Friday, December 28, 2012

Evaluating Yeast Character, part I

Unlike professional brewers who mostly rely on one or two yeasts to ferment all of their beers and are often unable to try new yeasts, homebrewers have no such restrictions. Rather, we are in the enviable position of having both a huge variety of yeast at our fingertips and the freedom to use them however we want. Yet, given the opportunity to try new ingredients, there are still many homebrewers who are completely content using the same yeast over and over again and won't even try anything else. While there is nothing wrong with using the same yeast exclusively - neutral yeasts do a great job at minimizing the risk of the yeast variable - I suspect part of the hesitation in trying something different comes from not knowing what these other yeasts taste like and how they might best be used. Therefore, to make choosing an English yeast a tad easier, I'm resurrecting my yeast spider-graphs.

After some consideration, I completely redid all of the yeast graphs. The problem I had with the old graphs, is that for them to be of any real use, the person using them must already have a frame of reference for whatever they are looking at. For instance, while a person with no previous knowledge of beer or yeast could easily compare two different graphs for attenuation or flocculation and still understand what the numbers mean, doing the same for yeast flavor and esters is less useful since the person would require some familiarity with the range of flavors that each of those numbers represent.

The biggest change I made to these 'new' yeast graphs was that I tried arrange the data points so it would be easier to compare yeasts based on the overall shape of their flavor profiles. For instance, the drier and less characterful yeasts would favor the top right side of the graph, while the estery and sweeter yeasts would fall on the left. Therefore, if you are familiar with one yeast, you can easily compare it to another. Moreover, in place of 'bottle stability,' at the top of each graph is 'yeast character' which is the overall amount of flavor each yeast imparts to a beer. I figured this would be more useful as not everyone bottle conditions and yeast stability is not always consistent. Lastly, most of the data points are self explanatory, although 'dry/mineral' refers not to attenuation, but rather if the yeast is prone to producing mineral flavors. 'Malt integrity' is not a degree of maltiness, but how the malt flavor (from the grain) stands up to the yeast character.

I should mention that all of the data I used in these graphs is from the manufactures data and my own experiences and brew logs...representing an 'average' of what can be expected. And whereas fermentation temperature, oxygenation, and pitch rate make it impossible to form a 'true' diagram of yeast character, I am presenting the data as if each yeast was fermented under ideal conditions and free from off flavors.

                                                    -----------------------------------------

With that said, the first set of yeast graphs represents some of the cleanest and most neutral tasting of English yeasts. These yeasts produce clean tasting beers with light, fruity esters and bready malt flavors with little to no diacetyl. Hop flavor and bitterness are not greatly affected and they typically attenuate and flocculate quite well. Some 'tartness' and off-flavors can be produced at higher temperatures. These yeasts are good for malty and hop forward beers or any style where you want a clean, neutral flavor profile and not much yeast character.




For the next graphs, I'll review three more yeasts that share similar characteristics and are more characterful tasting than these here. (There are a total of four groupings, with 14 yeasts represented altogether). I will also include more about the individual flavor profiles and some fermentation/style tips for each yeast.

First Rendition

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Brew Day: Golden Bitter

While my favorite yeast might not be the best choice for stouts and chewy porters, it sure makes a tasty bitter. And as I recently washed some Bedford Bitter yeast, I figured I'd brew something with it. I had considered making a 'Golden Ale' along the likes of Crouch Vale's Brewers Gold - a beer I would love to try on cask - but as I don't have the proper base malt or any Brewers Gold hops (never used them before), I figured I would save that beer for another day. After trying to decide between an English IPA and a lighter colored bitter, I decided to mix the best of both styles. The recipe I am using is very simple, just Golden Promise malt, torrified wheat, and a small amount of extra dark crystal with First Gold hops. If you have not used these hops before, they have a wonderful citrus/orange flavor and lend a very nice floral/apricot aroma that is unlike any other UK hop variety I've tried. Bitterness will be rather high and I might dry hop this beer in the keg if I can find some whole leaf hops. Overall, this should be a hoppy and flavorful pale bitter, right around 4.8% abv... just where I like it.

Kolsch!
Golden Bitter : Special Bitter
 
Recipe Specifics:
----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 4.5
Total Grain (Lbs): 8.75
Anticipated OG: 1.049
Anticipated FG: 1.012
Anticipated SRM: 8
Anticipated IBU: 40
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Grain/Sugar:
------------
91.4% - 8.00 lbs. Golden Promise
5.7%  - 0.50 lbs. Torrified Wheat
2.9%  - 0.25 lbs. Crystal 150L

Hops:
------
0.75 oz. First Gold @ 60 min for 25 IBU
0.50 oz. First Gold @ 20 min for 10 IBU
0.50 oz. First Gold @ 10 min for 5 IBU
1.50 oz. First Gold @ flameout

Yeast: WhiteLabs 006 Bedford Bitter
Mash 154F for 60 min
Brewed on 24 December

Monday, December 17, 2012

Extra Stout Tasting

I brewed this beer back in mid October, hoping to make a stonger, dry stout that showcased a bit more malt character than what is often found in the style. To do this, I increased the amount of chloride and sodium in the water profile and included a decent amount of medium crystal. My thinking was that I could get a strong roasted barley/coffee character from the roast and still keep the beer towards the maltier-sweet side of things... without making the beer seem heavy. Unsurprisingly, I didn't achieve that. While the beer is fine tasting, it is not what I was looking for. The roast character is too muddled, the yeast doesn't add anything, and the resulting beer tastes like someone took three or four different styles of stout and combined them together. Looking back, I wish I had just stuck to a traditional recipe and not mixed and matched from different styles. "Dry and sweet" (and) "thick and thin" are not compatible in brewing. The lesson to be learned here is to know what you want before you brew it.

The Bruce: Extra Stout

Appearance - Pours an opaque, inky black with a thin, tan colored head that slowly dissolves back into the beer. Retention could be better.

Aroma -  Roasted barley and chocolate malt with an earthy hop character. Esters are lightly fruity and mostly clean. Some sweet caramel/toffee character.

Taste - Dark roasted malts with a sweet, caramel flavor that lingers to the end. The roasted character is more of an earthy, chocolate flavor than pure coffee. Bitterness is medium-low and beer the has a very creamy, oatmeal stout-like character to it. Again, esters are lightly fruity, but overall the yeast character is quite neutral... too neutral.

Mouthfeel - Carbonation is very low and the beer has a thick and viscous mouthfeel.

Drinkability & Notes - Decent, but not exactly the beer I was hoping for. I wanted a strong, roasted barley character and instead got a slightly muted, sweet caramel/chocolate flavor in its place. As it sits now, the beer needs more bitterness to balance the malt and the yeast really didn't add anything to the beer. Going 'malty' with the water profile certainly worked, as the beer is full flavored and rich tasting, but a maybe a tad too much. Overall, this beer was pretty well received and got kicked quickly due to a party, but the recipe is a contradiction of styles.

