Friday, October 28, 2011

Brew Day: Amalgamated ESB

This is a beer that has been in the works for a long time now. Since I started homebrewing in 2007, I have kept brewing and tasting records of nearly every beer I have ever made, including a whole lot of English Pale Ales. I did this with the intention of being able to look back and see what beers I did and didn't like and to get a sense of what ingredients I think go well together; my own version of Designing Great Beers, if you will. The recipe below is basically an amalgamation of my past recipes and techniques that made some tasty beer. Aside, I do realize that brewing 'great' beer is not as easy as 1+2+3 and that recipe formulation is not nearly as important as yeast health, fermentation, and other such intangibles. All I hope to accomplish with this batch, is to get something that both tastes good and combines the elements of an English pale ale/bitter that I most enjoy. If I am lucky, it might just turn out really good. 

Amalgamated Bitter : Extra Special Bitter

Recipe Specifics:

Batch Size (Gal): 4.0
Total Grain (Lbs): 8.25
Anticipated OG: 1.055
Anticipated FG: 1.014    
Anticipated IBU: 45
Anticipated SRM: 10
Efficiency: 75%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

84.8% - 7.0 lbs. Pale Malt, Maris Otter (TF)
6.1%  - 0.5 lbs. Crystal 40L
3.0%  - 0.25 lbs. Amber Malt (TF)
6.1%  - 0.5 lbs. Invert No. 2

1.0 oz. Challenger @ 60 min for 32 IBU
0.5 oz. Fuggles @ 15 min for 6 IBU
0.5 oz. EKG @ 10 min for 5 IBU
0.5 oz. Fuggles @ 5 min for 2 IBU
1.0 oz. EKG @ Flameout
0.5 oz. EKG @ dryhop 7 days
Yeast: Whitelabs 006 Bedford Bitter
Mash 154F for 75 min
Brewed on 28 October

Water Profile: Ca - 75, Mg - 15, Na - 20, SO4 - 150, Cl - 30, Bicarb - 95.

Monday, October 24, 2011

English Brown Ale Tasting

Considering all the trouble I've had with my last two batches, I thought it would be nice to sit down and enjoy a pint or two (or three) of my recent brown ale and let the malty, English-y goodness wash away all my brewing worries. No more thoughts about off flavors, under-attenuating and non-flocculating yeasts, competition issues, and all the other pointless crap that the brewing obsessed, like me, tend to fret over. Anyways, I kegged this one on 2 October and just started drinking it over the weekend. I brewed this batch thinking it would make for a nice cold weather - book by the fire - type of beer and luckily, it has turned out to be just that. Brown ale, Mmmm.

Ploughman Brown : English Brown Ale                                                                                     Appearance - Pours a nice looking dark brown, mahogany color with a creamy head that settles to a fine ring. Clarity is very good for its color and when held to the light it beams a lovely reddish hue. Head retention could be a little better.

Aroma - Smells quite nice. Lots of sweet, dark caramel with some toasty/coffee-ish roast and light chocolate. I'm having a hard time distinguishing the (light) esters from the malt, though the beer smells distinctly "English." No diacetyl or hops.

Taste -  Follows the aroma. Dark fruit and medium caramel with a mellow coffee flavor. There is a bit of roast flavor present, almost as if some roasted barley was hiding in the malt bill  - it is undoubtedly from the brown malt. The esters and malt character go together quite well and the beer finishes with a really wonderful dark coffee and cream type of flavor. The balance of flavors is squarely on the malt, although there is just enough bitterness to keep it from being too sweet; the beer finishes adequately dry.

Mouthfeel - Low carbonation really makes a difference here. Smooth and creamy with that 'fullness' one gets when using a good bit of crystal malts.

Drinkability & Notes - I really like this one! To be honest, I was very worried this batch was going to be a dud when I first kegged it, as it had a strong brown-malt character that was a bit overpowering. Luckily, this beer has really mellowed into something very nice. It definitely leans more to the "Southern English Brown" in the style guidelines in terms of flavor, but at 5.6% abv it has enough substance to push it closer to a Brown Porter. For those of you in the Northeast, it reminds me of a bigger, more complex tasting Ithaca Nut Brown. Definitely a beer worth re-brewing.

