Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Straw-Kilned Porter Tasting

What began as an attempt to make some historical, wood-kilned brown malt, has now evolved into something entirely different and equally ridiculous. Back in December, I made a batch of non-diastatic brown malt that was used to brew two batches of historical porter; one from an 1834 St. Stephens recipe and the other from an 1836 Whitbread. While both of these beers were similar in composition, they were brewed with different types of brown malt. The first batch used hornbeam kilned brown malt, similar to those made in the mid 19th century, and the latter batch used a mixture of cherry-wood kilned brown malt (not traditional) with some highly roasted 'porter malt.' A portion from each of the batches has been aging with brett C, among other bugs, in an attempt to replicate the flavor of 'vatted porter.' After that, I brewed a porter from 100% straw-kilned brown malt, like those made in the mid 1700's.

This beer was brewed in early June and has been in the bottle for just over a month now. While it is still too early to come to any conclusions, I thought it would be a good time to see how this beer is coming along. Aside, historical sources seem to indicate that straw-kilned brown malts resulted in porters that had little smokiness (after aging) and were black or brownish in color. As for what they really tasted like, we don't know.

1700's Straw Porter : Historical Porter

Appearance - Pours a clear, opaque-black color with a very bubbly head that slowly settles to a fine ring. The beer turned out much darker than I had assumed it would be, could be due to the long boil and/or the nature of using 100% brown malt.

Aroma - The nose of this beer is really unique. Right away there is a faint campfire smokiness that quickly transitions into an intense, cocoa and chocolate liqueur aroma. Behind that is a slightly rustic, woodsy character with some light fruity esters. Honestly, it is hard to tell where these aromas are coming from - malt, esters, straw, fire? My friend think he picks up some brett character, which could be a possibility. I bottled this beer right after bottling the 1834 porter with brett C, so I may have cross contaminated the beer in the process. If so, it's not very apparent...yet. 

Taste - It starts out with the same lightly smokey character as found in the aroma, followed by a strong cocoa and chocolate liqueur flavor. Like the other historical porters I've brewed, this beer has a similar chocolaty-vinous character about it, although the flavors aren't as intense. The bitterness level is medium-low and the esters seem to be restrained. The beer has a slightly rustic, almost primitive flavor to it... of earth, wood, fire... that gives it, dare I say, an 'elemental' quality. No hop aroma/flavor that I can tell and the beer finishes rather clean, dry, and neutral. No diacetyl.

Mouthfeel - The level of carbonation is more fizzy than I would like, although the bottle was not refrigerated prior to tasting, and the mouthfeel is rather thin and dry. 

Drinkability & Notes - One of the things I like so much about historical beers, is that they so often change your perspective of what beer is and what it can be. It is hard to describe the taste of something as unusual as this, but so far I am pleased how this beer is coming along. The straw definitely adds its own character to the beer, although it will probably take some time and a few side-by-side tastings to see what the difference really is. So far, I am surprised how dark this beer turned out... given the method used... and how little smokiness the fire and straw imparted to the beer. Lastly, whether or not this beer tastes remotely similar those brewed in the mid 1700's, who knows, but at least we know that you can brew a porter from 100% straw-kilned brown malt. 

6.0% ABV, 30-35 IBU, Wyeast 1882 Thames Valley II

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Brew Day: American Amber Bitter

With the success of my recent batch of amber ale, I thought I would follow it up with a similar recipe. Looking around the web to see what other people were using in their amber ales, I noticed that many of the recipes were virtually the same. .. it almost seems as if Jamil Z's recipe has become de rigueur for the BJCP style. But I want something a little bit different. The malt bill for this beer is nothing that unusual; pale malt (couldn't find any scarlett 2-row), munich, with some medium and dark crystal. And a dose of pale chocolate for color. Hop wise, I really enjoyed the northern brewer and cascade combo in my Cali common and as I have a pound of VERY aromatic Centennial-Type hops that need using, I'll incorporate all three varieties. I've never used Centennial-Type before, but apparently they are a mix of 70% cascade and 30% columbus. Should be interesting. As for the yeast, I have been wanting to try some Bedford Bitter yeast in a hoppy American style beer for a while now, so I'll give it a try. 

