
Anticipated IBU: 42.0
Brewhouse Efficiency: 78 %
Wort Boil Time: 60 min

91.6% - 17.50 lbs.Belgian Pilsener 
2.9% - 0.56 lbs. Carafa Special II  
2.9% - 0.56 lbs. Roasted Barley
2.5% - 0.48 lbs. Flaked Rye     

Good mash pH, no water adjustments needed.Hops
3.00 oz.    Hallertauer Select (Pellet 6.30% AA) @ 55 min.
3.00 oz.    Czech Saaz (Pellet 3.40% AA) 10 min.

1.00 Whirlfloc @ 15 min.
0.40 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 min.

WYeast 1056 American Ale Yeast

Water Profile
Profile: Washington DC (Carbon filtered)

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest 15 min @ 144
Sacch Rest  II 20 min @ 154 (Direct Heat - 10 min)
Mash Out 1 min @ 170 (Direct Heat - 15 min)

Who needs a brew-scupture when you have stairs?Notes
Brewed 11/08/09 with Nathan and Tim

The first in the BrewLocal beer series.

Nathan toasted the rye, very dry almost like a breakfast cereal.  Very cool.

First run on Nathan's new keggle system.  We didn't collect quite enough wort pre-boil so we added ~1 gallon of water pre-boil to ensure good hop bittering efficiency.

Temp ramp ups were a bit slow in the mash with direct fire on my banjo cooker.

Nathan usually does a 60 min boil so he added the hops earlier than intended for a 90 min boil, as a result we shortened the boil to make sure the IBUs weren't too high.

Chilled to 67.  .5 gallons extra wort/hop/trub which was left in the kettle after racking the rest out.

At least the ale yeast was ready to go.The first half was drained into a better bottle and out into the fridge at 44 (looked very clean).  Pitched ~6 hours later with 60 seconds of pure O2.  The lager starter Nathan made (1.5 qrts) was partially decanted, and smelled pretty buttery. Light foam still after 12 hours, upped fridge temp to 46 to make sure it starts fermenting.

The second half was put into a bucket (with some of the hops/trub), aerated with 60 seconds of pure O2, and pitched with a starter of 1056, left in the basement mid-60s.  Strong fermentation by 12 hours.

11/14/09 The lager half never took off despite multiple swirlings and raising the temperature up to 56.  So I racked it onto the yeast cake when the all half was down to 1.010.  It took off like a shot, huge fermentation.

11/26/09 Racked the "lager" half to secondary.

12/02/09 Added 1.25 oz of Hallertau Select pellets for dry hopping to the "lager" half.

12/06/09  Bottled with 1 oz of cane sugar per gallon.  Dry hop half is pretty green, but should clean up.

4/20/10 First tasting.  Turned out pretty well, nice malt backbone, good balance