Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Brew Day: Irish Stout

As much as I enjoy drinking a well made Irish Stout - a rare thing these days - I no longer brew them with any regularity. I would like to say the reason for doing so is that they are 'too boring' or that I would rather be drinking a dark mild or some other session beer, but that is not the case at all. Rather, I have always found Irish stouts to be one of those styles that are easy enough to brew, but frustratingly impossible to get 'just' right. Brewers often say is the simple things that can be the most difficult to brew well (ahem, session beers) and I would argue that Irish dry stouts are a shining example of that. Getting that perfect mix of dry roast, coffee, chocolate, and esters in such a little beer can be a very difficult thing, especially when we are dealing with relatively few ingredients. A common issue I've had with most Irish stouts, including most of my own, is that they almost always seem to have the same flavor profile... an initial hit of roast flavor, with bits of chocolate, coffee, and what not... and then they drop off into a dry and watery nothingness. Basically, a lot like Guinness. Missing is that balance of rich and dry, bitter and sweet, and ester and hop.

A few things I've come to realize when brewing Irish stouts, is that yeast choice and the type/amount of roasted barley used is hugely important. As for yeast, I've found that many of the go-to yeasts for the style (1056, 1335, 1084, S-04, 1098 ect...) ferment out too dry and neutral flavored, making the roast character seem one dimensional. Instead, I'd rather sacrifice some attenuation for a bit more yeast character and body. As for the roasted barley, every maltster makes a very different tasting product. I find Thomas Fawcett RB is much too smokey for dry stouts (even though I have a ton of it), whereas I really enjoy the clean flavor of Simpsons and Muntons' RB. As for grinding the roast into a powder before adding it to the mash, I've done this a few times and can say I prefer a more subtle approach. 

The recipe for this beer is somewhat similar to that of Beamish Stout - maris otter, wheat malt, roasted barley (muntons), and a bit of TF chocolate malt for added complexity. I have never found flaked barley to do anything substantial in my dry stouts, but I do like the contribution the the wheat malts adds. The yeast for this beer will be wy1028, as it produces a clean and well attenuated beer, but still has some of those 'rich' yeast flavors that I like so much in my darker beers. Not sure how the mineral character is going to fare with the roast, but we'll see. Regardless of how this beer turns out, I would like to keep an Irish stout on tap once the weather cools off.

Cramer's Lane: Irish Dry Stout

Recipe Specifics:
-----------------------
Batch Size (Gal): 4.0
Total Grain (Lbs): 6.50
Anticipated OG: 1.042
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 30
Anticipated IBU: 25
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Grain/Sugar:
------------                                                                                                                                     76.9% - 5.0 lbs. Maris Otter, Bairds
10.0% - 0.65 lbs. Wheat Malt
7.7%   - 0.50 lbs. Roasted Barley
5.4%   - 0.35 lbs. Chocolate Malt

Hops:
-----
1.0 oz. EKG @ 60 min for 22 IBU
0.5 oz. EKG @ 5 min for 3 IBU

Yeast: Wyeast 1028 London Ale
Brewed on 29 July

Friday, July 27, 2012

Amber and Cream Ale Tasting

I have a small backlog of tastings that I need to get through, so here comes a double one. Both of these beers have been in the keg for about five weeks now and I have really enjoyed drinking them. Good session-y beers for the hot weather. The cream ale was just a simple thing, mostly pale and pilsner malt, hopped with a sizable amount of hallertauer and fermented with wy1056. Funny enough, I mostly brewed this beer for my BMC drinking friends, thinking the pale color and light flavor would get them to drink it. But alas they found it too hoppy. "Ack, what is this...IPA?" they said. I cant win. The amber ale was also pretty standard, expect that I used a new base malt...a domestic 'Scarlett' pale malt. Hopping was with Zythos - a blend I had not used before - and I fermented it with dry Nottingham.

