Saturday, February 26, 2011

Making Brewers Invert Syrup

After a few years of brewing with the invert syrup one finds at bakery supply stores (light, medium, and dark invert) I finally decided last week that it was high time I try and make my own. In the past, I have had good success with the commerical product in my English ales, though I was never really that impressed with the flavors the sugar contributed - and didn't have much hope for the homemade stuff. Aside, it is interesting to note that most historical English ales did use invert syrup for a sizable percentage of fermentables, often with the higher gravity ales featuring more syrup than the lower gravity ones; an all malt beer was not necessarily a more expensive, higher quality beer.

Anyways, after doing some reading on the topic and finding the necessary ingredients, I made my first batch of invert syrup this morning. The basic process, as so well outlined by this blog ( basically involves dissolving some form of demerara or turbinado cane sugar in boiling water, adding an acid to 'invert' the sugar, and reducing the solution at a set temperature until you achieve a syrup with the color and flavors you desire. It seemed easy enough and was, though my results were not exactly as I had hoped. I was originally aiming for a 75L, No.2  syrup but due to some problems I was only able to get a 15-25L, No.1 instead; part of my problem was that I over reduced too quickly and didn't realize I could continue to add water to maintain viscosity. The flavor of my invert syrup is fine, though it it extremely thick and sticky. Pouring this stuff is going to be a major PITA.

I plan on using this stuff in a batch of English bitter I will be brewing here shortly - and I will see how it compares to the beers I've made with the commerical product. In my experience, invert syrup is not entirely fermentable (like candi sugar) and will leave some residual sweetness and provide some fruity flavors in the finished beer. Here is the recipe I will be using to test my invert syrup. I changed to a simpler recipe as I want to see what character the syrup provides.

English Special Bitter

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 4.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 6.50
Anticipated OG: 1.045
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 8.7
Anticipated IBU: 31.8
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

70.5% - 5.50 lbs. Pale Malt, Maris Otter
6.00% - 0.40 lbs. Crystal Malt 40L
11.3% - 0.75  lbs. No. 1 Invert Syrup

1.50 oz. East Kent Goldings  @ 60 min for 28.3 IBU
0.50 oz. East Kent Goldings  @ 10 min for 3.5 IBU
1.00 oz. East Kent Goldings  @ Flameout

Yeast: Wyeast Labs 1968 or 1318

Mash 152F for 75 min

If anyone is interested in making their own invert syrup, I highly recommend taking a look at the blog
posted above and at the wonderfully interesting for more technical information and history.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Pint of Breakfast and Bacon too

Not much to say about this one. I brewed this right before Christmas as an attempt to make a beer that would have some of the characteristics of both Alaskan Smoked Porter and Fuller's London Porter - that is something slightly smokey and chocolaty. The recipe was pretty similar to any robust porter, consisting of Maris Otter, munich, chocolate, dark crystal, black, and pale chocolate malts. I had originally planned on using some rauch malt but decided against it at the last moment.

Breakfast Beer: Robust Porter

Appearance –  Right out of the keg the beer pours incredibly thick and about as black as you can get. First pour looks like it's on nitro, the whole pint turns brown and slowly settles to a tight 1/2 inch tan head. Color is completely black, though when held directly to the light you can see the tiniest bit of red around the edges. Head stability is pretty good, leaving nice lacing.
Aroma – At first you get lots of dark chocolaty malt followed by coffee, sweet caramel, and faint smoke. Little to no esters and alcohol either. There is a bit of hop aroma at the end, but not so much you would notice it right away. You get the impression that this is going to be a big, chewy beer.

Taste – The aroma was just a tease; first sip and it's an all out flavor assault on the tastebuds. Lots of black malt, chocolate, coffee, and biscuit followed by a sweet-smokey character that reminds me of maple glazed bacon cooked over an open fire. (Almost like a lumberjack breakfast with a very strong espresso). There is just a hint of hop flavor at the end and the bitterness is there, but not too much. Some mellow alcohol notes and a bit of astringent character, though I could be mistaking that for the black malt. No ashy or burnt flavors and very little esters. The beer finishes slightly sweet and malty. Almost RIS-like in intensity of flavors.

Mouthfeel – Low carbonation with a very full, chewy, and silky mouthfeel. Goes down easy, though it feels like your drinking a meal in a glass.

Drinkability & Notes –  I don't really know how I feel about this one. On one hand it is about as flavorful and complex as anything I have made, though isn't exactly my idea of pint perfection.The flavors are pretty intense and the beer has a heaviness about it that doesn't make you want a second glass right away. I'd like it to have more chocolate flavor and be drier. I wouldn't say I dislike it - I think the flavors are well balanced and without off flavors -  it's just not anything like my session beers. Some more time to mellow probably wouldn't hurt, though I'm pretty happy where it is now, for what it is.

