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.

3 comments:

  1. Looks awesome. I'll be using doing my first ever WLP006 brew in the next week or so - a hoppy version of the rebel red inspired brew I did a couple of months back. Really looking forward to trying it out.

    I think you mentioned before that you weren't that impressed with it in darker beers - though it seems it went well here in your Amber ale. Were you talking about Porters/dark milds or something?

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    1. Hopefully the brewing world will have another wlp006 convert when your beer is done. I think its a great yeast, it's just too bad it is only available for two months out of the year.

      As for it in dark beers, (browns, porter, mild) I really shouldn't have said that. It makes perfectly fine dark beers from what I have tried, my own and others, but if you are looking for a really malty dark beer with those buttery, rich esters... this ain't going to give you it. However, it would be great in any dark beer where you want some yeast character but still have it clean and crisp. It did a great job in my last years hoppy 'black ipa' and I bet it would be good in an Irish stout too. Got to try that out!

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  2. Your ingredients numbers between now and 7 years ago are eye-opening, however some of it is due to supply/demand, I think a lot is due to things like gas prices. Shipping 50lbs of anything is a lot more expensive than it used to be :(

    As for hops, I think I am going to start trying some of the N.Z. hops which are getting some good reviews and last time I checked, stil available

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