Sunday, May 27, 2012

Brew Day: American Amber Ale

While I am not old enough to remember the glory days of amber/red ale back in the mid-nineties, I did drink my share of the stuff when I first started buying craft beer in college. In those days, it seemed like every bar in town had at least one version of amber ale on tap, be it the locally made Caskazilla or Red Seal Ale from far off California. Also, while living in Ireland, I drank a lot of the stuff too. The Franciscan Well in Cork made a very nice amber ale under the name Rebel Red and then there was of course the multitudes of Irish red ales you could get in pubs or off licences. Smithicks, Murphy's Red, Beamish Red, Kilkenny draught, and so on. While most of those beers wouldn't be considered the most interesting or flavorful of beers by the craft beer drinker of today, at the time they were just uncomplicated, easy drinking beers. Now it seems any amber or red ale you find is some massively hoppy, 65 IBU concoction. Regardless, I was originally going to brew a cream ale for today, but instead I'll be brewing a lighter-maltier amber ale with minimal hopping. A good drinking beer for the warmer weather. The recipe is pretty standard, although I will be using a somewhat unique basemalt - a US grown Scarlett two-row from Wyoming. From the little I could find about this malt/barley variety, it is often used for making Vienna malt in Germany and is highly regarded for its nutty, complex flavor. To keep the malt profile clean and crisp, I'll be using dry-Nottingham yeast and fermenting it at a very cool 60F.

Amber Ale : American Amber Ale                                                                                                   
Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 4.0
Total Grain (Lbs): 8.5
Anticipated OG: 1.052
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 14
Anticipated IBU: 30
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

64.9% - 5.50 lbs. Scarlett, 2-Row
23.6% - 2.00 lbs. Vienna malt
7.1%   - 0.60 lbs. Crystal 60L
3.0%   - 0.25 lbs. Crystal 120L
1.4%   - 0.12 lbs. Pale Chocolate

0.50 oz. Magnum @ 60 min for 20 IBU
1.00 oz. Zythos @ 10 min for 10 IBU
1.00 oz. Zythos @  flameout

Yeast: Nottingham
Mash 154F for 75 min.
Brewed 27 May 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Making (Diastatic) Brown Malt, Again

The last time I tried my hand at making a historical malt, back in early December, I made a 19th century porter malt. The brown malts produced at this point in time, around 1820-1850, were highly roasted over hornbeam wood and were primarily used for flavoring porter. They were not diastatic - a mistaken post title on my part - and would have been used for somewhere around 15-25% of the total grist. That was then. Moving back in time, the next step in my brown malt quest was to make an actual diastatic brown malt with the methods and ingredients used a hundred years before the darkly roasted stuff. An early to mid-eighteenth century brown malt, kilned over straw, to be used for 100% of a porter grist. The original brown malt.

Figuring out how to create such a thing was not as easy as I had originally thought. For unlike most brewing malts, brown malt has existed in different forms for much of its history. The brown malt of the early 18th century was very much different than the stuff made a hundred years later. The more I began researching the different forms of brown malt, I quickly realized just how murky and complex the history really is. One could write a whole book on brown malt production. Anyways, to get a better sense of the types of brown malt and the context in which it was manufactured, I'd like to deviate a bit and provide a rudimentary historical outline.

-  The early 1700's. Gin is the drink of choice for the drunken masses and Londoners prefer their porter without a smokey flavor. Brown malt is kilned over a number of fuels, including coke, coal, straw, wood, and fern. The first three were considered the best and wood/fern the most smokey. Most of the fuels necessary for malt production were expensive. The famed canal systems of the 19th century were still in their infancy and transportation costs made it prohibitive to kiln malt with coke and coal. At the same time, wide scale deforestation had led to an acute shortage of charcoal the failure of the coppicing system of wood production. Straw kilned malt it was. These were lighter colored brown malts and could be used for 100% of the grist. Color was probably more dark brown than black. Could be consumed relatively young or aged to dissipate smokiness.

