Thursday, December 27, 2012

19th Century Imperial Stout Tasting - Three Ways

Russian Imperial Stout has lost just as much of its original meaning as India Pale Ale over the last couple centuries. Both were originally brewed by English breweries, and both names have as much to do with marketing as anything related to where they were exported. In the last twenty years American craft (and home) brewers have claimed both styles as their own, making them bigger, hoppier, and more aggressively flavored than their 19th century namesakes ever were.

In 2007 when my friend James and I brewed a beer inspired by Courage Russian Imperial Stout it was out of necessity. The original (by most accounts the first Russian Imperial Stout) hadn’t been brewed since about 2003, and there wasn’t a hint it ever would be again. Luckily a couple years later Wells and Young's resurrected the beer. For our version we opted to pitch Brett, but subsequently arrest fermentation with campden tablets when the gravity reached the desired point. Luckily the metabisulfite worked and even after more than five years in the bottle the beer is not over-carbonated.

Prior to the resurrection of Courage, the only real alternative had been A. Le Coq’s Imperial Extra Double Stout (a beer the parent brewery doesn't even mention on their website outside the description of their porter). It is based on the recipe that was originally exported from England to Russia by a Belgian, and later brewed in Russia (Estonia today) prior to the revolution one hundred years ago. It still has a Brettanomyces character that earlier versions of Courage RIS supposedly possessed, a flavor absent from the current incarnation. Today it is brewed under contract by Harvey & Son in England (which does mention it on their website).

After five years of tastings my version alone, I wanted to give it a bit of competition. So I brought a bottle of my batch back to DC from Massachusetts, and dipped into my cellar for bottles of the competition!

Courage Russian Imperial Stout - Best by 19/09/24 (Bottled September 2011)

2011 Courage Russian Imperial StoutAppearance – Pours with a thicker than expected dense medium-tan head. Clear brown edges frame the otherwise opaque black body. Decent head retention, leaving some sticky lacing behind.

Smell – High-quality, fruity dark chocolate leads. Brandy, vinous, raisins, plenty complex. Sweet almost-but-not-quite vanilla follows. Doesn’t bash you with coffee, char, and roast like so many modern imperial stouts do. You wouldn’t be blamed for thinking the Belgians had something to do with this one, like a roastier version of Rochefort 10.

Taste – Sweet enough without being cloying, still some bitterness from both hops and roast to balance. Nicely bready, toasty, really malty. The flavor seems to end with char, but that evolves into dark fruit, and finally bittersweet chocolate. One of the better linger-ers I’ve tasted recently. It doesn’t have the big-bold flavors American brewers have injected into the style, but that may be why wouldn’t mind drinking a whole (9.3 oz – 275 ml) bottle.

Mouthfeel – Despite the voluminous initial head the beer isn’t over-carbonated per se, but it is more carbonated than I’d prefer. The result is a beer that comes across somewhat thin, not as full as I want a big complex beer like this to be.

Drinkability & Notes – I enjoyed this one considerably more than I did the first bottle I had soon after it was released. As it stands I think this one will benefit from a couple more years, but sadly I don’t have any more bottles.

A. Le Coq Imperial Extra Double Stout – 2009 on Cap

2009 A Le Coq Imperial Extra Double StoutAppearance – Darker than the Courage, basically no translucent edges when held to the light. The head is thinner, coarser, airier, and darker.

Smell – Loads of Brett, damp basement, SweeTarts, dusty, very nice. However, there is only minimal stout character, not much roast or chocolate. As it warms I get some tobacco, licorice, and toasted bread. The aroma has a lot in common with my Brett C finished Old Ale.

Taste – The flavor is sharp, with a lingering metallic charred bitterness. There is some burnt-roast, but its clashes with the Brett. Acrid is a good descriptor for the overall character. Of the three this is the only one I dumped any of.

Mouthfeel – Medium-low carbonation, about right for a big stout. The body is similar to the Courage, a bit thin.

Drinkability & Notes – Clearly I like the aroma more than the flavor. More pleasant than many of the corked bottles they used in earlier years. Those tended to be acetic, flat, and watery. Not in love with this one, but it tastes like I imagine a stock stout should, something that would blend nicely with a younger, mellower, sweeter stout.

My Courage Russian Imperial Stout Clone - Brewed/Bottled 2007

2007 Homebrewed Courage RIS CloneAppearance – The thin tan head recedes with haste leaving a sparse wispy covering. The black beer itself lets the barest hint of light through the edges when held towards a lamp.

Smell – The nose has a lot in common with the Courage, but it isn’t as bold. The dark chocolate is there, but not nearly the quantity of dried fruit. I wonder if the new version of Courage includes a bit of dark crystal malt that those of a bygone era did not? The fruitiness of the Brett barely pokes through, much mellower than the Le Coq.

Taste – The most drinkable rounded and balanced of the three... I’m quite pleased with how this one is aging-out! The roast is mellow, medium-roast coffee, and bready malt. After all these years, still barely a hint of oxidation with a light soy-sauce flavor just barely evident. Some dried fruit in the finish, slightly sugary, a bit of oak, brandy, and dates.

Mouthfeel – Similar to the others, slightly thinner than I would ideally hope for. Not obnoxious, or unpleasant, but not as creamy and luxurious as I’d prefer. Same goes for the carbonation, just slightly more prickly than I like in a strong ale.

Drinkability & Notes – It doesn’t have the complex roast and fruit of the Courage, or the raw Brett funk of the Le Coq, but I prefer it to either. Glad I have enough of these bottles left at my parents’ house to keep me in supply each Christmas until 2020 or so.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Fifth Annual Dark Saison - Sour Red

Alex and I have been brewing variations on funky dark saison each fall for the last five years. The recipes are never the same, and for the most part aren't even that similar. Over the years the strength has fluctuated from around 7% ABV to over 9%, with the malts, yeasts, hops, spices, and dried fruit varying based on how we were feeling at the time.

Dark-Red Saison #5 handing out in secondary.The first two brews were on our friend Noah's system. We probably would have kept that up had he not moved to Colorado shortly after the second batch. Luckily for us, Noah recently returned to the area (moving back into the very same house). Hopefully we’ll get him on board for Dark Saison #6 next year!

I’m hoping to convince the big-wigs (ha) at Modern Times to brew something like this as an annual tradition. Maybe not this exactly, but I enjoy the concept of seasonal beers that aren’t just dusting off the same recipes each year. Creating variations on a theme, rather than dialing in a stagnant target. Jason Yester of Trinity Brewing really inspired me while I was at GABF (recording an episode of Basic Brewing Radio); he brews a huge number of saisons each year, many with seasonal ingredients (grain of paradise, pumpkin, cacao nibs, brown sugar candied endive, Buddha's hand etc. and that’s just one beer, Capitane Petite Bouddha! Jason’s ode to Peter Bouckaert of New Belgium).

The dark saison Alex and I brewed last year was the first time we didn’t sour the beer, relying on Brett to add earthy-funk without significant acidity. For #5 we went back to our sour ways, but brewed the lightest colored wort of the series thus far. The reddish hue is pretty unique for a saison, and we tried to give it a caramel malt profile reminiscent of a Flemish red. Our original plan was to age the beer on quince (tastes like an extra-tart pear), but sourcing them has proved difficult. Jackie O’s Quincedence is the only sour I’m aware of brewed with quince although I wasn’t enamored with the combination of the fruit with a wine barrel aged smoked Scotch ale, and earthy Brett.

As a result of the scarcity of quince, this batch is currently sitting without an added fruit, herbs, or spices. Alex and I have discussed splitting the 10 gallon batch a few ways to create additional variety. Even if we get our hands on quince, we may end up adding it to only a few gallons of the batch. I think this beer would go beautifully with rose hips, hibiscus, schisandra (five flavor fruit), rooibos, or something else we turn up at the local co-op. I’ll wait to see where the flavor is in a few more months before anything goes in.

