Monday, October 27, 2014

Brew Day: Hoppy Pale Ale

Right up there with a beautifully balanced English style bitter, another of my favorite pints is the hoppy American Pale Ale that makes use of the most flavorful hop varieties. Just as there is something to be said for the precision and restraint that comes with creating some of the most delicate beer styles, the opposite is also true. Brewing a beer with the biggest and strongest hop varieties requires much of the same skill and attention to detail as is needed to master the likes of pale lager. That said, I've been craving a citrus and pine heavy IPA of late, but with respect to my liver, I figure a 5.5% APA is probably the way to go.

Amber Ale
To accomplish this, I'll be brewing one of my favorite pale ale recipes; pale malt, some munich, and a touch of medium crystal for color. Hopping was to be Amarillo, Centennial, and Simcoe, although this time I am subbing the Amarillo for Galaxy. I haven't been impressed with the 2013 Amarillo crop - what I got was much too earthy - and I figure the dank, pine, and passionfruit character of the Galaxy will pair nicely with the floral Centennial. And as is the case with all my hoppy beers, I am starting from a base of 100% RO water and adding enough salts to reach a water profile around 110ppm calcium, 250ppm sulfate and 40ppm chloride. Yeast is some very fresh American Ale.

Just a mumbling or two on hops and dry hopping. After years of tinkering with my dry hop regimen - trying to find that perfect balance of big, fruity hop aroma without getting any grassy or vegetal character - I've reached a point where I get consistent results and the hop character about as good as I am going to get my with my current set up. Anyways, my dry hopping process is something like this...

For my system, I've figured out that the maximum amount of hop oil extraction I see is right around 2 oz of pellets per gallon of beer, anything more than that is a waste. So, I generally use around 3-4 ounces of hops per 5 gallons of beer when dry hopping my standard "hoppy" American styles, with a maximum of 2 ounces per gallon for the hoppiest IIPA's. This equates to around 1.5 to 4 lb of hops per bbl dry hop, which is on the high side of the craft brewing average (commerical is often from 0.5 to 2.5lbs/bbl).

As you may already know, the amount of time it takes for hop oils to peak in dry hopped beer is actually quite fast. Usually the greatest concentration of hop oils in a dry hopped beer will be within the first 24 hours of adding the hops. After that, oil concentrations will generally start to drop off and eventually they plateau, often around day 3. Some people take this to assume that dry hopping should be kept as short as possible. That is not exactly true. While hop oils do peak early in the process, aroma and flavor development takes a bit longer, with sensory studies showing that day 5 is around the time when aroma and flavor are the best for pure hop character. Longer dry hopping risks developing grassy and/or vegetal flavors, which brings with it a whole other host of issues, such as polyphenol and organic acid pickup. Generally speaking, 3-5 days is ideal, 8 is borderline too much.

Dry hop temperature is also important. An 'ideal' dry hop temperature is somewhere between 60-68F. Warmer dry hop temperatures do extract some hop oils faster than those hopped cold, but not really by much. Rather, it is the temperature of the beer that impacts the type of character we get from the hop oils. Generally speaking, warmer temps result in bigger, fruitier, and more true-to-the hop type of character than beers dry hopped cold. However, with temperature comes another issue. Yeast.

Hop compounds can bind to yeast cells and pretty much everything else in our beer. When the yeast drops out of solution, so does a lot of our hop aromatics and flavors. A sound method of dry hopping is to slightly cool your beer after fermentation is complete and then rack the beer into a c02 purged secondary. From there, the temp of beer can be brought up to 60F+ and dry hopped as normal. The take away point being to not dry hop while the bulk of fermentation is still active and/or while the yeast are in their growth phase. That said, having some yeast in suspension can be good and dry hopping towards the tail end of fermentation does have some benefits, although that is not always the case. Also, crash cooling does not necessarily mean dropping the temperature of the beer down to near freezing, but rather to a temp low enough to get the yeast to flocculate... for some yeasts this can happen as high as 55-60F.

