Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Simcoe Dry Hopped Oatmeal Stout

I have no shame in saying that when I started homebrewing, I brewed quite a few clone recipes. Attempting to recreate commercial beers gave me targets before I was able to work out flavor combinations in my mind. Now, coming up on 10 years since I brewed my first batch I’m more likely to get inspiration for flavors than I am to mimic a beer completely. No matter how much I brew, there will always be a place for drinking interesting commercial beers!

The core flavors (firm roasted barley and Simcoe hops) for this half of my oatmeal stout were cribbed from Goose Island Night Stalker imperial stout. While the Bourbon County Brand Stout variants (Coffee, Vanilla, Rare, Backyard, Proprietor’s etc.) are delicious and rake in the hype, this non-barrel-aged, dry-hopped variant may have made the biggest impression on me. Coffee and chocolate with bright pine and tropical fruit was something I hadn't tasted before. I usually prefer my hoppy beers pale and dry, but fresh this huge hoppy stout really worked! What I wanted to brew though was a beer at less than half the original's ABV.

Simcoe Oatmeal Stout

Appearance – Black. As in, not a hint or an edge or a highlight of ruby/amber to be spotted. Impressive for a 5% ABV beer. Head is light tan and very sticky. Good tight retention.

Smell – Roast leads. Lots of coffee. Fresh crushed roasted barley. Then the Simcoe hops appear with their fresh pine and mango. As the beer warms in the glass a fresh toasted bread aroma joins in. The only disruption is a singed (almost plastic?) edge to the tail. Overall appealing and varied.

Taste – Nice rounded coffee-like bitterness. It comes across as more than 30 IBUs thanks to the dark grains and dry hops. The beer has enough sweetness to keep it from tasting thin or pallid (always a risk with “reasonable” gravity beers). Finish is pure fruity 80% dark chocolate. Hop flavor could always be more potent, but they meld nicely with the base beer. Very much a hoppy stout, and not a session black IPA.

Mouthfeel – For a stout, I couldn’t ask for anything more in terms of the mouthfeel. It has silky-smooth body thanks to the oats with moderate carbonation.

Drinkability & Notes – Hops, malt, and tame alcohol content? I was sold before the first sip. While I was aiming for a more potent hop aroma, what is there is fresh/bright, and it is drinkable and balanced. The sort of stout that drinks like a bigger beer (which I find preferable to hiding alcohol). The resulting balance is probably closer to Rogue Shakespeare than Goose Island Night Stalker.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Faux-IPA (India Pale Gruit) Tasting

Many of the flavor compounds residing in Reinheitsgebot-approved beers are found elsewhere in nature. A few example: isoamyl acetate in hefeweizen (and bananas), linalool in hops (and coriander), and citronellol in Citra (and lemongrass). While these compounds can have several sources, each imparts additions flavor compounds (as a result, adding lemongrass to your Cascade IPA isn’t a cheap substitute for Citra).

It is a fun way to get ideas though, and for this batch I went high concept. What if I replaced the standard flavors of American hops with spruce tips and grapefruit zest? Knowing that the balance would be different, but still wondering what the result would be! While I am calling this beer a gruit, it bears little resemblance to the medieval European beers flavor with a secret blend of bitter herbs and spices (part seasoning, part tax). It is a gruit only in so much as it does not contain hops.

Spruce-Grapefruit IPG

Appearance – Looks like an IPA. Check! Pale gold, slight haze, with a creamy white head. The foam isn’t as lasting or sticky though, I miss the hops already!

Smell – Smells more soda-pop than IPA. Sweet candied citrus peel and Christmas tree needles. So much so that I'm struggling to pick-up much else. Lacks the deeper herbal, dank, resiny flavors that even “piney” and “citrusy” hops provide. The aromatics are so bright and clean though, unlike any other beer I've tried.

Taste – The grapefruit comes in at the front, morphing into spruce as it crosses the palate. There is certainly some bitterness, the equivalent of maybe 15-20 IBUs. Despite the lack of preservative hops it is very clean, score one for my sanitation process! Mildly toasty malt pokes through occasionally. It also tastes remarkably fresh compared to how a five month old IPA would by this stage.

Mouthfeel – Smooth medium body. It has solid carbonation, firmly effervescent. No tannins or other harshness to distract from the holiday spirit.

