Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Hoppy American Wheat Beer Recipe

Milled wheat malt shot with my macro ring.I've brewed a couple of hoppy wheat beers in the past, but all of them have been variations on hefe weizen. I had never made an American wheat beer in the mold of Three Floyds Gumballhead or Southern Tier Hop Sun, that is to say fermented with a clean ale yeast. 

Wheat doesn't provide much of a distinct flavor of its own; most of the character of German and Belgian wheat beers is from esters and phenols produced by their signature yeast strains. I wanted this beer to be hoppy, but with a profile that helps differentiate it from an extra pale ale. I decided to add varieties that contribute citrus and tropical notes. I know both Amarillo and Citra well, and they seemed like a good combination for the late boil addition. For the dry hop I incorporated Calypso, a new-ish variety I had never used before. Its descriptors include pear and lemon/lime, hopefully perfect for a refreshing summer wheat beer.

I have been happy with the results of using HopShots, hop extract, to bitter a few recent batches (like my Nelson Nectar IPA), but I perceive the bitterness to be softer than the manufacturer indicates. As a result, for this batch I targeted ~20% more IBUs than I would have with a standard bittering hop addition. I'm not sure if the IBUs are actually lower than suggested, or if it is just a perception resulting from smooth bitterness. I also find low-cohumulone varieties like Magnum provide less perceived bitterness compared to high-cohumulone varieties like Chinook. Cohumulone along with humulone, and adhumulone comprise the alpha acids that when isomerized are responsible for hop bitterness; the Hop Variety Handbook lists ranges for the amount of cohumulone in most hop varieties.

The hoppy wheat spent the last week dry hopping in the keg, cold and on CO2 pressure, while I was out of town. It was nice to return after a week that included 1,700 miles of driving (Audrey's graduation, Cape Cod, Hill Farmstead 2nd Anniversary Party etc.) to a bright, refreshing, and wonderfully cold beer.

Fortunate Islands #1
Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.25
Total Grain (Lbs): 9.50
Anticipated OG: 1.046
Anticipated SRM: 5.3
Anticipated IBU: 49.5
Brewhouse Efficiency: 68 %
Wort Boil Time: 70 Minutes

55.3% - 5.25 lbs. German Wheat Malt
39.5% - 3.75 lbs. American Pale Malt
3.3% - 0.31 lbs. Honey Malt
2.0% - 0.19 lbs. CaraMunich II

5 ml       HopShot (Extract) @ 60 min.
1.00 oz. Amarillo (Whole, 10.00% AA) @ 0 min.
2.00 oz. Citra (Whole, 12.00% AA) @ 0 min.
1.00 oz. Citra (Whole, 12.00% AA) @ Dry Hop
2.00 oz. Calypso (Whole, 13.00% AA) @ Dry Hop

0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 min.

WYeast 1056 American Ale

Water Profile
Profile: Pliny the Water

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 50 min @ 152 F

Brewed 5/6/12 by myself

Mash water, 2 gallons filtered DC tap, 2 gallons distilled. 4 g gypsum, 1.5 g CaCl. Batch sparged with water that was similar except only 3 g of gypsum, and added 1/2 tsp of phosphoric acid. Collected 7.25 gallons of 1.038 wort.

Chilled to 71 F. After straining out the hops I was down to 4.75 gallons at 1.051 wort. Aerated for 30 seconds with pure oxygen.

Pitched a decanted .75 l starter from the stir-plate that had been made 36 hours earlier. Added .5 gallons of cold distilled water to dilute and chill it down a few degrees.

Placed in the fridge set to 63 F.

Allowed to warm slightly to 68 F after a few days to ensure a complete fermentation.

5/13/12 Down to 1.011. Kegged, left warm to ensure the fermentation finishes.

5/19/12 Added the dry hops in a weighted sock, and put into the fridge on 10 PSI of CO2.

6/28/12 Turned out alright. Not sure I'm a big fan of the character from the Calypso though. Next time, stick with Amarillo/Citra, and boost the mash temperature slightly.