6.0% ABV, 45 IBU, WLP006 Bedford Bitter. Recipe Here

Monday, December 10, 2012

Beer, Zombies, and the Apocalpyse

As anyone who has visited a Walmart after midnight knows, the zombie apocalypse is already upon us. Having successfully invaded our televisions, bookstores, movies, shopping malls, and all levels of inept government, zombies (both real and figuratively) are now at the doorstep of those things we once considered sacrosanct. Soon enough we will be watching Mel Gibsons, "Jesus, Zombie Carpenter" and it is probably safe to assume that Quintin Tarantino is already working on a script where a samurai-sword wielding Queen (and her corgis) defend Buckingham Palace from a swarm of bikini clad zombies. If that seems a tad unrealistic, just the other day I came across a 'Zombie-Santa' lawn ornament, where Jolly Old Saint Nick was in the process of exhuming himself from his Christmas themed grave... undoubtedly to spread holiday cheer and pestilence across the land.

Even the tap lists of our local boozers have not been spared from the zombie assault. While there once was only Zombie Dust, we now have hordes of Zombie-themed IPA's, Pale and Amber Ales, and one my local brewpubs even jumped on the bandwagon, producing a Zombie Kolsch. Lovely. Who knew the word 'zombie' was synonymous with quality?

All bollocking aside, back in early October I signed up for a small, Halloween themed homebrew competition where each entrant had to brew a beer that best represented their assigned theme. As I had zombies, I ended up brewing Zombie Blood; a viscous, murky-red imperial amber ale that made use of more than a pound of citra, columbus, and cascade hops (triple dry hopped) for dank and 'unholy' hop kick. Or so it was to be. Unfortunately, I ended up brewing the beer a week too late and underestimated the amount of time I would need to condition a beer of this size. I never got around to submitting it to the competition. Therefore, this beer was put on tap in mid November and I've been drinking it steadily since. If it lasts to Christmas, I'll call it Santa's Blood. Muhahaha.

Zombie Blood : Imperial Amber Ale

Recipe Specifics:
----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 4.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 11.30
Anticipated OG: 1.075
Anticipated FG: 1.012
Anticipated SRM: 15
Anticipated IBU: 95
Efficiency: 75%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Grain/Sugar:
------------
79.6% - 9.00 lbs. Pale Malt
8.8% - 1.00 lbs. Munich Malt
6.6% - 0.75 lbs. Crystal 40L
3.5% - 0.40 lbs. Crystal 120L
1.3% - 0.15 lbs. Pale Chocolate

Hops:
------
1.00 oz. Columbus @ 60 min for 40 IBU
0.75 oz. Citra @ 15 min for 14 IBU
0.75 oz. Cascade @ 15 min for 7 IBU
0.75 oz. Columbus @ 15 min for 13 IBU
1.00 oz. Citra @ 5 min for 9 IBU
1.00 oz. Cascade @ 5 min for 4 IBU
1.00 oz. Columbus @ 5 min for 8 IBU
1.25 oz. Citra @ flameout
1.25 oz. Cascade @ flameout
1.25 oz. Columbus @ flameout
0.75 oz. Citra @ dry hop (primary, secondary, keg)
0.75 oz. Cascade @ dry hop (primary, secondary, keg)
0.75 oz. Columbus @ dry hop (primary, secondary, keg)

Yeast: Wyeast 1332 Northwest Ale
Mash 156F for 60 min
Brewed on 8 October

Tasting Notes:
Appearance - Pours a dark and murky amber color with a sticky, white head that leaves good lacing. Could be a bit darker and more bloody-looking.

Aroma -  Strong grapefruit and dank herb/cannabis with some tropical fruit aromas. Hugely aromatic with a slight grassy note at the end.

Taste - The hop flavor is dank and grapefruity and coat the mouth with a strong, resiny bitterness. The hops lead the way, although the malt is noticeable with a good amount of dark caramel flavor. Yeast is clean and the beer goes down a bit too well for 8.5%. The beer finishes moderately dry.

Mouthfeel - Carbonation is medium-low and the beer has a thick and full mouthfeel.

Drinkability & Notes - Pretty close to what I was hoping for. The hop aroma and flavor is huge and the beer has a thick, resiny character that is fitting of the name. As the beer warms, the bitterness gets more 'sticky' and coats your innards. As a zombie-themed beer, I am quite happy, although I wish it was a tad darker colored and it could probably could do with even more mouthfeel. Maybe use some flaked oats or something. I will certainly revisit something like this, although with less alcohol, as two full pints of this has me feeling quite zombie-like.

8.5% ABV, 95 IBU, Wyeast 1332 Northwest Ale

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Brew Day: Special Bitter

In preparation for brewing this beer, I listened to the CYBI show for Well's Bombardier Bitter, hoping to find out about their fermentation process. Here are some of the things they mentioned. First, they ferment all of their beers in squat, conical fermenters and harvest their yeast from the bottom of the tanks. The brewmaster mentioned the Well's yeast is capable of top cropping under the right conditions and seemed to insinuate that it was once collected as such. Regarding their fermentation schedule, they pitch their yeast at 63F and let the temperature free rise to 68F over the course of 80 hours, before crash cooling at 32F for seven days. In comparison, my process is nearly the same, although I usually give the beer two weeks in the fermenter and don't crash cool so cold. The brewmaster also gave a few details of their water profile, mentioning the sulfate content of their water is 300ppm and amount of magnesium is around 20ppm. I was a little surprised at the amount of sulfate, as I would have never expected a brewery of that size to still use such highly mineralized water.

Therefore, to keep this batch of beer inline with what they are doing at the Well's brewery, given we are using the same yeast, I will be following a similar fermentation schedule and increase the amount of minerals to something comparable with what they are using. As for the recipe, I will be using TF maris otter and some Fawcett 40L and 120L crystal. To mix things up a bit, hopping will be modeled on a very famous Champion Beer of Britain, using Fuggle, EKG, and Styrian Goldings hops. Lastly, unlike my previous batch where I racked the beer to the keg early, this one will be kegged and served as normal.