Dark Saison V

Recipe Specifics
The first signs of a pellicle forming.-----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 10.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 28.75
Anticipated OG: 1.065
Anticipated SRM: 15.3
Anticipated IBU: 21.0
Brewhouse Efficiency: 65 %
Wort Boil Time: 95 Minutes

41.7% - 12.00 lbs. Munich
41.7% - 12.00 lbs. German Vienna
7.8% - 2.25 lbs. Oatmeal
3.5% - 1.00 lbs. Crystal 90L
1.7% - 0.50 lbs. CaraRed
1.7% - 0.50 lbs. Melanoidin Malt
1.7% - 0.50 lbs. Special B

1.25 oz. Comet (Whole, 10.00% AA) @ 65 min.

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

White Labs WLP585 Belgian Saison III

Water Profile
Profile: Washington, DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 60 min @ 156 F

10/5/12 Made a 1.5 L stir plate refresher for the yeast I harvested from the Spelt Saison about a month earlier. Yeast starter took off quickly.

10/6/12 Oats were Country Choice Toasted. 4.5 lbs of the Munich was Briess 6-row, the rest was German.

Chilled to 75 F with the plate chiller. 45 seconds of pure O2. Pitched half the undecanted starter, a few ounces of East Coast Yeast Bug Farm IV, and the dregs from bottles of Dark Saison IV and Duchessic.

11/10/12 Racked to secondary, no fruit or oak yet.

11/10/13 Added 20 oz of quince paste, dissolved in an equal amount of boiling water.

4/13/14 Bottled with 3 1/8 oz of table sugar, and a splash of rehydrated Pasteur Champagne yeast.

9/25/14 Tasting notes for this tart, fruity, interesting addition to the series.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Aromatic Cream Ale Tasting - Bottle vs. Tap

One of the biggest challenges of my participation in getting Modern Times off the ground has been distance. Jacob is setting up the brewery in San Diego while I continue to live 3,000 miles away in Washington, DC. Collaborating on the recipes for the beers has been easy over email, and my brewing have only benefited from the added planning and perspective. However, getting the resulting beer to Jacob has been a pain.

Bottle conditioned strong beers and sours ship beautifully, but I can’t reasonably send a keg of force carbonated IPA. However, I've  found that the beers I want to drink fresh benefit from kegging. Our solution has been to take advantage of force carbonation, keg hopping, and so forth by bottling session/hoppy beers from the keg. While this could be as simple as sticking a sanitized bottle under the tap (in the same way I fill growlers/bombers to bring to homebrew club meetings), oxidation would cause hoppy beer bottled in this way to struggle to survive the long journey in peak shape. Let alone that to serve a variety of beers to prospective investors, distributors, consumers etc. Jacob needs to dole out any given batch over a couple month.

We started with a Blichmann BeerGun. It allows each bottle to be flushed with carbon dioxide (from a tank) and then filled with beer. It relies on a cold/wet bottle, long/narrow liquid line, low dispensing pressure, and its low-turbulence design to minimize foaming. Despite all of this I was unable to push beer as carbonated as Jacob hoped, without excessive foaming (which knocks CO2 out of solution).

For the most recent round of bottles I used a Fermentap counter-pressure filler from More Beer for the first time. It works by pressurizing each bottle with CO2 and then a bleeder valve allows the CO2 to escape as beer flows in to displace it. When operated correctly this system prevents dissolved carbonation from escaping. The beer can be dispensed at serving pressure, but operation is a bit more complex, relying on a three-way ball-valve (the Beer Gun is operated by two separate triggers for gas and liquid). The first one More Beer sent was defective (pressure leaked around a seam) but I have high hopes for the replacement that just arrived.

Here are tasting notes for the Aromatic Cream Ale, on tap, and in a counter-pressured filled bottle. The bottle was filled two weeks ago, and has been hanging out in my fridge since then.

Aromatic Cream Ale - Tap

Appearance – Almost clear, looks a half shade darker than the bottled version, most likely a result of less refraction of light traveling through it. Head last slightly longer, but not by much.

Smell – Fresh, bright hops. Citrus zest accounts for most of it, but a light herbal-spice as well.

Tasting of Aromatic Cream Ale in a bottle and on tap.Taste – Soft, not as snappy as I want for a cream ale (maybe the low-ish CO2). The English yeast adds a pleasant fruitiness. The hop flavor is nicely saturated, complex without overwhelming the delicate malt base.

Mouthfeel – Carbonation is a bit low, but I turned the gas off a few days ago because it was pouring a bit foamy.

Drinkability & Notes – Nicely complex hoppy beer, would need to be a bit crisper if we wanted to use the “cream ale” moniker, but would be a fine XPA as is. Solid, but not very exciting.

Aromatic Cream Ale - Bottle

Appearance – Moderately hazy, most likely chill haze from being a few degrees cooler. Lacing is sticky, but the head doesn’t last long.

Smell – Very clean, again serving temperature may be part of it (although even as it warms it is significantly less hoppy). Slight toasty malt, moderate American hops.

Taste – Crisp, moderate hop bitterness. Not a very complex hop character, tastes muted. Some sweet-corniness, think Corn Flakes. Well balanced.

Mouthfeel – Slightly higher carbonation than on draft, but it could still be pricklier. Hopefully the fully functioning filler and a few other tweaks will get a firmer carbonation when I’m ready to send the West Coast IPA and Southern Hemisphere DIPA.

Drinkability & Notes – Refreshing easy to drink. This bottle went into the fridge right after filling, so it didn’t experience the four day trip across the country like the bottles Jacob received. More cream-ale-like than it is on draft, but that isn’t a positive in terms of how it tastes.

Monday, December 10, 2012

My favorite beers are...? and Dry Hopped Sour Tasting

Hop Forward - 35%
Sour/Funk Forward - 26%
Malt Forward - 23%
Yeast Forward - 12%
Fruit Forward - 0% (6)
Spice/Herb Forward - 0% (5)

One of the aspects of beer that really sets it apart from wine is the range of ingredients. I am friends with homebrewers who can’t stand hoppy beers, while others won’t brew anything that isn’t hop forward. While some brewers are out foraging for local herbs to flavor their brews, smoking their own malt, or buying fruit at a farmer's market, others are culturing yeast and bacteria to recreate the funky/tart flavors of wild Belgian microflora. This range of ingredients has resulted in a huge number of styles and examples that highlight the various flavors.

I have a pretty open palate. I’m the sort of person who usually orders something new every time I eat at a restaurant, even if what I had the last time was delicious. When it comes to beer, whether I'm brewing or buying, I’m usually looking to experience a new flavor I haven’t tasted before. However, there are certain categories that I often find myself coming back to.

My lack of excitement for malt and yeast forward beers stems from the relatively finite flavors of the ingredients that are commercially available. There is a much higher degree of variation between hop varieties than there is for barley (not to mention the new hops coming out all of the time). While processing has a bigger impact on malt character than it does on hops, it has been a long time since I used a new malt that really made an impression on me. Similarly I enjoy yeast-forward beers, but in many of my favorite beers the yeast provides subtle complementary flavors rather than playing lead.

All that said, I’m torn on what to pick from the list above, hoppy or sour/funky. I’ve had beers from both categories that at the time I’d have sworn couldn’t be topped. I also have certain flavors in both categories that I can’t stand. There isn’t anything worse than oxidized American hops, unless I’m drinking a sour beer with above-threshold acetic acid (vinegar)!

While there are beers I love that feature malt, yeast, spices, or fruit, I don’t like these types of beers consistently or as much as either hoppy or sour beers. The question/options I posed were unfair, as many of my favorite beers highlight a combination of flavors from a variety of ingredients. Sour fruit beers, hoppy beers fermented with characterful yeast, malty beers with subtle spicing etc.

