Friday, March 29, 2013

Belgian Porter Tasting

Back in late January, after I kegged my first batch of patersbier, I decided to reuse a portion of the yeast cake and brew a Belgian porter with it. While I can't say I've drunk many commercial Belgian Porters, my hopes for this recipe was that it would make an easy drinking and lighter flavored porter that showcases some of the stone-fruit esters from the Rochefort yeast. Or something along the line of Allagash Black, but without the heavy roasted malt flavors. Looking back, I probably should have used a more characterful yeast and adjusted the grain bill for more specialty malt flavor, given how neutral the WLP540 yeast fermented out. With that said, while this beer might not have turned out exactly as I had planned, I would still like to try my hand at a few more darker Belgian beers in the coming months.

Belgian Porter : Specialty Beer

Recipe Specifics: 
Batch Size (Gal): 4.25
Total Grain (Lbs): 10.00
Anticipated OG: 1.060 
Anticipated FG: 1.012
Anticipated SRM: 30
Anticipated IBU: 35
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 90 Minutes

72.5% - 7.25 lbs. Pale Malt
10.0% - 1.00 lbs. Munich Malt
7.5% - 0.75 lbs. Caramunich II
5.0% - 0.50 lbs. Chocolate Malt
2.5% - 0.25 lbs. Aromatic Malt
2.5% - 0.25 lbs. Special B

1.25 oz. Tettnang @ 60 min for 28 IBU
0.50 oz. Tettnang @ 30 min for 7 IBU
0.50 oz. Tettnang @ flame out

Yeast: WhiteLabs 540 Abbey Ale IV
Mash 152F for 60 min
Brewed on 27 January

Tasting Notes:
Appearance - Pours a clear, black color with ruby highlights and a large-bubbled, tan head that slowly settles to a thin ring. Somewhat over-carbonated.

Aroma -  Clean and neutral malt with a mellow toffee-dark caramel aroma. Little to no roastiness and the yeast character is nearly imperceptible, with the barest hints of stone fruit, banana, and raisins.

Taste - Pretty tame. Dark toffee/prune caramel flavor with a very slight chocolate/roast character. Hops lend a mellow bitterness with little to no flavor and the beer finishes dry and clean. As the beer warms, the esters become more evident, with the some of your typical "Belgian" flavors, although it is still quite reserved.

Mouthfeel - Carbonation out of the tap is too high and after some de-carbing, the beer has a medium-thin mouthfeel and drinks like a much smaller beer. 

Drinkability & Notes - Hmm. Not exactly what I was expecting when I brewed this, as the beer lacks those big Belgian flavors and tastes more like a 3.5% dubbel or a Belgian version of an English mild, but the flavors are still nice. Even with a decent amount of alcohol, this beer is very sessionable and it is easy to put away two or three pints at one sitting. Given how fast this beer fermented and how clean/neutral the yeast character is, I probably over pitched the yeast and/or fermented it too cold. In short, the yeast behaved the same as it did with my patersbier. I don't know if I'd go out of my way to use this yeast again. Recipe could use some tweaking.

6.0% ABV, 35 IBU, WhiteLabs 540 Abbey Ale IV.

Patersbier Tasting Here

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Brew Day: Challenger Bitter

Considering the number of English style bitters I brew, it is no surprise that I often get asked what my favorite bitter recipe is, or which recipe will make the best tasting beer. To answer such a question is, of course, difficult and I hesitate to give a straight answer. Honestly, I have yet to try a particular bitter (or any beer for that matter) that made me think it was the be-all and end-all example of the style, or is the only beer I'd want to brew and drink until the end of my days. Rather, the beauty of brewing English bitters is that they are so versatile. Change a few ingredients - be it malt, hops, yeast, or water - and you'll end up with a completely different beer. Therefore, the cop out answer to what my favorite bitter recipe is the one that I'm currently brewing.

However, while it may be impossible to choose a 'favorite' bitter recipe, I do have a pretty good idea of what my ideal bitter would look like. First, it would be brewed from the simplest ingredients, using a quality Maris Otter or similar malt, with some medium crystal and/or torrefied wheat, and some fresh, earthy-floral hops. Of course, we can't forget a characterful yeast, something that lets the malt and hops shine but still imparts its own character to the beer. And the water would contain a fair amount of sulfate.