The Bitter End : English Special Bitter

Recipe Specifics:
----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 4.25
Total Grain (Lbs): 7.75
Anticipated OG: 1.048
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 10
Anticipated IBU: 35
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Grain/Sugar:
------------
90.3% - 7.50 lbs. Maris Otter
6.5% - 0.50 lbs. Crystal 40L
3.2% - 0.25 lbs. Crystal 120

Hops:
------
1.00 oz. Fuggles @ 60 min for 23 IBU
1.00 oz. EKG @ 15 min for 12 IBU
1.50 oz. Styrian Goldings @ flameout

Yeast: WhiteLabs 006 Bedford Bitter
Mash 154F for 60 min
Brewed on 3 December

Tasting Notes

Friday, November 30, 2012

Off Topic: Home Coffee Roasting

Like most homebrewers, my interest in food and drink is not limited to beer alone. Rather, it seems like the more beer I brew, the more reasons I have to branch out into other culinary endeavors. For beer always tastes best when accompanied with good food and dabbling in the kitchen is nearly as much fun as brewing. Starting out, my first foodie projects were mostly related to collecting wild edibles - hop shoots, mushrooms, fiddlehead ferns - and then I got into fermenting my own foods; sauerkraut, preserved lemons, hot sauce, kim chi, and kvass. And then one day I got the brilliant idea that I should be making my own raw milk cheeses, having never made any sort of cheese before. That project ended in total failure... and probably has something to do with my recent lactose intolerance. After that debacle, I thought it would be best to go back to safe-to-eat foods and soon got into tea (namely puer and oolong), before moving on to bread making and barbeque

Sumatran Beans
My most recent culinary interest, however, has been coffee roasting. For the past few months, I have been home roasting a small amount of coffee each week for my own consumption. However, what originally got me interested in coffee roasting is that I wanted to make my own coffee blends for use in brewing. Admittedly, almost all of my attempts to include coffee in my beer have not turned out very well. Most of the time the finished beer ends up with an overwhelming and often unpleasant coffee flavor, or it tastes like someone took a two day old pot of Starbucks and dumped it into a keg. There had to be a way I could make a beer that actually has a pleasant and balanced coffee flavor. I figured the best way to do this was to roast my own beans.

Surprisingly, roasting your own coffee at home is actually pretty easy to do and is largely low cost. Once you find a source for green coffee beans, which can often be found at your local coffee roaster for 1/2 the price of the roasted stuff, all you need is a roasting device and about 15 minutes. The coffee roaster of choice for many people starting out are (hot air) popcorn poppers; those that have air vents on the side of the roasting drum, as to keep the beans agitated and the chaff from burning. After a bit of looking around, I was able to find an older popcorn maker of the recommended design (the legendary Poppery II) at one of my local thrift stores. You can also find suitable popcorn poppers at Walmart and Target for around $15-20.

A tad uneven roast?
The basic premise process for DYI coffee roasting is to add three or four ounces of green beans to your popcorn popper, turn it on, and then wait a few minutes. As the beans approach the roasting temperature, the chaff - the thin, papery covering of the bean - slips off and is blown out of the popper. It can be somewhat messy with all of the chaff flying around. After about 2-3 minutes of roasting at high temperature, the coffee reaches the "first crack" stage, where the moisture inside the bean is released in the form of steam, cracking/expanding the bean. It is easy to know when you have reached this stage, as the sound is quite audible. After the first crack, the beans are technically considered roasted (City Roast) and the process can be stopped if you so desire. Leaving the beans in the popper for a bit longer continues to caramelize the beans, with the color and smell becoming more intense. In the Poppery II, right around the 4-5 minute mark, the beans become fully caramelized and very fragrant, somewhere around a Full City roast. Leaving the beans in the roaster for even longer continues to caramelize the beans to the point that they start to burn, so called the "second crack," because of the sizzling and snapping sound the beans make. This has been right around the 5-6 minute mark for me. Beans past the second crack are considered Vienna or French Roast, as the natural sugars inside the bean are carbonized and the original character of the bean has been obliterated. Hello Starbucks!

Last batch of Sumatran
After the beans have been roasted to your desired stage, they are removed from the roasting apparatus and cooled as quickly as possible, usually in a metal strainer or on a cookie sheet. Once the beans are cooled, they can be used right away or stored overnight for the supposed best taste. The coffee beans will release some C02 as they cool, so it is best not to seal them up right away. Although I must say that the smell of opening a container of roasted beans from the night before has to be one of the best olfactory experiences known to mankind. Truly amazing!

As simple and easy as coffee roasting seems, like brewing, there are a lot of little 'unknowns' that can make the process rather difficult. For instance, continuing with my tradition of jumping into things way over my head, the first batch of coffee beans I roasted were Sumatran. Now I love Sumatran coffee... the tobacco, rustic, and old leathery flavor you get from it is similar to that of a good English porter or old ale. However, it appears that getting a proper roast with these beans can be quite difficult and it takes time, practice, and knowledge to know when the beans will taste their best; all things I currently lack when it comes to coffee. After a half dozen attempts at roasting the Sumatran beans, I managed to burn out the heating element on my Poppery II. Not the biggest of calamities, since I only paid $3.50 for it, but still a road bump none the less. Looking back, I think I under-roasted the first few batches and probably stressed the machine more than I should have on the latter ones. I guess you could say roasting coffee is a lot like learning what the hops and grain to use in brewing. Mistakes will be made.

Since killing my Poppery II, I have purchased another popper, the West Bend Air Crazy. So far this machine has worked well - I've been making some nice tasting Brazilian and Kenyan coffees of late - although it does take longer to roast the beans. And the heating element on this model is of a lower wattage than the other one, so instead of 5-6 minutes to roast a batch of beans, it is now taking me closer to 15 for a dark roast. Hopefully, as I continue to roast more coffee and learn which varieties taste best, I should be able to get a better handle on how to properly roast each variety of bean. And how to turn those grounds into coffee and beer. More on that later.

Therefore, if you have any desire to get into coffee roasting, I highly recommend visiting Sweet Maria's for all the information and beans you'll need to get started. Even if you aren't interested in coffee, their website still worth a look

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Brew Day: East India Porter

For the past few months, I've been reading a lot about the history of the British East India Company, so when I saw this recipe on Ron's blog, I knew I had to brew it. While I would have liked to use my historical brown malt in place of the modern stuff - as the flavors between the two are really quite different - I figure I can do a re-brew once I get around to making another batch. The recipe I am using is nearly the same as the one posted, although I will be using a single infusion mash and adjusting the hopping for a more reasonable bitterness. When I calculated the original recipe for my hops, it came out to over 200 IBU's. Instead, I'll aim for 90 IBU's... I can always go back to the original hop amounts when I re-brew this beer. Hops will be whole leaf, 2011 EKG and I will be using some WY1028 London Ale yeast that I had originally cultured for a batch of imperial stout. Aside, this recipe was originally brewed nearly a year after the Government of India Act of 1858, in which the East India Company transferred all of its possessions and administrative powers to the Crown, following the relative success of the Sepoy Mutiny. It would be interesting to find out if the amount of porter brewed for India changed after 1858, as the British began fortifying their new holdings with landed gentry and additional English troops.