One combination I’ve fallen hard for in the combination of bright hop aromatics layer onto a sour beer. I’ve done it a couple times in the past, but this blended sour might be the most fun. I had a half keg of our first pull from the wine barrel solera, that Nathan and I dry hopped with Hallertau. The bottles were great, but the kegged portion never tasted right. It was sharply acidic and not especially pleasant. As a result, I cut it with a few gallons of the 100% Lactobacillus fermented Berliner weisse, which never soured adequately. Then I keg hopped the blend with a couple ounces of Comet (which HopsDirect describes as “[U]nique, wild, American aroma, and wonderful zesty grapefruit, lemon, and orange notes”). I bought a pound of the 2011 harvest on a whim, and hadn't found an excuse to use them.

Dinosaur Killer (Dry Hopped Sour Blend)

Appearance – Rather generic pale ale appearance, a bit darker than yellow. Some haze, although that may just be from the dry hopping. The head is surprisingly good, most likely thanks to the young Berliner weisee.

Smell – Strong candied citrus aroma, with some pine as well. A vibrant nose with just a hint at the acidity that lays behind the hops. As it warms I get hints of the wine barrel that housed the older portion for 20 months.

Taste – Bright tartness, but not strongly sour however thanks the dilution of the wood aged beer. The hops are bright and crisp, featuring grapefruit zest, and just a hint of Citra-like dankness. The tartness comes across very much like citric acid, sharp but short, not lingering long. Not a super complex beer, but it is still very enjoyable.

Mouthfeel – Moderately thin mouthfeel, bordering on watery. The carbonation is medium-low, it is hard to push a highly carbonated beer from the short/wide tubing I have on the cobra tap without excessive foaming

Drinkability & Notes – Wonderfully refreshing, I only wish I had this on tap when the weather was hotter. The Comet hops are a fun addition, I’ll have to figure out something more traditional to do with the few ounces I have left in the freezer.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Hoppy American Wheat #3 Tasting

Third Version of the Modern Times Hoppy Citra Amarillo Wheat. One of the really fun aspects of brewing and re-brewing the recipes we are developing for Modern Times is seeing how subtle tweaks can so profoundly change the character of a beer. For example Jacob and I agreed on three subtle recipe changes to the mash/grain of the Hoppy American Wheat that transformed the overly-thin second batch into this nearly-there third batch. For this iteration we increased the CaraVienna (5.6% to 7.1%), the original gravity (1.040 to 1.048), and the mash temperature (153F to 155F).

I'm ready to call this recipe just about where I was hoping, but I'm still waiting for feedback from Jacob on the counter-pressure bottles I shipped west on Monday.

Citra Amarillo Wheat #3

Appearance – Slightly hazy, gilded yellow. The head is terrific, rocky/sticky white. Retention is alright, but the head is down to a thin covering by the time I’m half-way through my glass.

Smell – Beautiful fresh citrus leads, orange especially. The Citra hops dominate, but the Amarillo keeps it in check, preventing it from being overbearing. There is a bit of something tropical in there, mango maybe. The hops don’t let much of the malt come through other than a faint cracker, not that it needs more. Clean otherwise.

All of that wheat malt created a beautiful head!Taste – Starts out citrusy like the nose, gets doughy in the middle, and finishes a bit more resiny. Bitterness lingers in the finish, but not in a very aggressive way. Despite the changes made to the malt-side, it is in no way sweet. Nicely balanced.

Mouthfeel – The body is really wonderfully substantial, without being sticky/chewy. Medium carbonation is about right for me, but it could probably be boosted to make it a bit lighter. Hoping the bottles areabout right.

Drinkability & Notes – A real beer-nerd session beer. Layers of hop flavor in a package you could drink a few of. Not much I would change on this one!

Monday, December 3, 2012

West Coast IPA Recipe - Hop Oil Analysis

This West Coast IPA is the last of the four hoppy beers I brewed over four consecutive weekends earlier this fall. The recipe owes some similarities to the 100% Brett Trois IPA I brewed earlier this year, but odds are they won’t taste very similar. Fermentation with WLP007 (Dry English Ale) harvested from the Hoppy Cream Ale will give this batch a very different yeast profile, and the Simcoe-heavy dry hop will lead to a resiny aromatic profile compared to the tropical fruit packed aromatics of the Brett IPA. As a side note, White Labs recently announced that WLP644 Brett Trois will be going year round!

IPA with a bag of dry hops partially submerged.I’m interested to see how the Briess Pale Ale Malt I used as the base malt for this IPA performs in a hoppy beer. I didn’t realize when I bought the sack that the color is about double the Lovibond of the CMC Canadian 2-Row I’d been using previously. We’ll see if the slightly toastier flavors come through in a positive way, without making the beer seem too “English.” The Dank Amber IPA recipe was based on even darker/toastier Best Malz Vienna and did not taste overly-malty, which seems to indicate the pale malt won’t be an issue.

While writing a recipe for a hoppy beer I usually default to an even split of my chosen hop varieties, with similar additions made on both the hot and cold sides of the brewing process. From there I can adjust subsequent iterations based on which aromatics I want to highlight, replace, subdue, or eliminate. Even though this is my first attempt at this recipe, I'm using varieties I’ve brewed with numerous times before. As a result I decided to focus on the more citrusy varieties (Citra and Centennial) on the hot-side (hop-stand and hop-back) and then follow that with the pine-ier Simcoe for dry hopping. My goal was to create a beer that evolves more as it crosses the palate. We’ll see if it works.

The way that homebrewers tend to think about hops is as discrete spices. (e.g., Cascade adds grapefruity flavors. Galaxy is more tropical. Grassy-spiciness calls for Saaz. etc.) However, unlike the wide variety of spices in your pantry, hops are all varieties of the same plant species. As a result many of these flavor differences result from different ratios of the same set of aromatic oils (although not all hops share an identical set of aromatic compounds). I watched a video a few months ago of an interview with Pat Mcilhenney from Alpine during which he mentions that when they develop a recipe for a hoppy beer they target a standard ratio of hop oils. He didn’t provide their actual target though. Their hoppy beers, especially Hoppy Birthday, are so good that I couldn't ignore the suggestion.

Despite making up only a tiny portion of the hop's weight, the hop oils provide the aromatics, as opposed to the much more prominent alpha and beta acids which create the bitterness. I’d never thought about the amounts of myrcene, caryophyllene, humulene, and farnesene etc. in my hop blends before. Here is a list of aromatic descriptors for these as well as many other hop oils. The Beer Sensory Science blog also has several interesting posts about the chemistry underpinning hop aroma perception.

Hop aromatic oil calculation spreadsheet.To help me better understand what is happening in different hop blends I created a spreadsheet (free to download here - HopOil-PercentageCalculator.xlsx) that calculates the percentage of each oil given the hop bill. Select a hop you want to add from the drop-down lists on the left and enter its percentage of the hop bill next to it in GREEN (the table at the far right contains average values for total oil content and a breakdown of those oils - if anyone knows of a more complete or reliable source, please pass it along). The results are populated in the middle table in BLUE. In most cases only the most common four oils were specified, so don't trust the percentages of the others unless you ensure that all the selected varieties include percentages for the other oils.

For comparison I included the percentages that these average hop numbers spit-out for Alpine’s Duet, which Pat noted is an even blend of Amarillo and Simcoe, and Russian River’s Pliny the Elder (using only the late boil additions and dry hops).

Checkout Scott Janish's Hop Oil Calculator a web-version/update to my Excel sheet as well!

The timing of the hop additions plays a role in the final aromatic profile as well because some oils are more volatile than others. The sheet does not take this fact into account. While the big four mentioned above account for 70-90% of the total oil content of most hop varieties (according to Indie Hops, pelletization tends to reduce the relative percentages of humulene and myrcene, for better or worse), there are other oils that contribute substantially and positively to hop aroma. As a result two blends that reach the same ratio of the four "primary" oils, will not yield identical beers. I was not able to find average values for all of the oils for each hops, not to mention that there is a huge within-variety variation resulting from growing and packaging conditions. As a result, I wouldn’t suggest using this spreadsheet for anything too serious unless you obtain an actual analysis of your hops to use in place of the generic numbers.

