Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Session Bitter Tasting

Session. Bitter. Can there be any better words to describe beer perfection? I think not. Regardless, my friends and I have been enjoying this beer for about a month and a half now and I might just be in heaven. In a world of big-flavors and endless variety, it is easy to get carried away by the promise of new beer and forget about the little things we used to enjoy. We forget that satisfaction often lies in the little things and that sometimes the biggest rewards come from those beers we least expect. It is nice to know an English bitter can set us straight. All mumbo-jumbo aside, if you have a particular bitter you like to drink, grab a pint or two and enjoy the reality check. Bitter. Mmmm.

Yeoman Bitter : English Special Bitter            

Appearance - Pours a brilliantly clear, copper - amber color with a two finger white head. Retention is better than usual for a bitter and leaves lacing. A nice looking pint.

Aroma - First impression is of warm, toasted/biscuity malt and light toffee followed by some flowery hops. Esters are low and have a lightly fruity character. No diacetyl. The home toasted malt really makes a difference here. Better than biscuit or victory malt for sure.

Taste - Similar to aroma, lots of warm, toasted malt with a light crystal sweetness. Much of the flavor is squarely on the malt, though the beer has a pleasant, light fruit esters and some flowery/spicy hop character at the end. The esters are low and the beer has a very nice layered flavor and finishes clean and balanced. The hop bitterness is medium-high and does a good job of balancing all the malt flavors without seeming 'bitter.' The beer finishes dry and crisp.

Mouthfeel - Carbonation is medium-low and sufficient for the style. 
Drinkability & Notes - Overall, I can't ask for a better result. I kegged this beer on 29 January and a week after that it was ready for drinking. And each week after that the beer just got better and better tasting. The thing that I am most happy about with this beer, is it has that quality where each part of the flavor profile is clean and distinct. You can practically reach into the beer and pull out each ingredient one by one as your drinking it. The balance of flavors is spot on too. If I had to complain about anything, it might be a bit that the beer is "too" clean for a BJCP English bitter. If the keg lasts another week, I'll probably submit it to a comp. Lastly, I can't say enough good things about the Bedford Bitter yeast. I really hope WhiteLabs releases it again this year, since I can honestly say my best bitters have been brewed with it.

O.G: 1.042, F.G: 1.010, 4.4% ABV, 33 IBU, WhiteLabs 006 Bedford Bitter

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Brew Day: Berliner Kriek

Deviating from my usual British inspired beers, I though I'd brew up another batch of Berliner Weisse for the upcoming summer weather. I have brewed about a dozen batches of this type of beer over the years, although not all of them have been traditional - I've tried a bunch of different ways to sour the beer, including using the lacto, acid malt, and sour mash methods. Let's just say some versions came out better than others; for instance, all of my sour mashed BWs were pretty awful tasting! Also, while some people decoct their Berliners, I just stick to a single infusion mash and a very short 15 minute boil with minimal hopping. To get the sourness level I like - I prefer a very tart character - I pitch a large, stepped up lacto starter into the chilled (75F) wort and let it ferment for a few days before pitching US-05 at a reduced temperature. This way the lacto gets a head start on the saccharomyces and produces a more assertive lactic acid character than just by pitching the lacto and yeast together.

While it is not uncommon to let a batch of Berliner Weisse sit for five to seven months for the lactic sourness to develop, I have found that two or three months is plenty of time for my process. One instance when the sourness wasn't quite at the level I wanted, I tried adding a small amount of food grade lactic acid to the keg. The result were fine, sufficient for something to drink after a long day of landscaping, but not as good as the natural method. However, the one big difference between my Berliner Weisse and what most people make, is that I like adding spices and/or fruit to the beer. In this case, I'll be adding a good amount of tart cherry concentrate about a month into the fermentation. I've done this a few times now and have really enjoyed the results. It turns out similar to a Kriek and makes for a wonderful, refreshing summer drink. Another worthwhile combination has been hibiscus syrup with ground coriander and lemon zest. Not traditional by any means, but quite tasty!
Berliner Kriek : Berliner Weisse

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 4.5
Total Grain (Lbs): 6.5
Anticipated OG: 1.036
Anticipated FG: 1.008
Anticipated SRM: 3
Anticipated IBU: 5
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 15 Minutes

61.4% - 4.0 lbs. Pilsner Malt
38.4%   - 2.5 lbs. Wheat Malt

0.5 oz. US Goldings @ 15 min for 5 IBU

Yeast: WLP 677 Lactobacillus Delbrueckii, Safale S-05
Mash 149F for 90 min.

