Friday, December 28, 2012

Evaluating Yeast Character, part I

Unlike professional brewers who mostly rely on one or two yeasts to ferment all of their beers and are often unable to try new yeasts, homebrewers have no such restrictions. Rather, we are in the enviable position of having both a huge variety of yeast at our fingertips and the freedom to use them however we want. Yet, given the opportunity to try new ingredients, there are still many homebrewers who are completely content using the same yeast over and over again and won't even try anything else. While there is nothing wrong with using the same yeast exclusively - neutral yeasts do a great job at minimizing the risk of the yeast variable - I suspect part of the hesitation in trying something different comes from not knowing what these other yeasts taste like and how they might best be used. Therefore, to make choosing an English yeast a tad easier, I'm resurrecting my yeast spider-graphs.

After some consideration, I completely redid all of the yeast graphs. The problem I had with the old graphs, is that for them to be of any real use, the person using them must already have a frame of reference for whatever they are looking at. For instance, while a person with no previous knowledge of beer or yeast could easily compare two different graphs for attenuation or flocculation and still understand what the numbers mean, doing the same for yeast flavor and esters is less useful since the person would require some familiarity with the range of flavors that each of those numbers represent.

The biggest change I made to these 'new' yeast graphs was that I tried arrange the data points so it would be easier to compare yeasts based on the overall shape of their flavor profiles. For instance, the drier and less characterful yeasts would favor the top right side of the graph, while the estery and sweeter yeasts would fall on the left. Therefore, if you are familiar with one yeast, you can easily compare it to another. Moreover, in place of 'bottle stability,' at the top of each graph is 'yeast character' which is the overall amount of flavor each yeast imparts to a beer. I figured this would be more useful as not everyone bottle conditions and yeast stability is not always consistent. Lastly, most of the data points are self explanatory, although 'dry/mineral' refers not to attenuation, but rather if the yeast is prone to producing mineral flavors. 'Malt integrity' is not a degree of maltiness, but how the malt flavor (from the grain) stands up to the yeast character.

I should mention that all of the data I used in these graphs is from the manufactures data and my own experiences and brew logs...representing an 'average' of what can be expected. And whereas fermentation temperature, oxygenation, and pitch rate make it impossible to form a 'true' diagram of yeast character, I am presenting the data as if each yeast was fermented under ideal conditions and free from off flavors.


With that said, the first set of yeast graphs represents some of the cleanest and most neutral tasting of English yeasts. These yeasts produce clean tasting beers with light, fruity esters and bready malt flavors with little to no diacetyl. Hop flavor and bitterness are not greatly affected and they typically attenuate and flocculate quite well. Some 'tartness' and off-flavors can be produced at higher temperatures. These yeasts are good for malty and hop forward beers or any style where you want a clean, neutral flavor profile and not much yeast character.

For the next graphs, I'll review three more yeasts that share similar characteristics and are more characterful tasting than these here. (There are a total of four groupings, with 14 yeasts represented altogether). I will also include more about the individual flavor profiles and some fermentation/style tips for each yeast.

First Rendition

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Brew Day: Golden Bitter

While my favorite yeast might not be the best choice for stouts and chewy porters, it sure makes a tasty bitter. And as I recently washed some Bedford Bitter yeast, I figured I'd brew something with it. I had considered making a 'Golden Ale' along the likes of Crouch Vale's Brewers Gold - a beer I would love to try on cask - but as I don't have the proper base malt or any Brewers Gold hops (never used them before), I figured I would save that beer for another day. After trying to decide between an English IPA and a lighter colored bitter, I decided to mix the best of both styles. The recipe I am using is very simple, just Golden Promise malt, torrified wheat, and a small amount of extra dark crystal with First Gold hops. If you have not used these hops before, they have a wonderful citrus/orange flavor and lend a very nice floral/apricot aroma that is unlike any other UK hop variety I've tried. Bitterness will be rather high and I might dry hop this beer in the keg if I can find some whole leaf hops. Overall, this should be a hoppy and flavorful pale bitter, right around 4.8% abv... just where I like it.

