Monday, February 27, 2012

Petite Saison Tasting

When I think of saisons - those thirst quenching, low alcohol beers consumed by Wallonian farmers during the summer harvest -  the image that immediately comes to my mind is of the painting The Harvesters, by Pieter Bruegal. Just as I spent a few summers of my youth baling hay in the oppressive summer heat, quenching our thirst with icy cans of Miller and Coors that we had stashed away, I'd like to think that the peasants in the painting at least got to end their day with a cold beer or two. Whether or not those peasants drank beer, or saison for that matter, is of little importance. So much of brewing and drinking beer is about memory, the places we've been and experiences we've had. I can't say I brewed this 'petite' saison with any peasants in mind, though I'd imagine a low gravity saison would be a nice treat after a hard days work. So here, on a particularly cold winters day, a petite saison for all my work.

Petite Saison : Belgian Saison

Appearance – From the bottle it pours a hazy honey - orange color with a medium, large bubbled head with fair retention. Carbonation is low. 

Aroma – Light tropical fruit (lemon and lychee) with a pleasant perfume-y black pepper and clove spiciness. Some malt aroma is noticeable with a mellow 'wheat beer' character. Very nice.

Taste – Again, tropical fruit flavors with a black pepper and clove spiciness that lingers to the finish. As the beer warmed up, the tropical fruit flavors started to take on slightly herbal/floral quality, almost like a fruity jasmine green tea. The cracked pepper flavor is quite nice and surprising, as it is just strong enough to be noticeable but not overpowering. Bitterness is light yet firm. The beer finishes with a slight candy sweetness that makes me think the yeast has not yet consumed all of the bottling sugar.

Mouthfeel – Very light and dry. Maybe a little too "thin" though the low carbonation doesn't help. 

Drinkability & Notes – A nice surprise. I was expecting to not like this one, expecting it to be very fruity and overpoweringly spicy. Luckily, the spice and fruitiness is quite mellow (probably due to a lowish ferment temp of 68-72F) and the beer has really improved over the two months since bottling. You can tell this beer is "petite" - none of the flavors are really intense - though it is very drinkable. I would have liked the carbonation to be a bit more effervescent, though that might change with time. The biggest surprise was the contribution of the Pacific Jade hops; the fruity-herbal and black pepper flavor they gave the beer was fantastic. Looking forward to drinking the rest of the bottles when the weather warms up! 

O.G: 1.038, F.G: 1.002, 4.7% ABV, 20 IBU, WhiteLabs 566 Saison II.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

London Porter Tasting(s)

Back in early January, I brewed a batch of brown porter inspired by Fullers London Porter. Having brewed a few Fullers 'clones' in the past, I had a pretty good idea of what the real recipe looked like and the type/percentages of grain and hops used. I even had the Fullers yeast and knew the general aspects of their fermentation schedule. The only thing I wasn't too sure of was where they get their grain from (the malsters). Not a big worry, I wasn't looking to make an exact clone, just something similar. Regardless, I brewed this beer on the fourth of January and it's been in the keg for thirty days now. I just started drinking it last week and have been really enjoying it. While I wasn't planning on doing a side-by-side tasting, I came across a  bottle of Fullers porter I had stashed away sometime around Christmas. This probably won't be the best comparison, as my version is still somewhat young and the bottle of Fullers has no doubt seen better days. The drink by date is 16 April 2012, probably making this bottle somewhere around 6-8 months old?

Fullers Porter(s): London Porter

Appearance – The real stuff pours a thick, inky black color with beautiful ruby highlights and an off-white, voluminous head. It takes a while for the head to settle and then it deflates to a fine ring. My version pours an equally back color with a similar colored head. Lacing and stability on mine is good. When held to the light, my version is just a tad lighter in color, more dark copper than red.

