Monday, March 28, 2011

English Special Bitter (No. 1 Invert) Tasting

Oh boy. I've been waiting to taste this one off my new handpump for a couple days now and I couldn't bear the wait any longer - had my first pint yesterday and I've kept going back for second and third pints since. If you couldn't tell, this beer was brewed with a batch of No. 1 invert syrup that I made not too long ago. I intentionally kept the recipe pretty simple to see how much flavor the invert syrup would provide and am glad I did so. The result is way better than I expected. I said I was done brewing bitters for a while, but I have a pack of wy1187 that needs a home and an itching to make another batch of invert. Maybe do the same recipe but with some No. 2 Invert? Yeah, I know...

The Golden Toad: English Special Bitter

Appearance – From the handpump this pours a beautiful golden-copper color with a low white head that slowly fades to a small ring, leaving some lacing. Steady stream of small bubbles float to the top, low carbonation. 

Smell – Very nice aroma on this one. First sniff is toasted, biscuity grain and typically fruity English yeast esters with just a hint of butterscotch. The floral EKG hops leave their mark with a light orange-marmalade character, though don't interfere with malt aromas. Some medium caramel notes are evident, as well as some sweetness from the invert syrup. What's best though is a lovely sweet, almost vanilla like aroma that reminds me of ladyfinger cookies - must be from the invert.
Taste – Follows suit with the aroma. Lots of wonderful light caramel and bready/biscuity malt flavors that mix well with the English yeast character. The invert syrup addition is more noticeable in the flavor, as it leaves a slightly fruity, residual sweetness. More landyfinger cookie character. Bitterness is about perfect for this beer, just enough to balance the sweetness but still soft enough to not get in the way of the malt. Some EKG hop flavor at the end. Reminds me a lot of the cask bitters I had in the UK; young, complex, full flavored with all the nuances that a cask provides. Damn close to perfect for my tastes.

Mouthfeel – Low carbonation and creamy. The beer finishes dry, though the invert gives it just enough body to keep it from being too dry.

Drinkability & Notes – I was a little leery of trying this one so young - it's only been in the cask for 7 days and it was brewed on 8 March - but the beer as it sits is nearly perfect. One of my top three favorite special bitters I have brewed so far, it is really amazing how much difference the homemade invert syrup really makes. (My days of using the commerical product are over; Lyles Golden Syrup and the bakery supply No.1 Invert don't hold a candle to the homemade stuff). Overall, this beer drinks like a 3% ordinary bitter but has all the flavor and complexity that you might find in a summer variety ESB. As styles go, it probably doesn't have enough bitterness to be the poster child of a "BJCP" special bitter, though I still like this one much more than the special bitter I entered into the NHC.

O.G: 1.048, F.G: 1.008, 5.2% ABV, 35 IBU, Wyeast 1968 Fuller's ESB

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Humphreys 1880 Lager

This past fall I harvested a little less than two pounds of my certified 'heirloom' Humphrey Seedling hops, a variety that was once grown across upstate New York during the mid to late 1800's. While it isn't as well remembered as Cluster, Humphreys once made up a good percentage of the New York hop crop as it was a fast grower and noted to be of "fine flavour and aroma." (For those of you who don't know, Central New York produced most of America's hops for much of the nineteenth century, generating huge fortunes following the failure of the English crop in the late 1870's). A few sources note that the Humphrey Seedling variety originated in Wisconsin but was bred for the Waterville hop trade - which by 1860 was one of the largest hop processing centers in the world and noted as the "Kent of America."

Anyways, I had originally intended to brew a batch of CAP (classic American pilsner) with my hops over the winter though I never got around to it. I was a bit leery of ruining a batch of beer with untested hops; I have brewed with cluster hops in the past and didn't enjoy the results very much - the hops imparted an extreme grapefruit flavor to the beer that overpowered the malt and made the beer hard to drink. However, I recently came across an old 1880 recipe from a defunct local brewery that lists "waterville hops" as an ingredient. Let's just say I found my recipe to test these hops on. The thought of re-brewing a local, 131 year old recipe that quite possibly could have used the same hops as I have now, is pretty cool if you ask me!