I’ll be brewing a couple less traditional hoppy beers this winter. Jacob and I are currently working on test batches for a split batch of wit (half with hibiscus, half dry hopped with Galaxy and Rakau) and a hoppy tripel, evolved from a batch I brewed a few years ago, this time with Amarillo and Simcoe. I enjoyed the history in Mitch Steele’s recent IPA book, but now I’m really excited about the scientific and process details in Stan Hieronymus’s For the Love of Hops (especially after talking with him while we were both visiting Crooked Stave’s tasting room during GABF).

West Coast IPA

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 13.00
Anticipated OG: 1.066
Anticipated SRM: 5.9
Anticipated IBU: 133.3
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70 %
Wort Boil Time: 75 Minutes

88.5% - 11.50 lbs. American Pale Ale Malt
5.8% - 0.75 lbs. Flaked Wheat
3.8% - 0.50 lbs. CaraPils
1.9% - 0.25 lbs. Table Sugar

1.25 oz. Columbus (Whole, 15.00% AA) @ 60 min.
5 ml       HopShot (Extract) @ 60 min.
1.00 oz. Simcoe (Whole, 14.00% AA) @ 10 min.
2.00 oz. Citra (Whole, 10.00% AA) @ Hop-Stand
1.00 oz. Centennial (Whole, 10.50% AA) @ Hop-Stand
1.00 oz. Citra (Whole, 10.00% AA) @ Hop-Back
2.00 oz. Centennial (Whole, 10.50% AA) @ Hop-Back
4.00 oz. Simcoe (Whole, 14.00% AA) @ Dry Hop
1.00 oz. Citra (Whole, 10.00% AA) @ Dry Hop

0.50 Whirlfloc @ 15 min.
0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 min.

White Labs WLP007 Dry English Ale

Water Profile
Profile: Washington, Hoppy

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 60 min @ 152

Brewed 11/18/12 by myself

Filtered DC water cut with 4 gallons of distilled. 8.5 g of gypsum and 4.5 g of CaCl split between the mash and sparge.

Collected 7 gallons of 1.055 runnings with a fly sparge.

Chilled to 61 F. Oxygenated for 45 seconds. 1 cup of yeast slurry harvested from Aromatic Cream Ale. Left at 64 F to ferment. Good fermentation by the next day.

12/2/12 Added the first dose of dry hops (2 oz), bagged and weighted, to the primary fermentor. Not as much hop character as I would have expected at this point, but the dry hops will help, so I'm not worried.

12/16/12 Added the second dose of dry hops, bagged and weigthed to a sanitized keg. Flushed, and filled. Down to 1.013.

1/10/12 One of the best hoppy beers I've brewed. Bright, fresh, citrus, tropical, and pine. Maybe slightly sweet (or just fruity?), but with the right amount of bitterness for my tastes.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cabernet-English Barleywine Tasting

The DC Homebrewers club is rapidly approaching our fourth anniversary! Three years ago we started an annual tradition of brewing a collaborative beer dole out a couple bombers at a time to celebrate each subsequent anniversary. The goal is eventually to have six or seven different vintages to sample each year. The brew days are good excuses to get together drink a few homebrews, and brew a recipe that none of us would have on our own.

Wine glass seems appropriate for a barleywine fermented with a couple pounds of Cabernet sauvignon grapes.The first beer was a local smoked/honey stout we brewed at my house. The bottle I brought to the October meeting held at District ChopHouse, their brewer Barrett Lauer provided the yeast, was still in great shape. The second anniversary brew was the Cabernet-grape-spiked English barleywine sitting in front of me now (this is my one bottle opened in payment for buying the ingredients). The third batch was spearheaded by Josh, our current club president, an old ale that was still in secondary last I heard.

DCHB Anniversary #2 – Cabernet Barleywine

Appearance – Rich reddish-brown body, very clear. You might not know there were grapes in there from the color alone. The head is about an inch thick, and slightly off-white. Decent retention, but by the time my glass is half-empty the foam is a fine ring around the edge.

Smell – The nose is relatively vibrant for an 18 month old beer. There is a woodsy-spice from the grapes and oak (a bit too strong), some vinous notes from the grapes and age, and a strong toasted malt aroma Munich and Maris Otter base.

Taste – The flavor is mellow, rounded, and reasonably sweet. I don’t get as much caramel as I had hopped for from the long/concentrated boil. The oak and grapes provide enough character/tannins to counter the sweetness. It doesn’t have the depth of complexity that I expect in a great strong beer, but it is pleasant enough. There is a subtle alcohol warmth, but it isn’t hot or boozy.

Mouthfeel – Medium mouthfeel for a barleywine, not big or sticky. Medium-low carbonation, about right for a strong ale.

Drinkability & Notes – I don’t brew (or drink) many barleywines. The balance never seems to hit the right mark for my palate. They always taste like they are lacking, or that they aren’t “worth” the high alcohol content. Sadly this one falls in that second category, it just doesn’t have anything that draws me in. It isn’t bad or off, and I like it more than a lot of the commercial barleywines I’ve had, it just tastes lacking. Hopefully time will bring some additional complexities.

I’m a bit disappointed with the technique of boiling down passed the target volume and then topping off. Like boiling the first runnings to a syrup, it makes a good compliment to the flavors of caramel malt, but by itself it isn’t enough to replace their flavors in a beer like this. Fun, but probably not worth the additional fuel.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Southern Hemisphere Hopped Double IPA Recipe

I think double/imperial IPA is one of the easiest styles to brew an “alright” version of, but one of the most difficult to really nail. Loading a large quantity of bold hops into a recipe can obscure many process flaws. However, to produce an excellent strong/hoppy beer you have to address a number of contradictions. Double IPAs are high alcohol beers that need to be served really fresh. Recipes must contain a huge amount of malt, but the finished beer should taste dry and bitter. The best examples are intensely flavored, but still highly drinkable. It is a style that is young (not much more than 10 years as a bottled, year-round beer), but there are already so many breweries that brew at least one.

My favorite commercial examples of the style are all around 8% ABV. Less alcohol than that and it isn’t really a DOUBLE IPA, higher than about 9% ABV and the booze starts getting in the way of the hop aromatics. Some of my favorites are Russian River’s Pliny the Elder, The Alchemist’s Heady Topper, Lawson’s Double Sunshine, The Bruery Humulus Lager, and Hill Farmstead’s Abner. All of these beers have huge hop aromatics, bitterness that isn’t too harsh, and clean/subtle malt bases.

Two Northern Brewer HopShots, one light one dark.Hops can be of any variety, as long as they are high in oil content. It would be almost impossible to add enough of a subtle low-alpha-acid hop variety to achieve the required aromatics and bitterness without losing most of the wort to hop absorption. For this beer I paired Rakau from New Zealand with Galaxy from Australia. I brewed a similar recipe last year that was 100% Galaxy and while enjoyable, the result never wowed me. Using hops that are in pristine condition should have been on the list of tips for brewing hoppy beers that I included with its recipe post! Lesson learned, no more buying two-year-old whole-hops shipped directly from Australia. Many of the Southern Hemisphere hop varieties share aromatic commonalities with newer American varieties like Citra; they impart lots of tropical fruitiness, with a hint of dankness in high concentrations.

I’d been underwhelmed by the bitterness of Northern Brewer’s HopShots on their own. It seems much lower than their numbers suggest. The bitterness is clean and soft, perfect for many styles, but not IPA or DIPA. As a result, for this batch I split the bittering addition between hop extract and Columbus. For my palate Columbus adds a wonderful lingering tongue-grabbing bitterness that I think is a hallmark of both American IPAs and DIPAs. I was interested to read in Mitch Steele’s IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale that Shaun Hill uses a blend of extract and hops to bitter Hill Farmstead's James, a black IPA.