O.G: 1.075, F.G: 1.015, 7.8% ABV, 45 IBU, Wyeast 1056 American Ale

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

(an) English Yeast Off-Flavor

With all the recent discussions over at 'homebrewtalk' about fermenting English yeast strains, I thought I would say a few words about a two yeast derived off-flavors that frequently pop up in some commerical and homebrewed English style ales. The two English yeasts I think people most often have off-flavors with are wy1968/wlp002 and Whitbread/Safale S-04.

My first experience with the "twang"
The primary off-flavor that I have run into with wlp002/1968 is a particularly tart-ciderish flavor that comes up quite frequently in bottle conditioned examples. Some people have described it as acetaldehyde tasting, though I find it a little more dry-cidery tasting than green apple. In my experience, the beer tastes fine or even great at racking but soon after develops this off-flavor around 3 weeks in the bottle and is typically accompanied by a drop in gravity or rise in carbonation. Now while that would seemingly point to an infection somewhere along the line, I do not think this is often the case as it does not typically occur with beers that have been force carbonated in the bottle or keg. Instead I believe it has something to do with the yeast becoming reactivated once it comes into contact with the priming sugar, resulting in off flavors and excess carbonation. I have had this happen to a few of my beers and have tried lots of other homebrews that had the same problem. Often people were completely unaware of the off-flavor or had assumed it was just part of the yeast's flavor profile. I have even encountered this off-flavor in a few commercial products, most notably from Portsmouth, McNeils, and a few other small breweries I frequent in the Northeast. What exactly causes this, I'd really like to know.

The other English yeast off flavor that I frequently come across is something I call the Whitbread "twang." By this I mean the beer has a definite tangy, bready-yogurt-estery quality that renders the beer nearly undrinkable for my tastes. I first encountered this off flavor when I started brewing and found myself using S-04, wy1098 & 1099 quite frequently. I am pretty sure this off-flavor is caused by too warm of a fermentation and/or under pitching. Whatever causes this flavor, it seems to pop up in many homebrewed examples and with some frequency in small brewpubs and the occasional microbrewery that uses those yeasts. Yet, some people don't seem to mind this flavor too much and a few crazy people have gone far enough to tell me this character is normal. I don't agree with that, but hey, some people are content drinking crappy beer.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Competition Conundrum and the Common Cold

I hate winter. There is nary a thing about it I can say I really enjoy. I don't like the cold, the snow, the snow shoveling, my car battery dying at 6am in the morning, ice skating, skiing, -20 below windchills, ________, freezing rain, snow covered roads, and most importantly being around other people who've been stuck inside all day long. Hell is indeed other people; as is their incessant sniffling, wheezing, coughing, and germs... And as such, I came down with a nasty cold the other day. Now as someone who only gets a cold about once a year, I do not react terribly well when I get one and usually pay the price for it. With that in mind, tomorrow morning I am supposed to drive two hours out of my way to drop off a number of beer enteries for a semi-local homebrew competition.

Now the dilemma: Having spent the last three months preparing for this competition - tinkering with recipes, brewing test batches, and hundreds of hours spent researching and perfecting - do I now abandon the competition altogether in favor of staying in bed? How important are homebrew competitions anyways? Are they worth a two hour drive in the snow and cold, while sick as a dog, for a chance at a few more medals? I don't really know. We will see tomorrow...

Monday, February 7, 2011

English Yeast, Fermentation Tasting

Right around day 7-10 of primary fermentation, I like to take a gravity reading and sample the beer to see how it is coming along. For me, this is a very important step in the brewing process at it gives me a little preview of how the beer might taste in the bottle/keg and will determine my next course of action for the beer. I thought this might be of interest to some, as it's a step that most homebrewers take, but rarely talk about.

Today we have two beers ready for preliminary testing; an English best bitter brewed with wy1318 and my recently brewed English IPA with wy1187. The grain bill of these two is not that different. The best bitter is 85% Maris Otter, 7% crystal 40L, 4% crystal 150L, and 4% amber malt. Hops are EKG and Fuggles, with a pretty high hopping rate and BU:GU ratio of 0.75. The IPA is 85% Maris Otter, 8% crystal 60L, 4% amber malt, and 3% wheat malt. Hops are Magnum and EKG with BU:GU ratio of around 1.0. Original gravities are 1.045 for the Bitter and 1.062 for the IPA. Both beer's attenuated to 1.010, with 4.6% and 6.5% ABV, respectively.