O.G: 1.053, F.G: 1.010, 5.6% ABV, 24 IBU, Wyeast 1768 English Special Bitter.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fermentation Woes

Homebrewing is a humbling activity. Just when you think you've done everything you can to ensure your beer will turn out as you planned, something unexpected comes along and undoes everything you worked so hard to get right. In my case, I've had two recent batches go pear-shaped on me with fermentation issues.

The first problem was with the dark mild I brewed just over a week ago. Like always, I pitched a healthy two quart starter (decanted) of wyeast 1968 London ESB into the 64F wort and set my fermentation chest for 68F. Normally it takes about a day for fermentation to get going and raise the internal temperature up around 68F, where I'll keep it until day ten or so. Well, for whatever reason, my yeast never took off. By the thirty-six hour mark, there was very little activity and the temperature was still at 64F. By day three, fermentation had started and the temperature had settled right where I wanted it. A krausen still had not formed, but I wasn't too worried. By day four I opened the chest expecting to see a thick and fluffy krausen sitting on top of the beer - a sure sign of a healthy fermentation - but instead I found a completely krausen-less beer. I raised the temp to 70F and left it to its fate. Fast forward a week. The beer never formed a krausen of any sort and the yeast did not flocculate at all. No krausen, no flocculation, and the beer looks and tastes like muddy water. However, the beer did attenuate from 1.038 to 1.010 as normal. I figure I'll give this one a week at room temp and some time in the kegerator to see if it clears up. If it doesn't, this batch is going down the drain.

Now for my second problem batch. Same story as above. My American Stout started fermention unusually slow and formed and dropped its krausen within the first thirty-six hours. The yeast is wy1272 American Ale II, which has always formed a very thick and fluffy krausen that sticks around forever. I took the carboy out of the fermentation chest to let it ferment at ambient temps (65-68F) in the hopes it might make a difference. 

In conclusion, I still don't know why both batches started out so poorly. I've never had an ale yeast not form a krausen, especially when using two top-cropping strains. I suspected yeast health might have something to do with it, but both starters fermented fast and clean, producing about 150-200ml of pure yeast slurry. Or the problem may lie with my fermentation temperatures - maybe I'm starting fermentation off too cold and shocking the yeast? Is my fermentation chest giving a false temperature? I've even considered that my sanitation practices had something to do with it... too much Starsan foam? Am I not oxygenating the wort enough?! The list goes on. Whatever the reason for my krausen-less beers, I don't have high hopes for these guys. It kills me to think that two days worth of brewing are for naught, especially if I end up dumping the batches. Frustrating stuff!

Edit: 10/29 - A bit of an update. The mild ale went down the drain. It killed me to do it, but the flavor/aroma/clarity just wasn't there. I probably could have let it sit for a month and maybe it would turn out, but I brew too much beer and I had a better use for the keg. I've stopped using my fermentation chest completely, as it seems the thing is cycling from 32F to the low 50's and back again. I'll be using the 'good-ole swamp cooler' method for the time being. The oatmeal stout, while it did not form much of a krausen, did flocculate. So there's some good news. I'll be taking a sample later today.

11/4 - Kegged the stout. Finished out at 1.016 and a bit cloudy, though the taste wasn't too bad. Maybe a little tart, though no off apparent flavors thankfully. Overall, this is not the beer I intended to brew. I had the worst stuck sparge of my life during the mash and my efficiency subsequently went down the tubes. Starting gravity was 1.050ish and with such a high final gravity, the ABV on this one is a measly 4.4%. I also ended up with a 5 gallon batch due to the stuck sparge issues, a full gallons more than I anticipated. At least, I had enough sense to go with a different bittering schedule, an oz of Fuggles for about 30 IBU. I'll let this beer condition around 45F for a week before I stick it in the kegerator for the full carbonation. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Brew Day: American Stout