-  Mid to late 1700's. Coal production increased and transportation costs fell. Coke kilned pale malts became relatively inexpensive and by the end of the century porters were often brewed with sizable amounts of pale malt - nearly 50% of the grist. Whether or not these brown malts were darker in color or less diastatic as those a few generations before...? Hornbeam, oak, beech, and other hardwoods eventually become an integral part of making brown malt. Beers were aged for years in vats and sent out stale and mild for mixing in pubs.

-  Early 1800's. Hornbeam becomes the wood of choice for brown malt production. Huge coppices of hornbeam in Hertfordshire and Hatfeild supply the massive malting centers of Derby and Ware for the London brewers. (Ware had over 100 maltsters making brown malt by 1800, only 25 by 1855). Supposedly, different forms of brown malt disappear/appear- snapped, blown, brown, and porter malt. Brown malt was expensive and dangerous to make, even though it was made from a lower quality barley than pale malt. (It required a minimum of 8-10 faggots of wood per quarter of malt. Price, 3+ shillings per quarter). Porters brewed from mixtures of pale, brown, amber, and later on black malt. Color dark brown to black.

-  Mid to late 1800's. Brown malt is used primarily as a flavoring agent. Darkly roasted and mixed with pale and black malts. Start of decline of brown malt use in porters, with the exception of London. Expensive to make and not nearly as efficient of a coloring agent as black malt; 30 bushels of brown malt equal 1 of black in color.

Ok, still with me?

The first thing I had to do to make my batch of diastatic - straw kilned - brown malt, was to find a way to kiln the stuff over straw. One of the problems I had encountered when using the hornbeam wood, was that when I initially added the wood to the fire, the flames would jump up and burn the malt. I knew that using straw as a fuel source would be even more of a problem, since straw burns extremely hot and the flame tends to "explode" out of the fire and catch other things alight. (Hence why hay barn fires are so dangerous). From my earlier research, I came across a book on malt kilns and the author mentioned that the minimum height of the malting floor needed to be at least 16 feet from the heat source. This was going to cause problems in the small scale, but I figured that if I could suspend my wire-screen above the fire, I would at least give the malt some separation from the flames. I constructed a small malt kiln out of bricks and cinder blocks and used steel sheeting for the sides. I had about 4 feet of separation from the fire source.

After the malt kiln was constructed, I made a small wood fire in the base of the kiln and let it burn down to coals. I wanted to make sure I had a good heat source to keep the straw burning. Once that was done, I added small handfuls of straw to the kiln to see how it was going to burn. I quickly found out that using straw was going to be a major pain in the ass. The straw caught alight so quickly and burned so intensely that it either created a pillar of searing hot flame 7 feet high or produced billowing clouds of smoke. I tried compressing the straw and using it like that. This worked at first, as the fire burned the sides and top of the straw and produced a clean and hot flame. However, after a while the flames could not burn the compressed center and it began smoking horribly. In frustration, I threw an armful of hay onto the fire and the flames immediately burst out of the kiln, singing the hair on my arms and partially melting the shorts I was wearing! So much for that. Also, worryingly, I had created a 50 foot high plume of white smoke that was slowly moving across the neighborhood. I was expecting the fire department at any moment.

Finished 'diastatic' brown malt
After getting the fire under control, I figured out how to get the straw to stay alight without setting me and everything thing else on fire. I dismantled the front of the kiln and jerry-rigged the steel sheeting back together. I found that if I threw a small handful of hay onto the fire almost continuously, I could maintain a good, medium heat and not scorch the grain. So that is what I did. In five pound intervals, I lightly toasted/roasted the grain over the straw fire. The straw produced a very clean heat and the temperature on the wire screen hovered around 130F. After about a half hour of slowly drying the malt, I increased the fire and started to gently roast it. I didn't want the malt to burn or roast it too dark. After another 15 minutes, I had achieved a nice even toasty color with some charred bits of grain dispersed throughout the malt. I removed the malt from the kiln and added another 5 pounds of grain, repeating the process.