LawnMower Beer : Blonde/Cream Ale

Appearance - Pours a very clear, straw/golden color with a two finger, white head with good retention.
    
Aroma - Slightly sweet, grainy malt and very light fruit esters. Some spicy/floral hop aroma.

Taste - Slightly grainy malt flavor and light fruit esters. Hop character is more evident than the style allows, with the usual floral and spicy hallertauer flavor. Bitterness is very low, practically unnoticeable, but just enough to keep the beer balanced. Medium-dry. Finishes clean and crisp.

Mouthfeel - Carbonation is fine, although certainly less than macro lagers. Beer goes down smooth and easy.

Drinkability & Notes - I don't know if I can brew a more neutral flavored beer than this. What flavor this beer does have is clean and makes for easy drinking. The hop character was stronger when the beer was young, but it has since subsided. If it wasn't for the light esters, I'd definitely think this was a lager. Makes me want to brew a Czech Pils. 

5.2% ABV, 20 IBU, Wyeast 1056 American Ale

Session Amber : American Amber Ale     

Appearance - Pours a very clear, amber/red color with decent head retention. Color is spot on.

Aroma - First impression is mellow - herbal, lemony hops and a toasty/nutty caramel aroma. Esters are almost non-existent.

Taste - The beer has a nice toasty, nutty malt character followed by some dark caramel flavors. Hops stay mostly in the background with the same herbal, slightly citrusy (lemon/grapefruit zest) type of flavor. Esters are very low and the beer finishes clean and crisp. Bitterness is low and balanced 

Mouthfeel - Carbonation is a tad low, like an English cask ale, but quite pleasant. Medium mouthfeel.
     
Drinkability & Notes - First, I really like the malt flavor of this one. That 'scarlett' pale malt is amazing stuff, I really like rich, toasty flavor it gives the beer. I would love to find a place that sells it in bulk, without having to go through a brewery. The Zythos hops on the other hand were quite disappointing. I was expecting big, American type flavors and instead got an herbal, lemon peel character that seems more suited to a saison or witbier. Won't bother using them again. Lastly, the Nottingham yeast did a great job. The beer is very clean and rather lager-like. Though, maybe a bit bland tasting? Will surely re-brew this beer, though no Zythos hops and a different yeast. 

4.6% ABV, 25 IBU, Dry Nottingham.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Brew Day: Anglo-American IPA

With a kegerator full of malty session beer and a summer heat that just won't quit, I've been craving a hoppy IPA for a while now. Something that will deliver the hoppy equivalent of a roundhouse kick and shut up my whiny hophead friends, a beer you take one sip of and then brace yourself for the impact. Something dank, resiny, and strong. An all chinook and columbus hop affair, 120IBU, 10% ABV, and 1.5 lbs of hops for 4 gallons. Yeah, let's brew!

Of course I chickened out when it came time to brewing it.

Instead, I figured I'd brew something a bit more approachable and more likely to be palatable. I've been thinking of brewing an English IPA with brewers invert syrup for a while now and decided an amber colored IPA with English malts and American hops would be a nice mix. For the grainbill, I went with a mixture of American two-row and Maris Otter with smaller amounts of Munich and dark crystal. A few ounces of pale chocolate will give the beer some color and an addition of no.1 brewers invert should provide some light caramel flavors and help dry out the beer. Hopping is Amarillo and Simcoe with smaller amounts of Ahtanum thrown in for good measure. Yeast is some wy1335 British II slurry. I loosely based this beer off on Surly's Furious IPA. While it won't be the the hop bomb I had originally envisioned, it should be hoppy enough. Lastly, I'm still discovering what hop American hop combinations go best together - so far I really like floral/citrusy varieties with Simcoe and the more dank/herbal ones with Citra. 