There are few beer styles that generate more excitement than Stout and India Pale Ale. Almost every craft brewery in America either has a big RIS or IPA as their flagship "big name" beer and these two styles seem to generate more exuberant tweets, facebook posts, and social network blabbering than all the other styles combined. When was the last time you heard some beer nerd slobbering about how his/her life was changed by a pint of bitter or pale ale? How about never. If there is anything I have learned from sharing my beer with other people (homebrewers included) it's that big - albeit flawed - monstrously flavorful beer will always get more "oohs" and "aahhhs" than something that might technically be perfect, but is not as flavorful. I'm looking at you, Bitter. With that in mind, here is one of the few beer's I regularly make that fits into the "more is better" category and usually brings home the bacon in competitions. I'll let you guess what commercial brewery this recipe comes from, (think Oregon) but I've tweaked and re-brewed this beer nearly a dozen times now and each one has turned out very good. I hope to have this on tap for Thanksgiving (I'm cutting it close) and I might just bottle a gallon or two to have around for Christmas.

the Bruce : American Stout

Recipe Specifics:

Batch Size (Gal): 4.0
Total Grain (Lbs): 10.0
Anticipated OG: 1.065
Anticipated IBU: 55
Anticipated SRM: 45
Anticipated FG: 1.014                           
Efficiency: 75%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes   
69.7% - 7.0 lbs. Pale Malt
10.0%  - 1.0 lbs. Chocolate Malt
10.0%  - 1.0 lbs. Flaked Oats
9.0%  - 0.90 lbs. Crystal 120L
1.5%  - 0.15 lbs. Roasted Barley
1.0 oz. Chinook @ 60 min for 45 IBU
0.5 oz. Columbus @ 15 for 10 IBU    
1.5 oz. Ahtunam @ Flameout   
Yeast: Wyeast 1272 American Ale II
Mash 156F for 75 min
Brewed on 21 October

Friday, October 14, 2011

Brew Day: English Dark Mild

Yorkshire. Leeds. Mild?

While I have not a drop of English ancestry in me or have ventured very far from the South of England, I have always thought fondly of that place called Yorkshire. Just as the areas around Munich, Plzen, Edinburgh, and Dublin conjures images of specific beer styles - the very place that those styles were perfected - so too does the North of England remind me of the wonderful little beer we know as Mild. It might just be that I've been reading too much historical 'fluff' about the North's brewing history or that I am completely mistaken, but I have always thought of Yorkshire as the rightful home of Mild in the UK. It is also nice, albeit fanciful, to think that the beer that slaked the thirst of the industrial revolution is still alive and well in towns like Leeds, York, Bolton, and Manchester. Regardless, I thought it would be appropriate to brew up a Mild for the fall weather and to give me something to drink while wearing my flat cap and tweed jacket (kidding). Thinking about it, I probably should have brewed one of Ron's historical mild recipes instead, though this one will have to do for the time being.

How to become a Yorkshireman
Ploughman Mild : English Dark Mild

Recipe Specifics:
Batch Size (Gal): 4.5
Total Grain (Lbs): 6.6
Anticipated OG: 1.038
Anticipated FG: 1.012                                               Anticipated SRM: 22                                                   Anticipated IBU: 20
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes                                                                                                                Grain/Sugar:
75.8% - 5.0 lbs. Pale Malt, Maris Otter
9.8%  - 0.65 lbs. Crystal Malt 60L
5.3%  - 0.35 lbs. Crystal Malt 120L
4.5%  - 0.30 lbs. Chocolate Malt 330L
3.0%  - 0.20 lbs. Brown Malt (TF)
1.5%  - 0.10 lbs. Black Malt

1.0 oz. UK Fuggles @ 60 min for 20 IBU
Yeast: Wyeast 1968 London ESB
Brewed on 14 September

Water profile: Ca - 62, Mg - 9, Na - 25, Sulfate - 42, Cl - 64

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Brew Day: American Pale Ale

Just as man cannot live on bread alone, so too does this homebrewer need a change of pace from endless batches of bitter, mild, and porter. Considering how successful my latest American IPA was (brewed with Brewers Invert) I thought it would be appropriate to brew up a very hoppy and bitter APA, of the sort California is so famous for. Also, with Thanksgiving just around the corner, I wanted to have some hoppy beer on hand for my extended family who are quite the hop-heads. While I have done hoppy APA's before, this one is a bit different than I would normally do. I am trying out a new hop combination - Amarillo, Simcoe, and Citra - and a new water profile that is a bit 'lighter' on the sulfate than what most people are familiar with. I will be dry hopping this one too.