A word on glycosides. Latley there has been some new information on how certain enzymes found in yeast can break apart glycosides (aromatic compounds bonded to a carbohydrate) and transform hop oils into even more aromatic compounds. This is certainly true and much of the 'breaking potential' is yeast strain, time, pH, and temperature dependant. Not every yeast will be as effective as the other and the overall effect can be less impactful than what the home brew community have been lead to believe. 

Adding hops to the beer. Interestingly, dry hopping is all about surface area. For that reason, pellet hops are without a doubt better at exacting more hop oils than whole cone. The flavor differences therein are largely subjective, but I fall into the 'pellets are better for hop aroma and flavor' school of thinking. Anyways, while just dumping your hop pellets into beer for dry hopping works fine, there are other ways to go about it. Powderize the pellets before adding them. Make a hop slurry. Agitation, recirculation, temperature control, ect... all have their benefits and some are better than others. For instance, if I want a really intense hop aroma, I will sometimes take pellets, crush them and then make a hop slurry with the beer that I am transferring. This is then added to the secondary and left for 3-5 days, with occasional gentle rousing, before the whole lot is crash cooled to 35F and kegged immediately.

Positives from this method are that you get a really intense, non-vegetal hop aroma that oozes hop oil character. Think resinous IIPA's. However, every method has its trade offs. Rousing or recirculating hops at too warm or cold a temperature and/or letting them sit too long in the beer risks polyphenol pickup, which often manifests in an overly bitter or astringent character. Among other issues. PH is very important too. Finding the method that works best for your system is going to be largely trial and error.

Enough of that...

Hoppy Pale Ale: American Pale Ale

Recipe Specifics:
----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 5.0
Total Grain (Lbs): 12.50
Anticipated OG: 1.055
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 6
Anticipated IBU: 45
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Grain/Sugar:
------------
92.0% - 11.50 lbs. Pale Malt, 2-Row
6.0%  - 0.75 lbs. Munich Malt
2.0%  - 0.25 lbs. Crystal 55L

Hops:
------
0.50 oz. each Centennial, Galaxy @ 20 min for 35 IBU
0.50 oz. each Centennial, Galaxy @ 10 min for 15 IBU
1.0 oz. Simcoe @ flameout/hopstand
1.0 oz Galaxy @ flameout/hopstand
2.0 oz Centennial @ flameout/hopstand
1.0 oz each Centennial, Simcoe, Galaxy @ dryhop for 7 days

Yeast: WY1056 American Ale
Mash 152F for 60 min
Brewed on 26 October

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

West Yorkshire Yeast Review

Admittedly, while I didn't get around to brewing a whole series of bitters and milds with the West Yorkshire yeast as I had hoped to do, I did end up brewing two beers with it and those brews have been on tap for some time now. See, back in late May, I decided to give a few other British yeasts a go - thinking I might find another favorite - and settled on the West Yorkshire strain as the first of the bunch. I think what made me want to give this yeast another go, after a previous string of so-so beers, was that this yeast is a nice top cropper and it has a rather vocal fan base of home brewers who seem to love this yeast for every British beer style.

The first bitter I brewed was of the ordinary kind; MO/GP pale malt, torrified wheat, crystal malt, and straight EKG for hopping. I did a bit of tweaking with the yeast pitch - went through the trouble of doing a yeast count with a microscope and hemocytometer - and even tried to slightly under pitch to coax out some complex esters. The fermentation took right off and exhibited all the signs of happy fermentation. When the yeast produced a beautiful second krausen, I top cropped the yeast and pitched it into another brew, within a few days.* The only thing I did differently was that when it came time to keg the beer, instead of not dry hopping it as I had planned, I decided to rack it into a secondary and I ended up dry hopping it with 1/2 ounce of US Brewers Gold.