First, the Best Bitter. The color is right on target, around 12srm, though a bit cloudy. On the nose it's sweet- biscuity malt, earthy hops, light esters, and  caramel. The flavor is similar to the aroma, a soft biscuit maltiness with some caramel, that toast-crust flavor one gets from amber malt, and lots of earthy/floral hops. The bitterness is a little stronger than I want. Some grassy hop character, probably from all the hop debris that made it into the fermenter. The yeast character is there, but a bit muted. Overall, this beer has potential, but isn't exactly where I want it. The malt character is a bit muddled and the the hop flavor isn't as clean as I would have liked. As such, I will crash cool this beer to get it to drop clear and probably do a short 'lager' at 40F. I probably will dry hop this with an ounce of EKG. It won't be to style, but that's ok as it wont be entered into any competitions. I pitched the yeast at 64 and let the temp rise up to 68.

Now the IPA. The color is right on target, with very nice clarity. The aroma is clean malt with lots of fragrant, flowery hops. The flavor is clean malt - some biscuit and a touch of caramel - with some very nice English yeast character. All flavors are distinct from each other. There is a bit of diacetyl, though it is pleasant and goes well with the malt; diacetyl levels will go down with a D-rest in the coming days. There is some hop flavor in the middle, though the malt really shines here. Bitterness is firm, though appropriate for the style. So far the flavor reminds me a lot of Middle Ages "Beast Bitter." Overall this beer is coming along really nice and should turn out very well. I will give it another week in the primary for a D-rest then crash cool it and dry hop it with two ounces of EKG. I pitched the yeast for this one at 65 and let the temp rise to 72 for two days, for more yeast character.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Near Perfect Pint: Dark Mild Tasting

If you could not tell from the post title, this is a very good beer. Not perfect, but oh so close. It has everything I look for in a pint: substance, complexity, character, balance, and goes down so easy it leaves you looking for more. For me, this is one of those beer's that seemingly pulls you back in time, bringing to places you have once been and have dreamed about ever since. For me it's one sip and I'm back in North London, sitting at the huge mahogany bar of my favorite local, sipping frothy pints of dark mild from the cask while listening to the friendly chatter of pub life. It is a beer like this that reminds me of why I love being a homebrewer and helps me appreciate the craft of brewing... ack, enough of the emotional crap. This beer is closely based off a recipe that won a few of best of shows, gold medals, and other bling at a bunch of competitions including the NHC. I have tweaked the recipe a couple times over this past year and I'm pretty happy where it is now.

Ploughman Mild: English Dark Mild

Appearance –  Pours a very clear, dark-ruby colored brown that looks almost black unless held to the light. (My picture taking skills suck, so you'll just have to believe me on the color of this one). The beer pours with a nice creamy head that quickly dissipates to a fine ring, leaving some lacing.

Smell – Right away you get lots of biscuity malt, dark caramel, toffee, and lots of nuttiness from the brown malt. Some fruity esters are there, but they blend in pretty well. Smells distinctly English, but with a caramel-sweet character that reminds me of a good Scottish 60/-. Just a hint of roast at the end. 

Taste – Very similar to the aroma. Lots of biscuit and dark crystal malt flavor with hints of toffee, toast crust, coffee, dark chocolate, and a bit of roast. Some fuggles hop flavor with that characteristically earthy quality, though not enough to take away from the malt. Very low bitterness and finishes sweet, yet dry. The yeast character is evident, with a slightly sweet caramel flavor and some fruity esters. Again, some brown malt character. Very well balanced - all flavors are distinct and harmonious.

 Mouthfeel – Low carbonation (< 2.0 volumes) provides a very smooth, full, silky mouthfeel that makes for superbly easy drinking - I could drink this all day long. The very definition of a session pint.

Drinkability & Notes – If you haven't noticed, I love this beer. I'm not ashamed to say it. A nearly perfect pint in it's current state. Only thing about this batch that I don't like is that I had to bottled it,as I didn't have any open kegs and some bottles are a bit more carbonated than others. Yeast seems stable in the bottle.

O.G: 1.040, F.G: 1.010, 3.9% ABV, 21 IBU, Wyeast 1318 London Ale III

Here is the recipe for 5 gallons, 70% efficiency.