7/14/12 Brewed a second iteration of this recipe.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Citra Calvados Tripel Tasting

A tulip of dry hopped funky tripel.I know I’ve said it before, but it is a tragedy that more breweries don’t dry hop their sour beers. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand the appeal of combining bright fruity or citrusy hop aromatics with the flavor of a tart pale or red beer. Brett is even a great oxygen scavenger, so hoppy beer fermented with it taste fresher longer than similar clean beers.

Although they haven’t been sour, I’ve really been impressed with the dry hopped Brett’d beers that Gabe Fletcher has been releasing from Anchorage Brewing. Most recently I was shocked by how fresh and hoppy a bottle of Galaxy (A white IPA brewed with Indian coriander, kumquats, black peppercorns, and Galaxy hops) was considering it was four months old.

The beer I’m drinking tonight is a variant of the sour tripel I brewed 18 months ago that was aged on Calvados soaked oak. I was underwhelmed by the flavor and acidity after aging, so in addition to bottling a gallon I kegged the rest with a healthy dose of Citra dry hops.

Citra Dry Hopped Sour Tripel

Appearance – The slightly hazy body has a deep golden hue. The bright white head deflates after a few minutes, but maintains a coarse covering until the beer is almost gone.

Smell – Huge citrusy hop nose. Complex tropical notes, mango especially. There is some overripe fruit that I could credit to the Brett, but this is a beer that really showcases Citra. As it warms a slight sour apple character emerges.

Taste – Even though I know what is coming, after the huge nose it is a shock to taste a beer that is so hoppy yet lacks any perception of bitterness. The sourness is light, but adds realism to the tropical fruit hoppiness carried through from the nose. Slight residual sweetness further accentuates the fruitiness. The malt is mellow, but occasionally provides a slight honey tone. As the beer warms the apple from the Calvados starts to come through in the finish.

Mouthfeel – Carbonation is medium as is the body. For a tripel it certainly could be livelier, I should probably turn up the CO2 pressure.

Drinkability & Notes – The dry hops took a couple weeks to mellow out to where they are bold, but not overpowering. I love having a hop aroma that isn’t harsh or grassy, but still blows me away. I’m really happy where this one has ended up. Hopefully the bottled version gains some funky complexity during a few months of bottle conditioning.

I'm sorry I don't have any more of the homegrown mango sour beer my friend Seth shared with me last week (long time readers may remember him from the Temptation clone we brewed three and a half years ago). Even though I'm not usually a mango fan, it was terrific on its own, and made a perfect blending partner for this batch. I need to get down to Florida to taste some of what he is brewing for Gravity Bar. It sounds like they have a bunch of interesting beers with local fruits for Berliner Bash on the Bay this weekend.

Monday, May 14, 2012

How many taps on your kegerator?

Chalkboard Kegerator, sorry for my poor handwriting.0 (no kegerator) - 30%
3-4 - 27%
2 - 23%
1 - 7%
5-6 - 5%
10-15 - 2%
7-9 - 2%
15+ - 0% (3 votes)

My kegerator has two normal taps (Perlicks), which is about right for my level of consumption. I like the forward seal faucets because they don’t stick, even if they don’t get used for a week. The beers I put on tap tend to keg are either low-moderate alcohol, or hoppy because these are the brews that I want to drink fresh. Much like a good beer bar, I tried to avoid installing more taps than needed. Since I am kegging fresher-is-better batches, I want to avoid letting them sit around too long. If it is a beer I want to drink over the course of months or years, I’d rather bottle.

When I want to put a sour beer on tap, I use a picnic/party/cobra tap to ensure that I don’t mix up the lines (or drink it too quickly). I tend to only keg dry hopped sour beers and other batches that are not my longest-aged most complex creations. Some people are a bit disturbed by the perceived risk of spilling microbe-laden beer in my kegerator, but since the kegs are airtight I don’t see it as a major concern.

As a longtime holdout to kegging, the last two and a half years with my kegerator have been eye-opening. As much as people try to sell kegging as labor and time saving compared to bottling, I’ve found that the real benefit is to the quality of my beers. Kegs can be flushed with CO2 to reduce the oxygen exposure (especially beneficial for hoppy beers). The carbonation level can be dialed in precisely, and there is no risk of over-carbonation because excess pressure can be vented easily. After sucking out the trub on the first few pints the beers tend to pour pretty clear.