The recipe I am brewing today follows my criteria for an 'ideal' English bitter, although it is a bit different than what I've brewed recently. For the grist, I'm using Thomas Fawcett Maris Otter and medium crystal, and I will be employing a thick mash at 1qt/lb and slightly higher than normal rest temperature of 156F. The thick mash paired with the higher temperature seems to produce a richer malt character, although attenuation can be an issue if your yeast pitch or oxygenation is low. The big difference with this recipe is hopping, as I will be using all 2012 (UK) Challenger hops, a variety that I absolutely adore but haven't had much of a chance to use these past few years. Finding good quality UK hops is often difficult and sometimes it is easier to just use what you have on hand... which in my case is pounds of EKG, Fuggles, and First Gold. For those of you not familiar with Challenger, they are similar to EKG, but spicier and with some light marmalade and lemon-y flavors. They are especially nice when used with EKG for late hopping. Yeast, will be Bedford Bitter (second choice would be wy1968). Moreover, as I want this beer on the maltier side of things, sulfate will be a modest 100ppm with chloride around 40ppm. As usual, I try to keep my sodium and magnesium below 15-20ppm.

Lastly, I wanted to say a few words about hop schedules when brewing bitters, as there are so many different ones floating around the internet these days. While the supposed "traditional" hop schedule would include less of an emphasis on flame out hops, for a stronger bittering and dry hop charge, I prefer my bitters to have a lighter bitterness with some hop flavor and a strong, hoppy aroma. To achieve this, I add my flame out hops, bring the temp of the wort down to 175-185F and start my whirlpool. They'll stay there for 20-30 minutes before I'll chill the wort to pitching temp. Another popular method that I've tried and works somewhat well, is the 'hop steep,' where you add all of your hops at 20 min and let them 'steep' in the whirlpool for up to two hours. However, I don't think you get the same intensity of hop aroma as you do with the traditional flame out addition and I've had issues with bitterness. It would be interesting to hear what other people's favorite bitter recipes are and/or what they do with their hop additions.

Belgian Porter
Challenger Bitter : Special Bitter

Recipe Specifics:
Batch Size (Gal): 4.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 6.35
Anticipated OG: 1.042
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 6
Anticipated IBU: 30
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

94.5% - 6.00 lbs. Maris Otter
5.5%   - 0.35 lbs. Medium Crystal

0.50 oz. UK Challenger @ 60 min for 20 IBU
0.50 oz. UK Challenger @ 20 min for 10 IBU
1.50 oz. UK Challenger @ flame out

Yeast: WhiteLabs 006 Bedford Bitter
Mash 156F for 60 min
Brewed on 24 March

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Munich Helles Tasting

For the first time in years, I've gone a full month without brewing a single beer. I blame the miserable weather and the fact that my alcohol consumption has dropped to an all time low. I used to enjoy a pint or two in the evening, but recently it's been more like half a glass every other day. If it wasn't for my pesky neighbors and friends, I'd be dumping full kegs of perfectly fine beer just to make room. Also, a few months ago I brewed a number of lagers - including a Helles, Dunkel, and Vienna lager - and those beers have taken up a lot of prime real estate with their endless fermentation and lagering needs.

While it probably could use more time conditioning, I've got a keg of Munich Helles that I need to kick. I brewed this beer just after Christmas, using Pils and a small amount of Munich malt. I did a fair amount of research before I brewed this beer, looking for an adequate water profile and a yeast strain that would work well in my ghettofied fermentation chest. In the end, I used Whitelabs 838 Southern German Lager and probably fermented it a bit too cold, as I struggled to keep the temperature above 45-48F throughout the primary fermentation phase. After nearly two months of lagering, the beer tastes nice, although it's not without faults.

Session Lager : Munich Helles 

Recipe Specifics: 
Batch Size (Gal): 5.0
Total Grain (Lbs): 9.00
Anticipated OG: 1.048
Anticipated FG: 1.012
Anticipated SRM: 4
Anticipated IBU: 22
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 90 Minutes

88.9% - 8.00 lbs. Pilsner Malt
11.1% - 1.00 lbs. Munich Malt

1.50 oz. Hallertauer Mittelfrueh @ 60 min for 22 IBU

Yeast: WhiteLabs 838 Southern German Lager
Mash 152F for 60 min (single infusion)
Brewed on 31 December

Tasting Notes:
Appearance - Pours a very clear, yellow-pale gold color with a moderate white head that has good retention. Some haziness as the beer warms.

Aroma -  Clean and neutral pils with a grainy and sweet malt aroma. No hops and a slight sulfur note at the end.

