Friday, November 30, 2012

Off Topic: Home Coffee Roasting

Like most homebrewers, my interest in food and drink is not limited to beer alone. Rather, it seems like the more beer I brew, the more reasons I have to branch out into other culinary endeavors. For beer always tastes best when accompanied with good food and dabbling in the kitchen is nearly as much fun as brewing. Starting out, my first foodie projects were mostly related to collecting wild edibles - hop shoots, mushrooms, fiddlehead ferns - and then I got into fermenting my own foods; sauerkraut, preserved lemons, hot sauce, kim chi, and kvass. And then one day I got the brilliant idea that I should be making my own raw milk cheeses, having never made any sort of cheese before. That project ended in total failure... and probably has something to do with my recent lactose intolerance. After that debacle, I thought it would be best to go back to safe-to-eat foods and soon got into tea (namely puer and oolong), before moving on to bread making and barbeque

Sumatran Beans
My most recent culinary interest, however, has been coffee roasting. For the past few months, I have been home roasting a small amount of coffee each week for my own consumption. However, what originally got me interested in coffee roasting is that I wanted to make my own coffee blends for use in brewing. Admittedly, almost all of my attempts to include coffee in my beer have not turned out very well. Most of the time the finished beer ends up with an overwhelming and often unpleasant coffee flavor, or it tastes like someone took a two day old pot of Starbucks and dumped it into a keg. There had to be a way I could make a beer that actually has a pleasant and balanced coffee flavor. I figured the best way to do this was to roast my own beans.

Surprisingly, roasting your own coffee at home is actually pretty easy to do and is largely low cost. Once you find a source for green coffee beans, which can often be found at your local coffee roaster for 1/2 the price of the roasted stuff, all you need is a roasting device and about 15 minutes. The coffee roaster of choice for many people starting out are (hot air) popcorn poppers; those that have air vents on the side of the roasting drum, as to keep the beans agitated and the chaff from burning. After a bit of looking around, I was able to find an older popcorn maker of the recommended design (the legendary Poppery II) at one of my local thrift stores. You can also find suitable popcorn poppers at Walmart and Target for around $15-20.

A tad uneven roast?
The basic premise process for DYI coffee roasting is to add three or four ounces of green beans to your popcorn popper, turn it on, and then wait a few minutes. As the beans approach the roasting temperature, the chaff - the thin, papery covering of the bean - slips off and is blown out of the popper. It can be somewhat messy with all of the chaff flying around. After about 2-3 minutes of roasting at high temperature, the coffee reaches the "first crack" stage, where the moisture inside the bean is released in the form of steam, cracking/expanding the bean. It is easy to know when you have reached this stage, as the sound is quite audible. After the first crack, the beans are technically considered roasted (City Roast) and the process can be stopped if you so desire. Leaving the beans in the popper for a bit longer continues to caramelize the beans, with the color and smell becoming more intense. In the Poppery II, right around the 4-5 minute mark, the beans become fully caramelized and very fragrant, somewhere around a Full City roast. Leaving the beans in the roaster for even longer continues to caramelize the beans to the point that they start to burn, so called the "second crack," because of the sizzling and snapping sound the beans make. This has been right around the 5-6 minute mark for me. Beans past the second crack are considered Vienna or French Roast, as the natural sugars inside the bean are carbonized and the original character of the bean has been obliterated. Hello Starbucks!

Last batch of Sumatran
After the beans have been roasted to your desired stage, they are removed from the roasting apparatus and cooled as quickly as possible, usually in a metal strainer or on a cookie sheet. Once the beans are cooled, they can be used right away or stored overnight for the supposed best taste. The coffee beans will release some C02 as they cool, so it is best not to seal them up right away. Although I must say that the smell of opening a container of roasted beans from the night before has to be one of the best olfactory experiences known to mankind. Truly amazing!

As simple and easy as coffee roasting seems, like brewing, there are a lot of little 'unknowns' that can make the process rather difficult. For instance, continuing with my tradition of jumping into things way over my head, the first batch of coffee beans I roasted were Sumatran. Now I love Sumatran coffee... the tobacco, rustic, and old leathery flavor you get from it is similar to that of a good English porter or old ale. However, it appears that getting a proper roast with these beans can be quite difficult and it takes time, practice, and knowledge to know when the beans will taste their best; all things I currently lack when it comes to coffee. After a half dozen attempts at roasting the Sumatran beans, I managed to burn out the heating element on my Poppery II. Not the biggest of calamities, since I only paid $3.50 for it, but still a road bump none the less. Looking back, I think I under-roasted the first few batches and probably stressed the machine more than I should have on the latter ones. I guess you could say roasting coffee is a lot like learning what the hops and grain to use in brewing. Mistakes will be made.

