Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Brew Day: Albany Imperial Ale

This is a beer I've been wanting to brew for a long time now, but kept putting it off for a lazy day or when all my kegs were filled. Anyways, for those of you not familiar with the original "King of Beers" (in America at least), Albany Ale was among the most important pre-prohibition beers brewed in this country and has done much to shape our brewing history. But what is Albany Ale and why has no one heard of it? Well, a quick Google search will provide you with more historical tidbits and histories of the stuff than I care to write about here. There is even an "Albany Ale Project" on Facebook that documents what is known about the beer... which isn't a whole lot when it comes to the nitty-gritty. Generally speaking, most Albany Ales of the early to mid 1800's were essentially pale stock ales with original gravities around 1.065-1.095, highly hopped and bittered at 2-3lbs per barrel and thoroughly boiled. While I have yet to come across an original recipe for Albany Ale, from what we know of the other American stock beers of the time, the grist would have likely been pale malt with a large portion of sugar added at the end of the boil. How much, if any, wheat was used is still being debated. Hops would have been locally grown American varieties, such as English Cluster, Red Vine, Pompey, and Humphreys among others. Interestingly, from what we know of these hops still growing today, they tended to have a rather intense citrus character not unlike that of Cascade or Chinook. 

The recipe I am using is based on Randy Moshers recipe for a historical Imperial Pale Ale, of which is inspired by John Taylor's "Imperial Cream Ale." The grist is a mixture of two-row pale, Tipple malt, and 12% demerara sugar added just before flameout. As for hops, I am lucky to own an original English Cluster and Humphrey Seedling hop plant and I have a freezer full of the cones I harvested last fall. These hops are probably the closest we can get those used over 160 years ago. My yeast choice is Wyeast 1098 British Ale, since Albany area brewers were certainly using English yeasts. Lastly, my goal here isn't to brew a spot-on-historical "Albany Ale," but rather make a beer that will share some of the flavors and characteristics of those legendary ales brewed so many years ago.                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Albany Imperial Ale : Pale Stock Ale 
                                                                                     
Recipe Specifics
-----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 3.0
Total Grain (Lbs): 8.00
Anticipated OG: 1.075
Anticipated FG: 1.012
Anticipated SRM: 4-5
Anticipated IBU: 70-90
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 120 Minutes

Grain/Sugar
------------
62.5% - 5.00 lbs. Pale Malt, 2-Row 
25.0% - 2.00 lbs. Pale Malt, Tipple
12.5% - 1.00 lbs. Demerara Sugar (flameout)

Hops
------
1.50 oz. E.Cluster/Humphreys @ 120 min for 40 IBU
1.00 oz. E.Cluster/Humphreys @ 60 min for 23 IBU
1.00 oz. E.Cluster/Humphreys @ 30 min for 12 IBU
1.00 oz. E.Cluster/Humphreys @ flameout

Yeast: Wyeast 1098 British Ale
Mash 152F for 75 min.
Brewed 26 June 

Edit: As you can see, the color of the wort after the 2 hour boil is darker than the 4-5 SRM that I originally thought it would be. Also, the flavor of the hops is quite unique - floral grapefruit and tangerine with a bit of that earthy 'roughness' one expects from Cluster type hops. I estimated the AA of the hops to be around 5%, but the wort is tasting a lot smoother than 75+ IBU.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Dark Mild Tasting

Friday night, out with friends. As our local was infested with hipsters - those mustachioed, smurf-hat wearing cretins who stick around the bar only to sip two dollar pints of Uncle Charlie and drop quarters in the jukebox - we decided it would be less stressful if we went somewhere else. A quiet place, where you can actually hear yourself talk and enjoy a few pints without feeling the urge to bludgeon the hipster sitting next to you. We decided on a new Tapas bar down the road. One of those places that caters to the older, more matuuure crowd of late thirty-somethings with prices to match your age and an equally overpriced wine-list. Besides from the haughty atmosphere, they had a decent tap and bottle selection. I settled down with a pint of Ommegang's Hennepin and everyone else ordered less flavorful wheat beers. After paying for the first round, I noticed that my pint alone had cost me 10 bucks. Ten dollars for a shoddy pour of decent, but ordinary beer. Was I suddenly back in NYC... I have five beers on tap at all times and many more beers in bottles. Why am I dropping money each week on commercial beer that I could care less about drinking and costs me nearly as much as a batch of flavorful homebrew?! Such is the dilemma. Dark mild, of course, is the answer.

Ploughman Mild : Dark Mild

Appearance - Pours an inky black color with ruby highlights and a thin, tan colored head with little retention. 

Aroma - Toffee, licorice, dark roasted coffee, and some light fruity esters. Nothing extraordinary, but still quite nice. 