2XA Bitter : American Amber Ale

Recipe Specifics:
Batch Size (Gal): 4.0
Total Grain (Lbs): 8.60
Anticipated OG: 1.054
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 14
Anticipated IBU: 37
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

81.4% - 7.0 lbs. Pale Malt
8.7%   - 0.75 lbs. Munich
5.8%   - 0.50 lbs. Crystal 60L
2.9%   - 0.25 lbs. Crystal 120L
1.2%   - 0.10 lbs. Pale Chocolate

0.75 oz. Northern Brewer @ 60 min for 22 IBU
0.50 oz. Centennial @ 15 min for 9 IBU
0.50 oz. Cascade @ 15 min for 6 IBU
1.00 oz. Centennial @ flameout
1.00 oz. Centennial-Type @ flameout
0.75 oz. Northern Brewer @ flameout
0.50 Centennial @ dryhop
0.50 Northern Brewer @ dryhop

Yeast: WhiteLabs 006 Bedford Bitter
Brewed on 19 August

Friday, August 17, 2012

California Common Tasting

Once in a while I get a beer that tastes amazing right out of the fermenter, but becomes so-so after sitting in the keg for a while and then all of a sudden goes back to being great. This was one of those beers. I drank a large glass of the stuff as I kegged it it, warm and uncarbonated, but after a week sitting in the keg at 45F, the flavors disappeared. It went from crystal clear to muddy, the hop aroma/flavor dropped off to nothing, and the malt was nowhere to be found. For a while I was worried I this beer wasn't going to turn out and with a back log of fermenting beer and no empty kegs, I was considering dumping it to make room. Thankfully, it never came to that. Three weeks later and people were guzzling this beer like there was no tomorrow. It became my beer of choice after coming home from work and it turned out to be a hit with my BMC drinking friends. Note to self: beer needs time to condition, especially lagers.

Session Steam : California Common

Appearance - Pours a brilliantly clear, amber/copper color with a two finger head that has good retention. The beer leaves sticky Belgian lace down the glass.
Aroma - Clean caramel malt with an underlying minty and lightly fruity hop character. The northern brewer hops make their presence known, although not as intensely as those found in Anchor Steam. 

Taste - First impression is a clean and crisp, lager like maltiness with a medium caramel character. The hops come through with some cascade grapefruit-rind followed by an herbal-minty flavor that lingers into the finish. The malt character of the beer is clean and slightly toasty. Bitterness is medium-firm and the esters are low to none. No diacetyl.

Mouthfeel - Carbonation is medium-low and the beer has adequate mouthfeel.

Drinkability & Notes - This beer turned out much better than I had originally hoped for. The wlp060 yeast did a fantastic job. It fermented out extremely clean, but with enough character to keep things interesting and it let the malt and hops come through well. Hop wise, I really like the flavor combo of the no. brewer/cascade, although I wouldn't mind a bit more of the NB hop aroma and flavor. Bitterness is probably a bit low for the 'style' and I'll be sure to bump up the IBU's next time. I would love to re-brew this using some "Scarlett" 2-row. Overall, very happy with this one.

4.8% ABV, 30 IBU, Whitelabs 060 American Ale Blend

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Brew Day: Coffee Oatmeal Brown Ale

With my recently brewed Irish Stout in the keg and some London Ale yeast washed and ready to go, I've been tinkering with a few recipes that could best utilize this yeast. Initially, I was thinking of brewing an imperial stout or an English barleywine, but as I recently sampled a bottle of Cigar City's Maduro Brown Ale - it was very good - I figured similarly flavored brown ale would make for a nice change of pace. How it does with this yeast... I'll find out. The recipe I settled on is a mishmash of a few commercial recipes with some of my own. As wy1028 tends to ferment out rather dry, I wanted to make sure I had a solid base of medium and dark crystal malts to keep the beer on the maltier and sweeter side of things. Also, instead of using Maris Otter, I'll use a mix of pale and Munich malt. Flaked oats should give the beer a silky mouthfeel and a small amount of brown/chocolate malt will provide some light roast flavors. I plan to age this beer on a few ounces of ground coffee beans for a week or two once fermentation is complete. I'm looking forward to drinking this one.

