Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Patersbier Tasting

While the humble English bitter will surely remain my favorite style of beer to brew and drink, I got to admit there is something about brewing a super simple, low gravity Belgian session beer that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. For unlike many American craft-Belgian beers, where the number of ingredients and/or wine barrels use to make it are the yardstick of its worth, brewing and drinking a stupidly simple patersbier is a veritable affront to all the beer snobs who tell us what Belgian beer is and what it should be. Patersbier, the anti-craft-Belgian beer. And it tastes really good too. All kidding aside, I wasn't very excited to brew a patersbier at first, but since I've had this beer on tap, that sentiment has changed. As with brewing bitters, I like taking a handful of simple ingredients and over the long course of brewing, tweaking, and re-brewing, make something great out of nothing. Also, Belgian yeasts are a whole new playground of flavors to work with. Expect to see me brew more beers like this...

Patersbier : Belgian Blonde

Appearance - Pours a mostly clear light amber color with a two finger head that slowly dissipates, leaving nice lacing. Clarity is better than I expected, but still somewhat hazy.

Aroma - Neutral malt and mild stone fruit esters with some floral hop character. Not nearly as much 'Belgian' character as I was expecting.

Taste - Clean pils maltiness and a subtle fruitiness that tastes of dried cherries, pears, and plums. The overall yeast character is largely restrained and paired with the clean malt, the beer has a definite lager-like quality. Hop flavor and bitterness are both very low and the cararye malt has added a slight caramel flavor that provides some needed malt complexity. Flavors are clean, crisp, and largely unassuming.

Mouthfeel - Carbonation is medium-low and the beer goes down very easily.

Drinkability & Notes - As much as I like this beer for its subtle fruitiness and ease of drinking - it is one of the only Belgian beers I've put on tap that I've drunk multiple pints of at one sitting - I do feel this yeast would be better suited for higher gravity beers than a small one like this... especially if you want it to produce those big flavors and aromatics that Belgian yeasts are known for. In this beer, I wouldn't mind a stronger yeast character or more hops/malt flavor, although as the beer sits now I can't really complain. I already have plans to revisit a beer like this very soon, except with the Leuven Pale Ale yeast and higher hopping.

Additional Thoughts:

I was extremely surprised how quickly this yeast fermented. I pitched the yeast at 65F and within three days the beer went from 1.046 to 1.010, with the yeast flocculating out a day later. Given the number of people who have reported attenuation problems with this yeast, I assumed it would take me a few weeks to complete fermentation. That obviously wasn't the case. Moreover, as a result of the speed of fermentation, I wasn't able to get the ferment temp much higher than 66-68F. Also, unlike many of the other Belgian yeasts that produce a huge, long lasting krausen, this yeast hardly made one at all. This yeast also flocculated better than any Belgian strain I've used before, forming a tight yeast cake within a week after fermentation was complete.

Aside, I took a portion of the yeast cake from the patersbier, washed it, and pitched the slurry into a Belgian porter wort a few days later. Even with a higher gravity (1.060) and nearly 10% dark crystal malt, this yeast behaved the same as in the beer before. More on this later.

4.6% ABV, 20 IBU, WLP540 Abbey Ale IV. Recipe Here

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Beer Clarity and Bitter Tasting

In the world of brewing English style bitters, how your beer looks in a pint glass is often as important as the ingredients and process used to make it. For unlike many styles where yeast haze or cloudiness won't greatly affect the flavor of the beer, in bitters in particular, suspended yeast particles can easily muddle the overall character of the beer. Unsurprisingly, removing suspended yeast via finings and/or through a cold treatment typically has a positive impact on the final product, letting the individual flavors shine. As the topic of beer clarity doesn't come up very often, I thought I would say a few words about beer finings, how I use them, and why a clear beer is a usually a better beer.

As with most things in brewing, beer starts and ends with yeast choice. While many British yeasts are known to be highly flocculative and produce very clear beer without any treatment, there are an equal number of yeasts that benefit from some type of finings. In particular, beers brewed with yeasts that have medium-to-low flocculation (or are powdery) and those that produce lots of mineral and bready flavors usually will see a sizable improvement in flavor after treatment with finings or a cold treatment. Some commonly used yeasts that fall into this category include: Wyeast 1028, 1275, 1318, 1882, and WhiteLabs 006, 022, among others. For the sake of simplicity, lets take a look and one of these yeasts and discuss some of the practical and beneficial aspects of using finings and/or a cold treatment.