Brewed 25 March

Edit: 3/28 - Checked the gravity for pitching the ale yeast and the lacto took the gravity from 1.037 to 1.010 in two days! Decent amount of sourness already. Reduced temp from 80F to 63F and pitched S-05. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Brew Day: Nut Brown Ale

Back to the basics. I had originally planned on brewing a historical RIS for today but as I was getting my grain together for grinding, realized I didn't have enough black malt. The RIS will have to wait. Instead, I figured I'd brew something a little more 'sessionable' and quicker to mature. Nut brown ale. Not really a beer I've brewed a lot nor one I drink that often. Besides from the ubiquitous Newkie Brown and Sam Smith's, there aren't that many commercial nut brown ales that I can say I've had on a regular basis. I generally prefer brown ales that are closer to a dark mild or porter in terms of flavor. The recipe for this beer is pretty standard, the only exception from the norm being that I toasted a 3/4lb of MO for some additional toasty character and used a small amount of pale chocolate for color and nuttiness. My yeast choice is a bit unusual though, as I'll be using wy1768 Special Bitter. Not really the best yeast for really chewy and malty beers, but I figure the high attention and clean esters will let the malt character come through. I did end up mashing this one a bit higher than usual, to see if I can keep it from attenuating so low.
Doesn't get much better than a Bitter

Nut Brown : Northern English Brown

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 4.5
Total Grain (Lbs): 8.75
Anticipated OG: 1.052
Anticipated FG: 1.012
Anticipated SRM: 14
Anticipated IBU: 26
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

80.0% - 7.00 lbs. Pale, Maris Otter
8.6%   - 0.75 lbs. Toasted Malt
5.7%   - 0.50 lbs. Medium Crystal (55L)
3.4%   - 0.30 lbs. Victory Malt  
2.3%   - 0.20 lbs. Pale Chocolate (200L) 

1.00 oz. East Kent Goldings @ 60 min for 24 IBU
0.50 oz. East Kent Goldings @ 5 min for 2 IBU

Yeast: Wyeast 1768 Special Bitter (Young's)
Mash 156F for 75 min.

Brewed 18 March

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Irish Stout Tasting

St. Paddy's day. Can't say I've ever spent it slogging pints of Guinness with the hordes of Oi'rish at the bars or watching a parade. The whole commercialism of it all is a big turn off. When I was living in Ireland, St. Paddy's day was a pretty low key event. A nice walk in the countryside with the lady, followed by a few pints of Beamish or Murphy's at the local and maybe a rugby match on TV. No corned beef and cabbage and no leprechauns. It is funny how things change the farther you get from the source. Beamish for example. I never did enjoy drinking it in cans or when I found it on tap in the States. It always tasted best in Cork, right at those pubs around the brewery. It was a beautiful thing. Not the most flavorful or traditional of brews, but I can hardly imagine drinking anything else in that setting. I brewed a Beamish 'clone' back in December. Drank most of it in February and saved a bottle for today...

"Beamish Stout" : Irish Dry Stout          

Appearance - Pours an opaque - black color with ruby highlights and rocky tan colored foam. Head retention is good. Carbonation is a medium but possibly a bit too much for the style. Poured this one from a bottle that I had previously filled from the keg.

Aroma - Light roast and dry cocoa with some dark coffee notes. Esters are low, though some earthy and spicy hop character is apparent in the nose. Not much sweetness or grain character. 