Hops are coming along...
Coffee Oatmeal Brown : Brown Ale

Recipe Specifics:
Batch Size (Gal): 4.0
Total Grain (Lbs): 8.85
Anticipated OG: 1.055
Anticipated FG: 1.012
Anticipated SRM: 24
Anticipated IBU: 27
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

67.8% - 7.0 lbs. Pale Malt
8.5%   - 0.75 lbs. Munich
5.6%   - 0.50 lbs. Flaked Oats
5.6%   - 0.50 lbs. Special B
5.6%   - 0.50 lbs. Crystal 60L
4.0%   - 0.35 lbs. Brown Malt
2.8%   - 0.25 lbs. Chocolate Malt

1.00 oz. Fuggles @ 60 min for 21 IBU
0.50 oz. Fuggles @ 20 min for 6 IBU
0.50 oz. Fuggles @ flameout

Coffee (type and amount to be determined) added to secondary

Yeast: Wyeast 1028 London Ale
Brewed on 16 August

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Belgium Comes To Cooperstown

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the annual "BCTC" festival, held in beautiful Cooperstown, NY. Arguably one of the biggest and best Belgian beer festivals in the country, the event is held at the Ommegang brewery and features nearly two hundred beers from ninety breweries. The tasting portion of the festival lasted 4 hours, with unlimited tastings. I did not plan on attending the event this year, as I wasn't able to buy a ticket, but as luck would have it, one of my friends called me up the night before and asked if I wanted to go with them on a free - $90.00 - ticket!

One of the things that makes BCTC unique, is that it combines the best qualities of a beer, music, and food festival. It has it all. Drink unlimited amounts of very tasty and often impossible to find commercial beer, eat quality food, listen to good music, and then camp out with with a few hundred other beer lovers until the next morning. What really makes the festival special though, is the large number of homebrewers in attendance and the huge amounts of beer they bring with them. Before and after the main tasting, it is nice to walk around the festival, meet other brewers and share some beer. A few homebrew clubs even set up 'camps,' complete with mini-kegs, casks, and more bottles of quality beer than you'll find at your local beer store. 

The weather for the day of the festival was mercilessly hot and it didn't take long to realize that the medical staff would have a busy day ahead of the them. Luckily, they had plenty of cold bottles of water available for free and a few places to sit down and relax. The beer tasting was held in two massive tents and even with the huge number of people, there was hardly any wait to get beer. Try one breweries offerings, then walk ten feet to the left and do it all over again. I had planned on only trying those beers I couldn't get in my area, but that wasn't going to happen. With the awful heat and the masses of sweaty people running about, finding a specific brewery amidst the chaos was nearly impossible.

The quality and selection of beer at the festival was very good. I was particularly impressed with the number of Belgian imports they had available, including some nice bottles of lambic, gueuze, oud bruin, and kriek. I had never had some of the Belgian beers before, while others I hadn't tried since I was last in Europe. The selection of American beers was also excellent, with lots of big name beers and breweries present. Virtually every beer at the festival was Belgian inspired, with masses of witbiers, saisons, quads, dubbels, and a whole mess of Belgian IPA's thrown into the mix. I was really surprised by the number of sour beers present from the domestic breweries, as it seemed like every other booth had a brett saison or a sour beer on tap. I would say most of the beers ranged from 5-7% abv, although you didn't have to look hard to find that 10% abv, barrel-aged behemoth.

During the main tasting, I tried to avoid drinking too many of the hugely alcoholic beers and generally stuck to sours, IPA's, and saisons. However, after four hours of drinking Belgian beer, I was pretty much sick of the stuff. Just the thought of taking another sip of a phenolic saison or a funky brett beer made my stomach turn. Amazingly, hidden among the many Belgian beers on tap, one brewery (Roc Brewing Co.) out of Rochester, had the balls to serve an English mild. It wasn't the best mild I've ever had, but it was nice to drink something dark and malty. There was also a Scottish themed brewery from Connecticut that had a few malty beers on tap, although it seemed like every one of their beers was hopped with "C" hops. Where's the EKG and Fuggles!?

A few standout beers include... N'ice Chouffe, Malheur 12, Dutchess de Bourgogne, Ommegang's 15th Anniversary, Heavy Seas Yule Tide (2010), Victory Helios, Lawson's Finest all-Brett IPA (on cask), Barrel aged Ovila, and a bunch of other beers I can't remember the names of. Along with the good beers, there were also a few dumpers; including a lambic and kombucha mix called "Lambrucha" that smelled and tasted like dill pickle juice. It was especially funny to watch people try this beer, as they'd taste it...nearly puke...then find someone else to try it. There was also a witbier that had a burnt electrical cord flavor and a few saisons that were well under-attenuated. In all honesty, there really wasn't a particular beer that absolutely amazed me, but the quality of the beer from the vendors was overall very good.

