Thursday, May 30, 2013

Plain, Simple, Honest...

As I have said before, I haven't been drinking much. Work has me away from home Monday through Friday and I can't be bothered to visit the local watering hole(s), given the selection is somewhat limited. On one hand you have your typical craft beer dive, complete with ten dollar pints of Rogue and the like - served with a complementary beer snob - or your typical American hole-in the-wall that serves nothing but BMC on tap and the same thing in cans... to less than friendly locals. I'd rather spend my money elsewhere.

Anyways, I wasn't going to buy any beer today, figuring I'd wait until the weekend to get properly pissed watered, but alas, I was wooed by the glow of good beer emanating from the local Wegmans. (Wegmans is the North East's equivalent to Whole Foods). Regardless, walking through their extensive maze of beer aisles, I picked up a few bottles of this... a few bottles of that... and a Sam Smith's Stingo for good measure. It's been ages since I've tried the Stingo and I have longstanding delusions of one day cloning it. However, I didn't end up buying any of that stuff. As I made my way down through the 'American beer' aisle, my sights were assaulted by the enormity that is "craft-beer" marketing. In short, it is annoying. It is all about being... bigger, stronger, more aggressive, your-too-weak to drink this, our beer tastes terrible...but look how cool our marketing is, gimmick 1, gimmick 2... so on, ad nauseum.

If there are two American craft breweries that I can say I truly admire and would emulate, should I one day own a brewery, it would be Anchor Brewing Co and Sierra Nevada. Reasons; First, both (once) followed what I consider is the noblest intention of any food industry: Do only one thing and do it better than anyone else. Anchor Steam is, in my opinion, one of the best beers in America. I love the stuff. Simple ingredients make beautiful things. Pale malt, crystal malt, and Northern Brewer hops. I also like their tasteful packaging and the fact that they only brew a handful of beers, instead of chasing the frivolities of the beer-y mob. They also produce a completely unique product that has roots in our own history. Sierra Nevada, is, in many ways, of the same vein. SN Pale Ale is still my favorite American pale ale and they make consistently great beer, even though they have long shed their 'small' brewery image.

Back to the beer. Leaving Wegmans, I did buy a few beers. Anchor Steam, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and a single, lonely, $0.95 can of Genny Cream Ale. That's 24 ounces, or 710ml, for less than a buck. I just liked how plain the packaging was and how it is, in many ways, all that craft beer isn't. For one, it's just beer. Simple, easy drinking, no frills, authentic. And it was good.

On a completely serious note, I recommend taking a look at this recent article about Anchor Brewing Co, the brewery and their beer. I was so impressed by it, I picked up the ingredients to try and attempt a clone of their namesake.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Brew Day: American ESB

While it is nearly impossible to find an English style bitter on tap in the States that is anything like those traditionally produced across the pond, what we lack in session strength bitters, we more than make up for in ESB's. For in the land of big beers, where finding anything under 4.5% is most often a lost cause, it seems like ESB's are the acceptable form of bitter for the American palate... as they often contain substantial hop and malt character, with a higher alcohol content to boot. With that said, I am not that crazy about the majority of commercially made ESB's. To generalize things, many brewers seem to either take a very simplistic approach to making them - almost like they are trying to do justice to the original style - or they do the complete opposite, using every character malt and C-hop they have at their disposal. Looking around the web for ESB recipes, you'll find many that contain nothing but pale malt and some crystal, often with a mix of US/UK hops (so often EKG and Cascade), and a painfully neutral yeast - OR - recipes that are jammed with biscuit, aromatic, special roast, munich, honey malt, and so on, all in an attempt to add malt complexity.

So instead of going on and on about the lack of 'good' ESB's and what I would rather be drinking, I am giving in... can't beat them, join them. The recipe I am using today is a good approximation of many American ESB recipes, using a few types of biscuit-type malts with both light and dark crystal. In particular, I will be using a new base malt, Gambrinus ESB malt - as it is supposed to mimic the flavor the flavor of Maris Otter type malts (spoiler alert: it doesn't) - and rounding things out with a light and dark English crystal malts, torrefied wheat, and biscuit malt. For the hopping, I was going to go with Cascade/Centennial/Willamette or something similar, but I decided to take a more British approach using Challenger and Bramling Cross. Yeast will be Wyeast 1335 British II, as it ferments out cleanly (almost too much) while providing a nice maltiness. Just so you know I'm not complaining too much, I fully expect to enjoy this beer... after all, there are somethings worth taking from both sides of the coin.