Since killing my Poppery II, I have purchased another popper, the West Bend Air Crazy. So far this machine has worked well - I've been making some nice tasting Brazilian and Kenyan coffees of late - although it does take longer to roast the beans. And the heating element on this model is of a lower wattage than the other one, so instead of 5-6 minutes to roast a batch of beans, it is now taking me closer to 15 for a dark roast. Hopefully, as I continue to roast more coffee and learn which varieties taste best, I should be able to get a better handle on how to properly roast each variety of bean. And how to turn those grounds into coffee and beer. More on that later.

Therefore, if you have any desire to get into coffee roasting, I highly recommend visiting Sweet Maria's for all the information and beans you'll need to get started. Even if you aren't interested in coffee, their website still worth a look

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Brew Day: East India Porter

For the past few months, I've been reading a lot about the history of the British East India Company, so when I saw this recipe on Ron's blog, I knew I had to brew it. While I would have liked to use my historical brown malt in place of the modern stuff - as the flavors between the two are really quite different - I figure I can do a re-brew once I get around to making another batch. The recipe I am using is nearly the same as the one posted, although I will be using a single infusion mash and adjusting the hopping for a more reasonable bitterness. When I calculated the original recipe for my hops, it came out to over 200 IBU's. Instead, I'll aim for 90 IBU's... I can always go back to the original hop amounts when I re-brew this beer. Hops will be whole leaf, 2011 EKG and I will be using some WY1028 London Ale yeast that I had originally cultured for a batch of imperial stout. Aside, this recipe was originally brewed nearly a year after the Government of India Act of 1858, in which the East India Company transferred all of its possessions and administrative powers to the Crown, following the relative success of the Sepoy Mutiny. It would be interesting to find out if the amount of porter brewed for India changed after 1858, as the British began fortifying their new holdings with landed gentry and additional English troops.

Barclay Perkins 1859 EI : East India Porter

Recipe Specifics:
Batch Size (Gal): 4.25
Total Grain (Lbs): 11.85
Anticipated OG: 1.067
Anticipated FG: 1.014
Anticipated SRM: 37
Anticipated IBU: 90
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 120 Minutes

71.7% - 8.50 lbs. Golden Promise
19.0% - 2.25 lbs. Brown Malt
5.1%   - 0.60 lbs. Amber Malt
4.2%   - 0.50 lbs. Black Malt

3.00 oz. EKG @ 90 min for 60 IBU
1.50 oz. EKG @ 30 min for 22 IBU
0.50 oz. EKG @ 15 min for 8 IBU
1.00 oz. EKG @ Dryhop (serving)

Yeast: Wyeast 1028 London Ale
Mash 156F for 90 min
Brewed on 25 November

Friday, November 23, 2012

Brew Day: Scottish Ale

When it comes to brewing Scottish style ales, there are a few methods that most American homebrewers seem to follow. The first and most talked about method involves reducing the first runnings of the mash, drawn from a mixture of pale malt and roasted barley, and adding it back to beer during the boil. This is supposed to mimic the malty-caramel flavors and kettle carmelization of "authentic" Scottish ales. Or so we are told. The second method achieves a similar character using a mixture of light and dark crystal malts, with smaller amounts of aromatic, munich, and honey malt for additional maltiness. While I certainly don't believe these methods are even remotely authentic or make the best tasting Scottish ale, they can make nice tasting beer. However, one of the problems I have with the latter method, is that often people go overboard with the dark crystal malts, giving the beer a strong raisiny flavor that to my tastes seems more appropriate for a Belgian dubbel than a Scottish whatever. Regardless, the beer I am brewing today is my version of a lighter colored Scottish ale - modeled on Belhaven - that hopefully showcases more sweet toffee flavor than dark caramel. I was originally going to use the Edinburgh Ale yeast (wlp028) but decided against it as I want to keep the beer toward the sweetish-toffee side of things. When all is done, I hope to have an easy drinking and flavorful, malty beer. Kilts, bagpipes, haggis, and all of that too.