Taste - Lots of coffee, licorice, cocoa, and chocolate flavor with a slightly sweet, dark caramel/toffee character. Esters are lightly fruity and there is no real hop character. Bitterness is well balanced with the malt. Beer finishes slightly dry with a mellow roast flavor and that typical '1318' candy sweetness right at the end. Easy drinking. 

Mouthfeel - Carbonation is very low and the beer has a medium-light mounthfeel. The beer finishes a tad drier than I would normally like for the style, but not unpleasantly so. 

Drinkability & Notes - Just an easy drinking, flavorful pint. Not the most complex tasting mild I have ever made, but surely among the top for clean flavors and the 'makes you want to have another' quality. This beer had more caramel character when it was younger, but about a month into the keg, it's mostly just coffee/chocolate. People have been hitting this keg very hard, a definite re-brew.

O.G: 1.040, F.G: 1.012, 3.6% ABV, 18 IBU, Wyeast 1318 London Ale III

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Brew Day: California Common

Besides from drinking the occasional pint of Anchor Steam on tap at my local, I really can't say I've had much experience drinking or brewing steam beers. I've never tried brewing one before and I have yet to come across another example of the style, both homebrewed or commercial. Really, the only thing I know about this type of beer is that it is typically brewed with Northern Brewer hops and fermented at low ale temperatures with a hybrid lager yeast. I've always enjoyed the minty-woodsy flavor that Northern Brewer hops impart to a beer and I have had success with the Cali Lager strain, yet I never had any intention of brewing a steam beer. That is until I bought a pound of NB hops and needed something to use them in. From the information I could gather online, it seems like most Cali Common recipes are pretty simple, typically a clone of Anchor Steam, being pale malt with around 10% medium crystal and a liberal application of NB hops and (some) cascade at flameout. I did just this, but added some Munich malt to boost the malt character and went with a few more hop additions. Also, since I could not find any of the Cali lager yeasts at my LHBS, I decided to go with WLP060 American Ale blend, which according to their website makes very clean and lager-like beers. Should make for another tasty session beer.

Hoppy Pale Ale
Session Steam : California Common                                                                                              
Recipe Specifics
-----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 4.5
Total Grain (Lbs): 8.75
Anticipated OG: 1.045
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 10
Anticipated IBU: 30
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Grain/Sugar
------------
80.0% - 7.00 lbs. Pale Malt
11.4% - 1.00 lbs. Munich Malt
8.6%   - 0.75 lbs. Crystal 60L

Hops
------
0.50 oz. Northern Brewer @ 60 min for 19 IBU
0.50 oz. Northern Brewer @ 15 min for 8 IBU
0.50 oz. Northern Brewer @ 5 min for 3 IBU
1.00 oz. Northern Brewer @ flameout
1.00 oz. Cascade @ flameout

Yeast: WhiteLabs 060 American Ale Blend
Mash 152F for 75 min.
Brewed 19 June 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Hibiscus Wheat Tasting

I've been remiss with my tasting notes of late. Been drinking a lot of good beer recently, both my own and some hard to find commercial examples, but finding the time to do anything these days is getting harder and harder. Regardless, a few months ago I brewed a hibiscus wheat beer, one that I had originally brewed in college and have made on and off since then. This beer was probably my first 'great brewing success' back in the day, as it was very popular with everyone who stopped by for a drink and (more importantly) kept the ladies around the apartment. The recipe was originally just pale and wheat malt, with some US goldings and an addition of hibiscus at flameout. I kept everything pretty much the same this time around, but subbed NZ hops for the goldings. I've had this beer on tap for since early May and it has turned out to be a refreshing, easy drinking beer. Glad I brewed it.

Hibiscus Wheat : American Wheat

Appearance - Pours a slightly hazy light gold/straw color with a low white head that slowly settles, leaving nice lacing. Clarity is very good now that the yeast has dropped out. The beer has the slightest hint of a pink-rose color around the edges. 
 
Aroma - First impression is of tropical flowers and fruit - guava, passionfruit, papaya - with a very clean and mellow wheat maltiness. It is hard to tell if the tropical aromas are from the hibiscus or from the NZ hops. When the beer was younger, it had a definite hop character, but it has since faded. 

Taste - Light wheat malt followed by a very pleasant tropical-hibiscus floral character that lasts through to the finish. The esters are low to none and the beer finishes clean, crisp, and very lager like. Bitterness is low and there isn't any discernible hop character. The hibiscus flavor isn't so strong you'd know it was hibiscus right off the bat, though it lends a floral, tropical fruitiness that you just don't get from using hops. Lastly, the hibiscus gives the beer a slight 'tartness' - almost like a good Kolsch - that makes it quite refreshing and drinkable. 

Mouthfeel - Carbonation is medium to low and the beer has a medium-light mounthfeel. The beer finishes dry, but pleasantly so.