Session Amber
Amber Invert IPA : American IPA

Recipe Specifics
-----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 4.5
Total Grain (Lbs): 10.12
Anticipated OG: 1.065
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 12
Anticipated IBU: 60
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Grain/Sugar
------------
49.4% - 5.0 lbs. Pale, 2-Row
34.6% - 3.5 lbs. Maris Otter
4.9%  - 0.5 lbs. Munich
2.5%  - 0.25 lbs. Crystal 90L
1.2%  - 0.12 lbs. Pale Chocolate
7.4%  - 0.75 lbs. Invert No. 1

Hops
------
0.50 oz. Columbus @ 60 min for 25 IBU
1.00 oz. Amarillo @ 10 min for 13 IBU
1.00 oz. Simcoe @ 10 min for 18 IBU
0.50 oz. Ahtanum @ 10 min for 4 IBU
1.50 oz. Amarillo @ flameout
1.50 oz. Simcoe @ flameout
0.50 oz. Ahtanum @ flameout
1.00 oz. Amarillo @ dryhop for 7 days
1.00 oz. Simcoe @ dryhop for 7 days 

Yeast: Wyeast 1335 British II
Mash 152F for 75 min.
Brewed 22 July

Monday, July 16, 2012

Yeast Geography?

I was listening to one of the old 'Food Programmes' on BBC Radio 4 about the history of yeast when it occurred to me that I had never heard anything about the relationship between modern brewing yeasts and geography. Like, whether or not the flavor characteristics of an individual brewing yeast are partly determined by their place of origin, or instead, are they due to a controlled manipulation of the yeast over the course of many generations, regardless of place?

The idea of something having a flavor unique to a particular place is nothing we've not heard about. The French have been using the term "terroir" to justify the high prices and supposed quality of their wines for decades, just as the farmer at your local market will say his fruits and vegetables are unique to the land he/she grew them. And in the brewing world, such an idea is equally as common. We are so often told that the lambics and sours beers of Belgium are especially unique because they contain microflora only found in that particular part of the world. As such, a brewer in Brooklyn cannot make the same lambics as those found in Brussels, just as the Cascade hops growing in my backyard will not taste the same as those grown in Oregon. Place of origin is important. 

But does this even apply to our modern Saccharomyces cerevisiae brewing yeasts?

As beer drinkers, we are often told by brewers that it is their own yeast and fermentation process that makes their beers so special. Here on the East Coast, Alan Pugsley introduced the idea of brewing beer with Ringwood, a yeast that imparts its own distinct character to the beer and changes overtime with the brewery. Across the pond, my first visit to a traditional English brewery involved a short lecture on their house yeast and why it is unique to where they are located. And while I've not been to Sam Smith's brewery or ever visited Yorkshire, I do know enough to never insinuate that their yeast and/or process is anything but superior to those used in the South. It is somewhat romantic to think that some beers taste the way they do because of where they come from.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 While it is nice to think that 'place of origin' is indeed important with brewing yeast, history seems to say otherwise. Apparently, some of the biggest Scottish breweries used any yeast they could get their hands on. Ferment a batch of beer with one yeast on Monday and come Tuesday use something else. It makes no difference?! Big breweries often sold their yeast to smaller ones or used a different yeast if it suited their needs. No one seemed to say, "hey, this new yeast doesn't have that 'local' flavor!" Or, maybe the idea of yeast imparting flavor to a beer wasn't important back then... it's not like the historical records are full of 19th century beer snobs listing all the flavors found in their beer, let alone mention much of anything about the yeasts they were brewing with. 