Brewing a strong beer that you want to start pouring less than six weeks after brewing, demands minimizing the creation of off-flavors that would need time to age-out. Pitch enough yeast for a strong/healthy fermentation, but avoid over-pitching which strips bitterness from the beer (for this batch I harvested slurry from my Third Hoppy Wheat, but didn't pitch the entire yeast cake). Perform most of fermentation near the lower bound of the yeast lab’s suggested temperature range for the strain, but raise the temperature toward the end of fermentation to guarantee a dry finish. A low final gravity should also be encouraged by a moderate mash temperature, minimal crystal malt, and 5-10% (by extract) refined sugar. Residual sweetness gets in the way of hop bitterness, and can yield a DIPA that taste similar to a young American barleywine.

Ale and Joyce, Ale the cat not shown.I became distracted (playing with our two new kittens, Ale and Joyce) as the wort heated and as a result lost about a gallon to a boil-over. Rather than dilute or add malt extract, I just kept going; having four gallons of DIPA on tap is probably a better idea than five anyway. For Galaxy and Rakau all I could source was pellet hops, so I skipped the hop-back, and revived my old technique of adding additional hops to the kettle right at the start of chilling (after the hop-stand addition has 30 minutes to soak in the hot wort). Luckily the Galaxy smelled much fruitier and brighter than last time.

To make dry hopping a bit easier I have begun vacuum-sealing the dry hop additions on brew day. I tend to add many of the same varieties to both the boil and post-fermentation, so I simply weigh the additional hops and seal the one or two blended additions separately before resealing the bulk hops for storage. When I’m ready to dry hop I sanitize the mesh bag (or nylon stocking) and glass marbles that will weigh it down, and then add the pre-measured hops.

Double IPA NZ-AU

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 16.00
Anticipated OG: 1.078
Anticipated SRM: 7.3
Anticipated IBU: 200.3
Brewhouse Efficiency: 66 %
Wort Boil Time: 75 Minutes

85.9% - 13.75 lbs. American Pale Ale Malt
6.3% - 1.00 lbs. Wheat Malt
4.7% - 0.75 lbs. CaraPils
3.1% - 0.50 lbs. Table Sugar

1.50 oz. Columbus (Whole, 15.00% AA) @ 60 min.
10 ml.    HopShot (Extract) @ 60 min.
1.50 oz. Galaxy (Pellet, 12.00% AA) @ 10 min.
1.50 oz. Rakau (Pellet, 12.00% AA) @ 10 min.
1.50 oz. Galaxy (Pellet, 12.00% AA) @ Hop-Stand
1.50 oz. Rakau (Pellet, 12.00% AA) @ Hop Stand
1.00 oz. Galaxy (Pellet, 12.00% AA) @ Chill-Start
1.00 oz. Rakau (Pellet, 12.00% AA) @ Chill-Start
3.00 oz. Galaxy (Pellet, 12.00% AA) @ Dry Hop
3.00 oz. Rakau (Pellet, 12.00% AA) @ Dry Hop

0.50 Whirlfloc @ 15 min.
0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 min.

WYeast 1056 American Ale/Chico

Water Profile
Profile: Washington, Hoppy

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 60 min @ 153 F

Brewed 11/11/12 by myself

Briess Pale malt base.

Collected 7 gallons of 1.062 runnings, pre-sugar. 1.067 with the sugar added.

Lost about a gallon of wort to a boil-over

30 minute hop stand with the first dose of aroma hops, the second dose was added at the start of the chill.

Yeast harvested from the third batch of Hoppy American Wheat, about one cup of thin slurry. Chilled to 68 F, oxygenated for 45 seconds. Left at 64 F to ferment. Good activity by the following morning.

12/2/12 Added the first dose of dry hops (3 oz), bagged and weighted to the primary fermentor. Firm bitterness, good fruity hop character, slight toastiness from the base malt. FG=1.014 (83% AA, 8.4% ABV).

1/4/12 Tasting notes for a very solid beer, but the the hops didn't translate with the flavor combination/balance I wanted. Too much fruitiness, not enough anything else. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Aromatic Cream Ale Recipe

I’ve brewed a couple “International Session Alesover the years. These low-gravity, easy-drinking beers don't match any established style, and the inspiration for their flavors doesn't draw from a single nation's brewing tradition. They combine malts, yeast, and hops that are not traditionally brewed with in combination. The concept for this batch was inspired by a hoppy cream ale that Jacob (Modern Times' glorious leader) tasted at a homebrew club meeting a couple years ago. He and I kicked the recipe back-and-forth for about two months, as an option for a beer that we could turn around quickly, doesn’t involve an chic hops (e.g., Citra, Simcoe, Amarillo, Mosaic etc.), and that we’d still be excited to drink!

HopRocket, post-infusionThe malt bill isn’t too far from a modern/standard cream ale. It has an American pale malt base, with flaked corn for crispness and corny sweetness, and flaked barley and CaraPils for body and head retention. The hopping is mostly Cascade (fantastically-aromatic 8.3% AA 2012 harvest from Freshops) and Crystal, with a bit of Summit to intensify the dankness.

Fermentation was with WLP007 (Dry English Ale - Whitbread). I really like WLP002 (English Ale – Fuller’s strain), but it doesn't attenuate well enough to produce the crisp beer we are aiming for. WLP007 is a similarly flocculent, relatively neutral, English strain that should give us fermented and clear beer just as quickly, and it's also considerably more attenuative. The only problem with these English strains is that they tend to strip out more hop character from the wort than their less-flocculent American cousins. As a result I may have to adjust the bitterness upward on subsequent iterations.

When it comes to making profitable commercial beers the focus is on speed more than ingredient cost (although clearly that plays a part as well). Having a beer that takes 14 days from brewing to packaging seems pretty rapid, but if you can get that down to 10 days then it is possible to do 36 batches a year compared to 26 in a tank. At 30 bbls per batch, that is an extra 300 barrels (~75,000 16 oz cans) of production each year from one tank. That is without paying higher rent for a larger brewery, investing capital for additional tanks, etc. just more ingredients and cans.

The question is, will we be able to reduce production time while still brewing a beer that meets our standards? We don’t want a beer that is “Impressive given the constraints,” only “Great!” regardless of how long it took or what hops were used. This recipe is unlike anything I’d brewed before, so it will probably take a couple batches to dial in on something we’re completely happy with. For the first batch I didn't want to push the beer into the keg too quickly, we'll save that for the re-brew.

Aromatic Cream Ale

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 9.50
Anticipated OG: 1.048
Anticipated SRM: 3.1
Anticipated IBU: 37.7
Brewhouse Efficiency: 77 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes

78.9% - 7.50 lbs. American Pale Malt (2-row)
10.5% - 1.00 lbs. Flaked Corn
5.3% - 0.50 lbs. CaraPils
5.3% - 0.50 lbs. Flaked Barley

0.75 oz. Cascade (Whole, 8.25% AA) @ 20 min.
0.75 oz. Crystal (Whole, 6.15% AA) @ 15 min.
0.75 oz. Cascade (Whole, 8.25% AA) @ 10 min.
0.75 oz. Crystal (Whole, 6.15% AA) @ 5 min.
2.00 oz. Summit (Pellet, 15.6% AA) @ 0 min.
1.50 oz. Cascade (Whole, 8.25% AA) @ Hop-Back
1.50 oz. Crystal (Whole, 6.15% AA) @ Hop-Back
1.50 oz. Cascade (Whole, 8.25% AA) @ Dry Hop
1.50 oz. Crystal (Whole, 6.15% AA) @ Dry Hop
1.00 oz. Summit (Pellet, 15.6% AA) @ Dry Hop

0.50 Whirlfloc @ 15 min.
0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 min.

White Labs WLP007 Dry English Ale

Water Profile
Profile: Pale, Medium Hop

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 70 min @ 153 F

11/3/12 Made a ~.6 L starter on my stir-plate.

Brewed 11/4/12 by myself.