The resulting beer is nice and pleasant enough... but in the same vein as a company get-togethers and eating Sunday dinner with the in-laws. It's ok, but not necessarily something you'd want to do each week. When I first tasted the beer going into the keg, it tasted lovely, but from then to now, it's lost something. Hiding beneath the lemony-herbal hop character is a beer that is fruity, clean, and exhibits a crisp, bready malt character that reminds me of quality German lagers. That said, one could find fault in it for tasting a bit thin and watery and it certainly isn't the most exciting or flavorful beer I have ever brewed. Again, it's not bad... but not great. However, what really kills this beer for me, is unlike those beers brewed with my standby Bedford yeast, this beer completely lacks the richness and yeast-derived complexity that I've come to expect with many British yeasts. Also, annoyingly, the yeast did not flocculate as well as I had hoped - it performed about the same as before - and as a result, the beer has somewhat of a haze issue.

Ok, so not the best results with the ordinary bitter. So what about this second one? Well, that beer was basically a standard ESB recipe, brewed with Glen Eagles Maris Otter with a blend of medium and dark crystal malts. Hopping was all Challenger, probably my favorite UK hop, and the yeast was pitched into well oxygenated wort. Fermentation took right off and after nearly three weeks in the fermenter and time spent crash cooling, the beer was kegged without any dry hopping. It tasted fine going into the keg, a tad yeasty, and it has been there for three weeks now.

And again, the beer is just ok. As there is little late hopping to get in the way of the yeast and malt character, the yeast flavor comes through very well... almost too well. The beer has more fruity esters than I had expected or hoped for... exhibiting a slightly peachy-banana flavor. That said, the malt comes across as bready and crisp. But where that bready malt character should transition into a rich and full flavored beer, the whole thing falls off into a dry and 'flat' fruity flavor. Honestly, the beer reminds me of a more caramelly tasting Coopers Sparking Ale. Maybe this beer is still too young - I'll give it another week or two - but I don't have high hopes for it. And again, this beer has the same hazy apperance that the other beer has. Two disappointing beers in a row. Bummer.

If there is anything we can take away from this yeast experiment, it is that while I haven't had much luck with this yeast, it doesn't mean that you will. Part of the problem may be that I have formed too narrow of an idea for what I want my British ales to taste like. Not all yeasts produce the same tasting beer and maybe if I didn't have such high expectations, I might be able to enjoy these beers for what they are.

That said, I probably won't be revisiting this yeast anytime soon... although I would love to hear from people whom have used this yeast with good results.

                                                       ------------------------------

*Aside, I realize that I have been blabbering on about top cropping and storing yeast for years now, all the while never mentioning how I do it or why doing it a certain way might be beneficial. We'll here you go; I originally wrote this for a home brew club event I did a few months ago.

A word or two on top cropping. Unlike what is often assumed, top cropping is actually a pretty delicate operation and there is a whole bunch of very interesting yeasty science behind the procedure. In short, if you want the healthiest yeast from your fermentation, don't just skim whatever yeast is on top of your fermenter at any given time. To sum things up, the best way that we home brewers can top crop, is to pitch an adequate amount of yeast in the first place and then wait until the first krausen shows up, usually around 24-36 hours. This first krausen or "first dirt" mostly consists of proteins, hop oils, and other stuff that we don't want in our beer or cropped yeast. The first dirt is skimmed off and discarded. After that, we wait until the second krausen (or high krausen) is formed, which should be around day 2 to 4 or when the yeast has fermented just over 50% of its fermentables. This yeast should be both airy and creamy and free from all hop particles. This is the yeast we want. Using a sanitized utensil, skim this yeast off into a sanitized container and if you are planning to store the yeast for more than a few days, be sure to submerge the yeast with a thin layer of beer. Do not mix water with yeast!