Drinkability & Notes – One of the weirder and more exciting beers I’ve brewed recently. I won’t say that I love it, or that I’m planning another iteration anytime soon, but I enjoy this faux-IPA more than I expected to! It would be more drinkable if the spruce and grapefruit were dialed back ~25%, but where would be the fun in that? Next time I’d add 30 IBUs of bittering hops, and maybe a few ounces towards the end of the boil to give it some backbone and depth.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Spruce-Grapefruit India Pale Gruit

What defines beer styles? Is it the process, ingredients, or maybe where they are brewed? For me it comes down exclusively to what is in the glass. How the beer looks, smells, and most importantly tastes. I'm not saying divorcing recipe from results is easy; congratulations if you are able to brew a delicious hefeweizen with a single-infusion mash, stout without roasted barley, or lambic in Milwaukee! What would happen then if you tried to brew an American IPA without hops, the source of its style-defining pine and citrus aromatics? I decided to find out, brewing a 10 gallon batch split between a "Real" IPA brewed with hops and a faux-IPA flavored with real citrus and spruce!

Spruce tips and skinless grapefruit.Even though there are probably a few aroma compounds shared by hops and their substitutes, there is no way to completely replace the flavor of Cascade with grapefruit zest or Chinook with spruce tips. Still, this basic idea was my inspiration for this India Pale Gruit. Rather than mix hops in and accent with the other aromatics, I wanted to taste how they performed on their own. Neither of these ingredients contribute the level of bitterness that hops can, so I resigned myself to that difference at least.

I've added citrus peel to numerous batches (e.g., Grapefruit APA, Lemliner Weisse), so I won't spend much time writing about the importance of using the aromatic zest without much of the bitter pith. While I have brewed with spruce once before, with Nathan in our Scandinavian Gruit Kvass, it deserves a bit more attention. While spruce can be foraged in many places (like Nathan did for Right Proper's Invisible City of Bladensburg), I decided to be lazy and order from the Internet. Spruce is said to be at its best in spring just as the papery covers fall away from the pale new growth. These young trimmings provide a mild and citrusy flavor, which is much less resinous than older growth clippings. Once harvested they can be vacuum bagged and frozen just like hops (without the need for drying).

Gordon Strong, in his underrated Brewing Better Beer, quotes Pete Devaris who suggests measuring spruce tips by volume. This is because the amount of water they contain can vary their weight, but won't significantly change their volume. I added one loosely packed pint of spruce tips near the start of the boil to extract sugars and as much of the character as I could. I then added more at flame-out to ensure some of the more delicate character survived (allowing them to sit hot for about 30 minutes before running the chiller).

Spruce beers often age well, so I wanted to brew it early enough that it would make a nice holiday beer as the combination of pine and citrus is certainly reminiscent of Christmas! It took the zest from a fourth grapefruit in the keg to get the citrus aroma where I wanted it. I had saved some spruce for a fermentor addition, but it proved unnecessary. The batch is on tap now, so expect tasting notes later this week!

Spruce and grapefruit zest in the kettle.Spruce-Grapefruit IPG

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.25
Total Grain (Lbs): 13.35
Anticipated OG: 1.061
Anticipated SRM: 3.8
Anticipated IBU: 0.0
Brewhouse Efficiency: 69 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes

60.0% - 8.00 lbs. Rahr Pilsener
30.0% - 4.00 lbs. Great Western Pale Malt
7.5% - 1.00 lbs. Weyermann Wheat Malt
2.6% - 0.35 lbs. Simpsons Golden Naked Oats

1 Pint (2.38 oz) Spruce Tips @ 60 min.
2 Grapefruits' Zest @ 5 min.
1 Grapefruit's Zest @ 0 min.
1.25 Pints (3.00 oz) Spruce Tips @ 0 Min.
1 Grapefruit's Zest @ Keg

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 - 60 min @ 156 F

8/22/14 - Made a stir-plate 3 L starter with 2 tubes of WL007. Aiming for 450 billion cells. Crash chilled after 24 hours. Half for this batch

Brewed 8/24/14

5 g CaCl and gypsum added to the mash along with 2 tsp of phosphoric acid. Diluted with 2 gallons of distilled. Collected 7 gallons of 1.075 first runnings. Same treatment for the 7 gallons of 180F batch sparge water. Collected 7gallons of 1.035 second runnings. Mixed so there were 7 gallons of 1.055 runnings in each pot.

Spruce tips from Spruce On Tap. 1 pint (2 3/8 oz added at 60 min). Half what is suggested in Gordon Strong's book.

10-year-old Microplane zester broke after those two. Potato-peeler strips of zest from the final grapefruit added at flame-out along with the rest of the spruce tips. Allowed to steep for 30 min before chilling to 70F.

5 gallons at 1.064 post-boil, topped off with .25 gallons of distilled water. Left at 65F to ferment.

8/30/14 Moved to warm ambient basement to ensure complete fermentation.

9/9/14 Kegged. Put in fridge to wait for a tap to open up.

11/29/14 Added zest of one grapefruit at tapping.

1/7/14 Tasting Notes. Happy with the result, even though it isn't particularly IPA-ish. If that was your goal, bitter with 30-40 IBUs, and possibly add some whirlpool hops to give it some hop aroma.