Aroma – After giving both beers time to warm up, the Fullers aroma jumps out of the glass with a very intense molasses and sweet, (Halloween) candy-corn aroma. Behind the wall of sweetness is the usual chocolate and rummy grain character, though the overall impression is a bit off-putting. My version doesn't even come close in terms of intensity, just a mellow chocolate and a lightly roasted biscuit aroma that smells exactly of brown malt. Whereas I couldn't get any esters from the Fullers bottle, mine has the same lightly fruity English esters that the Fullers yeast is known for. No diacetyl.                                                                                                                                                               Taste – My initial impression is that both beers are somewhat similar, though it quickly becomes apparent there is something wrong with the Fullers bottle. My version is mostly dark chocolate and toasty brown malt flavors with some rummy caramel right through the middle. The chocolate impression is there, but it has more of a dry, cocoa powder quality than a sweet chocolate. The malt flavor is quite moreish, not too strong but with some complexity. The esters are lightly fruity and the beer finishes clean and dry, with a mellow bitterness. The Fullers on the other hand is intense stuff. The first sip was somewhat nice, with a sweet chocolate and candy-corn flavor. However, as the beer warmed the flavor just got more and more intensely sweet, so much so that it was hard getting the stuff down. The sweet candy-corn and chocolate flavor completely overtook everything else in the beer and it finished with a very weird, slightly "off" sherry flavor. 

Mouthfeel – Similar. Mine was a bit less 'full' than the commerical version, though not thin by any means. Carbonation was good for both. No issues here.

Drinkability & Notes – I am happy with my version. While it resembles nothing of the Fullers bottle I tried it next to, my beer is pretty much right where I want it to be in terms of flavor. I think a few more weeks will bring out more of the chocolate and caramel flavors, as the brown malt character continues to mellow, but the keg probably wont last that long. The recipe is solid and next time I brew this I'll probably go with my usual wy1318, as I think it suits the brown malt character better. As for the Fullers version, it is pretty obvious I had a bad bottle. Whereas I finished my pint, I couldn't make it through the Fullers. It was just too sickly sweet and the finish just didn't seem right. Oh well.

In closing, I wanted to say a few words about trying bottles of imported beer. Whereas it isn't too hard to get a good, adequately fresh bottle of Belgian, German, or even Czech beer, I seem to have the worst luck with the British ones. It's probably that the bottles don't hold up well on the trip over the pond, or that they sit on the shelves of my local Wegmans too long before I get to it... but I've pretty much given up on the British imports. Even my old bottled standbys like Black Sheep, BrewDog, SamSmith's, and Wychwood have taken a hit. Seemingly every bottle has this 'old' and sickeningly sweet flavor, as if the bottles spent a summer somewhere in the jungles of Africa. I would like to blame my local beer store, though they usually do a great job of keeping their stock fresh. And even when I had a pint of Fullers porter on tap last month, the beer tasted much too sweet for what I remember it tasting like in the U.K. And the Brits say our craft beers are too sweet! Guess I'll just stick with brewing my own...

Monday, February 20, 2012

Brew Day: First Gold ESB

Earlier this month I was on HopsDirect looking for a few new varieties to try out, when I noticed they had UK First Gold hops in stock. Having only used a few ounces of this variety before and never in any discernible amount, I figured it would be a good hop to try out. A few descriptions online seemed to indicate they are a good substitute for EKG and possess a floral and spicy character. Other sources said they have a prominent orange-citrus type of flavor and that they are best suited for golden ales and pale bitters. It turns out this variety is a cross between Whitbread Goldings (another variety I have only used a few times) and a dwarf male. My recipe for today is quite simple, just Golden Promise and a very small amount of dark crystal malt. The hopping is all First Gold with an emphasis on the late additions for aroma and flavor - try and see if I can coax out those orange flavor/aromas - and a BU:GU ratio of around 0.83. The yeast is WLP006 Bedford Bitter, a strain that is fast becoming my favorite for English style bitters. Lastly, the aroma of the hops out of the package was absolutely wonderful - smelled like a sweet orange candy! Had I not known what hops these were, I would have guessed Amarillo or Centennial. I have high hopes for this one.