Simarillo APA : American Pale Ale

Recipe Specifics:
Batch Size (Gal): 4.5
Total Grain (Lbs): 9.85
Anticipated OG: 1.057
Anticipated FG: 1.012

Anticipated SRM: 8
Anticipated IBU: 40
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes    

76.1%  - 7.5 lbs. Pale Malt
15.2%  - 1.5 lbs. Vienna Malt
5.1%    - 0.5 lbs. Crystal Malt 60L
3.6%    - 0.35 lbs. Cara-Pils

0.25 oz. Columbus @ 60 min for 10 IBU
0.50 oz. Amarillo @ 15 min for 9 IBU
0.50 oz. Simcoe @ 15 min for 13.5 IBU
0.50 oz. Amarillo @ 5 min for 3.6 IBU
0.50 oz. Simcoe @ 5 min for 5.4 IBU
0.50 oz. Amarillo @ flameout
0.50 oz. Simcoe @ flameout
0.50 oz. Citra @ flameout
0.50 oz. Simcoe dry hop (7 days)
0.75 oz. Amarillo dry hop (7 days)
0.50 oz. Citra dry hop (7 days)

Yeast: Wyeast 1275 American Ale II
Brewed on 9 September

Friday, October 7, 2011

Beer Rant, English Ales

I came across this horror story of post that I had made a long while ago. I wrote it after attending a very bad, local "English Ales" tasting that was hosted by a bunch of beer geeks posing as BJCP judges. All the beer samples were old and oxidized Fuller's products with a splattering of American "C" hop bombs that were supposedly spot on representations of what English beer was 'really' like. As someone who tries to replicate English style beer for my own enjoyment and to get others to begin to appreciate them, it is often frustrating to see English beer continually put down by beer snobs as uninteresting or pedestrian. And it is even more frustrating to see the practical end of BJCP judging have such limited parameters for what an English bitter/mild/porter/ect should taste like. I must say it is somewhat ironic then, that I am now studying for my BJCP exam this winter.


As I sit here waiting for my NHC score sheets to arrive, I thought I would take a moment and rant about one of my favorite beery topics: Why Americans and our lovely homebrew affiliated BJCP, continually misrepresent English beers. For those of you readers who are not familiar with the wonders of the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program), it is a non-profit organization that exists to "promote beer literacy and the appreciation of real beer, and to recognize beer tasting and evaluation skills." This roughly translates as: We, the enlightened beer nerds of America, know more about other peoples national beer styles than they do (that means you Europe!) and to prove it, we made up a bunch of imaginary beer styles and the criteria for which those styles are to be judged. If you think I'm joking about this, take a look at their website's FAQ's.

Q: "Who gave you the right to tell me what a given beer style is like?"

A: "Actually, it's part of the BJCP's Mission Statement...The BJCP has been operating since 1985 and has been publishing guidelines for much of that history."

That pretty much says it all. They've been around for 26 years and have a mission statement that allows them to make stuff up.

Ok, so what exactly is my problem with the BJCP and their interpretation of English beer? Well, it really boils down to one issue: Most of what Americans and American beer judges know about English beer has either come from incorrect secondhand information, old/stale/oxidized bottles from the UK, or from American craft-brewers shoddy attempts at brewing "authentic" English ales. As a result, the BJCP has formed a very narrow set of parameters of what English beer 'is' and should taste like. Moreover, considering the level of apathy towards English beer in the States and the overwhelming enthusiasm for huge IPA's and Belgians, English ales (bitter in particular) have been pigeonholed into a stylistic straight-jacket that only recognizes the most general characteristics of the style. Given the rich history, varieties, and flavors found in English beer, it is a damn shame that most of the English ales entered into competition follow the flavor conventions of one or two well know examples; anything dissimilar is discounted almost immediately.

Fuller's. There's your shining example of what English beer in general should taste like. In particular, Fuller's is listed as the first example in the BJCP guidelines for Ordinary Bitter, Special Bitter, Extra Special Bitter, and Brown Porter. And for those 'styles' that have no English commercial examples readily available - such as Mild, Brown Porter, and Southern English Brown - the BJCP gravitated to a quintessentially American interpretation of the style, best summed up by the phrase "beat them unconscious with the flavor hammer." Never mind what those styles may actually taste like. Therefore, if a homebrewer wants to brew an English bitter and have it do well in a U.S competition, they would need to brew a low-gravity Fuller's ESB clone and ensure it was adequately oxidized and cloyingly malty as to best simulate an old bottle Fuller's. Whatever you do, make sure there's not much hop flavor. If brewing a mild, make a low gravity robust porter. The more likely the beer is to cause palate fatigue for your judges, the better.