The recipe is incomplete and makes no mention of percentages, pounds, or mash temperatures but does include a few important bits. First, I can assume the recipe is for a lager, as the name "Wurtzburger" appears in the margin, (Wurtzburg is a city in lower Franconia that was once noted for it's pale and dark lagers) and secondly it seems some ingredients may be German in origin or inspired by German ones. With that said, the recipe calls for "bavaria malt" and "barley malt". I have no idea what bavaria malt is, but I suspect it was some form of pale malt used in lager brewing - possibly 2-row, maybe something like a light Munich? The barley malt I assume would be a domestic six-row, pale malt. No crystal malts are noted, so I assume this beer would be somewhat similar to a Munich helles in color. The recipe also makes no mention of how much hops to use or when to use them.

I am thinking something like this would make for a pretty close representation of the original recipe;

O.G: 1.044
F.G: 1.010
25 IBU

60% Light Munich malt
40% Pale malt, six-row

1.25 oz homegrown hops @ 60
0.5 oz homegrown hops @ flameout
Fermented with California lager yeast at 50-55F for two weeks, lager one month at 45F.

Sounds pretty good? I'll probably will get around to brewing this sometime this week, so long as the brew store has the yeast in stock.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Brown Porter Tasting

Brewed this one on the 28th of February and I had it kegged by 12 March... it hasn't even been in the keg for 10 days and I only have a few pints left. Had some company over the other day and they hit the keg hard - like really hard. I was hoping to let this batch age a bit and see how it changes over time, though it ain't going to happen. However, I was able to get a few bottles out of the keg for the National Homebrew Competition. If I didn't manage to totally screw up the carbonation with my homemade beer gun, it should do well enough.

The Darker Side of Mild II: Brown Porter

Appearance – Pours a not quite opaque black color with a thick tan head that leaves nice lacing. When held to the light it is a clear, ruby color.

Smell – Willy Wonka chocolate factory, Bailey's Irish Creme, and chocolate-caramel cake. Probably the most inviting and complex aroma of any beer I've brewed. Lots and lots of dark chocolate, sweet caramel, toffee, fresh pumpernickle bread, black as night coffee, and chocolate covered raisins at the end. No hops.

Taste – Pretty much the same as the aroma. Very complex, each sip is a new flavor - the beer is brewed with 7 malts and it really shows. Everything is well balanced and the balance of flavors is decidedly malty. The beer finishes a bit sweet, though the hop bitterness really does a good job of keeping it from being cloying. Right at the end you get a touch of toasty-grainy malt. No hops. 

Mouthfeel – Thick, viscous, and full bodied. I call lots of beers creamy, though this one takes the cake. No pun intended.

Drinkability & Notes – I think this would only get better with time. Tastes freaking amazing as is, though a bit of age would probably let some of those malts intensify in flavor. Extremely drinkable, you could drink this stuff all day and night. No alcohol notes or off flavors that I can tell. It is not in my nature to gloat or showboat, but I can proudly say I think this is way better than Fullers Porter (the holy grail of commercial brown porters IMO). I'll probably re-brew this one at the end of the month instead of my usual Ploughman mild.

O.G: 1.056, F.G: 1.016, 5.2% ABV, 30 IBU, Wyeast 1318 London Ale III

Thursday, March 17, 2011

British Malts, Part I

I thought it would be 'fun' to take a break from my usual beer reviews and recipes to write about a facet of brewing that is typically ignored or gets little attention from most American homebrewers; the use of British malts. Now, I know this is not going to be everyone's idea of a fun time - most people don't give a damn about the subtle differences between barley varieties and couldn't care less about the various shades of biscuit flavor - but I think it is important to have at least some familiarity with British malts if you intend to use them. 

Now I must say that I am no expert on the subject of malts and hold no degrees in malt science, nor have I ever worked at a malting company. However, I have spent a lot of time and money brewing with many different British malts, testing and trying them over and over again to find the best combinations thereof. Also, I am not trying to recreate truly authentic, historical British beer. I only aim to produce something that is traditional in the use of ingredients and balance of flavors. Lastly, I won't bore you with a rehash of what malt is and the differences between two-and-six row and all that nonsense. If you would like to know more about the history of malting and the role it played in the development of our modern styles, there are books out there that can describe it much better than I.

With that said, lets get started!

Base malts. There are a lot of choices out there these days when it comes to choosing the grain that you'll use the most of in your beer, each with its own unique characteristics. Here are some of the ones I've used and my thoughts on them.