Part of the collection
First Gold ESB: Strong Bitter

Recipe Specifics:
Batch Size (Gal): 4.0
Total Grain (Lbs): 7.65
Anticipated OG: 1.048
Anticipated FG: 1.012
Anticipated SRM: 8
Anticipated IBU: 40
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

98.0% - 7.5 lbs. Golden Promise
2.0%   - 0.15 lbs. Dark Crystal - 150L

0.75 oz.First Gold @ 60 min for 28 IBU
0.50 oz. First Gold @ 15 min for 9 IBU
0.50 oz. First Gold @ 5 min for 4 IBU
1.0  oz. First Gold @ flameout

Yeast: WhiteLabs 006 Bedford Bitter
Brewed on 20 February

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Belgian IPA Tasting

Brewed this beer on the New Year's day and it has been dry hopping in the keg for three weeks now, with seven ounces of simcoe and citra hops. I was a little worried the dry hop character would turn grassy with all the hops, but so far the aroma and flavor is very clean. Just a ton of hop flavor and aroma. Now, I'm not normally a big hop head, though I do find it easier to appreciate hoppy beers when you don't have a lot of bitterness and alcohol character. I intended this beer to a be a mix of the two, a big beer with lots of hop aroma and flavor, but without all the bitterness. I'll be giving a few growlers of this beer away as a belated Christmas gift for some hop-head friends.
New pint glass

Hoppy Belgian : Belgian "IPA"        

Appearance - Pours a light gold and straw color with a nice two fingered head and good retention. I was hoping for a little hazier color, more like a white IPA, though I am happy how it looks now. I used 8% wheat malt in the recipe, though I could up this closer to 25% next time if I wanted it a bit more opaque.

Aroma - Right out of the tap, the aroma on this beer is a wall of tropical and piney hops. While it was dry hopped with equal amounts of simcoe and citra hops, the simcoe has taken somewhat of a back seat to the intensely tropical citra character. Lots of mango, pineapple, and peach aroma up front with some piney undertones.The malt character is pretty well hidden from the hops and the overall hop character is nice and clean. No grassy aromas and not much in the way of esters. 

Taste - Again, mostly hops. The citra hops have an intensely tropical mango-peach flavor that slowly fades to some resiny and piney, simcoe character. I've heard some people say that citra can give a strong peach-ice tea type of flavor when used in large amounts and I can see why. The peach character is noticeable, though it melds so well with the other fruity flavors that I don't find it disagreeable at all. As the beer warms up, the malt and yeast flavor becomes noticeable with a sweet, neutral malt and that characteristically spicy, Ardennes yeast character. The bitterness is a lot lower than I expected, some bitterness on the swallow but not much otherwise. The beer finishes very clean and dry. No astringency or grassy flavors. 

Mouthfeel - Carbonation is probably lower than most would care for, as I have it on the same regulator as my English beers, though the mouthfeel is medium and pleasant. If the beer were highly effervescent, I suspect it might be a bit thin due to the very low finishing gravity. As it sits now, I wouldn't change it.
Drinkability & Notes - Overall, I'm very happy with this one. I've been moving more towards American style beers with high hop aroma and flavor, rather than bitterness, and this one hit the nail on the head. Very easy to drink and extremely flavorful. Definitely one for the hop heads, though without the puckering bitterness that can turn some people away. However, I would have liked this beer to have a stronger bitterness, as it would have helped balance the hops a bit better. As of now, this beer is just loads and loads of hop flavor and aroma. Not a bad thing, though I couldn't call it an IPA. Moreover, at 7.8% ABV this beer is way too easy to drink. The Ardennes yeast took the O.G of 1.064 all the way down to 1.004! Two pints of this and everything suddenly gets a bit more sleepy. In closing, this beer has the hop aroma and flavor of a good IIPA with the drinkability of a session pale ale. A dangerous combination. Definitely a re-brew, but with more bitterness.

O.G: 1.064, F.G: 1.004, 7.8% ABV, 60 IBU, Wyeast 3522 Belgian Ardennes

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Brew Day: Session Porter

Bet you didn't see this one coming. Following along with my whole "brown porter" and "session beer" brewing theme, I thought it would be fitting to actually and brew what I've been blabbering on about. You know how it goes... put up or shut up. The recipe I am using today is a collaboration brew I helped make a long while ago and actually found its way into a brewpub beer tasting event. It has pretty much all the elements of a good, flavorful porter with the added bonus that you can drink it all day and not get **** faced. A healthful and rejuvenating, low - alcohol tonic! For those of you who are card carrying members of the "I'm too much of a snob to drink session beer" club, your probably reading the wrong blog. Gravity wise, this beer weighs in somewhere around 4.2% abv and tastes similar to a smaller Fullers London porter. The grist isn't that complicated, just maris otter, chocolate, medium crystal, brown, and pale chocolate malts. As I said before, a little bit of pale chocolate adds a nice toasty character to the beer without much roast flavor. I imagine a small amount of black malt would be a nice addition too. There you have it. Brown porter. An uncomplicated and delicious tasting beer, best brewed and consumed with friends. Not in front of a computer and not while obsessing over the top BA beer lists. Just a honest pint.

