Monday, November 28, 2011

American Pale Ale Tasting

Now that turkey day is behind us and I still have a few odd pints of beer left in my kegs, I thought I'd do the sensible thing and put them out of their misery. It is tough work, kicking kegs. Anyways, I brewed this batch in early October and its been sitting in the keg for exactly a month... well, it lasted that long. I didn't have any particular beer in mind when I brewed this one - all I wanted was a very hoppy pale ale that wasn't too bitter and had some malt character. Simcoe, amarillo, and citra hops were used in the boil and dryhop and the results were very much to my liking. Hoppy as hell and dangerously drinkable. It was hard keeping this beer around in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.

Simarillo APA : American Pale Ale                         
Appearance - Pours a light amber, honey color with a nice two finger head that leaves sticky lacing. Clarity is normally good, though this pint is really cloudy as I just moved the keg out of the kegerator. 

Aroma - Smells like hops! Lots of spicy-pineapple, mango, and piney notes with some nice grapefruit character in there. The hop character is very clean, no grassy or vegetal aromas and none of the catty hop character people tend to get with simcoe. Behind the hop assault is some malt character in support.

Taste -  First sip is mostly hop flavor with loads of pine and citrus followed by a smooth bitterness and some light crystal flavor. The malt character is clean and almost balanced by the hops. If the bitterness and ABV was higher, I would definitely think this beer was an IPA. Beer finishes dry. Right at the end there is just the slightest bit of yeast character, though this could be due to kicking up the sediment in the keg. 

Mouthfeel - Carbonation is adequate and the beer has a pleasant smooth, full mouthfeel. I used some cara-pils in this beer and I'd like to think it had some discernible impact here. However, I think I would prefer the beer to be a tad less full bodied. 

Drinkability & Notes - Nothing to complain about really. This batch turned out very well and was a big hit with my family and friends... although there is always room for improvement. Next time I'll cut back on the Vienna malt to no more than 8% and drop the cara-pils for a less full mouthfeel to let the hops really shine. I am very happy with the hopping schedule and varieties used. Simcoe and citra are amazing together but I can see how citra can be a bit overpowering when used in large amounts. I just bought a pound of each, so I'll definitely be brewing with them in the future. Lastly, I wasn't very impressed (again) with WY1275 American Ale II, as it was a slow flocculator and took forever to get clear in the keg. I'll just stick with my usual Northwest Ale from now on as it clears well and is a bit cleaner when fermented cool. 

O.G: 1.057, F.G: 1.010, 6.1% ABV, 40 IBU, Wyeast 1272 American Ale II.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Brew Day: (good) Brown Ale

Yeah, you probably didn't expect to see this one coming, especially with all my pseudo ranting about brown ale and how session ales don't get any respect. I guess you could say I'm just 'bitter' about the lack of session-beer-love these days and the continual hype about the 'big' beer styles. Regardless, I managed to find some time to brew between the Packers game and stuffing my face with good eats. It wasn't the prettiest or most relaxing of brew days, but I got it done. Only real changes to the afore mentioned recipe was a change of yeast choice, West Yorkshire instead of Fuller's, and a bit of roasted barley for color adjustment and some toasty notes. Also of note, my batch of Bohemian dark lager, a beer I had thought I had ruined with some shoddy Munich malt, actually turned out very nice. It's not exactly what I was aiming for, but the family nearly killed the keg of it today... probably kick a few kegs tomorrow too.

Ploughman Brown II : Brown Ale

Recipe Specifics:
Batch Size (Gal): 4.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 7.75
Anticipated OG: 1.054
Anticipated FG: 1.012
Anticipated SRM: 22
Anticipated IBU: 24
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

77.4% - 6.0 lbs. Pale, Maris Otter
8.4%   - 0.65 lbs. Crystal 60L 
5.2%   - 0.40 lbs. Pale Chocolate (TF)
4.5%   - 0.35 lbs. Flaked Oats
3.2%   - 0.25 lbs. Brown Malt (TF)
1.3%   - 0.10 lbs. Roasted Barley

1.0 oz. UK Fuggles @ 60 min for 24 IBU
0.5 oz. UK Fuggles @ Flameout

Yeast: WY1469 West Yorkshire
Mash 155F for 75 min
Brewed on 24 November

Monday, November 21, 2011

What makes a (good) Brown Ale?