DC Tap cut 50% with distilled. 6 g each CaCl and gypsum split between the mash and sparge.

Batch sparged. Collected 7 gallons of 1.038 runnings.

Chilled to 65 F, 45 seconds of pure O2, and pitched the starter. Left at 65 F to ferment.

Small amount of activity after 12 hours, strong after 24.

11/8/12 Gravity only down to 1.025, still appears that strong fermentation is on-going.

11/15/12 Added half of the dry hops to the primary fermentor loose, as fermentation appears finished.

11/18/12 Racked the seeminly clear beer to a flushed keg, added the second half of the dry hops, bagged and weighted. Hooked up to CO2.

12/15/12 Tasting notes of this beer, both on tap and in bottles.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Brett Bottle Conditioned Single - Five Way Tasting

Rather than talk in depth about each of the five variants of my second iteration of a Brett-bottle-conditioned Belgian Single individually, I'll give general impressions on the differences between them. They were bottled in early August, so they are still relatively young. 

Five variations on the Brett Finished Single, and the original on the far right.Appearance - They all look very similar. Each is a stunningly-clear light golden yellow. Thin white head, lacks the thick mousse-like rocky head I'd prefer, despite the addition of wheat this time around. None of them gushed, or appear to be over-carbonated in the glass despite the Brett activity.


Plain (Brett-free) is lightly fruity (pear, and faint banana), with a significant smooth/clean malt component.

Wyeast Brett B provides a slightly funky-earthy character. Not much malt or complexity to speak of.

White Labs Brett Trois has a fruitier aroma, with a more rounded, agreeable balance to the aromatics, but they are somewhat muted.

CB1 already has a classic aged-out Orval character. Very farmyard, but not overpoweringly funky or in any way off-putting.

CB2 is just as potent, it adds some fruitiness to the CB1's funk. Really potent, complex, and enticing.


Plain is a bit bland, it doesn't have the brightness or snappiness of the original batch.

Wyeast Brett B has more funk in the flavor than it did in the nose, nicely saturated continuing into the finish.

White labs Brett Trois is shorter, brighter, and not very funky. Some tropical aspects, but without the hops of the IPA I fermented with it, it doesn't taste nearly as much like pineapple juice.

CB1 Really funky in the flavor, more so than in the nose. A bit of the dreaded urinal, not bad, but not great either...

CB2 Well balanced, slight tartness, fruit and funk together, like an amped up version of Wyeast Brett B combined with White Labs Trois. Excellent!


Plain is a bit flatter than I'd like it ideally.

Wyeast Brett B is solid, slightly prickly.

White Labs Brett Trois seems to be the most carbonated.

CB1 is similar to the Brett Trois, but not quite as crisp.

CB2 is similar to the WY Brett B, could use a bit more carbonation.


Plain is a fine beer, but it needs to be crisper and maybe slightly drier to be great. The second to last bottle of the original batch I opened has held up really well in comparison.

Wyeast Brett B an intro to funky beers, not too aggressive, soft. It should develop with more time as the White Labs Brett B did in my first batch of this recipe (eventually reaching mini-BOS at the final round of the 2012 NHC).

White Labs Brett Trois is really nice, wonderfully fruity, really stands out as unique compared to the rest.

CB1 is a bit funkier than I like, despite its young age. Not entirely unpleasant, but it obscures all of the other characteristics of the beer.

CB2 The winner for my palate, complex, balanced, really delicious. This is a winner, especially considering how young it is. I'll be interested to see how it is in another three or six months.


It is impressive how much funk/Brett character the strains (CB1 and CB2) Jason isolated from Cantillon produced in such a short amount of time. I'm trying to talk Jacob into releasing something similar to this experiment as a box/gift set or six-pack for Modern Times (3725 Greenwood St. San Diego, CA 92110), same base beer finished with a variety of Brett strains (he doesn't seem to need much convincing).

Monday, November 12, 2012

Hoppy Wheat with March Pump, HopRocket, and Therminator

Running my chilling rig to sanitize.The third variation of the Modern Times' Hoppy American Wheat only needed a few minor tweaks. The second version was a bit too light/thin, so we raised the original gravity, increased the mash temperature, and boosted the amount of CaraVienna. A slightly more aggressive hopping rate, not to mention the fresh harvests of Citra and Amarillo, should be enough to balance. That’s about all I’ve got to say about the recipe itself that I haven't said before.

A few months ago I made the switch from the immersion chiller I’d used since I started homebrewing in 2005, to a newfangled Therminator plate-chiller. To use it, I finally put into service the March pump I bought a few years ago and mounted inside a plastic tool chest (inspired by Ryan Lockard's BYO article). In-line chilling also allowed me to start using a hop-back to cram even more hop aromatics into beers. I'm glad I didn't do a write-up of the new equipment immediately, because brewing a half-dozen batches with this setup has taught me a few things.

HopRocket stuffed with Amarillo and Citra.Unlike an immersion chiller, which you can throw into the boil for the last 15 minutes, this setup takes a bit more time and effort to sanitize. While the wort boils, I connect all of the pieces with fittings and heat-resistant hoses (pump > hop-back > chiller), and cycle a few gallons of hot PBW solution through. After draining the cleaner, I cycle a couple changes of hot water through to remove any residue. This is followed by Star San. An acid based sanitizer is especially valuable in this case because its low pH prevents beerstone from accumulating in the tiny capillaries of the plate chiller.

The keggle I have on load from my friend Pete.After draining the Star San I open the hop back (HopRocket) and put two to three ounces of whole hops inside (pellets would clog the screen). I do my best to break up any clumps of hops to allow easier flow. Before I got the HopRocket I'd read a number of complaints, but I’ve never has an issue achieving a reasonable rate of flow even without using the bell/dome that holds less than an ounce of hops.

Luckily for me, my friend Pete recently moved and as a result I borrowed his keggle while he gets situated. Having a kettle with a valve makes priming the pump simple. When the boil is finished I usually toss in a couple ounces of hops for a hop stand. I allow the hops to steep in the hot wort for 15-20 minutes while I connect everything. This keggle has a MacGyver’d hop strainer which works well for whole hops, but I bag any pellets added to the boil.

I connect the hose that leads to the inlet of the pump to the kettle. Opening the kettle's ball valve completely and cracking the pump’s ball valve allows the pump head to fill with wort. It is ideal to mount a March pump so that the inlet is at 6 o'clock, and the outlet is at 12. This orientation allows the pump to be primed easily. It is also smart to always plug-in a pump to a GFI (Ground Fault Indicator) outlet to avoid the risk of electrocution. If you don't have one wired in where you brew, you can pick up a portable one (like the one I use).

March pump mounted in a plastic tool chest.The March pump has two speeds, on and off. As a result you’ll need a ball valve to control the rate of flow. It is best to have a pump pushing against the valve, rather than pulling through it so that it doesn’t run dry and lose its prime. When using the hop-back it is important to open the valve a very small amount initially. This gives time for the hop-back to fill without forcing the hops up against the top screen. Unlike most other hop-backs, the HopRocket fills from the bottom, so the wort filters up through the hops and out the top. This causes any trapped air to rise and be forced out. As a result the near-boiling wort passes through the hops, and is immediately chilled without a chance for the volatile oils to be driven off.

HopRocket in action; the wort enters at the bottom, flows through the hops, and out the top.For the chiller it is a good idea to run the chill water full-blast even before you start your pump even though the wort may not reach the chiller for a couple minutes. That way you won't forget or have to run away from the rig while it is runnings. Ensure you have your chiller positioned in the indicated orientation to maximize the contact of copper separated hot wort and cold water. Once wort is running into the sanitized fermentor, you can adjust the pump's ball valve based on the final wort temperature (the slower you run the wort the colder it will become). Remember that no chiller that relies on ground water can cool the wort below the temperature of that water. As a result, in the summer I still rely on ice-bath pre-chiller to get down to my desired pitching temperature.