London Porter IV
Yeoman Porter : Brown Porter
Recipe Specifics:
Batch Size (Gal): 4.0
Total Grain (Lbs): 6.35
Anticipated OG: 1.042
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 28
Anticipated IBU: 25
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

78.7% - 5.0 lbs. Pale Malt, Maris Otter
7.1%   - 0.45 lbs. Chocolate Malt
5.5%   - 0.35 lbs. Brown Malt
5.5%   - 0.35 lbs. Crystal 60L
3.1%   - 0.20 lbs. Pale Chocolate 200L
1.0 oz. UK Fuggles @ 60 min for 23 IBU
0.50 oz. UK Fuggles @ 5 min for 2 IBU

Yeast: Wyeast 1318 London III
Mash 156F for 75 min

Brewed on 12 February

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

All About Brown Porter

Like its cousins brown ale and mild, brown porter is another great beer style that doesn't quite get the attention it deserves these days. Whereas most everyone knows what a porter is, or have tried one at some point in time, mention brown porter is to your non-homebrewing friends and chances are you'll only get a puzzled reply. You can't really blame them though. How often does a brown porter show up on tap in your local pub or on the shelf of the beer store? Are there any good American commercial examples of a brown porter you can name off hand?

So what exactly is a brown porter? I’m no beer historian, but I’m pretty sure there weren’t any historical beers called brown porter. A quick look over CAMRA’s “Beer Style Guidelines” and we see there are no designations between various types of porter. If the beer is dark colored, flavored with dark malts (not roasted barley) and the original gravity is between 1.040 and 1.065, it’s a porter. Even the classic examples of the brown porter style, Fullers and Sam Smith’s, are both known as porter… are London Porter and Taddy Porter their own style too?! It is pretty obvious that the BJCP is again responsible for this naming mishap, another attempt to categorize every beer into its own little style. I’ve always thought a better way of differentiating the flavor differences between porters for an American audience would to be to call them by their place of origin and/or ingredients used. Something like English porter, American porter, and Baltic porter. I’ve always labeled my porters (on tap) this way.

Semantics aside, brown porter is a great style to drink and brew. You could say that next to bitter, it is my second most brewed beer; especially when you consider how most of the milds and English style brown ales I brew have more resemblance to porters than whatever I may call them. My interpretation of the brown porter style is generally consistent with the BJCP guidelines, except that I usually prefer my versions to have a bit more roast and caramel character than what a competition judge might be accustomed to. A good example of the style for my tastes is something that has both a complex, full flavored malt base and follows it up with some coffee, chocolate, and dark roast character. I like a bit more caramel and toffee flavors than the style allows for. Hops should be low in flavor and provide a gentle bitterness and the yeast should add some character. Balance is always key.

What is especially nice about brown porters is how easily the flavor profile can be adjusted to individual tastes. Since it combines all the primary characteristics of mild, brown ale, and strong porter, you can essentially pick and choose the things you want from those styles and still be within the established range of flavors. There are few styles that offer as much creative freedom and the potential to pack a whole lot of flavor into a little package, as brown porter. It kills me to hear people say low alcohol beers are boring or uninteresting, especially when a properly made brown porter can rival the best RIS or Belgian in terms of complexity and drinkability.