TF&Sons, Maris Otter: I've been using this malt for a few years now and personally like it the best of all the traditional Maris Otter varieties. This malt has a lot of the bready, biscuit character that Maris Otter is famous for, though the Thomas Fawcett seems be a bit more toasty than the others. This malt is traditionally floor malted. I like using this one in my bitters and those beers that I want a lot of clean biscuit aroma and flavor. I typically won't use a lot of dark crystal and roasted malts with this one.

Crisp, Maris Otter: Another excellent malt, with much of the same biscuity flavors as the Thomas Fawcett, though maybe a tad less agressive. This one is also floor malted. Very similar to the TF and pretty much interchangeable.

Bairds, Maris Otter: This is the workhorse grain of my homebrewery. This malt tends to have a bit more protein and extract potential than the other Maris Otters, though is not floor malted. I really like this malt for its slightly grainy, biscuity flavor and it does really well in light and dark colored beers. Cheaper than TF and Crisp malt and just a tad less complex. I use this one in just about any British style ale.

Golden Promise, TF, and Bairds
TF& Sons, Golden Promise: From the lands of Scotland comes this wonderful pale ale malt made of spring barley. I think much of its popularity stems from its use in Timothy Taylor's Landlord ale, though it makes a pretty good beer. Not nearly as biscuity as Maris Otter, I found this one to be very sweet and clean tasting and it makes a much less bready tasting beer. I bought a sack of this a while ago and have been really enjoying it in simple recipes with an emphasis on late hopping. Supposedly used in distilling and lager brewing too.

Halcyon Malt: Supposedly one of the "last remaining traditional English pale malts", though some sources claim it is a cross between Maris Otter and Sargent barley varieties (?). I have only used this malt once and was not terribly impressed with it. The literature on this one says it produces a clean, bright wort with a slight biscuit character and is less sweet than MO. I used it in an ordinary bitter and got a pretty bland, cloudy tasting beer. Could have been bad grain or my process. Anyone use it regularly?

TF& Sons, Optic Malt: Another supposed 'heirloom' malt. Lighter in color than MO, this one is a pretty standard pale ale malt with aromatic properties. I have used it a few times now, though I really didn't notice much of any difference than it is a very 'plump' and easy to crush grain. I don't see any need to buy this over any other English pale malt.

Muntons, Pearl Malt: I've used this one some, bought a half sack thinking this stuff would be the cats meow. Sadly, I wasn't too happy with it - still got about 15lbs sitting around. Another pale ale malt, this one is a bit lighter in color than MO and lacks some of that intense biscuit-toasty quality. Apparently is popular with IPA brewers as it makes for a very sweet, mildly bready wort. Again, didn't find this malt any better than MO I already use. More flavorful than Golden Promise.

Mild Ale Malt: I see this malt listed a lot in historical recipes and a while back I picked up 10lbs of it for testing, though I don't remember the malting company it came from. Apparently historical versions of this were made from the Triumph barley variety. So far I've brewed two milds with it and have really enjoyed the results, though it has a more toasty flavor than biscuit; reminds me of a vienna or light munich malt.

Well that will do it for base malts, part deux will be more interesting and scientific, as I'll be covering non-roasted specialty grains and even a bit on home toasting malt. If anyone has any more information to add, please leave a comment.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Brew Day: American Brown Ale

Another day, another brew session. Though this time I am taking a temporary break from special bitters and the traditional English stuff by brewing something I haven't made in a while - an American Brown. I used to brew a lot of brown ales when I first started homebrewing, as they are flavorful and relatively easy to brew, though like most beginners I quickly got bored and moved on to bigger and more aggressive styles. Why drink brown ale when there is IPA, IIPA, and 10% ABV Belgians!? I say that in jest, though it is the truth for most craft beer nerds these days. It is near impossible to find a well made, flavorful brown ale on tap and most people don't seem to care that such a thing is so hard to find. This recipe is pretty standard, just an honest easy drinking pint. I'm using US Golding hops, as the ones I got are particularly citrusy and should add a nice subtle American flavor to the beer.