Interestingly enough, adding water to stored yeast (usually via "yeast washing" - separating yeast from trub, usually with de-aerated water) is among the worst things we can do when saving our yeast for extended periods of time. See, when beer undergoes fermentation, the yeast do their part to form a rather inhospitable environment for any other yeasts and/or bacteria that may be in the solution. In the simplest of terms, they do this by consuming available sugars, eliminating free oxygen, lowering the PH of the solution, and lastly by producing alcohol. All of these things make it rather difficult for many beer spoiling organisms to survive. Now, when we take the yeast out of this environment - via top or bottom cropping - and replace the beer with water, we are in effect completely undoing everything the yeast did to help preserve itself. Adding water increases PH, decreases alcohol, adds oxygen (whether we realize it or not), and provides a friendlier environment for bacteria to replicate. In short, if you are going to store yeast in a solution (top cropped or washed), you are better off leaving your yeast under a layer of fermented beer and dumping that liquid out before re-pitching.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Mosaic IPA Tasting

Just a quick post for today. Back in early April I bought three pounds of Mosaic hop pellets on a rather expensive whim and I've been trying to use them up before I go back to brewing with my favorite hop combo, Galaxy and Nelson Sauvin. Until now, my only real experience with Mosaic was brewing with them as part of a blend - where little of their character came through - and I sampled a few commercial beers that supposedly used them in quantity. The BrewDog/Evil Twin collaboration to name one of the good ones. Anyways, I figured a single hopped Mosaic IPA was a thing worth doing... and the recipe I used was pale, munich, and a touch of crystal malt with lots of Mosaic hops added late in the boil. The only interesting thing I did with this batch is that I used a slightly different dry hop process, one that mimics some of the dry hop methods commercial breweries use... that is, a temperature controlled hop slurry with C02 agitation. I swear I'll get around to posting about that and the hop oils sometime soon.
  
Mosaic: American IPA

Appearance - Slight hop-hazy, light amber color with a fluffy white head that has good retention.

Aroma - Intensely fruity, but not really tropical... citrus peel, peach, orange, and "wild berries" with a distinct pine and cedar note. Very aromatic and bright.

Taste - Same big fruity character as the aroma, this beer tastes like a hoppier Two Hearted, with the added mix of pine and strawberry. The malt character does a good job of showcasing the hops, while providing just a touch of grainy malt flavor. Bitterness is medium-high and the beer finishes clean and crisp.

Mouthfeel - Carbonation is borderline too high for what I normally like, but the beer has a pleasant mouthfeel and isn't too thin. 

Drinkability & Notes - One of the best IPA's I've brewed. I wasn't sure of what to expect from the Mosaic hops, but they've really surpassed my expectations with their fruity, piney, and sure enough, berry-like flavor. The hop character is clean and vibrant - no grassy or vegetal notes at all. Lastly, there isn't much I'd change with the recipe, although I would bet a citrusy/dank hop like Columbus would pair wonderfully with Mosaic.

O:G: 1.062, F:G: 1.010. 6.8% ABV. 55 IBU. WY1332

Recipe Specifics:
----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 5.0
Total Grain (Lbs): 12.25
Anticipated OG: 1.062
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 6
Anticipated IBU: 55
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Grain/Sugar:
------------
89.8% - 11.00 lbs. Pale Malt, 2-Row
8.2%  - 1.00 lbs. Munich Light
2.0%  - 0.25 lbs. Caravienne
  
Hops:
------
2.00 oz. Mosaic @ 20 min for 32 IBU
2.00 oz. Mosaic @ 10 min for 23 IBU
4.00 oz. Mosaic @ flameout/hopstand
4.00 oz Mosaic @ dryhop
 
Yeast: WY1332 Northwest Ale
Mash 152F for 60 min
Brewed on 15 April

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Yeast for All Seasons

This isn't about hops or dry hopping, more on that to come, but something a little closer to my heart: yeast. Since I started home brewing and trying different yeast strains, I've always had the idea that the overall goal of my yeast testing and experimenting was to find a house yeast - something that best exhibited the flavor and character I like in my beer, but was still was clean and balanced. A few years ago, I came across the Bedford British strain and that yeast has largely become my 'house yeast.' It makes wonderful English style bitters and pale ales and still remains my go-to yeast for most of the British styles.