When brewing brown porters, I always try to include at least three specialty malts in the recipe - usually brown, chocolate, and crystal. Brown malt in particular is a great malt to use, as it combines both a toasty, biscuity character with some light coffee and roast flavor. At lower amounts (3-5%) it will add complexity without being too prominent in the final beer. If you’re looking for some additional complexity in your mild and brown ale recipes, a little bit of brown malt makes a big difference. In contrast, using brown malt at higher percentages can give the beer a very dry and roasted flavor that will overpower much of the other malts in the beer. A good rule of thumb when using brown malt is to either have a simple grist when using a lot of it, or blend smaller amounts with other specialty malts. Also, beers with large amounts of brown ale can require more time before they are ready to drink than those without. Don't expect to drink a beer with a lot of brown malt three weeks after brew day. Give the beer time for the flavors to develop.

Along with brown malt, chocolate and crystal malts are pretty important for a good brown porter. I like using chocolate malts anywhere from 3-8% of the grist, depending on what other roasted malts I am using. Small changes in the amount of chocolate malt can really have a big impact on the overall flavor profile of a beer. A few ounces too much and you can go from a nice dark chocolate type flavor to something more roasty and unbalanced. I've learned that it is always best to err on the side of caution when using roasted malts and start low and work your way up. Don't be afraid to experiment! Also, be careful when choosing your chocolate malt, as some continental maltsters have very dark versions of the same malt. Some chocolate malts, like Thomas Fawcett, are light colored (330L) whereas other can be as dark, or darker than roasted barley. Furthermore, I like using a good amount of crystal malt in my brown porters (5-8%), as it both provides sweetness and helps balance the acidity of the dark malts. Any color crystal malt is fine in a pinch, though I generally use those malts in the 45-85L range. A small percentage of dark crystal (120-150L), in addition to lighter crystal malts, can be very nice, though anything more than 5% is usually too much. Aside, one instance where you really don't need any crystal malts is when brewing historical porters or those that use mostly just pale malt, brown malt (usually more than 15%) and a small amount of black malt. These beers finish dry and roasty and you really don't want lots of sweetness to get in the way.

A few other malts that can be nice in brown porters are biscuit/amber malts, pale chocolate, black malt, carafa type malts, and kiln-coffee malt among others. I found that a good way of adding complexity to a beer  is to start with a balanced grist and incorporate a small amount of a similar grain. For instance, adding some pale chocolate malt to a recipe with a good amount of regular chocolate malt is a nice way of getting some toasty notes without having to use an amber or biscuit malt. It is usually better to add a similar malt type than to jump in another direction with something completely different. A common saying in the cooking world that I think applies to making beer recipes is, “if they grow together, they’ll taste good together.” Same is usually true when using different malts.

Finally, a word on yeast and hop choice. There aren't many ‘bad’ choices of yeast for making a brown porter, though it is always a best bet to stick with the English strains. Since much of the flavor of the beer will be yeast derived, I like using characterful, top cropping strains. Yeasts like WY1318, 1968, 1882, 1469, and 1275 are almost always good choices since they produce full flavored beers and add complexity to the final product. A little bit of diacetyl can be good thing too. Strains that I stay away from are those that ferment too clean or don’t highlight the malt character. Nottingham, the Whitbread strains (1098,99, S-04), and very minerally/bready strains (like 1028) don’t always give the best results. And as with any English yeast, fermentation temperatures should always be controlled. Having too much fruity esters is just as bad as having none at all. Finally, hopping should always be a straightforward affair with the emphasis on the bittering addition. Some hop aroma can be nice, though the earthier hops tend to taste better than the flowery, spicy ones. Fuggles and willamette are great choices, along with earthy varieties like challenger. Please don’t use “C” hops in your brown porters.  

If you haven't brewed a brown porter yet, give it a try. Chances are you'll really enjoy it!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Brew Day: Scottish Session Ale

Considering the number of 'Scottish' ales brewed in this country - nearly every small brewpub has at least one Scotch ale on tap during the year - it is a shame that so many of them are completely unlike the beers once brewed and consumed in Scotland. In fact, so much of what we think we know about Scottish beer is pure fantasy. Just as the our understanding of bagpipes, clan tartans, and the Highlands is a byproduct of 19th century nationalism (ahem, Walter Scott), so too has our understanding of Scottish ales been altered by various beer writers and pseudo-historians. While kettle caramelization, smokey peat malt, low hopping, and aging in whiskey barrels is practically de rigueur for any brewer looking to make a Scottish ale nowadays, the reality of it all is a different story. I cant't remember the last time I tried a 80/- or Wee Heavy that wasn't accompanied by the same faux history of Scottish ale. You know how it goes; the cold, highland spring water flavored with peat, low hopping because the Scots hated buying English hops, and the enormously long boils that caramelized the wort into a sticky and caramel-y mess. Yet, it wasn't long ago that I believed all of this.  