A view through the refractometer... trippy!
Point Q : American Brown Ale

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 4.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 8.60
Anticipated OG: 1.054
Anticipated FG: 1.012
Anticipated SRM: 21.0
Anticipated IBU: 30.0
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

75.6% - 6.5 lbs. Pale Ale Malt
11.6% - 1.0 lbs. Munich Malt
8.70% - 0.75 lbs. Crystal 40L
4.10% - 0.35 lbs. Chocolate Malt  

1.25 oz. US Goldings @ 60 min for 25 IBU
0.50 oz. Fuggles @ 10 min for 5 IBU
1.00 oz. US Goldings @ flameout
Yeast: Wyeast Labs 1318, London Ale III (slurry)

Mash 154F for 75 min.

Brewed 14 March

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

English IPA Tasting

Brewed this one on 28 January and it took me a while to get it in the keg. I've been sort of ignoring it, as I have some pretty good beer on tap at the moment. This is not the first time I have brewed this one, it's been my EIPA recipe of choice for about two years now, though I don't usually ferment it with wy1187. Most of the time it turns into a pretty darn good IPA, though this time it's much more of an ESB than IPA. Still a good beer, though not exactly what I was looking for! Fermented with wy1187, dryhopped 2oz of EKG for 10 days.

Green Thumb: English India Pale Ale

Appearance – Pours a muddy, red/amber with a very nice thick head that leaves doughy lacing. Obviously clarity is a big problem with this one; could be due to my water, not using any whirlfloc, the TF Maris Otter, or a combination thereof. Needs improvement.

Smell: The aroma isn't too bad! Lots of floral, orange-marmalade scented hops with a good bit of biscuit and caramel. Just a hint of diacetyl that really adds some nice complexity along with some nice mild fruity esters. The hop aroma could be a bit more aggressive and cleaner.

Taste – Right away you get lots of fresh citrus-orange hops and biscuit. A good amount of caramel flavor is there too, along with some toast crust flavor from the amber malt. The hop flavor gives way to the malt and typical wy1187 fruity esters. Pretty clean malt and hop profile. The bitterness is firm, though not as linear as I would like. I used Magnum as the bittering hop on this one whereas I should of gone with EKG or an English bittering variety for a bit more English character. Overall the flavor is very good, though not really indicative of an English IPA. Balance of flavors is pretty even between the malt and hops.
Mouthfeel – Pretty low carbonation and a very nice full, smooth mouthfeel. Very drinkable.

Drinkability & Notes – While not exactly the IPA I was looking for, I am still pretty happy with this one. I wouldn't dare enter it into a competition as an EIPA, though it probably would do well as an ESB. The warmer the beer gets, the more I am enjoying it. Though there are some things about it that I need to check out. First, I really need to get my new water source tested. My last few batches with this water has not been giving me the same clean bitterness and hop presence that I used to get. I wonder if my PH balance is a bit off. Again, my beer clarity has suffered with these last few batches. I just picked up some more whirlfloc, I'll use that instead of regular Irish moss - does that stuff ever work?! Lastly, I think leaving this beer in the primary for a month didn't help either.

 O.G: 1.062, F.G: 1.010, 6.7% ABV, 58 IBU, Wyeast 1187 Ringwood

Brew Day: Special Bitter with Invert Syrup

Yet another special bitter! I probably should rename this blog "the Perfect Pint of Special Bitter" considering how often I brew this style of beer. It's actually pretty sad, as I've brewed eight batches of special bitter since the first of January. I blame global warming, OCD, and Martyn Cornell. This batch will use some No.1 invert syrup I made a while ago, the recipe is about as simple as you can get.

Heating up the invert syrup
Invert Bitter No.1: Special/Best Bitter

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 4.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 6.00
Anticipated OG: 1.045
Anticipated FG: 1.012
Anticipated SRM: 9.0
Anticipated IBU: 35.0
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

81.5% - 5.5 lbs. Pale Malt, Maris Otter - TF
7.4% - 0.5 lbs. Crystal Malt, 40L
11.0% - 0.75 lbs. No.1 Invert Syrup

1.50 oz. EKG @ 60 min for 30 IBU
0.50 oz. EKG @ 10 min for 5 IBU
1.00 oz. EKG @ flameout

Yeast: Wyeast Labs 1968, Fullers ESB

Mash 154F for 75 min.