Drinkability & Notes - Nothing to complain about. This could possibly be the perfect beer to drink while lounging about on a tropical island, or at least by the pool. One of the guys in my beer club mentioned that the only thing this beer is missing is a pink umbrella, a la "tiki" drink, and an island. While this isn't a beer I'm going to sit down and make a session of, it is very tasty/refreshing and quite popular too. I'll be sure to brew it again if the weather gets too hot or if I ever find myself needing a beer for a room full of "I don't like beer" people. 

O.G: 1.044, F.G: 1.008, 4.7% ABV, 20 IBU, Wyeast 1056 American Ale

Monday, June 11, 2012

Brew Day: Faux-Vienna Lager

As I have said before, so much of brewing for me is about time and place, of recreating the essence of whatever beer I was drinking at a particular time. Like now, when the weather gets painfully hot and the midday sun makes one think of shaded beer gardens and litres of beery refreshment, my mind fixates on lagers. Like those I enjoyed while traveling across Germany and the Czech Republic, a tall glass of a refreshing and flavorful lager at the end of the day was a wonderful thing. Recently, I've had a hankering for a malty, amber colored lager. Like Vienna lager. The recipe for this one is pretty standard - Vienna malt, Munich, and Pils, with a small amount of carafa II for color - and some light hopping with hallertauer mittelfrueh. As I no longer have a refrigerator that I can dedicate to lagering, I'll be using the (supposedly) very clean WLP080 Cream Ale yeast blend and ferment it at a cool 58-60F. I know it won't turn out like a real lager, but hopefully it will be good enough to remind me of the real stuff.

Faux Vienna : Vienna Lager                                                                                                
Recipe Specifics
-----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 4.5
Total Grain (Lbs): 9.0
Anticipated OG: 1.050
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 12
Anticipated IBU: 22
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 90 Minutes

Grain/Sugar
------------
54.7% - 5.00 lbs. Vienna Malt
21.9% - 2.00 lbs. Munich Malt
21.9% - 2.00 lbs. Pilsner Malt
1.50% - 0.15 lbs. Carafa II

Hops
------
1.50 oz. Hallertauer Mittelfrueh @ 60 min for 18 IBU
0.50 oz. Hallertauer Mittelfrueh @ 15 min for 4 IBU

Yeast: WhiteLabs 080 Cream Ale Blend 
Mash 154F for 75 min.
Brewed 11 June 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Brew Day: 1700's Brown Malt Porter

Following up the last part of my historical porters, I finally got around to making a batch of 18th century porter with the straw-kilned brown malt I had made a few weeks ago. As I couldn't find a complete recipe with all of the brewing details - boil times, temps, gyles, and all that - I basically mixed and matched the information I did find to make one recipe. In short, this means a single infusion mash of 100% brown malt at 156F - to keep the fermentability in line with the rather poor attenuation of those early porters (60-65%) - and bittered with some old fuggles for around 45-50 IBU for 90 minute boil. As for the diastatic potential of the malt, I was initially worried that I had over roasted the brown malt and destroyed much of the grain's potential. I knew I couldn't let the grain interior get too dark and at the time I thought I did a good enough job. However, as the grain sat around, the interior turned from a light color to a ruddy brown. It wasn't until I did a mini mash with the grain in a french press coffee maker that I found out the grain would convert... albeit slowly.

I estimated the extract potential of the brown malt to be somewhere around 1.032 per pound and that turned out be about right after a two hour mash. However, the color of the wort (pre-boil) is MUCH darker than I would have ever imagined. Considering that I only used the straw-kilned brown malt, the wort is considerably darker in color than the historical sources indicate. I probably kilned my this brown malt darker than they would have done so in the 1700's, but I don't see why black colored porters wouldn't have been possible in those days. Lastly, the flavor of the unfermented wort is very nice. There is little to no smokiness, just a hint of a campfire smell, and the flavor is of an intense dry-cocoa powder. My friend stopped by while while I was brewing and mentioned that the flavor reminded him of a malty hot chocolate. I have high hopes for this one. Lastly, I would like to extend a big thank-you to Ron Pattinson for sharing so much of his work with the homebrewing community and Ben, aka "Fuggledog", from the U.K who has been a great source of insight into making historical brown malts.