If you've not heard me rambling on about the virtues of the Bedford Bitter yeast, I love the stuff. It produces wonderfully balanced, complex beer with a good mix of fruity esters and clean malt/hops. However, while this yeast is quite flocculative, it is also quite powdery. Unlike yeasts that flocculate hard and form a dense yeast cake - such as wy1968 and 1098 - powdery yeasts often retain a fine dusting of yeast particles in solution and those particles can easily be agitated back into suspension. These yeasts take longer to clarify by themselves and often impart a yeasty or muddled character to the beer if left untreated.

To get around this problem, there are a few things we can do. With the Bedford yeast, the first thing I like to do is to cold crash the beer. Essentially, this is as simple as waiting until the bulk of fermentation is complete and a thorough diacetyl rest has been completed - say, by day 10 or 12 - and then quickly bringing the temperature of the beer down to near freezing for a few days. This serves to drop the remaining yeast, proteins, and hop material out of solution and help solidify the yeast cake. After the cold crash, I'll rack the beer into a C02 primed keg and let the beer condition at room temp until the keg is ready to go on tap. Weeks later, by the time the keg is thoroughly chilled and ready to drink, the beer is usually beautifully clear. However, if there is still yeast left in suspension, I'll add finings.

Of all the finings available, I prefer to use isinglass. While it is harder to find than something like gelatin, I have found that isinglass (sold in powdered flakes) clears as fast as the other finings and has less of an impact on the final flavor of the beer. To use isinglass, I gently rehydrate about 3-4 grams of the powder in 300ml of sterile water or beer (beer has a lower pH) and wait until it is completely dissolved before adding it to the chilled beer. A gentle shake helps mix everything together and the beer is left to clear for a week+ time. In my years of using isinglass, I have never encountered any issues with off flavors and the resulting beer is exceptionally clear. Moreover, gelatin is another effective fining agent and is simple to use too. In short, heat a small amount (350+ml) of sterile water on a stove to around 170-180F and add in around a half packet of gelatin (around 4 grams per 5 gallons) and let dissolve. Do not boil. After letting the liquid cool, add it into your chilled beer and give it a week or two's time to fully clear.

While gelatin works very well, I have noticed that using too much of the stuff can impact the flavor of the beer, bitters in particular. Not only does it strip away some of the hop character (best to use it before dry hopping), but too much gelatin can also alter the malt profile by increasing the perception of specialty malt/caramel flavor. Moreover, as is the case when using any fining agents, using too much gelatin can strip the beer of proteins, leaving it thin tasting and with poor foam stability. Although, I'd say it is better to have a clear beer with some character missing than to drink one that is muddled and yeasty. Aside, some of the other finings that I've tried and are commercially available include, Polyclar, Bentonite, and Sparkolloid. The first two are effective at removing chill haze and some phenolic off flavors, while Sparkolloid is particularly suitable for removing stubborn yeast. These can all be added to the secondary or keg, however, they are really best reserved for wine making.

Lastly, it should be mentioned that fining use can largely be unnecessary with good brewing and fermenting processes. A proper mash pH and a healthy ferementation goes a long way to help ensure you end up with a clear beer, as does achieving good hot and cold breaks. Cooling your wort very slowly can impact beer clarity for the worse, as does having too much break material in your fermenter. As for kettle finings, I like to use Whirlfloc in my kettle - half a tablet at 15 min from flameout - and Irish moss is equally as effective.

No finings needed here
Golden Bitter : Special Bitter 

Appearance - Pours a (nearly) brilliantly clear, golden-amber color with a bubbly, two finger white head with good retention and lacing.  

Aroma - Orange zest, apricot, and floral hoppiness with some sweet malt character. Not much perceptible caramel or yeast character. Rather hoppy for your average bitter. 

Taste - First impression is of dried herbs, apricots, and marmalade-y hops with some honeyed malt and a very light caramel sweetness. The yeast character is clean and mostly neutral, with just a hint of those rich esters I so like. Bitterness is high/firm and the beer finishes crisp and dry.

Mouthfeel - Medium-dry and goes down smooth and easily.

Drinkability & Notes - Can't complain, just a good and hoppy bitter. I wanted something along the line of a golden ale and while I am pleased with what I got, the hopping and bitterness would certainly push this towards an English IPA. This beer shows off the First Gold hops quite well - a great beer for the coming spring - although I did get more apricot and herb character than pure orange in this batch. Only thing I'd change for next time is to drop the bitterness closer to 30 IBU, as the bitterness is a bit firmer than I like in my session-style beers.