6.00lb Pale, Maris Otter
0.75lb Crystal 60L
0.40lb Crystal 120L
0.40lb Pale Chocolate 200L
0.25lb Brown Malt
0.20lb Special B
0.12lb Carafa II

1.0 oz Fuggles @ 60 min for 21 IBU
0.5 oz Fuggles @ Flameout

Ferment 65-68F for two weeks, crash cool then keg/bottle.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Brew Day: Irish Dry Stout

I have been brewing long enough to know when I have a good recipe on my hands. This is one of those recipes. What originally started out as an attempt to brew a Beamish Stout clone - a beer that holds a very dear place in my heart - has over time evolved into something that is both amazingly delicious and completely unlike Beamish or any other commerical Irish stout for that matter. This beer is intensely black and roasty, lots of espresso and caramel flavors, and very chocolaty. It goes down like silk and finishes quite dry, accentuating the roast character. I usually brew this with flaked barley, but sometimes I use flaked oats for a more luscious mouthfeel. I normally brew this beer with Pacman yeast, though this time am going to try it out with some wyeast 1450 that I have left over from my recently kegged American Amber. I took a lot of pictures of the brew day, but as usual forgot to put the memory card into the camera before doing so. No pics.

Cramer's Lane, Irish Dry Stout

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 8.48l
Anticipated OG: 1.045
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 43.8
Anticipated IBU: 30.0
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

71.0% - 6.0 lbs. Pale Malt, Maris Otter
10.0% - 0.85 lbs. Roasted Barley, 500L
7.0% - 0.60 lbs. Flaked Oats, Toasted
5.0% - 0.43 lbs. Chocolate Malt, 400L
4.0% - 0.34lbs. Extra Dark Crystal, 160L
3.0% - 0.26lbs. Kiln Coffee Malt

0.75 oz. Magnum, (Pellet 10.00% AA) @ 60 min
0.50 oz. East Kent Goldings (Pellet 4.50% AA) @ flameout

Yeast: Wyeast Labs 1450, Denny's Favorite 50

Mash 152F for 75 min

2/03/11 - Brewed.

Belgian Dubbel-Something Tasting

I honestly don't know where to start with this one. Let's just say I combined a bunch of pilsner malt, the grains necessary to make a dubbel, some Wyeast 1388 I had sitting around, and a whole bunch of homemade amber candi sugar that needed a home - and made a beer out of it. I am almost tempted to say this beer could pass off as a dubbel in a competition, but it probably wouldn't... ah, I don't know. It's like nothing I've ever made or had before. Imagine mixing your favorite bottle of dubbel, golden strong, and non-funky kriek together into one glass; you'd probably get something like this.

Life and Loam: Belgian Dubbel-ish

Appearance – A very nice looking dark amber-red color, suffering from a particularly bad case of chill haze. The head is a bit weak, lots of big bubbles and not enough carbonation for such a big beer. All things that should improve with some age.

Smell – The aroma coming off this one is incredible; lots of caramelized sugar, dark rum, clove, cinnamon, a hint of banana, and a lot of something that reminds me of candied cherries (if there ever was a thing). Just the slightest bit of alcohol aroma, enough to let you know this beer is 9%. Slightly sweet smelling.

Taste – Lots going on here. Starts with a sweet maltiness that grows into an explosion of dark fruit, caramelized sugar, rum, and spice. Tons of candied cherry flavor - it's incredible how much cherry flavor is going on here, like a smooth schnapps or kirschwasser. Not much perceptible bitterness or alcohol warmth and finishes dry. Would like a bit more harmony between the balance of flavors, though its pretty good as is.

Mouthfeel – Prickly bubbles on the tip of the tongue that fade quickly and medium-full mouthfeel. Finishes dry, though there is enough residual sweetness to provide a somewhat creamy texture. Needs more carbonation.

Drinkability & Notes – Considering this beer is only one month in the bottle, I am very pleased with how it is coming along. One of the most interesting and tasty strong Belgians I have made in a long time. I originally had worries about this one, considering the combination of ingredients, and was holding off trying a bottle of it for fear it was going to be pretty nasty; what a surprise then! I am excited to see how this one ages and if the chill haze and carbonation problems get any better. So far so good!

O.G: 1.072, F.G: 1.003, 9.0% ABV, 28 IBU, Wyeast 1388 Golden Strong.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Kegged: American Amber

Not much to say other than I kegged a new batch of American Amber today... and it's freaking delicious! Huge citrus hop aroma and flavor with a really nice clean caramel malt profile and firm bitterness; the balance is definitely towards the hops but the malt flavor is pretty robust. I did a staggered dry hop with three ounces of amarillo and centennial over two weeks and the result is pretty fantastic - it smells like a really good IIPA. I  hope this only gets better in the keg; I don't drink much hoppy American styles, but this is one I'm pretty excited about. Also, I used Wyeast Denny's Favorite 50 for the first time with this batch and I'm very happy how it performed. Fermented fast, cleanly, and got good attenuation. The beer is a bit hazy out of the fermenter but should clear up pretty well in the keg.