When the kettle runs dry you’ll have at least a half gallon of wort trapped in the hoses/hop-back/chiller. I turn off the pump immediately, running it without liquid can cause damage. I then kink the hose that runs from the pump to hop-back and disconnect it from the pump side. It is especially important to have a relatively easy to disconnect fitting here (I use Blichmann Quick Connectors). I then lift the hop-back, turning it over to allow the wort to drain via-gravity through the chiller and into the fermentor. Done.

Therminator chilling near-boiling wort to 68 F at a rate of about half a gallon per minute.After turning off the chill-water and aerating/pitching the wort, it’s time to clean. I have an back-flush assembly that allows me to run water through the wort outlet of the chiller, forcing any bits of hops or trub back out the way they came. Then I run it the other way. Everything else is hosed off/out. Ideally I’d probably re-run the PBW and Star San cycles, but I usually don’t have the effort at that stage of the brew day.

From tasting the pre-dry hoped beer, there is definitely more hop character than I ever got from even massive flame-out additions. However, after a big dose of dry hops, I’m not sure that the difference is discernible. When sanitized correctly, this closed system lowers the small chance of unwanted airborne microbes causing problems. It is especially beneficial if you brew larger batch sizes because the set-up and clean-up are the same, and the actual chilling usually takes less than two minutes per gallon (and will be even faster as my ground water continues to cool with the weather).

Hopefully seeing how I'm chilling will help those of you considering a similar setup. This certainly isn't the only way to use this equipment, but it is what has worked for me thus far.

Fortunate Islands #3

Recipe Specifics
The hop-infused and chilled wort flowing into the fermenation bucket.--------------------
Batch Size (Gal): 5.25
Total Grain (Lbs): 10.50
Anticipated OG: 1.048
Anticipated SRM: 5.5
Anticipated IBU: 47.8
Brewhouse Efficiency: 65 %
Wort Boil Time: 105 Minutes

54.8% - 5.75 lbs. Wheat Malt
38.1% - 4.00 lbs. American Pale Malt (2-row)
7.1% - 0.75 lbs. CaraVienna

5 ml - HopShot (Extract) @ 65 min.
2.00 oz. Citra (Whole, 10.00% AA) @ 0 min.
1.00 oz. Amarillo (Whole, 10.00% AA) @ 0 min.
2.00 oz. Citra (Whole, 10.00% AA) @ Hop-Back
1.00 oz. Amarillo (Whole, 10.00% AA) @ Hop-Back
4.00 oz. Citra (Whole, 10.00% AA) @ Dry Hop
1.00 oz. Amarillo (Whole, 10.00% AA) @ Dry Hop

Chilling rig in action!Yeast
White Labs WLP001 California Ale

Water Profile
Profile: Washington, Hoppy

Mash Schedule
Sacch - 60 min @ 155 F

10/26/12 Made a 1.25 L starter on my stir-late.

10/27/12 Brewed by myself.

Filtered tap water cut with 5 gallons of distilled. 4 g of CaCl, and 7 g of gypsum split between the mash and batch sparge. Sparged with 175 F water.

Collected 7.5 gallons of 1.039 runnings.

Flame-out hops left in the wort for a ~15 minute hop stand. Chilled to 68 F, aerated for 45 seconds, and pitched the yeast.

Noticed some small balls of hop extract at the bottom of the pot while cleaning up The Hop extract was also a bit darker than it usually looks...

Left at 63 F to ferment.

11/7/12 Added half the dry hops, loose to the primary fermentor.

11/11/12 Kegged with the additional bagged dry hops. Gravity down to 1.013.

12/5/12 I'm about ready to call this one there. Great hops in the nose and mouth, and well balanced.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Malt Whisky Barrel Rye Stout Recipe

Small dot of concentrated malt whisky, pushed out of the oak staves by the pressure of the CO2 inside.With the spiced Rumble-barrel-aged Imperial Oatmeal Porter filling the role of something rounded, sweet, and dessert-like, I wanted to barrel-aged another dark beer that would be sharper and more aggressive. For the second fill of the Balcones Malt Whisky barrel I brewed an Imperial Rye Stout. It includes a firmer hop bitterness (despite similar IBUs), and some really dark grains to provide a sharper roast.

The pressure inside the barrel from the dissolved carbon-dioxide of the beers has pushed some concentrated spirits from the wood. It forms small dark spots of sticky liquid on the exterior of the barrels. This is something I first read about on Sean Paxton's blog years ago, but didn't see for myself until recently. Their flavor is amazing, like a condensed whisky extract (oak, vanilla, and char), minus the alcohol.

One of the things that really gets me excited about a big stout is a full, creamy, oily, and viscous mouthfeel. The Russian Imperial Stouts that achieve this through dextrins alone tend to be too sweet for my tastes, especially after a couple years of aging cuts their hop bitterness. To ensure that wouldn’t be the fate of this batch, I added two pounds of flaked rye, which provides body without excessive sweetness. This will be especially valuable as at 1.080 this beer actually started with slightly less carbohydrates than some vintages of Three Floyds Dark Lord finish with (I’m not kidding).

Rye malt on the left, pale barley malt on the right.Rye is one of those ingredients whose flavor is hard to describe. The Bruery's Rugbrød has one of the most intense rye flavors of any beer I have tasted, but all that means is that it has a particular toasty character. I find rye malt (pictured next to pale barley) to have a more intense flavor contribution than un-malted rye, but this recipe also includes chocolate rye. Despite it's name, this roasted malt is much paler than standard chocolate malt and dehusked, giving it a mellower flavor contribution.

I moved the Rye Stout to the barrel as soon as I determined the Weizen Trippelbock that was its first resident had extracted enough oak and booze (three weeks was already pushing it). This is the last of the four clean beers that will be aged in these two 20 L barrels before I turn them sour (White Labs new WLP665 Flemish Ale Blend arrived today). All told I’ll end up with about nine cases of barrel-aged strong-beer, which should hold me over for at least a few years. I’ll certainly be ready for the DC Homebrewers February High Gravity meeting, if not 2013 then definitely by 2014…

Whiskey Barrel Rye Stout

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 6.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 20.50
Anticipated OG: 1.080
Anticipated SRM: 45.4
Anticipated IBU: 63.0
Brewhouse Efficiency: 67 %
Wort Boil Time: 120 Minutes

75.6% - 15.50 lbs. American Pale 2-Row Malt
9.8% - 2.00 lbs. Flaked Rye
4.9% - 1.00 lbs. Briess Roasted Barley (300 L)
3.7% - 0.75 lbs. Chocolate Rye
3.7% - 0.75 lbs. Crystal 120L
1.2% - 0.25 lbs. English Chocolate Malt
1.2% - 0.25 lbs. English Roasted Barley (550 L)

3.00 oz. Palisade (Pellet, 7.35% AA) @ 60 min.

0.50 Whirlfloc @ 15 min.
0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 min.

Wyeast 1056 American Ale

Water Profile
Profile: Washington, DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 60 min @ 156 F

9/28/12 Made a 1.6 L starter on the stir-plate.

9/30/12 Brewed by myself.

Borrowed Pete's Barley Crusher because mine had been having problems feeding grain.

Room temperature pH of the mash was 5.1, so I added 3 g of baking soda (enough to raise the mash water by 72 ppm Carbonate and 27 ppm sodium), and raise the pH to 5.4.

Batch sparged (unaltered water). Collected 8.5 gallons of 1.063 runnings. A bit quicker boil-off than expected, added 1 qrt of water with 15 min left in the boil to compensate.

Chilled to 64 F and pitched the un-decanted starter. Left at 62 F to begin fermentation. Good activity by the following morning.

10/28/12 Racked to the triple-near-boiling-rinsed Balcones Malt Whisky barrel (post-Trippelbock). Left at basement temperature, ~65 F, to age. Finished at 1.024.

11/25/12 Has developed some excess carbonation, switched to an airlock.

12/30/12 Bottled with 2.25 oz of table sugar. Ended up all the way down at 1.015. A bit thin, but otherwise tastes pretty good.