However, after all of these batches of bitter and pale, I am starting to feel like I've taken the Bedford yeast about as far as I can go. I've figured out how to get the same flavor from batch to batch and the repeatability of making the same tasting bitter has largely become mundane. I'm about ready for a change. So, moving from the more Southern style of yeast - drier, cleaner, crisper, and minerally - I'm heading North to Yorkshire, in search of creamier, fruitier, and more balanced beer.

I first tried the WY1469 West Yorkshire yeast back in 2011 and I've had a somewhat rocky go with it since. Some of my earliest attempts using this yeast turned out well enough, producing beers that were a tad more fruity than I liked, but flavorful and well balanced overall. Then I had a string of bitters that had serious flavor and flocculation issues, with some batches not flocculating at all and others where the yeast never formed a krausen and the resulting beer tasted yeasty and muddled. Not good stuff.

Scottish Porter
My plan for this round of experiments is to brew a series of English bitters and milds with WY1469 and see how the yeast performs in a more controlled environment. This time I'll be using the healthiest yeast possible and I'll be able to control everything from pitching rate (soilds/deads) to oxygenation and fermentation temperature. Moreover, as this yeast is a true top cropper, I'd like to be able to go back and revist some of the fermentation techniques that I've not used in a while... including open fermentation, top cropping, and yeast rousing.

The recipe for today is a typical ordinary bitter, brewed from a mixture of Maris Otter and Golden Promise, with a good dose of torrified wheat and some medium crystal thrown in for color. Hopping is all organic EKG and the water profile is low alkalinity with a moderate amount of sulfate and chloride. For the fermentation profile, I'll be pitching on the lower end (100-130 billion cells) and following a typical 'pitch low and let it rise' temperature schedule- pitch at 62F and let it free rise to around 68F for a diacetyl rest by day 10. Given this yeast produces a healthy krausen, I would like to top crop it for future use. We shall see.

Yorkshire Bitter I : English Bitter  

Recipe Specifics:
----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 4.5
Total Grain (Lbs): 7.25
Anticipated OG: 1.042
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 6
Anticipated IBU: 22
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Grain/Sugar:
------------
48.3% - 3.50 lbs. Pale Malt, Golden Promise
41.4%  - 3.00 lbs. Pale Malt, Maris Otter
6.9%  - 0.50 lbs. Torrified Wheat
3.4%  - 0.25 lbs. Medium Crystal

Hops:
------
0.50 oz. EKG @ 60 min for 14 IBU
0.50 oz. EKG @ 20 min for 8 IBU
1.00 oz. EKG @ flameout

Yeast: Wyeast 1469 West Yorkshire
Water: 62, 5, 8, 104, 36, 16
Mash 156F for 60 min
Brewed on 25 May

* It is interesting to note that Yorkshire yeasts have found their way across the globe, with many breweries now using yeasts of Northern origin; including Ringwood of the UK and the US East Coast, Cooper's yeast from Australia, and possibly even Conan of Heady Topper fame, which came from a yeast deposited at the NCYC in 1960, the same year a number of Yorkshire strains were deposited. For those interested, Conan is originally #1188.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Coming Soon...

In the coming weeks and months, I'm going to make a concerted effort to post more often and more importantly, start talking about things that are of significance to us home brewers. I am in the rather unique position of having access to some of the best information coming out of the brewing industry these days and I think it would be worthwhile to share some of that info with people who may not normally get to see it... in ways other than irrelevant tasting notes and ramblings.* In particular, I'd like to talk about hops and yeast - how we use them and the ways in which we can optimize their use - and those beer styles that don't always get the attention they deserve. That's pretty much all of the English styles. And a thing or two on IPA's.

The next post will have something to do with hop oil concentrations in dry hopped beer and how we can mimic some of the processes that craft breweries use to maximize hop character from kettle and dry-hopping additions. Should be fun. Suggestions for topics are always welcome.