Taste - Initial flavor is a dry cocoa powder and a coffee-like roast character that lingers on the palate. Some black malt like smokiness at the end. The roast flavor is nice and flavorful but not as strong as one would necessarily expect for a beer this dark. Esters are low and the hops make their presence known with the same spicy-earthy character in the aroma. The bitterness is medium-low and just enough to balance the malt. Goes down very easy. 

Mouthfeel - Carbonation is adequate, better as it warms up, and the beer has a nice and smooth mouthfeel.  
Drinkability & Notes - Overall, I am happy with this one. While I wouldn't say it is a perfect clone of Beamish - it has a bit too much hop and roast character for the real stuff (and) is a few SRM too dark - whatever I made is a tasty and easy drinking Irish stout. My main issue with this beer is that I don't think the Thomas Fawcett roasted barley is the best choice for a Beamish clone, as it has a bit smokier roast character than some of the other roasted barleys out there. Next time I brew this I'll go back to using a lighter flavored roast and tone down the hops. If anyone is interested in brewing a Beamish-type dry stout, I'd recommending starting out with around 7-8% roast, 5% chocolate, and 5% wheat malt and adjusting from there. 

O.G: 1.040, F.G: 1.010, 4% ABV, 30 IBU, Wyeast Pacman Ale 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Brew Day: Black ESB

It's been a while since I last brewed, just over three weeks ago. Seems like ages ago. I guess that's what happens when you have all your kegs tapped and no space left in the fermentors. Anyways, I wasn't planning on brewing today, but as I had washed some Bedford Bitter yeast last night, I figured I'd might as well use it up while it's fresh. I had originally thought about making an Anglo-American IPA with some of the new hops I had ordered, but as I have plenty of hoppy beer and English style stuff on tap at the moment, I felt like I needed something that would both be new and appropriate for my yeast. WLP006 is one of those strains that I really like (possibly my favorite for bitters) but it can have a somewhat limited use. It seems to taste the best when used in beers with high hopping and those styles that can support a dry finish. Not the strain to use for malty or chewy porters and stouts.

Thinking about this limitation, I had the idea of mixing both a hoppy, moderate strength ESB with some of the roast character of a brown porter or schwarzbier. The beer would have an English malt character - Maris Otter, UK crystal, and light chocolate malts - with a mixture of citrusy/floral American and English hops. Best of both worlds. To give the beer some (restrained) roastiness, I cold steeped Carafa II and English roasted barley to add during the boil. A "black ESB" if you will. To be perfectly honest, I've never made a beer like this, nor have any idea how it is going to turn out. I figure the Beford Bitter yeast would at least be a good choice for this type of beer, as I'll get some English malt character and esters out of it, yet the beer will still finish dry, crisp, and hoppy. To up the perception of bitterness and give the beer more of an American feel, I went with a IPA water profile. Hops will be Centennial and Amarillo, paired with UK First Gold. I don't want any piney or tropical fruit hop flavors. Should be interesting...

All is Blackened : Black ESB

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 4.5
Total Grain (Lbs): 9.55
Anticipated OG: 1.057
Anticipated FG: 1.012
Anticipated SRM: 35
Anticipated IBU: 50
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

83.8% - 8.00 lbs. Pale, Maris Otter
7.9%   - 0.75 lbs. Crystal 60L
4.2%   - 0.40 lbs. Chocolate Malt (330L)
2.1%   - 0.20 lbs. CaraFa II  (Cold Steeped)
2.1%   - 0.35 lbs. Roast Barley (Cold Steeped)

0.75 oz. Centennial @ 60 min for 32 IBU
0.75 oz. UK First Gold @ 15 min for 12 IBU
0.75 oz. Amarillo @ 5 min for 6 IBU 
1.0 oz.  UK First Gold @ flameout
1.0 oz.  Centennial @ flameout
0.50 oz. UK First Gold @ dry hop
0.50 oz. Centennial @ dry hop
0.50 oz. Amarillo @ dry hop

Yeast: WhiteLabs 006 Bedford Bitter
Mash 154F for 75 min.