Barclay Perkins 1859 EI : East India Porter

Recipe Specifics:
----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 4.25
Total Grain (Lbs): 11.85
Anticipated OG: 1.067
Anticipated FG: 1.014
Anticipated SRM: 37
Anticipated IBU: 90
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 120 Minutes

Grain/Sugar:
------------
71.7% - 8.50 lbs. Golden Promise
19.0% - 2.25 lbs. Brown Malt
5.1%   - 0.60 lbs. Amber Malt
4.2%   - 0.50 lbs. Black Malt

Hops:
------
3.00 oz. EKG @ 90 min for 60 IBU
1.50 oz. EKG @ 30 min for 22 IBU
0.50 oz. EKG @ 15 min for 8 IBU
1.00 oz. EKG @ Dryhop (serving)

Yeast: Wyeast 1028 London Ale
Mash 156F for 90 min
Brewed on 25 November

Friday, November 23, 2012

Brew Day: Scottish Ale

When it comes to brewing Scottish style ales, there are a few methods that most American homebrewers seem to follow. The first and most talked about method involves reducing the first runnings of the mash, drawn from a mixture of pale malt and roasted barley, and adding it back to beer during the boil. This is supposed to mimic the malty-caramel flavors and kettle carmelization of "authentic" Scottish ales. Or so we are told. The second method achieves a similar character using a mixture of light and dark crystal malts, with smaller amounts of aromatic, munich, and honey malt for additional maltiness. While I certainly don't believe these methods are even remotely authentic or make the best tasting Scottish ale, they can make nice tasting beer. However, one of the problems I have with the latter method, is that often people go overboard with the dark crystal malts, giving the beer a strong raisiny flavor that to my tastes seems more appropriate for a Belgian dubbel than a Scottish whatever. Regardless, the beer I am brewing today is my version of a lighter colored Scottish ale - modeled on Belhaven - that hopefully showcases more sweet toffee flavor than dark caramel. I was originally going to use the Edinburgh Ale yeast (wlp028) but decided against it as I want to keep the beer toward the sweetish-toffee side of things. When all is done, I hope to have an easy drinking and flavorful, malty beer. Kilts, bagpipes, haggis, and all of that too.

Scotch Bitter: Scottish Ale
         
Recipe Specifics:
----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 4.25
Total Grain (Lbs): 8.05
Anticipated OG: 1.048
Anticipated FG: 1.012
Anticipated SRM: 10
Anticipated IBU: 23
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Grain/Sugar:
------------
80.7% - 6.50 lbs. Golden Promise
8.1%   - 0.65 lbs. Crystal 30L 
6.2%   - 0.50 lbs. Munich Malt
3.7%   - 0.30 lbs. Honey Malt
1.2%   - 0.10 lbs. Pale Chocolate

Hops:
------
1.00 oz. EKG @ 60 min for 21 IBU
0.50 oz. EKG @ 5 min for 2 IBU

Yeast: Wyeast 1318 London III
Mash 156F for 60 min
Brewed on 20 November

Friday, November 16, 2012

American Pale Ale Tasting

Admittedly, I am still a bit bummed about the lack of availability with some of the more popular hop varieties this year, as each time I go to place an order, they are out of stock. Even finding some new crop Australian and New Zealand hops has become more difficult than I first assumed it would be. I do have a few ounces of Aussie and NZ hops on hand, but I'd really like to buy a few lbs. Anyways, as it looks like 2013 will be the year of the 'back to basics' in terms of American hop varieties, it is fitting that I get to enjoy one properly hoppy homebrew before I run out of Amarillo, Citra, and Simcoe. This beer was brewed in late September and has been dry hopped twice, once in the secondary and again in the keg, with more than three ounces of hops each time. As it sits now, this is probably the hoppiest beer I have brewed in a long time, although the overall beer is pretty well balanced. A nice send off of sorts.

Levi's Pale Ale: American Pale Ale

Appearance - Pours a light amber/orange color with a sticky, white head that leaves good lacing. Clarity is better than I expected - it's sitting on 4.5 ounces of hops in the keg - with a slight hop haze.

Aroma -  Hugely tropical; pineapple, mango, passionfruit, and grapefruit zest. Not nearly as much pine as I was expecting. The hop aroma obliterates any perceivable malt or yeast character. One of those beers you can smell from a few feet away.

Taste - Same as aroma. Waves of tropical, fruity hops that coat your mouth and innards with resiny hop flavor. The malt character is well hidden by the hops, although the beer has a nice maltiness that keeps the beer from seeming too over the top and unbalanced. The hop flavors are clean and distinct. Bitterness is medium high, but not overly bitter. No alcohol or grassy flavors. Reminds me of a lower gravity Heady Topper.

Mouthfeel - Carbonation is medium-low and the beer has a pleasant, smooth mouthfeel that makes it go down a quite easily. Could be a tad more carbonated.

Drinkability & Notes - Pretty much everything I want in an American IPA, but without the alcohol or bitterness. While the intensity of the hops is probably its most noteworthy characteristic - especially for my friends - I really like how balanced it is. The hops are huge, but it still has enough malt character to keep it from tasting like hop water. One thing I don't like about many commerical IPA's is that they are so often devoid of any malt/yeast character or finish too sweet. This seems to have found the middle ground. If I ever find the hops to brew this again, I am tempted to ferment it with some wy1056 yeast, to see how the hop character would change. However, as the beer now sits, I wouldn't change anything.

6.8% ABV, 60 IBU, Wyeast 1332 Northwest Ale. Recipe Here

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Special Bitter Tasting

Lately, I've been thinking about English bitters. Not about how much I like to drink them, or what ingredients and yeasts would make the tastiest example thereof, but rather of what they are and how we define them. When I sit down with a beer in front of me, what makes me say, "oh, that's a bitter!" and not think of something else? Regardless, the first time I brewed an English style bitter, I had a certain idea in my mind of what a proper bitter should taste like. That idea was formed from the first time I tasted one... a light copper colored beer, smooth in body and low in carbonation, with a perfect balance of hop, malt, and yeast. And it was on cask.

As much as I would love to buy a proper cask and handpump and serve my bitters and milds from it, such a thing isn't feasible at the moment. In the meantime, I have been interested in finding a way to mimic the characteristics of cask bitter, but from a keg. This beer was brewed with that in mind. First, for the malt bill I went as traditional as possible, using Warminster MO and some Simpsons medium crystal. Hops were EKG and the yeast was Bedford Bitter. However, what I did differently with this beer that I've not done with my other kegged bitters, is that as the fermentation was nearing completion (about 85% complete), I racked the beer into a keg to let it finish fermenting and build up some natural carbonation. Once the fermentation seemed to be complete, I crash cooled the beer to get the yeast to flocculate and then let it sit at 50F for two weeks to mature. All this time I let in a few PSI worth of CO2 into the the keg every other day to maintain a seal and provide some carbonation for serving. My thinking for this change in process, was that by racking the beer off the yeast early and letting it mature at serving temperature, I could maintain more yeast character and prevent the beer from going through a period where the malt and hop profile gets muddled; from what I believe is caused by a low temperature and high C02 pressure. The process seems to be an improvement, as the beer is certainly more flavorful and was ready to drink earlier than normal, although it is hard to say exactly how the changes in ingredients compare to the changes in the process. More experimenting needs to be done.

Yeoman Bitter: English Special Bitter

Appearance - Pours a ruddy, amber color with a small white head that slowly dissolves back into the beer. Clarity is clear, with a slight haze. Carbonation is very low, on the verge of uncarbonated.