Golden Bitter : Special Bitter
Recipe Specifics:
Batch Size (Gal): 4.5
Total Grain (Lbs): 8.75
Anticipated OG: 1.049
Anticipated FG: 1.012
Anticipated SRM: 8
Anticipated IBU: 40
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

91.4% - 8.00 lbs. Golden Promise
5.7%  - 0.50 lbs. Torrified Wheat
2.9%  - 0.25 lbs. Crystal 150L

0.75 oz. First Gold @ 60 min for 25 IBU
0.50 oz. First Gold @ 20 min for 10 IBU
0.50 oz. First Gold @ 10 min for 5 IBU
1.50 oz. First Gold @ flameout

Yeast: WhiteLabs 006 Bedford Bitter
Mash 154F for 60 min
Brewed on 24 December

Monday, December 17, 2012

Extra Stout Tasting

I brewed this beer back in mid October, hoping to make a stonger, dry stout that showcased a bit more malt character than what is often found in the style. To do this, I increased the amount of chloride and sodium in the water profile and included a decent amount of medium crystal. My thinking was that I could get a strong roasted barley/coffee character from the roast and still keep the beer towards the maltier-sweet side of things... without making the beer seem heavy. Unsurprisingly, I didn't achieve that. While the beer is fine tasting, it is not what I was looking for. The roast character is too muddled, the yeast doesn't add anything, and the resulting beer tastes like someone took three or four different styles of stout and combined them together. Looking back, I wish I had just stuck to a traditional recipe and not mixed and matched from different styles. "Dry and sweet" (and) "thick and thin" are not compatible in brewing. The lesson to be learned here is to know what you want before you brew it.

The Bruce: Extra Stout

Appearance - Pours an opaque, inky black with a thin, tan colored head that slowly dissolves back into the beer. Retention could be better.

Aroma -  Roasted barley and chocolate malt with an earthy hop character. Esters are lightly fruity and mostly clean. Some sweet caramel/toffee character.

Taste - Dark roasted malts with a sweet, caramel flavor that lingers to the end. The roasted character is more of an earthy, chocolate flavor than pure coffee. Bitterness is medium-low and beer the has a very creamy, oatmeal stout-like character to it. Again, esters are lightly fruity, but overall the yeast character is quite neutral... too neutral.

Mouthfeel - Carbonation is very low and the beer has a thick and viscous mouthfeel.

Drinkability & Notes - Decent, but not exactly the beer I was hoping for. I wanted a strong, roasted barley character and instead got a slightly muted, sweet caramel/chocolate flavor in its place. As it sits now, the beer needs more bitterness to balance the malt and the yeast really didn't add anything to the beer. Going 'malty' with the water profile certainly worked, as the beer is full flavored and rich tasting, but a maybe a tad too much. Overall, this beer was pretty well received and got kicked quickly due to a party, but the recipe is a contradiction of styles.

6.0% ABV, 45 IBU, WLP006 Bedford Bitter. Recipe Here

Monday, December 10, 2012

Beer, Zombies, and the Apocalpyse

As anyone who has visited a Walmart after midnight knows, the zombie apocalypse is already upon us. Having successfully invaded our televisions, bookstores, movies, shopping malls, and all levels of inept government, zombies (both real and figuratively) are now at the doorstep of those things we once considered sacrosanct. Soon enough we will be watching Mel Gibsons, "Jesus, Zombie Carpenter" and it is probably safe to assume that Quintin Tarantino is already working on a script where a samurai-sword wielding Queen (and her corgis) defend Buckingham Palace from a swarm of bikini clad zombies. If that seems a tad unrealistic, just the other day I came across a 'Zombie-Santa' lawn ornament, where Jolly Old Saint Nick was in the process of exhuming himself from his Christmas themed grave... undoubtedly to spread holiday cheer and pestilence across the land.

Even the tap lists of our local boozers have not been spared from the zombie assault. While there once was only Zombie Dust, we now have hordes of Zombie-themed IPA's, Pale and Amber Ales, and one my local brewpubs even jumped on the bandwagon, producing a Zombie Kolsch. Lovely. Who knew the word 'zombie' was synonymous with quality?

All bollocking aside, back in early October I signed up for a small, Halloween themed homebrew competition where each entrant had to brew a beer that best represented their assigned theme. As I had zombies, I ended up brewing Zombie Blood; a viscous, murky-red imperial amber ale that made use of more than a pound of citra, columbus, and cascade hops (triple dry hopped) for dank and 'unholy' hop kick. Or so it was to be. Unfortunately, I ended up brewing the beer a week too late and underestimated the amount of time I would need to condition a beer of this size. I never got around to submitting it to the competition. Therefore, this beer was put on tap in mid November and I've been drinking it steadily since. If it lasts to Christmas, I'll call it Santa's Blood. Muhahaha.