A word about the malt. Historically, they added green/wet malt to the kilns, essentially drying the grain before raising the temperature to roast it. It would take upwards of 12 hours to make a batch of diastatic brown malt. Obviously, I couldn't use green malt, nor tend the kiln for such a long time, so I used the palest and cheapest US-2row malt I could find (Rahr) and partially moistened the grain before adding it to the kiln. The whole time I was worried I was going to destroy the enzyme potential of the malt, but luckily I was able to darken the outside of the grain while still preserving a white, starchy interior. Also, I was really amazed at how little the grain smelled or tasted of smoke from from using the straw. I certainly reeked of smoke, but the grain did not.

After making the straw-brown malt, I figured I'd make another batch of the darker, highly roasted 19th century stuff. I split a bunch of hornbeam wood into small pieces and got a small fire going. Compared to using straw, making brown malt with hornbeam was a breeze, as it burns slowly and without much smoke. After another hour of lazily roasting the malt, I had some very dark - more burnt actually - 'porter malt.' I was done and just in the nick of time. It started to pour.

In review, half the battle of making the straw-kilned brown malt was getting the fire under control. I can see why using straw was both expensive and dangerous, as it burns extremely fast and the heat it produces at full burn is incredibly hot. I was careful to ensure that I didn't scorch the malt, although I would be amazed if the maltsters back in the 1700's were able to do the same. If they were indeed adding large amounts of straw to the kiln, they must have had some type of attemperator to regulate the amount of heat produced from the burning straw. Or maybe they were not burning the straw completely and the malt still didn't take on the smokey flavor due to the nature of the straw smoke? This is the problem with 18th century source materials, they don't talk about the details!

The real test will be to see exactly how "diastatic" my brown malt really is. Later this week I'll test a pound of it and go from there. With this malt, I intend to brew a mid 18th century porter so I can compare it to the ones I made previously. Imagine being able to sit down and try a 18th century porter next to a vatted and mild 19th century ones! 

Part I is here.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Yeast Review: Thames Valley II

Of all the essential ingredients for brewing beer, it often seems like yeast gets the cold shoulder, an afterthought once the grain bill and hop schedule has been settled on. There is nothing wrong with using one or two yeasts for everything you brew, people brew beer for different reasons and some don't care to change things around. However, I would argue that when brewing some types of beer - English styles for instance - yeast choice should be your first and foremost consideration when it comes to formulating a recipe. Considering the number of English yeasts available, we have the opportunity to engineer our beers to the exact flavor characteristics we want. Yeast, malt, hops, and water... but mostly yeast. 

Of all the English strains I like using in my beers, I especially look forward to the spring when Wyeast releases their Thames Valley II - PC (1882) strain. This year, it took me a bit longer than normal to get my hands on it and I was initially worried that I wouldn't end up getting any at all. In the end, I bought four packs, enough to last me until the fall. For those of you who have not used this strain, it is quite possibly the the holy grail of all English yeasts, in my opinion. If you like your yeast on the more characterful side of things, this one won't disappoint. Foremost, it produces wonderfully malty and rich tasting beer, with just enough fruity esters to add some complexity without being overly fruity. Whereas a yeast like wy1968 or wlp002 can hide much of the malt character if the fermentation runs even slightly warm, this yeast makes clean and crisp, malty beers without all the heavy fruity esters. It also ferments a tad drier than similar strains and wont hide the hops - not that it is the best yeast for IPAs. One of the things I like most about this yeast, is that you can make great tasting beer in very little time with it. Four weeks from grain to glass is easily achievable and the beer tastes great, especially young. It doesn't need a lot of time for the flavors to develop and beers with this yeast taste often taste best under a month after fermentation is complete. It is especially good for bitters, milds, and low gravity session beers. Furthermore, this yeast is quite versatile in that it makes great dark beer  as well- dry stout, brown porter, and all the way up to RIS - and ages well too. If there is one downside to using this yeast, is that it can be a bit unforgiving if you don't have a good aeration and fermentation temperature control. It will produce diacetyl when stressed and tends to favor high pitch rates and well oxygenated wort. It produces the best tasting beer when fermented cool, around 62-66F. 