Aroma -  Biscuits, raw honey, and fresh brown bread. The Warminster MO has certainty made its presence known... I don't think I have ever made a bitter with such a strong honeyed-biscuit character. Some earthy, stone fruit esters on the nose and the EKG hops lend a slight floral character. Did I mention honey and biscuits? 

Taste - Like the aroma, there is an initial biscuit and toasted bread character that transitions into a strong honey-toffee flavor that completely fills the mouth. The flavor of the malt (MO) is rich, biscuity, warm, and lends a honey-like intensity that is unlike anything I've made before. Esters are lightly fruity with some earthiness and the hops are floral, with a pleasant lingering bitterness. Certainty the most flavorful bitter I've brewed/drunk in a long time.

Mouthfeel - Carbonation is very low and the beer has a medium, smooth mouthfeel that goes down easily. Not too full, not too light. A very easy drinking pint.

Drinkability & Notes - When I first started drinking this beer, I wasn't sure of what to think. It has a lot in common with my other English bitters and tastes great, but there is something about the intensity of flavors that had me initially thinking that I had done something wrong. Are bitters supposed to taste this flavorful...? Overall, I really like this beer. It is probably the closest I have come to reproducing the flavor of U.K cask bitters (as I remember them), yet at the same time, it still seems a bit over the top. Maybe. This very well could be among the best bitters I have ever brewed, or depending on who's drinking it, a good try at best. Regardless, I like this beer enough that I will be revisiting it soon - same malt, water, hops - but toning down the yeast character for a more singular malt/hop flavor and giving the beer more time to ferment out.

4.6% ABV, 28 IBU, Whitelabs 006 Bedford Bitter. Recipe Here

Monday, November 5, 2012

Brew Day: Galaxy Pale Ale

Due to the high cost and lack of availability with many of the more popular American hop varieties, I've decided that instead of trying to acquire the same "C" hops everyone else is fighting over, I'll just start brewing with more foreign grown hops... Australian and New Zealand varieties in particular. While I have always heard good things about hops grown in the Southern Hemisphere, I really can't say I know that much about them. I've only brewed a few beers that included them in any discernible amount and there aren't many (easily accessible) commercial beers that use them in large amounts. As such, I recently purchased a mix of Aussie and NZ hops and I have plans to use them in series of pale ales. I would like to get back to brewing sessionable APA's and I think these hops would make a nice counterpoint to the innumerable Amarillo-Citra-Simcoe beers that everyone is brewing and drinking these days.

The recipe for today is a stronger APA that I hope will mostly showcase the citrusy qualities of the Galaxy hops. The malt bill is very simple, Golden Promise and a small amount of medium crystal. Hopping is NZ Cascade, with mostly Galaxy and Nelson Sauvin for aroma and flavor. I was originally going to go with all Galaxy, but after talking with a few local brewers, I was told they taste better as part of a blend... as they can be a bit overpowering otherwise; similar to that of Citra. We'll see how they pair with the Nelson, which I know can be very overpowering by itself. Yeast is WY1332 (Northwest Ale), as I like that it accentuates some of the malt character while still showcasing the hops.

Galaxy APA: American Pale Ale
           
Recipe Specifics:
----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 4.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 10.00
Anticipated OG: 1.057
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 8
Anticipated IBU: 45
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Grain/Sugar:
------------
95.0% - 9.50 lbs. Pale Malt, Golden Promise
5.0%   - 0.50 lbs. Crystal 40L

Hops:
------
0.75 oz. NZ Cascade @ 60 min for 18 IBU
0.50 oz. Galaxy @ 20 min for 16 IBU
0.50 oz. Nelson Sauvin @ 10 min for 8 IBU
0.50 oz. Galaxy @ 5 min for 3 IBU
0.50 oz. Nelson Sauvin @ flameout
1.50 oz. Galaxy @ flameout
1.00 oz. Galaxy @ dry-hop 7 days
0.50 oz. Nelson Sauvin @ dry-hop 7 days

Yeast: Wyeast 1332 Northwest Ale
Mash 154F for 60 min
Brewed on 4 November

Tasting Here

Monday, October 29, 2012

Brew Day: Brown Porter

Besides from brewing a few bitters, I haven't made many English style beers these past few months and it seems a few of my friends have noticed. With a holiday beer party scheduled for early December, I have been asked to bring two kegs of 'malty' beer to the event, including a bigger version of Fuller's London Porter. While a big and chocolaty porter would certainly be a hit, brewing and properly conditioning such a beer in a month's time - one that contains a large % of brown malt - would be close to impossible. Instead, a smaller and simpler porter would be ready to drink earlier than a bigger version and probably be appreciated at a party where the beer selection will mostly consist of IPA's and Belgian Quads. Moreover, given my recent fermentation issues with Wyeast 1968 (London ESB) yeast, I don't want to risk turning up to the party with a keg of sub par beer. As such, the recipe for this beer is a 50-50 mix of Golden Promise and Warminster Maris Otter, with smaller amounts of crystal, chocolate, and brown malt. On a whim, I decided to add some chocolate rye malt to the grist, using up what I had leftover from my last brew day. It certainty isn't needed, but wont hurt anything. Yeast will be Wy1318 (London III). This should be ready to drink by late November.

Yeoman Porter: Brown Porter
           
Recipe Specifics:
----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 5.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 9.25
Anticipated OG: 1.050
Anticipated FG: 1.012
Anticipated SRM: 25
Anticipated IBU: 28
Efficiency: 75%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Grain/Sugar:
------------
81.1% - 7.50 lbs. Pale Malt, GP/MO
8.1%   - 0.75 lbs. Medium Crystal
5.4%   - 0.50 lbs. Chocolate Malt
3.2%   - 0.30 lbs. Brown Malt
2.2%   - 0.20 lbs. Chocolate Rye

Hops:
------
1.25 oz. EKG @ 60 min for 25 IBU
0.50 oz. EKG @ 15 min for 3 IBU

Yeast: Wyeast 1318 London III
Mash 154F for 60 min
Brewed on 28 October

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Harvest Bitter Tasting

As is the case with many brewers, once I get a beer out the fermenter and into a keg, I usually have a good idea of when that beer is going to be at its peak flavor; typically around three or four weeks for most session styles and sometimes earlier for simple milds and bitters. One way of knowing when a beer will be at its prime, ahead of time, is by being familiar with your yeast choices. Most yeasts follow predictable cycles of fermentation and maturation, especially English ones, and after brewing with certain yeasts regularly, you'll notice that they often taste/behave similarly at different points in the process. Knowing when a beer will taste best is very useful when it comes to planning for competitions. A week or two in the keg or bottle can be the difference between a 42 and a 32. However, this batch of beer has not matured in the way I envisioned it would. When I brewed this beer just over a month ago, I had planned on making a malty session style bitter that showcased a mix of biscuit and caramel malt flavor, with some rich yeast esters and a touch of earthy-minty hops on the nose. What I got is pretty similar to this, but for whatever reason, the fermentation was not what I would consider 'normal.' The yeast flocculated too soon, attenuated too much, and cleaned up after itself well before I got around to kegging it. There were certainly brewing issues on my part with this beer, especially the recipe, but once in a while the yeast just decides to do its own thing.