Brewed 13 March

Monday, March 12, 2012


Sanitation is everything in homebrewing. I don't know how many times I have 'politely' explained to new brewers that just using hot water, One-Step, and their favorite scrubby pad isn't going to kill all the contaminates hiding in their carboy and fermenting buckets. You would think that for as often as new brewers complain how their beer tastes like crap - or ask why they have a "harmless white film" growing on top of their fermenter - that they would realize their sanitation procedure might just have something do with it. However, considering the number of homebrewers that are seemingly content drinking infected beer, proper sanitation still has a long ways to go. StarSan and Idophor are cheap and easy enough to use, that everyone who dabbles in homebrewing should be using them.

I am normally obsessive to a "T" about cleanliness and proper sanitation, but I do screw up on occasion. Case in point, my latest batch of Scottish "session" ale or 70/-. This batch got off to a good start, I sanitized the heck out of all my equipment and didn't expose the fermenting beer to any possible contaminates. And unlike some people, I try to avoid peeking into the bucket or taking a hydrometer sample each and every day. However, I made a crucial mistake with this batch. Instead of spending an extra few minutes to fill the airlock with vodka or StarSan, like I normally do, I was lazy and just filled it with tap water. I wasn't worried about suck-back. Well, fast forward three weeks later. I went to move the fermenter and sure enough I accidently hit the lid with my arm... draining the airlock liquid back into the beer. **** ~ ! Hoping that nothing bad would come of it, I let the beer sit another week. I was greeted with this awful sight a few days later...

It really pisses me off to think that all my hard work, time, and money was completely wasted because I was too lazy to walk up the stairs and grab the vodak. (Quite possibly the only time in history when bad things happened because someone DIDN'T use the vodka!). Six hours of brewing and three weeks of fermenting undone in an instant. From the looks and smell of it, I believe I have some type of lacto infection going on. It is sorta interesting that the infection is growing on top of the krausen, never seen that before. I tired a small sample of the beer and it tasted pretty good for the state it was in. Had I not screwed this beer up, I'd probably be enjoying a few pints of it from the cask by now. In the hope of salvaging some of my investment, I racked two gallons of the infected beer into a large glass jug and pitched a whole bunch of Russian River and Jolly Pumpkin sour dregs. If the beer shows any promise within a month or two, I'll keep it around. 

A few obvious 'pointers' for keeping your beer infection free:

1) Sanitize, sanitize, and sanitize. Use a good stanitizer - not just a cleanser - and make sure that everything and anything that touches the beer has been adequately treated. This means your racking cane, bucket, carboy, lid, spoons, ect...

2) Try to avoid exposing the fermenting beer to the elments. This includes the time it takes to cool and transfer your wort from the brew kettle. The fewer times you open the lid on the fermenting beer, for whatever reason, the better. Don't take excessive hydrometer samples. I've gotten to the point where I take one when the beer goes into the fermenter and one when it comes out. Until then, the beer lid/carboy plug stays closed.

3) Keep a fresh spray bottle of sanitizing liquid on hand. And remember, change out the liquid frequently. If using Star San, distilled water is best and Idophor doesn't have a long shelf life when mixed. Some breweries change out their sanitizer a few times over the course of the brew-day. 

4) Throw out or don't use any plastic materials with deep scratches. Change your plastic tubing regularly.

Lastly, while many people seem to think that beer infections are hard to get - or that many signs of an infection are just normal fermentation activity - they might be surprised to know that most infections go unnoticed. Generally speaking, any white film that covers the surface of the beer and breaks up into smaller pieces when agitated, is indicative of an infection. It's not "hop oils" or "sanitizer residue" or whatever else you want to believe it is. This picture below is of a slight lacto infection in a keg. Yeah, hard to believe, considering it shows very little signs of something wrong. It may even look somewhat normal. However, when we tested it in the lab, the results indicated otherwise.