Zombie Blood : Imperial Amber Ale

Recipe Specifics:
Batch Size (Gal): 4.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 11.30
Anticipated OG: 1.075
Anticipated FG: 1.012
Anticipated SRM: 15
Anticipated IBU: 95
Efficiency: 75%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

79.6% - 9.00 lbs. Pale Malt
8.8% - 1.00 lbs. Munich Malt
6.6% - 0.75 lbs. Crystal 40L
3.5% - 0.40 lbs. Crystal 120L
1.3% - 0.15 lbs. Pale Chocolate

1.00 oz. Columbus @ 60 min for 40 IBU
0.75 oz. Citra @ 15 min for 14 IBU
0.75 oz. Cascade @ 15 min for 7 IBU
0.75 oz. Columbus @ 15 min for 13 IBU
1.00 oz. Citra @ 5 min for 9 IBU
1.00 oz. Cascade @ 5 min for 4 IBU
1.00 oz. Columbus @ 5 min for 8 IBU
1.25 oz. Citra @ flameout
1.25 oz. Cascade @ flameout
1.25 oz. Columbus @ flameout
0.75 oz. Citra @ dry hop (primary, secondary, keg)
0.75 oz. Cascade @ dry hop (primary, secondary, keg)
0.75 oz. Columbus @ dry hop (primary, secondary, keg)

Yeast: Wyeast 1332 Northwest Ale
Mash 156F for 60 min
Brewed on 8 October

Tasting Notes:
Appearance - Pours a dark and murky amber color with a sticky, white head that leaves good lacing. Could be a bit darker and more bloody-looking.

Aroma -  Strong grapefruit and dank herb/cannabis with some tropical fruit aromas. Hugely aromatic with a slight grassy note at the end.

Taste - The hop flavor is dank and grapefruity and coat the mouth with a strong, resiny bitterness. The hops lead the way, although the malt is noticeable with a good amount of dark caramel flavor. Yeast is clean and the beer goes down a bit too well for 8.5%. The beer finishes moderately dry.

Mouthfeel - Carbonation is medium-low and the beer has a thick and full mouthfeel.

Drinkability & Notes - Pretty close to what I was hoping for. The hop aroma and flavor is huge and the beer has a thick, resiny character that is fitting of the name. As the beer warms, the bitterness gets more 'sticky' and coats your innards. As a zombie-themed beer, I am quite happy, although I wish it was a tad darker colored and it could probably could do with even more mouthfeel. Maybe use some flaked oats or something. I will certainly revisit something like this, although with less alcohol, as two full pints of this has me feeling quite zombie-like.

8.5% ABV, 95 IBU, Wyeast 1332 Northwest Ale

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Brew Day: Special Bitter

In preparation for brewing this beer, I listened to the CYBI show for Well's Bombardier Bitter, hoping to find out about their fermentation process. Here are some of the things they mentioned. First, they ferment all of their beers in squat, conical fermenters and harvest their yeast from the bottom of the tanks. The brewmaster mentioned the Well's yeast is capable of top cropping under the right conditions and seemed to insinuate that it was once collected as such. Regarding their fermentation schedule, they pitch their yeast at 63F and let the temperature free rise to 68F over the course of 80 hours, before crash cooling at 32F for seven days. In comparison, my process is nearly the same, although I usually give the beer two weeks in the fermenter and don't crash cool so cold. The brewmaster also gave a few details of their water profile, mentioning the sulfate content of their water is 300ppm and amount of magnesium is around 20ppm. I was a little surprised at the amount of sulfate, as I would have never expected a brewery of that size to still use such highly mineralized water.

Therefore, to keep this batch of beer inline with what they are doing at the Well's brewery, given we are using the same yeast, I will be following a similar fermentation schedule and increase the amount of minerals to something comparable with what they are using. As for the recipe, I will be using TF maris otter and some Fawcett 40L and 120L crystal. To mix things up a bit, hopping will be modeled on a very famous Champion Beer of Britain, using Fuggle, EKG, and Styrian Goldings hops. Lastly, unlike my previous batch where I racked the beer to the keg early, this one will be kegged and served as normal.

The Bitter End : English Special Bitter

Recipe Specifics:
Batch Size (Gal): 4.25
Total Grain (Lbs): 7.75
Anticipated OG: 1.048
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 10
Anticipated IBU: 35
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

90.3% - 7.50 lbs. Maris Otter
6.5% - 0.50 lbs. Crystal 40L
3.2% - 0.25 lbs. Crystal 120

1.00 oz. Fuggles @ 60 min for 23 IBU
1.00 oz. EKG @ 15 min for 12 IBU
1.50 oz. Styrian Goldings @ flameout

Yeast: WhiteLabs 006 Bedford Bitter
Mash 154F for 60 min
Brewed on 3 December

Tasting Notes