Anglo-American ESB : Extra Special Bitter

Recipe Specifics:
----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 4.5
Total Grain (Lbs): 10.00
Anticipated OG: 1.058
Anticipated FG: 1.010-12
Anticipated SRM: 12
Anticipated IBU: 30
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Grain/Sugar:
------------
80.0% - 8.00 lbs. Pale, ESB Malt
7.5%   - 0.75 lbs. Simpsons Caramalt
5.0%   - 0.50 lbs. Torrefied Wheat
5.0%   - 0.50 lbs. Biscuit Malt
2.5%   - 0.25 lbs. Extra Dark Crystal (150L)

Hops:
------
0.75 oz. Challenger @ 60 min for 20 IBU
0.50 oz. Bramling Cross @ 20 min for 6 IBU
0.50 oz. Challenger @ 10 min for 4 IBU
0.50 oz. Bramling Cross @ flameout
1.00 oz. Challenger @ flameout

Yeast: Wyeast 1335 British Ale II
Mash 156F for 60 min
Brewed on 26 May

Monday, May 13, 2013

Brew Day: Imperial Porter

With the success of the East India Porter that I brewed over the Winter, I've been wanting to do a re-brew of the same recipe for a while now, but at Imperial Stout strength and with a different hop variety. Going with this idea, I had planned to use Cascade in place of the EKG - in the same quantities as before - but in the end I didn't have enough hops on hand and was slightly worried that the citrusy Cascade hops would clash with the roast flavors. Instead, I will be using Columbus for bittering and Centennial-Type (70/30 blend of Cascade and Columbus) for flavor and aroma. Moreover, unlike the original recipe where I used over a 1/4lb of hops for 4 gallons, this time I am going to take it easy on the late additions, with more emphasis on the bitterness. After all, I would like this beer to taste more like a modern "craft-brewed" Imperial Stout than your typical Black IPA. As per the malt bill, I am keeping everything the same as last time; using pale malt, nearly 20% brown malt, and smaller amounts of amber/black malt. Lastly, instead of using wy1318, I went with some wy1056 slurry that I had on hand.

American Brown
BP 1859 EI : Imperial Porter 

Recipe Specifics:
----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 4.0
Total Grain (Lbs): 11.50
Anticipated OG: 1.082
Anticipated FG: 1.012-15
Anticipated SRM: 40
Anticipated IBU: 75
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 90 Minutes

Grain/Sugar:
------------
72.3% - 8.50 lbs. Golden Promise
19.1% - 2.25 lbs. Brown Malt
4.7%   - 0.55 lbs. Amber Malt
3.8%   - 0.45 lbs. Black Malt

Hops:
------
1.00 oz. Columbus @ 60 min for 54 IBU
0.50 oz. Centennial-Type @ 30 min for 16 IBU
1.00 oz. Centennial-Type @ 5 min for 5 IBU

Yeast: Wyeast 1056 American Ale
Mash 156F for 90 min
Brewed on 13 May
Original Recipe, Tasting Notes                                           

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Brew Day: Ordinary Bitter

Whereas a few months ago I would have gladly spent an afternoon cozied up to the bar of my local with a pint in hand, having a friendly debate about politics or philosophy, these days I'm just not feeling it. It might be that I'm not drinking as much as I used to (barely four pints a week) and that work has me running ragged, but a large part of my lack of enthusiasm for drinking out has to due with the state of our pubs. Shortly put, where there once was ten taps of good and honest beer, we now have sixty of the same damn thing. IPA, IPA, and more IPA clones that all taste the same. The quality and freshness of the beer goes down and the price goes up to support the ever growing selection.

Regardless, the recipe I have for today is a simple 'pub bitter' of sorts... just a low alcohol, malty beer that is full in flavor and perfect for the warming weather. I was originally thinking of making a Boddington clone, but I decided on something with a bit more dark caramel and sweet-malt character. To achieve this, the grist I am using is Golden Promise, dark crystal (75L), and a small amount of honey malt. While I don't normally use honey malt in my English style ales - it is almost never necessary if using good quality, UK base malts - in this beer, it should pair well with the natural sweetness of the yeast. Also, I am interested to see how the flavor of the honey malt compares in place of using a similar amount of invert syrup. Yeast will be WY1318, as it makes a terrific bitter and provides some candy-sweetness flavor in the finish. As I don't want a lot of fruity esters, I'll be fermenting this one no higher than 65F. I should have this beer ready for drinking by the end of the month.
Challenger Bitter

Pub Bitter : Ordinary Bitter

Recipe Specifics: 
---------------- 
Batch Size (Gal): 4.5 
Total Grain (Lbs): 6.70
Anticipated OG: 1.038
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 10
Anticipated IBU: 20
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Grain/Sugar:
------------
89.5% - 6.00 lbs. Golden Promise
7.5% - 0.50 lbs. Dark Crystal (75L)
3.0% - 0.20 lbs. Honey Malt

Hops:
------
0.75 oz. EKG @ 60 min for 16 IBU
0.50 oz. EKG @ 10 min for 4 IBU

Yeast: Wyeast 1318 London III
Brewed on 5 May