Taste - Grainy/sweet pilsner malt with little to no esters and a mellow hop bitterness. Not much of any discernible hop character. While the beer is malty enough, it lacks that 'soft' malt character that many German commercial examples exhibit. Possibly some astringency on the finish.

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

Drinkability & Notes - Pretty good. Reminds me of some brewpubs attempts at brewing lagers; its decent enough tasting but not nearly as good as stuff from a proper lager brewery. The WLP838 yeast produced a metric **** ton of sulfur during fermentation and it is only after a lot of time spent degassing and lagering that the sulfur has largely dissipated. Don't know if I'd use this yeast again... it is clean and malty, but dealing with the sulfur is a hassle. Aside, I wonder if my mash PH went a bit low with this one - I didn't check - and I'm sure the low ferment temp probably didn't help either. Better than most of my other attempts at brewing lagers, but there is still a long ways to go.

4.4% ABV, 22 IBU, WhiteLabs 838 Southern German Lager.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

East India Porter Tasting

Usually when I brew a historical recipe, I try to stay as true as possible to the ingredients and processes that were employed when the beer was originally brewed. For porters, this often means I have to make my own brown malt, add brett/bugs, and then wait an eternity before I can start drinking the stuff. However, that didn't happen with this batch. I brewed this beer in late November and while I had plans to let it age for six full months before I did anything with it, as is often the case in life, some things just can't wait. After two months of conditioning in the keg, I started drinking this beer a month ago and it fast became the most popular beer on tap. Even my friends who have absolutely zero interest in drinking or hearing about historical beers, were going back to the tap for seconds with this one.

Barclay Perkins 1859 EI : Historical Beer

Appearance - Pours an opaque, inky black color with a large tan head that slowly settles leaving nice lacing. Retention could be a bit better.

Aroma - Heady, perfumey floral-English hops and a strong chocolate/coffee liqueur, similar to many craft-brewed Imperial Stouts. Some higher alcohols.

Taste - Dark roasted malt with a very strong coffee and chocolate character. The malt is full flavored and layered; biscuits, espresso, liquorice, and chocolate-covered coffee beans. Bitterness is high and the hops lend a pleasant herbal character that melds well with the (sweet) malt. While the yeast is largely buried under everything else, the beer finishes with some mineral character.

Mouthfeel - Carbonation is low and the beer has a thick and viscous mouthfeel that rolls off the tongue. The beer finishes medium-dry.

Drinkability & Notes - I really dig this one. It has a lot of the things people look for in big and chewy craft beers, while at the same time, it tastes much different than your average (modern) porter. The real kicker with this beer is the sheer volume of hops used in the boil - more than 1/4 lb of low AA%, whole-leaf Kent Goldings - as the hops permeate the brew with an intensely floral/herbal character that you just don't get by using a small amount of high alpha hops. What I like most, however, is the amount of coffee and chocolate flavor found in this beer. If you are somewhat wary of brewing historical recipes, do yourself a favor and give this one a try.

Additional Thoughts:

From a purely "let's brew a historical beer" perspective, this batch is largely a misfire. I used modern brown malt, I didn't age the beer for nearly as long as it would have been, and I didn't dry hop it. On top of that, there was no Brett involved, nor did the beer gain any acidity from lacto/pedio/acetobacter. But that's all ok...

Looking back, there isn't much that I'd change to this recipe. The malt bill is golden and I bet it would make an absolutely smashing RIS if you upped the gravity 20 points and applied the same hop treatment with a more flavorful variety... cascade comes to mind. A lower attenuting yeast would really up the "richness" too. I'd love to try this recipe with wy1318.

Lastly, this beer tasted great a few weeks in the keg and really didn't require much time conditioning before it was ready to drink... surprising, considering the amount of brown malt in the recipe. Moreover, I am glad I did not add any Brett to this beer, as such an addition probably would have spoiled the flavor (high roastiness and bitterness doesn't go so well with sour/funk).

6.8% ABV, 90 IBU, Wyeast 1028 London Ale. Recipe Here

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Evaluating Yeast Character, part II

Back in December, I started off my new yeast graphs by posting three of the cleanest and most neutral English yeasts that are commonly used by homebrewers. They were, Nottingham, Wyeast British Ale/Whitbread, and WhiteLabs Essex Ale. This time around, I'll discuss three more yeasts that are still considered relatively clean and neutral in flavor, although they do have more character than the previous selection. They are, Wyeast English Special Bitter, British Ale II, and WhiteLabs Bedford Bitter.