1700' Porter : Historical Porter                                                                                                   
Recipe Specifics
-----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 3.0
Total Grain (Lbs): 8.0
Anticipated OG: 1.060
Anticipated FG: 1.015
Anticipated SRM: 30-35 (?)
Anticipated IBU: 45
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 90 Minutes

Grain/Sugar
------------
100.0% - 8.00 lbs. Straw-Kilned Brown Malt

Hops
------
1.00 oz. Fuggles @ 90 min for 35 IBU
1.00 oz. Fuggles @ 30 min for 10 IBU
1.00 oz. Fuggles @ flameout

Yeast: WY1882 Thames Valley II
Mash 156F for 120 min.
Brewed 8 June 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Brew Day: LawnMower Beer

Cream ale. Not a style I brew or drink very often, although I do enjoy drinking a few pints of the homebrewed stuff at our beer club summer parties. My last attempt to make a cream ale didn't turn out at all. I am pretty sure I under-pitched the yeast (Aussie Ale) at too low of a temperature and the resulting beer was very phenolic. It got dumped. This time I'll be changing things up, using mostly pale malt with some pilsner and a small amount of carahell for a light sweetness. I am not a fan of cream ales that use a lot of flaked corn or adjuncts, as they can take on a grainy, breakfast cereal type flavor when used in large amounts. As for the hopping, I'll be using Mt. Hood and Hallertaur Mittelfrueh in larger amounts than would normally be used, aiming for a hoppy and spicy finish. Yeast will be Wyeast 1056 American Ale, fermented in the low 60's. I'll be having a large BBQ this summer and I figure I might be able to get some of my bud-lite swilling friends to drink this instead of their normal crap.

Dark Mild
LawnMower Ale : Cream Ale                                                                                                 
Recipe Specifics
-----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 4.0
Total Grain (Lbs): 8.25
Anticipated OG: 1.054
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 4.5
Anticipated IBU: 20
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Grain/Sugar
------------
72.7% - 6.00 lbs. Pale Malt, 2-Row
24.2% - 2.00 lbs. Pilsner malt
3.0%   - 0.25 lbs. Carahell

Hops
------
0.50 oz. Mt. Hood @ 60 min for 14 IBU
0.50 oz. Mittelfrueh @ 10 min for 4 IBU
0.50 oz. Mittelfrueh @ 5 min for 2 IBU
1.00 oz. Mittelfrueh @ flameout

Yeast: WY1056
Mash 152F for 75 min.
Brewed 3 June 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Day Trip for Sours

While I generally don't like driving more than an hour or two out of my way to buy good beer, once in a while it is worth doing simply for those beers you just can't get at home. Case in point, early yesterday morning a few friends and I made the 4+ hour drive south to Philadelphia for the first day of the "Philly Beer Week" celebration. Our main purpose for going down was to drink lots of Russian River beer on tap and to buy as many cases of RR beer as we could find. And to try some of the local beer too.

Part of the haul
Our first stop of the trip was at a small beer distributor outside of Philly. Having never purchased bottled beer in PA before, I was shocked to find out that unlike every other state, in PA you can only buy beer by the case. That means if you want to buy a particular beer outside of a restaurant or bar, you need to buy all 24 bottles worth. This doesn't seem so bad at first, that is, until you see what a case of good craft beer costs down here. I don't know who came up with this system, but it totally sucks! There were so many good beers available at the distributor - including hard to find Belgians, imperial stouts, American sour ales, West Coast IPA's, and new craft beer from Europe - but nearly every case of the good stuff was priced at $75-100. And then most of the Belgians and sours were priced around $150-250 for 12 bottles! Maybe it's just that I am used to brewing my own beer for pennies per pint and buying one bottle at a time if I want to try something new, but this whole system of selling beer seems very backwards. It wouldn't surprise me if it was designed to keep people from buying craft beer, as most people will just spend the 20 bucks to buy a case of BMC instead. I ended up biting the bullet and buying a case of Russian River supplication for the 'decent' price of $150+tax per 12 bottles and some other stuff. My friend cleaned them out of the RR cases and bought a 1/6th keg for good measure...

After dropping some serious cash on bottled beer, our next stop was to find a place to drink. On a whim we decided to stop at a little Belgian beer bar in Wayne, PA and we really lucked out. They had Russian River pliny the elder and damnation pints on special for $2, along with a lot of other good sours and Belgians. I've had PTE and damnation on tap before in California, but not for 2 bucks! Both beers were very good. However, the real treat of the night was getting pints of the Sierra Nevada/Russian River sour collaboration - "Exportation" - for the same low price. The beer was essentially a sour porter of sorts, supremely drinkable with just enough funk and sourness to keep it interesting. A wonderful session-y sour beer and one I would love to try and replicate at home.

Having had our fill of the sour porter and pliny, our next stop was another bar north of the city that had pliny, blind pig, and supplication on tap. We were told they were going to have a keg of Pliny the Younger on tap, but that was just a cruel rumor. So we settled into pints of blind pig and consecration for the low price of $5 bucks per pint. The blind pig was excellent as always - I've always liked it better than the elder - and the supplication was divine. A great sour beer, although I think it is better tasting in the bottle when it has a bit more age to it. After that... pizza, wings, and then a very long drive back to New York. A good beer trip overall!