Yeast Stats:

- high flocculation, bright beers without cold conditioning or finings
- produces very rich, malty beer with medium stone-fruit esters and some (light) diacetyl
- balanced tasting beers even with large amounts of crystal malts and/or roast
- medium-high attenuation, drier beers possible. Average attenuation (for me) around 75-80%
- fast fermenting and quick to clear
- grain to glass in a short amount of time
- ferment best at lower temperatures with a high pitch rate and oxygenation
- supposedly alcohol tolerant

 Possible Substitutions:

- wy1968/wlp002
- wy1318
- wy1272

The first batch of the year with this yeast is a re-brew of my Nut Brown ale.

Nut Brown : Northern English Brown

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 4.5
Total Grain (Lbs): 8.75
Anticipated OG: 1.052
Anticipated FG: 1.012
Anticipated SRM: 15
Anticipated IBU: 24
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

79.5% - 7.00 lbs. Pale, Maris Otter
8.5%   - 0.75 lbs. Toasted Malt
5.7%   - 0.50 lbs. Medium Crystal (55L)
3.4%   - 0.30 lbs. Victory Malt  
2.8%   - 0.25 lbs. Pale Chocolate (200L) 

1.25 oz. East Kent Goldings @ 60 min for 23 IBU
0.50 oz. East Kent Goldings @ 5 min for 1 IBU

Yeast: Wyeast 1882 Thames Valley II
Mash 156F for 75 min.
Brewed 20 May

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Black ESB Tasting

I've got a backlog of tastings that I never got around to posting. One of those is my recent 'black ESB' or whatever you want to call it. It was a very hoppy, but not bitter, pale ale strength beer brewed from English ingredients, American hops, and jet black in color. I originally intended it to be a more sessionable form of the ever so popular black IPA, but with a restrained roasty character and more emphasis on hop aroma/flavor than bitterness. To do this, I cold steeped carafa II and roasted barley in a french press and used more floral hop varieties instead of the piney and dank ones. Well, that was my intention. I ended up dry-hopping this beer with an ounce each of simcoe and citra in the keg. I can't say I drank a lot of this beer when I had it on tap, but it was pretty popular with my friends. 

All is Blackened : Black ESB

Appearance - Pours an inky black color with clear, ruby highlights when held to the light. Head retention was very good when from the keg. This one is out of a growler and the carbonation is a bit low.
Aroma - First impression is of strong pine and tropical fruit hoppiness with a lightly smokey and roasted malt character. When the beer was young, the hop aroma was intensely piney, almost too much, but it has mellowed substantially with time. Surprisingly, the hop character is still clean tasting even after a month-plus dry-hop.

Taste - Initial flavor is of piney and fruity hops with a mellow roasty character. The beer has a very slight smokiness and some light chocolate and caramel flavors. Esters are low to none. This beer is mostly about the hops. I was hoping the amarillo and centennial additions would come through, but the simcoe and citra are the dominant flavors. The beer finishes clean and dry, with a mellow bitterness. 

Mouthfeel - Carbonation is adequate and the beer has a smooth and lightly creamy mouthfeel from the rather high finishing gravity.
Drinkability & Notes - I am somewhat torn about this one. I wouldn't drink more than one pint of this beer per sitting, but for my hop-head friends it was well received. I think I would like the beer better if I hadn't dryhopped it with so much simcoe and citra, as I don't care for the intensely piney and tropical fruit flavor you get when dry hopping with these varieties. A few people noted they would drink this beer over their regular commercial black IPA's if available, as it is more sessionable. I won't brew this beer again as it is, but I think it shows promise as an alternative to some of the hugely bitter and alcoholic black IPA's out there. Things to change would be to ditch the simcoe/citra dryhops and probably tone down the roasted malt and the sulfate in the water. Overall, decent. Still not crazy about wlp006 in black beers either.