Anyone who has dabbled in homebrewing at one time or another is sure to have made a brown ale. It is practically the poster child of beer styles for nascent brewers and beer drinkers, as it has a reputation for being both easy to brew and even easier to drink. Any trip down the aisle of your local bottle shop or grocery store and you'll be sure to find some form of brown ale - there is always the ubiquitous Newkie and Sam Smith's Brown Ale, along with an assortment of honey brown and caramel brown ale concoctions. And let us not forget those brown ales hiding under the name 'dark ale'. Considering that most breweries and brewpubs now have a brown ale on their lineup, it would be easy to assume that brown ale is finally moving up in the beer world.

Yet, for as as many pints and bottles of brown ale are currently brewed and consumed, the style is not what any beer enthusiast would call "interesting." Rather, brown ale seems to be perpetually stuck in a position where it is often brewed, but forgone of any special treatment or updating. A quick look at beer rating websites like HateBeer and BA reveal a pretty sad lot of beers. The vast majority of examples rarely get any rating above a (B) and those that do are generally the Americanized - alcoholic, hopped to hell - versions of the style. A common complaint is that brown ales are "boring" and "simple." When we look at homebrewed recipes, we find much of the same sentiments and similar, 'boring' grits; pale malt, medium crystal, and some chocolate malt. Hopping rates are low, US or UK hops at one or two additions with a gentle bitterness. The only real development seems to be found in the American interpretation of the style, where you essentially get a brown colored beer with lots of American "C" hops. A brown pale ale of sorts.

Ok, so what makes a good brown ale then?

I've been brewing brown ales for a while now and my interpretation of the style tends to venture closer to a session strength Brown Porter, or bigger SEB, than the standard Nut Brown. In fact, the only brown ale that I've ever had get a first place in a BJCP competition was a beer that was brewed as an pale ale, but turned out a bit too dark for the style (I added pale chocolate malt). All the others got hammered for being "not to style," or "too dark" and/or "too much roast character," or some other comment about not following the style guidelines.

Regardless, I'll typically brew my brown ales with both medium and dark crystal malts and a hodgepodge of roasted and specialty malts. I like a good malt base (usually MO) with a fair amount of caramel and light roast character. I found a mixture of medium (40L) and dark (120L) crystal malts gives a nice balance of flavor and combines especially well with smaller amounts of chocolate and brown malt. In fact, I find it quite strange that the vast majority of brown ales out there (porters too) don't include any brown or amber malts in their recipes - if there was ever a beer style where you want those types of flavors in a beer, brown ale is it. Moreover, I've also started adding a bit of wheat malt and/or flaked oats to some of my browns and really like what they do for the head retention and mouthfeel. As for hopping, I keep it simple with earthy UK hops such as Fuggles, occasionally using Northern Brewer in the hoppier versions. Willamette and Cascade can also be good choices. Lastly, I prefer characterful yeasts and generally stick with the English strains. Wyeast 1318 is a great choice along with the Fullers strain. I've also made some very good brown ales with Thames Valley II and even the Scottish ale yeast too.

I've spent the last couple of days designing a few different grain bills for a session-y brown ale and I think I've got one that looks good.

80% Pale, Maris Otter
8% Crystal 80L
5% Pale Chocolate
4% Flaked Oats
3% Brown Malt

O.G: 1.050, 25 IBU - Fuggles, 20 SRM, WY1968.

What do you think?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Brew Day: Robust Porter/Stout

I don't know about other home brewers, but it can take me a while to decide on a beer style and recipe to brew. I rarely have a list of beers to waiting to brewed, nor recipes planned out for those beers I do have in the works. Rather, I generally decide on a beer style and recipe at the last minute, all things changing over and over again in my head until the time comes to actually brew it. For instance, the beer I'm brewing today started out as a Belgian dark strong, that is, until I got a call from a friend in Ireland and we started reminiscing about our drinking days there. Naturally, the Belgian dark strong changed to an Irish dry stout. Thinking I had settled on a dry stout, I made up a few recipes in BeerSmith and got a pretty good idea of how I was going to make it. Yet, at the last minute I changed my mind, as I have a bunch of washed wlp006 Bedford Bitter yeast and I thought it would be nice to try it out in a big porter. Therefore, today's beer is a bit of mix of styles, some elements of a robust porter mixed with those of a dry stout and a slight nod to dark Belgians (sort of). Regardless, I like the looks of this recipe - chocolate and coffee with a bit of roast and some chewy, dark caramel flavor. Should be good when the weather gets really cold.