3/20/13 Tasting of this young brash stout. Moderate barrel character, firm roast and hop bitterness. Should age nicely.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Wheat Triplebock - Final Tasting

Always hard to convince myself to open the last bottle of any batch, but I had a good excuse to pop the final Wheat Tripelbock tonight (I still have one bottle of the bourbon-soaked oaked version left). BYO wanted a better picture of the finished beer, which Nathan and I featured in an article we submitted about dark lagers for the February issue (which will be my first cover story I'm told!).

A snifter of a Wheat Triplebock, beautiful!Wheat Triplebock

Appearance – Very dark brown, bordering on black in the wide bowl of my snifter. It has red highlights when held at an angle to the light. Unsurprisingly after a few years in the bottle, the beer is crystal clear. The thin tan head has big bubbles, but still maintains excellent retention.

Smell – Rich and complex. Dominant caramel, but it doesn’t smell burnt. Dark fruit as well, but not as one-note RAISIN like Special B can be. As it warms there is a whiff of alcohol occasionally, but otherwise it is very clean. Despite its age I don’t pick up any oxidation.

Taste – Starts with the caramel and plums from the nose. The middle is dominated by dense bready/toasty malt, Munich especially. Hint of unsweetened cocoa in the finish, a nice twist on the standard dark German beer. Still tastes remarkably fresh for a beer brewed in 2008. Plenty of sweetness, but the alcohol and light roast cut through it well.

Mouthfeel – Thick and full, with soft carbonation. Really rich.

Drinkability & Notes – Much gentler and more balanced than it was a few years ago. Rather than being close to cloying the beer seems drier, despite the fading hop bitterness. This batch appears to have a lot more color than the new version I recently racked from a whisky barrel into a keg for lagering (it has 2% less Extra Dark Crystal).

If you are interested in reading the article about dark lagers, then subscribe to BYO (through my affiliate link ideally). The article includes tips from the brewer that inspired this beer (Steve Berthel of The Livery), as well as Scandinavian brewer extraordinaire Anders Kissmeyer talking Baltic porter, and unstoppable medal winning machine Jason Oliver of Devil’s Backbone and Czech-brewing-encyclopedia Evan Rail philosophizing about decoctions and tmavé.

Monday, October 29, 2012

What type of beer would you prefer to drink?

A combination of traditional brewing ingredients in a unique way. - 50%
A great example of a classic style - 34%
A batch that includes an ingredient you've never tasted in a beer before. - 15%

Modern Times, the physical entity, is really starting to materialize (fund raising is complete, some hop contracts have been signed, and Jacob is hoping to finalize a lease for a building over the next few days, which would leave a head brewer, and a brewing system high on his to-do list). In addition to brewing test batches, I’ve been spending time thinking about my brewing philosophy. What kind of beers am I truly passionate about making?

At this point there are so many American breweries putting out excellent straight-ahead versions of most classic styles that it would be tough to come into a big beer nerd market (like San Diego) and beat them at their own game. I’m not sure I would want to anyway. The recipes Jacob and I have been developing aren’t weird or wacky, but beers similar to them aren’t available in abundance. Beers like moderate gravity saison, hoppy American wheat, coffee/oatmeal stout, and red/rye IPA. Sure there are already solid versions of all of these beers on the market somewhere, but none of them are available from more than a couple breweries at the average craft-beer-centric retailer/bar.

I respect what breweries like Short’s and Cigar City do, finding unique and interesting ingredients to add to their beers. While these flavors sometimes work well, see Cigar City’s Cucumber Saison, even with perfect execution I rarely want to drink more than a taster. That doesn’t mean that I don’t go out of my way for the experience of trying their beers, but I won’t be buying a case of Short’s Carrot Cake anytime soon (even though the flavor captures the dessert perfectly, down to the cream cheese icing). One of my goals is to brew beers that I want to drink frequently and in quantity.

I want to brew beers that bring a level of sophistication to recipe and ingredient choice. I’d rather see beers designed in the same way chef’s create recipes, rather than someone playing a game (i.e., who can get the most IBUs/alcohol/malts into their beer?). I think breweries that have a vision, and brew to their own palates have the most success. Rather than adding an ingredient just to put it on the label (a brewer-friend once mentioned that they contract brewed a raspberry honey wheat that contained a single ladle of honey for a 30 bbl batch), we will focus on picking exactly the right quality and quantity of a fruit or sugar to achieve our desired flavor.

Fruit, honey, spices, herbs, hops, malt, microbes, and barrels are not all created equal. If we aren’t able to do something right or get a high-enough-quality version, I’d rather wait until we can. Working to procure locally sourced and seasonal ingredients is going to take time and practice, but I’m confident that it will pay off over buying bulk fruit puree or bland pasteurized honey. It also means taking the time to select the ideal strains of microbes for any given sour beer, rather than having a single all-purpose house culture.

As a homebrewer I’ve only have to worry about creating beers that suit my palate. I don’t mind spending a few extra dollars getting “the best” ingredients. Commercially that isn’t always an option in terms of both the profitability of a beer and the availability of certain ingredients in amounts large enough to flavor a 1,000 gallon batch. Luckily southern California has a much wider array of produce for a longer season than I’m used to in DC.

Jacob and I generally agree on what we want in the beers, but at times we’ve had differing opinions on what direction to go. I’m confident that together we’ve been able to dial in our recipes better than either of us could have on their own. I’m excited to get out there and start translating what I’ve had success with at home into the production environment; it should be a blast! For a bit more detail on Modern Times, as well as the book, and some more of my brewing philosophy, check out the interview that White Labs just posted with me over on their YeastBuddy blog.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Bourbon Barrel Oud Bruin Tasting

I grew pretty attached to our first group barrel. It started its life aging Virginia Gentleman at A. Smith Bowman. The first beer we aged in it was a Wee Heavy, but when that grew slightly tart we added bottle dregs and rolled with it to terrific results. The stoutish-porter that went into the barrel next (and then onto sour cherries) reach the mini-Best of Show at the final round of the 2012 NHC. The third beer in, the Americanized oud bruin I’m sipping now, was the last group beer in it before we purchased a fresh barrel from the same distillery (which is currently aging a Brett lambicus spiked barleywine).

The original bourbon barrel developed resident microbes that provided a wonderful tartness, even in strong beers, without producing an overly dry or funky character. The beers aged in it share a lot of similarities with those of Cascade Brewing. Nathan eventually refilled the barrel with a mega-batch of his Vin De Céréale, a gigantic Flemish red inspired by a difficult to find Rodenbach brew. I’m sure the barrel will eventually find its way into his stable at Right Proper and lead a long and happy life.

A snifter full of bourbon-barrel-aged sour brown ale.American Old Brown

Appearance – Pours with a dense light-tan head. It has decent retention, especially for a sour beer. The body is dark brown, but it appears clear with red highlights when held to the light. Very pretty… for a brown beer.

Smell – There was half a second when I initially smelled the snifter that I thought I might have opened one of the bottles that had aged on cherries, nope. In addition to the red fruit, the vanilla from the oak comes through (even on the third turn of the barrel). It doesn’t have that musty aroma that classic aged-out oud bruins like Goudenband have, much fresher and brighter.

Taste – Bright, but not overpowering lactic sourness. Wonderfully snappy, without a hint of acetic harshness. Very cherry-forward, fresh and bright. The fruitiness goes well with the American oak, I won’t say I get bourbon, but certainly a bit of sweet vanilla. The beer still has a decent amount of sweetness, right for a malty sour beer like this.

Mouthfeel – Just slightly prickly, about right for a big/dark sour. Plenty of body left to balance the acidity. I may have to culture the microbes from a bottle of this to start my five gallon liquor barrels when I am ready to take them sour.

Drinkability & Notes – Hard not to like this rounded, complex, sour brown ale. I’m really excited to see how the half that aged on sour cherries it doing… bye.