*Maybe just a few ramblings.
 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Hops for Wimps

Here's an old beer tasting that I wrote months ago and forgot to post until now. I probably wouldn't have posted it either, but I was reminiscing with some friends about our earliest college-drinking days and it was brought up that I was once a complete wimp when it came to hoppy beers, barely tolerating a pint of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. And that is the truth. While my buddies drank cans of Dale's Pale Ale and pints of Stone IPA, I'd drink Michelob Amber Bock and complain that hoppy beer made my stomach hurt. I admit this now, because this beer tasting is a perfect example of how things have changed. This beer was brewed, initially, to be a somewhat sessionable and hoppy pale ale/bitter... but somewhere along the line morphed into a hop monster. When all was said and done, this 4 gallon batch of 5% beer had over a half pound of hops pass through it. Galaxy. Centennial. Simcoe. I wish I could go back in time and see the 19 year old version of me drinking this stuff. 

Hoppy Bitter: American Pale Ale

Appearance - Slightly hazy amber/copper color with a large, fluffy head that has good retention.

Aroma - Big tropical fruit - mango, passionfruit, pineapple - with citrusy hop character in the mix. The galaxy hops particularly stands out with its dank and passionfruit-y aroma.

Taste - Typical American IPA+ hop flavor supported by some English malt character that actually provides some balance. Again, the galaxy hops are all over this beer; passionfruit, pine, and citrus peel. Bitterness is high and the beer finishes clean and crisp.

Mouthfeel - Carbonation is somewhat low and the beer has a full mouthfeel.

Drinkability & Notes - Hop character of a double IPA in a 5.0% bitter/pale. This is the type of beer that I wish most commercial session IPA's were... instead of weak and watery malt and grassy hops, the combination of Maris Otter, dark crystal, and a touch of amber did a fine job of supporting the tropical hop punch. That said, next time I'll dial back the dry hopping, as 5 oz is a bit overkill in a beer this size. Recipe Here.

O:G: 1.048, F:G: 1.010. 4.9% ABV. 40 IBU. MJ44 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Mild or Porter, Scottish Ale

After a long while of not brewing and not wanting to brew, I'm slowly coming around. I recently brewed an India Pale Lager, loaded with Nelson Sauvin and Brewers Gold hops, and before that I made an Imperial Stout that I aged on cocao nibs and vanilla beans. At just over a month in the keg, that beer is tasting mighty fine. This week, I feel like brewing something a little closer to the heart, especially since I finally got a hold of a yeast that I've always wanted to brew with... believe it or not, Belhaven's house strain. A Scottish styled "something" is in order.

Following my new brewing manta, "don't take stupid s*** too seriously," I am trying to avoid following set beer styles. After years of following the BJCP guidelines for nearly all my beers, there is something about taking a bunch of ingredients and combining them in a way that doesn't quite fit an established beer style that feels rather liberating. For this beer, all I want is something that is dark, malty, and mildly porter-ish tasting, coming in around 3.8% abv. To achieve this, I'm going with a base of Gleneagle Marris Otter and combining smaller amounts of medium and dark crystal, brown malt, chocolate malt, and a wee touch of roasted barley. Hopping is all UK fuggles. Fermentation will held in a plastic bucket, so I can easily harvest all the wonderful, doughy yeast that settles on top of the fermenting beer. And that yeast will be used to brew something else. Something properly Scottish. Maybe from Orkney Brewery?

Malcontent : Mild/Porter       

Recipe Specifics:
----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 5.5
Total Grain (Lbs): 8.42
Anticipated OG: 1.038
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 22
Anticipated IBU: 18
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Grain/Sugar:
------------
83.1% - 7.00 lbs. Pale Malt, Maris Otter
5.9%  - 0.50 lbs. Medium Crystal
3.6%  - 0.30 lbs. Brown Malt
3.6%  - 0.30 lbs. Chocolate Malt 
2.4%  - 0.20 lbs. Extra Dark Crystal
1.4%  - 0.12 lbs. Roasted Barley
  
Hops:
------
1.00 oz. UK Fuggles @ 60 min for 15 IBU
0.50 oz. UK Fuggles @ 10 min for 3 IBU

Yeast: Belhaven Ale
Mash 156F for 60 min
Brewed on 23 March