Monday, April 29, 2013

Faux Cask and Belgian Brew Day

Over the weekend, I stopped by one of my local boozers for a quick pint and not long after I had finished my first beer did I noticed twenty or so cask stands along the back corner of the bar. Asking the bartender what they were going to use them for, I was informed that there would be a real ale festival starting within an hour or so. Lucky me! Not long after that, a steady stream of festival organizers began hauling in (already tapped) casks from a beer truck and readying them for service. While I've come to terms with the fact that what we Americans call "cask ale" bears little resemblance to the stuff served in the UK, it is still difficult to not make comparisons between the two and not feel somewhat let down by the differences.

While the majority of the beer at this festival tasted nice enough, perfectly acceptable for what is expected of craft beer these days - that is big flavors, high alcohol, and lots of hops - the overall festival was mostly a disappointment in my eyes. First, the only real similarity between UK style cask ale and what was served over the weekend is that they are both served from a firkin. And whereas most (good) cask ale in the UK is conditioned and served bright, much of the stuff I sampled was either muddy with suspended yeast or tasted like the cask was not given enough time to condition. Most annoying of all, however, is that instead of serving flavorful session style beers that make for an enjoyable afternoon of drinking, the vast majority of beers were highly alcoholic, dry hopped IPA's and other gimmicky brews that contained everything from c-hops, spices, and chocolate. Of the twenty or so beers available, there were only a few that were under 5.0% abv, with the average strength closer to 7-8%. Even the local pseudo-British inspired brewery (Middle Ages) followed the pack, producing two 8+% beers for the event. Not a single British style brown ale, bitter, mild, or porter.

In the end, this cask festival had few similarities to those I've attended in the UK and while the overall flavor of the beers served was nice for what they were, I don't see why they didn't just serve the beers from a keg. If you're not going to take the time to condition and serve a cask ale properly, why bother with a cask at all? Furthermore, I understand that many American brewers see cask ale as a means of infusing their beer with hops and other flavorings - basically using it like a "Randal" or "Hop Rocket" - but that doesn't mean each and every beer served on cask must be flavored as such. I would like to see cask ale become popular here in the States, but we really have a long ways to go before we can start to approach the quality and refinement of many cask ales produced in the UK. First thing to change, lower the ABV!

Cask ale rantings aside, the beer I am brewing today is a leftover recipe for a Belgian amber ale, or BPA, using an old pack of yeast and some ingredients I had laying around. Admittedly, I have never brewed a Belgian amber ale before and I can't say it is a style that particularly interests me. At first, I had planned to brew another patersbier, but my kegerator is currently full of pale beers and I really need to change things up. Amber ale it is. The recipe I am using is a mix of pale and pilsner malt, with some cara-munich II, aromatic, and special b. Hopping is Tettnanger with Czech Saaz, and the yeast is Wyeast 3538 Leuven Pale Ale. As I had originally bought this yeast back in October, I was just going to throw it out and brew something else, but amazingly the pack swelled right up. I made a large starter and the yeast took right off. I've been told this yeast produces lightly fruity and peppery/spicy beers and does well in both malty and hoppy styles. So long as I end up with something malty and easy to drink, I'll be happy.

Belgian Amber : Belgian Pale Ale

Recipe Specifics: 
Batch Size (Gal): 4.0
Total Grain (Lbs): 8.10
Anticipated OG: 1.050
Anticipated FG: 1.008-10
Anticipated SRM: 12
Anticipated IBU: 25
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 90 Minutes

86.4% - 7.00 lbs. Pale and Pils Malt (50/50)
6.2% - 0.50 lbs. Cara-Munich II
4.3% - 0.35 lbs. Aromatic Malt
3.1% - 0.25 lbs. Special B

0.75 oz. Tettnanger @ 60 min for 20 IBU
0.50 oz. Saaz @ 20 min for 5 IBU
1.00 oz. Saaz @ flameout

Yeast: Wyeast 3538 Leuven Pale Ale
Brewed on 29 April

Monday, April 22, 2013

Fruit Saison Tasting

Back in early February, I attended a small beer tasting of popular commercial saisons and I left the event particularly impressed with Cigar City's Guava Grove. Wanting to brew something similar, I came up with a plan to brew a basic, lower gravity saison using White Labs Saison III yeast and then secondary the beer with some fresh guava puree for a week or two. Well, like most of my beer-y plans, things changed. I brewed and fermented the beer as planned, but when it came time to add the guava puree, I chickened out. The beer tasted quite nice (fruity, tart, slight clove/spicy phenols) and I was worried that the guava character would be too much for the beer. Instead, I ditched the guava and then on a whim decided to add the pulp of two passion fruits, figuring I'd still get some fruit flavor, but not enough to cover up the original character of the yeast. The resulting beer is pretty good tasting, but it probably would have been better without the fruit addition. It is certainly nothing like Guava Grove...