However, kegs are not as hassle-free as some people make them out to be. It takes a decent amount of effort to keep them (along with the lines) clean and sanitized. Kegging systems have lots of small areas where microbes can fester. I recently bought Mark’s Keg Washer on a friend’s recommendation. It is essentially a sump pump with a long stem that sprays cleaner, and then sanitizer, on the interior of the inverted keg (or fermentor). I also bought the fittings to attach the pump to the liquid post to clean the dip-tube without disassembling the keg.

I try to minimize mold and moisture in my kegerator with a bucket of DampRid, but despite its best efforts once every six months I still need to pull everything out and bleach the interior. With such a small chest freezer the main issue is the area below the kegs, next to the compressor bump, where moisture pools. Cleaning the kegerator is just another one of those little things that many people fail to mention when promoting the benefits of kegging.

I usually get about nine months out of each five pound CO2 tank fill, probably seven or eight batches depending on whether or not I am keg conditioning or force carbonating, and how diligent I am about double purging both before and after filling. Sadly the DC metro-area only has one shop that is open on weekends and willing to fill tanks. There are a few places closer to my house, but they either close by the time I could get to them after work, or only do tank exchanges (I want to keep my aluminum tank).

For the test batches I have been brewing for Modern Times Beer, I have been using a Blichman Beer Gun to bottle from the kegs. So far it has been pretty easy to use, and Jacob told me that even the hoppy beers I have sent held up pretty well for a month in the bottle. This bottler connects to both the liquid out of the keg, and CO2; a button flushes the bottle with CO2, then the trigger dispenses the carbonated beer. The included liquid tubing is long and narrow enough to bottle well carbonated beers without much foaming, but using chilled wet bottles certainly helps as well.

If nothing else, serving your homebrew on draft fun. Being able to perfectly fill any sized glass, or just have a small taste of a beer without drinking a whole bottle. Although conversely, I sometimes run out of a beer when I’m not expecting to (either kicking a beer I was really enjoying, or having to knock through a mediocre batch to make room for something else). If you have the room, kegs are certainly worth the investment, but don’t think of them as a cure-all if bottling isn’t your favorite part of the hobby.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Coffee "Oats in the Boil" Stout Tasting

If someone tells you that they never brew a bad batch of beer, odds are that they don’t try many interesting techniques either. The coffee oatmeal stout I brewed a few weeks ago with a half-pound of oats added to the boil, would have been better if I just added them to the mash instead. The beer is still very good, but the oats didn’t add that rich silky body that I was hoping for.

Coffee "Oats In the Boil" Stout
Coffee Oatmeal Stout, hard to screw up appearance on a dark beer.
Appearance – Almost black, but not quite. The oats in the boil didn’t have a negative impact of the appearance of such a dark beer, but looking at the edges it is certainly hazy (although not murky). The tan head is sticky, but not especially long-lasting.

Smell – A few people who have tried this beer have described the aroma as pre-packaged coffee/mocha drink (e.g., Frappuccino), and that isn’t a bad description. It has a sweetness, and light chocolate/coffee character that screams comfort more than complexity. It is amazing how nicely just two ounces of coffee beans steeped for less than 36 hours comes through. Some fresh-grainy notes from the oats come through as it warms.

Taste – The flavor is similar to the aroma, mostly smooth coffee and chocolate roast. There is a good balance of sweetness from the caramel malts and bitterness from the hops. The oats are there only as a tertiary flavor, so I am planning to up the amount and substitute in toasted oats in the second iteration for more complexity.

Mouthfeel – The mouthfeel is strange. It starts with a nice round/fullness, but it finishes thin. Whether it was the oats, or the roasted malt, something has contributed a lingering tannic quality to the mouthfeel; after swallowing each sip my tongue is left with a dry/rough texture.