Scotch Bitter: Scottish Ale
Recipe Specifics:
Batch Size (Gal): 4.25
Total Grain (Lbs): 8.05
Anticipated OG: 1.048
Anticipated FG: 1.012
Anticipated SRM: 10
Anticipated IBU: 23
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

80.7% - 6.50 lbs. Golden Promise
8.1%   - 0.65 lbs. Crystal 30L 
6.2%   - 0.50 lbs. Munich Malt
3.7%   - 0.30 lbs. Honey Malt
1.2%   - 0.10 lbs. Pale Chocolate

1.00 oz. EKG @ 60 min for 21 IBU
0.50 oz. EKG @ 5 min for 2 IBU

Yeast: Wyeast 1318 London III
Mash 156F for 60 min
Brewed on 20 November

Friday, November 16, 2012

American Pale Ale Tasting

Admittedly, I am still a bit bummed about the lack of availability with some of the more popular hop varieties this year, as each time I go to place an order, they are out of stock. Even finding some new crop Australian and New Zealand hops has become more difficult than I first assumed it would be. I do have a few ounces of Aussie and NZ hops on hand, but I'd really like to buy a few lbs. Anyways, as it looks like 2013 will be the year of the 'back to basics' in terms of American hop varieties, it is fitting that I get to enjoy one properly hoppy homebrew before I run out of Amarillo, Citra, and Simcoe. This beer was brewed in late September and has been dry hopped twice, once in the secondary and again in the keg, with more than three ounces of hops each time. As it sits now, this is probably the hoppiest beer I have brewed in a long time, although the overall beer is pretty well balanced. A nice send off of sorts.

Levi's Pale Ale: American Pale Ale

Appearance - Pours a light amber/orange color with a sticky, white head that leaves good lacing. Clarity is better than I expected - it's sitting on 4.5 ounces of hops in the keg - with a slight hop haze.

Aroma -  Hugely tropical; pineapple, mango, passionfruit, and grapefruit zest. Not nearly as much pine as I was expecting. The hop aroma obliterates any perceivable malt or yeast character. One of those beers you can smell from a few feet away.

Taste - Same as aroma. Waves of tropical, fruity hops that coat your mouth and innards with resiny hop flavor. The malt character is well hidden by the hops, although the beer has a nice maltiness that keeps the beer from seeming too over the top and unbalanced. The hop flavors are clean and distinct. Bitterness is medium high, but not overly bitter. No alcohol or grassy flavors. Reminds me of a lower gravity Heady Topper.

Mouthfeel - Carbonation is medium-low and the beer has a pleasant, smooth mouthfeel that makes it go down a quite easily. Could be a tad more carbonated.

Drinkability & Notes - Pretty much everything I want in an American IPA, but without the alcohol or bitterness. While the intensity of the hops is probably its most noteworthy characteristic - especially for my friends - I really like how balanced it is. The hops are huge, but it still has enough malt character to keep it from tasting like hop water. One thing I don't like about many commerical IPA's is that they are so often devoid of any malt/yeast character or finish too sweet. This seems to have found the middle ground. If I ever find the hops to brew this again, I am tempted to ferment it with some wy1056 yeast, to see how the hop character would change. However, as the beer now sits, I wouldn't change anything.

6.8% ABV, 60 IBU, Wyeast 1332 Northwest Ale. Recipe Here

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Special Bitter Tasting

Lately, I've been thinking about English bitters. Not about how much I like to drink them, or what ingredients and yeasts would make the tastiest example thereof, but rather of what they are and how we define them. When I sit down with a beer in front of me, what makes me say, "oh, that's a bitter!" and not think of something else? Regardless, the first time I brewed an English style bitter, I had a certain idea in my mind of what a proper bitter should taste like. That idea was formed from the first time I tasted one... a light copper colored beer, smooth in body and low in carbonation, with a perfect balance of hop, malt, and yeast. And it was on cask.

As much as I would love to buy a proper cask and handpump and serve my bitters and milds from it, such a thing isn't feasible at the moment. In the meantime, I have been interested in finding a way to mimic the characteristics of cask bitter, but from a keg. This beer was brewed with that in mind. First, for the malt bill I went as traditional as possible, using Warminster MO and some Simpsons medium crystal. Hops were EKG and the yeast was Bedford Bitter. However, what I did differently with this beer that I've not done with my other kegged bitters, is that as the fermentation was nearing completion (about 85% complete), I racked the beer into a keg to let it finish fermenting and build up some natural carbonation. Once the fermentation seemed to be complete, I crash cooled the beer to get the yeast to flocculate and then let it sit at 50F for two weeks to mature. All this time I let in a few PSI worth of CO2 into the the keg every other day to maintain a seal and provide some carbonation for serving. My thinking for this change in process, was that by racking the beer off the yeast early and letting it mature at serving temperature, I could maintain more yeast character and prevent the beer from going through a period where the malt and hop profile gets muddled; from what I believe is caused by a low temperature and high C02 pressure. The process seems to be an improvement, as the beer is certainly more flavorful and was ready to drink earlier than normal, although it is hard to say exactly how the changes in ingredients compare to the changes in the process. More experimenting needs to be done.