Fruit'ed Saison : Saison

Appearance - Pours a slightly hazy, pale straw color with a small white head that slowly settles leaving nice lacing. Carbonation is too low and the foam retention could be better.

Aroma - Big tropical fruit aroma - passionfruit, lychee, mango - with a slightly sweet, dried herb character. The passionfruit character is quite potent, although it is hard to tell if the other aromas are from the yeast or the fruit addition. Some earthy-funkiness (not brett) as the beer warms. Definitely unique.

Taste - Similar to aroma; tropical fruit and sweet herbs followed by some light clove and white wine fruitiness. The yeast character is fruity with some spice-like phenols. Bitterness is low and there isn't much discernible hop character. Some grainy pils malt. The beer finishes dry and tart.

Mouthfeel - Carbonation is much too low for the style, yet the beer goes down dry and crisp.
Drinkability & Notes - Pretty good. While I'm not convinced the passionfruit was necessary, it did provide another layer of tropical fruit flavor and added some complexity to what would have been an interesting, but otherwise basic saison. In its current state, this beer shares many of the same characteristics as my hibiscus wheats, although the Saison III yeast definitely provides its own unique character. Compared to the other saison yeasts I've used, this one fermented extremely quickly and seems to produce more clove and tropical fruit flavors than the black pepper/citrus so found in the Dupont and Saison II strains. Certainly worth using this yeast again, although without the fruit.

6.0% ABV, 22 IBU, WLP585 Saison III. Recipe Here

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Brew Day: Brown Porter

With the spring weather finally improving to something besides constant snow-to-rain showers, I'm starting to feel a bit more motivated to get out and start brewing again. Admittedly, I've not done much brewing these past few months (or drinking for that matter) and it is about time I change that. The beer I am brewing today is another version of a brown porter, very similar to the Fullers recipe, but with a slight change. Instead of using a characterful English yeast - like wy1968, or my favorite, wy1318 - I'll be using some plain old wy1056. While I generally prefer my darker beers to show some yeast character, with this beer I want the focus of the flavors to be on the specialty malts, the brown malt in particular. I've noticed that a few of the smaller breweries around me have started brewing lower gravity darker beers (but not quite session strength), using various roasted malts and their neutral (house) yeasts. While these beers lack the complexity and richness of flavor that English yeasts provide, they do make for an easy drinking and flavorful beer. Moreover, I have plans to use a portion of this yeast cake to brew an imperial version of Ron's East India Porter. Looking forward to drinking this beer on tap.

Hoppy Pale Ale
Yeoman Porter II : Brown Porter

Recipe Specifics: 
Batch Size (Gal): 4.25
Total Grain (Lbs): 8.25
Anticipated OG: 1.048
Anticipated FG: 1.010-12
Anticipated SRM: 23
Anticipated IBU: 25
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

78.8% - 6.50 lbs. Pale Malt, UK
8.5% - 0.70 lbs. Brown Malt
8.5% - 0.70 lbs. Crystal 55L
4.2% - 0.35 lbs. Chocolate Malt (350L)

1.25 oz. UK Fuggles @ 60 min for 25 IBU
0.50 oz. UK Fuggles @ flameout

Yeast: Wyeast 1056 American Ale
Brewed on 17 April

Monday, April 8, 2013

American IPA Tasting

I brewed this beer back in early February, using up what was left of my old stock of Amarillo and Simcoe hops. While I had planned to dry hop the beer in the secondary with the same hops, at the last minute I decided to forgo the Amarillo/Simcoe additions and instead dry hop the beer with two ounces each of Galaxy and Nelson Sauvin. And then again in the keg for a short time, for good measure. The resulting beer is as hoppy as I expected and tastes quite nice, although I got better efficiency than I had planned and the yeast attenuated farther than I would have liked, resulting in an 8% IIPA of a beer. After knocking back a few pints of the stuff, its time for a nap. Lastly, if you brew a lot of IPA's and have not tried a water profile that uses a high amount of sulfate, do so. It has really made a world of difference with my hoppy beers.