Harvest Bitter: English Special Bitter

Appearance - From the tap, it pours a very clear burnt orange-dark amber color with a fluffy white head that leaves some lacing. Carbonation looks good.

Aroma -  Rather strong, minty-citrusy American hop character that slowly fades to a sweet, biscuit malt aroma as the beer warms. Esters are mild, lightly fruity, with little to no diacetyl. Not much caramel character is noticeable.

Taste - The beer starts out with a sizable amount of earthy, citrusy hop flavor (almost like a Cascade-Willamette combo) and is followed by a strong, biscuit malt character that is similar to fresh baked bread with a nutty aftertaste. Some caramel character, but it is not very strong and seems rather one dimensional. Yeast flavor is ok, lighty fruity with some rich esters. Bittereness is low and the beer finishes clean with a pleasant and smooth maltiness. 

Mouthfeel - Carbonation is adequate and the mouthfeel improves and as it warms.

Drinkability & Notes - Not bad, but not great... sorta "meh." I was expecting to enjoy the NB/Fuggles hop combo but it gave the beer a strong citrusy flavor that seems more appropriate for an American pale ale. I used a large portion of Warminster MO in this beer and you can taste the contribution, as it has a strong biscuity/bready flavor. As for the lack of caramel malt character, I think it is partially due to the yeast attenuating more than I had anticipated (1.010 v. 1.006). While the beer does have some rich yeast esters in the finish, it is rather clean and neutral. Overall, the malt character of this beer isn't as crisp as I would like and the hops seem out of place... and the yeast didn't quite deliver as I had hoped. I will certainly re-visit a beer similar to this, but I will be using a different yeast (I'm tired of not getting the results I want with wy1968) and a new hop combination.

4.8% ABV, 28 IBU, Wyeast 1968 London ESB. Recipe Here

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Brew Day: Black Rye IPA

While I don't actively search out the hardest to find and most over-hyped craft beers around, I have a few friends who do and as a result I often get to sample the fruits of their beer hunting endeavors. Can't complain about that. However, for all of these hard to find beers - the best of the best - I really can't say that any of them have lived up to their supposed greatness. Most turn out to be flavorful and enjoyable beers, but nothing so unusually good or unique that a determined homebrewers couldn't closely reproduce them. With that said, I recently tried Firestone Walker's Wookey Jack - a black rye IPA - and I liked it so much I figured I would try to brew something along the same lines. I am usually rather ambivalent about black IPA's, but unlike many examples, this beer had a nice balance of roast and citrusy hops with a pleasant rye maltiness that really adds another level of complexity. After some research, it appears the real recipe for this beer is posted on various homebrewing forums and I will be following it rather closely with a few changes. The brewery uses a mixture of pale and rye malt, midnight wheat, cara-rye, and debittered black malt. As I couldn't find any roasted wheat, I will be using some chocolate rye malt, which seems like it would be a decent substitute. Hopping will be similar, with Amarillo, Simcoe, and Centennial-type with a Citra/Amarillo dry hop. Yeast will be some WY1332, Northwest Ale.

Camping Beer
Black Wookie: Black Rye IPA
           
Recipe Specifics:
----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 4.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 10.75
Anticipated OG: 1.065
Anticipated FG: 1.012
Anticipated SRM: 32
Anticipated IBU: 58
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Grain/Sugar:
------------
79.1% - 8.00 lbs. Pale Malt
9.3%   - 1.00 lbs. Rye Malt
4.7%   - 0.50 lbs. Chocolate Rye
3.7%   - 0.40 lbs. Cara-Rye (70L)
3.3%   - 0.35 lbs. Debittered Black (500L)

Hops:
------
0.75 oz. Columbus @ 60 min for 25 IBU
0.50 oz. Amarillo @ 15 min for 11 IBU
0.50 oz. Simcoe @ 15 min for 13 IBU
0.50 oz. Centennial-type @ 15 min for 9 IBU
1.50 oz. Amarillo @ flameout
1.50 oz. Simcoe @ flameout
1.00 oz. Centennial-type @ flameout
1.00 oz. Amarillo @ dryhop
1.00 oz. Citra @ dryhop

Yeast: Wyeast 1332 Northwest Ale
Mash 152F for 60 min
Brewed on 21 October

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Brew Day: Extra Stout

Following the success of my last Irish Stout, I thought I would brew something similar but with a different yeast and a bigger malt/roast profile. As I have said before, so much of brewing stouts is about getting that perfect balance of roast and bitterness, without any of the acridness that often comes with using roasted barley in large quantities. However, that balance does not come easy. I generally try to keep the amount of roasted malts in my stouts to under 10-12% and have found that mixing a dark and smokey English roasted barley with some lighter chocolate malt usually strikes a nice balance between the two, as too much of the darker stuff can easily overwhelm the flavor of the beer. Moreover, I am beginning to realize that your mash water profile has a huge impact on the beer, especially concerning ph and the amounts of sulfate, chloride, and sodium. With the recipe I have for today, I hope to achieve a medium strength, foreign extra stout with a nice mix of roastiness and coffee-chocolate type flavors. Bitterness will be medium-high and hop character low. To really see how my favorite yeast tastes in dark beers, I'll be using some washed Bedford Bitter yeast. Lastly, to keep things a bit maltier, I increased the mash temp and the amount of sodium and chloride.

The Bruce: Extra Stout
           
Recipe Specifics:
----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 4.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 10.40
Anticipated OG: 1.060
Anticipated FG: 1.012
Anticipated SRM: 38
Anticipated IBU: 45
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Grain/Sugar:
------------
76.9% - 8.0 lbs. Pale Malt
7.2%   - 0.75 lbs. Flaked Barley
7.2%   - 0.75 lbs. Roasted Barley (TF/Muntons Mix)
4.8%   - 0.50 lbs. Medium Crystal 55L
3.8%   - 0.40 lbs. Chocolate Malt (TF)

Hops:
------
1.25 oz. Northern Brewer @ 60 min for 40 IBU
0.50 oz. Fuggles @ 15 min for 5 IBU

Yeast: Whitelabs 006 Bedford Bitter
Mash 156F for 60 min
Brewed on 14 October

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Amber Bitter Tasting

While the popularity and prevalence of homebrewing has obviously been a good thing for the craft beer industry, at least when it comes to drumming up enthusiasm and support for quality beer, there are some aspects of its growing popularity that are a tad irritating. Like the cost of ingredients. Years ago, when I first started brewing, a pound of hops was pretty cheap. Variety was rather limited, but you could buy a few lbs for an easy $20.00. The same with grain. A sack of pale or pilsner malt was $20-25 (including shipping costs) and maris otter was only slightly more. Of course, that was seven years ago. Now, some of the more popular hops sell for nearly $40 a pound (retail) and that is if you can even find them in stock. Grain prices have also skyrocketed, a sack of 2-row is hardly found for less than $50 and MO goes for much more.*

Earlier today I sat down to order my first hops of the 2012 crop, intending to buy a few lbs each of Amarillo, Citra, Centennial, and Simcoe whole-leaf. Hopsdirect and Freshops usually have excellent prices and availability, but for whatever reason I seemed to be late to the party this year. Almost all of those varieties were sold out and much of what is left selling for nearly $2.00 an ounce, excluding shipping. I know many of the popular hop varieties are in short supply this year, but damn, I've never seen such a rush on hops before. It looks like I'll have to wait to see what type of availability there is with pellet hops in a few months if I want to get any. Until then, I better start getting used to brewing with some of the standby American "C" hops - Cascade, Columbus, and Chinook - as it looks like that's what is going to be available and affordable.