Drinkability & Notes – The flavor and aroma of this beer is not far from where I want them, but I don’t think the oats added to the boil is an experiment that I’ll repeat. To channel Thomas Edison: I did not fail, I found a way to not brew an oatmeal stout.

Monday, May 7, 2012

NHC 2012 First Round Results

Early last week I got my score sheets in the mail from the the Pittsburgh regional of the 2012 National Homebrew Contest. I'm generally not much of a homebrew contest guy because I don't like brewing to the BJCP style guidelines. However, as a blogger who likes to talk a big game, I think it's worth entering a few beers at the NHC every year to see how my beers compare. Two years ago I won sours in the East Region, but last year I didn't place anything even though I had a couple great scores.

This year I entered six beers, all of which were in the sour-funky vein. Out of those entries three are going onto the second round! Considering at most 11.2% (84 of the 750) of the entries in each region advance, my 50% isn't too shabby. Here are the results from Pittsburgh if anyone wants to see who I was up against. Below I summarized how each beer did, and quote the score sheets to give an impression of what the judges thought.

My three good NHC 2012 score sheets.39.5 - Brett Finished Belgian Single (16E Belgian Specialty Ale) - 2nd of 55

The judges were very enthusiastic about this one, although both were underwhelmed by the amount of Brett funk in the nose. I'm actually surprised how little the Brett brux has done, considering that when I bottled it I was concerned that the gravity might still be too high (1.010).

"Grainy and light slightly citrusy fruitiness. Low Brett character. Finishes light, crisp, with a slight sweet note. Very pleasant."

I'm planning on rebrewing this one over the summer. I'll be splitting this batch between the May-June Platinum White Labs Brett Trois strain (aka "Brett Drie") and the standard Brett brux.

38 - Berliner, Little Brother (17A Berliner Weisse) - Mini Best of Show

This basic recipe always does well in competition, it delivers a beer that fits well within the guidelines, and it seems to be a style a lot of other brewers have trouble getting sour enough. The problem is that at close to 3% ABV it is hard to get a Berliner weisse to compete against complex sour beers in the Belgian tradition.

"A little one dimensional but that's OK for style. To give it that extra oomph I'd like to see more wheat or malt character or maybe a touch of Brett."

I actually find it to have a pretty significant Brett character, if anything people usually say it has too much funk for the style. I think the judge may have confused the Brett for what he thought was an "earthy and spicy hop" in the aroma (there were only 1.5 oz of hops in 10 gallons, and it was brewed two years ago). Next month I'll be rebrewing this one with more wheat malt than my usual 30-40%.

34 - Cabernet Wine Barrel Solera (17F Fruit Lambic) - 1st of 28

Happy to win sours in my region for the second year in the last three! However, it was surprising to win with such a mediocre score. I'm sure wine grape character made the beer really stand out in the mini-best of show round. Bold flavors tend to do well in competition.

"It isn't very complex - really just sour - I enjoyed it though and it reminded me some of the great Cantillon grape lambics."

After going through the five gallon bucket of frozen wine grapes I bought two years ago with the help of a few friends, I think its time to get another. Although I might need a new source as the only frozen grapes Midwest Supplies has at the moment are pushing $200 a bucket including shipping (I paid around $100 for the first bucket).

32 Sour Cherry Bourbon Sour Porter (20 Fruit Beer) - 3rd of 16

Despite putting this one onto the second round, I thought the judges were way off base on a few of their comments. Not trying to blame them, this would be a hard beer to judge next to a variety of clean/sweet fruit beers. The base beer actually finished at 1.014, pretty sweet for a sour beer (although nothing like the 1.035+ that New Glarus has in their sour fruit beers).

"The sourness is very high. The porter character is light. Should be more porter-like. The finish is very long and a bit tannic. Very highly attenuated with no residual sweetness left in this beer. Base style 'Sour Porter' had to judge."

29.5 Buckwheat Sour Amber (17C Oud Bruin) - DNP

I didn't have high hopes for this beer as far as being to style, but I really like it. Both judges seemed to enjoy the flavors as well, but both pointed out that it is too thin/sour/bright for the style. I should learn my lesson and not enter beers that fall too far outside the style guidelines.