Although currently out of production, Wyeast English Special Bitter (1768) is among my favorite English yeasts for bitters and other hop and malt forward beers. Believed to be the Youngs yeast, this strain produces exceptionally clear and clean tasting beers with light fruity esters and a soft malt character that does well with high hopping. Although said to be the 'little brother' of the popular Fullers yeast, expect this yeast to produce far less fruity esters and not much in the way of diacetyl. It does flocculate nearly as well as the Fullers yeast and will produce exceptionally clear beer without need of filtration. However, this can cause problems as the yeast tends to flocculate out before fermentation is complete, leaving the beer with a high final gravity. It is also one of the fastest fermenting English yeasts I've come across.

Moreover, like the Fullers yeast, Wy1768 produces little in the way of a krausen and is not ideal for top cropping or open fermentation. I've had my best results with this yeast when fermented at a low temperature (62-65F), as it can produce some 'boozy' aromas when fermented warm. Lastly, if bottle conditioning, be absolutely sure the beer has reached its terminal gravity before bottling, lest you reactivate the yeast in the bottle and end up with gushers. Ideal beer styles include: Bitter, ESB, Nut Brown, English IPA. Similar yeast: ~ Wy1098.

Supposedly the Adnams yeast (although the real thing is a dual strain), Wyeast 1335 produces clean and malty beer with some light fruit character. I've used this yeast a handful of times in the past and my overall impression has largely been somewhat mixed. On one hand it is a strong fermentor and an excellent top cropper, but it is also a relatively slow flocculator and it takes some time for the powdery yeast to fully settle. Yet, when it does settle out, it makes for a very clear beer. Regarding flavor, this yeast is quite neutral and does well in highlighting hop and malt character. It does produce some bready malt flavors and tartness - which I am largely not a fan of - and seems best used in beers where you want the yeast to play a secondary role. It has a clean and crisp finish.

Fermentation wise, the general consensus is that this yeast ferments well at low temperatures (mine were all at 62-65F) and it will produce some apple/pear/peachy esters at higher temps. I have a few home brewering friends who use 1335 as their "house yeast" as it is easily topcropped and is largely clean tasting. It is a bit too neutral my liking (especially for bitters), but I can say it makes a very nice American/English IPA and American Pale Ale. Ideal beer styles include: IPA, APA, Golden Ales, yeast-neutral Brown Ale, Robust Porter, and Stout. Similar yeast: ~ WLP 022, Wyeast 1056.

There isn't much I can say about the Bedford Bitter yeast that I haven't said before. Certainly one of the more unique English yeasts available (although only for a few months a year), this yeast is bar-none my favorite yeast for English style bitters. When fermented properly, this yeast produces wonderfully balanced beer with a great mix of light stone-fruit esters and just the faintest hint of diacetyl, which can add richness and/or complexity in very small amounts. This yeast largely lets the hop and malt character of the beer shine, although I must admit I think it does better in hoppier beers than purely malty ones. What I like most about this yeast, is that it has a level of balance that other English yeasts often lack, in that it adds just enough of its own character to the beer without covering up the other ingredients.
Fermentation wise, this yeast is one of the more difficult yeasts to handle - right up there with Ringwood - as is is noted to produce a slightly sulfury, sweaty, dirty sock type aroma when fermenting and some of that character can be carried over into the keg or bottle if you are not careful. Like using lager yeasts, you need to give this yeast ample time to let the sweaty aromas dissipate, especially if bottling. I have not experienced nearly the same degree of funky aromas with this yeast as some people have, although it is something to watch out for. For me (kegging) all vestiges of this aroma usually dissipate after a week in the keg, especially when flushed with c02 a few times.

Additionally, the Bedford yeast is a strong fermentor and typically reaches its FG within a weeks time. It flocculates well, but the yeast is powdery and it can be roused back into suspension easily. Given time and/or cold treatment, beers with this yeast can achieve a high level of clarity without the need of finings. Lastly, this yeast ferments better with a large pitch and higher levels of oxygenation. If possible use pure 02 and a stone, otherwise be sure to aerate well. I like to pitch this yeast low, 62-63F, hold the bulk of fermentation at 65F before free rising to 68F and then cold crashing. Ideal beer styles include: Bitter, ESB, English IPA, Golden Ale, American Amber/Pale Ale. Similar yeast: Hard to say... mix of Wyeast 1968 and 1335.

Next time.... Wyeast 1028, 1275, 1882, 1187.

Part I - Here