2XA Bitter: American Amber Ale

Appearance - From the tap it pours a beautiful burnt orange/crimson red with a tall, two finger head with good retention. Clarity is excellent.

Aroma - First impression is bright, floral American hops - grapefruit, blackcurrant(!), melon, pine - with some dark caramel malt in support. I ended up skipping the dry hop and the hop character is more restrained than I had originally intended, although the beer still comes across as hoppy.

Taste - Floral, citrusy hops followed by a rich caramel malt character. While the hops lead the way, the beer has a surprising amount of malt character, including a slightly nutty note on the finish. Esters are low and the yeast character is very clean and crisp, but with just enough substance to let you know this isn't a Cali yeast. Diacetyl is very low and the bitterness is soft, yet firm, and somewhat resiny.

Mouthfeel - Carbonation is adequate, but the beer is served too cold out of the kegerator... making the mouthfeel seem a bit thin. After warming up, it is much better, but there is still room for improvement.

Drinkability & Notes - This turned out to be a very nice session-y beer. The hopping is pretty well balanced with the malt and has enough citrusy flavors without being overbearing. The northern brewer hops added a nice earthy-pine type flavor and it sort of tones down the intensely flowery cascade/centennial character. The big surprise, however, was the yeast (WLP006). It did a great job with the hopping, fermenting out very clean and crisp, but with enough English yeast character to make things interesting. I'll be using it for my hoppy pale and amber ales more often. Lastly, I would like a bit more mouthfeel in the beer, maybe up the mash temp or add some carapils/dextrine.

4.8% ABV, 35 IBU, WLP006 Bedford Bitter. Recipe Here

* Thank goodness for bulk buys. I get my grain for around $30-45 a sack, including shipping. Hops have been anywhere from $6-15 per pound.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

That 'Keg Beer' Flavor

As much as I have come to rely on kegs for serving and storing my beer, for I really dislike the inconvenience of bottling, it has become increasingly apparent that force carbonating every beer style is not ideal. And considering that the vast majority of beers I brew are English inspired and designed to showcase some of the flavors you'd find in UK cask ales, it is rather ironic that I serve my beers from the very thing that is the direct opposite of 'cask conditioned.' One common issue I have had with brewing English style beers, is that oftentimes the flavor of the beer out of the fermenter is richer tasting and has more *yeast* character than the same beer that has been sitting in a keg for a few weeks. I would like to find a way to preserve the yeast character of a beer, as it tastes out of the fermenter, while still allowing the other flavors to develop as it sits in the keg. Is this even possible? Preserving the initial yeast character while still allowing the beer's flavor to mature? 

Ok, so what would be the best way to achieve this, should it be possible - Bottling? Keg? Cask? Foremost, I still believe that force carbonating is superior to bottling, at least for the beer styles I am interested in. The beauty of kegging is that it allows you to take a beer out of the fermenter and serve it in a week or two's time, without worrying if the yeast will reactivate in the bottle and produce off-flavors, or over carbonate. Also, without adding priming sugar, there is little chance the beer's flavor will change during the secondary fermentation. This I am certain of. And with kegging, I do not believe in a rushed method of carbonation. Shaking your kegs to get faster C02 absorption is just as bad for the beer as setting the regulator at 30psi and letting it rip. I have had my best results kegging English style beers by setting the regulator to 10psi and letting it sit for a few weeks in the kegerator before dropping the psi to 3-4 for serving. I also have found that crash cooling the beer to 40-45F after the bulk of fermentation has finished helps retain more yeast flavor than letting it sit in the primary for weeks on end. 

From my experiences and what other people have indicated, I can assume that the loss of yeast character from kegging either due to the yeast continuing to cleaning up after fermentation has finished, or that the process of force carbonating does something to change the flavor of the beer; as if that the combination of cold temperature and high pressure (via forced C02) "scrubs out" some of the flavor. Aside, I have also noticed that it typically takes two-three weeks after kegging for the flavor profile of my beers to come around. Going into the keg they taste great, but once in the keg and under pressure they get hazy and sort of 'twangy,' before clearing up and tasting great. Similarly the same can be said for hop character. Often times I've noticed the hop character and flavor of my beers to be temporarily diminished while the beer is carbonating, before everything is back to normal a week or two later.

when bottled beer goes bad
While serving all of my English beer from casks would probably be the best thing to fix this yeast flavor issue - as the slow and temperature stable process of cask conditioning is certainty more conducive to maintaining a beers flavor than kegging - such a thing isn't feasible for me at the moment. Not only do I not own a proper cask set up (yet), but I'd have problems finishing a cask without a receptive group of friends, of whom currently  "don't like" cask ale. Until this changes, I'll have to stick with my kegging set up. Also, while kegging may not be the best or most authentic method of serving English style beer, I feel it is still better than bottling alone and results in a more consistent beer. I can't complain. Lastly, here are a few ideas I have mulled over for simulating a cask serving method, as to preserve that 'yeast character' I so like.

Conduct the whole fermentation, start to finish, in a keg that has a shortened liquid-out tube. Three quarters of the way through the fermentation the lid is sealed and the keg is lightly pressurized. This way, the beer is naturally carbonated and the beer can be served directly from the keg and topped up with c02 as necessary. If beer right out the fermenter tastes best, why not serve it from it? I suspect this may work, but I'm hesitant to try. Also, would it might be worthwhile to carbonate the beer via priming sugar in the keg and then serve it via gravity on it's side. Or a cubitaner with a spigot might even work, if you can drink it fast enough before it oxidizes.

Eh, probably just easier to spend the cash and buy a proper cask and handpump. One day...

