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

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

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

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)

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

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)

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.