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

91.4% - 8.0 lbs. Maris Otter, Warminster
8.6%   - 0.75 lbs. Medium Crystal

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

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Brew Day: American Pale Ale

I don't know if I'm imagining this or not, but there seems to be a lot of talk these days of how the craft-beer industry is starting to distance itself from hugely hoppy and alcoholic beers in favor of producing more sessionable offerings. I would certainly like to believe this is true and that people might one day have the same enthusiasm for a well made session beer as they do for a hop-bomb. However, if the beer on tap at my local is any indication of the future, the days of session beer appreciation are still a long ways off. And as much as it kills me to say this, that might not be so horrible after all. On the homebrew side of things, while I still prefer to drink malty session beers over those hugely bitter and alcoholic ones, I must admit I've begun to appreciate a properly hoppy pint of IPA. Besides from being ubiquitous, often times it is far easier to order a $7-8 IPA, knowing you'll be getting some value for your money, rather than paying the same money for a crappy Belgian concoction or flavorless whatever-they call it. Anyways, the recipe I am brewing today is my usual hoppy APA, a beer I've brewed a number of times now and have very much enjoyed. The malt bill is the same as usual... golden promise, munich, with some medium crystal... and I'll be going way over the top with the dry hopping; using Amarillo, Citra, and Simcoe at 15 min and flameout, with dry-hopping in the secondary and again in the keg. A properly hoppy pint.

Not bad...
Levi's Pale Ale: American Pale Ale
Recipe Specifics:
Batch Size (Gal): 4.25
Total Grain (Lbs): 10.25
Anticipated OG: 1.062
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 9
Anticipated IBU: 60
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

87.8%  - 8.5 lbs. Golden Promise
7.3%   - 0.75 lbs. Munich Malt
4.9%   - 0.50 lbs. Crystal 60L

0.50 oz. Magnum @ 60 min for 25 IBU
0.50 oz. Amarillo @ 15 min for 10 IBU
0.50 oz. Citra @ 15 min for 13 IBU
0.50 oz. Simcoe @ 10 min for 12 IBU
1.50 oz. Amarillo @ flameout
1.50 oz. Citra @ flameout
1.50 oz. Simcoe @ flameout
1.00 oz. Amarillo @ dryhop secondary
1.00 oz. Citra @ dryhop secondary
1.00 oz. Simcoe @ dryhop secondary
1.50 oz. Amarillo @ dryhop keg
1.50 oz. Citra @ dryhop keg
1.50 oz. Simcoe @ dryhop keg

Yeast: Wyeast 1332 Northwest Ale
Mash 154F for 75 min
Brewed on 17 Septemeber

Monday, September 10, 2012

Special Bitter Tasting

Considering how hop obsessed American 'craft-beer' culture has become and the way breweries now use hop variety as a selling point for their beers, it is *almost* surprising that we don't hear more about English hops. Surely the hops growing on the other side of the pond are just as interesting, varied, and tasty as those grown in other parts of the world? Why is no one talking about this? I think the answer is pretty simple. Here in the States, English hops are often seen as boring and largely enigmatic. We all know about EKG and Fuggles, but what about the other dozen or so varieties? On a homebrew level, it again seems like there is a lack of knowledge about English hops and  what they actually taste like. To many, Fuggles taste like dirt and EKG is flowery, delicate at best. To that I say, how are you using them? Can you really get a sense of something when you are using it in small quantities; a half ounce at flameout will not give you a true sense of hop character. So much of today's beer culture is about discovering new flavors and changing perspectives... making that which was old, suddenly new. Yet here we have a whole world of unique hop flavors, completely unknown to Americans, that has largely gone unnoticed. Therefore, the next time you want to brew, pick up a couple ounces of an English hop and give them an honest try. You might just be impressed.

Gunsmith Bitter : English Special Bitter

Appearance - Pours a very clear, orange/amber color with a two finger head that slowly settles to a fine ring.

Aroma - First impression is of floral English hops with a mild orange peel character and some medium crystal sweetness. Esters are lightly fruity and clean.

Taste - Again, hops are at the forefront with a herbal orange peel/apricot character, followed by some soft caramel flavor that lingers on the palate. The malt is clean and biscuity and the yeast character is lightly fruity and rather neutral. No diacetyl. The beer finishes with a slight Whitbread-like 'tartness.' Bitterness is medium and the overall flavor of the beer is clean, dry, and hoppy. 

Mouthfeel - Carbonation is medium-low, appropriate for the style. The beer is dry, but goes down smooth. 

Drinkability & Notes - After a few weeks on tap, I wasn't crazy about this beer. The hop character was spot on, but the beer had a slight bready-tartness that reminded me of the Whitbread yeasts. Luckily, it has almost completely disappeared. As the beer sits now, I'd say it turned out well - it is clean and flavorful - but I don't think I would use this yeast in another bitter. I may have fermented this batch a bit too cool, but the initial tartness and neutral yeast character of this yeast isn't what I want in my bitters. Aside, the IPA I brewed with it turned out excellent... but equally clean and neutral. Perfect for IPA's.

5.0% ABV, 30 IBU, Wyeast 1335 British Ale II

Recipe Here

Monday, September 3, 2012

Brew Day: Harvest Bitter redux

When it comes to English bitters, most of what I brew often falls into two categories. The first are pale bitters, usually brewed with Golden Promise and less than 4% dark crystal, with a sizable amount of homemade brewers invert syrup, usually around 25-35L. These bitters are typically hopped with floral English varieties, namely EKG and First Gold. What I enjoy most about these beers, is that they showcase the hop character and yeast choice, while still being supremely drinkable. On the other hand, I also like bitters that have more of what some would call 'traditional flavor,' that is malt forward with plenty of caramel character. For these, I typically use Maris Otter (Thomas Fawcett) and rotate through various combinations of medium and dark crystal malt, with an occasional addition of toasted malt for complexity. I prefer more hop aroma and flavor in my bitters than what the BJCP recommends for the style, with less emphasis on bitterness. And of course, yeast choice is always king for me. Compared to most American commercial versions, my bitters typically have more hop and yeast character, with less caramel flavor and bitterness,

With that in mind, this recipe is similar to the bitters most Americans are familiar with. While not a style per se, "harvest bitters" are generally amber colored, session-y beers with an emphasis on caramel malts and rich, earthy flavors. Last year I brewed a beer almost identical to this one, although I ended up dumping the batch due to fermentation issues. The recipe is nothing new, although I will be subbing the EKG hops for Northern Brewer and UK Fuggles. I've not used NB hops in a beer like this and I think the earthy-minty and woody flavors would pair well with the wy1968 yeast and the darker crystal malts. Lastly, to keep the beer on the malty side, I've toned down the sulfate levels quite substantially. Should be drinking this one a few weeks into football season. 

Harvest Bitter : English Special Bitter

Recipe Specifics:
Batch Size (Gal): 4.5
Total Grain (Lbs): 6.85
Anticipated OG: 1.042
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 14
Anticipated IBU: 30
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

87.6% - 6.0 lbs. Maris Otter
7.3%   - 0.50 lbs. Crystal 60L
3.6%   - 0.25 lbs. Crystal 120-150L
1.5%   - 0.10 lbs. Pale Chocolate

0.75 oz. Northern Brewer @ 60 min for 24 IBU
0.50 oz. UK Fuggles @ 15 min for 6 IBU
1.00 oz. Northern Brewer @ flameout

Yeast: Wyeast 1968 London ESB
Brewed on 3 September