Last of the brown ale
Coal Porter : Robust Porter

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 9.50
Anticipated OG: 1.055
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 40.0
Anticipated IBU: 35.0
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

73.7% - 6.5 lbs. Pale, Maris Otter
8.9% - 0.85 lbs. Flaked Barley
7.4% - 0.70 lbs. Chocolate Malt
5.3% - 0.50 lbs. Special B
3.2% - 0.30 lbs. Roasted Barley
1.6% - 0.15 lbs. Carafa II

1.0 oz. UK Challenger @ 60 min for 30 IBU
0.50 oz. UK Fuggles @ 30 min for 15 IBU
0.50 oz. UK Fuggles @ flameout

Yeast: White Labs 006, Bedford Bitter (slurry)
Brewed on 13 November

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Brew Day: American Pale Ale II

It's been a long couple of weeks. I dumped a batch, have an oatmeal stout that might not turn out, missed the entry for the first homebrew competition of the year, and the dunkel I have lagering is much too sweet for my taste. But that's not really important in the long run. Beer can be brewed, re-brewed, and there are always more competitions to enter. At the end of the day, it's all just beer. I often forget that. Yet, what is really on my mind is that I had to put down my brew buddy of 11 years just yesterday. I don't really feel much like brewing, especially anything too complicated. The Belgian Dark Strong can wait for a better day. Instead I'll make something easy, a Pale Ale/IPA of sorts. Golden promise, Munich, medium crystal, and amber malt for a nice malt base and a bunch of citrusy American hops. The weather is nice, the packers are on, and the kegerator is full of good (enough) cold beer...

Levi's Pale Ale : American Pale Ale

Recipe Specifics:                                    ----------------------
Batch Size (Gal): 4.5
Total Grain (Lbs): 10
Anticipated OG: 1.057
Anticipated FG: 1.012
Anticipated SRM: 10 
Anticipated IBU: 45                                   Efficiency: 70%

Boil Time: 60 Minutes    

85%  - 8.5 lbs. Golden Promise
7.5%  - 0.75 lbs. Munich Malt
5.0%  - 0.5 lbs. Crystal Malt 60L
2.5%  - 0.25 lbs. Amber Malt

0.25 oz. Columbus @ 60 min 
0.50 oz. Amarillo @ 15 min 
0.50 oz. Simcoe @ 15 min 
0.50 oz. Centennial @ 15 min 
0.50 oz. Simcoe @ 5 min  
0.50 oz. Amarillo @ 5 min
0.50 oz. Centennial @ 5 min
0.50 oz. Simcoe @ flameout
0.50 oz. Amarillo @ flameout 
0.50 oz. Centennial @ flameout
1.0 oz. Amarillo dry hop (7 days)
1.0 oz. Centennial dry hop (7 days)

Yeast: Wyeast 1332 Northwest Ale
Brewed on 6 November

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Devil is in the brewing Details

As is my custom each week, I stopped by my 'local' LHBS to pick up a few odds-n-ends and some brewing ingredients; an ounce or two of a new hop variety, a few smack packs of yeast, and a couple pounds of specialty grains. I also wanted to pick up a few things for a batch of American Pale Ale that I had planned for Sunday. However, by the time I got over to the yeast and hops refrigerator, I had thought up a completely different beer to brew. Something that I could brew a 3 gallon batch of and let age in bottles - a big and rich Belgian Dark Strong. And they even had my my favorite Belgian yeast - Ardennes, score! So I went back to the specialty grains and started to look for things I might need. "Let's see... special b, need some of that... ah, torrefied wheat, I could use some of that in an English IPA... might as well get some Aromatic malt while I'm here."

I was just about to head to the register and check out when I saw something strange... Weyerman Munich II, 20L!? I knew that didn't look right. I had bought and used a pound of that same malt in my Czech Dunkel; or should I say I used what I though was Weyermann Munich 10L. My head started spinning. "If Weyermann Munich II is 10L, then why then would it be labeled 20L? Who makes a 20L Munich malt?!" I thought about for a minute and then to my horror, realized what I was actually looking at... Breiss Dark Munich, twenty lovibond. That god-awful faux-Munich, crystal malt crap they deviously invented to ruin peoples perfectly good beers. Ah, sh*t!!!

The damage was done. I used nearly 15% of the stuff in my recent Czech Dunkel without ever realizing what I had done. And all the time I have been lagering this beer, I'd thought I had a good thing on my hands. A beer engineered and executed to my high expectations. And now the hammer blow falls. I asked the guy behind the counter about the malt mix-up. He said they didn't carry Weyermann Munich II, only the Breiss crap. Ah sh*t. 

As I sit here typing this, my sorrows drowned in enough beer and whiskey to pacify even the most seasoned of Irish drunkards, I am again reminded that the devil is in the details. And the rule of the five "P's" or something. Prior planning prevents poor performance. Translation, know what your putting into your beer. Another batch of beer brewed and another batch needing re-brewing. I tried some of the beer today. It tasted like a sweet, carmelly dunkel. Bummer.