O.G: 1.057, F.G: 1.015, 5.5% ABV, 50 IBU, Whitelabs 006 Bedford Bitter

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Brew Day: Dark Mild

It being mild month and all, I was feeling a bit guilty for not having brewed one in what seems like ages. In fact, the last mild I brewed didn't turn out very well and I ended up dumping the whole batch. Time to remedy that. The beer I'll be brewing today is pretty similar to my standard mild recipe, although I'll change things up a bit as usual. Instead of going the brown and black malt route, I'll be focusing more on dark crystal malts with brown and chocolate for character. The yeast will be the wonderful wy1318 - the best yeast for milds in my opinion - and for the hops, some very aromatic new crop UK fuggles. Nothing out of the norm. Also, I went on CAMRA's website to see what types of milds they were touting for the month and what they were saying about the style. It was interesting to see that they have approximately three-hundred milds listed as available across the country this month. Many seemed to be of the dark mild type, with a surprising number of pale milds too. It is good to see so many milds being brewed. It is only too bad that they are practically non-existent on this side of the pond. I think the last beer I had on tap in the U.S that *might* qualify for a mild was a 4.2% oatmeal stout. Lastly, I was surprised to see that CAMRA had given the O.G and ABV for milds as less than 1.043 and 4.3%. Not quite the monolithic %'s for a session beer.

Ploughman Mild : Dark Mild

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 4.0
Total Grain (Lbs): 6.45
Anticipated OG: 1.042
Anticipated FG: 1.012
Anticipated SRM: 28
Anticipated IBU: 18
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

77.5% - 5.00 lbs. Pale Malt, Maris Otter
7.8%   - 0.50 lbs. Crystal 80L
4.7%   - 0.30 lbs. Brown Malt
4.7%   - 0.30 lbs. Chocolate Malt (330L)
3.1%   - 0.20 lbs. Crystal 120L
1.5%   - 0.15 lbs. Roast Barley (450L)

1.00 oz. UK Fuggles @ 60 min for 18 IBU

Yeast: Wyeast 1318 London III
Mash 158F for 75 min.
Brewed 13 May 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Brew Day: American Pale Ale

Back to brewing. I've been sitting on a pack of Northwest Ale yeast for a few months now and while I originally wanted to use it in a malty American stout, I've been on somewhat of a hop kick of late. Must have something to do with the Heady Topper and that six pack of Flower Power IPA I drank recently. Anyways, the recipe for today is my standard APA - golden promise, munich, medium crystal, and a small amount of amber malt - that will be hopped with the usual citrusy varieties. Actually, I had picked up a few ounces of Zythos hops to try out in this beer but after doing a bit of research, I'll probably save them for another day. Some people indicated they liked them better in beers that used more of the dank, piney, and earthy hops than the purely citrusy ones. Maybe a columbus IPA? However, one thing I did want to mention, is that I have pretty much settled on a water profile for my hoppy pale ales and bitters. For the APA's, I found I like the sulfate around 250ppm and the chloride at 35-40ppm, with calcium at 100ppm and sodium and magnesium around 10-15ppm. I cut my tap water with upwards of 80% RO water to get my alkalinity down to appropriate levels. So far I've only had to do minor adjustments to get my mash PH right in the 5.4-5.6 sweet spot. As for the bitters, I have been very happy with the sulfate around 150-175ppm and chloride again at 35-40ppm. With both types of beers, I've gone as high as 350ppm sulfate and I found it a bit too much. I won't say I've noticed that much difference playing around with the chloride numbers, but I can say I have noticed a positive change in the bitterness and overall 'crispness' as the sulfate has gone up. As always, there is still more experimenting to be done.