The key here, is that not all infections result in terrible tasting beer. Most homebrew does contain bacteria, mold, and other stuff that never fully impacts the overall character of the beer. But it is better to know that it is in our beer and be able to recognize it, than just assume a beer is only truly infected when the surface looks like a murder scene. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Graphically Evaluating Yeast Character

Of all the aspects of homebrewing there are to take an interest in, I have always found "yeast" to be among my favorites. Not necessarily how yeast replicate - I don't possess the upper level science skills for that - but rather how individual yeast strains can give beer such a variety of flavors and characteristics. While it is safe to say that most homebrewers stick to using just one or two yeast strains for the majority of their brews, I find great pleasure in trying as many strains as possible. With that in mind, I don't even want to know the amount of money I've spent trying and re-trying different yeast strains for the past five years.

Regardless, one of the problems when talking about yeast is the lack of useful information about the different strains and flavors that yeast can give a beer. While there is no shortage of information about the different types of hops and specialty grains used in brewing, most of the time you will only find a tidbit or two about how yeast "X" either did a good or bad job, with few details on the individual character. I want to know all the details; How yeast flavor changes with pitch rate, temperature, oxygen levels, how one strain compares to another, and the types of ingredients it goes well with. Furthermore, as we all know taste is highly subjective, wouldn't it be more useful to state the individual flavor elements of a particular strain, instead of saying whether or not it made a good beer? Let's see those tasting notes!

In an attempt to provide a visual method for comparing yeast strains, I've come up with a few spider graphs to illustrate the basic fermentation characteristics of my favorite English yeasts. Spider graphs have been used by breweries to describe beer flavor and by hop growers to show the different characteristics of their hop varieties. It is my hope that something like this could make it easier for new brewers to compare yeasts and/or choose a strain that would best suit the beer they are interested in brewing.

If you were wondering how I came up with these numbers, I went through my old brew logs and much of the manufacturer data to form an "average" for each of the points I plotted. While most of the data is self explanatory, 'bottle stability' and 'malt integrity' intend to represent how stable the yeast is in the bottle (is it prone to reactivating beyond the F.G) and how well the original malt character holds up to the yeast flavors. Same is true for hops and bitterness. Also while fermentation has a greater impact on ester production (temp/pitch) than yeast strain alone, I hoped to at least show the intensity of esters that each yeast produces in a relatively standard fermentation process.

Lastly, could this method be an effective way of comparing yeast derived flavors? Would you like to see something like this next to the yeasts in your LHBS? Regardless, I hope to write more about individual strains in the future and possibly use spider graphs to illustrate the results of some of my experiments. And please excuse my total lack of graphing skills...

Sunday, March 4, 2012

"What's Next?!"

Bleh. I hate that beer-y phrase, "What's Next?!" Beneath its veneer of optimism and freedom of choice - of whatever comes tomorrow is better than today - lies an inexorable wasteland. Pubs with a hundred taps of mediocre 'greatness,' beer festivals filled with hipsters, drunkenness, snobs, and a whole system designed to only offer criticism and stifle tradition. What happened to our session beers in all of this? Who among us still buys rounds of beer for their friends or can spend a quiet afternoon in a pub or beer garden without constant interruption? And when did beer become so tied to marketing and gimmicks that we now instantly ignore those beers not accompanied by faux-celebrity or a seal of approval. Is there still hope for the simple pint?

I once drank Budweiser, Miller, and Coors in a ghost town in Western Nebraska. No cell phones, no TV, and nothing to do or drink, except what was in front of you. The beer might have been tasteless, but at least it was honest. People sat along the long and lonely bar, talking among themselves about life, family, politics, and the weather. Never did they feel the need to talk about the beer they were drinking or how it compared to the one before; they wrote down no tasting notes. Is good to know that not everyone is a critic. Beer shouldn't need an introduction or an explanation of why it is special and it sure doesn't need someone telling us what to drink.

Variety in beer is a good thing, so long as it is not overly pretentious.

One day I might just warm up to the idea of drinking more than one IIPA or the occasional Imperial Witbier. Until then, I'll be proudly brewing and drinking my 'boring' bitters and brown beer concoctions...hopefully with friends.