None the Wiser : American IPA

Appearance - Pours a somewhat hazy, orange and amber color with a sturdy, white head that leaves nice lacing. Some bits of dry hop material settle to the bottom of the glass.

Aroma - Overripe tropical fruit and pine. Mango, passionfruit, orange, and some slightly musky grape. The aroma is quite potent and this is the first time I've got any discernible 'gooseberry' character from the Nelson hops. The malt and yeast are well hidden.

Taste - First impression is of strong, tropical fruit and piney hops followed by a sticky, resinous bitterness that coats the mouth with lasting hop flavor. The bitterness is firm but not overbearing. While the hops are definitely in the forefront, the beer does have some sweet malt character to help balance the bitterness. The high sulfate gives the beer a level of 'crispness' that really makes the flavors pop. 

Mouthfeel - Carbonation is medium-low and the beer has a surprising amount of mouthfeel, considering the low final gravity. The beer goes down way too easy for 8%.
Drinkability & Notes - It is safe to say that the Galaxy/Nelson combo is my new favorite for hoppy American styles. There is something about the intensely tropical, piney, fruity, and light-dank character of these hops that seems to combine the best attributes of the popular American varieties. Also, the high amount of sulfate (350ppm) really makes the hop aroma/flavor stand out, all while adding a certain level of 'clarity' to the flavor of the beer. While I am very happy how this beer turned out, next time I'd like to drop the crystal malt altogether (just use pale and maybe 2-3% honey malt) and ferment it with a more malt neutral yeast (wy1056)... or the infamous "Conan" of Heady Topper fame. 

8.0% ABV, 78 IBU, Wyeast 1332 Northwest Ale. Recipe Here

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Brew Day: Hefeweizen

I have mixed feelings about hefeweizens. On one hand, I've consumed countless pints of the stuff while living abroad - in Ireland it was often the only thing on tap that wasn't a stout, cider, or lager - and it was an integral part of my favorite German breakfast of weisswurst and a half litre of weissbier. However, since I've started homebrewing, I have only brewed a handful of German weizens and none with much success. Part of my problem with them is that I don't care for a lot of banana flavor and it seems like every time I have tried to brew them, they either ended up tasting like an over-ripe banana or retained some degree of sulfur, which is commonly produced by these yeasts. Given these issues, I haven't brewed a weizen since 2009 and hadn't considered re-brewing one, that is, until one of my friends gave me a very nice Hacker-Pschorr glass for my birthday and I figured I should give it another go.

The main goal for this hefeweizen is to make something that is reasonably authentic tasting, but with more emphasis on vanilla/clove/bubblegum flavor than pure banana. To do this, I am forgoing everyone's favorite hefe yeast - WY3068 - and I will be using WY3638 in its place. This yeast seems to produce less banana than the former, with more clove and light fruit flavors when fermented at lower temperatures. I'll be pitching the yeast around 62F and letting the beer free rise to 65-68F for the duration of the time spent in the primary. Recipe wise, I didn't have enough wheat malt for a proper 40/60 (barley to wheat) ratio, although I will be employing a step mash with a ferulic acid rest at 110F for 15 min (to increase clove phenols), a sacc rest at 150F for 50 min, and a mash out at 168F. Should be loads of fun. Lastly, I will be kegging this beer, so I hope that any sulfur that is produced during the fermentation can easily be purged if it makes its way into the keg.
First Attempt

Standard Weizen : Hefeweizen

Recipe Specifics:
Batch Size (Gal): 4.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 7.00
Anticipated OG: 1.048
Anticipated FG: 1.012
Anticipated SRM: 4
Anticipated IBU: 17
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 90 Minutes

57.1% - 4.00 lbs. Pilsner Malt
42.9% - 3.00 lbs. Wheat Malt

0.60 oz. Tettnang @ 60 min for 17 IBU

Yeast: Wyeast 3638 Bavarian Wheat
Brewed on 2 April