Historical mumbo jumbo aside, I thought it would be nice to brew up a small, session beer similar to a 70/- and serve it on cask in some form. I might just have to resurrect the cask for this one. The recipe is very simple, just Golden Promise and a little bit of black malt. I'll boil down most of the first runnings into a thick syrup and then add it back late in the boil. Not traditional, but it sure is tasty. Hopping is EKG and for the yeast, I'll be going with London III again. This stuff is so easy to top crop and makes such a nice beer, I don't know why I don't use it for everything. The medium attenuation, faint esters, and pleasant residual sweetness of 1318 should pair well with the beer. Scottish or not, I'm looking forward to drinking this in a month or two.

Young Pretender : Scottish Session Ale

Recipe Specifics:
Batch Size (Gal): 4.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 6.0
Anticipated OG: 1.042
Anticipated FG: 1.012
Anticipated SRM: 12-14
Anticipated IBU: 22
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

99.0% - 6.00 lbs. Pale Malt, Golden Promise
1.0%   - 0.08 lbs. Black Patent Malt

0.75 oz. Organic EKG @ 60 min for 22 IBU

Yeast: Wyeast 1318 London III
Mash 158F for 75 min
Brewed on 5 February

Friday, February 3, 2012

Hop-Stand, Keg Hopping, Belgian IPA

I'm not up-to-date on the latest and greatest hopping techniques. While the rest of beer world raves about the newest and greatest way to extract the most hop aroma/flavor in their beer, no doubt requiring some newfangled setup from California, I'm content doing it the old fashioned way. You know; through dry-hopping, large flameout additions, and the occasional sacrifice for the beer gods. However, not long ago I came across a discussion on the merits of the "hop-stand," a process where you let your flameout hops steep in the hot, non-boiling wort for a set period of time (often 2hrs) before chilling. This is supposed to give "killer" hop aroma and flavor. Anyways, I tried this method on my recent batch of Belgian IPA and following some sage advice, I kegged the beer and waited to dry hop as to see how much hop aroma and flavor this method really gave me. Let's just say I won't be bothering with this method any time soon. Not only did I notice the hop aroma and flavor was really lacking, my friend Brian even snidely reminded me to actually add the aroma hops the next time I brew this! I waited ten days before dry-hopping, hoping the hop aroma and flavor would show up. It didn't. I'm not saying this method doesn't work or have the potential to be amazing, it just didn't do diddly for me. Probably user error...

Therefore, as my window of normal dry-hopping had passed, I decided to dry hop this beer in the keg - something I very rarely do. After an awkward moment of buying ladies pantyhose at the local CVS, I went home and stuffed the (sanitized) leg of the stocking with a damn near a half pound of Citra and Simcoe hops. This "Hindenburg" sized hop bag is currently sitting in the bottom of the keg, refrigerated at 40F. Now, the real question:  How long should I leave this thing in the beer for?! I have heard people say they leave their hops in the keg until the thing is kicked, others say no more than three weeks max. I am a little worried that such a large amount of hops, in such a small amount of beer (4 gallons), might give off some grassy flavors. Tomorrow will be day 7 of dry-hopping. 

Aside, I sneaked a two pints of this beer today and holy crap is this thing hoppy! The bitterness isn't very strong or prominent, though the aroma and flavor of this beer is just pure and resiny, pine and tropical fruit. Sorta of like eating hop cones. Needless to say, I like where this batch is going. Furthermore, the Ardennes yeast went to town on the wort, taking the gravity from 1.064 to 1.004! It drinks much too easy for a 7.8% ABV beer. Unless I hear and doom and gloom stories of ruined batches from leaving the hops in the keg for too long, I'll probably let the hops sit a bit longer. And if the Pats win the Superbowl this weekend, I might just end up drinking the whole thing!