In an attempt to get a better idea of where my favorite English yeasts come from, or at least where they were once used, I made this basic map. Admittedly, I was initially tempted to make sweeping assumptions about why these yeasts are well suited to the areas where they were once brewed. Like, how Northern yeasts make malty and rich beers that are well suited for topcropping and cool fermentation in stone... while those found in the Midlands around Burton upon Trent are dry and minerally... and the South's are clean, soft, and suited for high hopping. Of course, this is all a load of fantasy. Who knows where these yeasts actually originated or where they were first used, and how distinct they are genetically. Yeast are capable of changing character so quickly, it wouldn't take very long for a yeast born in London to mutate into something completely different when used in Manchester.                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Back to my original question. I still have no idea whether place of origin has anything to do with yeast character or flavor. I would like to think it does, in that when I brew a bitter with the Fullers yeast, that I'll be making something akin to what the brewery was making so many years ago. In truth, I highly doubt much of the English yeasts we use today are even remotely similar to those used in the not so far past. Nowadays, almost all brewery yeasts are pure cultures (with a few notable exceptions) and bacteria and other organisms are no longer tolerated in our modern breweries. It is shame too, since I bet many of those mixed culture beers were quite unique tasting. Regardless, it would be nice to see an attempt by the yeast manufactures to at least try and provide a bit more information about the yeasts they sell; where it came from, how was it fermented (Burton Union, Yorkshire Square, ect...), and so forth. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Brew Day: Black Pseudo-Lager

One of my main homebrewing goals for the next couple years is to start brewing quality Czech style lagers, particularly Bohemian Pilsner and Černé/TmavéHowever, as I no longer have a fermentation chest that I can dedicate to lagering or the space for a new chest, it might be a while before I can make anything remotely authentic. Until then, I'll keep futzing with ale/lager yeast blends and hope for the best. With that in mind, I've been thinking of brewing a lighter flavored dark beer for a while now and something along the lines of a schwartzbier seems like a good choice. In this miserable Summer heat, even English milds and brown porters are just too much. To keep this beer on the lighter side of things, I used pilsner malt (the Bohemian floor malted stuff), Munich, and smaller amounts of cara-munich, carafa II, and debittered carafa malts. As for the yeast, I was very impressed with the clean lager character of the WLP080 Cream Ale Blend I used in my recent faux-Vienna lager, so I'll be using that. Hopping is straightforward with Tettnang and Czech Saaz for a bit of flavor/aroma. I did use Gordon Strong's method for water treatment on this beer - all RO water treated with phosphoric acid to bring the PH down and small additions of calcium chloride and calcium sulfate. The dark grains were cold steeped over night and the liquid added to the boil. It will be interesting to see how much color I'll get form the steeping grains.
Cream Ale

Dark Session Ale : Black Ale/Lager                                                                                            
Recipe Specifics
-----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 4.0
Total Grain (Lbs): 7.65
Anticipated OG: 1.048
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 28
Anticipated IBU: 25
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 90 Minutes

Grain/Sugar
------------
65.4% - 5.00 lbs. Pilsner Malt
19.6% - 1.50 lbs. Munich Malt
6.5%   - 0.50 lbs. Cara-Munich
5.2%   - 0.40 lbs. Carafa II
3.3%   - 0.25 lbs. Debittered Carafa

Hops
------
0.75 oz. Tettnang @ FWH for 21 IBU
0.50 oz. Saaz @ 15 min for 4 IBU
1.00 oz. Saaz @ flameout

Yeast: WhiteLabs 080 Cream Ale Blend
Mash 152F for 75 min.
Brewed 8 July 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

American Pale Ale Tasting

Considering the number of breweries that have an American pale ale as part of their brewing portfolio, it is no surprise that there are so many different types of APA's being brewed today. Traveling across the country, it would seem like every brewery has their own take on the style; be it the English inspired, malt rich APA's of the East Coast or the hop bombs so found in Colorado and along the West Coast. While I've never entered an APA in a BJCP competition, I've always wondered how judges come to a decision on what type of APA is considered "best to style," given the number of variations homebrewers come up with. Looking back through the past NHC winning recipes for APA's, there is a whole mix of malty and hoppy recipes. Some use the typically citrusy - IPA standby- varieties, while others go for an earthier and maltier approach using fuggles/willamette. Personally, if I am drinking an APA, I want to taste and smell citrusy American hops. Leave the fuggles and dark crystal malts for your amber ales and ESB's. However, there seems to be a trend in recent years to turn APA's into miniture IPA's, with huge hop flavor and minimal malt character.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Levi's Pale Ale : American Pale Ale  
                                      
Appearance - Pours a very clear, light copper and orange color with a fluffy two finger head with good retention.                                                                                                  
Aroma - First impression is of tropical, citrusy hops and clean maltiness. The hop character is quite strong and similar to that of an IPA, with some floral grapefruit dry hop aroma. Not grassy.