 5.0% ABV, 40 IBU, WLP006 Bedford Bitter. Recipe Here

Monday, February 11, 2013

Brew Day: Fruit Saison

Nearly four months ago, I bought a single vial of WhiteLabs Saison III on a whim, probably thinking that I'd use it to make a petite saison or something similar. Looking back, I really don't know what made me want to buy this yeast, especially since saisons are one of the few beer styles that I have very little interest in brewing or drinking. It is not that I dislike the flavor of saisons, it's just that I haven't come across a non-soured example of the style that has particularly impressed me. That is, until recently.

A few days ago, I had the great opportunity to attend a small saison tasting that included a number of popular commercial examples, including a few bottles from Hill Farmstead, Stillwater, and Cigar City among others. While the "worlds best brewery*" garnered the most 'oohs and ahhs' from the group, I was really impressed by Cigar City's Guava Grove, a saison that is brewed with guava puree. Interestingly, while this was one of the least popular beers at the tasting, I loved it. It had an assertive tartness that the other beers lacked and a pleasant tropical fruit flavor that was well balanced by the malt and yeast. I only wish it was a few percent less in alcohol. With this beer in mind, I would like to try my hand at making something similar and use up my Saison III yeast in the process.

The recipe I am using is simple, just pilsner and white wheat malt, with saaz hops for a mellow bitterness. From what little I could find about the Saison III yeast, it seems this strain is known to produce a fair amount of tartness and high fruity esters. I figure I'll see how the beer tastes once fermentation is complete and then decide if I want to keg it as is, or rack it onto some guava puree like the Cigar City brew. Moreover, whereas saisons are noted to be brewed from rather hard water, usually with a good bit of sulfate, I decided to go more towards the soft and malty side, as I did with my recent Patersbier. I pitched the (decanted) yeast starter at 65F and have it currently fermenting around 68-72F. This yeast is one heck of a fast fermenter... it got rolling within 5 hours of pitching!

Guava Saison : Belgian Saison

Recipe Specifics: 
Batch Size (Gal): 4.0
Total Grain (Lbs): 7.5
Anticipated OG: 1.048 
Anticipated FG: 1.003-5
Anticipated SRM: 3.5
Anticipated IBU: 22
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 90 Minutes

93.3% - 7.00 lbs. Pilsner malt
6.7% - 0.50 lbs. White wheat malt

1.00 oz. Saaz @ 60 min for 18 IBU
0.50 oz. Saaz @ 15 min for 4 IBU
1.00 oz. Saaz @ flameout

Yeast: WhiteLabs Saison III
Mash 150F for 75 min
Brewed on 10 February
* Hill Farmstead, according to RateBeer

Monday, February 4, 2013

Brew Day: American IPA

I was going through some of my old hops to see what I had left in stock and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I have nearly a half pound of whole leaf Amarillo (2011) that I had bought last fall and apparently forgot about. As I also have a few oz of Simcoe that are getting old, I figured I'd brew a properly hoppy American IPA and use them all up. So much for brewing session beers. The recipe I am using is relatively typical for IPA's, pale malt with some medium crystal and a small amount of honey malt for a bit of sweetness. This beer should have a strong bitterness, so I want to be sure there is some malt character to back it up. Hopping is mostly Amarillo and Simcoe, although I may end up throwing a few ounces of Galaxy into the keg if the aroma is lacking. The yeast choice is wy1332 Northwest ale, as I had a spare pack and I like how it ferments cleanly and accentuates the hops; while still leaving a nice malt character. As for the water, I am going big, with sulfate levels around 350ppm and keeping everything else quite low. Should be ready for drinking by early March.

First Gold Bitter
None the Wiser : American IPA

Recipe Specifics: 
Batch Size (Gal): 4.5
Total Grain (Lbs): 11.75 
Anticipated OG: 1.067
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 8
Anticipated IBU: 78
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

93.6% - 10.00 lbs. Pale Malt, US
4.3% - 0.50 lbs. Crystal 40L
2.1% - 0.25 lbs. Honey Malt

0.50 oz. Magnum @ 60 min for 18 IBU
0.75 oz. Amarillo @ 20 min for 16 IBU
0.75 oz. Simcoe @ 20 min for 21 IBU
0.75 oz. Amarillo @ 10 min for 13 IBU
0.75 oz. Simcoe @ 10 min for 10 IBU
2.00 oz. Amarillo @ flameout
1.50 oz. Simcoe @ flameout
1.50 oz. Amarillo @ dry-hop
1.00 oz. Simcoe @ dry-hop

Yeast: Wyeast 1332 Northwest Ale
Mash 150F for 75 min
Brewed on 2 February