Brewed 7 March

Sunday, March 6, 2011

English Special Bitter Tasting

It took me a few weeks longer than I had planned, but I finally got around to kegging both my batches of English IPA and Special/Best Bitter that I had posted about earlier. I had originally intended on kegging this batch around day 14 or so, but due to an overabundance of beer and not enough kegs, some beers had to wait around a while longer. I was expecting the extra time in the primary to hurt the malt and ester profile on this one, but after a few days on the gas in the cold, it has really turned into a delightful beer. It was dry hopped with EKG for seven days, fermented with wy1318.

Yeoman's Pride: English Best/Special Bitter

Appearance – Pours a somewhat clear, reddish/amber color with a very nice tight head that leaves thick lacing. I used TF & Sons Marris Otter for this beer and it usually takes a bit of time for my beers to get truly clear when using this malt.

Smell – The aroma is very inviting, lots of lovely floral hops and clean biscuity malt. There are some nice fruity esters, though pretty well restrained and just a bit of that dry, toast-cocoa notes you get from amber malt. No diacetyl and not much crystal malt.

Taste – I was pretty surprised after the first sip, it was much better than I expected. Up front you get lots and lots of rich, toasty biscuit and toffee, followed by some amber malt and hops. The malt character is very clean and the yeast derived esters provide some pleasant fruitiness. The beer finishes with the typical 1318 malt sweetness, albeit dry. Bitterness levels are pretty high and balanced with the malt. Some background hop flavor. The balance of this beer is definitely towards the malt and hop aroma.

Mouthfeel – Low carbonation and a very nice creamy mouthfeel. Very drinkable.

Drinkability & Notes – Overall, I am very happy with how this beer turned out. It has a really wonderful biscuit character to it that unlike anything I have ever got before. I keep going back for another pint, just to make sure it tastes as good as I thought it did. My only complaint would be that the dry-cocoa qualities of the amber malt would better suit a beer fermented with a slightly more characterful yeast. I also need to check my water source again, as the bitterness isn't quite as crisp as I would like. Other than that, pretty darn good!

O.G: 1.045, F.G: 1.010, 4.6% ABV, 35 IBU, Wyeast 1318 London Ale III

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Think Spring, Drink Mild...

It is around this time each year - when the sun finally summons enough strength to burn off the clouds and mother nature gives us small glimpses of Spring - that I start to become restless. With each blue sky day, I dream of melting snow, green shoots of grass, the first brown trout of the season taken on a fly, and the subsequent celebratory pints shared with friends. It is maddening to think of such things here in the Northeast on the first of March; Spring is a long ways off and there are still many more snowstorms and cold mornings ahead.

Yet, while I drive myself crazy thinking Spring is just around the corner, this is also the time of year that I start getting back into serious brewing mode and begin to plan out my brew year. And as usual, my first beer of March is almost always an English mild. I don't know what it is exactly, but there is something about the dark, rich, earthy, caramel - maltiness of a mild that screams Spring to me. Why wait for mild month in May? This year, however, I decided I would brew something a little different than my normal dark mild as I already have a few in the bottle and one in the keg. The recipe I brewed is very similar to the the Ploughman's Mild recipe I had previously posted, though is a bit higher in strength and a tad more complex with the addition of chocolate and coffee malt. This will be the second time I have brewed this, the first time it got kicked in less than a week. For those of you who like their beers categorized into made up little styles, this beer would fall somewhere between a high gravity dark mild and a brown porter.

Happily fermenting
The Darker Side of Mild II: Mild/Brown Porter

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 4.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 9.40
Anticipated OG: 1.054
Anticipated FG: 1.012
Anticipated SRM: 32.0
Anticipated IBU: 30.0
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

74.5% - 7.0 lbs. Pale Malt, Maris Otter
8.0% - 0.75 lbs. Crystal Malt, 60L
5.3% - 0.50 lbs. Crystal Malt, 120L
4.3% - 0.40 lbs. Pale Chocolate Malt
3.7% - 0.35 lbs. Chocolate Malt
2.7% - 0.25 lbs. Brown Malt
1.6% - 0.15 lbs. Kiln Coffee Malt

Fuggles @ 60 min for 30 IBU
0.50 oz. Fuggles @ flameout

Yeast: Wyeast Labs 1318, London Ale III

Mash 155F for 75 mi, pitch cool ferment at 65-68F, crash cool, keg.