Taste - Strong citrusy hops followed by a very clean malt character. The focus of the beer is squarely on the hops and while it is hard to pick out the individual hop varieties, there is a definite mango-grapefruit-pine flavor going on. Esters are very low to none and the bitterness is firm, but unobtrusive. The beer has some nice complexity, be it from the malt or the yeast. 

Mouthfeel - Carbonation is a tad higher than the 1.2-2.0 volumes I am accustomed to, but not fizzy by any means. Mouthfeel is medium and about right for the beer. 

Drinkability & Notes - Honestly, probably the best version of my Levi's Pale Ale that I've brewed yet. The hop character is spot on for what I like in an APA... lots of hop flavor and aroma with a nice malt backbone that makes for easy drinking. I actually left out the amber malt (at the last minute) and I think I will brew this recipe from now on without it. The golden promise adds a really nice malt character to the beer and the hops have a nice mix of tropical-floral citrus and pine. When the beer was young (1-2 weeks in the keg) the hop aroma was very strong, though a month+ in the keg has settled it down to a level more to my liking. Again, I am very happy with the wy1332 yeast when fermented cold.

O.G: 1.058, F.G: 1.012, 6.0% ABV, 57 IBU, Wyeast 1332 Northwest Ale

Monday, July 2, 2012

Brew Day: Special Bitter

The wait is over, fellow British yeast enthusiasts. White Labs has again released their Bedford Bitter (wlp006) yeast as part of their monthly platinum series. This means you'll have until October to stockpile as many vials of this stuff... er...try it out in a few recipes and see why its so good. I would be lying if I said I wasn't genuinely excited about getting my hands on a fresh culture of this yeast and I would have gladly spent the night camped outside the LHBS had they been selling it Sunday morning. Well, maybe not. Regardless, of all the yeasts I've tried in bitters over the years, Bedford Bitter is quite possibly the best of them all. It has everything you could want in a yeast; a wonderful flavor profile, high attenuation and flocculation, and it is a fast fermenter to boot. I will say it is not the best yeast for darker beers, but for bitters it is king. I really wanted to brew with a bitter with this yeast over the weekend, but none of the homebrew stores around me had it in stock. I'll have to wait a few weeks. As such, I figured I'd make use of the time and brew another bitter with a different yeast so I can compare the two - something that's similar in character and available year round. Like WY1335 British II. Its been ages since I've used this yeast in a something other than a dry stout and I think it will make for an interesting side-by-side test with the real thing. Either way, I'll end up with two tasty bitters on tap. Hard to beat that. 

Gunsmith Bitter : English Special Bitter

Recipe Specifics
-----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 4.5
Total Grain (Lbs): 7.5
Anticipated OG: 1.046
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 10
Anticipated IBU: 30
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Grain/Sugar
------------
90.3% - 7.00 lbs. Golden Promise
3.2%  - 0.25 lbs. Extra Dark Crystal (150L)
6.5%  - 0.50 lbs. No. 1 Invert

Hops
------
0.50 oz. First Gold @ 60 min for 18 IBU
0.50 oz. First Gold @ 15 min for 7.5 IBU
0.50 oz. UK EKG @ 15 min for 5 IBU
1.00 oz.  First Gold @ flameout
1.00 oz.  UK EKG @ flameout

Yeast: Wyeast 1335 British Ale II
Mash 154F for 75 min.
Brewed 01 July