"The ester character could be muted slightly and the citrus eliminated while the fruit aspects could be played up."

26.5 Custom Blend Gueuze (17E Gueuze) - DNP

This batch was a custom blend I made and carbonated with a Carbonator Cap specifically for the NHC. After opening several bottles of beer and pulling samples from fermentors, I ended up with a blend of 37% DCambic, 30% Lambic 3, 26% Wine Barrel Solera, and 7% Berliner Lambic. I would have liked to taste this one after a couple weeks in the bottle because the comments were very different from what I tasted at bottling.

"This was a well crafted blend but the entire body of flavors and aroma was muted."

"The harsh finish just lingers in this beer, not good for style. Needs to be more complex and needs more carbonation."

So, three onto the second round! Hopefully one of them will earn me my first final round medal. Sadly I planned poorly and only have four bottles each of the Brett Finished Pale and the Sour Cherry Bourbon Porter, and the final round needs three of each. Just another reason for me not to like entering beers in competition.

It is amazing that in just the last few years the NHC has gone from never having a region max out, to this year when all 10 regions hit their entry cap within a few days of registration opening. I suspect a big part of the issue is those brewers gunning for the Ninkasi Award. This is the given to the brewer who accumulates the most wins in the final round. I'd like to see the AHA restrict each brewer to no more than five or ten entries, make brewers pick their best beers, not win by entering 50 beers.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Dark Saison III Tasting - Figs and Honey

For the third beer in our series of dark-funky-fall saisons, Alex and I created this earthy fig and buckwheat honey permeated batch late in 2010. The brown honey produced by bees collecting nectar from buckwheat smells like nothing so much as dark malt extract that has been left out too long, pungent. Overpowering on its own, we hoped that a small amount would add depth and complexity to the funk provided by the Brett. We also added a few grams of anise and cinnamon, our attempt at sub-threshold saison spicing.

Complex recipes are hard to learn from. Alex and I combined a bunch of malts, adjuncts, fruits, oak, spices, an expressive yeast, and it is terrific, but I am completely lost on where most of what I taste is coming from. There is definitely dark fruit, but is that the figs or the Special B? I think most of the funk is from the Brett, but I’m sure the buckwheat honey is boosting it. I like the beer, but it would be a hard recipe to refine.

Fantôme has been a big inspiration for this series of beers. Not any of their beers in particular, but rather the notion of making a seasonal beer, like their Hiver or Noel, that evolve from batch to batch. It is a lot more fun to have a general concept to brew towards, rather than trying to recreate the same thing each year. Hopefully Alex and I can keep up this project; it shouldn’t be too hard given all of the dried fruits and spices we have yet to experiment with. Last fall’s Batch #4 is still aging, although I had to rack my share off of the wine-soaked oak stave and dried Zante currants sooner than anticipated when, after just six weeks, the wood character was already becoming too evident.

A glass of fig-honey dark saison on a bookshelf my grandfather built.Dark Fruit Saison III

Appearance – The meager off-white head puts up a good fight, holding on to the last sip. It sits atop a beer has a dark molasses color at the top, but turns transparent Newcastle brown near the bottom of the fluted glass.

Smell – The aroma is dark, port-like, with plenty of dried fruit (although not specifically figgy). There is some dusty Brett funk as well, backed up by some toasty malt (or is that buckwheat honey?). There is so much going on that the peppery yeast and spices get lost in the shuffle.

Taste – Fresh cherries or plums right off the bat, before transitioning into dark fruit in the finish. The acidity is soft and complementary, the saison yeast didn’t leave too much for the bugs. The flavor is dry, but it isn’t grating. The buckwheat honey has calmed down from its once potent position, although it is still there at least in the distinct barnyard finish.

Mouthfeel – I’m usually a fan of low-moderate carbonation, but this one could use a little more oomph. The body is medium-thin, about right for a dark-funky-Belgian.

Drinkability & Notes – I think each year our dark saisons have gotten a little bit better, although this one is probably closer to a funky dubbel. Still waiting to see how the most recent version turned out, but I have high hopes.