Yeoman Bitter: English Special Bitter

Appearance - Pours a ruddy, amber color with a small white head that slowly dissolves back into the beer. Clarity is clear, with a slight haze. Carbonation is very low, on the verge of uncarbonated.

Aroma -  Biscuits, raw honey, and fresh brown bread. The Warminster MO has certainty made its presence known... I don't think I have ever made a bitter with such a strong honeyed-biscuit character. Some earthy, stone fruit esters on the nose and the EKG hops lend a slight floral character. Did I mention honey and biscuits? 

Taste - Like the aroma, there is an initial biscuit and toasted bread character that transitions into a strong honey-toffee flavor that completely fills the mouth. The flavor of the malt (MO) is rich, biscuity, warm, and lends a honey-like intensity that is unlike anything I've made before. Esters are lightly fruity with some earthiness and the hops are floral, with a pleasant lingering bitterness. Certainty the most flavorful bitter I've brewed/drunk in a long time.

Mouthfeel - Carbonation is very low and the beer has a medium, smooth mouthfeel that goes down easily. Not too full, not too light. A very easy drinking pint.

Drinkability & Notes - When I first started drinking this beer, I wasn't sure of what to think. It has a lot in common with my other English bitters and tastes great, but there is something about the intensity of flavors that had me initially thinking that I had done something wrong. Are bitters supposed to taste this flavorful...? Overall, I really like this beer. It is probably the closest I have come to reproducing the flavor of U.K cask bitters (as I remember them), yet at the same time, it still seems a bit over the top. Maybe. This very well could be among the best bitters I have ever brewed, or depending on who's drinking it, a good try at best. Regardless, I like this beer enough that I will be revisiting it soon - same malt, water, hops - but toning down the yeast character for a more singular malt/hop flavor and giving the beer more time to ferment out.

4.6% ABV, 28 IBU, Whitelabs 006 Bedford Bitter. Recipe Here

Monday, November 5, 2012

Brew Day: Galaxy Pale Ale

Due to the high cost and lack of availability with many of the more popular American hop varieties, I've decided that instead of trying to acquire the same "C" hops everyone else is fighting over, I'll just start brewing with more foreign grown hops... Australian and New Zealand varieties in particular. While I have always heard good things about hops grown in the Southern Hemisphere, I really can't say I know that much about them. I've only brewed a few beers that included them in any discernible amount and there aren't many (easily accessible) commercial beers that use them in large amounts. As such, I recently purchased a mix of Aussie and NZ hops and I have plans to use them in series of pale ales. I would like to get back to brewing sessionable APA's and I think these hops would make a nice counterpoint to the innumerable Amarillo-Citra-Simcoe beers that everyone is brewing and drinking these days.

The recipe for today is a stronger APA that I hope will mostly showcase the citrusy qualities of the Galaxy hops. The malt bill is very simple, Golden Promise and a small amount of medium crystal. Hopping is NZ Cascade, with mostly Galaxy and Nelson Sauvin for aroma and flavor. I was originally going to go with all Galaxy, but after talking with a few local brewers, I was told they taste better as part of a blend... as they can be a bit overpowering otherwise; similar to that of Citra. We'll see how they pair with the Nelson, which I know can be very overpowering by itself. Yeast is WY1332 (Northwest Ale), as I like that it accentuates some of the malt character while still showcasing the hops.

Galaxy APA: American Pale Ale
Recipe Specifics:
Batch Size (Gal): 4.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 10.00
Anticipated OG: 1.057
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 8
Anticipated IBU: 45
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

95.0% - 9.50 lbs. Pale Malt, Golden Promise
5.0%   - 0.50 lbs. Crystal 40L

0.75 oz. NZ Cascade @ 60 min for 18 IBU
0.50 oz. Galaxy @ 20 min for 16 IBU
0.50 oz. Nelson Sauvin @ 10 min for 8 IBU
0.50 oz. Galaxy @ 5 min for 3 IBU
0.50 oz. Nelson Sauvin @ flameout
1.50 oz. Galaxy @ flameout
1.00 oz. Galaxy @ dry-hop 7 days
0.50 oz. Nelson Sauvin @ dry-hop 7 days

Yeast: Wyeast 1332 Northwest Ale
Mash 154F for 60 min
Brewed on 4 November

Tasting Here