Monday, January 31, 2011

A Few 'Good' Books

Of all the generally useless advice given to me over the years, I am frequently reminded of a saying that a very cynical history professor used to tell me whenever I inquired about his impressive, albeit messy book collection. It goes something like this: "the best way to show you know something - without having to know anything - is to surround yourself with good books and people who read good books."

I always liked that saying. Not only does it sum up most of academia pretty well, but it also applies to most people who have 'sitting rooms' or 'libraries' in their houses and those that believe they know something about the world because they've read Kerouac. Reading books is not the same as reading good books and having friends who read books does not make you any smarter.

With that in mind, here are a few 'good books' on homebrewing/beer that I have read and feel comfortable enough to put on my book shelf.

 - Amber, Gold & Black: The History of Britain's Great Beers by Martyn Cornell. This is a great book for the amateur beer historian or those with an interest in authentic British beer. Lots of numbers on beer pricing, an emphasis on terminology, and enough obscure data to show your friends why they're full of s**t.

- Brew Like a Monk; Wild Brews; and Farmhouse Ales by Hieronymus, Sparrow, and Markowski. These three books are all excellent works on Belgian ales. Brew Like a Monk contains everything you need to brew authentic Belgian abbey and Trappist beer and contains a good overview of the styles and histories thereof. Wild Brews covers most types of sour ales and does a pretty good job getting you started. I only wish it included more information on Berliner Weisse and non-Belgian sour styles. Lastly, Farmhouse Ales covers much of the traditional Belgian/French Saison and Biere de Garde styles and again how to brew them. Very useful if you like brewing Belgian ales or want to know anything about these styles of beer.

- Yeast, by Chris White and Jamil Zainasheff. I originally bought this book thinking it would be the best resource on various yeast strains and how to use them, including propagation, washing, ect. While the book has nothing on individual yeast strains, it does contain some info on the things we should be doing to ensure a healthy and successful fermentation. For me, the first 150 pages were pretty useless though the latter part of the book contained enough good info to make the book worthwhile.

- New Brewing Lager Beer, by Greg Noonan. This is the book I should have bought when I first started brewing, instead of Charlie P's Joy of Homebrewing. More technical than most other introductory pieces on homebrewing, this book really shines with its chapters on decoction mashing and lager brewing. There is a good amount of brew science in the book. At times it can be boring to read, but is important to help us understand the processes at work.

- The Brewmaster's Table, by Garrett Oliver. A fun book on beer and food and eating/drinking. Some of the information seems a bit forced at times, though it is overall an good read with some useful information. Has nice pictures too.

- Tasting Beer, by Randy Mosher. I included this book namely for the sake of letting other people borrow it. Not much here for the homebrewer, though it contains a lot of good introductory information to help show your friends that there is a world of beer beyond Bud/Miller/Coors. It has some nice information on the components of beer flavor and some decent descriptions of different styles.

- Designing Great Beers, by Ray Daniels. This is a great book for the beginner all-grain brewer. Lots of information on how to make your own recipe and gives you an idea of what malts/hops/yeasts go well together. Some historical information too. My only negative is that a lot of the information is pretty old, with most of the NHC recipe percentages from ten years ago.

- How to Brew, by John Palmer. If you plan on getting into homebrewing, buy this book. For the beginner with some info for those a bit farther along. Has all the info necessary to make your first drinkable batch of beer.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

West Yorkshire Bitter Tasting

When Wyeast released their VSS 1469 West Yorkshire strain a few months ago, I went out and bought as many packs as I could find. I had heard so many good things about this yeast and had such high expectations for it that I assumed anything brewed with it would turn out fantastic. I even had hopes to make it my 'house yeast' for 2011. However, like most of my plans, it was not to be. My first few batches with wy1469 turned out pretty poorly, with the yeast refusing to flocculate and producing lots of really strong banana esters, even when fermented at lower temps (64-65F). Then I had one batch - a Rigwelter Brown clone - that decided to not attenuate at all and turned sour while still in the primary. It got dumped. After one complete failure and two lackluster beers, I pretty much had it with this yeast. I was just about to give away my last pack to a friend when by chance I saw a recipe for Timothy Taylor's Landlord posted on one of the brewblogs I frequent. Having dunk a few pints of the stuff in London and knowing how good it was, I figured I would brew it with wy1469 as it is supposedly the same yeast that Timothy Taylor uses in all of their beers. Fast forward three months... 