A few negatives of the festival include, the huge numbers of obnoxious hipsters and beer nerds and the multitudes of sweaty, half naked people that would try and squeeze by while you were standing in line. Another annoying thing was that some people, namely hipsters, seemingly felt obliged to tell you if the beer you were queuing for was worth drinking or not. Having to listen to, "uh, man, you don't want that beer... try this one instead," got really old. Of course any beer that isn't barrel aged, dry hopped 3x times, or includes IPA somewhere in the name, isn't worth drinking in their mind. There were also number of very nice sessiony beers, including a wonderful witbier, that apparently didn't measure up to these douches. They'd take a sip, tell everyone else standing in the line behind them that the beer "sucks," before dumping it out and moving on to hoppier pursuits. I felt sorry for the brewers that had to stand there and watch this happen all day long. It was also hard to talk to the brewers and staff about their products with all the people around.

After the main tasting had ended, my friends and I were in surprisingly good shape after four and half hours of drinking, so we decided to go back to camp and open a few bottles. However, on our way through the sea of tents, we came across a group of friendly beer enthusiasts from Philly who had set up a portable kegerator with eight taps, including an automatic glass washer. It turned out these guys were sitting on the best damn beer of the whole festival, a truly stunning lineup of beer, even for the best of beer bars. On tap was: Russian River Blind Pig, Ballast Point Sculpin IPA, Brooklyn Black Ops, Sly Fox Grisette, Jolly Pumpkin Luciernaga, and three excellent homebrews - a lavender and rose petal saison and a very nice dark sour. The two IPA's alone were superb, Blind Pig is possibly my favorite IPA out there, and I thought the Jolly Pumpkin was the best Belgian beer I had all day. Later that evening, one of the guys in the Philly group tapped his homebrewed cask of amarillo IPA, brewed with a tincture of wormwood. The beer was wonderful! Clean malt with a huge punch of fresh amarillo hops and firm bitterness from the wormwood. Again, the best cask beer I had all day.

Overall, BCTC was great experience. I got to drink a lot of good beer and meet some very friendly brewers and beer drinkers. Besides from the occasional hipster douche, I was really surprised how civil and well behaved people were - I didn't see one person puking or being obnoxiously drunk - and I would gladly pay money to go back next year. Or a free ticket would be cool too. If you are in Upstate New York around this time next year, I would highly recommend a trip to the festival. Just don't wait too long to get those tickets...!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Brew Day: Extra Special Bitter

I finally picked up a few vials of Bedford Bitter yeast last week and I've been anxiously waiting to brew something with it. I had originally planned on making a malty session bitter, but instead I'll do a re-brew of my successful 'Amalgamated ESB' that I had first brewed back in October. To make things a little more interesting, I'll be hopping it rather aggressively with first gold, EKG, and fuggles for a nice hop kick. Aside, I tapped the keg of Gunsmith bitter that I had brewed not long ago - fermented with wy1335 British II - and while I like the hop and malt flavors, I find the yeast character to be a bit bland for my liking. So far, the yeast reminds me a lot of the Whitbread strains, which tend to be neutral, dry, and finish with a slight tartness. Probably won't use it again in a bitter, but it will be interesting to see how it did in my amber IPA.

Amalgamated ESB : Extra Special Bitter

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 4.0
Total Grain (Lbs): 7.75
Anticipated OG: 1.054
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 10
Anticipated IBU: 45
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

83.9% - 6.50 lbs. Maris Otter
6.5%  - 0.50 lbs. Crystal 60L
3.2%  - 0.25 lbs. Amber Malt
6.5%  - 0.50 lbs. Invert No. 1

1.00 oz. First Gold @ 60 min for 35 IBU
0.50 oz. Fuggles @ 15 min for 5 IBU
0.50 oz. EKG @ 15 min for 5 IBU
0.50 oz. Fuggles @ flameout
1.00 oz. EKG @ flameout
1.00 oz. First Gold @ flameout
0.75 oz. EKG @ dryhop for 7 days
0.75 oz. First Gold @ dryhop for 7 days 

Yeast: Whitelabs 006 Bedford Bitter
Mash 154F for 75 min.
Brewed 5 August