If the BJCP wants to pretend to have some semblance of authority on what these styles should taste like, shouldn't they at least try to make an effort to authentically represent the gamut of flavors that such styles contain? How can a beer judge adequately know what an English bitter tastes like, if he/she has only ever had one or two examples, both of which aren't even particularly authentic to the narrow BJCP style?!

This brings me to my second main gripe. American "C" hops and ingredients do not combine to make an English style beer. Most of what people and/or our craft breweries call an "English _____" are not even English in the sense that they use similar ingredients. Take for example, Deschutes Batchelor E.S.B. This is a good beer, it won a lot of awards under the English Bitter category at the GABF and other competitions. However, when we look at the ingredient list we find: NW 2-row pale malt, crystal malt, dextrine malt, and munich malt. Hops are amarillo, EKG, and galena. Typical of an English bitter, no? Even the list of commercial beers the BJCP provides for each style are misleading. On one hand they have authentic English examples that 99.9% of Americans will never get to try and on the other hand list a bunch of Americanized examples that fit the style only in that they contain the word "bitter" or "ESB". Ah, but none of that matters. If it doesn't taste like a Fuller's, it's not going to win in a competition.

I guess my problem isn't so much with the BJCP as an organization per se, but rather of the guidelines they have set for their English pale ale/bitter and porter/mild categories. I understand the BJCP needs a tight set of style guidelines to allow for competitions to take place, but I don't see why it can't provide a more accurate stylistic baseline if it intends to have any sense of accuracy. A quick glance at CAMRA's or the GBBF beer style guide for English ales, after reading the BJCP one, and you'd think they were talking about completely different styles. I think the Brits might know a bit more about English bitter, porter, or mild than some BJCP guy. I dunno, maybe I'm over reacting.... actually, I definitely am. It is very narrow minded to think we can stylize a few centuries of English beer history into a few pages of flavor descriptions. Rant over and out.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Not Another Bitter Tasting

Jeeze, what is up with all the bitters?! I ask myself the same question every time I browse through my beersmith recipe files. Whole pages of special bitter. Frustratingly delicious. Anyways, I got another bitter for today's tasting. This one is the Young's bitter clone type-of-thing that I brewed up about a month ago. The recipe was really simple, Golden Promise, C80L, and EKG hops with the namesake (wy1768) yeast. The beer spent two weeks in the primary and has been sitting in the kegerator for an equal amount of time. I was a bit worried about the clarity on this one, although a few days at 40F really brightened it up.

Young's Bitter : English Special Bitter

Appearance - Pours the typical bitter color, light amber with a decent head that leaves appropriate lacing. Clarity is very good, though not quite brilliantly clear. 

Aroma - Admittedly, I've got my kegerator set a bit too cold for this beer. After warming the pint up a bit in my hands for a few minutes, the aroma really comes out. Lots of clean bready malt and a bit of fruity esters to suggest an English ale. The hops are pretty well suppressed by the malt. 

Taste - Very clean, bready, and toasty malt character with low fruity esters. Thoroughly malty. The hops make their presence known with a typical spicy, floral EKG character. I almost wish there was a bit more "English" character to the beer as it is very clean for your typical English bitter. The bitterness balances the malt quite well and comes in on the swallow, medium-low bitterness. 

Mouthfeel - Carbonation might be a bit too high for the serving temperature but it does not seem out of place. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Drinkability & Notes - Again, a solid English bitter that I should be perfectly happy about. However, I still feel I need to make further changes to my water profile (more sulfate, less chloride) and possibly change up my aeration techniques. This beer is good, though it doesn't quite have that perfect balance of flavors that I am  always looking for. I dunno, maybe I just need to learn how to brew beer to enjoy and not obsesses over. I still have a bunch of this yeast left, so I will be revisiting a recipe like this sometime soon. 

O.G: 1.047, F.G: 1.010, 4.8% ABV, 25 IBU, Wyeast 1768 English Special Bitter.