Gunsmith Bitter: Timothy Taylor Landlord 

Appearance –  Very clear, though it took a month in the bottle to get there - fining probably would have been a good idea for the cask version. Color is pretty much spot on, amber-orange, though a tad darker than the commerical version. Decent pillow-y head that leaves some lacing.
Smell – First impression is apple and pear esters, with lots of clean biscuity malt. The hops come through in the middle with a slightly floral - earthy character. The tiniest touch of diacetyl at the end.

 Taste – Very malty with lots of toasty-biscuit notes and just a hint of caramel. Hops are apparent but not over powering, with citrus and earthy notes. Bitterness is soft initially but grows in strength as it moves across the palate. The beer finishes dry, though has some residual malt sweetness that marries well with the yeast derived flavors.

Mouthfeel – Very smooth and creamy, though the beer finishes dry. Low carbonation makes for easy drinking.  

Drinkability & Notes – While I wouldn't say it is cloned - not my original intention - I am  happy with how the beer came out. It is very well balanced and extremely drinkable. If I were to brew this again I would probably add more late hops and possibly dry hop it for a bit more hop character. My only main criticism would be that it is not as clean tasting as I would like for competitions, though some judges may not mind. Overall a good beer, though I don't know if I will use wy1469 too much in the future. In a competition, I would score this beer around 35/50.

Recipe was 100% Maris Otter with Fuggles, EKG, and Styrian goldings hops; O.G: 1.045, F.G: 1.009, 35 IBU.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Brew Day: English IPA

It is no secret that I am not a huge fan of the typical American IPA. While I do drink them on the rare occasion that my local has a particularly good one on tap, namely "Flower Power" by Ithaca Brewing Co, it is not a style I really enjoy brewing or drinking very often. However, when it comes to English IPA, I absolutely love the stuff. For me there is nary a thing better than mixing the intensely rich biscuit malt profile of a good British ale with a heavy dose of the soft, aromatic East Kent Golding hop. Whereas American IPA's scream citrus, pine, and bitter agression, the English version tends to much more balanced with a solid malt background, firm bitterness, and an intensely floral, marmalade like aroma. For me, perfection is found in balance and English IPA has it in spades. And since I have yet to find a commerical version here in the States that best represents those I had in England, I like to brew it a lot.

This is a recipe I have brewed a number of times now and have really enjoyed the results. This batch will serve as a test batch for the upcoming National Homebrew Contest in April.
Green Thumb, English India Pale Ale

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 4.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 9.4
Anticipated OG: 1.062
Anticipated SRM: 11.4
Anticipated IBU: 58.0
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

85.0% - 8.0 lbs. Pale Malt, Maris Otter
8.0% - 0.75 lbs. Crystal Malt, 60L
4.0% - 0.38 lbs. Crisp, Amber Malt
3.0% - 0.28 lbs. Wheat, Malt

1.00 oz. Magnum, (Pellet 10.00% AA) @ 60 min
0.50 oz. East Kent Goldings (Pellet 4.50% AA) @ 30 min.
1.00 oz. East Kent Goldings (Pellet 4.50% AA) @ 10 min.
1.00 oz. East Kent Goldings (Pellet 4.50% AA) @ Flameout
1.50 oz. East Kent Goldings (Pellet 4.50% AA) @ Dry Hop, 7 days

Yeast: Wyeast Labs 1187, Ringwood
Mash 152F for 75 min

1/28/11 - Brewed

Obligatory Haiku Post

a pint of bitter
and all worries fade away
until tomorrow