Invert Bitter. 
Levi's APA : American Pale Ale                                                                                                   
Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 4.5
Total Grain (Lbs): 10.50
Anticipated OG: 1.060
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 9
Anticipated IBU: 57
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

85.7% - 9.00 lbs. Golden Promise
7.1%   - 0.75 lbs. Munich malt
4.8%   - 0.50 lbs. Crystal 60L
2.4%   - 0.25 lbs. Amber malt

0.75 oz. Magnum @ 60 min 
0.50 oz. Amarillo @ 15 min 
0.50 oz. Centennial @ 15 min
0.25 oz. Simcoe @ 15 min
0.25 oz. Citra @ 15 min
0.50 oz. Amarillo @ 5 min
0.50 oz. Centennial @ 5 min
0.25 oz. Simcoe @ 5 min
0.75 oz. Amarillo @ flameout 
0.75 oz. Centennial @ flameout
0.25 oz. Simcoe @ flameout
0.25 oz. Citra @ flameout

1.0 oz. Amarillo dry hop (7 days)
1.0 oz. Centennial dry hop (7 days)

Yeast: Wyeast 1332 Northwest Ale
Mash 154F for 75 min.
Brewed 6 May 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Hops, Hype, and IIPA

Just a short rambling for today. Work has successfully put my homebrewing endeavors on standby and drinking a couple pints of beer isn't the best thing to do when you get home dog-tired and have a splitting headache. Regardless, I have a particularly mean looking can of the Alchemist's Heady-Topper in the back of my refrigerator and I figure if there is a beverage out there that will make my headache go away, it's going to be a monstrously hoppy, eight percent Imperial IPA. For those of you unfamiliar with this beer, the buzz around town is that it's the East Coast's IIPA equivalent to the very popular Pliny the Elder. Some would even say its the best IIPA in the country. I really don't give a sh*t one way or another. All I know is that it tastes nice and the side effect of drinking it on an empty stomach are pretty similar to taking sedatives. Who knew sleep could be so delicious...

A few observations. I understand the whole "Drink From The Can" thing, since the beer is unpasteurized, unfiltered, and might be a tad cloudy due to all the hops. But damn, you'd think this beer would look a little better once you got it undressed. Besides from looking like carbonated papaya juice - it smells like it too - the beer has no head and has a lot of curdled yeast bits floating around. Mmm. All I'm saying is that if I received this beer on draft at a pub, I'd tell the bartender to get me a proper looking pint or give me my money back. I know cloudy looking beer is becoming more acceptable in the craft brewing world, but I still think a yeasty pint detracts from the malt and hops. Not to mention there are plenty of homebrewers and brewers out there producing brilliantly clear and hoppy beer without filtering or fining agents.

So you know I'm not complaining too much, the flavor of the beer is very, very nice. Lots of tropical, fruity hops with a touch of pine at the end. The bitterness is strong and lingering but not excessively so. The beer goes down very easily with no alcohol bite and the hop flavors are crisp and clean. I would like some real malt character in place of the yeasty flavors, but its good for what it is. The best....? Eh, I don't buy that. Definitely a tasty IIPA though.

Lastly, from a homebrewing perspective, I don't think this beer would be that difficult to reproduce, especially if we know the hop varieties used to brew it. And considering that some hop varieties like Simcoe, Citra, and Amarillo are becoming increasingly hard to get a hold of - especially for the little breweries - it would be interesting to see exactly what varieties and amounts they are using. Just today I picked up a few ounces of Zythos hops, one of those 'hop blends' that is supposed to imitate the aroma and flavor of the more popular citrusy IPA out there. Never used it before. Probably make an APA with it and some other stuff this weekend.

Ahup, the hops and alcohol are kicking in. Time to sleep...