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Making 'Graff' Cider

Years ago, when I was taking graduate level history and law courses in Ireland, one of my most enjoyable classes involved the archaeology of Insular Celtic societies and the various methods they used to prepare food and drink - that is, mostly about beer/ale, cider, and whisky. From a beer and history enthusiasts perspective, one would be hard pressed to find a more interesting subject and I learned a lot about the significance of these beverages, especially that of cider. When I would later travel around England and France, one of my biggest culinary to-do's was to find and drink these traditionally made ciders and perry. The French, by the way, make some wonderful examples of both. Regardless, I have always had a fondness for properly made cider (something completely impossible to find in the U.S) and when I came across a recipe for something called "Graff" a few years back - that is a mixture of beer wort and cider, fermented as one - I began making it once a year with local ingredients. However, it is to my horror that I recently found out (via Northern Brewers' BrewingTV) that not only does this "graff" concoction not have any historical significance, but that it is actually a fictional drink invented by Stephen King for his Dark Tower book series! Shame. Shame. Shame. 

As much as I hate to think that I am participating in the making of a fan fiction beverage, along the likes of "butter beer" and/or "hobbit brew," this graff stuff actually tastes pretty good. I've served it at my last two Thanksgiving dinners and it has probably been a bigger hit with the relatives than my own beer. With that justification, I am making it again this year. The original recipe calls for a 3:1 mixture of cider or apple juice, with some medium crystal and dry malt extract, and a small amount of hops for bitterness. It is fermented with a clean, dry yeast and consumed relatively young. While this may turn out quite nice, I have taken a rather different approach. Foremost, instead of using a neutral yeast, I like to use a characterful English strain with less attenuation for a sweeter finish. Last year I used the Fullers yeast, the year before the North Yorkshire strain, and this year I am using some Thames Valley II. As for the malt bill, I make a two gallon batch of dark bitter from a grist of maris otter and around 10% dark crystal. The wort is boiled for an hour with a very small addition of fuggles hops for 10-15 IBU and then cooled before mixing with another two gallons of locally pressed (mixed variety) apple cider. It ferments at ale temperatures for three weeks, keg/bottled soon after, and served a month later. 

The flavor of the graff I have been making is surprisingly quite nice and ends up tasting like a mix of a malty beer and a tart cider. The first time I made it, I added a very small amount of powdered cinnamon at bottling and the result was similar to that of a carbonated, mulled cider. This year, I plan to bottle half of the batch (maybe with an addition of brett C somewhere along the line) and put the rest into mini-casks to await turkey day. If you have never tried or made a batch of graff before... or are a closet Stephen King nerd... I would recommend giving it a go. Worst comes to worst, you'll probably end up with something your wife will enjoy drinking.

Brewed on 30 September, O.G: 1.052, Thames Valley II.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Brew Day: Special Bitter

One of the biggest issues homebrewers have when it comes to recipe creation, is that they so often feel the need to include in their beers every specialty malt at their disposal, undoubtedly thinking that the most flavorful and complex tasting beer is made with a lot of ingredients. This of course, is not the case. While I used to fill my recipes with all sorts of unnecessary specialty malts, within the past few years I have made a concerted effort to ensure that every ingredient I put into my beer actually belongs there. And especially when it comes to brewing English bitters, less is more. If your bitter recipes include a bunch of melanoiden, aromatic, biscuit, and other character malts, stop for a moment and think about what you trying to brew. Bitters are not dopplebocks. Regardless, the recipe I have for today is very simple... and for something that looks so plain, I am expecting big things from this beer. Foremost, I am using Warminster Maris Otter - undoubtedly the most biscuity and rich tasting MO you can buy - and rounding out the malt bill with some Simpsons medium crystal. Especially in bitters, using a quality UK base and crystal malt makes all the difference between a good beer and a great one. And as for hops, I'll be using some very aromatic, whole leaf EKG. Yeast will be Wlp006 Bedford Bitter. Lastly, for a more malty and sessionable beer, I am toning down the sulfate to 100ppm and keeping the chloride in line around 35ppm.

Yeoman Bitter: English Special Bitter
           
Recipe Specifics:
----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 5.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 8.75
Anticipated OG: 1.046
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 11
Anticipated IBU: 30
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Grain/Sugar:
------------
91.4% - 8.0 lbs. Maris Otter, Warminster
8.6%   - 0.75 lbs. Medium Crystal

Hops:
------
1.25 oz. EKG @ 60 min for 25 IBU
0.50 oz. EKG @ 20 min for 5 IBU
1.00 oz. EKG @ flameout

Yeast: Whitelabs 006 Bedford Bitter
Mash 154F for 60 min
Brewed on 28 Septemeber

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Irish Stout Tasting

Back in late July, I brewed what I hope will be the first of many 'improved' Irish stouts. By that I mean a beer that I have made a concerted (and repeated) effort to improve upon each and time... something I can keep on tap and proudly serve to my friends knowing that they'll be drinking a damn good example of the style. A perfect pint in the works. However, I am pleased to say that with this beer, I've made some headway towards that goal. The recipe was pretty simple as usual, maris otter, wheat malt, roasted barley, and chocolate malt. If you've ever had a proper pint of Beamish... that is, on tap in Cork... I was aiming for a beer along that line - something easy drinking with a restrained roast character, showcasing none of the acrid and burnt flavors you get in many homebrewed examples. The main thing I did differently with this recipe is to use the wy1028 London Ale yeast instead of my usual Pacman. My thinking was that the London Ale would ferment out clean and dry, yet still provide some of those 'rich' yeast esters that can really add another level of complexity to a beer. I was a bit unsure if the yeast would produce some of those chalky and mineral flavors it is known for, but luckily that wasn't the case. As this beer sits now, I wouldn't call it your standard-bearer, BJCP dry stout, although I really like where it is going.

Cramer's Lane: Irish Dry Stout

Appearance - Out of the tap, it pours an opaque black with ruby highlights and a medium tan colored head with decent retention. The beer turned out much darker than I had anticipated.

Aroma - First impression is of dark caramel and chocolate followed by a mellow roastiness. Esters are lightly fruity with some of those 'rich' yeast flavors I like so much. No diacetyl or hop character.

Taste - Like the aroma, the beer starts out with a dark caramel, plummy character that quickly transitions to a coffee/chocolate roast flavor. Compared to your average hombrewed Irish stout, the roast character of this beer is much more subdued, more of a sweet chocolate and coffee type of flavor than a dry/acrid roastiness. Also, given that there were no caramel malts used in the recipe, it is surprising how much caramel type flavor is in the beer. Hop aroma and bitterness are low and the beer finishes dry, with some residual sweetness. Yeast esters are spot on.

Mouthfeel - Carbonation is very low and the beer has a creamy, full mouthfeel. 

Drinkability & Notes - After three weeks on tap, the combination of esters and roast character in this beer was about perfect for what I like to drink. While not really an "Irish Stout" in terms of pure roastiness - it tastes and drinks more like a chocolaty porter - I couldn't be happier with the flavor profile. The yeast in particular did an excellent job, as it gave the beer just enough complexity to make things interesting, yet still fermented out clean and dry. Also, unlike the other times I've used this yeast, it didn't produce any mineral flavors. A definite re-brew, with minor tweaks to the water profile and (possibly) with flaked barley instead of wheat.

4.7% ABV, 26 IBU, Wyeast 1028 London Ale    Recipe Here